Friday, July 18, 2003

ADAM'S HAD HIS DAY IN COURT, TOO: Last night was Channel 4's Madness of Prince Charming, an investigation/archive raid into the life of Adam Ant.

First things first: Justine Frischmann, who provided the voice over. She was stunning, having decided to eschew her faux-bow-bells rock-cockney for something nearer her usual voice. Obviously, we've long been a slave to her and Elastica, but, really, we'd be happy to sit at her feet and listen to her reading old Smash Hits features on Adam Ant until twilight falls. In the limited but growing field of indie-goddess turned TV anchor, she is the Sue the Panda to Lauren Laverne's Sweep the Dog.

But the show itself? It's a curiosity. Clearly, without the whole having gone mad element, it's unlikely that Channel Four would have turned over a chunk of precious Prime-Time to Adam Ant (it's unlikely that we'll be seeing 'Toyah - Before She Campaigned Against Asylum Seekers in her Neighbourhood' or 'Tony Hadley: Pop Diplomat to Laundromat Singer' anywhere other than Vh1 in the foreseeable future). Not that The Madness of Prince Charming didn't have some of the elements of the current Ch4 obsessions - there were home decoration tips (a friend told how the young Adam's house was painted all black - "walls, ceiling, carpets, the lot" with three nails, on which hung a comb, a pair of scissors and a toothbrush); and the early tales of the transformation from Stuart Goddard into Adam Ant sounded like a great lost edition of Faking It.

But the early and fame days, though fascinating for anyone who lived through them, were little more than the usual run-through of How Punk Changed Everything, even down to the appearance of Malcolm McClaren turning up to tell us how it was all his idea, the whole lot of it. All the old punks on show have hit the point of middle aged spread - even Paul More-of-Me/Morley, but it was still frightening how much Malcolm McClaren has started to look like a supporting antique dealer from Lovejoy, all carcoated-up, greying temples and laugh lines. He's finally growing into his face; that he also looks like a man you wouldn't have bought a second hand table or dodgy youth movement from now is some sort of poetic justice, we guess.

There was an attempt to lace the rags-to-riches part of the tale with some psychology that, while not cod had something of the fish about it; needing to have an explanation for why it all went wrong the documentary had to stir in some seeds of doubt from the off and so decided that Adam's prodigious output and desire for fame at any price was 'stardom as self-medication'. They might have a point, and if the need to push himself further, and sell more was a flaw, then grievously did he pay for it - he even agreed to do The Canon and Ball Show. Shockingly, he'd been offered a choice between them and Morecambe and Wise; he plumped for C&B because "the ratings were higher." There was also footage of the Ants' appearance on The Children's Royal Variety Performance, now officially The Point Where They Stopped Being Punk. As a sidenote, that show was hosted by Man/Puppet act Rod Hull and Emu and the 'royal' in attendance was Princess Margaret; Rod Hull's own plummet from stardom was the subject of a Channel Four show earlier this month; it's only a few weeks since they 'did' Margaret too.

Adam was given credit for being the first person to use the newspapers to sell their music and image, and although this is becoming such a commonplace that 'X was the first tabloid star' that the show before had been suggesting that Victoria and Albert had been, in effect, the first tabloid stars too, it did give a chance to set the triumphant Dandy Highway cover stories with the more recent, equally prominent coverage of the raging demons. The NME often gets accused of building 'em up to knock 'em down, but clearly nobody does it like the tabloids - they might wait years, but once the boots are on, the boots are in.

The end of the Ants and the decline of the career were skipped through pretty quickly, so as to get to the present. The "reasons" for Adam's mental decline - the loss of fame, the two stalkers, the father turning up and turning out to be a Dirty Old Man (as they still were known before the Internet) - were lined up and run through, and both Marco and Merrick were called on to give examples of the slippery slope that would eventually wind up with him throwing an alternator through a pub window and being sectioned. Interviewed between that sectioning and the later one, Adam isn't so Dandy anymore. Some of the time, he was filmed in what I guess is a TV Researcher's idea of what a mental health ward looks like (he was at pains to dismiss the film-glamour of mental illness - "there's no Jack Nicholson, no sexy middle aged nurse… just the smell of piss and death, and people waiting to die", although this also smacks a little of myth-making of a different kind); for these scenes, he was wearing a too-large bowler hat and his face was round and slightly angelic, as if he was trying out for the part of Fred the Flour Grader. But the sadder scenes were the ones where they shut him in front of a large screen and played him highlights of his career, and excerpts of news footage chronicling the descent into tragedy. For these sequences, he watched with a headscarf (we're guessing he's not taken the loss of his hair as lightly as Brian Molko) through tinted glasses, almost impassively. Even talking about the truly great pop moments he made - Prince Charming, Stand and Deliver - he didn't show any spark, any pride, any emotion linked to them. After explaining about how they'd suffered to knock out the Stand and Deliver video in just one day, his comment seemed to sum up his entire life. Flatly: "it went to number one - that's all that matters." He didn't sound as if he really believed it, more that he hoped that other people would.

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