The Code In The Artwork
The following is the code in the artwork to my 1971 album ‘Stormcock’. Some of you may find that this is too long, in which case, you shouldn’t trouble yourselves with it. Just let it pass. For the rest, I would like to welcome you here to hopefully enjoy one of my interpretations of the past-future that’s been with me for some considerable time now. In my own opinion, the album has lost none of its original potency, but I must leave that to be judged by yourselves and others. This is the definitive statement on it. There will not be another.
I doubt I will ever return to any of the matters treated below in the same way, by way of song. There won’t be any need to. The rest of my song-writing life will likely be spent in more poetic reflection. In some ways, this album, together with much of my recorded self, has dominated my life to an extent that has been, ok, natural, because of the way I’m built and have built myself, and the way that it’s therefore become natural for me to view the world, but that particular stylus perhaps needs to be traded for a new lamp. My response to the world isn’t going to change, but my representation of it is likely to require slightly different expressions and intentions to surface. Good luck everyone.
By the time I was 4 I’d become a judge. My general behaviour was loose and wild, mainly because I was learning to test all the limits. I’d started to write when I was 3. The reason I remember this is that on my first day in kindergarten, our teacher was trying to get the kids to write ABC with chalk on our little slates. I already knew ABC, so I decided that I’d be different and roll up some plasticine and stick it onto the slate in the shape of the letters. All that got me was a smack. So the history of roy begins with a smack on his first day at school. He was consequently forced into making a premature judgement.
For the younger history buffs among you, ‘a smack’ was a form of corporal chastisement that was administered to a child, by parent or teacher, who was perceived to be out of order. A ‘smack’ was delivered by the palm of the hand, usually to the hand or the top of the naked leg. None of the boys were allowed to wear long trousers until they were at senior school, which occurred at about age eleven. Something we all looked forward to with increasing degrees of anguish. You were desperate not to be young any more, and winter mornings in short pants turned young boys into icicles. Scrapes to knees were better repaired with a dab of stinging Dettol than any wasteful use of more material to cover the legs. Relatively premature judgements of society were coming thick and fast. And short pants invited flesh upon flesh in the lower regions.
The trick I often missed though, was that the better I thought I became as a judge of others was not necessarily matched by becoming a better judge of myself. As a judge of myself, I was nearly always far too liberal. In my own head, I lived a life that was desperate for freedom, and I mistakenly assumed that this was obviously everyone else’s ideal as well. I was about nine when I began to be able to articulate this. It was at about the same age that I realized that there really was an opposite philosophy, and that it reigned supreme in the house. Prematurity was coming to an impasse.
Smacks became slaps when they were delivered to the back of the head. There were other forms of corporal punishment, meted out by swathes of other desperate judges who were not necessarily in full control of all their faculties. There was the cane across the palm of the hand, delivered at great speed so that wide red welts appeared on the hand moments later, together with a painful numbness. Then there was the gym shoe across the backside; a favourite of many. Next on the ascending ladder of terror was the cane across the backside, and finally, the top rung penalty was the long thin bamboo cane across the semi-exposed backside in front of the whole class. Sometimes I was destabilized for a while, but a beating was not something you went home and admitted to having had. Not unless you wanted another. Thus it was that I became a judge. I was very quickly able to decipher the different body languages of a man with a heart.. and Semenyev of the Gulag; and varying shades in between, all of them within my own capacity of being.
The lessons of my youth were harsh. Early judgments were essential. Not only had you to see the camel through the eye of the needle, but you often had to swallow it as well, and it was a big pill. You left yourself open to a range of discrimination when you refused, which I often did. Paying the penalty was part of the revenge. Prejudice rules the world, it’s part of ape nature, and you’re subject to it for the whole of your life. I didn’t shy out of rugby or cricket at school, but the bigger lads always got the jobs. In the RAF I became a boxer, and twice won the camp championship at my weight. (Light Fly!! The runner-up, whose name was Tierney, got the best losers medal 2 years running)! I was totally uninspired by school, except I had a love for the language, and regardless of who was teaching, and how impersonally, I read most of the books and more of the poems. My teachers at Grammar School were all Oxbridge dons, except for the ‘Physical Training’ (PT) teacher who was Loughborough trained, but not one of them was inspired. Most of them shouldn’t have been there. We were learning much more out of school than in it.
I gazed out into the primitive media refracted shades of hustling humanity. The messages I received back as a child were confused. They’d probably have been frightening if I’d been the type to be so. There seemed to be a great deal of chaos. As an eleven year old, I was ready to side with Hitler and Stalin, to try to impose some order onto the insanity. By the time I was fourteen, I’d realized that dictatorship was completely unsafe, and I was listening to Leadbelly, buying a guitar with an action as deep as a mine shaft, for £5, and starting to read Plato. I was on the threshold of beginning to be able to make judgements using terms of reference other than the completely prohibitive. I began to be able to recognize people all over the world who were fighting for air to breathe, and I found myself in agreement with their principles. I threw away the subliminal jack boots and joined the agitated human world on the bottom rung of an imposing ladder. I was gamekeeper turned poacher. Jack, with the beanstalk ahead. I was ready to side with the untouchables because, increasingly, it became easier to spot injustice. I needed to visit the world, and I did. Eventually, I was given a paper bag of tomatoes by a poor truck driver in Italy.
When I was young, the poor were oppressed.. of course they were. The growing remnant sediment of an idea, and then a process, gone awry. The formation of villages in the old stone age had structured budding society into ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’, and benevolent rulers were not commonplace until weight of civil population in modern times began to make a real difference, which we can now judge to have really kicked in about 250 years ago. (Industrial Revolution, mass migration of rural population to towns, beginnings of mass production ‘machinery’, foundations of super-population growth, necessity for new local leadership, agitation, Peterloo, The 1832 Reform Act etc, Cobden, Bright, The Labour movement, Suffragettes, Universal Suffrage and global corporations).
However, given the nature of the beast, and the circumstances, it would automatically follow that the exploding numbers of those occupying the new middle ranks were generally unwilling to give any ground to those with less wealth than themselves. So that, as the social ladder extended downwards and a great underclass ballooned underneath, living hand to mouth and at the mercy and command of a million unregulated masters, (to cut an entire thesis down to a couple of sentences), wars, famine and disease quickly became catastrophic global events. Societies became victims of their own success as fluctuation in huge and variable markets driven by psychological and actual needs to accrue surplus failed at times to both meet demand or secure supply, while at other times exceeded both. At the same time that it can be said that Greed is both a cause and an effect of surplus, when supply is being hindered by the greed of its middle men, and a rat race develops to escape the clutches of even the slightest hint of poverty, the less prepared are left to fend for themselves, in a deadly version of musical chairs at the bottom table of life, and many end up on the street. Today, 35,600 people died of starvation.
So, in the relatively developed society of the modern age, the societal residue of the world market economy is victimized and left to perish on the streets. Either psychologically or materially, and often both. It’s here, in broad daylight for all to see, the pit into which the residual fallen are cast, without any recourse to society, or for that matter, common justice. The pit is an ancient spectacle with evolving political causes, and can appear anywhere across the entire social spectrum, but is usually the preserve of those who were born there. Worldwide. The concept of justice is just that. A concept. In reality, we could clean this up in quite a short period of time, but we won’t, because there are too many vested interests in it staying as is, too much prejudice, and no foresight.
For the most part, the short arm of the law merely gesticulates. There is no time for the shifting dunes of justice to effect the quicksands of society. For instance, it is universally understood that children need to be more protected; so that abuse is now in the act of fleeing into more inaccessible reaches of human arcana while the causes for child abuse remain unaddressed and in fact, unresearched. Meanwhile, back on the aforementioned streets, even the well-heeled must work until they drop, or consciously accept a kind of poverty in which they accept that they are forever destined to a search for the next psychological banquet.
Sixty years after the death of Adolf Hitler, justice is in short supply and authority is still as blind. It tells us that it’s more benign, but it’s lazier, just as dishonest and corrupt, and above all, for the most part dishonourable. In the early twenty first century, you cannot respect the vast majority of your national politicians. More often than not, they regard integrity and honesty as inconveniences to policy. It’s impossible to respect people who do this.
We all become barrack room judges in the pages of the dailys the world over. Nice young ‘muslim’ boys and girls become radicalized and turned into mass murderers by propaganda events. Millions of lapsed young ‘christians’ are encouraged to develop antipathy and xenophobia. Billions of mediocre judges walk the earth. There is no real forgiveness, or vision. All seems doomed to confrontation. Encouraged and promoted by black propaganda machines controlled by the cynical.. the world over.. with one side accusing the other of gross misdeed. Most so-called leaders seem to be military hardcore, political careerist nerds or impotent pop stars. Since before I was a boy, they’ve employed backstage mandarins to invent policy directed dossiers full of badly thought out labyrinthine mind games…. with no real nobility. No chivalrous ideal. The shysters still have all the power, and as usual, their goons exercise control. The judges preside as willing and obedient servants of the juggernaut at the door. All they really have to do is to pronounce.. from either end of the alimentary canal. Make do and mend.. at their bosses command. Crime is systematic.. and universal.
It remains to be seen as to whether the recent financial crisis will have any impact on any of this. We’ll have to see; but how many of us will be watching? Those who are affected will. How many will care? The same percentage as in 1970? Or 1973 when there was a ‘3-day week’, or ’74 or ’84 when there was international turmoil, the ’87 Black Monday crash, the ERM ’92 crash, the .com bubble, 9/11, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all? Will the same kind of turkeys write the same kind of claptrap about this album in ten years time as they did when it was released? Of course! Does it matter? Remotely? It used to.. but only to me. Then I went into Specsavers, got an over 60s deal for the whole flock and bi-focals for the dog, who started reading the Daily Mail and discovered that the world was flat after all… bollocks.. so Apollo 11 was just a scam..
The judge sits on his great assize
Twelve men wise with swollen thighs
Who never ever told no lies
Whose minds were ever such a size
Whose lives were ever such a prize
Whose brains bred answers just like flies
Whose answers stalk their thoughts like spies
Whose lead ball through the courtroom flies
To rip a hole clean between two eyes
That never ever wore disguise
And never ever saw blue skies
Who quickly lived and now slowly dies
Who closed unopened otherwise
Well you can lead a horse to water
But you’re never gonna make him drink
And you can lead a man to slaughter
But you’re never gonna make him think
The critic rubs his tired arse
And scrapes his poor brains and strains and farts
And wields a pen that stops and starts
And thinks in terms of booze and tarts
And sits there playing with his parts
And says I’m much too crude and far too coarse
And he says this singer’s just a farce
He’s got no healing formulas
He’s got no cure-all for our scars
He’s got no bra strap for our bras
And our sagging tits no longer hold a full house of hearts
And you know what, I don’t think his little song’s gonna make the charts
Well you can lead a horse to water
But you’re never gonna make him drink
And you can lead a man to slaughter
But you’re never gonna make him think
The influences and inspirations behind the actual lyric above, and some of the other lyrics to this album will be discussed in a later entry entitled ‘The Sword Inside The Blade’, which is already written, and will be posted after ‘The Code In The Artwork’ is made public.
The Same Old Rock
The place of religion in the world has largely changed this last three decades. Perhaps not enough to allow common sense to gain pre-eminence in education, though most people in the west are now aware of the human in a totally different context to that of forty years ago; and most intelligent people have now developed either an alternative mystical viewpoint than the one handed down by previous religious advisers, or have abandoned organized religion entirely. Too much is impacting us, not all of it negative by any means, which has presented itself to us in purely scientific and secular terms and has had to be understood in a much more rational way than would have been the case in 1950. We are no longer able to push things like climate change under the ubiquitous ancient religious prayer mat.
Although it actually should be, you can imagine that climate change is not the most pressing issue for most Africans at this moment in time. In the same global context, but in a different world away, the Chinese were just entering never-never land where consume now and pay later were about to happen on a truly grand scale but have now been slowed by the credit crunch. The crunch isn’t likely to delay them much, but there is now a different set of bogies abroad. The USA is somewhere between $500 billion, (John McCain) and $1trillion (Barrack Obama), in debt to the Chinese. The current question has to be ‘how do they read each other?’ How much trust is in place? This is a whole essay on its own, but let’s just say that there are too many complicit nations involved in each others pockets to misunderstand anything going down at present; that is, anything except what might be in the fine print.
Assuming that the fine print is as acquiescent as it ought to be, China will assume its place at the top table as at least an equal. Democracy will exist as an option for China, but serious debate in an open parliament isn’t likely to be on the agenda any time soon. What’s likely to happen is that the best minds in China will debate with the best minds elsewhere on financial spreadsheets for the next couple of decades. But in the never-never land that China can still support, and in which the rest of the world will be willing accomplices, if only because of the debt owed to China, ongoing credit is likely to be far more attractive to the Chinese than the frugal past or the impending deluge.
The organized religions have been one of the traveling parasites of globalization for the last two thousand years, and as such are likely to be on the increase in the fast developing east. Fashion for ‘faith’ is likely to have a resurgence in never-never land. After all, “Good times equals god – and bad times equals the devil” – as emotional responses, cannot be underestimated in societies where there isn’t a great deal more to refer to, and fashion, money and faith can often develop hand in glove in the right conditions. The late Roman Empire, the Ottoman Tanzimat period, Victorian Britain, Television Evangelism in 20th Century USA and Al Qaeda in 21st Century greater Arabia are good examples of this. All of them so different, but fashion and faith would seem to be a common denominator.
There are many and varied suggestions as to how regulate climate change, such as adding urea to the ocean to feed micro-organisms so that they produce more oxygen, or building mirrors in space to reflect sunlight/heat etc., but once you start fiddling with the natural world you have to a, be prepared to continually do so, and b, be absolutely certain about the consequences. Some will say that we’re already doing that, but I would beg to differ. I think that what’s going on on the planet right now is entirely natural. In 1968, as a response to evolution being omitted entirely from school textbooks in much of the USA, I wrote, quote, ‘We are a biological bi-product of a chemical reaction taking place on the surface of this planet’. (And this from a person who didn’t get the highest pass mark in his chemistry ‘O’ level.)
Particularly in the light of current financial conditions, climate change isn’t something that is going to be abated by putting it on the already seriously failed never-never, by ignoring it, and especially by trying to address it with faith based religion. As any sane person realizes, the only hope of addressing the accumulating effects of the seriously threatening planetary upheavals that denote climate change is to attempt to address the likely causes. Silly belief and slipshod thinking are at the basis of the human contribution to these causes. This was my view in 1970, as can be seen in the lyric to ‘The Same Old Rock’, and has only been re-enforced by subsequent events. With reference to the pope, or any like patriarchal religious figure, I wrote,
‘There is a famous straggler stood on the edge of time
Who held the staff but did not feel the pain
He multiplied the mystery with utterance sublime
And crossed his heart for those who died insane
His friend a restless mouthpiece 7000 years of age*
Trends to flash a face to shape his ways
Everlasting light is burning bright inside his cage
He’s only got to breathe to fan the blaze’…. Etc
*(Eridu was the earliest city in southern Mesopotamia, founded c 5400 BCE.)
The early religionists obviously believed that the world was corrupted by contradictory moral standards. They assumed that this was due to a pantheism that seemed to indulge every conceivable desire. They sought to change this by imposing a single set of rules onto their society with the message that the rules had come not from themselves, but from the divine lips of a single god, the allegedly only god, (i.e. the only authority). Admittedly, this would have an immediate appeal to the sensibilities of the tribal family that had disintegrated into impersonal urban sprawl over just a few generations in the outer Roman Empire, but hardly to the indigenous tribal elder on the plains of 19th Century North America. For him, the rank dishonesty of the white man and his god were all too obvious, effectively alienating and enslaving him. When I wrote ‘I Hate The White Man’, in 1968, I lived all this as a daily nightmare. I still do.
Forty years later, and although a Kenyan-American has become President of the USA, an old and more virulent type of slavery and alienation has become increasingly endemic. Personal identity has been progressively lost as civilizations have become more over-populated. The codes and commandments of the old organized religions were partially invented to cope with aspects of this, but the dangers inherent in such an oncoming impersonal world have resonated throughout the whole of human endeavour to a depth that old and divisive philosophies can no longer address. This was already apparent when Orwell wrote ‘1984’ in 1948. Twenty years later, by the time a new generation had picked up the ball, it had become glaringly obvious. Stormcock is a part of that new expression, that collective knowledge of being beyond the point of no return to older contradictory messages.
Stormcock is an access point for all those caught in mid-ocean without the mental food supply, the desire, to get back to the ancient regime. An access point for people who are tired of returning to the same old monotheistic suspension of reality, who want more out of life than just to toe the party line when it’s obvious that the party line is just a sham and that judgement is so flawed. Stormcock was written with those tenets in its poems, all four of them. This still stands today, and since the same mistakes are still being made by the same kinds of people, it will likely stand far into the future.
There’s often a great loneliness expressed in art that can sometimes be understood as solace in the face of adversity. In many current instances, however, this kind of creative activity can perhaps be seen to anticipate the pure desolation of loss of identity on a global scale, by sheer dilution, by universal immersion into headlong oceans of uncharted alienation. Part of Stormcock’s message conveys hope, in that it discusses means by which it may be possible to move on from obsolete faith messages and place your trust more in your own honest interaction with the human world based on the actual known facts of the human world. Exposing political dishonesty by operating an open ethic founded not on mumbo-jumbo doctrinaire but on accepted successful social models from around the planet. It is surely time to begin to put politics into a place where it can no longer threaten integrity.*1
Many indigenous peoples around the planet have ethical codes that are unacceptable to both mainstream 21st Century politics and to organized religion. Does this make people still outside mainstream civilization immoral? Soon enough we will be unable to find ourselves in cultures other than those that have been sanitized. Freedom, in terms of the concept I understood in 1970, will have been almost totally dissipated. The songs on ‘Stormcock’ were parts of a plea on behalf of a liberty that has been successively buried by fear and bigotry ever since. If any of us, in any age, care to stand back and look at the bigger picture, the direction of any society will be implicit in its politics. In 1970, it was clear to a lot of us that we were whistling into the wind, which is precisely what I intended the album title to suggest before you even got the shrink-wrap off it. The Stormcock is that bird who sings into the teeth of the January gale. Times have changed, and a hard rain has fallen, but, and to continue with the Dylanesque metaphor, it’s mainly been in favour of the conservative manufacturers of the ‘fall-out shelter bell’, the ‘shotgun’ and even the ‘string bean’.
And the bankers and tycoons and hoarders of money and art
Full-up with baubles and bibles and full of no heart
Who travel first class on a pleasure excursion to fame
Are the eyes that are guiding society’s ludicrous aim
And the village is making its Sunday collection in church
The church wobbles ‘twixt hell and heaven’s crumbling perch
Unnoticed the money box loudly endorses the shame
As the world that Christ fought is supported by using his name
Roy Harper, McGoohan’s Blues, 1967
Simple stuff, but I was vilified and then ignored at the time. Most of us were. ‘Young people making statements like that.. what is the world coming to’?! ??? In the event, Blair was part of the backlash, he graduated from Oxford University as Cliff Richard’s ‘spiritual’ double. A brazen opportunist with a glib manner who had no ties to the revolution at all.. but it no longer matters.. at all.. does it? Baghdad, 31st March 2003, London 7th July 2005 and Madrid 11th March 2004 are all part of a growing legacy he shares with George Bush. Fools, to the core. I have to admit trying to play the old problem between India and Pakistan down in previous posts because I have a great love of India and I’ve dreamed about going back there for a long time now. I’m hoping that it’s not going to make any difference to me, but it’s been awful to see a part of Mumbai that I know really well torn up so senselessly. We now have to include Mumbai 26th November 2008, as part of the Blair/Bush catastrophe as well. The fact that the perpetrators were looking for people with UK and US passports isn’t co-incidental.
I must say that it feels very odd to have been commenting on this, and in the public domain, for decades now, without being taken seriously AT ALL, without a blind scrap of notice being taken by anyone with any influence. While being completely ignored by the vast majority of my better known contemporaries. Where are they all? The most important thing to do was to ‘feed the world’, yes, but on what, divisive and ancient bullshit? There was a different way.
At this point, it will be better to have the cd artwork or the original lp sleeve open. Some of the following may not make sense otherwise.
The first thing to be seen on the left hand side of the original inner cover artwork, (page 13 in the re-mastered version cd booklet), is a depiction of the progression of time. There’s an allusion to an Old Stone Age cave painting portraying a mammoth, in the foreground, while further back a path leads to a late medieval/modern village. Another road leads into the distance to a modern city skyline.
This first drawing is another reference to a Jean-Jacques Rousseau essay I read in my teens, which had a resounding influence on my view of the world at the time. Eventually, I found that I wasn’t so much influenced by Rousseau himself, but in this statement he confirmed what I already thought about human progress.
I’ve mentioned this before in some other treatise, but it’s worth mentioning it again here. The fact is that this piece influenced the writing of at least two songs.. The Same Old Rock, and before that, Legend, from Sophisticated Beggar.
The particular part in the essay read as follows:-
‘Il faut donc, encore une fois, avouer q’en general toute cette histoire est un ramassis de crimes, de folies et de malheurs, parmi lesquelles nous avons vu quelque vertu et quelque temps heureux, comme en decouvre les habitations, ça et la, dans les deserts sauvages.’
The rough translation is… ‘It will therefore, once again, be seen that in general all history is a collection of crime, madness and misfortune, in the middle of which there are some virtuous and happy times, like one would discover scattered dwelling places in the desert wastes.’
What imagery! To be able to slowly read and understand the 250-year-old text of someone who had been an eminent thinker so long ago, in a different language to my own, spell out what I thought about the world as a young teenager, was pure revelation. Quite simply, I realized that the ideas I had about the world couldn’t be discounted by parents, teachers or anyone else, and that old knowledge could often be deeper than modern knowledge, which put a smile across my face. I was very young, and I was obviously going to start to dig for more, but the first step was the biggest, and I have to thank Rousseau for that. What ‘god’ might have said, through the mouths of his zillion contradictory agents was no longer going to have any currency. I was out of the coup. I’d flown, and my ideas were not to be denied. The elation I received from odd passages like these in my early life cannot be described. The fact that such things inspired me forever is perhaps in part a testament to the depth of cynicism I felt I was subject to in early life, but regardless of that, they’ve been a source of great joy ever since.
Needless to say, this one went straight in at the beginning of The Same Old Rock.. ‘All along the ancient wastes the thin reflections spin….’, and went straight into the beginning of the illustration of the song on the album. So there on the album you have the depiction of those lines, with stone age painting extending to skyscraper skyline, with desert waste in between.
In the top right-hand corner of this ‘ancient wastes’ cartoon, touching the stone age painting, and perhaps providing a metaphysical relation between the other three components, is a version of the ancient Egyptian Eye Of Horus, the all-seeing eye. I have to admit here that this is something that artist James Edgar slipped in during the time we were working on this and arranging it. We had all the drawings cut out so that we could move them round on the 12″x12″ board. I wasn’t in favour of The Eye, if only because of its religious symbolism, but somehow it stayed there. I got used to it, and after a while it didn’t seem out of place. In those days Edgar used to call me ‘Master’, which was vaguely irritating. I started to feel that I was Don Quixote de la Mancha.. and he was Sancho. It was all “slightly desperate”, as I used to say.
Just below the eye, and to the left, some ‘dark age’ combatants can be seen attached to and ‘fighting for this (allegedly) promised land’. I got Edgar to put a Thor look-alike in there as a tribute to Stan Lee. To the right of this, the time can be seen to be beyond the eleventh hour, presented in showbiz St Peters Square style, but not understood by the patriarchal pope figure, who is ignoring it. Underneath him is an illustration of an important couplet in the song, ‘One new sling, the same old rock’, (you may be trying to tell me that you’ve found me a brand new religion, but for me, that still amounts to slavishly worshiping the same old worn out nonsense), which is placed on a shield with the motto ‘By Appointment’. In this illustration a lock holds both the sling and the rock, alluding to the virtual ‘lock’ that all religion attempts to place on the minds of its devotees in order to try to shut out all alternative thought (competition).
This pope figure is of course ‘the famous straggler, stood on the edge of time’. This whole part of the illustration was intended to have an heraldic feel to it, one of ancient stuffy hierarchical privilege. The ‘By Appointment’ is not only a reference to the figurative persona of church/state dictatorship, but also to the mists of time ‘by appointment’ can often be lost in, and also to the not so mystical ratification of a patriarch by the god who is apparently part and parcel of it. The symbolic use of the heraldic shield, as in a coat of arms, is also meant to denigrate establishment authority with one of its own clichéd power icons. The shield denotes authorization and endorsement of what is, in effect The.. Same.. Old.. Rock.. which is written on the lower diamond shape on the back of the priest’s costume. Each word is on a different diagonal. This is a detail which is difficult to see on the cd size replication of the artwork, as are some of the others, but if you use a magnifying glass, you can just pick it out. On another level, you could surmise that St Peter’s chair will only be occupied by a woman when gender has finally been abolished.
Below this, and to the left, there’s ‘The restless mouthpiece’. .. of the second and third verses, nervously flashing a face which is multiplying and shaping his ways. The one face is infinitely being spat out of the other, its thoughts never amounting to anything. “Such a gas to see him flying through his ceaseless lip..” A million fashion faces a month, and all of them with the tide, and otherwise meaningless. Originally, the cage was on fire, but this was difficult to draw on the scale I wanted it, and got moved across to the top right illustration of the burning ‘Her Ladyship’ (the earth), referred to below, in favour of the dumb speech balloon with not even a thought in it. “One day someday soon he’ll lose his head”… through his own mouth!
To the right of the patriarch, ‘Her Ladyship’ the earth can be seen accompanied by her restless space-ape ravager. She is pictured as burning, and ‘He’s only got to breathe to fan the blaze’. He’s wearing the wig of the judge, the space odyssey mask, and an ancient Egyptian royal crook is tucked into his pants. (At the time the pyramids were built, the crook was a cane with a hooked handle, it was often gold-plated and banded as in the drawing, and probably originated in Neolithic times from the shepherd’s crosier. It was also a hieroglyphic meaning ‘ruler’). We stuck a tap on the top of it, from which a mysterious droplet is suspended. This strangely seems to connect obliquely with the pack on his backside!
Underneath this at the bottom right is the picture of ‘Who and you and me and thanks a lot, and those who see but cannot stand to walk on any floor’ because they’ll sit on the fence for an entire lifetime, never to remotely rock any boat, or ask any questions, or challenge any status quo. They may think about it, sat there on the proverbial fence, but they’ll never raise a finger, and never say a word out of turn. And think that god exists because their favourite celebrity says so.
I often try to put myself in the position of a believer. It’s not difficult to do. To believe in anything, passionately, is to be able to understand what it is to believe deeply. I believe that human rights are enormously important, and I have a passionate belief in that, so I experience what it is to be a believer.
Whenever I try to put myself into the position of a religious believer, and examine those emotions, I come away thinking that it mimics a position of unified strength, but that on a rational basis it’s truly a position of great personal weakness, not only in its denial and abandonment of reality, but also in its lack of clarity of message, in its absolute dispersal of absolute definition of thought. Perhaps a lack of definition is its true message, but I wouldn’t think that this was either what the original script writers intended at the time, or what the species needs right now. The great tide of the billions are as unaware of this lack of clarity as they are helpless to avoid the cataclysmic future their masters invite with such sloppy vision.
The Same Old Rock
All along the ancient wastes the thin reflections spin
That gather all the times and tides at once we love within
That build the edges round the shrouds that cloud the setting sun
And carry us to other days and other days to one
And full the single stillness of the mirror that is made
By each and every one of all the colours in a shade
Inside each eye is sitting like the sword inside the blade
And longs for once upon a chance to open love’s cascade
For here we stand – hand to hand
Fighting for the Promised Land
And you try to tell me with consternation
That you have found me a brand new lock
Then you try to warn me that there’s only one combination
One new sling – the same old rock
There is a famous straggler stood on the edge of time
Who held the staff but did not feel the pain
He multiplied the mystery with utterance sublime
And crossed his heart for those who died insane
His friend a restless mouthpiece 7000 years of age
Trends to flash a face to shape his ways
Everlasting light is burning bright inside his cage
He’s only got to breathe to fan the blaze
Such a groove to have him here on-board Her Ladyship*
The man who makes his living out of bed
Such a gas to see him flying through his ceaseless lip
One day, someday soon, he’ll lose his head
And withering in the galleries with eyes fixed on the door
Are who and you and me and thanks a lot
And those who see but cannot stand to walk on any floor
For fear that good is something bad is not
But loud and clear is the call
In black and white across your wall
Damn it all, man, can’t you see
And you try to tell me with consternation
That you have found me a brand new lock
Then you try to warn me that there’s only one combination
One new sling – the same old rock
One Man Rock And Roll Band
The second set of drawings on the right side of the original inner cover are dedicated to One Man Rock And Roll Band. (Page 18 in the re-mastered cd booklet). The song was conceived in 1969, but wasn’t written until I got to Big Sur in California in March 1970. Essentially, it’s an anti-war song, written at a time when a lot of us were telling politicians that war was not going to be any kind of a solution to the world’s political differences. We were young..
At the time it was obvious that the USA was being very heavy-handed in Vietnam. There were a lot of people dying, and the Americans weren’t winning. There was a lot of protest around the world, particularly in the 18-35 age group.
Basically, the beginnings of The Vietnam War began with the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in the north of Vietnam in May 1954. This ended what is known as the First Indochina War (The Vietnam War itself being the second). There had been US involvement with the French, and there was talk of using nuclear weapons! As a consequence of this war, the north of Vietnam was split from the south of Vietnam by The Geneva Accords (1954). The USA got involved onside with South Vietnam, war broke out between the Vietnamese in 1959, and the rest is history..
Effectively, the world had been at war for 30 years in 1969, and no one I knew could see any sense in it. We could all see the world changing, but in the main the older generation couldn’t. European governments were often trying to cling on to an unfeasible past. In fact, the Suez Crisis of 1956 was the moment at which Britain ceased to be a colonial power. The then Prime minister, Anthony Eden, who had been Churchill’s Foreign Secretary, was a man with an Edwardian view of a modern world, where Empire still ruled supreme. The Dutch were finally booted out of Indonesia in 1957, and the Belgians lost the Congo in 1959, by which time Spain had nothing left of what had been a huge empire in South America. The Portuguese had lost everything by 1974, and by then, the world had changed.
It’s not quite as simple as this, but because the Americans were comparatively rich at this point, and somewhat isolated, a great number of their ‘moral majority’ failed to properly understand that empire was no longer compatible with the new and growing view that each separate world nation is sovereign and theoretically capable of self-determination.* This of course was reflected in the views of most of their politicians. Although it can be suggested that The Marshall Plan rescued western Europe after WW2, it can also be seen to perhaps have mislead US political consciousness down a road where policing the world with reference to their own morals seemed both a possible and natural event. If it was wrong to try to halt the spread of the dreaded socialism in Vietnam in 1969, then it was doubly wrong to go into Iraq in 2003. (Read about my opposition to this at the time in the diary). *(Though all world nations are still in the process of being formed!)
A powerful empire always has the tendency to assess the actions of its potential colonials according to its own motives, thereby often misinterpreting the entire culture it proposes to forcibly ‘re-educate’.
Our generation was the first to grow up with television. Television spread common ideas about humanity and other peoples’ lots. You saw people across the world in common circumstances you could almost understand, and there were profound lessons to be learned. Prejudice was at last starting to take a back seat, and war was anathema to millions of young minds in the ‘west’. We all recognized that we might have to fight, as our parent’s generation had done, to preserve our way of life, but we were not in the mood to force others to adopt our way of life, our morality, or the politics that had brought them about. Rather, we were more interested in exploring other cultures for their value, and I can remember at one point thinking that Zen Buddhism was probably the most sane ‘belief system’ the humans had.
There were international protests in 1968. These had The Vietnam War as their focus, but there was more of a revolutionary feel about a lot of it. Like we wanted to move on.. out of the stalemate of The Cold War and out of repressive political measures and manifestations that had slowly gained ground in the decade since the start of it. The youth and/or workers of a lot of countries broke into revolution throughout the year to protest their own positions in a world that could now see itself more clearly than at any time in history. There was a new international awareness among a lot of thinking people. Feminism had moved on since the suffragette movement of the previous century. The old school leaders had not necessarily had the chance to avail themselves of the means to understand a lot of what was being felt, and the war was a point of focus for anyone and everyone who wanted to root-out the conservative establishment and go for a more socially engaged politic.
The US invasion and bombing of Cambodia in April/May 1970 was a big turning point. ‘One Man Rock And Roll Band’ had been written that same month, as it all unfolded, and I began to sing it with great venom. In the US there were protests for and against Nixon. It was 50-50. I was always going to side with the anti-war faction, with the students and Universities. There was a lot of aggro from the blue collar Nixon supporters, tensions ran high and there was the infamous killing of students by the national guard at Kent State Uni on May 4th. I felt at the time, in no uncertain terms, that the state was an enemy of the people. Cambodia went into full scale civil war and the horrors wreaked by Pol Pot began.
As aforementioned, I’d spent those couple of months in the USA during this precise time, and so I was able to feel how repressive the military and judicial establishments were becoming. I was totally able to identify with the average American student, draft dodger anti-establishmentarian. They were friends, and it was talked about with a great deal of passion among us all. The only reason I came back when I did was to go into the Abbey Rd. Studios to make this record.
My brief to James Edgar for the artwork, which was made with all this happening of course, was to try to portray the five leading characters in the song in their appropriate light. There were a few prototypes. My idea for the ‘Total Stranger’ of the first line was a picture of a soldier with a big kit bag being disembarked from some kind of troop-carrier, but although this might have worked with moving video images, it hadn’t got the right atmosphere for a static drawing. The ‘Total Stranger’ himself was missing. I suggested that we had to do something on a head and shoulders basis. Then Edgar came up with these drawings of someone who just looked strange, which grew on me, and had the right kind of feel. The first time I looked at him I thought, ‘no.. that’s too off the wall’, but the more I looked at it I knew that it was right. It’s a drawing of someone whose age isn’t quite obvious.. nor is his ethnicity. Then I had the idea that he could be a 2nd generation Moorish or Latino immigrant, a very American secret service operative. He was obviously clandestine anyway. At this point I adopted him, and he became a different version of the total stranger. Not the man who was going to get off the troopship back home and find himself showered with abuse, but perhaps that man fifteen years on, with a stranger disposition.
To the right of The Total Stranger is Johnny Soldier. I’d talked with Edgar about the ‘Johnny Soldier’ character in the song having some kind of an Elvis Presley persona, Presley having himself been conscripted into the army a few years previously. Edgar came up with this drawing which quietly emphasized the grotesque in a pastiche re-creation of the earlier teddy boy/rocker image. I asked him to emphasize the lips and he did the rest, down to the contemptuous leer and the Johnny Cash tie. This guy represents somewhat willing but increasingly unimpressed gun fodder. He is much more self-determined than would have been possible for his equivalent even fifty years previously. He’s found himself and he has a voice and an attitude. The attitude is more articulate than the voice. He knows how he’s going to be treated. It isn’t going to be so much of a shock as an ongoing disappointment, but you can see in his pose that it’s public. The man in the street is now in the hyper-public domain.
Top right hand side of the page is Cardinal Doomsday. I stood over Edgar as he drew this one. I wanted a picture of mechanized authority. A gun with cogs and wheels. An inquisition with no emotion. A cipher with no heart. I felt at the time that the average cardinal of the roman catholic church communicated all of those qualities admirably. There are always exceptions of course, but the manner in which the church has orchestrated warfare and violence over the last fifteen hundred years should have been enough to alert even the most ardent believer as to the church’s political nature and intentions.
Some of the more polite commentators are prone to letting the church off the hook when it comes to actually accusing it of being in part responsible for war, but a brief glance at the important and influential church leaders of the 17th century, (at a time when you can rightly say that modernism was in its cradle), reveals the pre-eminence in Europe of two cardinals in Richelieu and Mazarin who effectively were the chief politicians and warmongers of their age; and they are by no means isolated examples of the double dealing that falls at the feet of a church that can, in my own view, be described as a political dictatorship, without any question.
The horrible death of the progressive Giordano Bruno in 1600 will tell you all you need to know about the policies of the church/state. I’ve thought about men and women like that all my aware life, and I feel angry for them. I’m one of them. I’ll die with their dreams on my lips. I purposely haven’t gone into any lengthy history here because I’m leaving that to you, and because it will detract from this tract! But it’s at your fingertips. All you have to do in the 21st century is ‘google’ a few names. Go and have a look for yourselves. The journey is endless and not everything you read will be correct, but it’s more likely to be truer to fact than a lot of religious doctrine: and simply by cross-referencing your research, you’ll get a good idea of the kind of political body the church has been for the last 1500 years.
The ‘cardinal’ on the inner cover of the original album doesn’t hold a rifle. His work is more that of a close quarter assassin with an automated reactionary response to reason, rationale and anything that threatens his racket as landlord-in-chief of huge tracts of land and property.
Kneeling at his feet is a likeness of myself from the back, (it could be anyone), rolling out a red carpet for this very humble prince of the church. He never stands on it.. he just floats over it.. as per usual his feet are not visible. I’m kneeling in mock genuflection, (on the wrong knee…)! He doesn’t even notice me, or the word ‘MAN’ which is written on the carpet that I’m humbly rolling out, day by day, which he floats over and unconsciously tramples. This is symbolic. We’ve been kowtowing in submission to political extortion by the various ‘churches’ for thousands of years. This has been mentally and physically draining, psychologically dangerous and morally outrageous. I’d love to say that it’s been materially disastrous as well, but that wouldn’t be strictly correct, because in some ways it’s promoted commerce… (With pilgrimages and iconography etc).
Real cerebral progress for the humans has been obstructed by the politics of fear. Fear as a basic response is prompted by a primeval sense of self-preservation as in “I don’t want to die”. With the advent of political civilization, this basic emotional reaction has evolved into a tool for the mass exploitation of fear, as in “Tell me about eternal life, avoiding death, and I’ll believe in you”. So that what we have now is imaginary 24/7 self-preservation which presumes to carry on beyond death. And other extremely unlikely events.
That such a basic emotional reaction to imminent or even eventual demise has found almost universal expression and sanctuary in religion is a sobering thought. This has given anyone and everyone the chance to escape from reality, which isn’t that far from religion’s original intention. Fine, but what this is saying, loud and clear, is that our dreams have long since seemed preferable to our reality. This may have its own virtual reality, but it greatly strengthens our inability to accept the actual facts, the main one in this context being that we all die, and that there is never going to be any proof that there is any afterlife…. And that this position becomes more final with every new factual discovery regarding life on earth. And to think anything else is to deny reality, and even to be able to deny reality, as a living organism, seriously endangers the survival of that organism.
So that, and hear this properly, the advancement of religious beliefs such as some of us have would now seem to be both silly and dangerous. Silly in that they are so anachronistic and retrogressive that you’re exposed before you speak. And when you do, you speak in tongues of old worlds. Very sloppy. Dangerous in that the real truth is never with you. In that you are slowing the progress of truth, of greater freedom, of less disease, of less dogma-driven conflict, of the chance of quickly achieving the sort of longevity which might take historical repetition of political error out of the equation. Forever. And you are hastening the advent of mass destruction, or at least uncontrollable deluge, by your willingness to accept the status quo of philosophical falsehood and political acquiescence. In fact, you’re exposed before you even start to think.
Religion is lazy. Not for the zealots who go out into the deserts and jungles of the world to spread their own brand of goodwill, food and succour to the poor. Not for those whose mission is to try to communicate with armed superstition in places like Afghanistan using diplomatic skill. But mentally, mass religion can be a place of repose, isolation and collective mental inertia in a world that’s urgently demanding responses that are beyond that kind of a mind-set to address with anything like the necessary gravity. In this sense, religion can be a very sheltered and lazy existence. Periods of reflection in your week are a totally different thing. Your own form of meditation, of taking care of body and mind together, is another mind-set entirely, and I will not want to be splitting hairs…
Religion is very lazy for those who sit in their armchairs at night watching opiate TV, and who are more than willing, time after time, to vote for the pop star politician with the easiest manner rather than the humanist with huge experience of the world and with the intelligence, the skill and the policy to move civilization into gear. We may hope, for a brief moment, that this has changed with the advent of Barak Obama, obviously a decent kind of man, but hope, as we say, springs eternal…
OK, so mathematical facts have only just been applied to population growth, and carbon emissions have only recently been scientifically tied in with industrial growth, and the acceptance of fact may well improve, but the writing has been on the wall since before I was a boy. Religion needs to be put away now, into a place where it can no longer gainsay good judgement.
In the centre of the inner right hand sleeve, the actual road ahead in life is rolled out as we proceed. As the kneeling figure inconspicuously suggests, ‘MAN’ is the road ahead for himself, and he rolls out a new road every day. Whoever she invites to tread that road with her can be seen as contentious…
The ‘cardinal’ figure has a nut that has come loose within his plate armour robe. On it are written the words ‘ROCK N ROLL’. The high church has been at the heart of establishment ‘rock and roll’ for thousands of years, but some of the machinery is now ancient and falling apart. Above the door of the machine that he returns to when he’s not firing off pronouncements is written the word ‘BAND’. At the inception of the technocaust the cardinal distributes his own particular largesse with mechanical ‘soul’.
I remember that I was also trying to make the connection between band and bandwidth here, the band in this instance being totally mechanical. The double entendre was to the effect that the bandwidth of the church is confined to the parameters of an old box radio. You can see the dials on the side, which are similar to those that were to be found on a radio of the time. The intention was to suggest both the pervasion of transmitted signals but the limitations of bandwidth. There are those in the religious community who will of course retort that god has no such limitations, that the first verses of the ‘book’ of Genesis are to be believed literally, and that after six days of playing Clark Kent, he said “Let there be bandwidth”, and there was a bandwagon.
With no disrespect, well.. not that much, it sounds a bit like nanny state Sunday school to me. The cat brought a shrew to the doorstep last night. I noticed that she hadn’t eaten the head, which is what she usually does first thing with rodents. The head is usually her nachos grande type snack. Crispy with a cheesy flavour… Then I noticed that the shrew’s head was nearly all razor-sharp front teeth. She obviously didn’t want to get involved with that. From experience, a bit like trying to manipulate a sea urchin in your mouth to find the soft bit, or chewing those whole pistachios that haven’t split. She did meow as I let her in though, telling me that the shrew had gone to heaven. I took her word for it: after all, who would dispute the word of the local high priestess of the kill?
At the bottom left is Granddad.. and his medals. The song advocates bringing Granddad and his medals out onto the street to protest against war, because, after all, he fought in ‘the war to end all wars’, and yet here we are again. Added to this is the probability that Granddad will be taken more seriously than are his grandchildren, and will not readily be trashed by the local constabulary at their earliest convenience. Someone with combat experience, and medals on his chest to indicate having served time under fire in service of the nation cannot so easily be ignored as those of callow youth with hardly a right to an opinion…
Never-the-less, in this respect he is still a ‘trophy’ Granddad, to be displayed as and when necessary. ‘ONE’ is written on the bottom of the cup he’s in. He is ‘ONE’. One singular identity within himself, and one of the many of millions in the 20th Century who were cut down in the painful death throws of the ‘old world’. The repercussions of which are still profoundly felt here in the early 21st century. He was perhaps part of the vain attempt to preserve the status quo of the ‘old world’, which crumbled anyway. His grandson, who is rolling out the ‘MAN’ carpet, is part of the philosophy of the new world. Granddad is paraded for all to see, and lots of people want to see him for lots of different reasons. He becomes the cup he lives in. He is part of the cup he’s presented in.
To his right is Nero, the arch anti-hero, the man who burns Rome from his Mary Quant patterned chaise longue, wearing a combination of a crown of laurels, a toga, a Kitchener moustache and some WW1 leggings. The amulets are worn to provide protection against bad luck! The Mary Quant type fabric shows the true age and nature of the sketch. The ‘Done R Bit Club’ badge is the final coda and only appropriate comment on the indolence that has attended progress towards peace for all humanity. It is, of course, written in the past tense. The first word, ‘Done’, explains all that you would need to know about how humanity prioritizes its achievements. War is most often fought by young men who don’t necessarily know what they’re doing, for older men who usually don’t have any idea about what the consequences might be. However, I have to limit this generalization by saying that the war against Hitler was absolutely necessary in sweeping away prejudice, upholding justice and maintaining social progress.
The story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is actually untrue, but the analogy stands.
As a footnote, I would like to add that although I came close to committing myself to the political left at the time, I never became associated with any particular party. I always felt that they all had great weaknesses and were riddled with people who were arrogant and self-serving. Joining a party would have been a very big move for me. I would have had to commit a lot of time to throwing what weight I had behind issues that I wasn’t that confident about supporting. It was enough to know that Harold Wilson, the then Prime minister, wasn’t going to take issue with the American President over Vietnam. I couldn’t have joined that kind of a Labour Party, and the guys further to the left seemed to have some quite unrealistic ideas.
I realized, along with everyone else, that Karl Marx had been a great philosopher, (I’d dedicated ‘Highgate Cemetery’ to him in 1967), and that Leonid Trotsky had been a very great man, but it seemed to me that the Trotskyist ideal was not going to be any kind of a solution when 70% of the population owned a fridge, a car and a house. It may have been right in Rio, but it was going to be hard work in Harrow. What was needed was an honest modern interpretation of those tenets, not just the bald tenets themselves, overlaid by a few erstwhile students handing out pamphlets with blue fingers frozen somewhere onto the brutal winter landscape of an Essex Uni.
We had moments later on, in the Thatcher 80s, when working people in the UK were treated on a par with how they’re now treated in China, when we were appalled by most of the actions taken by the government against the mining communities, but the Englishman in his castle, on the other side of the road, just dropped his head a little, closed the door, and put the kettle on. And that was years after it became obvious that there was going to be a future fuel crisis. Some of us did benefit gigs, and marched, but what’s left in those mines won’t be touched again until the price of oil reaches $250 a barrel. I wrote ‘Burn The World’ in 1983, about all this, but no one was willing to pay for it to be properly recorded, so it just dribbled out as a demo in 1990. It could have been good, but it needed work. Such is life..
(As previously intimated in these two pieces, beginning in the late 60s, I’ve always lived in a house that has been green conscious. I’ve been against nuclear power when it affects local community, but for it when it can provide a safe and contained solution. We’ve always fought for renewable energy. We’ve been re-cycling here from before there were facilities to do so, and at least two of the women I’ve lived with have been vegetarians. I eat fish, so I can’t be considered a veggie, but I’ve had periods when I haven’t eaten anything but veg amounting to about five years in total. What surprises me is how little real waste we create. The plastic, card and the bottles go straight to re-cycling, the left-overs go to the cat, the crows etc and compost, some of the paper waste lights the fire, and once a month we have a light bag of non-organic, non-smelly rubbish we take to local waste management. Once you become ‘green’ in this kind of way, you find that it’s very easy to keep it up).
One Man Rock And Roll Band
Welcome back you total stranger
Welcome to the fountainhead
Welcome back there is no danger
You don’t need your gun man we’re already dead
Welcome home the war is over
Welcome back the coast is clear
Welcome home oh Johnny soldier
We treat you here just like they treat you there
We’re the one man Rock and Roll bandOn our very last one night stand
Rocking the boat and unrolling the note
On which our friend Cardinal Doomsday will land
You tell me that Granddad was a hero
That he fought for peace and no more guns
But you know I think he must have changed his name to Nero
You see every time he grunts he kills his sons
And when you stood there with your mottoes on your knuckles
And they were all so very pleased to see you there
Well don’t you think you should have taken Granddad and his medals
And played a different game in Grosvenor Square
You know you’re the one man Rock and Roll band
On your very last one night stand
Rocking the boat and unrolling the note
On which your friend Cardinal Doomsday will land
Me And My Woman
The permanent women in a man’s life are rare jewels of varying consistency.
I depend on my partnership with my alter persona, my reflection, my other half, my partner on the journey through life. She can be chosen. She is often the one who chooses. She can stay for life. She can leave. She can change. The longer we’re together, the more dependant upon each other we become, the more part of each other we are.
There isn’t much to the code in the artwork on Me And My Woman… That year, as it happened, a mistle thrush nested in the apple tree. Mistle thrushes nest quite high, and the nest was some distance beyond the height of the single ladder I had in those days, so I was in an awkward position when I finally got up to the nest to photograph it. Camera in one hand and tree in the other! I managed a couple of shots, but focusing wasn’t easy. You really need two hands to focus with an old 35mm camera. ‘Point and shoot’ digital photography for people like me was still a couple of decades and more into the future.. and most people’s management of 12 mega pixels of digital camera doesn’t approach 35mm quality. (I told myself that once 13 mega pixels of resolution became available to the average camera buyer, I’d get one, and I do have a newer EOS these days. Enough of that.)
I tried to time my visit up the apple tree to coincide with fledglings being in the nest. I thought I’d got it right, but I was a day or two early. Only one bird had hatched. But there it was, the lone baby Stormcock in the nest. The photos weren’t that clever, but I had them, and I knew that I had part of the cover artwork. The photo was taken in February 1970, and was therefore the first piece of artwork collected. It was the second month into a new decade. It was going to be a different decade than the 60s. The Beatles had retired in ’69, as young men, the Kennedy dynasty was well gone, the counter culture had become more powerful, social unrest was pronounced, war was in full swing again, and the world was quickly moving on.
I’ve always been a romantic, even though that word sticks in my throat a bit. I always think of myself as being other things too, and some of them are not so flattering. I have periods of depression, where I think that I’m basically worthless, and that can happen a lot, and when it’s combined with a loss of confidence in what I’m doing, because ‘It’s never going to be as good as I want to make it’, or ‘How on earth is that going to compare with what I’ve done in the past’, it can be truly devastating, and leave me almost immobile for days or weeks on end. Sometimes years.
I can get so down that I finally hit a wall I get inspiration from, where I can draw on some kind of an intense sense of foreboding and see an old light shining, that somehow resonates, and guides me to articulate in some time honoured way, and to rise for those brief moments, giving a potency to a creation that actually owes itself to the depths. And to a profound emotional love of the great well. There is a deep vision in sorrow, and sorrow can form an almost impenetrable bubble around the mind, from which there’s hardly ever any escape. Sorrow is a state of mind you reach and learn about early in life, and is hard to avoid once you’ve had cause to explore it. It’s a huge territory. A chasm so deep that it’s extent isn’t tangible. Once you fall in there, you never properly think that you’re out of it again. A constant companion.. the shape of the universe that is depression. My own at least.
I can now only temporarily escape by myself. I used to be able to use others to escape with, particularly women, but I now no longer have an escape that involves anyone else. I take my mind off it by doing something strenuous or dangerous. A bursting task, or a folly in front of a crowd. A near death experience always seems to help. But I’ve come to the rather late conclusion that none of these are satisfactory any more in terms of distraction or escape.. and in fact, being in front of an audience is no longer viable at all. The problem is that the way I’ve encouraged myself to perform over the years has lead to a lot of misinterpretation, criticism and self-doubt. Self-criticism too.
When I first became aware of performance, as a young boy, it was obvious that performance was rehearsed. That’s how you got there. That’s what you did. At the time, I thought that rehearsal was necessary for a stage play, but I was from the jazz age, and I needed performance to be spontaneous and entirely of the moment. Or leastways based entirely on the moment of performance. I thought that anything else was straying into a form of regulated behaviour that I was trying to get away from. I thought that rehearsal was ok to a point, but then I thought that an important element of audience involvement was being denied to the event by most public performances. I thought that I was a good actor, but that the play should be open-ended, and be performed on the night to include the audience. I thought that most performances I saw were geared to taking the audience entirely out of the equation. Either by patter which was so smooth that it was virtually sleight of hand, or by being almost anonymous in ones presentation of something which was obviously meant to be unfathomably brilliant. There are shades in between, but what I rebelled against was the idea of ‘showbiz’. What I really thought, in my heart of hearts, was that ‘showbiz’ was shallow; and I wasn’t having any of it.
So that every time I sat down to write a song, I was consciously writing ‘showbiz’ out of it. Obviously, lots of performance art will contain elements of ‘showbiz’, but I wanted to exclude it from what I did on a stage. Of course I knew that it had a separate life, which would appear again and again in performance art history, and have its place, but I didn’t want to include any of that attitude or modus vivendi in what I did as a performer. And I was very strict with myself. Of course, by doing that, and by being seen to be doing that, I was virtually cutting myself out of the commercial world. In effect, I couldn’t have existed without the commercial world, but I never lost sight of the fact that commercialism was a world view that I thought I should in some way oppose. Perhaps try to make people aware that there is an alternative buried somewhere in the dust of a parallel world.
Stardom, celebrity, esteem, political profile, the whole human cultural and political event was seemingly going under the hammer. I found that I was living in a world where everything could be bought and sold. People were becoming mere commodities; not for the first time, and I didn’t like that. I thought that it had serious social implications. I thought at the time that general mental health was not being properly considered. That perceptions of gain and loss would be magnified by slavery to false promise, and that in some way it was a human right to be able to live a life that was free of this kind of rat race. Of course those are grandiose thoughts for a middle class drop-out ne’er-do-well to have. So; just by my actions alone, I was going to change the world! And I wasn’t even willing to adopt an outrageous stage image or an androgynous sex life to help with the publicity. Fat chance I had of the phony world sitting up and taking note. In the final analysis, however, the market is always at the centre of the market economy. Idealism has its place; but everyone’s idea of the ideal is different. Something I would regard as phony is someone else’s ideal. I mean, who, in her right mind, would doubt that the average ‘boy’ band was sincere, and that I wasn’t?
The ‘phony’ world was winning, and soon won all the contests, so that the actual parallel world that was running alongside, which was one of protest and concern over the general direction that humanity seemed to be taking, was written out of history. All that remained was the shell of what had been. And even though it was only ever there for a short time, the events of those few years have cast a very long shadow for 40 years now. The incidental revolution that was promoted around the concern for rights and equality at the time was the sexual revolution. Although I was a proponent, and an outspoken one at that, I was an already sexually liberated heterosexual, which didn’t count for much, and still doesn’t.
The times were marked by sufficient liberation to start to enable the homosexual community to ‘come out’. In ones and twos at first, but eventually in streams. This had a few effects. It had a liberalizing effect on sexuality and sexual conduct, but in law, age limits for consent at the lower end were first set at 18, and then after a few years, nailed at 16. And adherence became suddenly much more strict. There was a great enthusiasm among homosexuals that was good to see and a sign that times were moving on. There was relative enthusiasm for more freedom in the heterosexual community at the same time, but it was a lot more muted, not as controversial, and, if I’m being honest, there was still a repressive tone in there that perhaps, if you were homosexual, you were more willing to ignore. Like, god still had a big stick, and in the end, he was going to correct any stray prurient fun.
It was much easier for huge numbers of the female population and a good deal of the males as well to become more involved in this side of the revolution than the purely philosophical side. When suddenly you have attractive people from Marvin Gaye through the alleged androgyny of David Bowie to the posturing antics of Boy George, it not only takes focus away from previous battles, but does odd things like fill the music business for a while with a homosexual/bisexual bias. To be involved in that at the time, you felt that the ‘biz’ had quickly gone from one extreme to another, and was openly parading a side it had always hidden. Actually there were moments when you thought that ‘the business’ was being run as a gay social club. Gays were flocking to join. A lot of people faked androgyny, to catch the fashion.. a lot of people still do. Different stories…
This was brilliant thing to experience as a social reformer, but as a heterosexual man it was a bit queer. I was distinctly out of fashion, and to be unfashionable, and to some degree, at your own record company, is to be dead. Having said that though, the experience of the decade was very positive, even if two of my releases happened in the middle of strikes and a ‘3-day week’ and were badly affected by them. Enthusiasm was the keynote, and it was to touch a massive amount of people all at the same time, with the same type of vibe. There was a united feeling among the youth that was positive, and unusually was being passed on to the slightly older, which has continued to some extent, although currently it’s more the older trying to remain younger for longer by maintaining youthful lifestyles.
In comparison to the early 1970s music culture, though, the early 21st century scene is just a pale imitation, not even that. There are a few interesting bits and pieces, but it’s now an ancillary of a much wider entertainment industry which is spread over a huge area you could roughly label as ‘leisure’ time activities. This just doesn’t have the same urgency or spark of former times, simply because the music of the people, by the people, no longer has the amount of cultural respect it used to have. And particularly in the rich ‘West’, it just doesn’t carry the same weight among the youth with street savvy. They seem to be much more into supplementary tribal bass/drum wallpaper.
There’s a cloak that resembles former times, to some extent, with invariably another persona inside it. An enticing exterior, in many ways, but often entirely hollow; and narcissistic. Celebrity based. The history of growing cynicism in the 21st century western world, which has since spread like a contagion, through the ‘market place’, to the rest of the world, can be said to be rooted in this final victory for the more superficial which had taken place by the beginning of the 1970s.
As I’ve intimated previously, stasis is not only impossible, it’s undesirable as well. The world moves on, and things are lost, and things are won… and the quest of the permissive society that was born at the zenith of that age has been largely unfulfilled, and has mainly been withdrawn from over the decades since. I lament that. If we’d maintained the wherewithal and had the balls to carry it through, and been able to back it, internationally, with an honest, responsive and corresponding peace force, the world would now be a different place.
Yes, I was all for ‘The Permissive Society’, and like many of us, I was at the heart of it, but not the kind of permissive society that has predictably allowed downgrades from that ideal in the forms of Tony Blair and George Bush to come to power as virtual narcissistic pin-ups, and then unwisely guide the western world into ‘political expediencies’ which would cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and co-incidentally eventually lead to unnecessary economic crises. By 1999 I was protesting loudly in print and onstage about Blair and his superficiality, but the age of mass protest and reflection had been dead a good twenty years.. All the old vehicles were rusted, and in dumps, beyond recycling.. and many its old members were below information age radar.
Back in the day, I took those feelings of despair, romanticism, depression, realism, unworthiness, doubt and deep sorrow with me into every song I wrote. Balancing this was the fool I presented on a stage, the hysterical laughter I was prone to.. the comedic edge that clouded the darker issues, occasional euphoria and elation, and the complete daftness and abandon with which I treated most communication. Throw in the inner sanctum of sex and drugs, and you have an intoxicating mix of extremes. Personally, I wasn’t ever emotionally unstable, but I can vouch for the fact that everyone around me certainly was…
‘Me And My Woman’ was written and was being performed in 1969. ‘I never know what kind of day it is on my battlefield of ideals’ is the opening line and intimates the degree of confusion that a lot of young people felt about the general direction of society at that point. The second line resolves that confusion by bringing it back to the simple personal relationship between man and woman, ‘But the way she touches and the way it feels, must be just how it heals’. The third line re-enforces that by stepping into what was still politically modern at that time, ‘But it’s got a little better since I let her sundance’ (since woman has had more freedom). In other words, the song emphasizes the new importance of female power in its first verse. (The alliteration in ‘better’ and ‘let her’ was irresistible, although I could see that there was a definite political incorrectness involved in the ‘let her’ that some would have baulked at.)
The second verse takes us outside into the cold reality of a northern European winter. In fact there’s a lot of inference. What is the naked ape doing living this far north on the planet? It’s not precisely that she’s physiologically adapted to the latitude so much as he’s pushing his luck with their survival techniques through the cold months, ‘sitting on top of the fire’, to get to the balmy days of the other three seasons. And now that agriculture has been progressed these last ten thousand years, a massive population has grown up in areas that were once virtually uninhabitable for them in winter, by virtue of a knowledge of the calendar, and an intelligence that’s able to project into the future. Together they developed the gift of the kind of logic necessary to get themselves to a mathematical division of the seasons and the timing of them by events that could be followed in the sky.
This is all there in those first two lines of the second verse. OK, so it’s all implication, but that verse could not have been written in the way it was without all of that knowledge taken into its consideration… ‘I never know what time of year it is.. living on top of the fire’. I’ve managed to protect myself from reality. In other words, although I am slight, I have control of fire, and I have the innate intelligence and imagination to built myself a weather-proof shelter in a place on the planet that a hundred thousand years beforehand would have been literally inconceivable, in order to be able to take advantage of the bountiful harvest available in the warmer six months of the northern year. My past is venerated in sacred ceremony and my future is guaranteed. ‘But the robin outside has to hunt and hide.. in the cold frosty shire’.. is the reality. He is physiologically adapted. He has feathers. He flies in his own house.
The next two lines, ‘But he knows just what goes in between his cold toes and his warm ears…. And he’s got no disguise in his eyes for his love as she nears’, are lines intended to illustrate the nuance between the pure simplicity of the animal’s need to reproduce, and the devotion to that task that is the desire of the animal; and the human animal’s more complex choice of sexual partners and behaviour. From passionate longing to erotic fun and games. In billions of combinations.
The robin is used as allegory at the start of the song while the cuckoo is used symbolically at the end. This symbolic use of two birds achieves a couple of things. One, I have loved birds all my life. I love what’s happened to birds on the planet.. how they’ve adapted and expressed themselves with all of their shapes and sizes, into every corner of the earth. They are so easy to use as illustration of possibility or allegory, and their stories in folklore resonate with our deeper past. And two, when I think of birds, it’s almost as Me And My Thing. And that intention was there at the inception of the song and is contained in the original ‘Clues’ on the back cover, quote, ‘Musicians arranged by David Bedford in association with R Harper v Haunted Fox, the optimist, whose copy of The Observers Book Of Birds, third reprint, page 80 is…’
The Mistle Thrush, aka the ‘Stormcock’ of folklore is to be found on page 80 of that brilliant little book. And there you have it, the code on the back of the gatefold sleeve, i.e., page 4, (or IV on the original).
However, there’s a lot more code in the song. The third verse alludes to an imaginary combination of bird and human tenderness. The final line, ‘Along the same sighs’ marks the transition from temporary bird back to human, which is where the second part of the song starts. In this first verse of the second part of the song, playful woman takes man into ‘scarred space’. In orbit around us is the whole kitchen sink we’ve put up there. It was a not so funny joke in those days, just another expression of the general landfill solution. Spacefill…
The next verse opens.. ‘The Lord speaks out and the pigpens fawn’, which I thought was a good satirical interpretation of religious observance around the world. Both ‘The sword slides out…’ and ‘The hoard strides out…’ for god. The one to gain or defend His possessions, the other to build up the armies of the ‘Lord’, who must be protected against contraception at all times! …but guess who gets to ride out into yawning space in the end. The Devil himself!!
The next half verse, beginning with ‘What a lovely day..’ laments the lack of love and respect shown to children, while the second half accepts personal blame, me, King of the sunset, where darkness is my real lover, ‘and we live in shame’, hiding from the real world. With more than a hint of criminality about the ‘darkness’ of my psyche.
In the next verse, a member of the silent majority trudges across ‘the plains’, the great slab pavements of the concrete jungle of a morning he can no longer face: where he asks himself questions, in the mirror of his mind. He knows he’s telling lies to the spirit of his better self. He knows that he’s marking time, right where he is.. virtually dead on his own arrival into life. Where ‘space is just an ashtray’, and lust, (flesh) is his best expression, where he’s suicidally killing the atmosphere and eating the landscape. ‘I am the new-crowned landlord, Of all beneath my star, Queuing up for doomsday, in my homesick motor car’, born on planet Earth, in her arms, in front of her, before her gaze, Died before my long lost Pa ever showed up, long before my long lost god was to leave the planet.. in front of him too! ‘Dead on arrival’.. here.. with no effect.. with nothing gained, seen or heard. What’s the point? Just a day in the sun and a night in the moon.
The last verse invokes the image of the cuckoo, the parasite bird. The bird who can no longer build a nest, or bring her children up; who must completely rely on others to do the job for her.. whose future is not in her/his own hands.. but never-the-less, as the magic of the morning dawns again ‘I feel a finger running through my nightmare’s lair, I feel most together with my nowhere stare, And you know me well, Ah but what the hell, Only time can tell, Where we’re going to, Me and my woman’.
Then, like now, I find great consolation in love. Yes, some of the best things in life are free, but you have to work hard for them. And yes, there’s only a small amount of code in the artwork for Me And My Woman, but there’s quite a lot in the song.
In the end, ‘showbiz’ won. 90% of songs are now about boy meets girl or girl leaves boy… or boy meets boy. There’s the odd one about boy leaves girl, but nothing much else troubles the charts. The victory of the banal is almost complete. There are one or two Bands, people and songs of note, but the masses are no longer interested in being challenged by their wallpaper.
This isn’t to say that I don’t love the mystery in life, or that there’s no mystery. There’s a mystery in every moment.. Which way?.. Which way? And insofar as we may be able to intervene to secure our own future in some ways, I still think that the whole of experience is random. It’s ungoverned and uncharted. There will be certainties, but uncertainty will dog us, and we will be generated by it, and probably for a long time after we find a way of successfully leaving the solar system. Perhaps there are forces that will not allow us to do so, but I doubt it. I think, along with many others, that the future of me and my woman eventually lies beyond the solar system.
An expression of us may evolve to a point where a parallel universe is just an astronomic leap away… There might not be much that an ultra intelligence developed by this planet won’t be able to harness. It might not be in this form.. it may even be ‘artificial’, but I would have to think that it would be highly likely that an expression of the planet will journey to the core of existence and beyond. There is great optimism for me in this thought. I take it with me everywhere, in every stride I make, but it wouldn’t make any difference to the way I think even if it became completely unfeasible. Actually, that would make that last look into the evening sunset even more meaningful.
The mystery isn’t, and won’t be so much in time/space as perhaps in our descendant’s complete ability to have evolved an extra-dimensional basic concept as a birth quality, as innate, as an actual brain function. The ability to be able to naturally experience multi-dimensionally perhaps. Where patient intention appropriates successive acquisitions of innate extra-dimensional facility (so that the nature of the inner being consciously directs its evolution with more precision), enabling more precise consciousness.. actually affecting the physiology of the brain, mind and body in the time honoured way, but with conscious purpose. (This might sound like eugenics, but we all know that eugenics would probably cut out the kinds of mutation we would be looking for).
There will always be questions to be resolved, like longevity versus purpose for instance, until questions become irrelevant because they’ve been naturally superceded by other questions. As a species, it’s not too big a stretch to suggest that we may develop the choice of selecting our own directions. The one I hope we won’t choose is ‘god’. Even in this age, that’s a cul-de-sac. The cult of personification is hard for me to reconcile with many of these kinds of thoughts. I don’t live on that kind of planet. There’s a great joy in contemplation on the planet I live on. Although I won’t be for much longer, until the day I pass on I’ll be part of the future. I’ve always enjoyed that.. trying to help to push the front.. the vanguard.
Finally, I’m an atheist in all but name, but I refuse to close the door. Whether this makes me technically agnostic or not is irrelevant. I certainly have no desire to ‘convert’ anyone to the way I think. All I have attempted to do here is to lay a lot of it out in black and white, using the medium of an album of songs I made many years ago. It’s an album that still stands up to scrutiny in the way it did the day it was made, and I think no differently about the songs than I did the day they were written. There are many more examples akin to these in the body of work that I’ve undertaken. As yet, they remain largely ignored, misinterpreted and undiscovered. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t important, because this envelope is being pushed by many more than just one person. I find the climate that I live in cold, wet and difficult, but never-the-less I love my garden. I’m going out now…
Me And My Woman
I never know what kind of day it is on my battlefield of ideals
But the way she touches and the way it feels, must be just how it heals
Ah but it’s got a little better since I let her sundance
I never know what time of year it is living on top of the fire
But the Robin outside has to hunt and hide in the cold frosty shire
Ah but he knows just what goes in-between his cold toes
..and his warm ears
And he’s got no disguise in his eyes for his love as she nears
He spreads her a shelter
She takes the tall skies
As they helter-skelter
Along the same sighs
She wakes my days with a glad face
She fakes and says I’m a hard case
She makes and plays like a bad ace
Carrying my ways into scarred space
And she knows me well
Ah but what the hell
Only time can tell, where we’re going to
Me and my woman
And the Lord speaks out and the pigpens fawn
The sword slides out and the nations mourn
The hoard strides out and the chosen spawn
The devil rides out and the heavens yawn
And he knows me well
Ah but what the hell
Only time can tell, where we’re going to
Me and my woman…. Me and my little woman
What a lovely day
What a day to play at living
What a mess we make
What a trust we break
Not giving our wings to our children
O how we fail them
O how we nail them
Sunset (she’s) my colour
And king is my name
Darkness she’s my lover
And we live in shame
>Too far away
From the light of the day
And so near
And so near, here
Can I break through the silence that has taken my place
On the plains of the morning that I just could not face
Asking you these questions
Telling you these lies
Open to suggestion[s]
But I’m closed to all my eyes
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Space is just an ashtray
Flesh is my best wheel
The atmosphere’s my highway
And the landscape’s my next meal
I need my own Good Friday
And I’m trying to fix the deal
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
I am the new-crowned landlord
Of all beneath my star
Queueing up for doomsday
In my homesick motor car
Born before my mother
Died before my Pa
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
(And) the cuckoo she moves through the dawn fanfare
The dew leaves the roofs in the magic air
I feel a finger running through my nightmare’s lair
I feel most together with my nowhere stare
And you know me well
Ah but what the hell
Only time can tell, where I’m going to
Me and my woman…. Me and my little woman
roy harper November 2008
(This one is actually spell-checked! I don’t usually do that with diary blogs. So what you have is a piece full of my own idiosyncratic spellings and grammar such as ‘centre’, ‘showbiz’ and world’s. Contentious stuff.. I must admit, I don’t really have the patience to proof read, but this time I did… to a point).
*1 Admittedly, this will involve simplifying law so that a slim volume concept of what general practice it constitutes can be understood by most people. The law needs to be simplified and newly based on reasoning, precedents, principles and examples established within the last seventy years, or lifetime, ongoing. This will include the history and theory of its five thousand year foundation of course, but only in exceptional circumstances should old theory be wheeled out to deal with circumstances newly experienced. It will be a big job to write a new and necessarily international law book, but now would be the right time to start on it. In the hiatus between the re-configuration of the old world and the establishment of a new world order.