A walk on the Wilde side
by Gavin Friday
“People stared at the make up on his face
laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace
the boy in the bright blue jeans jumped up on the stage,
Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and dismay”
As a teenager it was David Bowie who turned me onto music and Oscar Wilde to literature, “The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” from the seductive and ruthless charms of Dorian Gray’s Faustian pact to the tragic romantic chaos of Ziggy Stardust selling his soul to rock and roll. To be totally honest I hadn’t a clue at the time what Bowie and Wilde were going on about but deep down in the subliminal I understood everything, and with all the typical teenage angst in the world I was hooked. It was all or nothing! From then on my whole world revolved around three things, Music-Books-Art.
Suddenly the grey and dull of world of Ballymun, Dublin was transformed. “Hey babe take a walk on the wild side” sang Lou Reed. I didn’t walk. I ran. I ran hard and fast into the arms of punk rock and in the year 1978 I formed the Virgin Prunes.
“THE FIRST STEP IN AESTHETIC CRITICISM IS TO REALISE ONE’S OWN IMPRESSIONS”
I laugh when I think back on some of the antics.
Punk Dandies, parading through the bootboy boulevards of Ballymun, decked out in four yard skirts, make up and bleached mohicans with a look that said “you don’t know if I’m going to kill you or kiss you”.
“ONE SHOULD EITHER BE A WORK OF ART, OR WEAR A WORK OF ART”
Our one and only Late Late Show appearance in 1979 — It was a glorious shambles.
We performed “Theme For Thought”, a white noise cacophony with me screaming:
“Why should I be like you?”
“Why should I talk like you?”
“Why should I think like you?”
And Guggi, cigarette and carnation elegantly in hand, narrating the opening passage of the “Ballad of Reading Gaol”.
As Oscar would have said it was “a deliciously scandalous affair”.
Uncle Gaybo didn’t think so (our appearance coincided that weekend with John Paul II’s sell out show in the Phoenix Park).
“A CHILD CAN UNDERSTAND A PUNISHMENT INFLICTED BY AN INDIVIDUAL, SUCH AS A PARENT OR GUARDIAN, AND BEAR IT WITH A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF ACQUIESCENCE. WHAT IT CANNOT UNDERSTAND IS A PUNISHMENT INFLICTED BY SOCIETY”
The hijacking of the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1982 for the four day exhibition “A new form of beauty”. ARTFUCK was our musical anthem at the time, and that’s what we did to the Douglas Hyde Gallery with our shit on the walls and our piss on the floor, this wasn’t art for art’s sake, this was art for fuck’s sake.
“IT IS THE SPECTATOR, AND NOT LIFE THAT ART REALLY MIRRORS ALL ART IS USELESS”
The Virgin Prunes was a planned accident. We were vicious magpies, making it all up as we went along. Kicking against the pricks.
“MODERN MORALITY CONSISTS IN ACCEPTING THE STANDARD OF ONE¹S AGE. I CONSIDER THAT FOR ANY MAN OF CULTURE TO ACCEPT THE STANDARD OF HIS AGE IS A FORM OF THE GROSSEST IMMORALITY”
From explosion to implosion the Virgin Prunes lasted about seven years, it was one hell of a mental and surreal journey. Wilde was always there with us, our touchstone, the aesthetic godfather to the bastard sons of Dorian, Ziggy and Johnny Rotten.
The next time I turned to Wilde, things were different, I was older, in my late 20’s and working on my debut solo album “Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves” – Gavin Friday and the Man Seezer (1989).
I was no longer the angry young punk, the dress was hung up and the art tantrums put to bed. This was less “against the grain” more “what is in me?” I was looking for something real, trying to articulate the inarticulations of my past musical adventures.
Once again Wilde opened a few doors for me. It wasn’t in his plays, short stories, or witty one-liners, but in the two monuments of his tragedy – “De Profundis” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” – both products of his imprisonment.
Here I found the real Wilde.
No pretence! No art! Just Oscar. All his life Wilde tried to escape reality and ended up being beaten over the head with it. The mad paradox of Wilde’s tragic end is that it achieved his greatest ambition…
He always wanted his life to resemble a work of art.
“He got what he wanted but lost what he had”.
“YET ALL IS WELL HE HAS BUT PASSED TO LIFE’S APPOINTED BOURNE, AND ALIEN TEARS WILL FILL FOR HIM PITY’S LONG BROKEN URN FOR HIS MOURNERS WILL BE OUTCAST MEN AND OUTCASTS ALWAYS MOURN”
Thank you, Oscar.
Written by Gavin Friday, November 22, 2000
commissioned by the Sunday Independent, Ireland