(TW: substance abuse, suicide mention)
"When Mother found out she was pregnant with me she took an overdose. Father gave her the pills. She needed a drama from time to time to remind her that she was still alive. The overdose didn't work. Had she known I would turn out like this she would have taken cyanide." p.1
This is how the autobiography of Sebastian Horsley takes its flying start, and it continues in the same self-deprecating spirit. With every page Sebastian takes us through a life of escapades littered with absurdity and vulgarity.
After growing up one of three children born of negligent addicts in what I can only describe as an abusive setting ("Indeed, everyone in my life who should have been vertical was horizontal."p.38) Sebastian sued his father for a large sum of money, consorted with convicted murderers, went to art school and fell in love all before seeing his twentieth birthday. He'd move on to get married, commit adultery, get divorced, continue to make art, do heavy drugs and sleep with prostitutes in between making massive amounts of money on the stock market. Even Sebastian could see his addiction to crack getting overboard so he got himself into a clinic. Stayed clean for a while. Started doing crack again. Got off of crack. Got into heroin. Got off heroin. Constructed a few art shows that didn't do too well. It wasn't until he went to the Philippines to have himself crucified in front of a camera team that he found himself in the spotlight not only in the UK but internationally.
The main theme is dandyism in all its eccentricity; it is always the subject to which Sebastian unrelentingly returns to.
"I was a disciple of satin and Satan." p.263
The book is revolting at times, shocking... most of the time.
This also happens to be one of my favourite books. Sebastian Horsley was an artist of words, a wordsmith in truth, and Dandy in the Underworld is proof of that. Yes, some of these recollections are at the height of absurdity but always described in such an elegant, witty and brilliant way that you can't help but keep reading and taking it in. Here is the man who started doing heavy drugs, make 'art' with his own excrement and have frequent meetings with prostitutes before the age of twenty. He would later also get crucified, get banned from entering the US for 'moral turpitude' and make a YouTube Guide to Whoring.
I have great trouble remembering that this was in fact a real person who died of an overdose in 2010, only three years after the publishing of this autobiography and only two days after the premiere of the one-man show based on the book. His friend Toby Young, a journalist you might also know as the writer of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, commented that "if it had been suicide Sebastian would not have passed up on the opportunity to write a note" and considering what a slave to drama dear old Mr Horsley was, that sounds pretty much on the nose. So he made a book out of it. Dandy in the Underworld ends with what I can only interpret as the finale and finishing touches to a suicide note of epic proportions.
"I came into this world a king, I leave it a wild card. I believe in being nothing - but with as much style as I can." p.322This book is not for everyone. I love it.