Thursday, 1 May 2014

Steve Moore (1949 - 2014)

Steve Moore (centre) at the Brinklow Crescent burial mound. Photo by Mark Pilkington

When someone dies there is a temptation to write an obituary. If I'd written an obituary for the comic writer, Fortean Times grandee and occultist Steve Moore when he died last month it would have ended with the final few sentences from his dream diary, in which he describes the end of his last dream:

“I came to what seemed to be a small lake, and decided to float across the surface, but it seemed to be only about an inch deep anyway. I then decided to run, as I wanted to get home quick.”

That would normally have been a perfect image with which to mark someone’s passing. But the usual narrative of a-physical-thing-leaving-us doesn’t seem appropriate in Steve's case. As his life-long friend Alan Moore wrote in the afterword to Somnium, Steve “had always seemed to me to be deliberately liminal and ghostly in relation to the solid and shin-bruising world around him.” As an example of this, I searched through the video footage of Alan we shot at Alistair Fruish’s house earlier in the year, to see if there was a good image of Steve. All I could find was the following screengrab, from the moment that the camera was lifted up to be switched off, in which his left hand and leg can be seen in the top left of the frame. He was there, but you’d have a hard time proving it in court.

Steve possessed both a great love of the margins and a rigorous quality control, so as a result he was often way ahead of the curve. Much of the imaginative end of our culture has Steve’s influence somewhere in its background, but the man himself is largely absent. Remembering how he co-organised the first British comics convention and was behind the first British comics fanzine, I asked my teenage daughter, who lives in the Tumblr world of Sherlolly and Wholock, if she could imagine a world without organised fandom. She just stared at me, horrified, before saying, “How could you even suggest that?!”

Steve is, of course, frequently invisible in those cultures that he was in some way involved in shaping. At best, you might find a hand or a leg peeking into the frame.

Yet my relationship with Steve Moore is easier to pinpoint. With the exception of that afternoon at Alistair’s, I can show you exactly what our relationship consisted of, for I still have it in front of me. It is a chain of 58 lengthy emails, entitled ‘Re: From Steve Moore’, that we wrote between last November and his death in March. It was a relationship of the written word, where he seemed more present that in the physical world.

The emails begin after he discovered that I’d named the moonbase in The First Church on the Moon after him. He got in touch to say that, in his philosophy, having a fictitious moonbase named after you was more of a compliment than if it had been a real one. Those emails then continued on a strange, twisting path covering such subjects as triangular temples, why I should not go and see the upcoming movie based on his Hercules comics (“It will be shit”) and, perhaps most relevant here, the eternal nature of time.

"Don't go and see it, it'll be shit" - Steve Moore

Steve was an eternalist. Like Einstein, he thought that all of time exists in a big block. If something existed at any one point, then it exists always. The future and the past are just as real as the present - it’s just that you happen to be in the present, so you don’t usually see them.

The day before I heard he died, I read an interview from 2009 in which he said that the Bumper Book of Magic he was writing with Alan would be finished next year. I made a mental note to mock him about that when I visited him the following week, for I was due to spend actual real-world time with him the following Thursday. He also said that he had to get his long-promised academic work on the Greek moon goddess book, Selene: The Moon Goddess and the Cave Oracle, finished before he died, because he “owed it to my goddess”. He died at his desk, upon which sat a half-eaten Kit-Kat and printout of that manuscript, and on top of that was a helpful ‘Things To Do’ list, which itemised all the changes to the text that he still had to make. And so, over the last month, I've been editing that book in accordance to his wishes.

In the book he strips away modern lunar symbolism, such as the mother-maiden-crone triple goddess, in order to reveal what Selene meant to the ancients. To the Greeks, gods and goddesses were ageless and immortal. This set them apart from us mortals, who age and die. The story of Selene tells of her love for Endymion, a simple shepherd from Latmos. A relationship between an ageless immortal goddess and an ageing mortal man was never going to be straightforward, but in this myth it was possible because that mortal retired to a cave and sank into a never-ending sleep. This meant, essentially, that he was removed from the present. For Endymion, this was a small price to pay to be with his goddess. Steve Moore, it is fair to say, agreed with Endymion on this point.

There are indications, in that 58-email chain, that Steve wasn’t as beholden to the present as the rest of us. In one email he mentioned how he had been struck by the thought of what he would do should his doorbell ring at 11:30 at night (which never happened). He decided that he would go to his upstairs office and call down through that window. That evening the doorbell went at 11:30, so he went up to the upstairs window, where he was able to direct a confused fast food delivery guy to the correct address. Two days before he died, he dreamt that a plasterer was up a ladder, trying to seal that same upstairs window. After he died the police gained access to his house by putting a ladder up and getting in through that window. In his account of his final dream, the last lines quoted above come immediately after he noted that it was, in his dream, 11:30 at night. As he has noted, in magic you often get the answer long before you understand what the question is.

Selene will be finished and published in due course. He did his goddess proud. The Bumper Book of Magic will be finished by Alan, Somnium will be arrive in paperback soon and a collection of prose Tales of Telguuth stories should also be released. Steve may no longer be in the present, but he exists in the same quietly productive way he always did.

We can’t actually see him at the moment, of course, but then what’s new?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tour Dates

Well, it's a bunch of talks over the next six months - I can pretend that's a tour, can't I? A man can dream.

A couple of these are still a little vague, but I'll update as the fog lifts.

SUNDAY APRIL 6th - Black Dove, Brighton
Me and Daisy Eris Campbell discussing Robert Anton Wilson, The KLF and Cosmic Trigger

WEDS 14 MAY - Spiegeltent, Brighton Festival
Cabaret of the Mind: Tricksters & Troublemakers. Talks on KLF, Ken Campbell and the Church of the SubGenius from me, Daisy, Dr Bramwell and JimBob from Carter

SAT 17 MAY - The Corner, Nottingham
Pulling the Cosmic Trigger, with Daisy, Adrian Reynolds and Anna Reynolds

SAT JULY 24-27, Port Elliot Festival, Cornwall
Me, CJ Stone and Daisy Eris Campbell will be appearing in the Ways With Weirds lineup.

AUG 7 - 10, Wilderness Festival Oxfordshire
I'm doing a couple of talks in the Odditorium tent, one on The KLF and one with Daisy on Robert Anton Wilson

AUG 15 - 17, Weird Weekend, Devon
Talking about The KLF and assorted strangeness, CJ Stone will also be appearing.

NOV 20th-23rd - Cosmic Trigger Festival, Liverpool
Of which more news anon.

Anyone who comes to all events wins a cheese.

Hope to see you along the way.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Transformation and Jamie Reid

Yesterday I was looking at this page from the 6 February 1977 edition of the Sunday People:

The reason it's framed is because it's the actual page which was the source material Jamie Reid photocopied in order to create one of the most iconic British images of the late 20th Century:

Now, pretty much everyone of a certain age in this country loves this image. It captures something of the national character perfectly. But until yesterday I had no idea of where it had come from. The original photo of the Queen was from an opinion piece, the headline of which read: "On her Jubilee day, how the Queen may see us: SHE'S DONE HER JOB... HAVE WE?'

The full gist of the writer's argument has been lost, alas, as only the top half of the article remains, but the general idea was to question whether the British people, in the year of the Queen's silver jubilee, are worthy of such a perfect monarch. The writer, who was clearly very angry, and also mad, took the view that his fellow Brits must be something of an disappointment to the monarch.

Knowing this makes me see that image in a whole new light. What Jamie Reid did seems like pure alchemy to me - he took dirt and turned it into gold. Through an act of creative imagination, the intention of the original article was not just negated or subverted - it was transformed into an era-defining icon that was the antithesis of everything that the original article stood for. The original author's deepest fears were blown up into a Godzilla-sized monster, because to do so was hilarious, and because the original author was asking for it.

I wonder if the unnamed author ever realised that Jamie Reid's iconic image was, in part, his fault?

All this fascinated me because I've just spent a month writing a short ebook on the monarchy, for Random House in Canada. This will be out in June, I think. It is in theory a pro-monarchy book, but it offers a perspective on monarchy that is more likely to get me lynched by royalists than republicans. Looking at these images again, I started to wonder if I would have written the ebook I have just written if I hadn't grown up in a country where Jamie Reid's image was ubiquitous. And if I'm honest, I don't think that I would have. It is a powerful image indeed that has such a transformative effect on your relationship with your national identity.

The knowledge of where that portrait came from is, in this context, the icing on the cake. If it is possible to take an article like that and, through alchemy, create such a transformative icon, then what else is the creative imagination capable of?

The reason why I was looking through Jamie Reid's work was because I was with Daisy Eris Campbell, and Jamie Reid will be working with her on her Cosmic Trigger play and festival in November. Keep an eye on for updates on that.

Until then, here's a piece of Jamie's more recent work to leave you with...

Friday, 31 January 2014

Talking RAW with Alan Moore

Yesterday me and @DaisyEris Campbell drove up to Northampton to visit Alan Moore, the Greatest Living Englishman, to talk about Robert Anton Wilson. We filmed the interview and we'll show it in Liverpool on Feb 23rd. If you can't make that, then Daisy will also use the footage as part the indiegogo campaign to crowdfund the Cosmic Trigger play, which kicks off on April 23rd.

There was a lot of press recently about Alan's decision to withdraw from interviews and public appearances, so the fact that he was good enough to do this for us yesterday is an indication of how important RAW is to him. Alan has only rarely been asked about Wilson in interviews, and what he has to say is well worth hearing.

Mighty Alan Moore, Northampton Jan 30th 2014
If that wasn't enough, we also met Steve Moore, whose eternal novel Somnium will finally appear in paperback later this year, and Alistair Fruish, whose novel Kiss My ASBO will please all who hanker after a bit of dark urban psychedelia. Alistair, it turns out, rides a rowbike, which is a bike that is propelled by rowing rather than cycling. As a result I found myself standing in a Northampton terraced street watching him row past, while Alan Moore told me that the trick was to wave as he passed as this made him automatically take his hand of the handles and fall off. Should my mind ever be wiped, I suspect that will be one of the last memories to go.

Ken Campbell's Illuminatus! play famously included the voice of Sir John Geilgud as FUCKUP, the artificially intelligent supercomputer which predicts Armageddon by use of the I Ching. As Daisy's Cosmic Trigger play includes scenes from the staging of Illuminatus!, she had the problem of finding someone significant enough to step into Geilgud's shoes. Ultimately it comes down to a choice between Alan Moore and Richard Dawkins and, lets be honest, Alan has the better voice. And also, a sense of humour. So his lines have been recorded, and those planning on coming to see the play will now hear Alan Moore as the voice of FUCKUP.

For more news on all of this get yourself to Liverpool on Feb 23rd, where there will be talks, performances, music, and me discussing the origins of my KLF book in a talk entitled 'I Blame Liverpool'. See you there, yes?

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Moon Bibles

This story appeared in The Times earlier in the week (many thanks to Steve Moore for sending me the clipping).

Microfilm moon bibles! What a wonderful snapshot of that brief moment in history when we were both an analogue civilisation, and also going into space.

But the story raises a number of questions. Every ounce in weight was precious to the Apollo programme, so taking books on microfilm appears sensible at first. Until, that is, you remember that there was no way a bulky microfilm reader would have been on board. Whatever reason they took those Bibles to the moon, it was not to read them. Their journey into space was for symbolic reasons, not practical ones.

Then there's the fact that they took 100 of them, as if the astronauts were intending to convert The Clangers.

Clangers: Not Yet Christian.
The answer, of course, is money. Those microfilm moon bibles can fetch over $10,000 a pop in auctions, so taking 100 will have made someone a nice little windfall.

But look again at what really happened - the proximity of the moon granted these old Iron Age texts an extra quality - they gained value. That is magical thinking. Money itself is magical thinking, as certain pieces of green paper are deemed to have value which other pieces of green paper do not, provided they have been blessed by the wizards at the Federal Reserve (as Robert Anton Wilson used to put it.)

So the Apollo Prayer League were using the power of the moon to take an old form of magic (sacred texts) and convert them into a more modern form of magic (dollars). That's an occult act, in anyone's book, and one performed for personal gain rather than the greater good.

Who knew that Christians were that ideologically flexible?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ten Reasons For Burning Money

Burning money is an action where intent is everything.

I've already written at length about Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond burning a million pounds, but what other reasons are there for lighting up the magic paper?

Here's your handy top 10:

1. To Frighten

Here's The Joker in The Dark Knight setting fire to a considerable stack of cash.

He claims he does this to 'send a message', but what message is he sending? It is, clearly, that people should be afraid of him. The Joker operates on levels that are so far off the maps of other crime bosses that fear is the only logical response.

This is also the reason why Hagbard Celine burns money in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy - although Hagbard Celine is considerably more gentlemanly about it.

2. Ostentation

Should a TV programme or film wish to imply that a character has too much money, the standard trope is to show them lighting a big fat cigar with burning money.

This is the behaviour of cold-hearted corporate sharks and insecure rappers. It also has a poorer cousin, namely waving your money in someones face. See, for example, Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney character, city bankers during G20 anti-capitalism protests, or the overtime-rich police waving their bonuses at striking miners during the 1980s.

No-one who has ever undertaken these acts has come out of it well.

3. Protest

Here's an Occupy Wall Street protester burning a few dollars.

Like many protests, this is a largely symbolic act. The actual amount of money doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, yet symbolically it is sacrilege - like upturning a crucifix or denying someones gods. Like the Joker's 'message', it is a declaration that other value systems are available.

4. Spite

Here we see France's worst babysitter Serge Gainsbourg lighting a 500 Franc note in 1984, in response to what he felt were France's high levels of taxation. This could be filed under 'protest', but as it is also an example of burning money because you don't want anyone else to have it, it is placed here under spite.

5. Currency validation.

This is not a list about money being lost or squandered. I haven't included Yves Klein throwing gold dust into the Seine, for example, because the gold was scattered rather than destroyed. But there are other non-paper sources of wealth that can be physically destroyed, and that includes the virtual algorithm-backed currency BitCoin.

Here we see some people burning a memory card containing their bitcoin wallet. As the video states, "...the real aspect making it into a currency is not when it is spent but when it is burnt." Hence, this burning can be seen as further legitimisation of this mighty game-changing currency.

Hello Bitcoin from Videocassettera on Vimeo.

Love the marshmallows at the end. (h/t to @sinkdeep for this one)

6. Cracking up

Burning money seems to be a good way to get yourself locked away in a psychiatric institute - on the grounds that you must obviously be insane if you do it. One example was Billie Boggs, a homeless New York City woman notable for the legal test case that followed her being institutionalised for burning dollar bills in 1987 (h/t to Jonathan Harris for that one). Another example is Youth from Killing Joke, which he discuses in my interview with him here.

It's not hard to imagine that guy burning money at Occupy Wall Street in the video above being carted away some day soon for just this reason.

7. Becoming Sane

Allen Ginsberg's epic Beat poem Howl mentions someone "burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall." This is a reference to Ginsberg's friend Lucian Carr. Carr had claimed that he placed his head in a gas oven as "a work of art", but this argument was not accepted by the medical authorities and he was sectioned for suicidal tendencies. When he was declared sane and released he burnt his psychiatric record in a wastebasket along with $20, and Ginsberg immortalised the act.
cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wal - See more at:

8. War 

The 20th Century introduced us to aerial bombardment and as a result an unquantifiable amount of cash went up in smoke. True, it was largely very poor countries that found themselves on the receiving end of large amounts of bombs, but not exclusively - Dresden, London and Hiroshima will attest to that.

9. Forgiveness

Of all the reasons for burning money, the one I can get behind is that demonstrated by Jonathan Harris at our London Fortean Society Robert Anton Wilson event. He just burnt twenty quid, as you can see here, but doing so had a very powerful effect on those present:

Why? Well, his reasons focus on forgiveness, and giving without expectation of reward. I recommend you read his account of the act over on his blog, in which he explains his reasoning far better than I can here.

10. Housekeeping

Of course, millions of notes are burnt around the world every day. Such is the normal housekeeping involved in printing and maintaining a paper currency. You can see some of this here. And why not? It is, after all, just paper.

Almost every note you ever hold will be burnt in the end. That is the ultimate fate of every tenner or dollar bill. Hence the question when it will be burnt - and with what intent.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Jimmy Cauty's tiny police state

Yesterday I went to launch of James Cauty's Aftermath Dislocation Principle, a square mile of post-apocalyptic landscape shrunk down to 1:87 scale. The model itself is huge - 448 square feet - but the details are tiny.

The landscape is covered in burnt out cars and the aftermath of rioting, but there are no ordinary people. Only the security services are left behind - around 3000 tiny policemen. The population has gone but the state remains. Exactly what has happened is left open to your imagination.

It's a phenomenal piece of work - although one that is bleak as all hell. Everywhere you look there are little dramas occurring, sight gags, and political digs at the likes of Wonga and Foxconn.

Normally the crowd at art openings has an initial look at the work and then ignores it for the rest of the evening. This was different - people kept going back to it. The more you look at it, the more you find. Here's a packing crate Stonehenge.

 There's a few little details will appeal to KLF fans.

Police cars have the number 23 on their roof, of course.

My friend Brian Barritt used to say that it was simple to tell whether a piece of visual work was 'art' or not. If you never tired of looking at it, then it was art. For this reason the work of Banksy wasn't art. It's still great, of course, because it was a giggle and that's entirely valid. But once you'd groked it there was no reason to look at it again.

I'm not sure why, but it's all kicking off at Burger King.

Cauty's obsessional model echoes of the shift that has happened in film and TV storytelling. In the 20th Century, the 'Hero's Journey' story was considered enough to hold people's attentions. That is no longer the case. Now we flock to things that are deeper and far more complex - the so-called '1000-hour narrative'. Examples of this include the complex politics of a series like Game of Thrones, the endless storytelling of the Marvel Universe or the 50-year character story of Doctor Who. For all the concern about our modern attention spans, we've actually become sophisticated enough to want far more intricate and rewarding work - narratives that continue to reveal details the longer we engage with them.

This was brought home when I walked home and passed street art. It just seemed shit in comparison to what Cauty had done. It just wasn't enough.

Here's a film to give you more of a sense of the thing.

ADP V 2 from jimmy cauty on Vimeo.

It's on display in London until October 20th and is highly recommended. You'll find it in the railway arches right next to Hoxton overground station.