Monday, August 14, 2017


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mick Farren: Hail and Farewell

I was sad to read about the death of Mick Farren last night and am posting this in haste, by way of tribute.

On 12 January, I met Mick Farren to interview him for Adventure Rocketship.  You can get the background for that interview there, and more on my thoughts at the time inside the book (which is great, incidentally). Here though, in its raw form (and I think Mick Farren liked things raw) is the transcript of my interview with him. 

Things you need to know: I met Mick in his flat in Brighton. He was breathing with the aid of a respirator. But mentally he was still firing on all cylinders. I was there to talk about Speculative Fiction. Hence the first question: 

SDJ Why did you go for speculative fiction when you started writing?

MF: Because that’s what I lived. I really grew up on Dan Dare and the Eagle and Flash Gordon and Journey Onto Space on the radio. Almost before I could read I was fascinated by science fiction of one kind or another. So I was just kind of naturally following along.

[I quote cover the cover of The DNA Cowboys trilogy which had lots of stuff about how he was much cooler than the average space opera author.] 

SDJ: Were you in opposition to that stuff?

Not so much in opposition. It was more that... The chronology really was that round about the mid 60s I dived into rock and roll and then into the counter culture and worked for IT and eventually edited it. And then we got busted and Nasty Tales and blah-de-blah - it all went on.

MF: I started to feel I was burning out. After being at the Old bailey for the Nasty Tales trial for two weeks. I felt it was time to do something else. So I began on The Texts Of Festival, which was trying to integrate a Dystopian future with a leftover rock and roll quasi religion. That enabled me to bring my interests together. And moving on to the DNA Cowboys, that was very much to trying to - because it’s very cinematogrpahic - it was almost trying to make a logical linear scenario out of the kind of imagery that was being tossed around by Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison and whoever. Plus, in science fiction I’ve always had a fascination with wanting to write about the low lives. I like an evil dictator of the universe - but I’m much more interested in who were the con man and bank robbers and drug dealers on Mongo. I wanted to take a street hipster concept and push it into a fictional world.

SDJ: The Cowboys are rock stars in a way

Yeah, yeah.

[Mick pauses to use his respirator.]

Don’t let this freak you out, I’m not dying. It just makes my life a little easier. I’ve had flu on top of the COPD that I’ve lived with for so long...

SDJ: There’s quite a lot of argument in the book - people are always having arguments

MF: That seems to be the way life generally is.

SDJ: Do you know that you predicted drone warfare?

MF: Yeah, that wasn’t too hard. Nobody ever predicted the fax machine. There’s something else I was very proud of - I’ve forgotten what it is - but maybe it will come back to me.

SDJ: Is there anything you’re surprised hasn’t happened?

MF: Oh all of it! Although I’m not so much surprised as disappointed. Just about everything we hoped for has failed. Kubrick said we’d be on Mars by now. the Jetsons told me I’d have a  private plane. Dan Dare nuclear weapons would be outlawed in 1965. But we didn’t get any of this shit! If Victorian technology had continued on - if Steampunk was real, you’d go to the kitchen and find the six taps that were giving you Coca Cola, and beer as well as hot and cold water... That’s one of the fascinations of steampunk. The tech. I don’t know if you ever saw those things - or you’re too young - those wonderful things in apartment stores where you’d put the money into a tube. I loved all that shit. It was an interesting mass distribution technology. Now we’ve come down to so much individual isolation. There are at least three replicated computers in this room. Why?!

On the other hand we’re not a nuclear wasteland. Total dystopia has not taken over.

SDJ: It could be worse... So there’s super abundance now, but we don’t have very much of it?

MF: Well super abundance has become a super abundance where there’s a lot of people with no abundance at all. I don’t want to get into politics...

[Slight interruption. “I don’t want to get into politics” was definitely the least true thing he said!]

Another side of the coin is that always along the line, even in the most extreme fantasy, there’s been either an interest in political systems or more usually a rebellion against an oppressive political system. But I do think I’m the only person in the world who’s ever written a science fiction novel that ended up with the protagonists forming a union - which happens in the Long Orbital (or Funtopia, as it’s called in England). Which I was quite proud of, actually. 

SDJ: In Give The Anarchist A Cigarette you’re quite down on some of the stuff you’ve done. You say that Mona is like listening to a nervous breakdown... But it’s quite a special record, isn’t it?

MF: I don’t really read my own stuff. A lot of the time I don’t listen to my own music. It’s like actors who say they can’t watch themselves in films. 

It’s funny actually because I’ve got a Kindle fire for Christmas, so I’ve been loading a lot of stuff on there. I’ve got a kind of shuffle that goes on and on and on - I’ve put some of my own stuff on there - and giving it a context makes it much more appealing. Rather than saying I will no put on one of my own records, when all you is re-analyse and say “oh I’d wish I’d never mixed it that way - or oh I wish I’d put the voice up at that point. You’re sort of wanting just to repaint it all. So I tend not to go there. Plus I guess I was raised in a very English sort of way where deprecation is the way to go...

SDJ: But you must be quite pleased with the books as well? 

I’m pleased with the books, yeah. I may have written too many of them - but that was an economic factor. But no, there’s nothing I really wish I had never done. Except I took on -- Oh - Car Wars the book of the game. And that was kind of... But I needed the money.

But in terms, there’s nothing I’m really ashamed of. But I felt a bit stupid when I wrote this book Mars The Red Planet, which has American and Soviet bases on Mars. When I started the book there was a Soviet Union. When I finished the book there wasn’t. I thought it was going to take 25-30 years for the Soviet Union to collapse. It took more like twenty days. I thought “what! No, you can’t do that. I’ve got a book to do.” And it had great big Soviet machines with these bolts in them - big iron things. Oh, they were great. And there was this Soviet Martian railway. It was beautiful! It was like Dr Zhivago on Mars. But then it all went away... The book got published... But suddenly it was in a totally alternative modernity... or future. When did the Berlin wall come down? 1989? That had never happened in my story because I was writing the damn thing in 89.

SDJ:Where you the only person that was annoyed when the Berlin wall came down?

MF: Yeah! I was really pissed off!

SDJ: In Give The Anarchist A Cigarette, you say fantasy allows you the space to mess around. In the DNA cowboys people’s personalities split... And you bring in stuff from the stuff generator... It gives you freedom to play around.

MF: What’s the question?

SDJ: Good question! What is my question? Here we go: Do you think SF gives you an outlet to launch ideas that you wouldn’t normally be able to go for in other kinds of novels?

MF: Yes, absolutely. Especially ideas. I have all these politico friends who say “I don’t read fiction.” And okay, you can read Marx, you can read Chairman Mao - but nothing had a bigger political impact on me than Orwell’s 1984, or in a very different way, Bill Burroughs. I do see fiction as a propaganda machine. I don’t mean that fiction it written according to the dictates of a party. It’s my own personal propaganda - but it’s certainly ... I wanted it to have some more lasting effect than merely being decorating entertainment. And that was very easy, growing up in the era of Dylan and The Doors, was rock and roll was really a means of communication. And that was the other beautiful relationship between the sort of fiction I was writing, what rock and roll was doing and the world in general. Plus simultaneously, we were taking an awful lot of psychedelics - which wasn’t exactly science fiction. But Sun Ra sure made a hell of a lot more sense on acid than he did without. Plus, psychedelics seemed to contribute to an appreciation of a much larger universe. Where you end up with Set The Controls To The Heart Of The Sun or Interstellar Overdrive, or various bits of Grateful Dead, or Jefferson Airplane. That was all science fiction. Once you’ve started expanding the imagination, you’re going to be converted into, if not speculative fiction, at least a speculative state of mind. That was the big link for me.

SDJ: And what about William Burroughs? Would you call him speculative fiction?

MF: Oh definitely. It’s the Burroughs brothers. William and Edgar Rice - you know, the Mugwump. You know there’s that great still from the Cronenberg Naked Lunch of Burroughs and the Mugwump sitting in the bar together. The distance between that and the barroom scene in Star Wars is not very big. It’s a jump of philosophy, not of visual impact, or imagery. The time when I discovered Bill Burroughs, I was coming out Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke, and suddenly, I’m in the interzone - which is just as fantastic. And in many ways much more appealing. I think once again, it goes back to the fact that it’s picaresque - it’s a lowlife story. It’s not kings and emperors. Frodo does not have to go to the mountain to save the earth. I was much more interested in trying to write Micky Spillane novels in the future. That’s the other great influence on my work. When I was a kid I was reading Micky Spillane and Jim Thompson and Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Spillane - well put it this way - I got to the cheap pulp ones before the classy ones. It was Spillane and Thomspon rather than Chandler that I read first. Which also brought in a much more street language. They used shorter sentences - punching stuff. And even various kinds of slang and whatever.

SDJ: Did you feel you were part of a new wave or out on your own doing that kind of thing?

MF: I sort of missed the bus on the New Wave. Michael Moorcock are good friends. He was putting out New Worlds with Ballard - and everybody. They were sort of the SF version of the underground press when i was at International Times doing a bi-weekly tabloid. We were on the same train - but not in the same carriage. I hadn’t really started writing fiction then. 

SDJ: You once said something like fantasy gave you the illusion of detachment

MF: Well, it’s an escape. Without getting too Freudian about this, I had a rotten childhood. It made life more bearable to be off in my mind with John Carter on Mars rather in Worthing with me dad -or my step father,a ctually. I used to live in a fantasy world where I couldn’t get on a train without thinking I was James Bond in From Russia With Love. It just made life more interesting. I was constantly playing fantasy games. So when I started writing seriously I quickly began to realise:

  1. If you’re going to create worlds and write about them, they have to be places that you’re happy and comfortable to go to every day.
  2. If you’re doing it right, and you get your characters established, you don’t have to write any more - they’ll do it for you, just like Elmore Leonard said. If I’m writing you, you aren’t going to get up and do something that’s completely out of character. The characters themselves will carry along the narrative. As long as you know why X does this at the end. And if he doesn’t do it, you’ve written in wrong and either you change the end or you change the character...

[He coughs -] oh I’m not dying...

It’s a theme park ride that you climb into and you remain there as long as possible and luckily come out with a product at the end which somebody will hopefully pay for - or at least give you some kind of recognition. It’s really a retreat. It’s a great big exercise in tranquillising yourself...

SDJ: I wanted to ask you about writing. I know you were a lot more sober than people assumed. But did you sit in a darkened room and hammer it out?

MF: Pretty much. I lucky in that I can handle interruptions very easily. Actually, the science fiction writer Chris Rowley - and we’d be on the phone to each other every day because we were fucking bored of writing and needed to talk to someone...

I find to a degree marijuana very useful, just in terms of an imagination booster. That sort of “tee=hee-hee” what if it did that - oh man that would be so cool. Dope gives you that. I’ve written sometimes when I’d get home from a nightclub and couldn’t sleep because of the cocaine - and some interesting stuff comes out of it. Mainly it’s garbage and you read it the next day and think oh I’ll keep that and that - but that’s crap.

Then there’s alcohol. It’s the break. It lets you get out of the creative zone and become completely obnoxious and falling down drunk. Which I got a bit of a reputation for. But that was really only the aftermath of a hard day’s work. That’s why I was so happy in New York. Because the bars stayed open 24 hrs a day.I could be working until 2am and go out and still find some joint open where they would serve me whisky. And probably run into a few ne’er do well friends as well.

SDJ: What about the internet as a distraction now?

MF: No, I love the internet. I’m trying to live in as close to a paperless world as I can. The only think I don’t like doing is reading books on the internet. The kindle I don’t mind. I actually believe there’s a whole different way of writing for the internet. I blog in an entirely different style and approach to sentence construction. It’s almost like a sort of radio delivery. There’s a lot of conjunctions to start sentences and things like that. 

But I love it. I have this blog that I do two or three times a week. It’s mainly pictures - things I’ve gleaned. It’s a public diary.

And facebook I use to attract attention to the public diary and it’s a great marketing tool. Shit loads of stuff comes to me - there’s a crew of us who pass interesting information on. I’m 100% in favour of it and I’m interested in writing for it. But I do believe that it requires a different craft approach, and structural approach to the writing that I’m still working on.

I’m not sure you can do anything of any length on the internet. I wouldn’t stick up a novel on a website. I think people’s eyes move differently.

[I tell him about the funny comments I sometimes get on my blogs for The Guardian...]

MF: If you want to see comments look at the New York Post...The racism... it’s unbelievable. I don’t take comments too seriously. Unless I know where the people are coming from. It’s like when new cats would come into the NME - it’s very hard to write a good review - and easy to write a bad one. So it’s the same with comments. It’s easy to be negative - or just say right on. But to advance the argument in a positive way is harder.

SDJ: Do you miss the hunter-gatherer aspect? There’s a great passage in Give The Anarchist A Cigarette when you find the right shop, and really seek out material--- and suddenly, now, everything’s there.

MF: I miss it in theory. But I do like to be able to just find out lyrics to a song from Google, or a quote from Corialanus. What I worry about is that I lived in a magical time when these things happened and we made our own discoveries, and they weren’t just load out there. Simon Cowell didn’t decide what music we were going to fucking listen to. I don’t know. It may just be an effect of ageing but it seems like, there’s a generation now which is hardly dressed up and there’s absolutely nowhere to go. Maybe it will change.

SDJ: Do you think you lived in a fortunate time?

MF: Yes.

SDJ: There’s a lot of material about the generation gap and conflict in the DNA cowboys. There’s a lot of argument between the older and younger generations. How does that feel now you’re on the other side?

MF: The thing is that I don’t feel I’m on the other side.Because I don’t think it’s terribly age related. I mean David slimy Cameron - he’s a lot younger than me, but he’s also a fuck of a lot older. He’s just Margaret Thatcher rehatched as greasy old Etonian.

SDJ: What everyone thought was a generation war was more a war of attitude?

MF: Yes, it was. Absolutely. Except there weren’t that many elders. The only elders were a few eccentrics and the Beat Generation. You could count them on your fingers and toes. And the rest of us were having to make it up as we went along. Bohemianism is kind of like a reptile and you get flat bits when it’s digesting a pig... So you know there’s the post World War II generation and it tapers off and almost vanishes - but then it comes back again. Essentially it’s more of a war between uniformity and individualism, and self sufficient creativity rather than imposed culture. That’s really what it is. Youth cults on their own I absolutely don’t believe in. 

There had been such a jump in the birth rate after World War II, something was going to happen to all these kids. Over here we had the Who and Rolling Stones, while in China Chairman Mao was busy organising them into the Red Guard. That was weird. He was the only world leader who managed to turn the youth explosion to his own ends. But then you have to remember that Hitler was very big on youth.

There’s that amazing scene in Cabaret, Tomorrow Belongs To Me... Nordic blonde kids singing. Oh Jesus Christ, it’s really creepy. 

So it’s Woodstock, or it’s Village Of The Damned.

SDJ: I feel sorry for kids who are 18/19 now, and should be having the time of their lives, but are so constrained by fees and everything else...

MF: I don’t know. I wasn’t born with a silver coke spoon in my mouth, for Christ’s sake. We had to make a lot of it up as we went along. If we were transported back to the UFO club in 1966, it would look stupid and primitive. But it was magical at the time. Except I don’t know. I don’t hang with a lot of 18 year-olds. I can’t tell. But I don’t see the same kind of thing... Except maybe the Occupy movement... Time gets so concertinaed. Now there are people walking around who think Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against The Machine are oldies but goodies. 

I’m optimistic that it may stratify its way out. Rather like Japan. Where you’ve got the whole pop culture - and everything that Simon Cowell stole. At the same time you’ve got a bohemian rock and roll strata of life. I like being in Japan a lot, but you leave your own strata at your peril. Even to the point that you get frozen out if you walk into the wrong bar. If someone like me goes into a salary man’s bar - they don’t want you in there. Then a few blocks down there are these weird little bars where they only play David Bowie on the jukebox. Which is where you should be...

SDJ: What did you think of the David Bowie single?

MF: It’s a bit grim! It’s a bit post heart attack. And what’s with Berlin at the moment?

SDJ: You can understand it with David Bowie

MF: Yeah. But he was in a very different Berlin, when the CIA had poured millions of dollars in to make it a shining jewel of decadent capitalism. I don’t quite know what the attraction is now.

But it’s cool. David can do a good slow song. Although I’d rather listen to Wild Is The Wind...

SDJ: I want to ask about Elvis. Was he still alive when you were writing DNA cowboys? Elvis has appeared in fiction doing similar things so often since - in Bubba Ho Tep and My Elvis Blackout

MF: One of my jobs at NME was monitoring Elvis. There were lots of weird rumours before he died. He was in hospital and he went crazy in Vegas a couple of times. Larry Watson were sitting around writing a song, and there was a terrific thunderstorm outside and we had the TV on with the sound off. And something flashed up and an image of Elvis and we both knew - Oh God. He died. towards the end he was so messed up. Have you seen that clip where he’s doing Unchained Melody and he’s sitting at a piano and the sweat’s pouring off him. The voice is gorgeous but the man looks like he’s going to have a heart attack.

I’ve got a new book on the way - Elvis Died For Somebody Else’s Sins But Not Mine. It’s my greatest hits. The new book has something about about Elvis as a fertility god - or whatever you might want to believe.

SDJ: In the obituary you wrote for the NME, you say he was never the same after he joined the army...

MF: They symbolically cut his hair off. It was very symbolic. It was a kind of Fisher King, Samson and Delilah castration.

The power was still there afterwards - but it was just so diminished. It probably would have blown itself apart if it had just gone unchecked.

SDJ: While we’re talking about the big icons - you saw Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall.

MF: Twice actually. There was one before the famous one, which was just him acoustic. Dylan made it all make sense. When I left school, I told everyone I wanted a career in advertising and spent most of my time trying to get a band together, but I was also writing bits of poetry and bits an pieces of odd stuff that didn’t really make much sense. But when you were working with a band, and you were singing, it was nursery rhyme stuff: Be bop a Loola be my baby. Some of the best writing in rock was Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, and even that was dumbed down. At best you’d get teenage soap operas. THen suddenly, it was Dylan. And you could actually put something with some complex  content onto rock and roll. The fact that he had to come at it through the back door, via Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Newport Folk Festival, before he sprung the leather jacket and the stratocaster. That didn’t come as a surprise to me at all. It was logical. It got him the fuck out of the clutches of the old time, rather hidebound, hypocrtical, authoritarian CP attitude and moved him over into what much later I started to call the psychedelic left. And woah! There it was! you could do it! You could do anything you wanted to do. Stick a backbeat on it! Dylan tied it all together and made it possible for Pete Townsend and Mick and Keith. Lennon/ McCartney were already doing fairly complicated teen love songs - but it opened doors for them. It just opened the doors. And anything was possible.

SDJ: Have you listened to Tempest?

MF: Yeah. I like Tempest a lot. And before that I liked Time Out Of Mind. It seems like Dylan’s a bit of a wave pattern. You get peaks and then you get troughs. Depending, I think, on how happy his domestic life is. And what religion he’s embracing this week. He’s one of those cats who does much better work when he’s miserable. Blood On the Tracks, Street Legal. They’re my post Blond-On-Blonde favourites. And there’s others... I listen to bits of Desire. But Planet Waves never had an impact. And some of the stuff this century has sort of passed me by. But Tempest had a vibe about it right from the start. I stuck on Duquesne Whistle - and thought yeah! This is great! What is he? 71? His voice is - well not quite shot - but it’s shot in a good sort of way.

SDJ: It’s got the road in it

MF: Yeah man. I wish Cash had lived a bit longer. But him and June Carter were like swans. When one went the other went straight after. But he was doing the Mercy Seat - that was great stuff. And it blew away the generation gap. When you’ve got Johnny Cash doing Nick Cave tunes. the world’s clearly a better place.

SDJ:You say other people thought you were a self-publicising ego maniac. Is that true?

MF: Well, yes it is true. I never realised just how bad I was at it until I read into people like David Bowie or MIck Jagger, or PJ Proby to go to the other extreme. Then I was like - “oh! That’s what self promoting is.” I was distrusted in the early hippy days. The hippies distrusted anybody with what they perceived as a goal or an agenda. Which in many respects was their downfall. 

SDJ: Do you think hippies are misremembered now? Because people think of them as being all flowers and love  - when there was 68 going on? In a sense, they were just as punk as the punks... Or some of them were.

MF: There were three weeks in the middle of 1967 when we actually believed that we could change the world by example. This was teargassed out of us later. I never particularly subscribed to that end of things. Kaftans, brown rice and Hare Krishna. I didn’t see that as the salvation of the human race or the planet. I think it was a convenient thing to laugh at. But by the summer of 1968 that washed away... It was only on television.

SDJ: What’s the legacy then? What’s left over?

MF: Oh lots. A lot of shit got started. Because people saw that other people could do things, therefore they could do it. For instance, the Stonewall rising in New York, where drag queens were fighting the police. That only occurred because war protestors had been fighting with the police.

All the liberation movements really kicked off from that point. Okay there had been votes for women and suffragettes. But the modern form of a lot of movements came out of the 60s. That’s why we lost the underground press really, because it fragmented away into Gay News, Spare Rib - and then Rolling Stone took away the profitable parts. Animal Liberation? Who’d have thought of that prior to 1970. A lot of facets of the Green movement. We were talking about the environment in exactly the same terms - and we’re now seeing it happening. The guys who put together stuff like the Whole Earth Catalogue were predicting that yes, there would be increased atmospheric energy and sea energy patterns causing anomalous weather patters if we didn’t do something about it. And we didn’t. And here they are. 

The examples of one led to the examples of another. It was like rocking a pond - and the first wave patterns are very intense. And as they spread out, they’re smaller, but cover a great deal more ground.

So fuck it. I’m not one of those people who wants to hear that the whole thing was over by the Isle Of Wight or by Altamont or this that or the fucking other. It goes on. There were a lot of movements sparked. There’s a lot of things that we take for granted. At the same time there always has been and always will be a thread of freethinking bohemianism that takes us all the way back to Watt Tyler, Marquis De Sade, Charlie Parker.

It’s an attitudinal history. That will never go away. They might try to kill us, but it will never go away. And that’s where the seeds are sown for the next movement and the next evolution of the culture. 

SDJ: In Give The Anarchist A Cigarette you don’t name anyone, but you talk about rock groups and underage girls. And there’s AA Catto in the DNA cowboys...

MF: Saville was just creepy. BUt had the power to carry you along. He was very touchy feely. If you were walking with him, he would take your arm.

SDJ: You met him?

MF: Quite a few times. Just wondering around the BBC and stuff.

I’m more talking about Ronnie Bigenheimer’s English discotheque and 13-year-olds being served up to [REDACTED].  And there’s other people still alive who liked young girls. And I’d probably get sued if I mention them, so I won’t.

Some of the worst pervs are the violently angry moralists. There was a woman busted last week in New Hampshire... {Lisa Biron:] ... She was making kiddie porn while she was also a pro bono lawyer for anti-abortion, anti-gay groups. It’s a strange, huge self-hating thing.

SDJ: And what about AA Catto? [This is a reference to a teenage character in The SDNA CowboysCowboys Trilogy]

I guess I was just being perverse. It’s not pedophilia as much of the idea of an incredibly powerful and sinister little girl. It made a change from the Mekon. It’s difficult... Incredibly scary little girls are a factor in everything. Modern Japanese horror. Alice In Wonderland. 

SDJ:You compare her to Julie Burchill in attitude in the introduction. You say you’d already invented Julie Burchill before you met her?

MF: Yeah... Oh God. This is going to get me into trouble... What’s the actual question here?

SDJ: Well, you both live in Brighton. Do you still see her?

MF: I don’t see her. We email each other. She’s become an insane zionist. And islamaphobe. We might not talk about other things later, that first part of the conversation, I really don’t want to have. I’ve kind of avoided meeting her. She’s not even fucking Jewish.

SDJ: Is this a departure for her? Was she very different when you knew her?

MF: No. She gets the wrong end of the stick and then buries it up to its hilt... One day she’ll be liking Thatcher and the next she’ll be a Stalinist. The trouble with Julie is that she has no education except what she’s gleaned from the street and the Groucho club. She really doesn’t know her political ass from her elbow - except in terms of shock. 

[By coincidence, on the same day Burchill was writing her trans-hating filth for the Observer. Goes to show how right Mick Farren can be.]

Now that’s a self promoting ego maniac.

I’ve always been very strong on education. The idea that you might teach yourself... In one of the Vampire books I wanted Renquist to have a relationship with Francis Wallsingham - Elziabeth I’s CIA chief. I read all the books. But Wallsingham was damn amazing. It just all stays there. Without education we are lost. 

SDJ: Do you want to tell me about Road Movie? [This was Farren’s latest novel.]

MF: It’s a graphic novel without pictures. Moving pulp fiction into a more surreal, almost poetic, flow. It’s not totally successful, it’s not there yet. But I’m keeping on doing the same things. It’s almost a trial run. When you read it you’ll see where it’s coming from...

It’s crazy shit. Burroughs-ish crazy shit. Somewhere between Jim Thompson and Burroughs.

SDJ:You were out in LA...

MF: Forever.

SDJ: What brought you back to Brighton?

MF: Well, my girlfriend died. I was burned out with LA. I’d done some work in the movie industry and sworn never to work in the movie industry again. They give you a lot of money - but they bust your balls, they break your heart and even though they give you a lot of money, you find yourself spending a lot of it. So at the end of the year all you do is owe in tax.

I was on a plane from Heathrow, going back to LA, and I was looking out over the fields and i thought fucking hell, I want to go home. Bit by bit, and with the help of Felix Dennis, I put the cat in quarantine, packed up stuff, had a garage sale and came home, feeling like some kind of Francis Drake pirate, finally returning to where I started from. I wasn’t born here, but I was raised here. This is where I saw Gene Vincent.

SDJ: Are the Deviants in Brighton? You’ve been gigging? Is anything else on the go?

MF: Yes, I don’t know what. Andy Colquhoun and I have been doing some recordings - through the Autumn. We’re just negotiating to get someone to put it out. But the gigs things is difficult. Everybody wants to be on the road because there’s no other way of making money. We were going to do the Borderline next week... But there’s a whole bunch of reasons not to. We’ll be doing something again. None of us are physically in a place where we’d like to open for Motorhead or something. I do most of my shows sitting on a stool now. We’re getting old man. We’re turning into the old black geezers that we used to admire. Which is a very strange feeling. 

But it would be nice to play every three weeks or so.

SDJ: What’s the material you’ve been working on?

MF: It’s Bill Burroughs meets Jimi Hendrix which is spoken word. A very Jeff Beck, Hendrix guitarline. It’s sort of Deviants light. And then there’s a few odd songs. But it’s mainly spoken word stuff. And having Jaqui in the band there’s a lot of percussion now. A lot of African drums. But we’re not doing The Lion Sleeps Tonight. There’s a song called Cocaine and Gunpowder about 12-year-old mercenary troops in the Congo who have just massacred their 15-year-old officers. It’s more post-Wild Geese part fantasy, part straight news headlines.

It should be out pretty soon. But not for a couple of months. It’s in the can. It’s just the making of a deal and then the packaging. The problem these days is that everybody’s broke. So things aren’t happening or they happen slowly. 

I’ve waited a long time for the Headpress book to come out. They can only do one a month because they don’t have the capital. 

When you were asking about the internet. I’m a great believer that books will survive. But they’ll be objects. They’re killing off mid-list authors now. So major publishing houses aren’t even talking to me.

On the Penny Antebook - I like the short form style. Because it makes you just blast and then stop.

Someone’s putting together my back catalogue as ebooks. 

Paper books are going to be collectors items... If you want to read trash download it...I’m optimistic about the turnover from print to the internet. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of workable business model. 

Which puts me in a unique position because I am an old age pensioner. So the government gives me money. I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of this if it didn’t.
That is going to be the weird one. There’s an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation where we see the Replicator - looks like a microwave and can prepare anything from socks to a martini. There’s just this throwaway line “When the replicator was invented, that’s when we abolished money.” And in terms of the internet, we have really abolished money. Because no one’s going to pay for anything.

I downloaded the complete works of Shakespeare for 99p

SDJ: It’s harder to sustain being a writer

MF: Yes it is. Hopefully there will be an evolutionary process where... because a lot of people shouldn’t be writing. But then again, the public turns around and proves me completely wrong. 50 Shades Of Grey is almost unreadable... 

I don’t know. It’s not my world any more. But that may be where the hope lies. One of the reasons I left America, apart from to come back to the NHS - on one side you’ve got LA and on the other you’ve got Boston and New York. And inbetween there is this nightmare land of people living on high fructose corn syrup and animal fat and they really have no function. They hate socialism, but collect welfare. Unless they’re running a meth lab. They’re homophobes. They’re Christians. They think the world was invented 6,000 years ago. It’s nothing to do with me. Fuck it.

I was very happy to come back to England and sit around watching Danish detective stories... 

SDJ: It’s quite SF how divided America is.

MF: It’s scary. There’s nowhere that I’ve seen with quite the levels of insane stupidity. But on the other hand, there aren’t the Essex people.

SDJ: I guess I turn on Strictly Come Dancing and feel pretty alienated. But it’s not the same, is it?

MF: I wonder if a lot of that Made In Chelsea stuff... It all seems very pre-2008. When you could earn a living running a Teddy Bear boutique and there was unlimited credit.

SDJ: But for some people that’s still working. I guess there is division in that sense in the UK. Some people have been completely fucked. Some people have carried on doing the same useless stuff - and are still coining it. If you go somewhere like Chipping Norton, the recession has never happened. And it’s not like they’re doing anything particularly different there. There are pockets where the money has stayed. And places where it’s evaporated.

MF: How much of the money in Chipping Norton was in real estate? 

SDJ: A lot. But it’s the same in the City Of London. No one’s poorer there.

MF: True, nobody is poorer there. But I’m wondering if it’s like Daffy Duck walking off the cliff and he hasn’t looked down yet. 

SDJ: Maybe. But they’re just the fuckers who have stolen all the money...

MF: They are. Then we gave them more money to steal. My mind is so in a boggle with Merkel and Obama. When Obama came in, I was really expecting a very sort of Keynsian New Deal, Roosevelt style and shit would really turn around, and we’d jack a lot of the nonsense.  But it didn’t happen. 

And Labour wore itself out here. And now we’ve got this austerity thing. I read a lot of Paul Krugmann... And the Greek economy is now being austeritied down into nothing. There’s no tax base. Nobody’s got a job. What are we going to do? Just let them starve? We were nicer to the Germans after World War II.

Krugmann  - every week in the New York Times he throws up his hands and says, this is simple, easy. Spend money on public works and infrastructure. Build up a tax base - and then pay the debts back. It’s fairly simple shit. It’s simpler than this crazed debt reduction that Osborne and Merkel and the rest of the clowns are pushing through. On the other hand, I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Spain. It’s almost going back to the old Anarcho-syndicalist communities that grew up at the start of the Spanish Civil War. And then Greece has Golden Dawn and the fascists are taking over...

I don’t know where you’re going with your interview. We’re now into Greece. 

SDJ: [I tell him about Iceland and the different approach there. And the success of their anti-austerity policies.] They put the bankers in jail

MF: Oh did they! Oh cool.

SDJ: And they spent money and got things working again. It’s easier for them because they’re a small country and it’s doing all right now.

MF: I wish we heard more about that.

SDJ: Well we don’t. George Osborne isn’t about to start talking about the success in Iceland because they did the exact opposite of what he’s prescribing

MF: Having been back I’m slowly sorting out what’s what. The BBC only tell me what they want me to hear. I would like to hear more about Iceland. I hadn’t heard anything since the economy collapsed.

I’m only just discovering that hipster is a pejorative term. I used to be proud to be a hipster but what can you do?

That’s what we have to decide witht eh Deviants. Are we going to be playing the rock and roll circuit or winding up in galleries in hackney. Probably both. If we all live.

I’m still reeling from hearing about Wilko. He’s got terminal pancreatic cancer. He’s not going to do chemo. He’s just going to play his guitar until he dies. We were good mates. As you get older the reality of death comes ever closer. With the Boom Generation all facing it, we’re going to have to have a good look at it. 

You’ll probably see an upsurge of spirtualism. I’ve written my art of life book so that’s all taken care of. But I think the Angel business will see quite an upturn by the end of the decade. Get into the angel business! And morticians and tombstones. 

SDJ: Death is going to be a growth industry.

MF: Oh God! That really is frightening. A mate of mine at LA weekly had a look at the funeral business. They’re doing lead-lined coffins that will last for millennia and not leak. They sell for $25,000. An American funeral can now cost you $100,000 bucks  - to get rid of Grandma. That’s the other thing about America. They don’t believe in death.

We’re living in interesting times.

We had more of a sense of where we were going in the 60s. It wasn’t so much a sense of the future as of the speed-up. 2001 was  a serious business. Jesus Christ we said we’d go to the moon in ten years and we did it. Everything was just going so fast. There was only five years between the shadows doing Apache and Jimi Hendrix doing Hey Joe. That’s shifting man. It takes that long for Bruce Springsteen to write a fucking song these days. David Bowie hasn’t written a song for nine years. 

SDJ: When I was growing up there was techno and jungle. At least a sense that things were different. But now, either I’ve missed it - or there hasn’t been anything that’s really moved things forward, or seems new... There isn’t anything that a 16-year-old can listen to, but a 70-year-old can’t

MF: No, unless it’s absolute ear-destroying thump.

Monotony. That seems to be the only thing...

I quite like Florence and The Machine.

I think what’s really happened is that rock and roll has been unseated as the major means of communication. Unfortunately a lot of it has devolved down to very short attention span internet stuff like twitter. We may be fucked. 


There’s this strange thing where the mainstream know much more than is good for them. Amy Winehouse wouldn’t have died in 1969. Well she might have done. But nobody wrote tabloid articles about Jim Morrison’s drunkenness. Or Janice. There was this crazy thing with that obnoxious bastard Piers Morgan and Alex Jones. Alex Jones is stone crazy - the prison planet guy. The new world order is going to send the black helicopters and we’ll all be put in Obama gulags. He’s a huxter and played it to the hilt and pretended to lose it...

The new book I’m working on is about the gun battle in 1979 between the aliens and humans in Mexco...  There’s this crazy alternate history that write alternate histories...

Is there a potential Tim Leary up the street at Brighton university?

It gets tiring fighting the same war over and over and over. What do you mean we’ve got to go through it all again. NO! Roe Vs Wade. We’ve got abortion. Fuck off. 

It’s better here. There’s some sense of what’s cricket, so to speak. Even Cameron wouldn’t be able to completely wipe out the NHS. It’s all nibbling at the edges. 

I can’t see how long this coalition can hold on. 

SDJ: I voted Lib Dem - which was a mistake

MF: Aren’t there a body of decent LibDems who are chafing?

SDJ:They aren’t voting against the government. 

MF: What about the non-MPs?

SDJ:They must have left the party.

MF: I hope Labour get revenge. Although I’d feel a lot more comfortable if Ed Balls were leading the party . Becuase he looks like the kind of labour politician I’m used to.

I worked on the Obama campaign and we didn’t get what we expected. 

God knows what’s happening in China... 

[We see a fox on the wall. Mick tells me about his garden and its visitors for a while: “I have a garden that’s full of wildlife.” He seems pleased. But then we’re back on politics]

I’ve got friends in Bangalore - which seems  to be a hotbed of cyber subversion. YOu’ve got these massively over-qualified young people working in customer service for BT, American Airlines, whatever. And in the meantime they go online and get up to all kinds. Making bizarro movies and god knows what else. You walk though the market and there’s a guy full of mangoes and the next full of cellphones that never sold... 

Keep an eye on Bangalore. 

It feels like they’re really having the late 60s and discovering all kinds of things. I don’t know what the drug consumption’s like.

[The fox comes back.]

Urban wildlife is a fascination of mine. If you want a dystopia throw in some urban wildlife.

[At that point, I realised I’d stayed hours longer than I intended and have to leave. Mick shows me to the door, presses a copy of Elvis Died For Somebody Else’s Sins, But Not Mine. Later I read it. Guess what? It’s fucking good.] 

Here's Mick in action in younger days: