Is Mark Manning Rock’s Marquis de Sade, or Just a Jerkoff?

Written by John Strausbaugh on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



Decadence
is boring. Depravity is dull. Debauchery repeated too many times becomes routine.
How much Sade have you really read? Not skimmed, but read? I enjoy the Cliffs
Notes Sade as much as anyone, but I’ve never been able to get through,
say, Justine, and I daresay most of you haven’t either.



Mark Manning
would clearly like to be thought of as the Marquis de Sade of rock ’n’
roll, but as decadent debauchies go, he’s pretty tame. Much of the time,
his Fucked by Rock: The Unspeakable Confessions of Zodiac Mindwarp (Creation
Books, 208 pages, $17.95) is unspeakable only in the sense of unspeakably tedious.



Fucked
by Rock
should be a great rock ’n’ roll diary. It’s maybe
the best title ever for a rocker’s memoirs. Manning’s band had a fabulous
name, Zodiac Mindwarp (his stage name, nicked from a Spain Rodriguez comic)
& the Love Reaction. You may remember them. They developed a bit of a cult
following during their run, 1986-’96, toured a lot, opened for some big
names at their peak. They had a killer look, all biker leather and huge tattoos
and Satan and swastikas and cum stains. I never heard them, though I’m
told their first couple of albums had some solid, glammy, sleazy hard rock anthems
on them. Like everything else about the band, the albums had wonderful titles–like
Tattooed Beat Messiah, Hoodlum Thunder and One More Knife–plus
craftily badass art direction and a genuine theatrical flair. They seemed more
a conceptual project than a real band, more Spinal Tap than genuine 80s hair
metal rockers. Manning, a British comics illustrator, created them out of his
comic-book fantasies of what the ultimate sex-drugs-and-rock ’n’ roll
avatars should be like: bastard stepsons of Led Zeppelin, spawned in rock ’n’
roll hell. Whether or not they could actually play seems to have been a secondary
consideration.


His book,
then, has very little to do with rock music per se, and everything to do with
retailing the most over-the-top images of rock band debauchery Manning could
dream up. That’s fine as theory, but Manning’s execution falls far
short of his ideas. His wild stories come off as so fake and forced that if
you didn’t know his band had really existed there’d be nothing in
Fucked by Rock to clue you that it’s not fiction. It’s impossible
to tell how many of Manning’s stories are true, and how many are just there
for show. Put that another way: it all rings so false you’re not convinced
that any of it is true. That basic lack of trust between the reader and
an author is a damning flaw.


An apparently
haphazard aggregation of short anecdotal clips, Fucked by Rock says very
little you didn’t already know about a rock band’s tawdry life on
the road. In fact, what Manning mostly discusses, and seems obsessively interested
in, comes down to two nonmusical activities: sodomizing groupies, and jerking
off in porn shops. The latter much more than the former. There’s not a
porn shop in the U.S. or Europe where Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Connection
didn’t evidently whack off. Manning describes every one.


This is
not exactly the stuff of great rock legend. It’s more depressing than depraved.
And it becomes very boring in a short while. On one level, I get it: this is
what it’s like to tour in a rock band, this endless repetition, this one
long, tedious wank. Then, too, it’s a way of saying look, your rock gods
are just jerkoffs like you. Neither is an invalid point, but they hardly carry
an entire book that purports to be "unspeakable confessions." That
Manning writes everything in a Britishy version of the gonzo journalism style
only adds a veneer of manic energy to the dull routine.


The shame
is that on the rare occasions that Manning does actually lower the volume and
discuss something like rock industry reality, he displays a fine cynical intelligence.
Here’s a scene from on the road in the U.S.:



Occasionally
at some haunted motel–Ed Gein’s transvestite ghost mother drifting
through the walls, wandering lone serial killers masturbating in icy air conditioned
rooms–you’d occasionally come across other tour-fried British bands.


In these
strange forgotten places, isolated amongst the tumbleweed and deserts of the
South-Westerly states of America, you’d be drinking in the dusty bar, necking
tequila after tequila for long slow hours, mumbling increasingly slurred inanities
before you realised that the greasy-haired wreck of a human being, black t-shirt
covered in sperm stains, sitting next to you wasn’t your bass guitarist
at all, but some guy from the Mission.


Or any other
collection of black leather degenerates sodomising groupies and shredding their
livers around the terrifying tornado of moronic synapse that is America.


This in
itself is testament to how the grinding similarity of these stints in the goldmines
of Sodom were driving us fucked-up minstrels, far from home, ever lower into
a maelstrom of megalithic filth.



Manning
pokes wicked fun at America a few times, and at what he, as a fundamentally
artsy Brit despite all his sleazy-rock-god posing, sees as the utterly commercial
nature of the relation America has with bands. I’m not sure how accurate
his assessment is, but the sentiment is delivered well in this, one of the clearest,
least posturing passages in the book:


"The
thing about America, the place where all the money comes from, is that they
are not very bright. I mean I know this has been said eight billion times before,
but fuck it, it’s true. Maybe it’s got something to do with the sprightly
nature of the country’s youth. I mean it’s only yesterday that they
reluctantly set all their slaves free–after the work was done–and
all the native Indians were pretty much genocided by stealth out of existence.
They haven’t had that extra two thousand or so years to build up a healthy
disrespect and cynicism towards their elected rulers.


"But
whatever it is, in America the game has to be played straight. You are a can
of beans and as such you are sold while your flavour is hot.


"No
complications like thinking you are an artist, trying to subvert the values
of Western culture, deluded notions of trying to speed the evolution of your
species or any of that other drug-addled nonsense.


"You
sing pretty songs about loving girls and being lonely occasionally and are rewarded
with enough money to make you unhappy for the rest of your life…"


Not surprisingly
for the survivor of a band that never quite made the big break into rock stardom,
Manning has a low opinion of the industry in general, for which he coins the
neat term "Cosmosodomistic." At the same time he can be humorously
self-deprecating about his band’s lack of musical prowess or ambition,
as in:


"How
anyone in their right mind, anyone with the merest hint of a brain cell could
possibly imagine that we could ever, even if we wanted to, sound like the polished
turdosity that was Bon Jovi defies human comprehension.


"We
were a dirty, sleazy, obscene, sexual gutter monster of a thing. We had all
taken far too many drugs, were all borderline psychotics and all of us alcoholics
to the man.


"We
weren’t career-conscious rock social climbers, we didn’t want awards,
number ones and all the other shit that record companies covet.


"We
wanted to rock."


He explains
the gulf dividing bands from record label executives:



I mean sure,
most musicians are pretty simple, that’s why we’re so good at what
we do. Our entire being is focused in an almost autistic fashion into producing
something so transient, ethereal and beautiful that it consumes every other
part of our psychological development. This savant-like state of being is utterly
and completely incomprehensible to people of an executive nature.


They just
think that we’re stupid. We think that they’re evil.


Both assumptions,
of course, being way off the mark.



And at his
most direly cynical–and I think most brutally candid–he trashes the
whole notion of feelgood rock star iconography:



…You see
I can’t remember all the big grand stuff about being in a rock band. I
can’t remember saving little children dying from AIDS by wearing a red
nose and making a cunt of myself in some fly-blown African shithole. I can’t
remember sending little Bobby Sockett a taped message to help him recover from
his trash TV-induced coma.


I can’t
remember playing in front of twenty million people, feeding the world with the
excrement of my overblown ego alongside my best mates Messiah Bonio and Saint
Bobulous.


I can’t
remember buggering Indians and saving rainforests with my sage and deeply spiritual
friend Johnny Bumblebee.


Nor can
I remember saving little cuddly animals with that intelligent humanitarian Sir
Paul McCrapney and his talented visionary genius of a dead wife, Loobie Loo.


I can’t
remember thinking that I was doing any of this rocking shit to save the world
and help mankind at all.


But I can
remember all the squalid petty little arguments, the cheap little bouts of oneupmanship,
cruddy jealousies, predatory tattooed dogwomen, lousy food, vomitous back lounge
rumble-thrones.


I can remember
all the details about why rock isn’t great. Why it has no noble epicentre
to its being. Why it doesn’t make people happy and bring them together.
In fact I can remember all the shitty insignificant details that you, dear punter,
never get to hear about, and you dear colleague would rather forget.


These crapulous
details do not sell records you see, they do not contribute to the glamour that
hangs onto rock and roll’s venereal skeleton. These things do not even
possess a tacky anti-glamour, like suicide and Empire State drug addictions,
all that gory shit people like to read about in newspapers as some kind of bogus
amelioration of envy.


No, the
only stuff I remember is the squalid pointless arguments and the pathetic games
used to stave off the soul-numbing boredom of drug-dusted days sliding in and
out of continents and consciousness, paying little attention to either.



Such revelations
are rare in Fucked by Rock, and buried among far too many overblown and
phony-sounding anecdotes in which Manning strives way too strenuously to play
up to his own rock star fantasy image, which in the end is just as untrustworthy
as those of the halo-wearing Sir Paul McCrapney and the mirror-kissing Messiah
Bonio.


And now
he’s committing the ne plus ultra of failed-rock-star sins: Timed with
the release of this book, Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction have come
back together for that most dreadful of rock phenomena, The Reunion Tour. They’re
slated to play the Continental (an appropriately downmarket venue) this Tuesday,
Oct. 16.


If the band
postures as hollowly and hits as many false notes as Fucked by Rock does,
it won’t be the concert of the century. But it might provide scattered
moments of fake-sleazy fun and even a few glimpses of evil brilliance.


..