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VOICES GREEN AND PURPLE: Psychedelic Bad Craziness and the Revenge of the Avant-Garde

I am about to tell a tale in which the 1960s with its drug panics can at times look remarkably like the 1920s when hysteria about cocaine and opium was inextricably intertwined with racist fantasies. In his anti-drugs diatribe Turn Me On Man (1) issued in 1966, middle-aged journalist Alan Bestic repeatedly slams recreational drug use for breaking down class barriers. This slippage between race and class bigotries is telling: what both reveal is the (petit) bourgeoisie reacting with fear to a world that is rapidly changing. A key factor in shaping both the twenties and the sixties were the inter-imperialist wars that preceded them. In some ways the sixties didn't really begin until 1963, and if one takes this view then the decade trundled on at least until the effects of the oil crisis really kicked in around 1974. In other ways, the sixties seem to have started as early as 1942. Spectacular image is one (anti)-matter – what actually went on in the sixties and seventies is often both more interesting and more complex. To date most assessments of the psychedelic sixties have been curiously one-sided and over-influenced by the most superficial media representations of that decade. That said, the Spectacle must necessarily be grasped dialectically, since the media not only reports and distorts events, but in doing so also helps shape them. What follows is at least partially history from below, and as well as published records I've also drawn on the memories of individuals who were involved in what I'm attempting to reconstruct (which is psychedelia in motion rather a freezing of the phenomena for posterity, which means accepting that it overflows canalized genres such as music and the visual arts). Likewise, living memory tends to be influenced by media representations, and is not necessarily any more reliable than newspaper accounts of events.

Psychedelia is a coming together of different social experiences. Since psychedelia is very closely associated with the 'counterculture' of the middle-to-late sixties, its 'routes' can be tracked back through the various 'beatnik' precursors to the 'hippies'. In the early sixties the separations between the various cultural formations that fed into hippie were not as clear-cut as certain cultural historians, and particularly those interested in 'mod' phenomena, tend to assert. (2) Given that the tangled roots of the recent psychedelic revival can be traced back through both surrealism and the Beats, a key transitional figure is Robert Frank. His photographs of London in 1951–52 simultaneously hark back to surrealism and forward to beatnikery. Frank was fascinated by the extremes of the English class system and his portraits of bankers with their bowler hats and rolled-up umbrellas bring to mind the subject matter of Magritte's paintings. But the fog of London simultaneously renders the city mysteriously psychedelic, particularly in works such as that of a working-class boy with ghostly figures in the misty background immediately behind him. (3) Frank’s early fifties imagery, particularly future icons such as his blurred London buses, (4) is developed further in Erwin Fieger’s extremely painterly 1962 colour photographs of the British capital. (5) David Mellor says of this work by Fieger:

The cover of Colin MacInnes' City of any Dream (1962) shows a cloud of granular red which resolves into a bus. This photograph and others in the book by Erwin Fieger anticipated the hallucinated grain of the insubstantial metropolitan fragments in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, Blow Up (1967). (In Blow Up this topic besides being attached to the delusions of photography, found itself figured by Antonioni through the display of Ian Stephenson's diffused, granular surfaced paintings in the artist’s studio next to the photographer's). (6)

The confluence of influences at work here is complex, with Antonioni's portrait of swinging London providing an intriguing jumping-off point. While the new wave's use of outdoor Parisian locations provided a template for the cinematic depiction of swinging London, the French directors who belonged to this movement in their turn owed a huge debt to Italian neorealism. While the earlier Italian neorealist cinema had focused on poverty and increasingly favoured the use of amateur actors, the new wave adopted documentary conventions from this source but as far as possible attempted to pack their films with stars and the joys of conspicuous consumption. Emphasizing youth and with a very Gallic take on American culture, the new wave appeared innovative as far as commercial cinema is concerned but its work comes across as superannuated when compared to those avant-garde filmmakers associated with lettrism who were active in Paris during the early fifties (and who also provide one of the numerous links between surrealism and psychedelia). New wave movies also provided a fashion template for London's proto-mods (just as Colin MacInnes' 'fictional' appropriations from the life of Terry Taylor gave early sixties London teenagers notions of cool to aspire to). Many girls on the early mod scene cut their hair short to look like the American actress Jean Seberg who starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature A Bout De Souffle (1959), or attempted to emulate the even more striking haircut of Anna Karina in Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962).

The fluidity of A Bout De Souffle marks it as a precursor to sixties psychedelia although it is of less importance than the photos and films of Robert Frank or the writing and art work of Henri Michaux. The individualist anarchism of the early Godard was an ideology which appealed to many modernist boys who modelled themselves stylistically on actors like Jean Paul Belmondo by insisting that their jacket shoulders should be unpadded. Likewise, in an attempt to look different in London, they also acquired from their French film star heroes the habit of sticking Gitane cigarettes in the corners of their mouths and riding scooters. Art students such as Graham Hughes from St Martin's would actually sit in the cinema with a sketch pad on which they would record details such as the width of jacket lapels and how shirt collars were styled. (7) Drugs already played a major role within this scene in the form of both amphetamines and 'charge' (reefers), the later being much in evidence in lost classics of London youth culture such as Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change. (8) In an even more overtly commercialized form and as exported through the 'British Invasion' bands spearheaded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the London mod style of the early sixties exerted an influence on the evolution of the American as well as the English hippie scenes (which were a continuation of mod as well as a reaction against it).

Returning to Godard, it is hardly surprising that he was dismissed as an imbecile by many of those from the avant-garde milieus connected to lettrism. While it is obviously an understatement to observe that this filmmaker's work will be found ideologically distasteful by anyone involved in socially progressive struggles, there is still much about commercial cinema to be learnt from Godard, no matter how obnoxious one finds his use of anarcho-Bolshevism to self-consciously construct himself as a paradigmatically bourgeois figure, albeit one much given to puffing himself up with pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric. Godard's status as an idiot-savant is something that the otherwise pertinent critiques made of him by bolder and more iconoclastic cultural-cum-political figures such as Guy Debord can on occasion obscure. The ardour of Debord and his associates on the subject of Godard stems directly from the fact that Jean-Luc was providing the bourgeoisie with a middlebrow commercialization of avant-garde cinema. Indeed, the invocation of the penal code during the discussion of prostitution in Vivre Sa Vie recalls Debord's use of similar material on the soundtrack of his 1952 feature length anti-classic Screams In Favour of De Sade. The key difference is that Godard provides audiences with images of a prostitute at work to accompany his use of this verbal material, whereas in a classical avant-garde gesture of iconoclasm, Debord has no images whatsoever in his movie, opting instead for alternations between black and clear celluloid stock to produce variable periods of darkness and light.

While lettrist cinema employed boredom as a formal element to provoke audiences out of their role as passive spectators, Godard's more restrained use of such devices was intended merely to signal his aesthetic-cum-formalist concerns. Thus what ill-informed film critics laud as Godard's innovations are at times no more than a recuperation of lettrism. At the end of the day what Godard has done is carve out a niche for himself within the realm of commercial cinema by appealing to audiences who wish to avoid challenging material while simultaneously being flattered that their tastes are sophisticated. It is precisely because Godard's work is infinitely superior to that of Truffaut that he provides the best illustration of the aesthetic and political limitations of New Wave cinema. Indeed, while Godard has produced a series of entertaining diversions, his efforts fail to match the best achievements of more highbrow commercial directors let alone the lowbrow excesses of exploitation cinema.

To return to Vivre Sa Vie, it features a scene in which the lead character Karina has a bar room discussion with the philosopher Brice Parain about truth and the limits of language. Although Parain and Karina's encounter is amusing, it singularly fails to move beyond sparkling chatter into an exploration of the dialectics of silence and exhaustion through which modernism was reinvented as post-modernism via the endless restaging of the death of the avant-garde; and this is exactly what Ingmar Bergman achieved in his 1966 feature Persona when he cast a silent Liv Ullmann opposite an extremely talkative Bibi Anderson. For very different reasons, Jens Jorgen Thorsen’s 1970 marriage of exploitation and art house cinema Quiet Days in Clichy also completely surpasses anything produced by Godard. Thorsen, like Godard, was very much aware of the lettrists and their cinematic legacy. Indeed, Thorsen's 1964 short The Situationist Life contains explicit denunciations of Debord, and his eclectic mix of a commercial appropriation of various forms of avant-garde cinema with extreme bad taste in his Henry Miller adaptation offer a heady psychedelic challenge to bourgeois notions of decorum – even if the revolutionary credentials of such provocations are questionable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly it is exploitation movie-makers rather than the new wave who provide the best commercial parallels with the expanded cinema of the lettrists. In the instance of someone like director William Castle not only are there interludes in his film The Tingler (1960) during which the screen is blank, he also wired up seats in cinemas to provide selected viewers with mild shocks at key moments. Audiences were advised to scream as loudly as possible if they felt fear, and in this exploitation shocker Vincent Price enacts what many believe is the first fictional on-screen depiction of an acid trip. Despite lacking direct references to drugs such as LSD, other Vincent Price movies such as The Masque of the Red Death (1964), directed by Roger Corman, are even more psychedelic than The Tingler. The Masque of the Red Death was shot on scene docks at Elstree in England after a co-production deal was struck between Corman’s American production company AIP and their UK distributor Anglo-Amalgamated. The film, with its colour-coded chamber sequences and dazzling camerawork, owes both its power and its psychedelic credentials to Nicolas Roeg's cinematography. Roeg went on to co-direct the drugs and psychedelic sex anti-classic Performance (1970) with Mick Jagger in the lead role, while Corman would later direct The Trip (1967). Although it was made after Hallucination Generation, The Weird World of LSD and Chappaqua, The Trip was the first movie with acid as its central subject matter to enjoy mainstream cinema distribution (in the USA that is, not in the UK where it was banned). The influence of the new wave shows more obviously in The Trip than in most exploitation movies. Written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, it sets out to depict the hallucinations one might experience during an acid trip, employing tricks such as the repetition of sequences of imagery to achieve its psychedelic effects.

To touch again on the (un)original new wave, it should go without saying that Godard's buttoned-up rationalism not only left him susceptible to anarchism, it simultaneously meant he was always and already incapable of achieving the disorientating effects of Jean Cocteau in Orphée (1949) or Alain Resnais in Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year At Marienbad (1961). The way in which Resnais deals with time allows us to enter the oceanic, thereby providing a revelation of the true nature and scope of the unconscious, a sudden shift away from the standpoint of the atomized individual to the point of view of the entire cosmic movement: a 'timeless psychedelic moment' in which the universe is experienced in the act of waking up and becoming aware of itself. Resnais' film Marienbad is invoked in Gerald Laing's photograph London Artists in Paris (1963), which was taken during the Paris Biennale des Jeunes. The setting and the staged poses of the subjects recall Marienbad, but at the same time there seems to be a process of freeing up going on. A number of those in the picture are now rather famous: David Hockney, Joe Tilson, Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Derek Boshier. However, it is the little-known sculptor Francis Morland who provides the most interesting link to the drug scene. This was a key year for Morland since he moved from working in bronze to using fibreglass finished in coats of cellulose paint. Three years later, when writing about Morland’s contribution to The New Generation 1966 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in Studio International, P. Procktor announced:

Comparing the new work with the old there can be few transformations of style more radical. The break is complete. These large entwining serpentine shapes relate to the work of other sculptors in this idiom, speak in a sculptural language which is familiar because it is to a certain extent a shared language. What interests me is not the grammatical principles of the language nor who invented them, one can safely assume that Morland did not, but what this language is used to say. Kiss, the only title of the four pieces in the exhibition which has a specific human connotation, provides a clue to all. The twisting and entwining shapes are metaphors of the body, headless, limbless, featureless, but miming the poses of relaxation or sexual intercourse like gigantic strings of macaroni... (9)

Morland, who graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1956 and taught at St Martin’s School of Art from 1963 until the mid-sixties, went on to form with Keith Wilkinson the first British team of drug smugglers to use yachts as the mainstay of their scamming operations. Until Morland and Wilkson were busted, their crew (which included individuals close to Fairport Convention although no actual members of this folk-rock outfit) was extremely successful and their scams were imitated by a number of later hash brokers including Howard Marks. Freed on bail after his first bust, Morland immediately organized a drugs run to the USA and found himself jailed in Vermont before having to face the charges hanging over him in England. His official art career pretty much ended with the sixties, although he was still showing as late as 1968 when his monumental work 8 10 12 (1966) was included in the exhibition New British Sculpture organized by the Arnolfini Gallery at outdoor locations in Bristol. Apart from boats, one of the ways in which Morland smuggled hash across borders was to seal it inside his large fibreglass sculptures, from which the dope could be easily retrieved when it reached its destination. (10)

Like Morland, Terry Taylor is another figure who has been treated as relatively minor within the history of culture and yet played a key role in London's sixties drug culture. Described by Tony Gould as ‘unconventionally successful’ (11), Taylor was for a time chiefly of interest to cultural historians because characters in the Colin MacInnes novels Absolute Beginners and Mr Love and Justice had been based to a greater or lesser extent upon him. In 1956 MacInnes introduced Taylor to photographer Ida Kar and he became her lover for a few years. Karr's husband Victor Musgrave, who ran Gallery One, was apparently very happy with the arrangement. Simultaneously Taylor worked as Kar's photographic assistant and she encouraged him to paint. (12) After getting his first drug novel published in 1961, Taylor went to Tangier to work on a follow-up. While away he smoked a lot of weed and hung out with a variety of fellow psychedelic explorers including William Burroughs (author, it should not be forgotten, of The Yage Letters as well as Junky). I can at this point allow the American poet Johnny Dolphin to take up the story:

One day a curved-nose, thatched-haired tall thin Englishman about thirty, coiled beside me and ordered a mint tea [...] After ordering the mint teas, Terry brought out his kief bag. He began deftly and with luminous attention to separate seed from the dried leaves. The seeds grew in size for me until they became as large as peas. He worked like a goldsmith. Then he laid out two pipes, wooden, curved, painted. I had gone on two peyote trips and for seven days had done a small amount of hashish, but never before had I seen anyone who knew what to do, exactly. I abandoned myself to a master... (13)

In his memoir Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, Dolphin goes on to describe how he got heavily involved in a magic group formed by Terry Taylor and various Berbers which met to materialize thought forms:

Each one would concentrate, projecting his inner scene. The one with the most power would make the scene that would take over the night in the Magic Room. That one would have made the greatest magic. I learned how to measure power. Terry, lean, deft and poised, prepared the kief from the dried plants, carefully selected from the Berber women’s stocks. Then he would pass out the majoom cookies [...] We sat backs to the wall in silence focussing on making the scene appear. In one I heard Walid, the mute, screaming, ‘Let me out! Let me out!’ His eyes burned like a man newly sentenced to life imprisonment. Terry and Hamid became one glance which became tensile, material, then alive, as their two I’s danced out upon that high wire that their live bodies lavished their energies upon creating and maintaining. Lita and Mark, two bright six year old Jewish kids from Shtetl immigrants, played pat-a-cake on the sidewalks of the Lower East Side. My head rolled off my right shoulder and sat on the floor, taking it all in while I watched myself become a contemplative head with no body to care for or react to. This scene had not been the one I projected nor did anyone else claim it. The great magic scenes came from an undiscoverable magician... (14)

These scenes were destined to be repeated in London, albeit with a different group of ‘initiates’. Intimating a little of what was to come, Dolphin writes:

Terry labored for the perfect pipe of kief and the perfect cookie of majoom. Terry labored to become the perfect observer. Terry got the unreliable cheap Chinese batteries that did enable us to hear what he said we must hear by candlelight, the Beatles, and Ginsberg doing Howl. Terry wanted to turn all London on and later helped start the process with street acid together with his tall, thin-nosed call-girl friend from Chelsea. Terry could talk about the fine points of sentence structure and the power of paragraphs. He had written a novel of which he had no copy available and had been in prison in England once on a drug count. (15)

In 1964 Taylor introduced my mother Julia Callan-Thompson to Detta Whybrow, the woman Dolphin describes as Taylor's 'call-girl friend', and with others they formed a magic group in west London. Fuelled by grass alone the attempts of this coven to materialise thought forms appear to have borne some strange results but when they came to be powered by LSD their activities immediately took off into another stratosphere. At that time Detta Whybrow had a john who was a chemist and I've been told that through a combination of her charms and various weird rituals, this boffin was persuaded make acid. There may be some mythologising going on here, while Detta does seem to have suggested to the john he manufacture acid for her friends to deal, the lure of easy money was probably enough to convince him it was a good idea. That said, when the cops raided the two acid laboratories set up by Victor James Kapur, they also recovered a huge stash of photographic negatives showing him having sex with Whybrow and various other women; agreeing to pose for these shots could have been the means by which Whybrow's circle got the chemist to commit to manufacturing LSD for them. Terry Taylor informed me recently that at first he thought Detta had gone crazy when she told him she had a john who'd make acid for her. Street sources say the acid was extremely pure and potent; the English equivalent of the legendary Orange Sunshine.

In November 1967, after a series of police raids across north and west London aimed at smashing an LSD manufacturing and distribution operation, Detta Whybrow then aged 39 was one of ultimately nine individuals hauled up before the beak at Bow Street Magistrates’s Court over drug offences. Hauled in alongside Detta was her 29 year-old boyfriend of the time, John Sherwood Pendry. Their chemist Victor James Kapur, who was just a year younger than Detta, was given a nine year stretch at the Central Criminal Court at the end of May 1968 for manufacturing LSD. Amazingly, Whybrow got off with two years probation. A 54 year-old antique dealer Harry Nathan of Chelsea copped the main blame for overseeing the distribution of the acid and was jailed for seven years; my view is that Nathan was a very minor player and Detta was the only individual who played a key role in the acid distribution to be arrested. A 31 year-old dispenser Mohammed Hassan Ally who assisted Kapur got 21 months. The authorities claimed the LSD involved had a black market value of a quarter of a million pounds.

For my mother, Detta and most of the others involved in Taylor's London magic group, these visionary sessions with LSD proved to be extremely intense and so they started to damp things down between their occult experiments by smoking a bit of heroin. In a number of instances this chasing of the dragon eventually escalated into intravenous drug use. My mother made her first attempt at coming off heroin in 1967, and although there were periods when she didn’t use smack, she suffered relapses into addiction until she died in 1979. Detta, I understand, succeeded in getting off and staying off heroin some time before her death in the 1990s. Terry Taylor, who disapproved of heroin and didn't use it, moved to north Wales in the early 1970s. He dropped from public view and raised a family; according to rumour he was also perfecting his use of magic in secret. When I asked Terry about this, he told me he didn't talk about magic, but offered do some with me if I was up for it!

Considerably more visible as an acid proselytiser than Terry Taylor was Michael Hollingshead. That said, within the context of a purely London psychedelic-magic scene Hollingshead proved ultimately less enduring and influential than Taylor. Hollingshead's claim to fame is chiefly that he was the man who introduced Timothy Leary to LSD. While working in New York in 1961, Hollingshead had acquired a stock of acid. He took a trip and the experience blew him away. In his autobiography Hollingshead claimed he then telephoned that well known fan of psychedelics Aldus Huxley, to find out what the blissedout writer thought he should do with the stash of acid he’d acquired. Huxley allegedly told Hollingshead to go and see Timothy Leary. Other observers believe Hollingshead was told about Timothy Leary by a doctor he knew called John Beresford. At this point Leary was experimenting with milder psychedelics and imagined LSD wouldn’t be much different to the stuff he had been tinkering with. When Leary took his first trip he was an instant convert to the wonders of acid and for a while treated Hollingshead as his guru. However, remaining true to his former self, Leary soon inverted the relationship.

In 1965 Hollingshead was sent to London as Leary's emissary and he set up the World Psychedelic Centre in Belgravia. The people drawn to Hollingshead's Psychedelic Centre included Alex Trocchi, Feliks Topolski, William Burroughs and Joseph Berke. Despite heavy duty establishment backing in the form of some old Etonians and a swanky location on Pont Street, the World Psychedelic Centre did not survive for long. As well as dropping acid which was still legal at the time, Hollingshead was also jacking up speed and smoking pot. Hollingshead's flat, which doubled up as his base of operations, became squalid and he was busted for possession of cannabis. (16) It is worth noting that Hollingshead also used heroin to damp down his LSD visions when he felt they were becoming excessive. After getting out of jail and working on his autobiography in Nepal, Hollingshead gathered together a group of followers in London who named themselves the Pure Land Ashram and then relocated to the island of Cumbrae in Scotland where they treated LSD as a sacrament. Before being forced to leave the island due to authority figures taking exception to their amalgam of religion and drug use, the group renamed itself The Free High Church of Cumbrae. Hollingshead and his coven then drifted to Edinburgh where they organized an I Ching and fortune-telling exhibition called Changes 72 at the Richard De Marco Gallery. The group reconvened yet again in London but fell apart when Hollingshead took off around the world.

The readiness of many sixties hipsters to experiment with drugs and magic stemmed in part from the visual and literary culture they had imbibed as they grew up in the fifties and early sixties. A key figure for my mother and her immediate circle of drug culture friends was Henri Michaux. This Belgian was a maverick who operated in the slipstream of surrealism and is reasonably well known for his prose poetry, travel writing about South America and Asia, books on drug taking, and interest in the occult and Hinduism. To reuse a phrase of Alexander Trocchi's, Michaux was a 'cosmonaut of inner space', but one who unfortunately never enjoyed the international acclaim and influence of Timothy Leary or Baba Ram Dass AKA Richard Alpert. As well as writing, Michaux also produced visual works, sometimes under the influence of psychedelics. (17) However, unlike Colin Wilson who in England was briefly an overnight sensation, Michaux has to date remained a somewhat rarified taste.

At the time of its publication in 1956, Colin Wilson's The Outsider probably appeared to be an unlikely bestseller, although in retrospect it is easy enough to see its success as symptomatic of the backwardness of English literary culture. (18) At the age of twenty-four, Wilson was young and hip enough to pick up on many of the themes and writers who already fascinated a burgeoning youth culture. Blake, Nietzsche, Hesse, Kierkegaard, Camus and Dostoevsky were among the authors he admired, and while it is glaringly obvious from the breezy dismissal of Hegel and Marx in The Outsider that Wilson wasn't actually familiar with their work, no one from the British literary establishment at the time seemed to either notice or care. Wilson's elitism and disdain for the masses (who are invoked through phrases such as 'the average plumber or stockbroker') appealed both to the literary intelligentsia and the massed ranks of teenage individualists who were sufficiently guileless to take Wilson's assertion that salvation 'lies in extremes' at face value. It should go without saying that 'extremism' is necessarily relational and not rational, and while Wilson possibly understood that self-styled extremists always end up reproducing what they oppose (albeit in inverted form), through sophistries of this type he inadvertently transformed the more naive of his admirers (and here I'm thinking in particular of those critics, including Edith Sitwell and Cyril Connolly, who praised The Outsider in the press) into accidental post-modernists. Similarly, Wilson's interest in gurus and mystics as Nietzschean supermen – and in this his tastes range from George Gurdjieff to the Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna – demonstrates that some of the more reactionary elements of late sixties youth culture were circulating in pre-digested form from at least the mid-fifties onwards.

One of the boons of the psychedelic revival of the sixties was the way it boosted the importance of the ocular within popular culture, in particular in the form of light shows at rock concerts, posters and art work for record sleeves. Prior to the media feeding frenzy around psychedelia and flower power, literature was very much at the heart of British beatnik counterculture: the two Colins, Wilson and MacInnes, Le Roi Jones, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Kafka, Huxley, Miller, Mailer etc. were widely read, admired and discussed. Beatniks managed to co-exist and intermix with modernists but like the upper end of the early mod scene they were swept away by the hippies. Blues-based rock music took over from jazz and while people continued to read, contemporary fiction became a more private affair, with what literary discussion there was taking place in increasingly restricted circles. However, those folk innovators favoured by the beatniks fared considerably better than the modern jazzers in the new hippie culture and only partly because what some of them where doing was fusing jazz and blues with folk.

The key early figure here is Davy Graham. With a father from the Western Isles of Scotland and a mother from British Guyana, Graham, who was born and mainly grew up in England, was a fixture in London's folk and blues clubs for much of the sixties. His most famous tune 'Angi' initially appeared on an EP disk alongside two instrumental collaborations with Alexis Korner, '3/4 AD' and 'Davy's Train Blues', but it was the first item that quickly established itself as a staple in the repertoire of apprentice guitar players. 'Angi' opened up a new approach to guitar-based composition, and without this blueprint it is unlikely Jimmy Page would have written tunes such as 'Stairway to Heaven' for his hard rock super-group Led Zeppelin. Thus Graham's first record release, the EP 3/4 AD made with Korner, is still probably his most famous. Graham's first album was a budget affair called The Guitar Player released in 1963 on Pye’s Golden Guinea label which featured his arrangements of middle-of-the-road standards such as 'Cry Me A River'. Slightly more than a year later the solo LP Folk, Blues & Beyond and his collaboration with Shirley Collins, Folk Roots, New Routes, were issued within a month of each other. Other albums followed including Midnight Man, Large As Life And Twice As Natural, Hat and The Holly Kaleidoscope. Influential but without much commercial impact, Graham's mix of folk, blues, jazz and eastern scales backed on his solo albums with bass and drums was a precursor to and ultimately an integral part of the folk rock movement of the later sixties.

Over the years Graham's itinerant lifestyle and drug experimentation have probably attracted as much interest as his technical brilliance as a guitarist. The track 'Cocaine' on Folk, Blues & Beyond is described in the sleeve notes as 'The sick junkie’s call for love (or pity!)'. Colin Harper in his book on the folk-blues revival quotes Martin Carthy as stating that in the mid-sixties Graham made a conscious decision to become a junkie and systematically set out to become addicted to heroin in order to emulate various musicians he admired including Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. (19) Likewise, Graham's mid-sixties treks to Ibiza and Istanbul spurred many proto-hippies to make similar trips. It would be difficult to underestimate Graham's influence on the growth of hard drug use in the British counterculture. In certain circles people still talk in hushed tones about how 'Graham was a junkie before anyone else'. Although there had been plenty of junkie jazz musicians before Graham, these were mainly Americans. Those native opium abusers who were culturally visible in Britain right up to the early sixties were basically bohemians starting with the Lake Poets and their fellow travellers and running on down via the occultist and would-be belle-lettriste Aleister Crowley to novelist Alexander Trocchi. Most of these early junkie figures made their cultural explorations at least initially within literary discourse even if some of them eventually succeeded in escaping such categorization. For British junkiedom to become a mass phenomenon it had first to migrate from bohemia to the nascent counterculture, and from there by way of popular music into the proverbial teenage jugular vein. It is for this reason that Graham played such a key role in the growth of the drug culture within the UK.

Inspired by Davy Graham and coming up fast behind him was Bert Jansch whose song 'Needle of Death' on his eponymous debut album (released in April 1965) did far more to make skag a drug of choice among hip British teenagers than decade's worth of later releases on the same subject by the likes of Lou Reed or Johnny Thunders, starting with the Velvet Underground's 'Heroin' and running through to the Heartbreakers' 'Chinese Rocks' of 1977. 'Needle of Death' is actually an elegy for the musician and car enthusiast David 'Buck' Polley who died from an overdose on 20 June 1964 at the age of twenty-two, but it was widely believed to be a self-portrait by its composer/performer and thus led to the erroneous notion that Jansch himself was a junkie. In a canny marketing move, Jansch (or at least his record company) made it clear his music was not only for but also about 'existentialists, hustlers, pettycrooks, artists, beats and just plain characters' who hung about rave-up pubs such as the Finches chain in London. Jansch had more commercial success than Davy Graham partially because he made a better 'hobo' pin-up, and as a result was marketed more aggressively. However, before securing a record deal Jansch had to leave his native Scotland and base himself in London. Ten years after its initial release the first Bert Jansch album had sold more than 150,000 copies, so his introspective style and mix of contemporary songs and instrumentals clearly hit a generational nerve. To my ears such success also indicates that far more kids were skinning up by 1965 than is generally assumed (smoking dope was clearly commonplace on the folk scene by the mid-sixties), since being stoned would have greatly helped teenagers appreciate the subtleties of Jansch’s guitar style.

Initially Jansch was promoted by his record company as an utterly authentic Beat icon, someone who really lived the blues and who according to marketing myth didn't even own a guitar but instead borrowed instruments from friends. Jansch's debut LP was more than enough of a success for a follow-up called It Don't Bother Me to be rush released in November 1965. What is really striking about It Don't Bother Me is the cover which features a side-on photograph of Jansch seated in the foreground of his Somalia Road beatnik crash pad; further back in the picture and sitting with their heads and shoulders propped against a wall, and their legs on what might almost pass as a makeshift bed, are a suitably Beat-looking guitarist called John Renbourn and singer called Beverley Kutner. Most notable among the fourteen tracks on It Don't Bother Me are 'My Lover', 'Lucky Thirteen' and 'The Wheel'. 'My Lover' is a long-drawn-out love chant with a mystic eastern feel. The sleeve notes suggest 'Lucky Thirteen' was enjoyable to perform when smashed and that this would also be a good way to listen to it. 'The Wheel', like 'Finches' on Jansch's debut album, was inspired by a West End beatnik dive, in this instance Les Cousins in London's Soho where the décor included a huge wagon wheel and fishing nets. Situated in the basement beneath an illegal gambling club and a restaurant at 49 Greek Street, Les Cousins was unlicensed and had a 150-person capacity but thanks largely to its all-nighter sessions this folk club became a legendary part of the swinging London scene. Incidentally, the club appears to have taken its name from Claude Chabrol's 1959 new wave movie Les Cousins, the story of a youth who arrives in Paris from the country hoping to take silk but who finds himself distracted from this task by the rowdy behaviour of the cousin he rooms with who is also a law student. Returning to the It Don't Bother Me album, 'My Lover' and 'Lucky Thirteen' also featured John Renbourn as a second guitarist and set the tone for what he and Jansch would later do with the folk group Pentangle. Jansch's third album Jack Orion was to prove even more influential than his first, and tracks on it inspired later tunes by acts as diverse as Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin.

Another British folk act whose beatnik roots enabled them to successfully ride the hippie winds of change were the Incredible String Band, who initially made their reputation in Glasgow, and even took their name from that city's Incredible Folk Club where they played some of their early gigs. At the core of the group were Robin Williamson and Mike Heron, and their eponymous debut album released in June 1966 featured a photograph of the band looking like the beatnik jug musicians they undoubtedly were at the time: this record, like the releases of Davy Graham, was more of a critical than a commercial success. The modern folk sound of the Incredible String Band was psychedelicized on their second album, The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of An Onion, released in 1967, and with this record they secured a sizeable fan base in both Europe and North America. Expanding their line-up and adopting an unmistakably hippie look, the group scored their biggest hit with their third LP, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, which reached number five in the British album charts when it was issued in 1968. Finally, in dealing with the British folk boom of the sixties one cannot ignore Donovan whose transition to the rock idiom produced psychedelic pop hits such as 'Sunshine Superman', 'Mellow Yellow' and 'Atlantis'. Despite being hyped as the British Bob Dylan, Donovan's success ebbed as his hippie image and endless lyrical references to LSD began to look dated.

Until the late sixties folkies were ahead of the curve in terms of using mysticism and world music influences on their records, since they'd emerged from a beatnik scene that was fascinated by India and other non-Christian cultures. They were heirs to an occidental lineage that can be traced back at least as far as Madam Blavatsky and Theosophy in the nineteenth century. Where the folkies led, the new breed of American underground and psychedelic bands weren't far behind. Pop groups like the Beatles didn't pick up on this vibe until the mid-sixties when among other things they introduced sitars to their sound, the key release with regard to this being their 1966 album Revolver; and self-styled 'rockers' like the Rolling Stones caught up equally belatedly on singles such as 'Paint It Black', 'We Love You' and 'She’s A Rainbow', as well as the albums Aftermath, Between The Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request, the latter overblown release from 1967 coming replete with wheezy electronic effects. To my ears the Stones sound far better on their straight rock platters Beggar’s Banquet and Let It Bleed, rather than these ill-advised attempts at out doing Sgt Pepper era Beatles. However, while the Beatles and the Stones both used sitars on their mid-sixties recordings, newer rock acts proved more adventurous in their choice of instrumentation. Take for example the 1966 hit single ‘Wild Thing’ by The Troggs which infamously featured an ocarina solo played by session man Colin Frechter.

Marianne Faithfull, who in the latter part of the sixties was the highly visible live-in lover of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, has written that Alexander Trocchi acted as her 'great drug guru' and introduced her to his doctor at Bexley Hospital who registered her as a heroin addict. (20) Despite this, Brian Barritt in his memoir The Road To Excess writes that he accompanied Faithfull to the clinic. (21) These two accounts are not necessarily contradictory since Barritt says he met Faithfull at Trocchi's flat and it is possible all three of them went to Bexley together, or else Barritt went with Faithfull at Trocchi's behest. Barritt worked for a time as Trocchi's assistant. Like Terry Taylor, Barritt was a fixture of the tight knit London drug scene of the sixties and seventies but is not particularly well known outside it.

Barritt is a psychedelic evangelist who advocates dropping acid as a consciousness-raising act that deconditions people by taking them beyond the known world. He first turned on in 1962 and is said to have been involved in the distribution of acid before it was criminalized, although in the sixties he also did time in Maidstone prison for cannabis smuggling. Barritt wants to see LSD freely available so that anybody who wishes to 'investigate their own mind' can trip. When Barritt is mentioned in print, it is often as a British foil to American acid guru Timothy Leary. After Leary was jailed in the US for possessing a couple of joints, and had broken out of the jug with the help of the Weather Underground, Barritt met him on the run in Algeria and Switzerland. Indeed Barritt was initially credited with co-writing Leary's Confessions of a Hope Fiend, although whether Barritt had a hand in the actual production of the book has been a matter of much dispute. Nonetheless Barritt believes that LSD is one of the few drugs that can take the user through the seven levels of human consciousness that he says he discovered independently of Leary. Prior to their first meeting, both Barritt and Leary had apparently come to the conclusion that acid was a 'psychedelic elevator'. Supposedly there are only two ways in which to reach the higher levels of human consciousness, either by devoting years of one's life to arduous spiritual practice or almost instantly with psychedelics. The first four levels of consciousness can be reached in ordinary everyday life. Level five requires either chemical assistance or long hours of meditation, and when you hit this level sexual activity is said to be vastly enhanced. Barritt has even claimed that:

If a man keeps an image in his head at the point of ejaculation on acid, you project that image, firing it into the subconscious of your partner. The female at that altitude is the 'all woman', she is the every living thing, the DNA, the goddess. If the goddess hears you, she will ask everything in nature to conspire to grant you your request. (22)

When tripping together for the first time in the Algerian desert, Barritt and Leary discovered that by pure chance they were doing so in the same place at which fifty years earlier the magus Aleister Crowley and his sidekick Victor Neuburg had conducted a rite based on John Dee’s Enochian magick. Barritt claims: 'We felt we were representative of the same force, but whether we were incarnations of these people or not I don’t know, it didn’t seem to matter.' That said, in the interview in which Barritt made this claim, he insists Leary was never a mere reincarnation of these dead occultists: 'When Tim lost his ego on a trip, he was an amalgamation of all the people on acid who were thinking of him at that time. Leary was gone, he was an astral image – no one took a trip without Leary coming into it.' (23)

Sadly it appears there is little homo-eroticism involved in Barritt and Leary's appropriation of all this, despite anal sex being a key element of Crowley's magical practices, since Barritt is adamant that once you go above level five consciousness you don't necessarily need coitus. Indeed, at level six you are telepathic and sexually combined with your fellow trippers, and this integration is even greater at level seven. As for Leary, he is now an archetype and obviously you can't shag someone who is no longer corporeal. Like Hollingshead and many others involved in psychedelic occultism, Barritt used heroin to damp down the magical visions brought forth in LSD rituals.

Barritt makes no secret of the fact that he used heroin, and mentions his use of opiates in his autobiography. However, he believes that smack is something that is much easier to overdo than LSD. Barritt worked for a time as Alexander Trocchi's assistant and writes in The Road Of Excess:

When I first knew Alex there was a regular 'French Connection' with artists, musicians and strange unclassifiable characters who bought and sold opium at the same price as hashish and slipped quietly back across the channel in time for tea. But while Alex was trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest habit ever known, the world was passing by. By the time he became a vegetable his acquaintances had lost interest in him, as he had in them and by the time he had consumed so much that he was heroin, he was dead and couldn't remember a thing about it... (24)

Actually, Trocchi greatly exaggerated the size of his habit, telling whopping fibs to doctors in order to score large quantities of drugs on prescription, most of which he would sell on. When Trocchi was hospitalized this caused him some problems, since medical staff directly administered him with far greater quantities of drugs than he would normally take. Still, Trocchi survived such ill-advised medical assistance, and the risk of an overdose no doubt palled in comparison to the possibility that the size of his drug script might be reduced. Rather more amusingly, some texts Trocchi concocted with the express intention of conning doctors into providing him with generous drug scripts were published posthumously by a literary editor called Andrew Murray Scott who it appears was sufficiently gullible to accept them at face value. (25)

Often associated with Trocchi because of their shared Glaswegian background and prominence at key counterculture events including 'Wholly Communion' and 'The State of Revolt' is R. D. Laing. Among other things, this 'anti-psychiatrist' used LSD during many of his therapy sessions and in countercultural circles had a reputation for being able to lay his hands on good dope. Laing had been reading French existential writers such as Sartre and Camus in the 1940s when he was at university, and was seriously interested in their precursors such as Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger. Laing too had avidly devoured Colin Wilson's The Outsider and from the mid-fifties onwards sought to emulate its phenomenal success. Therefore it will surprise no one that in his early book The Divided Self, Laing announced that his method was existential-phenomenological. Likewise, Laing shared with those more deeply embroiled in the counterculture a taste for writers such as Henry Miller. However, while Laing was considered somewhat wild by his more buttoned-up psychiatric colleagues, he was nevertheless an establishment figure. Indeed, he only resigned from the medical register at the end of his life when he was forced to do so. Unfortunately Laing is still too often judged on his image rather than on what he actually said and wrote; thus both fans and detractors sometimes fail to realize that he emphasized the importance of the family in child development. Despite this Laing did very little for most of his own children and part of his attraction for the more patriarchal members of the counterculture was this conservative irresponsibility. (26)

Completely eclipsing both Trocchi and Laing on the London psychedelic scene of the sixties in terms of accidental high weirdness was an American called Doctor Steve Abrams. He conducted research into the effects of drugs and headed SOMA (Society for Mental Awareness), an organization which was popularly perceived as advocating drug use and the legalization of pot. SOMA was responsible for the advertisement in The Times demanding the abolition of prison sentences and large fines for the possession of cannabis, which is often (mis)recalled as a plea to 'legalize pot'. While Abrams mixed with many of the leading figures of the counterculture, the fact that some of his drug research had been funded by institutions with connections to the American intelligence establishment made many hippies suspicious of him. Timothy Leary could have been criticized on the same grounds, but generally wasn't. Finance of this type was the subject of much controversy in the sixties. For example, in 1967 Stephen Spender resigned as consultant editor of Encounter when it emerged that the Congress for Cultural Freedom which subsidized the publication was a Central Intelligence Agency front organization. (27)

Moving the argument on from what all too often degenerated into paranoid speculation, the way in which Abrams publicized his activities had the potential to arouse hackles too. There are photographs by John 'Hoppy' Hopkins of a psychedelic research session in which Abrams and a volunteer appear to be mimicking the depiction of male doctors and female hysterics in nineteenth-century medical paintings. Since some viewers were inevitably going to make a connection between these publicity japes and the earlier imagery upon which they so strikingly draw, Abrams left himself wide open to criticism for generating negative perceptions of both women and recreational drug users. The aura of paternal authoritarianism so readily visible in these images emerges elsewhere too, leading the International Times news editor Graham Plinston to complain in an interview he conducted with Abrams in 1967 that subscription to SOMA 'seems to involve a totally passive role'. (28)

When Plinston conducted this interview with Abrams, it wouldn't have occurred to him that he was about to take over from the Morland- Wilkinson crew as England's top pot smuggler. Some months after interviewing Abrams and while travelling in the Middle East, Plinston met Salim Hraoui (29) through a third party. Among other things Hraoui wholesaled hash and the two men decided they could do business. The Lebanese connection Plinston established in this casual fashion regularly couriered hash to London on his behalf via ordinary airline flights, arranging for the pot to be concealed in body harnesses strapped to those paid to act as drug mules. It was by such means that Plinston's supply was smuggled until Hraoui introduced him to Mohammed Durrani in 1969. Durrani knew some Pakistani government officials who were prepared to exploit their diplomatic immunity to smuggle hash. By this means Durrani's diplomats were able to get drugs into mainland Europe but not the UK. The biggest hurdle for dope smugglers was getting their gear into Europe; transporting it around the continent was viewed as considerably less risky. Nonetheless Plinston and Geoff Thompson were busted in Lorrach in 1970, as they ferried dope in a car from Switzerland across the West Germany border. This is the famous seizure that gave Howard Marks his break into the major league of the pot trade. After being sent by Mandy Plinston to sort things out in Germany and then reporting back to various Middle Eastern connections about what had and hadn't been compromised, Marks took over portions of Plinston's business while his friends Plinston and Thompson did time in jail.

Bizarrely, John Pearson in his tomes on sixties British gangsters the Kray Twins writes about a man called Alan Bruce Cooper, (30) who it is claimed was working reluctantly and under threat of imprisonment for the American Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Among other things, the American authorities are said to have known that Cooper had been manufacturing LSD and trafficking in this drug. Supposedly, it was decided that Cooper should entice Ronnie and Reggie Kray into committing crimes for which they could be convicted because the authorities in the USA were concerned about their connections to the American Mafia. Regardless of exactly what role various intelligence agencies did or did not have in controlling Cooper, he was a major player in the events that culminated in the conviction of the Kray twins for murder. In The Profession of Violence, Pearson provides the following details about a few of Cooper’s schemes:

Cooper had the big ideas that Ronnie needed and seemed as thrilled as Ronnie by them all. They often talked about narcotics. Cooper had European contacts and clearly knew the market. This was the quickest, safest way for the twins to become millionaires. As a start Cooper suggested setting up a flat in Belgrave Square as a clearing house for wealthy addicts and their pushers. Cooper got as far as renting the flat when Ronnie said he wasn't interested. Other rackets they discussed were large-scale gold-smuggling, further currency deals, a take-over of an existing marijuana racket carried on through the diplomatic immunity of some Pakistani diplomats and the traffic in illegal Asian immigrants from Belgium. And each time it was Reggie’s caution that prevented Ronnie from becoming involved... (31)

If this is to be believed, then it appears that American intelligence may have known in 1967 about the drug pipeline Plinston benefited from two years later. If what Pearson says on this score is reliable, it is possible that having failed to get the Krays to take over the pipeline the American authorities left it up and running for future use, and it is the same drug conduit that Plinston later stumbled upon. That said, despite the paranoia that permeates the drug subculture, I'm unaware of anyone from the circles around Plinston and Thompson who believes they were set up to be busted in Lorrach. It is nonetheless curious that on 18 July 1968 when Alan Bruce Cooper appeared as a Crown witness at Bow Street Magistrates Court against the Kray brothers, he should deny he'd given the police information about Victor James Kapur and Harry Nathan, claiming: "I discovered my father-in-law (Nathan) was a runner for the LSD Kapur was manufacturing when it came out in the papers." Nathan was busted in his son-in-law's car, and the police found Cooper at Nathan's flat when they went to search it immediately after this arrest. (32)

Under oath on the same day of the Kray hearing, Cooper also denied that he'd planned to kidnap the Pope and hold him to ransom, and repeated his claims that he'd had a two year involvement with American intelligence, stating that the Krays' lawyers could check this by applying to the European office of that service. This was reported in The Times of 19 July 1968. Top cop Leonard Read in his autobiography Nipper Read: The Man Who Nicked The Krays provides a more complex take on Cooper's relations with the British police than the one given at Bow Street Magistrates Court. Read does, however, assert that the evidence Cooper gave against the Krays was essentially true, and implies Harry Nathan was wrongly convicted as an LSD runner when he says in his book that it was Cooper - and not Cooper’s father-in-law - who was involved with Kapur's drug factory. Read's account appears to me reasonably consistent with the police file on the Kapur case, and what various street sources have to say on the subject. However, while Nathan may have been completely innocent, it seems to me more likely he was a minor player; but even if this was the case, his role in the drug running was very small in comparison to that of his son-in-law.

Cooper confirmed in court during the Kray trial that he'd made a living from gold smuggling, something to which Kapur was also connected. Two months before he was busted for manufacturing LSD, Kapur acted as a crown witness at Bow Street where he testified against former speedway champion Squire Francis 'Split' Waterman and three others who were charged with 'attempted illegal export of gold, receiving gold bars, and possessing firearms and counterfeiting equipment'. This was reported in The Times of 23 September 1967. The case against Waterman ran in part that he'd been cutting and smelting gold from a bullion robbery in Clerkenwell, and that he'd enlisted Kapur's aid in choosing and purchasing a furnace with which to do it. Likewise The Times of 19 July 1968 reported that in court testifying against the Krays, Cooper confirmed he was acquainted with Split Waterman who he knew to be both a gold smuggler and an arms dealer.

Under the headline 'Four-Year Term For Split Waterman', The Times of 20 March 1968 had already reported that the police believed Waterman to be a gun runner as well as a gold smuggler. Reporting on the Kray trial on 20 July 1968, The Times records the claim that Waterman had fitted up an attaché case with a hypodermic syringe loaded with hydrogen cyanide, so that Cooper could furnish it to a third party who was to carry out an assassination for the Kray brothers. At the time this seemed an utterly fantastic escapade, but such methods of assassination were later taken up by eastern bloc security agencies. It is impossible for me to say exactly what Waterman, Cooper and Kapur, were doing; but it is reasonable to conclude that they were known to each other and collaborated on what were either criminal or intelligence enterprises, and possibly both. It is certainly strange that Alan Bruce Cooper, a man claiming to be a willing police informant as well as an American intelligence asset and former gold smuggler, may have had inside knowledge about what on the surface would appear to be two unrelated suppliers of drugs peddled by the group centred on Detta Whybrow, my mother and other individuals such as Mike Burton (who I am naming because I know he is dead, I have other names that I won't include here). It is unclear to me where Whybrow and her circle were sourcing drugs immediately after the Kapur bust, but by the end of 1969 both the acid and the pot they were dealing was supplied by Graham Plinston and his associates.

Drugs and the politics of drugs, much more than psychedelic art, are the counterculture's chief legacy. Indeed, without illicit drugs there would not have been a counterculture, since contraband commodities not only bound those involved together, they also financed many of their activities. Consequently, the political ethos of the counterculture was essentially libertarian, which was why so many of those involved with it were attracted to forms of 'guerrilla capitalism' such as drug dealing and smuggling. Beyond a blatantly hypocritical and often merely rhetorical opposition to free trade in drugs, Thatcherism and Reaganism were very much an outgrowth of the politics of laissez-faire that various hippie entrepreneurs had developed in practice through their dealing and related activities a decade or more earlier. This is not to say that there were not leftist elements within the counterculture but despite, or perhaps even because of its incoherence, the politics that ultimately dominated it in both theory and practice were those of anarcho-capitalism. That said, I feel that the magical drug rituals in which my mother was engaged in the mid-sixties point towards ways in which we will yet regain the modes of consciousness that flourished within classless societies. (33)

Likewise, there were in the sixties a number of agitational groups including Up Against The Wall Mortherfucker and King Mob whose psychedelic cultural politics and use of drugs pointed to a praxis that went beyond the achievements of the historical avantgarde. (34) While recreational drug use has increased rather than decreased since the sixties, this has largely manifested itself in the form of a desire to 'get out of it' rather than as a determination to go beyond the social limits which currently restrict our lives. I do not endorse the escalation theory of drug use, the absurd idea that smoking pot leads to heroin addiction, and in relation to this I see taking drugs simply for recreational purposes as essentially harmless fun. That said, it would still be better if we took more rather than less drugs for whatever reason. However, if we are to use psychedelics to 'fly' beyond the limits of this society then the best way of doing so is in situations of class solidarity. Those who use psychedelics in an attempt to regain shamanic modes of consciousness without simultaneously struggling against our atomized and alienated society run grave risks. Heroin addiction is probably among the least of these, and obviously it is the criminalization of opiates rather than their use which creates a great many of the social problems connected to drugs.

By way of conclusion I'd just like to state explicitly what is implicit in all of the above, that under the influence of psychedelic drugs one can 'hear' colours and 'taste' sounds – but such 'mind manifesting' substances will work to better effect in a post-revolutionary society where the avant-garde desire to integrate art and life will at last be realized. Psychedelic art must become an oxymoron. In a disalienated society the transformative power of our realized human potential will be such that all specialized categories will be dissolved within a greater and more universal creativity. It is the task of revolutionaries not simply to re-establish the social forms of the classless societies of the past, but also to re-appropriate (albeit at a higher level) their modes of consciousness – that is to say shamanic consciousness. The failures of the psychedelic fifties and sixties were a direct result of the endurance of class society. Psychedelics will play a role in the coming total revolution but they do not constitute a revolution on their own.

1. Alan Bestic, Turn Me On Man (London: Tandem Books, 1966). For an account of English drug panics of the 1920s see Marek Kohn, Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground (London: Granta Books, 2001).
2. See, for example, Paolo Hewitt (ed.), The Sharper Word: A Mod Anthology (London: Helter Skelter Publishing, 1999).
3. Robert Frank, London/Wales (ed. Philip Brookman; Berlin/New York, 2nd Scalo edition, 2004), p. 124. Another key link between historical surrealism and sixties psychedelia operative in Europe in the early fifties was the COBRA movement, which in turn through the figure of Asger Jorn links to the backwards and forward to lettrism, the Situationist International, Alex Trocchi and much else of interest.
4. Frank, London/Wales, p. 23.
5. Erwin Fieger with accompanying text by Colin MacInnes, London City of any Dream (London: Thames & Hudson, 1962).
6. David Mellor, The Sixties Art Scene in London (London: Phaidon, in association with the Barbican Art Gallery, 1993), p. 50.
7. Terry Rawlings, Mod: A Very British Phenomenon; clean living under difficult conditions (London: Omnibus Press, 2000),p. 17.
8. Terry Taylor, Baron’s Court, All Change (London: MacGibbon & Key, 1961).
9. P. Procktor, ‘The New Generation’, Studio International (July 1966), pp. 5–11.
10. The history of the illicit drug trade of the sixties and seventies has to date been rather poorly served by English-language print sources. For example, while invoking Graham Plinston's 1970 bust in Lorrach as a key event in the Howard Marks story, both David Leigh in his authorized biography High Time: The Life & Times of Howard Marks (London: Unwin, 1985), and Howard Marks in his autobiography Mr Nice (London: Vintage, 1998) omit to mention that rather than being alone, Plinston was arrested and subsequently jailed alongside Geoff Thompson.
In his autobiography, Howard Marks is two months out in his dating of the Lorrach bust. The fact that Marks and those drawing on his recollections get their facts wrong can be demonstrated easily enough by consulting press reports of the time. A Reuters news agency wire of 18 March 1970 led, for example, to coverage on page 5 of the London Times the following day headlined Britons Held On Drugs Charge. This report makes it clear that both Plinston and Geoff Thompson were in jail after the discovery of 'about 105lbs of hashish in their car', and that they had been arrested upon entering Germany 'from Switzerland on February 26.' The Times piece explicitly cites information contained within it as being provided by a British consulate spokesman in Stuttgart, and the authorities notified Thompson and Plinston’s families of the arrests before speaking to the press about them.
Therefore it is ridiculous of David Leigh to assert in his authorised Howard Marks biography High Time that in the spring of 1970 Mandy Plinston sent Marks to Frankfurt to investigate her dope smuggling partner's disappearance. As should already be clear, Mandy Plinston knew of the bust before Howard Marks; as did my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, my mother's boyfriend of the time Bruno de Galzain, Geoff Thompson’s partner of the time Jane Ripley, Charlie Radcliffe, Alex Trocchi and many others immersed in the London counterculture. The claim made by Leigh and some later writers to the effect that Howard Marks learnt of the bust by looking through German newspapers in Frankfurt, and then relayed this 'discovery' back to the UK, is utterly spurious. Its reiteration demonstrates the rather dubious status of a number of texts that claim to provide inside information on the dope trade.
Moving on, among other factors, given that Geoff Thompson (who believes he is my father, although other candidates have been suggested to me by individuals who would appear to have some insight into the matter) and my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, knew key players from the Morland–Wilkinson crew from the early sixties until at least the late seventies, that Geoff Thompson was close to Howard Marks as well as Graham Plinston in the early seventies, and I've spoken at length to many others from these circles, I have found myself in a position to learn something of the hidden history of the illicit drug trade from a variety of well-informed sources. While such informants are not necessarily always reliable, when their various stories are collated it becomes possible to see a bigger picture than that available merely from published sources. Those with any sense who are involved in illicit drug dealing destroy all unnecessary written records, and so reliable documentary material is thinner on the ground than in many other areas of historical research. Finally (and unfortunately from the perspective of future researchers, but happily as far as those more directly involved are concerned), I would not feel comfortable providing sources for all the information I've amassed. I'd consider it unfair on those who remain both alive and unconvicted to implicate them in activities for which they might still (theoretically at least) face a stretch in jail.
11. Tony Gould, Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (London: Allison & Busby, 1993), p. 144.
12. Gould, Inside Outsider, p. 114.
13. Johnny Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet (Oracle, AZ: Synergetic Press, 1990), p. 3.
14. Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, p. 5.
15. Dolphin, Journey Around an Extraordinary Planet, p. 6.
16. See Michael Hollingshead, The Man Who Turned on the World (London: Blond & Briggs, 1973) and Antonio Melechi (ed.), Psychedelia Britannica: Hallucinogenic Drugs in Britain (London: Turnaround, 1997).
17. In my mother's drug culture circle Michaux was taken extremely seriously. Her one time boyfriend Geoff Thompson actually spent much of the seventies working on English translations of Michaux for Tambimutti's Ladybird Press. The selection of translated works never appeared due at least in part to Ladybird Press being strapped for cash, but a stray poem, 'Telegram From Dakar', was published in Tambimutti's Poetry London/Apple Magazine issue 2 (London 1982), pp. 76–77. See also Peter Broome, Athlone French Poets: Henri Michaux (London: Athlone Press, 1977) and Henri Michaux, Emergences/Resurgences (trans. Richard Sieburth; New York: The Drawing Center, 2000).
18. Colin Wilson, The Outsider (London: Indigo, 1997). Obviously the library copy I used in researching this essay was a reprint of the 1956 original.
19. Colin Harper, Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (London: Bloomsbury, 2000).
20. Marianne Faithfull with David Dalton, Faithfull (London: Michael Joseph, 1994).
21. Brian Barritt, The Road of Excess (London: PSI Publishing, 1998), pp. 168–69 for the trip with Faithfull to secure scriptsand heroin abuse in her company. But see also Brian Barritt, Whisper: A Timescript (London: Whisper Promotions, 1971).
22. 'Tune In, Drop Out and Shag If You Want', Brian Barritt interviewed by Bertie Cairns in UK dance music magazine Wax (January 1999), reproduced in full online at http://www.higgs1.demon.co.uk/barritt/wax.htm
23. Barritt and Cairns, 'Tune In, Drop Out and Shag If You Want'.
24. Barritt, Road of Excess, p. 36.
25. Information from the Trocchi inner circle. Again it would be unfair to identify those still living who are implicated in the drug dealing this involved. My mother and her boyfriend at the time of her death number among the key players in Trocchi's heroin dealing operation. Although my mother died a few years before Trocchi, her boyfriend Grainger outlived him and their joint drug dealing continued until Trocch's death. See also Andrew Murray Scott, Alexander Trocchi: The Making Of The Monster (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1991) and Alexander Trocchi, Invisible Insurrection Of A Million Minds: A Trocchi Reader edited by Andrew Murray Scott (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1991).
26. See John Clay, R. D. Laing: A Divided Self (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996) and also the biography by one of the anti-psychiatrist’s sons, Adrian Laing, R. D. Laing. A Biography (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1996). Felix Guattari, in his essay 'Mary Barnes, or Oedipus in Anti-Psychiatry', included in Molecular Revolution: Pyschiatry & Politics (Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1984), pp.60–61, provides a short but useful ltheoretical-cum-political critique of Laing, although I do not feel Guattari goes far enough in his 'break’'with Freud.
27. Gould, Inside Outsider, p. 200. The standard work on the CIA and LSD is Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and beyond (New York: Grove Press, 1985). Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (London: William Heinmann, 1988) is worth a look. There are, inevitably, many crackpot texts on the subject, but the only one I'm aware of that is of direct relevance here is David Black's Acid: The Secret History of LSD (London: Vision, 1998), since it relies heavily on often ludicrously inaccurate information that the author claims was provided by Steve Abrams. That said, Black must take full responsibility for what is self-evidently a delusional work since Abrams clearly had no part in the actual composition of the text.
28. International Times, 15–28 December 1967, pp. 16–17.
29. Salim Hraoui is called Lebanese Sam by Howard Marks in his autobiography Mr Nice.
30. John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise & Fall of the Kray Twins (London: Grafton Books, 1985); John Pearson, The Cult of Violence: The Untold Story of the Krays (London: Orion, 2001). Cooper is often referred to as The Yank rather than by his name in the ghostwritten gibberings of Kray camp followers. Those wanting to look further at the extensive if often wildly inaccurate literature about the Krays might start with Albert Donoghue and Martin Short, The Enforcer: Secrets of my life with the Krays (London: John Blake Publishing, 2001) or Reg Kray, Born Fighter (London: Arrow, 1991). However, Pearson’s Profession of Violence in its various revised editions from 1972 on remains the best work on the subject.
31. Pearson, The Profession of Violence, p. 281.
32. Barry Cox with John Shirley and Martin Short in The Fall of Scotland Yard (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), address the corrupt nature of the London drug squad in a detailed if restrained fashion. While the bent coppery Cox addresses landed certain detectives in jail, considerably more serious allegations have been made elsewhere. It should be noted that Norman 'Nobby' Pilcher one of the bent cops who features prominently in The Fall of Scotland Yard played a key role in the Kapur bust.
33. I have in recent years made various works about or inspired by my mother in an attempt to recapture the shamanic essence at the heart of the sixties psychedelic revival. For example, the series of photographic morphs I made with Chris Dorley-Brown entitled Becoming (M)other. In these I imitated the poses in my mother's 1966 fashion portfolio, and the photographs Dorley-Brown took of me doing this were morphed with the 'originals' to create composite portraits of my mother Julia aged 22 and me, her son Stewart, aged 42.
34. See Anonymous (ed.), Black Mask & Up Against The Wall Motherfucker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea and the Black Mask Group (London: Unpopular Books & Sabotage Editions, 1993); Anonymous (ed.), King Mob Echo: English Section of the Situationist International (London: Dark Star, 2000); Franklin Rosemont and Charles Radcliffe, Dancin’ In The Streets! Anarchists, IWWs. Surrealists, Situationists & Provos in the 1960s as recorded in the pages of Rebel Worker and Heatwave (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 2005). The introductory essay by each editor in Dancin’ In The Streets proved particularly useful to the writing of this essay, as did Charles Radcliffe's as yet unpublished autobiography Chameleon which I consulted in draft form. Among other things Radcliffe's memoirs provide a considerably more convincing account of the drug dealing that coalesced around Graham Plinston than can be found elsewhere. It should also be noted that many of those involved with King Mob became heroin addicts. Again this is something I know because of my mother's immersion in the London drug scene of the time, and it tends to be completely overlooked in the usually wildly inaccurate cultural histories that use King Mob as a link between the situationists and punk rock; or indeed, the self-mythologising gibberings of deluded but well meaning old fools like Dave and Stuart Wise.

This is a revised version of an essay originally published in "Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s" edited by Christoph Grunenberg and Jonathan Harris (Liverpool University Press and Tate Liverpool, 2005). I've removed some information on Trocchi (available in very slightly variant form elsewhere on this site), expanded the information about Kapur and associates, and changed the descriptions of Geoff Thompson's relationship to me in light of new information. Additional material on some of these matters is now easily accessible in Andy Robert's "Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain" (Marshall Cavendish, London 2008), which provides an excellent introduction to the social history of LSD in the UK. It is also well worth seeking out the original version of this essay in the "Summer of Love" book, not only to see a number of the very well reproduced illustrations (not all of which are reproduced on this web page; i.e. a John Hopkin's publicity photo of Steve Abrams which is printed opposite Andre Brouillet's 1887 painting "Un lecon de clinique a la salpetriere"), but also for the other essays which provide useful additional background material.

London Art Tripping (psychogeography of 50 years of bohemianism)

The Real Dharma Bums (on the beatnik frenzies of Julia Callan-Thompson & Bruno de Galzain)

Dope In The Age Of Innocence

John Latham and drug culture at St Martin's College of Art

Andre Stitt (live art and shamanism)



Kiss by Francis Morland (sculputre)
"Kiss" by Francis Morland (1966).

Composition in Red by Francis Morland (sculpture)
"Composition In Red" by Francis Morland (circa 1967), seen here installed during "Hallucination Generation" with Stewart Home wall text "Imperfect History..." in background.

Spring by Francis Morland (sculpture)
"Spring" by Francis Morland (1965) installed in "Hallucination Generation". Note Morland pottery on window ledges in background.

Baron's Court, All Change by Terry Taylor (book cover)
Front cover of the 1965 paperback edition of Terry Taylor's "Baron's Court, All Change".

Tony Hancock As "The Rebel": Warhol Before Warhol, or from the Art of Commerce to the Business of Art.
Without doubt, Tony Hancock ranks above Botticelli and Rubens as the most important artist to emerge from the wreckage of our (post)modern civilisation, since he understands that culture always and already generates barbarism. Compared to Hancock, Gainsborough comes across as a rank amateur, while Paul Cezanne is frankly contemptible. Anyone armed with a thorough knowledge of Hancock will laugh themselves hoarse when confronted with piffle such Napoleon Visiting The Plague-Striken At Jaffa by Baron Antoine Jean Gros or Theodore Gericault’s The Raft Of The Medusa. Hancock is the benchmark against which all art must be judged, and ultimately against which all art will be found wanting.

The extremism of Hancock's work, the stress on form and repetition, stems from his desire to parody what mediocre (post)modern artists experience as their central existential dilemma - viz, the difficulty of communicating with those who have not yet constituted themselves as centred-bougeois subjects. For Hancock, the urge to create and to satisfy desire will always be subordinated to making money in commodified cultures such as our own. Hancock craftily demonstrates that it is more socially valuable for artists to manifest the contradictions of their calling as specialist non-specialists, than to buttress the Spectacle without even realising that art is irredeemably reactionary. Hancock intuitively understands that those capitalism condemns to be artists must simultaneously and by necessity join with the proletariat in allowing the real anti-art to begin. Our task is to create a new world, and all of anarchism can be found in the ridiculous idea that bohemians may live groovy lives while the rest of us are oppressed by the tyrannies of exchange.

Hancock's art is terrible in all senses of the word since he quite self-consciously reflects the world around him. In appropriating the showmanship of William Green, Hancock understood that if his interest in art as markings on impure surfaces (which Green had slyly opposed to the empty "depths" of classicism) was to simultaneously make its mark on the world, then this entailed the mobilisation of galleries, critics and patrons - much, much more than it necessitated media manipulation. Hancock was always and already a black hole absorbing whatever meanings were generated around him, and he fired these signs of reversal and decline back into this world in the form of cultural anti-matter.

If at first glance Tony Hancock's existential gibberings once he'd moved from figurative painting to abstraction appear to bear little relation to Andy Warhol's cool pop persona, look again. It was Hancock who more than forty years ago reinvented the end of the future by endlessly renegotiating the dividing line between sincerity and cynicism, opportunism and iconoclasm, the utopias of modernity and their aporetic apotheosis in post-modern babble. It was Hancock who provided cultural critics such as Peter Burger with the key to unlocking the secrets of the avant-garde. Hancock articulated the best critique of the institution of art ever made (and being a good Bergsonian, he simultaneously understood that time is both relative and discontinuous).

Hancock's background as a city clerk is not accidental, it explains his overtly self-conscious understanding of the role of commerce in the propagation of art. Without Hancock there would be no Warhol, no Exploding Plastic Inevitable, no Velvet Underground, no Sex Pistols, no culture of celebrity, no Fluxus, no happenings, no Throbbing Gristle, no Hugh Grant, no Pamela Anderson, no Jennifer Lopez, no ground zero on 9/11, and definitely no Jean Baudrillard and this unending procession of simulacra - indeed, there would be "no future" worth talking about. The task Hancock set the apres-garde is the challenge of living out its own death, a demise that must be played out in a continual reforging of the passage between theories of necrophilia and their polymorphous practice. Our philosophy is to be tested in the cemetery of the imagination. Art is dead! Tony Hancock was a flesh eating zombie who came to reanimate the living! Let the real anti-art begin...

Dr. Funkenstein first 'cums' to know life by fucking death in the gall bladder…
Since I was speaking only half in jest when I elected to call myself a proletarian post-modernist, it should surprise no one that in my'‘philosophy' there is a deliberately 'maddening' confusion between the terms subjectivity and subjectivism. I am nevertheless keen to emphasise that I've rather too self-consciously refrained from conflating my use of the term 'subjectivity' and what Georges Bataille invoked with the concept of 'sovereignty', since 'I' do not wish to constitute myself as a 'sovereign' 'individual'. For me totality is anti-hierarchical and rather than dividuals being brought into community through the inevitability of death, community is always and already a defining characteristics of what it is to be human. There is too much 'anti-capitalist' talk that is just that, rhetorical. The war of words against big business, globalisation and corporations only approaches the aporetics of 'viral' anti-capitalism when it is simultaneously an assault on the entire system of commodity production and consumption. Against capitalist accumulation, the proletarian post-modernist pits waste and those black holes of unreason where words no longer signify anything. If capitalism is everywhere then it can also be attacked anywhere; that is capitalism's strength and its weakness once one appreciates the difference between potlatch and merely laying waste. The book was one of the first perfected commodities and it played a key role in the development of capitalism. A moralist might deal with the problematics of this by refusing to read. A proletarian post-modernist knows that all of anarchism can be found in the idea that is possible to live differently in this world. Clearly, those moralists who claim they wish to change the world are naive, since the world is always and forever changing; what we must seek is to collectively influence the direction of these changes. Thus when we read it is not necessarily always against the grain since there are still many uses for the anti-poetics of literalism.

I've just finished scanning Michel Surya's Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography (Verso) translated into English by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson. Over the years I've read Bataille unsystematically and usually with some irritation. I think Bataille's critique is very good, most obviously his attacks on surrealism for wanting to preserve literature and poetry through invocations of the marvellous, but I have a lot of problems with the position from which Bataille made that critique and which I view as one of the 57 varieties of individualist anarchism. Still Bataille's critique is something that needs to be discussed as part of the debates and protests around the contents of 42 Rue Fontaine, Andre Breton’s atelier, being sold off. Like the stuff Surya writes about Bataille masturbating in front of his mother's corpse, I've found media coverage of the Breton sale a cause for much laughter since I always and already find myself tottering on the verge of catastrophe when it comes to addressing these subjects. I was a little disappointed Surya didn't include more detail about the brothels Bataille frequented. I felt extended description of the prostitutes concerned and their personal circumstances was called for, and not necessarily under the aegis of the abject. Indeed, there must have been a time when the very idea of an intellectual biography of Bataille would have been scandalous but now that post-modern discourses which draw so heavily on this masturbator's work are institutionally dominant, Surya's timidity is only to be expected. I wasn't surprised that Surya demonstrated far too much respect for his subject rather than getting low down and dirty. However, if Surya is too coy about Bataille's sexual peccadilloes, he is spot on about why everyone's favourite sacred sociologist is deliberately unliterary (he favours 'the low' of course). That said, Surya remains keen to defend Bataille from accusations of fascism and in doing so he tends to conflate Nazism and fascism. This confusion suits Surya since he quotes Bataille making use of the words of Ernst Junger, a National Bolshevik who opposed the Nazis from a political position to their right, viz Junger found Hitler and his henchmen insufficiently aristocratic. Since Junger was Hitler's favourite living German author it was relatively safe for him to adhere to fascist political positions that went against the grain of National Socialist orthodoxy while living under the Third Reich. To restate the obvious, while all Nazis are fascists, not all fascists are Nazis since Nazism is one among a number of competing and sometimes coexisting fascist doctrines. Unlike Junger who can also be accurately described as a Prussian anarchist, Bataille wasn't a fascist; however, the reasons for this are complex - and for Surya to address them competently would have required an examination of the relationship between the emergence of ideological fascism in France immediately prior to the First World War, the anarchism of Proudhon and Bakunin, anarcho-syndicalism, the doctrines of Georges Sorel, French monarchism of the early twentieth century, Russian Nihilism and Bolshevism. Needless to say Surya has nothing to say about any of this, he simply ignores such matters.

Before the Bataille biography I read Christine Keeler's third autobiography The Truth At Last (Pan) - ghosted this time by Douglas Thompson. I found this version of Keeler's story more to my taste than Nothing But Christine Keeler (NEL) and Scandal! (Xanadu), which read like quick cash-in jobs despite appearing twenty and twenty-six years respectively after the Profumo Affair broke as a news story. This headline grabbing scandal led Jack Profumo to resign from his post as British Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan's Conservative Government on 5 June 1963. Basically in 1961 Profumo had an affair with Christine Keeler who in the jargon of the time was 'a good time girl' with her principal employment having been as a hostess at Murray's Cabaret Club. After the press got wind of this relationship some two years later, Profumo denied that there was any impropriety in his association with Keeler. A few months down the line he was forced to admit he'd lied and that ended his political career. The spy stuff in The Truth At Last is pretty much an inversion of the intelligence material in Honeytrap (Coronet) by Anthony Summers and conspiracy buff Stephen Dorril. So now we have two rival conspiracy theories that mutually reinforce each other through their singular insistence that there is a 'truth' at the bottom of all this that can be accessed: viz, conspiracy theory a) the young and naive Keeler was used by her friend Stephen Ward who was acting in cahoots with British intelligence; and conspiracy theory b) Ward manipulated Keeler to entrap men because he was working for Soviet intelligence. It is surprising that Keeler didn't make much use of Honeytrap in Scandal!, since her second autobiography appeared a couple of years after Summers and Dorril's book. What I really liked about The Truth At Last was Thompson ventriloquising through Keeler some reasonably detailed descriptions of London clubs of the early sixties - particularly Murray's where Keeler worked as a hostess. I've been looking for reliable accounts of London hostess clubs in the early to mid-sixties and can't find much; a place like Churchill's gets name checked in many Kray twins related true crime titles but what I'd like to find is some real detail about that particular club. I have a number of photographs of my own (m)other working as a hostess at Churchill's but strangely no pictures of her at various other Soho haunts where 'the living was easy', including Murray's which employed her before she moved on to Churchill's. And if Keeler wants to do a further autobiography with more revelations I could imagine the Jack The Stripper slayings being properly integrated into her Profumo narrative, since the prostitute Frances Brown who testified against Stephen Ward at his trial for living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and others later became the seventh victim of the so called 'nude murderer'. Indeed, I think I could ghost write a truly post-modern fourth autobiography for Keeler using material of this type... I'd also like to know a lot more about the work Keeler did later on with the drugs charity Release and put some names to the heavy duty pot dealers who Mick Farren mentions as accompanying Keeler to the UFO Club in his autobiography Give The Anarchist A Cigarette (Pimlico).

As far as books that are completely frank about their theoretical status as fiction go the only thing I've read recently worth mentioning is This Is Not It: Stories by Lynne Tillman (Distributed Art Publishers). Tillman's opening story 'Come & Go', is the best thing to be written in the wake of 9/11 precisely because she doesn't address the things that concern her and us explicitly. The whole book is beautifully understated and unashamedly intellectual. It is also lavishly produced with exquisite illustrations. Tillman can do the impossible, so reconciling the sensuous with the rational is a relative minor accomplishment as far as she's concerned. Simultaneously subtle, ironic and side-splittingly funny, to describe Tillman as a post-modern cross between Henry James and Hegel fails to do her justice. If there is a slippage here, that is quite intentional since the second, third and fourth sentences in this paragraph were actually requested by the Glasgow Herald when they were doing a feature on what books had made an impression on assorted 'personalities' in 2002. I often mention Tillman as a writer I greatly admire when questioned about books I like, and usually I find my enthusiasm fails to be translated into 'Spectacle'. There might be any number of reasons for this including the fact that while Tillman numbers among the handful of contemporary fiction writers who are really worth reading, most editors haven't even heard of her, and so they vainly imagine she can't be as fantastic as I maintain. Which illustrates nicely enough why the way one is integrated into the 'Spectacle' should be observed with Duchampian detachment.

These days, if there is a difference between theory and fiction it is simply this: fiction continues to signify where theory cannot - 'beyond' 'erasure'. Let us then make theory even more rancid (that is to say fictive) by using Bataille to fuck other writers where it hurts (so good) - or more specifically in the gall blander. Verso, who have not only published Surya's Bataille biography but also a collection of Bataille's writings on Surrealism (The Absence Of Myth), are an imprint of New Left Books. Verso then is a publishing house living out the contradictions of the capitalist market place and their recent publications have ranged from Revolution At The Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917 V. I. Lenin edited with introduction and afterword by Slavoj Zizek to Impossible Exchange by Jean Baudrillard. As is clear from controversies going on in the pages of New Left Review - for example 'Postmodernism?' by T. J. Clark in the March/April 2000 issue - in its ongoing negotiation of debates and trends that might be brought together under the rubric of modernity and its aftermath, Verso and its parent company have taken a mildly 'culturalist' turn; perhaps 'a funny turn' is a better description, since in the process figures such as 'Che' and 'Lenin' have been transformed from 'gurus' to 'icons' and while the song remains, the same the instruments have gone even further out of tune. Here post-modernist might also be rendered as pop modernist, since in living out the death of modernity we long ago discovered 'this' side of 'the Spectacle' can take us to the 'other' side of modernity; modernism was always and already a way of living out our own deaths. Thus the Verso slippage from attacks on globalism to diatribes against corporate rock in the form of John Strausbaugh's Rock Til You Drop.

The problem with Strausbaugh’s 'argument' that middle-aged pop stars like the Rolling Stones or David Bowie no longer rock is the implicit and fallacious notion that these hacks were once worth listening to. Strausbaugh wants rock to be 'young' and 'authentic' not mere entertainment industry product. Rock and roll is actually a pantomime and the longer an act goes on 'doin' it to death' the more obvious this becomes. Strausbaugh's condemnation of nostalgia is moralistic because in places he makes the basic error of treating the sounds he's addressing as existing separately from their audience; what matters in rock, as in all music, is not the 'product' itself but the social and community relationships from which these cultures emerge. Strausbaugh's anarchism is evident from his choice of subject matter, corporate rock acts 'ranging' from the Sex Pistols to the Rolling Stones. A materialist condemnation of rock nostalgia (if such a thing were deemed desirable) would have to address both big name acts and those relative 'unknowns' who never made the transition from club dates to stadiums but who in recent years have made attempts at a comeback. From this perspective the late seventies London punk band Menace are an interesting phenomenon since they'd only released a handful of singles on independent labels before 'getting back together' a few years ago. The band plays a mixture of old material and new songs and the line-up consists of the 'original' bass player and 'original' drummer with a new singer and a new guitarist. It was only after 'reforming' that Menace managed to release their first album. Strausbaugh's diatribe, like that of much anarchist rhetoric against globalisation, focuses too much on the corporate and not enough on the commodity - and it is the latter, after all, which is our real enemy. Other distinctions ignored by Strausbaugh also need to be looked at. For example going back to the sixties, on the one hand you had much of the rock culture being influenced by Timothy Leary and adopting his "tune in, turn on, drop out" mantra, and on the other hand James Brown was putting out hit singles like Don't Be A Drop Out, which in the USA sold largely to Afro-Americans. In the USA being able to drop out is still a WASP privilege...

It goes without saying that Mick Jagger and David Bowie have always and already been case studies in abjection. By their very 'plastic' 'nature' celebrities are inevitably less than human, reduced as they are in their media representations to a few clichés; however, the fact that 'dinosaur' rock acts are able to fill sports stadiums represents a truly sick triumph of the human imagination - since the role of the performers on stage appears to be to satisfy our collective fascination with corruption and death. The likes of Jagger and Bowie retain their fame only because they actively seek out our mockery. They may even provide the basis of an argument in favour of cultural necrophilia as a way of living out the death throws of capitalism. When I saw the reformed Sex Pistols in the mid-nineties at the Shepherd's Bush Empire they were terrible in every sense of the word but particularly if one takes 'terrible' to mean wearing a pea green smoking jacket with brown cord trousers. I left that gig part way through the set, my amusement at the sorry spectacle the Sex Pistols presented in the course of four songs was more than sufficient entertainment for one evening. As a 'journalist' I'd been provided with a free ticket and to prolong the experience, would have been masochism. Sadly, I've never seen Status Quo but I like their first album Pictureque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo far more than anything the Sex Pistols ever released. The fact that The Quo went on to dump their frilly shirts and cod psychedelic rock songs such as Technicolour Dreams and Sunny Cellophane Skies for thirty-five years worth of denim clad twelve bar boogie serves brilliantly to underline their complete lack of authenticity. Marx suggested in The Eighteenth Brumaire that revolutionaries have traditionally donned masks from the past as the first step in a process that leads to the overthrow of the dominant culture. By dressing up in 'radical' glad rags rock 'revolutionaries' (and in particular ageing rock 'revolutionaries') may pose more of a threat to capitalism than those posers had in their wildest dreams even dared to imagine. Although I've yet to meet anyone else who was amused by media coverage of the recent death of 'king pin' punk pretender Joe Strummer, surely there are some more of you out there. Rock is dead, long live mock rock!
Review article first published in Annual review of Critical Psychology 2002.

How To Be An Artist by Bill Drummond (Penkiln Burn).
Bill Drummond is still best known as one half of the defunct KLF pop group, but that perception has been changing and this book is a good indication of why. Drummond is art school educated and claims in this latest work that he's spent much of his life trying not to be an artist. If that is the case, then this publication marks the point at which  his struggle was decisively lost. How To Be An Artist is a book about landscape, and how our perceptions of landscape emerge from a pastoral tradition that is inordinately self-conscious. The format of Drummond's book is simple, on one side of the unnumbered pages is a photograph, and on the other is text documenting a journey from Southampton to Dounreay nuclear power station on the Scottish north coast. Along the way Drummond affixed signs offering to sell a work by the artist Richard Long called A Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind for $20,000, which was considerably less than its market value. However, to frustrate any ordinary member of the public who might have been interested in taking him up on this offer, Drummond omitted to include contact details on his notice. This would appear to be a fairly straightforward comment on how most of us have been excluded from the charmed circle of the art world, and why this makes much art irrelevant. Many of the photographs show these "For Sale" signs installed on roadsides. Drummond hasn't simply documented something that already exists outside himself, he's played an active role in creating the landscape he records. Inevitably, the book comes in a landscape format, when portrait remains the publisher's norm.

The colour images reproduced here were taken with an Olympus Newpic Zoom 600, which has automated focus and light metre functions - so like many amateur photographers, all Drummond had to do was point and press. While being far from technically perfect, the daytime snaps are reasonably crisp, while some of the night shots are delightfully murky. Drummond isn't interested in formalist perfection, he wants to communicate - and above all what he's attempting to articulate is the difficulty artists experience connecting with those who aren't infatuated with aesthetic discourse. That's one of the reasons why he's chosen to work with snapshots, they are familiar and banal. It also explains his subject matter, the edges of arterial routes, places that are instantly recognisable and yet commonly ignored. Into these everyday places Drummond has inserted his red and white Richard Long boards as a repeated motif. The saturated colour of the photographs and the omnipresent "For Sale" signs transmute what might have appeared to be ordinary landscapes into an alien hyperreality. The overall effect is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing, a David Lynch film slowed down to a series of stills. In losing his battle against art, Bill Drummond reveals himself to be a glorious failure, and this photographic book is his finest achievement to date.