Book review: 65 – My Life So Far by Jonathan King

Book review: 65 – My Life So Far by Jonathan King

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.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Book review: 65 – My Life So Far by Jonathan King

  1. There's an interesting comparison with the recently deceased William Mayne, whose children's books (which actually appealed rather more to adult critics than their supposed target audience) were the opposite of Gary Glitter or Jonathan King records – they were serious, revered works within their genre. While Mayne's work has been largely marginalised since his conviction in 2004 for sexual abuse of young girls, it is still a different thing … he was the equivalent of an established, selectively admired pop/rock figure, and such a person's reputation, where he *was* known, would have survived more than those of Glitter and King, who were mass-audience figures to whom the rules of rough Murdochian justice inevitably apply.

    With the Stones and Spector (and Michael Jackson had he been convicted) it's as if they're too much part of the New Establishment to be marginalised. Whereas people like Glitter and King are fair game – they were only ever popular jokes, so when they are shown to have feet of clay they inevitably become sick jokes without a punchline.

  2. Ah Robin; I have yet to deliver the punch line. Thank you for your unbiased review Mr Barfe and I point members to the answer given earlier (my God he squeezed my name into the Sunday Times – the sub must have been sleeping) today…

    The only truly talented (and fabulously cynical) one among them was Jonathan King — who genuinely could storm the pop charts at will, under a hundred different disguises, and over a period of 40 years. The rest had at most four or five years in the sun.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/rod_liddle/article7094203.ece

  3. Rod Liddle managed to get your name into the Sunday Times? For that alone, I take back everything I've said about him in the past. Seriously.

  4. Apropos of nothing, I was fascinated to recently hear Jan & Dean's US cover of "Everyone's Gone To The Moon." A note-for-note copy, arrangement and all.

  5. I forgot to add that I'm flattered that you chose to use my parallel between King / Glitter and Spector, which I used last Christmas to highlight my own mother's hypocrisy in festive listening matter. The day Max Bygraves gets time for some felony is the day her whole house of cards falls down.

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