Easter weekend

It is the long bank holiday here in the UK, the Easter one, which goes from “Good Friday” through to the Monday. It was always quite a thing when I was younger, as it is the longest holiday you automatically get (generally), aside maybe from Christmas when “Boxing Day” falls on a Saturday, but at Christmas everything was closed down, so it didn’t really count. Today is Sunday, and it is quite nice and sunny.

I’ve been celebrating Easter by working my way through the Alien quadrilogy of films, seeing the directors’ cuts. Well, there is a theme of eggs and “new life”, even if it’s not exactly fluffy. I’m just about to start on Alien 3. I really like Sigourney weaver in these films, and I think Ripley may be my favourite female lead character of all time.

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still from screen test for Alien – video at https://youtu.be/pj6P9qZIwbM

I noticed when watching Aliens that the sound track in some of the space sections used a classical style of music with a sad, poignant, elegiac feel, which gives a whole, unstated tone to the framing of the story, and also seems to invoke the ground breaking 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its haunting use of classical music. It turns out that James Horner references Gayane‘s Adagio here, which was actually used by Kubrick in 2001. So the mystical, psychedelic 2001 is faintly called upon, a memory of almost twenty years past, in the grimey, dystopian Aliens of the mid 80s.

Another thing I saw this weekend was a short video about Viva, an 82 year old punk, who joined a punk band as a 45 year old divorcee. as she says: “in my head I never think that I’m 82, I’m just Viva”.

“I had a very ordinary life ….  punk had a great freedom with no rules. I couldn’t sing, but I got up there and sung. And it didn’t matter. You had to have the spirit and the energy…… The punk obviously opened up a door that I did not know was inside me. Something came out I did not know I had. I certainly haven’t got any regrets. Obviously you do things wrong but I haven’t had any regrets about how my life has gone. I don’t think I’ve ever lost that drive of what I found when I moved down here. Viva is the Latin verb “to live” and that’s what I’ve got to do, because I’ve got the name Viva!” 

She is awesome, and she got punk 100%. I don’t know exactly how, but punk opened things up for people, made it ok to find the creativity and spirit inside them. It tore up the rules and declared a democratized form of being and expression. No bullshit, glamorized “meritocracy” of art, but spirit, desire, content, just for anyone who wanted to try. Everyone a king and a queen.

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If you haven’t been living in seclusion this week, then you will know already that David Bowie died on Sunday. I learnt of it on Monday morning from my husband staring at the computer screen, quietly in tears.

Almost too much to put into words.

Everyone has their own Bowie story, what he meant, what he did, how he changed them or their vision of life, or their recognition of themselves. Tilda Swinton has a story about being 13 and buying Aladdin Sane, even though she didn’t have a record player, because she had never seen anyone else who looked like her, like Bowie did on that record cover. Everyone has an individual story.

Coming from the generation we did (and he was not limited to a generation, he was every fan’s Bowie), I wrote the following to my sister on Monday:

I feel emotional but celebratory, I do feel teary, but also quite deeply proud that he was our one, as the kids who missed the 60s but witnessed the power of art and a whole different kind of courage in him and Angie and their crew. But what a victory and vindication, this strange boy who never really appeared to stick with one thing, or do those things that people think of as the mark of “authenticity” or “well roundedness” or “maturity” or individuation, and was as you say primarily a collaborator, so completely vindicated by artistry that could even match the fact of death. He got there, he really did. The fairy tale was real. What an achievement, what a Capricornian feat. They have been interviewing people on the news, and 18 year olds are saying “he taught me I could be myself”, which is so near as dammit exactly what a 15 year old in 1973 would have said, just a bit more colourfully. There is a street party in Brixton as we speak, by the Aladdin Sane mural. There is a little shrine in Soho at the site of the Ziggy photo shoot. And he has gone, no encore, no curtain call, left the building. What a fucking showman. All the surfaces and artifices had a meaning, but only for the individuals that wanted them. It was all messages to individuals.

A transcendent act of communication. If you got the message, you were part of it. He must have set so many people free, because I know what he did for us in ’73, and he obviously kept on doing it, decade after decade for people, from the reaction of those who aren’t middle aged ex-glam kids.

There was this whole thing with Ziggy, who we believed was Bowie then (half make-believe, half unashamed fan hysteria), whose life and death we lived through, who was the star man, the alien love rock god; this thing of the rock n roll suicide, the death and disappearance at the height of his fame and adulation (it was the self-conscious myth). The age-defining presence on stage, dramatically transformed into an absence.

On 8th January 2016, Bowie’s birthday, he released the Blackstar album. Two days later he was dead.

Ziggy didn’t just play guitar.

Back in 1973 he reached the height of his tongue in cheek, unstable, transformed beauty in Aladdin Sane, then fled to America as the blue eyed soul boy, returned as the Thin White Duke and had his beautiful, alien status immortalised in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.  Then it was off to Berlin with Iggy, as ever, divining new things. And on. But you always remember when you first saw that light of difference, the other that was you, or a part of you, or the life that could be. I think I was 14 at the time. It sang, like Ziggy: “oh no love, you’re not alone”.

An artist-magician, playing with being and time, surfaces and meanings, futures and nostalgia, otherness and possibility. More grace, premonition and talent than one person should have been able to embody. We always said he was a genius, and the kids were right.

Gone, like the bullet straight out the barrel of a gun.

A jeweled seed case, and a million scattered children.

Bowie forever.

stills from the Blackstar video at https://youtu.be/kszLwBaC4Sw

stills from the Blackstar video at https://youtu.be/kszLwBaC4Sw

 

a way to end the year

I woke up this morning and found that Lemmy Kilmister had died. I thought no, that just can’t be, he isn’t meant to die. Lemmy was meant to continue as the irreducible pirate king of rock n roll, the grade A heretic steamrollering everything in its wake with Motörhead.

I remember when Lemmy was still in Hawkwind, and was already a bit of a legend to some of the friends I knew at school. By his own account he was thrown out of Hawkwind for “liking the wrong drugs”. Hawkwind were themselves a legend, a bit like the Grateful Dead of Labroke Grove, a community band, in the time when “free festivals” were an actual thing.

Motörhead got an instant embrace from anyone who loved dirty, fast, energy laden rock. Even sniffy punks loved them. And they kept going, a bit like The Ramones in their time. Both bands were pure rock n roll, in a very 1950s sense in fact. And Lemmy was instantly iconic, rangy, gravelly, mutton chops moustache like a Victorian villain, outlawish and ordinary blokesish at the same time, made for black and studded belts and iron crosses. He didn’t have to change, because if he dressed utterly nondescript, he’d still be fucking Lemmy.

I guess we knew he’d have to die sometime (unlike Keith Richards, who actually won’t), it just should never be now. Just never.

If there had been any wind in my sails this would have taken it out of them. I did actually shed a few tears. It’s a real loss, and it grieves me. But it has been such a grim feeling xmas, and I could not wait for it to all end. Then Lemmy dies, and I just think fuck it, but fuck yes, life can mean something.

We may not have all those perfect families, and worlds arranged to accommodate our approved desires, or the protection of respectability, but we have our own kind of family, and we know when we have lost one of them.

Thank you Mr Kilmister. We love you.

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Lemmy in 2005 by MarkMarek at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

goodbye Rod McKuen

Phil told me the other day that Rod McKuen, the very popular American poet and song writer had died. He came from Oakland originally, the same area as my father in law, and in fact Phil’s aunt knew him as a young man setting out many years ago.

I read some obituaries and learnt that he came to be called the “King of Kitch”, and that at his height he was considered by some the unofficial “poet laureate” of America. Neither the back handed compliments, nor the scale of his popularity surprised me there, knowing both the nature of literary snobbery, and how much he was loved by masses of people regardless. He had a place in popular culture the same way that Abba and Van Gogh’s paintings do, or those songs that swept through a time and tugged meaningfully at great swathes of people. I loved those things, without any sense of irony, because I am one of those people. He was a boy from Oakland who became a people’s poet in a particularly golden time.

I remember buying a paperback edition of one of his poetry books as a teenager, it probably had a beach or a sunset on the cover, I remember it looked very warm and kinda orange, and the poems were very personal, and there were lots of pictures of him in it, which I loved because he was a handsome man and I had a bit of a crush on him. It was probably about 1973 or so, and it felt like a personal link with someone. It was, like the cover of the book, warm, unguarded, held close in the after glow of the 1960s.

I’m really sad that Rod McKuen is gone, but looking at his website, it looks like he just continued on his way, the same man, writing personally for a public that loved him. And that is immensely heartening. It wasn’t just the glow of the 60s, it was also him.

screen shot from Rod McKuen's website, with just a little tweak on the colour towards what I remember

screen shot from Rod McKuen’s website, colour tone altered to a little closer to my memories :0)

 

sunny morning

An interesting morning, listening to Nico on YouTube with brilliant sunlight pouring in low through the living room windows, as it does in Winter here (when the weather is fine). It was Nico’s first album, which I know she didn’t like, but the combination of writers such as Tim Hardin and Jackson Browne, with Nico’s delivery, made it sound like a haunting, Germanic Nick Drake album. I liked Nico, she was one of the heroes of my teens and early twenties, and she transferred effortlessly to the punk and post-punk European scene. She could have been Joy Division’s godmother. She died in 1988 after having a heart attack in Ibiza while riding her bicycle. It was Jim Morrison who encouraged her to write her own material.

Nico’s grave – photo by Albertyanks – Albert Jankowski (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a belly tattoo which is healing at the moment too. It was done by Vik B who I thoroughly recommend, as I enjoy working with an artist to bring about something that neither of you would do alone. Below is the original sketch I did for the tattoo.

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It looks different to this, though the essential elements are there, and it seems to tell its own story. Getting tattoos is fascinating, because you have to let go in order to allow a tattoo to emerge, unless you are going along with a “just do this please” piece, which has its place, but working with an artist is quite different, and can give you more.

There’s a blue sky with white clouds today, and sunlight reflects on the houses opposite, from the windows in the block, almost watery, and oddly summery. I’m ok for a pretend Summer. That does quite nicely on this Saturday afternoon.

Going Up

Jhonn Balance on stage, Dublin 2004

What a strangely moving day it was yesterday, and all thanks to work that people had put out one way or another.

Above is a song from the band Coil, from their last gig, in Dublin in 2004. Please do give it a watch, I found it very moving (close to tears watching it). Coil were a band which meant a lot to me in the 1980s. They clearly remained serious about what they were doing till the end. They were the band I connected with the most out of the “psychic punk” underground (for want of a better term). They were open about their gayness (their founding members were a gay male couple) and their committed interests in magick, and they were extraordinarily creative. At times, as here, they could evoke a hauntingly religious atmosphere.

Jhonn Balance on stage, Dublin 2004

still of Jhonn Balance on stage 2004, from video

The fact that this was their last gig makes it all the more poignant, and even more so that by the end of the year Jhonn Balance would be taken by a tragic accident. Six years later Peter Christopherson died in his sleep, but there was not going to be a Coil after Jhonn. Now they are both gone. But this recorded gig is transcendent, suffused with a sadness and wonder, tension, beauty, intimated release. It aches, for me anyway.

When I heard what this song was a cover of I was amazed. I laughed, I was delighted. If you could make that into this, what are all the supposed distinctions between Christian and Buddhist and Pagan and Muslim, or between religious and profane, even meant to signify? What are you not going to take seriously? Where is the stuff of it at?

In the evening we watched a film on TV that I had really been wanting to see, called “Calvary”. It is set in Eire, in the shadow of the child abuse scandal of the Catholic Church, and the main character is played by Brendan Gleeson, who I really like as an actor, and who gives a truly fine performance. It was immensely watchable as a  film, and I found it deeply moving. It would be an understatement to say that it stays with you.

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Brendan Gleeson in “Calvary” – still from trailer

I don’t often see a depiction of a priest that affects me so much.

And that Coil song was a cover of this.

listen to them, the children of the night

I could also have titled this post “why I love goth”.

I do love spontaneously arising subcultures that allow people to live an alternative lifestyle, and be who they want to be, especially when those subcultures turn out to be persisting. They say that the creative adult is the child who survived, and I think that is very true. Maybe that is why people in their teens and 20s tend to be pioneers of that little bit of the spirit, if not exclusively so. There is something dispiriting and conventional though about “youth cults” which I mistrusted even as a teenager. Part of the meaning for me was always that you could do such things throughout your whole life, and I always thought it was cool seeing older people doing their own thing openly. I think teenagers are under-appreciated though, as it is a time when a substantial number are at their most insecurely conformist on their way to adulthood, but also a time when others are at their most sensitive and receptive to the wonderful and the otherworldy, at their most questioning and creatively individual.

Like many people, I always loved the ghost stories at Christmas that were on the TV in the 70s, and the Friday late night horror movies.  Always interested in the paranormal, and I did have a real interest in the occult. Even pulp occult was good (actually it was camply glorious), in a way which went really well with the glamour of decadent nostalgia that formed a little bit of my 13 year old soul. By the time I was 14 or 15 I had my tarot cards and incense, my black candles, and my silk scarves from India Craft (where I also got my incense, a copper bangle and little metal discs for making talismans). I’d put on nail varnish in my bedroom, and take it off before emerging, but what I really wanted was black nail varnish. Now that would be decadent (the watchword of the early to mid 70s, sepia toned, art nouveau’d, smoke  mirrored). A while ago I was chatting with my sister about that time:

“And it was the really early 1970s, when no one knew what the 70s were going to be, and the bright 60s were going purple and brown and beige, and it was kinda down and dreamy at the same time, and yet it was also the last of the 60s I remember, lots of magic in the air, innocence mixed with decadence, but like listening to a radio station that kept on fading in and out. If I could have done I would probably have looked like a male, dark haired Stevie Nicks, hippie with a touch of goth, and stars woven into silk scarves, and dark nail varnish, and peace signs and pendants, and it wouldn’t have been drag, it would have been a boy hippie look, just in my world”

And actually that boy hippie is still alive in me.

I don’t know when goth became a thing, but there’s a lot I find recognizable in the unreported imagination of the immediate post punk period. Punk has such a full tilt, spiky reputation, but I remember the time quickly devolving to a slacked out, darkly imaginative, highly eccentric place where interest in magic and the beat writers coexisted entirely naturally, and we’d listen to Jim’s post mortem Doors album American Prayer raptly, along with The Cure and Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, a sunburst of Jimi Hendrix, followed by whatever someone was crazy about at the time. I must have worn a lot of black, dyed my hair a few different colours (including an unexpected but quite welcome black-green), made a few discreet forays into black eye make up and trusty old nail varnish.  I once got called “fucking Dracula” on my way home, so I guess that would be a compliment?

I love seeing goths now. I feel they are, if not our spiritual children and siblings, at least in some way blood related. Certainly in part at least, they are the progeny of a strange time that formed a part of me also, or of something somehow similar, though they will have their own reasons, their own influences, their own personal story; I think it’s important that it is always a very personal story. There is soul and poetry in goth, and that is why I really like it.

But not everybody does. In fact some people truly hate the non-conformity and altered aesthetic that young goths embody. Almost seven years ago a girl called Sophie Lancaster was killed for it, defending her boyfriend against a vicious attack by a group of teenagers in Lancashire, seemingly due to the couple’s appearance (they were goths). From that appalling event the Sophie Lancaster Foundation was set up. The aims of the charity are:

  • To create a lasting legacy to Sophie.
  • To provide educational group-works that will challenge the prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures.
  • To campaign to have the UK Hate Crime legislation extended to include people from alternative subcultures or Lifestyle and Dress.

I really, really support their cause, and I think it is absolutely way past time to recognize alternative subcultures as worthy of protection, and to recognize both discrimination and hate crimes against alternative subcultures, and put a stop to these things.

Of course that means recognizing that people have a serious right to belong to the subculture they identify with, and have that respected. And that means changing the way we think about conformity and non-conformity, and the harm we do in allowing a conformist social culture to assert its privilege. But recognizing attacks against members of subcultures as hate crimes is something we can do right now.

Change doesn’t always come from someone standing on a barricade (in fact I sometimes wonder how much real change comes from that kind of thing). Sometimes change comes from the vulnerable, the creative, the introverted and the quiet. Sometimes the change is already there, and we just have to protect it, call off the dogs, ask why are things like that anyway?

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