Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 17)


"He can walk out any time, any time he wants to walk out - that's fine."

"He can walk out any time, across the sand..."

"Into the sea..."

"Into the brine."

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Anger Is An Energy - John Lydon


John Lydon's come out with so many good lines in His songs over the years that it's hard to choose which one might be His best. Howard Devoto once stated that what John writes is sheer poetry and I almost agree. I mean, it's not consistently sheer poetry by any means but He's had his moments. For John Himself, 'Anger is an energy' is possibly the most powerful one-liner He's ever come up with, hence using it as the title for His autobiography.
Autobiography? John Lydon? Haven't we been here before with 'Rotten - No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs'? Well, yes we have though according to John that one wasn't so much an autobiography but more of a setting the record straight following Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming'. Whatever. 
But who in 2015 would think there was anything left to say about the Sex Pistols/John Rotten/Lydon/PIL, etc, that hasn't already been said? Well, obviously John Lydon for one and you know what? He's not entirely wrong. Anger Is An Energy - My Life Uncensored contains a fair few tasty nuggets, morsels, insights and revelations that they make it a joy to read; the only problem being that it's sometimes hard to decipher the truth from the fiction, the opinion, and the revisionism. But who am I to argue because the bottom line of it is that John was there and I wasn't. Hundreds of other people have given their versions of events regarding the Pistols, Punk and the subsequent fallout and why take their versions as the truth and not His?

So what do we get? For starters we find out about John's musical influences and some of them come as a surprise, to me at least. According to John, Status Quo are "Fantastic rock. Wonderful, brilliant, beautiful stuff." He also adored Alvin Stardust, David Essex's 'Rock On', and Gary Glitter's 'Rock And Roll (Part 1 & 2)'. He also likes Arthur Brown, Can, Faust, Nico, Dr Feelgood, the Kinks, a lot of reggae, and Duran Duran. That's right, Duran Duran. In addition He loves Ted Hughes and Oscar Wilde, and has read Dostoevsky.
Apparently Mick Jones of The Clash is "a lovely person, really warm", Paul Simonon is "a posh kid, from a good background", Chrissie Hynde is "a very important person in the world", Robert Plant is "a great fella", and Keith Levene is "a cunt".
Guests who turned up at His house in Gunter Grove included Joan Armatrading, Althea and Donna, composers John Barry and Stomu Yamashta, and Les Mckewan of the Bay City Rollers.
Whilst working briefly at Sex, John sold newscaster Reginald Bosanquet a skin-tight rubber top. If you know who Reginald Bosanquet is and know what he looked like - can you imagine? The original idea for the Anarchy tour was to pair up with a circus and tour that way. Richard Branson wanted John to be the lead vocalist of Devo. Whilst involved in initial preparations for the Sex Pistols movie, John put forward Graham Chapman from Monty Python to direct it (as opposed to Malcolm McLaren's first choice of Russ Meyer). John auditioned for the lead role in Quadrophenia which in the end, of course, went to Phil Daniels. And as of 2013, John now has American citizenship.
According to Sid Vicious, Vivienne Westwood was a "turkey neck", and Paul Cook "an albino gorilla". Sid's mum would give her son devilled kidneys sprinkled with heroin; and when Nancy Spungeon was found murdered at the Chelsea Hotel, Mick Jagger got his lawyers sent in to protect Sid. And on that subject: John suggests Nancy was killed by New York drug dealers to whom Sid owed money.

Is any of this of any importance? Is anyone interested? Listen: The Sex Pistols were a bright, shining beacon of hope that offered inspiration and something a whole lot better to anyone desiring it. "I want more life, fucker." said Rutger Hauer's replicant android in the film Blade Runner. The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock offered more of everything - life included. The Pistols blew a hole in British culture and in the created space the Punk banner was raised. In towns and cities across the country whole armies of little Oliver Twists' stood up and poured into that space, all with one thing in common: They wanted more.
"We opened all the doors - and the windows." said Sid Vicious, and he wasn't wrong. By 1979, however, Sid was dead and the original Punk explosion had been accommodated, contained and diluted leaving only sparks and streamers descending from the skies and seeds drifting through the breeze. But what fires those sparks did light and what strange and brilliant fruit did those seeds yield.

Tittle-tattle regarding such things as Sid's mother putting heroin on his dinner is, of course, totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things but the importance of the Pistols and Johnny Rotten upon Britain and indeed many other parts of the world should not be denied.
Without his fellow Sex Pistols, John would have been just another misfit roaming the streets but without John the Sex Pistols would have been just another rock'n'roll band. Without John and His Sex Pistols no band of any substance or merit over the last few decades would ever have existed, or at least not in the same form. But then without His working class origins and all the influences upon Him, John would never have been the same person, which is why it's interesting to read who and what did influence Him - including even Alvin Stardust.
"You don't write a song like 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race." said John "You write a song like that because you love them and you're fed up with them being mistreated." And for His troubles John suffered rebuke, hostility, condemnation, physical attacks and police raids. At times it must have felt as though the whole world was against Him.
John doesn't owe us anything but we all owe John. He's earned the right to do absolutely anything He chooses and not only does that include reforming the Pistols to make money but also going on I'm A Celebrity and doing ads for Country Life butter. Is anyone so pure and effected so much change for the good upon the world that they are in any position to criticise Him? I think not.

There are bits in Anger Is An Energy which are really good such as when John's talking about being dropped by A&M, instigated by Herb Alpert - the 'A' in A&M - who sent a communiqué from LA to the UK label's office saying he didn't want such undesirables as the Sex Pistols on his label. Years later when John's living in Malibu, who might His neighbour be? None other than Herb Alpert. "There's a difference in the size of our respective properties, let me tell you. He has half a mountain." John writes "But I know it more than bugs him that I live here. Talking with the neighbours, they've told me so. Well, that's your comeuppance, you fuck."
Some bits are really moving, particularly when He talks about the death of His father: "At dad's funeral, I was borderline passing out with tears, which I never did with my mum. I was expected to give something of a speech. I couldn't, I just couldn't. Words fail you. I walked up when I felt like it and I leant into the coffin, and I kissed my dad's dead body on the cheek. I looked down and went, 'That's me dad!' and broke apart. I missed him so bad."
And then there are bits which are the Johnny Rotten we all know and love such as when talking about the Establishment lining up against Him during the Pistols' heyday: "Why aren't you (the Establishment) supplying us with jobs and a decent lifestyle, you fucks? You're going to tell me to shut up because I'm finding the economic situation you put the country in a problem? And using that very thing that they just love to espouse in the West, democracy! Ooooh - the right to say what you have to, to stand up and be counted. Wow. Didn't I blow a hole in that bubble. And seriously, a BIG hole in that bubble. I found that to be an absolute non-truth. I wouldn't tolerate it. And still won through. So there you go, boys and girls of the world, Johnny did his bit for ya. Fucking say thanks, cunts."

Down here in Exmouth, Anger Is An Energy is not only on sale at WH Smith but is also available from the public library, and copies are even now popping up in charity shops. It's ubiquitous and I can only presume this is a good thing? But let's keep this in perspective because at the end of the day it is simply an autobiography, nothing more and nothing less. The person it's about, however, is one in a million.
John Serpico

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 11)


Not so much street art Exmouth style but art all the same and in Exmouth. Up on top of Orcombe Point at the western end of the Jurassic Coast you'll find a compass rose near to the cliff edge pointing to Woodbury Common, Sandy Bay, Dawlish Warren and the 250 million years old Triassic rocks out on the sea bed. 
And when standing there taking in the view what song might spring to mind? Why, Jah Jah Call You by World Domination Enterprises, of course.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley


Is life an illusion and love but a dream? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is art subjective, or objective? Is art a mirror? Or a hammer? Upon such complexities I sometimes ponder. What makes for a legendary band? And what makes for a classic book?
At this moment, that latter question is the one I'm asking myself.

Every once in a while a list is published of 'The 100 Greatest Books Ever' or 'The Best 100 Novels', or there's such books as '100 Books To Read In a Lifetime'. These lists always contain the most obvious books such as Ulysses or Moby Dick both of which, as examples, I would heartily agree belong in the top 10. Ulysses, in fact, often makes the number 1 spot though more often than not with the proviso of 'begun by many, finished by few'. I happen to have read Ulysses twice now and it gets my vote too for being the greatest of books. There are some, however, that appear in these lists that I'm in complete disagreement with. On The Road by Jack Kerouac? It's good but it's not his best. Finnegan's Wake by Joyce? Life just isn't long enough. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad? Very debatable. And then there's Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Having just read it, I must say that frankly I'm not impressed. I dig Huxley's groove, as his acolytes might have said in the Sixties but in no way is Brave New World one of the greatest books ever.
For anyone not au fait with the story, it depicts a future society where everybody's happy; this state having been achieved through the advancement of and domination by the forces of capitalism and science. People are no longer given birth to but instead are hatched in test tubes then during infancy inculcated through subliminal messaging virtues such as passive obedience, material consumption and unrestricted copulation. In later adult life the population is kept occupied by sports, mild labour and mindless entertainment, and kept under sedation by a freely distributed drug by the name of soma.
We are introduced to Lenina and Bernard who in their own particular ways and for their own particular reasons are not quite content with the ways things are. Together they visit what is called a Savage Reservation in New Mexico; a place where primitive civilization still exists and where people still marry, give birth, die of old age, and use such antiquated terms such as 'mother' and 'father'. There they encounter a savage called John and his mother, Linda, who are brought back to London. The mother ends up strung out on soma before dying, whilst John ends up as a freak to be gawked at until after being unable to take any more, hangs himself.

This is, of course, just a brief synopsis of the story-line and isn't really doing it justice because the true point of Brave New World as I see it, is for it to be a vehicle for ideas. And what are those ideas? Well, I presume Huxley knew what he wanted to say when he started writing the book but a lot of it feels as though it was being made up on the hoof. It's as though he took bits and pieces from here, there and everywhere, and tried to knot them all together into a coherent whole. He didn't exactly fail in his task but when main characters are given names such as Marx, Bakunin, and Lenin it just comes over as a bit... ham-fisted.

Huxley depicts a future society where the human spirit has been extinguished and where the control systems that maintain the staus quo are all that matters. He also depicts a savage society where science doesn't exist and the human spirit is apparently unfettered. The problem, however, is that both societies are shown to be just as bad as one and other. There's a false dichotomy between them and presumably this was fully intentioned - to present both worlds in the same dim light? So, on the one hand Brave New World warns against the danger of a totally controlled society yet also despairs at an uncontrolled society.
Now, in a foreword written 14 years after the first publication of Brave New World, Huxley considered adding a depiction of a third type of society to his story; one where economics would be decentralist, science would serve rather than dictate, and politics would be Kropotkinesque. An anarchist society, essentially. He obviously chose not to do this but I rather wish he had because if Brave New World is a vehicle for ideas then perhaps it would have done away with any ambiguity about those ideas.

There are a lot of readers who like Brave New World precisely because of the ambiguity of it but for me, all it does is to shift attention away from what the book is meant to be about and on to the author himself and where he's coming from. And of course, where Huxley's coming from is the public school education system of the early 1900s - Eton, to be precise. And however much of a freethinker Huxley presented himself as, he would still have been inculcated with all the attitudes and indeed, prejudices that would have come from such an education. You don't have to look far into the book either to see these attitudes on full display, particularly in the hierarchical make-up of his controlled society where there is a class of Alpha-Plus intellectuals who are bred to govern and a mass of Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons bred for menial labour.

When first published in 1932, Brave New World was viewed as being prophetic and has been deemed as one of the most influential and important books of the 20th century. I've no argument with it being prophetic as indeed, Huxley has in many ways been proven right - more so, in fact, than George Orwell in his own particular vision of the future, 1984.
Brave New World, however, is now out of date because social control systems (rather by accident than by design, I feel) have superseded anything Huxley envisaged and we are now (or at least those in the First World) in what is essentially a virtual state. We are removed from what might actually be reality and are living and thinking in a virtual reality where our opinions, thoughts, ideas and perhaps even our dreams are not our own but simply versions of others. And when I say 'virtual reality', I don't mean as simulated by computers or the Internet but as in shadows of the form and substance of life itself, those shadows being far more complicated than they ever were in Huxley's day.
I suspect that some years after Huxley wrote Brave New World, he himself began to realise that his book was a mere tinkering around the themes he was exploring - simply an entertaining sideshow; which would explain his growing interest in mescaline, leading to him writing what is probably his most famous essay, The Doors of Perception.

Compared to say, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Brave New World has now lost its power and I suspect also that if Huxley were around today then he too would refute the idea that it's one of the greatest books ever, and that puts me in good company. Me, the uneducated lout from a council estate in Bristol, and Huxley; a polymath of the highest order and one of the greatest British thinkers of all time....
I may even have one up on Huxley because I've got a sense of humour and as far as I know, Huxley was never really renowned for his jokes.

I must admit, however, that until reading Brave New World I never realised that it took its title from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: "How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it." And also that the song Everybody's Happy Nowadays by the Buzzcocks was derived from it....
John Serpico

Monday, 2 February 2015

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 16)


As is my wont, I sometimes wander lonely as a cloud to the end of Exmouth beach, past the sign that says 'Need to talk? Phone the Samaritans' and up onto the cliff edge. There I gaze out to sea and watch the gulls gliding, the cormorants diving, and the waves crashing.
On my latest excursion as I peered down into the abyss I saw drawn upon the sand of the beach far below a large heart with the words 'Ed + Beth' inside. And I pondered upon it because I knew that come the evening when the tide came in that declaration of love would be washed away and be gone forever. Those grains of sand arranged to form a symbol and two words would be dissolved and swallowed up by the sea and nobody apart from Ed and Beth would ever know they were once there. That is, if Ed and Beth were actually there together when the message was drawn? If it was just one of them alone there on that beach who had drawn it then it would of course be just them alone who would ever know. But would that make the declaration any less valid? Would it make it more poignant? A boy or a girl alone declaring their unrequited love for another only for it to be washed away by the sea?

So I took a photo for posterity.

I don't know who Ed and Beth are but their declaration of love is now on the World Wide Web for potentially all to bear witness to. I don't imagine for one moment they will ever know it's here but then that doesn't really matter because if nothing else it makes for a nice picture. And that's better than nothing. And any declaration of love in this world - if even only fleeting before being swept away - is also better than nothing.

As is said: It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.