Title: The next biog thing!
Author: Miranda Swyer
THE NEXT BIOG THING!
A Bone In My Flute. Is it a) like Tennis Elbow; b) muso-talk for being “ready to rock”; or c) Holly Johnson’s autobiography?
You’ve already read a bit of Holly Johnson’s autobiography A Bone In My Flute - Select ran an extract late last year detailing how the one-time Frankie singer came to terms with his HIV infection. But there’s more to this story “of an ugly duckling who sprouted wings, wore ruby slippers, waved a magic wand, had three number one records and learnt to fly right out of that wheelchair”. It is, in fact, a fine read, relying not on Hammer Of The Gods-style bluster but a straightforward, stylish account of a life, studded with camp asides (“his sexual style was a bit too sophisticated for me,” he muses after an extra-wild display from an energetic liaison). It’s best on Holly’s teen years, with Pete Burns, Paul Rutherford and Bill Drummond all making cameos; the sex (a fantastic New Year’s Eve in Heaven will have Garry Bushell frothing at the mouth); and Holly’s neat, sometimes bitchy observations about life, Liverpool, the music business and growing up gay…
So why write the book?
“I wanted to tell it like it was, to reveal rather than hide. I also didn’t want a dodgy pop biog knocked out at an opportune commercial moment, so I wrote it myself. Mainly, perhaps, to release any old resentments - you know, a grudge held is a cancer tumour in five years time, and I can’t afford any of that. Although I don’t pretend that I’m now purged and no longer have any psychological problems, ha ha!”
The picture of your dad is pretty harsh.
“I don’t think it is. I think my father comes over as a very hard-working provider, working two jobs to feed four kids and the wife - a positive, humorous portrait. What’s important is to show people of their generation, and how they were unable to get their heads round having a flamboyant homosexual for a son. The way my dad behaved was his instinctive way of trying to protect me - he didn’t want to see me get beaten up or found dead on the floor of a public toilet. My parents and I hadn’t communicated for a number of years when I told them about my health, but when you hit crises like that you cast aside your petty squabbles…”
Why say that Frankie were to the ‘80s what the Pistols were to the ‘70s?
“Because no other group made such an impact or were as iconoclastic in the ‘80s as Frankie. No one toyed with the taboos of a generation or created quite as big a media explosion.”
Boy George did, surely.
“Yes, but that only lasted five minutes. I love Boy George and I don’t want to demean what he did, but he came onstage as a pantomime dame, denying his sexuality. He wasn’t going, Well here you go, I’m a homosexual, lock up your sons! It was, Oh look at me, aren’t I androgynous, but aren’t I accessible at the same time and I would rather have a cup of tea than sex, so you don’t really have to worry about me threatening your lives. Frankie were just so much more subversive and more unapologetic.”
How have the other members of FGTH responded to your illness?
“One wrote me a letter - the one I least expected to - and wished me luck with my fight against it, and I thought that was very touching. It was Brian Nash, actually. One member found out about it before I had a chance to make my announcement and went round telling my friends. And the others have not made any comment.”
Did the potential public reaction to the news that you are HIV+ worry you?
“I knew on the morning it hit the papers that I had to go out, take the dog for a walk and buy my newspaper and me pint of milk in exactly the same way as I always had done. Otherwise it would be more difficult to go out the next day, and even more difficult the day after that.”
You say you were sure you were a genius when you were young…
“That’s what I felt like as a teenager. When I was nine I felt I’d been put on this earth for a special purpose. Hmm, I feel even more like that now, but not with the religious connotation… I think the book, in a way, is demystifying homosexuality and what it’s like to be HIV positive. People with HIV and AIDS are rather marginalised by all these well-meaning organisations who won’t have us presented to Princess Di and so on. We should be employed by these organisations who collect revenue on our behalf. It would be much better if they gave us jobs.”
What did you leave out of the book?
“I didn’t leave anything out, but my editor blue pencilled a few things…”