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He blew his mind out in a car: Short film on ‘A Day in the Life’ inspiration Tara Browne from 1966

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He blew his mind out in car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed. These are the lyrics from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which immortalized the death of sixties socialite Tara Browne.

On the night of December 18th 1966, Browne, together with his girlfriend, Suki Potier, drove through the streets of South Kensington in his Lotus Elan. The couple had just left a friend’s apartment at Earls Court around 1am, and were now in search of food. Browne sped through a stop signal at the corner of Redcliffe Square and Redcliffe Gardens. As he swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle, Browne crashed his car into a parked van. His last minute actions saved Potier from certain death, but left Browne fatally injured, and he died in hospital the following day. 

Browne was 21-years-of-age, a member of the Irish aristocratic family Oranmore and Browne, and heir to the Gunness fortune. He looked like a cross between Paul McCartney and Peter Cook (more of which later), was said to be barely literate - having walked out of a dozen schools, lived with his mother, Oonagh Guinness and her boyfriend a “show designer” Miguel Ferreras, drank Bloody Marys for breakfast, smoked Menthol cigarettes, and according to his friend Hugo Williams lived the life of a “Little Lord Fauntleroy, Beau Brummell, Peter Pan, Terence Stamp in Billy Budd, David Hemmings in Blow-Up.”

‘Tara could hardly have failed to be a success in Swinging London. While I was wandering around the globe in ’63 and ‘64, he embarked on the second and last phase of his meteoric progress. He got married, met the Stones and the Beatles, opened a shop in the King’s Road and bought the fatal turquoise Lotus Elan in which he entered the Irish Grand Prix. He let me drive it once in some busy London street: ‘Come on, Hugo, put your foot down.’ I had just got my first job and our ways were dividing. His money and youth made him a natural prey to certain charismatic Chelsea types who turned him into what he amiably termed a ‘hustlee’.

He reputedly gave Paul McCartney his first acid trip. The pair went to Liverpool together, got stoned and cruised the city on mopeds until Paul went over the handlebars and broke a tooth and they had to call on Paul’s Aunt Bett for assistance. There is still a body of people — and a book called The Walrus is Paul — who believe that Paul is dead and is now actually Tara Browne with plastic surgery.’

A month after his death, January 17th 1967, John Lennon was working on a song when he read a newspaper article on the coroner’s report into Browe’s death:

‘I was writing “A Day In The Life” with the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their News in Brief, or Far and Near, whatever they call it. I noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash.’

Lennon further explained his inspiration in Hunter Davies’ biography of The Beatles:

‘I didn’t copy the accident. Tara didn’t blow his mind out. But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.’

However, more recently, in the authorized biography, Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Paul McCartney added his tuppence worth:

‘The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.’

Whichever version is true, Tara Browne is still the man best associated with lyrics. Here is Tara, and his Lotus Elan, in some incredibly rare footage from a short French TV feature, where the aristocrat drives around London and mumbles in French about his car, art, fashion, music and life. There are no English subtitles, but they’re not really necessary as the film is easily understandable. Appearances from Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull and famed gallery owner Robert Fraser.
 

 
With thanks to Simon Wells
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.16.2012
06:27 pm
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Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?: That time the Rolling Stones got busted for drugs

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The recent News of the World ‘phone hacking scandal wasn’t the first time the red top used illicit means to obtain stories. Back in the swinging sixties, the paper regularly bartered with the police for information to use in its pages. 

One of the News of the World’s tip-offs to the cops led to the most infamous drugs trial of the twentieth century, where Mick Jagger, Keith Richard of The Rolling Stones, and art dealer Robert Fraser were imprisoned in an apparent attempt to destroy the band’s corrupting influence over the nation’s youth.

For the first time, the true story behind the arrests and trial is revealed by Simon Wells in his excellent book Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust. Wells’ previous work includes books on The Beatles and The Stones, British Cinema and most recently, a powerful and disturbing biography of Charles Manson. In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Wells explained his interest in The Stones drugs bust:

‘As a student of the 1960s it was perhaps inevitable that I would collide with the whole Redlands’ issue at some point. Probably like anyone with a passing interest in the Stones, I first knew about it mainly from legend - the “Mars Bar”, the fur rug, the “Butterfly On A Wheel” quote etc. However, like most of the events connected to the 1960s, I was aware that there had to be a backstory, and not what had been passed down into myth. This story proved to be no exception, and hopefully, the facts are as sensational (if not more) than what has passed into mythology. Additionally, as a Sussex boy - I was familiar with the physical landscape of the story- so that was also attractive to me as well.’

Just after eight o’clock, on the evening of February 12 1967, the West Sussex police arrived at Keith Richards’ home, Redlands. Inside, Keith and his guests - including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, the gallery owner Robert Fraser, and “Acid King” David Schneiderman - shared in the quiet warmth of a day taking LSD. Relaxed, they listened to music, oblivious to the police gathering outside. The first intimation something was about to happen came when a face appeared, pressed against the window.

It must be a fan. Who else could it be? But Keith noticed it was a “little old lady.” Strange kind of fan. If we ignore her. She’ll go away.

Then it came, a loud, urgent banging on the front door. Robert Fraser quipped, “Don’t answer. It must be tradesmen. Gentlemen ring up first.” Marianne Faithfull whispered, “If we don’t make any noise if we’re all really quiet, they’ll go away.” But they didn’t.

When Richards opened the door, he was confronted by 18 police officers led by Police Chief Inspector Gordon Dinely, who presented Richards with a warrant to “search the premises and the persons in them, under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965.”

This then was the start of the infamous trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Fraser.

It may seem we all know a small piece of this story, but in fact as Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust shows, we’ve never seen the whole picture until now:

‘It was such a well-known story, I was amazed no one had written a book about it before. It’s one of the most incredible stories of the 20th-century and I couldn’t believe that it had been ignored - given that every other angle of the Stones in the 1960s had been thoroughly explored. Obviously, as I worked my way through the story I became aware of just how the mythology of the tale had been constructed over the years. For a decade awash with drugs, it was somewhat predictable that the events that night had been blown up to such a stratospheric level.’

Wells has written a 5 star book, which explains the full background story, bringing new information to the events surrounding the bust, with particular emphasis on the nefarious activities of the News of the World and a dodgy copper, Detective Sergeant Norman “Nobby” Pilcher.

‘I suppose it was predictable during the star-studded 1960s that London’s otherwise anonymous police force would create their own celebrity copper. In this case it was Detective Sergeant Norman Clement Pilcher,’ says Wells. ‘Norman or “Nobby” as he was known to his colleagues was quite a character, as was his insatiable desire to rise swiftly through the ranks of London’s police. Pilcher may well have had an agenda to curb the activities of London’s musicians, but my own take on him was that he knew the value a celebrity bust. While seemingly the majority of the capital’s youth were engaged in some form of narcotic use, Picher knew that busting a celebrity would raise his profile (and by association, his team) enormously.’
 
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Richard Hamilton’s portrait of Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser under arrest.
 
Pilcher waged a war on pop’s elite. During his time at the Drugs Squad, Pilcher was responsible for arresting Donovan, Brian Jones, John Lennon and George Harrison. Pilcher always got his man, by bringing along to any bust his own supply of evidence. He was lampooned as a rock groupie by underground magazine Oz, and John Lennon described him as ‘semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower’ in “I Am The Walrus.”

In our present world of anodyne music pumped out by record labels and TV talent shows as a soundtrack for malls, lifts, and supermarkets, it is hard to believe that once-upon-a-time, music, in particular pop music, was considered revolutionary and a very real threat to the established order. Think of this when imagining the world The Rolling Stones burst into back in 1963, as it was the Stones, their music and their alleged drug use that became the focus of British establishment’s ire.

‘As far as attitudes towards soft drug use were concerned,’ Simon explains, ‘I would say it was the most important moment of the 20th century. A massive watershed of opinion that for the first time pitched elements of the so-called “Establishment” against the rebellious young - best exemplified in the metaphor of The Rolling Stones. Obviously, once battle lines were drawn it was going to get messy. With the benefit of hindsight, the debate was far too premature – it was only 22 years since the end of WW2 – and obviously many in authority had seen active service and were aghast at the sight of these youngsters strutting their stuff unhindered. Many saw it as an affront.’

Unlike The Beatles, who played the game, and were considered cheeky and harmless, wore suits and smiled, The Stones were deemed dirty, surly, long-haired, and played Black music - R ‘n’ B, that inflamed their fans to riot. All of this wasn’t helped by manager Andrew Loog-Oldham statement if The Beatles were Christ, then The Stones were the Anti-Christ.

Things started to go wrong, after one of The Stones’ riotous gigs, where the famous five had been whisked away from the venue as quickly as possible, but without a toilet break. On the way home, they pulled into a service station, where Bill Wyman asked to use the gents toilet. The garage attendant didn’t like the look of Wyman and his long hair, nor his gurning friends in the back of the van, and refused the bass player access. Jagger and Brian Jones became involved, with Jagger saying he could piss anywhere, which the 3 of them duly did. The incident led to a trial and a fine and was the first hint that someone had The Stones in their sights. If not the Establishment, then rogue elements:

‘I was at pains to point out what really the “Establishment” consisted of during the mid-1960s, and how “they” sought to enact their revenge against Mick, Keith, and Brian. Ultimately, I don’t believe it was men in suits in Westminster discussing the Rolling Stones and plotting their downfall. It’s a hugely romantic image, but it is frankly ludicrous. In reality, there was a Labour government in power who - believe it or not - was attempting to understand the new movement, and equally, were to rationalize drug use through a sweeping review of the arcane narcotic laws that had been in place since the war.

‘However, there were other – less regulated - elements of the so-called establishment that were outraged at the antics by the nation’s youth as exemplified by their defacto leaders- pop groups. Obviously, with The Beatles still the nation’s favorites, The Rolling Stones were an obvious target for sections of the “moral majority” to vent their spleen on.  Predictably, it was the News Of The World who decided to infiltrate the Mick and Keith’s core circle and reveal their personal habits to their readership. The papers expose in turn gave the police carte blanch to raid members of the group. Soon, it was open season on musicians – but just not restricted to the UK, but elsewhere too. So the “Establishment” in a sense, yes, but not as many would like to believe.’

There was further rattling of teacups, when Richards purchased a 15th-century house, Redlands, in West Wittering, Sussex. The very thought that a working class guitar player could afford such a posh residence, curdled the milk on the breakfast tables of Middle England.

Add to this the shift in the news away from Wing Commanders and derring-do, to pop groups and hairstyles, saw a growing concern over the fall in the nation’s morals and its role models.

As The Beatles were unassailable, especially after Prime Minister Harold Wilson controversially honored them with MBEs in 1965, the press turned their eye to The Stones for any possible dirt.

Of particular interest was the rise in drug use amongst these young musicians. The News of the World set up a team of journalists to infiltrate The Stones’ circle and get the skinny on their drug use. One night, a journalist spoke with a drug-addled Brian Jones about his chemicals of choice. Thinking they had a major scoop, the paper ran the story. It was to prove a major mistake, as the News of the World couldn’t tell their pop stars apart, and believed they had caught Mick Jagger unawares, rather than Jones. When the paper published its story on Jagger and his alleged drug confession, the singer sued the paper. It led the tabloid to plan its revenge to discredit Jagger.
 
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  More on Simon Wells ‘The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust’, after the jump…  

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.30.2011
08:53 pm
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Richard Hamilton: ‘Father of Pop Art’ has Died

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Richard Hamilton the first Pop Artist and arguably one of the most influential British artists of the twentieth century has died at the age of eighty-nine.

Born in London in 1922, Hamilton was determined to become an artist an early age, he quit school at 15, and studied art at night before entering the Royal Academy at 16. His studies were cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he worked as a draughtsman with engineers and scientists at EMI. After the war returned to the Royal Academy, but was expelled for “not profiting from the instruction”. He then attended the Slade College of Art for 2 years, from which he started working at the ICA, where he produced posters, leaflets and exhibit work.

In 1951, Hamilton curated his first exhibition, Growth and Form. This was followed in 1955 with the seminal Man, Machine and Motion, which examined human interaction with machine and environment, and how “the need to cope with technology provokes great art.”

It was at this time Hamilton met with Eduardo Paolozzi, who was already working on the collages which are now best associated with Pop Art. Hamilton joined Paolozzi in the loose grouping of artists known as the Independent Group, who gathered around the ICA.

In 1956, the Independent Group mounted This Is Tomorrow, an exhibition that is now seen as one of the most influential of the past sixty years - its resonance is still with us today. This was the show that announced Pop Art to the world - long before Warhol, who was then window dressing. As described by the Daily Telegraph:

This Is Tomorrow, a quasi-anthropological, partly ironic exhibition embracing the imagery of the embryonic mass media. In Hamilton’s words, the idea was to examine “our new visual environment — cinema, the jukebox, Marilyn Monroe, and comics — all these games with sound, optical illusion and imagery”.

 
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His own small, dense, prophetic work Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? not only introduced the word “pop” into art (emblazoned on the muscleman’s phallic lollipop) but also anticipated many of the key images of the genre: the television; the Warner Bros billboard; the comic poster (Lichtenstein); the packaged ham (Rosenquist); the Motel bed (Oldenburg); and the Ford logo — Hamilton’s obsession with car design and engineering culminated in Hommage à Chrysler (1957). This was Pop Art, but not populist art. Hamilton called it “a new landscape of secondary, filtered material” – sophisticated art to be devoured by a mass audience.

The exhibition’s success gained him a teaching post at the Royal College of Art, where he influenced David Hockney and Peter Blake. He produced works such as Hers Is A Lush Situation (1958), in which automotive and female design are commingled; Pin-up (1961), with its mixed idioms, classical, modern, vulgar; and the sketchy, painterly collage-like rapture of $he (1962) – it was, he suggested, “a sieved reflection of the adman’s paraphrase of the consumer’s dream”.

In 1962, Hamilton’s wife, Terry, was tragically killed in a automobile accident. Hamilton quit Britain for the USA, where he became close friends with Marcel Duchamp. The friendship led to Hamilton curating a retrospective of Duchamp’s work at the Tate Gallery, London.
 
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The association with Pop Art, led Hamilton to be hailed the “Father of Pop Art” a title he loathed. The association continued in the mid-sixties after he returned to England, and produced two of his most famous works Swingeing London 67, a portrait of Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser under arrest, which became one of the defining images of the 1960s. The following year Hamilton designed the cover for the Beatles White Album, which became his best known work.

The sixties also saw Hamilton influence another, younger generation of artists and musicians, most famously one of his pupils, Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music.

In the the 1970s, Hamilton had retrospectives at the Tate (1970) and the Guggenheim in New York (1973), both exhibitions subsequently toured Europe.

I saw one retrospective of his work during this decade at the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, which mixed his famous line drawings for James Joyce’s Ulysses, with his Pop Art, and silk screens. It was highly impressive, but more because of the intelligence on display, rather than any shared emotion inspired by the work. This may explain why Hamilton never really made the cross-over from critical acclaim to populist success.

The seventies saw Hamilton produce some of his most political work:

Hamilton had always been politically engaged, vociferously supporting the CND. In the 1980s he began a “Northern Ireland” trilogy: The Citizen (1981-83) depicted a “dirty protest” prisoner in the Maze; The Subject (1988-89), a self-righteous Orangeman; and The State (1993), a British soldier on patrol. Inevitably such politicised subject matter attracted criticism, though many considered the works merely naive oversimplifications.

Despite his advancing years, Hamilton continued to reinvent himself. In the 1980s he began working with computers: “I initially ventured into working with computers because I didn’t want to get left behind. I was approaching old age and aware of it, and I thought ‘I’m going to keep up with this’ and found out that I was ahead of everybody.” He designed two computers, the OHIO and the Diab DS-101, and increasingly used digital devices to manipulate images and create a dialogue between technique, technology and aesthetics.

The attraction of computers, he claimed, was that “you have the possibility of perfection. I’m after beauty — of composition, colour and tone.” It did not seem ironic that a man in his eighth decade was exploring technology with greater vivacity than almost any other artist: throughout his long career, Hamilton’s work anticipated almost every interpretative cultural theory, from Marshall McLuhan to the “Young British Artists”, and provided the most thorough engagement with mass media and technology this side of the Atlantic. Damien Hirst referred to Hamilton as “the greatest”.

Hamilton was appointed Companion of Honour in 2000; in 2006 he received the Max Beckmann Prize for Painting. A major retrospective of his work is due to travel to tour America and Europe from 2013.

Richard Hamilton married Terry O’Reilly in 1947; they had a son and a daughter. Rita Donagh, whom he married in 1991, survives him with the son of his first marriage.

 

 
Bonus clip, Richard Hamilton on Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.13.2011
05:48 pm
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