Don't You Ever Stop Being Dandy, Showing Me You're Handsome

by Wardog

In a shocking turn up for the books, Wardog reads something that isn't a fantasy novel.
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These days I don't really read anything but fiction about dragons and wizards but I recently picked up the paperback of Adam Ant's autobiography, Stand and Deliver, in HMV of all places (it apparently sells books now, what the hell, I feel too old for life). Well, it was only a fiver and I thought it was the least I could do for the poor guy.

Adam Ant, for the young and ignorant in the audience, was an 80s new wave / post punk popstar who rose briefly to fame and then crashed into madness, ignominy and finally obscurity. He is probably most memorable for his lavish music videos and sartorial flamboyance. I recommend you start with Stand and Deliver, check out Prince Charming and go from there. Even though I was a teenager long after his fall from grace, and suffered rather at school for my attachment to a lip-gloss wearing 80s hasbeen, he will always be one of my idols. The music is fun and actually quite unique (check those drums), his sense of the fantastical and romantic pretty much equates with mine, the videos - despite being almost too 80s for words - are witty and touched by self-irony and, let's be shallow about it for a moment, he's a breathcatchingly beautiful man. Oh stop laughing. I'll have you know, the Prince Charming hand dance (pride, courage, humour, flair) was a pretty major deal in its day, as was the imaginative, cinematic quality of the music videos.

Anyway, I don't usually bother with autobiographies (except for William Shatner's regular offerings, of course, which are a laugh a minute) because famous people are famous, usually, for what they do, rather than who they are. Living is a banal business and writing about it is tricky at the best of times. I suppose the appeal of autobiography is that it offers the prospect of tantalising insight and a semblance of intimacy with an otherwise remote figure, but usually what you seem to get is turgid prose and tedium. Perhaps I'm being unfair and there are some truly profound and revelatory autobiographies out there (answers on a postcard, please); Adam Ant's is not exactly startling but it does have a dignity and a charm to it, and it's moderately engaging.
It's impossible not to like the guy, really. His written style is a peculiar mixture of the prosaic and overly florid; it suits him, actually.
Granddad Tom was memorable for his nose more than anything. A huge, outstanding one it was, which at my young age seemed to be quite out of the ordinary ... it was potato-shaped, with red veins mapping out curvy roads around the bulbous fleshy mainland to the hidden caverns of his nostrils. Secondary roads of green skipped around these highways."

In spite of these occasional nasal flights of fancy and the occasional horrific cliches, it does seem to work for the most part. The "literarisation" of some of the more dramatic parts of his life (the book opens with the "birth" of Adam Ant in 1973, following at the attempted suicide of Stuart Goddard, for example) is perhaps misguided as the book seems to have on its own account an honesty and a lack of pretension that is as refreshing as it is attractive. Although it is a little slow getting going, recounting in slightly excessive detail Adam's childhood, working class mother, abusive alcoholic father (illuminating if not exactly surprising), the bulk, and most interesting, part of the book details his rise to fame and his involvement in the punk scene. On this topic, Adam is genuinely rather insightful - well he was there - and if rather a panoply of names are dropped, it only contributes to the sense of place and time. Jarman (in the midst of filming Jubilee), Jordon, Siouxsie, Johnny Rotten wanting to save the world, a smelly Nancy Spungen and a naive Sid Vicious spiraling into heroine-addiction populate this section of the book very naturally and it's fascinating, especially for someone like me who was born after all the good stuff already happened.

The portrait of Adam that emerges at this time is of a driven and lonely man. Although the excitement of the time and the sense of freedom and innovation is intoxicating and enlivens this section of the book, Adam's ongoing struggle with mental illness (later diagnosed as bipolar depression) remains a dark and ever-present undertone. Where many of his contemporaries turned to drugs, drink and Nancy Spungen (yuck), Adam took refuge in sex and hard work, and lots of both, which for a time served to keep the illness at bay. Particularly illuminating are fragments of the diary he kept at the time, offering insights into both his ambition and his fractured state of mind:
Dear book, console Adam, he is not having a very good time. I know work is the answer. Work so that I can show those critical, mirror-loving poseurs (I mean your London 'Punk public;) that as there is nobody else with any credibility there is Adam & The Ants and the lovely Jordan willing to take them all on.

Unpleasant - I dreamed I was lost, had no confidence and had lost heart. Like the first stages of my illness / before the death of Stuart. It was awful, a painful, terrifying calm.

Following his successes, however, comes a long hard slog of mediocrity, a whirl of slightly pointless film parts, high profile girlfriends and a slow, inevitable mental degeneration leading to his arrest and psychiatric hospitalisation in 2002. This section is necessarily rather depressing but never becomes self indulgent, and, again, what comes through is Adam's honesty, courage and determination. There is clearly no easy remedy for his illness - Adam himself admits his state is fragile but improving and that his progress is slow - but it is hard not to be moved by his commitment to a better future, and the fairytale ending surely Price Charming deserves.

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Comments (go to latest)
Nathalie H at 11:43 on 2008-12-23
Ooh, fascinating. I think the only autobiography I've ever read that I'd recommend to everyone is Simon Doonan's "Beautiful People" - he has a wonderful comic touch and I spent a lot of it laughing out loud. I could even review it actually, it wouldn't be a tricky re-read.
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