Following the critically-acclaimed reissue of ‘The One and Only: Peter
Perrett, Homme Fatale’, Nina Antonia’s superlative biography of The Only Ones’ frontman, Gus Ironside spoke to the grande dame of Noir rock journalism about her upcoming appearance with the genius songwriter at Louder Than Words.
‘The One and Only: Peter Perrett- Homme Fatale’ has received glowing reviews
from the music press, so I started our conversation by asking Nina if she was happy with its reception: “I think so, I’m just glad it’s out there again. I would have liked it to have got a bit more press, but the main thing is that it completes the story and that Zena and Peter are happy with the final chapter and I think it needed to do the rounds again and get out there in circulation again, the press that it has got has been wonderful and I’m looking forward to the event at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall on July 15th, that should be quite special.”
Antonia then expanded on her reasons for writing the book, and on her motivation for starting writing in the first place. “I like that book because it captures a moment in time that has now slipped away. That’s why I wanted to go into writing in the first place, I realised that I was dealing with quite evanescent characters, who slipped and slid in and out of the public consciousness, that lived lives that were under the radar, that were sometimes legal and sometimes not.”
“The whole Perrett thing was that it really was like ‘Performance’…the mix of cult and gangster and mouldering antiques…you have to read the book (to get the full picture), it’s like a perfume that’s no longer available. I don’t like mainstream lives!”
The success of the reissue of this long out of print classic prompts me to ask if Nina’s biography of the New York Dolls, ‘Too Much Too Soon’ is due an update and reprint. “The New York Dolls are back in vogue now and bracketed with The Stooges and the MC5; for a long time they weren’t…I think after Arthur Kane died and Morrissey curated the Meltdown Festival (with the remaining Dolls) that that for me is all that there is to say. I don’t really feel that the ‘Two York Dolls’ (ie the current incarnation) is representative of the New York Dolls. I loved the original band, every band is about the alchemy of the members and if you keep getting replacements in you water down the magic until it really is just…water ((laughs).
Our conversation naturally turns to Peter Perret’s close friend and original New York Doll, Johnny Thunders. “Johnny has in a sense become a kind of James Dean figure now, so his profile is stronger, but again the tragedy is that that’s after death. He’s always had a dedicated fanbase, but now he’s reached the level of mythos that people like Johnny do. My feeling is that, well, If you didn’t open your door to these people when they were still alive, where were you?”
Why do artists like Peter and Johnny provoke such vitriolic responses from our self-appointed moral guardians, I wonder? “Anyone that challenges how life is supposed to be, especially now, can be seen as problematic, people that don’t play the game or don’t toe the line or are quite wild and wayward, which to me is part of what makes great art, can be marginalised.” “They’re usually resurrected after death, though”, Antonia adds, pointedly.
Bringing another demonised Peter into the picture, Nina cites a prime example of authoritarian hypocrisy: “I read this wonderful thing…Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, he’s so boring, but he was going on and on about the poet Rimbaud, who of course shook up French society, upset an awful lot of people, caused scandal…and he was going on about how much he loves Rimbaud’s work, and in the next breath he was going on about how much Peter Doherty is a trouble-maker and that his work isn’t good. He loves Rimbaud after the fact when he’s not going to puke on his well-manicured lawn! How can he say that in the same breath?”
Perrett, Thunders and Doherty are always going to ruffle feathers with those people whose feathers are easily ruffled. Antonia’s conclusion? “I think the best and freest art comes from the margins”. Amen to that.
Peter Perrett is in conversation with Nina Antonia at the Louder Than Word
festival at the Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, July 15th, 9pm. Peter will also perform a short acoustic set. More details and tickets here.
Peter Perrett will also be playing a full band concert at The Garage, Highbury Corner, London, July 24th- buy tickets here.
Image of Nina Antonia by Melanie Smith of Mudkiss Photography.
All words by Gus Ironside. More writing from Gus can be found in his Louder Than War archive.