Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dandy in the Underworld

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Ah, the idle rich: Lacking the structure that toil and responsibility confer, they more often than not drift into mindless self-indulgence and total self-destruction. Sebastian Horsley’s life story reads like an exercise in ambitious ambivalence; in Dandy in the Underworld, this Marc Bolan-worshipping scion of Northern Foods chair Nicholas Horsley finds himself involved in horrible, short-lived punk bands (The Void, most notably), dabbles in and is eventually swallowed whole by narcotics abuse, flunks out of art school, acquires ostentatious wardrobes louder than Elton John’s, makes a mint playing the stock market, and, of course, has himself crucified in the Philippines. He’s like a more driven, flesh-and-blood version of a Bret Easton Ellis character.
Born in 1962 to alcoholic, emotionally absent parents and raised in his native England, the OCD-suffering Horsley drifted into attention-grabbing misadventures: intentionally cutting himself on glass, setting fire to haystacks, searching blindly for a suitable father-figure and finding a short-lived one in Scottish murderer-artist Jimmy Boyle, worshipping obsessively at the altars of KISS and the Sex Pistols. In Johnny Rotten’s persona, the author finds himself: "Elusive, ironic, sarcastic, he was a serial enigma. A cool narcissist, detached, self-contained and disdaining displays of emotion."
Each of Horsley’s attempts to define himself seem to fall flat, and Dandy would make for astoundingly harrowing reading were it not for the author’s tendency to poke fun at himself, his surroundings and everyone he comes into contact with. It’s as much a collection of sub-Warholian aphorisms and contrary sentiments as it is a proper autobiography. Of the painful aftermath of a parachute jump, he writes: "As I hit the ground I felt my leg snap in two like a freshly cut sapling. I lay prostrate, listening to the ambulance wailing towards me through a speed haze. But inwardly I was smiling. At last, I thought, something has happened to me."

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