Once upon a time Dave Haslam was one of the DJs who turned the Hacienda into the coolest club in the world, but these days he’s more likely to be found tapping away a laptop writing about popular culture rather than spinning discs.
He’s got five best-selling non-fiction titles behind him, but his latest work is three mini books under the Arts Decades banner and the final volume of the trilogy is ‘Searching For Love: Courtney Love in Liverpool, 1982. It’s the unlikely tale of a 17 old loudmouthed American who lands in Liverpool causing mayhem, just as the Bunnymen, the Teardrops et all are starting to bother the charts.
In some ways, this is a bit of trip around the bay of the infighting and creative energy of that febrile scene back in 1982, but it tackles some of the myths swirling around a teen Love from a troubled background who suddenly realises if they can do it so can I. In fact, Haslam argues her five month stay was a crash course from McCullough, Cope and the other swaggering Scouse wannabes in how to be a rock star.
Along the way, Haslam’s research looks at the dispute around who Love lost her virginity to as Joy Division’s Isolation played, her feud with the equally flamboyant Pete Burns who worked in the legendary Probe Records and why Julian Cope felt moved to take out a full page ad in the NME to say how much he hated Ms Love.
Love came armed with some LSD courtesy of her errant dad which clearly had some influence on the Liverpool sound. Just as you think Haslam is just reconstructing this surreal episode in Love’s rich life from cuttings he finally tracks down the other young Yank who came over with Love who confirms much of what happened.
Many people think Love is just a bit of a sad mess, but Hole were seriously good, and Haslam shows how that without that life changing trip to Liverpool she’d never have formed her band, or probably never met Kurt Cobain.
In the first of the series ‘A Life in Thirty-five: How I survived selling my record Collection’ which is a funny and poignant account of how he sold all his 4000 plus records. To me as a collector, this seems to be utter lunacy, but Haslam lays out a convincing case after separating from his wife for packing all his records into 35 boxes and shipping them off to fellow DJ Seth Toxler. His only concession to the past is allowing his son to pick out a few favourite pieces before they dispatch.
Haslam movingly traces his descent into the world of vinyl collection as a music obsessed Birmingham schoolboy why he loved the records he bought. He talks to other collectors (who have no intention of selling up) after that significant life change in his life left him feeling he could sell his room full of bits of plastic. His decision still seems bonkers to me, but Haslam makes a strong case that the strong memories those records contain are emotional rather than being linked to owning bits of vinyl.
The strongest of the three essays is ‘We The Youth: Keith Haring’s New York Nightlife’ is an informative romp around the rapid rise of the hugely talented street artist before his untimely death aged only 31.
As well as placing Haring at the front of 20th century America’s artists, Haslam looks at Haring’s upbringing in Pennsylvania and his love of offbeat bands like Devo and the B-52s. Given Haslam’s background, he’s ideally placed to trace the links between the art world and the underground club scene where Haring painted murals and partied hard.
Haslam brings together testimony from Haring’s eclectic circle of friends and former boyfriends who were all busy blurring the boundaries of the dance and creative worlds that exploded side by side in downtown Manhattan just as the AIDs crisis ravaged the city’s underground. Haring’s housemate Samantha McEwen has called this beautifully researched essay ‘a dream’.
Haslam’s clear and decidedly unintellectual prose across all three essays will strike a chord with any serious students of popular culture over the last few decades. As a bonus, each of these stylishly designed mini books features a minimalist design and some really interesting typesetting by Zoe Mclean, which added to the storytelling makes the £7 asking price for each one a bit of a bargain.
Books in the Art Decades series are available here
Photo of Courtney Love taken in Liverpool in 1982 by Robin Bradbury. Photo of Dave by Chris Payne.
Review by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here.