Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the passing of Tony Wilson

Anthony “Tony” Wilson, the Manchester music impresario who was instrumental in the creation of that city’s Factory Records label as well as its Hacienda nightclub, passed away this week.

As a young, white, working-class kid growing up in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s and early 1980s, some of the music that Tony Wilson helped bring to the world, such as the seminal Manchester band Joy Division, served as a real inspiration back in my musical days for what a determined group of musicians could do with a singular vision, loud amplifiers and some grasp of how to subtly use them.

In his love for his home city of Manchester, Tony Wilson also demonstrated how, by simply giving an outlet to the pool of talent already there, one could take an economically depressed former mill city and transform it into one of the most vibrant of Europe’s cultural capitals. As the independent music that Wilson championed metamorphosed into something altogether looser and funkier, he was also, with the Hacienda, instrumental in presiding over what was to be the birth of rave culture, and the redubbing of his beloved hometown “Madchester.”

Wilson, who was known for his razor-sharp wit, was famous for saying “some people make money and some make history” (a sentiment certainly comforting to some of us on the downside of fiscal advantage), but that wit was not enough to save him when facing kidney cancer and Britain’s National Health Service refused to pay £3,500-a-month for a drug which doctors had recommended after Wilson’s chemotherapy had failed. Were he in the United States, where over 46 million people (myself included) lack any kind of healthcare at all, one wonders how much sooner he would have passed on.

Perhaps the best comment on the Cambridge-educated Wilson came in today's Guardian from Paul Ryder, who served as the guitarist for the Manchester group Happy Mondays: "I would still be working at the post office if it wasn't for Tony. He was the one that gave working kids like me and Shaun [his brother, the band's lead singer] their chance."

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