Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Young Hearts Fail": The Death Of Tony Wilson

"I used to say some people make money and some make history - which is very funny until you find you can't afford to keep yourself alive."

Tony Wilson is gone. A man who did so much for civic pride in Manchester, basically re-inventing the city as a hip place to be in the eighties and nineties, has died. In his last days he could not afford 3500 pounds a month for the drug to treat his cancer, and was denied coverage for same under the UKs National Health Service.

Yes, this is the true face of capital.

Working as band manager and label owner of iconic Factory Records would seem an odd profession for a man unable to bring himself to make a proper contract with his bands.

"The musicians own everything. The company owns nothing. All our bands have the freedom to fuck off."

So read the only agreement, famously signed in his own blood.

In his book 24 Hour Party People he conflates myth and reality. "Between the truth and the legend, print the legend" he quotes someone as saying. (Yes, Tony, it was from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence".)

This blurring of the principle that separates truth from fiction makes him great in our imaginings. But we can put the "entertainment" aside (if we like) and look at some facts.

Tony Wilson was the first to put the Sex Pistols on television, one of the first to start an independent label in Britain, released the first single from OMD, let Peter Saville recreate graphic design for an era, and was possibly the biggest Vini Reilly fan ever.

Furthermore he allowed Joy Division to be who they wanted to be. Against all expectations and logic.

Somewhere I have that first release on his new label. A Factory Sample was four artists with two songs each: the influential Cabaret Voltaire, the odd John Dowie, the only recordings from the original Durutti Column band, and two tracks that would change every life they came into contact with.

"I need you here today.
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away
Don't ever fade away
Fade away
Fade away
Fade away
Fade away
Fade away
Fade away
Fade away"

That's what Ian sang on the first song, "Digital".

A line from the second, "Glass", I quote in the title of this entry. Perhaps this glass cuts too close to the bone. But then again sometimes bone is all we have.

Tony Wilson died 10 August 2007 at age 57, of a heart attack. He was a young heart always who did what he could for his city.

I've never even been to Manchester. But I will remember.

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3 comments:

robin said...

Read the obit and great comments at The Guardian.

robin said...

The BBC now has an article explaining five ways Tony Wilson changed music. I had no idea about Music33.

robin said...

Idealist, chancer, loyal friend: Paul Morley pays tribute.

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