Tony Wilson, dead

Jody Rosen at

Some time ago I read and became enthusiastic about Griel Marcus’s amazing book Lipstick Traces, which found punk impulses in a series of historical figures going back to medeival times, but mostly concentrated on Guy DeBord and the French Situationist International. DeBord and the SI were a small group who by design spent lots of time in cafes drinking, but who also developed a post-Marxist critique of modern society that in many ways is a shockingly apt description of our celebrity culture and the primacy of entertainment when it comes to keeping people fat and happy.

Smitten with Marcus’s book, I went to Berkeley to meet him and, I hoped, talk him into giving me the rights to make a docucrama TV version that I dreamed would play on some PBS affiliate of MTV. Greil was smart and generous and smartly skeptical, which meant I walked away with a most-treasured mix tape of the music he talks about in Lipstick Traces, an invaluable VHS of the Sex Pistol’s last concert at Winterland in San Francisco, and his suggestion that if I needed money to do this I should talk to Tony Wilson, who, he explained, was the guy who owned Joy Division’s label.

I mention this because for me part of the power of 24 Hour Party People is knowing just how accessible all these people were, at the time, and the recognition that it was my own fear that kept me from phoning Wilson and getting this project off the ground. DIY should mean I should have made that call. Wilson’s death also reminds me about how great Winterbottom’s movie is, and is a reminder that some day Malcolm McClaren will die, too, at which point we will rehash all this stuff again, in spades. And double dutch.

If you are interested in the Sex Pistols and McClaren and the Manchester scene and any or all of London punk, you should read Lipstick Traces, which really is a great book. But tonight we toast Tony Wilson, a man who didn’t wait to meet someone to find a way to express all the stuff that was churning up inside himself. Cheers.