Thursday, March 20, 2008

“I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, they all know about the book. The bad news is, they all know about the book.”

So, I managed to go from a complete book-launch virgin to a seasoned old hand, and all it took was an evening out in Manhattan. The second launch was at the urging of a friend that handles the author's publicity in the UK, while the first was an initiative of Mrs. Cutesome. I'm going to handle the second one first because the first, a signing event for The Ed Koch Papers sparked a more complicated set of observations.

The second was mostly a chance to drink some alcohol, the more so when it became apparent that the author himself would not be able to make it. This was the US launch of Dandy in The Underworld, the memoir of Sebastian Horsley, reformed addict, unrepentant whoremonger, and possessor of a quite gigantic top hat. As you can read here, here and here, he didn't make it to the party.

Mr. Horsley was apparently traipsing through US immigration with the aforesaid gigantic hat and a needlessly shiny suit when an intrepid member of the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services asked him what his business in the US would be. They may even have tried to elicit some biographical details from him. The Feds then proceeded to google the fellow.

My first assumption upon hearing that he had been deported from Newark International for "moral turpitude" was that this was a quite awesome hoax, which says something about my respect for the deviousness of his publicity people. My second was that he chose to embellish a more mundane immigration snafu, one that has entrapped even drones such as myself several times before now.

But no. The BCIS decided that confessing to criminal behaviour and whoring, even while not having a criminal record for same, was enough to pitch him back into the welcoming arms of British Airways. I'm still scratching my head as to why the publishers had him fly into Newark. I can't help but think that the boys at JFK would have waved him through, with all the freaky boys from Latin America, in a second. In Jersey, I'm afraid, they find all of this flamboyancy a little distressing.

I have, unfortunately, missed most of the obvious takeaways. Gawker noted that this was a very strange time to be barring a whoring expert from New York, while the New York Times went off on a rather long-winded exploration of how frequently these memoirs tend to be made up (quite a lot as it happens). The Guardian leads with the deportation being a sign of increasing intolerance on the part of the US authorities.

It wasn't. It was a bored and cranky immigration agent. One of the little-understood elements of the US immigration service is how much latitude their agents have in dealing with cases that are presented to them at the window. There is a rulebook for agents to follow, and some days they're into it more hardcore than others. That's about it.

So not that I have an enormous number of parties to compare this one to, except Ed Koch's rantings at the Princeton Club, but this one was OK. I didn't know anyone there, and only talked to the bar staff, a couple of polite but reserved people in the absinthe queue and, very briefly, Horsley's publisher Carrie Kania.

At the party we got a statement from Kania (who is not named, you will not be surprised to learn, after the planetary system from Escape Velocity), which eerily echoed a statement from his UK publishers, and a statement from Horsley, read out by a gentleman called JohnRobert Pereno [thanks, Observer], whose full name I did not catch, and whose identity blogging permits me not to ascertain.

He was backed by a guy who looked a little like a thinner and more grizzled version of Warlock from the Young Ones, who was playing a guitar fashioned from a Castrol GTX tin. The reason for this musical angle is that Horsley named his memoir after T-Rex' last album, a well-regarded 1977 return to form, released a mere six months before singer Marc Bolan's death. The songs were much less immediate than T-Rex early stuff, but the sleeve cover alone makes it clear why Horsley loves the album so much. You can see echoes of it on the cover of the book.

Which doesn't quite explain why Horsley's high representative decided to sing the title over and over in the style of David Bowie. But then I'm just an unpaid, and very bad, fanzine music writer, rather than a publishing type.

Still, I got a free book, and for that alone, and in an attempt to buoy the fortunes of both his publishers, I urge you to buy it. I had a start at reading the book on the subway back, head swimming in cheap pinot (score one, by the way, for Mayor Koch. His booze was fine), and the first forty pages reminded me of nothing so much as a slightly more lurid and histrionic version of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs.

The style narrowly skirts being epigrammmatic, while Horsley skirts being self-pitying. So far the author's almost self-deprecating, or at least not afraid to highlight his faults, which is not the same thing at all, I suppose. I'm curious enough after the taster to see how the whoring and drugs turns out, although the childhood section sets up the later debasement with an inevitability that Karl Marx, or Edward Gibbon for that matter, would appreciate.

I don't think I'm really that interested in whether Horsley is, in the words of the Telegraph reviewer, a "tosser" or not. I'm not sure Horsely would see it as his life mission to get everyone to like him. I certainly struggle to see what evidence the Telgraph's Roger Lewis has for Horsley being deeply square deep down, apart from wishful thinking. Still, since poor Mr. Lewis manages to muff a biographical detail that appears on page 3, I''m not sure what Horsley's critical reception in the UK has to say to us at all.

Still, Horsley does fascinate us (everyone, apparently, apart from a features editor of my acquaintance, who said "he just sounds British"), and while we may be upset that such a slim resume as Horsley's can account for such attention, there's no doubt that New york would have been a more colourful place with him around.


At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fantastic press coup for Harper Collins!

So, right before Easter they manage to get Sebastian Horsley denied entry into the U.S. for being an admitted and convicted criminal and person of "moral turpitude." A bit ironic for someone who once got crucified on a lark...

Harper Collins and editor Carrie Kania didn't waste a moment to get this story into the press, the widely repeated Reuters piece reads curiously like a press release. Maybe it's because it's based on this PR piece?

So, is this just a ploy for making sure Sebastian Horsley's book is noticed? Pretty desperate I'd say, especially after the spate of fake misery memoirs that have been exposed lately. There's an interesting piece in the New York Times about this event, which also casts doubt on the truth of Mr. Horsley's memoir:

"In interviews, though, he has been repeatedly coy about what is real and what is contrived. 'It’s better to be quotable than honest,' he told Time Out London in February. In an interview with The Independent last September, he said: 'I don’t speak, I quote. I am a fraud. I have cobbled together my personality from hundreds of little bits. I am simultaneously the most genuine and the most artificial person you will ever meet."

During the party last night, the upshot of Sebastian being detained and refused entry for being a sleazeball, wasn't lost on the publishers:

"Of course, the silver lining of the incident did not escape Ms. Kania. A big piece in The New York Times, the kind of Internet buzz money can’t buy …"

Harper Collins PR flacks certainly outdid themselves to promote this miserable dandy and his abhorrent views!

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Gringcorp said...

Whoo-hoo! Catty comments on publishing matters! You don't get that writing about stoner rock. Well, except for RPG fans, anyway.

I'm inclined to be sceptical about Horsley's ordeal too, except for two big reasons. 1) The US immigration authorities really can be that capricious. I've dealt with them, and 2) Horsley is an apparently very personable guy who would no doubt have done a pretty good job of promotional duties. There are plenty of better ways of drumming up publicity than flying all the way to Newark Airport and back, a fate I would not visit on the most loathsome attention-seeker.

Did the assorted publicity corps of HarperCollins and Sceptre come out with widely-quoted press releases in the wake of the episode? Yes, it's called making lemonade from lemons, and journalists being lazy hacks, respectively.

Is ex-junkie and rent boy Horsley's account unreliable? Hell, yes. He admits as much. But if the US authorities choose to base their entry requirements on such a bizarre set of criteria, Horsley's treatment is highly plausible.

At 6:10 AM, Anonymous George Connolly said...

Hiya, @ gringcorp:

There are plenty of better ways of drumming up publicity than flying all the way to Newark Airport and back, a fate I would not visit on the most loathsome attention-seeker.

To put things into perspective, the particular loathsome attention seeker we speak of also once got himself nailed to a cross in the Philippines, something he and his publicists have made much ado about. So would he stage being deported? I'd say the odds are excellent that yes, he would.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Gringcorp said...

But this stunt was time-consuming, dreary, and unfilmed. Now being based in NYC I'm new to Mr. Horsely as a media personage, and only halfway through his book, but this does not seem like his MO. Being rousted out of a Chinatown brothel? Yes. A Borat-esque lynching at a rodeo? Yes. A squalid cock-up at an immigration window in Newark? Meh. Remember, he could have applied to the state department in advance, gone to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, got turned down in advance (it's called "pulling a Winehouse") and been in the pub by lunchtime. This smells of cock-up rather than calculation.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Jackson Williamson said...

Who cares? His book is terrible. Forced and boring.


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