Sunday, February 27, 2011



Three times a year, a fat A5 catalogue from BeatBooks arrives through The Generalist’s door, stacked full of rare and wonderful books, magazines and posters for sale. The February issue centres on Beat Material, the May Issue on Avant-Garde movements from Fluxus to Punk, the July issue on Psychedelia. Andrew Sclanders has been dealing in this sort of material since 1991 and seem to be able to consistently unearth remarkable treasures. The latest catalogue [Burroughs up top] features four collections: (1) William Burroughs, the Cut-Up Method & Scientology; (2) Mel Lyman, Charles Manson & The Process; (3) John Giorno Poetry Systems; (4) Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground & Friends. Prices range from a few pounds to thousands. The whole catalogue is available on-line at Recommended.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Above: (Left) Rare copy of ‘The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo. Published in the UK by Charisma Books in 1974 [The Generalist Archive]; (Right): American paperback edition of ‘The Revenge of the Cockroach People.’

This post begins with an anecdote. The date and location remain to be verified. I think it was in the 80s. The location was a pub in London’s Covent Garden. It was early evening and I was in the company of the editor of a London magazine who was about to rendevous with Hunter S. Thompson. I excitedly tagged along. Hunter was being paid in coke and the editor was there to deliver.

We entered the bar and their stood Hunter, larger than life, is his bushwacker hat and classic outfit. we said hello briefly and then the Ed and HST headed for the john. Sometime later they were back and there I was, standing next to the Man. We chatted for 10 mins max. My first question, how is Oscar Zeta Acosta these days ?

I figured this was a good bet as not too many people even knew who OZA was let alone read his excellent book ‘The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo’. It certainly broke the ice.

oscar-zeta-acosta1 Left: wonderful graphic from brilliant blog ‘The Omnivore’

The story goes as follows. Oscar Zeta Acosta was the model for the attorney in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, portrayed in the two movie versions of the story by Peter Boyle and Benito del Toro.

HST met OZA for the first time in 1967 at a time when Acosta was working as an attorney in Berkeley, California. Four years later he figured large in ‘Strange Rumblings in Aztlan’ a memorable lengthy journalistic piece by HST which was published in Rolling Stone magazine.


(Above: Salazar walking with Bobby Kennedy. Source: LA TIMES

The piece was written in the wake of the death of Ruben Salazar, a nationally known Mexican-American reporter for the  Los Angeles Times. On Aug. 29, 1970, during a protest against the Vietnam war, Salazar was killed when a tear gas canister fired by a sheriff's deputy hit him in the head. He was 42..


Source: Scan of text above and photo below from original copy of Issue 81 of Rolling Stone, published April 29th 1971 [The Generalist Archive]

OSCARZ4843 OZA was working at that time as an activist attorney for the  Chicano movement in the barrios of East Los Angeles. While working on the piece, the two of them made the trip to Las Vegas that forms the basis of ‘Fear and Loathing.’

The extraordinary story of the ‘brown power’ movement is recounted in OZA’s second book ‘The Revenge of the Cockroach People’ which i just found in a second-hand bookstore – the trigger for this post. In the intro, HST memorably describes him as follows:

Oscar was one of God’s own prototypes – a high-powered mutant of some kind who was never even considered for mass production. He was too weird to live and to rare to die….’

OSCARZ3842 OZA put his life on the line during the riots, disturbances and trials of that period. He even ran for sheriff

In 1972, OZA disappeared in Mexico. The last person to talk to him was his son. Oscar said he was ‘about to board a boat full of white snow.’ No trace of him has ever been found.


bandido THE GREAT THOMPSON HUNT: An excellent website, no longer being updated, but full of interesting stuff. Includes:

Details of Hunter and Oscar’s first meeting

Review of Bandido by Ilan Stavans

The Oscar Zeta Acosta Collection is housed at UC Santa Barbara: Special Collections. Check via Online Archive of California.


Wikipedia: Oscar Zeta Acosta and Chicano Movement  

Watch Oscar on YouTube:

Oscar Zeta Acosta La Cucaracha part 1

Oscar Zeta Acosta La Cucaracha part 2


Listen to my long audio interview with Ralph Steadman about his book ‘The Joke’s Over Memories of Hunter S. Thompson


Remembering Hunter S. Thompson by Lee Torrey

The Archaeology of New Journalism

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



Following on from my Previous Post on Rory Maclean’s account of the  Hippie Trail, one name in the book rang a large bell with me: Charles Sobhraj, the Asian serial killer.

This led me to dig around in  the Generalist Archive and find all the material relating to the interview I did with Richard Neville, formerly editor of OZ magazine, when he was in London promoting the publication of ‘Bad Blood’, the excellent standard biography of Sobhraj he wrote with Julie Clarke. This original story was published in the NME under my pen name Dick Tracy on the 11th October 1980. This is its first internet publication.

The interview rambles a bit in the middle into material about the counter-culture in general, Neville’s meeting with Bob Geldof in Australia and other related matters. I have edited it down to focus on Sobhraj.


Richard Neville, the son of a Lieutenant Colonel, was born in Sydney, Australia in 1941. While at the University of New South Wales he edited his first newspaper ‘Tharunka’ ( ‘message stick’ in Aborigine) before launching  the  satirical magazine OZ on April Fool’s Day 1963. He and his fellow editors twice faced obscenitycharges; at the second trial, they were sentenced to six months in prison with  hard labour. Released on bail pending an appeal, they were eventually acquitted.  LTMG1049,-Oz-Magazine,-Scho

A  similar pattern of events followed when Neville launched OZ in London in 1967. He was prosecuted at the Old Bailey in 1971 , along with Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis, under the Obscene Publications Act for the notorious School Kids Issue, a case that grabbed national headlines, and earned Neville and the others a prison sentence, a verdict that was again overturned on appeal. image002

In 1970, his book ‘Play Power’, a summary of the major themes, events and ideas of the international counter culture  and launched the alternative weekly newspaper ‘Ink’. The last lines of the book sum up the mood of the moment: 'The politics of play: the international equi-sexual, inter-racial survival strategy of  the future, the laughing gas to counteract tomorrow's Mace. Onward to the eighties, Motherfuckers.’

Now the eighties have arrived, Richard Neville is back in London for a short visit to tape material for an Australian tv show and  to talk about his latest book- a dark story of modern crime.

‘Bad Blood’, which he co-wrote with Australian journalist Julie Clarke, is the story of Charles Sobhraj, a modern mass murderer, born into Japanese-occupied Saigon, the illegitimate son of a Vietnamese shop girl and a prosperous Indian tailor. When he was four, his mother married a  French junior Army officer and Sobhraj became torn between his real and adoptive families. Against his will, his mother later took him to France where he was sent to boarding school, despite the fact that he could not speak the language. He became lonely and embittered and, when he left school, his life revolved around the twin vice centres of Marseilles and Saigon. He dreamt of his rich Indian father and the life of luxury he felt had been denied him. A student of Nietzsche, he developed his dominant character and personal charisma and used them to full advantage in a crime career that led from stealing cars to dealing gems to burning bodies.

As Neville relates, they were hired to write a quickie biography of Sobhraj and ended up in a nightmare assignment that changed their lives. They describe their book as journalism which uses some of the techniques of a novel - a tradition established by such classics as ‘In Cold Blood ‘- but it remains a confusing and disturbing read as if to emphasise that in life there are no neat edges. There's a bewildering variety of locations, victims,  and situations which leave the reader no time to relax if he or she wants to keep a grip on the story. Yet the message of the book survives, the strangeness leaking out like perfumed puss.

In one of the last issues of OZ, Neville wrote: 'A writer especially feels a prisoner of his past, bound by statements uttered previously....Writing for me is hard labour because of the battle to express what I really feel and think as opposed to what I ought to feel and think. This struggle, however hypocritical it becomes at times, to be explicit, consistent and truthful, has rendered it impossible for me to sign on the dotted line of any particular brand of ism.'

He still has that earnestness and independence. He is  good company and an interesting and stimulating talker. He recognises the ironies involved in him writing ‘Bad Blood’ yet he does not shy away from them.'

Dick Tracy: At the end of ‘Bad Blood’ you wrote: 'I had come to Delhi with a crude theory of Charles as a child of colonialism revenging himself on the counter-culture. Instead I was dazzled by a brilliant psychopath.’ Could you explain that remark and talk about how Sobhraj has affected your life ?

Richard Neville: Well that remark is difficult to explain of course. I would begin when he came out of the French jails in '68. I was in London at the time and it seemed that the whole world was going to be conquered by the young and the wild and the free and the rebellious and that's when Charles was on the threshold of what should have been a new life for him but it ended up with him marauding on young Westerners in Asia.

So when I first got interested in the story I thought that is really fascinating. A French-Vietnamese, a person with a lot of family dislocation as well as  cultural dislocation, crossing the border to kill people in faded jeans drifting through Asia without much money. Why?

It seemed there was an element of cultural revenge but I wouldn't give it as much causality as I did before. I think Sobhraj certainly hated. You see for Charles, who was materially deprived and spent all his life wanting to get wealth back, people who voluntarily shed wealth, shed their middle-class lifestyle and drifted through Asia on $1 a night hotels smoking marijuana completely did freak him out. That's why we would occasionally meet people who'd been ripped off by Charles and they'd say: "Yes, he used to roll up his sleeves in restaurants and say 'Look, no syringe marks.'" So he was obsessively anti counter-culture. That's the political side.

I went to Delhi with this sort of crude theory but then, when you are with him day in and day out over about a three month period, you watch him wheeling and dealing, you watch him turn the prison guards against each other. There was an Australian girl and an English girl in jail who had been arrested. You watch him turn those two girls against each other. He tried to split Julie and I apart and turn us both against each other.

The more he confessed to his crimes and boasted about them - it was like being lowered into a well and I went lower and lower and lower. Maybe Dante's Inferno would be a better analogy.

I only used the word psychopath once in this book and that's the second to last sentence because as soon as you put a label, people don't want to know. But the thing about Charles is that he is - to use the title of one of Nietzsche's books, which he read a lot - All Too Human. I mean he's an extremely likeable, charismatic man of versatile intelligence and abilities, extraordinary traits of character that I think you and certainly I was taught to admire. You know, 100 press-ups before breakfast.

He's a real survivor. He and I saw an analogy between his capacity to survive and the Vietnamese's capacity to beat the Americans in the Vietnam War. Charles has that. He can suffer, suffer, suffer, suffer and still get through it and still survive and even turn it. He is now running Tihar jail just as he ended up running all the other jails.

From talking to Charles you come away with very complicated emotions. I mean he's obviously a monstrous man. He's a man who's confessed to killing and torturing people that I would identify with and yet he's a man who was born in such incredible circumstances of disharmony and lack of justice and survived through that and seems to be unstoppable.

Yet while I was actually in Delhi talking to him every day and being with him in an intimate situation and watching him operate, I couldn't help but admire the way he turned every situation to his own advantage. Not admire because I wanted to emulate but admire because under his own terms he certainly was impressive.

DT:Do you ever feel worried  because you are now part of his life. You've been involved with him and he knows you. Presumably he will get out at some stage.

RN: That's a really fascinating question and nobody else has asked that.

The thing is it sounds all very trendy. It's not. We've had a lot of problems with this book. It's really been an absolute grind. It was two years in all, the research and the writing. Nobody wanted us to do the book like this. We were supposed to do a quickie book in three months, a kind of ghost-written biography. It's been an absolute nightmare.

But at last its kind of taking off and the movie rights are now on their way. Roman Polanski was shown the book and asked to direct the film and he said incredible, he would love to do it but he made one condition. No-one else knows this yet, just heard it last night. The condition was that Charles Sobhraj would no longer be alive, for that very reason that is the nub of your question. Especially after what Polanski's been through, he didn't want Sobhraj around.


BAD BLOOD3838 (Left): Photo of Richard Neville and myself during this interview, in a house in London’s Little Venice. Photo: Mikki Rain.

Part 2 of the interview continues here.

I don't think Sobhraj will ever be killed, he's sort of unkillable in a way. Unless he really does attempt a very daring escape from an Indian jail and the Indians actually get it together to aim their rifles roughly in his direction which, after four months in Delhi, one would find it hard to believe. Most of the time the soldiers didn't even have bullets for their guns.

Obviously our lives are entwined. I think that during the book both of us woke up with nightmares through it. I was thinking last night that I often wake up with a terrible feeling of guilt. I had a dream that they were looking for a body, that I'd killed the body. Somehow even dreams get intertwined. Although he says he has no remorse, I think I did get some of his unconscious remorse.

On the other hand, if you live part of your life as a journalist/writer rather than somebody who goes away and writes books about rabbits, and especially if you've had a fairly middle-class protected background, to go off on a rule-breaking adventure like that does expand the horizons. I got really deeply involved in the criminal scene in Delhi. I mean all our contacts there were French, Vietnamese, European criminals that had been let out of Tihar jail, or the police, or the very low-rated solicitors that just worked for criminals.

I think it's a problem having had such an intimate relationship with Charles. The way I've coped with it, which will sound very callous, is that it was predicated on a professional assignment.

I sent the book to him in Delhi. In fact, ironically, Emma Soames of the Evening Standard happened to be going to Delhi for some fashion junket and I just met her the day before she went and she said "Do you know anyone in Delhi?”. I said, "Well, as a matter of fact there is this guy, yeah." So Winston Churchill's granddaughter actually went and met Sobrajh and she was completely shocked by it. I mean just stunned.

He wrote me a fairly sour note saying why hadn't I sent ten copies of the book. Typical Charles. I thought well that's it. I think that now our relationship must come to an end and both of us don't write to each other at the moment.

DT: You talk about ironies. It seems to me that the biggest irony of all is that OZ, the magazine of fun, travel and adventure, glamorised the hippie trail and here you are writing about someone who...

RN: An obituary of the hippie trail, maybe.

DT: Is that how you see it?

RN: The reason that I felt I had to do this book, that I owed it to myself and also to a lot of people who went on the pot trail - and this sounds sanctimonious - is yes, one of the slogans of OZ was ‘the magazine of fun, travel and adventure’. ‘Play Power’ has a whole chapter on the pot trail. When I first left Australia to come to India I travelled on that trail. Now this is where the story gets interesting.

Nine years later I was leaving Australia again to join Julie in New York and the plane stopped at Bangkok and I thought, god, I'll go and check out all my old haunts and I tried to get a feel of the place. I thought, uhuh, why do they call it the pot trail, it should be the heroin highway. I was talking to a lot of the sort of guys who were still going and they were talking about the eight hour delays between Afghanistan and Iran because of all the border checks and the whole thing had become a kind of bureaucracy. So I thought, okay, I’ll do a piece on the pot trail ten years later.

Well I was getting back on the plane and there was an item in the Bangkok papers about an unidentified body found floating off the waters of Pattaya Beach resort and straight away I got a few goose pimples. I thought that sort of thing never happened because whenever we travelled the worst thing you got was dysentery. When you look back you think that's amazing. I mean I can imagine what would happen if a lot of penniless Asians tried to hitchhike their way through the South Bronx, and there we all were really surviving very well.

I'm not saying I regret people having gone on that pot trail because I think it really was an horizon-widening experience. No-one regrets it. There are not many adventures left in the world and that was one of them.

Right. So I saw this item and I thought that's a bit strange. Went to America and the very first piece I wrote in New York - I went there as a freelance writer - was on the pot trail ten years later. I started writing for High Times, ended up writing for the New York Times and then Random House, who had published ‘Play Power’ years ago, contacted me and said, "Hey, there's this guy that's been arrested for these" and they sent me down the cuttings and I thought my god, my god, there's that body. That woman was Teresa Knowlton who was the first one. I thought that is destiny to some extent.

I will go further than that and say that, in a way, I think it was an obituary of the pot trail because not only did Charles Sobrajh take the fun out of travel and adventure, it's that the countries themselves have just disappeared like Cambodia. I smoked opium with Martin Sharp in 1966 in Phnom Penh.



(Above) Caption on back of photo in red crayon reads: ‘Neville talking to Sobhraj who is under arrest in Delhi, Dated 1977. [Photographer unknown/The Generalist Archive]

DT: So what is happening to Sobhraj now?

RN: As far as Charles Sobhraj is concerned, our book is the case against him. This is another  irony, Neville as a cop. All the weeding together of the evidence, both from his mouth or from police records or from talking to the victims who survived, was done by us.

My greatest fear - its not a personal fear because if Charles escapes from jail I'll just change my name and go into hiding in Melbourne - is that more people will get killed because once you've killed one person nothing stops you killing others. You go to the same hell really. However we're battling a remarkable, charismatic, unstoppable man.

The latest news is this. All those people that were arrested with him in Delhi are now out of jail. Some of them are out of the country. One of them is back here. Even Marie Andrée Leclerc, who was his girlfriend in ? at the time of the murders, is now out of jail.

Charles has got a tape recorder in the jail so when some of the prison guards came and accepted a bribe from him to do something, he then took a petition to the High Court aimed to expose their corruption, which he withdrew at the last minute on condition that he was given the prison canteen to run, which sounds like small beer. It isn't. That gives him a lot of power because he gets a rake-off of every deal that goes on in jail to do with food. So he's in a position of absolute power.

A couple of prisoners were beaten up by him a few weeks ago. In other words he's running Tihar jail. In fact in one of his last letters to me, he said he wanted to congratulate himself because this time he would escape from jail by legal means. There is no extradition treaty between India and Thailand, which is where the five murders were committed. So let's say that his legal future is looking full of holes, so he could conceivably, some time in the next twenty years, be out scot free. Even though to me, personally, on tape which I have, he has confessed to the five murders in Thailand, two in Nepal and one in Pakistan. Personally confessed on tape to me. He has been charged with none of these murders yet because they took place in countries other than the one he was arrested in. So the world has not heard the last of Charles Sobhraj.

DT: Do you see any strong parallels between Charles Sobhraj and Charlie Manson ?

RN: There are obviously some parallels but there's none of that messianic hippie, Beatle-record-listening-to weirdness that Manson had. Manson used to meet women on street corners, fill them up full of acid, start to fuck them, tell them that their father was fucking them, play all sorts of psycho games. Charles was much more subtle, urbane and less obviously fucked up. and is not so much interested in having a whole commune of people. Charles is a loner. I think the parallels are very few except that he is young and charismatic, male, with a lot of accomplices, both male and female, around him. But to me its a different story played back on a different cultural tapestry.

Certainly I think the one strong element in both stories is how jails turned out to be their universities. That's where they both got their PhD in criminology. Charles' story comes out as a testimony of the failure of the prison system to do anything other than produce Charles Sohbraj1s. The final sting in the tail of all that is we may not agree with capital punishment but  what do you do with a person like Charles. It does put that dilemma right back onto our doorstep. Would you want him knocking on your back door? I wouldn't.

DT: What do you think are the implications of making a big movie about such a man?

RN: One of the reasons that I have stressed that the case against Sobhraj was our book was because I'd been asked often are you glorifying a criminal, which to me is ridiculous. Are you glorifying Adolf Hitler because you're writing a book about him ? I think that to decide not to tell a story because one individual may get an ego benefit out of it is ridiculous.

Whether or not the book works its an extraordinary story that, if you'd gone away with lots of acid and marijuana - 70 people in a room and 18 monkeys - came back and wrote the story up, you'd say bullshit, completely ridiculous, start again, it's too fantastic. It must be told and I think the book does tell it.

So what do we learn from it? First of all that gets shaky because there's no Agatha Christie black-and-white motive for the crime. But there are not many in-depth portraits of a murderer of the calibre of Sobhraj. I think that's why the book has now  been set as a text book in criminology classes and psychology classes. The book goes right in deep, none of it made up, from suitcases and suitcases and suitcases of original documents.

This is a story that has incredible relevance because we're all part of that story. We're all part of the Vietnam War and of cultural and family dislocation. The events of history sweep through that book just as they swept through our lives.

On top of all this Sobhraj is still alive. Its a story about the complete failure of law and order internationally, a complete indictment of the police forces, from Interpol to every Asian police force you can imagine. A lot of the critical consciousness that OZ had I think that this book has because of the story it tells.

In the end its an insight, a portrait of the making of a monster.


It has been more than 30 years since I did the interview with Richard Neville and since his book ‘Bad Blood’ was first published. This is an update about where they are now.



In 1986, Sobhraj escaped along with several other inmates from Tihar Prison. According to a BBC report (12 Aug 2004), he managed this by throwing a birthday party to which guards and prisoners alike were invited.

Grapes and biscuits handed around the guests were secretly injected with sleeping pills, knocking out everyone except Sobhraj and four other escapees.

‘As a fugitive, Sobhraj is reported to have behaved more like a holidaying student than a desperate prisoner prepared to stop at nothing to evade justice. He openly drank in bars and showed off an Italian made pistol to fellow drinkers.

‘Needless to say, it was not long before he was re-arrested. But, it is alleged, there was a method in his madness.

‘Critics say that he deliberately escaped towards the end of his 10 year jail term in order to be re-captured and face new charges for his escape.

‘That way he could avoid extradition to Thailand where he was wanted for five murders and would almost certainly be given the death penalty.

‘By the time of his release in 1997, the 20 year time-frame for him to be tried in Bangkok had lapsed.’

After his release Sobhraj went to Paris where, according to U.S.S. Post he planned to have a reunion with his daughter, to have a quick wedding and lay plans for a book and tv programmes.

According to Wikipedia he ‘retired to a comfortable life in suburban Paris . He hired a publicity agent and charged large sums of money for interviews and photographs. He is said to have charged over $15 million…for the rights to a movie based on his life.’

Then in 2003, he travelled to Nepal under the guise of a documentary-film maker for Paris-based Gentleman Films and as a businessman with plans to start a mineral water company. [USS News]

Spotted in the street by a journalist, he was arrested in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel for allegedly travelling on a false passport and for the murders of a Canadian man and an American woman which he allegedly carried out 28 years ago. ‘

[‘In December 1975, two badly charred bodies were found in different parts of Kathmandu valley. The woman’s body, which was first stabbed to death, was identified as that of Connie Jo Bronzich, an American backpacker with a bad reputation for taking drugs and participate with other addicts. The second body, that of a man, could not be identified. The police speculated that it might have been that of a Canadian tourist, Laurent Armand Carriere, who had slept with Bronzich in Kathmandu.’(Source U.S.S. Post]

On August 20th, 2004, a district court judge in Kathmandu sentenced him to life imprisonment. Sobhraj appealed against the conviction but it was confirmed by the Court of Appeals in 2005. He continued to fight against the verdict. On July 30th, 2010 the Nepalese Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a 20-year life-term for the murder of Bronzich and another year and a RS2,000 fine for the fake passport. They also ordered a seizure of all hsi properties. The case against him for the murder of Carriere is still pending.

Kathmandu, Feb 7 2011 (PTI) Nepal has told the UN rights watchdog UNHRC that celebrity criminal Charles Sobhraj was given a fair trial when the top court last year upheld the life sentence of the ''bikini killer'' for the 1975 murder of an American tourist in the country. The independence and impartiality of Nepal''s criminal justice system cannot be questioned, the government told the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which had asked the authorities to reply within 180 days to Sobhraj''s accusations of "biased" judgment. {Source: MSN NEWS]


Source: Nepal shoots down Bollywood’s Sobhraj plan

A made-for tv movie ‘Shadow of the Cobra’ starring Art Malik as Sobhraj was released in July 1989.



You can find out what Richard is up to on his website:

You can now buy the Sobhraj book from the site as a digital download.


A movie based on his memoir ‘Hippie Hippie Shake’, directed by Beeban Kidron was completed but the production company Working Title confirmed, without explanation, that the movie will not be released. See: ‘OZ Film no great shakes’

Monday, February 14, 2011


Hippie Trail1835

Regular readers of The Generalist will have read our Previous Posts (listed below) on the history of the hippie trail. This book was recommended by many sources as being one the key works on the subject. Many of you may already have read it but having just finished it, I am happy to be able to add my own comments and praise to what is a very fine piece of work.

Canadian Rory Maclean takes us with him as he travels along the old routes from Istanbul to Nepal via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. At every step of the way, he tries to connect with people and places from the past whilst also reporting on the present day situation. Often the contrast could not be more stark. Its a remarkable journey.

Maclean has a brilliant way of interweaving the sights and sounds of the journey, bringing to life the people that he meets and giving enough of his own reactions to make it a personal journey as well.

Obviously the world is now a different place. Obviously Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular are no longer carefree and picturesque places to visit. Maclean has some very nasty experiences and some harrowing train and bus journeys which make you pleased you are the armchair traveller. Then, at the next turn, he describes an idyllic situation that makes you envious not to be there.

He is carefully non-judgmental. He calls the hippies and the beats who first made these journeys the Intrepids and is at pains to give those who weren’t around at the time enough background to help you understand why literally millions of people made the journey east in search of spiritual adventures during the 1950s-1970s.

He meets some wonderful characters who still hold on to their beliefs and ideals and others who have lost the plot. He is also at pains to ask for opinions, good and bad, about the hippie trail and its effect on the people of the countries they passed through. There are of course good and bad aspects. Interestingly he points out that now the traffic is likely to come from the other direction, young eastern people heading for the West.

One the most amazing facts in the book for me was concerning the Beatles five week stay in India with the Maharishi, a well-known part of the saga of the moptops. What I didn’t realise is that they wrote some 40 songs in that short period and that most of both ‘Abbey Road’ and the ‘White Al bum’ contain songs written on the bank of the Ganges. That does put a different light on things.

The story is extremely well-told and has a wonderful story arc. The final chapters are amongst the best in the book. Its clear that the world has changed since those times but he gains inspiration and admiration for the pioneers who travelled in rickety buses searching for a life-changing experience at a time when there were no mobile phones or GPS devices, no internet and cash-points, very few cheap flights and precious few cameras.

‘Magic Bus’ is a warm and wonderful triumph by a great travel writer whose many other titles I intend to seek out. You'll enjoy the journey.

See Previous Posts:




Thursday, February 10, 2011


SS1832 Copy of SS1832

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Down here in the Silver Screener bunker THE GENERALIST has been watching a random collection of mock- and documentaries.

‘Beyond The Pole’ is genuinely funny and strangely moving. This mockdoc follows two mates on the first ever organic, vegetarian, carbon neutral trip to the North Pole, with no back-up, to raise awareness about global warming. Needless to say, things go badly wrong.

‘Confessions of A Superhero’ explores the lives of four people who earn their living on Hollywood Boulevard dressed as, respectively, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and The Hulk. We see them in and out of costume. Strange.

‘Cannes Man’ is a mockumentary shot live at the Cannes Film Festival. Top hustler meets young unknown and bets that he can make him the biggest star of the Festival. Film features cameos with numerous real-life stars including Johnny Depp and Dennis Hopper. Seymour Cassel carries it.

‘Teenage Paparazzo’ is what it says, a doc about a real-life 14-year-old paparazzo Austin Visschedyk who hangs with the big boys and sells pics of celebs to mags and the web. Real life LA.

‘At The Edge of The World’ takes you on board the Sea Shepherd ship as it heads down to Antarctica to try and stop the Japanese whalers. Excellent.

‘Brilliant Moon’ follows the life of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the former head of the Nyigma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Narrated by Richard Gere and Lou Reed. Interesting.

‘Sunrise/Sunset’ is a remarkable up-close doc. Granted total access to His Holiness for 24 hours, this is a day in the life of the Dalai Lama from when he wakes up at 3AM until his bedtime at dusk.

‘For the Next 7 Generations’ documents the story that began in 2004 ‘;when thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers from all four corners, moved by their concern for our planet, came together at a historic gathering, where they decided to form an alliance: The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. This is their story. Four years in-the-making and shot on location in the Amazon rainforest, the mountains of Mexico, North America, and at a private meeting with the Dalai Lama in India, his movie  follows what happens when these wise women unite.’

‘Meth’ is a heavy intense US doc about the experiences of gay men whose lives were destroyed by meth. It is not easy or happy viewing, a glimpse into a world of ecstasy and pain.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011



 stamp830 A remarkable double-sided clipping from Science magazine arrived in the post (yes, in an envelope with an appropriate stamp), from Michael Marten, friend and colleague, founder member of the team behind An Index of Possibilities and creator of the Science Photo Library. There was a handwritten note on the back of a Gaugin postcard [‘Nevermore’] which read:

I am very taken with the enclosed clipping. Not only are we not the centre of the solar system, galaxy or universe, we aren’t entirely ourselves either! If the lifeforms we think of as distinct, from trees to apes, are hybrids or chimeras, stuff of microbes as much as flesh and xylem, then the world truly starts to be seen as one interlinked Gaian entity.’

The two stories refer to the following:


Source: The Canadian Microbiome Project


‘This past decade has seen a shift in how we see the microbes and viruses in our body. There is increasing acceptance that they are us, and for good reason. Nine in 10 of the cells in the body are microbial. In the gut alone, as many as 1000 species bring to the body 100 times as many genes as our own DNA carries. A few microbes makes us sick, but most are commensal and just call the human body home. Collectively they are known as the human microbiome.’

‘Viewing the human and its microbial and viral components as intimately intertwined has broad implications. As one immunologist put it, such a shift “is not dissimilar philosophically from the recognition that the Earth is not the centre of the solar system.”

Source: Bodies Hardworking Microbes Get Some Overdue Respect – Elizabeth Pennisi (Science Vol 330. 17 Dec 2010}


Astronomers using the worlds most advanced telescopes have photographed a planet orbiting a distant star. This first ever event, captured a giant Jupiter sized planet in its orbit.



Astonishingly, the astronomer Giordano Bruno had this to say in 1584 – for which he was imprisoned and then burnt at the stake.

‘There are countless suns and countless earths all rotating round their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to use because they were smaller and non-luminous.’

Astonishingly, in the year 2000 we had discovered just 26 of these extrasolar planets.  By 2010 we had found 505. Hundreds more are expected to follow. NASA’s Kepler space telescope detected 700 possible candidates in the first few months of its launch.

Researchers are convinced that ‘earth-like planets abound in the universe and  that improved detection capabilities in the coming years will turn up scores of them just in our galactic backyard. This insight has opened up the possibility of detecting life elsewhere in the universe within the lifetimes of young astronomers entering the field, if not sooner.’

Source: Alien Planets Hit the Commodities Market - Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (Science Vol 330. 17 Dec 2010}

Tuesday, February 01, 2011



The cover photo is mesmerising. Take a good hard look before marching through this remarkable narrative by a man who cannot die by normal means, who has cheated death repeatedly, who recognises no normal human timetable or substance ingestion regime, who rarely sleeps and once stayed up for nine days straight before falling over, who has the constitution of an ox , who charms up dark powerful riffs from the deep soul of his being.

It is difficult to imagine how such a man is still standing let alone consistently playing to millions. He has never stopped playing every day (except when in a hospital or jail or unconscious) since  before he was living in scuzzy flat in Withnail-and-I-land with Brian and Mick who, every day, would just sit there listening and playing along with Chicago Blues records and trying to figure out how it was done. Day after day, for eight hours or maybe twelve or fifteen, fuelled by whatever they were on at the time.

The conquered London quickly, found fast fame, hit America running and recharged interest in the blues they loved in its birthplace where it had been forgotten . Suddenly Muddy Waters and contemporaries had a career again.

This a meticulous book which flows pretty much seamlessly as if Keef is talking right to you, in other words in his own conversational style. At least a hundred people were interviewed and their recollections are interspersed giving vivid impressions of Keef’s world.

You don’t want to be around when the red mist comes down, like the young guy at his daughter’s marriage who’s had the cheek to eat a bit of the crust off Keef’s shepherd’s pie. [Keef is extremely keen on his shepherd’s pie. He gives us his recipe. It’s in his rider. Keef doesn’t go on unless his pie’s there, ready to go, with an unbroken crust] He chased the poor lad with cutlasses that were handily hanging on the wall of Redlands.

James Fox deserves a massive tip of the hat here. In lesser hands it would not be one of the great auto-biographies in modern music. I can imagine Keef constantly scribbling a thousand notes, talking into recorders, each incident captured quickly triggering off a starburst of other memories when Keef either slept with a Ronnette, threatened to kill a barman, threw a knife at someone, drove some machine at breakneck speed, met some of the greatest legends in blues and country music, snorted or jacked up & spliffed until the morning, swigging Jack Daniels, playing the guitar, getting down with his buddies – or all of the above. What a life. Only for the strong.

This book in master-class in a number of things: how to understand the blues and how to play it on the guitar; what not to do when taking drugs. It talks interestingly about how the dynamics work within a band, gives painful stories about how bad it can get between principal members.

Brian comes across as a really nasty piece of work. Wyman is hardly mentioned. Mick make’s appearances and is ritually insulted at every turn. It explains how he got the nickname Brenda.

His son Marlon, by contrast, enters the book at a certain point, as Keef’s young sidekick as they career across European borders, staying ahead of the law, with Keef jacking up in the front seat. Marlon’s own accounts of their perilous adventures are both extraordinary, moving, and frightening at times. From the evidence of his own words and by all accounts, he has survived and thrived.

Keef’ ‘Life’ ranks with ‘Chronicles’ and ‘Bound For Glory’ as a remarkable account of a musician’s life.

See Previous Posts on Keef and the Stones:


A review of Robert Greenfield’s amazing book on the making of Exile on Main Street, and on Martin Scorsese’s documentary.

NME: The Stone With The Golden Arm

The exclusive account I wrote for the NME on Keith Richard’s Heroin Trial

Three images from The Generalist Archive:


Original American press still which bills Andrew Oldham as the band’s Creative Management and Allen Klein as Direction. Not for long!


A original still from the amazing Mayles brothers documentary on Altamont


A publicity still for The Stones European Tour in the 1970s


I went to interview Andrew Loog Oldham at his house in Chelsea and this piece was first published in the NME on April 9th 1977. It centres on his record label immediate. I have a much longer version of the interview and the original tape in the Archive.

"What's is going to be then, eh?" ALO and KR contemplate a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Source: The Houndblog


WHEN Immediate Records was launched in spring, 1965, its slogan was 'A New Record Company of Tomorrow Today'.

Founded by Andrew Loog Oldham, at that time Stones' manager and 60s hipkid, along with partner Tony Calder, it was the brightest independent label around, featuring redhot product from the likes of The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner and The Nice, backed up by a production team including Mike D'Abo, Jagger (for a time), Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, and Oldham's own successful, super-speedy promo techniques.

With the help of pirate radio and the general British 'Swinging 60s' boom, Immediate's fortunes rocketed, allowing Oldham to main­tain plush offices in London and New York while producing some of the definitive sounds of the period.

Five years later however, the dream was over, the company grounded by money troubles and problems with its top acts.

Oldham went bankrupt, Immediate went into liquidation and the lawyers moved in.

Our interest in the fortunes of Immediate, past and present, was sparked off by an accountancy firm's letter to NME claiming the sale of the Immediate catalogue had now been completed and that outstanding royalty payments could be made to all Immediate artists.

The accountants needed some assistance in locating various artists.

We told them where they could find Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Jeff Beck . . . informed them that Sam Cooke and Cyril Davis – but were stumped on the remaining cast — featuring names like the Outer Limits and Stuff Smith, who seemed born only to be forgotten.

For afficionados of Immediate product, however, the news looks good. Our call to the lawyers confirmed that the entire catalogue has been bought by NEMS, the cash settlement allowing past royalties to be paid.

Peter Knight of NEMS says all contracts have now been re­negotiated, and there are plans to reintroduce Immediate product slowly but surely on to the market.

Already out are The Small Faces "Ogden" album alongside two of their best singles, "Lazy Sunday" and "Itchycoo Park", Chris Farlowe's "Out Of Time" was a chart hit second time round and was backed by a "Best Of" . . . album, while Amen Corner and Nice albums rounded off the first batch of releases.

Plans for 1977 involve 12 albums and six singles including vinyl from Humble Pie and P.P. Arnold.

And when the re-releases start wearing thin, there are also plans to introduce new talent to the label. So Immediate lives on!

There this story might have ended, except that Knight put me on to Oldham himself, back in London for a short period after living in South America, enabling me to delve further into the history of this unique label.

Oldham's affection for that period of his mercurial career was obvious even over the phone as he talked at length about past plans and dreams.

By his account the whole story began in a telephone box. As manager of The Rolling Stones he was off to Ready Steady Go with the band after a particularly frustrating day dealing with Decca. The idea of putting together their own record label came up, the car was stopped, Oldham telephoned Leslie Gould at Phillips, securing a provisional yes on a distribution deal and by the time they got home that evening they had the Immediate label set to go.

Oldham had already been working with Tony Calder for some time— after they had merged public relations companies.

21st August 1965: British music manager and promoter Andrew Oldham, who has formed a record company called 'Immediate Records' with rock producer Tony Calder. (Photo by William H. Alden/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

He talks of his 'Phil Spector dreams' of the time which merged well with Calder's interest in the facts and figures end of the business.

"We were all horny and greedy then," recalls Oldham.

Having been Stateside with the Stones and having met both Phil Spector and Bob Crewe, he was impressed not only by their production abilities but also by their business acumen.

The level of material success that those top engineers and producers were enjoying obviously turned the young Oldham's head.

Having a record company was not only an ideal vehicle for the Stones but also an important part of Oldham's masterplan.

At that time the British record market was dominated by four major companies: Decca, EMI, Pye and Philips.

Oldham reckons Joe Meek was the first independent producer who 'furnished and delivered everything', followed by Chris Blackwell who was going independent on his black product only, making Immediate the first independent label of the time.

The majors were happy to just stand around taking notes, letting the young pacesetter have its head. After all, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain, swiftly moving in to pick up on any promising trends Immediate uncovered.

As it turned out the Stones never did record for the label, though they did provide upfront money of £25,000. Oldham was quick to make it clear that this figure only covered buying out The Small Faces from their existing contract — and we never did get round to talking about where the rest of the finance came from.

The label debuted with three sing­les: "Hang On Sloopy" by the McCoys, "I'm Not Saying" by Nico (an Oldham discovery and production number) and the Dylan number "Bells Of Rhymney" by Fifth Avenue (produced, incidentally, by Jimmy Page).

The show was off and running and shortly the label had a strong stable of artists. However, according to Oldham it was only The Small Faces who really sold. The reputation of the rest he puts down to hype or the warping effect of time — which makes things look much bigger in retrospect than they were then. It was a good time though and a profitable one.

Immediate was making the pace, with Oldham displaying a confident knack for creating and grabbing head­lines either as one of The Rolling Stones bad boys gang or as a young, hip label owner who ran a fleet of cars, was always jetting to the States, and who lived in splendour in a £40,000 mansion in Richmond.

Eventually however, the bubble had to burst.

Steve Marriott was once quoted as saying that the reason he liked Immediate so much was that it was like being back at school again. But it was this famous Immediate informal­ity that led to its downfall.

Oldham analyses the label's demise as due to 'bad management of the money combined with the fact that the direction had started to go skew-whiff.

With all their top bands producing there were few problems. But by 1969/1970 Amen Corner had broken up, The Nice were causing hassles for the company and were becoming expensive to record compared to what was coming back in returns, and one of The Small Faces had transmuted into Humble Pie, while the other hung around for Rod Stewart to pick up the pieces.

Humble Pie's "Natural Born Boogie" was a big hit for the label but by the time all the individual members' contracts had been sorted out — and they'd paid lotsa cash to buy out Frampton from The Herd — it ended up as a loss leader.

Looking back, Oldham believes that "If we had been clever or less idealistic we would have sold out to get an injection of cash and every­thing that goes with it."

But they hung on to their dreams and in March 1970 the company was put into liquidation and Oldham ended that stage of his career in the bankruptcy courts.

Tony Calder is now working at NEMS and presumably was able to sort out the complex rights situation for them.

As for Oldham's career since . . . well, that's another story.


Source: roksolidmusicmag. Good profile of Immediate.

The story carried a box entitled The Lucky Winners and read as follows:

AN NOW for the good news... Stoy Hayward & Co., Chartered Accountants, of 54 Baker Street, London W.I (01-486 5858) are trying to get in touch with all the following people to pay them money.

'Seasy as premium bonds, isn't it?

And while Clapton and Page may not need the windfall, we're certain there are others in the list who probably do.

Eyes down: The McCoys, Chris Farlowe, P.P. Arnold, Warm Sounds, Aranbee Pop Orchestra, Mark Murphy. Twice As Much, Amen Corner, Strange Loves, Duncan Browne, Mike D'Abo, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck & His All Stars, Outer Limits. Jimmy Page, Pink Floyd, Samson, Advance Pop Orchestra, Eric Clapton, T. Colton, Copperfield, Dharma Blues Band, Excelcoir Spring, Gullivers People. Nicky Hopkins, Dave Kelly, Jo Ann Kelly, Albert Lee, John Mayall's Blues Breakers, T.S. McPhee, Savoy Brown Blues Band, Simon and Steve,Stuff Smith.