Parsons, Tony 1953–
Parsons, Tony 1953–
PERSONAL: Born November 6, 1953, in Romford, Essex, England; son of Victor William Robert and Emma Parsons; married Julie Burchill (a writer), 1979 (divorced, 1985); married Yuriko Iwase (a translator), 1992; children: Robert (first marriage); Jasmine (second marriage).
CAREER: Popular culture journalist and novelist. Has worked as a journalist for New Musical Express, 1976–79, Arena, 1986–96, Daily Telegraph, 1990–96, and Mirror, 1996–. Appeared on television programs, including The Tattooed Jungle, Channel 4, 1992, Forbidden Fruit, Channel 4, 1993, Souled Out, Channel 4, 1994, Late Review, BBC 2, beginning 1994, Equal but Different, Channel 4, 1996, Big Mouth, Channel 4, 1996, and Parsons on Class, BBC 2, 1996. Was employed in a distillery in Islington, England, c. 1972.
AWARDS, HONORS: Book of the Year, British Book Awards, 2001, for Man and Boy.
The Kids, New English Library (London, England), 1976.
(With Julie Burchill) "The Boy Looked at Johnny": The Obituary of Rock and Roll, Pluto Press (London, England), 1978, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1987.
Platinum Logic (novel), Pan (London, England), 1981.
Limelight Blues (novel), Pan (London, England), 1983.
Winners and Losers, Virgin (London, England), 1988.
(With George Michael) George Michael, Joseph (London, England), 1990.
Dispatches from the Front Line of Popular Culture, Virgin (London, England), 1994.
Big Mouth Strikes Again, Andre Deutsch (London, England), 1998.
Man and Boy (novel), HarperCollins (London, England), 1999, Sourcebooks Landmark (Napierville, IL), 2001.
One for My Baby, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Man and Wife, HarperCollins (London, England), 2002, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Family Way, HarperCollins (London, England), 2004.
Stories We Could Tell, HarperCollins (London, England), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Tony Parsons made a big splash on the British music scene in 1978 with "The Boy Looked at Johnny": The Obituary of Rock and Roll, cowritten with Julie Burchill. Parsons combined his talents for journalism and night clubbing to take apart what by the late 1970s had become a punk music industry in London. Parsons followed up that journalistic effort with a novelistic one, Platinum Logic, set in the late 1970s in New York City. It charts the ascension, decline, and fall of Nathan Chasen, founder of Mammon of Manhattan Records, a rags-to-riches-to-rags story of corruption and depravity. Chasen, the son of poor Jewish immigrants in the Bronx, hears an early version of "Heartbreak Hotel" and is inspired to start his own record company. After twenty years of hard work he has reached the pinnacle of wealth and influence over the record business. As the story opens, his chief assistant, Ahmet Abbas, contemplates betraying his boss and taking over the company. The themes of backstabbing and betrayal are rife in this story. Nathan's wife makes a regular habit of picking up toughs in bars for one-night stands. His daughter suffers from anorexia and uses sex to punish her parents (and herself). After she catches her mother having sex with a has-been rock star, she moves to Oklahoma, where she picks up with a drug dealer and gets pregnant. Nathan himself suffers a stroke, and it is only the transformation of his son Ben from a spoiled but well-meaning frat boy to a hardened businessman that saves the company from Abbas' machinations.
Reviewers saw connections between Platinum Logic and Parsons's nonfiction exposé of the rock world, "The Boy Looked at Johnny." But they differed in their appreciation of Parsons's novel-writing skills. James Wolcott, reviewing the novel for Esquire, wrote that Parsons has "no flair for tone, rhythm, flow, or tact." Wolcott called the novel "an attempt to insert a critique of rock capitalism into the skin of a pulp sausage." But Steve Simels, who reviewed Platinum Logic for Stereo Review, called it "entertaining, trashy, and a good read."
Parsons took another turn at fiction writing with his 1999 novel Man and Boy. It features Harry Silver, a TV producer who is having a mid-life crisis at thirty. Harry, who has purchased a "babe magnet" red sports car and slept with his young colleague, faces the consequences with some hard-bitten humor, but quickly begins to come to terms with the changes in his life. When his wife leaves him for a four-month career stint in Japan, he must deal with his lack of intimacy with his son, as well as the discovery that his father has cancer. While he looks to his parents' generation for values, he must overcome his own somewhat estranged relationship with his father.
Parsons makes comedy of Harry's predicaments as a suddenly unemployed single parent. He is eyed with suspicion when he starts showing up at the local playground with his young son. He wants to become a role model for his son, as his father, a war veteran, was for him, but does not quite know how. As Luke Vinten put it in his Times Literary Supplement review, "Harry comes to recognize that the old virtues like fidelity, manliness, and resilience can still exist amid the debris of broken homes and single parents." Instead of giving his son over to the hands of teenage babysitters, who are painted in the novel as "brainless, designer-labeled," "slack-jawed," "greasy-fringed," "thin, languid," and "blank," Harry chooses to take responsibility for his son, and to recommit himself to his parents in their time of need, as his father lays dying in the hospital.
Reviewers were favorably impressed with Man and Boy. Luke Vinten called it "comic," "tender," and "tragic." And James Brown wrote in a review for the London Observer that "beneath the punchy surface noise, he writes with optimism and belief."
Parsons followed up Man and Boy with One for My Baby, about a man, Alfie, who returns to London after his wife is killed abroad. Refusing to believe that he will ever find true love again, Alfie nonetheless meets a university student who has had a tough life. At the same time, he discovers his father, a writer, is cheating on his mother. Critics responded positively overall to Parsons's novel. For some, it was the author's empathetic characters that made it a compelling read. Hugo Barnacle, in New Statesman & Society, wrote: "Many readers will like it because it reminds them of their own bust-ups." For others, it was Parsons's ability to write from a sincere and relatable point of view that attracted them. One for My Baby is a "heartfelt, true-to-life look" at the characters' lives, observed Booklist contributor Kristine Huntley.
Parsons's 2005 novel Stories We Could Tell follows Ray, Leon, and Terry, three young music journalists working for the same newspaper. Terry falls in love with fellow writer Misty. Many reviewers commented on the similarities between the characters in Stories We Could Tell and Parsons's own life, drawing parallels between Terry and Parsons himself. Some critics felt that the parallels between the author's own life and that of the characters in his novel were too much and did not add to the novel's integrity. The novel is a "self-important, name-checking ego trip," wrote Thogdin Ripley in a review for Bookseller. However, others found merit in Parsons's tale and enjoyed the realism and complexity the story and characters conveyed. Stories We Could Tell contains an "elegiac tone of a man trying to put together the disparate splinters of his life," noted Guardian contributor Suzie Mackenzie.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Parsons, Tony, Man and Boy, HarperCollins (London, England), 1999, Sourcebooks Landmark (Napier-ville, IL), 2001.
Booklist, March 1, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of Man and Boy, p. 1227; March 1, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of One for My Baby, p. 1140.
Bookseller, September 2, 2005, "Parsons: Stories We Could Tell," p. 12; September 16, 2005, Aislinn McCormick, "Parsons's Personal Brand," p. 1227; January 20, 2006, Thogdin Ripley, review of Stories We Could Tell, p. 11.
Esquire, March, 1982, James Wolcott, review of Platinum Logic, p. 136.
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 27, 2005, Suzie Mackenzie, "Let's Get Personal."
Library Journal, March 15, 2001, Francine Fialkoff, review of Man and Boy, p. 106; August, 2001, Gloria Maxwell, review of Man and Boy, p. 186.
New Statesman & Society, July 16, 2001, Hugo Barnacle, "The Return of the Essex Man," p. 53.
Observer (London, England), June 27, 1999, James Brown, "Just Do What Your Father Tells You," p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2001, review of Man and Boy, p. 183; March 19, 2001, John F. Baker, review of Man and Boy, p. 16; February 16, 2004, review of One for My Baby, p. 153.
Spectator, July 7, 2001, Alexander Linklater, review of One for My Baby, p. 31.
Stereo Review, May, 1982, Steve Simels, review of Platinum Logic, p. 83.
Times Literary Supplement, July 30, 1999, Luke Vinten, "Like They Used to Make Them," p. 20.