As psycho-geographer of the zeitgeist David Erdos has a rich hinterland to draw upon, being himself poet, actor, director, composer, illustrator, musician and critic. The reader soon learns that the writer is well informed on very many levels and that he’s in safe hands for what proves to be a rewarding, penetrating and often breath-taking ride.
1- Edie Sedgwick
2- Ingrid Superstar
3- Susan Bottomly a.k.a International velvet
4- Baby Jane Holzer
6- Ann Buchanan
7- Mary Woronov
8- Lou Reed
9- Paul America
10- Billy Name
11- Dennis Hopper
12- Freddy Herko
13- Richard Rheem
1- Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground ft. Nico
2- New York New York (Frank Sinatra Cover) – Nico
3- New York Times – J.Cole ft. 50Cent
Shock-haired and irreverent, he’s been shaking up the literary establishment with his wry wit and clever couplets for decades. And at 66, the original punk poet is not about to stop any time soon…
John Cooper Clarke, who has suffered and survived the troubles that traditionally distract a poet – tuberculosis, poverty, and opiate addiction – stands on a corner in central London pondering a new and unexpected challenge: adulation. “I just never dreamed,” he tells me, “that things could ever get this good.”
Across the road, outside London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, fans are gathering to watch the poet. The 2,000-seat venue, which has hosted entertainers including Bob Dylan and David Bowie, has proved to be a little small for Cooper Clarke. Like his concert last October at the larger Royal Festival Hall, the event sold out many weeks ago. For the latter event, touts have been demanding more than £200 a ticket.
It’s a level of popularity that is unprecedented in the history of performance poetry. His predecessor as the people’s Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, never performed to this size of crowd. There were events hosted by beat poets at the Royal Albert Hall in the Sixties, but they were ensemble shows and they didn’t always sell out. There is little question that Cooper Clarke could, should he so wish, fill that historic Kensington venue single-handedly.
Nobody saw this coming. Four years ago, I remind the poet, we were shivering in driving rain on the seafront in Brighton, just after midnight. It was National Poetry Day. Cooper Clarke had not been deemed worthy to participate in that event. He’d just finished a show in a small theatre and we were looking for somewhere to eat.
The performer, who is still occasionally stopped in the street and asked how much he charges to haunt a house (“That,” he replies, “would depend how many rooms you have”) is the sort of figure that cab drivers don’t stop for. When we eventually arrived at the one diner that was still open, the owner, not being a man of letters, was initially reluctant to let him in.
Cooper Clarke doesn’t bear a grudge. There are good reasons, he argues, for judging by appearances. “I do it myself,” he says. “You could argue that prejudice and the ability to generalise is what separates us from the lower mammals. These are the very reasons for our survival as a species. Let’s say you and me were in Peckham. In a back alley. Alone. After closing time. Seven young guys are approaching us, wearing hoods. Now you, being unprejudiced, would give them the benefit of the doubt. You would persuade yourself that they could be Franciscan monks. Whereas I, in that situation, tend to err on the side of caution. Why? Because I’m prejudiced.
And that,” adds the poet, who is 66, “is why I have lived to be considerably older than you are.”
I spent three months, off and on, on the road with Cooper Clarke for this article, and this monologue has found its way into his act. “I judge by appearances,” he tells audiences. “People tell me I shouldn’t. And you know what I say? Two words: Hitler, Nuremberg. I may be simple minded. I may be prejudiced. But if I’d have been around in Bavaria in 1935, I could have told them. [Pause] He’s a cunt. I could have saved the world a whole lot of heartbreak. Consider the dinosaurs. They died out. Why? Because they weren’t prejudiced. The dinosaurs,” he goes on, “took people as they found them. With horrible results.”
In the early Nineties, in a pub in Withington, South Manchester, Tony Wilson, the late founder of Factory Records, stopped in the middle of a sentence concerning another of his favourite subjects, himself, then told me: “You know, it isn’t me.
I won’t be the one whose life is turned into legend. It won’t be me. It will be John Cooper Clarke. Because John has extraordinary talent and he has lived a life of frightening extremes. Each of these things,” he went on, “makes it far from absurd to compare him to Baudelaire, or Verlaine, or Rimbaud.”
“Bloody hell,” says Cooper Clarke. “Fancy Tony saying that.” An edited version of Wilson’s observation, reproduced as graffiti on the wall of an underpass, served as the opening scene for Evidently John Cooper Clarke, director John Ross’ remarkable 2012 documentary for BBC4. Mention of the people who queued to pay him homage in that documentary – from Stewart Lee to Bill Bailey and Arthur Smith – causes Cooper Clarke, a naturally modest man, visible discomfort.
Ross’ film has been one of a number of factors in the poet’s belated but rapid ascent from cult artist to international icon.
Others include the use of his anthem ‘Evidently Chickentown’ to close a final-season episode of The Sopranos; his memorable appearance in Ill Manors, the 2012 film by Plan B, and the tireless support of other younger artists, notably Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. “I met the whole band when they were starting out,” Cooper Clarke says. “They were unusual in that they were very nice, if that isn’t an insulting word; very shy and immediately endearing. I am so glad that they have had the huge success they have. They deserve it. What a fabulous band.”
Cooper Clarke’s audience, once a sea of grey, now has a healthy quotient of 16-25s. He connects with a young audience precisely because he has never attempted to deny his years. He has embraced old age as an opportunity to indulge the kind of recklessness traditionally associated with youth. It’s a peculiar sort of fame, driven by social media, word of mouth, and thriving in defiance of almost total indifference from the English literary establishment. “I’ve been in Time magazine,” he says, “but don’t wait to hear me on [BBC Radio Four’s] Poetry Please.” “Sometimes,” the actor Steve Coogan once said, “I ask people:
‘Have you ever heard of Cooper Clarke?’ If they say, ‘John Cooper Clarke? Yes. He is a genius,’ I think, ‘Oh, thank God for that.
That’s half an hour of my life you’ve saved me, having to explain it to you.'”
The emaciated figure, the shades, and the obsessive attention to the minutest detail of his wardrobe (“the only casual item I own,” he tells me, “is a Levi’s jacket”) mean that he is occasionally mistaken for the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood. “That was great for a while,” he tells me, “Until Ron was in the news for having that fight with his wife. After that, old ladies started to hit me in the street with their umbrellas.”
His wisest recourse at such moments is to start talking. Cooper Clarke’s Salford vowel sounds remain untarnished by two decades in the South East. While there’s nothing affected about his accent, the poet luxuriates in its extremes much in the way that fellow poet Linton Kwesi Johnson savours the cadences of Jamaican patois, or George Sanders revelled in the languid elegance of old-school English.
If you haven’t previously encountered his work, you might start with ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space’, a poem inspired by the 1958 film of that name. “When we walked out, tentacle in hand / You could sense that the earthlings would not understand / They’d go nudge-nudge when we got on the bus / They’d say, ‘It’s extra-terrestrial, not like us / And it’s bad enough with another race / But fuck me, a monster from outer space.'”
Since he first began performing in Mancunian working men’s clubs in the mid-Seventies, he has evolved a unique stage act that is part comedy, part knockabout verse, part rather more moving – serious poetry whose profundity slips by you without you quite noticing.
Even though he’s lived in the South for 25 years, one thought recurs, as I travel to meet him in his adopted home town: What can they make of him in Colchester?
We meet in the Kings Arms, a genteel coaching inn in the main street. It’s a place with heavy oak doors, tasteful decor and a few unobtrusive pictures. Looking at one, I remember the poet once telling me that he had “never seen a work of art that would not be improved by the addition of tropical fish”.
Cooper Clarke has lived here for the best part of 25 years with Evie, his Picardy-born wife; the couple have a grown-up daughter, Stella. He still seems a little bewildered by his recent trajectory, which has seen him appearing on shows like Have I Got News for You? and Football Focus. His occasional Sunday afternoon shows for BBC 6Music have been a joy to compare with Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. (By some bizarre coincidence, I find out later on that, at the same time as we begin this conversation, Channel 4’s Countdown had as its guest the comedian Jon Culshaw, who gave an impression of the poet reading one of his finest pieces, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, which is covered by the Arctic Monkeys on their 2013 UK number one album AM). “I first saw you opening for bands at clubs like The Electric Circus in Manchester when I was still at school,” I tell him. “Even then, I remember wondering how on earth you’d come to be there.” “I fell into it,” he says. “I think because I already looked like a punk.” “It’s hard to convey the aggression of those audiences.” “The bottles were bad. The phlegm could be equally intimidating in its own way. At the same time,” he adds, “they were a picnic compared to the working men’s clubs. I mean that crowd wanted crooners, strippers; they might fleetingly tolerate a magician. The one thing you could guarantee was that they didn’t share an overpowering enthusiasm for poetry.”
He seemed to have arrived fully formed, performing brilliantly incisive poems such as ‘You Never See a Nipple In The Daily Express’. (“This paper’s boring, mindless and mean / Full of pornography, the kind that’s clean / Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine / Again and again and again and again / You see all kinds of ugliness and hideous excess / But you never see a nipple in The Daily Express.”)
It can’t have been easy, I suggest, opening for the Sex Pistols and The Clash. The latter band’s former tour manager, the writer and cycling journalist Johnny Green, now looks after Clarke on the road. The role of driver and minder, which Green has adopted out of affection, is one that the poet describes as “Gentleman’s Travelling Companion”. “Those gigs could be tricky,” Cooper Clarke says, referring to the punk era, “but at least broken glass and saliva are an acknowledgment that you are actually in the room. Imagine trying to read in the interval for…” It is quite hard to convey the venom with which he delivers the next three syllables. “…Genesis. I’d have been killed not by hostility but indifference. They’d all have been sat in the bar, meditating on their flares.” “Have you ever seen Genesis?” “No,” he laughs. “And I’ve never heard their albums. But I know by their name that I hate them. Anybody who calls themselves Genesis is well overdue a good hiding, you know what I mean?”
One of his regular companions on the road, in the early days, was Elvis Costello. “On one tour,” Costello told me, “John went on between Richard Hell and The Voidoids and ourselves. The fury of the crowds really was quite alarming at that time. They spat and yelled at John because he was merely speaking. What he did was extremely brave, especially for a self-confessed coward.” (“My family crest,” Cooper Clarke once remarked, “is four white feathers on a yellow streak.”) “His saving grace,” Costello added, “was that he was really fucking funny.”
In his autobiography The Big Wheel, Costello’s former bass player Bruce Thomas describes an incident at a Copenhagen hotel when Cooper Clarke’s room was substantially rearranged.
Costello’s musicians debated where to dump the pillow case in which they’d hidden the shattered glass from a picture frame above the poet’s bed. “The hotel roof is decided on,” Thomas wrote, “but the parcel needs a warning message. The wording is discussed. ‘Danger’? No.
‘Broken Glass’? No.”
The poet, Elvis Costello recalls, taking up the story, eventually appeared and announced that he’d left a sign reading: “Beware. Shards.”
That last word, Costello says, “was rendered hilarious by his voice in a way which is just impossible to replicate in print. I think,” Costello continues, “this might be why he is not greatly regarded by literary snobs. They may appreciate ‘a voice’ when it comes from ‘the underclass’, and they can indecently patronise it; but do they ever recognise ‘a delivery’, as in performance? I believe that John Cooper Clarke should be regarded as being among the very best writers in Britain. As for people who sneer at him as a ‘performance poet’ – didn’t Homer declaim?”
On stage, Cooper Clarke delivers a mixture of stand up and poetry that is unlike any other act before or since, and in that sense, to use another word that would make him cringe, he has invented a genre. Clarke, who claims [bogusly] on stage at Shepherd’s Bush that he is half-Jewish, delivers old school gags such as: “Hooker opens up in a new area. Introductory offer: she’ll do anything you want for a fiver. But you have to keep your request down to three words. Queues round the block, as you can imagine.
The first guy goes in, ‘screw me stupid.’ She does the business. He leaves, tired but happy. The second guy, a bit more kinky, says, ‘beat me up.’ He pays the money and limps home after receiving a severe pasting. The third punter – Jewish guy – hands over his fiver and says, ‘paint my house.'”
His delivery, stage presence, and an enviable ability to think on his feet, mean that, like a great actor or musician, he bears repeated viewing. He has his set pieces, such as ‘Home Honey, I’m High.’ This is “an advert,” as he explains, “that I wrote for the Martini people, on the understanding that I would receive a year’s supply, or a lifetime’s supply, whichever was the greater, of their enervating beverage.” “Frontal lobes just had a trim,” it begins, “or did you meet the Moonies? Wrong on both counts, Jim … tee many Martoonies.”
His celebrated haiku has developed into a routine that can last 20 minutes. “The haiku,” he tells Shepherd’s Bush, “is a three line discipline perfected in the 17th century in Japan by a poet called Matsuo Basho. This is a poem of rigidly defined structure: five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. I thought very carefully before I embarked on mine,” he explains. “Because you know what the Japanese are like. There is no Japanese term for ‘near enough’. Get it wrong by even half a syllable, and you are condemned to an eternity of spitting on your ancestors, after committing ritual suicide in a public place. Now the spitting on your ancestors… push comes to shove, I could live with that. “Now that I come to think of it,” he adds, “Spitting on my ancestors is what I do best. But the ritual suicide; that’s not really my cup of tea. So I came up with this. ‘Haiku #1’ I call it:
‘To convey one’s mood / In seventeen syllables / Is very diffic.'”
He’ll intersperse such knockabout material with classic writing like ‘Beasley Street’, a stunning evocation of the trials of the underclass, which sounds like Engels’ prose accounts of the Mancunian slums crossed with Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’. I remember sitting backstage one night with Cooper Clarke and the late Chris Sievey, alias Frank Sidebottom, another former cult hero who has been propelled to mass fame, in his case posthumously, through Lenny Abrahamson’s film, Frank, released earlier this year.
Sievey, who was sharing the dressing room and about to go onstage, started reciting Cooper Clarke’s poem ’36 Hours’, a gruesome meditation on joblessness, incarceration and death. “Time flies, slides down the wall,” Sievey said, from memory, his eyes half closed.”Part of me dies under my overalls / I close my eyes and a woman calls / From a nightmare… / Shave, shit, a shower and a shoeshine / That’s it – sack time / Everybody looks like Ernest Borgnine….”
He turned to Cooper Clarke. “I have two heroes in my life,” he says. “You and John Lennon.”
The poet laughed. “John?” Sievey said. “Yes?” “I’m not joking.”
On stage, such classics as ’36 Hours’ may be followed by some surreal monologue that might or might not recur in a subsequent performance. At one point in London he addressed the problem of “The social menace of STIs – sexually transmitted infections, by which Britain leads the world by a sizzling 64%. I had that AIDS once,” he adds, as an afterthought. “I don’t want that again.”
STIs, he continues, “are what STDs used to be called and before that – give it a name – VD. But we couldn’t live with that. VD, with its hard, accusatory consonants. That judgmental ‘V’, hanging over romantic proceedings like the Damoclean sword of justice, rendering enjoyable sex utterly impossible. Here’s the difference between STI and VD. [Mimics doorbell] ‘Oh, hello Audrey. You’re late home.’ ‘Yes mother, I had to go to the doctor.’
‘Anything wrong?’ ‘Yes, mother. I’ve got an STI.’ ‘Oh, you poor thing, I’ll put your electric blanket on. Can I make you cocoa?’
Whereas [doorbell] ‘Oh, hello Audrey. You’re late home.’ ‘Yes mother. I’ve got VD.’ ‘Move to another country, you sick, dripping, filthy, home-wrecking little bitch. I have no children.'”
If you’ve seen him regularly over the years, you might be surprised by the material he’s dispensed with, or revives just occasionally. This includes lines like “I’ve got amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I can’t remember what happens next” and his list of “songs I wrote where I made one mistake in the title, that later became big hits for other artists.” They include “Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Hat.”
Gradually, and very quietly, John Cooper Clarke has become one of the finest stand-up acts in the history of the art. It is a small part of what he does.
He was born in Salford, on the north side of Manchester on 25 January, 1949 and has one brother, Paul, 12 years his junior. His father George was a skilled engineer. Hilda, his mother, worked as a cleaner. She was also an unpublished poet. “If there’s a gene, I got it from my ma,” he says. “Her writing has this effortless quality. I’d love to get it published. She loved John Betjeman, and she introduced me to his writing.”
His fragile frame is the result not, as some assume, of his years as a heroin addict, which are long behind him, but a legacy of the TB he suffered as a child. I once went clothes shopping with the poet, and the store owner had to explain that he had nothing to fit Cooper Clarke (5’ 10″, chest 32″, waist 27″, weight 116lb.) “I was ill all the time as a boy,” he says. “I was sent to Rhyl, to live with my auntie Eileen; she died of tuberculosis.” “Who caught it off whom?” “I’ve never really known,” he says. “I always assumed she must have had it first, being older. But once I’d had the disease, it left me prone to every kind of pulmonary disorder. I had friends but they were out indulging in robust pursuits, which I was excluded from because I had to stay indoors. I think that made me cultivate an inner life.”
His father worked at Trafford Park, the biggest industrial estate in Europe. “I remember that Manchester air was officially declared the worst on the planet back then,” he says. “Trafford Park looked like the gates of hell. I remember thinking, this must be what Stalingrad was like. Trains coming down the middle of the road. I loved it, man, I loved it. Even though quite often you literally couldn’t see it for the smoke. Occasionally it would appear out of the mist, just for a day, like some demonic equivalent of Brigadoon.” “Remember that poem you wrote about Lowry?” “I’ve lost that.”
I’ve kept a copy of this piece, which he gave me in the late Eighties; a poem he knocked out in 20 minutes for a commission. “Trafford Park is working well / Its pestilential ethers swell / Malodorous clouds like sombre shrouds / Dividing heaven from bloody hell / Where idle hands are the devil’s dowry / Knock-knock rent-man Mr. Lowry.” “Well,” Cooper Clarke says, “he was a rent man, wasn’t he?”
His physique has become an integral part of act. One of his more recent poems takes its title from an ironic heckle he received in Manchester, “where drug-taking is of course compulsory.” It’s called “Get Back on Drugs, You Fat Fuck”.
He’s developed a routine in which he describes being invited to perform at the Bulimic Society’s New Year’s Eve Party, in Kensington. Arriving late, he is unsure as to whether he has found the right venue. “But once I got in there,” he tells the audience, “I knew I was in the right place when the clock struck twelve and a cake jumped out of a girl.”
As a teenager at secondary modern school, he was a mod. “That,” I suggest, “can’t have been easy.” “It wasn’t. Where I grew up, the one unmistakable sign of homosexuality was to betray some interest in your appearance.”
He worked in the fairground cafe in Rhyl, “and then in the laboratory stores at Salford Tech.” He got married at 21, to Christine, four years his junior, then became an apprentice type compositor, based in Dorset.
Neither marriage nor routine employment suited him at the time.
He moved back to Manchester, focussed on his art and was eventually spotted by the head of CBS, the late Maurice Oberstein.
“I went to get the Buzzcocks,” Oberstein once told me. “I was too late. I figured I had to sign somebody.” As it happened, the record company boss conceded, he stumbled upon the more enduring talent.
One of the frustrating things for admirers of Cooper Clarke is the limited amount of work he has published and recorded. His last original solo album was released 32 years ago, which is all the more irritating because the four collections he did record for CBS, especially Snap Crackle & Bop (1980) and Zip Style Method (1982) remain remarkable testaments to his gifts as a writer.
Cooper Clarke is largely indifferent to them. He doesn’t care for the musical arrangements, by yet another ‘late’ associate Martin Hannett, acclaimed producer of, among others, Joy Division.
The poet has something of a gift for talking his own work down. “Which is odd,” I suggest, “because, just to take one couplet from ‘Beasley Street’ [from Snap, Crackle And Bop]: ‘There’s a dead canary on a swivel seat / There’s a rainbow in the road’; these are lines that any poet from TS Eliot to Betjeman would have been very proud to have written. Actually if it sounds like anybody, it’s Rimbaud.”
Clarke looks uncomfortable. “Well, I shouldn’t say it, but I really do love that couplet.” “The rainbow I imagine is oil in a puddle…” “Right.” “But where did you get the dead canary from?” “I believe I was thinking … you know that bit in On the Waterfront where they throw the informer off the roof, and the line is: “He could sing, but he couldn’t fly”. Budd Schulberg, Clarke adds, “what a writer. Is there any better way of saying ‘stool pigeon’?”
I remember John Humphreys on Celebrity Mastermind, earlier this year, beginning to tease Cooper Clarke by asking him what the difference was between ‘performance’ poetry and [by implication] ‘proper’ poetry. “I told him the answer is that I read my stuff out loud and I get paid for it. But all poetry – all writing – is aural. Poetry, especially, is meant to be heard. Shakespeare wrote for actors. He would have been very surprised if he had found out that people would sit in a room poring over his words in a textbook.”
It would be wrong to dismiss John Cooper Clarke as nothing more than a naïve creator of knockabout rhyme. This is a man whose work has been praised by, among others, Jack Kerouac’s co-conspirator Gregory Corso, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, both of whom he knew.
‘Mere verse’ as some might call it, is the kind of thing that everybody thinks they can do – and they’re quite right, they can.
Really, really badly. You might look up a piece by our former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, written to commemorate Prince William’s 21st birthday. “Better stand back / Here’s an age attack / But the second in line / Is dealing with it fine… / It’s a day to celebrate / A destiny, a fate / It’s a taking to the wing / A future thing.”
The reason John Cooper Clarke has been so patronised, Liverpool poet Adrian Henri once argued, “has to do with his association with music. Apart from the one collection [Ten Years in An Open-Necked Shirt, which originally appeared in 1981, superbly illustrated by Steve Maguire] he has never been published. People don’t expect to sit down and read him.”
To enjoy a renaissance, Cooper Clarke concedes, you must have been dead for a period. In hiscase there were more than 15 years of struggling, moribund times where he was writing little and barely going out. There are many subjects he does not enjoy broaching on the record, and heroin is chief among them. His response has become something of a mantra. “It’s like any addiction. First it’s great, then it isn’t; then it’s hell.” “You can’t pretend that it never happened.” “No. And I am very lucky to be here really.”
But drug addiction really is the most tedious of subjects.
Because it’s very unusual that somebody manages to kick it. The one message I would like to send out is that this is not something you can pick up and leave alone just like that, you know. Neither is it exotic or romantic. Believe me.”
It’s his reluctance to discuss narcotics – “and it always, always comes up” – that mean that he will very rarely subject himself to interviews of any length. I first met him in his so-called lost years, in the mid-Eighties, when he was living in an epically depressing ménage in Salford, with a broken down Mercedes parked outside his front door. It was a time of letters left unopened, heavy curtains warding off the maddening reality of daylight and, as he would concede, anxiety and reclusiveness. I was unemployed at the time. I visited him on one occasion with a view to suggesting that I help the poet manage his career, such as it then was; an offer I never quite brought myself to make, on the grounds that this world was not one that anyone with a fleeting acquaintance with the Mental Health Act would want any part of.
It’s often asserted that he wrote nothing in his lost years; this isn’t quite true.
I recall sitting in his back kitchen while he read me new poems: outstanding work, but not the sort of thing he cared to perform live. I remember one, a kind of agonised paean to opiates, that had the line “She’s my best friend and enemy / Give me what I need.”
The definitive poem about drug addiction, Cooper Clarke told me back then, ‘”is ‘The Vampire’ by Charles Baudelaire. “You,” he quoted from memory, sitting in the half light, “who like a dagger thrust, entered my complaining soul; sweet and potent as a host of demons, came wild, beautiful… wretch infamous to whom I’m bound, like the convict to the chain, a stubborn gambler to his dice, the drunkard to his revelry. The carrion to worms… I begged the poison I abhorred. You deserve not the reward of freedom from your slavery. Fool.” “Great that, innit, that ‘Fool’?” he told me. “In the French, it’s imbécile.”
How long, I’d asked him, had he known this by heart? “From way back. Baudelaire was my hero. Him and Gérard de Nerval: the guy that wore the powder blue cape and walked a lobster on a leash. Someone asked him, ‘Why a lobster?’ And he said, ‘Because it does not bark, and it knows the secrets of the deep.’
They were great, those dudes, but Baudelaire was the baddest motherfucker on the block.”
He stayed with me occasionally in London in those years and he was not an ideal guest: getting up around 4pm, then sitting up past dawn, working through my library of low-budget horror films.
With the passage of time, I suggest, such periods of lassitude in poets, or even stand ups like Lenny Bruce, become not just pardoned but somehow regarded as magnificent. “Keats, Baudelaire, Poe,” I suggest to Cooper Clarke. “They all had this desire to exclude the world.” “Don’t forget Eddy Arnold,” he replies, referring to the country singer’s version of a song by Hank Cochran. ‘Make the world go away. And get it off my shoulders.'”
And it seems hilarious now, when you read biographies about Wordsworth striding out on the fells, whingeing on about Coleridge lying zonked out on the couch on laudanum. “Well, I’m with Coleridge there. Not with the laudanum, but The Lake District. I don’t mind looking at it through a window. Gazing at those windswept hills and imagining the unspeakable horror of actually being out there. Explorers,” he adds, “actively annoy me. Like Ranulph Fiennes. Will he only be happy when he has lost all of his fingers? Didn’t his dick almost drop off once? Why is the drug addict spat upon, and the climber of Everest revered? When two dozen paramedics have to put on high-vis tabards and possibly die in trying to rescue him? Everest. There’s only you and me have not been up there Robert, but then the night is still young.”
In the mid-Eighties he shared a flat in Brixton with the music entrepreneur Alan Wise, and Nico, former member of the Velvet Underground, and one time partner of, among others, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Alain Delon. Cooper Clarke met the Cologne-born icon in Manchester in about 1980. At that time, as he puts it, Andy Warhol’s former muse, who appears in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, “had her own gaff in Sedgley Park [North Manchester].” “They married you off in the music press, didn’t they?” “They did but she basically just moved in on me in Brixton.
She’d been in Italy. It was the undoing of us. It was the beginning of the end.” For a period of months, Cooper Clarke was also host to John Cale, meaning that, “I’m no name-dropper, but for a while I had two-fifths of the Velvet Underground living at my place.” Cale, who was ‘in his vodka period’ was, the poet recalls, ‘a lovely guy, but a bit of a handful.”
Nico and Clarke were never lovers, Alan Wise told me, over tea in his local café in Manchester. Their only shared interest, he insists, was hiding heroin from each other. In an hour long conversation, Wise emphasises the foolishness of underestimating Cooper Clarke. “Because of his accent and his appearance, and because he never went to college,” he says, “a certain kind of people make assumptions. John has a brilliant and retentive mind and an exhaustive knowledge of all kinds of culture. That could be the Ramones, or Hogarth, or Yevtushenko – who, incidentally,” he added, “really loves John’s work.”
When Nico died after falling off her bike in Ibiza, in July 1988, her Daily Telegraph obituary remarked that ‘she gave up heroin for cycling, which proved to be the more lethal recreation.’ “How,” I ask the poet, “did you hear that she’d died?” “My doctor told me. I’d seen her not long before. She was well, and recovering, and looking forward to Spain. It was just terrible.”
This period is chronicled in keyboard player James Young’s outstanding memoir, Songs They Never Play On The Radio.
Cooper Clarke rid himself of his own 16-year habit for good in 1992. Now, he makes sure that he arrives at any venue two hours early. “Over two decades on,” he says, “some kinds of reputation never leave you.”
His time in rehab is not a period he is keen to revisit. “I did,” is all he will say, “all of those things that you have to do.”
But the lost years do feed into his writing and his comedy. “Please,” he asked the audience at Shepherds Bush, “if you ever see me in a vegetative state – drooling and incontinent, having to be reminded of my own name – just leave me in peace. You see, I’ve been there before. And it’s not that bad.”
Unlike some of his fellow OAPs from the world of popular music, Cooper Clarke has understood the desperately absurd spectacle of an older artist seeking to cling to their youth. He has had the wit and the generosity to encourage protégés, such as fellow-Mancunian Mike Garry and Luke Wright, who grew up in Colchester. Wright, 31, has clearly modelled himself on Cooper Clarke, but has developed his own distinctive voice, and humour. He and Garry are usually to be found supporting the older star.
One of Clarke’s newer poems has the title ‘Bed Blocker Blues’. (“Things are gonna get worse, nurse / I’m not optimistic / I’ve got a mouth shaped like a purse, nurse / And a bungalow smelling of piss and biscuit.”)
He has always been a gifted mimic and, having been in Essex for so long, has perfected the local accent. His gentleness of manner means that, even at venues in his adopted home county, he can get away with tormenting audiences with their own vowel sounds delivered in an excruciating tone of laryngeal menace that might frighten Ray Winstone. He reserves the style for poems such as ‘Solid Gold Geezer.’ “Solid gold geezer that / From the solitaire pin through the mink cravat to the snake-eye studs on his kid suede spats / Solid gold geezer that / Lives in a solid gold flat / With a girl worth a million / Plus VAT / And a caviar-guzzling cat.”
The work, once a struggle, is flowing freely from him. He rang me one evening, a couple of years ago, and read me the first draft of what evolved into a piece called ‘It’s Rotten Here in Jail’. It included the lines: “Rotten here in jail / The communal TV has gone/ Everyone knows that one of us has got it / But we don’t know which one / And he’s too scared to turn it on.”
“The trouble with that poem,” he says, “is that I started out by painting a bleak picture for the first few verses. But then things started to buck up. A few lines later it was like I was king of the fucking nick. Prison had become like a never-ending party. So I had lines like: ‘The choice Iranian on my foil / It runs like virgin olive oil / I’m living the life of a decadent royal / It could spoil, it could spoil, it could spoil you / Rotten here in jail. / The library’s bound to fail / since the sudden departure of Jeffrey Archer / It’s rotten here in jail.'”
The poem, he says, has had to be retitled “Bi-Polar Inmate Diary”.
He closed the show at Shepherds Bush with his signature piece,
‘Evidently Chickentown’. “I prefer to do this one from a stage,” he told the audience, “because BBC bleep operators have sued for repetitive strain injury and my swear box doubles as a high yield pension fund.”
One verse of ‘Evidently Chickentown,’ in its bowdlerised, recorded form, goes: “The bloody pubs are bloody dull / The bloody clubs are bloody full / Of bloody girls and bloody guys / With bloody murder in their eyes / A bloody bloke is bloody stabbed / Waiting for a bloody cab / You bloody stay at bloody home / The bloody neighbours bloody moan / Keep the bloody racket down / This is bloody chicken town.”
When this piece was used in The Sopranos, there was a communal surge of pride among Cooper Clarke’s longstanding admirers, at the knowledge that this work by the poet could resonate as powerfully with New Jersey as it does with Moss Side.
It plays over the closing credits of ‘Stage 5’, from the final series, in which Christopher Moltisanti relapses into opiate addiction. Of all the inventive choices of music in that series, it was the least predictable and, many consider, the most brilliantly inspired. “I didn’t find out they’d chosen it,” Cooper Clarke says, “until after they’d made it. As a scene, that was the best treatment of drug addiction I have ever seen. Christopher gets back on smack and he’s sat in that same position, in the market, just nodding out.
Everybody has gone home and all the stores are shut. The sun has set. It’s obvious that a few hours have gone by, and he hasn’t moved. That terrible inertia… they captured that brilliantly.”
I don’t need to inquire whether the poet is wondering if this is how he himself might have wound up. But in Colchester, we’ve talked for more than six hours in a single session and the most life-threatening substance he has ingested has been a Glenmorangie.
Now that he’s enjoying his unforeseen Indian summer, I ask the poet, what can he find to trouble him? What could possibly go wrong? “I don’t really look forwards in that way,” he says. “All I can say is that I love what I do now. I really do. Much more than in the beginning. I’m a much mor confident person than I was. Of course you still occasionally have that voice in your head that says: ‘You are going to get rumbled; what you’re doing is just a piece of piss. The game’s up, Clarke.’ Because what I do isn’t ‘work’ as any sane person would understand the term. But now, finally…” He pauses, not wishing to appear immodest. “…I have come to understand that there is some value to what I do. I’m in a good place now.”
If you had to choose one adjective that least well described him, as a person or as an artist, it would be ‘orthodox’. Of course he does share certain qualities with other performers: things like a sharp wit, fearlessness in the spotlight, and a peculiar and restless imagination. But there is one attribute, very commonly found in lesser talents, that, you sense, John Cooper Clarke is never going to develop: an unshakeable belief in his own greatness.
If you want to understand why the status quo is unraveling, start by examining the feudal structure of our society, politics and economy.
The revelations coming to light about Hollywood Oligarch Harvey Weinstein perfectly capture the true nature of our status quo: a rotten-to-the-core, predatory, exploitive oligarchy of dirty secrets and dirty lies protected by an army of self-serving sycophants, servile toadies on the make and well-paid legal mercenaries. Predators aren’t an aberration of the Establishment; they are the perfection of the Establishment, which protects abusive, exploitive predator-oligarchs lest the feudal injustices of life in America be revealed for all to see.
The predators reckon their aristocratic status in Hollywood/D.C. grants them a feudal-era droit du seigneur (rights of the lord) to take whatever gratifications they desire from any female who has the grave misfortune to enter their malefic orbit.
Anyone who protests or makes efforts to go public is threatened by the oligarch’s thugs and discredited/smeared by the oligarch’s take-no-prisoners legal mercenaries. (Recall the Clintons’ Crisis Management Team tasked with crushing any Bimbo Eruptions, i.e. any eruptions of the truth about Bill’s well-known-to-insiders predation of the peasantry.)
The dirty secret is that the oh-so-hypocritical power elites of Hollywood and Washington D.C. circle the wagons to protect One of Their Own from being unmasked. The first weapons of choice in this defense are (as noted above) threats from thugs, discrediting the exploited via the oligarchy’s paid goons and lackeys in the mainstream media and dirty lies about what a great and good fellow the oligarch predator is. The last line of defense is a hefty bribe to silence any peasant still standing after the oligarchs’ onslaught of threats, smears and lies.
Should the worst happen and some sliver of the truth emerge despite the best efforts of the thugs, corporate media, legal mercenaries and PR handlers, then the playbook follows the script of any well-managed Communist dictatorship:the oligarch predator is thrown to the wolves to protect the oligarchs’ systemic predation and exploitation of the peasantry/debt-serfs.
Just as in a one-party Communist dictatorship, an occasional sacrificial offering is made to support the propaganda that the predators are outliers rather than the only possible output of a predatory, exploitive feudal status quo comprised of a small elite of super-wealthy and powerful oligarchs at the top and all the powerless debt-serfs at the bottom who must do their bidding in bed, in the boardroom, in the corridors of political power, and in the private quarters of their yachts and island hideaways.
Media reports suggest that the real reason Mr. Weinstein has been fired is not his alleged conduct over the past 27 years but his loss of the golden touch in generating movie-magic loot for the oh-so-liberal and politically correct Hollywood gang that was pleased to protect Mr. Weinstein when he was busy enriching them.
What’s truly noteworthy here is not the sordid allegations and history of payoffs–it’s the 27 years of intense protection the Hollywood/ media /D.C. status quo provided, despite hundreds of insiders knowing the truth. Just as hundreds of insiders with top secret clearance knew about the contents of the Pentagon Papers, and thus knew the Vietnam War was little more than an accumulation of official lies designed to protect the self-serving elites at the top of the power pyramid, only one analyst had the courage to risk his career and liberty to release the truth to the American public: Daniel Ellsberg.
Why are we not surprised that Hollywood, the corporate media and Washington D.C. lack even one courageous insider?
If you want to understand why the status quo is unraveling, start by examining the feudal structure of our society, politics and economy, and the endemic corruption, predation and exploitation of the privileged oligarchs at the top.
Then count the armies of self-serving sycophants, toadies, lackeys, hacks, apologists, flunkies, careerists and legal-team mercenaries who toil ceaselessly to protect their oligarch overlords from exposure.
Open your eyes, America: there are two systems of “justice”: one for the wealthy and powerful oligarchs, and an overcrowded gulag of serfs forced to plea-bargain in the other. If John Q. Public had done the deeds Mr. Weinstein is alleged to have done, Mr. Public would have long been in prison.
As Orwell observed about a totalitarian oligarchy, some are more equal than others.
Antiquities authorities have this year claimed that the collection of codices found in a cave in Jordan and first publicised in 2011 are forgeries. Richard Galustian maintains the contrary and gives his evidence.
Academics Jennifer and David Elkington have had to face attempts to discredit a discovery that has put their lives at risk. This is no exaggeration.
A team employed by an Israeli individual or organization is clearly intent on this discovery not seeing the light of day, since it changes Judaism’s view of its origins in a more profound way than it impacts the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, also affecting Islam’s history to an extent.
Evidence of this misinformation campaign is in short supply. However, a recent interesting example of the sabotage involves a computer technician who tried to manipulate the Jordan Codices Wikipedia page on the data put forth from the University of Surrey’s Ion Beam Centre.
What was surprising was that, literally within minutes of the genuine scientific updates, the data was instantly removed.
A member of the University of Surrey consequently looked into the Wikipedia history – made available as part of its transparency ethos – to see who has been editing the page. Intrigued, he tried steadily for hours to update the information, which was reverted back with speed by someone using the pseudonym “Makeandtoss”.
“Makeandtoss” has virtually made a 24/7 career out of suppressing any factual information on the codices ever since David Elkington’s life was threatened when he was held hostage in Jordan last March, in an attempt to ‘silence’ him from speaking about the codices in his capacity as academic advisor to the University of Surrey with regards to the codices.
This was a direct response to the factual data put forward by the Elkingtons to Jordanians last February and March via television, radio and news outlets – on the results from the University of Surrey’s Ion Beam Centre tests on a codex on loan to the Elkingtons for testing in the UK from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) in Amman in 2011.
The intrigue continues. The current director of the Department of Antiquities, Munther Jamhawi, has fervently denied that any of the codices are authentic, including the one tested at the highly reputable Ion Beam Centre by Director Prof Roger Webb and his colleague Prof Chris Jeynes. He also denies that the DoA ever had any codices. An untruth. Who pressurised him to deny the authenticity?
Inconveniently for him, apart from the Elkingtons, there are also several credible witnesses within the DoA to the fat that there were, as far back as 2011, 24 codices housed within the department. Some had already been tested both at the Royal Scientific Society and the Atomic Energy Commission with positive results.
So why is “Makeandtoss” trying to discredit this amazing discovery? “Makeandtoss” says that the inscription is modern and that the codices are therefore fraudulent. This fallacy is a lie; it was not only addressed in a press release issued by the IBC and reported on, but is explained in detail in the videoclip on the Jordan Codices Facebook page.
Webb says the alpha particle testing can only date lead that is up to 150 years old. However, he goes on to explain this does not mean that the lead is not older, which he believes it to be, and backs the corrosion analysis of Mathew Hood Matthew Hood BEng, MSc, CEng, FRINA, MAPM, CDipAF, MIET, RCNC who has thoroughly analysed the crystalline growth on the lead, which in his opinion would take at least 1800-2000 years to form.
Hood also stated quite categorically that there is no way that lead in this state could be either resmelted or recently inscribed – it is far to fragile and it would have broken the lead into pieces. Moreover, the crystalline growth is formed over the inscription. Manufacturing this form of crystallisation is highly unlikely and would cost a monumental amount of money.
Moreover, ‘Makeandtoss’, whomever or whatever he is, states that the IAA – Israeli Antiquities Authority – believe the codices to be fake – well, they would wouldn’t they?
In an official letter, signed by Amir Ganor, Manager of the Antique Robbery Prevention Unit, he states that the IAA has no interest in the ‘artefacts’ – so why did they bother allocating funds to test them?
A report from SDEMA – a rather mysterious private Israeli investigative service – acknowledges that the codices were smuggled out of Jordan and makes references to some of them being confiscated at the Jordanian-Israeli border. The fact that Hebrew-Christian documents have been found in Jordan is political dynamite for many reasons, so of course the IAA is not going to support their authenticity.
On the contrary, they have claimed they are fake without having tested them. The Department of Antiquities has also taken this tack.
Testing lead using state-of-the-art technology is a very expensive business, the DoA simply do not have the budget. Nor do they have the inclination, as most of the twenty-three codices viewed in 2011 have since disappeared or been mislaid.
Testing of other codices found in the Middle East and brought to the Elkington’s attention have continued in secret to analyze their findings with assistance of other academics and scientists and maybe in the future new evidence will be globally released that will prove beyond doubt the authenticity of other codices.
Richard Galustian is a British political and security adviser based in Malta (Middle East and North Africa region) for nearly 40 years.
The strangest underground newspaper office Barry Miles ever saw was home to the weekly broadsheet Open City in Los Angeles. ‘I went there in 1969,’ Miles recalls over the phone, ‘and there was a huge psychedelic mural on the wall. I thought, this looks just weird somehow.’ At first, he couldn’t put his finger on quite what was wrong about it. After all, murals were not such a strange sight in the offices of underground newspapers.
The headquarters of the East Village Other, above music venue, Filmore East, in downtown Manhattan, had its walls decorated with a vast painting jointly created by comic artists Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and Spain Rodriguez depicting their iconic characters Mr Natural, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Trashman (who featured in the ZapComix they contributed to) all sharing a joint. But there was something about the image at Open City that felt wrong, just a bit too on point.
It transpired that the paper was housed in a former Hollywood film set, from a movie about a radical underground newspaper. After the film wrapped, a real underground paper moved in. ‘It was so unreal,’ Miles tells me, ‘and very typically LA.’
International Times, 28 June 1968, cover image. Courtesy: Barry Miles
The offices of International Times, the London-based paper Miles himself founded in 1966 with his friend and flatmate John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, were, by contrast, far more prosaic. Whether talking about the first offices in the basement of the Indica Bookshop on Southampton Row, or subsequent digs on Betterton Street in Covent Garden, around the corner on Endell Street, Wardour Mews in Soho, or in the paper’s final home (of its first incarnation) in Notting Hill, Miles remembers, ‘the usual cramped underground press office: piles of unsold papers, posters everywhere very crudely stuck on the wall, IBM compositing machine, endless people on the phone, lots and lots of telephones and people talking, talking all the time.’
But those inauspicious surroundings were the source of a quiet revolution in British publishing. ‘Back in the ’60s, everything had to be totally unionized,’ Miles explains. ‘You had to do two years apprenticeship on a regional paper before you could work on Fleet Street as a journalist. We leapfrogged over all that stuff. Our street sellers were the only way we distributed things. WH Smith wouldn’t distribute us. None of the straight distributors would touch the underground press. So we had to more or less establish our little counterculture: our own bookshops, our own clothes shops. It was almost like some kind of utopian fantasy for a couple of years.’
Peter Asher, Barry Miles, John Dunbar – MAD (Miles Asher Dunbar Ltd), outside 6 Masons Yard, 1966. Courtesy: Barry Miles
From a graphic standpoint, IT also stood out from the mainstream British papers of its day. Fleet Street then was still using letterpress printing. Boiling lead and copperplates. ‘We turned to offset litho as soon as we possibly could,’ Miles says. ‘That gave us the freedom to let graphic designers do what they wanted.’ The results of that freedom – full colour, swirling psychedelic typefaces, lavish illustrations, delirious graphics – are now to be displayed, alongside copies of Oz,Friends, Gandalf’s Garden, and Black Dwarf, at an exhibition dedicated to the British underground press of the ’60s at A22 Gallery in London. The only paper, Miles believes, that bettered the British ones in design terms was a radical publication from Milan called Pianeta Fresco which published only two editions between 1967 and ’68. But that paper had the distinct advantage of being designed by Ettore Sottsass.
Born a bus driver’s son in rural Cirencester, Miles’s first taste of the world of radical publishing came when he was still a student at Gloucestershire College of Art. On his days off he would hitchhike to London. One day, a friend of Hoppy’s took him to Better Books on the Charing Cross Road. ‘He would show me all these wonderful American imports that they had.’ Enchanted, Miles wrote to the publisher, City Lights Books in San Francisco, and asked for a catalogue.
International Times, 28 April 1967, cover image. Courtesy: Barry Miles
‘Their catalogue was actually a postcard with about five items on it and three or four others typed on – literally hand-typed on – which included things like [Jack Kerouac’s] Dharma Bums and On The Road. Paperback editions. Fifty cents each.’ Miles promptly trekked to the post office for some US currency and ordered the lot. Having received his bounty, he went on the road himself: hitchhiked around the south coast of England with Kerouac in his back pocket, eager to reproduce something of his new hero’s escapades. ‘Very naive, looking back on it,’ he says now. ‘But it was pretty cool.’ Still, he admits with a chuckle, ‘Eastbourne is not quite like going through Detroit.’
It was the American Beats that indirectly brought about the foundation of IT, some five years later. By 1965, Miles was the manager of Better Books and the place was becoming something of an epicentre for the burgeoning counterculture of swinging London. There were regular poetry readings, art exhibitions, and film screenings. One day, Allen Ginsberg walked in and offered to read, sowing the seed for the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall in May of that year, when Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and others, read to a crowd of 7,000. ‘Hoppy and I were just looking around,’ Miles recalls. ‘And we just realized that these people had no means of communication. There was a huge constituency of poets and artists and theatre people and students and young people, but no-one was giving them a voice.’ IT would become that voice, the mouthpiece for a generation: ‘a supermarket of ideas,’ as Miles puts it, ‘and new ways of looking at life.’
International Times, 2 February 1968, cover image. Courtesy: Barry Miles
And it never really came to an end. ‘We just put it out there, copyright free’ Miles explains of the paper’s fate after its original editors gave up on the title in the mid-’70s. ‘It was just a logo and a name. And anyone could do what they wanted with it.’ Over the next decades, IT became the banner under which a motley assortment successively sailed. First Sid Rawle and the bearded mystics of his free festival movement; later others took it on. ‘There were some quite angry issues in ’77, ’78 when the punks had it,’ Miles notes.
‘Did you keep an eye on it?’ I ask.
‘No, not in the slightest. It was out there. It was free.’
It would emerge in fits and starts, disappearing for a few years and then starting up again under some new stewardship. In 2011, the paper finally moved online. Miles himself has started showing an interest again. ‘Apparently,’ he tells me, ‘there’s a new print issue out now. I haven’t seen it yet. Whoever the editor is has sent me one so it will be waiting for me in London. I don’t think I ever did write anything for [the online edition] in the end. Maybe I still will. I don’t know. Yeah, maybe I’ll start writing for IT again. Something to do in one’s old age.’
Or in shops…
The Bookkeeper Bookshop, 1a Kings Road, St Leonards on Sea
Bookbuster Bookshop, Queens Road, Hastings
Capucchini Cafe, Warrior Square Station, St Leonards on Sea
Wow and Flutter Independent Record Shop, Trinity Street, Hastings
IT is celebrating its 50th year after first editions in 1966 and the age-defining explosion of counter culture in 1967, when a group of artists and writers set up offices in the basement of the Indica Gallery in London. John Lennon helped finance the first issues. Pink Floyd played at the magazine’s launch party at the Roundhouse. Today, IT is still going strong. As well as a vibrant weekly presence online over the last five years, IT has appeared in printed form with editors Heathcote Ruthven and Robert Montgomery. The latest printed paper is the 50th anniversary edition.
“One of the two most legendary events in the history of English alternative music and thinking.” Daevid Allen of Soft Machine
John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull, Peter Asher and Paul McCartney at the Indica Gallery: IT’s first offices were in the basement
Love is the most important thing of all… everyone knows that… it is the sunshine of your life as a flower and the water too… family is next ( your earth) although not necessarily always if one’s family is dysfunctional and toxic… then is friends… friends are often promoted to first place if love goes wrong or family is dysfunctional and/or toxic… so I guess all I’m saying is friendship is the alchemist’s gold or maybe the rarest balm that cures the insane lust for the golden philosopher’s stone that drives many mad… the many driven mad all by their own brilliantly woven frequencies… driven mad by the burnished images and icons flashed into their still secretly infant souls by the white-hot blaze of neo-Pharonic technology… driven mad by the fruitless quest for a fantastic golden glory in the Michaelangeloesque wrestle for which true love and the deep pillars of blood ties are lost in a fundamentally senseless battle for the still unlearned futility of Ozimandias’s giant Monty Pythonesque guillotened feet comically supreme on his desert plinth ludicrously surveying the broken clumps of the rest of his heroic stone masterpiece body being slowly subtly consumed by the eternally playful wind-driven sands of a relentellessly yet superficially blood-spattered and howlingly unconquerable Arabia…
Kandinsky, Klee & Other Bauhaus Artists Designed Ingenious Costumes Like You’ve Never Seen Before
Artists of the Bauhaus school—including founder Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and others—broke radically with familiar tradition and made minimalist, abstract, and sometimes shocking statements with their work. We know this history, but you probably haven’t seen these cultural figures physically embody their aesthetic principles as they do in the photographs here, from costume parties the Bauhaus school held throughout the twenties.
As Rachel Doyle at Curbed writes, “if you thought Bauhaus folk were good at designing coffee tables, just have a look at their costumes—as bewitching and sculptural as any other student project, but with an amazing flamboyance not oft ascribed to the movement.”
The whimsical costume parties—to which, wrote Hungarian architect Farkas Molnár, artists devoted “the greatest expenditures of energy”—represented further attempts to transcend “medieval conditions” and integrate “today’s scientific and technological advances… into general culture.” So wrote Molnár in a 1925 essay, “Life at the Bauhaus,” where he describes the playfully serious conditions at the school. These parties, he asserts, were superior to “fancy-dress balls” organized by artists in other cities in that “our costumes are truly original. Everyone prepares his or her own. Never a one that has been seen before. Inhuman, or humanoid, but always new.” Everyone participated, it seems, from the newest student to, as Molnár calls them, “the bigwigs”:
Kandinsky prefers to appear decked out as an antenna, Itten as an amorphous monster, Feininger as two right triangles, Moholy-Nagy as a segment transpierced by a cross, Gropius as Le Corbusier, Muche as an apostle of Mazdaznan, Klee as the song of the blue tree. A rather grotesque menagerie…
Might that be Kandinsky in the photograph at the top? Just who is this luminous figure? Why did Gropius dress up as Le Corbusier, and what, exactly, does “the song of the blue tree” look like? We can identify at least one of these artists—the bald man in black at the center of the photograph below is Oskar Schlemmer, painter, sculptor, designer, and choreographer. Schlemmer gave Bauhaus costume design its most formal context with the Triadic Ballet, a production, writes Dangerous Minds, that “combined his work in both sculpture and theater to create the internationally acclaimed extravaganza which toured from 1922 to 1929.”
The ballet’s “18 costumes,” writes Curbed, “were designed by matching geometric forms with analogous parts of the human body: a cylinder for the neck, a circle for the heads…. These elaborate costumes [see photo of performers below]… totally upped the ante at the Bauhaus school’s regular costume balls.” Schlemmer “made no secret of the fact that he considered the stylized, artificial movements of marionettes to be aesthetically superior to the naturalistic movements of real humans.” His ballet, Dangerous Minds remarks, may be “the least ‘human’ dance performance ever conceived.”
It may come as no surprise then that the Triadic Balletinfluenced some of the hyper-stylized alien costuming of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour. Perhaps even more than the photographs of revelers from the costume parties, the Triadic Ballet, which has been periodically revived since its 1922 debut, preserves the fascinating innovations Bauhaus artists envisioned for the human form. Just below, watch a 1970 film production recreating many of the original designs, and see more photographs of Bauhaus costumes at The Charnel-House.
Even resolute non-Deadheads have been passing around “Deadhead,” Nick Paumgarten’s recent New Yorker piece on “the vast recorded legacy of the Grateful Dead.” Like much of the most interesting magazine journalism, the article digs deep into and provides a primer on a subculture that goes deep. Casual Dead listeners know there exists a large and dedicated body of fervently un-casual Dead listeners, the fans who may have followed the band around on its touring days but now collect every last one of its recorded performances, official, unofficial, or otherwise. “It was denser, feverish, otherworldly,” Paumgarten describes his first experience hearing a Dead bootleg. “If you took an interest, you’d copy a few tapes, listen to those over and over, until they began to make sense, and then copy some more. Before long, you might have a scattershot collection, with a couple of tapes from each year. It was all Grateful Dead, but because of the variability in sonic fidelity, and because the band had been at it for twenty years, there were many different flavors and moods. Even the compromised sound quality became a perverse part of the appeal. Each tape seemed to have its own particular note of decay, like the taste of the barnyard in a wine or a cheese.”
Do you aspire to join those Paumgarten calls “the tapeheads, the geeks, the throngs of workaday Phil Schaaps, who approach the band’s body of work with the intensity and the attention to detail that one might bring to birding, baseball, or the Talmud”? If so, the internet, and specifically the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead collection, has cranked the barrier to entry way down. Its 11,215 free Grateful Dead recordings should keep you busy for some time. “You can browse the recordings by year, so if you click on, say, 1973 you will see links to two hundred and ninety-four recordings, beginning with four versions of a February 9th concert at Stanford and ending with several versions of December 19th in Tampa,” writes Paumgarten. “Most users merely stream the music; it’s a hundred cassette trays, in the Cloud.” If you need a break from these concerts, in all their variable-fidelity glory, listen to Paumgarten talk matters Dead with music critic Sasha Frere-Jones on the New Yorker Out Loud podcast (listen here). And if you find the Dead not quite to your taste — guitarist Jerry Garcia famously compared their dedicated niche audience to “people who like licorice” — why not move on to the Fugazi archive?
Welcome to Frestonia Works by Tony Sleep Co-Curated by Helen Little and Frestonian Gallery 11 October – 4 November 2017
Welcome to Frestonia
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Free Independent Republic of Frestonia
For its forthcoming exhibition Frestonian Gallery presents ‘Welcome To Frestonia’ – an exhibition both examining and celebrating the Free Independent Republic of Frestonia – founded 40 years ago, in October 1977 by a group of disparate inhabitants of the abandoned, run-down Victorian terraces and expanses around Freston road and Olaf street, that formed the Republic’s territory in the western outreaches of Kensington & Notting Hill.
The space now inhabited by Frestonian Gallery is within the 1902 red-brick ‘People’s Hall’, which served as something of a de-facto capital building and cultural centre for the Republic and its citizens.
The Republic was broadly speaking an alliance formed in opposition – in this instance against the eviction notices and threats of the Greater London Council – from which flowered an extraordinary breadth of communal output – both practical and cultural. Artists, musicians, poets, engineers and builders mixed their skills and outlooks in an environment of material scarcity but creative abundance. Various social idylls and lifestyles clashed and blurred within the tiny Republic, from the excesses and anarchy of the punk movement (The ‘Apocalypse Hotel’ being a favourite venue) to the hippy-esque feel of the communal gardens and farm, through to the Dada / Surrealist nature of the Frestonian National Theatre and its troupe The Provisional Theatre Company.
Many strong characters contributed to the founding and the guiding principles of this fledgling Republic, which had begun to produce its own stamps, currency and had already petitioned to the United Nations for full membership. Chief among these were the Frestonian Ministers of State – including the actor David Rappaport (Foreign Affairs), Enrico Weber (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Bryan Assiter (Industry) and Josefine Speyer (Transport). Other figures key to the founding and development of the Republic included the social activist Nicholas Albery and the playwright Heathcote Williams. Each of these ministers and citizens adopted the suffix ‘Bramley’ to their names (after Bramley Road, one of the streets of Frestonia), and united under the banner of the Republic’s motto – Nos Sumus Una Familia (‘we are all one family’). One of the most comprehensive documents of the Republic, celebrating its triumphs and laying bear its social issues, is the photographic series ‘Welcome to Frestonia’ by Tony Sleep, this will be shown alongside archive material that is still maintained under the custodianship of the wider Frestonian community.
We’ve linked to Gascoyne’s British Library Audio Files where he recounts his time with the Surrealists, and we’ve included images associated with the London Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, such as Sheila Legge’s and Salvador Dali’s iconic Surrealist Bulletin photo documenting Legge’s art performance in Trafalgar Square.
A photo of Dali in his diving suit at the 1936 Exhibition also appears below, along with a few images of a few Surrealist book covers of works translated by Gascoyne, Humphrey Jennings, and even Samuel Beckett, among others.
Internet resources on Surrealism are many, and we’re happy to see the additional studies and images of the work of the ever-present Women of Surrealism such as Eileen Agar and Claude Cahun, but we hope that gathering these few items here might supply a quick look around at some of the sources that are more specifically connected to the poet David Gascoyne.
David Gascoyne – Scrapbook About 1940 – 1944
From National Galleries of Scotland:This collaged memory book, compiled during the Second World War, looks back over a period of intense involvement that Gascoyne had with Surrealism. The scrapbook is one of a series produced by Gascoyne during the 1940s, using material he had gathered whilst preparing his publication, ‘A Short Survey of Surrealism’ in 1935. It is a compendium of photographs, catalogues, prospectuses, published and manuscript texts, press cuttings, and so forth, together with several original collages and painted ornaments by Gascoyne himself, all ordered thematically.
David Emery Gascoyne, 1942
ink, Lucian Freud blainsouthern.com
David Gascoyne, Perseus and Andromeda 1936
from the Tate Museum
A Short Survey of Surrealism
cover collages by Max Ernst
What is Surrealism?
Andre Breton, translated by David Gascoyne.
Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1936. Minster Gate image via abe.com
Remove Your Hat
Benjamin Peret translated by
David Gascoyne & Humphrey Jennings
Roger Roughton Contemporary
Poetry & Prose Editions, Number One
Second Edition, 1936
Thorns of Thunder
Paul Eluard, Thorns of Thunder.
Selected Poems edited by George Reavey.
Translated from the French by Samuel Beckett,
Denis Devlin, David Gascoyne, Eugene Jolas,
Man Ray, George Reavey and Ruthven Todd.
Europa Press & Stanley Nott, London, 1936,
The Magnetic Fields
by André Breton and Philippe Soupault, published in an edition of 300 copies by Atlas Press, London, 1985. This is the first English translation (by David Gascoyne) of the “automatic writing” in Les Champs magnétiques (1919), the first Surrealist book.
David Gascoyne recounts his life story for the British Library in eleven audio recordings which they’ve posted online. Part Four contains much on Gascoyne’s connections to the Surrealists.
Part 4 of 11 Abstract:
1935 visit to Paris. Meeting with Paul Eluard. Meeting André Breton, intimidating. Surrealist daily meetings at Café de la Place Blanche, six o’clock. Details of who came.
David Gascoyne (DG) employed by Dali to translate, ‘Conquest of the Irrational’ an essay for New York catalogue. Worked at Dali’s apartment, description. Use of lens attached to his eye when painting for magnification and fine brush of onlyhree hairs.
Dali. Surrealist plans for lectures and events. Dali wanted an old lady on stage with pink tape up her arms from her fingers, an omelette and a spirit lamp. Dali had been shy, Gala helped him develop persona for American public. DG reviewed biography of Gala, ‘Wicked Lady’ in TLS. Eluard visited with daughter, Cecilie who was shy and wanted to be loved by her mother Gala.
Eluard read his poems, including love poem dedicated to Gala. Eluard remarried by this time. Had met Man Ray, saw photographs of Nusch, Réné Crevel suicide.
1935 congress of Intellectuals for the Defence of Culture against Fascism. Surrealists still close to Communist party. Crevel ambivalent. Crevel funeral. Details of who attended the congress and of Breton attacking Ehrenbourg, the Soviet delegate who had accused Surrealists of being pederasts.
Breton had a horror of homosexuality, Crevel was the only homosexual within circle. DG collected rare documentation about Surrealist events. Tristan Tzara. Beckett and DG translate Eluard’s ‘Thorns of Thunder’ 1936. Conversations with Breton. DG translation mistake in Breton text.
International Surrealist Exhibition
New Burlington Galleries, London June 1936
In 1936, Salvador DalÍ collaborated with fellow surrealist Sheila Legge to stage a surrealist happening in Trafalgar Square. Legge appeared as The Phantom of Sex Appeal dressed in a long white satin dress, her face completely obscured by paper roses and ladybirds. Photographs of this event showing pigeons perching on the Phantom’s arms have become an iconic surrealist image.
Following Legge’s appearance as the Surrealist Phantom in Trafalgar Square, she wandered the exhibition, carrying a pork chop in one hand, and an artificial leg in the other, but the pork chop had to be abandoned on account of the heat.
WannaCry, a computer virus that encrypts data and demands a ransom to unscramble it, hit thousands of computers in May, causing several hospitals in Britain to close their doors. Hardly a week now goes by without a large company admitting that its systems have been breached: Yahoo recently confessed that 1bn accounts had been compromised in an attack in 2013. Cyber-attacks are a scourge of modern life, but their history goes back further than you might expect.
The world’s first national data network was constructed in France during the 1790s. It was a mechanical telegraph system, consisting of chains of towers, each of which had a system of movable wooden arms on top. Different configurations of these arms corresponded to letters, numbers and other characters. Operators in each tower would adjust the arms to match the configuration of an adjacent tower, observed through a telescope, causing sequences of characters to ripple along the line. Messages could now be sent much faster than letters, whizzing from one end of France to the other in minutes. The network was reserved for government use but in 1834 two bankers, François and Joseph Blanc, devised a way to subvert it to their own ends.
The Blanc brothers traded government bonds at the exchange in the city of Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. Accordingly, traders who could get the information more quickly could make money by anticipating these movements. Some tried using messengers and carrier pigeons, but the Blanc brothers found a way to use the telegraph line instead. They bribed the telegraph operator in the city of Tours to introduce deliberate errors into routine government messages being sent over the network.
The telegraph’s encoding system included a “backspace” symbol that instructed the transcriber to ignore the previous character. The addition of a spurious character indicating the direction of the previous day’s market movement, followed by a backspace, meant the text of the message being sent was unaffected when it was written out for delivery at the end of the line. But this extra character could be seen by another accomplice: a former telegraph operator who observed the telegraph tower outside Bordeaux with a telescope, and then passed on the news to the Blancs. The scam was only uncovered in 1836, when the crooked operator in Tours fell ill and revealed all to a friend, who he hoped would take his place. The Blanc brothers were put on trial, though they could not be convicted because there was no law against misuse of data networks. But the Blancs’ pioneering misuse of the French network qualifies as the world’s first cyber-attack.
All this holds lessons for us as we grapple with online mischief today. The first is to avoid complacency. Network intrusions (like that at Yahoo) often go unnoticed for many years, and many (if not most) may never be detected. Malware like WannaCry hits the headlines because its effects are so visible, but it gives an inaccurate picture of the scale of the cyber-security problem. Most attackers, like the Blancs, do not advertise their presence.
Second, regardless of the technology, security is like a chain and humans are always the weakest link. The French telegraph system looks hopelessly insecure to modern eyes, with its telegraph towers in plain sight. But its key weakness was the human failings of its users, something that remains true today. Focusing on security as a purely technological challenge misses an important part of the picture: it depends on setting the right social and economic incentives too.
Finally, network attacks do not just pre-date modern electronic networks – they are as old as networks themselves. The tale of the Blanc brothers is a reminder that with any new invention, people will always find a way to make malicious use of it. This is a timeless aspect of human nature, and is not something that technology can or should be expected to fix.
This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.
FBI AGENTS ARE devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.
While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.
Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.
DxE photograph depicting piglets huddled up against their mothers at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah. DxE says the piglets were sick or starving.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than 1 million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.
At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.
Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.
Piles of dead and rotting piglets are piled up behind a sow, who is wedged into a crate so tightly that she cannot move away from the mess at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.
The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).
But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.
FBI raids animal sanctuaries
Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.
Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.
These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.
The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.”
The FBI agents searched the premises of both shelters. They demanded DNA samples of two piglets they said were named Lucy and Ethel, in order to determine whether they were the two ailing piglets who had been rescued weeks earlier from Smithfield.
A representative of Luvin Arms, who insisted on anonymity due to fear of the pending criminal investigation, described the events. The FBI agents ordered staff and volunteers to stay away from the animals and then approached the piglets. To obtain the DNA samples, the state veterinarians accompanying the FBI used a snare to pressurize the piglet’s snout, thus immobilizing her in pain and fear, and then cut off close to two inches of the piglet’s ear.
The piglet’s pain was so severe, and her screams so piercing, that the sanctuary’s staff members screamed and cried. Even the FBI agents were so sufficiently disturbed by the resulting trauma, that they directed the veterinarians not to subject the second piglet to the procedure. The sanctuary representative recounted that the piglet who had part of her ear removed spent weeks depressed and scared, barely moving or eating, and still has not fully recovered. The FBI “receipt” given to the sanctuaries shows they took DNA samples “from swine.”
Several volunteers at one of the raided animal shelters said they were followed back to their homes by FBI agents, who dramatically questioned them in front of family members and neighbors. And there is even reason to believe that the bureau has been surveilling the activists’ private communications regarding the rescue of this piglet duo.
The FBI specified as part of its search that it was seeking DNA samples from piglets they said were named “Lucy” and “Ethel.” But those were not the names the activists used when publicly discussing the rescue of the two piglets. In their videos about the rescue, they called the pair “Lily” and “Lizzie.” Lucy and Ethel were code names the activists used internally, suggesting that agents were surveilling the activists’ communications — either electronically or through informants — in an effort to find the two piglets and build a criminal case against the group.
Subsequent events confirmed that this show of FBI force was designed to intimidate the sanctuaries, which played no role in the rescue. Weeks after the FBI’s execution of the two search warrants, Luvin Arms — in the midst of an interview with The Intercept — received a telephone call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming the agency had received “a complaint” that the sanctuary lacked the legally required licenses for animal shelters that are open to the public. “We had never had an FBI visit or a USDA call about licenses, and now suddenly, within weeks, both happened,” the sanctuary representative said.
A piglet that was ill and close to death at Smithfield recovers as she is cared for after being rescued.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Retaliation for exposing cruel treatment
What has vested these two piglets with such importance to the FBI is that their rescue is now part of what has become an increasingly visible public campaign by DxE and other activists to highlight the barbaric suffering and abuse that animals endure on farms like Circle Four. Obviously, the FBI and Smithfield — the nation’s largest industrial farm corporation — don’t really care about the missing piglets they are searching for. What they care about is the efficacy of a political campaign intent on showing the public how animals are abused at factory farms, and they are determined to intimidate those responsible.
Deterring such campaigns and intimidating the activists behind them is, manifestly, the only goal here. What made this piglet rescue particularly intolerable was an article that appeared in the New York Times days after the rescue, which touted the use of virtual reality technology by animal rights activists to allow the public to immerse in the full experience of seeing what takes place in these companies’ farms. The article featured a photograph of the DxE activists rescuing the piglets from the Smithfield farm:
The Times article was published July 6. The search warrant against the sanctuaries was obtained the following month, in mid-August, and then executed on August 31. In the interim, the piglets had become stars of a clearly effective campaign against Smithfield Foods.
In response to questions from The Intercept, Smithfield insisted that it does not abuse its animals. But, as is typical for factory farms, the company offered little more then generalized denials, accompanied by vague accusations that the videos and photos the activists took are somehow “distorted.”
After they rescued the two piglets, the DxE activists did not try to hide what they had done: They did the opposite. They used a tactic known as “open rescue,” the purpose of which is to publicly detail what has been done to help the public understand the true nature of the abuses.
The activists wrote about the rescue in social media postings that went viral, detailing the horrific conditions they witnessed at Smithfield and describing the suffering of the piglets. They posted videos to Facebook and YouTube that they filmed of the farm and the rescue as it happened, with other videos showing Lily and Lizzie being treated at the sanctuaries and growing into happy, playful, healthy adolescents.
Video: Direct Action Everywhere
Plainly, the “crime” of these activists that has galvanized the FBI is not the “theft” of two dying piglets; it is political activism and investigative journalism, which exposes the cruelty and abuse at the heart of this powerful industry.
In response to a few media reports on the FBI raids at the sanctuaries, bureau spokesperson Sandra Barker told the Washington Post: “I can say that we were at the two locations conducting court-authorized activity related to an ongoing investigation. Because it’s ongoing, I’m not able to provide any more details at this time.”
To an industry feeling endangered by growing public disgust over conditions at industrial farms — driven by scandals within the meat, pork, and poultry sectors — Lily and Lizzie are political and journalistic threats. Animals like them are vital for enabling animal rights activists to demonstrate to the public in a visceral, personalized way that this industry generates massive profit by monstrously and unnecessarily torturing living beings who are emotionally complex and experience great suffering.
Rescued piglets Lizzie and Lily.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Government power abused to intimidate and punish activists
The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.
A sweeping framework of draconian laws — designed to shield the industry from criticism and deter and punish its critics — has been enacted across the country by federal and state legislatures that are captive to the industry’s high-paid lobbyists. The most notorious of these measures are the “ag-gag” laws, which make publishing videos of farm conditions taken as part of undercover operations a felony, punishable by years in prison.
Though many courts, including most recently a federal court in Utah, have struck down these laws as an unconstitutional assault on speech and press freedoms, they continue to be used in numerous states to harass and, in some cases, prosecute animal rights activists. As the Times article notes, these ag-gag laws are one reason activists are forced to turn to virtual reality: to show what really happens inside industrial farms without running the risk of prosecution.
Many mother pigs had nipples that were torn into bloody shreds from feeding starving piglets.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Even more extreme and menacing is the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. As I described previously when reporting on the arrest of two young activists — who faced 10 years in prison for freeing minks from farm cages before the animals could be sliced to death and turned into luxury coats — nonviolent animal rights activists are often designated as “terrorists” under the AETA and are treated in the court system as such, even when no human beings are hurt and the economic loss is minimal:
As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush.
This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.
Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”
The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none. This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.
The U.S. government, of course, has always protected and served the interests of industry. Beginning when most of the nation was fed by small farms, federal agencies have been particularly protective of agricultural industry. That loyalty has only intensified as family farms have nearly disappeared, replaced by industrial factory farms where animals are viewed purely as commodities, instruments for profit, and treated with unconstrained cruelty.
Downed pigs languish in their own feces at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Lately, opposition is emerging from unusual places. Utah federal judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee who is a lifelong Republican, recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law on First Amendment grounds, noting in his ruling:
For as long as farmers have put food on American tables, the government has endeavored to support and protect the agricultural industry. … In short, governmental protection of the American agricultural industry is not new, and has taken a variety of forms over the last two hundred years. What is new, however, is the recent spate of state laws that have assumed an altogether novel approach: restricting speech related to agricultural operations.
As Shelby detailed, those ag-gag laws were not used until activists began having success in showing the public the true extent of cruelty that industrial farms impose on animals:
Nobody was ever charged under these [early ag-gag] laws, and for nearly two decades no new ag-gag legislation was introduced. That changed, however, after a series of high profile undercover investigations were made public in the mid to late 2000s.
To name just a few, in 2007, an undercover investigator at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in California filmed workers forcing sick cows, many unable to walk, into the “kill box” by repeatedly shocking them with electric prods, jabbing them in the eye, prodding them with a forklift, and spraying water up their noses. A 2009 investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa revealed hundreds of thousands of unwanted day-old male chicks being funneled by conveyor belt into a macerator to be ground up live.
That same year, undercover investigators at a Vermont slaughterhouse operated by Bushway Packing obtained similarly gruesome footage of days-old calves being kicked, dragged, and skinned alive. A few years later, an undercover investigator at E6 Cattle Company in Texas filmed workers beating cows on the head with hammers and pickaxes and leaving them to die. And later that year, at Sparboe Farms in Iowa, undercover investigators documented hens with gaping, untreated wounds laying eggs in cramped conditions among decaying corpses.
The publication of these and other undercover videos had devastating consequences for the agricultural facilities involved. The videos led to boycotts of facilities by McDonald’s, Target, Sam’s Club, and others. They led to bankruptcy and closure of facilities and criminal charges against employees and owners. They led to statewide ballot initiatives banning certain farming practices. And they led to the largest meat recall in United States history, a facility’s entire two years’ worth of production.
Over the next three years, sixteen states introduced ag-gag legislation.
In other words, both the legislative process and law enforcement agencies are being blatantly exploited — misused — to protect not the property rights but the reputational interests of this industry. Having the FBI — in the midst of real domestic terrorism threats, hurricane-ravaged communities, and intricate corporate criminality — send agents around the country to animal sanctuaries in search of DNA samples for two missing piglets may seem like overkill to the point of being laughable. But it is entirely unsurprising in the context of how law enforcement resources are used, and on whose behalf.
A piglet at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Smithfield Food’s defenses
It makes sense that Smithfield Foods would be petrified of the public learning of many of its practices. But in this particular case, they are specifically trying to hide the pure evils of gestational crates. This video, taken by an investigator with the Humane Society in 2012, shows the widespread but hideous reality of gestational crates at a Smithfield farm:
In response to the public controversy over this practice, generated by activists filming what was going on, Smithfield announced in 2012 that they would phase out gestational crating in 10 years — by 2022. They then claimed that by the end of 2017, they would transition completely to “group housing systems.” But as the DxE videos show, gestation crates are exactly what activists found in abundance when they visited Smithfield’s Circle Four.
Indeed, when Wayne Hsiung and DxE visited Circle Four over the summer, they saw no signs whatsoever of any construction or reform efforts to move away from gestational crates, Hsiung told the Intercept. As the videos show, Circle Four had thousands of pigs suffering in such crates. That was where the activists found the two piglets, close to death.
When Smithfield learned that The Intercept was reporting on these issues, a spokesperson emailed a statement and invited further questions. The statement claims that in response to DxE’s reporting, Smithfield “immediately launched an investigation and completed a third-party audit,” and “the audit results show no findings of animal mistreatment.”
This is a typical industry tactic: When they claim, as they almost always do, that their paid auditors discovered “no findings of animal mistreatment,” what they mean is that there was no evidence that their employees engaged in activities that corporate procedures explicitly prohibit (such as beating the animals or administering electric shock).
But what the audit does not do is ask whether the procedures themselves (such as gestational crating) are abusive and thus constitute “mistreatment.” Smithfield failed to provide a response to The Intercept’s follow-up questions about what it does and does not mean when their auditors claim no “mistreatment” was discovered; the company simply reiterated that “the animals observed on the farm by the audit team were in good condition, appeared comfortable, free of clinical disease, and showed no signs of fear or intimidation in the presence of people.” Simply review the DxE video above, and the featured photos showing what they found at Circle Four, to judge for yourself.
Cramped conditions lead to many pigs being trampled to death at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
In its statement, Smithfield also accused the activists who rescued the two piglets of “risk[ing] the life of the animals they stole and the lives of the animals living on our farms by trespassing” — an odd claim from a company that plans to slaughter all of those same animals. When asked to specify how the activists endangered the lives of the sick animals they rescued, Smithfield told The Intercept that “the video’s creators violated Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy, which prevents the spread of disease on farms.” The statement added: “The piglets were not ‘extremely ill’ or ‘on the verge of death.’ These piglets, along with other animals living on the farm, are well cared for throughout their lifetime.”
But in response, Hsiung told the Intercept: “Our activists use better biosecurity protocols than the company’s own employees, as evidenced by the dead, rotting piglets on the farm. Allowing baby animals to rot to death is, in fact, a serious violation of biosecurity and food safety. Taking photographs of animal cruelty is not.”
Smithfield also accused the activists of manipulating their film, claiming that “the video appears to be highly edited and even staged in an attempt to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist.” But Smithfield did not respond to this question from The Intercept about the staging allegation: “How would these activists stage hundreds of pigs in gestation crates and dozens of piglets rotting to death — all in virtual reality, no less? It would take a Hollywood blockbuster budget and the most sophisticated team of computer-generated imagery for that. What’s Smithfield’s theory about what they fabricated in this video?”
The only specifics Smithfield offered was the assertion that “based on the review of animal care experts, it appears piglets were moved from one section of the barn to another to support the inaccuracies and falsehoods described in the video by its creators.”
But Hsiung said: “The video speaks for itself. I don’t know how we can fake a rotting piglet.” Regarding the accusation that they moved piglets, he added: “I imagine what they are seeing is piglets in the wrong sort of pen, gestation rather than farrowing. But that is a testament to their own failed animal care practices. We were shocked and horrified, as well, to see piglets born and housed in inappropriate conditions that left them exposed to trauma.”
In sum, the industry has long responded to these videos — which they tried in the first instance to use their lobbying power to criminalize — by insisting that the videos are distorted. Yet they never specify what these supposed distortions are. Now that activists are using virtual reality technology, which allows the viewer to see everything the activists see, such claims are even more untenable than they were before.
A rescued piglet, named Lily, recovers under a blanket.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
Revolving door with agribusiness
A recent change in U.S. political discourse — spurred by events such as the 2008 financial crisis, the Occupy movement, and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign — is the increasingly common use of the words “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” to describe the country’s political system. Though dramatic, the terms, melded together, describe a fairly simple and common state of affairs: power exerted by and exercised for the exclusive benefit of a small group of people who wield the greatest financial power.
It is hard to imagine a more vivid illustration than watching FBI agents don bulletproof vests and execute DNA search warrants for Lily and Lizzie, all to deter and intimidate critics of a savage industry that funds politicians and the lobbyists that direct them.
Substantial attention has been paid over the last several years to the “revolving door” that runs Washington — industry executives being brought in to run the agencies that regulate their industries, followed by them returning to that industry once their industry-serving government work is done. That’s how Wall Street barons come to “regulate” banks, how factory owners come to “regulate” workplace safety laws, how oil executives come to “regulate” environmental protections — only to leave the public sector and return back to lavish rewards from those same industries for a job well done.
Though it receives modest attention, this revolving door spins faster, and in more blatantly sleazy ways, when it comes to the USDA and its mandate to safeguard animal welfare. The USDA is typically dominated by executives from the very factory farm industries that are most in need of vibrant regulation.
For that reason, animal welfare laws are woefully inadequate, but the ways in which they are enforced is typically little more than a bad joke. Industrial farming corporations like Smithfield know they can get away with any abuse or “mislabeling” deceit (such as misleading claims about their treatment of animals) because the officials who have been vested with the sole authority to enforce these laws — federal USDA officials — are so captive to their industry. Courts have repeatedly ruled that private individuals, animal rights groups, and even state authorities have no right to sue to enforce animal welfare laws, because the “exclusive authority” lies with the U.S. government, which has no real interest in actually enforcing those laws.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on July 12, 2017, in Atlanta.
Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
The current secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (pictured, right), is just one example, but he vividly highlights the revolving door form of legalized corruption that dominates this industry.
Perdue was raised on a Georgia row farm and obtained his doctorate in veterinary medicine. Despite those seemingly benign credentials, the factory farm industry celebrated the news of his nomination by President Donald Trump. The National Chicken Council, for instance, demanded that he be “confirmed expeditiously.” The enthusiasm was for good reason.
“Georgia was pretty friendly to food-industry interests during Perdue’s two terms,” Grub Street reported, and Perdue “took about $330,000 in contributions from Monsanto and other agribusinesses for his campaigns.” In 2009, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the lobbying group for genetically modified foods, named Perdue its “Governor of the Year” because, it said, “he has been a stalwart advocate of the biosciences in Georgia and truly understands the promise of our industry.” As Georgia governor, Perdue supported the rapid expansion of factory farm giant Perdue Farms (to which he has no familial relation), with its long history of allegations of animal abuse.
And Perdue has extensive ties to the agribusiness sector he’s now supposed to oversee and regulate. The firm of which he is the founding partner and his family owns and runs, Perdue Partners LLC, is an agribusiness at the heart of this industry:
After being confirmed, Perdue wasted little time lavishing his agribusiness industry with gifts. In February, the USDA “abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities,” reported the Washington Post. Then, two senators who have received large sums from farmers and ranchers — Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican Pat Roberts — agitated for the recession of the Obama administration’s mild regulations on organic eggs, designed to improve conditions for chickens, and the Perdue-led USDA “put the new standard on hold and suggested that it might even be withdrawn.”
In sum, with industry insiders dominating the sole agency (USDA) with the authority to regulate factory farms, animals that are captive, abused, tortured, and slaughtered en masse have little chance, even when it comes to just applying existing laws with a minimal amount of diligence. The politics of the U.S. — including the fact that a key farm state, Iowa, plays such a central role in presidential elections — means there are massive forces arrayed behind factory farms, and very few in support of animal welfare.
Piglets are raised in cramped, filthy conditions at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
From fringe to the mainstream
But the animal rights movement, despite receiving relatively scant media attention and operating under the threat of federal prosecutions forterrorism, boasts some of the nation’s more effective, shrewd, and tenacious political activists. They have made significant strides in turning the public against the worst of the prevailing practices on these farms, and more generally, in forcing into the public consciousness the knowledge of how this industry imposes suffering, abuse, and torture on living beings on a mass and systematic scale, all to maximize profits.
Just a decade ago, the cause of animal cruelty and exploitation was a fringe position, rarely appearing outside far-left circles. That has all changed, thanks largely to the efforts of these activists, many of whom have been imprisoned for their efforts. Most activists say that it was unimaginable even a decade ago for major newspaper columnists such as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof or Frank Bruni to take up their cause, yet that’s precisely what they have done in a series of columns over the last several years.
“If you torture a single chicken and are caught, you’re likely to be arrested. If you scald thousands of chickens alive, you’re an industrialist who will be lauded for your acumen,” Kristof wrote in one 2015 column. He described the savagery of the process used to slaughter chickens by the millions and scornfully dismissed industry’s claim that no abuse or mistreatment was found by their auditors.
In a column the year before, Kristof detailed the barbarism and misleading claims that chickens are “humanely raised” at Perdue Farms — the company USDA Secretary Perdue helped to expand — and concluded: “Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”
And that’s to say nothing of the other significant costs from industrial farming. There are serious health risks posed by the fecal waste produced at such farms. And the excessive, reckless use of antibiotics common at factory farms can create treatment-resistant bacterial strains capable of infecting and killing humans. There is also increasing awareness that industrial farming meaningfully exacerbates climate problems, with some research suggesting that it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Reviewing the meat industry in 2014, Kristofsummarized what he learned this way:
Our industrial food system is unhealthy. It privatizes gains but socializes the health and environmental costs. It rewards shareholders — Tyson’s stock price has quadrupled since early 2009 — but can be ghastly for the animals and humans it touches.
Bruni wrote in a 2014 column headlined “According Animals Dignity” of “a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase ‘animal welfare.’” Instead of simply curbing the most egregious abuses, he wrote, a more principled awareness of the intrinsic worth and rights of animals is emerging: “an era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us.”
One U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, has placed animal rights protections as one of his legislative priorities. Booker, who has been a vegetarian since college and recently announced his transition to full veganism, has sponsored a spate of bills to fortify the rights of animals: frombanning the selling of shark fins to limiting the legal uses of animals for testing to requiring humane treatment of animals in all federal facilities.
While he has been attacked by the New York Post for “animal rights extremism” after he announced his veganism, Booker now regularly and unflinchingly invokes the core principles of animal rights: “I want to try to live my own values as consciously and purposefully as I can. Being vegan for me is a cleaner way of not participating in practices that don’t align with my values.” Rather than these legislative efforts being scorned, a spokesman for Booker told the Intercept that “Sens. Merkley and Whitehouse have been reliable allies on animal testing and other efforts; the Shark Fin effort has a number of cosponsors as well; and Sens. Schatz, Markey, Warren, Feinstein, Blumenthal have been partners as well.”
The devastating costs of industrial farming and the mass torture and slaughter on which it depends — moral, spiritual, physical, environmental — are being documented in scholarly circles with increasing clarity. A group of public health specialists jointly wrote in a New York Times op-ed in May: “This sweeping change in meat production and consumption has had grave consequences for our health and environment, and these problems will grow only worse if current trends continue.”
Rescued pig Lizzie gives affection to her rescuer, Wayne Hsuing of DxE.
Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE
In general, the core moral and philosophical question at the heart of animal rights activism is now being seriously debated: Namely, what gives humans the right or justification to abuse, exploit, and torture non-human species? If there comes a day when some other species (broadly defined) — such as machines — surpass humans in intellect and cognitive complexity, will they have a valid moral claim to treat humans as commodities whose suffering and death can be assigned no value?
The irreconcilable contradiction of lavishing love and protection on dogs and cats, while torturing and slaughtering farm animals capable of a deep emotional life and great suffering, is becoming increasingly apparent. British anthropologist Jane Goodall, in the preface to Amy Hatkoff’s groundbreaking book “The Inner World of Farm Animals,” examined the science of animal cognition and concluded: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … They are individuals in their own right.”
All of these changes have been driven by animal rights activists who, often at great risk to themselves, have forced the public to be aware of the savagery and cruelty supported through food consumption choices. That’s precisely why this industry is so obsessed with intimidating, threatening, and outlawing this form of activism: because it is so effective.
Dissidents are tolerated to the extent they remain ineffectual and unthreatening. When they start to become successful — that is, threatening to powerful interests — the backlash is inevitable. The tools used against them are increasingly extreme as their success grows.
To call the FBI’s actions in raiding these animal sanctuaries a profound waste of its resources is both an understatement and beside the point. The real short-term goal is to target those most vulnerable — volunteer-supported animal shelters — to scare them out of taking care of rescued animals. And the ultimate goal is to fortify and intensify a climate of intimidation and fear designed to deter animal rights activists from reporting on the horrifying realities of these factory farms.
There is a temptation to turn away from and ignore this mass suffering and cruelty because it’s so painful to confront, so much more pleasant to remain unaware of it. Animal rights activists are determined to prevent us from doing so, and we should all feel gratitude for their increasing success in making us see what we are enabling when we consume the products of this barbaric and sociopathic industry.
Correction: October 7, 2017 An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed authorship of the book “The Inner World of Farm Animals” to Jane Goodall. It was written by Amy Hatkoff. Goodall wrote the foreword to the book, from which her quote in this story was drawn.
Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. attend the ground breaking of the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington July 23, 2014. The $200 million transformation of the Old Post Office Building into a Trump hotel is scheduled for completion in 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES – Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS REAL ESTATE) – RTR3ZUF0
The atmosphere was buzzing; the opening of the London Playboy Club was the talk of the town. Newspapers were bursting with the latest gossip, demonstrators walked by with ‘BUNNIES GO HOME!’ banners, speculators were investing, members were clamouring for their prestigious keys. Misanthropes, capitalists, fun-lovers and punters were raring to go. An angry feminist group threw a harmless bomb. It all made for good publicity – the great ally of success.
Meanwhile, in one of the club’s dimly lit, red gambling rooms thirty eager young women were being trained to deal Blackjack.
At the end of five weeks those who had learnt to count efficiently, deal chips professionally and shuffle card decks niftily, were ready to be squeezed into Bunny costumes by the seamstress who had come from Chicago.
“Listen, baby, you’re pregnant,” she said when my turn came.
“Don’t be crazy!”
“I’m not crazy, baby; you’re at least three months gone.”
That explained why my breasts had become even bigger. This was what I so much wanted but hadn’t dared believe even though I hadn’t had a period for some months. But then, I had never been regular.
At the club I was told to stay on for as long as I could. Chairs were vacated as I entered rooms, the seamstress made my costume just a little less tight than regulations called for. I received benign smiles from the male staff (a pregnant Bunny, ha, ha!)
The Bunny make up room was a masquerade reflected in the light-studded wall-to-wall mirrors alive with big-bosomed, chorus-legged belles in black fishnet stockings and shiny satin costumes. Buzzing and busy like honey bees, cheerful and sparkling like Christmas trees, brushing tresses, gluing on false lashes, painting scarlet lips. Discussing lives, complaining about the management and the plastic food in the canteen, while contemplating shades of nail-polish. Gossip, giggles, sometimes tears, and attempts at new friendships. I was reminded of the carefree days in Rome when I had been handmaiden to Elizabeth Taylor.
In the beginning the work was fun, I enjoyed gambling and was a skilful croupier. My nimble fingers, like spider’s legs, distributed shiny, multi-coloured plastic chips under neon lights. Silent concentration, sighs of anticipation, prayers, shouts of glee, disappointment, desperation, elation. Stale smell of cigarettes and sweaty expectations, as patterns formed on the green felt cloth spelling win or lose. If I wanted to win I found I often could by applying my will. Two Kings for the punter, a Queen and an Ace for me. Ha! The pale manager in evening gear, controlling my antics, was pleased.
After a month I began to get annoyed by the chauvinistic authoritarianism of the organization, the rules and regulations that were never on our side, the demerits if you had a run in your stocking or your make up wasn’t up to par, and other stuff that I thought was not fair. So I tried to organize a Bunny Union. I suspected it didn’t have a chance in a warren, but I wanted to make my point anyway. To appease me and lure me to their side the company offered me the role of Bunny Mother, which would put me in charge of overseeing the bunnies. But I wasn’t about to sell my soul to the company store.
Instead, knowing the house to be a winner and not just by chance, I was on the side of the sweaty little loser now. “Go home mister,” I’d hear myself whisper.
My messy altruism floated into the bosses’ office. A trouble-maker, they called me, and when my baby began to bulge noticeably and I was beginning to feel tired, they weren’t sorry to see me go.
It’s a philosophical question often posed, but if you could, would you want to live forever? What if, barring accidents, you could cheat death? Swap diseased organs for healthy ones, dead brain cells for future memories? For the vast majority of us death is just a fact of life, but to some it is simply a challenge to be surmounted. They call themselves immortalists and they put their faith in the future. They believe in cryonics.
Cryonics, the science of freezing people after death in the hope they can be revived in the future, has long been the stuff of science fiction and Hollywood blockbusters, reserved for bespectacled geeks and muscled-up action heroes. The prospect of life after death – of cheating time, the Reaper and the taxman – is one that has captured the imagination since time immemorial and, belief systems aside, has thus far eluded us.
But people in white lab coats have a habit of turning science fiction into science fact. In 1901, writer H.G. Wells put man on the moon; NASA delivered the real deal in 1969. In the future of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Captain Kirk has a personal communicator; big deal, who hasn’t these days? And in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein reanimated a dead body…
Actually, on that one the men in white got there first – kind of. Because some fifteen years before Shelley’s eponymous scientist brought his monster back from the grip of Hades, real-life Italian physicist Giovanni Aldini (1762 -1834) was astounding and horrifying the scientific world in equal measure with some very macabre experiments of his own.
Following in the footsteps of his uncle, Luigi Galvani (whose own work in the medical uses of electricity became what we now know as galvanism), Aldini postulated that electricity was the vital life force coursing between the brain and the body. In 1803, he visited London and demonstrated his theory in spectacular fashion at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Before an audience of medical contemporaries and the general public, Aldini took conducting rods connected to a battery and passed electricity through the cadaver of one George Forster. According to press reports the results were startling: the “jaw began to quiver… the muscles contorted… the left eye opened… and the whole body convulsed.” To terrified onlookers it must have seemed as if Forster was returning to life.
Aldini made no claim to bringing back the dead, but such was the outrage of his peers that he was forced to flee the country. There is little doubt, however, that his experiments marked the beginning of genuine scientific research into the mechanics of death.
Flash forward one hundred and sixty years (as all budding immortalists are hoping to do) and we find the start of cryonics theory proper. In 1964 Robert Ettinger, a college physics teacher, published The Prospect of Immortality. In what is now considered the cryonicists’ bible, Ettinger argued that technology and medicine were advanced enough to start freezing people as a means of accessing the medical technology of tomorrow. What appears to be fatal today, he conjectured, may be reversible in the future. “If civilisation endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body, including freezing damage and senile debility or other cause of death. No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us.”
Reaction from the scientific community at the time was unsurprisingly contemptuous, and Ettinger himself admitted: “I had and have no credentials worth mentioning, being only a teacher of college physics and math. It is precisely this that prevented me, for so long, from doing more… but as the years passed and no one better came forward, I finally had to write, and later felt I had to form organisations, although others had come into existence.”
Buoyed by media interest and the backing of none other than Isaac Asimov – who erred on the side of caution, but concurred that Ettinger’s ideas were based on sound scientific principals – Ettinger continued to explore his undiscovered country, albeit in a theoretical manner. He left it to others to pursue the technological problems of how this life insurance might be achieved, but remained active in the cryonics movement, most notably with the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, until his death (or deanimation, as committed cryonicists prefer to call it) from respiratory failure in July 2011.
Numerous cryonic organisations have come and gone over the years, some under controversial clouds, others merging with one another, but the Cryonics Institute remains one of the big three in the preservation and storage of human beings; the other two being KrioRus near Moscow and the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona.
Ettinger may have been the godfather of cryonics, but it is Alcor who hold the baby’s head, as it were, in the hands of Doctor James Bedford – a psychology professor generally regarded as the world’s first cryonically preserved human on 12th January 1967. He’s still on ice in their storage facility to this day, frozen in time like a pickled egg-head.
On their website Alcor claim to have furthered the cause of the cryonics movement more than any other organisation, citing their willingness to embrace new medical procedures and emerging technologies as part of their success – but such advances have not come without controversy.
In 1987 Saul Kent, one of the founders of the Cryonics Society of New York, brought his terminally ill mother Dora to the Alcor facility, where she died and was placed in cryostasis as a neuropatient – preservation of the head and brain only (the thinking being that future scientists will simply clone a whole new body from the subject’s DNA). The body, minus the head, was passed on to the local coroner who issued a death certificate giving the cause of death as natural causes. Following an autopsy, however, the coroner’s office changed the cause of death to homicide when the presence of barbiturate was detected throughout Dora Kent’s body. Alcor was raided, the staff arrested and the facility ransacked. Computers and records were seized by police.
Alcor insisted that the barbiturate had been given to Kent after legal death in order to slow brain metabolism, but the coroner’s office was sufficiently concerned to want to seize the head for autopsy. The head, however, had been removed from the Alcor facility and taken to a location that, to this day, has never been disclosed. It was a macabre event, but Alcor later sued for false arrest and illegal seizure and won both cases – setting a precedent for other cryonics organisations. Since then, most if not all cryopreservations have taken place without incident or from legal interference.
The science of cryonics is, of course, still in its infancy – much of it still theory, all of it based on a tenet of hope: that future science will somehow have all the answers. In that respect, in the belief of life after death, cryonics is a much a religion as it is a science. After all, while it isn’t too difficult to preserve a dead body, that body is still dead. And when you’re dead, you’re dead, right? So how do you un-pickle a pickled egg? Well, the men and women in their proverbial whites have been working on that one too.
In 2005 scientists at the University of Pittsburgh announced they had successfully placed dogs in suspended animation and then brought them back to life. The dogs’ circulatory systems were drained of blood, which was replaced by a low-temperature saline solution. After three hours of being clinically dead, the dogs’ blood was then returned to them, and the animals given an electric shock to the heart. All of them returned to life; all without brain damage. A year later doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital announced they had achieved similar result using pigs, reporting a 90% success rate on 200 test cases. It’s gruesome, but it seems Giovanni Aldini wasn’t so wide of the mark.
But dogs are dogs, and pigs are pigs; and man is another beast altogether. Medical and technological limits aside, perhaps the biggest obstacle cryonics must surmount is the one many scientific advances have faced: the theological question. Science and religion are rarely good bed-fellows, but the possibility of cheating death must surely place cryonics head and shoulders over other religious concerns surrounding, say, cloning or stem-cell research. After all, if science finally brings us to immortality, then whither religion? God, or rather his representatives here on earth, would be out of a job.
It seems unusual then to find little opposition to cryonics from organised religion, perhaps because they still have the monopoly on the one thing science cannot yet determine: the existence of the human soul. Indeed, some cryonicists have even courted controversy by claiming Jesus was a committed immortalist, rising as he supposedly did from the dead, which has produced some social media challenges to cryonics on religious grounds but as yet no pronouncements from theological bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church.
Dennis Kowalski, current President of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, sees the religious question in pragmatic terms: “Just as the first heart transplants were considered controversial to some religious beliefs, so cryonics faces some negative feedback from those who misunderstand it. But those who do understand cryonics range from atheists to all denominations of religion. Just as you can be religious or atheist and opt for or against a heart transplant based on your beliefs, so too can you support or oppose cryonics.”
So what does it cost, life in the freezer? At the time of writing, the bill for keeping the Grim Reaper from knocking varies greatly – from a mere $10,000 for head or brain preservation at KriosRus, to a whopping $250,000 for the full body suspension at Alcor. Belying their own visionary leanings somewhat, all the cryonics companies require payment upfront – usually with an additional yearly fee to cover those little unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters or utility companies upping their prices.
The Cryonics Institute fee currently does not include the extras, which aren’t optional at all, such as a standby team of cryonic professionals waiting for death – sorry, deanimation – and commencing procedures at the bedside. Nor do they offer rapid transportation where said professionals aren’t immediately available. Those services can be covered by an extra fee to the Florida-based company Suspended Animation Inc.
But what will it really cost, life in the future? Philosophically speaking, returning to life in 400 years time would make us a ghost of things past – an exhibit in the museum of a more “civilised culture”. What would we be to that culture other than an amusing ancestor to be poked and prodded at like the savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? And what would be the social and political implications of a population that can extend its life indefinitely? As committed cryonicists point out: there’s only one to find out.
The growth of the cryonics movement has been slow from the very beginning, often beset with medical, legal and philosophical problems and suffering a lack of business support. Scientific interest has been, for the most part, cautious, while the threat of government intervention has been a constant concern. Robert Ettinger, a confirmed atheist, saw the problem in almost religious terms: “The tragedy of the slow growth of immortalism pertains mostly to them, and perhaps to you – not so much to us, the immortalists. We already have made our arrangements for cryostasis after clinical death, signed our contracts with existing organisations and allocated the money. We will have our chance, and with a little bit of luck will taste the ‘wines of centuries unborn.’”
Paying tribute to his father in 2011, David Ettinger said “My father devoted himself to doing what he could to enable his family, his friends and others to come back and live again. Whether he will achieve that nobody knows at this point, but we think he has a good shot.”
True to his beliefs, Robert Ettinger was cryopreserved alongside his deanimated mother and his two wives. Whatever their future holds, if they bring them all back it’s going to be complicated.
The Cryonic Man: an interview with Dennis Kowalski
By Leon Horton
Photographs by kind permission of the Cryonics Institute
Dennis Kowalski is President of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. A fire fighter and paramedic for the city of Milwaukee, he is certified in advanced cardiac life support, advanced paediatric life support and as a CPR instructor for the American Heart Association. In addition, he teaches emergency medicine at the Milwaukee Fire Academy and the Milwaukee County Emergency Center. He is also a member of the Cato Institute – a public policy research organisation dedicated to the principles of individual liberty.
Raised in a small Milwaukee suburb, Dennis was a prize-winning pugilist at high school; served in the US Marine Corps on special assignment to Alpha Company 3rd Reconnaissance as part of an intelligence gathering unit; and studied philosophy and astronomy at the University of Waukesha. Science has always been and continues to be his great love, and as an advocate of cryonics and nanotechnology he sees advancements in these fields as the logical conclusion to the quest for prosperity and longevity.
Dennis is happily married to his wife Maria. They have three children, a dog and a cat.
Hi, Dennis, thank you for finding the time to speak to me. How and when did you first become interested in cryonics?
“I learned of cryonics when I was young and it made sense to me to at least attempt to allow future medical technology to solve problems that current medicine cannot. Advancements in medicine seem to support this logic. Later, I learned about molecular nanotechnology and the hacking of life such as genetic engineering, stem cell tissue regeneration, 3D bio printing and other technologies that firmly support cryonics.”
What was it that led you to get actively involved in the cryonics movement and when did this come about?
“As a paramedic I have an interest in emergency medicine and have witnessed the power of technology over life and death. About 15 years ago, I signed up for cryonics with the Cryonics Institute – and in 2010 was elected to the Board of Directors. Five years ago, I was elected CI’s 4th President.”
Are you personally signed up for cryopreservation?
“Yes. All of CI’s management and our Board of Directors are signed up and thus have a vested interest in the success of cryonics. As a bylaw requirement, to be elected to the Board of Directors you have to first be a member signed up for suspension. This helps to discourage fraud or embezzlement since we are not in it for the money, but for the success of our mission goal.”
How many people are members of your organisation, and how many of those are currently in cryostasis?
“Approximately 1,350 people are signed-up – 140 of them frozen. The numbers are growing faster than in the past.”
It’s an urban myth that Walt Disney is cryopreserved, but could you describe an atypical cryonicist? What sort of people sign up for suspension?
“They tend to be well educated middle- to upper-class people with technology educations and a genuine optimism about the future. We are disproportionately represented by members of Mensa and people engaged in the fields of medicine and computers.”
What would you say have been the biggest advances in cryonics, medically and technologically, in the last twenty years?
“Vitrification [the process of freezing] and improved cryoperfusion formulas [the chemicals used in preservation] have been hugely important in recent years. And thanks to technology we now have better cryostats [storage units].
“Standby procedures are also improving – along with scales of economy as more people sign up. As medicine and technology advances, more and more people see cryonics as a rational and logical attempt to advance emergency medicine by running a sort of clinical trial. Cryonics is simply an ambulance to a future hospital.”
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about cryonics?
“I would recommend reading our popular misconceptions page, but I would have to say that the biggest misconception is that since our patients are dead, we are wasting our time. If this was the attitude in emergency medicine, we would not have CPR and cardiac defibrillation. Of course, 75 years ago if your heart stopped you were dead – or so everyone thought. Today people once considered dead are routinely brought back to life. No one can say for certain what the future will bring, but the smart bet is that we will in the future be able to do many things once considered impossible today. With cryonics, we have the process and time to find out what is possible and perhaps save lives – prematurely defined as dead – from the primitive present.”
With new advances and research, has the scientific and business worlds taken more of an interest in supporting cryonics?
“Yes. We have been approached by serious biotech companies who are considering investing money and research into cryonics and organ cryopreservation. Also, the [US] Department of Defense is currently offering $50 million in prize money for a successful organ cryopreservation, which, in turn, is driving forward interest in cryonics and vitrification technology.”
“Recent advances in 3D biological printers, stem cell regeneration, cloning, brain imaging, and molecular nanotechnology – all of these new sciences are helping to vindicate the science of cryonics and support the ultimate goal of some day repairing and rejuvenating those who were once considered dead.”
How do interested parties become members of the Cryonics Institute and how much can they expect to pay?
“Simply read our website at cryonics.org or call us for the membership application paperwork. Membership at the Cryonics Institute is a $1,250 one-time fee or $120 annually. After that, a member is allowed the ability to prefund a suspension at CI for $28,000. The price for non-membership suspension sign-up is $36,250. This pays for cryonic suspension and perpetual storage. Most of the money is invested so that the interest can pay for perpetual overhead and storage costs. Cryonics is very affordable and most people use life insurance to pay for cryopreservation by naming CI as their beneficiary.”
Finally, how far in the future will it be before it’s possible to revive cryonics patients?
“That’s a good but tough question. It’s always difficult to predict the future, but I think a reasonable estimate is no sooner than 45 years which is when futurist Ray Kurzweil is predicting accelerating technology will propel us forward at exponential rates.
“The conservative side of me, however, says no more than 200 years. I would hedge my answer with a range of between 45 and 200 years. Of course, predicting if something is possible and when it will happen are two completely different things. Fortunately cryonics buys us as much time as we need to figure out the medical science of revival and rejuvenation.”
Thank you for answering my questions, Dennis. Keep up the good work and count me in.
Cryonics: Who Wants to Live Forever?
Anyone interested in further information on the Cryonics Institute can contact Dennis at Dennis@Cryonics.org
About the Author Leon Horton is a cultural journalist and humorist. After completing his Masters at the University of Salford, he worked as a court reporter at Manchester Crown Court, cut his wrists on local magazines, enjoyed a caretaker stint as the editor of Old Trafford News then returned to freelance writing. His work is published in International Times, Literary Heist, Nexus Magazine, Empty Mirror and Erotic Review. His portfolio can be viewed at www.cuttings.me/leonhorton
‘Beauty Warriors’: Look at these bizarre devices used by women to seek unreal ‘perfection’
Every morning I get up, look in the mirror and say “How the hell did you get to be so handsome?” Well, if I don’t think I’m good looking, then who the hell will? Not that many would ever agree with my unbiased assessment, but what do I care? I know at least with a face like mine I can scare the kids every Halloween with minimal effort.
According to a recent survey, it’s estimated women will spend an average of $300,000 on face products alone during their lifetime. Beauty may be skin deep and in the eye of the beholder but it’s also a very BIG business.
From our partners at Vice
Our strange obsession with attaining some kind of artificial ideal of beauty is the focus of Latvian photographer Evija Laiviņa’s series of portraits Beauty Warriors. With each photograph, Laiviņa presents a portrait of a woman wearing some kind of bizarre beauty product which promises the wearer instant perfection. These gadgets were bought on eBay and range from lip-enhancers and nose straighteners, to devices for measuring just how out of whack our faces are. Which reminds me, I once interviewed a plastic surgeon in LA for a TV show, who offered to straighten my nose (broken in a barroom fight with a cop—long story) and remove the over-stuffed suitcases from under my eyes for some obscene amount of money. I kindly demurred—but in not so many words. He wasn’t too impressed with my reply.
Laiviņa took up photography in 2007. As soon as she got her hands on a camera, she knew this was the thing for her as a camera offered unlimited possibilities for creating art. In 2009, Laiviņa emigrated to Inverness, Scotland where she studied Contemporary Art Practice at the University of Highlands and Islands. She took an interest in identity, psychological problems, and human relationships. She also studied portraiture and staged photography. Which brings us back to Laiviņa’s critically-acclaimed series of portraits Beauty Warriors which questions our relationship with the beauty industry. As Laiviņa explains:
To be successful, you must be perfect and look perfect—these are our society’s rules, which we all follow without even realizing how ridiculous the standards are. We often forget about the importance of inner beauty.
The finished photographs go beyond being just amusing (or sad) to a point where we recognize the real beauty that’s in all of us. See more of Laiviņa’s work here.
The Cult Of Dom Keller, The Orange Revival, Radar Men From The Moon, Dead Rabbits, ^Mugstar and more.
Ian Robertson (Chromaticism) returns with another epic instalment of Chromaticism’s – ‘Revolutions On The Radio’. Originally broadcast at 9PM UK on Sunday 5th March 2017, only on Primal Radio www.primalradiolive.com.
On this episode Chromaticism takes a look back at Day 2 of the immense Fuzz Club Records Festival 2015.
The Orange revival, Dead Rabbits, The Janitors, MUGSTAR, Lola Colt, THE CULT OF DOM KELLER, The Myrrors and Radar Men from the Moon.
1,000-Year-Old Illustrated Guide to the Medicinal Use of Plants Now Digitized & Put Online
If you don’t much care for modern medicine, entire industries have arisen to provide you with more “alternative” or “natural” varieties of remedies, mostly involving the consumption of plants. Publishers have put out guides to their use by the dozens. In a way, those books have a place in a long tradition, stretching back to a time well before modern medicine existed as something to be an alternative to. Just recently, the British Library digitized the oldest such volume, a thousand-year-old illuminated manuscript known as the Cotton MS Vitellius C III. The book, writes the British Library’s Alison Hudson, “is the only surviving illustrated Old English herbal, or book describing plants and their uses.” (The sole condition note: “leaves damaged by fire in 1731.”)
The manuscript‘s Old English is actually the translation of “a text which used to be attributed to a 4th-century writer known as Pseudo-Apuleius, now recognized as several different Late Antique authors whose texts were subsequently combined.” It also includes “translations of Late Antique texts on the medicinal properties of badgers” and another text “on medicines derived from parts of four-legged animals.”
(Somehow one doesn’t imagine those latter sections playing quite as well with today’s alternative-medicine market.) Each entry about a plant or animal features “its name in various languages; descriptions of ailments it can be used to treat; and instructions for finding and preparing it.”
Quite a few of the species with which the guide deals would have been directly known to few or no Anglo-Saxons in those days, and some of the entries, such as the one describing dragonswort as ideally “grown in dragon’s blood,” seem more fanciful than others. As with many a Medieval work, the book freely mixes fact and lore: to pick the mandrake root (pictured at the top of the post), “said to shine at night and to flee from impure persons,” the guide recommends “an iron tool (to dig around it), an ivory staff (to dig the plant itself up), a dog (to help you pull it out), and quick reflexes.” You can behold these and other pages of the Cotton MS Vitellius C III in zoomable high resolution at the British Library’s online manuscript viewer. While the remedies themselves might never have been particularly effective, their accompanying illustrations do remain strange and amusing even a millennium later — and isn’t laughter supposed to be the best medicine?
(for Geoff Francis, Sandi Johnson and Nick and Vanessa Warwick)
From a story by Geoff Francis
Conservation is key, both to animals
And the planet, but more importantly,
Spirit thrives on the transplantation
Of care. Just last week, through sea blood
Such largesse found its limit
When the Cutty Sark housed Sea Shepherd’s fortieth anniversary
And world dare..
Formed to protect the wildlife
Across ravaged coastlines, a gala event
Saw Geoff Francis, No More Dodos
Painter prince donate art. His crests
And collision of paint entitled
Hidden Deep went to auction,
It’s sea swirl and texture revealing
The vast expanse of his heart.
A conservationist king, Francis creates
His own kingdom. And it is one he shares
Gamely with all of those who seek voice
From both beyond and within; subjects
Who seek the same vision in which his
Royal elevation (to monarch from prince)
Be part of the world and in that way
Join with others. These charities house
The towers to both accomplish
And defend. Seeing a beautiful guide dog
In the crowd and drawn as he is
To dog spirit, this new Assisi went
To greet it and the woman it leads
To make friends.
Visually impaired and grown worse
Sandi Johnson’s eyes once praised
Painting but now cannot reach them
As even a gallery’s glass prevents light.
Attuned as she is to the soul
That stirs the artist’s own pigment
Her love of the image was now something
To sense beyond sight.
Geoff Francis’ frame and the sea within
Was solution. Leading Sandi to it,
As a beach to sea, she could feel
The rivulets and the rim, the special
Depths, the ascensions, bringing to her
Dry eyes new water as a vibrancy grew
From the dim.
The secret treasures within restored
Faith and feeling. Moved as she was,
A clear vision and strong emotion grew
To claim her. She was as moved as the sea
And the sculpted turbulence of the painting,
Thanking Geoff, the dog led her away
From the scene and all words.
She didn’t hear the auction begin
And was not aware of the bidding.
Nick and Vanessa Warwick soon bought it
For £500. The artist thanked them
And spoke of Sandi’s reaction, fusing
The beauty of that with donation
As the Gala grew more profound.
What is epic in us? Surely it is the God gift
Of kindness. And so it was that the Warwicks
In gaining place formed new homes,
Both on land and at sea as they gave
Sandi Johnson the painting. Hidden Deep
Is the value of a rarely glimpsed unity.
For a crucial cause, vital acts
Joined the blind to fresh visions.
At a time of near evil, all eyes are open
When we recognise decency.
From painter to prize to pause
In descension. All at once,
A new shoreline and a place
Where the heart becomes free.
Illustration Nick Victor
On a train from Cardiff to London.
I have donated an original sculptural painting, a photograph and No More Dodos has given 2 of our signed Gordon Banks posters to the Sea Shepherd UK’s 40th Anniversary Auction.
In toto they raised £860.
The team who made up Animus ( Hilly Beavan, Anthony Lawrence and myself ) were long time admirers of Sea Shepherd from early on. In the early 80s I organised the first Animal Rights album ‘Animal Tracks’ with Country Joe McDonald. All revenue went to Sea Shepherd. Animus created a record label to release this album and the single ‘Blood on the Ice’.
Formed just 2 years ago, No More Dodos is a registered charity dedicated to highlighting the problems of habitat and biodiversity loss, with all its attendant causes to promote the work of those who are trying to halt its progress and to encourage individuals to take personal action.To do this we are uniquely using Art and Sport in their widest senses to inspire a concern amongst a wider population to bring about changes that are so necessary to save the planet and lifeforms we share it with. Fuller details can be found at http://www.nomoredodos.org
About Sea Shepherd UK
Sea Shepherd UK is a registered marine conservation charity whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife around the UK’s coastline and across the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
Sea Shepherd UK uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities committed against marine wildlife and habitats. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shepherd UK works to ensure their survival for future generations.
I had donated four pieces to the Sea Shepherd Auction at their 40th Anniversary Gala event. 2 posters signed by Gordon Banks for our charity No More Dodos, a photograph of mine which had appeared in The National Maritime museum and
an original sculptural painting – ‘ Hidden Deep .’
Like much of my work it was created using discarded paints in what I believe is my own idiosyncratic sculptural style.
I am always drawn to dogs and when I spotted a beautiful black labrador guidedog in the crowd I just had to say hello to Kane.
I began to talk with his ward Sandi ( Johnson) and learned she had begun to lose her sight aged 12 and now had deteriorating peripheral vision. She told me that she loved art but could not see anything like that without an extremely strong magnifying device and then only rarely since most things were looked away behind glass.
“ Not this one. This was made for you to experience “, I said and led here across to Hidden Deep and invited her to run her hands across the canvas.
At first she was quite tentative and timid in her approach.
The painting was created as a statement about the things that are hidden in the oceans, the dark deeds of humanity which Sea Shepherd inspiringly and bravely bring to the surface. I had dropped 3 threads of a deep red industrial paint on the surface to represent the destruction beneath. Differing in texture it was raised and I led her fingers to it.
She exclaimed “ I have never experienced Art like this. I think I am going to cry.”
If there was ever a better justification of my work than in those words I have never heard it.
We talked in front of the painting for a long while and she asked what it was likely to sell at.
At this point Kane decided it was time to take Sandi back to where she had been sitting.
She did not hear the auction announcement.
Hidden Deep sold immediately at the reserve of £500.
The purchasers were Vanessa and Nick Warwick.
I went across to thank them.
As we talked I told them Sandi’s experience, but omitted any indication that she would have liked to have bid.
The couple went and paid for the picture during which time they had made the most wonderful decision.
They did no more than go to Sandi and tell her they wanted to give it to her.
I watched her face .She was shocked, speechless as the tears trickled down her face.
Over an hour later she told me she was still shaking.
Everyone I have told has loved our story.
It truly belongs to all of us including Kane of course.
Reactions have been tears ,clutching hearts and real chills.
These are from email exchanges between Sandi and the Warwicks.
Am waiting addtions
“I can’t really put into words how overwhelmed I was by your generous gift on Saturday night, it was such a kind thing to do.
As you can see from the photos below, it takes pride of place in our kitchen dining room, closely guarded by Kane.
Thank you so much again for your kindness, I have been telling friends and family the story and nobody can believe it!
Hope we meet again where I may have a little more to say for myself than the last time we met.”
“The truth is that we (those that attended) were all, as a collective, the kindest people because we really genuinely care.
No one person was kinder. What WE are protecting is important.
The painting was, as I learned, always yours, only you could appreciate it by feel as much as I/we did by sight – it would be wrong to have kept it, as much as we liked it.
It makes us so happy that you have it in pride and place and we will never forget that.
The painting looks perfect in it’s place.
Vanessa says “ You seemed the perfect owner of the picture and, from the photos you have kindly sent us, it looks like it was made for that spot!
We hope you enjoy your painting in the years to come.”
Sandi Johnson, Vanessa and Nick Warwick
photo Geoff Francis
Vanessa and Nick Warwick with Hidden Deep photo Geoff Francis
sea shepherd logo project onto cutty sark hull
photo Geoff Francis
Following on from the David Gascoyne Centennial of 2016, poets Jeremy Reed and Niall McDevitt aim to keep the beacon lit by inaugurating the first of what will be an annual celebration of England’s profoundest modernist poet.
Tuesday Oct 10 at Pentameters Theatre, The Horseshoe, 28 Heath Street, (entrance at Oriel Place), Hampstead, NW3 6TE. 8pm. £5
Excellent pamphlet from Black Rose Anarchist Federation compiling the writings of black anarchists such as Lucy Parsons and Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin to less well-known activists from the USA, Africa and Latin America, highlighting the contribution of black people to both the historical and contemporary anarchist movement.
In the expansive terrain of anarchist history, few events loom as large as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Countless books, films, songs, pamphlets, buttons, t-shirts, and more are rightfully devoted to this transformative struggle for social revolution by Spanish workers and peasants. But digging through the mountain of available material, little can be found on black militants in the Spanish revolution, like the one featured in the powerful photo on the cover of this reader — a member of the Bakunin Barracks in Barcelona, Spain 1936, and a symbol of both the profound presence and absence of Black anarchism internationally.
For more than 150 years, black anarchists have played a critical role in shaping various struggles around the globe, including mass strikes, national liberation movements, tenant organizing, prisoner solidarity, queer liberation, the formation of autonomous black liberation organizations, and more.
Our current political moment is one characterized by a global resurgence of Black rebellion in response to racialized state violence, criminalization, and dispossession. Black and Afro-diasporic communities in places like Britain, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Colombia and the US have initiated popular social movements to resist conditions of social death and forge paths toward liberation on their own terms. Given the anti-authoritarian spirit of these struggles, the time is ripe to take a closer look at anarchism more broadly, and Black anarchism in particular.
The deceptive absence of Black anarchist politics in the existing literature can be attributed to an inherent contradiction found within the Eurocentric canon of classical anarchism which, in its allegiance to a Western conception of universalism, overlooks and actively mutes the contributions by colonized peoples. In recent years, Black militants, and others dedicated to Black anarchist politics, have gone a long way toward bringing Black anarchism into focus through numerous essays, books, interviews, and public talks, many of which are brought together for the first time in this reader.
Our hope is that this reader will serve as a fruitful contribution to ongoing dialogues, debates, and struggles occurring throughout the Black diaspora about how to move forward toward our liberation globally. “Anarchism,” noted Hannibal Abdul Shakur, “like anything else finds a radical new meaning when it meets blackness.” While this reader brings us closer to “a radical new meaning” for anarchism, there are glaring gaps that need to be filled to get a fuller picture of Black anarchism, particularly the vital contributions of black women, queer militants, and more folks from the Global South.
Black Rose Anarchist Federation / Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra
“God laughs and snaps his fingers. The only thing for man to do is snap his fingers back.”
– The Boy Hairdresser (1960), Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
London, 9 August, 1967. At the height of his short-lived fame, Joe Orton – anarchic playwright and cause célèbre of the English theatre – is found murdered at 25 Noel Road, Islington, his brains bashed in by his long-term lover and one-time collaborator Kenneth Halliwell. Divided in life by Orton’s hard-won success as a writer, the two are forever united in death when Halliwell savagely bludgeons Orton with a hammer then takes a fatal dose of sedatives.
In the hip chic of late 60s London, Orton, it seemed, had everything a “with it” gay writer could possibly want: a West End smash with his second play Loot, winner of the Evening Standard Award for the Best Play of 1966, holidays in Morocco where the drugs were cheap and the boys even cheaper. After years in obscurity, everyone wanted a piece of him. And on the day of his gruesome death, he was due to meet director Richard Lester to discuss his film script commissioned for The Beatles: Up Against It.
Halliwell, conversely, had nothing to show for the wilderness years spent mentoring his protégé – and his valium-suppressed jealousy ran deep. Holed up in their tiny squalid bedsit, sustaining their meagre existence on Halliwell’s dwindling inheritance, the two aspiring writers had written several unpublished novels together, were for a time allied in their lives and literary endeavours by dreams of a success that eluded them.
But even failure couldn’t last.
With Orton’s meteoric rise to fame (after a life- and career-defining spell in prison for defacing library books), it was he who now controlled the purse strings, he who was lauded in the Observer as “the Oscar Wilde of Welfare State gentility”, he alone who was invited to all the right parties. Halliwell, who had given up writing, whose literary ambitions Orton had absorbed and then eclipsed, was reduced to a mere footnote – a dedication in the programme of Orton’s first full-length stage play Entertaining Mr Sloane.
But if it was Orton’s success as a writer that brought down the hammer, it was his blatant and unabashed sexual promiscuity that put the nail in his coffin. For Halliwell was not merely envious of Orton’s literary achievements; he was the cuckolded lover, the long-suffering wife caught at the crossroads where many partners of the famous disembark. Overlooked, underappreciated, first wives are often left at the kerb, muttering threats of revenge. Paranoid that Orton would leave him, not without justification, Halliwell desperately tried to legitimise his own position as fundamental and indispensable to Orton’s success to anyone within earshot. It was an invitation to a killing.
Orton and his plays are often regarded (or dismissed) as a product of the swinging 60s, as little more than an adjunct of pop counter-culture and the sexual revolution, and while he certainly earned his place in that pantheon, there’s more to it than that. His battles were won and lost in those Beatle-heady days, certainly, but they weren’t fought there.
They were fought in his impoverished Leicester childhood in the 1940s, against a domineering mother and a weak father. They were fought at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) over his ambition and ultimate failure to make it as an actor in the 1950s. Ultimately, they were fought against a prejudiced and repressed society – brought into sharp focus by his and Halliwell’s harsh treatment at the hands of the authorities when they were caught defacing library books in 1962. “The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul,” Orton said of his six months in prison. Privately, he contended that their stiff sentence was “because we were queers.”
Perversely, prison gave Orton a taste of freedom. For the first time in 11 years, he was separated from Halliwell, began writing on his own and duly delivered a radio play, The Ruffian on the Stair, to the BBC. Halliwell was humiliated by and repentant of his incarceration – a symbolic reminder of the wider failures in his life – whereas Orton found a new voice and detachment to his anger. Having reached rock bottom, he was no longer stymied by society’s values, and he savoured his newfound role as literary outlaw and bona fide criminal. Halliwell, on the other hand, would attempt to slit his wrists within a year of release.
With his star in the ascendency, Orton faced the perennial problem of the outsider artist: how to stick two subversive fingers up and at `em, the mainstream, without being absorbed by it. Orton no more needed social or sexual acceptance than a bone needs a dog, and sex was his solution. Comedy, vengeful and violent, was Orton’s genre, but sex as both weapon and shield was his modus operandi. “Sex is the only way to infuriate them,” he noted in his diary in 1967, as he rewrote his last play What the Butler Saw. “Much more fucking and they’ll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.” Even by the liberal standards of modern theatre, Orton’s dramatic use of sex as a means of control – with homosexuality, transvestism, incest and nymphomania vying for pole position – was seen by many as a deliberate affront to good taste.
In life as in his work, Orton’s approach to sex was defiantly Dionysian and held up a mirror to the hypocrisies of polite society. “You must do whatever you like as long as you enjoy it and don’t hurt anybody else,” he once told his friend, actor and stalwart of the Carry On films Kenneth Williams. Williams, an outrageously camp and acerbic performer in public, was a privately repressed man who felt guilty about his sexuality – a hangover from a bygone age that Orton totally rejected. “Get yourself fucked if you want to,” Orton told him. “Get yourself anything you like. Reject all the values of society. And enjoy sex. When you’re dead, you’ll regret not having fun with your genital organs.”
Orton practiced what he preached and delighted in regaling friends and colleagues, if only to note their reactions, with lurid tales of his sexual adventures. Williams himself recorded a particular occasion in his own diary, 30 April 1967, when strolling through Hyde Park with Orton and Halliwell, Orton casually recounted picking up a stranger near a public toilet:
“We’d been eyeing each other warily – and this fellow asked, ‘You got a place we can go?’” Joe said (in front of Halliwell), “I told him that I lived with someone, and it wasn’t convenient. The man replied, ‘I often get picked up by queers round here… They’re not all effeminate either, some of them are really manly and you’d never dream they were queer. Not from the look of them. But I can always tell `cos they’ve all got LPs of Judy Garland. That’s the big give away.’” I told Joe, “It’s marvellous the way you remember dialogue as well as the accents! You really capture the flavour of the personality you’re describing.” Joe said, “Yes, I’ve started a diary.” I said, “Pepys put all his references to sexual matters in code so that no one would know.” Joe said, “I don’t care who knows.”
Whether he cared or not, Orton’s diary (titled Diary of a Somebody) chronicles the last eight months of his life, his increasing literary success, and his disintegrating relationship with Halliwell, against the backdrop of the swinging sixties. Started in December 1966 but not published until 1986, the diary knowingly (knowingly in the sense that Orton knew it would one day be published) details his sexual peccadilloes in such a curiously dispassionate and often dismal manner that on 23 December 1966 he is able to write:
“On the way home I met an ugly Scotsman who said he liked being fucked. He took me somewhere in his car and I fucked him up against a wall. The sleeve of my rainmac is covered in whitewash. It won’t come off. I hate Christmas.” Then, six days later, on the way to his mother’s funeral: “I arrived in Leicester at 4.30. I had a bit of quick sex in a derelict house with a labourer I picked up… He took his pants down. He wouldn’t let me fuck him. I put it between his legs. He sucked my cock after I’d come. He didn’t come himself. It was pissing with rain when we left the house. Mud all over the place.”
That Orton adopts such a gloomy tone over these chance encounters has little to do with the death of his mother, as you might expect, when you consider his somewhat more upbeat entry on the 30 December 1966, the very day of her funeral. “After I left Leonie [his sister], I picked up an Irishman… He had a white body. Not in good condition. Going to fat. Very good sex, though, surprisingly. The bed had springs which creaked. First time I’ve experienced that. He sucked my cock. Afterwards I fucked him. It was difficult to get in. He had a very tight arse. A Catholic upbringing, I expect. He wanted to fuck me when I’d finished. It seemed unfair to refuse after I’d fucked him. So I let him.”
And so his sexual trawling continues throughout the diary, writ large, ad infinitum: from a bacchanal orgy in an underground toilet, where “the little pissoir under the bridge had become the scene of a frenzied homosexual saturnalia. No more than two feet away the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business” – to sunnier climaxes in Tangiers, Morocco, where even Halliwell could relax in the heat of hashish and Arab rent boys who “do it for sweets”. Morocco, at that time, was an infamous destination for predatory homosexuals with a sweet tooth, and Orton and Halliwell were no exception, indulging in a daily regime of sybaritic proportions. But all the while, both were painfully aware that no matter how bright the Moroccan sun shone, the damp, squalid isolation of 25 Noel Road, Islington was only a postcard’s throw away.
If Orton was being irresponsible in his sex life, he took no responsibility whatsoever over Halliwell’s declining mental state. After years of bickering, of violent arguments and threats to commit suicide, Orton was inured to Halliwell’s pain, but with his new sense of worth, he could not empathize with it. Halliwell was seeing a psychiatrist, taking increasing doses of sedatives and, numb to the world, shrinking away from everything but Orton himself. Their tiny flat, the walls of which Halliwell had covered in collages, making it seem even more claustrophobic, was his theatre and fortress. For Orton, the place was tainted, and he talked often to friends about the possibility of leaving.
But he never did.
On the 5 May 1967, Orton wrote in his diary: “When I got back home Kenneth H was in such a rage that he’d written in large letters on the wall ‘JOE ORTON IS A SPINELESS TWAT’. He sulked for a while and then came around. He’d been to the doctors and got 400 valium tablets. Later we took two each and had an amazing sexual session. I’d decided to fuck him. But it didn’t work out. ‘I’m not sure what the block is,’ I said. ‘I can fuck other people perfectly well. But up to now, I can’t fuck you. This is something quite strange.’” Three months later both would be dead. The writing was on the wall.
At 41, Halliwell was no stranger to death. It had clung to him since childhood. In 1937, when he was just eleven years-old, his mother was stung in the mouth by a wasp and died in front of him. Twelve years later, he came down to breakfast to find his father with his head in the oven, dead from asphyxiation. With a cold, hard logic reminiscent of one of Orton’s characters, Halliwell claimed to have made a cup of tea and had a shave before informing the neighbours, but his parents’ deaths haunted him for the rest of his life. At RADA in 1953, he told a fellow student “I’ll end up like my father and commit suicide.”
Two weeks before their deaths, Orton and Halliwell discussed the nature of their relationship, and relationships in general, with Kenneth Williams, who records visiting the couple in his diary, Just Williams, on 23 July 1967: “We fell to discussing relationships. ‘Sharing of any kind means an invasion of privacy,’ I said. Joe talked about his horror of involvement. ‘I need to be utterly free.’ I quoted Camus’ line, ‘All freedom is a threat to someone,’ whereupon K.H. declared ‘Love is involvement, you can’t live without love.’ ‘There are many definitions of love,’ said Joe, ‘it depends on your point of view. You can love your work and be entirely committed to the pursuit of perfection.’ ‘Sexual promiscuity,’ he said, now provided him with material for his writing; ‘I need to be a fly on the wall’. But Kenneth Halliwell disagreed: ‘It’s alright letting off steam on holiday but a home life should have the stability of a loyal relationship.’ ‘You sound like a heterosexual,’ Joe countered, but Halliwell stuck to his guns and said that promiscuity led to wasted aims: ‘You can only live properly if it’s for a person or for God.’
For Orton, both man and writer, there could be no comic revenge against an unjust and cruel “God” without anarchy, and his sordid sexual adventures were a logical extension of this. Anonymous encounters with strangers fuelled his appetite for self-destruction as a creative act and confirmed his conviction that only in pursuit of the forbidden could he unshackle himself from the suffocating environs of conventional living.
It has been dramatised on stage, screen and in books, but no one really knows what happened that night, August 9, 1967 – how the final scene played out between these stage-struck lovers. As a denouement, the tableau that faced the police when they forced their way into the claustrophobic bedsitter fits the billing. They found Orton in bed, his blood and brains splattered up the heavily collaged wall that had become Halliwell’s sole creative outlet. They found Halliwell – Orton’s blood on his hands, chest and head – naked on the linoleum floor. Next to his body was an empty can of grapefruit juice that helped speed twenty-two Nembutals into his system, killing him within minutes. They found a note on top of a red-grained binder that was Orton’s diary. It read:
If you read his diary all will
Especially the latter part.
It is fifty years since Orton’s untimely and melodramatic death, and it is fair to say that his plays no longer carry the shock and awe they once did. Yet Orton, like his writing, remains enigmatic and elusive – brilliant but difficult, elegant but easy to misunderstand. The press dubbed him an enfant terrible, and Orton willingly played the part. But in living his life at the extreme, when it came to exceeding to the bitter demands of a life in the limelight, Orton inadvertently became a character in his own macabre drama.
He would have seen the funny side.
About the Authors
Leon Horton is a cultural journalist and humorist. After gaining his masters from the University of Salford, he worked as a court reporter at Manchester Crown Court, cut his wings on local magazines, enjoyed a caretaker stint as the editor of Old Trafford News then returned to freelance writing. His work is published in International Times,Erotic Review, Literary Heist, Empty Mirror and Nexus Magazine. His portfolio can be viewed at www.clippings.me/leonhorton
Stephen James is an artist who uses words, collage, sound and photography for the gathering, distortion and dissemination of information. He is currently studying Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work is published in International Times,Erotic Review and Empty Mirror.
One of my favourite art places in this sceptered isle is a subterranean studio off a side street, off a main road, in Clerkenwell, London. This is L-13 Light Industrial Workshop – Private Ladies and Gentleman’s Club for Art, Leisure and the Disruptive Betterment of Culture. It’s good down there, it smells right – of turps, linseed oil and dust – with great humour, and a playfulness bordering on glee. There is no ‘speaking in tongues’, as heard in much of the art world. They call a spade a spade, and don’t hold back on ‘cunt’ now and again. Some fine Fine Art is being made too. Steve Lowe and Adam Wood run the place and form the art duo Harry Adams and…
First quick question – Was Harry Adams really named after a Hastings fisherman?
The short answer to that is ‘No’. The longer answer is that we decided on Harry Adams as a name in the way a band might choose a name, so it had its own logic. We wanted one that sounded like it belonged to a good old-fashioned solid painter, and it had to begin with ‘A’ so we’d be at the top of the list in group shows. It was a year or so later that I moved to Hastings and discovered that Adams was a common name amongst the fishing community. After that we fantasized that Harry Adams was the son of a hardened Hastings fisherman – a frail sensitive child who suffered from seasickness and preferred to stay at home drawing and painting whilst his brothers and sisters faced the harsh elements of the high seas and brought home the catch. Much to the disappointment of his father who eventually chucked him out to make his own way in life!
Harry Adams at work
JW…as I was saying… Harry makes paintings of oil paint and wax. Many of these are landscapes with the magical up-lit qualities of Samuel Palmer. So these are people that can cock a snook, while snookering commercialism and hollow art values. I’d known L-13 in previous incarnations as the Aquarium Gallery in the Farringdon Road, on a site where a Zeppelin bomb had exploded in WW1 and before that a small gallery in Woburn Walk, Bloombury that looked like a set for Little Dorrit. I used to hang out in those places too, getting a good conversation and a decent cup of tea. My introduction to Aquarium mark one, came when Blair unleashed a war. My old friend Ruth Boswell curated Pax Brittanica, an exhibition of anti-war artists in 2003. An exhibition of painting can’t, of course, stop politicians with the doggedness of, well, mad dogs, firing missiles into someone else country – but it does shift awareness. It’s this fusion of art and political activism that I have found lively and imperative in Steve’s spaces. That, and the hilarious play with management speak, like exhibitions called paperwork, London Mayors referred to as Managers.
I asked Steve some questions for International Times.
Steve, I don’t want to do one of those interviews, where every question requires an MA art theory answer, and drains your energy and time – so be as pithy or as full blown as you like. What you’re about in L-13 seems to be exemplified by a quote from a recent interview.
‘Just because the art world is shit and will make bastards of us all, it doesn’t mean we can’t make art.’
Can you tell us what you mean?
I enjoy making art and working with other artists, but I’m really not a big fan of the art world as defined by commercial galleries and state funded/sanctioned institutions. Its history is dominated by wealth and power, so ultimately war and oppression rather than creativity and enlightenment. It still is, and the art market a corrupting environment that’s both alluring and repulsive with its hollow promise of riches and cynical use of cultural currency to achieve that. It is also totally unregulated and the practices at the high end would not be tolerated in any other business. So, I find making art and being involved on the fringes of all that both fascinating and conflicting. I was at art school in the 1980’s and back then I thought it was the job of artists to challenge the orthodox/mainstream culture, not to contribute to or encourage it. As a youngster I loved making art. Starting off drawing and painting, then at art school moving on to making artist books, installations and noise performances. I did all these things with passion, but found the concerns of the art fraternity stifling, pious, and ultimately, boringly shallow. Everyone hated the noise performances, but otherwise I was a good student, and to all tense and purposes I could have gone on to pursue a career in art. But I really lost faith and the idea repulsed me… I particularly didn’t want to end up as an art tutor, so a month before finishing my Masters in Belfast I dropped out saying I hated all art and artists. I then didn’t set foot in a gallery for about 15 years whilst I pursued a highly creative life playing in bands and working out how to survive without ever having a proper job. When I started the aquarium in 2003 I still didn’t want to get involved with art as such. That’s partly why I didn’t want to be known as a ‘gallery’. But as I got seduced back into making work and eventually painting again I could only do it if I didn’t think too hard about where the end product may end up. Despite my ethical concerns I am also a pragmatist, and now able to maintain an almost amoral position on this. There are so many good things that evolve out of the community of artists I work with, I’m not going to let the evils of the wider world stop us from having our fun. For further reading Neal Jones’ essay Art Is Not Nice quite eloquently gives his take on the subject. The essay is in a book of his writings called Kate Middleton’s Face, to be published by us later this month.
What’s it feel like to do a Harry Adams? Or can you only have half a feeling? Or maybe you have all the buzz one week, and its Adam’s turn the week after? How do you divvy out the joy? Or the angst if it isn’t going well.
I love making Harry Adams paintings, but sometimes it is difficult and frustrating, sometimes it is too easy. The ups and downs are part of the holistic experience. I’d say painting in collaboration with Adam gives double the pleasure and angst rather than half. We rarely work on the same piece these days. Occasionally one of us will take over from what the other has been working on, but more often each painting is by one hand. What we share is the process, subject matter, and aesthetics, often using each other’s work to help develop our own. There’s also a lot of shared discussion so we never feel like a lone artist. In that sense we have no over-riding sense of individual ego or attachment to our own pieces, because they all relate so much to the other. It’s a proper partnership.
Harry Adams Industrial Building
Your ‘whole’ artists, Billy Childish, Jamie Reid, Neal Jones, James Cauty….er, no women? What happened to that divine painter Geraldine Swayne?
No, no women “artists” any more. Geraldine is out there doing very well with her painting, and as far as I know, still playing with Faust. I think she is now represented by the Fine Art Society. The deficit in female representation use to bother me more when I ran a regular programme of exhibitions, so I was very happy to show Geraldine, also Anne Pigalle and Charlotte Young, but for some reason an ongoing working relationship never developed with them. I think the problem is that I don’t represent artists, and the artists choose me to work with as much as I choose them. Maybe women artists just don’t like me. I can be a bit bossy and I’m always right which can be a bit frustrating for those who know better. The “male art” ego may be more resilient to that. Nowadays the best female presence is at L-13 in the form of Sophie Polyviou who’s my right hand woman in running things. She’s pretty tough and doesn’t take any shit from me + also very hands on at making prints and editions etc, so an important part of all L-13 creations and beyond. She’s also a member of Sisters of Perpetual Resistance, a radical feminist art group who oppose patriarchal bastards like me – So, even though I don’t or can’t work with them directly, I do feel some allegiance to their work. Here’s a photo I took of Sophie outside Trump Tower in her Sister’s hood when we were in NY to launch Jamie Reid’s Trump Swastika Eyes prints. In the end, I am aware that L-13 is male dominated partly because of the way I work in response to demands on me, but we’re all sensitive souls, and when it comes to it, it’s all about collaboration and Sophie is as important as anyone else. That’s my excuse anyway.
Sophie Polyviou outside Trump Tower
Jamie Reid God Save the USA
JW…where was I? Your artists seemed to be steeped in the tradition of content above form, and, yes I have to say it, aesthetic principles – but as far away from the Prince Charles school of thought as its possible to get. Before I continue with my question – do you think the heir apparent would like it down here?
No probably not. Although he might like our 1825 Albion Press and the fact that we paint. I wouldn’t seek his endorsement though, and don’t really know or care what he or any other Royal might be into.
OK. There are values here; the love of stuff, and landscape, weather and materiality. No gimmicks. There is beauty too in the work both of Harry and Billy Childish. The romance of the loaded brush and all that. Do you think there is something going on here that defies subversion or satire?
Oh, definitely. When it comes to making painting there’s already enough historical and codified cultural baggage without trying to hang satire or irony on it. As soon as you do it ceases to function as painting… or the painting becomes a cypher for something else. That said I do truly believe in painting in the 21st Century as an act of subversion. Contemporary society and culture doesn’t want dirty messy paintings full of beauty and simplicity with ever changing complex readings. It wants cold clinical clarity, cleanliness and easily PR’able concepts. Go to any major contemporary gallery or international art fair and you’ll see what I mean. On the whole, they lack love and soul and really don’t want it. That’s far too human and messy.
Say something about the process and materials; the wax and the paint.When we started making paintings again we really wanted to make visceral earthy works. We chose oil paint because it smells, looks and feels great. Organic, mineral and real rather than plastic and fake like acrylic. We also painted on humble cotton dustsheets and hessian for the same reason. We just like the colour and feel of the material and really can’t understand bright white primed canvas. We also started using beeswax encaustic (beeswax melted with damar resin) for its natural visceral qualities. First to help build up tactile surfaces and more recently as a beautiful translucent surface to work on. Through using these materials we’ve developed various processes and techniques that keep us interested and the paintings evolving.
You used to make music, the pair of you, once described as Einsturzende Neubauten without the tunes. I love this, but have no idea what it means. Can you elucidate?
Einsturzende Neubauten are a German “industrial” rock band. Back in the 1980s their main instruments were steel plates, mallets and angle grinders. They also destroyed the ICA stage during a performance that greatly impressed me. They were a rock band though, so song structures and rock‘n roll posturing were still the main ingredients behind the noise and mayhem. The stuff me and Adam were doing at art school was more about the pure noise, mic-ing up and amplifying to an extreme level anything we could lay our hands on. We thought it could generate something truly beautiful, but most people thought it was punishing and horrible. A lot of people couldn’t understand bands like Einsturzende Neubauten as music, so it became a bit of a joke to describe ourselves as something worse. We find things like that entertaining. Later on after college we went on to be in more regular bands with guitars and songs and tunes, but even then we kept some of the awkward defiance. We weren’t too interested in entertainment.
I have always adored the Finger of God painting machine. Is it still going? Can we have a look?
Hairyenormous Cock poster and Finger of God painting Pink.
Yes it’s still going and it will keep going until 2031 when the last painting in the series will be made. Here it is + a photo of one of its paintings (I’ll send separately with other images). For an explanation of what the Finger of God Painting Machine is a full report can be found here
Jimmy Cauty is your most politically engaged artist, and was included in the recent Dismaland event with Banksy in Weston Super Mare. I used to be taken there every summer on holiday as a kid. We had a shed in the sand dunes called a chalet – and it was heaven. Such a shame to see WSM and other seas-side places going to rack and ruin. What is Jimmy’s notion of the good society? Can a gallerist speak for his artists in this way? Would you call yourself a gallerist? Or maybe a spaceman?
No, I wouldn’t describe myself as a gallerist and I’ve tried to avoid being defined by the various roles I’ve taken on. I quite like spaceman though… on a poetic, not literal level. But no matter what, I’m not sure I could say what Jimmy’s notion of a good society is. What I can tell you is that he’s fun and engaging to work with and The ADP model he showed at Dismaland is a fantastic piece. After it was shown there we had it fitted into a 40ft shipping container and toured it to historic riot sites on the ADP Riot Tour. Doing this generated a huge amount of positive energy and good will in communities all over the country, and is a sublime example of how art can be used to create spectacle and engagement in a very genuine way. More recently we also helped Jimmy and Bill Drummond with The JAMs’ comeback event in Liverpool where the 400 members of the audience became the players in 3 days of activities. Their mercurial and non-prescriptive way of working really appeals to me. They just get on with stuff and don’t worry too much about what they’re doing and why. We’re just about to release a 7” single with an extract from the audio book version of 2023 A Trilogy published by Faber this summer, and The JAMs have now entered the funeral business! And I’m not making that up. They’ve teamed up with the Green Funeral Company to build a ‘People’s Pyramid’ made from bricks fired with human ashes. You can sign up for this and buy your brick fromhttps://mumufication.com
ADP Riot Tour arriving in Leeds
There is a capacity for art making in all of us, but some run with it. Is it then a matter of who you know in the art world? Or your world? How did your artists come to you, or did you come on to them.
I’ve already said that I think the artists I work with chose me as much as I chose them. I suppose I’m quite sensitive to a particular ‘off the beaten track’ world-view that we all share, but really it’s more to do with an almost insatiable appetite for making and doing – and as you say ‘running with it’. A lot of what we do would be considered counterproductive in the art world, as we overproduce and revel in confusion and high spirits. If you’re after success in the art world then who you know really does matter. Billy is now represented by a major gallery in Berlin because he befriended Matthew Higgs in the early 1990’s, who’s become a highly influential curator, was instrumental in Billy’s exhibition at the ICA in 2010 that led to Billy meeting Tim Neuger again who had also shown Billy as a young dealer 20 years before. Tim Neuger now runs neugerriemschneider with Burkhard Reimschneider, and they’re a powerful and important commercial gallery. All that lives outside the main thrust of L-13 though. If Billy hadn’t had some recognition and commercial success with his paintings I am sure we’d still be doing what we’re doing now.
You once told me you thought that children’s art wasn’t art, but a form of reflexive activity by small people in development. Do you still think that? If so what about Neal Jones?
I think you must be paraphrasing me in a much better way than I could have said that. But yes, I still think that, with the caveat that I don’t care if it’s art or not. My interest in making paintings again was as much to do with watching my daughter paint as a toddler as much as it was watching Billy paint and me engaging with the history of art again. I suppose I’m seeking the purity and unfettered simplicity of the way a child might paint with a good dose of codified art nonsense to keep me entertained and curious about what it is we’re doing. I suppose Neal Jones is the same. Even though his paintings and objects have a childlike quality they are not faux naïve or cute. They tend to lean towards a curious, beautiful and defiant ugliness; and within that there are some very fine nuances that only someone immersed in the codes of painting could develop.
Neal Jones Happy Shopper
The great Communard and painter Gustav Courbet once said, that all art owed more to other art than it ever did to nature. Do you agree with that? And can you tell us how and if Harry Adams and the others have shared their creative juices?
Yes, I mostly I agree with that. Art is a human construct and a language that has developed alongside the needs of society. That said, I also think the need to be creative doesn’t need art, and painting at its best could be like nature. When we’re painting a sky say, we don’t always attempt to illustrate it. We’ll allow thinned paint to spread and bleed and run, to form its own natural version of form and space… like the sky but not a picture of it. Trees can also just be splodges of paint. Alongside that we will also directly reference other art, sometimes doing versions of paintings that fascinate us for some reason. A lot of the religious imagery and all the Impossible Garden paintings are arrived at through looking at paintings from 20 BC onwards.
Steve, you are having an L:13 jumble sale on October 19th in Hackney Wick. Give it a plug here.
Yes, a friend is opening a new space in Hackney Wick and he asked us if we’d do something for it, so we decided on something that’s a bit more lively than a regular exhibition. So Yep, come, see and buy the, lost, forgotten, disregarded and unrewarded work of Harry Adams, Pete Bennett, James Cauty, Billy Childish, Neal Jones, Jamie Reid, STOT21stCplanB, Art Hate and anything else found in the archive drawers and deep storage at L-13 HQ. Rarities to rejects: Some terrible stuff that should never see the light of day, some stuff that’s too good to be true. All available to rummage through, see and buy for 3 days only
The full title is:
The L-13 Light Industrial Jumble Sale
Odds & Sods
Rarities & Rejects
Other Regurgitated Art Shit
from the Last 13 Years”
October 19th, 20th & 21st
PV October 19th 6pm-9pm
at BLASÉ, 55 Wallis Road, Hackney Wick, E9 5LH
Jumble Sale poster
Can I come?
Yes, everyone is welcome, but particularly you.
Wouldn’t miss it for the (art) world. See you there with my purse.
Scientific evidence has now demonstrated that crabs, lobsters, prawns and crayfish are highly likely to experience pain and even emotional anxiety.
An EU panel has stated that many of the ways in which these animals are currently slaughtered are inhumane. They are often simply torn apart or boiled alive. Boiling alive can take them around 3 minutes to die, something which would be considered completely unacceptable in a vertebrate animal like a pig or chicken. Moreover, live crabs have been found for sale packaged and bound tightly in plastic to be slaughtered at home by the customer. Authorities were powerless to prosecute because crabs aren’t currently covered under animal welfare legislation.
Given the latest scientific evidence we believe this is unacceptable. We’re taking action. Please join us!
Our aim is to get the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) to include decapod crustaceans e.g. crabs, lobsters, prawns, crayfish and shrimp. This means that anyone farming them, storing them or slaughtering them must abide by basic animal welfare rules – providing enough food, decent water quality, protection from pain and suffering, and humane slaughter methods. Importantly, the Animal Welfare Act already allows for the inclusion of these animals should sufficient scientific evidence become available of their ability to experience pain or suffering.
Many countries have already done this – in New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, some Australian states and territories, and in some European cities, decapod crustaceans are recognized as sentient creatures and afforded relevant legal animal welfare protection.
Tell George Eustice and DEFRA that the time has come to protect decapod crustaceans by including them in the Animal Welfare Act!
As many already know, on September 18, 2017 the Senate passed a bill authorizing a further $700 billion to be injected into the coffers of the Pentagon’s military industrial complex, whose primary role is ceaseless global hegemonic expansion, under the deceitful banner of ‘protecting the national interest’.
The US already has over 1,000 military bases spread all over the world. Each exerting a strong geopolitical influence within its particular domain. The budget which supports these bases and the troops, air power and naval presence which goes with them, amounts to 54% of Federal discretionary spending.
The feverish determination to retain and expand the US position as the planet’s number one bully boy, has been accompanied by an unprecedented escalation in the rhetoric of war and violence.
The vitriolic exchanges between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Yong-un, bear testimony to the levels of depravity each party is prepared to descend to in threatening the other with various shades of annihilation. Within the shifting parameters of this slanging match, it is worth noting that North Korea actually has something to defend: its sovereignty and independence from the ever present threat of US hegemony.
As far as the US and NATO are concerned, no one has any right to nuclear weapons except those who openly support ‘the allies’. ‘The allies’ being a small club of nations that hold a common view on the enforcement of ‘a new world order’, through the auspices of a militarily backed, hierarchical central control system with which to manage global affairs.
The warped psychology which lies behind this deeply aggressive, anti humanitarian vision of a New World Order, needs to be properly examined in order for us to more fully comprehend where such an obsessive motivation ‘to dominate’ has its roots.
Well, you don’t need to be Carl Jung to recognize that the unchecked expression of irrational aggression is subconscious compensation for a substantial lack of inner confidence and self respect, which – when channeled positively – manifests as empathy, wisdom and responsibility, and seeks to turn such into outer actions for the general benefit of mankind.
In a world where being ‘competitive’ is the totem around which neoliberal globalisation revolves, millions are preconditioned to accepting a degree of ruthlessness in everyday life, but especially in business. In fact, it is said that one cannot become successful in (big) business unless one is prepared to put hard-headed ruthlessness well ahead of such humanitarian qualities as compassion and empathy for fellow humans.
The USA prides itself in being a ‘nation of opportunity’ where anyone supposedly stands a chance of rising from rags to riches. But kept well in the shadows in this ‘land of the free’, is just what it actually takes to get to the top of the ladder.
Step into center stage John Wayne, the tough, swaggering, aggressive cowboy who has been adopted over the years by millions of aspiring US males, as a role model for what it means ‘to be a man’.
Wayne exemplifies the male cut off from his female side – that which produces the qualities of compassion and caring. Here one has the macho male exerting his authority so as to appear always in control of the situation, on top, and in some way invincible. This is the foundation and flash-point for the wider expression of megalomania which has much of global politics in its grip.
The distortion of human nature which must take place in order to successfully project the John Wayne image, involves the repression of those aspects of human nature that would otherwise balance-out the testosterone fueled machismo, with sensitive and humanistic openness.
Men and women each carry within, certain biological characteristics of their opposites. The male, female characteristics and the female, male characteristics. Those who achieve balance between these energies, become well rounded, responsible and often wise individuals. Qualities one is always vainly hoping will be manifest in political leadership.
For many years, John Wayne was held up as the ideal stereotype of ‘maleness’; and while this image may now be considered ‘passé‘, there is fat chance that anyone ambitious enough to make it to the top is ever going to exhibit the subtly balanced qualities required for genuine leadership.
Somewhere in the psyche of those raised to believe in the attainability of ‘The American Dream’, is a deep frustration. One that can easily turn to anger and vindictiveness; especially once it becomes clear that this ‘dream’ is actually an unattainable chimera – and that the deeply materialistic nature of the road to riches is a sure-fire receipt for inner emptiness.
Inner emptiness, as many have found out, is a hard condition to live with; it is for this reason that those suffering this malaise adopt an outer ‘persona’ which disguises the inner lack. For those who wish to devote their lives to climbing the corporate ladder of the status quo, a tough, hardened image more often than not becomes the adopted persona to be presented to the rest of the business community.
The continuation of the US gun culture bears testimony to the macho climate which has been spurred on by an aggressive corporate ‘big business’ domination of everyday life. The vast military machine simply furthers this agenda – while being put-across as the heroic defender of US liberty!
US women have their image makers too, of course. Madonna being one such example. Here the feminist ideology is encapsulated in a woman promoting the modern in-your-face expression of sexual liberation – but combined – significantly, with total control over those deemed worthy of being lovers.
This is the equivalent distortion of the true female, as John Wayne’s is of the true male. It is hard-edged, ego led vanity, and in Madonna’s case, was the precursor of the Satanic paradigm that is now being played-out by such clones as Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Beyonce. All of whom mix fake permissiveness with an underlying need to be both controlled and in control.
The unrooted, drifting nature of US culture is steeped in the concept of ‘image’. It is the dominant force in almost all elements of mass marketing, media presentation, fashion and in the sometimes desperate search for a valid personal identity. US corporations have taught the rest of the world how to shamelessly change the image of a low quality nothing product into something which comes across as the great purchase everyone wants to make!
For many there is genuine difficulty determining what is and is not ‘real’. This goes for emotions as well as products. The US has led the way into ‘virtual reality’, maybe because so many backed a life style that actually turned out to be ‘virtual’ – the ungrounded, insecure and delusional characteristics of ‘the dream’. Something which has left many defenseless against top-down mind control; particularly the major propaganda drives that spread the message of just how great and important America is – and Americans are – in comparison to every other country and peoples on this planet.
Yes, the American Dream is indeed just that. It was always a cipher, a chimera and grand delusion of vast proportions. And at its inception was the idea that here was this vast, fertile, mineral rich and beautiful land just waiting to be ‘settled’ by colonizers, escaping from their homelands in the hope of ‘making it’ in the land of the free!
Many citizens of the US still believe that Christopher Columbus discovered North America. The native American tribes that the settlers encountered, with their deep roots in the plains, rivers and mountains, were swept aside, portrayed as savages who must be driven off the land or simply exterminated.
Yet the documented deeds of much of the North American land mass, held in the US National Archives, clearly show who ‘discovered’ America, before the white invaders set about desecrating their tribal cultures and sacred lands. No wonder ‘invading and destroying’ became embedded in the American psyche as an important attribute of ‘Americanness’.
A country whose culture, self identity and sense of purpose are based upon historical denial, is always going to need some grand delusion to focus on in order to fog over the reality and avoid having to confront – and be conscious – of the deception. In reality, facing and accepting the falsity which underlies ‘the dream’ is the only way US citizens can begin to take back control of their destinies.
What we have witnessed in US politics over the past few decades in particular, is the intensification of propaganda whose aim is to shore-up the steadily unraveling pseudo-cultural dystopia, by reminding citizens just what it means to be ‘American’.
Those who cling to the empty old paradigm of national superiority, military prowess and global domination, do so because subconsciously they cannot face the prospect of becoming aware that they are part of a society whose entire ethos is based on the seemingly irresistible trappings of a fake reality. A world in which everybody has the chance to become a millionaire – providing they ignore the destruction this reeks upon the resource base, fellow human beings, animals, forests and a once highly fertile land mass.
Rather than showing willing to learn this hard lesson, many try to bolster their imprisoned egos by adorating the antics of John Wayne and other Rambo like hero figures, who shoot their way out of trouble whatever the circumstances.
Just like the delusional Floridians shooting at hurricane Irma in the belief that they could thereby kill it off. Or Generał Schwarzkopf (knighted by the Queen of England) blasting his way through Iraq during the illegal US led invasion of that country.
So it is that megalomania becomes ‘the new normal’- the inevitable end point – if one is hell-bent on avoiding ever looking truth in the eye and being humbled by what one sees. Those who cannot take this step cling to the fraying – and for most, ‘protective’ image of Mr or Mrs Powerful, the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons of the national stage, whose pompous posturings serve to hide a profound lack of vision and a pervasive inner weakness.
What is on show, is an empty expression of hubris and arrogance, hiding the terrible vacuum which lies right at the heart of this phantom known as The American Dream. Here lies the cowardly beast which, desperately needing to re-enforce its compensatory image of Mr Strong Man, unleashes its imperialist hegemony on the rest of the world.
The trouble, for the rest of the planet, is that this deeply irrational ambition for ‘full spectrum dominance’ continues to drive this monster into the backyards of almost every country of the world, where it then sets about pressurizing the leadership to take on the dystopian US value system which so insidiously pollutes the values of native cultures.
Fortunately, this is not always achieved to the satisfaction of the imperialists. But most NATO countries have, in one way or another, failed to resist the self serving demands of Mr Big Bully and the vast military machine used to threaten anyone courageous enough to refuse entry.
So perhaps we have now uncovered what “Let’s make America great again” actually means. A statement received with rapt enthusiasm by a substantial percentage of the US electorate – and a cold shiver of apprehension by the rest of the world.
Eventuality all megalomania shoots itself in the foot, recognized for what it is and despised by a growing proportion of humanity. However, the damage done in the meantime has a telling affect on all aspects of planetary life, all sentient creatures and all peoples, including the aspirations of those whose lives have only just begun.
Let us join together in mustering a common will to expose and depose those architects of top down insanity who, left to their own devices, will continue to reek havoc for generations to come.
Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic farming, a writer and international activist. He is President of The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside. Julian is author of two acclaimed titles ‘Changing Course for Life’ and ‘In Defense of Life’ which you can purchase via his website www.julianrose.info
Beautiful compassion So elusive in the brutal now You are the only thing Worth anything To anyone who believes They have a soul Beautiful compassion Forgive my ignorance All my foul vomitings Of bile and spleen and hate Excuse my retarded clinging To the ghosts of a desolate spite
Beautiful compassion I need you now Like never before I used to reduce you To a do-gooder’s chore An affair for losers In this game of thrones Anathema for boozers Addicted to being alone
Beautiful compassion Please save my soul Please stop these cruel Pitiless bootless thoughts That make me a sad fool Shivering needlessly In the dark pool Of famished madness
Beautiful compassion Wake me from this death I have made of my life Take me to the garden of love Surround me with your flowers As I lie on your bed of grass Send your angels to kiss me Kisses of the purest love Beautiful compassion I beg you please Give me back my heart
New Robert Montgomery x Jack East London billboard takeover launch to be marked with poetry walking tour by New River Press poet Niall McDevitt – Saturday 7th October 4pm!
Dear lovers of art and poetry,
Robert Montgomery teams up with JACK arts for an astonishing street exhibition in Shoreditch.
YOUR SPACE OR MINE will feature a series of billboard poems by Robert Montgomery available for all to see on various sites in Commercial Street, Ebor Street, Curtain Road, Old Street and Broadway Market.
The show will run only for the weekend of Saturday 7 to Sunday 8 October.
On Saturday 7 Oct at 4.00pm-5.30pm, Robert will team up with fellow poet and psychogeographer Niall McDevitt for a walk along the route of the poems. Robert will recite and discuss his work, addressing the major theme of Modernism, while McDevitt will tell the story of how historic Shoreditch poets such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and Emilia Lanyer developed early modern English poetry – and early modern English itself – in these same streets, representing the artistic wing of humanism.
McDevitt will also point out parallels in Robert Montgomery’s themes with those of the historic poets, such as immigration, gender equality, the city, and politics. To register for the walk, click below: http://www.jackagency.co.uk/blog/rm/
Meet for the walk at 4pm at ANDAZ Hotel, 40 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7QN.
All our love and light,
New River Press
For further information please contact Khaly Nguyen,
firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile: +44 (0) 7539 448293
“I started doing billboard works in Shoreditch in 2004 as my own protest against the Iraq War,” Montgomery says, “and doing billboards in Shoreditch formed the backbone of my work throughout the 2000s. I no longer live in the neighbourhood, it’s too expensive for artists now, but being invited back by Jack is thrilling as I’m getting to take over whole streets where I used to live. It’s letting me work across multiple billboards and look at each street as a giant graphic poem and experiment much more with the visual aspects of the work. I’m thinking of them as concrete poems really with the billboard as the page and pushing the graphic elements more than I’ve been able to before.”
There’s a certain type of scholar who is obsessed with the Blues. The music’s historic record is riddled with holes, and, like swamp water, speculation fills the gaps, producing a narrative built as much from legend as fact, where a traveling guitarist like Robert Johnson can stroll down a dark rural road to make deals with the devil. Blues’ blurry, mythological past only makes the subject more seductive. Still, there are certain matters of record to contend with. With so many scholars searching for new revelations, it seems like every rock has been overturned and every shellac pre-war record unearthed from those Southern attics, but like all frontiers, there’s always more to discover.
In The Sewanee Review, essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan explores the Early Blues, a time in the music’s development before people started calling songs “blues songs” based on their definitive a-a-b rhyme scheme and 12-bar structure. There in the not-so-blurry past of early published articles, Sullivan finds an African American journalist named Columbus Bragg who was the first to call a song a blues song. Although Bragg predates all the well-known Blues scholars, he is largely absent from the larger narrative. But it was Bragg who, in the 1914 issue of the African American newspaper the Chicago Defender, wrote “Mr. William Abel, the race’s greatest descriptive singer, will sing the first Blues song, entitled ‘Curses,’ by Mr. Paul Dresser.” And with those words, he simplified a diverse group of musical traditions and helped codify a genre.
That sentence in the Defender is the first “first blues.” It represents the first time, that we know of, when someone speculated about what the first blues song had been, and who had created it. This is also the first time we ever find these two words together, “blues” and “song.” The first time someone ever calls a song “a blues song,” he’s actively wondering what the first one was. The form and the obsession with the form’s roots are born together. This suggests that when we wonder about the beginning of the blues, we are participating in the form; it is a way of playing the blues.
Another extraordinary thing about the sentence is that the man doing the wondering is black. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. “Blues scholarship” is educated white men writing on old black music. But this is why the Early Blues rewards study. The writer’s name is Columbus Bragg, or to go by the fuller version he gave the draft board in 1918, the Rev. Columbus Sylvester Clifton Bragg. He was preaching then (or claimed to be; he often grew inventive when asked to provide biographical data) at a tiny church called Israel of God, White Horse Army, a black evangelical sect that had recently bloomed in nearby Sycamore, Illinois. The members keep their headquarters there to this day. They possess some old records, but these make no mention of a Rev. Bragg. The only other noticeable entry on his draft card is a brief observation made by the registrar, concerning Bragg’s physical faculties. The man, who must have examined one too many inductees that day, has written in big bold cursive, “Deaf Eye.”
It is perhaps an unfortunate description for an arts critic. Bragg’s slender fame, his not-quite-oblivion, depends entirely on a brief 1914 stint as a culture columnist for the Chicago Defender. The newspaper had been founded about a decade before, just as Bragg was coming to the city, arriving by train from Louisiana with a half-German wife named Lillian and their daughter, Lumie. He seems to have made the decision on the train to rewrite his past.
A Kevin Short review of Darren Aronofsky’s new film.
Having been a Darren Aronofsky fan since ‘Pi’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, and his successful venture into the commercial league with ‘Black Swan’, after the disappointment of ‘Noah’, I was relishing the thought of seeing Mother! The exclamation mark that accompanies the title must preempt the various audience reactions to come, like; WTF! After a day of thought, I am no less confused about it all. So much of it was captivating, nay, gripping. Beautifully shot and edited. A sound design that survived brilliantly without a note of music, and endless moments of WTF!
But…what is it all about?… I hear you ask. My reply? I have no idea. An autobiographical, metaphorical nightmare, from Aronofsky’s frustrations as a writer? I hope not. A surreal distorted retelling of our Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus’ plight as seen through a God-like Javier Bardem? Who knows? Or, could it be, there is no simple answer to this conundrum of a tale, other than it being a stream-of-consciousness self-indulgence from a filmmaker who has earned his stripes? To be honest, I can’t imagine any film Exec understanding any kind of pitch for this film, but after hearing Ed Harris had agreed to play the MAN, Michelle Pfeiffer the WOMAN, with Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence playing HIM and HER (the MOTHER!), who needs to read a script? Love the exclamation mark – Give him the money, and off we go!
And so, an Arthouse movie goes mainstream. No bad thing. Yet, it’s a film that maybe outstretches itself in more ways than one. The convoluted themes of self-doubt, hedonism, frustration, anger, obsession, love-hate, intertwined with countless other emotive moments of brooding for one thing or another, all add up to a film that puts itself beyond critique, which means, you’ll either love or hate it, or both, in equal measure. Jennifer Lawrence is certainly stretched as far as any actor could be. There are only so many ways to say ‘No!’ ‘Stop it!’ ‘Don’t do that!’ and by the last reel, Ms. Lawrence has sadly run out of variations. Even Mr. Bardem, again sadly, showed signs of an actor on the cusp of Repetitive Emotions Syndrome. Only the cameos of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer truly survive the demands of the Executives’ unread script.
The rest is silence, at least, for in between the meandering dialogue, is where the horror, intrigue, and mystery, works best – when the creak of a door, the sudden lighting of a stove, makes you sit up and take attention again. By the final reel, I’d given up hope of comprehending any of it, and allowed the magnificent overblown gratuitous imagery to take me to a world reminiscent of Pasolini/Fellini/Argento/Jodorowsky, and as the credits rolled, I was happy to sit until the bitter end, pondering the meaning of it all.
Wait a minute, perhaps, it was Phoenix rising from the ashes over and over again, only to discover its existence was a man-made myth which its creator failed to be inspired by; unless he fathered a child with his long-suffering muse who would, at last, be called….Oh, what the hell, go see it for yourself!
Alton Ellis, Peter Tosh, Bobby Kalphat, Jennifer Lara and Yellowman, Fathead.
Janet Kay, Alton Ellis
Still In Love
I’d Rather Be Lonely
Down The Aisle
Laurel Aitken And The Unitone
Rudi Got Married
You Should Never Do That
What Moma No Want She Get
Stranger Cole, Lester Sterling
Roland Alphonso And Beverly’s All Stars
Song For My Father
Girl Of My Dreams
The Girl Of My Dream
Flew off early in the haze of dawn
In a metal dragon locked in time
Skimming waves of an underground sea
In some kind of a dream world fantasy
Sun a hot circle on a canopy
’25 a racing blot on a bright green sea
Ahead the dim blur of an alien land
Time to give ourselves to strange gods’ hands
Dark flak spiders bursting in the sky
Reaching twisted claws on every side
No place to run
No place to hide
No turning back on a suicide ride
Toy city streets crawling through my sights
Sprouting clumps of mushrooms like a world surreal
This dream won’t ever seem to end
And time seems like it’ll never begin
And a one way ride
And no place to hide
Thirty seconds over Tokyo
Volunteering for clinical research trials can be a rewarding experience, not least, financially – or so the research companies would have us believe. To offer oneself as a guinea pig for the future benefit of others is undoubtedly a selfless act, but under what safeguards are these studies conducted? With the clinical drugs trial disaster in Rennes, France in January 2016 – where one volunteer died and three others were left with irreversible brain damage – clinical research studies are once again under the microscope…
“You don’t want to do that – you might grow a second head.” Thus opined my friend when I told him I’d signed up to test a new hygiene product for some extra cash. Quite how a mouthwash might result in an extra noggin is anyone’s guess, but with several high-profile accusations of clinical malpractice levelled at pharmaceutical and drugs testing companies in recent years, I decided to conduct a little research of my own.
With the announcement in September 2014 that an NHS communications manager, Ruth Atkins, had volunteered to be injected with an Ebola vaccine containing genetic material from the Zaire strain of the virus, the media were champing at the bit with speculation and doom mongering. Few seemed interested in reporting that the vaccine is based on a benign cold-like virus found in chimpanzees, that it cannot cause the volunteer to develop Ebola, or that it simply allows the recipient’s cells to release a protein and thus create an immune response. That wouldn’t make good copy.
Such fears, of course, are not without precedence. From the horrors of Nazi doctors conducting experiments on concentration camp victims during World War II, to the Thalidomide scandal of the late 1950s, clinical research communities have faced serious PR problems when it comes to allaying our concerns about the work they do in the name of progress. But that plays into the hands of the detractors somewhat, since many thousands of clinical research studies are conducted every year, without incident, without side effects and without hitting the headlines. And whereas all drugs testing comes under the banner of clinical research, not all clinical research studies concern drugs testing.
A clinical trial is defined as either a biological or behavioural research study on human test subjects, designed to answer specific questions regarding anything from the effects of a new vaccine or drug, to effective treatment models for biological or behavioural disorders, to the requirements of certain health conditions, or for testing new devices and healthcare products intended for the open market. For the majority of those who volunteer for such studies, the experience has only ever been positive.
Former social care support worker Neal, 52, started volunteering with Intertek, a testing and certification company for the chemicals and textile industries, after a friend, already a volunteer, recommended it. “I was waiting to start a new job and needed some extra cash. As a single parent, my reasons for signing up were mostly financial, but I was also curious about the work they were doing. I ended up testing a new deodorant.”
So how did he find the experience? “It was fascinating. I met some nice people, and the money came in handy,” recalls Neal. “The deodorant gave me a rash, but it soon cleared up.” Would he ever consider drugs testing? “I wouldn’t rule it out. It would depend what it was for. I’m quite open to new experiences. Last year, I took part in a sun burn study for Manchester University that involved taking several biopsies from my buttocks.”
Testing a new deodorant is classified as a ‘low-risk’ study, but under UK statutory law is every bit as subject to the stringent regulations laid down in the guidelines for Good Clinical Practice (GCP) as would be, say, a new anti-viral drug or painkiller. GCP, considered to be the clinical trials ‘bible’, is an international quality assurance on how clinical trials should be conducted, and is designed to protect the rights and health of volunteers.
Clinical trials on humans constitute only a small part of the extensive research that goes into developing a potential new treatment, drug or product. With the occasional exception, where it is deemed expedient to fast-track a study (the proposed Ebola vaccine being a case in point), any proposed trial must undergo several years of rigorous laboratory research before it is approved by regulatory bodies and reaches Phase 1, the stage where human test subjects are involved.
Subjects Sharon and Danny, a married couple in their 40s, first started volunteering four years ago after a recruitment leaflet dropped through the letterbox. A private tutor and a sound engineer respectively, they have taken part in numerous skin, hair and dental studies.
“We’re both self-employed, so can fit the studies around our work,” says Danny. “The process is easy and the studies are always interesting.” Sharon agrees: “I like doing a variety of things to make money, and as a science teacher I’m always fascinated by front-line research.”
Despite some initial reservations from friends and family, the couple are happy to recommend this type of clinical research to anyone in reasonably good health. “I think some people mistake product testing for drug trials,” says Danny, “which we wouldn’t consider.”
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that even seasoned volunteers shy away from drugs trials when you consider what happened in 2006 at Northwick Park Hospital, London. Six male volunteers were contracted by the US drugs testing company Parexel to test a new anti-cancer drug known as TGN1412.
Within minutes of being injected, the men began vomiting, their heads puffed up to twice their size and some began slipping in and out of comas as they showed signs of multiple organ failure. Thankfully, all the volunteers recovered, although one was reported to have had his toes amputated, but the incident raised serious concerns about trial procedures and medical ethics in general.
An interim report by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency found that Parexel had conducted the study according to protocol and concluded that “the serious adverse reactions experienced by the volunteers were the result of an unpredicted biological action.” The episode was played down by the industry, but it is fair to say that drugs testing companies and clinical trials in general took a critical drubbing.
In his Sunday Times bestseller Bad Pharma (How medicine is broken and how we can fix it) Doctor Ben Goldacre sees the events at Northwick Park as symptomatic of a wider, systemic problem with research studies, where interested parties such as pharmaceutical companies can exert, quite legally, undue influence on the results of clinical research.
“Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects.”
A writer for the Guardian and advocate of the AllTrials campaign for full disclosure of all clinical trial results, Goldacre contends that the incident at Northwick Park (and now, conceivably, at the Pontchaillou Medical Centre in France) could have been avoided if all researchers were compelled by international law to publish and share their data.
“We need to ensure that all trials report their results within a year at the latest; we need to measure compliance with that; we need stiff penalties for companies who transgress; and we need doctors and academics that collaborate in withholding trial data to be held personally responsible, and struck off.”
Bad Pharma is a complex and difficult book, its depth and scope too far-reaching to go into much detail here, but anyone thinking of volunteering for clinical drugs trials would be well advised to read this seminal work first.
Not everyone has a horror story to tell when it comes to drugs testing. Maggie was a barmaid in her early 20s when she took part in residential drugs trials with Medeval, later known as Icon Development Solutions: “I had friends who’d done it. All said it was easy money, nothing to it, perfectly safe, etc. I had been broken into twice and was just desperate to move. I just wanted to make some money to put a deposit down on a flat.”
Was she concerned about possible side-effects? “No. I did two trials, both for drugs already in use, which I considered to be less scary. One involved being woken up every morning with a shot of vodka. So what’s not to like?” So she’d do it again? “I couldn’t even if I wanted. I have a history of depression, which would automatically exclude me from most studies. That and the fact my mum, who was a nurse at the time, was horrified when she heard what I was doing. Looking back, I think she was maybe right to be concerned. She was much more aware than I was that things can go wrong.”
As they did in India between 2008 and 2011, when over two thousand deaths were recorded during clinical drug trials in the country, forcing the Indian government to tighten the regulations surrounding what was described as “a culture of impunity for drug research companies and the doctors who work for them.” The researchers involved, many of them multinational pharmaceutical companies, were initially drawn to India (where the clinical trials industry is estimated to be worth £326 million) for several reasons, including patient availability, low costs and a “friendly drug-control system.”
The companies concerned defended themselves by insisting they were conducting trials on patients who had little or no hope of cure; that in consequence they could not be blamed for their deaths; and that the standards applicable to all clinical trials in India are no different from those in the United States and the European Union. With the resultant change in the law, however, many of these companies, led by America’s top research centre, the National Institute of Health, subsequently pulled out from India – a move which did little to assuage the concerns of the World Health Organisation and the general public.
Little wonder, then, at the media interest surrounding the fast-tracked Ebola trial at Oxford University and Ruth Atkins’ decision to be the first test subject for the new vaccine. Atkins, a former nurse in the NHS, was reported as saying: “I volunteered because the situation in Africa is so tragic and I thought being part of this vaccination was something small I could do to hopefully make a huge impact.” She went on to add that she felt fine after her injection and that the vaccine “felt no different to being vaccinated before going on holiday.”
In 2014 the Ebola virus killed more than 2,400 people in Africa, the world’s largest outbreak since the disease was first discovered in 1976. According to the World Health Organisation, the strain has a mortality rate of up to 90 percent, and it is for this reason that the new study, which will involve up to 60 volunteers, has been backed by the Medical Research Council and the UK Department for International Development. Funding for the trial comes in part from a £2.8 million grant from the Wellcome Trust.
Leading the study, Professor Adrian Hill of the Jenner Institute stressed that all the volunteers were safe, stating: “We are not doing the trial itself any faster. It’s the arrangements, the approval for the trial from manufacturers, regulatory bodies and the ethical council that has happened in record time, when under any other circumstances it would have taken years. The tragic events in Africa demand an urgent response.”
It remains to be seen if the Ebola vaccine proves an effective treatment, but no one in their right mind would deny the need for clinical research trials; they are essential for the development of new medicines and modes of treatment. And how else will we find the cure for cancer? However, the regulations and codes of conduct under which studies are carried out need to be of a universally accepted standard set in international law, and not be dictated by the financial considerations of multinational pharmaceutical companies, private health bodies or cash-strapped governments.
As for volunteering, it remains with the individual to decide what they are willing to participate in and to fully verse themselves on the potential risks. “I’m not sure I’d recommend drugs testing,” says Maggie, the former barmaid, “it would depend what it was for. I’d say use your common sense. If they want to make you taller or fill you full of hormones, just say ‘no’”.
Studies at a Glance
(A brief history of clinical research)
The First Clinical Trial (1747)
The first proper clinical research trial comes in the wake of the disease scurvy and its catastrophic effects on the welfare of sailors on long distance voyages. Physician James Lind conducts the trial on infected sailors and establishes beyond doubt that scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency, arguably saving many thousands of lives in the process.
The Nuremburg Code (1947)
At the end of the Second World War, numerous Nazi doctors who had performed human experiments are tried at the war crimes tribunal in Nuremburg. During the trials, the Nuremburg Code is drafted as a set of standards for judging physicians and scientists who conducted biomedical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. This became the foundation of many later codes intended to assure that clinical research involving human subjects would be carried out in an ethical manner.
The Thalidomide Scandal (1957 – 1961)
In the 1950s, Thalidomide is developed as an anti-convulsant drug and introduced on the German market without any governmental review. Thalidomide is used by expectant mothers to control the symptoms of morning sickness, and leads to many babies being born with severe physical disabilities. The reported number of those harmed varies, but studies indicate that more than 10,000 people worldwide were affected.
The Declaration of Helsinki (1964)
The ethical principles set out in the Nuremburg Code are further elaborated on and clarified by the World Medical Association. The Declaration of Helsinki provides the ethical foundation for the European Clinical Trials Directive as well as all national clinical research legislation.
Good Clinical Practice (1996)
The clinical trials ‘Bible’ is introduced, the contents of which have been implemented into the European clinical trial quality standards through the Clinical Trials Directive (2001) and the GCP Directive (2005). These directives have been turned into law by each of the member states of the European Community.
Bad Clinical Practice (2001)
Published simultaneously in twelve major journals, a joint editorial exposes the levels of control sponsors exert over clinical trials, attacking the use of contracts that allow sponsors to review the studies prior to publication and, if they wish it, to suppress the results.
Ugly Clinical Practice (2012)
Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is fined $3 billion for civil and criminal fraud after pleading guilty to charges relating to unlawful promotion of prescription drugs, bribing doctors, withholding data and making false and misleading claims about the safety of drugs.
AllTrials Campaign (2013)
Calling for all trials to be registered, with the results reported and made publicly available, the AllTrials campaign launches in January. Within months the campaign grows to become the mainstream, normative position in the UK, with the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and even GlaxoSmithKline signing up to a new agreement for transparency in research.
Trial and Trial Again (2015)
Former priest Adrian Hailer announces to British press he is to sue drugs company Novartis after he developed brain damage following a drugs trial for a medication to treat a bone marrow condition. Novartis state they intend to contest the claim as they have been “unable to establish a causal relationship between the trial and Mr Hailer’s condition.” The drug was approved by the European Union in August 2012.
About the Authors
Leon Horton is a cultural journalist and humorist. After gaining his masters from the University of Salford, he worked as a court reporter at Manchester Crown Court, cut his wrists on local magazines, enjoyed a caretaker stint as the editor of Old Trafford News then returned to freelance writing. His work is published in International Times (UK), Literary Heist (Canada), Empty Mirror (US), The Animals’ Voice (US), Nexus Magazine (Australia) and Erotic Review (UK). Leon lives in Manchester and can be contacted at email@example.com
Mark Fisher was dragged up a working-class Catholic. A need to “look” in early life led to Mark studying art at Manchester Polytechnic. He spent the next thirty years studying life via all the joys and horrors of working in social care. An exaggerated sensitivity to “being and emotionality” means he wants you to look and think. If you like what you see, if you want to know more, Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jake La Motta is dead. At such a time of preposterous vanity and decadence in Boxing, La Motta’s life and career make a risible mockery of today’s divas, charlatans and narcissists. Born into brutal depression era poverty in The Bronx, The Bull was pimped by his Father into local child bouts which earned pennies for the rent and he quickly became a violent abusive thug, resqued from a life begind bars or the chair by his unparalelled bravery and tenacity in the ring. His major career-spanning rival was the greatest boxer ever Suger Ray Robinson, the superstar whose tour of France created the term ‘entourage’ in modern parlance as he paraded about in top of the line motor cars and hung out in 5 Star Hotels with a huge bunch of friends stringers and hangers on…. they fought 6 times, sometimes twice in a year and once with only 3 weeks between bouts…. Robinson won their personal duel 5-1 with some mafia help but he never managed to knock The Bull down which The Bull had done to him in his only victory, punching Robinson out of the ring through theb ropes…. he was loved by the mid-Century mass boxing audience for his astonishing courage…. most of his fights went the distance and were called closely and often corruptly for gambling purposes….. La Motta was a good stand-up comedian, film-actor and a talk show circuit favorite for decades after his retirement and confessed all his many terrible sins in his memoirs endearing him even further to his public. His era had Robinson and Marciano as well as The Bull. We have McGregor, Mayweather, Fury, Canelo, Hay and…. Rio Ferdinand….
You might have heard of the Teddy Boys, a 1950s rebel youth subculture in Britain characterized by an unlikely style of dress inspired by Edwardian dandies fused with American rock’n roll. They formed gangs from East London to North Kensington and became high profile rebels in the media. But an important sub-subculture of the Teddy Boys, an unlikely female element, has remained all but invisible from historical records. Meet The Teddy Girls.
These are one of just a few known collections of documented photographs of the first British female youth culture ever to exist. In 1955, freelance photographer Ken Russell was introduced Josie Buchan, a Teddy Girl who introduced him to some of her friends. Russell photographed them and one other group in Notting Hill.
After his photographs were published in a small magazine in 1955, Russell’s photographs remained unseen for over half a century. He became a successful film director in the meantime. In 2005, his archive was rediscovered, and so were the Teddy Girls.
Russell remembers 14 year-old Teddy Girl, Jean Rayner: “She had attitude by the truckload. No one paid much attention to the teddy girls before I did them, though there was plenty on teddy boys. They were tough, these kids, they’d been born in the war years and food rationing only ended in about 1954 – a year before I took these pictures. They were proud. They knew their worth. They just wore what they wore.”
To understand the Teddy Girls style, we first have to go back to the boys culture. They emerged in England as post-war austerity was coming to an end and working class teenagers were able to afford good clothes and began to adopt the upper class Saville Row revival of dandy Edwardian fashion. By the mid 1950s, second-hand Edwardian suits were readily available on sale in markets as they had become unwearable by the upper-class once the Teddy Boys had started sporting them.
Teddy Boys style…
The Teds, as they called themselves, wore long drape jackets, velvet collars, slim ties and began to pair the look with thick rubber-soled creeper shoes and the ‘greaser’ hairstyles of their American rock’n’roll idols.
Despite their overall gentlemanly style of dress (certainly compared to today), the Teddys were a teenage youth culture out to shock their parents’ generation, and quickly became associated with trouble by the media.
Teddy girls were mostly working class teens as well, but considered less interesting by the media who were more concerned with sensationalizing a violent working class youth culture. While Teddy boys were known for hanging around on street corners, looking for trouble, a young working class woman’s role at the time was still focused around the home.
But even with lower wages than the boys, Teddy girls would still dress up in their own drape jackets, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, tailored jackets with velvet collars and put their feminine spin on the Teddy style with straw boater hats, brooches, espadrilles and elegant clutch bags. They would go to the cinema in groups and attend dances and concerts with the boys, collect rock’n’roll records and magazines. Together, they essentially cultivated the first market for teenage leisure in Britain.
In the end, it was the troublesome reputation of the Teddy Boys that got the better of this youth subculture. Most of the violence and vandalism was exaggerated by the media, but there were notably a few gangs that chose a darker path.
While most dedicated Teddys were at worst involved in petty crimes such as bootlegging, there were instances of fascist gangs rioting and using razors and knives to carry out racist attacks. The racist tendencies of the Teddy boy gangs in the end lost to the unstoppable rock’n’roll movement centered around African-American acts. The British pop boom of the 1960s brought new music and new youth cultures.
Here’s a clip of 1950’s Teddy Boy being interviewed by a news reporter about their thoughts on an attack on a Vicar. Note how one of the boys says, “We only went down there so we diddnt have to go home for our tea.”
It’s certainly a great shame that such an interesting and elegant style of dress for young people had to be associated with such negativity. The Teddy Boys were the first group in Britain whose style was self-created. But in the end, it would seem the style only spawned fashion victims.
The Last London, Iain Sinclair (324pp, £18.99, Oneworld)
Blurbed as ‘a delirious conclusion to a truly epic project’, The Last London seems to be Iain Sinclair’s last words on the subject of London before he moves on to South Coast pastures and psychogeographical elsewheres. He’s had a good run, and if this book isn’t quite as marvellous as Downriver, London Orbital or Lights Out for the Territory it’s still packed full of intriguing information, verbal mappings, unusual histories and wry, social and political commentaries.
However, Sinclair does have a habit of ‘going off on one’, taking his prose and the reader away from his subject matter and through a tangle of asides, trivia and opinion before circuitously returning to his starting point. At times he attempts to give a frisson or significance to things that – truth be told – simply aren’t very significant or interesting. He even occasionally indicates that he knows he is doing this, that he is tired of speculation and occult meaning, that the London he used to inhabit and document is no more: hence the idea of the last London, not just Sinclair’s last words on the matter, but the city itself morphing into something new that is not what Sinclair knows as London or wants the place to be.
But in this last gasp, desperate to find what is left that he knows and to not totally let the new slip out of his grasp, he visits the Shard for an overnight stay and skyscraper swim, lurks in shopping malls and on the blurred edges of the capital (others have christened these the ‘edgelands’) and reminisces. Much of this book is an intertextual nod to his own previous writing and expeditions; the book is full of old friends, other artists and writers, as well as the expected rants against Brexit, the Olympic Stadium and the gentrification of the East End, and the more surprising outbursts against fashionable cyclists. (I should note that whilst it may be unexpected, this section is a comedic highlight.)
So inbetween the lazy pages of capitalized-and-run-together overheard conversations and the authorial asides there is classic Iain Sinclair. And if the book doesn’t quite cohere, and the camped-out solitary homeless stranger who fades in and out view in the book doesn’t quite work as a döppelganger for the author lost in the city, or as some kind of every/other-man, and if part of me thinks the book needed a bit more time and a harsher editor, it’s still a fine read, standing head and shoulders above the hordes of self-appointed psychogeographers who have appeared in Sinclair’s wake. Let’s hope it’s not the last we’ll hear from Iain Sinclair.
Proudfoot albums have a direct lineage traceable from the highly-mobile New Wave Pop of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, or Difford & Tilbrook – the reliable craft of songwriting and solid playing, combined with coherent narrative lyrics.
An interview of 2,750 words (approx.)
The first of the bouquet of twelve fine tracks on ‘Flower Of London’ (2016 CD) by Proudfoot – claims that ‘safe is not an option’, but on this CD you’ll find the reliable craft of songwriting and solid playing, combined with coherent narrative lyrics. It feels almost like an audiobook of narrative vignettes and short stories, very literary and word-centric. And, as a wordsmith myself, I mean that in a good way…!
Band fulcrum Michael Proudfoot sets the tone. ‘I’ve got into the habit of leaving a guitar out in the kitchen and between making porridge in the morning and trying not to burn it, I’ll have a strum… 98% of the time nothing happens and I sing a cover, but sometimes the germ of a tune arrives. My day job is making documentary films for all sorts of people, some telly stuff (including BBC4’s 2013 ‘The Enigma Of Nic Jones: Return Of Britain’s Lost Hero’), and by the time I’ve got on my bike and cycled all the way to the office in Clerkenwell I might have a verse. As others have said before, it’s a habit and then an obsession – once you’ve started it’s difficult to ignore the glimmer of something that might be a song.’
‘One of the things that got me about Country music – now Americana, way back was the idea of stories within the words – so people like Guy Clark, John Prine and Gram Parsons have never been far away from the deck. And as with films, you can collect the images and re-arrange them until it feels like it works. Most of the songs on the CD have a starting point in a true story that I’ve improvised on, either because I don’t know the outcome and have had to imagine it, or I don’t know the details so have had to ‘novelise’ something to get an ‘ending’. Random thoughts put down in one year can suddenly become relevant in another… I was looking through my old notebooks the other day and I noticed that germs of ideas in these songs were around for a few years. The nice thing about words is they’re nice and portable.’
Yes, I see how that works. That’s very much a literary approach, rather than the musical thing of devising a catchy riff and building a hook and a lyric around it. ‘Funnily enough I think this CD was written with the tunes, or the ideas for them first. As a quiz – one of them was written after listening to Boz Scaggs singing “Love TKO” by Teddy Prendergrass… see if you can spot it (answers on a postcard please)!’
Lined up together by photographer Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones like stylish gangsters against graffiti-splashed walls and a gasworks backdrop, Proudfoot have a collective track record. Michael is from the prairies of the East Midlands. He began with a group called the Highbury Hotdogs. But ‘there’s one vital element here and his name is Duncan Kerr’ Michael insists. ‘There was a great band at the Imperial Hotel in Nottingham called Plummet Airlines and Duncan was the guitar player… I thought if ever I have a band he’s the man… it took forty years but here he is!’ With pub-rockers Plummet Airlines Duncan did two Peel Sessions and plays on their single “Silver Shirt” which graced the Stiff label (BUY 8, 1976), before he graduated into power-pop favourites, the Favourites. He then joined the reformed psych-punks the Brainiac Five.
I remember Plummet Airlines with affection. ‘The nice thing about working with Duncan, bassist, Wayne Worrell and the exceptional drummer that is Joe Malone is that we begin to see other possibilities, other ways of skinning the cat.’ The debut Proudfoot album – 2009s ‘Lincolnshire’, wears stylish Nashville boots for “Jane In A Cornfield” and “Old Fashioned Girl”. It was produced by BJ Cole, with all his characteristically authentic touches. ‘But if the ‘Flower of London’ CD is good, it’s because between Duncan, Wayne, Joe – and Kenny Jones at Alchemy studios, they were able to take the acoustic demos made in my basement forward to something that exceeds our expectations.’
‘Duncan has been coming around to my house on a Monday evenings for the last six years… and I’ve been pitching him songs. He’s the most wonderful collaborator because he’s always positive and can always help with a chord or a middle eight. I’m sure you know what it’s like trying ideas out on people – it’s terrifying, so you have to have people around that you trust, and in whose skills you trust. Duncan, apart from being a great guitar player, has really great ears for the big picture.’
Duncan also works with Darts, whose James Compton adds guest keyboard and the subtle dancing string arrangements to “Superstar”, the blossoming ugly duckling story enlivened by Kerr’s looping Knopfler-alike guitar interlude, and its country setting expanded with cosmic imagery. “Vivenne” is maybe a slyly-beguiling sax-stitched reference to Westwood, who ‘cut the cloth and created love’, with Beth Frost whispering of the ‘special occasion’ her peach creation denotes. Is there a vague melodic memory of Bob Dylan’s “Precious Angel”, or is that just me? And in this era of ‘X-Factor’ exaggerated over-dramatics and high-octane contortions, Michael’s voice flows refreshingly naturally smooth. “Lorraine” with soul-organ, hyperactive glittering guitar and Rock-punchy velcro chorus spins like a Rockpile 45rpm on a rare cult Indie label. I knew ‘La-La-La-Lou-Rayne’ when she used to Rock ‘n’ Roll!’ “Come On Come On” is also an echoey handclap-driven Rocker with sing-along countdown chorus, ‘light the fuse, pull the wire, step into the blue…’ The new Jesus of Cool? Well – maybe not, but you get the picture.
But favourite track so far is “Queen Of Bohemia” with that Ska-accented lilt to it embroidered by Beth Frost’s sugar-sweet backing voice, and the lyric about ‘she loved the smell of turpentine, she loved his vagabond ways, she loved the way he threw that paint…’ Are there real people in there?
Michael pauses, then continues. ‘Er… yes there are real, specific, people in mind, people who I knew. When I was at Art College in the late seventies there was a lot of politics, a lot of anger but also a lot of optimism, there was a belief that you could be heard and make a difference. And with things like Greenham Common, people, women were heard and at the time the press took the piss but actually those women were change-makers, they drew attention to something that many of us were not at all comfortable with. So the song has a personal resonance for me, but it is about a lost era of radicalism that I think after recent events might be due a revival. It’s also a kind of love song in retrospect… ‘she was right’ – keep your fucking chattels and your diamonds and your pearls – I’m off to do what I think is right!’
There was music in the cafés at night. And revolution in the air…? ‘It was a fairly volatile time, Punk was happening but I always thought the Clash were revved up Country, probably not a popular view.’
The Press release mentions the influence of the Beatles ‘I love country music and early Rock ‘n’ Roll’ it says, ‘but I am essentially a child of the sixties. I can still vividly remember the moment the Beatles came into my world via ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. We lived, literally, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by potato and wheat fields, the Beatles sound made it seem as if anything were possible and I fell for it hook line and sinker. Music has been in my life ever since.’ But, accepting that everything has been vaguely touched by the Moptops, I don’t hear that on ‘Flower Of London’…
‘Well they were definitely an inspiration from an early age – to be honest, anyone holding a guitar was an inspiration, and at the age of about seven I was wondering how you could actually make a musical sound out of that thing, that lovely looking thing that seemed to be able to mesmerise and encapsulate so much? The pre-sexual me saw something he didn’t understand but definitely wanted to be a part of. I can still watch a bad Elvis movie just because he’s holding a guitar – sorry if this sounds a bit bonkers! When I was at a very ‘league division two’ boarding school in Nottinghamshire someone finally taught me three chords. From there I went to the local Folk Club and did floor spots – the school thought it was a nice healthy club rather than a room above a great pub called ‘The Boundery Inn’. The stage had a red flag above it and my audience were miners from the local colliery – they were very nice to me and put up with my ‘cowboy’ music. I saw some great people there, people like Nic Jones who I made the BBC4 film about, a few years ago. Listening to him I could hear how Englishness could swing in a bluesy way – that there was a link between the Country of the USA and its origins here in the UK. I also learnt to try and surprise the audience and not play what everyone else was playing. So maybe there’s a folky thing in there, but I also like ACDC and Motown and Cat Power and Steve Earle and The Band and Josh Rouse, love Chuck Prophet and so forth…’
You don’t have to apologize for the Elvis reference. Me too. My first book was called ‘I Was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love Child’ (Headpress/ Critical Vision, 2001)!
‘I went to Graceland a couple of years ago’ Michael admits, ‘it was strange because I felt I had been there before and dear old Elvis was somehow still present. By his grave and those of his parents there’s a little memorial to his twin brother (Jessie) who died at birth – behind the showbiz, a family story of love and some tragedy. The people of Memphis hold him up as their favourite son and rightly so… he’s kind of up there with Picasso, better not quote me on that!’
But the Proudfoot albums have a more direct lineage traceable from the highly-mobile New Wave Pop of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, or Difford & Tilbrook. The wailing harmonica etching the title track, one of the few Pop songs to include the word ‘nonchalance’, while opening up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of flowery-powered sixties Carnaby Street paisley-patterned trendiness. And “Seven Ages” gliding on slide-guitars sweeter than very sweet indeed, and teasing most blueswailing harp references to ‘when you still walked the line.’ The lycanthropic “Wolf” prowling between rips of martial drums and guitar glinting like moonlight on a turning blade, the ‘sins of the father’ in the cold blood-pulse of cuckoo-spit and crawling spiders. “Victim Of Your Past” with its gauzy Paul Desmond-style horn, Spanish guitar and warm swaying samba beat. Or the weary-gruff “Down The Line” – ‘life is a conundrum when it’s all been said’, stripped-down to a shuffle-rhythm and curling guitar licks. They’ve got a tale to tell, and they tell it well.
Yet we’re immersed in a weird phase of music caught up in cultural and technological transition, with opportunities – like the internet, and drawbacks like the need to shout that much louder to make our presence felt within a mass of product. ‘I’m probably lucky in that I don’t have to make a living out of music – we do it because we like it and to see if we can make something good. Frankly if you’ve enjoyed listening to it on your iPod while walking the dog, its been worth it… it cost about the same as golf club membership to make, and what the fuck is the point of that… apologies to golfers!’
I like that attitude. I operate on the same principle (and I also paid a visit to Graceland a couple of years back!). But, keeping on track, is there a story about one of the songs that you feel like particularly sharing…? ‘“Pathfinders” is about my Mother’s first fiancé – she’d had quite a troubled upbringing, born illegitimate she was paired with another orphan child and raised as her sister in a marriage of convenience. It wasn’t until the day she joined the WAAFs at eighteen that she realised that her Mother wasn’t her Mother, her sister wasn’t her sister. Her real Mother had actually died of what they called ‘gumma of the brain’, which was syphilis, I only found this out recently. So in a way the WAAF’s was a page one moment for her, she didn’t know who she really was so she set out to find herself… she had a nervous breakdown I think. But she did fall in love with this guy who was pathfinder pilot or observer… they dropped flares on the targets for the bombers to follow. She told me that the WAAFs would wait up to hear the engines of the planes coming back and count them in. To amuse herself she smoked a lot of Camel cigarettes and painted pink elephants on the windows of beer jugs.’
That’s a hell of a story. ‘She told me that when she realised her Mother wasn’t her Mother a whole range of memories of what people had said to her as a child came flooding back… suddenly, who she thought she was, wasn’t who she thought she was. All her life she was haunted by not knowing who her real Mum was. I don’t think she ever really got over this – the Pathfinder pilot didn’t come back from a mission either, and that was that. One day as a teenager we were standing in our back garden in Lincolnshire where the last Lancaster bomber was kept, and when it flew overhead she burst into tears… the engines, the sound of the engines did it and she told me all this. So it’s a very short version of her story.’
Yes, the airplane-sound samples provide atmosphere and give the lyric context, ‘the sound of the future, she would never own’. A world war of guitar interplay, and a closely-observed character-sketch shot through with empathy and the awareness of impending tragedy. Is he happy with that stuff appearing in print…? ‘I don’t see why not – she was maybe a bit ashamed of all this but she shouldn’t have been – maybe some talking therapy would have helped. I’ve been thinking about a music video for this number but every idea I think about gets more involved and potentially expensive… maybe I’ll do it.’ Maybe he has photos…? A sequence of merging period photos would illustrate the story visually very effectively…
Maybe I should confirm again, is all this personal history for publication…? I don’t want to trespass…! ‘Yes I think so, I don’t think it was an uncommon story… my wife’s Mother had a similar kind of scenario… being illegitimate then was a real stigma.’
I guess we all have complex family histories, and as creative people, it feeds into what we do. Pete Townshend used that as the basis for ‘Tommy’… his parent’s wartime trauma… ‘Well my Mum was a big part of what I’ve turned into. She took me to my first play in Lincoln and I was transfixed. She encouraged me to paint and write… it set me off to where I am today – so she might not have known her Mum but she certainly put her stamp on me.’
Elsewhere Michael’s said that ‘the good thing about songwriting is that you can make a single statement about a lot of things, or a statement about a single moment. It seems to me the things that affect us most are like that, they are global and big – like politics and war, or tiny moments in the macro when someone says or does something you love or hate… that’s what this record is about.’
‘From the first session we felt good about this album and every time we went into Alchemy something special happened. I think also from making this CD we can begin to see what we might do next…’
And meanwhile, “Pathfinders” – the first of the bouquet of twelve excellent tracks on Proudfoot’s ‘Flower Of London’, is a powerful song. I’ll listen to it again with fresh insight now. I grew up in Humberside, which is as equally at the ends of the Earth as Lincolnshire…
‘Actually, I always liked Hull…’ Michael adds sympathetically.
Cold sweat and dark
abstract terror set in.
The inner silence of the
Lay the banality of death
As muscular exhaustion.
The effect is only its own
The lizard, more concentrated and
Faster than the chameleon
Let’s hope whatever’s not.
Your face divine in my
Mind, face palm mind
If something seems totally
A ridiculous theory, fully
Reality will follow words.
Complete words. Forever
Stones. Opaque and solid,
are, unlike eggs or ice
Meanwhile moving, I’m
moving (my free fine)
Particles through space,
In this marathon, imaginary
Of fear. Star of the movie show.
You rebelled then again
And changed the theme.
And changed the theme.
Today, the world is enjoying a bit of a psychedelic renaissance. The phenomenon of micro dosing, in which a fraction of a hit of LSD is taken to gain the supposed benefits without the hassle of hallucinations, is increasingly popular in Silicon Valley. Medical research into psychedelics of all kinds is also expanding and finding new beneficial uses for these drugs in the treatment of psychological disorders.
With decades of prohibitions on research, the scientific evidence of the benefits of such drugs is limited. There are many people who preach the supposed benefits of the drugs, but few of them can be said to be philosophers or respected scientists. Here, we offer the experiences of a few real philosophers and scientists on the possible benefits of psychedelics.
Gerald Heard, a British author who wrote many books on science, history, and human consciousness, tried LSD earlier than most people, in the middle of the 1950s. His use and private praise of the possible application of the drug as a catalyst to create moments of near-religious insight caused many other intellectuals to give it a try, including his friend and our final entry on the list Aldous Huxley, and psychedelic research pioneer Timothy Leary. He described the drug like this: “There are the colors and the beauties, the designs, the beautiful way things appear… But that’s only the beginning. Suddenly you notice that there aren’t these separations. That we’re not on a separate island shouting across to somebody else trying to hear what they are saying and misunderstanding. You know. You used the word yourself: empathy.” This interview has also been sampled into the song ‘Waking Bliss’.
Alan Watts, the British philosopher best known for popularizing the ideas of Eastern philosophy to his Western audience, also experimented with LSD and other drugs. He saw them as being of use in offering “glimpses” to a greater spirituality, and in helping individuals understand their connection to the universe. He later concluded that, “If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen.”
Sam Harris, an American neuroscientist and so-called horseman of new atheism, experimented with MDMA for the mental effects rather than the physical ones. His MDMA trip resulted in a profound understanding that he was connected to every sentient being in existence. The trip was so powerful for him that it took him years to fully be able to integrate the ideas into his intellectual life.
He also mentions, despite being an advocate of secular meditation, that while meditation is useful it might not work for everybody. This is as opposed to psychoactive drugs, which will cause some effect if taken in a large enough dose. He does temper this notion, however, and states that anything you can do with psychedelics can be done without them. He does accept that he would never have supposed such an experience would be possible without the drugs, if he had not taken them initially.
British philosopher Aldous Huxley, best known as the author of Brave New World, experimented with psychedelic drugs in the late 1950s. His ideas on the subject are recorded in his books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Huxley believed that drugs such as mescaline and LSD allowed us to view the world “as is” rather than as we normally experience it—in a way more fitting for survival. He called this manner of viewing the world the “mind at large”, and argued that it was a wonderful perspective that many people would benefit from.
He also argued that every culture across time has sought some kind of chemical escape from daily life. In his opinion, psychedelics were a healthier alternative to tobacco and alcohol, achieving the goals of escape alongside psychological and mystical realizations.
that drugs are not enlightenment, but merely helpful for the intellectual who might be attached to words and symbols. His occasional enjoyment of drugs lasted the rest of his life; his last words were a request to his wife to be injected with LSD before dying. She obliged him.
There are, of course, other philosophers and thinkers who tried the stuff and had things to say about it. George Carlin, Richard Feynman, and Steve Jobs for example. The less philosophically inclined who still got a great deal out of their trips and were open about it include Jimi Hendrix, Ken Kesey, Cary Grant, and George Harrison.
While all these icons of art and science disagree on the benefits of those drugs being generally available to the public, or even what those benefits are, they did converge on one thing: that the mind-bending effects are good for some people.
That’s not to be interpreted as blind endorsement—Sam Harris is perhaps clearest on that when he says: “This is not to say that everyone should take psychedelics… these drugs pose certain dangers. Undoubtedly, some people cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug.” As the West continues to consider the pros and cons of differing chemical substances, the testimony of some intelligent and successful people must be included in any discussion.
One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”.
In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.
Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”. Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.
I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”.
The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.
There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans — it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences.
In the series’ press release in Britain — the BBC will show it — there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern.
All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”
I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”.
In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.
To the north, in Quang Tri province, more bombs were dropped than in all of Germany during the Second World War. Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has caused more than 40,000 deaths in mostly “South Vietnam”, the country America claimed to “save” and, with France, conceived as a singularly imperial ruse.
The “meaning” of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea. The aim was described by Colonel Edward Lansdale, the famous CIA man on whom Graham Greene based his central character in The Quiet American.
Quoting Robert Taber’s The War of the Flea, Lansdale said, “There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.”
Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on 19 September – a body established to spare humanity the “scourge of war” – he declared he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual.
His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.
Returning to the US, I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.
There is plenty of sound and fury at Trump the odious one, the “fascist”, but almost none at Trump the symptom and caricature of an enduring system of conquest and extremism.
The sheer energy and moral persistence of these great movements largely succeeded; by 1987 Reagan had negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that effectively ended the Cold War. Where are the ghosts of the great anti-war demonstrations that took over Washington in the 1970s? Where is the equivalent of the Freeze Movement that filled the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s, demanding that President Reagan withdraw battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe?
Today, according to secret NATO documents obtained by the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zetung, this vital treaty is likely to be abandoned as “nuclear targeting planning is increased”. The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned against “repeating the worst mistakes of the Cold War … All the good treaties on disarmament and arms control from Gorbachev and Reagan are in acute peril. Europe is threatened again with becoming a military training ground for nuclear weapons. We must raise our voice against this.”
But not in America. The thousands who turned out for Senator Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” in last year’s presidential campaign are collectively mute on these dangers. That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo.
Barack Obama provided the apotheosis, with seven simultaneous wars, a presidential record, including the destruction of Libya as a modern state. Obama’s overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government has had the desired effect: the massing of American-led NATO forces on Russia’s western borderland through which the Nazis invaded in 1941.
Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 signaled the transfer of the majority of America’s naval and air forces to Asia and the Pacific for no purpose other than to confront and provoke China. The Nobel Peace Laureate’s worldwide campaign of assassinations is arguably the most extensive campaign of terrorism since 9/11.
What is known in the US as “the left” has effectively allied with the darkest recesses of institutional power, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, to see off a peace deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin and to reinstate Russia as an enemy, on the basis of no evidence of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The true scandal is the insidious assumption of power by sinister war-making vested interests for which no American voted. The rapid ascendancy of the Pentagon and the surveillance agencies under Obama represented an historic shift of power in Washington. Daniel Ellsberg rightly called it a coup. The three generals running Trump are its witness.
All of this fails to penetrate those “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics”, as Luciana Bohne noted memorably. Commodified and market-tested, “diversity” is the new liberal brand, not the class people serve regardless of their gender and skin colour: not the responsibility of all to stop a barbaric war, to end all wars.
“How did it fucking come to this?” says Michael Moore in his Broadway show, Terms of My Surrender, a vaudeville for the disaffected set against a backdrop of Trump as Big Brother.
I admired Moore’s film, Roger & Me, about the economic and social devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and Sicko, his investigation into the corruption of healthcare in America.
The night I saw his show, his happy-clappy audience cheered his reassurance that “we are the majority!” and calls to “impeach Trump, a liar and a fascist!” His message seemed to be that had you held your nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, life would be predictable again.
He may be right. Instead of merely abusing the world, as Trump does, the Great Obliterator might have attacked Iran and lobbed missiles at Putin, whom she likened to Hitler: a particular profanity given the 27 million Russians who died in Hitler’s invasion.
“Listen up,” said Moore, “putting aside what our governments do, Americans are really loved by the world!”
It may be that familiarity breeds contempt, and if that’s so, we should all be very glad of the wealth of excellent documentaries correcting the monolithic commercial story of punk, which goes something like this: The Sex Pistols and The Clash explode into the world in 1977 purveying anarchy and revolution and designer BDSM gear, and the status quo freaks out, then discovers many savvy marketing opportunities and here we are at our local punk boutique before the punk arena show at Corporation Stadium.
That’s a boring story, mostly because all the most interesting parts, and weirdest, most violent, gross-out, angry, experimental, queer, black, radical, feminist, etc. parts get left out, along with nearly all the best bands. Even if we date punk from the early seventies in New York with Patti Smith and the Ramones, we’re missing key progenitors from the 60s, from Detroit, Germany, Tacoma, Washington… The brackets we snap around decades as though each one popped into existence independently may blind us to how much history folds back in on itself, as do musical eras and genres.
Even before Crass arrived in ‘77 as “the missing link between counterculture hippies and punk’s angry rhetoric,” the MC5 ruled Detroit stages and bloody political conventions in 1968 Chicago. Though they’re credited—along with fellow motor city natives Iggy and The Stooges—with the invention of punk, they played hippy music: loose, bluesy, soulful, filled with long jams and solos. But they played it harder and with more speed, raw metal edge, and intensity than anyone, while adopting the politics of the Black Panthers. It’s refreshing to see both the MC5 and The Stooges represented in the Spotify playlist below, “The Evolution of Punk in Chronological Order.” (If you need Spotify’s software, download it here.)
What may sound didactic is in fact pleasantly surprising, and maybe essential as far as these things go. No, of course, “not EVERY punk band will be listed here,” the playlist’s creator concedes on Reddit. Not only is this impossible, but, as he or she goes on, “I am constructing this list by my own personal beliefs of what makes a band punk.” (Sorry, Blink 182 fans.) I’d be intrigued to know what those beliefs are. They are discriminating, yet ecumenical. Not only does the MC5 get much-deserved inclusion, but so do seminal 60s garage rock bands like The Monks, an American band from Germany, and The Sonics from Tacoma.
We begin with a little-known, quaintly-named act called Ronnie Cook & The Gaylads, who in 1965 recorded “Goo Goo Muck,” a novelty track that delivered for The Cramps sixteen years later. Early 60s rockabilly, surf-rock, and bubblegum (all products of the previous decade), are of course essential to so much punk, but the novelty act is also a punk staple. I’m pleased to see here serious experimentalists like Suicide and NEU!, two bands without whom so much of the 2000s could not have happened. I’m also pleased to see eighties pranksters The Dead Milkman, who wrote deeply offensive novelty songs like “Takin’ Retards to the Zoo” and sounded like a comic book.
Do we not hear of the Dead Milkmen, and bands like Choking Victim, Cock Sparrer, or the Crucifucks, because of political correctness run amok? That seems like an anachronistic way to look at things. I can assure you they pissed people off just as much at the time, and everyone argued endlessly about free speech. It’s true, the most offensive punk figure on the list, G.G Allin, became a minor celebrity on the daytime circuit after his extreme indulgences in masochism and coprophilia onstage. But most punk bands played for limited audiences, released on tiny labels, and attached themselves to particular regions. Playing punk rock was not always a very popular thing to do.
There are too many fragments, too many offshoots, tribes, divisions and affiliations for a monoculture summary. But if you were to write an account of punk using only the tracks on this playlist, it would be a comprehensive overview most people do not know, and a fascinating one at that. Maybe punk died–in ’77 when it signed to CBS, or in 1979 at the dawn of the eighties, or last year, who knows. But this list insists on covering over fifty years–from “Goo Goo Muck” to SKAAL’s 2016 “Not a Fan,” an almost classical slab of hardcore, with a chorus that provides the ideal coda: “Your rules / I’m not a fan.” Is punk dead? You tell me.
Before my friend Mark Fisher died in January, he had been working on a book called Acid Communism. This was Mark’s term for a utopian sensibility shared by the political radicals and psychedelic experimentalists of the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. It rejected both the conformism and authoritarianism that characterised much of post-war society and the crass individualism of consumer culture. It sought to raise the consciousness of individuals and society as a whole, be that through the creative use of psychedelic chemicals, aesthetic experiments in music and other arts, new kinds of household arrangements, radical forms of therapy, social and political revolution, or all of the above.
Mark had no personal interest in psychedelics. He liked the idea of ‘acid’ as an adjective, describing an attitude of improvisatory creativity and belief in the possibility of seeing the world differently in order to improve it.
In fact, when we first got to know each other, he still considered himself a hippy-hating post-punk, utterly dismissive of the legacy of both the summer of love and the radicalism of ‘1968’. But I (and others) persuaded him that it was a mistake to go along with the views of figures like Slavoj Zizek, or Adam Curtis, who simply dismissed the counterculture and the radicalism of the 1960s and 70s.
These commentators tend to focus on how the utopianism of the counterculture apparently led directly to the banal individualism of ‘new age’ and late 20th-century narcissistic consumerism. I have always argued that those outcomes must be seen as distortions of the radical potential of the counterculture, which had had to be neutralised and captured by a capitalist culture that found itself under genuine threat from radical forces in the early 1970s.
Technologies of the self
From this perspective, techniques of self-transformation like yoga, meditation or even psychedelic drugs, in theory, might have some kind of radical potential if they are connected to a wider culture of questioning capitalist culture and organising politically against it. By the same token, they can easily become banal distractions, ways of enabling individuals to tolerate every-intensifying levels of exploitation and alienation.
These ‘technologies of the self’, to use Michel Foucault’s term, have no inherent political meaning. From a progressive political perspective the question is whether, and if so how, they can be used to challenge entrenched assumptions of capitalist culture, enabling people to overcome their individualism in order to create potent and creative collectivities.
For the women’s movement of the early 1970s, the most important ‘technology of the self’ was probably the ‘consciousness-raising group’ – small groups of women who would meet to discuss all kinds of personal and social issues from a feminist perspective, seeking to liberate themselves from sexist and patriarchal assumptions. This was also the moment when black power and the gay liberation movement reached their most intense levels of politicisation, and when the politics of the ‘New Left’ was at its most influential.
What linked together all of their political positions was a rejection both of traditional hierarchies and of any simple individualism. These movements were libertarian, promoting an ideal of freedom, but they understood freedom as something that could only be achieved or experienced collectively.
Mark was interested in reviving the idea of ‘consciousness-raising’, and in theorising the effects of capitalist ideology in terms of ‘depletion of consciousness’. This is a way of thinking about the techniques used by various apparatuses of power – from school league tables to the tabloid press.
As many previous writers have noted, such institutions operate not just by feeding us false information, but also by affecting us emotionally in order to make us feel less able to act in the world, less able to think creatively or dynamically. From this perspective, ‘raising’ consciousness isn’t just a matter of giving people information about the sources of their oppression. It is also about enabling them to feel connected and alive, personally and collectively powerful enough to challenge their oppression.
There’s a fascinating confluence between the idea of ‘higher’ consciousness that emerges in some of the mystical, yogic and philosophical literature of the 20th century and the idea of politically ‘raised’ consciousness that became so central to 1970s radicalism. Both of these ideas had older antecedents.
Radical politics can take strength and inspiration from cultural forms that promote feelings of collective joyThe idea of raised political consciousness had its roots in the Marxist idea of ‘class consciousness’, whereby workers come to realise that their shared interests as workers are more significant than their private interest as individuals, or the cultural differences they may have with other workers. The mystical idea of ‘higher’ consciousness has its roots in Hindu and Buddhist ideas of the individual self as an illusion. Escape from that illusion, realisation that the self is only an incidental element of a wider cosmos, is sometimes referred to as ‘enlightentment’. But the original sanskrit and pali terms might be better translated as ‘awoken’. Maybe it’s not an accident that ‘woke’ has become a popular radical slang term for raised political consciousness.
Many writers thinking along similar lines have argued that radical politics can take strength and inspiration from cultural forms that promote feelings of collective joy (festivals, disco, etc), overcoming the alienating individualism of capitalist culture. An interest in this, and all of these other ideas about consciousness-raising and radical social organisation, motivated some of the organisers of The World Transformed, and Labour activist Matthew Phull, to approach me about the possibility of creating a space to discuss them at this year’s event.
It was Matt who came up with the phrase ‘Acid Corbynism’, a suggestive term implicitly raising the question of whether it would be possible to link the politics of the current Labour left to this tradition of utopian experimentalism.
In fact, there are already historical links between them. A crucial feature of the politics of the New Left was its critique of bureaucratic authoritarianism, in the public sector and the commercial world. The radicals of the New Left called for the democratisation of households, workplaces and public institutions, from schools to the BBC.
Labour’s general election manifesto made few concessions to this tradition, being almost entirely a list of things that central government would do and rules it would impose. But last year Labour commissioned a study into the feasibility of implementing new co-operative and radically democratic forms of ownership of enterprises and services, reminding us that the call for workers’ control of industry was part of the radical tradition associated with Tony Benn and his followers in the 1970s and 80s (the most famous of those followers being Corbyn himself).
Although critics of Corbynism see it as a personality cult focused entirely on the leader himself, Corbynite activists have found themselves part of a largely self-organised movement, seeking to raise public consciousness and their own political effectiveness through the use of cutting-edge communications technologies. Perhaps campaigning apps and organising platforms are our new technologies of the self.
Whether these radical tendencies can be developed into a full-blown project to democratise British institutions (including the Labour Party) remains to be seen. But history suggests that political and social change on the scale we seek must be accompanied by extensive cultural innovation. Pro-Corbyn memes and football chants are a start. What new forms of expression may emerge in the years ahead, nobody can predict. It seems certain, however, that the struggle against neoliberalism and authoritarian conservatism will still require forms of culture that are collectivist without being conformist, liberating without simply breaking social ties.
A new book and exhibition are honouring the legacy of the magazines that formed a key part of 1960s counter-culture
The cliché that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there couldn’t be more wrong in the case of Barry. He was at the centre of the decade’s counter-culture, naming the likes of Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger among his friends, organising huge events such as the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall and the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, an epic concert that took place at Alexandra Palace featuring Pink Floyd.
That latter gig raised funds for the International Times (IT), a magazine that Miles helped found in 1966. The magazine built up a huge following, with circulation reaching just over 40,000 per issue at one stage, with contributions from writers including William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. IT paved the way in Britain for other provocative publications including Oz, Black Dwarf and Ink – and trouble with the authorities, from police raids to obscenity trials, quickly followed.
These magazines are now being celebrated with the publication of a new book, The BritishUnderground Press of the Sixties and an accompanying exhibition at the A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell from September 28 to November 4. Miles has played a key role in organising both the book and show, and his illustrated history, In The Sixties, is also being re-published. He spoke to us about his role in the British underground press and what made the International Times and its peers such a key part of 60s counter-culture.
A cover of the International Times from March 1968
Why do this exhibition now?
James [Birch, co-curator] and I have been talking about this, along with various friends, for about 17 years. Reasons for doing it now include the sudden availability of exhibition space and the interest in the 60s caused by the 50th anniversary of the so-called ‘Summer of Love’. Also, in my case, I’m getting on and wanted to see that part of my life documented while I’m still around.
How did the International Times get started and what was the aim of it?
In 1965, I was one of the organisers of the Albert Hall international poetry reading featuring Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. My friend Hoppy – John Hopkins – and I looked at each other and looked at the audience of 7,000 young people, and realised that they had no voice. Fleet Street in those days was a closed shop, you had to do two years on a regional paper before you could work there, by which time journalists had absorbed the culture and were out of touch with what young people were doing. Our aim was to emulate the Village Voice, an anti-establishment, community and arts paper from New York that reported radical politics, avant garde art, music and gave space to dissenting voices. Our only aim was to provide the vehicle, we did not have a political agenda. By the time the paper came out, a much more radical paper had appeared in New York, called the East Village Other. It actively covered the use of drugs, talked about sex in an uninhibited manner (their printers in Chinatown did not speak English so there was no censorship) and, most importantly for us, they used off-set litho in a radical new way, reproducing collages, running typefaces upside down, sometimes even handwriting on the boards. With traditional linotype you had to have a copper plate for all illustrations and even for headlines.
A cover of the International Times from March 1972
What made the 60s such a fertile time for a counter cultural movement?
In America the counter-culture was a reaction to the consumer society. People were interested in enlarging their consciousness, through the use of drugs or medication and Eastern religious practices. They believed in free love and sexual freedom, they read a lot of poetry and listened to the type of rock music that was not covered by the ‘straight’ press. In Britain, it was almost the opposite, there was full employment and this this was the first time that young people had any money. They could not afford to buy a car, and the idea of a mortgage did not even occur to people, but they could buy clothes and records and go to concerts and clubs. The biggest cultural change was that young people were, on the whole, much better educated than their parents. Many went to university whereas my parents, for instance, both left school at 14. This meant that for many people, their parents could not be their mentors, their children just knew so much more. Instead of getting information from their family, they turned to a supermarket of ideas and lifestyles: from radical politics to the Beat Generation – Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac et al – and from the pronouncements of rock and roll figures like John Lennon – to literature and radical philosophy and the questioning of almost all traditional attitudes.
Barry Miles pictured in the 60s
What was the importance of the magazines to the counter-culture movement as a whole?
The underground press was how the ideas were spread. At its height International Times was printing 44,000 copies and each copy was often read by four or five people. Oz, in the 60s, was selling about 30,000 and a great deal more during the obscenity trial of 1971. Records also spread the ideas – the Beatles, the Kinks, the Stones, the Who etc. They all sang about the problems of youth and celebrated a lifestyle of sexuality and freedom.
What was the editorial policy of the IT?
I don’t recall us ever discussing ‘editorial policy’, although we did commission a few pieces. For instance William Burroughs was living in London then and was told that we would run anything he cared to give us. He was in the second, third and fifth issues and more later. We reprinted pieces we liked, mostly from American papers but also by Bertrand Russell and Sartre, and interviewed people we liked: Dick Gregory the black American comedian, the artist Claes Oldenburg, the modern composer Morton Feldman. I interviewed rock people like McCartney, Harrison, Lennon, Jagger, Zappa and Pete Townshend. People sent in material – FAR too much poetry – and we reported on whatever news reached us; we had no reporters but we had a news editor who read the American and continental underground press. Most news stories came from people phoning up or walking in, or from our friends: it was a community newspaper.
A cover of Oz from May 1970
How do you reflect on the troubles the magazines had with the authorities over things that would barely cause a ripple these days?
It was astonishing how threatened the ‘establishment’ felt by a few hundred proto-hippies. We never really got to the bottom of why we were busted in 1967; probably the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ by Dick Gregory. Our policy – again, it just happened, was not planned – was to run all interviews as Q&A in order to be as accurate as possible. We should have realised that you couldn’t say that in Britain. The police arrived with an Obscene Publications warrant and seized every piece of paper in the office, including the telephone books, all the business papers, advertising correspondence, thousands of back issues, individual staff members’ address books, even an un-cashed cheque from one of the staff’s pocket and left the room completely empty. They body searched female members of staff, carefully emptied all the ashtrays and left with everything in a three-ton truck. Three months later, they threw everything back down the stairs without bringing any charges. Had this happened in a third world or communist country there would have been protests but no-one wanted to know except Private Eye. We didn’t expect help, by definition we were an underground paper, but I had expected Fleet Street to at least wonder where the line was drawn. It was a calculated attempt to close us down. We survived because IT was not a commercial operation, it always existed hand-to-mouth and for those three months, even more so.
A cover of Ink from July 1971
How would the internet have on 60s counter culture and what you were doing with the magazines?
Communications. 50 years ago we were unbelievably crude by today’s standards. Not that many people had a phone, so parties or events were announced by postcards, flyers, posters and word of mouth. A phone call overseas had to be booked in advance and done through an operator. Ideas and news reports were spread by the print media and there really was an avant-garde then because news of an event could take months to reach people in another country whereas now, everything is simultaneous and a performance piece by someone can be watched as it happens on line in Sydney or Berlin.
How has the cultural landscape changed since the 60s?
Art has been commoditised, monetised, whereas in the 60s only music was commercial. Now art students leave art school thinking they are entitled to make a living producing ‘art product’ whereas 50 years ago, most artists worked because they were driven to do so for artistic reasons. Someone like Hirst would have been impossible – even Warhol had a hand in everything that the Factory produced. Everything moves ten times as fast now – no wonder young people are stressed and anxious.
Barry Miles, pictured recently
Are there any counter-cultural movements that exist today comparable to what you were part of?
There will always be a bohemia, a dissenting group, a group of people who challenge the status quo, and a good thing, too, because without people testing the rules and pushing for change you have stasis, a dead society that inevitably decays. Without people pushing for change we would still have children down the mines, women would not have the vote, slavery would be legal and the rest. The counter-culture is out there online, still challenging, still getting up people’s noses.
The British Underground Press of the Sixties is on at the A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell until November 4; a book of the same name is published by Rocket 88 – go to britishundergroundpress.com for more information. In the Sixties is available from October 5 – go to www.inthesixties.com
Ron Cobb was the greatest political cartoonist of the twentieth century.
For a decade between 1966-76, his political cartoons were the most brilliant graphic voice of america’s new anti-establishment generation. From the Vietnam war to inner city race riots, from gun culture to the felling of ancient forests, Cobb covered it all. Then, suddenly, one sunny California day, the cartoons stopped.
Cobb was born in 1937. As a teenager, his main interests seem to have been science fiction and later science and art, especially in combination. He read Asimov and was an enthusiastic admirer of the artist Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986) who “inspired an entire generation of astronomers, artists, writers, engineers and visionaries with his remarkable paintings. He illustrated the seminal Conquest of Space with author and space travel evangelist Willy Ley, with new paintings of unimaginable sights throughout the solar system.” (1)
By the age of 17, Cobb was working for Disney Studios in Burbank, California as an animation breakdown artist, progressing to become an ‘inbetweener’ on the animation feature Sleeping Beauty (1959), the last Disney film to be produced with hand-inked cels. (2)
Cobb was laid off from Disney once the film was finished in 1957 and he spent the next three years in a variety of jobs – mail carrier, factory worker, assembler in a door factory, sign painter’s assistant – until he was conscripted into the US Army in 1960. He drove classified documents around San Francisco for two years, before spending 1963 in Vietnam as a draughtsman for the Signal Corps.
When he got his discharge papers, Cobb freelanced as an artist and began contributing to the fledgling Los Angeles Free Press or ‘Freep’. Cobb says, “I always had to find paying work elsewhere while contributing to the Freep. In all my years of cartooning I never made a living from the underground press.”
The Freep was “among the most widely distributed underground newspapers of the 1960s and is often cited as the first such paper. Edited and published (weekly for most of its existence) by Art Kunkin, the paper initially appeared as a broadsheet titled ‘Faire Free Press’ in 1964, then became the LA Free Press newspaper in 1965. Notable for its radical politics when such views rarely saw print, the paper also pioneered the emerging field of underground comix by publishing the ‘underground’ political cartoons of Ron Cobb.” (3)
The Freep was part of the Underground Press Syndicate, a group of about 60 US magazines and papers freely sharing their contents – contents which included Cobb’s cartoons. “Anyone who agreed to those terms was allowed to join the syndicate. As a result, countercultural news stories, criticism and cartoons were widely disseminated, and a wealth of content was available to even the most modest start-up paper. Shortly after the formation of the UPS, the number of ‘underground’ papers throughout North America expanded dramatically.” (4)
By 1970, Cobb’s publisher could boast that his cartoons were appearing “in over 90 college newspapers and a number of establishment dailies.” (5)Cobb contributed cartoons to the Freep for six years until, in 1972, he set off on a tour to Australia and New Zealand. The tour – 14 speaking / slideshow dates between June and July in the major cities – was organised by the Aquarius Foundation, the cultural branch of the Australian Union of Students. Cobb wasn’t an unknown down under as his cartoons had been published in Broadside and Farago since 1969 but he took with him longtime friend, Phil Ochs, the most outstanding protest singer of the 60s and 70s, so the Foundation would make its money back.
Reviewing an early Melbourne university event, where Cobb and Ochs appeared with Captain Matchbox, Laurel Olszewski wrote in the music magazine Go-Set:
“I went along to the first Melbourne Uni. Concert. A quite sincere guy, and apparently at a loss because of lack of planned illustrations on slides, Ron Cobb didn’t speak much, or well, about his cartooning. He did talk about some of the subject matter though – ecology, politics, with the help of the audience who asked questions.”
Cobb remembers his performances getting better as the tour progressed, noting a relation between improved speaking and improved functioning of projector equipment. And he liked Australia. Not least because the tour was run by Robin Love who would later become his wife. He stayed for a year, making a travel film with Love and had a number of cartoons – 12 – published by the Melbourne-based satirical magazine, the Digger.
After twelve months in Australia, Cobb returned to California where he picked up cartooning with the LA Free Press. He also produced drawings for the Dan O’Bannon – John Carpenter feature film, the sci-fi black comedy Dark Star (1974), designing the exterior of the spaceship and suggesting many ideas for its interior.
Cobb had published four collections of cartoons in miniscule print runs by 1970, but in 1975 he collected “all the famous cartoons from his past books, as well as those done recently for The Digger and the Los Angeles Free Press” and published them as The Cobb Book, a 112 plate compilation, through the small Australian outfit Wild & Woolley.
Three years later and with the same publisher, Cobb put out another collection, Cobb Again. Although the book was published in 1978 and claims “This new collection consists of new cartoons from the last three years”, the drawings are all dated from the period 1974-76. These were the last of the line. After 1976, Cobb produced no more political cartoons.
Over the course of the decade, Cobb did a lot of other graphic artwork which never found its way into the collections. He designed record sleeves, postcards and book covers and collaborated in the production of comix.
The political cartoons stopped as he became more involved in concept design for the film industry during the second half of the 70s and the collections have been out of print for nearly 30 years. With almost zero online presence, these great works have drifted into obscurity and are now more underground than they ever were.
The decade 1966-76 was a momentous time, especially for young americans. While there are, no doubt, many histories of the period, Cobb’s cartoon corpus, coming from the front lines of counterculture radicalism, is a unique record of the times.
The era produced other cartoonists but none who matched the political credentials and technical abilities of Cobb or who had his depth of coverage – roughly a cartoon a month for ten years.
Introducing an interview with Cobb at the beginning of Raw Sewage, Eric Matlan enthuses, “His skill is consummate. But it is what he draws that is important, not how he does it.” The two aren’t as neatly separable as Matlan would like them to be. Without the visual brilliance, it’s unlikely Cobb’s political message would ever have made it onto the editorial pages of campus papers and then into book form. And how brilliant the visuals are.
From the beginning, his drawings show an incredible amount of detail. Several of the ecology cartoons in Raw Sewage, for example, have people moving around in a sea of rubbish or in the rubble and rubbish littered landscape of a post-nuclear apocalypse. Empty beer cans, old gloves, tyres, dead birds, dead fish, bottles, shards and shattered bits of wood are piled up to illustrate the “efficiency, utility, expediency” of consumer culture or the devastation of an atomic aftermath. (6)
Detailed draughtsmanship was also used to represent positive ideas. Patches of grass in ‘BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD…’ or in ‘SHROUD’, for example, are incidental celebrations in a Dürer-type way of the simple natural forms which the ecologist Cobb valued so much. (7)
Preparatory, labour-intensive draughtsmanship was followed up with some equally detailed pen work. Cobb used a fine nib for inking-in and one of his trademark features was great areas of hatching – road surfaces, smoke clouds and the like. Three of the best examples from Raw Sewage are ‘BLESSED ARE THE MEEK’, ‘NO LOITERING’ and ‘SEQUOIA SQUARE’ where whole page surfaces are covered with this kind of work.
Another trademark is a thick black line around individual items in the cartoons – people, cars, whatever – which gives weight and physicality to two-dimensional representations. These lines, much thicker than the fine-nibbed marks of hatching, were nevertheless done with the same pen. The effect is impressive – heavy black lines with scratchy, scruffy edges support the otherwise precise and physically accurate world that Cobb draws. It’s interesting to look at because it contrasts – on the one hand it’s slick and on the other it isn’t.
Many cartoonists have used strong areas of black and white contrast to good effect and Cobb is no different. Some of his best cartoons are virtuoso examples of this technique – ‘HO HO HO’, the aborigine cartoon, or ‘JUICY FRUIT’ about space litter, are both immediately visually arresting because of their dramatic and skilled use of contrast. (8)
Similarly, Cobb seemed to enjoy playing with perspective. An early cartoon from Raw Sewage, one with no text, shows an old man sitting on a bench surrounded by skyscrapers and concrete. At his feet a weed pokes through a crack in the pavement and he smiles to himself, tragically. Great cartoon. But the image is drawn looking straight down a path with high buildings on both sides which disappear into the distance and the perspective effect is, through it’s obviousness, a little bit contrived. The composition contrasts sharply with surrounding work and the image is one of Cobb’s most memorable cartoons. Similar demonstrations of foreshortening skill crop up again impressively in ‘SAUSAGE CITY’ (The Cobb Book) and in ‘NUCLEAR WASTE DUMP’, the cover of Cobb Again.
Cobb’s composition skills obviously got more adept as he got older. So did his characterisations. Uncle Sam, the assassin-war merchant in star spangled top hat was a speciality. But the expressions and postures of junta generals or old testament prophets are just as well conceived. The later cartoons from 74-76 which concentrate more on the relatively local political stories of US government, have many more caricatures of political personalities. Nixon, Ford and Kissinger now crop up regularly where they didn’t before and Cobb’s likenesses are faultless.
But ironically, as his skills got more polished and his subject matter more concentrated on specific events, the cartoons got more professionally routine.
Especially at the beginning of his cartoon career, Cobb’s drawings were general statements about the way of things, opinions condensed from the assimilation of a lot of cultural information, rather than reactions to particular events.
Raw Sewage is essentially an ecology manifesto where pollution, consumerism and the threat of nuclear war account for just about all the work.
There are no event-specific cartoons here. The book has some classic Cobb cartoons and features a great statement at the beginning – running to some 4 pages – in which, without pausing for breath, he delivers an account of man’s dependence on nature, his present contempt for it and the cartoonist’s hopes for a better ecological future. A typical couple of sentences read: “Ecology is really a dynamic realization, an awakening to processes older than reason. It’s a sort of ‘state of mind’, a recognition of the inter-relatedness of all things.”
This first collection also shows Cobb’s ongoing interest in space exploration and science fiction. More so than today, speculation about the possibilities of outer space in the 40s and 50s and subsequent developments in the US-Soviet space race, played a big part in peoples lives. Cobb was fascinated by this stuff and, even when he wasn’t drawing Mars landings, the science fiction element crept into other parts of his work. In this way, envisioning the future, sometimes in an uncannily accurate way, became a thematic trademark of his work.
Apart from the post-nuclear holocaust / disaster cartoons, there are other cartoons which deal with their subject in this futuristic way.
Commenting on an already oppressive law and order regime in the US, Cobb drew two uniformed ‘B-Class’ citizens sitting on a ‘B-citizens only’ bench on a street corner directly overlooked by a CCTV camera. The camera, which is attached to a pole with a curfew notice on it, sports a label saying ‘FOR YOUR PROTECTION’ while in the background an officer protrudes from an armoured police vehicle as he spies the street with binoculars.
The Cobb Book is subtitled, “Ecology, racism, drugs, disasters, law ‘n’ order, religion and outer space: eight years of cartoons from the underground press by Ron Cobb” and indeed, Cobb covers all these themes over and over again. Some of his best anti-racism cartoons were done in Australia in 1972 where the aboriginal peoples were, and still are, suffering appalling discrimination. One cartoon, which makes the back cover, shows a dead aboriginal man lying next to a dead kangaroo at the side of an outback highway as a sheep transporter drives by – both bodies are left as worthless roadkill.
There are a few drug cartoons in the later collections – a pot smoking self-portrait (top of this page) and a few other, more decorative stoned pieces – while RCD-25 is credited with containing “some classic drug cartoons”. Some ridiculing of religion rounds out the corpus.
It is amazing that this body of work has remained hidden from view for so long. Perhaps it finds itself in a parallel universe because anywhere else the original drawings would be doing world gallery tours, the cartoons would be reprinted in glossy hardback with wedges of peer interviews and background text and Cobb would be a celebrated man. Many of the cartoons haven’t dated at all and are as relevant today as they must have been then. Republish Cobb now is my advice: reproduction rights are held by Wild & Woolley.
Ron Cobb, a cartoon bibliography, 1967-78:
1967: RCD-25 (25 cartoons: Sawyer Press)
1968: Mah Fellow Americans (30 cartoons: Sawyer Press)
1970: Raw Sewage (38 cartoons: Price Stern Sloan and Sawyer Press)
1970: My Fellow Americans (40 cartoons: Price Stern Sloan and Sawyer Press)
1975: The Cobb Book (112 cartoons: Wild & Woolley)
1978: Cobb Again (84 cartoons: Wild & Woolley)
(1) the ‘Chesley Donavan Foundation’ takes its name from the artist Chesley Bonestall and Asimov’s “cheery engineer” Donavan who appeared in I, Robot (1950).
(2) “inbetweens are the drawings that fill-in between the keyframes. The inbetweener is the person who draws them. A keyframe is a main pose within a sequence of animation. A key animator will draw key poses and indicate the timing and number of inbetween drawings required. breakdown [is] the frame by frame analysis of sound tracks so that animation can be frame accurately synchronised to the sound” http://www.animationpost.co.uk/doping/glossary.htm
(5) blurb, Raw Sewage
(6) quote from ‘GROSS WORLD PRODUCT’ (Raw Sewage)
(7) ‘BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD…’ (The Cobb Book), ‘SHROUD’ (Cobb Again)
(8) both cartoons from The Cobb Book
Ron Cobb adds the first recent statement by Cobb about his 60s and 70s cartoonsToward the end of the sixties and well into the seventies I began to detect a flagging of cartoon ideas, along with a more alarming evaporation of originality. In the rush to meet my weekly deadlines I began to catch myself subtly using the same, thinly disguised visual paradoxes from earlier panels, to comment on something entirely different. Also, more political caricatures began to appear confirming my worry that I was exchanging illumination for finger pointing.I had truly become sloppy with the content of the cartoons while conversely, growing in my attraction to the film medium. It wasn’t an interest in animation that pulled me. My two years at Disney taught me that animation lacked spontaneity. It was the writing, and possible directing, of live action short films or maybe features that intrigued me now.As for the cartoons, I just had to stop, take a break and see if my focus would return. After all, it was always the thrill of seeing some irritating or terminal condition of life, society and/or history in a whole new light, an illumination that might even suggest a way out, that had always spurred me on. And now that satisfaction was fading. It certainly wasn’t the money. Yet, at the same time my interest in film-making felt much like the renewal of the same process I experienced when I first started cartooning.Everything seemed to say I should move on. So I did.I continue to write screenplays, teleplays and children’s books with some limited success. I have even returned to cartooning from time to time with panels appearing in the LA Times and other more obscure publications. i’ve had to change my mind about animation, it’s become highly automated, less collaborative and far more spontaneous. I am now rather keen to create small animated films with the help of my Mac.—————–My decline in imagination and motivation concerning the cartoons was long and gradual. That is, long before and long after we lost Phil Ochs. I have encountered a few written speculations that there was some connection between the termination of my weekly cartoon and the death of Phil Ochs or, possibly even the end of the sixties. Toward the end of his life Phil increasingly suffered from manic/depressive episodes. By that time all his friends and family had been trying desperately to help him for many years. Robin and I, along with Jerry Rubin and others were all in New York trying to help Phil through the last, deepest depression of all, just four days before he ended his life. Of course it had a devastating effect on all of us, and still does, but the example of Phil’s life was far more a call to redouble lose up shop. Anyhow, I feel strongly that Phil’s death was in no way the cause of my mid stream shift.Also, it should be said, I never identified that much with the counter-culture, the new left or “The Sixties”. I fully expected flower power to wilt and teach ins to teach out. Some of what happened was partially effective like the women’s movement, but most of it was too faddish, emotional and self indulgent (read, American) to really fit the complex mix of world events and thus, change things in all the intended directions.
(I know the political activism of the Vietnam years are widely thought to have accomplished a great deal, but I truly question this as I think history will as well.) It is clearly demonstrable that Vietnam changed everything with absolutely zero correlation to anyone’s expectation on any side of the conflict, (including the current Vietnamese government).
All my Vietnam cartoons were as much observation and comment about the movement as about the war.
I grew up in the forties and fifties amid the famous angst-riddled generation known as the Eisenhower years. This is when all the middle class kids of the cold war retreated into dark coffee houses to become “serious”. Soon they emerged throughout urban America as the “Beat” movement. I saw this as a signal, more than anything else, of the country’s tentative but long awaited willingness to listen and speak of dark things. Unfortunately, The Beatnik’s sober discussions were limited to “the Bomb”, jazz and Existentialism. But such gloomy restlessness seemed to trickle down and out into society where other less “hip” people were beginning to sense a feeble license to bitch and moan. First they bitched about racism, poverty and brutality then they demanded change. For while the war to rid people of totalitarianism was over, bad things were still happening to people all over the world and a lot of them were right here.
It was this post-war wave of protest and optimism, the fear of McCarthyism in high school, Civil Rights, the Cold War, that I enthusiastically co-opted and supported for 5 decades. The issues went on to become, Cuba, Religion, Knee-jerk Militarism. Christian attacks on education, Vietnam, etc. and I loved commenting on them all but, without any substantial reference to political theorizing or rhetoric. My viewpoint has always been art/science. I am deeply skeptical of the ultimate relevance of politics to actual human behavior in the real
world. On the other hand, the ongoing analysis of human biology, behavior, natural history and brain function tends to increasingly reveal political philosophy as subjective rationalization, wishful thinking and the stubborn preservation of infantile over-generalization. Politics are all too real but I prefer doing a cartoon about politics than doing a political cartoon about anything else.
As a middle class, white, sappy secular humanist, I desperately wanted to learn how to convert my bitter disappointment and anger into a clarification of the debate and a contribution to the winning of real
social and cultural transformation, no more, no less. I still think this opportunity is as open now, as it ever was, only it’s just getting harder to be heard.
I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the
Carry Me Away
Matt Goodfellow’s acclaimed debut collection, Carry Me Away, is a beautifully crafted set of poems that blend humour, intrigue and a love of the natural world.
Collected Poems for Children
A beautiful hardback edition of Charles Causley’s Collected Poems for Childrenwith a foreword by Roger McGough and illustrated with line art by John Lawrence. This Macmillan Classics edition is truly a special gift to treasure.
Alice Poetrycelebrates the poems of Lewis Carroll. This beautiful collection features many contemporary poems from editor Michaela Morgan and a host of popular poets, including Roger McGough, John Agard, Grace Nichols, and Rachel Rooney, each one putting their own spin on these classic texts.
100 Brilliant Poems for Children
100 Brilliant Poems for Childrenchosen by Paul Cookson is a gorgeous pick-and-mix of a book packed with long-term favourites, song lyrics and brand-new delights. There are some handy hints and starting points for reading, writing and performing at the back.
Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses
Brian Moseshas been entertaining and inspiring children and teachers since 1988. His percussion-filled school visits are legendary. Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses is a collection of his 100 favourite and most popular poems including ‘The Ssssnake Hotel’, ‘Walking with my Iguana’ and ‘Lost Magic’.
A Poem for Every Night of the Year
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, A Poem for Every Night of the Year is a collection of 366 poems, with each poem having a connection to the corresponding date in the book – from celebrating The Battle of Bosworth to the day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.
Includes poetry from from William Wordsworth, Sappho, A.A. Milne, Benjamin Zephaniah, Carol Ann Duffy and Maya Angelou
100 Prized Poems: Twenty-five Years of the Forward Books
Stoned Circus Radio Show – Garage & Psychedelia from all over the world (from the 60’s to the 00’s) Freak out the jam ! EACH MONDAY 8:00 to 9:30 PM (Gmt +1 Paris).
The 90 minutes long show superbly highlights 60s psychedelic music, garage punk, , mods, Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, punk rock, psychedelia, acid-rock, beat, r’n’b, soul & early funk, space-rock, exotic sounds with sitarfuzz & … AND all good now-sound can be heard on Stoned Circus
*-*-*SPECIAL SHOW : Crazy Music For Crazy People – MAD DERANGED INCREDIBLE*-*-* GUEST : my friend PSYCHE
David Harvey’s Course on Marx’s Capital: Volumes 1 & 2 Now Available Free Online
For many people, the arguments and analysis of Karl Marx’s three-volume Das Kapital (or Capital: A Critique of Political Economy) are as relevant as ever. For many others, the work is a historical curiosity, dated relic, or worse. Before forming an opinion either way, it’s probably best to read the thing—or as much of the huge set of tomes as you can manage. (Vol. 1, Vol. 2. and Vol. 3.) Few thinkers have been as frequently misquoted or misunderstood, even, or especially, by their own adherents. And as with any dense philosophical text, when embarking on a study of Marx, it’s best to have a guide. One could hardly do better than David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
Harvey’s work as a geographer focuses on cities, the increasingly predominant mode of human habitation, and he is the author of the highly popular, two-volume Companion to Marx’s Capital. The books grow out of lectures Harvey has delivered in a popular course at the City University. They’re very readable (check them out here and here), but you don’t have to read them—or attend CUNY—to hear Harvey himself deliver the goods. We’ve previously featured his Capital: Volume 1 lectures (at top, preceded by an interview with a colleague). Now Harvey has made his lectures on Capital, Volume II and some of Volume III available. Watch all twelve classes above or view them individually here. As Harvey admits in an interview before the first lecture, the neglected second volume of Marx’s masterwork is “a very difficult volume to get through,” due to its style, structure, and subject matter. With Harvey’s patient, enthusiastic guidance, it’s worth the trouble.
You can view the lectures from Harvey’s course on multiple platforms. Below we provide an easy-to-access list. You can also see all lectures on David Harvey’s website, where you can also download class notes.
Pink Floyd is one of the world’s most iconic and influential bands. Their progressive and psychedelic music encompassing philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation and elaborate live shows has captured the hearts of fans for over five decades.
Now, the Lucy Bell Gallery in collaboration with Rockarchive.com is proud to present ‘Shine On’ an exhibition which showcases rare and iconic photographs from Pink Floyd’s remarkable career taken by some of the world’s greatest music photographers, including Andrew Whittuck, Jill Furmanovsky, Colin Prime, Tony Collins and Storm Thorgerson. Timed to coincide with the exhibition “Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains” At The V&A
Pink Floyd have achieved international acclaim and are one of the most commercially successful and influential groups in the history of popular music, having sold more than 250 million records worldwide.
Pink Floyd were founded in 1965 by students Syd Barrett on guitar and lead vocals, Nick Mason on drums, Roger Waters on bass and vocals, and Richard Wright on keyboards and vocals. They gained popularity performing in London’s underground music scene during the late 1960s, and under Barrett’s leadership released two charting singles and a successful debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967).
From band’s earliest photo shoots in Ruskin Park & Hampstead, to the recording studio at Abbey Road and on the road during the Dark Side of The Moon Tour, the exhibition “Shine On” includes these and other classic images that capture Pink Floyd’s energy and unique, eclectic style both on and off stage.
The exhibition also features alternative album artwork and other prints by the late, great graphic artist Storm Thorgerson, often referred to as Pink Floyd’s ‘sixth’ member, and whose designs are considered an inseparable part of their work.
South African–Canadian film director Neill Blomkamp recently launched Oats Studios, a new film project devoted to creating experimental short films. And now comes their very first production, a short film called “Rakka.” Starring Sigourney Weaver, “Rakka” takes us inside the aftermath of an alien invasion sometime in the year 2020. The Verge rightly notes that “Rakka” isn’t “a conventional short film. Instead, it’s a series of scenes depicting various points of view. Some scenes show what the aliens are doing to humanity; others track a resistance movement led by Weaver, and an escaped prisoner named Amir.” The new short runs 21 minutes and is streaming free on YouTube. ” Watch it above, and to learn about the making of “Rakka” and Oats Studios, read this interview over at Cartoon Brew.
The Sex Pistols Play in Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom; Next Show Is Merle Haggard (1978)
“Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were both punched in the face by girl fans as the Sex Pistols performed today deep in the heart of Texas.” That was the lede for the English newspaper The Evening News covering the Pistol’s concert at The Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, TX on January 10, 1978. It proved to be one of the strangest, most contentions shows in one of the strangest, most contentious tours in rock history. You can watch it above. All 37 minutes.
By the time of the concert, the Sex Pistols were already notorious in the U.K. They had released a single – “God Save the Queen” – that called Britain’s head of state a fascist on the date of her Silver Jubilee. The single became a huge hit in spite of – or perhaps because of – it getting banned by the BBC. They famously hurled obscenities at a chat show host on live TV. But to be fair, host Bill Grundy literally asked for it. “You’ve got another five seconds,” he told Johnny Rotten and company. “Say something outrageous.” They did.
Though the band started out as an elaborate Situationist-inspired performance art piece dreamed up by megalomaniac manager Malcolm McLaren, they evolved beyond just being a stunt. Their music was loud, aggressive and gleefully nihilist with lines like “And I wanna be anarchist, I get pissed, destroy!” That music and that attitude touched some deep simmering well of cultural discontent — be it lower class frustrations, dissatisfaction with consumer culture or some darker primal urge to burn everything down. Their music resonated.
For their 1978 tour of the United States, McLaren wasn’t interested in building a fan base. He was interested in pissing people off. So the tour completely bypassed seemingly obvious tour stops, like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, in favor of places like Memphis, Tulsa and San Antonio – none of which were exactly hot beds for punk. A famous picture of the marquee of the Longhorn Balloon shows the Pistols listed alongside Merle Haggard, giving you a feel for just how weird this tour was. Prior to the concert, Sid Vicious confessed his fears to a reporter about playing in Dallas. “They killed Kennedy here and everybody has warned us that the people are crazy. I think there’s a real danger that this is the town where I am going to be blown away.” (Weird historical side note: The Longhorn Ballroom was owned for a spell by Jack Ruby, the guy who shot Lee Harvey Oswald.)
The police were also reportedly worried. The Dallas police department had a SWAT team ready just in case the show turned into a riot. It didn’t, but just barely. The audience was equally split between hardcore fans – for example, Lamar St. John, the woman who decked Sid Vicious in the nose, drove from Los Angeles to see the show – and skeptical locals who wanted to see what the fuss was all about. As one Dallas paper wrote, “most of the people last night came to see the people who came to see the Sex Pistols.”
As you can see from the video, Johnny Rotten, who spent much of the show looking like a tweaker in the throes of a demonic possession, wasted few opportunities to ridicule the audience. “I see that we have a whole section of the silent majority around there,” he sneered. As the band worked its way through the set list, culminating in a blistering rendition of “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the audience hurled beer cans, tomatoes, garbage and the occasional punch at the stage. It’s not clear if the people who were doing the throwing were fans or irate cowboys. Such is the world of punk. Sid Vicious, the band’s outrageous if utterly untalented bassist, jumped around on stage and occasionally contributed some atonal backing vocals. After the punch, he let his nose bleed and soon he was covered in blood. “The bass player rubbed blood over his face and chest,” wrote the Evening News, “so that he looked like a demented cannibal.”
“Sid was really fucked up. Really drunk,” recalled writer Nick Barbaro. “He played for a while without his guitar plugged in. He played for a while with a fish. I think somebody threw it up there, a bass or something. People seemed pissed at him. He’d spit on the audience; they’d spit on him. That’s what you did. There was this element of, ‘You paid to see us play?’”
Four days later, the band broke up. “This is no fun. No fun at all. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?” Rotten wearily said on stage in San Francisco, the Sex Pistol’s final concert, before walking off stage and quitting the band. Vicious was dead a year later from a heroin overdose.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.
Pete Donohue works in community mental health in amazing Hastings on the Dirty South Coast of a proudly multi-cultural England and preserves his dubious sanity through creative writing, drawing, editing, reviewing and performing poetry and music.
It was a level 3 facility for the drunk and the disturbed.
For the drugglers and the smugglers, God’s crippled little birds.
It was a place to talk things over, for people without words.
Oh man, what a ball!
Not beautifully broken.
Just broken, that’s all. Broken, that’s all.
Yeah, well, Neil Young and “the damage done.” He got it wrong.
See there’s never been a junkie like the “setting sun,” so reliable and strong.
Yes, they both fade with color into black. But the difference is:
one of them is gone for good, the other one comes back.
Ah, mom, I meant to call.
Not beautifully broken.
I’m just broken, that’s all.
Yeah, well, the struggle is just struggle. It’s only struggle and nothing more.
No pride, no shame, no dignity in being hard and poor.
At least that’s how I recall.
Not beautifully broken.
Just broken, that’s all.
I’m broken, that’s all.
We’re broken, that’s all.
Just broken that’s all.
Earthbound: David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth, Susan Compo
I was looking forward to this one, assuming it would be a critical volume about Bowie and his relationship to the science fiction film which is now held in much higher regard than it was at the time, and went on to spawn Bowie’s final work, the play Lazarus. However, it’s not, it’s a book obsessed with brief biographies and places, and offers little discussion or critical material at all.
The parts which I imagine will sell this book, which claim to discuss Bowie’s proposed – perhaps even recorded – soundtrack, and the live performances of Lazarus are brief and uninformed. The striking cover image of Bowie and the subtitle are, to be honest, a sleight of hand. Bowie is in this book, but the book is not about him. The film is in the book, but the book is not really about it, author Susan Compo never steps back enough to discuss the film as a whole, or as part of a larger picture.
Instead, this is a book that inhabits the film crew’s hotels, desert locations, the make-up artist’s trailer, and the production office. It insists on giving the reader biographies of every person who appears in the book, and relies on gossip, interviews, hearsay and newspaper reports. It left me wanting a discussion of the film as a Nic Roeg film (I’m a big fan of Performance and Don’t Look Now), as part of Bowie’s career or as a film within the science fiction genre. I would also have liked to have read Compo’s own take on the film and also on Lazarus (and I don’t mean a fan’s gush: I’m glad I saw it, but I thought Lazarus was at best a bad art school performance project).
Jawbone books are beautifully designed and packaged, but I feel this title is being sold rather disingenuously as a Bowie book. It’s actually about the cluttered and difficult process of making a film, how stars do and don’t get along, how film company decisions can make or break a film, and how films can gradually establish their own reputation, spawn a cult fandom and even, eventually, critical acceptance.
“Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” 21-year-old Sophie Scholl lamented, before she was guillotined by the Nazis. “But what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” Scholl was a member of the White Rose, a small, anonymous group of mostly university students who hoped that by distributing leaflets and graffitiing public spaces, they could awaken complacent German intellectuals.
Seven months earlier in June of 1942, Sophie was sitting in a lecture hall at the University of Munich when she noticed a slip of paper under her desk. She picked it up and began to read, “Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible crimes — crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure — reach light of day?”
The mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps was now fully underway. As a child, Sophie had been a member of the girl’s branch of the Hitler Youth, but had been troubled when her Jewish friend was prohibited from joining. As Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach explained in their book, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, Sophie and her siblings — still under the sway of the Hitler Youth — often clashed with their father, an avowed anti-Nazi. One evening, walking along the Danube, he had turned to his children suddenly and hissed, “All I want is for you to walk straight and free through life, even when it’s hard.” Slowly, skepticism wormed its way in. Her alienation reached fever pitch in high school as nearly everything she learned was steeped in Nazi propaganda. Then her father was arrested when his employer overheard him calling Hitler “the scourge of humanity.” But reading the pamphlet, Sophie was conflicted. She had two brothers at the front, her father was in jail awaiting sentencing, and her mother was ill. Waiting to report anti-Nazi literature was a crime. She walked out of the lecture hall with the pamphlet in hand.
Sophie went in search of her older brother Hans, who was a medical student also at the University of Munich. He wasn’t in his apartment, so she waited for him there. She found a book by the German poet, Friedrich Schiller on his desk and began reading. One page in particular was covered in marks. The exact words she had read in the pamphlet were underlined. Sophie was terrified. Her brother must have had something to do with the pamphlet. When he returned, Sophie confronted him. He demurred. Two of his friends arrived, and eventually they told her the truth. Her brother and four others were a part of an anonymous resistance campaign. Sophie decided to join them.
For the next month, the group worked on their campaign. They bought stamps and paper from different post offices to avoid arousing suspicion. They collected quotes and copied them with a mimeograph. The second pamphlet read, “Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity.” The third called for the sabotage of armament plants, newspapers, and public ceremonies, and the awakening of the “lower classes.” Rumors buzzed about the pamphlets. As the language of the pamphlets became increasingly explicit, the gestapo ramped up their efforts to find the perpetrators, arresting anyone at the slightest suspicion of collaboration.
In July, four members of the White Rose including Hans were ordered to spend their summer break working as medics at the Russian front. On their way, they passed the Warsaw ghetto and were horrified. Once in Russia, they understood that Germany was losing to the Soviets despite the fact that the Nazis claimed otherwise. When they returned home in November, they were emboldened, and the White Rose increased the number of pamphlets they were publishing. The group traveled by train to distribute the leaflets all over Germany. They wanted to create the impression that the White Rose was a vast network, that the public was behind them. When the Germans admitted their loss to the Soviets in February of 1943, some White Rose members went out at night and graffitied the words “Freedom,” “Down with Hitler” and “Hitler mass murder” on the city hall and other public places. They believed Nazi Germany might be crumbling, they just needed the people to realize it.
On February 18, Sophie and Hans brought suitcases full of the sixth pamphlet to the University of Munich and left them in classrooms and hallways, and on windowsills. They — some accounts say just Sophie — went to a balcony that overlooked one of the university’s main courtyards. As hoards of students streamed out of class, the pamphlets fluttered down from the sky above them.
The sixth pamphlet was the last. A janitor had seen Sophie and her brother, reported them, and shortly thereafter they were arrested. Sophie was interrogated for seventeen hours. Four days later, when she finally emerged at the “People’s Court” in the Munich Palace of Justice, she had a broken leg. As Kathryn Atwood described in Women Heroes of World War II, the courtroom was a bevvy of Hitler supporters. The judge launched into a tirade about how the members of the White Rose were weakening Germany. The defendants were not given an opportunity to speak. And then, suddenly, a voice called out. It was Sophie. “Somebody had to make a start!” she yelled. “What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!”
After she interrupted the judge several more times, Sophie, her brother, and another member of the White Rose were sentenced to death. On the back of her indictment, Sophie scrawled the word “Freedom.” Within hours, the trio were lead to the guillotine. From the executioner’s block, her brother shouted, “Long live freedom!” (In total, roughly 5,000 dissenters would be similarly executed.)
After the execution, a pro-Nazi rally was held at their university, and the janitor who had reported them was given a standing ovation.
“Again and again, I hear stories about the remarkable emotional sensitivity of pigs…Those who live with pigs often speak of them as we normally speak of dogs – intelligent, loyal, and above all, affectionate. Each one is a complete individual, like no other pig.” (Jeffrey Moussaief Masson, The Pig Who Sang To The Moon.)
I am so much more than your bacon rasher, your chipolata, chorizo, sausage…
I am so much more than a “banger” for your “mash;” your sizzling “chop.”
I am so much more than your (not- so-tenderly) “pulled” pork.
I have tender loins. My belly doesn’t like being cut.
My ribs weren’t made for smoking. My back wasn’t designed for your teeth.
Nor my skin for “crackling;” my shoulders for your “Spam”.
My suckling wasn’t born for you to suck on!
My hams were made for walking. My trotters for getting around.
I AM a miraculous pig, (bright, sensitive, caring) – not your “hot dog”!
Why don’t you “cure” me in the right way?
I am so much more than your “experimental” subject, your biomedical “model.” Tortured behind dark, laboratory glass.
Burned, stabbed, slashed, shot at. Torn limb from limb. Suffocated (intentionally traumatized) for your man-made trauma “training.”
You rip my heart out! You cut me up! You take my breath away! When I squeal, its for real. I am so much more…
It is not me who is the “porker.” It is not me who greedily devours. It is not me “in shit” (the “swine” who cheats.) It is not me, a wild boar, who has a problem with violence; who makes such a “pig’s ear” mess of things.
It is not me. I am sweet; it is you who are sour.
I am so much more than you apparently know.
“Pork” is the most widely eaten “meat” in the world, accounting for 38% of meat production.
1,250, 000, 000 young pigs are killed for their flesh every year – 25 million beings a week. The oldest are just 6 months old when they die. Left to their own devices, pigs have a natural lifespan of 15 years.
Most “sucklings” are just 2-4 weeks old when they are killed. Meat-eaters are literally eating newborns.
“Pigs are sometimes stunned incorrectly and put into boiling water (meant to remove hair and soften skin) while still alive. Many have their teeth broken off by pliers and their tails severed with no anesthesia. Pigs experience such high levels of anxiety awaiting slaughter that many develop a hypermetabolic stress syndrome, where their bodies overheat and heart failure can occur.” (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on Animal Welfare pcrm.org)
Over 115 million animals die in laboratory experiments, (many in extreme pain) and an undisclosed number in so-called “trauma training” every year, of which a large percentage, in both cases, are pigs.
For over a hundred years now, scientists have been discussing what plant was used to prepare Soma (Haoma), a sacred drink of the ancient Indians and Iranians, which “inspired poets and seers, made warriors fearless.” The hypotheses were plenty: from ephedra, cannabis, and opium poppy to blue water lily (Nymphaea caerulea) and fly aga