Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Steve Strange and Jack Nicholson

It may be an unfashionable view but I really like Steve Strange. His journey from working-class skinhead kid to Wigan Casino attendee, to Welsh punk, to New Romantic supremo is, I think, an interesting one. Yet whenever I suggest that his autobiography, Blitzed!, is a great read and an excellent insight into ‘80s club culture, people just scoff. You see, there’s something about him that seems to, unfairly, invite ridicule. Perhaps it was the sartorial excesses of the 1980s; or the now infamous teletubby shoplifting incident, that's to blame. I admire the way that he edged his way into the showbiz limelight through sheer hard work and natural chutzpah. He had always been resourceful. In Newbridge he would arrange punk rock gigs by the likes of Generation X from the public telephone box down the road, because he didn’t have a phone at his council home. In London he slept on friends’ sofas or moved around various squats. He was always one step away from homelessness but still somehow managed to have a packed social calendar. There were brief stints working for Malcolm McLaren’s Glitterbest company; and a short-lived musical collaboration with Chrissie Hynde. His breakthrough came when he detected that punk was on the wane. Sensing that people wanted to dress up again after the aesthetic constraints of punk he began – along with Rusty Egan – to host club nights for ex-punks and residual Bowie fans. Billy’s, Blitz, Hell, Club for Heroes, and the Camden Palace were his most famous haunts. Entrance could only be gained if you had made a proper effort with your threads. It was a snobbery of sorts but not one based upon wealth or class. Basically, if you looked outrageous or were a dab hand with a needle and thread you were in. Consequently, at Blitz, working-class kids rubbed padded shoulders with the likes of Bowie and other celebs. Of course, everything eventually came apart at the seams for Steve Strange, with the inevitable slide into drug abuse and a nervous breakdown. He has recently, however, bounced back by doing some TV work - so good luck to him.

There’s an excellent YouTube clip of Steve Strange hosting his 21st birthday bash on the Circle Line of the London Underground in the early ‘80s, that's worth investigating. The above picture is one that I stumbled across online and shows him with Jack Nicholson, no doubt pondering whether the Hollywood actor is actually cool enough to enter his club.