I’m not actually going to write a review of the book: it’s about a fascinating artist, Vivian Stanshall, told in a journalistic manner, which in this case means a meandering although vaguely sequential narrative, without an iota of beauty or style, but one which nonetheless proves to be an enjoyable read just because it is so chock full of the wonderful, whimsical words of Vivian himself. Former musical collaborator Mike “Tubular Bells” Oldfield assures us on the back of the book that Viv was “Rock-n-Roll’s answer to Peter Cook” as if Peter Cook were a question, but it’s a fair equivalence in some sense simply because both were so singularly inventive and, of course, damn funny.
Like many of the assessments of Cook, there’s a lingering sense of what a shame it is that he didn’t do more (instead of marveling that he did so much so amazingly well). Prefacing the start of the account is a quote from Alan Moorehead’s description of Sir Richard Burton which they mean to attach to Stanshall as well:
He was one of those men in whom nature runs riot; she endows him with not one or two but twenty talents, all of them far beyond the average and then withholds the one ingredient that might have brought them to perfection — a sense of balance and direction.
Yet, Stanshall (and Burton for that matter) accomplished so much in so many different veins — and media — that such a grand expression of failure seems utterly mistaken. I suspect that largely this melancholic disparagement comes from the greedy desire for an endless line of glorious works and from knowing that there might have been so much more from these wonderful artists had physical frailties not impeded their later output. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether such incendiary genius could do anything other than consume its source. As poet Roger McGough wrote in his funeral encomium, Stanshall was always “walking the tightrope with the safety net firmly nailed to the floor.” There’s a painful nakedness there. Photographer Barrie Wentzell said, “He was tortured by his intelligence and he just couldn’t stop thinking of ideas. He once told me, ‘It’s all in my head and I hate it.'” It’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to put an auger to your head just to get it all out.
I already quoted one of my favorite comments. The book explodes with wonderful words from and about Vivian, so it’s worth reading for them. I did find out a bunch of things I did not know (like all the song writing he did with Steve Winwood). I’ll have to find a copy of Stinkfoot the comic opera he did on the Old Profanity Showboat. While he may be gone in a puff of smoke, it’s a comfort to know that he existed and that much of his work lives on (now release all those recordings Warner Bros!).
Hmph — well, I guess I wrote a review after all (amending post title now). Yes, I’m taking a break from the novel, which sounds preferable to admitting that I am idling away from its stern demands to post here, and which reminds me I need to update the serial as well. I’m so close to the end of the novel, but I can’t seem to make it go any faster — just plink plink plink away at the keyboard as always.