WHAT ON EARTH IS GODHAVEN AND WHY?

13 MARCH 2004

What
On Earth Is Godhaven?


And
Why? 

 

Godhaven Ink started out
as four of us: Gyrus, Mahalia, Phagus and Merrick. We found we’d had and
were having the same kind of ideas, motivations, heroes and villains. We’d
been finding incredible, beautiful righteous stuff that all seemed to link
up, although it never got mentioned anywhere Out There. There was something
about the writers, the music, the films and comedy that didn’t merely amuse
but really spoke to us and affirmed our spirit. But Out There our morality
and politics and motivation seemed dismissed or misunderstood if not completely
ignored.


    
Elsewhere we knew others from totally different backgrounds and circles
who felt the same; people we’d meet at gigs liked the same books; people
we knew as activists liked the same music. We knew there must be more people
who felt the same but who were isolated and doubting themselves cos they
were surrounded by people who ridiculed and ostracised them for not eating
meat, not watching The Bodyguard, or displaying some other trait of humane
intelligence. We knew there was a whole subculture that needed to affirm
itself by declaring itself.


    It was
the middle of 1994, a very active and charged time in Britain for the counterculture,
and indeed for the culturally aware in general. After 15 years of increasingly
fascistic government, there was a new law proposed; the Criminal Justice
Bill (becoming the Criminal Justice Act when it was made law). It was a
massively broad-ranging attack on civil liberties and marginalised groups:
it criminalised – at least partially – access to private land, picketing
and peaceful protest, it tampered with an accused person’s right to silence,
gave police sweeping new powers to search people without any suspicion
of a crime, and the power to set up a five mile exclusion zone around a
rave party, and made a crime of even being suspected by police of getting
ready to go to such a party!


    The actual
effect of the Criminal Justice Bill was the opposite of what the government
intended. In fact, it did what so many radical groups have struggled and
hoped for in vain for years; it created – by way of opposition to it –
a solid collective network of diverse groups, a true unity of oppression.
It was hunt saboteurs and trade unionists, it was the Socialist Workers
Party and Druids, it was hill-walking ramblers and the Lesbian Avengers,
it was environmental activists and Labour MPs. And above all, it was colourful
and joyous: a celebration of our vitality and diversity. At all times it
was a clear contrast to the homogenising repressed repressive dull greyness
of those who designed the Bill.


    The Bill, inevitably, did become law, but only after a summer of carnivals and rallies
numbering tens of thousands, only after connecting people who are still
working together now, only after kicking thousands of people out of apathy
or complacency and into a life of action.

    The four of us realised that it was no good just talking about our visions, our
truths. We found so much coming from and to us that really needed to be
heard louder and further. As Ghandi said, you must be the change you
want to see.


   So we did a zine in September 94 called Godhaven A-Z. It was 44 A5 pages photocopied
illicitly by Merrick on the copiers at the bank where he worked. It had
articles and collages that we’d done (some collectively, some separately,
all of it discussed, tinkered with and approved by all four of us), and
numerous quotes, articles and pictures that were nicked from other places
too.


    If you have a head full of ideas you need to get Out There, a zine is the quickest,
easiest and most direct way. To make music or paint or whatever you need
to learn technique; with a zine you just write it down and photocopy it.
No technical skill, no interpretive power beyond basic literacy, no mediation
required.


    And we
needed to do it not only because we were not seeing our concerns and truths
addressed Out There, but the stuff that was Out There was so insulting,
so deadening, so stay-sat-there, consume-and-die. We needed not only to
say our points but also to counter the McDonalds-ising stuff that was welling
up in our culture.


    Our publishing
policy is that if there’s an issue worthy of more discussion or a point
of view that speaks a Big Truth or a keen wit that’s seldom expressed and
we can say it well, we put it out. Although it’d make us wads of cash to
give the world more junk like another Diana memorial book or whatever,
there’s no point, no real worth, no integrity, and no dignity. There’s
already enough cultural pollution. Right now, with just a few clicks of
your mouse, you have unimaginable amounts of information at your disposal.
Understanding is no longer about the gathering of information so much as
the making sense of it, finding real use for it. And keeping the bullshit
at arms length.


    We swiftly
did a second Godhaven, which came out in spring 95, and a third in June
95. We had always intended to do no more than three, we wanted to be absolutely
certain that it’d always be vibrant, fresh, and buzzing, never formulaic,
tired or putting in any filler. We did it collectively under pseudonyms
so there could be no ego glory; we put them out at 7p, 8p and 9p so there
was no money to be made; we had no advertisers or paid employees so there
was no commercial tempering; no deadlines so that we didn’t rush anything
or put in filler if there wasn’t enough. We wanted it to be absolutely
clear that the only reason the zines existed was because we thought they
should.

   And we wanted
to make them look good. The zine format is an inherently scrappy thing,
full of extreme points of view (which is fair enough ˆ people are obviously
going to write about what moves them the most). We wanted to do something
a little different; to make something good not just within a piece of writing,
but in the way it’s presented, in the way it’s set among the rest of the
zine. We know that populism and intelligence need not exclude each other.
We’re not afraid of specialisation where required, but we wanted to make
everything as accessible and straightforward as possible. As George Orwell
said, “never use a long word where a short one will do.”


    
We got quite into the swing of the zine lark, and as well as the Godhaven
zine trilogy we put out a few leaflets and mini-zines on a few things (beginners
guides to hitch-hiking and self-publishing, as well as stuff against the
Criminal Justice Bill). But after Godhaven The Third, we went off to other
things. Gyrus, (who wrote in the Godhaven zines under the name T), continued
his other publishing thing, The Unlimited Dream Company, launching the
frankly breath-taking Towards 2012 magazine. He’s currently working with
renowned Yorkshire pagan historian Paul Bennett on turning Paul’s 20 years
of research into a series of books in the Fylfot imprint.


    Mahalia
(whose Godhaven zine name was Harper) is also a painter and a songwriter,
and with Phagus (a multi-instrumentalist musician of an outrageously high
level of effortless talent), they are a band called Slumberwall. Both of
them have spent a lot of time being ill and making music (separately and
together on both counts), but the music is reaching the end of its long
gestation and the first CD, The Spacecat Concert, has been released. Mahalia’s
songwriting shows the same intimacy, fearlessness and precision of Leonard
Cohen or Nick Drake, but as Slumberwall it is played with a shimmering
fluid effervescence reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, Sly Stone or Nusrat Fateh
Ali Khan.


    Mahalia’s
writing is consistent whether it be a lyric or a poem; several of the works
in his books Doubting and Surrender have started life as one and become
the other. His consistency also applies whether he’s writing of internal,
intensely personal-yet-universal matters or external things like the captivating
writing from tree protests in his book Surrender.


    Merrick
got The Call and quit banking in 1995 on the same day he quit wearing underpants.
Like Mahalia, he got into environmental direct action, spending months
at the Newbury Bypass tree protest in 96 and at Manchester Airport’s Runway
2 protest in 97, as well as a variety of other actions and things.


    None
of us could quite kick the writing thing. Merrick says, “I do try not to
write stuff, I’d rather DO things, but sometimes I just can’t help it.”
Battle For The Trees, his book about the Newbury campaign, started life
as a letter then grew into an article, then a long article, then a book
manuscript. Because we are our own editors and publishers, it would’ve
been fine to put it out in whatever form was best.

    Not being
tied to any contract, or indeed anyone’s expectations but your own, grants
tremendous freedom to let you do and present your work in whatever way
you see fit. We all work in several media, and knowing that the area you’re
working in is not the be- all and end-all takes away a lot of pressure
and lets creativity flow and play much more easily.


    
As well as the writing and the songs, we’ve done radio shows too. Named
Radio Savage Houndy Beastie, they’re a mix of treasured tracks, oddities,
and a lot of our own creativity in scripted comedy and spontaneous soundscapes.
The soundscapes can mix, say, Gregorian monks chanting with bits from albums
like Outstanding Recordings of British Mammals & Amphibians and snatches
of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The shows are on Leeds Student Radio, which
broadcasts twice a year for a month at a time, and hopefully they’ll be
webcasting them in future. Each show moves between a number of extremes
and styles, and between the political rants and the Bruce Forsyth albums,
the records of great stuff by obscure people and obscure stuff by great
people, the comedy sketches and the way we fuck about with the adverts,
there’s a cohesive collage effect that’s very much in keeping with the
Godhaven zines.


   It’s so important
that we act whenever the spirit moves us, no matter what the action or
the medium, and no matter how small the deed. We mustn’t let the big boy
corporate media make us feel impotent. Yes, today’s Daily Mail has sold
more than everything we’ve ever done combined, but we know the impact of
our stuff on those who do read it will be greater. It only takes one voice
of truth to show up a whole crowd of liars. As Morrissey said in a very
early Smiths interview, “I’d rather sell ten records and change ten lives
than sell a million records and change nothing.”


    See,
just because they shout louder doesn’t mean they actually get listened
to. People know the corporate stuff is there for the wrong reasons, to
patronise us with lowest-common-denominator nonsense in order to sell advertising
space. Whereas with the small press publishers there are no advertisers,
deadlines, editors, and certainly no profits or wages. So before you’ve
read a word of it, you know you’re dealing with something more real, more
true, something heartfelt. And it’s not just zines and publishing, it’s
all media, all art, all creative output.


    And we
mustn’t be worried if we don’t make a living out of it; it’s those who
do get paid who are under suspicion of just being in it for the money.
Here’s two lists:

   People who
know they’re getting paid before they start

All Saints 

Hello! magazine 

Barbara Cartland 

the police force 

People who never got properly
paid 

Van Gogh 

Reclaim The Streets 

Franz Kafka 

Godhaven Ink 

Which team do you want to
be with?


    Allen
Ginsberg once said that every day the New York Times is read by more people
than any of his poetry ever is, but that a day later the New York Times
is in the bin, whereas his writing stays relevant and true, that poetry
broadcasts across thousands of years.
It’s easier to claim people’s
attention by not challenging or moving them in any way; it also makes it
easy for them to move on and forget. The meaningless stuff rarely lasts.
When Patti Smith released Horses it was being outsold hundreds of times
over by the Osmonds. History does a fairly thorough job of bringing much
of the worthy work to the fore and consigning talent-free buffoons to obscurity.


    We have
to leave truth and beauty all around to inspire others and show up the
lie of McDonaldsocracy that tells us we can’t have it and we don’t deserve
it, as it takes our money and treats us as morons and tells us there can
be no other way.


    It’s
OK to think and feel. Not only is it OK, it’s essential, and it’s just
as essential we affirm it by expressing it. We must make clear our denial
of the popular culture that tells you that passion and integrity are just
another superficial style choice.

    Godhaven
have no grand schemes in mind, and we know there are no Final Answers.
What Godhaven affirms and promotes is a process, an attitude that encourages
a more humane world and brings us closer to being a species to be proud
of. If we are to head towards this it has to be by establishing a culture
of a broad network of compassion, tolerance, understanding and mutual help,
and realising that we’ve all been duped into participating in and depending
upon the stuff that ruins us.


    The prime
motivation of Godhaven and the lesson we pass on to others is; if it’s
what you feel and you’re not seeing it Out There, then put it out there
yourself. There will be others who feel the same as you, and will be affirmed
and inspired by what you do, like when a hitch-hiker watches hundreds and
hundreds of cars pass by without being picked up, then you can be the thing
that stops and carries them forward.


   Mahalia’s only
line on this right now is “Godhaven is whatever human heart still beats
at the start of the 21st century”. It is that which makes us special, if
anything, and the only thing important for us to be judged against, for
anything to be judged against. Whatever we count for is not due to marketing,
academic waffle, or recommendations from the Observer colour supplements,
but that innate human desire for something more, for something better and
something true. We hold on to what Patti Smith calls “the right to create,
without apology, from a stance beyond gender or social definition, but
not beyond the responsibility to create something of worth”. It is that
which makes us worth anything at all, and it’s that which resonates with
the people who’ve read the things we write and have been moved by them.
Zines that Godhaven Ink did a couple of hundred copies of over three years
ago still bring in the most beautiful and wonderful letters, and of course
they’re working their magic on so many more people who don’t write to us.
As Ginsberg said, we broadcast across the years. Get it together and get
out there. The only measure of your words and deeds will be the love you
leave when you’re gone.

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in Tucson, Arizona with Stephanie Smith. https://linktr.ee/jaywbabcock