A swashbuckling young rockstar Farren onstage with The Deviants.
During the last couple of years of his life, I had the pleasure of visiting the late, great Mick Farren a handful of times in his flat in Seven Dials, Brighton, mostly to discuss his Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine collection, which I was helping to edit and flog for the publishers, Headpress. He was a very lovely geezer.
Mick’s place, as you’d imagine, was well littered with music and literature, as well as framed posters and other random knickknacks and artifacts from his distinguished life. There was always an open bottle of JD floating about, as near to hand as the plastic mask and oxygen tank that helped keep him relatively comfortable and alive. At his desk in the far corner, his chair was cocked between the computer he worked at, and the constantly murmuring television by the window—a set-piece that struck me as a pretty apt symbol of his prose.
In person, Mick was quite a sight. Physically, aging appeared to have almost uniquely traumatised him. Outraged folds of flesh drooped down between the curtains of his long curly black hair. “Don’t ever get old, will ya!” he once implored me, in his memorable, wheedling voice, after having had to avail himself of a few especially long pulls of oxygen.
But here was the thing…
Even as he was, essentially, slowly dying, Mick’s writing was still, I thought, getting stronger. The handful of new pieces Headpress commissioned him to write were among the finest he’d written (one of them we posted here at DM, an amazing article on Nick Cave and the devil): on the page, the man could boast almost burgeoning youth.
Only when he read his work aloud was this disparity brought into full relief. On the brink of publication, David Kerekes and I brought along a video camera and invited Mick to read a few passages from the collection. (See below.) Mick, of course, was up for it, and his sentences fell with chaotic but pleasing rhythm from his lips. At the end of each, though, he would have to inhale, gaspingly, his chest set off like a drill.
I was under the impression that Mick very rarely left the house other than to do gigs, and the thought of these genuinely daunted me. I imagined the words just about making it out, and the PA morbidly amplifying that deathly rattle…
So when I finally made it to a Deviants gig earlier this summer, I was in for a surprise. Mick sat there, hunched on a stool in the middle of the stage, and as the band rang out with impressive muscularity, his songs flew from his lungs, absolutely full bodied. I stood there grinning from ear to ear and shaking my head. How the fuck was he managing it? Not only getting through the set, but doing so in such style? That he collapsed and died following one of these performances shows just how difficult these near miracles must have been… and how much he must have loved to pull them off.
Posted by Thomas McGrath |