With the anniversary of the passing of Anthony Wilson (on Friday August 10 2007), it got us thinking about the list of People to Meet Before You (or They) Die. He was one of them. The 57 year old who seemed forever young at heart struggled with kidney cancer, but died of a heart attack peacefully with his family at his side. He had been denied coverage for a heart medication so friends were organizing a fundraiser. The day he died an earthquake rumbled through Manchester.
Anyone who came into being during the '80s owes a significant amount of their life soundtrack to the iconoclastic impresario behind Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, the Hacienda nightclub and by association the Sex Pistols and the Smiths. Long before its current gentrified state, Wilson put his dreary northern town of Manchester on the music map. As the movie 24 Hour Party People vividly depicts, the revolutionary way in which the high-minded Wilson signed acts (on a handshake, splitting profits 50/50) influenced an entire generation of artists and producers and greatly enriched the industrial town…even if it backfired on Wilson's personal fortunes. The former TV journalist famous for saying, "Some people make money and some make history" famously lost money on almost every endeavor but was rich in infinitely grander ways.
One night in June 1976, a handful of people gathered in Lesser Free Trade Hall to watch members of the Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols and Warsaw (later Joy Division) take the stage. "Mr. Manchester" was among them. With every retelling the tale grew more epic. But it was Tony who put the Sex Pistols on TV, let New Order go off to Ibiza to produce Technique, encouraged Peter Saville to redesign the art of the album cover, stuck with the still-dysfunctional Happy Mondays, booked acts like ESG at the Hacienda and promoted Manchester tirelessly through international festivals. Ultimately, perhaps no quip does Wilson more justice than the one he copped from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "Between the truth and the legend, print the legend." In the case of Tony Wilson, the man who visualized meeting himself as God, truth trumped legend.