Do you hate this man? If so you’re not alone. Marc Almond admits he’s “one of the most disliked of all pop stars”. But he also inspires the fiercest of loyalty in his fans. But why? Tom Hibbert finds out…
JUST AS I am about to ring the bell, the door of the recording studio swings open and out Into the daylight skips Marc Almond. “Oh, hallo!” he chimes warmly, once I’ve introduced myself, “I was just popping out for an Ice lolly.” What a weed he Is!
I’ve seen that slender frame In photos and on TV countless times, but encountering it in the flesh (well, hardly any flesh, actually) I’m startled by its frailty: those Twlglet arms, those legs of string… “I’m in the tower five foots and seven-and-a-half stone,” he tells me later, “And I’ve been in fights – some quite scary scrapes. But so far I’ve survived…”
But who would want to set about this genial stick-man In the first place? Well, quite a lot of people would, it seems; for ever since he first became a “well-known artiste” with Soft Cell In 1981, Marc Almond has been getting up a lot of people’s noses. There are those who cannot stand Marc Almond…
Being an object of hatred for thousands of people one has never met is something all pop stars have to put up with – “lots of people hate Simon le Bon, for example,” says Marc, “which sounds like good sense to me.” But for Almond this kind of hatred has often been particularly fierce. “Yes, I’m supposed to be one of the most disliked of all pop stars.” he says with resignation.
“At first I encountered a lot of animosity. There I was on Top Of The Pops with bracelets and eyeliner all over the place, gyrating about – there wasn’t any other male singers presenting that kind of image then and people found it threatening. Burly beer-swillers – I threatened their masculinity. I bring out this chemical change in their bodies and they see me as some sort of mirror of things in themselves that they don’t like and refuse to accept. Usually it only comes down to shouting Insults – “yer little poof” – like big kids showing up their insecurities and immaturity. I mean, I may be a misfit but I don’t think of myself as not being a masculine person, it’s just that my type of masculinity Is different to theirs. Why should there be only one type of masculinity?…”
On occasion, however, personal attacks have gone further than mere insults – fortunately Marc has a tot of big friends: “It comes in very handy having big friends…”
And it’s not just the star himself who has come In for abuse from the easily – “disgusted” – his fans have been tormented by “outraged” bruisers, too: “People have come up to me and said ‘I’m a real fan of yours, but if you’re a Marc Almond fan at school you get beaten up.’ There are so many narrow-minded people in the world – and school is one of the cruellest places in the world.”
It takes more than sticks and stones at playtime to make Marc Almond fans change their colours, though: while the singer can provoke hatred, he can also inspire quite spectacular adoration. “Gutterhearts” (members of Marc’s fan club) are an extraordinarily loyal, sometimes obsessive breed. Why? The singer doesn’t really know – nor does he really want to know: “People say they see me as an antidote to Duran Duran – but there’s more to it than that. But I don’t try to analyse it and I don’t try to tap it, because I think if you found out why people liked you then you’d start playing on it and exaggerating it and falsifying your appeal. So I try not to think about it.”
But isn’t it almost a bit scary having such intensely devoted fans? Particularly when you are generally considered to be something of a “weirdo” and so might attract some rather “unusual” admirers?
“Well, I don’t think I’m a particularly good influence. I’m intolerant and I’m the worst hypocrite in the world and I collect stuffed animals – I especially like quite odd stuffed animals like two-headed sheep and two-headed calves. I’ve got a stuffed two-headed calf. It’s the morbid side of my nature, I suppose.”
Oh… er… I see. But aren’t your fans ever a worry to you?
“I get strange letters. I get a lot of letters from people who have problems. They say ‘I hate my parents and I want to run away from home and if I don’t run away from home I’m going to kill myself. And it’s so difficult; If I wrote back and said ‘Give your parents a chance. Maybe they’re not so bad after all’, they’d write back and say ‘Thank you very much for not understanding my problem’; or if I wrote ‘Yes, I think you should run away from home’, the parents would write back saying ‘How dare you? I’ve referred you to the police’. You can’t get involved. I get lots of suicide threats and I get people who actually have run away from home ending up on my doorstep – the police were once informed that I was harbouring runaways, which wasn’t the case at all. So all you can do is offer a shoulder to cry on. You can’t get involved: you might lose a fan’s respect, they might even end up hating you, but you can’t get involved…”
So. It’s often something of an unenviable responsibility being a pop star; and, as an ‘artiste’ at least, Marc Almond likes to think he shoulders his responsibilities better than most: “So many people seem to be content with their five minutes of fame. They’re content to be portrayed as being stupid and silly and court jesters and having no brains and content to be sold as soap powder and to not mean anything. No, I won’t tell you who I’m talking about specifically. What does it matter? Anyway, you know who I’m talking about.”
Well, I do have my suspicions. He’s already revealed a slight disregard for Simon le Bon, i.e. Duran Duran in general, and he’s about to do the same for Madonna. And more or less everybody in between.
“My understanding of pop music may be negligible but I do know a song. And current music is not songs – it’s the same old collection of sounds.”
So what is a song? It’s something that “sends those little shivers up the spine, something that has that thrill, that little extra something, that emotion.” Like what, might one ask? Like: ‘You’re My World’ by Cilia Black’ – or, he suggests modestly, ‘Stories Of Johnny’.
So back to the court jesters – “I’m talking about those people who have really powerful positions in music: they could turn the world upside down but they’re content to be bland and lazy and stupid. And then to make it all alright again, they’ll all go and do something like Live Aid. That’s supposed to make it okay: ‘yes we are aware, yes we are important, yes we can do something important for the world.’ It’s all so condescending. With Live Aid the ends justify the means definitely: they’ve raised money to help starving people and of course I support that. But all that sweetness and light and ‘now we’ve got our halos’! I mean, if they said ‘yes, I did Live Aid to help people but yes, I also did it because millions of people would get to see me perform my new record and yes, my LP’s gone up 50 places’ – a little more honesty like that would make me applaud. But all those halos – pur-l-ease! Who do they think they’re fooling? There’s so little honesty and there’s so little humour – but then you only have to listen to Madonna’s records and I think there’s plenty to laugh about, really.
“Oh no. You’ve done it – you’re bringing out the worst in me!” Marc Almond is cackling merrily now. Strange, but just now, when he was getting hot under the collar, he didn’t seem quite such a fragile figure. He also gave the impression that sometimes he doesn’t really like being a “pop star” very much at all.
“Pop star is not a very nice term, but I am a pop star. Am I a reluctant pop star? Definitely. People make me nervous. I have claustrophobia about being surrounded, a hatred of being confined. It’s all particularly unpleasant but I enjoy performing and writing and recording – and what else can I do?”
Who can say? His new LP, Stories Of Johnny which he describes as “dare I say it, Abba-esque in parts”, is, he says, “as commercial as I’ll ever get”. But will it “send those little shivers up the spine”?
“Yes… touch wood,” he says. And, revealing a superstitious streak, Marc leans forward to touch a piece of scrap wood that happens to be lying near his feet. Only it turns out not to be wood at all but a piece of foam rubber, and Marc Almond is cackling once more…
© Tom Hibbert, Smash Hits, 11 September 1985