By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
British art school in the ’60s was little more than Pop Star U. “It was like going to bohemian camp for four years,” Farren says of his stint at St. Martin’s in London. “The girls told you what to wear, and thus were born the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things and The Who and the Deviants. Without art schools, there would be no British Invasion.” Fueled by Bob Dylan, the first Fugs album, early Velvet Underground demos, and fistfuls of amphetamines, the Deviants were born in 1966. But no one particularly cared. Their rough garage snarl scared off British record labels. “‘Piss off and die’ was as constructive as it got,” Farren says. “‘You’re fucking terrible.’” So the Deviants put out their first record, 1967’s Ptooff!, themselves, and soon became regulars at London’s swingin’ UFO club and on the English ballroom and festival circuit. The counterculture was becoming commodified, and the attention got pretty heavy for the shy, insecure country boy. “It’s like surfing for the first time,” Farren says. “You can’t look around and enjoy it, because you’re too busy staying on the board. It was complete overload, moving into dementia. We decided to top off this already fairly complex ice cream sundae with a cherry of marijuana, and then LSD — Jesus Christ, nobody had a prayer.”
After three Deviants albums, Farren was tossed from the band while on tour in Vancouver. “I was completely insane,” he remembers. “I was totally drugged for almost three years. I actually collapsed and went to hospital the moment I got home. I was a basket case.” Though he made a solo record, Mona — the Carnivorous Circus, in 1970 and spent a minute with the Pink Fairies, Farren was burnt to a crisp with music. Instead, he turned to the relatively sedate world of underground journalism. He landed at the International Times while moonlighting as a doorman at the UFO and dabbling with the White Panthers. Operating the I.T.— whose sister publication, Oz, was run by Felix Dennis — was a struggle, and he often relied on the kindness of rich freaks like Pete Townshend and John and Yoko to make payroll.
Life underground also meant you were never above suspicion from Scotland Yard. When a militant group called the Angry Brigade began setting off explosives in London in 1970, Farren’s home was raided by the bomb squad, who found nothing more than a quarter-ounce of hash, which Farren was ordered to flush down the toilet. Then Farren — as the editor of a comic book called Nasty Tales, a compilation of racy British and U.S. strips — was slapped with an obscenity charge. “It was serious obscenity, two years in jail,” he says. “We spent 18 months preparing for trial, went to trial, got acquitted, and I decided I didn’t want to play that game any longer.”
Instead, he decided to make use of all those Flash Gordon adventures stored away in his head. He wrote his second sci-fi novel, The Quest of the DNA Cowboys. “I wanted to do a form of science fiction that used a kind of surrealist imagery that was in the advanced rock & roll song,” he says of his early work. “In rock & roll songs, you get little vignettes. You had to imagine it for yourself.” The book was published in 1976, and to support his writing, Farren began working for the New Musical Express just as punk was breaking in the U.K. But the corporate publication took a toll on Farren’s soul. “I didn’t like being at the NME. It was a hard wrench to be working for the Man and made me quite alcoholic.” His 1978 album Vampires Stole My Lunch Money provides a horrifying time capsule of the artist’s psyche at the time. The record, with titles that include “Half Price Drinks,” “I Want a Drink,” “Drunk in the Morning” and “(I Know From) Self Destruction,” is a sonic car crash of self-degradation.
In 1979, Farren ventured to New York City, where he looked up Ira Robbins, a young editor at the Trouser Press, a nascent zine covering the punk and new-wave scene. Farren pitched a new column and Robbins jumped at it, breaking the editorial piggy bank for Farren’s column, “Surface Noise” — $50. “We were little kids, and it was fantastic that someone of his caliber wanted to be friends with us,” Robbins says. But ultimately, New York proved as destructive as London had been: Farren was soon divorced and drinking heavily. Despite his conspicuous consumption, Farren continued to pump out books, and in 1980, at the behest of an editor, he took a stab at a broader audience. “I was sternly told that I really ought to pull back and take some of the ideas I’ve got and ‘Star Wars–ize them’ and I might have a successful book, which kind of proved true,” he says. The result was 1981’s The Song of Phaid the Gambler, which he’s described as Maverick in the far distant future. Still, New York was like Disneyland for booze hounds. “If he had stayed in New York, Mick would’ve ended up in Bellevue,” says a friend, writer Henry Beck. “Any city where he could walk to his choice of taverns was the wrong choice. He was often waking up some distance from where he wanted to be.”