Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tony Wilson

I went to bed feeling edgy and I woke up this morning by reading about the death of Factory Records Visionary Tony Wilson. By heart attack. Maybe due to the cancer of his kidney. Morrissey for sure put the M in Manchester, but really the honor should go to Tony Wilson. A man who believed in his city so much that he started his own music scene, club scene and I guess a graphic arts sense of his world as well.

When I worked in a record store in the early 80's I worked with a gentleman named Jim, who was the biggest music geek freak ever. He collected records. To be more specific he collected releases from Factory Records as they were being released. Before the Internet one had to depend on import music shops or mail order. Sometimes both systems were kind of 'faulty.'

Wilson developed a system where each release had a specific number for a particular Factory Records product. Jim had to have each numbered Factory product. The records themselves were hard enough, but when Wilson started attaching a number to an "egg beater" I think it forced Jim to become an art collector of sorts. I think he bought an eggbeater from the local market and then presented it as part of his Factory Records collection. So in a way about way, Wilson introduced my manager at the store the structures of objects and how they become art. Marcel Duchamp became a useful reference for rock n' roll.

Being 19 or 22, how can one not love Joy Division. Impossible not to love them. They had a spiritual far right aspect to their look, and they sang about despair, death, and broken romances - for sure my type of band. A Certain Ratio was my favorite other Factory Records band as well. Although Tony Wilson didn't write a note of music, nor took the haunting photos of the bands he promoted via his label, nor designed any of the expensive record covers - he was in all sense Factory Records.

He saw the big picture where others couldn't see it. And he made it happen. Like the other great rock n' roll managers - for instance Andrew Loog Oldham, Simon Napier-Bell, Kit Lambert, and in an odd way Joe Meek. They all had a vision and knew it when they saw or heard it. That's a fantastic talent.

I saw and met Tony Wilson a couple of times. He came by to my work whenever he was in Los Angeles. I remembered he spotted a special issue of Mojo magazine on the stand focusing on Manchester. He got into a little rage when they put a giant photo of Morrissey on the cover and on the corner there was a little image of Joy Division's late singer Ian Curtis. After all those years he felt a strong loyalty to Ian and other members of his label.

Oh, and his business sense was sort of radical. Basically it was a 50/50 agreement between band and Wilson. There were no contracts. The band could leave any time they wanted with the master tapes. For reference read Wilson's '24 Hour Party" People or see the hysterical film.

When I started publishing I thought of myself in the same league with the great publishers of the past & present: Grove, New Directions, Olympia, Exact Change, City Lights. But at the same time I was thinking of the great record labels: Motown, Stax, early Reprise, Rough Trade, Immediate, Track, and of course Factory. So yeah, when I started my press, Tony Wilson was very much on my mind.

Now there is one less soldier against the battle....

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