Monday, September 10, 2007

Divine decadence darling

Like a fair swathe of London last weekend, I had a brief “Sebastian Horsley experience” on Saturday.

I went to The Last Tuesday Society dinner and ball where the dandy/artist/writer addressed us as part of the launch of his book Dandy in the Underworld. Mr Horsley, His Royal Lowness, looked spectacular, wearing a sequinned suit that had to be one of the most gorgeous outfits I have ever seen - like black mirrored water. His famously stunning girlfriend and muse, Rachel 2, was indeed jaw-droppingly, hypnotically beautiful. (I wonder what it’s like to be a muse… do you have to actually do anything, or is doing something exactly what you mustn’t do?)

Anyway, SH has built up a bit of a reputation for himself as being the embodiment of decadence in a Baudelaire, Byron, Earl of Rochester, overdosing 60s pop star, “I have had sex with X-thousand prostitutes” and “my clothes are my art” kind of way. His main claim to fame, in so far as he has one, is being sacked as sex columnist of the Observer newspaper for answering questions about oral and anal sex a bit (lot) too graphically. (But they were the ones who published his answers. They could always have asked for a rewrite.) And the other was through crucifying himself (literally) in the Philippines in the name of art. He fell off.

The reason he’s appearing in this blog is because of his sexual behaviour. His notorious mention in his Observer column of: “I’ve buggered and been buggered by men and I’ve buggered and been buggered by women”. While being simultaneously homophobic and misogynistic, it seems. Still, for someone who writes as if he is appalled by practically everyone, he seems to have quite a few friends, many of them women or gay men.

Not many people can boast (the right word) of being having anal sex with a mass-murderer - the by-then reformed gangster Jimmy Boyle, apparently , like SH does. While Boyle was also having an affair with his wide. Lawks! And unrepentantly taking shedloads of drugs too.

This, then, is the polar opposite of the wholesome bisexual activist approach to bisexuality. It’s the “all life’s pleasures” approach – why wouldn’t you have sex with that gorgeous person? Why wouldn’t you try this that or the other sexual activity – it might be fun?

Certainly, dandyism - which is a growing scene in London at the moment, and one I certainly enjoy very much - has a homoerotic element to it, whatever the overt sexuality of the men who are involved. Personally, I love men who take an unusually close interest in their appearance and could look at them all day. It is possible to make yourself into a work of art: dandyism reminds me of one of my all-time heroes, Quentin Crisp, who certainly knew how to give good front and quip elegantly.

Earthy crunchy me

But I’m useless at decadence myself. If I do something even mildly naughty – such as not going to bed till 4am or getting drunk – it takes me several days to recover. When I had hospital-administered morphine I couldn't believe anyone would take it for fun. I live on salad, for heaven’s sake. I don’t mind observing it, though, from a pretty safe distance.

Not that I know what it is really - I read The Decadent Handbook without really being any the wiser about what decadence is. But I suppose sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, with a bit of added death-wish, probably covers it.
Obviously, a life solely consisting of self-destructive self-indulgence is actually pretty boring and empty. Not to mention short. Women never really get to be decadent, either. To be decadent, you need money, leisure, no children or other people to look after; people, preferably servants, to do the cleaning up for you. And perhaps that’s why decadence seems to be having a bit of a moment: because everyone in Britain now is expected to work so bloody, unrelentingly hard. To be career focussed and desperate to pay off the credit cards and the mortgage. To not smoke and only eat healthily and never take any risks we haven't paid good money for (white-water rafting, anyone?) Faced with the hamster-wheel of the modern world, it’s not surprising that people dream of drug-fuelled orgies – of which there were surprisingly few in The Decadent Handbook.

Of course, much of SH’s decadence is really a fantasy – in the Story of O sort of way. I had expected to feel at least queasy at his readings but SH, for all his claims of being the devil incarnate, or at any rate one of his henchmen, was very funny and seemingly self-deprecating. His book sounded very entertaining; his relationships quite sad and difficult.

I had intended to buy it and get him to sign it with some kind of lurid message. But by 2.30am, when I left the ball, he, his books, and Rachel 2, were long gone. Oh, I thought, they've gone off to put their feet up with a cup of cocoa. But no, nothing so cliched. They had changed into matching red sequinned outfits and gone to the second launch of the night - for his Soho exhibition Hookers, Dealers, Tailors.

Alas, like so many disappointed fans, I left with my innocence intact.

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