Former Stone Roses manager and ‘punk poet’ Garry Johnson wrote his autobiography after ‘dying’ twice from a heart attack. Doctors told his three children not to expect anything but Johnson woke up after a 29-day coma.
His autobiography ‘Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales’, released last week, is a tribute to the late icon David Bowie even though it was written before the star’s death. Johnson told Eastlondonlines: “David Bowie is my hero, God, inspiration, love of my life. In fact, my publisher said my book could be subtitled ‘My love affair with David Bowie’.
He added: “I once met David Bowie at a Tina Turner showbiz party in 1985 and I shook his hand. They kept writing in Sounds music magazine ‘Six weeks on and Garry Johnson has still not washed his hand’. This went on for about three months.”
Eastlondonlines talked to Johnson about his life and asked him some questions about how this ‘double death’ impacted his life.
David Bowie was from Brixton, and you from Hackney, did you know each other? What changed from the day you met him/saw him on stage?
Apart from my kids and ex-wife I have never loved anyone as much. I always wanted to be a footballer like George Best. But one night I saw David Bowie on TV and I was hooked. I threw away my football boots and bought a guitar. I dressed like him, had a Bowie haircut, dyed it red and blonde to look like him. I was distraught when he died and cried my eyes out. I wanted to be a singer but couldn’t sing so I became a punk poet, stand up comic, music journo and then I discovered the Stone Roses who I helped to launch on the road to stardom. I always wanted to be in a band but as I couldn’t sing I made do with being a poet and lyricist.
How did a ‘Hackney boy’ end up being the Stone Roses manager?
I was writing articles for Sounds music magazine and Ian Brown sent me a demo tape, which I loved. Within 48 hours I was on the train to Manchester and I spent the weekend hanging out with the band. We got on so well they stayed at mine when visiting London. I took then to every record label in London but couldn’t get them signed. Great memories include singing Sex Pistols and Small Faces songs with them in my flat. Taking them to East End pubs and gatecrashing showbiz parties in the West End. I also knew they would make it.”
Johnson said it “re-ignited his ambition and desire to achieve something” after recovering from health problems.
“I had been a single parent since 2006 and my punk poet career was put on hold. After I left hospital I was contacted by Swedish rocker Soren Sulo Karlsson who wanted to turn my old poems into songs. He sent an email after I left the hospital saying ‘I am a massive fan of your poems, I loved them at school and throughout my teenage years’. He came to Stratford and we went into the studio. We recorded the album ‘Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales’ which will be released by Cargo Records on February 26. After that recording session I was then contacted by Teddie Dahlin of New Haven Publishing who asked me to write my life story, and that book has just come out.”
Why did you decide to become a ‘punk poet’? What does ‘punk’ mean for you?
I became a punk poet because I couldn’t sing, but I still wanted to have my say. My poems were always about supporting the underdog. I am half Irish and being a rebel is in my DNA. I always support the underdog. Be it the Jews in Nazi Germany, Blacks in Apartheid South Africa, the working class in the inner cities who are treated like dirt by the Tories. My poems were and are anti establishment, anti-war and anti-royalist.
Why write an autobiography?
I wanted to write my story because dead men can’t talk. Because I wanted to inspire others who had nearly died or who are currently ill. Plus, I thought it was a good ‘feel good’ story back from the brink.
What are your plans for the future?
To stay alive. To write a novel and my dream is for Hackney legend Ray Winstone to play me if ‘Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales’ becomes a film. As we speak, a copy of the book is with his agent. Ray is my favorite actor, an East End boy who looks, sounds and walks like me. Or should that be: I talk, look and walk like him.
My message, if I have one, is: always try and do something with your life. You only live once so try and enjoy it. I’ve failed time after time at singing, marriage, football. But I had a great time trying. Make sure you go to your grave with no regrets. My greatest achievement are my three children Sam, Adam and Lucy.
Who are you favourite bands?
My favorite bands of all time are The Clash and The Jam. My favourite band are The Sex Pistols. For one album they were perfect. And out of modern bands, Oasis as I love the attitude.
Artists who move me are Dylan, Bob Marley and John Lennon.
But of course my all time great is David Bowie.
Follow Nina Lecourt on Twitter: @NinaLecourt