Tony Fletcher’s cool new memoir, Boy About Town — from which he reads at Golden Notebook 6 p.m. Saturday, October 5 — covers the renowned rock biographer, blogger, and Onteora school board vice president’s formative years as a fanzine pioneer who managed to be in all the right places as a teen living on the edge of London as first Punk and then New Wave hit the world’s music scene.
Honest and entertaining, it’s specific enough to pinpoint the role specific albums and sports teams — in his case, several great London-area soccer teams and the likes of The Who, The Jam, and hosts of now less-remembered names — can have on an impressionable single parent child. Yet it’s also broadly painted in strokes that range from a narrative arc that stretches from early crush-loves on teen heart throbs, and one’s mother, to what happens when a young man finally loses his virginity.
“I wasn’t a mod. I wasn’t a punk either. I wasn’t a rude boy. And I certainly wasn’t a kin,” he writes, of his 16th year, when his Jamming fanzine was becoming an underground hit and he was winning interviews with the Who’s Pete Townshend and Paul Weller of the Jam, but worrying about his fear of girls and getting bullied by his peers. “All this labeling of cults, as far as I was concerned, was a joke. But I was just as addicted to the idea of looking good as anyone else my age who was going to gigs, and I needed to make my own fashion statement.”
Fletcher is the author of seven non-fiction books and one novel. His biography of Who drummer Keith Moon, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, and his work on R.E.M., Perfect Circle, are considered classics in the field of rock journalism. Last year’s A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths, proved a surprise best-seller. All Hopped And Ready To Go, a history of the New York music scene tracing it from jazz into disco and rap, is growing into a turn-to tome. And on top of all that he still does journalism for various publications…and plays in his oldies band, The Catskill 45s.
It’s easy to understand how this book was printed first in the U.K., where it quickly became the rage of London…where many remember the music scene of the late 1970s as a high point as rich as the mid-1960s. They feel the power of contemporary history come to life in Fletcher’s precocious account of what accompanied the rise of Margaret Thatcher and huge shifts in the demographics of Merry Old England.
But this book is also as fun for anyone as it was to first hear imports of Bowie and T-Rex, the Sex Pistols, Clash and The Jam back in the day. It reads the way that great cult film 24 Hour Party People plays in the memory, and warrants constant re-viewing. It’s got the spark of youth…including the bittersweet elements involved in watching one’s favorite bands rise beyond being just yours, or stars die off like first loves.
“They had no idea. Thousands of us looked up to Keith Moon, felt kinship with him for the way he had lived his life, free of conventions, of expectations,” Fletcher writes of the aftermath of the Who drummer’s untimely death. “For the example he has set to those of us who derided the nine-to-five life, who shivered at the prospect vof ending up in a suburban semi-detached with 2.4 children and a dog, who decried that businessmen in Britain all wore pinstripe suits, that secondary-age schoolchildren were forced to wear uniforms, that the teachers has long stopped caring, that bullies ran rampant, that the streets were full of violence, that the buses never ran on time, that the country shut down at 11 p.m. — with the national anthem as a reminder of our pervasive monarchy — and that the sky was perpetually overcast and the air permanently damp, that the older generation clung to an Empire that no longer existed and had been built on violent conquest to begin with…”
Keith Moon had risen above all this, Fletcher continues, and lived like “a comet streaking through the night sky.”
As does the young man Tony Fletcher was, captured in this memoir.
And as his grown self now continues, with an added sense of smarts and savvy, seen in the concise way he weaves this tale, warts and all, to allow us all a means to look back and remember. And rejoice. And even reconsider.++
Tony Fletcher reads from his memoir Boy About Town at 6 p.m. Saturday, October 5 at the Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street in Woodstock. For further information call 679-8000 or visit www.goldennotebook.com.