Live at The Wardrobe on Thursday, 21st October 2004
What's it like then, being rich,
Knitting gold to warm an itch?
Very much like being poor:
Wealth is just a key - no more.
Yeah. Maybe Felix.
Hey kids. It's rude to talk about money but I must make an exception to my regular conduct and be a bit bloody rude here. The guy on the podium and big screens, supported by several dozen camera operators, audio-visual techies and puff-jacketed assistants, has more of the stuff than Paul McCartney. In the USA he's a billionaire. His gig at The Wardrobe, part of his world tour, was advertised for more than a month under the moniker 'Did I Mention The Free Wine?' - and this is not a joke.
Free wine it was; top shelf (well, low cellar) bottles of posh French vin poured by Felix's own personal butler - whose day job is running the man's Caribbean retreat. More wine than you could shake (and I love it when you shake) your little stick at. A substantial buffet. All free. Entrance free. A world tour. All free. Wolny.
We take a plateful of food and a large glass of Chateux Lagrange 1997 and settle upon a candle-lit table and sip the multi-mediated set (well, two 50 minute sets) of poems from a guy that was part of the infamous OZ crew (jailed in 1971 over fifteen year old Vivian Berger's Rupert Bear adaptation of a Robert crumb cartoon) and who now owns Dennis Publishing, which puts out Maxim and many, many, other magazines.
Dennis's current book of verse, Lone Wolf kicks off with two pages of positive media quotations under the title 'Acclaim for Felix Dennis' - and this theme re-occurs throughout his set. The man does not hold back from proclaiming how his (huge) talent has, and is, being overlooked. Ironically, given Maxim's content, he blows his own trumpet; his published poems, even carry footnotes. He is paying for tonight's show and when he performs the bar is closed (although waiting staff circle the venue topping up our glasses). You may clap or heckle after and in-between poems. Shut up when he's talking.
He comes across as a traditionalist - A small 'c' conservative. He can't help it. He romanticises England ('you who love to mock and jeer - lend to me an English ear') - and he is very much the hub of his slightly old-fashioned universe. Contradictions abound (as they should and must!) - he wants women to love him but he mocks them for their frailty like that Shakespearian Goth guy - he truly sees himself as 'Lone' not 'Naomi'; but I didn't predict any less from this air-brush entrepreneur. He rails against European legislation and American Republicanism. He name drops Courtney Love. He honours Robert Johnson. I can see why some, reaching over the candle, call him a bourgeois ringer. It's an easy shot.
But remember, Greer didn't shout 'revolution is the festival of the oppressed' until the seventies. By then Felix was in prison for breaking obscenity laws (defendants were also sentenced to 'haircuts' - I kid you not). To Yuppie (and the guy was upwardly mobile from quite lowly origins) businessmen like Dennis the sixties and seventies were maybe about sharing nameless girlfriends, like lazy blunts, with other chaps whilst acting anti-establishment and finding the niches (tits and arse, cars and toys for the boys) through which they could glean enough money to remain/retire to be self-obsessed Captains of Industry - Sir Michael J if you will - (Which is where I have issues) - but hey, Felix Dennis does not have to care about it, he's self-made and self-reflective. He's wise and experienced. Probably a bit of a bastard sometimes, but aren't we all (even me... actually, especially me). I want to dislike him. He is boastful, arrogant and opinionated. And this actually warms me to him.
The second set finishes. More wine. Tended by several blonde PAs, Dennis signs copies of his book and CD, cigarette smoke and glass waving in the air. Someone mentions the Helicopter (it's well windy out) and technicians pack down the cameras.
Such is life, today. I drank the free wine. I ate the free food. I listened to his sets. Sometimes I applauded. Sometimes I did not. I thought about it as I sat in the black and white, running my hand along my partner's thigh.
Wine, Poetry, a Feast and a Promise - very Bacchanalian indeed.
Interesting stuff - leaves most over launch parties in the shade I must say.