Sunday, December 31, 2006

"Well then! once more!"

"I'm waiting in my cold cell
When the bell begins to chime
Reflecting on my past life
And it doesn't have much time."
--Iron Maiden, 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'.

"The only thing worth living for is life."
--Will Shatter.

It's New Years Eve. This is number 18, if I'm not mistaken; and I'm asking myself where the fuck they went. What did I do? Sleep, I expect. The last one that I vividly remember was the Millenium: we stayed up to midnight, eat ridiculously greasy food, I drank beer for the first time. The last six years have been the most astonishing of my life, too full to the brim with memories, but I haven't had a New Year's Eve good enough to remember.

New Year's Eve has a double purpose: saying goodbye to the old, and greeting the new. Well, this year's been the best I've ever had. No, really. 2006 has been another fucking turning-point for me, alongside all the others I've kept from my adolescence. This last half-year in particular has been the weirdest of my life: being led by my nose through the tunnels of thought and life, being led into contact with a world I've learned, bizarrely, to love. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche proposed the idea of the 'eternal return': that at the end of time, everything would come back, exactly as it was; history would repeat itself precisely. Ignoring the whole shit of the implications for free will, Nietzsche said that the ultimate test would be whether the idea filled you with horror; or whether your love for the world was so strong you would want everything to be repeated. Zarathustra, with a flick of his hand, cries out: "Is that life? Well then, once more!"

The life of man is not a circle, but a straight line, leading from the cradle to the grave. The path is murky; every step is a step into the unknown, whether you are convinced you are "cautious", or not. But I can't help looking back and saying: Yes, another year will do fine for me. Another year in which to fuck up, to succeed, to carry on. Fuck it, that's right, I have reasons for living. Just like everyone else. Undoubtedly I'm still as fucked as I ever was, but I don't care at the moment.

So yes, I wanted to thank the people who've helped me, not just to get through the year, but want another one.

John, Tom (for stopping me from drowning myself), Ross, Irish Will, Mark, Jo, Laura, Kat, Muz, Kathy, Big John, Tom fizzle, Pete, Jack and Jonny, Zach (both of them, despite the other's abscence), Vicky, Dom, George, Big George, Lakshman, Sarah, "Bob", Everett True and the guys at Plan B, the staff of The Wire, especially Simon Reynolds, the people at Mixing It, Touch And Go Records, Sonic Youth, These Arms Are Snakes, Lewis, Will K, Dan C, Ash, Dananananaykroyd, The Blood Brothers, The Cravats, Karen O and whatever her name is, the one from The Duke Spirit, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugene Hutz, Tim Krieder, Richard Linklater and Philip K. Dick, Nick Cave, Steph (heh), Scott Walker, Arthur Guinness, Jim Beam, Henri-Louis Pernod, the good people at the Anarchist Bookfair, Iron Maiden, all the good secondhand bookshops in Bournemouth (there are a few), CSS, BBC 6 Music, Greil Marcus and any other writers I really liked but can't remember. Cheers.

No thanks:
The cocksuckers at Southwest Trains. Get your fucking act together, or re-nationalise. Just remember, I know where you live.

Back in the new year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Art Of Yesterday's Crash, Pt 1.

Some people find it hard to believe I like noise music. Not that there's anything about me to suggest I wouldn't like it; it's just that the very idea of liking noise music is alien to the people I know. In fact, the idea of 'noise music' seems oxymoronic, an impossible concept. I at least partially agree with that. In Give My Regards To Eighth Street, Morton Feldman's book of collected essays, he says that the possibilities of noise are far greater than the possibilities of music, constrained as it is into very certain shapes. Noise has the possibility, "when organised" to "have the impact and grandeur of Beethoven". Furthermore, noise is a much more difficult creature than music: it is a shot in the "demonic vastnesses" that surround the tightly cloistered world of music; but ultimately it gives a higher payback: the transcendent world of music, of pretty notes designed to please, can please anyone or leave them flat, but "Noise is something else... It bores like granite into granite. It is physical, very exciting."

You're damn fucking right it's exciting. The visceral thrill I get when listening to good noise is bizarre and, at its best, near-unbeatable. It's like punk music taken out to the furthest extreme (in fact, it really is: punk's ethic of deconstruction and assault is taken here to its reaches, removing even things like rhythm in search of pure shredding sound); it's like the morbid fascination that car crashes and serial killers have on people; it's that feeling of exotica, of pure transgressive, forbidden rush, like those weird fantasies people have of being raped by handsome strangers (yes, I have seen some weird films.) Artists like Prurient, Wolf Eyes and Magik Markers are making music that is finally going there, beyond even where Morton Feldman (who at least composed for classical instruments) went.
In his review of the Fun From None DVD - Chris Habib's film of the 2004 and 2005 No Fun festivals, the only noise festival on earth - in December's Plan B, Louis Pattison posits the theory that "noise is the key to a nation's id". He notes that "In Britain noise is about strange sexual perversions, the impulse to authoritarianism, and where the two intersect in themes of domination and control." This is compared to America, where it emerges from "a land of fortified homesteads, pioneer machismo and militant self-sufficiency: a nation of noise outlaws, walking forth from their mid-American compounds to deliver a shot of bad craziness into the national jugular."
Whilst the theory is nice, it doesn't really hold together, forgetting the huge degree of intersection between British and American noise, indeed the amount of similarity throughout the world-wide scene. Prurient's scouring whine-and-shred has its' roots in London's Whitehouse. The improvisations and "inverted guitar fetishism" of Magik Markers finds its' roots in British experimental music in the early 70s (which traces its roots back to American jazz, but we won't go into that). Indeed, all the roots of noise music seem to end in Britain. Or, more specifically, a disused factory in Hackney.
In the mid-70s, a performance art group called COUM Transmissions decided to create music to accompany their visual artworks. None of the members - Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson and Chris Carter - could play a note. They ended up making non-music in their rehearsal space/studio, known affectionately as the Death Factory, and began a record label known as Industrial Records. They released two studio albums - The Second Annual Report and DOA: The Third And Final Annual Report - along with a host of live records, under the name Throbbing Gristle.
This story is old, and everyone knows it. If you don't, read Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again. But the roots of noise music do not stop in the Death Factory. They go deeper than that. If noise is not a reflection of the national collective unconscious, it is the latest date on the timeline of a secret history that goes back further than most think.
To be continued in the New Year. Expect another, more cheery post, New Year's Day at the latest.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

To Have Done With The Judgement Of God, Pt 2

Sorry, a momentary lapse of reason there. How's about we carry on, 'cos I had some more to say. Now, where was I...


Even if you don't believe in God, you have to face him down. In Aphorism 125 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche describes a "madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market placx and cried incessantly: 'I seek God! I seek God!'" He is mocked by the idiot villagers, "who did not believe in God" and left it at that. He rebukes by repeatedly shouting that "We have killed him - you and I! All of us are his murderers!" They back away in the face of the barrage he launches against them, in the face of the terrible implications of the death of God: "Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from the sun?... Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?" If man has killed God, then who must he answer to, who must account for the crime? "What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?" If man no longer believes in God - the creature who for the length of civilisation, in one form or another, has been the lynchpin of existence - then he still must reckon with Him, and His funeral director. He formulates it even more clearly in Aphorism 108: "God is dead: but given the way men are, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown." It establishes the supreme imperative of the modern intellectual revolution: "we still have to vanquish his shadow, too."

Now, I'm a ridiculously tolerant and good-hearted man (he says, trying not to sound too sincere) but I do feel that organised religion should be wiped from the face of the sweet mother earth. Admittedly, I have a number of friends who are 'believers'; and, let's be honest, the metaphysical state of things is a mystery, so they're fucking guess is as good as mine. But it is still necessary to rid the world of the lingering traces, the spectre of God. If we're ever going to be liberated (and it's unlikely) we must be rid of God. To finally be able to live lives in which real happiness is possible, we must spit out the remnants of God. For mankind to take control of his destiny, he must deal with God.

But it isn't even as simple as that. I may not believe in God, but I've battled with him all my life. When I asked my parents when I was young what happened when people died, they gave me the old 'heaven' bullshit. Heaven leads to God, and I accepted that. Around the time I was 8, I began thinking about it. I wondered what evidence there was for God's existence. If they might be wrong. If they were wrong, and there was no God, what the implications were. I knew it. The most harrowing night of my life was when I realised that it was possible that when I died I would simply cease to exist. I thought of how it would feel, then realised it wouldn't. That feeling in the pit of my stomach, the feeling of a void turning me inside out, is something I'll never forget. It's taken me years to halt the terror from pursuing me day-to-day. At first I began by assuring myself that God did exist, talking to my friend John (a Catholic, no less) and my parents. Despite their and my fevered assurances, I had the doubt lurking at the back of my mind. During my secondary school days, regularly having the shit kicked out of me, I began to believe more strongly, to the point in Year 9 where I had a 'revelation' of God's existence and grace. As soon as I began to realise how shitty my situation was, I quickly lost faith. Reading Nietzsche and the Russian Nihilists over the next two years, the extermination of God became my imperative. I shouted down Christians, insulted my religious friends, spat on and grafittied churches, placed massive and vitriolic attacks on religion and God in my writings. Reading back over my diaries and writings of that period, the profusion of Christian imagery, of Christ-like feats of suffering endured by my surrogate characters, the pall of heaviness and misery hanging over my life, it's apparent that I hadn't yet gotten rid of God.

The question, then, of what atheists should do with 'spiritual' art becomes even more convoluted and difficult. If believing in spirits or God is necessary to make art work, then how are we meant to do this? How are we meant to do the exact opposite of what we should do, how can we cling to the things that are holding us back?

The best example of this dilemma in art is the late work of Antonin Artaud, particularly his radio poem To Have Done With The Judgement Of God. He wrote it whilst in the Rodez lunatic asylum, and just emerging out of the insanity that had plagued him the last seven years. Despite its being commissioned by the most important radio station in France, it was banned shortly before broadcast for its relentless obscenity and anti-Catholic and anti-American sentiment. It calls on the spiritual ideas that informed the entirety of his work: his love of primitive mythology and forgotten religions, his belief in spirit energies that, in his manifesto The Theater And Its Double he called on performers to utilise, to call on in a ritualistic and mystic manner - in a strange mirror to Ian Curtis's performances. A masterpiece of scatological and ritual invective, To Have Done... is capped by the ending, in which Artaud himself, in a shrieky falsetto, he denounces the human belief in God, "this monkey", because "if nobody believes anymore in God everybody believes more and more in man." He demands that man be surgically disembowelled to remove God, the spiritual appendix of man, "this animalcule that makes him itch to death".

But, bizarrely enough, Artaud also seems to provide an exit-point from this conundrum. His essential project seems bizarrely to coincide with that of Nietzsche: the annihilation of the idol of God, the idol masking the death of God from Christian and non-believer alike. Nietzsche predicted that the loss of belief in God would cause a sweeping wave of nihilism to spread from the West; he understood that what caused nihilism is the retention of the shadow of God, the Christian belief that the world "is ugly and bad". Artaud calls for the destruction of the idol of God, marshalling the forces of an older, more pure and elemental spirituality, something bound up with the "the Red Earth" of Mexico, where he underwent a peyote ritual in 1936. Nietzsche called for a revolution to overthrow the false ideal of God and heaven in favour of real life as human beings live it, on earth. Artaud demanded that man return to the reality "of my corporal/pain,/the menacing,/never tiring/presence/of my/body." All real artists seek to give reality, as they have it, as they possess it, and all real art is understood in those terms. I was wrong when I said real art needed belief. It needs recognition, the feeling that an art's reality corresponds with your own. That is what I find discordant in Christian art: the note of sentimental kitsch, of unreality. And that reality-recognition is, to say the least, uncanny. It's uncanny that, of two people in the entirety of the human race, two realities would align. The fact that it occurs every second is even more uncanny.

That sense of the uncanny runs not only through Artaud and Nietzsche's work (his philosophy relying on a number of concepts that are, to say the least, mystical, such as the 'eternal return'), but through the rest of human life. Whether we believe in other powers or not, people can't dismiss things like the way rhythm affects us. When I listen to 'Transmission' by Joy Division, the bass pulsing like the main circuit of a post-industrial machine, Ian Curtis' vocals alternately deadpan and manic over the top, I can't help but feel something I can't explain that moves me, both physically and emotionally. The fact that I'm shouting the lyrics alongside a man who hanged himself over 25 years ago, and we're both moving to the same rhythm - that can't be explained. And I don't see why I should explain it. It's real.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

'Nuff Said

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out! Out! brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.
Signifying nothing."
--Shakespeare, Macbeth

BTW: The last post was in fact published today. Damn fuck-up on Beta dates it the 16th, when I started drafting it.

Now I want to be alone.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

To Have Done With The Judgement Of God

You can love some people too much.

There's a series of photos of Ian Curtis that I love more than any other. They were taken on-stage at the Paris Bains Douches in 1979; the one above is the only one I could scan properly. I normally keep it blu-tacked to the door of my room, a reminder of long nights spent listening to Joy Division. In the photos, his eyes bug and limbs flail with an energy that is all the more palpable and cold for its being frozen in time. I imagine him glowering from the stage, arms caught in their arcs of movement like a Futurist painting, his eyes burning with all the obscure lucidity of a prophet's. According to Simon Reynolds, he danced this dance, resembling nothing so much as an epileptic seizure, even before he discovered his own real epilepsy; he even danced that way at his wedding, to no apparent distress from his wife. The sense of the uncanny in Ian Curtis' life - the teenage Dostoevsky addict developing epilepsy; the Iggy Pop fanatic who died listening The Idiot; the writer of 'New Dawn Fades' and 'Decades' dying at his own hand - is so tempting to the teenage mind that you almost take him for a real prophet.
It's often said that Curtis was a 'shamanistic' performer, that his astonishing actions were the result of 'channeling' something. The same is often said of performers like John Lydon and Mark E. Smith - the utter, faultless creation of a stage persona, the prophetic voices, the bug-eyed mystic stare, the occasional lapses into trance-like states - it all matches up with the tales and portraits of mystics (the Ranters, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, that Greil Marcus wrote about in Lipstick Traces and Norman Cohn in In Pursuit Of The Millenium), of shamans undergoing mystic trances, of the Old Testament prophets communing with God.
The problem comes with this: what if you think it's all bullshit?
In case you haven't already guessed, I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God, in whatever shape you take him (sting), don't believe in a 'higher power', in ghosts, the immortal soul, mystic powers, or any of that sort of thing. I'm much stricter on this point than I used to be: I used to declare myself an atheist, but at the same time believe Ian Curtis was in some way acting on 'higher orders'. That's what justifies this post, I suppose, trying to sort this shit out.
For example, despite my enduring hatred for Christianity, I've read, well... a lot of Christian writers. My worldview is heavily influenced by Soren Kierkegaard; one of my favourite poets was a Hungarian Catholic; another was a Welsh priest; I'm a connosieur of crucifixion art, particularly of the 16th Century Flemish variety; one of my favourite filmmakers was Russian Orthodox, and spent most of his films preaching about how unsatisfying the atheist life is and how the 'saving grace' is Christian truth, blah blah blah.
One would think that the problem is easily solved: that you have to look at these pieces from an aesthetic perspective. Regard the surface, regard the content, and appreciate it. But that simply doesn't work with 'spiritual' art, or at least it works in a very limited way. The force of art invested with spirituality rests in its impact, which more often than not lies in precisely those 'spiritual' elements. When I see crucifixion paintings, what takes me in is the aura of suffering, the blood, sorrow and terror, but particularly the way they are transformed into postive values - the very moral sleight-of-hand that Nietzsche denounced, and which I've hated ever since I stopped self-harming. In the photos of Ian Curtis mentioned above, it is the otherworldly nature of the energy, the sheer inhuman drive and the terrible (in the sense of "the terrible wrath of God"), fixating power of that stare, that draws me to him.
I've always found that for art to have real power you have to believe in it, even to just a small extent. If there is no belief, then art and its effects become nothing more than a paper tiger. For example, there is Janos Pilinzsky's poem 'Apocrypha', the very centerpiece of his work. The poem seems to describe an apocalypse as in the Book Of Revelations, a "finished world" in which the horrors of "the night, the cold, the pit" have finally come out and taken over. A man walks, clothed in the "prison garb" of a concentration camp inmate, come "to arrive as he in the Bible arrived." He reaches his home, only to find no-one there. As he collapses in pain at his solitude and broken hope, the land itself begins to melt and trickle away in a last apocalypse from God, who seems to lurk at every corner in this poem. The incredible power of Pilinszky's language comes from the subject matter, and vice versa: in conveying what he wants to convey, Pilinszky creates language so sharp and terrifying it's like a high-powered laser searing through your soul. But no matter how much Pilinszky believed in his God and his apocalypse, if you don't, then how exactly is it that the poem isn't neutered in effect. You are being presented with an alien object, possibly even, in theological terms, something worthy of derision (any religion being worthy of derision), and you cannot engage with it. It falls down, not quite flat, but as if it has been kicked in the stomach and has doubled over.
And this doesn't just apply to 'spiritual art' in the grand, solemn sense. The more abstract and entertaining side of spirituality also causes problems for me. For example, there's the belief in psychotropia as a means of enlightenment: Bill Hicks, Coil, psychedelic music up to and including psychotropic music like Coughs and Magik Markers, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, the more trippy Beats like Kerouac and Ginsberg, most forms of reggae after 1969 including roots and dub, outsider art with an interest in psychotropia... There's 'ghost art' such as serious horror films, good horror fiction like H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, and, again, more outsider art... And that's only scraping the surface.
The way I have picked up of dealing with this crap is to look at it artistically, to semi-ignore the real 'spiritual' elements and simply enjoy the bits I can engage with. I like listening to Magik Markers just for the sounds, the intensity of the sound, carrying the same rush I get from punk, and also because it affects the way I think like a good liquor. Watching and listening to Bill Hicks performances I appreciate the political and cultural jokes ("Man, Debbie Gibson going down on Tiffany; now that is a video of hers I'd watch. At least that way the little cunts won't sing.") and take the "We are all free children of God" bits not-too-seriously, incorporating it into my pathetic "Human beings should be free" bullshit trip.
But then again, what do you care about any of this for? You've got better things to do than read the ramblings of a depressive and a failure. Go out, have fun. Go to a bar, get drunk, meet some more human beings who might like you. I'll be fine without you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Electric Dreams

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but CSS are one of my favourite bands. You may well have heard of them, but for the uninitiated, they are Cansei de Ser Sexy, Brazilian Portugese for 'Tired of being sexy'. They play throwaway indie-electro-pop. The band consists of 4 girls and one guy (the bassist, for Christ's sake), and every single member exudes the aura of the cold fashionista. Look on Youtube and their webpage and you can find a whole plethora of videos by them from their tours, astonishing in their fake naivety and flippancy. They are currently on Sub Pop, the same label that briefly housed Nirvana and Mudhoney, and now has The Shins, and one of my favourite bands, Wolf Eyes. They came to the world's blinkered attention through their MySpace page, in a similar manner to Lily (vomit) Allen.
In an article in October's Plan B, the band talk about MySpace, the drummer Caro (the only member without am accoutn) asking "What is it for?" The hack typing the article, a certain "kicking_k", fills us in on what MySpace is about: "It's... for escaping where you are. It's for reaching out to all your friends at once, keeping hold of them wherever your life careers, however atomised and isolated we become in ever-accelerating streets and cities." But this is what intrigued me: "It's for advertising who you want to be... an interactive, multi-media tombstone updated daily."
He's right, you know. I've recently gotten MySpace, and it's a bizarre tool: impersonal yet intimate, an opportunity for infinite networking, mostly confined to my friends and acquaintances, a front and tool for popularity, a kind of artifice that becomes in itself almost a kind of art. The first thing I did when I got my profile was go down to the woods behind my school and take my profile picture; I wrote out a list of my favourite bands for the Music section, going through my entire voluminous record collection to make sure I got every one. Some of the bands on my page, I must confess, I've only heard one or two tracks from.
But that is not the point. The internet, as it is, provides a golden opportunity for subcultures to have the world as their playground: in a democratic system, where everyone is on equal footing, they have as much opportunity as anyone else. Those whose intelligence outweighs their practical abilities - otherwise known as nerds, geeks, or dorkuses - find a perfect field in the internet, where anonymity is guaranteed. By the same token, it allows people to see, and grasp with both hands, the capitalist dream. CSS are perfectly suited to this brave new world: their image, that of the fun-loving consumers, the boys and girls playing in the wasteland of late capitalism, their post-modernist image - colourful and 'now', but classical; weak and effeminate but strong and indifferent; enjoyers of good old-fashioned fun, proficient in the latest tech - matching the time.
But this is not limited to MySpace. The Internet community - the enormous network of blogs, forums, file-sharing sites, 'community' sites like Bebo, etc., etc. - becomes a shadowy, cracked mirror to the real world. The 'winners' of society - the popular, the 'upper crust' - carry pages similarly possessed of the aesthetic and values of the 'ruling class' (an example, one in the many); the pages of the 'lower class', the despised and spat on, the shit on the heel of society, possess poor 'production values' and generally poor everything (an example, heh heh heh). For example, you'll note how the web pages of punk bands and anarchist sites are generally nothing more than text and a few basic graphics.
And whilst I've never had any doubt of the validity of underground culture - the output of those ground under the heel of modern life - the specter of the 'ruling class' survives. MySpace is an electric dream, an opportunity for 'self-improvement', social climbing and expansion, if you like. But dreams have only ever been available for the rich, the 'blessed'. And whilst I'll listen to Scratch Acid, Nirvana, Black Flag, Gogol Bordello, any day, the process of living in the underground is, frankly, shit. But neither do I want to buy in to the lies of the upper class, of Gramsci's 'hegemony'. That's just not me. The spectre of the 'bloc' in Gramsci's terms, the despised and oppressed, is like a black hole, sucking me back every time I take a step 'forward'. And MySpace really means nothing because of it.