PLAYING TO THE FORGOTTEN: Why Johnny Cash went to Folsom Prison to make a live record, by Michael Streissguth (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (September, 2004)…

PLAYING TO THE FORGOTTEN

Why JOHNNY CASH went to Folsom Prison to make a live record, as told by Michael Streissguth. Photography by Jim Marshall

Excerpted from Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Streissguth. Copyight © 2004 by Michael Streissguth. Reprinted with permission of Da Capo Press.


You’re starting fresh. We don’t even care what you’ve done. You act like a man here, we treat you like a man. You get stupid with us, we get stupid back. And if you don’t understand what that means, that means if you want to start fighting with us, then we’re going to start fighting back with you. And we’ll kick your ass. 

—Folsom Prison guard to newly-arrived Folsom inmates. 

Although Jimmie Rodgers uttered grizzly murder ballads in the 1920s and dozens of others had before and after him, very few artists of Johnny Cash’s stature recorded hit songs in the 1950s with lyrics as brazenly violent as I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die. Nor did any artist sound as if he or she could have pulled off the bloody deed. The Kingston Trio won a country and western Grammy in 1958 for “Tom Dooley,” yet few could imagine the well-scrubbed young men arriving late for dinner, much less stabbing “her with my knife”; and the honey-voiced Jim Reeves scored a hit with the treacherous “Partners” in 1959, but Gentleman Jim was the song’s Voice of God narrator, well distanced from the gory scene in a miner’s cabin. Cash’s gallows baritone, though, suggested that its owner just might gun down a man—even worse, a woman—and enjoy watching him—or her—squirm. 

“Folsom’s” homicidal line and its interpreter’s sawed-off shotgun delivery birthed a half century of myth, convincing many Americans that the rangy, dark-eyed man from Arkansas had done hard time for shooting a man when he had merely stewed in jail a few nights after alcohol and pill binges. But the myth endured. His audiences clung to it and over the years, Cash came to realize that trading on the myth—his tight association with the criminal world—stirred his audience’s imaginations and pocket books. Nobody bought the myth more willingly than prisoners. “After ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ the prisoners felt kinda like I was one of them,” said Cash. “I’d get letters from them, some asking for me to come and play.” 

Cash and the Tennessee Two first responded to a striped invitation in 1957, agreeing to play Huntsville State Prison in Texas. At the time, nobody with a top ten hit even considered performing inside prison walls, much less reading a prisoner’s letter. But Cash went ahead with the pioneering show, and although nobody remembers any fanfare around the date, they do remember a soggy day, a makeshift stage, shorted electric guitar and amps, Johnny picking and singing with no mic (and no Luther Perkins on guitar), and dozens of happy, happy men. “By doing a prison concert, we were letting inmates know that somewhere out there in the free world was somebody who cared for them as human beings,” said Cash, years later. 

From Huntsville, Cash courted a long-standing relationship with San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest and one of its most notorious. When Cash first brought his show to San Quentin on New Year’s Day, 1958, a young man in the crowd convicted for a botched robbery attempt glimpsed his own future. Merle Haggard, who’d been sent up in 1957 for a three-year ride, sat spellbound by Luther’s picking and Cash’s showmanship and demeanor: “He was supposed to be there to sing songs, but it seemed like it didn’t matter whether he was able to sing or not. He was just mesmerizing.” The day inspired Haggard, who would know his own extraordinary career in country music. He channeled the gift of country music tradition from Cash that day, just as Cash had inherited it from the Louvin Brothers on the WMPS radio of his childhood and Ernest Tubb and Jimmie Rodgers and others, but Haggard’s recollection of the show also illustrates what Cash was delivering en masse to the prisoners: diversion, inspiration, solidarity. “There was a connection there,” continued Haggard, “an identification. This was somebody singing a song about your personal life. Even the people who weren’t fans of Johnny Cash—it was a mixture of people, all races were fans by the end of the show.” 

Over the next ten years, Cash logged some 30 prison shows, forgoing compensation but developing a hardened anti-prison sentiment. He witnessed the ravages of prison life in his audience, read about them in letters from prisoners, and heard about them from Rev. Floyd Gressett, Cash’s pastor in California, who frequently counseled imprisoned men. An image of life wasted by incarceration, now based on observation rather than a movie, took form in Cash’s mind. 

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Wayne Coyne’s Coffee Recipe and Philosophy (Arthur, 2004)

Come On In My Kitchen

This issue’s chef: Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)


Wayne Coyne’s Coffee Recipe and Philosophy

To begin with, I have not willingly become a “coffee snob.” It was not something I ever aspired to. Christ, we used to drink coffee at Denny’s…and we liked it!!! But it’s not simply a matter of flavor. The process of preparing it seems to have become significant as well… Like any addiction there is a sense of pride associated with being so enslaved.

1. First: my choice of apparatus is the “french press” that holds about six cup-size cups…about 50 ounces….

2. Use freshly roasted beans, if this can be done. If not, roast some, say, on Monday and use them through, oh maybe, Friday…

3. I like to use a lot of coffee, you know, to get more flavor. But the unfortunate side-effect is absorbing too much caffeine…this is easily fixable by mixing de-caf with regular beans. This, to some coffee snobs, may seem like poor judgement…they will claim de-caf’s flavor is inferior. But this argument is only valid in a purists’ agenda-type debate, kind of like trying to hear the difference between analog and digital. If you know what you are doing, it’s imperceptible; in other words the regular and the de-caf taste virtually the same. Anyway, like I said, I like to use a lot of coffee. So in a “french press” that holds about five or six cups, use about a cup’s worth of coffee.

4. Grind these beans as fine as they can be ground, making it appear like black Kool-Aid. Plus you can wash these down the kitchen sink without worrying too much about clogging.

5. Part of what is enjoyable about making coffee is the smell of it. Freshly ground beans are a wonderful pleasure trigger. So try not to have too many other smells competing with it, stuff like bacon…wait till the coffee’s done, then cook it. Nail polish, wet dogs and potent perfumes can collide with the coffees’ aroma creating a horrible combination. Kind of like playing a Belle and Sebastian CD and a Miles Davis CD at the same time—both are great on their own—but together, probably unpleasant.

6. Pour the boiling water over the black powder. DO NOT POUR TOO MUCH, for the beans will expand quite a bit…so pour ‘til about half full. Wait a couple of minutes…shake and wiggle the “french press”…this will gently blend the water and coffee together. DO NOT STIR. Once it has settled pour some more water—do some more wiggling.

7. Use wide-mouthed coffee cups, so the smell can go more easily into the nostrils. Small cups are better, not little espresso cups, but small enough that the coffee stays hot for the duration of the drinking.

8. Use dark brown sugar and thick half and half mixture at your liking.

9. Drink five to ten cups… be close to a bathroom…enjoy life…..

Some Kind of Megalomaniac: James Parker on the Dandy Warhols-Brian Jonestown Massacre documentary Dig! (Arthur, 2004)

Some Kind of Megalomaniac

The unfamous also feud, as James Parker finds in Dig!, a feature-length film documenting the decade-long love/hate thing between the leaders of the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)


Reviewed:

DIG!

(Palm Pictures, released October 1)

Directed by Ondi Timoner

In order to really dig DIG!—an intimate, warmly detailed portrait of the decade-long love/hate thing between Courtney Taylor (of the Dandy Warhols) and Anton Newcombe (of the Brian Jonestown Massacre)—you have to buy into the idea that Newcombe is a genius. It’s important, this, and just about everyone onscreen testifies to it sooner or later: Newcombe is a GENIUS. He pushes the boundaries, burns with a hard, gem-like flame, is monstrous in his talent, must be compared with Manson, God, Hitler and Lou Reed, and so on. It’s the one point on which this otherwise swinging, confident movie insists a little anxiously.

The Dandy Warhols and the BJM were, very briefly, artistic confederates. Fellow retro-ites and stylists, they played together, swapped ideas and—doubtless—pairs of trousers, and their careers advanced in parallel for about two minutes before the Dandys got the major label deal which still eludes the BJM. Thereafter, the two bands were each other’s nemeses. Anton Newcombe became the unrewarded GENIUS raging in obscurity, Courtney Taylor the limelit, slightly guilt-afflicted music-biz hustler. DIG!, narrated by Taylor (because history is written by the winners), covers just about every key point in the relationship, from Newcombe’s innocent rhapsodies about “this really rad band, the Dandy Warhols” to his first anti-Dandy song “Not If You Were the Last Dandy On Earth” (a riposte to the Dandys’ radio hit “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”) to the moment he sends the band a box of individually wrapped shotgun shells with their names on them.

Success, in our imaginations at least, is just success —static, constant,some sort of white-lit plane, like heaven. Failure on the other hand is many things, a very mulchy and soulful state, and so DIG is inevitably more interested in the disastrous trajectory of the BJM, about whom the first thing you notice is not the blurting and blustering Newcombe—“I play 80 instruments. Yeah! Weird fuckin’ Chinese shit!”— but the amazingly pointless Joel Gion. Gion (hairstyle, cigarettes) is one these extra or ‘trophy’ members that a lot of your more berserk bands seem to have, to signal the sheer anarchic superfluity of their energy—like Bez in Happy Mondays, or almost any of the Butthole Surfers. In Gion’s case he implements the BJM aesthetic by standing at stage-front looking down his nose and half-arsedly wagging a tambourine. A very pure artist, untainted by actual creation, Gion’s main job seems to be keeping his balance after monster ingestion of drugs. On his little Chelsea bootsoles he teeter-totters, sneering. His clothes are black, his hair is classic through-a-hedge-backwards, and on his pear-shaped face is that expression of somnolent haughtiness we associate with Dr Seuss characters; in fact the longer you look at him the more Seussian he gets—remote, effete, insolent, with tassels for hands, and a name like the Fazoon or the Sprong . ‘Do not look long on the infamous Sprong/ The tilt of his chin is wrong wrong wrong’…

Anyway, Gion turns out to be a witty fellow and quite undeluded—the yang of BJM, if such a thing could be said to exist. Newcombe on the other hand has no sense of humor—none. You can’t be a megalomaniac perfectionist and have a sense of humor.

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Reviews by C and D (and E…) (Arthur No. 12/Sept. 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sepember 2004)

REVIEWS BY C and D (and E…)

THE GRIS GRIS
The Gris Gris
(Birdman)
C: Okay D, we’re gonna start this one off with something I know you will dig—the debut album from San Francisco psych-rock three-piece Gris Gris, who are led by that kid Greg Ashley, whose solo record we dug last year.
D: Yes I remember Mr. Ashley well! He is the new Syd Barrett and [listening to keyboard run] he is advising us to join him on an interstellar overdrive magic carpet ride.
C: The carpet’s in the garage, and it’s kind of greasy. It’s not used, it’s vintage.
D: Rock bands were doing this in garage basements in the Bay Area of ‘60s, after they got their first Yardbirds records. And all across Milwaukee in 1987. Mister Ashley is singing his ASH off! I also like the simplicity of the drumming.
C: …Milwaukee?

THE BLACK KEYS
Rubber Factory
(Fat Possum)
C: Third album from Akron’s finest, once again produced by themselves.
D: [listening] I am not sure if they needed to make another album on their own. There’s not enough progression here.
C: It’s more mellow than the last one. But I like it. Listen to the solo here on “Desperate Man.” And this one on “Stack Shot Bully.”
D: Hmm, definite burning there. This is a 7.5 moving up to 9.3…
C: And this Kinks cover, “Act Nice and Gentle” is great, really blissed out, reminds me of going down to the river in the summertime. I didn’t think I ever wanted to hear another take on “Summertime Blues,” but…
D: That’s a rocker with extra thrusters, baby! It still is summertime and yes I still have those blues! Even though it says “do not duplicate,” can I duplicate it?

THE FAINT
Wet From Birth
(Saddle Creek)
C and D: [blank stares]
C: Um… Pretty belabored electro dance new wave blah blah.
D: I am in Berlin getting down with the transvestites.
C: I see 16-year-old girls dancing poorly.
D: Who are they? I wish he woulda left the transformer effect at home.
C: They come from Omaha. This is their second album.
D: Really??? [listening more closely] They’ve finally written a song good enough for Victoria’s Secret commercial. Congratulations!
C: Maybe we just don’t have an ear for this stuff, but, sheesh, this is painfully shitty. Crap new wave is a joke that didn’t need to be told, ever again.

MOUSE ON MARS
Radical Connector
(Thrill Jockey)
D: This is so bad in such an obvious way. They don’t even number their tracks! So inconsiderate.
C: What, you’ve never heard of glitch in Milwaukee or Berlin?
D: Yes yes, but this… Mouse on Mars have lost it. This trying-to-be-funky-and-clever thing is not working in their favor.
C: You are not happy with the Mouse’s progress.
D: They are progressing to a place where nobody wants to dance. And I am a dancing kind of fellow!

TWILIGHT SINGERS
She Loves You
(One Little Indian)
C: An album of covers by Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers project. He used to lead the Afghan Whigs, about four decades or so ago.
D: Never heard of ‘em. I am not a fan of the ‘90s.
D: Really? [listening to cover of “Hyperballad”] This sounds like U2. Agh, can’t stand it. Even the guitar is ringing! Can we please listen to something I might like?
C: Dulli does sound like Bono when he tries to hit those trailing Bjorknotes.
D: Is that her voice in the background? [sarcastic] Are they holding hands? This is ghastly! [listening to cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”] Now he sounds like Marianne Faithful. I’m getting a drink. Okay, maybe three drinks. [heads for kitchen]
C: I only like the songs where Mark Lanegan sings, really. This version of the blues “Hard Killing Floor” where Lanegan sings lead is all nice and charcoal and moonshine… But basically, I like this album more in concept than in execution. The world doesn’t need an easy listening MOR version of “A Love Supreme,” in my humble opinion.

THALIA ZEDEK
Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch of Madness
(Thrill Jockey)
C: [to tape recorder] D’s in a bad mood, again! Sheesh. Okay, guess I’ll keep going here. This is the new album by the sublegendary Thalia Zedek, who lead the great lost rock ‘n roll band Come for many years. Unforgettable voice, jointly sponsored by Jameson’s and some devilry, I think. Like later Marianne Faithful, actually. Anyway, this is pretty straightahead sad-eyed twilight rock ‘n roll, with some violin on it, which of course sends me back to another lost-‘90s-rock-n-roll-band-with-a-great-female-singer: the Geraldine Fibbers. They also had a violin. Yep.

MIKE WATT
The Second Man’s Middle Stand
(Columbia)
C: Mike Watt from the minutemen and fIREHOSE and current Stooges bassist doing his first album in six years, a total concept piece about his near-terminal illness, plus Dante and one thousand and one other layers of meaning, played by a storming organ-drums-bass three-piece. 9 songs, with eight of them over 5:30, which means this earns Prog certification. Like a particularly smart Deep Purple, subbing out the ponderousness for some art-punk new-beat spastics, splatter and stutter. Do you need a lyric sheet to make sense of it? Yes you do.

PAUL WESTERBERG
Folker
(Vagrant)
C: One of the worst album titles in recent times, but let’s not hold that too much against it. Continuing in the ‘90s-semistar series here, the new solo album from the former singer of the Replacements, who were also doing traditional American rock ‘n roll when that wasn’t exactly called for by the times. Never really dug his solo work, but this is ridiculously good at what it’s doing: really melodic mid-tempo rock ‘n roll that you listen to at the gaspump and then hum the rest of the way home: kinda Oasis, actually, and kinda Tom Petty. And “Looking Up In Heaven” is gorgeous perfection. Yep.

RICH ROBINSON
Paper
(Keyhole Records)
D: [walks back into the room holding big coffee mug, mumbling to himself] People can’t tell you’re an alcoholic if you drink it out of a coffee cup…
C: [oblivious] Solo album from the guitarist for the Black Crowes, who are on some kind of trial separation. Very in-the-pocket, and lovely harmonies, just solid rock ‘n roll songs for longhairs washing their VW bus on a Sunday afternoon.

THE WHIRLWIND HEAT
Flamingo Honey EP
(Dim Mak)
C: This is the new EP from the Detroit band Jack White called the closest we’re gonna get to a Devo in this generation.
D: Hmph. I will be the judge of that!
C: 10 songs, 10 minutes, each song almost exactly one minute.
D: [listening to “The Meat Packers”] Sounds like when the White Stripes covered all those Beefheart songs on that Sub Pop 7-inch.
C: You’re totally right! Good call
D: These guys sound a little too smug to me. They’re just good enough that they’re getting laid.
C: I like conceptual limits, generally. Sometimes it gets you out of a creative jam, makes you go into a new space you wouldn’t’ve otherwise thought of. It necessitates invention and problem solving, keep you from getting too set in your ways. Standard John Cage theory, right? Brian Eno…
D: These guys should work with Eno!
C: He did produce Devo’s first album, didn’t he? Hmm. Perhaps it can be arranged.

COLONEL CLAYPOOL’S BUCKET OF BERNIE BRAINS
The Big Eyeball in the Sky
(Prawn Song Records)
C: Okay, I think I’ve had enough Primus for one lifetime but this looked interesting. It’s Claypool on bass, Bernie Worrell from P-Funk on keyboards, Buckethead on guitar and Brain on drums. Like one of those old Axiom jams that Bill Laswell used to put together back in the early ‘90s with Bootsy and all them.
D: I used to listen to Primus. They had one good album, I don’t remember what it was called but it certainly wasn’t Pork Soda. That was the worst.
C: [cracking himself up] The wurst, you mean, ha ah ha!
D: …
E: [entering room] Hey guys, what’s going on? This sounds great!
C: Whoa. The notorious E dares to enter Arthur’s inner sanctum.
D: We have not seen a woman here in sometime.
C: But your presence here has been foretold.
E: You guys might have more company if you guys didn’t lock the door all the time!
C: Sorry… So, you really like this, E?
E: I love Les Claypool’s voice. I admire his integrity. And can you say “Pork Soda” without laughing? I think not.
C: Er… I believe no one should imitate Zappa. Well not like this, at least.
D: I do like things that are circus-y. It’s like a Fellini movie, you’re waiting for the transvestite to pop out of the tent…
C: I think I’d like it more if I was 16 and playing Nintendo.
E: This is great. What’s your problem, C? If it said “Ween” on the box, you would totally dig it. They’re clearly incredibly smart and having fun.
C: Hmm. Okay, maybe if I was 14.
D: This is totally late Residents and is making me want to get very high right now. I could get a lot of cleaning done to this.

ANTIBALAS
Who Is This America?
(Ropeadope)
E: Fela? Tony Allen? This is cool, of course.
D: Is this from Nigeria? If I had to DJ a wedding, I would definitely play this. You can do any kind of dance to it, there’s so much going on. You can meringue to it.
C: But it’s not Fela Kuti, it’s Antibalas, that group from New York trying to bring back that original Afrobeat. They’re so good now, I can’t tell the difference, really.
D: Don’t they have like 86 people in their band or something?
E: [dancing] More like 20! It’s between them and the Polyphonic Spree for largest band in the Arthur world…
C: I have to say that as good as they are, their lyrics still aren’t there. Fela’s was always really biting and clever. Most of this is too straightforward, there’s none of that really cutting, mordant wit.
D: [dancing with eyes closed] Who cares, this is phenomenal! It makes me want to put my ass into it!
C: [to tape recorder] He said he was a dancing fellow, and now he is proving it.
E: Hey, did you guys hear that Rick James died today?
C: A lot of people owe him big time.
D: Especially those guys who had girlfriends who became superfreaks!!!

MELVINS/LUSTMORD
Pigs of the Roman Empire
(Ipecac)
E: Now for something completely different.
D: Fudgetunnel?
C: Is it Godflesh?
E: It’s actually the Melvins with Lustmord.
C: Awesome dark sludge from some creepy condemned industry at the edge of town.
E: [listening to “The Bloated Pope”] I think this music is really erotic! Much more than easy listening or slow jam, because it’s dark and there’s an element of mystery.
C: And the fifth song is called “Pink Bat,” which is almost as good a title as “Pork Soda,” eh, E?
E: [smiling] Yes, exactly.
D: It’s not my favorite kind of music, but I could scrub the walls to it.
E: Hey D, what are you drinking in that coffee cup? It doesn’t smell like coffee…

LUCIFER RISING
Original soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil
(Arcanum Entertainment)
C: Speaking of dark and mysterious, here is the original soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s legendary Lucifer Rising. The original composer was supposed to be Jimmy Page, but Anger ended up using this score by Bobby Beausoleil, an old Manson associate who recorded it in the ‘70s while in prison…
D: UNBELIEVABLY black! Black turned to 100, with lizard eyes. But subtle and beautiful, somehow. This is a high point of human culture.

WOLF EYES
Burned Mind
(Sub Pop)
D: Throbbing Gristle!!!
C: Yeah kind of, right? It’s actually Wolf Eyes, who we reviewed last ish.
E: [reading song titles] “Black Vomit.” “Urine Burn.” And of course, “Stabbed in the Face.” I think they need to get some grooves going. That’s their problem.
D: I used to go see a lot of bands like this. Then I stopped.
C: You have to see it in a small space where the sound of just overwhelming and crushing and inescapable and you are just being confronted with it. I can’t really picture listening to it at home—
E: Me either.
C: —but maybe that’s my problem?

HOPE OF THE STATES
The Lost Riots
(Sony)
D: [disgusted] Is this the new Billy Corgan album?
E: Ouch.
C: It’s Hope of the States, young band, they’re being hyped as the greatest thing since buttered bread and bangers by the British press. One of the guitarists hanged himself in the studio before they finished the album.
D: [listening to “Don’t Go to Pieces”] I have a theory about the suicide. Maybe he did it because he heard the singing on this song!
E: [groans] Double-ouch. No need to be so callous, D. You might want to lay off the vodka a bit… But yes, this singing is really awful.
C: I thought I’d like this because they’re supposed to be dark and political and grand but it just sounds like the dreary precious bits of Radiohead. No thank you.
E: Hype of the States!

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"Regarding Crop Circles" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 12/Sept. 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“Regarding Crop Circles…”

By the time you read this, the 2004 crop circle season will be over. Harvesters will have scooped up the fallen wheat and canola, as it lay swirled into inscrutable patterns. The symbols that attracted thousands to the verdant countryside of Wessex, in Southern England, will only exist as a set of astonishing images (to see this year’s patterns, visit http://www.cropcircleconnector.com, http://www.temporarytemples.co.uk and http://www.cropcircleresearch.com). The pictures will go into the archives and databases kept by the “croppies,” those devoted students of a phenomenon that has been resoundingly ridiculed by journalists and ignored by the masses. After all, the prevailing judgment offered by the media and the public is that the crop circles are a hoax, made by drunken farmers, bored teenagers, or unemployed artists. If this is the prevailing belief, then surely it must be the case. When is the mainstream media or mass popular opinion ever wrong?

Crop circles have appeared annually, in the UK and around the world, since the late 1970s. The patterns began as simple circles, but quickly started to complexify into formations such as “quintuplets,” four smaller circles arrayed around a single larger one. In the early 1990s, the crop circles moved to a new level, as hundreds of designs appeared each summer. One type of formation seemed to display a kind of abstract sign system unscrolling across hundreds of yards. In 1991, crop circles started to depict recognizable symbols from alchemy, fractal geometry, and various mystical traditions. Beginning at that time, hoaxers stepped forward declaring that they were the perpetrators of the phenomenon. Some of these groups—such as http://www.circlemakers.com—continue to claim responsibility, parlaying their skills in simulating formations into lucrative contracts with corporations and music video producers.

Through the rest of the 1990s and until today, the crop circles continued to evolve—and this took place in relative quiet. Much of the media coverage and popular attention dispersed after the phenomenon was officially labeled a con job. However, those who continued to follow the patterns were treated to ever-more elaborate and extraordinary configurations, using increasingly complex geometry. Averaging perhaps 100 configurations a year, the formations branched into Moebius Strips, toroids, DNA spirals, sunflower bursts, astronomical configurations indicating certain dates in the future, “Trees of Life,” futuristic iterations of the Yin-Yang symbol, various complex fractals, and “strange attractors.” The execution of these patterns—except for the obvious human-made attempts—has been persistently virtuosic.

The intellectual profile of the circlemakers was raised considerably by Gerald Hawkins, former chair of the astronomy department at Boston University and author of the influential book, Stonehenge Decoded. Hawkins began to study the geometry of the crop circles in 1990. He found that even seemingly simple formations contained hidden layers of intention and geometrical complexity. He analyzed a triplet of circles, in a pyramid shape, discovered on June 4, 1988, at Cheesefoot Head. He was able to draw three tangent lines that touched all three circles. These three lines formed an equilateral triangle. He drew a circle at the center of this triangle, and found that the ratio of the diameter of this central circle to the diameter of the three original circles was 4:3. He tested this out with circles of different sizes that allowed tangent lines to be drawn in the same way, and he found that the ratio remained constant. The formation had yielded a geometrical paradigm. Since Hawkins was well-schooled in Euclidean geometry, he went looking for this theorem in the pages of Euclid, and other later texts. It did not exist. The formation was displaying a new Euclidean paradigm that no other geometer had found.

Hawkins found three other original Euclidean paradigms in different crop circle patterns. From these four paradigms, he was able to generate a fifth Euclidean theorem that Euclid, and all later authors, had missed. This theorem involved concentric circles placed inside different types of triangles. Circles drawn within three isosceles triangles generated one typical formation; circles drawn within equilateral triangles generated the other. In one science journal and one magazine for math teachers, Hawkins offered a contest to see if anyone could derive the fifth general theorem from the four earlier ones. Nobody could. “One has to admire this sort of mind, let alone how it’s done or why it’s done,” remarked Hawkins, who also found diatonic ratios in many formations, suggesting the circlemakers take an interest in the musical scale.

Biophysicists have studied the biochemical effects on plants within the formations, discovering that the bent “nodes” on stalks of wheat and canola are elongated towards the center of a crop circle, as if by heat. Many observers have seen “balls of light” hovering over fields in which crop circles have appeared; some have witnessed the extraordinarily fast creation of patterns—within a few seconds—seemingly orchestrated by these “balls of light.” Eltjo Haselhoff, a Dutch physicist and laser engineer, collated data supporting the hypothesis that crop circles are created by single-point sources of electromagnetic radiation. He published the results of his investigations in Physiologia Plantarum, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on plant physiology and biophysics. In his excellent and levelheaded book The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles, Haselhoff writes:

This publication has an important consequence. It means that the hypothesis that “balls of light” are directly involved in the creation of (at least some of the) crop formations is no longer a hypothesis, but a scientifically proven and accepted fact. Moreover, it will remain such a fact until someone comes forward with an alternative explanation for the circularly symmetric node lengthening, or proofs that the analysis was erroneous. However, such a proof will not be an article in some daily newspaper or on the Internet. The discussions about node-lengthening effects in crop circles have clearly outgrown the level of the tabloids and entered the era of scientific communication by means of scientific literature. Consequently, the only comment that can be taken seriously at this point will have to be another publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The Wessex area of Southern England is the epicenter of the crop circle phenomenon. It has attracted a group of thinkers and researchers over the last decades, who have studied the formations and contemplated them over a considerable period of time. Their perspective is that the phenomenon may be intentional, orchestrated by levels of nonterrestrial consciousness considerably more advanced than our own.

John Martineau is the Glastonbury-based publisher of Wooden Books, a wonderful series of slim volumes on astronomy, physics, Neolithic monuments, and other subjects. Martineau’s A Little Book of Coincidence illustrates the beautifully harmonic set of relations between planets orbiting our solar system—Earth and Venus, for instance, create perfect pentagonal geometry. Martineau became fascinated with cosmology and Neolithic stone circles while researching the crop formations in the early 1990s. He describes the crop circles as a “coincidence nexus.” He considers the crop formations to be great works of art: “If they are made by people, I want to study under them.”

Michael Glickman, a retired architect and industrial designer, is one of the most entertaining and articulate of the crop circle researchers. Glickman considers the glyphs to be “a series of profound, diverse, and complex communications of a substantial lightness and subtlety. They are using shape and geometry, number and form, to access fundamental parts of our being which have become culturally deactivated over centuries.”

The crop circle symbols point towards the possibility of reconciling modern scientific knowledge with esoteric wisdom traditions. In recent decades, a bridge has been built between these two modes of understanding—reflected in popular books such as The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu-Lei Masters, The Cosmic Serpent, Godel Escher Bach, Earth Ascending and so forth. Quantum physics seems to be a continuation of mysticism by other means. The crop circles repeatedly focus attention on astonishing correspondences between the fractals of modern chaos science and hermetic symbolism. To take one example, variations on the “Koch fractal” have appeared several times. The Koch fractal is the Star of David, with an endless series of triangles added on to each edge to create mini-stars in a self-recursive pattern with an infinitely expansive perimeter, resembling a snowflake. Although the perimeter of the Koch Fractal is infinite, the icon can be contained within a circle, demonstrating the esoteric principle that the infinite is contained within the finite. An extremely beautiful series of crop patterns have presented previously unknown variations on the yin-yang symbol, as a self-recursive shape in which negative and positive are held in dynamic balance.

I began to study the crop circles a few years ago, spending the last two summers in the region of England where most of them appear, tromping around fields and talking to farmers, croppie philosophers, and self-proclaimed hoaxers. My perspective on the crop circles is that they are a teaching on the nature of reality, geared specifically for the Western mind. This teaching is multi-levelled. Some of the formations are made by human hoaxers—although probably considerably fewer than one would think. However, you can never be certain – and this seems to be an intentional part of the teaching. If you take them seriously, the crop circles force you to confront indeterminacy and paradox, without rushing to make some deterministic judgement. In this way, they undermine the dualistic habits of the modern mind, which wants something to be “real” or “fake,” “true” or “false,” right away. Overcoming dualism is essential to the teaching of the Dzogchen tradition from Tibet. Chogyai Namkai Norbu writes in Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State:

Duality is the real root of our suffering and of all our conflicts. All our concepts and beliefs, no matter how profound they may seem, are like nets which trap us in dualism. When we discover our limits we have to try to overcome them, untying ourselves from whatever type of religious, political, or social conviction may condition us. We have to abandon such concepts as “enlightenment,” “the nature of the mind,” and so on, until we no longer neglect to integrate our knowledge with our actual existence.

It may be that the circlemakers are guiding us, gently but persistently, to achieve a new understanding of our world—if we could only be bothered to pay attention.

* * *

“Here and Now” columnist Daniel Pinchbeck is a founding editor of Open City Magazine and author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books). http://www.breakingopenthehead.com

Arik Moonhawk Roper lives in New York City with his cat and two roommates. He’s currently producing a book of graven images and psychonautical roadmaps designed to create true hallucinations through visual stimulation. http://www.arikroper.com

"Rove Elephant" by Paul Cullum (Arthur No. 12/Sept. 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (September 2004)

Rove Elephant
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

* * *

BUSH’S BRAIN
Directed by Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey

“The whole art of war consists of a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defense, followed by rapid and audacious attack.” — Napoleon

“Controversy? … What controversy?”

Such is the tagline in ads for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, his excoriation of the Bush imperial presidency—devised in guilt and darkest rancor, nutrient-fed at Cannes and currently growing geometrically on the steroid hash of raw media frenzy. Although it’s not widely remembered, Moore may have tipped not one, but two national elections now with his last-minute full-court antics. His very public support of third-party candidate Ralph Nader had a decisive effect in 2000, regardless of how he parses it now. But back in 1998, three weeks before the mid-term elections, Moore sent out a series of mass e-mailings on his frustration over the impeachment proceedings, and urging angry young disenfranchised liberals to hold their nose and vote Democrat. That was the election that unseated Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America foot soldiers, and a woozy punditocracy attributed it to a last-minute appearance by Clinton on Black Entertainment Television, which supposedly energized his latent black base. But everybody I know saw those e-mails; they managed, like they say in Network, to articulate the popular rage:

“Yes, most of the Democrats suck,” read Michael Moore Newsletter #11 from TVNatFans@aol.com on October 8, 1998 at 21:44:47 EDT. “I rarely vote for the sorry, wishy-washy losers. But this election is not about how I feel about them—it’s about us using them to whack the right wing for good. Imagine if the Democrats are voted in by overwhelming numbers (when all the pundits are predicting a Republican landslide). The message would be loud and clear to all these new Democrats—the American public wants the agenda of the Christian right removed from the halls of our United States Congress!

This led, in a straight line, to Moore’s career as author, propagandist, gadfly, jester, freedom fighter and hero to the French. And power to him. Except now it looks like he may be sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Because another political documentary which could be of crucial benefit to an undecided electorate—more than Control Room, the Al-Jazeera doc; more than The Hunting of the President, about open season on Clinton—is apparently not slipstreaming into theaters behind him, but is instead perilously close to going unreleased in time for November’s election.

Bush’s Brain, co-directed by Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey, presents in horrifying, clarifying detail the sinister ministrations of advisor-without-portfolio Karl Rove, who occupies the post position on George W. Bush’s speed-dial, and who his enemies liken to no less than a co-president of the United States. Politics as policy, the Big Lie, junkyard dog attack ads, means justifying ends, operating out beyond the event horizon—all are part and parcel of what the film calls “the mark of Rove.” Based on the book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential by reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, the film features a who’s who of talking heads—Molly Ivins, Joe Wilson, Sen. Max Cleland—even Bill Clinton from a 2000 California recall photo op—in charting Rove’s rise and rise from the Texas of Ann Richards and Jim Hightower to one that is remorselessly Republican. And while the two-decade-old extranea of Texas electoral politics may seem of limited interest to a country with bigger problems on its plate right about now, it is said that Washington, D.C. is run by just three individuals—George Bush, Karl Rove and House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay—each of them angry Texans with a taste for wetwork. This shows where they come from. As with the Moore film, there may not be much new in the telling, but as we’ve just learned all over again from the Hallmark cards coming out of Abu Ghraib, one picture really is worth 1,000 words.

Continue reading

ZIPLOCKED: RTX’s Jennifer Herrema talks with Trinie Dalton (Arthur, 2004)

Ziplocked
Royal Trux are gone, but RTX lives on. Jennifer Herrema talks with Trinie Dalton about chasing that airtight classic rock sound.

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (September, 2004)

Jennifer Herrema has spent the last 18 years establishing her reputation as a rocker through Royal Trux, her partnership with singer-guitarist Neil Haggerty. Described (or dismissed) by critics as “conceptual acid-punk,” “hate-fueled rock,” and “dissonant junkie” music, Royal Trux found a home at Chicago’s start-up indie rock label Drag City in the late-‘80s, where they released several albums before—and after—scoring a lucrative three-record deal with Virgin Records in the go-go mid-‘90s in the wake of Nirvana’s success. Today, Royal Trux are split in two: Neil records solo albums as Neil Michael Haggerty and Jennifer has started a new band, RTX, whose debut full-length, Transmaniacon, arrives in September.

Recorded with guitarist Nadav Eisenman and bassist Jaimo Welch, Transmaniacon is a wildly produced album that has the feel, scope and drive of the classic ‘70s rock—Rolling Stones, Kiss, Rush, etc.—that Herrema admires. The album fucking rocks, a powerful growling 11-song reminder that Herrema can stand on her own as a singer/songwriter in the traditions of not only great female rockers like Joan Jett, but also among those male icons who dominate Classic Rock World.

After years living at the Royal Trux stronghold in the hills of West Virginia, Jennifer now lives in Southern California, where she’s taken up longboard surfing. Her tan is insane, especially accentuated by her platinum blonde hair and eyebrows. She looks healthy, and I can’t help but think that her new So-Cal beach house has influenced her music; Classic Rock and the beach go hand in hand. Her inimitable sense of fashion is strong as always—remember, this is the woman who virtually defined “heroin chic,” for better or worse—and she’s just finished modeling local designer Henry Duarte’s new line of denim jeans.

Breaking from our interview, she plays me her new song “Kitty Grommet,” which will accompany a denim wetsuit she designed for a show at Tokyo’s MoMA in honor of Hello Kitty’s 30th anniversary. Kitty Grommet cruises the waves looking cute, but Jennifer’s raspy vocals undermine the tune’s Pokemon-ish superhero theme-song tendency by dishing out some death metal growls. Herrema says she’s been perfecting her growl since Royal Trux required her to invent vocals for songs that “weren’t classically pop, where the vocals had to present themselves more as an instrument.” All her new projects are a mature culmination of past experiences with music and pop culture. She discussed her ambitions and sense of accomplishment with both Royal Trux and RTX over cookies and beer, after answering the big questions: How did RTX come to be? And, what motivated the break-up of two of rock’s most notorious musicians?

Arthur: So, you stopped touring with Royal Trux, your dad got sick, and you were dealing with other things in your life. Were you writing these new songs during that time?
Jennifer Herrema: Yeah. We cancelled that last tour, and within a year I knew what I wanted this record to sound like. I got the sound in my head. I just let it be a sound, kind of an amorphous blob. I didn’t want to nail it in too soon or else I’d be over it by the time I got my shit together. So I just kept it in my head. A year went by. Jaimo and Nadav were sending me things. I was listening to Nadav’s engineering and production stuff. I flew them out to meet me, and we all got along really well. They’re awesome, totally inspired.

The bass playing kicks ass on this album.
Yeah, Jaimo’s psycho. He’s only 22 or something. He’s got this energy. He’s amazing. Very different guitar player than Neil, but at some point he will be as good as what it is he does. I felt like I hadn’t met someone [since Neil] who could nail what it is they do so well. He takes direction really well. There’s no need to reference things. I’ll be on piano or start humming the riffs and he’ll do it. Part of it was learning a language, how to communicate. I had a real rapport with Neil. It was intuitive. But Jaimo and I have that communication.

What happened with Neil? I know he’s busy doing solo albums…
Well, we’ve been together since I was 15. We email each other all the time. We just needed to separate, to have time to fill the holes. When you compliment each other so well there’s all these deficiencies that occur because you’re always pleasing somebody else, and vice versa. We’ll be much stronger people [for going out on our own], like two wholes. That way, whether or not we play together again, it’ll be a benefit.

Royal Trux was clearly collaborative, but did you feel like ideas of yours weren’t happening because of the other influence? Of course, that probably goes both ways…
Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I love all of Neil’s solo stuff. But it’s different than what I want to work on. So it’s just like, break it off into two entities. I want to nail something solid, not that that stuff wasn’t solid. I just want to simplify.

“Simplified” is a good word to describe these new songs. They strive to be perfect, as if you’re trying to make the rock song a perfect thing.
Yeah, distill it and put it in a jar. That’s why live they’re going to have so much room to open the fuck up. They’re such a studio creation. I wanted them to be all tight. Ziplocked, all the air taken out of them.

RTX makes me reconsider classic rock. Classic Rock has such a clichéd image. But the great bands became classic by trying to invent the perfect song. Achieving that loud sound. What you’re doing is an extension of that.
Definitely.

It sounds new too, though.
It’s not retro. There’s a checklist in my head, like where the guitar sits in the mix, how the kick sounds.

Every era has its Classic Rock. I can hear different eras in your songs. There’s the 80’s metal sound, Def Leppard or Motley Crüe, then the 70’s arena rock thing, and the female punk heritage, the Runaways or Plasmatics. Suzi Quatro.
Yeah, Suzi Quatro. The songwriting, I wanted it to be really tight.

I guess you’ve been influenced by all different sounds, since you wrote these songs over a long period of time.
But that’s where the subconscious comes in. You’re not trying to find something, you just keep playing until you’ve got what you need. That’s the subconscious bringing back all the things you love. I love that sound, and it was implanted somewhere back there a long time ago. I love millions of sounds. But I had to put parameters on the record. I didn’t want it to be all over the map.

One thing that’s different [from Royal Trux] about RTX is the vocals. In terms of ugly music—ugly as beautiful, disharmonic—this album seems less in that aesthetic vein.
There was never a period when there was a conscious aesthetic. We were never trying to coax a lesson. It was what it was, it was never trying to be ugly. And to put tons of reverb on it—going back to Royal Trux—it didn’t make sense musically to do that now. Singing with Neil, the song’s keys were different.

You sang a lot lower?
Yeah, I had to. Neil has such a high voice. I can go high, but in order for us to sing together I had to take a place. It was cool, I had to stretch. I forced my voice to do things that didn’t come naturally.

You have more range now, I can hear your voice more on this album.
Oh yeah, these songs were easy. The melody line is very natural. I probably won’t lose my voice as often. I don’t really abuse my voice that much. It was more live, wanting to hear myself. Royal Trux would have two guitar players, two drummers, bass, and Neil’s got lungs. I have to push. People say I don’t have to push, we can hear you, but it’s like, “This isn’t about you out there, it’s about me having fun, so shut up.” That can get rough on your voice. But that was rare. People tell me to stop smoking but I love smoking.

Did you get the name for your album from the Blue Oyster Cult song?
Well there’s the BOC song, but that’s with the MC motorcycle club thing. It’s a fictitious word and the alliteration of it sounded like the album to me. I mean, when pronounced correctly. Trans-man-I-acon. But there’s also this Japanese video game called Transmaniacon in which a book is buried under NYC. And there’s a science fiction book. So it’s not just one thing.

The sci-fi reference puts that song “Psychic Self-Defense” in a different context.
Yeah, the album needed a space there. The album’s supposed to be like a book, to be read through. Of course, each song should stand on its own. But lyrically, there’s a sense the songs make. The sequencing came really quickly, and usually it’s really hard. Usually, it’s like playing Tetris. Nadav and I were talking about sequences, and we used the first sequence we burned. We were like, “That’s it, don’t fuck with it.”

Sequencing is a crucial element on my favorite Classic Rock albums. Brian Eno is so good at sequencing, but he’s not Classic Rock.
I love Brian Eno. I read this article about him years ago and he was talking about metal. He said it was the first ambient music. That made sense to me, because it’s so compressed. The reins are so tight, so it sails.

Maybe he was talking about Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, all that experimental stuff, Tony Conrad. Have you been listening to the new bands doing that droney metal now? Like Sunn0)))?
A little bit. Joe Preston, of Thrones, he toured with us a lot. And he’s doing something with Sunn0))). I like Thrones and I really like Joe a lot. He’s such an awesome dude. When he toured with us he brought his cat.

I love how the song “PB & J” sounds like a boy band song, all robotic.
We used a harmonizer on that. It breaks your voice into different octaves.

You employ a good blend of classic instrumentation with effects and machinery.
Oh yeah, we use effects. I’ve worked with so many engineers, and they’re a different breed. Not to say they’re all alike. But they use effects to make songs seamless. Sometimes that’s cool, but other times it’s like, “No, this is an effect and let’s fuckin’ hear the effect.”

When you use a harmonizer, for example, I think of corporate bands, bands who are totally manufactured. You seem so against that but then you exploit the possibilities.
It’s a balance. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. But I love Kid Rock. I love his production. He’s such a good producer.

Production is what saves your songs from being retro. Each song is produced in a new way. “Heavy Gator” is also really good, it sounds like a warped record. How did you do that? Did you fuck with the speed of the vocal track?
It’s not fucked with. There’s no real vocal effects. I think I quadruple- tracked my vocals and the way they went against each other, it sounds a little warped. That was a cool accident.

Some parts are muted and some parts are loud.
That’s a production thing. A volume thing. The way it’s canned.

Did you record on all different machines?
ProTools. We use tons of great preamps and stuff, but I’m so into ProTools. I’m not against analog or anything, but dude. You’ve got great gear and you’re getting the sounds you want. I love the sound of digital. Digital distortion. I love the sound of analog distortion, the thickness and warmth. Digital distortion is this whole other beast. You can just fuckin’ go in, you don’t have to power up. We’ve got tons of rack effects, we’ve got all these plug-ins, and it’s all right there. So you can walk in the room and try something really quick, boom, it’s the ease of it. With analog, it’s a ritual, the tape, how hard you’re hitting tape. But digital, it’s just different.

You must be a distortion expert by now. Who are your distortion heroes?
I don’t know man, there’s a lot of them.

You came out of a tradition of distortion—Sonic Youth…
Yeah, there was a lot of that going on but they were a whole generation ahead of us. There was this place on Long Island called L’Amours, and you could go see Skid Row, or Ratt. In New York, I saw a lot of those bands that you’re mentioning, but it was incidental. The punk rock shit, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, I loved that shit. I saw the Bad Brains a lot. I liked GBH a lot. I like Metallica, but I love Megadeth. I like Rush a lot, I just saw them last week. Kiss, I love them. I went and saw them three weeks ago. The songs are fuckin’ great.

Do you keep up on new east coast noise bands? A lot of it seems more electronic. Have you heard Black Dice?
I like Black Dice. I saw Neil play last summer with Dead Meadow. I thought they were good, but after 20 minutes, I thought, “This is great, now wrap it up.” Loved it, but then I wanted it to be done. Or else I wanted something drastic to occur.

Do you think they’re the new Led Zeppelin?
Fuck no. That’s blasphemous. Don’t even go there. I totally dig Zeppelin. How can you not? I mean, this is the problem: Zeppelin is Zeppelin. There will be no new Led Zeppelin, and if there is, it’s gonna suck, just by the nature of trying to replicate something that’s bad to the bone. So the new Led Zeppelin has to be that good at what it is. It can be fuckin’ polka, I don’t care. If you try to be be the next Rolling Stones, you’ve already lost. Because the Rolling Stones kick your ass. If you want to be number two, go for it. It’s all good and fun, but fuck it.

ARTHUR'S ASTROLOGY by Steve Aylett (Arthur 12/March 2004)

ARTHUR’S ASTROLOGY
By guest astrologer Steve Aylett

first published in Arthur No. 12 (March 2004)

VIRGO
(August 23 – September 23)
You will develop the frictionless face of a dolphin and thus enter the bar at greater speed. All present will address you as a “bottlenose bastard.” Incapable of human speech, you will not be able to order. The anecdote will flourish on the rubber-chicken dinner circuit, bringing precious little benefit to you, Virgo. Yet in September your huge button eyes will fall upon a new love and romance will blossom. Understand that this is a time of regeneration. A man who believes in a billion things has a billion used tickets to sell. A clean slate awaits the squeak of a lie—don’t blow it, Virgo!
Reading: Whatever it purports to be, if everyone stops to watch, it is not advisable to drink it.

LIBRA
(September 24 – October 23)
Arriving at work in early July, you will remove your coat and calmly push it into the mouth of your employer. Congratulations! Sympathising with their arrogance might encourage them to rule over you. Evade your responsibilities in September by mounting an adroit display of wasting sickness. A tip: cotton wool soaked in red dye looks like guts! Atone for your work by hurdling gravestones wearing a tail like an arrow. But beware—sooner or later the Supreme Court will have you by the legs. The scales of justice mirror those of your own sign, Libra. Make a freakshow of your tears and tell them a fire-breathing wren told you to do it. This is the sort of nonsense of which courts are disposed to take a tolerant view. They’ll send you away with pity and laughter. Unguarded remarks about Larry Hagman will earn you a smack in the mouth. Keep digging the tunnel.
Reading: Never refer to a large dog as a friend—he is in custody and he knows it.

SCORPIO
(October 24 – November 22)
One of your henchmen will betray you to the fuzz. Saturn in Gemini in your second house leads to the confiscation of illegal earnings, which is how you could afford the second house in the first place. Traitors, all in rare form, are straining every nerve to keep from sniggering. In the festive season eleven bullets will unexpectedly take up lodging in your back. From your wounds the ballistic route will be triangulated to the fuzzy image of your mother, caught in the background of a tourist’s snapshot. She is holding a rifle and has never looked so fulfilled. The corpse of your first victim will be dug up on a nutmeg plantation. A deposit of Iron Age snot will also be detected. In court your shouts of explanation will stray off the charted edges of the alphabet. “Our only option was a grisly disposal at midnight” is no defense, Scorpio. Begging for leniency, you will come to regret that you have only two knees upon which to crawl. I see you in a turmoil of mistrust, weak amid a crowd of cheesy quavers. When you can’t find your pants but can find the front door, a message is being sent. Abandoned by all, you will spring off a building wearing a Hawaiian wreath of donor cards. Closed coffin if you get my drift.
Reading: Knives delight in a snug enclosure—for them it’s freedom.

SAGITTARIUS
(November 23 – December 21)
Saying “Advantage mine” when overtaking someone on the pavement is not a winning attitude. Your pursuit of notoriety comes of the duty to compare. Your ideas end where most people’s begin, Sagittarius. Picture after picture buries your real face. You kiss only the superior graves. You pretend to be a populist by fainting near a barricade. Serenity is painful for you. Status looks outward so unremittingly its heart may stop without concern. Pretty soon you’ll be batting at invisible serpents. A faked photo of you with a smile and yacht bevy will be the last your friends hear of you. An obscure East End chef will serve an elaborate sugar sculpture of your arse. The first incision will reveal that the real arse rests within. Yet even this display of your charms will only reach the latter pages of the tabloids. Disintegration is the constant season.
Reading: Your contribution is condemned to the crowd.

CAPRICORN
(December 22 – January 20)
Put it all on Deathbed Pioneer in the fifth—it’s a lock. The optimist sees the future as a rabbit sees the oncoming truck—getting bigger, not closer. No sense getting all steamed up about things. Remember the philosopher Pandemal who went to hell with the words, “Fatal place, have another bit.” Impish devilry is the order of the day, Capricorn. Attend the theatre in a waterlogged box jacket. Flick a poison spider into the orchestra pit. Slap a musician on the back so he gets his face caught in the thin end of the trumpet. Stare through a grating and frighten the children. Then sit and watch the money roll in.
Reading: Snack in a sniper’s nest —calm before the storm.

AQUARIUS
(January 21 – February 19)
You will celebrate Christmas Day under a fallen door. “Freeze on day of purchase”—there’s a grim double meaning there, Aquarius. Hesitation at the crucial instant releases mayhem, attacks by a screaming chimp, all poise lost. Feeble cries will bring eventual rescue and recovery in time for the multiple tragedies of the New Year.
Reading: A poet can often be found in a block of tar, still expressionless.

PISCES
(February 20 – March 20)
The grim task of wedding a loved one is endured amid prolonged silences. This absurd and demeaning farce will take its toll on you, Pisces. A flower is coloured silk in the dirt, not a symbol. Cross the threshold of pity; can’t get back across the armature. How to compensate for giving up a whole human in bits and pieces? Medication enters your mind like a sinner through the gates of heaven. Starvation is portable almost to the end. Able to do anything, you merely answer the door. Talk of “suction rhythm” will be met with a revolted silence. Escape, Pisces. Don’t even make a scene. Punching a clown makes it hard to steer.
Reading: We bring death and those who claim to be our rivals bring death also. It’s investing everywhere.

ARIES
(March 21-April 21)
You appear to be worried about your plan to steal from the company, Aries. Do not be concerned. You will be fired before the opportunity arises. Collect those crumbs from your eye—they’re trying to tell you something. Despite bearing more than a passing resemblance to a hen, you are despotic and surly. The world has already lost patience with you and your so-called “mystery ears.” Broke in a tux, you impress nobody. Your diatribes send passersby recoiling in disinterest. Yet believing the patronising words of a professional, you will change your name by deed poll to “Babylon Tiger” and wear some sort of wrestler’s cape. In early Fall you will slam into a bar full of mirrors, ferns, frogstands and icy women, vomit against the indoor water feature and wake up naked in a wild bird reserve. Your hoselike nose and tubular morality will not help you then.
Reading: Lady luck means to feed.

TAURUS
(April 21 – May 21)
In September your head will twist open like a flower revealing a small platform upon which a puppetlike drama will unfold, toy maidens dancing about a well which is in fact the stump of your spinal canal. One of the tiny figurines will have the face of your father and as it shuffles across the platform it will whisper “Never to forgive.” And this is only one of the bounties awaiting you this autumn, Taurus. Efforts of the past few years will finally pay off, as an eye defect will superimpose the image of flamingoes in surgical masks over everything you see. This will make your moods unpredictable and often dangerously explosive, the influence of Mars pissing about in the usual way. You may learn that you can justify any atrocious act by connecting it with several years of a stranger’s success—no-one condemns altruism.
Reading: Hang up the phone on a vampire—the definition of carefree.

GEMINI
(May 22 – June 21)
Your crime will be discovered through carelessness. A single omission lays waste to many precautions. Not all publicity is good.
Reading: Fractured masks, the house empty.

CANCER
(June 22 – July 22)
Put aside all doubts about your sexuality—the spaniel in question is The One. Yet an entrepreneurial enterprise which is close to your heart requires further consideration. There are no such things as “Deluge Pants” and there never will be. Remember the tale of the man who, watching evenly-matched nuns in a bare-knuckle fight, bet on the one with the scariest face. Sharp bones are brittle! Consider every angle before making an announcement. You have shown taste and split-second timing before, Cancer, as when you pushed that waiter against the passing student.
Reading: Only the English clear heaven for dignitaries.

LEO
(July 23 – August 22)
Couples: when feeding a guppy, spread the work—one to sprinkle the food, one to frown. You value domesticity, Leo, but sometimes you have to kick your heels and fire a gun randomly into a crowd. A brawl in a sawmill will leave you shaken and drenched with aviation fuel. Friends find your rage unfathomable and frightening—why not make amends? Avenge all wrongs against them, arriving unannounced and fluttering, orbiting the foe in jittery trouble, punching, punching. Take no credit for the vengeance. They will hear of their enemies’ misfortunes and privately bless an angel. Love is granted before we know it, like an escaping bird. Respect is more slow, like a tired badger.
Reading: Tinsel on a man—happiness is dead.


Steve Aylett is the author of cybersatire classics Slaughtermatic, Toxicology, Dummyland and Shamanspace. http://www.steveaylett.com

“One Nervous System’s Passage Through Time”: GRANT MORRISON interviewed by Jay Babcock (Arthur, 2004)

“One Nervous System’s Passage Through Time”: Magic works, says genius comic book scribe GRANT MORRISON, and he would know—he’s been exploring it for 25 years. He talks with Jay Babcock about what he’s experienced and What It (Maybe) All Means. Cover illustration by Cameron Stewart.

Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 12/Sept. 2004


Although he has claimed to be an heir to an immortal space dynasty who stays cheerful by imagining that aliens “will probably be turning up to rescue him any day now,” Grant Morrison was in fact born in 1960 to a pair of liberal activist Earthlings. Growing up in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland, where he was brought up by his mother while being “barely educated” in public schools, Morrison developed an early enthusiasm for all things pop and fantastic: rock n roll music, science fiction and fantasy literature, mythology and the occult, punks, mods, beatniks and, of course, foxes and cats.

But the early love that would bear the most fruit was for comic books, which he began writing and drawing as an adolescent. Foregoing higher education and living on his own in a Glasgow ghetto from age 19, Morrison gradually built a career as a comics writer of prodigious imagination, armed with a sense of humor: the title of his first published story was “Time Is a Four-Lettered Word.”

After years of toil writing in the British sci-fi comics world while making psychedelic mod-pop with his Glaswegian band The Makers, Morrison landed work at American publisher DC Comics, where his deeply unsettling Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum, illustrated by Sandman cover artist Dave McKean, was published in 1989. It remains Morrison’s bestselling work but in the wake of his work since then—his two-year run on Animal Man, in which the lead character, refashioned as a superpowered animal-rights activist, gradually becomes aware that he is a character in a comic book; four years of Doom Patrol, a deeply Surrealist four-color romp starring a superhero team of mental patients; shorter works like the multi-meta-superhero comic Flex Mentallo and the controversial-for-obvious-reasons Kill Your Boyfriend; The Invisibles, an epic for would-be technoccult anarchists; and The Filth, a seriously dark and bizarre 13-issue series, discussed at length in this interview—it seems relatively minor.

“You don’t get much time on Earth to do stuff, so I like to keep busy,” Morrison told one interviewer last year, and so he has: in addition to the aforementioned work, Morrison recently completed a 40-issue run on New X-Men and Seaguy, a picaresque three-issue series drawn by this Arthur’s cover artist Cameron Stewart; an original screenplay for Dreamworks; and scripts for two more three-issue series debuting in the next few months, We3 and Vimanarama.

Recently returned from a wedding honeymoon that included a week’s stay in Dubai (where “they’re building the 21st century out of sand,” he says), Morrison spoke at length by phone from his Glasgow home about the whys and wherefores of his work, his life and the Present Situation in Our World.

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