With the recent passing of Mick Farren, it seems the perfect time to look back on the man’s life and what better way to do it than through his own words and recollections via his autobiography, Give The Anarchist a Cigarette. It’s a journey that has to be often taken with an amount of salt ranging from manageable pinches right up to the occasional shovelful, Farren was, if nothing else a class act spin doctor and promotions man, the extremes of which can be summed up when Sex Pistol’s John Lydon famously said “ You cannot believe a word that Mick Farren tells you, ” So think of the book as fact embossed with an imaginative fictional sheen and you will not be let down.
Farren was basically an angry young man, a product of the sixties and all that implies as well as an anarchist, though he was one of the exceptions that showed that a certain kind of anarchy (small “a” – he very much adhered to the Groucho Marx adage of not caring to belong to any club that will have me as a member) can be constructive. And constructive he was ranging through roles as diverse as, doorman, editor, journalist, rabble rouser, critic and cultural commentator, charlatan, flamboyant gunslinging court jester, author, songwriter and poet. He was also a stalwart supporter of the underground press in general and International Times in particular, festival organiser, leader of punk before their time band, The Deviants, NME hack and science fiction writer.
The book charts through history and anecdotes his own careering career and misguided pathway through London of the sixties and seventies, a fertile time for such an anti-establishment mind as his. A time of hedonism and upheaval, chaos and corruption. A time also when there was still an us and them, a mainstream and an underground in everything from music to politics to literature to art and it was in this underground that Farren thrived. Although part of the beatnik scene which later blossomed into the Summer of Love, Farren was never what you call an archetypal hippie, always conscious that the revolution should not only be televised but indeed had to be paid for, he managed to remain aware of the practicalities whilst embracing which ever parts of the hippie philosophy fitted his creative drive. A Che Guevara in flared jeans and silk scarves.
He was also acutely aware of the winds of change, both preempting the death of hippiedom and in a famous piece of music journalism in 1977 called “ The Titanic Sails at Dawn” the fruition and importance of punk. A somewhat ironic state of affairs given that Farren to some degree was the embodiment, at least in image, of what punk was railing against. But what better example do you need of a man who always had his eye on the way the world was turning and ready to embrace or at least bend his own personal agendas into the latest artistic movement.
In these days when there is no such thing as a counter-culture, a time when the mainstream assimilated any vestige of the underground, when trendy scenesters totally miss the irony of buying an MC5 tee-shirt in Tesco, Give the Anarchist a Cigarette is a wonderful reminder of a time of division, a time when you “giving it to the man” meant living totally outside the norm rather than just posting posters on social media sites saying how much Simon Cowell is killing live music.
Farren’s writing is as eloquent as it is informative, witty and yet political and as anecdotal is it is a historical document of a time and a place. Those interested in underground music scenes, the birth of rock festivals, the alternative press, protest movements or just the movers and shakers who alongside Farren created some of the things we take for granted in music and the arts today, then you will find this book engrossing. If you were actually there at the time, you will find yourself laughing all the way to the memory bank.