When I re-watched the film Telstar, I couldn't help thinking some of the incidents were a bit far-fetched, even for someone as strange as Joe Meek. However, when I went back to the book, I realised that the film is not just based on the book, but is a very faithful adaptation of it. As the book appears to be based on extensive research , including interviews with most of the main protagonists, I assume it is largely true.
The Telstar Man is an absorbing and well-crafted evocation of one of pop's oddest Svengalis. Repsch paints the picture of a driven man who achieved the fame he wanted, but only in patches, and ultimately crashed and burned. He shows in detail how Meek achieved his success by a bewildering mixture of studio home-grown wizardry and head games which veered wildly between charm and hysteria.
Meek is compared, briefly, with two of his contemporaries with their own demons to fight, Brian Epstein and Phil Spector. He was one of the many who turned down the Beatles, later (with the bitterness of sour grapes) ridiculing them as churning out "matchbox music", and he was so paranoid that Spector would steal his ideas that he refused to answer his phone call. Repsch makes a brief but telling comparison between Spector and Meek; Spector had a very low output, honing each production in search of perfection and achieving an incredibly high proportion of hits, whereas Meek let a thousand flowers bloom, always assuming that his next track would be another Telstar.
Repsch takes pains to give a detailed view of the support network which enabled Meek to flourish: the two who stuck with him to the end, his faithful PA Patrick Pink and (fatally for herself) his long-suffering landlady Violet Shenton; his co-writer Geoff Goddard; his excellent house band The Outlaws; his business partner Major Banks, and many others.
Justifiably, the book gives a lot of coverage to the good-looking but untalented Heinz, and the effort both business and personal which Meek squandered on him. ( On checking youtube, I found only one live clip of Heinz, doing a mediocre performance of C'Mon Everybody, but to my amazement it's from the epic 1972 Wembley Stadium Rock'n'Roll concert, which I attended - but I don't recall him.) Repsch diplomatically has only one veiled sentence hinting at a sexual relationship between Meek and Heinz, whereas the film goes a bit further - virtually its only deviation. There is more on Meek's sexuality in general, including his conviction for cottaging. (Like Epstein, he had the misfortune to be gay just before it was legal, but unlike Epstein had no PR machine to protect him.)
Repsch is clearly a fan, and although he devotes a lot of pages to Telstar, Meek's biggest seller, he reserves the most praise for Johnny Remember Me, which I have loved ever since its release. (So I would agree with him,wouldn't I? ...)
I recommend this book to anyone interested in pop history. One of the less obvious attractions is the story of how Meek so nearly succeeded as the first of the industry's independents. However, you should also investigate the music itself, beyond the obvious hits, to experience more of Meek's wacky musical universe.
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