A SELECTION OF CULTURAL CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN JOHN-PAUL AND THE LIKES OF
YOKO ONO, DAVID LYNCH, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, SIR DAVID BAILEY, BARBARA KRUGER,
TARYN SIMON, HOWARD MARKS. MITCH EPSTEIN, JAKE & DINOS, SASHA GREY, RICHARD KERN,
KIM GORDON, DIANE PERNET, NICK CAVE AND MANY MORE
In Conversation With Yoko Ono...
First Published in TANK Magazine
“We are unified: we are a unity; we are one world. There is an incredible unconscious communication going on between all of us. When people meet, their brain cells and the cells in their bodies are exchanging information regardless of what they are thinking, and after the meeting they are not the same people"
– Yoko Ono
John Lennon once famously remarked of his then soon-to-be-wife Yoko Ono: “Everybody knows her name but nobody knows what she does.” At the time the media was busy portraying her as a crazy, black-clad, primal-screaming Beatles-wrecker, but she was already one of the most talked about avant-garde artists on the New York underground scene. The happenings in her studio at 112 Chambers Street were regularly attended by the likes of John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and George Maciunas, and her early films and performances – such as the infamous Cut Piece, in which she invites the audience to cut the clothes from her body – were some of the first to dismantle the relationship between artist and spectator. Although she is now 77 years old, Ono continues to exhibit, perform, publish experimental literature, record uncompromising music and give talks promoting peace all over the world. Here she talks about the power of collective thought, changing the world for the better and sending messages to the stars.
John-Paul: Where do you think the drive in you to perform came from?
Yoko Ono: I think it was the fact that I had a rather lonely childhood. I was not allowed to play with anybody except the few people that my mother suggested, so I was probably craving some communication. I mean, this is funny and not avant-garde or anything but when I was three years old my parents took me to an empty concert hall in San Francisco where there were just a few people having tea or coffee, and I remember that I got up on the stage and started to sing Japanese songs from beginning to end. I will never forget that. There is also this innate desire in me of wanting to create something, and when I say create something, it’s always about creating something new. I always thought it would be a waste of time to repeat something, so a performance like Cut Piece didn’t come from an art tradition or anything like that, I just thought I should do it, and I did. When I go to museums where they are having an opening of my show, I still tend to do one performance, and it’s usually the kind of performance that I think nobody else is really doing now.
John-Paul: What I find particularly interesting about Cut Piece is that you placed yourself in a position of extreme vulnerability. Why do you think it is important for artists to make themselves vulnerable?
Yoko Ono: Because being human is being vulnerable, and being human is being open: when you are closed up then you are dead. There is a certain death about being closed, and half the world is dead in that sense. We have sort of closed ourselves to each other so that we don’t get hurt, but by doing that we are not alive. This is an age where we are starting to be very open in a very different way than we have ever thought of before – through the internet and things like Twitter – and there’s an incredible amount of communication, but that communication is kind of safe because we don’t physically attach or attract or attack each other.
John-Paul: Would you say that you are essentially trying to bring people together through performance?
Yoko Ono: Well, you know, we are unified: we are a unity; we are one world. There is an incredible unconscious communication going on between all of us. When people meet, their brain cells and the cells in their bodies are exchanging information regardless of what they are thinking, and after the meeting they are not the same people: they are the people of the 200 or 2,000 who were in the meeting. Meeting is an incredible thing. Each person has had an incredible life and when we meet we are actually absorbing all of that. I want to open up that particular part of us so that we know we are together, and it’s very important that we do that. The collectiveness is very important. We are all aware of it on a subconscious level, but I want to bring it on to a conscious level.
John-Paul: There are few meetings more productive than the one between you and John Lennon. That must have been very powerful...
Yoko Ono: Well, he was the only very intelligent man that I had met. Up until then, I really felt that guys were all so dumb, so I was very excited by that. And I think that John probably thought that all women were dumb too, so he thought, “What is this? What’s going on?” We fell in love, of course, and he taught me what he had done: he had conquered the world... it’s big. That impressed me. I was nowhere near that. I was on a Keith Haring kind of “let’s go scrawl in a subway somewhere” trip, so it was totally different. But John was very enticed by the kind of thing I was doing, which gave him kind of a fresh air: I was the fresh wind that came into his life and between us there was an incredible respect. I was the underground power, the roots, and he was the overground power. The two met, and it was very, very powerful. What John did on a conceptual level was have a meeting with the whole world, and that did change the world... it’s still changing it.
“We were the dragon lady and her mad husband, but we were not scared of that because what we were saying was so important for the world, especially for the future”
John-Paul: How did your relationship with John affect your art?
Yoko Ono: He sort of accommodated me and made things possible for me. Before I met John, I was talking to reporters about why something like “This Is Not Here” [the title of her 1971 solo exhibition at the Eberson Museum, New York] was an important art statement, but they would just say, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah...” and write it down. John is the person who actually understood. “This Is Not Here” is not a negative thought. “This Is Not Here” means it’s all space, and that the power of the space is there. So John would say, “Let’s write ‘This Is Not Here’ on top of the entrance to ask God to come home.” That’s the kind of thing he did, and when it was a statement from John and Yoko, it was a different story.
John-Paul: How does it feel now to remember the legendary bed-in?
Yoko Ono: It just gives me the chills because we lived that particular reality every day. It was enjoyable, joyful, and we loved it. But it was also tough for us because in terms of the world, they were totally against us, and the power of them being against us was just as strong as the power of what we were saying. But regardless of everything, we kept making statements, because statements are very important: words are power. It came from a totally altruistic interest on our part, we didn’t care how we were considered. I mean, we were like dirt for them – we were the dragon lady and her mad husband, but we were not scared of that because what we were saying was so important for the world, especially for the future. Do you know why the war machine is so strong now? It’s because the other power is so strong, and they know it. The shift is incredible. I never thought it would happen. I remember the days when being a military officer with medals and all that was highly respected. Now, nobody respects that, because they think, “Oh, he must have killed 20 people.”
John-Paul: Are you ever tempted to do something similar to the “War Is Over” billboard campaign with “Imagine Peace”?
Yoko Ono: We are doing it all the time. “Imagine Peace” is in the thoughts of people that we love. They are all thinking “Imagine Peace” and that’s the billboard. Collective thoughts are very strong and very important. Naturally, when we have a thought that is isolated from all other thoughts, it’s not that powerful.
John-Paul: What do you think about the state we are in at the beginning of the 21st century?
Yoko Ono: This century has just started and we are like babies. I really think that up until now, we were in the embryonic period of the human race, and the proof of the pudding is that we are not yet communicating with beings on other planets. I think that we are going to start doing that now, but slowly like a baby. If you go to see the Imagine Peace Tower [a 4,000-metre-tall tower of light projected from Iceland’s Viðey Island as a memorial to John Lennon] – if you actually go there to see it shoot up – then you know that we are communicating with other universes and planets. It’s like Morse code... we are sort of saying to the other planets, “We’re here!”
In Conversation With David Lynch
First Published in Dazed & Confused Magazine Upon The Release of Good Day Today
“Sometimes the whole world tells you things, or it’s trying to tell you things anyways, and when you are a detective you look for clues, and sometimes one thing leads to another and you get some answers”
– David Lynch
When we heard David Lynch was releasing a double-A side single on Sunday Best Records, and that he wants you guys to come up with the idea for the videos, we got straight on the phone to LA to find out exactly what was going down. The iconic director of Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Inland Empire has always been known for his profoundly emotive choice of music in his films, often working closely with the acclaimed composer Angelo Badalamenti in musical collaborations such as Thought Gang. More recently, he worked with Dangermouse on the startlingly original Dark Night of The Soul project, but the release of the singles 'Good Day Today' and 'I Know' remain unprecedented in his career. While 'I Know' has some musical precursors in the Lynchian oeuvre, the echo-heavy, sweeping electronica of 'Good Day Today' will surprise and delight many of his fans. Over a crackling phone line we asked the legendary director about the conceptual genesis of the two singles, and a whole lot more...
John-Paul: How does music come to you, do you ever wake up with a melody in your head?
David Lynch: That’s exactly what happened on 'Good Day Today'. I just got this melody for the chorus part but I didn’t know what notes they were so I drew a picture of them – I’m not a musician but I play trumpet and can read music – then I worked with Big Dean Hurley and we started building the song.
John-Paul: The song seems to have a theme of redemption and salvation – why do you think they are such recurring motifs in culture, and where does that wish for salvation stem from in the collective consciousness?
David Lynch: Right. That’s a really good question. I think that human beings… they know a certain thing inside. It might be buried really deep but they’ve kind of got this thing where they know some feeling about a bigger future for the human being. That sort of drives some people to become seekers. I always say human beings are like detectives – we look at the world and we kind of figure things out, and we do rely on that still small voice inside but it’s really quiet these days because of all the stuff that covers it.
“I think that human beings… they know a certain thing inside. It might be buried really deep but they’ve kind of got this thing where they know some feeling about a bigger future for the human being. That sort of drives some people to become seekers.”
John-Paul: Do you think you can get through to that small voice with more with the immediacy of a song than you can through a film?
David Lynch: I don’t know. That’s an interesting question, too. Music does talk to us in deep places and it can stir things, as we all know, and some of it really stirs. It’s just real beautiful. I just saw this video of Pink Floyd singing 'Comfortably Numb' in an arena. It was just such an incredible production and it was just so thrilling to see this thing. It was so powerful. Music has got a lot of power and it can maybe awaken something.
John-Paul: Yoko Ono said music is a way of having a meeting with the whole world...
David Lynch: Yeah, yeah, yeah… That’s really beautiful.
John-Paul: When you sing that you’ve had enough of the dark in a 'Good Day Today', how personal is it? Is that how you feel as someone who has dealt so much in dark subjects?
David Lynch: (Laughs) Well, y’know… not really, but I do like ideas and sometimes I say that ideas reflect our world, and right at the present time our world is pretty dark so, y’know, stories can hold both things. I think there is a feeling there of being tired of certain things and wanting something different.
John-Paul: Do you believe that to see the darkness in the world you have to be standing in the light?
David Lynch: In a weird way, yes, but if there is a lot of fear then you don’t want to go in any dark places. Ideas and sometimes music can incorporate those things, and those things are very, very interesting.
John-Paul: How much can an artist guide reactions to their work? Are you interested in the multiplicity of interpretations someone could have of a song or a film?
David Lynch: Well, every listener is different and every viewer is different, so I say just stay true to the idea, because you can’t control what’s going to happen when you release something – it’s anybody’s guess how it going to go in the world. I fall in love with ideas and then I try to transfer those as best as possible to a medium. That’s the whole thing, and I always feel that if a person is true to the ideas and in love with them that maybe there’s a good chance that some people will feel the same thing… if you do a good job.
John-Paul: Do you think music can be a tool for transcendence?
David Lynch: Well, I’ve travelled with Donovan and Donovan thinks that his music, or music in general could get a person really deep, but I don’t know if they will transcend with it. I mean, transcending is a unique experience and that’s why you take a technique like transcendental meditation – you will transcend your first meditation with every meditation because it is a technique that works. Then when you hear certain music after you have had that experience a bunch of times you start to recognise it real well, and you hear certain music and it does get you really, really deep. Whether it causes you to transcend? I don’t know for sure.
“Sometimes the whole world tells you things, or it’s trying to tell you things anyways, and when you are a detective you look for clues, and sometimes one thing leads to another and you get some answers.”
John-Paul: There is a lyric in 'I Know' that seems to be about receiving a message from a bird. Do you think we can pick up messages from nature?
David Lynch: (Laughs) Well, the bird didn’t tell him anything, the bird stopped to sing. That’s the problem. Sometimes the whole world tells you things, or it’s trying to tell you things anyways, and when you are a detective you look for clues, and sometimes one thing leads to another and you get some answers.
John-Paul: The competition to come up with ideas for the videos must be like detective work for you – it must be exciting to see what comes back?
David Lynch: Well, the idea is that a competition fuels the fire, and it’s kind of exciting and more fun because you make something you wouldn’t have used without the contest.
John-Paul: It’s interesting that you use the word fire because it’s a word used a lot in 'Good Day Today' and is an important element in your films. What does fire means to you symbolically?
David Lynch: Right. Well, I love fire but I guess pretty much everybody does to one degree or another. I like the smokestack industry, I like machines and I like fire in those industries. It’s just such a magical element. It’s just magical. When you think about a fire, you think, 'How in the world did this texture come?' Then the heat from it and sometimes the sound of it is so devouring – it’s just incredible power and it just makes you dream.
John-Paul: Do you think the inescapable fact of mortality drives people to create and to want to leave a legacy?
David Lynch: No I don’t think so. I think it’s just so much fun to work in different mediums. I mean, if it was a real drag to work in them and you just thought about leaving a legacy... I don’t know how exciting the work would be. It would just be sort of futile. Love it! If you love it you have just got to do it, and it’s not about leaving anything behind or anything… it’s really just the joy of the doing.
John-Paul: Like The Myth of Sisyphus – having to find the joy in constantly pushing the rock up the hill?
David Lynch: Yeah… just pushing the rock up the mountain, but having some Coca-Colas on the way.
In Conversation With Howard Marks…
First Published in Dazed & Confused Magazine Upon The Release of The Motion Picture Mr Nice
“you can’t control everything because so many things are going to fucking happen that you don’t expect, but you can control your attitude to whatever happens: it’s best to just listen to that little voice inside you and not try to fuck anyone up... love is very important.”
– Howard Marks
The British penchant for exalting anti-heroes has perhaps no greater living example than the ex-dope smuggler Howard Marks aka Mr Nice: a man responsible for importing phenomenal amounts of high-grade hashish into the UK and USA in the 1970s and early 80s. This month, Marks’s legendary status as one of the most affable criminals in history steps up a gear with Rhys Ifans playing him in the film of his best-selling autobiography. It’s a rollercoaster ride that takes into its sway the gentleman smuggler’s early years at Oxford; his ingenious dealings with MI6; his stoner sessions with Afghani warlords; his relationship with his loyal wife (Chloë Sevigny); and his somewhat sketchy relationship with Jim McCann of the Provisional IRA (played with infectious mania by David Thewlis).
John-Paul: What was it like to see yourself portrayed on the big screen?
Howard Marks: There is no rulebook for watching a film of your own life but I have known Rhys so long that it was probably even more weird than I thought it would be (laughs), or maybe it was less weird. I’m not sure!
John-Paul: Do you and Rhys share an affinity in your outlook?
Howard Marks: There is a massive overlap in our views about things. When I first met him, I had just come out of the nick. He was sleeping on the Super Furrys’ drummer’s floor at the time and had just started becoming an actor – he hadn’t done Notting Hill or Twin Town – and I hadn’t published my book yet. We had this stoned conversation, and he said should my book ever be published and should he ever become an actor, could he play me in the film? We shook hands on it. It’s taken 15 years to come to fruition and we both felt it was meant to be really: to give reality to our imaginations, so to speak.
“I still get stoned. I’m stoned right now. I’m so familiar with the state that it doesn’t hinder my operation”
John-Paul: Was there anything in the film you were unhappy with, such as having two marriages melded into one?
Howard Marks: (Laughs) I didn’t give a fuck about any of that, no. It’s such a different discipline making a film to writing a book, and the film isn’t trying to be a docu-drama. I realised that what was important was that it captures the same emotions, the same tension, and the same rollercoaster ride. I am terribly pleased with it.
John-Paul: How did you manage to be so effective a smuggler, and be so stoned all the time?
Howard Marks: I suppose it’s the length of the familiarity with being stoned: I still get stoned. I’m stoned right now. I’m so familiar with the state that it doesn’t hinder my operation. I do tend to smoke hash rather than skunk, though.
John-Paul: What do you think about super strength strains of skunk?
Howard Marks: They are considerably stronger but there shouldn’t be a massive kind of problem in dealing with something that’s stronger: nobody would drink whiskey from a pint mug, for example... just put less in the joint! (Laughs) It’s not rocket science!
John-Paul: How did you manage to stay so cool in potentially life-threatening situations?
Howard Marks: I have been in dangerous situations but probably not as much as imagined. The way I deal with it? I suppose because I am such a sort of peace-loving hippie that I am hardly much of a threat to anybody, really. And because the demand for dope was nowhere near satisfied, and never has been, there wasn’t that kind of competitive stuff: the rubbing out of competitors just doesn’t happen.
“My default position is trusting, and you can only blame yourself for an error of judgement really. If you think someone isn’t a rat when they are, it’s your own fault for not seeing it.”
John-Paul: You spent a lot of time trafficking from the Middle East and Pakistan. Those places are portrayed very differently in the film to the way the western media portrays them now...
Howard Marks: Well, the media portray all of that in a negative way. Fundamentalists like the Taliban and all the rest of it are clearly a bunch of cunts, but those assholes are not at all representative of the mass of people across those countries. It’s an antifundamentalist Islam voice you hear on average among the people. I mean, suicide is considered one of the worst things you can do in Islam: it’s like kicking God in the face.
John-Paul: What was it like to work with Jim McCann of the provisional IRA?Howard Marks: Jim is a complete lunatic – there is no question of that – but the unpredictable nature of what he would do was very exciting and amusing. There was also a caring side to him: I never saw him pull a gun on anyone... other than me (laughs). He wasn’t really a violent person but he had mastered the ability of threat, and you did take his threats seriously, everyone did. The Belfast accent helps of course! I was always amazed at the way he could get tables at restaurants and so on just by calling with that accent. Once I was trying to get a table at Crazy Horse in Paris: I rang up and they said, ‘I’m sorry sir everything is fully booked for the next two years.’ Jim took the phone and shouted: ‘It’s Jim Fucking Kennedy here!’ (Laughs) Immediately, we were booked seats at the front!
John-Paul: Do you believe there is truth in the old adage of honour among thieves?
Howard Marks: There is, but that’s essentially due to the lack of contract. I mean, virtually all legitimate businesses have a written contract outlining what you can do if the other guy fucks you up: you wouldn’t take that risk if what you were doing was illegal. My default position is trusting, and you can only blame yourself for an error of judgement really. If you think someone isn’t a rat when they are, it’s your own fault for not seeing it.
John-Paul: Would you say that you were a naturally inclined outlaw?Howard Marks: Only to the extent that if a law seems to me to be patently absurd, then I really pay very little notice to it. There is that degree of lawlessness in me, I guess, but there isn’t anything in me that wanted to be an outlaw. I would have been quite happy if it had all been legal.
John-Paul: What do you think of the argument that smoking hash leads to harder substances?
Howard Marks: Because both heroin and hash are illegal, they do share a market place, and there might be some sociological escalation because of the overlap caused by their illegality. If both were legal then heroin you would get from the doctor and hash you would get from the greengrocer, and it's very unlikely that there would be any overlap or damaging consequences from either. Heroin does, of course, have it’s own unique danger in that in some cases it would only take twice the amount it normally took you to get high to actually kill you.
John-Paul: Do you think we are in the midst of a psychedelic revival with more and more people smoking substances such as DMT?
Howard Marks: (Laughs) That’s very strong stuff! I suppose as far as the people are concerned, there is a massive shift both in drug-taking, in perceptions of drugs and views on their legality, but the government are still as totally useless, ineffectual and irrational as ever. I have a lot of faith in the youth, though. I don’t see them making the same mistakes we did. That’s for fucking sure.
John-Paul: What kind of advice would you give to young people?
Howard Marks: I think it’s really about the fact that you just don’t have that much control over things: it was Lennon who said, ‘Life is what happens to you when you make other plans,’ and largely that’s true. I suppose the advice I would give a young person is just to actually realise that. I mean, you can’t control everything because so many things are going to fucking happen that you don’t expect, but you can control your attitude to whatever happens: it’s best to just listen to that little voice inside you and not try to fuck anyone up... love is very important.
In Conversation With Nick Cave And Grinderman
First published in AnOther Magazine Upon The Release of Grinderman 2
“The whole purpose of this for me is just to somehow work out a way to keep writing, and that comes from a sort of protestant duty I feel towards songwriting. That's much more interesting to me than bringing society to its knees and scaring the kids”
If you are seeking a shot in the arm of some truly coruscating rock'n'roll medication then look no further than Grinderman 2 – the second album from the stripped-down quartet of near-legendary musicians gleaned from The Bad Seeds. Nick Cave's second outing with the tight-knit Grinderman crew (Jim Sclavunos, Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey) witnesses the cohesion of last year's heavily-bearded, maraca-shaking collaborative sonic experiment into a lean, mean feedback-drenched machine that shoots planet-destroying lasers from its eyes (just check out John Hillcoat's video for tripped-out rocker ‘Heathen Child' if you don't take our word for it). Here, we take some time out of mind with the band to discuss mystical transcendence, surrealist songwriting and the sublime influence of rodents high on crystal meth...
John-Paul: Lyrically, Grinderman 2 has a surreal quality that makes me think of Burroughs's cut-up technique – where does that come from?
Nick Cave: The narratives are abstract and atmospheric because I wanted to get away from the idea of a closed narrative. In a lot of The Bad Seeds' songs, I tell a story, and often the music's just bubbling away under that story. On some level that takes something away from the actual music. The more abstract the lyrics become, the more your ear listens to what's going on with the band. I mean, halfway through some of these songs you just give up trying to work out what the story is.
Warren Ellis: I think that comes from the way these songs have been formed too. In The Bad Seeds, Nick usually brings a song with the lyrics and then we work out what's the best thing to do with the song. In Grinderman, it feels like the approach is more balanced. This record goes further than the last one because we would go through the improvised sessions and choose to explore the moments that didn't feel familiar or comfortable: there's an element of risk involved that feels healthy.
Jim Sclavunos: It's not like Grinderman is better than The Bad Seeds, it's just a whole new band, and it's equally as satisfying – who knows what direction it is going to take now...
Nick Cave: There's something that goes on in Grinderman that has a kind of dream logic to it and I think that's really effective. I really love Heathen Child, for example, because I don't feel locked in by a narrative... I like it that the song takes a kind of U-turn at the end, and suddenly becomes about something quite scary.
John-Paul: That balance of dread and the comedic definitely comes across in John Hillcoat's video for the track...
Nick Cave: John and I looked at the video in two ways – first comically, as a way to open up these things for people, and then we looked at bringing out this dark vein that runs through the whole thing. It was quite a balancing act to get that right. To me that's what Grinderman's very much about. It's trembling on a line and it can fall either way: into something really fucking terrible or into something that's really kind of inspired and exciting.
John-Paul: Do you think rock'n'roll is at its best when it isn't too intellectual, but is more of a primitive Cramps-esque explosion?
Nick Cave: It can be all sorts of things, I reckon. That's the good thing about it. If you listen to the first Leonard Cohen record then that's both things: it seems to be torn out of him on the most basic level, but it's very much a considered piece of writing as well. I don't think that bands like The Cramps have defined what rock'n'roll should be about. It's just one version. I remember seeing my first Cramps gig, though, and it had a real effect on me.
John-Paul: But what you are doing is pretty extreme in terms of rock'n'roll. It seems like you arethe antidote to something like Lady Gaga...
Jim Sclavunos: Right on. You are 100 per cent correct. We are the antidote.
Nick Cave: For me, Grinderman has just totally opened up songwriting and it has affected The Bad Seeds in a really positive way. That's as far as it goes. The whole purpose of this for me is just to somehow work out a way to keep writing, and that comes from a sort of protestant duty I feel towards songwriting. That's much more interesting to me than bringing society to its knees and scaring the kids.
Warren Ellis: Musically, it feels like it has done that too though... That's what's great.
John-Paul: How does getting older change your outlook as an artist? Are you more productive because of an increased awareness of mortality?
Nick Cave: I'm not sure there's a lot going for getting old. I mean, if anyone out there is thinking that they should give it a go, I would advise them against it.
Martyn Casey: (Laughs) It's not to do with a midlife crisis, it's just a life crisis.
Warren Ellis: Man, it just takes that long to learn how to play... I used to dream about being able to play like I'm playing now.
John-Paul: There's a lot of sex and death in Grinderman though, isn't there? It's pretty much all sex and death...
Jim Sclavunos: ... mostly just death.
Warren Ellis: (Laughs) There's quite a lot of panic and anxiety in there too.
Martyn Casey: It's a lot like one of those rats in a maze that have been shot up with cocaine.
Warren Ellis: ... or a gerbil in a bag on crystal meth with its little teeth going gnik,gnik,gnik.
John-Paul: (laughs) I suppose that's a good metaphor for Grinderman – a rodent trapped inside a condom on crystal meth...
Jim Sclavunos: ... it's not a metaphor.
Warren Ellis: (Laughs) It's actually where it all comes from. That's what we mean by improvisation. It's the ritual we partake of every night before we go onstage.
“When you're doing those things that you should be doing, you do get swept away, and it feels like the right thing. Time is different and you get lost in it – you transcend the mundane... and you float among the stars” – Nick Cave
John-Paul: On a different note, people in your position have a lot of stuff projected on to them in terms of identity. Do you think that any artist can avoid being seen as a cliché?
Jim Sclavunos: Well, it's not like you have a lot of control over it. I mean, there's always going to be someone out there that's going to pass your stuff off as something lesser or try to dismiss it.
Nick Cave: And there's always people who will use other people to elevate themselves in some way. I think that's often where the cliché thing is used the most. I mean, I've been called a cliché all my life. I am a fucking cliché.
Warren Ellis: The longer you're around, the more you get taken for granted...
Nick Cave:... which is actually personally liberating: that on some level there's no point in trying to impress anyone any more. I think that the more that's happened, the closer the music I'm involved in has become the music that I actually listen to. For me, it's always important that there's an element of the divine in the writing process – what happens within my imaginative world doesn't apply in the same way in my personal world.
John-Paul: Would you say music is the ultimate tool for transcendence?
Nick Cave: I think that there are all sorts of ways to do that. Music is one of them and it's an extremely effective one: it's quite rare that there are any experiences like that that don't incorporate music in some sense. Certainly, something happens on stage where you become somebody different – you become what you want to be.
Warren Ellis: That feeling's like a drug and it's really addictive. You don't get it all the time but when you do, it's like nothing else. For me, playing music is all about playing live... it's all about that moment.
Nick Cave: I think it's fair enough to say that there are things that we should be doing or that we shouldn't be doing. And when you're doing those things that you should be doing, you do get swept away, and it feels like the right thing. Time is different and you get lost in it – you transcend the mundane... and you float among the stars.
In Conversation With Sylvie Guillem
First Published In AnOther Magazine On The Debut of 6,000 Miles
“It’s about your choices – your choices of how to do things, how you find your information, how far you go into the work, how far you push the discipline, how much you fight against limits”
– Sylvie Guillem
The legendary one-time étoile ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet turned avant-garde dance master Sylvie Guillem has worked with some of the greatest choreographers of the modern age, and this week she appears in a unique collaboration with three of the most eminent: Mats Ek, William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián. 6000 Miles Away is already being hailed as a masterpiece by insiders and it promises to be a transcendental masterclass in the language of dance from the 45-year-old dancer famed in her youth for a rebellious streak that earned her the industry nickname Mademoiselle Non. In person the CBE-holding dancer is as formidable in character as her lean, toned muscular body, although her eyes and quick smile belie a profound depth of humility and humanity – after all, this is a woman who has shunned celebrity her entire life, despite being widely considered one of the greatest artists of her generation. In this rare interview the revered boundary-defying dancer and choreographer discusses her drive, her discipline and her penchant for saying non.
John-Paul: What would you say drives you to continually push yourself in your art form?
Sylvie Guillem: I think it comes from my personality. I’m still a kid trying to be astonished by things. I have kind of this curiosity to learn, and I’m always learning something new. It’s always about putting myself in danger – putting myself in an uncomfortable situation for a while – and that’s very rewarding because it’s always a step forward. I am used to a routine and discipline as well, of course, because that’s the base of what I do, but if I was not able to go out of that or to use it as a springboard then I would be bored. My problem with dance is that it can follow a recipe that is very efficient but it is only a recipe. In that instance, it will be good but it won’t be excellent – it won’t be exceptional, it won’t be extraordinary.
John-Paul: What made you leave classical dance and move towards the avant-garde?
Sylvie Guillem: I have had quite a long career and for a while I was kind of dependent on the image I had, and the specialty I had, so I was responding more to demand. Once I had done everything I had to do in classical, I decided that I could spend more time on going towards people, and I wanted to do that more than doing something that I was trained to do. That’s what drives me – to go towards people and to spend time with them, giving them the opportunity to really understand that I am open to a lot of things, and that I really want to discover what they have to teach me.
John-Paul: You’ve worked for some incredible choreographers – what’s the push-and-pull like creatively between the choreographer and the personal expression of the dancer?
Sylvie Guillem: It depends. Some choreographers like a lot of involvement and improvisation – a lot of proposition. Then you need to really put yourself in danger to show an opinion; show a will to try things that might not be accepted. Others have a very particular idea, and in that case you step more towards their idea of things.With Billy (William Forsythe) it’s a lot of exchange – a lot of participation, a lot of involvement physically and mentally because it’s quite complicated choreography. When you work with Matts it’s more about his way of saying things and doing things, and you are translating that into physical shape... into a shimmer. They are different but what they have in common is that it’s their own thing. That’s what I’m looking for – people who have their own way of saying things. You can meet a lot of choreographers with this or that award, but when you look at what they do, it doesn’t talk to you, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t go anywhere – it has no vision, no special language.
John-Paul: Without that vision is it impossible to transcend into something truly profound?
Sylvie Guillem: Well, the work has to be personal, otherwise there is no involvement – you are not there, you are just reproducing something that is not yours, and you are not yourself when you are doing it, so, what is the point? It might be very nice to look at but there is no going towards someone, and no one will receive it. There is no exchange with the audience if it’s not personal, if you don’t have your identity in it. Honesty is really a pure thing and on stage who you are as a person comes across so much. Whether you are doing classical or modern dance, it’s about your choices – your choices of how to do things, how you find your information, how far you go into the work, how far you push the discipline, how much you fight against limits.
John-Paul: Why do you think society so readily applies the term rebel to people who do their own thing?
Sylvie Guillem: It’s a very easy sticker to put on someone. In the field I was involved in when I was young the discipline is so hard and there is a kind of a code, and everything has its role inside the box, but to be able to follow that and to be happy within those constraints – those rules – you need to be driven by your dream. I was never driven by a dream. I was never driven by being a ballerina and that gave me a wider opportunity of choices. The Paris Opera Ballet became an open door for me – it was not an arrival point, it was the departure point. The rules that were ruling that system were not for me – what was important to me was that I was experimenting. I had a strong instinct, and was kind of animal in my reaction when someone was telling me: ‘You have to do that!’ If for me it was not relevant or had no purpose I was like, ‘No. I’m sorry. If you want me to do that only then take someone else because I won’t be happy.’ It was already the start of me making a choice. That’s when I started to have problems because a dancer is usually a quite disciplined person and when you ask her to do something she does it. But I realised very early that I did not have a lot of time and I didn’t want to lose time doing things that didn’t matter to me. That’s why I started to say no to things, and for the classically minded people it’s not the way to do things – so, to them you are a rebel.
In Conversation With David Bailey…
First Published In Dazed & Confused On The Eve of The Photographer’s Debut Sculpture Show
“There’s that moment in time when something just happens and you can’t put your finger on why it happens: it’s like a form of energy”
– David Bailey
The photographer David Bailey has inarguably been responsible for some of the most iconic images ever created. It's no wonder then that an exhibition of his sculptures in bronze at Pangolin is an eagerly anticipated happening in the art world. The exhibition draws on voodoo-esque imagery and exhibits Bailey's long-term fascination with human skulls and folk-art. The work has a somewhat macabre feel (his taste for darkness will come as no surprise to those familiar with Bailey's collaboration with Damien Hirst for AnOther Magazine, Stations of The Cross), and at times it almost seems like a tongue-in-cheek meditation on mortality. Here, the legendary image-maker waxes lyrical as to why beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and how the greatest artistic achievements of humanity often stem from accidents...
John-Paul Some of the work in the show, such as the skulls, seems to be quite dark. Are you quite drawn to the macabre?
David Bailey: To me it’s not really all about darkness and death. I think skulls are beautiful and I consider them as the ultimate form of sculpture. In a way, we all end up as a sculpture – a skull is kind of a portrait, isn’t it? I’ve always photographed skulls and collected them. I’ve got pictures of skulls going back years…
John-Paul: What would you say inspired you to work in the medium of sculpture
David Bailey: I just like making images, and I don’t really think it matters if it is in the medium of sculpture, photography or painting. It’s just about making the image. Even if nobody else liked them I would do them for myself.
John-Paul: How do you approach the proverbial blank canvas?
David Bailey: Most creative acts are an accident, aren’t they? Suddenly the paint splashes and you realize you can follow the splash to somewhere you never thought of. It’s the same with sculpture: you’re like, ‘Oh I didn’t think of that!’ and then you can go in a direction you could never have pre-conceived. I try not to ever have pre-conceptions, even with my pictures. That’s why I never wanted to do advertising because they always want you to tell them what you are going to do. I never know what I am going to do or what might happen on a shoot because it depends on so many different things.
John-Paul: I imagine the difference is that when you’re working on a sculpture you’re engaged in a relationship with yourself, but when you’re working in the medium of photography you’re engaged in a relationship with another person…
David Bailey: Yes that’s true. You do have to adjust the way you think. Basically, you just gamble all the time, don’t you? When you take portraits you gamble on somebody’s bad mood or somebody’s good mood. It’s the same with making sculptures, except what happens depends on your own mood at the time.
John-Paul: Would you say you were interested in religion: I’m thinking about the collaboration you did with Damien Hirst for AnOther a few years ago…
David Bailey: Oh yes, well I suppose that was just a revised version of The Bible, and Damien is much darker than me! But no, it’s not religion that interests me particularly; it’s more animism and what comes from nature. I’m sort of against religion anyway.
John-Paul: Do you come from more a pagan stance?
David Bailey: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say pagan. When I think of pagans, I think of people dancing around in white fucking bed sheets. I think I’m more into Gothic. One thing I love is Sheelas. Obviously, the name Sheela conjures Australian slang for a woman, but in fact Sheelas were what the gargoyles outside early English churches were called.
John-Paul: (Laughs) Really?
David Bailey: Yeah, they were always pulling their pussies open or their mouths open… They’re quite extraordinary.
John-Paul: That’s fascinating. It’s sad that when they build new churches now they’re always devoid of these kinds of things…
David Bailey: I know, when you go to a church cemetery now it’s like going to look at a load of filing cabinets, because nobody can express himself or herself with the tombstone they really want. Most cemeteries now have to look like an office for the dead because churches are restricted as to what they can put in the cemetery.
John-Paul: Do you think that’s a reflection of modern culture destroying romanticism?David Bailey: I think it’s just awful political correctness. Just because one person’s taste doesn’t agree with another person’s taste they kind of homogenize it all, and make it all look the same. In a way, that takes away taste.
John-Paul: On the subject of taste, what would you say was the standout greatest artistic achievement of humanity so far?
David Bailey: (laughs) Shit. I really don’t know, but there’s definitely moments in time aren’t there? There’s that moment in time when something just happens and you can’t put your finger on why it happens: it’s like a form of energy. Take the example of the Mexican renaissance. Personally, I couldn’t stand Frida Kahlo and people like that, but it was a very significant moment, and why did it happen at that point in time? In a more superficial way you could say the same of the 60s in London.
“As I get older I become more and more shocked by cruelty, and the imagination that goes into cruelty. People like the Nazis were just unbelievable – to just think up ideas to do those things to another human being: you can’t really understand it, and in a way it’s good that you can’t understand it because if you could it would make life unbearable”
John-Paul: Do you think they are evocations of a shift in collective consciousness?David Bailey: I’ve often thought about that but I can’t answer that question, I really don’t know. You could say that about a lynch mob, you know? It’s strange the way the Germans acted towards the Jews during the war, for example – we don’t ever really understand why. As I get older I become more and more shocked by cruelty, and the imagination that goes into cruelty. People like the Nazis were just unbelievable – to just think up ideas to do those things to another human being: you can’t really understand it, and in a way it’s good that you can’t understand it because if you could it would make life unbearable.
John-Paul: One thing I really wanted to ask you is what your definition of beauty is?David Bailey: It’s conditioning really, isn’t it? We’ve all been conditioned. If we think of a beautiful woman we are really conditioned by the Greeks, whereas if you come from Africa it’s a different kind of beauty that you recognise, mainly because they were never affected by the renaissance in the way we were. I suppose you just have to try and see beauty how other people would see beauty. The whole point of doing anything like sculpture is that it has to be the viewer that makes the decision about what is beautiful and not the artist. I’m sort of the catalyst but the relationship is between the person and the thing that is being looked at.
John-Paul: Even a hermit in a cave painting would go out into the wilds and try and find someone to show it to.
David Bailey: (laughs) Or put a ticket office on the front of his cave!
John-Paul: (laughs) There you go, there’s the beginning of consumer culture right there!
David Bailey: I always thought that one of the great movements of civilization was when people started growing plants for their beauty rather than to eat them. I think that was one of the big steps forward.
John-Paul: Aesthetic appreciation over mere functionality…
David Bailey: Yes, at some point in history somebody must have said, “ That looks nice, we grew that, let’s eat it!” and his wife said to him, “ We can’t eat it! It’s beautiful!
– David Bailey
In Conversation With Sasha Grey
First Published In Dazed & Confused Magazine Upon The Release of The Girlfriend Experience
Steven Soderbergh's latest offering is a stark, convincingly acted and fearless existential investigation into the commerce of sex and the language of emotional manipulation. Starring the 21-year-old porn star Sasha Grey in her first serious film role it focuses upon the various relationships of a call girl who offers her clients The Girlfriend Experience – supposedly something that offers everything a real relationship could satisfy, for a considerable fee. With the clientele ranging from CEOs and orthodox Jewish jewellers to what one suspects are politicians, the film provides a unique lens through which to explore the politics of intimacy and the myriad weaknesses of the 21st-century male. Considering her controversial and transgressive career in pornographic films, Grey's considered, mature and engaging performance is nothing short of a revelation. On a rainy evening in London we caught up with Sasha to talk about the politics of intimacy...
Dazed Digital: Your character in The Girlfriend Experience appears to be very in control and focused, and yet at one point we see this deep-seated vulnerability. Does she have fairytale beliefs about love that underpin everything?
Sasha Grey: In the context of the scene where she's crying, it was more to do with her dependency on her books. She has this really weak relationship with her boyfriend, and she has these ‘personology’ books that happen to match up her birth date with this random guy that’s interested in seeing her. That sparks something new and she projects this ideal onto him – because the book says it’s true, she thinks it must be fate.
Dazed Digital: Did you have a kind of back-story for her when you formed her character? Did you draw on your own experience?
Sasha Grey: I didn’t draw so much on my own experience. I was fortunate enough to meet with two escorts, one in LA and one in New York. But even before that, I kept a very detailed character journal and I shared that with Stephen. The casting director sent us anonymously written escort blogs that really helped me exaggerate the character and who she was.
John-Paul: What was it like meeting with escorts? Do you think without prostitution and pornography there would be more instances of rape and so on? Or do you think that they actually allow for an arena where those kinds of abuses can take place?
Sasha Grey: I think it depends. You have women on the street who are obviously being abused and they have pimps, I mean all you have to do is watch a few documentaries to see what that’s like and how raw it is. That just perpetuates the negative stereotypes of prostitution, or pimping, or the johns. And then you have the women like Christine – they are like call girls, and they might not have a pimp; they are doing it on their own. I don’t think that those necessarily perpetuate the abuse and the violence, but in the same vein, I don’t think they help stop it at all. But the guys who are paying for the higher echelons don’t beat the girls up – well, that’s generally speaking from the research we did, maybe some politicians are going to go out there and beat some girls up, I don’t know.
John-Paul: The film riffs on that notion that sex is commerce, I guess with your background that’s quite interesting? Do you think emotion can ever really be detached from the sexual act?
Sasha Grey: (Laughs) I definitely think that emotions can be detached from sex and men are a great example of that! I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean, why do men pay for escorts? Because they don’t want that emotional connection, they don’t want that extra baggage.
John-Paul: Do you think in our generation there is a crisis of intimacy? Does the film reflect a social breakdown in relationships between men and women?
Sasha Grey: I don’t think it’s a breakdown, I think it’s actually a good thing. Maybe people are just learning how to grow and be individuals – for a long time it was come home from work, get pregnant, babies, marriage. In that instance, you end up hating the person you are married to because you share no similarities, you have no emotional connection, and you never did. That’s because for one person it was based on family and another it was based on circumstance. But how does the film reflect on relationships between men and women today? Well, Chelsea and Chris are a vain couple, and are always looking for a bigger mirror. They don’t really love each other, they are just there to make each other look good. Does that reflect our society? Maybe on some levels, but not on a huge scale – it probably does more so with people who are in the public eye.
John-Paul: Do you think it’s quite a bleak film in that way?
Sasha Grey: No. This is a film about one person, her experiences and the people she encounters. That's not necessarily a reflection on society, but the money and the politics involved are a huge reflection on society.
John-Paul: There is an intense loneliness about the whole film. Do you think the more people you know the lonelier you can be?
Sasha Grey: Definitely. I’ve met people like that. They have met hundreds of thousands of people and are adored but they are still very lonely because they have never really grown-up, and they haven’t learned how to deal with autonomy, or how to be autonomous.
John-Paul: But is that kind of singularity necessarily a positive thing?
Sasha Grey: I think it’s good to know how to be that way. I don’t think it’s something you consistently have to be. That’s like never letting a child out of the house.
John-Paul: Freud said libido had to be contained within societal constraints, otherwise there would be anarchy, but you’re saying that sexual freedom is the key for a more enlightened sense of being?
Sasha Grey: Well, I just think that it’s 2009 and we’re still so afraid to talk about sex. Ignorance breeds fear and vice versa, and the less you know the more negative things can happen, such as teenage pregnancy or the skyrocketing rate of STDs in young adults. It is about sexual freedom, but it's about more than that – it’s about communication and talking and learning. I think people are so afraid to do that; people are afraid of the truth.
John-Paul: And there is the commerce of emotion in the film as well, because these guys buy into the idea that they are ‘with her’...
Sasha Grey: Yeah. Well, a lot of the johns in the film are actually based on men that these escorts actually talk about; they’re based on real guys. So, yeah, you’re dealing with really high-powered men who deal with hedge funds. They’re CEOs of huge companies, and at the end of the day they’d actually rather pay for something and get instant gratification than seek out a long-term relationship that can provide that for them and more.
John-Paul: What’s the acting experience like between this kind of film and pornography? I mean, this frame is more art house, and is more acceptable, but they are both essentially performances…
Sasha Grey: I think the technical aspects and the people and the crews are all very similar but as far as performances go... I really hate it when people say, ‘Oh this is reality porn!” No. Because any time you put a camera in front of anybody, even if they have never been in front of a camera, they are going to act differently. For me, pornography is performing – it is what it is and I am an extension of myself, I am hyper me, whereas in a film like this, I am doing character research and I am stepping into the shoes of someone else, and I am thinking about my mannerisms.
“For me, pornography is performing – it is what it is and I am an extension of myself, I am hyper me”
John-Paul: Do you think that your background in the porn industry gave you authenticity?
Sasha Grey: Not so much. Because her job is less about the sex, and more about being there to listen to all their problems.
John-Paul: Kind of like a sounding board…
Sasha Grey: Right. One thing that Stephen said though was that my level of sexual confidence is stronger than most young women’s, so I don’t have to think about it. It is second nature to me, it is who I am as a human being. I don’t have to consciously be thinking about it as much as I did with other things that I developed into the character. When I was on-set developing her characteristics and her personality traits, I had to continuously think about those things. In any role an actor takes there is going to be a piece of them, and the piece of me is my demeanour, no... not necessarily my demeanour – my confidence
John-Paul: You’re a musician as well, could you tell us a bit about that?
Sasha Grey: We’re called Atalecine, we had to put an ‘A’ in front because there’s a Christian band called Telacine… no fighting over names! We make experimental death dub noise and were putting out two new 12-inches, one with Dias Records and one with Pendu Sound who we did our first 7-inch with, both Brooklyn-based labels. We had offers to tour this year but my schedule has been too hectic, so hopefully next year we will be able to do that. The fact that the music is so experimental and there’s a lot of tape loops means there’s a lot of things that would probably never be able to play again even if I tried, it’s more about the performance than the music being played.
John-Paul: Are you into minimalist bands like Suicide and Depeche Mode
Sasha Grey: Yeah Suicide, TG, Current 93. I actually did vocals for Tibet a couple months back and I’ll becoming back to London to do a performance with him and the other artists that are on that album as well.
John-Paul: So do you see yourself as blooming from this point and going on to other things?
Sasha Grey: I just want to do everything, I don’t want to put a boundary on anything I do in life and be able to paint my canvas the way I see fit. You tell me no, and I want to do it.
“I just want to do everything, I don’t want to put a boundary on anything I do in life and be able to paint my canvas the way I see fit. You tell me no, and I want to do it”
John-Paul: It’s pretty phenomenal, you’re 21 years old and you’ve got your own production company, you're working with a huge Hollywood director... How did that all pan out for you? Do you have a vision that you aim for or is it more of a random trajectory?
Sasha Grey: I think that now, more than ever, it’s definitely a wave – things come and things go. I do have my set goals but whereas once they were very solidified and specific, I’ve now realised that life changes every day so you have to adapt
John-Paul: Did go to drama school?
Sasha Grey: Yeah…
John-Paul: Then you went into pornography? How did that come about?
Sasha Grey: Acting for me was more of an extra-curricular activity. When I was 12 years old I was kind of a nihilist and my mum said I need to do something – 'If you’re not going to do sports or become a girl scout you’ve got to do something! Get out of my hair for the weekend!''
John-Paul: A nihilist at 12 years old?! That’s pretty incredible...
Sasha Grey: Yeah… Well, my mum said to start acting at school because that way you don’t have to commit to something after school or on the weekends, and that if I did well, she would start putting me in classes.
John-Paul: Do you think it can be a really positive thing to do so much so young, because you learn so much...
Sasha Grey: Yeah, over the past few years my learning curve has been huge and sometimes people say, ‘Don’t you just want to be a normal 21-year-old and go party and have fun?’ No. I mean, why do you think great artists of our time have always said youth is wasted on the young? I don’t want to be an old a person in regret and think I should have done this but I was off being lazy. There are enough mistakes we make as human beings anyway, so let the mistakes be real mistakes not chosen mistakes.
John-Paul: What do you think of men like the guy in the film who really degrades her?
Sasha Grey: I think people like that have too much time on their hands. Their level of self-confidence is so low that they project their issues onto other people.
John-Paul: Have you come across people like that in your previous career? Have you been in situations where you have thought, 'This is awful; I don’t want to be doing this...'
Sasha Grey: No. The business is so small that those situations are very few and far between. If you did have a character like that, word would spread really quickly. Those seedy characters are more in the underbelly, like people in the Mid-West who are shooting illegally, because technically it’s still only legal to shoot in California and New York. Nobody shoots in New York, though. I don’t understand that. So, I think those type of characters tend to exist in the smaller areas where it is not a collective business. I was also lucky enough when I fist got in the business to have a grade-A agent who was like, ‘This person is cool, but if they say do this and you don’t want to, or that they’ll pay you more, just tell them to call your agent.'
John-Paul:: What do you think of the scientology movement in America. Don’t they say everybody has to have missionary all time?
Sasha Grey: Like, why don’t we poke a hole in this sheet and keep it between us?
Dazed Digital: Yeah, that kind of thing, what do you think of all that?
Sasha Grey: I think it’s a shame.
John-Paul: It just occurred to me because I was watching this thing on scientology the other day and they only get people to remain scientologists because they get the dirt on them; if you leave, they know all your secrets, so they have power over you…
Sasha Grey: It’s like Catholicism. Maybe in another 300 years we’ll have a society of scientologists and some little off-shoot that is basically the same thing, because if you think about it, that changed the world instantly. Before Christianity and Catholicism took over, most people were in poly-amorous relationships.
John-Paul: The pagan kind of thing…
Sasha Grey: Yeah, and it’s amazing how christianity essentially changed the world for what seems like forever, but who knows what the next movement will be, because I'm sure there is going to be another one.
John-Paul: What kind of religious background are you from originally?
Sasha Grey: Irish Catholic.
John-Paul: Oh... That's a motherload of guilt working in porn then?
Sasha Grey: Oh yeah, the old Irish family? Definitely. It’s so weird though, because my mum is very Catholic and has all these morals and ideals, but she is also very liberal… which fits perfectly with Catholicism.
In Conversation With Poet Michael Horovitz…
Feature On The Last Poet of The British Beat Movement. First Published in Dazed & Confused Magazine
In a red basement bar in Camden, a frail-looking 74-year-old man in a silver lame smoking jacket takes to the stage. As a camera flashes, he smiles enigmatically and tells the transfixed crowd that he is about to read a poem entitled A Postcard From Ireland. Within seconds a magical transformation has taken place and he is leaping around the bar much like the salmon eluding the fisherman in the poem. He looks less like a pensioner than a silver spinning-top, setting the room ablaze with his jazz-infused cadence and sublime rhythms. The man behind the mic is the flamboyant left-field performance poet Michael Horovitz, a creative dynamo who has spent his life championing the cause of the spoken and written word. “Michael has singlehandedly been responsible for discovering some amazing talents,” says the poet Mahmood Jamal. “He may be the Grandfather of Albion but his search for the new in poetry remains undiminished.”
For over half a century this kazoo-playing Blakean troubadour has been a veritable pied-piper of literary outsiders. In 1959, his final year at Oxford, he founded New Departures, an irregular periodical that was the first to publish the likes of Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs (the very first issue featured first drafts of what would become Naked Lunch). He was instrumental in organising the first International Poetry Incarnation at The Royal Albert Hall – the single largest poetry event ever in Britain – and would tail the 60s with the anthology Children of Albion,
For fifty years, poet Michael Horovitz has championed outsiders and raged against the machine – But when the Chief Policeman stuffed His upturned helmet full of petrol-soaked Korans And placed his own head on the block, Proclaiming himself in thrall To the Gods of Abraham, Isaac and Madonna, The audience was gripped, as by a spell – Discomforts relished now, under the mutual halo Of first class in-crowd membership, For we’d been co-opted – on our mettle To abet the birth of what we sensed Was going to be acclaimed the first Truly revolutionary production In the History of British Drama. (From Theatrical Dream, Wordsounds, 1994) which included early poems by Alexander Trocchi, Tom Pickard and Adrian Mitchell, among many others (consolidated in 1992 with an impressive clutch of younger poets in Grandchildren of Albion).
“Most of the artists I ran with were against war as an enduring solution to any problems, and for free love and the use of recreational drugs but it was becoming clearer that the 60s had left us with not much more than high ideals and bright daydreams”
“Albion was William Blake’s name for the soul of England,” explains Horovitz a few days later at his address off Portobello Road (a flat packed to the rafters with books, manuscripts and newspapers). “England as internationalist; England as a joining of all the nations... as the spiritual Jerusalem. All the Albion anthologies share that Blakean impetus for internationalism.” While such grand achievements in publishing would be enough for most, Horovitz also founded the inimitable Poetry Olympics, an ongoing live poetry event that has included performances from both fledgling voices and the more illustrious likes of Patti Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kylie Minogue and Damon Albarn. “The thing I most admire about Michael is his spirit,” says Albarn, who has contributed mesmerising input to Poetry Olympics SuperJams. “The unique thing about his poetry is the way that it connects the electric to the mystic.”
Much of Horovitz’s poetry is concerned with radical politics, capitalist consumer culture and the machinations of war. He was the youngest of ten children in a family that fled the Holocaust. His father was a respected lawyer in Frankfurt who refused to accept what was happening around him until it was almost too late.
“My father fought for Germany in WWI and received an Iron Cross for bravery,” explains Horovitz. “He was totally plugged into German society. It took one of his clients being illegally arrested and persuaded to hang himself in his cell pre-trial by the SS to bring home to him the irredeemable dead-ends that were under way.” With his father unable to practice as a lawyer in England (though active in brokering deals to transport Jews out of Germany), the family fell on hard times, and some of Horovitz’s formative years were spent dossing in abandoned farmhouses and floodprone cottages in the Thames Valley and Home Counties as bombs rained on London.
“It was almost sort of a happy adventure,” he says. “I was carefully insulated against the reasons we had left Frankfurt. We were very poor so I would shoplift, and my older siblings and I would put on little shows where we would play songs and read poetry for a penny admission. I suppose those were early seeds of the Poetry Olympics troupes.”
Horovitz may have led a gypsy-like childhood but the importance of education was instilled in him very early on, and despite his rebel leanings he graduated from North London’s William Ellis school with sterling grades and won a scholarship to study literature at Oxford. There his love of jazz and William Blake blossomed, as did his political sensibilities and appetite for the poetry of the beats. “I wrote to Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti. Within weeks Ginsberg told me Burroughs was coming to London and asked if I could look after him. Burroughs became a close comrade who helped me print the first issue of New Departures...” At this point, Horovitz breaks into a pitch-perfect impression of the junkie laureate’s drawl – “How are you going to print this, Michael? You don’t seem to have a lot of dough... I better lay some loot on you.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Horovitz developed an interest in drugs, considering the company he was keeping. “After finals, I was staying in a cottage with the sculptor-to-be Bill Tucker. And it was there that I first tried mescaline,” he says wistfully. “Old hippies say if you can remember it you weren’t really there, and it’s certainly difficult to summarise the complexities of a heavy drug trip – the difficulty being that the terms in which the altered state is experienced are not easily translatable back into un-stoned human prose.”
Horovitz headed to London in the early 60s and became a key player in the community of artists, actors and bon-vivants that orbited the hip Soho venues of the time, such as The Establishment Club, Ronnie Scott’s and The Partisan (the infamous cafe in Carlisle Street in which CND meetings and jazz poetry events took place most nights) – hangouts enlightened by the likes of Peter Cook, Joan Littlewood, Lenny Bruce and John Hurt. Within this hedonistic social whirl, Horovitz met his wife-to-be, Frances Hooker, a promising RADA student and exquisite poet. “Frances was in theatre productions with Mike Leigh and John (Hurt), but she became more and more interested in what my friends and I were doing,” says Horovitz who shared a flat with the actress on Greek Street. “Her poetry and her voicings were mind-stilling and utterly at home with Shelley, Kathleen Raine and the classical poets.” Frances Horovitz published six volumes of poetry in her lifetime and was much-loved for her broadcasts of poetry on the BBC. It’s clear when Horovitz talks of his late wife that they had a profound connection. During a brief separation in 1962 (due to Horovitz’s protestations that he wasn’t ready for marriage and parenthood), he found himself catastrophically bereft. “It was a creatively productive period for me but I couldn’t believe she had gone,” he says. “I followed her to Germany and told her I would hope to be a good husband and father if she would still have me.” In spring 1963 they were reunited and Michael spent the following years organising diverse poetry and music happenings, a high point of which was the inarguably epoch-making event later described by Joe Strummer as “the night where you can mark the beginning of the British underground scene”.
“The unique thing about Michael’s poetry is the way that it connects the electric to the mystic” – Damon Albarn
In 1965, hundreds of people stood for hours outside a sold-out Albert Hall muttering disappointedly about missing out on the poetry gig of the century. Inside the legendary king of the beats Allen Ginsberg was reading to an 8,000 strong audience, many of whom would not have been there were it not for Horovitz’s fervent passion for poetry. “By the time Allen took to the stage he was drunk,” laughs Horovitz. “Lots of dope and booze had been laid on for the poets, which they fell upon like starved lions. Allen everything but physically attacked the Scottish poet George Macbeth later on that night for reading a rather mocking parody of Howl entitled Owl. He was shouting, ‘All you British poets are shitty assholes!’ He was typically contrite and apologetic the next day though.” Ginsberg’s opinion of British poets took a very different tone when it came to introducing this affable Jewish lyricist to a New York audience in 1970 as nothing less than a “Popular, experienced, experimental, New Jerusalem, Jazz Generation, Sensitive Bard...”
“I see very little hope in politics. I put my faith in the arts – in music, poetry, painting, in these things coming together and in the communities that surround them. If there were more altruistic writers and artists leading the world, we might benefit from a lot more cultural and socio-political finesse.”
Following the success of The International Poetry Incarnation (filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion) and the 1969 publication of Children of Albion by Penguin Books, Horovitz settled into steady work in the 1970s, lecturing and teaching at Hammersmith and Portsmouth art schools and the Royal College of Art. After the birth of his and Frances’s son Adam, his drug use diminished as his political disaffections increased. “Most of the artists I ran with were against war as an enduring solution to any problems, and for free love and the use of recreational drugs,” he explains. “But it was becoming clearer that the 60s had left us with not much more than high ideals and bright daydreams. Getting high amongst ourselves had done very little to actually change things.”
Horovitz kicked off the 70s by publishing The Wolverhampton Wanderer: An Epic of Britannia, which boasted a cover by Peter Blake and lavish illustrations by both himself and artist-friends including David Hockney, Richard Hamilton and Jeff Nuttall, in celebration of the national game. Impressed by the new voices colouring the folk-rock, punk and reggae movements in the middle of the decade, Horovitz began to assemble the poets that would make up Grandchildren of Albion. He has continued to publish New Departures collections every few years since, in tandem with major live Poetry Olympics confluences, such as the POW!, POP!, POM! and POT! anthologies and festivals. It was the Poetry Olympics Party (POP!) in the Royal Festival Hall (2000), which inspired Clash frontman Joe Strummer to put together his Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros group and album – a record that he would dedicate to Horovitz and Nina Simone. “I was looking for a break in the weather,” Strummer told the Los Angeles LiveDaily at the time. “Poetry Olympics gave me the vibe – there weren’t any walloping drums, road managers or that kind of stuff. That really gave me the feeling of, this is the way to go, let’s relax...”
Horovitz is currently busy putting the final touches to Great-Grandchildren of Albion and continues to gather poets and performers together from all racial and political divides. “His publishing and productions are inclusive of so many world poets, which reflects his inclusive nature,” says his yoga teacher Sara Rossi (Horovitz is still a fit man, as Damon Albarn confirms – “I enjoy playing table-tennis with him the most”). “I love the way he blends the mind and heart of his thoughts without being sentimental, superficial or nostalgic, and without playing to the gallery.”
“Michael remains passionate about presenting all forms of art,” confirms the veteran jazz musician Annie Whitehead who still regularly performs in Horovitz’s William Blake Klezmatrix band. “He’s shambolic, funny, dramatic, crazy, chaotic, brave, maddening... and he’s probably the most determined person I know.”
Perhaps it’s testament to Horovitz’s staying power that his magnum opus, A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth At Nillenium (2007) marks one of his greatest moments in verse – an epic tirade against war and political mendacity and an astute and brilliant reworking of TS Eliot’s 1922 classic, described by DJ Taylor in The Independent as “a deeply felt clarion call from the radical underground”.“The trouble with the political world is you have all these fat-arsed careerists just concerned to hang on to their ill-gotten gains and the philosophies of spin, hype, profiteering and violence which protect them,” says Horovitz. “I see very little hope in politics. I put my faith in the arts – in music, poetry, painting, in these things coming together and in the communities that surround them. If there were more altruistic writers and artists leading the world, we might benefit from a lot more cultural and socio-political finesse. With more ‘values of civilisation’ for real, femina and homo sapiens could still overcome their heartless, mindless and soulless shadow sides, which have so wilfully benighted our planet over the last hundred years.
In Conversation With Photographer Richard Kern
First Published by The Quietus
There are few people who have captured the naked female form in the eye of their lens as much as long-time Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch collaborator Richard Kern, sharp-shooting star of the upcoming Vice-produced documentary Shot By Kern, wherein he travels Europe in search of young girls to shoot in their birthday suits. The Quietus caught up with him at his home in New York to find out how a provocative no-wave film director – who brought us lo-fi celluloid fare such as Fingered, Stray Dogs and You Killed Me First – turned into a polite, self-effacing 55-year-old on a quest to shoot a new kind of beauty (albeit via Hustler shoots, Kenneth Anger conventions and drug-crazed fans with a taste for blood).
John-Paul: What made you want to pursue the life of a photographer?
Richard Kern: I would have to say it was Blow-Up. When I saw that movie as a kid, I thought that it just looked like a really perfect life. I mean, the character was rich, he was driving around doing cool stuff, and he had girls come over that he would shoot.
John-Paul: Did Blow-Up also inspire you to start making films?
Richard Kern: I would love to make a film like that because there is so much thinking going on in that movie – you can actually see it on the actor's faces – but Blow-Up didn't have much to do with my films. My early films were more closely related to Russ Meyer or John Waters, or even the slasher films of the era. I also used to go to as many of Kenneth Anger's film screenings as I could to try and hear him speak, but he never spoke, he would just wander silently around the crowd.
John-Paul: All your films featured some pretty intense people, such as Lydia Lunch and the incredible Lung Leg. What was it like to work with those extreme personalities?
Richard Kern: Lydia was a completely 'take charge' kind of person who would say, 'I want to do this and this... and this!' Fingered was easily the most successful of all those films and that was pretty much just Lydia saying, 'Let's go to California and shoot a film!' That's how it actually got done. She also introduced me to Sonic Youth, bringing me in on the 'Death Valley 69' video to do special effects. Lung Leg was just... well, I had never met anyone like that before. I think I was 30 by then and I had met a lot of people, but I had never met someone as weird as her.
John-Paul: I find Stray Dogs the most bizarre of all your films...
Richard Kern: [Laughs] That was one of the Manhattan Love Suicide series, which were all about getting so hung up on your relationships that you just couldn't do anything else. When you're young you are so overwhelmed with all these emotions that are centred on your relationship – your life at that age is not about what you are doing but about who you are going out with. All the movies in that series were about people who just get so hung up on it all that they kill themselves. When you are older, it seems like the stupidest thing to be suffering so much: to feel that you have to die for love.
John-Paul: You have shot spreads for Hustler in the past. Would you say there is a line to be drawn between pornography and erotic art?
Richard Kern: There's definitely a line. If you go on the Internet and look up porn it's not going to look like my movies or photos, it's going to look like something else, and the people involved are going to be a lot more unattractive. There was a period of about five years when I was shooting for skin-mags. I would go out to Los Angeles and see the LA Hollywood star system and the LA porn star system – two parallel universes that operate side-by-side – and that was just depressing. Lots of the people you come in contact with don't realise that they are making these decisions that are going to determine the rest of their lives. Even the little brush I had shooting stills for magazines still comes back to haunt me. I wouldn't say I regret it, though, because I produced an incredible library of stuff. Even though I am not a big fan of it at this point, I will probably look back at it in twenty years and see some good stuff in there.
John-Paul: Can you tell us a little about your early zine Heroin Addict?
Richard Kern: Well, I put together the zine when I was still young and living in North Carolina. I was listening to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and thinking, 'Wow! That sounds so cool!' So I decided to do this magazine and I think the tagline for it was The Magazine For People Who Are Too Chicken To Do Heroin. Then I moved to New York and saw the real thing, got involved in the real thing, and then got out of the heroin scene.
John-Paul: Why do you think heroin gets such a hold on people?
Richard Kern: I would say it's definitely physiological, and once you get the hook it's tough – you can get heroin out of your system but then this mental thing keeps coming back; this kind of hopeless despair that doesn't go away for a couple of years. That's the part you have to live through.
John-Paul: Have you ever shot anything that you decided was too extreme to show?
Richard Kern: There was once a girl from Tokyo who wrote me and said she wanted to model, and after I replied that I thought she looked okay, she got straight on a plane. When she showed up at my house the next day, I said, 'Wow, you've got a lot of cut marks on your arm,' and she just replied, 'Oh, I just do that sometimes.' I said, 'Well, let me shoot you doing that.' She just started slicing herself up. It was fucking gross, man. I never showed that stuff. She also had this gigantic bag of all kinds of pills with her, and she would be taking like, ten pills at time.
John-Paul: Would you say you were attracted to that kind of energy?
Richard Kern: I am attracted to the weirdness but not to the energy. I fucking hate it. These days, if someone has that kind of tweaked-out druggie energy, I can't even be around them. I'm shooting way more pastoral now. I'm looking more for beauty and nostalgia than those kinds of extremes. I'm reaching for something new that I haven't seen before.
John-Paul: Now you have the Shot By Kern about to be screened over here. Why do you think so many girls were keen to be shot by you for that show?
Richard Kern: I don't know. I think with the documentary, it's maybe just that they want to be on the show. I think women of a certain age are just really interested in trying something new – they want to try something different, just to see if they can do it; it's like that thing of, 'I wanna see if I can bungee jump off a bridge, so I'm gonna try it.' Personally, I would never try it. I would never jump out of an airplane and I would probably never go and model for someone either, but these girls seem to really want to do it.
In Conversation With William Gibson…
First published in Dazed & Confused Magazine upon the publication of Zero History
The author William Gibson has spent the last forty years carving a niche in literature that is unlike any other. He is considered by many to be as important a literary figure as Phillip K Dick and JG Ballard, is widely hailed as the godfather of cyberpunk, and is revered by many of his fans worldwide as nothing less than a proverbial prophet of the information age. In his dystopian and largely futuristic novels, hitmen download dossiers, foreign languages and memories into their cerebal cortex while midwestern lowlifes and urban junkies kickback in surreal and violent gangs. In his latest offering, Zero History, sinister global fashion marketing strategies and the sale of arms collide in a dizzying and hallucinatory kaleidoscopic view of the mendacity at the heart of modern society. Dazed plugged into the mainframe with the legendary writer to talk prophecy, imperialism and the greatest tricks the devil ever pulled.
John-Paul: How much do you think that a writer can inform how a reader reads their work and create a world that's experienced collectively?
William Gibson: That's a really interesting question. I don't know whether it's actually possible to answer. Over the years, I've encountered countless interpretations of my work, and some of them are probably actually pathological. In one sense, you can get so far away from a collective experience that the response is virtually meaningless: I mean, there's always one paranoid schizophrenic who watches Star Wars and understands it in a totally different way. There are also patches of readership that are completely blind to any comic content in the work at all. That happens with the more artistic end of technology people, who just see the whole thing in terms of a model of something groovy that they could build if they only knew a little bit more.
“There's always one paranoid schizophrenic who watches Star Wars and understands it in a totally different way.”
John-Paul: You've been hailed as someone who predicted the information age and our increasing relationship to internet technology – to what degree do you think a writer can be prophetic?
William Gibson: I usually do everything I can to dissuade people from viewing science-fiction writers and other species of futurists as genuinely prescient. You can only extrapolate the future from the best available knowledge of the moment. The Victorians – whose experience of emergent technologies parallels ours in some interesting ways – had so much change going on, and when we look at that era now, we can see that they were in some sort of traumatic shock because their world was changing so quickly. They wound up with these vague but ubiquitous complaints of things like 'railway spine' – you got ‘railway spine’ from going 60 miles an hour on a steam train, but the symptoms of railway spine are basically the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome. Reading Victorian science fiction, you can see they were extrapolating from their own self-knowledge and imagining a future world based on that. If there's anybody around 100 years from now to look back at us, they'll probably have a very similar experience.
John-Paul: I suppose the modern traumatic shock experience is intensified vastly by the possibility of atomic warfare…
William Gibson: What I find remarkable today about atomic history is the extent to which the emotional or psychological reality of the whole Cold War experience has become something that is impossible to convey to anyone who isn't old enough to remember it. There's this huge single fact that dominated every second for decades, it was the biggest fact there was – that the world could end instantly any moment. Now we've moved into some different modality: we're not in the same psychological moment, plus we have other sorts of doom that we can worry about. If we really believed that nuclear war was constantly imminent now, we wouldn't be worried about global warming.
John-Paul:Another difference is that in the Victorian era you had colonialism and wars based on political ideologies, but now wars are based on religion, do you think that takes everything to a psychotic level?
William Gibson: I think we've gone old school with the religious war thing. The thing with the religious war idea is that in asymmetric warfare the little guy is really little and the big guy is really big: the only way the little guy can hope to score is to induce the big guy to shoot himself in the foot. Al Qaeda and various other wings of the franchise don't have a brand if they don't have a religious war – it’s what they're selling on the street, and the fascinating thing has been watching various elements in the West buy into that idea, and go, 'Yes, it's a religious war!' Whenever that happens I'm sure that guys in the back of a cave in Afghanistan start high-fiving one another because it's reinforcing their brand.
John-Paul: Do you consider the United States to be an imperialist power? Even the Abraham Lincoln memorial has the Roman fasces on the arms of the seat,,,
William Gibson: It is in a sense, but it's not a classic imperialist power – it's kind of a modern version. I wouldn't put too much weight on their use of symbolism, though, because they were basically hicks: it just looked cool. They didn't have those columns and such because they embodied empire, they had them because the Greeks had them and that was what you wore to be taken seriously. It's kind of like scooter guys in Japan wearing Hells Angels colours – you get very far from the original impulse.
“I think one result of globalism will be that over a couple of hundred years most people in the world will end up looking more like other people in the world”
John-Paul: Do you think the projections of beauty perpetuated the fashion industry are going to cause huge divides in society in terms of biogenetics in the future? In that situation you might have people who obviously have money with have access to Dolce & Gabana eyes or Gucci eyebrows or whatever, and then you might have a sub-strata of people whowould have no access to that kind of thing...
William Gibson: I would imagine that there would also be a goth quarter – people walking around with enormous tiger eyes and things, then there'd be the 'emo' quarter where everybody's kind of vague and anonymous and doesn't make eye contact. What I always assumed, and it's kind of in the background of my first three novels, is that the result of really ubiquitous plastic surgery would be that people would wind up looking exactly alike. But then you would get the outsiders, who would want to look like something else. I think one result of globalism will be that over a couple of hundred years most people in the world will end up looking more like other people in the world – the variety of humanity that we take for granted is the result of old-fashioned geography and the inability to travel over long distances.