Magazine article The Spectator

Brit-Pop Muse-Biz

Magazine article The Spectator

Brit-Pop Muse-Biz

Article excerpt

BLACK VINYL, WHITE POWDER by Simon Napier-Bell Ebury Press, L16.99, pp. 390, ISBN 0091869927

There is something of Oscar Wilde about Simon Napier-Bell, and it's not just his name. A man of wealth and taste, capable of great works of art on occasion (`You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' - I rest my case) yet bound by whim of iron to an underworld of crooks, charlatans and cheap, beautiful boys; that is, the music business. In the Sixties he discovered and managed Marc Bolan; in the Seventies he turned down Julio Iglesias and in the Eighties he wooed, won and mislaid Wham! Typically, he now manages Russia's biggest pop star; he always was a boomtown sort of boy, and it is probable that the current Britpop business is just too safe, too sterile for him.Three years in the making, Black Vinyl, White Powder starts from the premise that `drugs and drug culture have been absolutely central to the development of the British music business drugs helped the music industry invent itself and at different times have sustained it, revitalised it and even refinanced it.' Pop - by which we mean that crazy thing that happened in the Fifties, up till when songs were published, sheet music sold, singers sang and that was that - was also one of the very few businesses built by homosexuals (even fashion and hairdressing as we know them were started by mainly heterosexual men and women) and the combination of two types of illegality invariably gave birth to an art form which was furtive, frenzied and freakish unlike any other.

Many people have set out to write histories of the British popular music business, but only someone as scurrilous, suave and simply in there as Napier-Bell could bring to the job the extreme lack of gravitas that it takes to render such a tome nothing like a tepid, quiet-in-the-library bore and every bit as bittersweet, quicksilver and volatile as pop itself. The curator attitude to pop has brought many to grief - most notably Jon Savage - before; it is the very lack of midnight oil burned, you sense, that makes this book so breathtakingly brilliant. You can't imagine Napier-Bell ever poring over neat, dated, filed clippings as he collates his stardust memories; you imagine him in his cups at Kettner's, suddenly sitting bolt upright, slurring into a little tape machine, `And another thing'.

Like Sir Henry Wotton before him, Napier-Bell has no illusions about the intellect or moral character behind the pretty faces he dotes on:

James Palumbo wanted to be Prime Minister. `How could you be? …

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