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


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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.


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