Having failed to get a review published in any of the periodicals to which I contribute, here’s my honest appraisal of 65 – My Life So Far, the autobiography of music mogul and self-styled vile pervert Jonathan King.
Show business autobiographies are usually more telling in what they omit rather than what they include. One major personality signed a friend’s copy of his memoirs with “Try and believe at least some of it”. Very few who tell their life story in a book, ghosted or otherwise, present a balanced and fair picture of the subject, perhaps unsurprising in a business fuelled by ego. Bob Monkhouse’s excellent Crying With Laughter is one of the very rare exceptions.
As, oddly, is 65: My Life So Far by Jonathan King, the pop world’s equivalent of a disgraced bishop. King is a pariah. His records (and those of Gary Glitter) are noticeably absent from the airwaves, while those of convicted murderer Phil Spector are not. Meanwhile there’s an unspoken ban on him appearing on television or radio.
So, he says, he has nothing to lose by telling the truth. However, truth is problematic, as any historian knows. An individual will remember an event one way, another individual will remember it another way. Neither version is contradictory, but there is conflict. So when King says we’re getting the truth, what we’re getting is King’s truth. However, when read with this caveat in mind, there’s a lot of value in 65 My Life So Far.
King is excellent when talking about other people and events that he witnessed as a pop personality, which account for 430-odd pages of the 583 on offer (It could be cut by about a third without losing much, and, at this length, the absence of an index is almost a criminal act in itself). Propelled into the charts while still a Cambridge undergraduate, he soon transferred to the business side of music and was on the inside track from the 1960s to the 1990s, ultimately running the Brit awards and the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s tempting to assume at times that he’s building up his part (he invented this, established that, saved the other from disaster, etc), but the cuttings support his claims. Moreover, he avoided drink and drugs, so his memory of it is unfogged.
He adds credence to the rumours about John Lennon’s alleged bisexuality, but that’s far less interesting than the stories of wheeling and dealing to get hits made and into the charts. It’s also good to read more about Decca chairman Sir Edward Lewis, one of the most fascinating if underwritten figures of the music industry, who regarded King almost as an adopted son.
Perhaps the most telling story in this part of 65: My Life So Far is King’s recollection of watching the Apollo 11 moonshot on TV. While others marvelled at the scientific achievement, King’s main concern was, rather egotistically, with the copy of his song Everyone’s Gone to the Moon that had, through various connections, been placed on the rocket. As Neil Armstrong said “A giant step for mankind”, King was to be found shouting “Enough of these platitudes for God’s sake. Play my fucking record!” at the screen.
The last 150 pages deal with King’s life since his arrest in 2000. The trial is covered in depth, with some details that contemporary press reports omitted to mention. One of his accusers claimed that he had been 15 when King made an advance on him, pinpointing it at the time of a particular record of King’s. King denied ever meeting the lad, but also proved that the record in question had been made 4 years later, when the accuser was 19. Even if a reader isn’t persuaded by King’s protestations of innocence, as he hopes they might be, there’s enough here to bring into question the ethics of those who brought King to book. The apparent pincer movement of police and media, with Max Clifford looming large; and the willingness to move minor details like dates around worked against him, he suggests. It may be that a trial free of these influences would have reached the same conclusions, but nobody will ever have the chance to know.
The relative values at work in the King case are interesting. King is an outcast, while Bill Wyman – who had a well-documented sexual relationship with an underage girl – is welcomed as a guest on The One Show. Is it because Wyman was a Rolling Stone, the epitome of supposed bad boy rock and roll hedonist cool, while King was a naff pop troubadour? Maybe his worst offences were merely those of making daft records and looking a bit too pleased with himself for a bit too long.