Daniel Treacy was the founder, singer and songwriter of the little known but very influential indie band, Television Personalities. Born in 1960, he stumbled back into the wild days of punk and into the gloomy years of Thatcher in the late ’70s, with his eyes fixed on the ever-distant moving London of the’ years 60. He did not stumble just once. He faced failure, struggled with depression, used a lot of drugs and was abandoned by friends and women. But he did not let that get in his way. Treacy is an antihero who lives his life in a parallel world of pop literature, film and pop references. He lives in the British New Wave films of the 1960s as Bitter Honey; he lives to the music of the Beatles, Kinks and Velvet Underground; she lives in the works of art of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol or Salvatore Dali. He lives in his fragile dream world.
“The music of the Television personalities was distorted, embarrassing and immersed in an oblique relationship with reality,” Treacy biographer Benjamin Berton describes the sounds of Daniel Treacy’s group. Berton is a well-known writer in France. In 2000 he received the Goncourt Prize for his novel “Wildlings”. “The world of dreams. Or: about the fabulous life of Dan Treacy and his band Television Personalities” is the name of his wonderful book on British indie legend.
In 1977, seventeen-year-old Dan Treacy left school. His mother runs a laundry in London. Treacy brings the washed clothes of Bob Marley, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Thus he was employed in the office of the Led Zeppelin label. His entry into the music business. With four schoolmates he founded the group Television Personalities. Famous BBC radio presenter John Peel performs the band’s first two songs ’14th Floor’ and ‘Where’s Bill Grundy Now?’ in his appearance. And already these two songs show the typical Treacy style. British guitar music with a classical formation: Two guitars, one bass and drums. Everything is a bit bumpy and crooked. The text of “The 14th Floor” is a kind of panorama of Ali Mitgutsch of a block of flats in London. “Where is Bill Grundy Now?” takes the scandal over the interview of BBC presenter Bill Grundy with Sex Pistols and their companions. Grundy had asked Siouxsie Sioux, who was makeup like a porcelain doll, if she would like to meet him after the show and the Sex Pistols used clear insulting words towards him. Then he lost his job.
Because the band did not stand a chance with a major label, Treacy founded his own record company, Dreamworld. Between 1985 and 1987, Treacy, who was now heavily addicted to drugs, and his girlfriend Emily broke the records of the bands he believed in. Mostly pop guitar. Eventually, the label collapses due to financial problems and Emily’s relationship with her. Berton hints that Treacy may have embezzled money to fund his addiction.
The career of TV characters did not gain momentum even in the late 1980s. Although Kurt Cobain is one of Treacy fans and hired the band as the opening act for Nirvana in 1991, TV personalities remain a minor act. Treasi is getting weirder and is disturbing the nerves of his gang mates. Despite a series of lineup changes, the careers of TV characters continue to decline.
Eventually, Treacy ends up on a five-month prison ship in 2004 for repeated drug-related crimes. But even after imprisonment, he can no longer stand up. Still addicted to drugs, he moves from apartment to apartment, always threatened by the homeless. Despite this, he continues to create beautiful songs. He even goes on tour. After a night out in the dark in 2011, Treacy falls a few times. A blood clot must be removed from his brain. Half-blind and confused, he has lived in a care institution ever since.
Dan Treacy led the typical life of an insecure bohemian, constantly navigating the standard of living. Introverted dreamers lacked the ego to become a big star. He was never an alpha animal. He belongs to the musicians of the fan generation. Socialized amid the revival of ’70s, punk and post-punk rock’ n ‘roll, he imitated his’ 60s models. But unlike his models, it had nothing to do with something completely new to him, he just wanted to keep up the good old stuff. And he did it with the DIY mentality of punk and thus created something new after all. Just like bands like The Jam or Biff Bang Pow did at the same time. Just not so poetically crooked and sympathetic.
How does a biographer do justice to such a life? Berton stands by the facts. But “Dreamworld” is not about the truth, it is about the truth. And with that, the author approaches Treacy’s extremely sad life more than any meticulous collection of data and facts. Fiction and reality are inextricably intertwined. Their stories and fictional characters can certainly be life companions. The relationship with them is real and affects who we are.
Berton has an imaginary character in his book as the interviewee. Just as the film’s characters enter real life in Woody Allen’s “Cairo Purple Rose”, so the film’s character enters Geoffrey Ingram Berton’s book. Ingram is a character played by actor Murray Melvin in the 1961 British film A Taste of Honey. He is a sensitive gay man trying to save a girl who got pregnant accidentally. And it was this movie character that made Daniel Treacy the hero of a song on the Televisions Personalities debut album “… And Don’t the Kids Just Love It?” in 1981. He describes Ingram as a boy who is always a little luckier than he deserves. And with this fictional Geoffrey Ingram, real-life author Berton meets in three wonderful chapters.
In the latter, Ingram takes him to the nursing institution where Treasi lives. To Berton’s surprise, Ingram is not the drug drop he expected. The confused author asks Ingram if this is really Treacy, to whom the imaginary Ingram replies: “Of course not, he has become a character. … Things are not the same once you start telling him.” And so, at the end of the book, Berton makes the reader understand what a biography really is: a fiction that differs from a novel only in the way it deals with the facts, together with the hero of his book and Imaginary Ingram, author Berton realizes he has “reinvented” Treacy for months.
Pop fans do not adore their star because he is such a good person. They worship what they made of it. “The biography and the person being biographed form a production couple that develops a phase-shifted dialogue,” says literary scholar Angela Steidle in her Poetics of Biography. “The question of what is invented and what is real is taken ad absurdum: Life is also just art,” says Steidle.
“Dreamworld” is more than a biography. It’s a reflection on the possibilities it has to tell a life story. And in the end it is understood that reality can often only be captured in fiction. Berton gives justice not only to Treacy’s life story, but also to his multi-referential art, which has always combined reality and fiction.
Benjamin Berton: “The word of dreams. Or: From the Tale of Dan Treacy and His Group Television Personalities «, Ventil-Verlag, 280 p. born, 22 €.