IN CONCERT: I Am Still the Greatest, Says Adam Ant

As he approaches 65, the once and future Prince Charming can still command the stage like a panther

Adam Ant 2019 / Photo remix by RH

Like Adam Ant, the greatest rock stars are the inventions of foolish and sparking geniuses, full of electricity and practical madness, driven by the lust to rewrite their suburban histories, turn mean and banal childhoods to dust, and then transform the dust into stardust.

This is likely why some of the very best rockstars are completely fictional characters. 

Consider Don DeLillo’s Bucky Wunderlick, who seeks to “inhabit (the) extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation.” Or there’s Wolf Mankowitz’s Bongo Herbert, who “twisted like an electric eel,” coupling “elementary violent energy…to an inane but genuine gaiety.” Most of all, there’s Nik Cohn’s great Johnny Angelo, whom we shall discuss shortly (because I have looked him in the eyes, and he is Adam Ant).  

When they are not purely fictional, our greatest rock stars are self-inventions (but make no mistake, they are not “merely” musicians, but also master authors, writing and then inhabiting their own fiction). For instance: 

Under a sand-colored late afternoon sky on an unusually humid mid-March afternoon in the cranky early 1950s, Elvis Presley, 17 for just two months and two days, looked at his reflection in the store window of Lansky Bros. on Beale Street. He imagined himself dressed in pink and black that shines like aluminum foil, with creases as sharp as a young widow’s nail file. Inside his head, he heard a sound that is neither of the church or of the night, neither black nor white, but all of the things that make him shiver and stir. His imagination cast a rainbow shadow on the gray Memphis sidewalk, and he stepped into that shadow, forever, never to re-emerge.

And there is David Robert Jones, who could not decide whether to be Syd Barrett or Roy Wood or even Godly P. J. Proby, and who looked in the mirror and imagined he saw Charlotte Rampling painted by Egon Schiele, and who dreamed of being Vince Taylor crossed with Kubrick’s Star Baby. And then he realized he could exhale an opium dream of all of these things and become Bowie.  

And Prince, who channel surfed one white winter afternoon in the age of Carter and stumbled upon Quentin Crisp and Barry Lyndon and the Mothership, and invented a sex-mad Raider. 

Those who are not inventions (because they are all inventions, including – no, especially – those who pretend to be spontaneous or humble) are madmen or savants or the rarest of geniuses, the one who seeks no spotlight; so, friends, we are not here to discuss Daniel Johnston or Fred Neil, or Nick Drake (madmen, savants, geniuses). Instead, We are seeking, in the words of DeLillo, those who impart an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic.  

We are here to celebrate a Rock Star. 

Adam Ant at Foxwoods / Photo by Tim Sommer

Adam Ant is a true rock star, one of our greatest, one of our last. Just a few weeks shy of his 65th birthday, he still commanded the stage like a leopard, like a lunatic, like a serial killer, like a serial adulterer, like a teddy bear, like a dragon, like a pirate, like a pirate’s winsome hostage, like an actor who has forgotten he is an actor, and now lives, looped, within his greatest role, The Rock Star. In late-ish 2019, he is still the sum total of fantasies carved out of a desire to extract punk’s Cleo eyes and Nosferatu charisma from the movement’s pretend politics and build a throne of wild nobility out of the greaser zirconium of glitter.  

On stage at the intimate Fox Theatre at Foxwoods Casino a few weeks ago, Adam Ant reigned, he howled, he stomped and stared. He was the embodiment of a long legacy of the fey and feral rock panther on display. Adam Ant provided a master course in The Real Thing, which is to say Adam Ant, A True Rock Star, was an absolute refutation of the emoji EMO-GEE sincerity of Billie Eilish and all her kin who think a pout is a genre, who seek to defy meaningless musical times with some horrifying imitation of meaning. Adam Ant is the opposite of that! Adam Ant says there is nothing so meaningful as the man who can stand here and remind you that Elvis, Louis Jordan, Gene Vincent, Dex Romweber lived so you could swing, so stop your fake sobbing! Adam Ant proved (at Foxwoods and surely at every other venue he sashayed and swayed around this autumn) that he is the undisputed and only living heir of the legacy of the True Rock star. He remains the master of erotic terror and Penzance leather and taut boogie and madman gleam, the mincing lady-killer with wobbly hips and cocktail-glass legs, in the tradition of Bowie and Bolan and Prince and P.J. Proby and Vince Taylor and Lux Interior and Freddie Mercury. 

Adam Ant performing at the Fox Theatre in the Foxwoods Casino / Photo by Tim Sommer

(By the way, I do not consider others – like, say, Plant or Springsteen – “rock stars” — not in the same way, anyway. This is because they pretend not to be pretending. An absolute essential part of being a True Rock Star is that we must see their work, we must see them pretend; to pretend that you are not pretending is the opposite of being a rock star.) 

Adam Ant Performs Friend Or Foe tour poster

Adam Ant is Jim Morrison if Joe Meek had invented the louche, lying Lizard King; one cannot help but also think that he looks like James Franco playing Johnny Depp playing Michael Jackson playing Adam Ant. Yet there is even a more apt description of Adam Ant, written fifty-two years ago (more than a decade before Adam even emerged on the public consciousness!) by the great – the greatest – Nik Cohn, from his 1967 novella, I Am Still the Greatest Says Johnny Angelo

“He twitched and squirmed and shuddered. He ran his hand down inside his thigh and tickled. His head was tucked in against his shoulder, very coy, and he pouted, he fluttered his eyelashes. He blew fat kisses from wet red lips. He staggered with emotion…he leered and he scowled, he ground his groin and every defenceless virgin in the world was raped, he beat them and he whipped them, he kicked them in the guts and stomped them underfoot and fucked them till they fainted…Or he slithered his legs like serpents, he stretched them out like tentacles, and he bent them back double, he tied them up in knots, and he sprawled them all over the stage, nothing else existed. He blasphemed. He wept.” 

Which is all to say that Adam Ant is the last fictional rockstar, the last Johnny Angelo, the last Bongo Herbert, the last Max Frost, the last Claude Hooper Bukowski, the last Larry Lonesome Rhodes; which is to say he is perfect, non-ironic yet utterly self-aware, a glamorous film star in the age of internet emoji EMO-GEE sincerity. 

Adam’s skills, his charisma, his bottled insanity, would all be largely worthless without two vital things. 

 

VIDEO: Adam Ant “Friend Or Foe”

First, We cannot underestimate Adam Ant’s music. It is simple to do that, because we are quick to forget that the little girls (and middle aged girls) understand. We make the profound mistake of thinking that something that lives in the eye of the typhoon of lust and screams must not be worthy; but so very frequently it is gold. Every single musician, after all, is a pop star; just some have failed. Do not let the failures, those who do not aspire to the typhoon’s eye, lie to you. They all want to be Adam, and if they wish to be an anti-Adam, if they aspire to be faux-working class men in flannel or sleeveless denim, you must know that is even more of an act, because the falsest thing in the world of stages is those who seek stardom by pretending to be everymen. 

But back to Adam’s music: We forget he is a child – no, a master – of Post Punk. He does not get enough credit for this, and it is a very short distance from his work to the groans and thumps of Theatre of Hate, Flowers of Romance-era PiL, Monochrome Set, or even Killing Joke. Adam, however, smiled through the era’s amiable friction, made the lyrics arch and self-referential (having learned well from Bowie, Bolan, and Mott the Hoople, who were both serious and self-myth making). In this sense, he occupies the same solemn airspace as Prince, who also sought to make deep, hip-sliding pop which often concerned itself with the myth of theartist (theartist = theatrical, you see). Adam Ant’s music, from all stages of his career, has aged exceedingly well, as we can now listen to it, in all its smart glitter sparks and anthemic asides, without any snide comments from the sad, creaking peanut gallery of credibility. These are good – often great – fucking songs, memorable and cranky, full of Post Punk’s abrasion and glam’s jukebox genius. Put it this way: While watching his set, I found myself considering the music of both the sly, smart, sugary/sparky Monochrome Set and the war-drum thumps of Heilung, the black folk Viking pop champs (who would probably be brilliant on a bill with Adam Ant). Somewhere between Rough Trade and Viking Black Folk, somewhere between Spector and X-Ray Spex, there is Adam Ant. 

Adam Ant live in Connecticut / Photo by Tim Sommer

Secondly, Ant tours with an extraordinary band, honestly, as good a band as I’ve seen in decades. Will Crewdson and A.P. Leach (guitars), Joe Holweger (bass), and Andy Woodard and Jola (drums) play a rumbling, adept Duane Eddy/Shadows-accented punk rock with a mean, roaring, thumping, precision. Honestly, imagine the 1981 U.K. Subs (perhaps the greatest live pure punk band of all time, and anyone reading this who saw them will know exactly what I am talking about) transported to 1950s New Orleans while inhaling some Spiders From Mars and Slade DNA, and well, that’s a little bit of what we have here. The band are simultaneously business-like and burning down the house, simultaneously summoning the Post Punk frizzle and sizzle of Dirk-era Ants with the greaser Burundi of Frontier-era Ants with the arch, almost literary punk pop of his post-Ants solo work. 

True: Adam Ant has, yes, lost a few steps since the last time I saw him, barely a year ago. He is just an eyelash-less airborne, the dervish spins are very slightly slower, and the elbows and knees are doing just a little less bending and flapping than they have done in the past. But it is nothing significant, and what Adam has lost in athleticism, he makes up for with an undimmed vocal presence. More significantly, his face is alive, it is a face as full of life and legends as an old movie musical,  and he tells stories with his face, with his eyes, with twinkles and glowers, with stares. One moment he is beckoning you with bedroom eyes, the next moment challenging you with Manson eyes. In fact, for all his physicality, for all of the knowing imitations of his famous video swagger, you can’t take your eyes off of his face, which is more compelling, more full of truth and lies and tales, than ever.  

Do you get it? Go see this man while you can. He has just announced a second leg of his current tour – he will be back in the states in April — and the dates can be found here

 

VIDEO: Adam Ant “Stand and Deliver” live at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, PA on 9/20/19

 

 

Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYO DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Follow him on Twitter @Timmysommer.

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