“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
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.