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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Mick Farren, 69, British rock ‘n’ roll Renaissance man

NEW YORK — Mick Farren, a Renaissance man of the 1960s British rock ’n’ roll underground — singer and songwriter, rock critic and historian and the author of science fiction novels — died July 27 in London. He was 69.

Mr. Farren died after collapsing during a performance by a reconstituted version of the Deviants, the psychedelic band of which he was a member in the ’60s. A friend for many years, Wayne Kramer, a guitarist for the rock band the MC5, said the cause was a heart attack. In addition, Kramer said, Mr. Farren had emphysema, “which he treated with alcohol and cigarettes.”

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He added: “He wasn’t a singer, per se, but he loved being onstage. He loved performing. He couldn’t have written a better end for himself.”

A product of the counterculture that swept through Britain in the early 1960s, Mr. Farren sounded a raucous, antiestablishment voice for a half-century. He wrote raw, lecherous, angry lyrics for the Deviants (initially called the Social Deviants). The band, sometimes referred to as proto-punk, sometimes as acid rock, shared an arch, acerbic outlook with the Mothers of Invention and the Fugs and recorded three albums from 1967 to 1969.

In 1970, when talk-show host David Frost interviewed hippie provocateur Jerry Rubin, Mr. Farren was among a dozen or more activists who infiltrated the studio audience and seized control of the show with a series of antics. (Among other things, Rubin lit a joint and offered Frost a toke.)

In the early ’70s Mr. Farren and three others faced obscenity charges in England after they published a comic book called Nasty Tales, which included overtly sexual material from, among others, the cartoonist R. Crumb. They were acquitted.

Mr. Farren founded the British wing of the White Panthers, a radical antiracist group, and helped create Phun City, an alternative festival organized in 1970 and held near Worthing, England, as a kind of protest against the commercialization of rock, exemplified by the annual Isle of Wight Festival.

That festival occurred a month later, and with the Hells Angels and other groups, Mr. Farren helped lead an assault on it. Protesters tore down enclosures and set up encampments that allowed people without tickets to see the Isle of Wight bands perform.

By then, Mr. Farren had earned a reputation as a pugnaciously literate, effusively opinionated writer for International Times, known as IT, a leading counterculture weekly in Britain that he also edited.

Later he wrote for the more mainstream British magazine New Music Express, where in 1976 he published perhaps his most famous essay, “The Titanic Sails at Dawn.”

The article was a screed against the celebrity culture of rock ’n’ roll that, he argued, had watered down the rebellious spirit of the music. At a time when the first tremors of punk were emanating from New York City, the essay was a timely, even prescient call to arms.

“If rock becomes safe, it’s all over,” he wrote. “It’s a vibrant, vital music that from its very roots has always been a burst of color and excitement against a background of dullness, hardship or frustration. From the blues onwards, the essential core of the music has been the rough side of humanity. It’s a core of rebellion, sexuality, assertion and even violence.

“All the things that have always been unacceptable to a ruling establishment. Once that vigorous, horny-handed core is extracted from rock ’n’ roll, you’re left with little more than Muzak. No matter how tastefully played or artfully constructed, if the soul’s gone then it still, in the end, comes down to Muzak.”

Michael Anthony Farren was born Sept. 3, 1943 in Cheltenham, south of Birmingham. His father was a flier who was killed in World War II over Cologne, Germany. Mick grew up as an angry young man in a home dominated by a stepfather he loathed. He studied at a London art school and aspired, for a time, to work in advertising, but the counterculture ’60s changed his path.

Mr. Farren, who after 1980 lived in New York and Los Angeles, writing for ’zines and alternative papers, moved back to England in his last few years.

He had a prolific literary life.

He wrote more than 30 books, including four studies of Elvis Presley; a cultural history of the black leather jacket; a series of vampire novels featuring a nearly 1,000-year-old protagonist named Victor Renquist; and science-fiction fantasies such as “The Feelies,” a virtual-reality nightmare story from 1978.

Mr. Farren’s energetic 2001 memoir was “Give the Anarchist a Cigarette.”

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