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Savoy Books 
I Am Still the Greatest
says Johnny Angelo

Nik Cohn


1985

b/w illustrated

192mm x 123mm

Soft cover

Reprint of 1967 Martin Secker & Warburg edition

152pp

ISBN 0 86130 041 6

Johnny Angelo

 PJ - Johnny A

"I am an artist;
and should be exempt from shit."

PJ Proby, 1966

The best Rock'n'Roll novel ever written. Penned at the same time as Cohn's seminal music book, AwopBopaLooBopAlopBamBoom, it is doused with that book's energy, freshness, bravado and commitment to excess, Rock'n'Roll and Elvis (more pertinently it contains a legendary dose of the fantastic, vinegary thoughts of PJ Proby). Large amounts of actual PJ Proby thoughts and rhetoric are quoted by Cohn from his interviews with the singer, and fed rabidly through the mouthpiece of anti-hero Johnny Angelo. A young man's book, like Moorcock's Stormbringer, Johnny Angelo was written at the height of youthful talent, enthusiasm and imagination. We republished the more swashbuckling original Secker & Warburg novel and not the paperback re-write (splendid though it was!) put out by Penguin. 

Savoy's edition had two publishings. The book was printed in 1981, before the collapse of Savoy Books Ltd, but only twelve copies were bound. The remaining run was bound in 1985. Jacket design (and interior artwork) by David Britton.


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Reviews

"Angelo is the rock writer's wet dream, a mythical, heroic saga which blends pre-Army Elvis with Iggy Pop, Little Richard, Vince Taylor, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and PJ Proby."

Marc Issue, BLITZ

 

"There are only ten copies of the Savoy edition of Johnny Angelo in print. Only ten 'advance printer's' samples survived the company's 'reorganisation' early in 1981. The intended run was printed-up, never jacketed, and was subsequently pulped.

The recipients of this publishing rarity were Savoy themselves, Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison, Sonny Mehta (head of Picador Books), Nick Webb (Savoy editor at NEL), Nik Cohn, and, of course, PJ Proby—more of Proby later.

I purloined Savoy's file copy when I signed contracts with them to write The Legendary Ted Nugent. When I finally sat down to structure the book, amidst my amassed Nugentalia and genre Rock bibles by such luminaries as Nick Kent, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Robert Palmer, Nick Tosches, I read and was surprised just how contemporary Cohn's novel remained. In many ways it is still the perfect blueprint Rock novel.

Cohn writes in such a rich, strange prose style that its responses linger long after the book's initial impact. His opulent, staccato sentences add weight to the edginess and near hysteria of Johnny Angelo, the novel's central character. And in Angelo, Rock singer and shaman, we have a genuine archetype. He is no cheap pulp writer's empty creation. He is as genuinely idiosyncratic as PJ Proby, Angelo's counterpart in real life. Cohn's affection and not misplaced admiration for the disgraced '60s star is amplified throughout the book.

Like Proby, Angelo experiences life as a highly charged fantasy. Certainly immoral, he acts on the premise that his art justifies any excess going down. Large chunks of real Proby monologues scatter hedonistically throughout the novel. The writer leaves no doubt that Angelo is a novel of morals. He approves Angelo's belief that his excessive desires, ultimately sane, should quite rightly take precedence over society's restrictions.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, his unhinged life style leads to his eventual martyrdom. With his death he achieves more than his already secured legendary status—he becomes a true Rock icon. Quite simply, he is more talented, more driven. He deserves to be regarded as a notch above—in fact, far, far above.

"By the end of the month, there was truly a small army, 10,000 strong, all eager to perish for Johnny Angelo.

"They were hardly what he'd had in mind. Somehow he'd imagined that he would collect an elite, commandos and gurkhas and American marines, men that had fought in five continents. Therefore he was disconcerted to find that the desert was full of mutants, of mongols and morons, of the blind and deaf and dumb, the sexually perverted, the criminally insane, and thousands of midget schoolgirls, hardly past puberty.

"By any standards, these were the scrapings, strictly the flotsam and jetsam of society: 'Human garbage,' said Johnny Angelo. 'I might have known'."

Surely, this was the vinegary stuff of PJ Proby's dreams? Angelo's righteous arrogance was born of the '60s. His somewhat tongue-in-cheek immoral displays earn the full approval of the young Nik Cohn, who writes the book at an exhausting intensity. In the process Cohn invents the first quintessential electric fin-de-siècle Rock novel, and probably the best.

Cohn's fictional hybrid of Elvis, Little Richard and PJ Proby deserved to be kept in print indefinitely. Interestingly, Savoy were scheduled to publish not one but two versions of the novel. The first version, carrying the book's correct title, is a reprinting of the powerful original Secker & Warburg edition. The second version, to have carried the slightly but significantly different title, I am Still the Greatest Says Johnny Angelo, and to have appeared on the stands more or less simultaneously, was to have been a reprint of Cohn's revised, more formal, less powerful 1970 Penguin edition. This, because Savoy felt that both versions together told the full story of Johnny Angelo.

David Bowie ripped-off 'Angelo' for Ziggy Stardust, and it is a great pity that the book will now be denied the larger audience that Savoy's editions could have brought. Not that Cohn needs the money. Saturday Night Fever made him a millionaire."

ROBERT HOLLAND

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