Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Cosmic Trigger Festival Talk

It's too early to say exactly what detonated at the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool this weekend, save to say that this particular firework was not a dud and much will be written about it.

At one point a man called Duncan Harvey handed me a memory stick containing a long lost photo shoot he did with Robert Anton Wilson at the Old Chelsea Town Hall, London, in 1986. I've placed my favourites throughout this post. Good, rights-clearable photos of Bob are in short supply, so if anyone has a use for these photos get in touch and I'll connect you with Duncan. This is my absolute favourite:

I was due to give a talk and host a panel with Robin Ince, Adam Gorightly, Robert Temple and Daisy Campbell. This didn't happen alas - whoever was in charge of the speaker's room lost interest in that role and wandered off and the resulting confusion and free-for-all (Hail Eris!) claimed the time alloted for my talk. So rather than see that talk go to waste I've transcribed here roughly what I would I would have said, bar the ums and errs and general blather.

Rather marvellously the panel talk was replaced by an impromptu wedding between Greg Donaldson and Daisy Eris Campbell. This was entirely fitting as we were going to be talking about connections, but the weekend was working on deeper levels than mere talk. It was a weekend of theatre and ritual, and a wedding expressed the concept of connection far better than words alone. Without giving away too much of the story of the play, a connection of love in the dark heart of Chapel Perilous, expressed in ritual theatre, is exactly what the weekend was about. Chapel Perilous, lest we forget, is still a chapel.

Here's what my talk would have been:

It is a year and a month to the day since I stood up, at the Horse Hospital in London, and spoke about Robert Anton Wilson. I talked about how people no longer reference Bob, and that I feared he was in danger of becoming forgotten. So how stupid do I look now?

As it turned out, the deathly quiet that I had mistaken for disinterest was a potent tingle of potential enthusiasm, waiting for an excuse to manifest. This was the day when Daisy Campbell spoke in public for the first time about her dream of putting on a Cosmic Trigger play, and this was the excuse that was needed. You know how a pearl forms seemingly out of nothing, provided it has a bit of grit to form around? Well, Daisy was our bit of grit. Which admittedly doesn’t sound like a great compliment but trust me, it is.

Watching this festival form over the past year has brought to mind the Noah’s Ark story. Noah didn’t go out and collect up all the animals. He busied himself building the ark. The animals just knew they were supposed to be there, and they turned up at the right time, and they got on the ark, and they didn’t eat each other.

It’s the same for everyone here – cast, audience, performers, backstage, and production crew. You somehow knew you had to be here and you turned up as and when needed. I’ve talked to a lot of you this last year and your stories about what brought you here are all very different. You are very different people, with different aims and motivations and baggage. Yet you all turned up, and you didn’t eat each other.

This coming together has been extremely productive. It’s been a virtuous circle of people being inspired by people being inspired. I’m reminded of a quote from Ken Campbell I saw recently, in which he said that the meaning of life can be peripherally glimpsed by being amazed and by amazing others, but it can fully grasped by amazing yourself.

When you gather together new-age heads and materialist rationalists, American libertarians and British socialists, the focused and the vague, the serious and the silly, the human and whatever it was that accosted me earlier, it does not sound like a recipe for getting things done. The only thing we all have in common is that we have at some point read Robert Anton Wilson and recognised and valued the impact that he has had on us.

So the fact this weekend actually happened is, I think, a great credit to Bob’s philosophy. Discordians take it for read that other people have different reality tunnels, and we don’t feel the need to force others into our own. We know it is as important that we don’t fall for our own belief system, our own BS, as it is that we don’t fall for other peoples'. Instead we value people like Robin Ince, a man who knows Alan Moore and Richard Dawkins, and who can be friends with them both and converse with them both and understand them both, without his head exploding.

I could tell countless stories about what brought people here. Scott Mcpherson who did all the animations and projections is a good example, as everyone has been raving about his projections today. When Daisy was writing the script, she wondered if it was possible to do stuff with projections, but neither of us knew anyone who did that sort of work or what it cost. And at that point, this guy @amoebadesign tweets out of the blue, asking if we need anyone to do projections. I’d seen him about on twitter talking about my KLF book and clocked that he was a Wilson head, and I’d assumed he was based in Glasgow. But no, he was in Brighton, where me and Daisy live. So we went to meet him.

He started showing us examples of his work including footage of a road in front of blue wooden garage door, with typography animated in the scene as if the words were filmed in the real world. I asked him why he had filmed those particular blue garage doors, and he explained that his then-office was right there, in the window next to the blue doors. And I explained that I know that road because I wrote the KLF book in the building opposite, sat at a window in an office which looked down at those doors. What was on the screen was the exact view I had as I wrote that book. Which was something of a coincidence, when you think about the size of the world... So yeah, I knew then that he was our guy and having seen what he did yesterday, I don’t think anyone will disagree. Although I do sometimes ponder if such close proximity to Scott’s psychic pollution during writing could have shaped that book in any way.

Another example of what brought people here is the band TC Lethbridge, who played their first gig last night, 23 years after they formed. Their story needs longer than I have here to do justice. In fact I’ve written a 28,000 word book about it, to mark their appearance at this festival. I doubt there are any other bands who have had a full biography written about them before they have even poked their noses out in public, and I wouldn’t have done so if they and their story hadn’t been so extraordinary.

That edition of that book is just limited to 111 copies – it’s not for sale bar for 5 copies which were placed, for obvious Discordian reasons, on the bookstall this morning and which have since gone. One reason why it’s not being made properly available is because I feel some unease about how badly a particular individual comes out of that story. But after writing it I realised that the book also works as a jigsaw piece. It connects to the story I told in my KLF book, and it also connects to my Timothy Leary book. With that work connecting the other two, the three books can be thought of as one larger story - if admittedly a lopsided and strangely shaped larger story.

This pleased me greatly, for what was my KLF book but a statement that five seemingly separate stories were, in a certain light, one bigger story? It was my way of saying that the stories of Bill Drummond, Robert Anton Wilson, Ken Campbell, Alan Moore and Doctor Who were parts of something larger, even if none of the characters in that story were aware of it. And so by joining up those three books, and squinting at them a bit, you get an even larger story still.

This, it seems to me, is exactly where we are as a culture. I’ve written a book about the 20th Century which will be out next year and which I’ll bang on endlessly about soon. But one thing I realised writing that book that the predominant story form of the 20th Century, especially in cinema, is what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. A young man (and it's almost always a man) of lowly means receives a call to adventure, meets a patriarchal mentor, faces many challenges, defeats the personification of evil and returns home with treasure. You’re probably sick to death of that story, it’s been used in everything from Errol Flynn movies to Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. It’s the story of a single reality tunnel – it’s the tale of how the hero views the world.

But there’s been a huge shift in our culture. Look at the big hits that we get now. You have TV series like Game of Thrones, where the complicated interplay between dozens of competing reality tunnels proves to be a far more interesting, rewarding and illuminating piece of television than the story of one single reality tunnel. You get things like the Marvel cinematic universe, where all these separate individual superhero films join up into something larger, because Marvel understands that the sum is larger than the parts. In the Eighties the fact that Doctor Who had decades of backstory was a reason not to watch it: now people love it when they pick up on a Jon Pertwee reference from the 1970s. A simple children’s Hero Journey story such as The Hobbit becomes an epic 9-hour trilogy for today’s audience. Alan Moore understood all this decades ago, when he first began connecting up the entire world of fiction in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

And this is what this weekend is all about. All the stories, all your individual stories about what brought you here to this building on this day, they all connect up and form one larger story that is greater than the sum of its parts. And none of us can see that story, but we can sense it. We know deep down that this is exactly where we are meant to be, and that being here is important and will resonate with us for perhaps the rest of our lives. This weekend is about something other than one person’s reality tunnel. And yes, it is frustrating that none of us can see this larger story, but you know it’s there, just out of the corner of your eyes, because you keep getting flashes of it. So perhaps now is the time where we should stop hearing what me and the rest of the speakers think, and get as many different voices heard as possible. We’ll bring a few people back for a panel, people who you might have questions for, and people who might have insights into what you’re thinking, and we’ll see what we can learn from each other.

I’m hoping your heads are buzzing and fizzing and full of questions and connections, and that by catching glimpses of what you’re all thinking we won’t gain any clarity or closure, but we'll go away with even more buzzing and fizzing and questions and connections.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Standing on the Verge of Getting It On

I've written a book called 2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On.

The text was finished on Friday and look, here it is already. It's not for sale, though, it's a private edition of 111 copies.

It was written to mark the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool this coming weekend.

It is the story of a band, TC Lethbridge, who will be playing their first gig after the play on Saturday - 23 years after they formed. TC Lethbridge are Doggen and Kev Bales, of Spiritualized and Julian Cope/Brain Donor, and Flinton Chalk, who you'll find in my KLF book (pages 116-117).

2000 TC is an album they recorded an album in Avebury 20 years ago. This is being released on November 23rd by Iron Man Records, but you can hear it here now:

The voice on the track Bou Saada is that of Brian Barritt. He makes an appearance in the book Cosmic Trigger, when Timothy Leary tells Robert Anton Wilson that he needs to talk to Brian if they are to both understand Aleister Crowley.

Spending a few months writing a biography of a band who have yet to show their faces in public was not the most career-minded way to spend my time, but it had to be done. This is a story about people who've had some form of visionary or incomprehensible experience, and about how they can only move on and process what happened to them through a creative act. It is about the impact an uncompleted artistic project can have on a life. It also functions as a jigsaw piece, connecting the story in my Timothy Leary book to the one I tell in The KLF.

So, yeah, it had to be written.

No doubt it will be made more widely available at some point, in some format, in some way, should the band keep gigging and putting themselves about. But until then - more about the band here, and catch them Saturday if you can.

Hope to see you all in Liverpool this weekend. I'll be speaking on the Sunday after Robin Ince and will then host a panel that will attempt to make sense of the preceeding days (fat chance!)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Our Pet Queen

There's a new book from me that is being published on Monday. Our Pet Queen is an ebook short I wrote for Random House Canada about the monarchy. Yeah, you weren't expecting that, were you?


Here's the blurb:

In the modern, democratic twenty-first century, the notion of an unelected, dynastic monarchy is not easy to defend. This new book argues that the current monarchy is by far the best system for choosing a Head of State - providing that it is understood that we are not subjects and that the monarchy are not our superiors. They are, in fact, our pets.
In this original ebook, John Higgs, author of the The 20th Century: An Alternative History, makes an argument in favour of the monarchy that will annoy royalists even more than it will annoy republicans. This is a tongue-in-cheek, witty examination of the persistence of monarchy in the modern world. 

It's a continuation of what seems to be a major theme in my books, namely that looking at the world rationally leaves you far more bewildered and angry than when you recognise and enjoy the magical thinking that really shapes the world.

It's 15,000 words, contains revolutions and beheadings, and you can pre-order now from Amazon UK for £1.94 or from Amazon.com for $3.25.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Historia Discordia - The Origins of the Discordian Society

Adam Gorightly's new book is hardcore. The most battle-hardened historian would blanch at writing a history of Discordian Society.

As you can imagine with a society whose major contribution to world culture was a conspiracy called Operation Mindfuck, telling accurate stories of their origin was not their thing. Discordians thought it was far more useful and enlightening to make stuff up. That this book exists is, frankly, something of a miracle. But it was clear from his earlier biography of Kerry Thornley that if anyone was going to pull this off, it would be Adam Gorightly.


This is a large-sized, coffee table book full of reproductions of original Discordian Society documents, the Holy Grail of which is a complete reproduction of the long assumed lost first edition of the Principia Discordia. Only five copies of this were ever made, ironically on the photocopier of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who would later suspect co-author Kerry Thornley of involvement in the JFK assassination.

This first edition reveals how much of later Discordian lore appeared fully formed at the start, most notably the Law of Fives. What is particularly interesting to readers of Robert Anton Wilson is seeing his influence appear after this point, bringing with him concepts such as the 23 Enigma and Timothy Leary's reality tunnels.

This is a treasure-trove of odd revelations. Who knew, for example, that a Discordian had once gone by the alias Rev. Jefferson Fuck Poland?  I had never taken seriously the claim that Discordians were responsible for introducing  the two-fingered peace sign, as adopted en masse by hippies in the 1967 Summer of Love, because this sounded too much like the sort of thing they would make up. Yet here we have proof that the Discordians were promoting the sign in 1965.

I tend to see Discordianism's development as akin to a musical genre where the real creative fire occurred at the very start, when people were still working in the dark and clueless about they were manifesting. Later developments, such as the Church of the Sub Genius, seem like a form of diet-Discordianism to me - great for what they are, and clued-up enough to preserve the good stuff, but ultimately restrained by being reproductions of earlier maps. So what Gorightly has assembled here is, to my eyes, very precious.

Historia Discordia is out now for £15 (Amazon UK / Amazon US). For those who don't like to use Amazon, try BookDepository which offers free worldwide shipping.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Steve Moore (1949 - 2014)

Steve Moore (centre) at the Brinklow Crescent burial mound. Photo by Mark Pilkington

When someone dies there is a temptation to write an obituary. If I'd written an obituary for the comic writer, Fortean Times grandee and occultist Steve Moore when he died last month it would have ended with the final few sentences from his dream diary, in which he describes the end of his last dream:

“I came to what seemed to be a small lake, and decided to float across the surface, but it seemed to be only about an inch deep anyway. I then decided to run, as I wanted to get home quick.”

That would normally have been a perfect image with which to mark someone’s passing. But the usual narrative of a-physical-thing-leaving-us doesn’t seem appropriate in Steve's case. As his life-long friend Alan Moore wrote in the afterword to Somnium, Steve “had always seemed to me to be deliberately liminal and ghostly in relation to the solid and shin-bruising world around him.” As an example of this, I searched through the video footage of Alan we shot at Alistair Fruish’s house earlier in the year, to see if there was a good image of Steve. All I could find was the following screengrab, from the moment that the camera was lifted up to be switched off, in which his left hand and leg can be seen in the top left of the frame. He was there, but you’d have a hard time proving it in court.

Steve possessed both a great love of the margins and a rigorous quality control, so as a result he was often way ahead of the curve. Much of the imaginative end of our culture has Steve’s influence somewhere in its background, but the man himself is largely absent. Remembering how he co-organised the first British comics convention and was behind the first British comics fanzine, I asked my teenage daughter, who lives in the Tumblr world of Sherlolly and Wholock, if she could imagine a world without organised fandom. She just stared at me, horrified, before saying, “How could you even suggest that?!”

Steve is, of course, frequently invisible in those cultures that he was in some way involved in shaping. At best, you might find a hand or a leg peeking into the frame.

Yet my relationship with Steve Moore is easier to pinpoint. With the exception of that afternoon at Alistair’s, I can show you exactly what our relationship consisted of, for I still have it in front of me. It is a chain of 58 lengthy emails, entitled ‘Re: From Steve Moore’, that we wrote between last November and his death in March. It was a relationship of the written word, where he seemed more present that in the physical world.

The emails begin after he discovered that I’d named the moonbase in The First Church on the Moon after him. He got in touch to say that, in his philosophy, having a fictitious moonbase named after you was more of a compliment than if it had been a real one. Those emails then continued on a strange, twisting path covering such subjects as triangular temples, why I should not go and see the upcoming movie based on his Hercules comics (“It will be shit”) and, perhaps most relevant here, the eternal nature of time.

"Don't go and see it, it'll be shit" - Steve Moore

Steve was an eternalist. Like Einstein, he thought that all of time exists in a big block. If something existed at any one point, then it exists always. The future and the past are just as real as the present - it’s just that you happen to be in the present, so you don’t usually see them.

The day before I heard he died, I read an interview from 2009 in which he said that the Bumper Book of Magic he was writing with Alan would be finished next year. I made a mental note to mock him about that when I visited him the following week, for I was due to spend actual real-world time with him the following Thursday. He also said that he had to get his long-promised academic work on the Greek moon goddess book, Selene: The Moon Goddess and the Cave Oracle, finished before he died, because he “owed it to my goddess”. He died at his desk, upon which sat a half-eaten Kit-Kat and printout of that manuscript, and on top of that was a helpful ‘Things To Do’ list, which itemised all the changes to the text that he still had to make. And so, over the last month, I've been editing that book in accordance to his wishes.

In the book he strips away modern lunar symbolism, such as the mother-maiden-crone triple goddess, in order to reveal what Selene meant to the ancients. To the Greeks, gods and goddesses were ageless and immortal. This set them apart from us mortals, who age and die. The story of Selene tells of her love for Endymion, a simple shepherd from Latmos. A relationship between an ageless immortal goddess and an ageing mortal man was never going to be straightforward, but in this myth it was possible because that mortal retired to a cave and sank into a never-ending sleep. This meant, essentially, that he was removed from the present. For Endymion, this was a small price to pay to be with his goddess. Steve Moore, it is fair to say, agreed with Endymion on this point.

There are indications, in that 58-email chain, that Steve wasn’t as beholden to the present as the rest of us. In one email he mentioned how he had been struck by the thought of what he would do should his doorbell ring at 11:30 at night (which never happened). He decided that he would go to his upstairs office and call down through that window. That evening the doorbell went at 11:30, so he went up to the upstairs window, where he was able to direct a confused fast food delivery guy to the correct address. Two days before he died, he dreamt that a plasterer was up a ladder, trying to seal that same upstairs window. After he died the police gained access to his house by putting a ladder up and getting in through that window. In his account of his final dream, the last lines quoted above come immediately after he noted that it was, in his dream, 11:30 at night. As he has noted, in magic you often get the answer long before you understand what the question is.

Selene will be finished and published in due course. He did his goddess proud. The Bumper Book of Magic will be finished by Alan, Somnium will be arrive in paperback soon and a collection of prose Tales of Telguuth stories should also be released. Steve may no longer be in the present, but he exists in the same quietly productive way he always did.

We can’t actually see him at the moment, of course, but then what’s new?