Alan Moore Interviewed by Greg Wilson & Kermit Leveridge
At the beginning of last summer, Greg Wilson and Kermit Leveridge headed down to Lodge Studios at 23 Abington Square in Northampton to speak to a man who’s work and wisdom has made a huge impact on our lives and the lives of many others. The seminal writer behind comic books like ‘Watchmen’, ‘V For Vendetta’, ‘From Hell’, ‘Promethea’, ‘League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ amidst countless others and the author of ‘Jerusalem‘ one of the longest novels in the English language – the immense Alan Moore.
A lot of the ideas discussed in the interview revolve around a film made back in 2003, called ‘The Mindscape Of Alan Moore’ which explored Alan’s background, his work and also his magical ideas. The film made a huge impact on Greg and Kermit and played a significant role in informing what they did with Super Weird Substance, so much so that it directly influenced the label’s name.
The interview was filmed and shown at the debut Festival 23, which took place in South Yorkshire between 22nd and 24th July 2016, an integral part of an interconnected series of countercultural gatherings that have taken place over recent times – the latest of which has taken Daisy Eris Campbell and Greg Wilson to Santa Cruz to celebrate Robert Anton Wilson Day, exactly a year on from Festival 23.
The questions are a mixture of Greg’s, Kermit’s and those of Festival 23. Here’s the interview in full…
GREG WILSON: COUNTERCULTURE, THAT’S KIND OF THE MAIN THEME THAT’S LINKED EVERYTHING TOGETHER, SO COULD YOU EXPAND ON IT; WHAT WAS IT IN THE PAST? – WHERE IT MIGHT BE FOUND NOW?
ALSO YOU MENTIONED SOMETHING IN BRIGHTON ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE TALKING TO THE STUDENTS IN NORTHAMPTON, WITH THE CULTURAL DISCONNECT; THE FACT THAT WE THOUGHT THINGS WE TOOK FOR GRANTED WOULD CONTINUE TO BE KNOWN, HOWEVER YOUNGER PEOPLE MAYBE ARE LOSING THEM NOW.
ALAN MOORE: Yeah I mean, one of the things that old countercultural people such as myself tend to fall into, is that we assume that everybody has got an immense warehouse of dead facts in their head like we have.
I’d been asked by the estimable local politician, Tony Clarke – and it’s not very often you’ll hear me say that about a politician. Tony Clarke when he was an MP, was the only MP with an Inter City Firm tattoo, which I have immense respect for. Tony had got me up to the St. Georges Avenue Campus in Northampton because there were a number of students there who felt that they should engage with politics but really didn’t like the options that were on offer. They had heard that I was into alternative politics and anarchy, and so they basically asked me to go up there and talk about these alternative concerns.
When I got up there I was talking to these young people I have to stop myself saying kids – basically anybody under 50 to me is a kid – so nothing is meant by it. I was talking to these brilliant young people up there and I forget exactly how the conversation went but it might have been something like; I was saying, “Yeah there was the countercultural author, Aldous Huxley” and they looked at me with slight frowns, and I expanded “Aldous Huxley, he wrote the great dystopian novel ‘Brave New World’ and he also wrote ‘Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Doors of Perception’ when he was experimenting with psychedelic drugs. Him and Humphrey Osmond sort of founded the psychedelic movement and it was them basically who were the people behind Timothy Leary” and again they looked at me blankly. So I said, “Timothy Leary basically, he was a disciple of Huxley and of Osmond and he was kind of an LSD messiah who, in the ’60s, popularised LSD throughout the counterculture.” Again they were kind of looking at me… “Well, a counterculture…”
At this point I realised I was talking a completely different language, it’s not these people’s fault, it’s probably not my fault, but something needs to be done. So at the end of the talk I said, “I think what you probably need is a counterculture, because there hasn’t been one for a while.” This led to, Under The Austerity, The Beach event up at the campus. The idea was; lets talk about counterculture and what it was and what it could be.
I was very much influenced by having read John Higgs’ splendid book, ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds’, which is a catchy title. Reading through that, I thought that John had done an extraordinary job, and I gather that Bill Drummond feels pretty much the same way.
GW: OH GREAT, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT.
AM: Bill’s reaction, I think, was as bewildered as mine, in that, even though we are both people who feature in the book, and in those events back at that time, we had no idea what was going on. We needed someone like John Higgs to actually glue all that together so we knew what had happened to us.
One of the things that John points out in that book is the apparent death of counterculture, in around 1990.
KERMIT LEVERIDGE: AROUND THE TIME OF THE BURNING OF THE MONEY…
AM: Well yeah, it was around about the time when I believe Bill and Jimmy, they did, I believe it was a music industry award event…
KL: THE BRIT AWARDS!
AM: Where they went along with Extreme Noise Terror and they also took along a dead sheep, which I recently found out, Megan Lucas – who is a mainstay of the newly emergent Arts Lab that we’ve got going – turns out her sister-in-law actually provided the dead sheep for Bill and Jimmy to leave on the steps of the venue, after Bill had sprayed the audience with machine gun bullets. They were blanks – which shows great restraint upon Bill’s part.
KL: IT DOES…
AM: After that, Bill and Jimmy, they deleted their back-catalogue, which must of cost them much more than a million quid…
AM: They went to the Isle of Jura, where George Orwell finished ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four‘.
KL: I DIDN’T KNOW THAT.
GW: NO, NEITHER DID I.
AM: Yeah, the other big dystopian novel, next to Huxley’s.
That was where Orwell finished ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Bill and Jimmy went there with Gimpo and Jim Reid – but not the Jim Reid from the…
KL: NOT THE COUNTRY AND WESTERN SINGER?
GW: THAT’S JIM REEVES!
AM: No, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, which I believe – unless I just assumed this – but I believe that Bill Drummond actually told me, to my face, that that was Jim Reid from The Jesus & Mary Chain. Whereas John Higgs has actually revealed it was another Jim Reid, who is a television producer.
Bill Drummond… You can’t trust a word he says.
KL: OH, IS HE ONE OF THOSE..?
AM: He is, he is. Well, you can trust the fact that he really did burn a million quid; because they brought the film of it round to my living room and showed it. It’s great, I really like a film where you can see every penny of the budget up there on the screen.
After that, it signalled the end of rave culture, dance music. Alright, it still went on for a while after that, but the raw, beating heart of rave, it had gone.
KL: JOHN HIGGS, IN THE BOOK, HE SORT OF SAYS IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE 21ST CENTURY.
GW: WELL HE TALKS ABOUT LINEAL TIME OR SOMETHING, SOME HIDDEN PERIOD.
KL: YEAH, IT WAS THE END OF SOMETHING; THE BURNING OF THE MONEY WAS LIKE A FULL STOP TO EVERYTHING THAT CAME BEFORE IT, AND IT ALL CHANGED THEN. THE MUSIC INDUSTRY BECAME REALLY CORPORATE, EVERYTHING BECAME EXTREMELY CORPORATE AND BIG BUSINESS CAME INTO EVERYTHING. THE WHOLE LANDSCAPE OF CULTURE HAS CHANGED BECAUSE OF THE MONEY AND THE GREED.
AM: Well, it was a strange time. I mean, in 1993 I announced that I, for some reason – mainly I was quite drunk, it was my birthday, I was down at a biker pub – I suddenly announced that “Alright, I am a magician and from henceforth, I will be conducting myself as a magician.”
I had no idea what that meant, or what it would entail, you know I thought perhaps a hat with moon and stars on it, but I hadn’t really thought it through a lot beyond that.
In 1994, I had my first, as I believe, genuine magical experience, which kind of changed everything. It was shortly after that, that I had Bill and Jimmy coming to my house to ask why the fuck they had burned a million quid on the Isle of Jura.
KL: CAN I ASK YOU WHAT YOU CONSIDERED YOUR FIRST MAGICAL ACT?
AM: Well this becomes difficult because I think my first magical act, I only recognised retroactively. It was when I was around 25, me and my first wife Phyllis, we’d just had Leah, our eldest daughter, and we were living up on a sink estate up in the eastern district of Northampton and I had just quit work – I’d always wanted to make my living from something that I enjoyed and I decided that if I don’t do it now, I’ll probably never do it. Then we found out that we’d got a baby on the way, which – I had to give it some thought – but it was more of an incentive.
AM: Because I thought that once this baby’s born, I’ll never have the courage. So I spent about the first 6 months just doing nothing very much at all, I was planning huge science fiction epics that I would draw and write myself, despite the fact that I’d never drawn or written a comic strip in the past, but people would just recognise the innate genius in these things and it would be years in the telling.
After about three or four months, I’d got about one page inked, another page kind of pencilled vaguely and another page was just some loose scribble, and I thought, “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this thing that you’re clearly never going to finish?” And I thought, “You’re doing this because you’re never going to finish it. Because if you don’t finish it, you’ll never have to submit it and you’ll never have to face the possibility of rejection, and you’ll never have to face the possibility of somebody saying, “Yeah this is rubbish, you were never really as good as you thought you were – you’re never going to have this career.” Because then, you wouldn’t even have the dream…
I think this is what stops a lot of talented people. It makes them think, “No, I’d rather that I could have been a contender.” I’d rather keep that safe rather than risk it. Yet that paralyses you, you’re never going to make it.
GW: YOU SAY SOMETHING IN ‘THE MINDSCAPE’ ABOUT HAVING A SOUL, AND BEING TOO SCARED TO HAVE A SOUL BECAUSE IT’S PRECIOUS AND IT KIND OF FEELS SIMILAR TO THAT; YOU DON’T WANT TO GIVE IT OVER BECAUSE SOMEBODY MIGHT HURT YOU.
KL: YEAH SOMEBODY MIGHT TRAMPLE ON IT.
AM: I mean, art, if it’s anything, has got to be an expression of our soul – whatever the soul is, whatever we’re defining as the soul. The ‘Self’ is perhaps, a better word – ‘Self’ with a capital “S” – the true ‘Self’, the highest ‘Self’.
GW: WOULD YOU SAY THAT WAS ‘ESSENCE’?
AM: Yes, if you want.
So I was thinking, “Okay so you’re doing this to avoid actually finishing the work and being judged, what you should do – I mean there’s nobody holding you back and there’s nobody who’s going to help you – so this is just down to you.” Don’t say, “Well if I hadn’t had a wife and baby depending upon me then maybe I could…” Don’t take that coward’s way out, you know what you’ve got to do, have a look round, see if you can find a place who looks like they might want a comic strip.
As it happened I noticed that Sounds, the music paper back then, they’d previously had two comic strips running and for the last few months they’d only had one running. So in the space of a couple of weeks, I wrote and drew the first couple of episodes of a comic strip and sent it in. We didn’t have a phone at that point, but two days later I got a telegram from the editor at Sounds, Alan Lewis, very nice man.
KL: A TELEGRAM… HAHA!
AM: Yeah, “Telegram for Mr. Mongo…”
So I rushed across to the single drug-dealer’s phone box on the other side of the estate and he asked me when I could start. There wasn’t any rejection; it was just my fear of rejection. That was the thing that could have derailed my entire career, just that fear.
Overcoming that and taking responsibility for myself was my first magical act, and I believe that is probably everybody’s first magical act. That moment when you think, “no I’m not a victim of circumstance, I am an autonomous individual in this universe to make of it what I will and what I can – it’s all down to me, it’s all down to the individual.”
The individual has got much more power than they believe. They have been disempowered by a few thousand years of this civilisation, leading to them believing they are unimportant cogs in the machine; that they’re just spokes in the wheel; they are less than full human beings.
That was my first magical act and, getting back, there was a lot of stuff going on around that 1990s period; Bill and Jimmy were burning the money and I was wondering whether I had really discovered the truth about magic or if I had, more prosaically, just gone mad, which is always a consideration.
KL: YEAH, IT ALWAYS HAS TO BE CONSIDERED…
AM: And yeah, we were waiting for another counterculture, because surely to god there must be another one along in another two or three years.
GW: YEAH AND WE BELIEVED IT.
AM: There always had been. Some of them were more complete and more powerful than others but there had always been a counterculture along. We waited and we waited and then in 1994 we got Brit-pop, which, Jarvis Cocker excepted, was sort of, it wasn’t a musical movement, it was something imposed from above.
KL: YEAH IT WAS PUT ONTO THE BANDS; IT WAS CREATED BY THE NME AND THINGS LIKE THAT.
AM: Just in time for the emergence of Tony Blair and New Labour, two years later.
KL: ‘COOL BRITANNIA’!
AM: Yeah ‘Cool Britannia’; Noel Gallagher shaking hands with Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. This wasn’t a counterculture; this was just an extension of the ordinary culture that was being imposed above all others.
And so, that was the end of counterculture – it never happened again. Here we are in 2015, or whenever we did the event in Northampton, there were some interesting things that came up during that. I was talking to Scroobius Pip, and he raised the point that countercultures never succeed, which is true. They never supplant the culture, they always think, “Yes, we’re going to sweep away the prevailing culture and we’re going to impose our lovely, positive culture to replace it”. That doesn’t work.
KL: THAT NEVER HAPPENS.
AM: That never happens. What does happen is that the counterculture will be assimilated…
KL: IT BECOMES PART OF THE ESTABLISHED…
AM: Yes, it becomes part of the established culture.
So you should make your countercultures as toxic or psychedelic as possible so that if they’re assimilated and swallowed by the parent culture, the parent culture is going to be feeling pretty weird for the next couple of decades!
AM: And I also realised, talking to Pip and the other people there, that in a way, counterculture has always been there, before we had a name for it, and in a way, counterculture is a necessary component of culture. Culture has to have something to criticise it. It’s like, I once heard somebody talking about Marxism and saying that, “Marxism was Capitalism’s best way of talking about itself.”
And I thought, “That’s got an element of truth in it”. It’s Capitalism’s best way of talking about itself, criticising itself. And I think that’s true with counterculture; I think that counterculture inevitably emerges from culture and it’s a necessary part.
GW: AND IT’S ASSIMILATED BY CULTURE.
AM: It’s assimilated and in that assimilation, culture is revised – it becomes different. The ideas of the ‘60s; they all got swallowed, they all became just a few psychedelic swirls on the front of an album sleeve, but the genuine ideas of the ‘60s, they were assimilated as well and they changed culture massively. I mean, we’re still not living in a perfect world by any means, but the advances.
KL: YEAH, LITTLE BITS GET ABSORBED.
AM: Well you know, things that I first remember; it was the counterculture that made me aware of ‘60s feminism, it made me aware of gay and queer issues, even a lot of race issues and things like that. I was first reading honest reports on things like this in the underground press. It was immensely useful.
KL: I SUPPOSE THAT IS WHERE YOU GET HONESTY, YOU KNOW IN THESE LITTLE SELF-PRINTED MAGAZINES THAT YOU COLLECT AND READ.
AM: Yeah, that aren’t put out by a global conglomerate; that have not been touched by the hand of Rupert Murdoch…
GW: I THINK THAT ONE OF THE THINGS WE’RE LOOKNG FOR NOW IS A NEW MEDIA BECAUSE, EVEN THE ESTABLISHED SOURCES OF MEDIA WE’VE HAD FOR YEARS AND YEARS; WE CAN’T TRUST ANYTHING. NOT THAT WE COULD NECESSARILY TRUST THEM BEFORE BUT WE FELT THAT THERE WAS SOME SORT OF NON-BIAS THERE, WHICH NOW IS NOT THE CASE, SO PEOPLE ARE LOOKING.
THERE’S ALSO THE DISSOLUTION OF EVERYTHING. SAY FOR EXAMPLE, AT ONE TIME MUSICALLY; PEOPLE, IF THEY WERE INTO SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT EDGY, THEY’D LISTEN TO JOHN PEEL IN THE WEEK ON RADIO 1, OR IF THEY LIKED BLACK MUSIC THEY’D BUY BLUES & SOUL MAGAZINE AND LISTEN TO THE SPECIALIST SHOWS. NOW THERE’S ANY NUMBER OF THINGS, SO THERE’S 20 PEOPLE LISTENING TO SOMETHING OVER HERE AND 50 THERE, WHEREAS AT ONE TIME IT WAS ALL FOCUSSED ON THE ONE MOMENT.
AM: It’s almost like a collection of filter bubbles, and this is probably not just in culture, but more dangerously in politics, where people are just in their filter bubble absorbing the ideas that they like and that they’re comfortable with. Which of course, was the exact opposite of what the counterculture was about; it was about exposing you to as many different ideas as possible, exposing you to ideas that you would probably find uncomfortable – that was part of it.
I just saw the first issue of the newly reanimated IT.
GW: THE INTERNATIONAL TIMES.
AM: Which is issuing from somewhere around the vicinity of the marvellous Heathcote Williams. The first issue has got a picture of Jimmy Cauty’s dystopian model village, which I’m proudly wearing the t-shirt of. And it’s a brilliant magazine; it’s got everything that was great about the original IT. It’s full of brilliant articles that are talking about say, Syriza, the Greek anti-austerity party, and they’re pointing things out like, yeah the popularity of Syriza is actually based upon the fact that they did say, “Look we Greeks should put the 1940s behind us; we should remember that we are all Greeks first”.
That is a very inclusive policy, but it’s also including a lot of fascists. Which is why it is popular with both the right and the left because there are a lot of people who are a couple of millimetres away from the Golden Dawn…
There was a great number of articles about the on-going state of emergency in Paris and how it seems to have been rolled out into a sort of, “This is the future”. That it’s not just an unusual state of emergency; this is where we are now.
There’s a great bit about the refugee camps, which says that actually, public support and the volunteer work – yes you can see why it’s necessary but it’s kind of not working the way that it should do, if anything it might be making it worse, because it’s the governments that need to get involved and it’s giving them an excuse not to. “Oh well, there’s all these volunteers handling these people so we don’t need to actually adjust our policies at all.”
IT is back at the top of its range; it’s giving really difficult information a contrarian view that you’re never going to get in any other paper.
GW: IT WAS INTERESTING THE OTHER DAY THAT THE FACEBOOK PAGE FOR THE LIVERPOOL SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE, MUSIC, DREAM AND PUN WAS BROUGHT DOWN 40 YEARS AFTER AN EVENT THEY’D DONE – BASICALLY A CARL JUNG EVENT, WHICH WAS 50 YEARS, I THINK, AFTER HE HAD THAT DREAM.
THEY DID THAT AS A WAY OF LETTING THE NEXT PHASE BEGIN, THEY ANNOUNCED THAT AND THAT WAS ONLY TWO DAYS AGO. IT SEEMS THAT THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING AT ONCE HERE… WHAT DO YOU THINK OF SERENDIPITIES?
AM: I am a long-term optimist. I have always been thinking, “Yes, I can see signs, I can see bright green shoots that, maybe the culture I desperately want to exist is just waiting to happen.
KL: YEAH, GLIMPSES OF IT.
AM: I have been disappointed in the past so I’m being cautious here but this feels pretty good to me.
KL: WE’VE FELT THIS THING, THIS SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS. YOU KNOW, PEOPLE LIKE JOHN HIGGS, DAISY ERIS, TIM [HOLMES] AND CERTAIN OTHER GROUPS – AND GREG AND ME, WE’RE DOING OUR OWN THINGS. THERE’S LOTS OF DIFFERENT GROUPS.
GW: THE MYCELIUM NETWORK.
KL: THE MYCELIUM NETWORK, AS DAISY PUTS IT.
GW: SOMETHING SEEMS TO BE EMERGING – THINGS ARE CROSSING OVER.
KL: WE’RE MAKING CONNECTIONS WITH EACH OTHER.
AM: That would be the network with mushrooms? – they’re in fact all connected underground.
KL: IF THERE’S ENOUGH OF A COLLECTION OF THEM AT ONE POINT, THESE SPORES, THEN THEY MAKE A MUSHROOM.
GW: IT’S LIKE THE INTERNATIONAL POETRY EVENT IN ’65 AT THE ALBERT HALL WHERE GINSBERG WAS; THERE WERE ALL THESE DISPARATE GROUPS OF PEOPLE.
AM: It’s like a catalysing thing, isn’t it.
GW: YEAH, BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW THAT THERE WAS THAT MANY. I THINK IT WAS A RICH AMERICAN WHO HIRED THE ALBERT HALL, “WHERE’S A BIG HALL ROUND HERE?” – AND SHE HAD MONEY.
I THINK 10,000 PEOPLE TURNED UP AND THEN, ALL OF A SUDDEN, THEY REALISED THAT SOMETHING WAS GOING ON. I DON’T THINK YOU COULD PROMOTE AN EVENT – IT HAS TO HAPPEN NATURALLY.
KL: YEAH, IT HAS TO BE ORGANIC.
AM: I think because otherwise you’ve got Britpop; you’ve got something that is artificial, that is being imposed upon the situation rather than growing from the ground up. Back then, yeah there was the thing at the Albert Hall, there was the Dialectics of Liberation at the Roundhouse.
GW: YES, OF COURSE.
AM: With, Allen Ginsberg and Stokely Carmichael, I think that there was a bit of a disagreement between Stokely Carmichael and Allen Ginsberg, well no, mainly on Stokely Carmichael’s part. He was more or less saying, “Yeah the psychedelic left are irrelevant, the black struggle is the only one that’s real”. And Ginsberg took it very well and sort of said, “Well, you know, I’m sorry that you feel like that, but I feel that there is something to offer here.”
The fact that this stuff was being talked about, you get enough of these events and that changes the cultural atmosphere. A big thing about today, why I feel that this time it could be a bit more than a mirage; this time it could be something that is a bit more than just my wishful thinking.
The reason I think that is because, we have probably never needed a counterculture more than in our present day. I mean like, as a result, at the end of that event up at George’s Avenue Campus – at the end of Under The Austerity, The Beach, we had about 10 minutes left and I said, “Right has anybody got any questions?” And there was a woman in the front row, her name was Celia, and she put her hand up and said, “Can anybody tell me how I can stay here and not go home to a life where nobody has these ideas but me.” So I said, “Well that’s good – anybody who thinks we should take this further, they should leave their details with the young man over there and we’ll see what happens.”
And what happened was the formation of a group of people who wanted to do something countercultural. Our first meeting was spent working out where our second meeting was going to be because our second venue was closed down. We also wondered about what we should call ourselves, and there were quite a few people there; about 15/16 people. The second meeting in mid-January where it was bitterly cold, only about 5 people turned up and I said, “Well that is a little bit disappointing but on the other hand it does give us the opportunity to stage a coup.”
So I said, “Look, unless we come up with a better name, I’m suggesting that we call ourselves Northampton Arts Lab because… that’s what David Bowie would have wanted.”
AM: And one of the guys there, he said, “Are you really going to play that card?” Then, I said, “Yes I really am!” So we’re The Northampton Arts Lab – I mean I was in the original Northampton Arts Lab in the ‘60s and ‘70s – but it’s back and we’ve got our first magazine out.
KL: YEAH, PEASANTS WITH PENS?
AM: Peasants With Pens. I’ll get one to you.
We’ve got our first gig coming up. I was talking to Megan yesterday because I let people younger than me handle the internet side of it, which is where most of it happens you know, I just sort of type out my articles and turn up at the gigs. She was saying that we’ve got 60 members now, which is much bigger than the Arts Lab ever was in the ’60s and it’s much more diverse.
We’re also in contact with Arts Emergency, which is the group that Josie Long does a lot of work for. I mean, they are making the point that the arts are in terrible danger; they’re being removed from educational syllabuses, they’re not being funded. So in a situation like that, what choice is there?
Just do it yourself; form an Arts Lab. You don’t need permission to do this stuff
KL: NO, YOU DON’T.
AM: You can do it; it’s surprisingly easy, it’s a huge amount of fun and you may produce something that you’re really proud of. You’ll be working with other artists; you’ll be seeing how art happens, which is a brilliant education.
I believe that there’s an Arts Lab that’s formed in Brighton…
KL: WE’RE GOING TO START OUR OWN LITTLE MAGAZINE AS WELL.
AM: That is fantastic!
GW: THAT’S FROM WHAT YOU SAID AT THE NORTHAMPTON EVENT.
KL: GO OUT THERE AND DO IT; THIS DIY CREATION, MAKE THESE THINGS HAPPEN, PUT THEM OUT THERE YOURSELF!
AM: And if we all know about each other – the modern world is a lot more interconnected than the world of the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s a lot more integrated – we can stay in touch with each other, we can support each other, we can trade ideas and information and knowledge.
AM: Yeah. For many years it had bothered me that, basically when we used to do our crappy little poetry and Arts Lab magazines back in 1969/1970, we did them on a big duplicator drum – you had to actually sort of type onto a wax stencil and then any illustrations would be done with a stylus, which was basically a nail in a plastic pen holder. I found that Beardsley-esque illustrations with long, sweeping lines tended to work best.
You’d print these up after you’d typed everything up onto the stencils and decorated them, you would stand there cranking the side of the printing machine and then eventually you would have all of the pages arranged around a table and you’d all walk round and somebody would staple them.
KL: THAT’S GOING BACK TO BASICS REALLY.
AM: It would take ages! Back then, we could never have dreamed about the technology that’s available now that would have made all of that so blissfully easy. I also remember back in the ‘70s, when the punk explosion happened and I know loads of people who were going out there, going to a recording studio; they’d hire a little recording studio for a day and they’d make their own records and they’d put them out on their own record label.
Again, that took a lot of effort and a lot of work back then. These days it could all be done very easily. Anything can be done really easily. And what distressed me was the fact that there was all this potential and possibility and nobody seems to be using it; it’s all being used for passive entertainment. There doesn’t seem to be the kind of counterculture that would have been possible back then if we’d have had this equipment – there just doesn’t seem to be the energy for it anymore.
That does seem to be something, which I think is adjusting. I think maybe we need 15-20 years to get used to a new world because culturally it looks like, after persuing the future so energetically through the 1950s, the 1960s – you know when we had all of those rocket tail-fins on the cars and we were going to see all of those science fiction films and we were all imagining that we’d all have jetpacks. We wanted to be in The Jetsons, you know.
We raced through the ‘50s, the ‘60s, the ‘70s with these science fiction dreams. Then around about 1990, we suddenly thought, “Oh shit! This is the future. There’s this internet thing emerging; this is the future in some way.” And we weren’t prepared for it. We froze – culturally we froze. We thought, “Right, let’s just mark time, let’s just march on the spot at the threshold of the future, let’s just repeat all of the culture that we’re comfortable with, from the previous 30 or 40 years because we don’t know how to handle this new world that has suddenly emerged all around us, and which seems far too complex. We don’t know what we’re doing…
I think it’s similar to that moment in the early 20th Century, round about between 1910 and 1920, round about then; where you suddenly got Stravinsky’s ‘Rite Of Spring‘ – the first piece of modern music – you got the First World War, which was a modern war in that it had prototype tanks, it also had archers with bows and arrows in the same conflict and it had chlorine gas; it was the modern world meeting the world that had gone before, really violently.
KL: IT WAS A REAL MASH-UP!
AM: You’ve got all the stuff in John Higgs’ book, ‘Stranger Than We Can Imagine’ where he’s talking about how Einstein was revolutionising the entire field of physics with his special and general theories of relativity. How literature was exploding into Joyce and the moderns, Elliot. Basically a hundred years ago where we were suddenly moving into a different sort of industrial age – I mean, 100 years ago before that, around the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries, that had been when industry had first started to bite down and it changed everything.
By the time of the First World War it was very clearly stepping up a grade to something very different and I think that that’s what’s happening now. I think we are now maybe 20 years into this world and we’re just starting to see its wonderful and appalling possibilities and I think we are possibly just starting to culturally respond to them. That might be what all of this is about; we’re finally catching up with the future.
KL: YOU SPEAK ABOUT A ‘CULTURE OF STEAM’; THAT’S WHAT WE’RE BECOMING.
GW: THAT’S ALMOST THE KEY QUESTION. I MEAN CERTAINLY LAST YEAR, 2015, I WAS VERY AWARE, FROM ‘THE MINDSCAPE’, OF WHAT YOU’D SAID ABOUT INFORMATION DOUBLING AND GOING PAST THE BOILING POINT FROM A FLUID CULTURE TO A ‘CULTURE OF STEAM’.
INTERESTINGLY, IN THE MEANTIME, WITH THE INTERNET, I KIND OF NOTED WHEN THEY STARTED HAVING ‘CLOUDS’ FOR INFORMATION. THERE’S SO MUCH INFORMATION THAT THEY’VE GOT TO PUT IT UP THERE; THAT’S WHERE STEAM WOULD GO. WE’RE AT THAT POINT NOW WHERE IT’S MOVING AT SUCH A SPEED – CAN YOU SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THAT?
AM: Well, when I did ‘The Mindscape’ thing, which was basically me sitting there in a chair, with an enormously long cigarette, sort of talking in real East-Midlands monotone – so no change there – but the essential thing about culture turning to steam, the fact that everything was speeding up so much that we seem to be heading for, what I refer to as a ‘phase transition period’, which is where one state suddenly and chaotically changes from one state to another state; like the boiling point of water.
I said that I felt that we were approaching a kind of cultural boiling point, but as you know with the emergence of the cloud – I mean back then it did perhaps sound a bit extreme and a bit weird and the sort of thing that you might expect an Occultist, who clearly does a lot of drugs to say. But I think that events since then have made it look a lot more conservative as a guess at the future.
This kind of ties in with what I’m saying; these really are extraordinary times now. It seems that the people who run the world are pulling up the drawbridge; they are trying to extract the very last ounces of blood and flesh and marrow that they can from the population, to shore up their own power and wealth in a world where all of those things are quaking and cracking.
KL: IT IS FALLING APART ISN’T IT?
AM: It is falling… I was a big admirer, from the ‘70s onwards in Alvin Toffler, the futurologist. He wrote a book called ‘Future Shock’ and then he wrote another book, this was with his wife Heidi Toffler – who I think was providing as many of the ideas as Alvin Toffler – but in his book ‘The Third Wave’ he was talking about a kind of a theory of culture of civilisation where he was saying that, “Yeah, the basic state was the hunter-gatherer state, then the first wave happened; the first wave was agriculture. It made more sense because I think, for hunter-gathering you need a lot of ground to support a very few people. I think for a tribe of about 20 people you’d need an area about the size of Manhattan, to support them through hunter-gathering.
Agriculture made a lot more sense, so the agricultural wave started to ripple out across the planet transforming everything. It’s pretty much reached everywhere by now; there are still a couple of places, say like Papua New Guinea, where they don’t have agriculture, but more or less, this first wave has rippled out across the planet.
The second wave was industry; he gave an approximate date of, let’s say 1550, around about the time the printing press was invented. He said this was the start of the industrial era and industry was the second wave and that rippled out across the planet. Yeah, there are still places that don’t have industry but pretty much, it has covered the world.
He said, in 1956, again an arbitrary date, that that was the date when white collar workers in America outnumbered blue collar workers for the first time, and he said, “Yeah that’s another shift; that’s the beginning of the third wave.” That might be what we’re seeing now, it’s always difficult to name these waves, except in retrospect; the best we can say now is post-industrial, which doesn’t really tell you anything except that it’s the wave that comes after this one.
Obviously, the internet has a huge part to play in that; that is neurologically wiring up the world in a very different way. It is making new things, and it is making some new things inevitable. I remember seeing an interesting front cover of New Scientist, this was perhaps about a year ago, that was “Get Ready For Democracy 2.0”; it was saying that our leaders will have to start working with the concept that anything that they do or say or plan will become known – that we will all have to get used to the idea of living in a completely transparent world where there are no secrets.
Obviously that will change the way that our leaders behave, they will either have to say, “Yes we know we’re bastards and we’re doing it anyway”, which would be one thing, or they’d have to reform their behaviour, which is what I think we’re seeing now; the struggle between those two things. We’ve got some people who are digging their hooves in – I’m mentioning no names but yes I am looking at you Donald Trump. You’ve got some people who are like, “Yes, let’s take values back to the 1940s and ‘50s when I understood things; UKIP.
Most politicians, a lot of culture seems to be attempting to escape to the past, do anything other than actually deal with the future, engage with the present.
GW: I MEAN, IT’S INTERESTING THAT YOU’VE PRE-EMPTED BECAUSE WE WERE GOING TO ASK YOU A STORY OF A MORE POSITIVE FUTURE BECAUSE WE’RE GETTING JUST NEGATIVE STORIES OF WHAT THE FUTURE WILL BE AND I THINK THAT SOMETHING WAS MENTIONED IN BRIGHTON ON THIS LEVEL; THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE TALKING POSITIVELY ABOUT WHAT’S AHEAD.
AM: Well, one of the things that I always thought was that there was a big problem about how we thought about the future; that it seemed to divide into two camps. On the one hand, there were those people who were saying, “Well we’re all doomed! There’s going to be a nuclear war or an environmental collapse; it’s inevitable we’re all doomed, so there is no future.” And, there are those other sorts of people who say, “Yeah, I mean there is a future but it’ll have smaller radios and televisions and perhaps electric cars but otherwise it’ll be pretty much the same as today. We’ll all feel the same as we do now, we’ll just have more gadgets so since the future’s going to be pretty much the same as today, no need to prepare for a future.”
In either instance, if you think the world is going to end, there’s no need to prepare for a future, if you think the world is going to be pretty much the same as today, there’s no need to prepare for a future. We really should be preparing for a future, because there is going to be one and it is going to feel very different to today and it is going to be very different to today. All of our values are changing, mutating, becoming something new. Concepts that have sustained us for a great deal of time, are falling by the wayside.
Ideas of ‘nation’ – that’s got to go because we haven’t even had it for that long. From what I understand, immigrants turning up at Ellis Island in America in say the 19th century; they knew which village they’d come from but they didn’t know which country because they didn’t need to know which country; there didn’t need to be a concept of ‘country’. Your concerns were the concerns of your village, of where you were living.
So the idea of ‘nation’ is one that our leaders trot out when they need us to do something national like have a war or something like that but I think that the internet itself is erasing national boundaries. I mean, I work in Northampton, I very seldom leave Northampton, I very seldom leave one end of my living room – because you know, the other end, they do things differently there… But at the same time my work appears in most countries of the world, we’ve just sold ‘Jerusalem’ to China I believe. I’m really worried about that Lucia Joyce chapter because that’s not even English! So I don’t know how you can translate it, but hats off to the Chinese; they’re willing to give it a go.
What does nationality mean anymore? My grandmother, I don’t think she ever left the country in her life, my father and grandfather, they generally left the country when there was a war and they were conscripted, so actually communicating with somebody in another country; it would have taken a few weeks. Distance meant something then, geography meant something then. These days, that has all been eroded by the invention of instant communication and the internet. There are no borders anymore, the map is evaporating!
GW: ON A POSITIVE, FROM A MUSICAL SIDE, WHICH IS MY DIRECTION, OBVIOUSLY WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE 2000 HAS BEEN THIS WHOLE CELEBRITY CULTURE; POP STARS HAVE BEEN TALENT SHOW KIDS WHO ARE TALENTED BUT NOT CREATIVE AND IT’S BEEN LIKE THIS 10-15 YEAR PERIOD WHERE IT’S BEEN ‘SOMA FOR THE PEOPLE’ IN LOTS OF WAYS.
WHAT I’VE FOUND THAT’S REALLY POSITIVE THOUGH IS THAT, MY SON’S IN A BAND AND, AT THIS POINT NOW, THEY’VE REJECTED THAT LAST 15 YEARS. THEY DON’T LOOK AT THE CHARTS ANYMORE BECAUSE THAT’S BEEN KILLED, BUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS LOOKING BACK ON THE INTERNET AND THEY’RE JUST AS INTO BANDS LIKE LED ZEPPELIN, THE BEATLES, TOOTS & THE MAYTALS AS THEY ARE WITH TAME IMPALA OR THE SKINTS; MODERN, CONTEMPORARY. THEY PUT IT ALL TOGETHER AND I THINK THEY’RE REJECTING WHAT POPULAR CULTURE SAYS THEY HAVE TO BE.
AM: I think this is the essence of postmodernism, everybody tends to dislike the term, but if it’s about anything it’s about the point we’ve reached in culture where we suddenly become aware that we’ve got this huge treasure house at our back; that we’ve got all of these ideas that were discarded, not because there was anything wrong with them but because we had a newer, prettier idea to distract us. So we’ve got all of these music ideas and artistic ideas and literary ideas that we’ve not done anything with, laying there in this huge scrap pile behind us.
GW: THAT’S THEIR LEGACY – IT BELONGS TO THEM.
AM: That’s their legacy. What they can do, they can do what counterculture’s always done. In the ‘60s, that was a counterculture that was taking immense amounts from the Victorian era, like early steam-punks I guess, it was misappropriating bits of the culture of many other lands, particularly India.
KL: ANCIENT STUFF AS WELL.
AM: Ancient stuff, occultism. They were gluing together a culture of their own out of the fragments the culture of other lands and other times.
KL: I SEE THAT HAPPENING NOW THOUGH.
AM: That is I think exactly what’s happening now; especially with the generation that you’re talking about.
GW: I FEEL VERY STRONGLY THAT WE NEED TO CONNECT WITH THE YOUNGER PEOPLE. IT’S ALL GOOD AND WELL, TO A LEVEL, US TALKING ABOUT THIS AT A CERTAIN AGE, BUT UNLESS THEY TAKE IT AND RUN WITH IT – THEY’RE THE ONES THAT HAVE GOT THE ENERGY AND ARE GOING TO TAKE IT FORWARD.
AS I SAY, I’VE SEEN A LOT OF VERY POSITIVE THINGS; ALSO THE TECHNOLOGY, WHEREBY FOR PEOPLE LIKE MYSELF, I’M STUMBLING THROUGH IT BUT FOR THEM IT’S NATURAL, THEY’VE GROWN UP WITH IT, IT’S PART OF THEIR LIVES.
KL: I WAS GOING TO SAY; A LOT OF THE IDEAS OF ROBERT ANTON WILSON, I SEE THEM IN A LOT OF STUFF THAT I’VE BEEN READING AND WATCHING ON THE TV. I DIDN’T REALISE IT BEFORE, IT’S LIKE A SECRET AND IT SLIPPED ROUND THE BACK.
AM: The ideas of Robert Anton Wilson are I think, central. Certainly central to the way I am conducting my life at the moment. Back in 1976, something like that, I was down visiting my late friend and mentor Steve Moore on the top of Shooter’s Hill and Steve, who was much more connected with the London fantasy and comics scene than I was, he’d got this new trilogy of books that he’d come across that I might be interested in, which was ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ by Wilson and Shea.
I devoured them and I was absolutely blown away; I thought, “This is great!” All of these frankly ridiculous, paranoid conspiracy stories that are so popular amongst the right and the left wing – that it’s making it all, instead of being a debilitating illness, which is the way people like David Icke have tended to make this field of inquiry – they made it into this brilliant intellectual game and made it really enlightening. It was almost like an Anarchist primer – an Occult/Anarchist primer!
KL: IT MAKES YOU WANT TO FIND OUT MORE.
AM: It does, I didn’t take it as far as Bill Drummond. Also, around the same time, I’ve got a friend in Liverpool who was telling me about this great thing that Ken Campbell was doing, where he was going to be doing a 24-hour version of the play. These ideas – what happened to Bill; he got through the first part of the trilogy and thought, “Yes, I’m going to base my entire life upon what I have read in this first half of the first book in the trilogy so he went out to get some araldite, Ken Campbell sent him out to get some araldite and Bill never came back.
Bill went out, he actually did get a submarine. I don’t know whether he painted it yellow or gold, but I bet he wanted to. Bill went and formed The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, he was living the dream – it was an incredibly powerful book!
I got into Robert Anton Wilson’s broader writing after reading ‘The Illuminatus!’, thoroughly enjoying that. Also, at the time when I was reading that, I actually went to the local library and started looking up the Illuminati and I came across this brilliant account of a meeting in Paris where Adam Weishaupt, the head of the Bavarian Illuminati; he was present, as was I think – I forgotten his first name – his name was Krieger; who was a deputy of Weishaupt’s in the Illuminati, they were both there and so was the Comte de Saint Germain, the allegedly immortal – he wasn’t really – but he was a kind of charlatan Orobeccultist, I believe he was mainly interested in promoting a new dying process, which is a bit paradoxical for somebody who was supposed to be an immortal but this was the other sort of dying.
They were all there at this conference and at one point, according to the transcript that I read in this dusty old book down the library – which must have been semi contemporary – it was saying that Adam Weishapt had said that women and suffragettism are the future and that if the Illuminati wish to influence the future then they should infiltrate women’s groups and they should support women’s groups. And I thought I can’t believe that Robert Anton Wilson knew about this because I can’t see him having missed the opportunity to claim that modern feminism is part of an Illuminati plot, you know.
It’s really fascinating, and it’s probably a lot of the ideas of Robert Wilson that led to me becoming a magician.
AM: In 1993/4, that seemed to be the way that things were going; there were perceptions, ideas that I had had over the years that didn’t fit in with a conventional view of reality, which seemed to make more sense in the kind of multi-model approach that Wilson suggests.
GW: IT’S LIKE QUANTUM BELIEF SYSTEMS – CHOOSING BETWEEN.
AM: Yeah, and it collapses down to that one system – to that one ‘reality tunnel’ if you like. I thought that Wilson was an incredibly important man and I was delighted when Daisy kind of revived the entire project, the entire current.
KL: WELL, WE’RE HERE BASICALLY BECAUSE OF DAISY.
GW: WELL ACTUALLY, WE’RE HERE BECAUSE OF HOWARD MARKS.
KL: WE HAD SOME HAPPENINGS A BIT AGO AND HOWARD WAS GOING TO DO THEM AND HE GOT ILL WITH THE CANCER AND COULDN’T DO IT, SO WE HAD TO FILL A BIG VOID.
GW: WITH LIKE 5 DIFFERENT DATES, AND WE HAD SOME BIG SHOES TO FILL.
KL: WE WERE BUZZING OFF ‘THE KLF’ BOOK THAT JOHN HAD WRITTEN AND IT WAS GETTNG PASSED AROUND US ALL AND THERE’D BEEN A LOT OF STUFF HAPPENING BECAUSE WHEN YOU STARTING THINKING LIKE THIS, A LOT OF STUFF HAPPENS AROUND YOU; A LOT OF SYNCHRONICITIES, AND YOU NOTICE IT.
AM: Yes, we did a review of ‘The Cosmic Trigger’ book that had just been reissued and I believe that Robert Wilson’s estate and family have got the rights back to all of his books so these are kind of the definitive editions. John did the introduction to ‘The Cosmic Trigger’ and I’ve done a new introduction to ‘Coincidance’.
GW: OH YEAH, I’VE GOT THAT IN MY BAG.
AM: Has that just come out then?
GW: NO I’VE GOT THE OLD ONE.
AM: That’s a brilliant book!
KL: I’VE NEVER READ IT…
AM: It’s great – you really should check it out. It sounds a bit dense because it’s all about James Joyce but there again, in reading the book, you realise actually the entire universe is about James Joyce or James Joyce is about the entire universe – I’m not sure which.
The thing is, I think me and John are probably going to give a false impression of English Discordian Anarchists, in that I hadn’t read John’s introduction when I wrote mine so I went on, at quite great length about Daisy’s rainbow knickers that she put on the head of Carl Jung.
GW: YEAH, IN LIVERPOOL ON MATHEW STREET.
AM: I got her to send me a photograph of her knickers on Carl Jung’s head for very personal reasons, because I’ve got a bit of a grudge against Carl Jung because of the unforgivable way in which he treated Lucia Joyce. Lucia Joyce was the daughter of James Joyce, a brilliant dancer during the 1920s, who at one point people said, “Yeah, in the future James Joyce will be known as Lucia’s father” – that’s how good she was.
Then she started ‘acting up’ and her mother and her brother particularly seemed very keen to have her put into psychiatric institutions. She was in one such institution in France when the Nazi’s invaded, who had already said that they were going to purge the mentally and physically weak. Her dad was trying to get her out of France, he died of I think peritonitis while that was going on, but it must have worked because she went through a series of asylums before ending up in Northampton, at the St Andrew’s home where John Clare also lived, and a lot of celebrities; Patrick McGoohan. he passed through their once; Dusty Springfield. Me and Melinda had our wedding reception there, we thought that was lovely.
You see, the thing is, when Lucia Joyce passed through the care of Carl Jung, he really hadn’t liked her dad’s book because the dreams presented in ‘Ulysses’ are nothing like his theory of dreams so rather than treating Lucia as a young woman who really needed help, he treated her as one of her dad’s books that was in need of criticism. So I was really glad that Daisy’s rainbow knickers ended up on his head.
The thing is, I read in John’s introduction that he’s writing about Daisy’s rainbow knickers, so they’re going to get the impression that we’re all obsessed with Daisy’s knickers.
GW: WELL, WHY NOT… HAHA.
AM: Well, why not I suppose.
KL: NOW YOU’VE JUST MENTIONED THAT, I’VE GOT TO ASK YOU ABOUT ‘JERUSALEM’. LAST TIME I SAW YOU IN BRIGHTON YOU GAVE ME THIS COVER OF THE BOOK AND I’VE SAT AT HOME LOOKING AT IT; YOU WERE TALKING ME THROUGH SOME OF THE THINGS ON THE COVER AND I JUST WANT TO GO THROUGH IT BECAUSE I THINK IT’S REALLY INTERESTING, IT’S LIKE A WHOLE LITTLE WORLD, WHEN PEOPLE SEE IT THEY’LL SEE WHAT I MEAN. YOU CAN SEE LIFE HAPPENING ON THE PAGE!
AM: Well, I just wanted to do the cover; I’m not even saying it’s particularly good.
KL: IT’S BRILLIANT!
AM: But I wanted to do the cover because most of my books have been collaborations and this is probably the biggest, most important thing that I shall ever do and I wanted this to be all me. So yes, I know loads of artists – I mean I’m living with one – who are much better than I am, I could have asked any of them but I really wanted to do that cover.
KL: IT’S BEAUTIFUL! IT’S GOT SO MUCH IN IT. YOU WERE EXPLAINING IT TO ME; ALL THE LITTLE BITS – COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE CHARACTERS ON IT?
AM: Well, I mean, Lucia Joyce who we were just talking about, she is I think third down from the top. This cover, it’s a view of the street that I used to live on, which has since been demolished, but the central house in the row, which was pretty much where our house was, that is swelling up into this enormous tower that provides the body of this angel figure with his hands upraised and the sun behind him as a halo. The open front walls of this tower gives you access to all of these little rooms in a stack in which scenes from the novel are taking place.
At the very top, there is a glowing cross; this was the stone cross that was brought by a monk in around about the 9th Century. He’d been on a pilgrimage to Golgotha in Jerusalem where he suddenly noticed a bit of oddly smooth and carven stone sticking up. He dug it and it turned out to be an ancient stone cross and he thought, “Oh, well this is the site of the crucifixion, I’ve found an ancient stone cross, this is probably significant.”
At which point an angel apparently appeared – they were a lot more common, I believe there’s been a great die back since those times but angels back then, they were ten-a-penny, frankly. The angel turned up and said, “Yeah, this is really important, you should take this and place it at the centre of your land. Now this monk actually came from England and I’m guessing he came from an abbey in Peterborough.
Anyway, he was halfway up what is now Horseshoe Street in Northampton and he thought, “Jesus Christ! I cannot carry this thing a step further. I really, really hope that by some chance, this exact spot that I’m standing in now might be the centre of the land – at which point the angel turns up again and says, “Lucky guess, yeah put it here”. And so it was put in the wall of St. Gregory’s Church where it became an object of pilgrimage itself for hundreds of years until, being Northampton, we pulled the church down and lost it…
Under that we’ve got two women made of flame, who are standing near a bunch of barrels. This would be the elemental spirits that I portray in Jerusalem, who are responsible for the Great Fire Of Northampton in 1670.
I have a theory, which I’m told is flawed but I’m gonna shove it through anyway; that the town burned down very quickly in 1670 – apparently in about 20 minutes, from one end to the other.
KL: THE WHOLE TOWN? WOW!
AM: It was a smaller town then but still, 20 minutes; that was going it! And it had got a good West-wind behind it but that still seems awfully fast to me. My theory was that Northampton’s always been known for leather because we had a lot of cows here and a lot of oak trees – the cows are for the hides, the oak trees are for the tanning, in the bark, which you need to make shoes and gloves, which is what we rationally made here. Plus we would have had loads of barrels of tanning around the market square and in lots of businesses in the cellars and tanning is an accelerant; it’s like a kind of rocket fuel. That’s why you’ve got the two burning women who are looking down smugly at the rest of the scene.
Underneath them, I think you’ve got Lucia Joyce dancing on the madhouse Lawn in her blue fish costume.
KL: THE DEAD DEAD KIDS AS WELL.
AM: Right at the bottom there’s a little group of dead children, you can’t tell they’re dead but in the story, they dominate the middle third of the book, they’re a group of dead kids who’ve formed a gang called ‘The Dead Dead Gang’, which is a name that came to me in a dream about 30-40 years ago but which I’d always remembered because it was so strange – the Dead Dead Gang! Lots of bits of dreams have found their way into ‘Jerusalem’.
KL: OH, I CAN IMAGINE…
AM: Yeah, so you’ve got them, you’ve got a couple sitting on the front steps of All-Saints Church.
GW: THAT’S JUST NEAR THE MARKET ISN’T IT?
AM: That is the one, the big gothic church overlooking the market.
KL: WOMEN JUMPING FROM THE WINDOWS, BECAUSE OF ‘IT’ – I REMEMBER YOU TELLING ME.
AM: Yeah, down on the street you’ve got a woman throwing herself out of the window.
KL: BECAUSE OF ‘IT’!
AM: Because of ‘it’ – it being, this was something I read in a brilliant book that was written on the Boroughs called, ‘In Living Memory’. It was only a little book that was locally published but it had got testimony from actual residents of the boroughs; people who’d lived there before me and my family lived there. They were talking about how, yeah a lot of the women down there on the boroughs, they committed suicide; they threw themselves out of windows, they tried to gas themselves.
Generally the attempts didn’t work because the houses down the Boroughs weren’t very high, so you’d probably just get a pair of broken legs to add to your miseries. One of them was saying for the men it wasn’t so bad because they were out at work but the women, they were left at home with it.
And I’ve got one of the characters in the book – one of The Dead Dead Gang, one of the kids – remembering when he’d heard that when he was very young and had thought, “I wonder what ‘it’ was” and had imagined it as perhaps some sort of gigantic earwig that just sat there in the chair and you could do nothing but look at it and weep.
AM: But later he just realised that ‘it’ was just ordinary despair.
In the main bit of the angel’s chest, there is a balcony with people from various historical times standing on it chatting. There is a Roundhead looking very bored with the exploding suicide bomber standing next to him, there is a cavalier standing a bit further along there is an 18th century clergyman and a bronze age hunter. These are sort of just characters on the balcony of Mansoul – Mansoul is the name given to Northampton by John Bunyan in his book ‘The Holy War’; he called Northampton Mansoul and I thought, “Yeah, that makes a certain amount of sense.”
So I’ve called the higher Northampton that I portray in the book; this kind of fourth dimensional Northampton that’s above this one – that is called Mansoul.
You’ve got a group of angels playing pool; four angels playing pool on an enormous table. This was an idea that I had early on, it relates to – billiards became popular just after the civil war; we were very big on that here. We were huge Cromwell supporters, we had our castle pulled down largely because we’d kept the king under house arrest here for 6 months or however long it was until Cromwell could change the law and behead him. For which Charles II, he got a bit of a grudge, he couldn’t let it go you know. So he had the castle pulled down.
KL: THERE’S YOUR BROTHER ON THERE AS WELL.
AM: My brother is on there in a couple of forms; he’s there as an older man and he’s there as a tousle-haired little tot, who was cuter than I was but nowhere near as intelligent.
KL: WHAT ABOUT THE FLATBED TRUCK STORY YOU TOLD ME AS WELL?
AM: Oh yeah, at the centre of ‘Jerusalem’ is this story of about how, when he was what 3-5, something like that – very small – he’d got a sore throat and had been told by the doctor, “Oh, he’s just got a sore throat, give him cough sweets.” My mum, who was very obedient to any middle class person, particularly if they were a doctor, she did just that and got him a pack of cherry menthol Tunes.
I remember he’d actually got a terrible case of tonsillitis and his airway had sort of shrunk to something very tiny so actually the last thing he needed was a cherry menthol Tune, which actually blocked this airway and I remember his eyes just kind of switched off; his eyes weren’t moving, he wasn’t breathing – he was just gone.
Nobody in the area had a telephone; nobody in the area had transport. Apart from, in the yard next door to our house, there was a busted down flatbed truck for delivering vegetables and after a couple of minutes of my mother and my gran trying to get my brother breathing again in the back garden, the guy next door realised what was happening and said that he’d drive my brother and my mum to the hospital.
Now even in 1959, or whenever it was, that’s still quite a journey; I would say a bare minimum of 5 minutes, even if you were flying and there was no other traffic; more probably 10; added to the couple of minutes they’d spent trying to get this thing out of his throat – we didn’t know about Heimlich manoeuvres back then.
As I understand it, I think brain death is 2 ½ minutes without breathing and I think after about 10 or 15 minutes that’s generally all-over death. However, they got him to the hospital, they fished the cough sweet out of his throat, they said this child has got the worst case of tonsillitis I’ve ever seen. They whipped his tonsils out and he was back with us by the end of the week.
I’ve always said to him, “Yeah, that’s where you got the brain damage” because I’m an older brother and that’s what we’re for.
KL: HAHA, YEAH THAT’S WHAT YOU DO.
AM: At the same time, it did leave a question. At the time we didn’t question it but in later life I thought, “Yeah, that was pretty strange, he must have been technically dead for 5 minutes there. So those 5 minutes give me the opportunity to actually fill, in fiction, where he was.”
KL: YEAH, YEAH! THOSE LOST 10 MINUTES.
AM: In the timeframe of the book it’s actually a couple of weeks experience time, where he’s running around with The Dead Dead Gang in this fourth dimensional afterlife.
KL: I REMEMBER YOU TALKING BEFORE; TIME HAPPENS SIMULTANEOUSLY, EVERYTHING OCCURS AT THE SAME TIME.
AM: This is the whole point of ‘Jerusalem’; it is to express the idea that I found out a few years after starting the book, I found out this idea is called ‘Eternalism’ apparently. It’s the idea that’s as we were saying, that if this is a solid universe then we exist in that universe as fourth dimensional entities.
I imagine it as a bit like a spacetime centipede; it would have a lot of arms and a lot of legs and its tail would be emerging from between our mother’s legs, it would have its origins in genetic fluids; its far end would be cremated dust and it would be perhaps, what 70-80 years long. And this centipede-like life form is a little filament that is embedded in this huge, eternally unmoving, unchanging mass of spacetime.
It is just our consciousness moving along these centipede-like lines and experiencing each moment as if it was in a sequence, whereas in fact it’s like a strip of film that, all of those little moments on the strip of film, they’re not moving, they’re not changing – you can keep that strip of film for 100 years and those pictures will not have changed, they will not have moved.
Only when we have turned the projector beam, or by analogy, our consciousness, only when we run that over those images does Charlie Chaplain do his funny walk, does he fight the baddy, does he get the girl; do we have the appearance of a story, a narrative and motives and cause and effect and all of those things. Whereas actually, it’s just these frozen individual moments with our consciousness moving between them.
Now that would mean that in that huge block of spacetime, every moment that has ever existed or will ever exist are all existing conterminously, at the same time. Including all of those moments that made up our lives and the lives of everybody that we knew and the one thing that we can definitely say about those lives is that we were alive during them.
If this is an unchanging and unmoving universe, then we’re still alive during them because everything back there in the past, the fact that there’s no decent telly on a Saturday night, all those buildings we love, they got pulled down, those people that we liked, they ended up dying, Spangles, they don’t make them anymore!
AM: Back there down the road that stuff is still going on and we’re still there. And when we get to the end of our lives, it seemed to me that the only place that our consciousness would have to go is back to the beginning.
GW: SO YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT ETERNAL RECURRENCE IN A SENSE?
AM: Eternal recurrence, which was an idea that I found out that Nietzsche had come up with, although he didn’t have the benefits of modern science like I have, so he was talking about, in an infinite universe, you’re going to get the same planet repeated potentially an infinite number of times, right down to the smallest detail. We haven’t got an infinite universe, it’s very big but it isn’t infinite.
Whereas, I found out, after writing, Christ… 400,000 words of ‘Jerusalem’, 2/3 of the way through, I found out that Einstein, a few months before his own death, was consoling the widow of a fellow physicist and he said to her, and I’m kind of paraphrasing here, he said “Well to physicists such as myself and your husband death isn’t really a big issue because we understand ‘the persistent illusion of transience’”. And I thought, “That is a beautiful phrase, ‘the persistent illusion of transience.” It’s five words long, if I had read this before I had started this novel I probably could have saved my self several hundred thousand words, you know, because that says it beautifully – the illusion that people are dying, things are going away.
It’s like if you were in a car going along a road and you thought, “Oh, that’s a nice house I’m passing, oh it’s gone now” and you assumed that the house must have immediately been demolished the second you passed it, that it’s not still back there down the road.
That was a central thing of ‘Jerusalem’ because I wanted to give people – the thing is, even if that turns out not to be true and I genuinely believe that it sounds like it is to me, that even if that turns out not to be true, if you lived according to that, you would have a better life. It’s not like my gran who lived in immense poverty for years because she knew when she got to heaven that the first should be last and the last should be first and was more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel and all of that stuff, which meant that she put up with a life that was far less than the one she deserved, as did probably most of my family. That that religious promise – I think that betrays a lot of people.
KL: IT DOES.
AM: Whereas if you think this is eternity right here, this moment is eternity right here, my life is an eternal thing. How do I want to live it? If I’m going to be living it for eternity, how do I want to live my life? Wouldn’t I rather be happy? Wouldn’t I rather be fulfilled? Wouldn’t I rather have not done anything that I can’t live with for eternity?
Also, I wanted to give people this idea to give them some options because, even scientists admit, you live longer if you have a belief system. If you have a belief system that makes sense to you, you will live longer and you will probably have a happier life.
I wanted to give people a possibility that did not necessarily involve God. I mean, you can have God in this system if you want him or her but there’s no necessity for a God. Eternal life in my estimation would be an emergent property of spacetime itself and of consciousness.
We are becoming, as a world less religious and this is true even in unexpected places like Ireland, America and in some Islamic countries, although not perhaps so unexpected if you think about the way our major religions have comported themselves in recent years; you can see how that would put anyone off.
I wanted to give people another alternative where they didn’t have to put all their faith into some paradise that was all going to be gold and marble like a 1980s plasterer’s bathroom.
KL: LATER ON…
AM: Yeah, later on… Let’s have jam today!
KL: WE WERE TALKING BEFORE; I DON’T THINK WE GOT IT IN, WHEN YOU WERE 40 AND SAYING YOU WERE A MAGICIAN AND NOT TRULY UNDERSTANDING ALL OF THAT BUT THEN LEARNING IT AS YOU WENT ALONG AND ACTUALLY BECOMING THAT THING THAT YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO BE. YOU KNOW, THE UTTERANCE, MAKING IT TRUE – THAT WHOLE MAGIC AND ART THING.
AM: Well, my ideas on art and magic, they’ve sharpened recently, with the conclusion of the ‘Bumper Book Of Magic’, which is nearly finished. In the concluding essay we give a definition of magic, as we define it, which is that magic is a “purposeful engagement with the phenomena and the possibilities of consciousness”. We believe that it is a science of consciousness; we believe that it arose naturally when, about 70,000 years ago, during what is referred to as ‘the cognitive revolution’.
This is where we came up with spoken language and all of a sudden we made this immense leap forward. Our consciousness became very different, now what will that have seemed like to us? The writer Julian Jaynes talks about how, to early men and early women, the voices in their heads, which we think, “Oh, that’s just me thinking”, it could have been nothing but the voices of spirits and Gods; visions that turned up – they could only come, they didn’t have an idea of consciousness. They had consciousness without knowing what it was.
What we thought was, thus magic originally was a science of existence; it included everything. All art, all culture, starts out with a shaman dancing in the firelight. Over the centuries, the body of magic has been dismembered, that with the start of settled society, people didn’t have to grow their own food so they could specialise, so they became priests. Alright you’ve got a formal religion there, so you took away the spiritual aspect of shamanism, you’ve got those bastards; artists, writers and musicians coming into being, who took away that visionary aspect from shamanism. Then you’ve got various other stages in society which only left natural science and medicine, then you’ve got the Renaissance and even that was taken away and all that you’ve got left is the inner world and just the theatre and the costumes of magic.
Then in 1910, Sigmund Freud comes along and takes away the inner world and all that magic has got left then is just the hollow posturing, the incantations, the nice frocks, you know. That is, I believe, the process of ‘solve’, that is the alchemical process of taking things apart until they are completely disassembled and you understand them completely; it’s analysis.
That has to be followed by ‘coagula’, which is putting it all back together again and that is, I think what is possibly happening now. And I have never been more certain that art and magic are exactly the same thing. They are all a purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.
KL: YEAH, THE UNDERLYING INFORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE.
AM: Yes, that ‘super weird substance’…
Interview originally undertaken on at the behest of Festival 23 for their brilliant weekend in a South Yorkshire field on 22-24/7/15.