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Dispatches from the Front Line of Popular Culture is a collection of journalism from Tony Parsons and was published in 1995. The book is split up into different sections with each section containing a series of essays around that topic. The different sections are; Music, Love and Sex, Travel, Polemic and Culture. The music section is possibly the best part of the book, starting with a 1976 NME article about The Sex Pistols and, with nice symmetry, ending in 1993 with a review of John Lydon's autobiography. Subjects include The Clash, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Kylie Minogue, Morrissey, Brett Anderson, The Ramones and many more. Many of Parson's NME days articles are included and these are good fun as he travels around watching The Sex Pistols and bumping into famous people. On the infamous Sex Pistols Jubilee river party Parsons writes:
"So we should all know by now that The Sex Pistols are Public Enemy Number One who neither want nor expect a thing from the multitudes who hate their guts. Nevertheless the scenes that took place when invading cops broke up their party have left me with something that will remain long after the bruises have faded: it's unlikely I will ever be able to look at a member of Her Majesty's Metropolitan Police Force again without feeling sick"
To slating a new Billy Idol group called Generation X ("Street soldiers fuelled on orange juice?") to seeing David Bowie in a 1978 concert ("David Bowie is alive and well and no longer living in theory") this section is a vivid trip back in time. There's an interesting 1985 interview with George Michael, a piece on Jim Morrison and a funny review of a 1991 Kylie Minogue concert. "She can loll about," writes Parsons. "In a leather fig-leaf and sing about pumping it up all night long - but Kylie is half a pint of semi-skimmed milk and she always will be." A 1993 interview with Morrissey is good fun too ("Though he looks like an unshaven fairground greaser, Morrissey still talks like a particularly waspish member of the Algonquin club") as is Parson's 1994 encounter with Brett Anderson of Suede. "The wanton fop you see pouting and teasing is replaced by a young man who is vey tall and very rumpled - like a high school basketball player who sold his soul to amphetamine sulphate." Other bits in this section include a tribute of sorts to Kurt Cobain. Parsons says he could never really get into US grunge having experienced British punk in the seventies but is touched by Cobain's premature death nonetheless and talks about how Cobain's mother had once told him not to join the 'stupid club' of celebrities who died young.
The Love and Sex section is much shorter and includes several pieces Parson's wrote for broadsheets and Elle magazine. Parsons tackles gender politics and reviews feminist books in addition to sharing his views on relationships. I found this section less interesting to be honest, the highlight for me being an interview with Glenn Savan from 1988. Savan has just written the novel White Palace. The travel section includes several pieces Parsons wrote for either The Sunday Times or Arena from 1988-1991. Parsons writes about Chicago, Japan, Ghana, Milan, Hong Kong, the Soviet Union and Texas. Parsons goes a bit pretentious here and there waxing on about his travels but it's interesting reading, especially Japan, which Parsons loves. You get the sense Parsons believed back then, as many once did, that Japan was on the way to taking over the world economically. "There's a storm blowing in from the gulf," writes parsons on Houston. "Ice machines hum , the limos purr...and on the peaks of Houston's downtownb skyline you can see the red lights of the helipads, flashing in twilight's last gleaming like the promise of tomorrow."
The Polemic section includes several articles with mildly provocative viewpoints. Articles include 'Beggars of Britain' (a rant agaisnt the increase in beggars with 'mangy mutts'), 'Hippy Noveau', 'Why Women shouldn't Drink' and a somewhat harrowing piece where Parsons joins the Police in Soho. This section is most memorable for 'The Tatooed Jungle', Parsons' famous 1989 article where he laments what he saw as the slide of the working-class from self-educated, proud, decent people to what we would call chavs today, a bunch of scruffy herberts belching their way through life in cheap tracksuits. "The trouble with the working class today is that they are such peasants," writes Parsons. "Something has died in them - a sense of grace, all feelings of community, their intelligence, decency and wit...these are the real class traitors, betrayers of the men who fought for Churchill but voted for Clement Atlee...but in the tatooed jungle they have no sense of history."
The final section 'Culture' has thirteen articles Parsons wrote for broadsheets or articles from 1987 to 1994 on such varied people as David Bailey, Muhammad Ali, Jerry Hall and Jeff Koons. Of interest here especially is a 1993 article Parsons wrote for Empire magazine asking for (the then banned) A Clockwork Orange to be released by Stanley Kubrick. "Beyond the hysteria of tabloid headlines here was the greatest film ever made in Britain - a giddy cocktail of stark brutality, slapstick comedy and futuristic nightmare." There is also a nice 1987 interview with Martin Amis where Amis discusses Eienstein's Monsters, his book of stories about nuclear war and talks about how terrified he is by the prospect (which in 1987 wasn't nearly as unlikely as it is now) of someone pressing the button and a 1987 interview with a young Jonathan Ross. Ross is the 'new smirking chat show' king through a Channel 4 David Letterman inspired show called 'The Last Resort'. Ross tells Parsons that television is the easiest way to make a living and declares that Peter Cook was his best guest and that Wendy Richards and Malcom McClaren were his worst. Other bits and pieces here include a review of a 1990 Frank Sinatra concert ("The swinging septuagenarian comes from a time when men were men and women were broads, dames and tomatoes. He sang like a dream; he captured a mood and held it in his voice") and one unpublished article Parsons wrote in 1994 about the rise in celebrity and middle-class football fans.
There is a mass of material I haven't even mentioned and for this reason Dispatches from the Front Line of Popular Culture is good value and a book you can dip into at random points.
You might not agree with the author all the time but there is much to enjoy in this collection.