Friday, August 02, 2013

Dr. Crow

My wonderful friend Mick Farren died on Saturday, July 27, on stage during a performance with the Deviants at London's Borderline club. (If you don't know who he is, read the obituaries in The New York Times, the U.K.'s Guardian, or the Telegraph. Or Charles Shaar Murray's remembrance in the Guardian. EDIT: Or Chris Salewicz's excellent piece in The Independent.) He was 69, just a little over a month shy of 70. I remember when he turned 60. (He was rather amazed that he'd made it that far ... .) I'm very sad, but glad he went out doing what he loved. I know he was thinking that there was still so much to do.

I have been thinking about him so much and remembering so many moments from the 20 years we knew each other. (The above photo of us was taken in the Coronet Pub in Los Angeles by our colleague Steve Appleford, I don't remember the exact date.) Weird that I don't recall the first time we met, but I know it was around 1993, when Erik Himmelsbach hired Mick as a columnist at the late, lamented Los Angeles Reader. Yet so many other times are so fixed and clear in my mind.

There is a lot to say, starting with the first thought I wrote down after I awoke with a horrible hangover acquired in the process of trying to forget he was gone, my head full of all these memories of our drunken misadventures and adventures (as well as less debauched moments): Which is that Mick encouraged me to embrace recklessness, and the sense of freedom that came from doing so. I mean, he didn't just do that for me; it was kind of a code of his. He helped me understand that the physical toll taken by excess is exacerbated by the moral strictures of society or the rules of one's particular upbringing, or both. And that rejecting, or actually maybe embracing and dismissing, the guilt was a key to moving past those roadblocks and seeing things more clearly.

I questioned, always, long before I met him, and maybe that's what he liked about me. I don't know what he liked about me. He had a lot of fabulous friends who were amazing artists and musicians, famous icons and true individuals, great beauties and mesmerizing scoundrels, but he always seemed to have room in his world for more. Knowing Mick gave me insights and inspirations I otherwise wouldn't have had. Not to mention a great friend who could sense when I was feeling vulnerable and draw out my fears into the light, and who wasn't afraid to expose his own fears and foibles. He trusted me in a way that he trusted other, to me much closer friends of his, and that always amazed and delighted me.

Because Mick Farren was my good good friend, but also he was a legend. That's so weird, even though I know it's so. He's Mick. He was Mick. He is Mick. He's one of the few people I knew (know? tense is hard right now) who was always exactly what he seemed to be, and he never let me down in any big way, although I recall some small disappointments over last-minute broken lunch or drinking engagements and other little things, the inevitable letdowns that happen in any friendship.

I had only a vague sense of who Mick was when Erik hired him. As a young person I never read the NME or heard the Deviants (cover of their 1967 debut album, Ptooff!, pictured above); a British music mag would've been hard to come by in Erie in the '70s, and anyway I was just a kid, hooked on Star Trek and Harlan Ellison and Tolkien and comic books, but isolated in a small town when there was no such thing as the Internet. In the early days of our acquaintance, I was a little bit unnerved by him. He would come into the Reader editorial office -- a long hallway with several different offices opening off it, plus a closet that David Ulin eventually used to store books, and of course the coveted roof-access door -- to visit with Erik, the ornaments on his leather jacket jingling faintly and his bootheels thudding on the industrial carpet as he ambled down the hall. From my office at the opposite end of that hall, I could hear the singsong cadences of his speech as he and Erik plotted and schemed.

Eventually Mick would rumble back down the hall, and one day he walked into my tiny space, sat down in my guest chair, and said, "Hello," peering at me expectantly through a tangle of black curly bangs. I don't remember what we talked about, but I'm sure I was terrified to have been noticed. But soon it became a regular event, him stopping by to talk to me when he came into the Reader, and I looked forward to seeing him.

In 1994, we co-wrote a Reader cover story about the Star Trek franchise, on the eve of the debut of Star Trek: Voyager on TV. I found an electronic copy of what is probably the final version of the text (before whatever edits/fixes were made on the boards ... haha, boards FFS!) in my computer files and read it the other day. To me it seemed like everything must have been his idea, except the feminist stuff, but when I read my own portion, written separately and then combined with his, I was surprised to see that we were pretty evenly matched in our contributions. At the time he said he'd never shared a byline with anyone, something that absurdly pleased me.

I edited his columns and articles at the Reader and later at L.A. CityBeat, where Steve Appleford hired him to write a TV column and much else. Mick's writing could be infuriatingly sloppy but was easily cleaned up. He wasn't always easy to deal with; we argued and even fought, but that was the way of it for two people who were intensely passionate about the written word. I had a lot of strong ideas about the "right" way to be a journalist, and so did he, but they weren't always the same ideas haha. But he encouraged my writing and liked what I did. We talked and debated a lot. We would be on the phone for hours sometimes.

He could be a mess, probably due to the aforementioned embracing of excess, and there was a point where his personal life seemed to be perpetually in turmoil. Although it seemed like he was always working -- on a novel, on a nonfiction book, an article, a record, a poem, etc. -- he often expressed the fear that he would never work again. A common emotion felt by every writer once a deadline has been met, I think, but one he managed to deliver with a mixture of dramatic flourish and matter-of-fact resignation that sold it every time. Writing took a lot out of him, maybe because he did it so much and poured so much into it. I still can't believe how much he did.

There was a stretch of time when it seemed as though he felt forgotten by his own past, as though he was living in exile in L.A., which I guess he kind of was. He worked as hard as he ever did, yet often felt ignored by history, despite the admiration of those immediately surrounding him. I do think the friends he had here made his life better, and I also think he had a lot of fun here and did great work here, but his life in L.A. was at times difficult and desperate. The suicide of his longtime love Susan literally haunted him for a time. And his never-great health inevitably deteriorated.

Several years ago, conspiracies were concocted to get him to a doctor, and to encourage him to return to England permanently and not just talk about how he "should" go back and avail himself of the National Health. No one was more surprised than he was to learn that he wasn't terminal (which is not to say he was the picture of health, because he wasn't by a long shot), and pretty soon he was safely ensconsed in a Brighton flat with his well-traveled devil cat Finn, putting his band back together, getting tons of writing projects, and suddenly finding himself being treated like the cultural treasure he was. Although I missed him terribly, I was glad he went home and found happiness there.

Mick was a part of so many different scenes at different points in time and in different places, while he also continued all the threads of his own work that stretched back to his earliest days in the '60s. He was always a hyphenate: writer-musician-poet-artist-activist. He was constant yet adaptable, penning vampire novels and teenage steampunk adventures, plunging into blogging, warning us that we were being watched as he watched the watchers with an unblinking, untrusting cool stare. Though new technology could befuddle him at first, he managed to not only figure out stuff like Blogger and Facebook but also to make it do his bidding.

Details blur like the tears in my eyes. We did a lot of drinking, and we watched a lot of TV, and we talked ourselves blue. We got so drunk, I don't know how we managed. We met young German tourists on the back patio at Boardner's. We flirted with the bartender at the Silver Spoon. We downed horrifying shots custom-made by Eric the back-street mixologist at the Kibitz Room. At the Cat and Fiddle one time, Mick stood on the edge of that sort of concrete trough of a driveway, swaying so badly that he nearly pitched head-first into it. I caught him by the back of his leather collar and somehow hauled him back upright. He pretended to be fine, like always.

He gave me the best gifts: my cherished White Panther button, my beloved 12-inch Tenth Doctor doll, a plush Dalek blanket and a tiny plastic Cthulhu figure he presented to me when I visited him in Brighton two years ago. And books, so many books. Mostly his own, of course. We once attended a Satanic High Mass in Hollywood, which he wrote about for CityBeat, and came away mutually impressed by how the naked woman posed atop the altar could stay so still for so long.

As has been noted by many, the man could barely breathe due to his chronic asthma and emphysema, yet he overcame that disability through sheer force of will and powered through performances (such as the above-pictured 2010 set performed at La Luz de Jesus with his longtime partner-in-crime Andy Colquhoun to celebrate the release of his book Speed-Speed-Speedfreak: A Fast History of Amphetamine). I witnessed that many times and never failed to be both terrified that he'd fall over and awed at his ability to stay upright and deliver.

So I can't say it was a surprise when he finally did fall over, never to get up again -- but it was still a horrible shock to lose him. Since his death I've been helping to plan his L.A. wake, which is tomorrow at the Cat and Fiddle, and reading so many comments and tributes. I'm amazed by how much love he inspired and how many lives he touched deeply, although the life people remember fondly isn't necessarily the same for everyone. That's only to be expected, because he lived so long and so well and in so many moments with so many friends and admirers. The constants were his generosity, his need for attention, his desire to participate, his ability to cut through the bullshit and see what was really going on. And he wanted us to see it too, and we did. He was somehow very easy to love, and he made it easy for the people he loved to connect with each other. Being a friend of Mick Farren meant you were OK. And I'm so glad we were friends.


Margaret said...

Fantastic. Love, Margaret

Michael Simmons said...

Straight shot beautiful, Gnat.


Suzanna Regos said...

Really beautiful, Nat, and I'm sorry for your loss. I can't imagine losing a friend like that.
Lotsa love, Suzanna

Anonymous said...

Oh Nat


Maddie said...

Hi, Nice post thanks for sharing. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back.


maddie0147 at

Music videos

Peeper Beeper said...


Chris Salewicz said...

You might like to check the obit I wrote in last Tuesday's Independent:

hipspinster said...

Ooo, yes, Chris - I meant to include yours too, so thanks for pulling me coat. Link added above.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Natalie. Thank you. -J.Sindell

Anonymous said...

Ah,Trouser Press-that and NME were staples of the record stores in Greenville AND we had the back issues of the International Times on microfiche at the library (its easier to read on the internet). Mick had and has a huge following among culturally deprived rednecks.

Unknown said...

I have been a long-time admirer of Mick's works (mainly his fiction) since the 1970s, and now rue the loss of an opportunity to ever meet him on this plane. Does anybody know where is his final resting place? Least I could do is to pay my sincere last respects to his memory , in gratitude for all the many happy hours his works gave me. Mick, truly are you the Bringer of Rare and Exquisite Visions, Wizard of Scintillating Sparkling Many-hued Lights, you are Lightning as we were Clay. WE MISS YOU , MICK

Unknown said...

My humble tribute to Mick.
If its not too maudlin and gawkish, should any friend visit his tomb, please help me read to him


You are the Bringer of rare & exotic visions
Story teller, songsmith, poetry-spinning Bard
Wild Child Supreme of the Age of Aquarius
You lived the life described by your songs and stories
Rode the lightning, flew the clouds of fancy
You lived, loved, drank, smoked, sang , danced and pranced like
An excellent hero from your book
You lived and departed this Plane in the manner of Legends,
Bathed in applause and spotlights
Shades and boots on, taking no bull from nobody
With you gone, endeth an epoch
Of true Love, Peace, Truth & Beauty
Mick, stand by the left of Zeus' throne

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