The One and Only. Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale by Nina Antonia (Thin Man Press)
Well, there are a lot of crappy rock books. This is brilliant, however.
We could start with the book’s blurb:
“‘The One & Only’ is a roller-coaster ride through one of rock’s wildest, most unpredictable careers. Granted full access to the reclusive Perrett and everyone who matters in his story, Antonia unflinchingly traces his path from privileged childhood to drug dealer; from musical obscurity to decadent rock icon submerged in narcotic slumbers in an antique-filled mansion... before the dream spectacularly fell apart. The story of The Only Ones became an industry by-word for how not to succeed in the record business; yet the music, along with the allure of Perrett’s mysterious persona, has endured… Despite the casualties that careen through these pages, including Johnny Thunders and Sid Vicious - Perrett played with both - this is ultimately a story of redemption and rebirth.”
And, frankly, that lot should be reasons sufficient for any self-respecting rock’n’roller to pick this one up, pay at the counter, and scurry home, nose and eyes down. Apart from that, if you own the Johnny Thunders’ album, "So Alone", but no Only Ones, you have a little Perrett in your collection.
We could start with the eloquent introduction by huge UK star (Dr) John Cooper Clarke; “The music is all electric guitars, exquisite arrangements and drums from down in the basement.” You don’t have to be a poet to appreciate a poet; Clarke the poet loves Perrett the artist: “A voice that aches like the yearning snarl of a jaded child; Peter Perrett the human remains of some scuffed aristocracy.”
But why not start with Nina Antonia’s own words: "’Decadence’ derives from the Latin word cadere (to fall) and hits a more sombre tone than the giggles of groupie geishas attending to a stoned pop emperor. What ‘decadence’ best implies is a troubled spiritual condition and a corrupt eccentricity. Peter Perrett fell from grace while leaping towards his dreams."
Somehow entering the Perrett’s enclosed world (Peter and Zena have been married for some 45 years), Antonia has managed to gain the reclusive Perrett’s trust; yet that in itself is not her major achievement here. Antonia has drawn together the hidden strands of Perrett’s life (she even spoke to a policeman who searched their house), muse and character and made sense of what, to the outside world, seemed either simplistic or bizarre. Her matter-of-fact style relates the story with a depth of knowledge and experience, and no small degree of wit; her understanding produces insight.
Peter’s character is the most selfish, extraordinary creature. It takes decades before self-awareness comes. That trajectory, journey, louche bohemianism or whatever else you want to call it … frankly, a hell of a lot of people I know would consider it heaven. Recall Bernard Black of Black Books, swigging red wine and blowing smoke at the ceiling and saying how fucking wonderful it was? Like that, but with sex and drugs and rock’n’roll and pedal-to-the-metal driving thrown in. Let’s not forget ‘the story of Peter and the crushed car park attendant and how the band had been advised to flee San Francisco’… there are one or two stories here which will result in you changing your dripping underwear…
By the end of chapter one, Perrett’s mid-teens, we fear for the man’s life. Chapter two intensifies that feeling. We’re hooked by millimetres, which is extraordinary in any r’n’r bio; Antonia has cast her net wide, dragging in and making sense of her catch to such a degree that when she declares, ‘the Perretts were suburban seditionaries’, you simultaneously know exactly what she means, kak your trews with laughter, and have an increased comprehension of the couples’ worldview.
Here’s one of Peter’s female companions: "I loved him then and I love him now but he’s such a spoilt little brat. All his life he’s had whatever he wanted and it spoiled him. The fact that he was such a lovely guy saved him from being even more of a spoilt brat." But, as Peter explains, "...I didn’t use people".
What were they like live? "What worked best about The Only Ones live is that it was like a four-way scrap amongst equals." Zena; "When he is onstage, that is Peter coming alive, that is his essence. When he’s not doing music, he isn’t truly alive …" Did drugs affect Perrett’s sound? Yes, because his guitar had a specially-hollowed-out section so he could take drugs through customs.
Scarily, as you read on, you sense all the other people, in crowds, pairs and flocks, flitting in through and around the Perretts. Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious, Mick Taylor, Keith Richards (Antonia’s account of the Richards/ Perrett rehearsal makes for … well, just read it and try not to react), Pauline Murray, Warren Ellis, Terry Melcher (the Beach Boys producer, who owned the house Sharon Tate and three others were slaughtered in), Nick Kent, Kim Fowley, The Who… God, even Douglas Adams gets a mention; Perrett’s influences included (wait for it) Che Guevara, Aleister Crowley, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. Among others. Frankly, I’m a little surprised the Perretts never encountered Colin Wilson, whose ground-breaking best-selling ‘The Outsider’ (1956) seemed to predict the social trajectory of the next 90 years or so.
A series of did-you-knows make The One and Only essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s ‘swinging’ late '60s, the glam-era, Bolan … oh, yes, and the arrival of punk (brilliantly and accurately described as ‘an anachronism’); not least because it seems that Perrett’s wife Zena (a clothing designer as well as organisational matriarch) pointed Vivienne Westwood and Maclaren in their initial ‘pervy sex’ direction, but also because the Only Ones were the epitome of musicians who rehearsed fanatically rather than the ‘one chord wonders’ of myth. Take John Perry, the Only Ones’ other guitarist, who has worked with The Sisters of Mercy, also "includes work with Marianne Faithfull, Robert Palmer, Michael Nyman, Patti Palladin and Johnny Thunders’" to name only a few…
That this is a revised and expanded edition of a book which came out some years ago is superbly relevant: Peter Perrett has not only survived his own personal traumas … he is finally out and about and making music again, news which would warm the cockles of Australian hearts from the likes of Spencer P. Jones and Kim Salmon and Rowland S. Howard to Leadfinger to Nick Cave and oooh, who else? Delta Goodrem? John Farnham..?
Well, perhaps not. So, Goodrem and Farnham aside, why? What’s the big deal? Didn’t The Only Ones have a minor hit (‘Another Girl, Another Planet’) nearly 40 years ago and just … vanish..? Antonia has the answer: ‘The Only Ones pushed through punk’s concrete playground like a morbid and exotic bloom. This wasn’t pogo, this was poetry amongst the brash anarchistic sloganeering.’ Bear in mind this also: ‘A new crop of bands that had been influenced by The Only Ones, including The Psychedelic Furs, Echo and The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, rose up and eventually conquered the charts. By assuming an inauthentic world-weariness, the pop contenders flourished.’ A host of others remain awed, The Stone Roses, Ride, Primal Scream, Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana … and Antonia also lists ‘REM, The Replacements, Nirvana, Blur and The Libertines …’
The One and Only is an essential purchase, and it belongs in your rock book shelf alongside those endless tomes on the Beatles and the Stones; what’s more, it’s better written and researched than most of those. The One and Only also overlaps the punk thing in a big way, and it’s quite clear that for a while there, The Only Ones straddled rock, punk, postpunk and hippy all at once, as if Television had intimacy. ‘To the hippies we were punk and to the punks we were hippies’; their tour with the classic period Stranglers must have been something special to witness; then there’s that car crash in a friend’s Mercedes, and Perrett’s obsessive food rituals, and … not only are the band themselves portrayed honestly, we get to see the roadies as well as Perrett spending one Christmas in the cells surrounded by drunks and spew … as well as revealing how alternately fickle or cut-throat music journos can be… Perrett; ‘People have told me I’m too honest for my own good but without honesty there is a lack of trust and then there is nothing …’
Mercifully, the Perrett’s "lost years" are dealt with matter-of-factly, with sympathy and understanding, but are not dwelled on. After all, the important thing is… the curtains have been pulled aside, from within, and the inhabitants, ‘deep and tortured yet fundamentally decent, but … led by some sort of curse’ emerge into a new world they helped make.
You know the eerie, horrifying thing..? On the one hand, if it weren’t for the drugs the band probably wouldn’t have happened in the same way, wouldn’t have been so strangely brilliant, and if it weren’t for the drugs the band wouldn’t have allowed themselves to drift apart so catastrophically (‘perpetual outsiders in a marketplace where ‘unique’ was not a saleable commodity’) but, more realistically, their record company had no idea how to guide, goad or monitor them.
Should the last words go again to John Cooper Clarke?
“The Only Ones. Try to forget them. I dare you.”
Or to Perrett himself, with an early lyric; "Heaven is so much better once you’ve been to hell".
Yeah, you gotta get "The One and Only. Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale" here.
Because not having The Only Ones in your collection is as big a faux pas as being outed as having no Lou Reed whatsoever, you’d also better grab The Only Ones’ remastered CDs here.
And, there is a possibility that Peter and his band will tour Oz. I think you’ve got the idea by now, and can be trusted to go and do the decent thing. Besiege every promoter you know and tell them to get the Perretts out here.
Three McGarretts and an orgy in a bath of goat’s milk
Tags: johnny, thunders, peter, perrett, only ones, nina, antonia, the one and only