Book Review: “Apathy for the Devil: a 70s Memoir” by Nick Kent

Apathy for the Devil: a 70s Memoir, is a journey through British rock journalist Nick Kent’s encounters with 70s rock stars and downward spiral as a drug addict. Kent has written for publications including New Music Express (NME), The Face, Sunday Times, Spin, Guardian, and Mojo. For a child of the 80s like me, the memoir provides valuable insights into the iconic rock stars and musical culture of the 1970s.

Kent started out as a proper, well-educated British schoolboy. He began to attend concerts by artists such as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix. He became increasingly curious about rock music and, after secondary school, experimented with marijuana. He eventually went to Bedford College in London, but dropped out when he began to write for underground music publications. His first five interviews were with the MC5, Captain Beefheart, the Grateful Dead, The Stooges, and Lou Reed. As a correspondent with NME, Kent had the opportunity to tour with Led Zeppelin. Kent eventually found himself on the cutting-edge of the punk rock revolution.

Kent not only covered the rock stars as a journalist but also developed personal relationships with artists including Iggy Pop and Chrissie Hynde. He describes Pop’s transformation from a quiet intellectual to a drug addict intent on developing his onstage persona. Kent also had a romantic relationship Chrissie Hynde (soon to be the future frontwoman of The Pretenders). He claims that their breakup ignited his descent into serious drug use as he attempted to numb his emotional pain.

As his drug habit made it increasingly difficult for him to write, Kent attempted to break into the music world during a brief stint as one of the initial members of the Sex Pistols. After leaving the band, Kent had several turbulent encounters with fellow heroin addict and eventual Sex Pistols member Sid Vicious.

Kent’s dry humor flavored with mild arrogance makes for many entertaining moments. I particularly enjoyed his description of Jethro Tull as a group who:

…jettisoned their initial ‘playing the blues for greatcoat-sporting students who really wash themselves’ game plan climb aboard the good ship ‘prog rock’ and seek their fortune through playing electrified madrigals and 7/4 time with lyrics about high-born lusty temptresses beating stable-boys’ naked buttocks with a riding crop.

Finishing this nearly 400 page book left me with a sense of exhaustion, as though I had accompanied Kent through the ups and downs of his hectic life. I enjoyed most of the book, although I had a difficult time reading the parts where Kent detoured into dry music history lessons rather than relating personal anecdotes.  Nevertheless, this is a great read for anyone interested in learning more about the colorful 70s music scene.

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