Simultaneous, conjoined album and book releases by the same person are a rarity. When they are themed around a semi-conceptual format that involves 70's German underground youth movements that are caught up with the most infamous terrorist organisations of the day you can be sure it's not from Disney or Pixar. 'One Model Nation' is a hardback graphic novel by Courtney Taylor-Taylor that has been illustrated by comic book genius Jim Rugg. To coincide with his book, Taylor is releasing an album of the same name, not covered here, due to be released on The End Records. (How very bohemian!)
The premise of the book, that has taken a decade of careful gestation for its creator, is not what you might imagine from a 44 year old American singer-songwriter who fronts a band called the Dandy Warhols. Courtney Taylor-Taylor's imagination is obviously not of the norm (If imagination can have any norms) and quite refreshingly un-American in its field of vision.
Taylor's book is set in late 70's Germany, an era unlikely to have been of great significance, or interest, to his fan base. The Berlin of 1977, where Taylor's book begins to take shape, is not at all a hospitable, friendly or particularly safe. The Red Army Faction are being held responsible for shootings and bombings and the TV and media are full of political rhetoric and ill-informed prejudice against a misunderstood youth counter culture. As the scale of the violence escalates and tensions rise 'One Model Nation', Courtney's infamous, fictitious band are cited as having defined the current "Terrorist Generation" with their music and image.
Unwittingly or not, One Model Nation's existence is to become synonymous with the events that begin to unfold around them. Through crisis of conscience, nightmares, false imprisonment and near death experiences, the book follows the group as its history is recalled by Olaf Arte. He reminisces about the influential group, its turbulent and ill feted life as well as their chance meeting with one of Berlin's most famed artistic interlopers, David Bowie. As the bands story nears its end, and we bear witness to the jailing of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Mienhoff, its legacy and assignment to musical folklore seemingly begins. A climate of tension and terror still troubles Germany, aptly summed up with this blackly comic one liner... "I mean as far as centuries go, Germany is having a bad one." The musical 'figureheads for a generation of terrorists', as well as the lost and disillusioned adolescents that got swept along with them, are confined to history and are never heard again.
If you can get past the initial - albeit brief but nevertheless ill advised - use of accented script: 'Who in zeir right mind would vant fame if zay could just take ze money?', One Model Nation is a nicely presented book that is a quick and enjoyable read. It develops some nice threads and themes and mixes the factual with the fictional very neatly without trying to push some hidden agenda. The art work is all pretty good, especially when the band are illustrated playing live. Courtney's favourite graphic novel artist Michael Allred (Red Rocket 7) is used as a cameo to portray David Bowie, as well as to provide an excitable forward to the book. The colouring has been done effectively enough by Jon Fell although the cover art and band image are either spot on or a little clich'd, depending on your take. It's all very Kraftwerk era 'Man Machine' meets Joy Division tied together with Gerald Scarf's depiction of the Hammer Army in Pink Floyds 'The Wall'. The colour scheme of red, black and white could easily have been chosen by Jack White himself.
As an idea, it may not sound like it has legs. You've got to have some clout, plenty of conviction, know the right people and be able to pitch convincingly. It's been ten years coming so CTT has probably been over this a few times. Still, you have to give credit where it's due; let's face it, Germany, 70's, terrorists etc is a bit of a specialised proposal from a man best known for some off centre, quirky pop gems. Overall, I think he's done a pretty good job. It's not mind blowing stuff; it's not going to do a 'Maus' and win a Pulitzer but as a coffee table curiosity it works well.
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.