Monday, March 23, 2015


Martin Amis, Toronto, 1987

IT SOUNDS IMPLAUSIBLE NOW, BUT A DECENT ROCK MAG WAS ONCE OBLIGED TO WRITE ABOUT MORE THAN JUST BANDS. Of course we wrote about people like Henry Rollins and the Butthole Surfers at Nerve, but looking over my box of back issues it's startling how much space we devoted to movies and books and writers, alongside the flotsam of post-punk, the grunge precursors, and the hardcore bands going metal.

By 1987 Martin Amis had moved firmly out from under the shadow of his famous father. His guidebook to arcade video games was now a wry footnote, and he had authored five novels, the most recent of which, Money, was regarded as something both zeitgeist-y and literate and a must-read for those of us fully in the grip of the '80s as young adults. No surprise then that he found a place not only in the pages of Nerve but on the cover.

Amis was in town promoting his first collection of short stories, and I set up my C330 on a tripod in the restaurant of the downtown hotel where he was staying - the monolithic Sheraton Centre, I believe, or the much more elegant King Eddy; I honestly can't recall.

Martin Amis, Toronto, 1987

Ideally I would have liked a neutral wall for a backdrop, but it was made plain that Amis wasn't going to budge from his table, at least not for someone from some weird little rock mag. It's the light that saves it, if anything does - a nice mix of soft light on the face and some natural highlight coming from the sun through the atrium behind the subject. As for the subject, he'd been in front of cameras long enough to give me at least a handful of good expressions, mostly on the spectrum from "coolly appraising" to "nonchalant."

From the perspective of almost thirty years later, I can't believe how young he looks.

What I particularly remember from this shoot was the writer, Phillip M., an Englishman who'd arrived in Toronto chasing a girl (that was his story) and who ended up kickstarting a career as a journalist thanks to some talent and charm, though not hurt by the deference his very middle-class accent aroused in the colonials.

Somehow he ended up at Nerve, though in a room full of misfits, he hardly stood out. Phillip was from a palpably similar background to Amis and understood the social context of his books better than anyone else at the paper, so I recall the interview going well; from my spot behind the camera, much better than my shoot.

The same issue of Nerve that featured the Amis photo also contained Phillip's interview with Mark King from Level 42, a band that we'd normally never deign to cover and a brutal hatchet job that I remember finding funny at the time. In retrospect it was more than a bit condescending - a little slice of class warfare that pitted Phillip's middle class sarcasm against King's working class guilelessness; a bit of oikophobia that played out like the famous "Class Sketch" from the Frost Report, rewritten for the '80s.

My most salient memory of Phillip - now a reputable film and television director in England - is a very Amis-ian one. I ran into him at the tail end of an art gallery opening across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, where he chatted amiably while scanning the room for abandoned glasses of wine which he'd examine briefly before draining.

It showed, I thought, an admirable commitment to getting drunk on the cheap. (It wouldn't have been out of place in a scene written by either Kingsley or Martin.) He would end up playing a small but crucial part in the domestic melodrama that eventually spelled the end of Nerve, which played out with a mix of comedy and tragedy that I also remember as being more than faintly Amis-ian.


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