By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
I'M SITTING IN A CONFERENCE ROOM AT Le Meridian Hotel, waiting for Tony Wilson to show up for the press cattle call promoting 24 Hour Party People. I've just finished reading the e-text of the "novelized" version his L.A. publicist sent me, and I'm psyched to meet the main man of my old hometown, the affable goof and cutup who describes himself in print as "a has-been altar boy . . . a minor celebrity in the northwest of England . . . the biggest wanker in the history of Manchester."
He's a few minutes late, so I kill time ruminating, fidgeting, sketching out some ideas: By the late '80s, Manchester -- on the verge of midwifing the worldwide electro-dance-drug culture explosion -- had eclipsed even London as the epicenter of all things groovy in the U.K. Earlier in the decade, the doddering, white-haired city fathers -- keepers of a sprawling, 700-year-old abandoned Roman-fortress province whose last serious make-over had been in the 18th century, when a revival craze for reconstructed ("mock") Gothic architecture swept the city's churches and public buildings -- had finally conceded that the city's image needed an update to qualify as any kind of European travel destination. And there (made, as it were, to order) was Tony Wilson, the local King of All Hip Media, regional TV omnibus show host and PR spinmeister turned entrepreneur, creator of Factory Records and the world-famous Hacienda Club. Standing in precisely the right place, at exactly the right time, holding all the right cards.
It was a duh-brained conclusion for those old geezers: Why fight tooth and nail to suppress recreational youth culture when the local economy could be benefiting from all the "dosh" young people would spend at the slightest encouragement? Their dole money was green too, after all, a truth that had already been learned in the '60s, when Wall Street and the marketing vampires first began to recognize youth as a massive untapped spending force. Yet somehow Manchester had missed it.
This time around, however, they were ready. In the shadow of the Hacienda, they appointed a city official -- the so-called Minister of Fun and Entertainment -- who got them to relax their draconian zoning and building ordinances. The banks began lending at low interest rates. The city cops, redneck yobs for the most part, were told to clean up their act and chill on antagonizing the young and the exuberant. All of this designed to stimulate a million new club and café entrepreneurs in what came to be known as "Madchester," both in the sense of "getting totally mental" (read: whacked out on E and thrashing around in hideous baggy clothing to house music and strobe lights) and "being mad for it" (read: horny). Music, dancing, drugs and sex, all prioritized, of course, according to individual taste.
Unfortunately, this '80s version of the hallucinogenic Garden of Eden, like its late-'60s predecessor, quickly degenerated into drug addiction, despair, suicide, guns and street-gang madness . . .
A little after my allotted 12:30 p.m. time slot, the PR guy ushers me into another room, away from the elaborate hospitality holding tank. And suddenly, there he is, again, Tony Wilson, today tucked into a bizarre pair of Gaultier samurai trousers. He gushes his way toward me, profusely apologizing for being late. ("In my book," I tell him, "less than 10 minutes isn't really late.") We shake hands, and I notice his left pinky nail is painted gold. Hmm. Expensive designer threads, I think, plus a little glam-dandy flourish, but without being all that committed to it. Weird, really, but then again, très cool . . .
"Did you see the movie? It's a great pack of lies, isn't it?" Before I can reply, we are interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in!" Tony shouts hoarsely. A waiter comes in with a tray of coffee and orange juice. Tony motions him to set it down on a table as we both slump onto a huge couch. As Tony puts his feet up on one end of the table, I say, "'Fuck the facts, print the legend' -- that's what your character says in the movie . . ."
"Yes, we learned that from Hollywood," says Tony the charming klutz, before reaching across the tray for a glass and somehow overturning the whole thing. Cups and glasses tumble everywhere. We both reach for napkins to soak up the dripping libations and begin to straighten up the fallen beakers.
"God," says Tony. "It was a late night . . . I love Los Angeles! It's so fucking great to be here!"
Over the next half-hour, I make the acquaintance of an enthusiastic nonstop pop-culture theorist with a slight Northern accent, "cultured" at Cambridge, where he read . . . I forgot to ask what. At 52, still with a decent sandy-red hairline, he's a cross between a hippie-enlightened (in the good sense) public schoolboy (in the good sense) and a "Manky lad" (in the good sense). His enthusiasm is endearing rather than annoying, as he deftly parries or deflects any question or observation that would erode his case for the canonization of Joy Division and the early Manchester punk scene. To his admirers, Wilson -- apart from being a hard-working modern-day media whore and family man (wife and two kids), a sport, a good egg -- is, now and forever, the Big Wanker Who Gets the Job Done. (He is, after all, the man who first put the Sex Pistols on British telly in 1976, when they were still just a rumor in London.)