The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor let his imagination run wild in his 2009 book, One Model Nation, a graphic novel steeped in a retro brew of fascism, sex, style and death that was originally written as a screenplay. It is being reissued by Titan Books dolled up for a new generation of fans published for the first time under Taylor’s own name. He co-authored the project with his friend, actor Donovan Leitch, the son of the singer Donovan, based on his idea. Why fascism, sex, style and death, we wondered? “Because the first and third can help you get more of the second before the fourth.” Okay, then.
It‘s set in Berlin in the late seventies, as the industrial art rock band One Model Nation comes under fire, blamed for the political crimes of the real life terrorist organisation Baader Meinhof/The Red Army Faction. The bandmates become increasingly at risk when all they want to do is play music for the fans. The Dandy Warhols real life chilly neo-psychedelic sound sets the stage for the book’s vibe, if you throw in Cold War angst. It’s a good mix.
The Baader Meinhof group was a small group of armed urban guerrillas attempting to crush Germany in 1977, which they believed to be a fascist state that failed to live up to its mandate of denazification. Founded by a journalist who helped a jailed left wing activist in 1970, they were responsible for 34 murders in 1977 and at least 300 bombings and remained operational until 1998. It is a rich mine for One Model Nation. Taylor-Taylor spoke with us about the graphic novel.
Anne Brodie: One Model Nation is set in the gloomy 70s when Germany was depressed, poor and still recovering from WWII.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: It’s the perfect place from which our youth movement rises. Like all the great English bands and pretty nearly all great art. It’s easier for artists to live cheap or free in economically depressed times and places i.e. Paris in the twenties/thirties, Cairo in the 50s, San Francisco in the 60s, New York in the 70s, England in the 60s-80s.
AB: How is it that you’re so knowledgeable about this era?
CTT: I guess because Donovan and I were into the right stuff at the right time in our young lives to be exposed to just enough of it for it to stick, for twenty some years. Also I was in Germany quite frequently whilst writing this thing so what with the Internet as well there was no shortage of detail available to us. Also the story is fictionalized as is the country itself so that helped keep it interesting when I needed it to inspire more work.
AB: One Model Nation’s a great name for a band in a fascist state!
CTT: Thanks for noticing. I couldn’t believe how that sounded when I first blurted it out. I just stopped and went “Oh my…um, sweet.”
AB: It’s fictional, but inspired by real events?
CTT: Oh yeah, pretty much all the Baader Meinhof stuff as well as the gigs are fact or fact with the names changed.
AB: Do you feel the book tends to glamorize The Baader-Meinhof or any violent politically radical organization?
CTT: Nope. The point of the book is to show clearly that though they may seem like real neat guys, and they wouldn’t be in a position to lead other shitty people if they weren’t charismatic. They’re actually still just shit bags and they have a real huge negative effect on both people that you and I like but also on people that they like too. But do they care? Nope, they just like to be real cocky and shitty and believe somehow they’re so friggin’ special that they won’t end up at the end of rope or with a hole in their head. I think this message is pretty clear to anyone bright or intellectual and I really doubt if anyone stupid would be interested in my book in the first place.
AB: A concert scene shows the power of music as a hypnotic, and reminded me of Nazi rallies. How powerful do you feel performing in front of a crowd?
CTT: I feel the opposite of powerful. When we play, I am the most vulnerable person in the room and to keep the room feeling buoyant and transcendent I have to keep myself reduced to the position of vassal or servant. An empty channel for IT to flow through. Once again it’s probably about intelligence. People come to see the Dandy Warhols to be alone together. Not so much “strength in numbers” as a warm glowing escapes with security in numbers.
AB: Your songs and lyrics have explored this territory before – is it some kind of obsession?
CTT: I don’t think I’ve ever even used the word “nation” in a song before. I am pretty apolitical. I prefer the idea of taking care of people to manipulating them that tend to be like herding cats. It never results in what you hoped for anyway. Manipulating people will always blow up in your face sooner or later.
AB: You put forth an interesting concept – creating a robot to perform so you can watch yourself play with your band. That’s intriguing.
CTT: Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk was the first person to do that.
AB: The project was collaboration, but your idea. Was there much compromise or was anything taken out for practical reasons?
CTT: To fit into a graphic novel I had to chop a lot of dialogue. That was kind of rough so I put the script on onemodelnation.com and that’s good enough for me. Otherwise all the collaborations resulted in my mind getting blown by my friends like it should be.
AB: You share a lot of the creative/production journey in the back pages. I wonder if the book will inspire young artists or graphic writers.
CTT: I sure hope so.
AB: What’s your next project?
CTT: Putting out the new Dandy Warhols record and finishing my dining room chairs, which I designed about four months ago. They’re a modern interpretation of medieval monk chairs. God, I can’t wait for that first dinner party. That’s why I’m making twelve.
To purchase One Model Nation, visit titanbooks.com.
Artwork courtesy Titan Books.