Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in June 2015
Musician, singer, writer and artist Vivian Stanshall is perhaps best
known as the charismatic frontman of the Bonzo Dog Band whose albums
and stage antics brought them to prominent attention in England during
the late Sixties. Beloved by the Beatles and the Kinks, Stanshall was
unique. His popular spoken word surreal comedy Sir Henry at Rawlinson
End, originally on BBC radio, has since been re-imagined as a film
and stage play.
His widow is Ki Longfellow and her book, The Illustrated Vivian
Stanshall, brings vivid color and detail to the broad strokes of
Stanshall’s life. Though he remains a beloved character twenty years
after his death, the man known as England’s last eccentric has much in
his life story that hasn’t been told.
Ki, you’ve been involved in the arts for a long time before you
met and married Vivian, can you begin with some stories about your
I had the best of it, growing up in Marin in the Sixties. I got
out just in time, the summer of love in 1967. After that, Manson
showed up, drug dealers followed the Flower Children. It was all
winding down before the world heard of it. But before I went I also
knew Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Brautigan. I was a baby beatnik, only 15.
I loved that era. It seems my life leads me to the right place at the
Is it true that when you first met Vivian Stanshall you hadn’t
heard of the Bonzo Dog Band?
Hadn’t a clue. I learned about them from Vivian. The book is not a
biography, more a memoir. Perhaps. There is no one truth. We each have
truths. This book is some of mine. It’s Rashomon. I’ve organized it
that way. The madman’s tale. The Red Indian’s tale. The plumber’s
tale, the housewife’s tale, the madman’s tale.
There’s currently a lack of information. The anecdotes about
partying with Keith Moon, they’re funny but what else? I know Vivian
was a great painter for example. What are some common misconceptions
people have about him?
Perhaps the idea he was spiked with acid while on tour. That’s
why he shaved his head and drank and so forth. That didn’t happen.
This book has a lot to do with Gnosis, or divine knowing, to “know”
divinity which was something very important to Vivian. We have to use
the word “enlightenment” because our older traditions were destroyed
by the church. But that’s what happened to Vivian on tour. He was
performing in New York City and stepped out of his body on stage. It
terrified him. He never got over it. A doctor handed him something
brand new – Valium. And he became addicted.
That brings us to another point. You’ve written many books and
this is your first nonfiction story. As his wife, what do you include
and what do you keep private?
Oh brother, that’s hard. I’m having to write some unpleasant
truths about a brilliant and flawed man. And about me. This is a real
story about a real artist and our lives together as artists. He had a
magical view of the cosmos and opened himself up to the muse, there’s
no left brained rationality to his genius.
Today we think of creative geniuses as people who can make money.
CEO’s are rock stars now! If Vivian Stanshall were still around do you
think he’d be railing against that?
He’d howl. But in his own very funny, very silly way. The
remembering can go on forever but I’m aiming for a beautiful book, as
big and beautiful as I can make it.
The Illustrated Vivian Stanshall, work in progress
http://eiobooks.com/samrusso “SAM RUSSO MYSTERIES”
http://eiobooks.com/waw “WALKS AWAY WOMAN”
http://www.eiobooks.com/houdini/index.html “HOUDINI HEART”
Film by Sundance Grand Jury winner Nancy Savoca in pre-production
CHINA BLUES in pre-production
TERMITE TERRACE, a film with Sydney Longfellow