Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ageing Rock Stars as Wetherspoons Regulars

Baz, Neil and Kenny are Real Ale fans from Doncaster who are filling in time until the next Beer Festival. Neil will always ask the duty manager to put the horse racing on, although Baz and Kenny prefer the snooker, or BBC News 24:

Derek is a former biochemist at the Environment Agency, who has a regular seat by the window. He used to come in on Fridays with his wife Janet for the fish and chips, although since she sadly passed away he tends to keep himself to himself. People who have spoken to him say that he is "an intelligent guy" who "knows lots of things":

Ian, Geoff and Rob like to take advantage of the cheap Abbott on Mondays, although Geoff's nephew Chris (pictured, left) prefers cider. They know each other from their days as refuse collectors with the Council. Rob is sometimes joined by his daughter Emma, who likes to cause a stir among the patrons with her outrageous clothes:

Keith comes in during the afternoon to play the fruit machines. His wife Judy manages a care home, which leaves him at a bit of a loose end. He is known for his dry sense of humour and as a source of cheap tobacco, which he sources from a bent copper in Barnsley:

Gaz and Pat run a successful scrap metal business. They pride themselves on always giving a fair price, while never being taken advantage of. Pat owns a villa on the Algarve, where he also has part ownership of a golf club. They both lament that Wetherspoons out-competes locally owned pubs, although Pat concedes that "you can't argue with the prices." Gaz's son Liam, also pictured, runs the local branch of SportsDirect.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Solid Gold

This blog has become very focused on astrology of late, which is not what I intended when I started it, but it's always a surprise which direction your own thought will take you. Now I should stress that astrology is of value to me not for its alleged ability to forecast the future (which is itself unfalsifiable) but in the archetypes it provides to model and shape reality. Once you understand these archetypes you begin to see them everywhere, and it is of course the archetype of Pluto that is the most indicative of post-war popular culture. Solid Gold was Gang of Four's masterpiece album, and its power, as with all the most resonant post-punk LP's, is in its Plutonianism, in its depiction of individuals being internally torn apart under the external pressure of social and economic forces. The tracks on the album are not so much songs as case studies, switching between objective descriptions of the drama unfolding (usually narrated by Andy GIll) and agonised subjective expressions of the resulting inner turmoil (sung by Jon King). Paralysed opens the record by recounting that most characteristic of early eighties experiences, redundancy, and the disorientating malaise of suddenly being deprived of a meaningful social role. Note how the music churns away in the background, like the march of progress, indifferent to the souls who are chewed up by the impersonal forces of history.

Why Theory? depicts banal domestic routines under the perpetual Sword of Damocles of the Cold War, and the underlying psychological disturbance that such a contrast must provoke. Once again, the crushing mass of the music, like bulldozers colliding underwater, summons the enormity of the forces involved, always just out of the view of protagonists within the song. "Distant thunder from the East/Won't disturb our morning car wash".

A Hole In The Wallet reflects the contemporary battle between the fading force (at least at this time) of patriarchy, and its substitution not with feminism, but with econometrics, as interpersonal relations become increasingly focused on money conflicts. Here we see the disinterested power of capitalism not just fracturing the individual, but also partnerships, as both men and women become calculating machines, perpetually totting up the costs and benefits of human interaction.

He'd Send In The Army is the album's finale, mainly vocalised by bassist Dave Allen, and is a merciless portrayal of patriarchy as a lingering sociopathology. This is the band at their blackest, heaviest and most Plutonian, the song structure positively creaking under the gravitational mass of that dark, alien planet. Also characteristically Plutonian is the sense of there being no relief or transcendence in the experience, that it must simply be endured, as though existence itself is a perpetual prison. In the archetype of Pluto the only way out is the next Plutonian struggle.

Bonus vid: they could also do it live:

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Eminent Aquarians #1: Graham Hancock

In considering examples of how the Age of Aquarius is increasingly entrenching itself, the esoteric archaeologist Graham Hancock is a good place to start. He is a classic example of a disruptive individual who is pitched against a complacent Piscean hierarchy, as he himself delineates in the above podcast with good old Joe Rogan, himself an intensely Aquarian figure. Hancock is disruptive because he has, over several decades and numerous best-selling books, articulated a compelling narrative of human society, in which he posits that the first technologically sophisticated civilisation existed over ten thousand years ago in South and Central America, and that this was prematurely destroyed by the debris from a passing comet. As such, pace Hancock, the cradle of civilisation as we know it was not in Mesopotamia, but in the Americas, and the civilisations of the Middle East were seeded by the survivors of the prior American ur-civilisation, who had scattered themselves around the world with what little they could salvage from their ruined cities.

Hancock cites various similarities between indigenous American and Middle Eastern artifacts to bolster his case that these were not separate civilisations, but merely temporally divergent manifestations of the same civilisation. However, the established archaeological paradigm is that human civilisation in the Americas cannot be older than 2500 years, and Hancock alleges that instead of the archaeological profession being open to refutation on this point, it instead tends to marginalise anybody who contradicts it. As such, despite being in publishing terms a raging success, he is in professional terms something of a persona non grata. His Wikipedia biography accuses him of being a proponent of "pseudohistory" and "pseudoarcheology", the prefix pseudo being one of the classic signifiers by which rationalist-atheist "sceptics" stigmatise anybody they consider beyond the pale.

For anyone outside the hot and sexy world of archaeology, this kind of labelling might seem a bit infantile, but is Hancock really deceitful? In the interview with Rogan he appears to be sane, rational and engaging, and if he is a liar then he must be an amazing one because he keeps it up fluently without contradicting himself for almost three hours. A similar objection pertains to any assertion that he is simply delusional, because if he is so he displays remarkable internal consistency in his delusions. It could be argued that he has followed his line of argument purely because it is highly lucrative, but a counter to that would be that he started his career as a respectable establishment insider (he is a former journalist with The Economist), so there can be little doubt that he could have easily become extremely wealthy without compromising his respectability. Now he might just be wrong, and in fairness some of his speculations, such as that the giant stone roofs of the chambers within the Egyptian pyramids were lifted into place by telekinesis, are too much even for someone as woowoo-friendly as me.

Hancock's plight is similar to that of the evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who has spent similar decades touting his theory of morphic resonance to the indifference or even antipathy of his more mainstream colleagues. Like Sheldrake, Hancock harks to Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and its theory that science advances by paradigm shifts, as once-dominant theories increasingly fail to explain new evidence or data. They also invoke Max Planck's aphorism that "science progresses one funeral at a time" as doughty defenders of the status quo yield to new ideas by cocking their toes. In fact, both men are holding onto false hopes in these notions, as they misunderstand their real historical role, and why it is so disruptive. The Aquarian ideas that they proffer are dangerous not because they might upend existing paradigms, but because they undermine the Piscean hierarchies that govern their respective fields. Hancock is subversive because he recognises that only a tiny fraction of the record of human habitation on the planet has so far been exhumed, so that our understanding of human history is liable to become repeatedly overturned every time a virgin area of the planet is excavated. In turn, this will convert archaeology from being a sober, orderly, structured discipline into a wild world of constant turmoil, in which no hierarchy of expertise can be steadily maintained. However, unbeknown to themselves, his Piscean foes can only be defeated by him, as he embodies the Aquarian forces that will come to dominate not just their world, but our own too.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pluto In Ulster

There was no greater metaphor for the Plutonian experience than the conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 20th Century. Its grim aesthetic perfectly evoked the two sides of Pluto, both schizoidal internal conflict and external oppression.

The alien presence of the British security system evokes the ever-present eye, monitoring everything, revealing nothing. This was perhaps the ultimate Ballardian world, although Ballard himself never wrote about it. It is strange in hindsight how films and television dramas always soundtracked The Troubles with ethereal Celtic folk music from the likes of Clannad, when they should really have employed Chrome or Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.

Even the euphemistic title given to this conflict, "The Troubles", was suggestive. The central Plutonian experience is The Ordeal, in which we are dragged down into the Underworld in order to be torn apart, experience our most atavistic selves, before being forged anew and lifted out on the other side. Although the Pluto ordeal is agonistic, it is also evolutionary; all that is obsolescent and outgrown is dispensed with, so that a new, higher self can emerge.

All the protagonists in The Troubles descended into Hades. They all performed acts of depravity beyond what they might initially have thought themselves capable. This was the essential nadir of Pluto, and only after this nadir, or series of nadirs, could the journey out of the pit commence. This could also be said about the 20th Century as a whole, that it was one great Plutonian travail in which humanity plumbed the utmost depths of its consciousness, before slowly pulling itself upwards.

At the time, the conflict appeared to be interminable, this being another characteristic of the Pluto experience; that while you are in it there appears to be no end in sight. I remember a Northern Irish comedian being asked what it would take to resolve the differences between the two communities, and his reply was "coastal erosion".

The Pluto experience isn't quite over for the province, although its most intense phase has abated. The older identities of Unionist and Nationalist are still apparent, although they are gradually attenuating, and a singular Northern Irish identity is slowly growing. Although Pluto tears apart, if the individual or society under its influence endures, then it also reconstitutes anew.

Eventually, at least.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

An Occult Investigation Into Joy Division - Part 2

The later years of the 19th Century were marked by an intuitive sense among astronomers that there was a ninth planet in the Solar System, which was disturbing the orbit of the outermost planet known thus far, Neptune. In 1906 the American astronomer Percival Lowell instituted a project to discover what he termed Planet X, and, after many missteps, a young astronomer at Lowell's observatory, Clyde Tombaugh, would indeed locate a mysterious body in the early months of 1930. What Tombaugh had found was the most disturbing and destructive astrological force that has ever cast its dire influence on mankind, the planet Pluto. It was suitably named after the Roman god of the underworld, the reciprocal of the Greek god Hades, and like its namesake the new planet would drag humanity down to its most fetid depths as part of its process of transformation. Astrologically Pluto represented Mars, the planet of war, at a higher octave, and was therefore the planet of extermination and genocide, as well as of organised crime and nuclear energy. As part of its Hadean legacy, Pluto also represented the divided self and internal conflict, and therefore psychoanalysis and shizophrenia. It was Pluto that gave the 20th Century its choking, polluting, leadenness and murderous intensity, and tore individuals apart in wrenching soul conflicts.

It is generally considered that the astrological force of a new planet starts to manifest for a Saturn cycle prior to its discovery, this being 30 years, the time it takes for Saturn (the outermost planet visible to the human eye) to orbit the sun. This would place the start of Pluto's influence at 1900, the year that the British opened their concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War. From there the first truly major Plutonian ruptures occurred with the Great War, the Russian Civil War and the Armenian Genocide, although it was only after the planet fully revealed itself in 1930 that its appalling energy manifested to its full potential. It was the Plutonian current that elevated petty criminals and malcontents such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong into world-historical monsters capable of unleashing unprecedented levels of violence and brutality. But these eruptions were merely a calling card, as Pluto's mature phase of governance would commence on 16th July 1945, with the detonation of Trinity, the first atomic bomb, in the desert of New Mexico. Trinity was built around a core of fissile radioactive metal that had first been synthetically produced four years earlier, and had been named, naturally enough, plutonium. The subsequent detonations of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the resulting doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, placed all of humanity under Pluto's oppressive mass, the all-pervading low level psychological terror of the Cold War being the distant planet's ultimate expression.

Pluto's significance would not end here, of course, as its influence trickled into every niche and corner of existence, and even into the apparently trivial realm of popular music. Its arrival can be traced very precisely, to the opening chords of Jumpin' Jack Flash, while the leaden pall of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin would represent its anchoring in the cultural zeitgeist. Although Punk had intially represented a furious rejection of the ponderous sound of these forebears, Pluto would soon have its way with the arrival of post-punk and its perilous plunging baselines, spectral guitars, and infinity-seeking synthesizers. Thematically, Joy Division represented the two poles of the Plutonian ordeal, in both their schismatic sense of internal conflict and in their existential sense of oppressive external force. This was even apparent in their name, with Division marking an internal binary conflict, and the full name deriving from the forced prostitution of concentration camp inmates. Indeed the band's early predilection for Nazi imagery would dog their career, although it was a series of photographs taken by Kevin Cummins that gave the best visual inclination of their proximity to Pluto.

The post-war housing of Hulme that formed the background of these pictures illustrated Plutonianism in its (literal) concrete form. The slum clearance programmes in Britain's major cities were conceived and proselytised under the rubric of social improvement, although in practice they were generally akin to a domestic application of RAF Bomber Command's wartime policy of dehousing workers. The only major difference of course being that in this instance it was close-knit British working class communities that were broken up and peripherally displaced rather than German ones. Hulme was a particularly egregious example of the poor quality of system-built housing, this partially being due to characteristically Plutonian corruption on the part of the developers. The latter half of the 20th Century's fixation on concrete as the preferred building material, often inspired by the bunkers and pillboxes of the war years, nonetheless evoked the alien and awesome mass of Pluto, which was a force that could fascinate as much as it could repel. This dark fascination can be intuited in a track such as Komakino, that perfectly encapsulates the tractive pull and crushing gravity of that darkest of planets:

Post-war Britain was absolutely riven with Plutonian epiphenomena, the conflict in Northern Ireland, with its schismatic sectarian hatreds, and Brutalist British Army watchtowers erupting out of Victorian streets, being a particularly marked example. The Moors Murderers and Yorkshire Rippers who stalked the North and brought horror into the most mundane surroundings were also Plutonian irruptions. Perhaps Joy Division's most salient evocation of Pluto was The Atrocity Exhibition, which fused the Plutonian worlds of inner torment and mass murder together in a tableau of torture and conflagration; of sadism in both its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions. There was, however, something purging within this music, as the death of Curtis and termination of Joy Division seemed to take much of Pluto's power with them, such that the darkness and intensity of post-punk would suddenly appear overwrought, or even absurd.

However terrible the power of Pluto may have been, a nonetheless remarkable parallel trend had been working to undermine it. Continuous observation after its discovery had resulted in the consistent downgrading of Pluto's mass throughout the 20th Century. Initially, it had been calculated as being approximately as heavy as Earth, although by 1976 a series of drastic revisions had reduced its estimated mass to no more than 1% of Earth, this in turn still being a gross overestimate. The importance of this was that as Pluto apparently shrank so did its astrological influence. Wars became smaller, monolithic ideologies began to splinter, popular culture began to wane. The dark enchantment of the ninth planet began to dissipate and the world it had created would start to appear baffling in hindsight. In 2006 Pluto received the ultimate indignity of being downgraded from planetary status, and was instead designated a dwarf planet, of only minor astrological concern. The last great Plutonian conflagration, the invasion of Iraq, would mark the beginning of its swansong. As with its discovery, a Saturn cycle of 30 years will have to pass before Pluto's influence definitively fades, and it will not be until 2036 that it finally becomes dormant. Nevertheless, we are already firmly on that path, and this is why the 20th Century, and its artistic and architectural fads, its frenzied wars and Promethean inventions and discoveries cannot, and indeed will not, be repeated. There cannot be another group like Joy Division, because the planetary energies that summoned both them and their world into being no longer pertain.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Is there a Future in England's Dreaming?

There's a notable interview with Elton John in The Guardian, in which he lambasts the Conservative Government's apparent neglect of the performing arts during the negotiations around Brexit. According to Elton:

"People like me can afford to go to Europe because we can get people to fill in the forms and get visas done, but what makes me crazy is that the entertainment business brings in £111bn a year to this country and we were just tossed away. The fishing industry – which they still fucked up – brings in £1.4bn. And I’m all for the fishermen, but we’re talking about more than a hundred billion pounds of difference here, and we weren’t even thought about! 'Oh well, the arts: they don’t matter.'"

Now I think that Elton is a little mistaken about what is going on here, because I strongly suspect that the Government are tanking the arts quite deliberately. And, if they are, it demonstrates that the Tories are belatedly exhibiting some political nous. The first and most obvious point is that the British culture industry is generally very strongly anti-Tory, and in funding the arts what the Conservatives have actually been doing is feeding their enemy, and indeed shoring up one of the most implacable cadres that oppose them. For purely opportunist reasons it would suit the Tories to torpedo the culture industry no matter how much revenue it brings into the country, and it amazes me that they have taken this long to apparently figure this out.

However, there is an added benefit for the Conservatives in hobbling the arts, and which I referred to at length in a previous essay. This is that the culture industry, and popular culture in particular, have since the 1950's been one of the primary motors of British national demoralisation. This has not necessarily been ideological in character, but rather derives from the only future that most contemporary artists find Imagine-able - the peaceful world-utopia where there is nothing to kill or die for, and above us only sky. In opposition to this, the state and society that has been inherited from the past can only be viewed as outmoded and oppressive. Naive optimism and jaded cynicism are the two sides of the same nihilist coin, and this is why Give Peace A Chance and Holidays In The Sun are both essentially the same song. As a consequence, popular culture and especially popular music have tended to portray Britain, not inaccurately, as a spent and decaying former imperial power, lost in illusions of former glory, and internally riven with divisions based on race, class, and much else besides. Just spend five minutes perusing John Harris's Twitter feed, and you will get the picture.

This outlook has never been seriously challenged by the British state itself, mainly because most politicians, including even Conservative ones, basically agreed with it. When the Sex Pistols snarled that "there is no future in England's dreaming", or when The Waterboys trilled that "Old England is dying" they were, despite their apparent outsider status, merely reiterating the common sense of the ruling class. Unfortunately for Britain's creative artists, the one politician who now appears to stridently disagree is the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. In a recent interview (of sorts) in The Atlantic, Johnson was prompted to hold forth on the subject of the author John le Carré, as follows:

'He told me he’d taken a completely different lesson from the novelist. To Johnson, le CarrĂ© had exposed not the fakery of the British ruling class, but its endemic passivity, and acceptance of decline. “I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy at school,” he said. “It presented to me this miserable picture of these Foreign Office bureaucrats … For me, they were the problem.” Johnson told me this was exactly what he was determined to fight.

"You lump me together with various other people—and you say we are all products of these decadent institutions and this culture, an inadequate and despairing establishment. That’s not me!" He said he was trying "to recapture some of the energy and optimism that this country used to have."'

Now it could indeed be the case that the likes of Roger Waters, Joe Strummer and Thom Yorke are absolutely correct, and that Britain, or at least England, is definitively clapped out and cannot be revived. It may also be the case that any attempt at national renewal is wrong in principle and that it is through international collaboration and transnationalism that the future beckons. It is nonetheless definitively the case that if anybody was to attempt a serious project for national renewal, the very first obstacles that would need to be swept aside are the creative artists and performers. This is why the arts and creative industries will need to ready themselves to meet, for the very first time, a government that will be happy, and perhaps even eager, to see their demise.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Where The Mana Flows Like Water

Stumbled across the Alan Lomax Archive, a film-maker who travelled through Mississippi, the Appalachians and Louisiana in the late 1970's, producing a record of the music of these regions, such as these fine gentlemen, the Heavenly Gospel Singers:

The impression these clips give is of a skein of spiritual force that these performers, who are, after all, mostly amateurs, can effortlessly plug into. And when I say spiritual force, I am of course not talking metaphorically. There's an ease here in channelling spiritual mana that would necessitate gut-wrenching exertions from professional musicians if they attempted its replication. This also gives an insight into the sheer artificiality of the music industry, of how it is very much a soiler and a spoiler.

There's also an archaic aspect to these performances; they seem as though they could equally have been recorded in 1958 or even, but for the electric instruments, in 1928. The mass culture ploughs insanely on through its countless mutations, while in the back country the culture remains timeless.

It's amazing to think that this was filmed in a country that had only just finished visiting the moon and was still immersed in the space race. I like to think that you could see similar scenes in the more neglected regions of the USSR, only with the guitars replaced with balalaikas and the root bear substituted with vodka.

I do wonder to what extent this kind of music has persisted into the present day. I would guess the two main threats to it have been rap culture and middle-class hipsters co-opting it in their eternal search for authenticity. I expect the level of poverty is still the same though, or possibly even worse.

One string guitar = me when I get on the subject of Spengler or Jacques Ellul.