Book Review: Apathy for the Devil A 1970s Memoir – Nick Kent

(Faber & Faber) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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“I felt the explosion full in the face. The force of it hot-wired my imagination, invaded my dreams and taught me everything I needed to know about the realities of youthful self-empowerment,” writes Nick Kent about the impact of his first exposure to the Rolling Stones at the first concert he ever went to. It was 1964, Kent was just shy of his 13th birthday, and through a school friend whose dad was the promoter he not only had a front row seat, but was also invited backstage afterwards to meet the band: “Suddenly I had my future adult agenda mapped out before me.”

That portentous night lit the fuse on the agony and the ecstasy, the insight and addiction, the violence and opprobrium, that would engulf Kent in the following decade. Nine years later he met the Stones again, this time to interview them, by which stage he was a key figure both at the renascent NME and in a golden age of music journalism. The band approved of what he wrote to such a degree they commissioned him, all expenses paid, to accompany them on the final leg of their tour and write a book about his experiences: “my wildest teenage dream becoming a reality.”

But for the highest highs, in every sense, acclaim, and limelight life that the 1970s brought Kent, it also brought him the most extreme counteractions. In the closing scenes of the film Withnail & I Ralph Brown’s similarly kohl eyed character, Danny, laments on the passing of the 1960s, “the greatest decade in the history of mankind is over, and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.” The blackness, which Kent terms the “dark vortex” was to follow in the 1970s, and forms an omnipresent undercurrent to Apathy for the Devil, as “the caring sharing 1960s were dead and gone” and fuelled by increasingly harder drugs, primarily heroin, “now it was every man for himself.”

Apathy for the Devil provides a front row seat, more often than not the edge of that seat, on Kent’s tumultuous journey through those equally tumultuous ten years, and his myriad adventures with those who would define the decade. Ziggy-era David Bowie announces, “So you’re Nick Kent. Aren’t you pretty!” on their first meeting, his dealings with Led Zeppelin become increasingly white-knuckle, as at times is his friendship with Iggy Pop that endures throughout the 1970s. His love affair with Chrissie Hynde ends in heartbreak, sacked twice by the NME, he pursues a music career that, not least through his increasing heroin addiction, fails to kick start but includes giving the first public performance of New Rose, ‘the first British punk single’ whilst playing in the first line up of a band that would become The Damned.

He also developed a close friendship with Malcolm McLaren, also acting as his music culture guide and joining an early line up of the Sex Pistols. Though that friendship was infamously decimated at the Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club¬† in 1976 when, at McLaren’s instigation, Sid Vicious beat Kent up, followed up the following year when to announce Vicious joining the Sex Pistols McLaren sent telegrams to the media saying, “he [Vicious] gave Nick Kent just what he deserved at the 100 Club.”

By the end of the decade the “dark vortex” had consumed Kent, and as he adds in the book’s ‘Afterwards’ if time travel became possible “the seventies would be the last time zone in history I would return to.” But his return to that decade in words and memories makes for an extraordinary book, by turns a fascinating, revelatory, insightful, troubling, comedic and tragic, but always engaging account of the irresistible rise and fall of the author and his decade. As Danny in Withnail & I also said, “If you’re hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision – let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?”

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