Who is Vivian?
"THE ONE GREAT COMIC TALENT BRITISH MUSIC HAS PRODUCED, HIS LIFE WAS A
TEXTBOOK VERSION OF ECCENTRICITY, EXCESS AND SURREALISM TAKING OVER THE
LIFE OF CREATIVITY... HIS LIFE WAS EMBLEMATIC OF THE UNDERTOW OF EXCESS
THAT ILLUMINATED THE SIXTIES' UNDERGROUND WITH SUCH A LURID GLARE."
- Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts, Elizabeth Wilson (Rutgers University Press, 2000)
Vivian Stanshall was raised in an England of cockleshells and seaside amusement piers. I grew up under California redwoods. His home was cold. Mine was empty. His blood was Viking and Celt. Mine is Iroquois, Irish and French. His world saw the rise of the Beatles and the Kinks. Mine knew the highs and lows of the Fillmore and acid.
He escaped picture postcards for art and the lure of London. I fled as flowers fell like frogs on San Francisco.
Vivian was a genius as Emily Dickinson was a genius, as Vincent van Gogh was a genius. All three were hopeless at being much of anything else.
In her time, no one patronized Emily. No one printed her poems. Beyond her small insular Massachusetts family and one or two puzzled pen pals, no one had ever heard of her. In his time, no one bought what Vincent bled to paint. If they'd heard of him at all, he was the brunt of jokes. During his life, Vivian did a little bit better. He was revered by the cream of British musical talent, by its poets and painters and comics.
Aside from these, and never more than a respectable number of fans, he was "Vivian who"?
The book I've written for him is not a biography of one of Britain's greatest 20th Century artists nor is it a piecing together of its most unusual band clamoring away in the midst of rock and roll. It's not even a small bittersweet memoir of our life together... although it has become a little of each in the writing.
I saw as the words fell together on the page, Vivian's life was beautiful, dark and strange, a Grimm fairytale of art.
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