King Mob (Part 2): Some of the individuals involved. Seeing we have said so much about King Mob ranging far and wide and always reflecting theoretically, perhaps it’s time to say a few things about some of those crazies who passed through this impassioned moment.
The following sequence is quite haphazard and has no pretence at any top down hierarchy, the sequence of names being purely random. It’s by no means definitive as nothing ever is and apologies to those inadequately represented or not mentioned. It’s not intentional. Among those left out this potted bibliography are Al Green, Brenda Grevelle, Gill Woodward, Cathy Pozzo Di Borgo and Abbo. The latter is a very good friend and closeness remains far too precious and whatever defects are there, they are the ones we all possess. He’s a fine guy and the rest is quibbling.
Maybe though it’s better to say something briefly about some of those creeps who got their name in lights if only because it says a lot about contradictions and terrible slurs. Notably we are dealing with Malcolm Mclaren and Fred Vermorel. Some of Fred’s revolutionary leaflets from around 1970 are included in the appendix to this book. His critique of cineastes along with other soberly assessed though polemically argued leaflets were really rather good. In 1970, he was determined to burn down the ICA gallery in The Mall and wanted others to help him. We dissuaded him simply because we knew we’d all be picked up immediately by the police our bad reputations by then well known. Certainly it would have been followed by a long stretch inside. What’s interesting about this is not the proposed act but both Mclaren and Vermorel were to achieve star status in the cultural milieu a few years later in another re-run of the rejection/acceptance nexus so familiar in the history of modern art sidelining a more thorough going negation going back well before Vlaminck wanted to burn down the Louvre in 1905 with his cobalts! In 1973, Vermorel was sending postcards to Malcom “the boss Mclaren” declaiming, “stop wasting your time. Time is running out. There are better things to do”. Those better things were the honing and selling of punk rock! Thus five years later, in reply to a letter from Nick Brandt condemning his support for punk rock, Vermorel replied criticizing his “gee whiz logic” as merely “pissing in the wind”. Hate always has to be out though once aggro becomes spectacularised and sold by show-biz rebels it’s never then directed against the system but is turned venomously against those who refused to cop out. More than a decade later in 1989, Jamie Reid, the so called Situationist artist at the finale of the opening night of the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris turned on the picket outside the exhibition protesting at this shameless recuperation with a snarling: “Fuck off you arty wankers”. The truth must always be inverted. After all aren’t Vermorel, Mclaren and Reid the arty wankers?
Before the following potted bibliographies there is a diabolical true story to sadly relate. A guy called Sam Lord was involved with King Mob for a little while. He was a sensitive person always asking probing questions and produced one of the better posters aimed at criticising a surfeited consumerism. A guy with an agonised face looks out from a poster proclaiming: “I wanted to cry, instead I ate.” Some further comment, the memory of which escapes us, was written across the bottom of the poster. Sam Lord tagged along with a soulful girlfriend called Lucy Partington who was rather down on what she regarded as some of the gratuitous excesses of King Mob. Many years later in horror we read in the newspapers that she’d become one of the victims of those ghastly serial killers, Fred and Rosemary West and buried in the cellar of their Gloucester charnel house. In the days of King Mob we’d put quite an emphasis on the psychotic character of capitalism’s underbelly – the person “crippled to the point of abnormality” - as Marx so eloquently put it, though only referring to the division of labour in this instance. We pushed such characterizations a lot farther giving such insights of Marx a far greater dimension and urgency as we trawled the underworld of maimed desire. There’s the letter from Jack the Ripper reprinted in KM No 1 under the heading: “The art of death”.
As if to ram the point home, opposite no 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, the scene of the pathological killings that had so obsessed the newspapers a few years previously we sprayed up the slogan “Christie Lives.” What we wanted to bring out was that these horrendous episodes were nothing more than can be expected from a necrophiliac capitalism where the dead labour embedded in the process of accumulation somehow toxically reacts on a starved psyche only De Sade had had the guts to depict in all its utterly necessary rawness. In 1968 we all desperately wanted to read The 120 Days Of Sodom but the British Board of Censors had banned the book. Decades later, Lucy had returned to haunt us as the West’s activities seemed to have capped any previous psychotic horror in these islands. Reflecting on conversations we all seemed to have had that capitalism from the 80s onwards had become sociopathic – did this therefore imply that its excesses had become even more luridly and exquisitely ghastly? The West’s had all the appearance of a reasonably normal family household. Was this going on next door to you behind the chintz? 120 Days In A Housing Co-op?Almost, as if by default, we were still trying to unravel what we’d first rather naively put forward in the days of King Mob.
Madeleine was certainly the most aware of the women who chose to orientate themselves around the King Mob scene. Nervously precise and at times excruciatingly honest, a Londoner from a half Jewish, half Irish background, she hailed from the labour aristocracy, - her father being a low ranking supervisor on the then Thames Water Board. In a permanently agitated state, taking the rings she had on her fingers placing them on others, Madeleine felt inferior and superior at the same time especially in relation to those dissident women from the more assured middle classes in the King Mob milieu. It was as though she was locked into competition with them. Finally though and for whatever reason, Madeleine simply felt this overwhelming feeling of inferiority. She acutely noted those who were on the make, what she called “the success ethic” in people like Dick Pountain and Dave Robins, at the same moment referring to herself and those close to her rather peculiarly as “insects” illustrating yet again her masochistic put-down of those desiring authentic life. It was even more complicated. as it was part of a more general conundrum embracing that inferiority/superiority complex suffered triumphantly and miserably by an increasingly unsure cockney identity – if one can characterise like this. Perhaps in Madeleine this conundrum was stretched to breaking point as she also felt ill at ease with the cockneys she’d grown up with. Her life had been hell, experiencing constant depressions forcing her to bed for days on end feeling society’s emptiness as something excruciating. Endless sleep. Endless suffering. In Madeleine though, there was a certain traditional cockney contempt for what she regarded as “the provinces” and in her teens miserable that she could only gain a place at Hull University instead of one at a London college. Nonetheless despite these contradictions she possessed a fine cutting edge. Together with us, she helped put together and then spray painted in 1968 the long slogan about work alongside the now Hammersmith and City line between the bridge over Portobello Rd and Westbourne Park tube station and, long since painted over by mindless, competitive hip-hop tags and pieces. Madeleine at the time worked as a typist on The International Times as well as doing other free-lance typing stints. On the same evening before venturing out to spray up that classic graffiti, we’d half suggested putting up some comment by Shakespeare but it was rightly opposed by Chris Gray and, rather more forcibly, by Madeleine simply because it sounded too high flown and rather pretentious. All agreed. We then sat down together and in about 20 minutes flat worked out what we were going to say, then went out into a cold damp night taking about an hour to execute in huge letters the slogan. It was all so simple….
In the harsh, depressing times after the debacle of King Mob, Madeleine went seriously AWOL. Her potentially lucid hatred turned into a lashing out at all and sundry and her characteristic inferiority/superiority syndrome bizarrely enmeshed with an ever-increasing madness. She ludicrously believed that the working class had to make as much money as the professional middle classes in order to have any chance of socially defeating them! Wasn’t Russian society at that time in any case not that dissimilar and yet communism was nowhere to be seen? On reflection this ridiculous comment was most likely based on personal tragedy finally ensuring she’d end up on the long road to madness. Some time in 1969 Madeleine had fallen seriously in love with that swine Jock Young (the later Sociology of Deviancy lecturer and future star of lectern and TV) who had himself hailed from a working class background around Aldershot in Hampshire. On the lower rungs of a career ladder, Jock Young blatantly used Madeleine for lecture material and street cred info, spitting her out once her 1968 insiders aura had been drained dry. Combined with everything else, particularly the dawning realisation we’d all suffered a terrible defeat, Madeleine never recovered from her unrequited love for Jock Young. It was to haunt every step she was then to take – hating him and loving him at the same time. The problem was she couldn’t move on from this to a more coherent negative hatred, and perhaps working out, step by step, the unfolding of a more fiendishly clever mode of exploitation.
She’d visit the rising stars of the more clued-in feminists like Lynne Segal who lived in a huge mansion of a house in Highbury at the time quickly scurrying away from that cushioned abode, fuming about their lack of any day to day knowledge of working class women. Madeleine also seethed about their inherited wealth particularly when deploying worse than patronising terms like, “we the poor” a phrase regularly fronting their usually fairly dire leaflets. As Madeleine said at the time: The only working class women they regularly talk to are their paid cleaners who come round to clean up all their shit up which they just drop out of their hands – you know they must have had servants and the like when they were kids.” We readily agreed with her. The following day though, instead of learning a lesson and perhaps prepare for a future more lucid assault on these feminist careerists, Madeleine would again masochistically go round to Lynne Segal’s abode ready for more humiliation and punishment because basically – and this was her greatest error – she wanted to compete with them on their terms. Sure the feminists sounded fine and radical at the time but their take on the essence of real revolutionary critique was dismal and ignorant as well as crassly and hypocritically populist. Even Sheila Rowbotham who presented herself as northern and down home, implying therefore a greater class orientation in the women’s perspective was full of cant. In her manifesto in the Trotskyite oriented Black Dwarf in 1970 she demanded that “we” as women should demand the right to be bus drivers when the last thing these secure professional careerists wanted was to be put in the ranks of bus drivers! One things for certain they damned well made sure for the rest of their lives to keep well clear of such downwardly mobile prospects. Being leftists from the word go they were never to encounter any autonomous feminist critique and moreover even if they knew what that meant (which they didn’t) would never have sought one out as such perspectives were anathema to them in the first instance. Even now this crew probably have never read a word of that excellent latter-day French Surrealist, Annie Le Brun whose critique of feminism may even have helped save Madeleine from that black hole she was falling into. But let’s quit the carping. These people were nonetheless all good trade unionists and Sheila Rowbotham’s present partner still fights for the cause of working class justice as a TU representative representing assistant headmasters. The sheer radicalism of it all constantly astounds…
Madeleine’s increasingly aloof but anxious demeanour always had something somewhat puritanically unsure about it and what little eros seemed to flow from her, particularly as her carapace began to harden,the more capitalism again gained the upper hand, seemed very out of place. Her disposition though wasn’t starchly intellectual, rather it was frozen and relatively absent of hostile vibes. She couldn’t be coquettish or seductive in any cornball way but neither could she be militantly aggressive and feminist as she was far too suss for that. A restlessly calm, hidden hysteria characterised her being which at times masked a terrible sexual raving and craving. Now and again she’d just gently cry out after some drinking bout: “I just want to be fucked, I just want to be fucked” It would be anguishly repeated.Looking on sympathetically, you always felt such behaviour had to do with the devastation of unrequited love, a means of massaging the pain of a broken heart but a heart which had, like so many others been broken by catastrophic defeat, as well as by creeps like Jock Young.
Becoming more desperate and schizoid by the moment, bit by bit she fell into real madness. Being properly competitive meant buying a house as all the rising feminist stars were doing, so Madeleine bought one in a street in Hackney a few doors down from where Sheila Rowbotham was living. But the contrast couldn’t have been greater. Rowbotham’s house had a kind of open door character invitingly there for all the petty cadre of the leftist parties to visit particularly those around the Trotskyist, Socialist Worker. A boy friend was installed who dabbled in plumbing - though more for the image than anything else – as really he was into carving out a career for himself in the new therapy techniques and liked having baths immersed in different coloured water. He certainly impressed the feminists with his sensitive, new man imagery and they clamoured to bed him. Doing his duty for the women’s cause he duly obliged them. More to the point, the guy was handsome. As Mick Carter said at the time: “Always look for the obvious”. Madeleine’s home couldn’t have been more different. It was forbiddingly forlorn, empty of furniture and heating as well as men and women. It was a veritable disaster with builder’s rubble heaped here and there in corners. Only one room was pathetically lived in with a few chintzy pictures hung on a green emulsion-covered wall. On the floorboards of this room she’d marked out a star of David which she kept stepping into hoping her deepening misery might be “cured” by creating for herself a full Jewish identity. One day mugged in nearby London Fields (or at least accosted) she thought it was the actions of an M15 agent pursuing her. Truth to tell her accounts of the incidence were pretty convincing but on reflection, we thought it was the acuteness of her own paranoid critical activity that was so convincing. As if to console her increasing misery, more and more Madeleine, day in and day out, sat in a rocking chair, endlessly tipping backwards and forwards as the leak in the roof got worse and the electrics, spurting flashes with the constant drip drip of the rain went kaput. Finally she was carted off to the loony bin. Periodically she ventures out only to be found wandering somewhere experiencing those terrible absences of mind which “patients” feel so aggrieved about.
RICHARD BRENDAN BELL. aka IRISH
Coming down to London in 1967 from Newcastle, “Irish” had been involved in the art scene there though increasingly feeling distant from it he never really getting involved with any of the art/anti-art experimentation. He was living a more proletarian life anyway and hangovers and the 8 o clock start facing a mad foreman called “Tulip” figured rather more intensely. He was once nicknamed “the most colourful psychopath in Newcastle” what with the constant heavy brown ale bottle fights he often got into sometimes involving Geordie hards who were extremely adept at nutting people. The most notable set to was with Tiny Crumb, the bouncer at the Club Agogo where The Animals made their name. Crumb regularly had to take on heavy gangs like The Diamonds from North Shields whose favourite pastime was giving somebody a good nutting. Pinned behind the lapels of their jackets were deadly fishhooks that an adversary would grab onto ready to nut back. Needless to say it was invariably the last thing they did for sometime. Though “Irish” lost the Club Agogo punch-up, nonetheless Crumb reckoned the fight was one of the worst he’d ever had to deal with. A few months later and the two of them after that brutal evening at the club became fairly friendly with each other.
Irish’s flirtation with art, sometime before the above incidence, had always been full of wry and crazy comment. He liked to do paintings that were utterly mocking in intent. One, a huge portrait of the Queen was simply titled underneath in big red letters: “The Queen By Her Subject, R Bell.” Another crudely executed painting requested in similar letters: “What We Need Is An Art For The People That Even The Lowliest Storm Trooper Can Understand.” Obviously, all this piss-take of black humour remained firmly within the bounds of the art/ anti art artefact we’ve all become so wearily familiar with and can be as good a sales pitch as anything else provided one plays the game of the charismatic artistic image intent on promo. But Irish was of a finer calibre than any of this nonsense as the undertow of the mood of the times was pulling in another, more consequential direction. Slowly abandoning the fall out from art he took on board a more coherent Situationist tendency and when sometime later he was to put pen to paper again, it was for a more subversive effect though his previously wittily crude gestures were still there – even more so! He executed many funny cartoons for the London Street Commune, most of which are probably lost. Before that “Irish” drew some funny-man pornographic one-off comic posters satirising the usual self-appointed committees you get in college occupations which were later put together as a pamphlet by King Mob featuring The Black Hand Gang (a purely invented folkloric phantom gang which still seems to crop up in various threatening stories about psycho street life in many northern cities).for a student sit-in at the London School of Economics in late 1969. The cartoons were couched in terms of toilet grafitti together with a Carry On Nurse tits and bums humour applied to leftist racketeering in a given situation. These comic cartoons which were copied and stuck up everywhere infuriated the leftist parties who were dominating the occupation with all their references to Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, Trotsky etc. In short, the usual suspects - as they say. Robin Blackburn and other paid-up respectable intellectuals furiously tore down the posters aghast at their crudity. This was precisely the point as they were meant to be an emanation from the gutter and we wanted these leftist ideological big wigs to react like that. It was a kind of epate le bourgeois lefty cadre and the pictorial counterpart to Chris Gray on the same occasion shouting at Robin Blackburn after he’d come out with some high falutin’ rhetorical tosh “I don’t read New Left Review I’m just a common thief myself”. Sometime later in the early 1970s, the fresh faced neo-puritanism of the seemingly ever rising feminist tide, were again to singularly pick on these posters for blatant sexism because of their cock and cunt imagery. It was enough to definitively pronounce King Mob male chauvinist and that was that. End of discussion and please don’t mention the subject ever again. Some of that priggish attitude still carries on quite powerfully. For instance all the various publishing outfits reprinting excerpts from King Mob never reprint these cartoons including those two booklets by that trendy load of shit Tom Vague who purports to have published all known King Mob. Censorship again and still too offensive for a delicately tuned pro-feminist ideology which probably still considers such posters as little more than top shelf pornography? Whatever; let’s still plead guilty on belonging to that long tradition of bawdy subversion that once found very forcible expression among The Ranters in the 1640s English Revolution and little different to that memorable ditty of theirs which said:
“To swear and whore
And rant and roar
With yet no brawls and squabbling”
As the decades past on by much of this King Mob oriented sexual provocation has inevitably lost all its original liberatory impact. Again in deploying blatant public lavatory imagery to get home some point or other, advertising was to take the biggest cue and nowadays we are everywhere overwhelmed by a sexualized commodity ales pitch getting ever more lurid as the erotic impulses in everyday life are colonized to the point of near extinction.
Essentially, the comics offended English moralism which throughout the centuries keeps rearing its ugly head and we must never forget that such an arch academic as EP Thompson was to write his last book centered around that seemingly amazing sexually loaded manuscript of William Blake’s which was burnt after his death; a manuscript which it seems was quite the equal of De Sade. It wasn’t as though Irish was obsessive about cocks and cunts like that. On the contrary he was a rather shy person, treating people with respect unless they turned him over and then he could be very hostile and unforgiving. Rightly so. He equally did posters for rent strikes and lots of anti-police stickers at the same time which were directed against a bunch of maniacs at Notting Hill police station under the direction of a certain PC Pulley who took it upon himself to declare a personal vendetta against the neighbourhood, especially those he regarded as trouble makers. “Irish” had reason to feel intense vehemence against PC Pulley having received a three-hour thrashing from him at Notting Hill police station during one long night in the cells. Memorably during one of these ordeals, “Irish” had a book in his jacket pocket on the Clerkenwell riot of the 1830s in which a certain PC Culley was killed by the mob. Later a jury drawn from Clerkenwell’s inhabitants absolved the rioters accused of murder referring to the incident as an unprovoked attack by the police. On the blurb on the book’s back cover Irish had crossed out the C on Culley replacing it with a P. On seeing this our PC Pulley tore the library book up scattering it to the winds. It wasn’t only Pulley he locked horns with as “Irish” was always in trouble one way or another whether due to a punch up or attempting some petty crime or other. Naturally one gets older but 12 years later he nearly lost his job for trying to defenestrate a union official in a public sector union he belonged to.
“Irish” was one of the first with his seering honesty to get pissed off with the so-called revolutionary movement once rigidity set in and the revolutionary role made its ghastly entrance on the stage. A witty smile would play across his face as he talked about “the situationist police state” having got heartily sick of the ritualistic denunciations doled out almost by rote when what he was tending to see, along with others at the time, was the old class system reappearing again right in the heart of capital’s supposed negation. He made an amusing poster of a kind of Pilsbury dough man next to a tree with his hand cupped to his ear saying “hark I hear the first militant of spring.” More then that, Irish began to hate the experience of the late 60s precisely because of the inter-classism saying he thought the early 60s were less duplicitous on this matter as at least you knew your companions weren’t kidding you over the essential basics like how much dosh did you have in your pocket and where hypocrisy played itself out with less deadly effect. The trouble is, it was an over-reaction and the wheat wasn’t separated from the chaff as unfortunately, there was a kind of return to a class-in-itself workerism that sentimentally tended to embrace a nostalgic view of an old and always mythical Labour party. It finally prevented hope of open flowing discussion and a deepening of friendship that could lead to something more consequential given the possibility of things suddenly opening up.
JED GARDNER AND JOHNNA
Reflecting the proletarianisation which was overtaking the drift in the revolutionary impetus of the times, these two guys who had had nothing whatsoever to do with Further Education institutions quickly trained themselves up as carpenters came down from Newcastle and survived by working on the buildings. They wanted a new world alright and immediately gravitated around the most radical critique having had nothing to do with any previous leftism simply because it hadn’t appealed in the first instance though they’d obviously been brought up in that old Labour party type culture endemic on the Tyne. In a sense they reflected that shift among the workers that very visibly shook things up in the shipyards at the time. They joined in gleefully with many a King Mob action and quite gladly handed out some of the most provocative leaflets such as The Death of Art Spells the Murder of Artists. This was certainly handy as their lyrical Geordie accents plus their tough disposition (needless to say both were as sensitive as anything inside) made certain that quivering artists furious at the leaflet didn’t dare complain about it’s contents too loudly.
What can one say about this guy without feeling disheartened and miserable? It is the case of somebody initially having a pretty good critique on all kind of things taking place at the time gradually going to the all time dogs and “lilies that fester small far worse than weeds”. In the early days and at his best he possessed a keen sense of observation. Hailing from Chesterfield in North Derbyshire, Dick Pountain had for instance a fine take on some of the complexities of people working in heavy industry in and around Sheffield particularly those who’d taken to frequenting heavy drinking night clubs packed with Chicago blues fans and which spawned the likes of Joe Cocker etc. Once after a saturday evening of heavy drinking and getting the last bus back to Chesterfield he recalled a drunken companion hitting the bus conductor simply because the poor guy didn’t know who bluesman Buddy Guy was…….
From reading the plethora of books appearing on the late 60s, you could be forgiven for thinking Dick Pountain was a “leading situationist” as some blurb on one of these nonsensical offerings would have it. Ever ready to cultivate some part of the limelight though usually in a discreet manner, this same man now is willing to accept such an accolade particularly as his posh friend, the journalist and lexographer, Jonathan Green, has published quite a few books on the late 60s trawling the undercurrents of the time though Green is unable to make a memorable statement or critique of the age. In these books there are on- the-spot interviews with Dick Pountain discussing drugs, direct action and some of the characters involved. Regarding the latter, it is noteworthy that Pountain never names those unworthy friends of his, always concentrating on the namepeople ,i.e. those among us who cultivated publicity. People like that miserable opportunist cum pop entrepeneur and ex-White Panther, Mick Farren who memorably broke up (Sir) David Frost’s TV show which in retrospect was an act wanting rather than negating, publicity. Dick Pountain always liked individuals who were on the make – so no change there. Glad to bask in a hip glow, the murky reality of what Dick Pountain was to become isn’t even hinted at. So let’s start therefore by putting the record straight…….
Dick Pountain was a man who could read and understand Situationist theory - quickly getting a grasp of some of its essence - which for Britain was fairly remarkable considering the pitiful few who did in the late 60s. He applied the critique though with a somewhat dour disposition as though even from the earliest moments he wasn’t all that keen on it and in no time wasn’t really disposed to what he quickly regarded as “niave utopianism”. A memorable incident comes to mind. Sometime in the summer of 1970 journeying with Phil Meyler in the American mid-west they decided to cheer themselves up as all around lay the palling of the revolutionary late sixties and the two friends were feeling pretty bad inside. Chancing on an escarpment they grabbed some large pieces of cardboard and slid like children down the scree ending up in a heap at the bottom of the hillside. Dick looked at Phil and grimly said: “Is this the future?” Behind such seemingly trivial comment lurked a more menacing reflection implying that what we’ve been involved in over the last couple of years or so has been nothing more than gesture politics and games and in the future we will have to become more serious. Seriousness for Dick Pountain was more than taking a few steps backward as he fell back into the latter-day deadly embrace of the decaying stench of Stalinism he’d had some association with in North Derbyshire in his youth. It was generally anyway being reinstated with a vengence world wide but with a supposedly greater theoretical depth - actually veneer -heralded by the writings of the French academic Marxist, Louis Althusser, and the baneful pseudo-profundities of Britain’s own Theoretical Practice contingent staffed by some influential New Left Review adherents. Quite frankly endlessly sliding down screes was probably more thought provoking than the empty intellectualisms of French academia, post 1968. At the moment of its disappearance stood the last consequent theoretical academics like Henri Lefebvre. Soon there would be none to replace them despite all the hype and ephemeral glamour about to be bestowed on the now forgotten Nouvelle Philosophes and later, the empty euphoria and mildly critical, acceptance culture, purveyed by a post-modernist void in the writings of Deleuze/Baudrillard etc. What insights and youthful radicalism some of these latter day stars of a vacuity unknown in previous history may once have had was quickly left behind as some kind of posturing juvenilia.
Dick Pountain in his head was to follow a similar path though his real emphasis would be on a very discreet crude money making essentially glossed over by a bogus intellectualism he used to front real accumulation. Even his intellectualisms were mired in a perverse crudity itself the perverse opposite of real subversion. Thus, by the late 1970s, he was even prepared to accept some of the grotesque Stalinist apologetics for the Moscow show trials of the 30s proclaiming that defendants like Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin really “did want to restore capitalism in Russia”. Any critical theory of State capitalism had long before being jettisoned by this new apparachniki of the old school, even accepting the crudest of Stalinist slurs not only regarding the Moscow show trials but other contemporary events too. He hated Phil Meyler’s first draft for his subsequent book on Portugal simply because it mocked the Stalinoid Portuguese Communist party. Truth to tell Pountain by then didn’t feel anything towards anybody who cut up untidy or held subversive opinions. Anton Ciliga’s magnificent book on the Russian experience (translated into English as The Russian Enigma had recently been published in English but it was of course a total no go for Dick P’s growing totalitarianism as he upheld the baneful belief that Russia was a workers’ state where capitalism had been abolished. It wasn’t only the 1874 Portuguese revolution Dick Pountain hated he also refused to acknowledge that the inspiring actions of the Russian workers from 1917 up to the defeat of the Kronstadt sailors in 1921. From the mid 70s onwards, Pountain had become a loose kind of fellow traveler of the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) which helped buttress some of his perverse take on things. Around this time Pountain was to write an utterly dreadful text fully supporting the then expanding nuclear power industry. This pamphlet was peppered with much scientific detail befitting Pountain’s scientific training and at the time the press was full of stories prompted by the various debates about further full-scale nuclearisation suggested in the proposed Marshall Plan aired in the early 1980s. Broadly supporting this plan the only activity Pountain desired at the time was the smashing of an emotional and “un-scientific” Peace Movement epitomised at the time by the Greenham Common women’s occupation. Although a lot of real subversives were also at the time pissed off with the often trite whimsical, and naive Greenham Common actions particularly the gender based pro–feminist mysticism ( e.g. gentle women as against war-like men etc ) in no way did such a critique also encapsulate a hideous pro-nuclear perspective. Latterly, along with sociologist, Dave Robins, Dick Pountain has written a book entitled Cool Britannia, a laudatory appraisal of the cool outlook so anodyne and essentially early Blairite in tone. There’s no trace here of the old Stalinism, or indeed any kind of vanquished Bolshevism and is truly remarkable for not saying a thing which could be construed as remotely controversial. The book has since vanished along with the wretched Cool Brit pop scene of the dismal 1990s.
Behind all these somersaults of mind and attitudes which mark Dick Pountain’s career lies his basic drive: the ever greater accumulation of money as a minority partner in some of Felix Dennis’s business activities. It’s well known that Felix Dennis, after a youth of notoriety as so called radical editor of Oz magazine in the late 60s, gradually turned his attention to more middle of the road printing ventures becoming ever more sleazy and slimy as Dennis has ended up becoming one of the wealthiest individuals in Britain, publisher of Loaded and a fat cat donor to the Blairite Labour Party. From early in the 1970s, Pountain handled the organisation of the graphics, print set ups and what have you around Dennis’s Bunch Books watching passively and saying nothing as Felix Dennis endlessly ripped off the cartoonists, illustrators, wordsmiths, etc who provided the material for this budding super-entrepeneur. Howard Fraser who worked at Bunch Books at the time and incidentally a man with a far more coherent take on Situationist and subversive theory in general than ever Pountain had and who often developed memorable arguments and occasionally profound insights (particularly on England) would tell Bunch contributors not to sign contracts drawn up by Dennis as they were been taken to the cleaners. As if in response, Pountain masked his silence on this crucial question by a while later unionising the firm. Trade unionism again became the means and substitute for suppressing this honest direct, telling-it-like-it-is encounter though no doubt it ameliorated some of the worst excesses of Bunch Books super exploitation. Pountain though continued to keep his head down and befitting an industrious northerner applied himself extremely skillfully to the many difficult technical tasks managing magazine production. Almost inevitably surrounded by the new hi-tech and with his scientific background, Pountain became a very informed technical writer on the computer age and production manager of that glossy trade magazine; Personal Computer as he saw his personal wealth increase by leaps and bounds. First it was one million, then the next and the rest following ever more rapidly. In 2002, he even wrote a best seller paper back on computer terminology as he played up to the image of polymath extraordinare by being interviewed on radio programmes about the Angry Brigade.
And the more he made the meaner Pountain became with his dough, donning a hair shirt the like of which perhaps has never been seen? Refusing former friends small requests for money (a £100 or so) to publish magazines critical of the system, usually coming up with the excuse of a cash flow problem(!), he went from the bad to the dire. He acquired so much wealth he was finally able to seduce the wife of his youthful dreams who’d rejected him in the very early 70’s because he had no inherited wealth and lacked financial prospects. Yes our man Dick Pountain fell into abject mediocrity and utter conformity even rebuking individuals for not wearing appropriate dark suits at a funeral of a former drug freak cartoonist.
However, we must end here on a note of congratulation and innovation. Surely Dick Pountain must be the first to have miraculously transformed himself from pro Communist Party apparatchnik to money-grubbing entrepreneur - a species now as common as a latrine in modern Russia - embracing neo-liberal ideology and loudly proclaiming their horror of the “evils” of the pre 1989 Soviet Bloc as though it was some fresh, undiscovered news? Unable to read Ciliga in the mid 1970s he was still unable to read him! No wonder as one of his best acquaintances is Nikolie Koletski, that rabid free-marketeer Times journalist and together with that other journalist creep, John Lloyd, (who blatantly made his name by siding with the scabs during the 1984/85 miners’ strike)all sit smugly, though probably unhappily together, in convivial evenings at the obnoxious Supper Club, which surely must have been so appropriately named in honour of their servitude to the status quo.
IAN CLEGG AND DIANA MARQUAND-CLEGG
This couple were perhaps the strangest bed fellows in King Mob as in many ways they were the traditional examples of the English, Anglo/Scottish ruling class in the sense that they were straight yet utterly mad at the same time. Diana Marquand was the sister of David Marquand, the future Liberal Party MP, although at the time she was very critical of her brother’s limited grasp and obtuseness. Their all too brief coherent madness rapidly gave way to typical English eccentricity which Tom Nairn characterised in the early 1970s as “that crab-like moving side ways” rushing blindly back into the past they tried to escape from lured no doubt by awith considerable amount of promissory inherited wealth beckoning as good enough reason to do so. Like many of those who coalesced into King Mob they’d come from high up public school backgrounds but were very reluctant to talk about these schools or even to name which ones they were. Was it so weird they wouldn’t tell you much detail about their past yet wanted to know everything about yours? Later we found it to be typical of all of them: keeping mum themselves they demanded self-exposure from us in the name of not being so repressed!
Ian Clegg evidently met Don Smith at some Oxbridge university college and they struck up some kind of friendship. During university, or just after, they journeyed to Algeria together in the moment after France had abandoned her colonial possession after a brutal and murderous wa in the early 1960s. Both of them, though on separate occasions, mentioned how thrilling it was to walk the streets of the haute bourgeois district of Algiers marveling at the abandoned mansions of a former colonial ruling class having fled for their lives. Ian Clegg once noted that it gave him a sense of certainty, (despite basically being a war for national independence which Ian Clegg had no leftist illusion about) that one fine day the rich could be pushed out of everywhere and made to disappear once and for all. However the way in which it was said was as if he – Ian Clegg – wanted to disappear! (Ironically we remembered this during the miners’ strike in the aftermath of that inspiring uprising around the village of Fitzwilliam in West Yorkshire which caused the neighbouring very well off to flee from the old aristo-imitative hamlet of Nostell Priory nearby). Under the influence of Don Smith, Clegg became more and more Situationist influenced from the mid 1960s onwards though in a much more intellectual, somewhat New Left Review (ish) kind of way although the guy was considerably better than those of that ilk who were later to write on the Situationists in that rag (e.g. Peter Wollen who was rightly condemned for hypocrisy in a recent text by Don Smith and Tim Clarke in a MIT magazine with the baneful title of October).
Nonetheless, Ian Clegg lived a highly schizoid existence even in the late 60s and there was little attempt to iron out any of these often blatant contradictions. It was push and pull every which way. Condemned by his father, a Royal Navy big wig, stationed on the Firth of Forth who’d blamed his son’s Ban the Bomb activities at Faslane naval base on the Clyde for spoiling further career opportunities, Ian Clegg in 1967 nonetheless opted for a traditional military style wedding completed by arches of crossed swords above the bride and bridegroom’s head. A year later and the same couple, lying under leafy trees with friends, were rightly scorning academia and sounding-off about the death of art having eaten home baked hash cakes! Of course with such vast contradictions lurking inside and between themselves and the everyday existence most were forced to live, nothing gelled and the insufficient glue which held it all together quickly came apart once the quick of the revolutionary impulse hadn’t successfully followed on through.. In no time with the waning of King Mob and, more importantly, the general revolutionary impetus of the late 60s, Ian Clegg quickly cobbled together a souped-up M.A. or Proposed Phd thesis for a New Left book entitled Workers Councils In Algeria. It was duly published by publishers, Allen Lane. It was long, it was clever, it was wide-ranging intellectual stuff (eg featuring a dispute with Andre Gorz etc) and it was boring having nothing of the pulse which galvanised the Situationists original Address to the Revolutionaries of Algeria. One point in its favour though: it was one of the first post ’68 books to pin-prick councilist ideology as though the form in itself was the great panacea. Clegg did emphasise content but in a teacherous intellectualese which made nonsense of theory and, as Mike Bradley was to say some eight years later in, The International Times: Theory cannot be taught it can only be incited” A few months later in California, Isaac Cronin, one of the members of the pro-Situationist groupuscule Contradictions, was to call the book: “ a work of advanced recuperation”. He was right, though like any other recuperator, Ian Clegg hadn’t written the book in order to establish or improve on any basic truth; he’d written it in order to advance his career and in no time landed a job in the politics dept of Leeds University. Modern academia of course thoroughly approves of pulled punches and watered down arguments – and this has been truer in the last 30 years than prior to the watershed of the late 1960s.
Once ensconced in a secure academic niche, Ian Clegg descended into academic obscurity quickly abandoning or even exhibiting any vaguely radical orientation. Considerable inherited wealth helped this process gather momentum and it was probably the Clegg’s more than any other individual belonging to the King Mob economic elite which marked the waiting to burst class split brooding in that loose grouping of like-minded, if not like-surviving, people. These two factors must somehow begin to come together if any truer collectivity stands a hope in hell. The Clegg’s though now began to use the poorer ex-King Mob affiliates to decorate their house rewarding them with cooked meals and cups of tea simply so their property would acquire a higher rating in an Estate Agents window. Schmucks at the sharp end (including ourselves) were still foolish enough to believe that you hung on to basic comradeship helping each other out periodically particularly when agreeing with a basic set of ideas you still hoped to rrealise in a social arena. At the same time the Clegg’s would criticise working class people for taking tacky consumer holidays in Blackpool which caused at least two women from working class backgrounds, Freddie Cooke and Anne Ryder to explode having spent more than a few “wakes weeks” as kids at Blackpool. The Clegg’s, once their economic position and aim became all too clearly visible, were never forgiven for their class users’ mentality and snobbery and their blatant deploying of their former friends/comrades as unpaid brush hands.
However, the Clegg’s had one brief moment of sheer excellence. In attacking spectacular consumption though often on a too simplistic a level simply forgetting their greater economic clout, the Clegg’s along with ourselves, proposed an action which would involve an invasion of an Oxford Street store in London, Christmas 1968. Selfridges was chosen for the foray. Together with the Clegg’s, we wrote the leaflet which was handed out providing the layout and drawings of Christmas decorations as a seductive detourning of the usual decorative regalia surrounding the yearly ritual. What more is there to say? The well-known rumpus followed along with arrests and subsequent publicity. Whatever may have been said subsequently, we know for fact there was no attempt to contact in advance any media: the rejection was absolute. In distributing the leaflet all communication was done by word of mouth. One further comment needs to be made: The Selfridge’s invasion was not the invention of Malcolm Mclaren although he played a plucky part in the melee inside the store. In this guy’s TV film on Oxford St and its historical characters which, like the great jail escapee, jack Shepherd, who are said to haunt the area, Mclaren’s voiceover makes it look as though it was all his idea, including his verbatim quotes from the leaflet without mentioning it’s existence, a process so typical of recuperation! Of course, as Lautreamont once said, “plagiarism is necessary” but when it amounts to economic re-possession well then it’s a very different matter and Mclaren appropriates simply for his own star-struck economic quodos and gain. Moreover, Mclaren was not dressed up as Santa Claus as that part was bravely taken on by Ben Trueman – but that is for later. What happened to the Cleggs? Well no one really seems to know as they certainly kept well clear of everyone from very early on.
Again, Tony Schofield was one of the ex-public school contingent emanating from those belonging to the more privileged echelons of King Mob, Tony had been treated appallingly by his parents in a mercilessly cold manner. As a real monster from the public school system, Pete Fowler, the dispicably reactionary editor of the 1980s art magazine Modern Painters was to say during his earlier Marxist foray ,“public schools treat their own off-spring brutally prepainge them for their sadistic treatment of the lower orders in the future”. Too true. Sometimes though, the neglect is so brutal they really do destroy their own. A northerner whose parents owned the Schofields megastore in Leeds Tony was one such victim. But how could you know him when he seemed to reserve his friendship for the dissident wealthy unable to cut free from the very class mores he was tortured by? Unwilling to break out of the cocoon/tomb which was killing him, he could also be extremely funny in the company of his best friends who were rather similar, though in future prospects generally less wealthy than himself. One night in early 1968, he entertainingly spent a good hour “looking for the proletariat” inside key holes, under carpets, on top of book cases etc. We all laughed our heads off as it wasn’t done in a disparaging put down way. This would have been light weight stuff if he also wasn’t pretty good at whacking coppers on the violent anti-Vietnam demonstrations of that year. Tony’s demeanour was shy and withdrawn and obviously he was a very decent guy. Sensitive to the all-pervading reaction which seemed to drop suddenly within the hearts of all the most insightful protagonists during 1970 or a little later, and which was to engulf the totality of society as the years rolled by, Tony Schofield just couldn’t handle this growing brutal reaction. In fact, nobody could but most had reason to hang on – just! The path of the suicidal Young Werther was to be repeated, not too dissimilar to Goethe’s ruminations on Werther in later life when he wondered if Werther was right or wrong to do what he did. We still exist in the same tortured dilemma given an extra dimension by the sheer absence at the heart of modern alienation. Tony Schofield and all those countless others after 1968 who ended this excuse for a life we nonetheless hold in deepest respect. They refused humiliation which we subsequently know now was to be our lot in the years of deepening reaction which, on the cusp of the ‘70s, we also felt in our bones was bound to follow. We weren’t wrong and our nightmarish premonitions were to become even more nightmarish in reality.
One day, in the early 1970s, Tony probably took a long, last, agonised journey up Wharfedale in Yorkshire (no doubt the scene of happy, youthful memories) beyond even then, the gentrified former mining village of Grassington, to that darkly dramatic and stark, Wordsworthian-like, Almscliff Crag where once, the rare and exquisite Scotch Argus butterfly flew and there ended his brief life passionately and ruthlessly throwing himself off that pinnacle, overhanging outcrop. A renegade from the respectable upper northern bourgeoisie, he ended his life in the heart of the Yorkshire badlands. Now and again when passing that forbidding and awesomelimestone crag one immediately thinks of Tony Schofield that fine man nursing a restless and wounded psyche.
Older than most of the protagonists who figured in King Mob, Grovel, or so he was called by some referring to that indefatigable toff and Private Eye cartoon character even though the description wasn’t apt, had formerly been the husband of Brenda Grevelle, Chris Grey’s girlfriend. John Grevelle’s personal history had in his youth revolved around the more traditional anarchist milieu of the Peace Movement, the Committee of 100 and, more to the point as he gradually left a simplistic anarchism behind, the Castoriadis influenced group, Solidarity. As the times moved (and they seemed to move very briskly in the mid to late 60s), Solidarity quickly attracted a wide, strong worker base, who in no time began to think of John Grevelle as a head case by most of these intelligent, hard working people who made up the backbone of this memorable Councilist group with a much sharpened modern critique than say, an ultra-leftist like Pannekoek had envisaged. It’s worth pointing out that Grovel (despite his posh accent) had not come from wealth and therefore his gut association with most of these sober stalwarts in Solidarity was real enough. Sober though is the word which must be emphasised here because sober John Grevelle rarely was. Most days - indeed every one - drink and whatever drugs were on hand passed down his throat. He had his favourites though especially a cocktail of paregoric cough medicine mixed with cider which must have incited some kind of delicious calm and high now that a more effective opium was no longer dispensed at the chemists as in De Quincey’s more liberal times in the early 19th century. Amidst all the collective conversations and actions in flow at the time, drunken attacks and assaults were usually the most effective of John Grevelle’s interventions which, without exception, were spontaneous affairs. He had the merit of being one of the first to thoroughly wreck, at least for an evening, a nascent community politics scene in Notting Hill clearly recognising the structure as a vehicle for drawing the sting of radical protest and a means to career advancement .His drunken raving one evening in summer 1968 against the fresh-faced Notting Hill community politics scene, in particular George Clarke (number one guru of the nascent community politico scene) was memorable indeed, and had all the erstwhile future “community servants” foaming at the mouth. They never forgot Grevelle’s savage attack and of course they never forgave him.
Grevelle’s negativity was never clearly worked out though and you always found it impossible to discuss anything with him in a pensive, reflective way as he lurched about stabbing the air punctuated by short and wild guffaws Any greater coherence were always clearly lacking. Contradictions were pushed within him as he oscillated between utter negativity and an informal impresarios role like organising musical venues at the old Round House in Chalk Farm, London. The only common denominator between these two disparate activities was drunkenness. Sometime later, during the very early 1970s, he made an effort to launch a Free School in the same area. There were many stinging criticisms made of this venture as it was hardly free though Grevelle insisted the richer kids were subsidising the poorer ones. Bernie S wrote some hard hitting stanzas which were accurate enough about this expensive way to be free! Whatever one may think of all the grave inconsistencies in Free Schools generally, John Grevelle’s version had the merit of being completely over the top. It was organised between Grevelle and his then girlfriend who was a dominatrix by trade and would regularly on an evening lock up her clients in the school cupboards. The school couldn’t carry on like this and shortly thereafter fell to pieces in a mad orgy of drink, acid, grass and paregoric: an auto-critique in action of a Free School even if by default. From then on drink more or less reigned in John Grevelle’s life dying of a heart attack in the mid 1990s still remaining in daily contact with Chris Gray. What the content of this latter day relationship was it’s difficult to know as he also had sustained friendship with one or two other larger than life, really great guys. In this non-stop spree of drink and other substances, Grevelle still spoke his mind and received more than a few thumpings for his blindly courageous, off-the-drunken-cuff responses usually in uptight pubs where it would have been wiser to have kept schtum.
Another one of the wild crazy ones who gravitated around King Mob abandoning his job and career prospects despite being trained at Cambridge as a scientist, specialising in chemistry. He helped put together a big A3 size broadsheet ranting and raving about this that and the other and calling for a supercession of the Situationist critique. Truth to tell it was extremely garbled and you couldn’t discern any direction in the text as it was more a reflection of the guy’s apocalyptic behaviour in daily life than anything else. He was one of the people who carried the big banner in the October demonstration in London in 1968 which said: Storm The Reality Studios. Retake The Universe, which though distinctly more inspiring than the usual pedestrian banner was a quote from William Burroughs who himself had hardly given any clear indication of the transcendence of art. Nonetheless on the same demo, Gerry, along with other friends, frequently attacked cars smashing the occasional camera whilst loudly pointing out that his participation in this event had little to do with Vietnam but everything to do with the “new poverties” which we in the highly developed world were increasingly colonised by. Gerry Brenchley wanted to slash priceless paintings in the National Gallery though he never did more than mouth off about it. Again none of this was at all clearly worked out and as a consequence he tended to identify with those nutters who occasionally resort to this form of action never seeing the necessity of a clear theoretical explanation on why such actions may possibly be worthwhile, although it’s very difficult to know when that would be so. Invariably the reasons nutters give are garbled and pretty non-sensensical even though arousing a mild interest. By en large, if consciously undertaken, such gestures are used as a form of sensationalism to promote some cause or other like the action of the Suffragetes prior to the First World War. Such outrages have long since lost their shock value in an age when all memory of the past and its treasures have been essentially destroyed by capitalism. What’s at stake here is an intelligent subversion of the fall out from modern art something ill-equipped for use in gesture politics but which potentially could have far greater impact.
Gerry Brenchley had the merit of never copping out and survived for sometime by taking low-key jobs in chemistry laboratories that he detested. In a way though this humdrum work kept a lid on his psyche as periodically after the defeat of the 60s he started to go hyper spending brief periods in asylums. The build up was manic behaviour when in a solipsist way he’d lapse back into the time of King Mob euphoria when the social ambiance which had created that period had been well and truly eclipsed. Over the following years, Gerry Brenchley’s critique remained pretty haywire as he mulled over the reasons why everything fell apart not so much in acrimony more through bewilderment and burn out. But for Brenchley his musings contained more than a whiff of paranoid plots and skull duggery, (“John Grevelle stabbed in the back” etc as he said in one letter) and more a product of his own dementia than anything else. It didn’t just stop there as it was usually accompanied by some action that was as bizarre as it was funny in a madcap sort of way. One day in the late 1970s and in this frame of “mind”, Gerry B sauntered out into the middle of Ladbroke Grove and began personally re-directing all the traffic. A little later when arrested by the cops who naturally asked what he was up to, he replied: “well it’s all good fun isn’t it”. Evidently he’d been up to the same thing two days previously elsewhere in west London so the court imposed the regular sectioning order it uses for such miscreant behaviour. Thus Gerry Brenchley probably remains to this day alternating between the funny farm and living in some shack at the bottom of some garden in Wales rather like some latter day Johann Baader – the “lunatic” of German Dada, one of the originators if you like in deploying ‘madness’ as a tactic in the history of modern subversion.
Memories of this man are usually a joy to recall. He was, and still is, larger than life. The son of a taxi driver from Winchester he gravitated around the King Mob scene drawn to it by his rebellious ways. He joined in many of the actions with a devil-may-care attitude often arrested for one thing or another notably as the red coated Santa Claus in the Christmas 1968 Selfridge’s protest where he grabbed sweets from the counters and handed them on to passing kids. Some mums were furious and started hand bagging him calling Ben a “drug-crazed hippy.” In other circumstances this might have been true though not on this occasion even though Ben always tended to despise laid back hippies. Ben though did drink like a fish and more or less indiscriminately took whatever drugs he could get his hands on subsidising his excess of leisure delights by the odd burglary or two like nicking lead from church roofs etc. after a skinful in a pub. To put it mildly, the guy was none too cautious in any of his escapades and inevitably kept getting banged up for brief periods. He personally felt at the time that the greatest enemy of the revolution was the “straight” working class although this attitude was somewhat conditioned by the prevailing criminal ideology which Ben modified the older he got.
Being cultivated like this from both middle class men and women alike did Ben Trueman no good at all and he began to perform - even when feeling pretty bad inside - to an image others had invented for their own ends and uses which soon enough was to become diabolically clear. Ben provided the first deviant stereotype for a budding rip-off in the shape of the Sociology of Deviancy who patronised him before moving on to the next-in-line deviant fashion. Finally though, and just in time, Ben wasn’t fooled and gladly partook of an atmosphere and discussion that was again reinstating, though in a different way, the us and them gulf which was again unfolding. Sick of the misery of performing to middle class proclivities Ben married Marion, a working class gal and becoming more subdued and relaxed, felt he could breathe easier now that he was no longer called on to act the part of the iconclastic permanent rebel against the constraints of daily life. A great gal, Marion was bi-sexual and quite the equal of Ben in wildness. Hilariously, he’d recount how he stick her vibrator in a pint of Fullers beer and watch it froth all over the place. Under the quickening disintegration of everyday mores no matter what safety shots you make nothing seems to remain stable for long. Would it was so easy! Sadly the new couple quickly broke up. We were the last persons to see Marion alive as an hour later she was murdered by an unknown assailant. As for Ben Trueman he picked up the pieces and carried on.There was no question Ben would fall for the con of education for the working class simply because, unlike so many others, he never felt sufficiently resentful to crawl into the middle classes himself. From youth right up to this day and age Ben has continued to work – if one can call it that – applying himself to various manual trades. To get away from all the imploding pressures with the defeat of the late 60s he opted for farming for a few years employed as a farm labourer to an ex-Communist party farmer on the moors near Halifax in West Yorkshire. Even away from it all mayhem was always Ben’s closest companion as a nascent Angry Brigade – unbeknown to our friend – camped out with him enjoying a holiday in that wild and beautiful scenery would with their newly acquired armaments, take more than a few pot shots at the teeming game. Elsewhere, on the buildings when Ben was around, uproar was always in the offing , decking sub-contractors who instead of paying up, kept their hands in pockets. Like the best of King Mob he remained an un-reconstructed scoundrel and when shall we see the likes of such scroundels again. The guy still remains a joy to see warmly greeting long lost friends.....
TJ (TIM) CLARKE
“If I cannot have the proletariat as my chosen people any longer, at least capitalism remains my Satan” (T.J. Clarke. Farewell To An Idea. 1999)
Though one of the so-called leading lights of the English Situationists, if our TJ ever got hold of an idea it was in order to almost instantly betray it. Let’s use this occasion to fill in more than a few unsavoury details to debunk any myth that’s grown up about this guy. First of all the proletariat was never his “chosen people”. Throughout his life, Clarke has always tended to relate to those at the sharp end as thick, stupid, a rather philistine and quite beneath him. Now and again, such an attitude, usually politely hidden, would break out in quite bitter and uncalled for personal onslaughts. Once in a pub on Tottenham Court Road sometime in 1973, Tim Clarke quite savagely and gratuitously turned on a bar tender who quite innocently asked him if he was OK. Spluttering with bile he turned on the bar tender: “No, I’m not OK and I’m sick of having all my privileges eroded”. Erosion of privileges would seem to be the core of the matter. Upset that his elite up-bringing, his attendance at an elite public school (Winchester) followed by admission to London University’s elite Art History Dept, the Courtauld Institute after a stint at Cambridge, was in danger of coming to naught, as, after all, he’d done his self-destruct stuff having participated in the notorious Situationist International, surely that could mean having courted career disaster? In that sense it’s understandable for a man in his then possibly precarious position to turn venomously on a barman he may have felt possibly he might one day have to become if all his treasured “privileges” were taken from him. He’d glimpsed the anti-careerist Situationist abyss and he’d recoiled in fear and horror! Yet hadn’t this man who proclaimed his knowledge of the history of the self-destruction of the artistic avante garde suffered a memory lapse? Hadn’t that principled Surrealist, Benjamin Peret, through one of the bouts of periodic poverty he was so accustomed to had stints employed as a barman? Benjamin Peret a man who made many creative breakthroughs signaling the end of the poet’s role like his early commitment, gun in hand (c/f that lovely photo of him with rifle and a cat on his knee) to the anarchist militias in the Spanish insurrection of 1936-39, who in his later years wrote a passionate historical factograph on the history of the Brazilian slave revolt and who also moved towards a more cogently revolutionary anti - trade union stance in collaboration with George Munis.
But he need not have worried as his paid-up intellectual future career was secure. Nay more than secure. Tim Clarke was to become the rising star in the Art History firmament as throughout the following decades he was to produce a series of art historical books tepidly analysing one movementt after another from the late 18th century to the mid 20th century. Well, it wasn’t quite tepid as he raised valid points here and there only to drown them in a deluge of side-tracking and deliberate obscurantism. It was necessary to do this as all were published by big, Anglo-American, middle of the road publishing houses that would drop any radical statement like it was a scalded cat. Two of his early efforts were published by Thames and Hudson Image Of The People and The Absolute Bourgeois. Clarke bears comparison with Umberto Eco in Italy whose novelistic pursuits like The Naming of the Rose marking the end of his radicalism was nicely turned into an appropriate wall slogan; “Here’s a policeman – there’s an echo”. One anti-student, Rob Horn and connected to the pro-Situationist groupuscule, Infantile Disorders, scrawled something similar on Clarke’s faculty door at Leeds University which read: “Tim Clarke may present himself in the image of the people but he’s still the absolute bourgeois”. This is in fact truer than one cares to realise. T.J.’s father was the esteemed (sic) Sir Otto Clarke, the top Whitehall civil servant who supervised the production of the super sonic, transatlantic carrier, Concorde. According to TJ his illustrious father provided the name “Concorde” to the supersonic aircraft. One of the engineers who worked under Sir Otto said of him, that you “never got twelve pence to a shilling”. The same could also be said of his illustrious son, the future Sir Tim.
Although playing with the Situationist name tag which, no doubt provided some radical background cred, T.J. Clarke never put his life on the line. He always made certain that his economic future was more or less secure. His radical sounding theoretical elaborations when he was a member of the Situationists were made when living on a student grant in Paris and London. After that it was from lectureship to lectureship, on and on and up and up through academia to a top Professor’s role at the University of California. Clarke’s non life has been completely covered over by the mantle and protective shield of elite educational institutions How can all of this square with a passionate yearning for authentic life, when all his existence has been spent in actively promoting alienation and never once taking a walk on the wild side? It’s doubtful whether he even took a menial job during vacations! No wonder this creep has no feeling for the proletariat.
Don N Smith, a long and forgiving friend of this petrified fossil and the most aware by far of that early elite band of Situationists hailing from public school backgrounds could, on the one hand say; “He, (T.J.) is the most intelligent man I ever met,” at the same time making lame apologies for Clarke’s academic careerism: “Well, what else could he do?” What of course this implied was an underscoring of that familiar emphasis on social provenance and social determinants so beloved of the English bourgeoisie. And for those present the unspoken bottom line was all too clear – “therefore what else could you do other than survive through casual labour, welfare and building sites”. This is hardly the atmosphere and stuff of transgression and the choices that can ( and must) be made by one and all though it accurately reflects the seeming immutability of the social apartheid in these islands.
Choices can and are made but for Tim Clarke there was to be no This Way Down or Sunk – that memorable title of Franz Jung’s, the German Dadaist’s autobiography. Clarke never wanted to be included among workers even living within their social space, or even using the same bar or pubs as them, nor did he ever want to be in a position where all jams were permanently kicked out should he ever wish to express himself radically again.
To be sure bitterness can be more than detected in this long and overdue commentary but that is because something else really mattered. These people, this Situationist elite were, for a brief moment, sharp. In fact, they were razor sharp. There were no better in their general grasp of things and in the beginnings of a critique of the totality pertaining specifically to these islands on the basis of a universal, but on-going grasp of negation and revolutionary critique relevant not only to here but elsewhere throughout the world. During this period Tim Clarke did contribute considerably to then unpublished texts such as The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution. In this text his knowledge of the self-destruction of modern poetry was eloquently put to use. More importantly, over and above any danger of falling into the role of writer and theoretician (roles which were adamantly rejected at the time) were the on-going conversations and that passionate desire to seek each other out as states of euphoria were reached and insights and ideas were developed in run-down bed sits, pubs and cheapo cafes purveying English junk food. Tim Clarke contributed superbly to all of this - now re-counting De Quincey’s life on the London streets, followed by an accurate insight on Henri Lefebrvre’s The Sociology of Marx – “well the title is a dead giveaway”.etc. Examples are too numerous to mention. These weren’t insights for the sake of clever insights but were viewed as prelude to action, to make a point that could have maximum subversive impact.
However, that excellent lucidity of TJ was extremely short lived and though repeating some of what we’ve mentioned previously, having no taste for life on the margins, in no time Mr. Clarke obtained a secure full time lecturers tenure at the University of Essex. Being one of the hot spots of student revolt and educational, anti-institutional vandalism in England in the late 60s, T.J. was caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Clarke knew full well that the leftist lecturers at Essex were theoretically under developed and retarded, most having some vague Trotskyist orientation, he quickly got annoyed with them exploding in exasperation at their sheer ignorance. In particular, there was NLR hack Peter Wollen who some 20 years later was to come round to a garbled situationism helping produce the I.C.A./Verso garbage in that touring exhibition from Paris to London to Boston in 1989. (Later Clarke was to attack this caricature of an update). On the other hand, Clarke was himself now ensconced in a petty power position and he was being undermined from below once students began acquiring a realisation that their courses were a smokescreen of distortion, lies or at best, half truths. They responded accordingly be taking little interest in courses, exams, tutorials and the rest of the academic paraphanalia. Some knowing that our TJ had helped translate as well as contribute to an Afterword on; The Poverty of Student Life (and a splendid Afterword it was too) didn’t bother to do much at all about their looming B.A. finals or end of year exams. As a kind of shock tactic which he presumably hoped would have some aura of revolutionary truth (!), Clarke failed the lot of them possibly because he was beginning to see them as little more than self-indulgent spoilt brats or possibly again, simply for the arbritary shock value. In reality though, it’s what happens when a poacher becomes gamekeeper as no matter what, after awhile, you start performing the way the system wants you to perform. However, it didn’t go down too well among his mates outside education! No doubt feeling guilty about this perverse type of skewed praxis, Clarke, a few years later at Leeds University, was to award some Infantile Disorder students with 1st Class Hons even though they openly criticised his role.
This was part of the nub of a serious contradiction though and not a minor discrepancy. He’d been faced with a choice right back as a young lecturer at Essex University. TJ had to bite the bullet but refused to do so. Instead of realising he’d made a big mistake quitting his art historical role, he massively consolidated his initial backsliding. In parenthesis, we’re not calling for a kind of steadfast purism here. It’s hardly surprising if in fear or pain or what have you, you retreat and take steps backward getting lost in a labyrinth, providing you come through such detours relatively quickly. Such experiences can be treated as a temporary loss something which may in the long run strengthen you. Perhaps this was what was meant by Nietzche’s comment somewhere: “The path towards eternity is bent”. Instead Clarke substituted such hard decision by pursuing the realization of his very saleable art historical commodities which have the illusion of profundity, of thoughtfully picked out, precise words, phrases playing on a mimicry of “great” writing when this cascade of words is merely a decorative cover for what he must know deep inside himself is deliberately misleading deploying arguments specializing in pulled punches. Such books have to be written this way in order to lever grants from various bodies and obtain permission from university Regents whom Clarke thanks befitting any groveling careerist. To get published like this isn’t merit in the real sense it’s merely been good at arse licking and brown nosing. In short, a life more or less to the likes of his family destiny and truly a son Sir Otto could have been proud of. Let’s face it; art history has always been one of the acceptable faces of finance capital, of high rolling antique and property assets brought to realisation by an endless accumulation of hype. Is he therefore that much different from his erstwhile younger brother – that rising star and Minister of Education Charles Clarke who has been mooted as leader of the Labour Party once Blair steps down?
As if to counter this knowledge that he dare not acknowledge in himself, TJ Clark produces the odd radical pamphlet. In the late 1990s in collaboration with Don N Smith, he produced a kind of 30 years on (in style at least) imitation of the Afterword to On The Poverty Of Student Life. It lacks by a long way, the original power and promise of that Afterword but as things go and as a sad general comment upon the sheer emptiness of the present, it’s better than most things presenting themselves as critique. And, furthermore, when Tariq Ali (still some kind of social democratic Trotskyist) called Tim Clarke’s Farewell to an Idea, the 1999 book of the year, you know you’re in trouble. Not that Tariq Ali has improved since his no-business-like-show-business militant days of the late 60s. His critique hasn’t got any better though his money making skills have vastly improved cornering a large part of the media/TV business outlets emanating from south east Asia.
Epithet: “ And every glory that inclines to sin
The shame is treble by the opposite.”
Shakespeare: Edward 111.
DON NICHOLSON SMITH
What can you say about this guy? Certainly he was one of the best of the original Situationists in these islands in terms of his general theoretical grasp, his amiable bingeing ways possessing more than a glimpse of problems the rest of the elite were blind to, particularly, the social apartheid and the difficulties you have with it. This had more than a little to do with his own precarious position being a somewhat marginal interloper among the traditionally English middle classes able to see the predicaments of both sides though finally and with much internal anguish, to side with that elite, Nay more: Never ever to break with it retaining many a devious link. In practice he nobbled himself by constantly riding both horses at once trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. In his youth having been sent to some notable public school or other, possibly as a scholarship boy it would seem probable that he constantly had to guard himself against vicious put downs from the offspring of the traditional, often unspeakably crass and rich ruling class. As Chris Gray said of him at the moment of impending general collapse in 1969: “He has the character armouring of a World War Two battleship” – a comment made not in anger as it was attempting to find a kinder and deeper critical sympathy.
Though constantly fraternising with so many who carved out nice little, and not so little careers for themselves, especially in academia, Don never took up any obvious cadre role himself settling down into translation work from French into English. It was an occupation he increasingly took very seriously indeed so much so that it effectively put on the back burner any original contribution he might have wanted to make himself and which he was more than capable of doing. Often the guy has worked for much lower translation rates than is the market norm in order to translate books by Debord, Lefebvre and Vaneigem. Sometimes he worked for nothing as when he translated N’Drea by Os Cangaceiros and published by Pelagian Press in England. All of this is of course salutary as these translations are by far the best going. Saddled though between two horses Don has been unable to speak plainly himself. Only, it seems, at moments of real despair (was it this?) could he speak with acute, clued-in anger though never to be followed through into anything more concrete like simply letting flow with the keyboard and to hell with it. He couldn’t do such a thing because his precarious self-identification meant he was constantly looking over his shoulder just in case he offended. As he once lamely said -and it casts light on his dilemma - “everybody’s right”. Well, of course they’re not. He meant this though in terms of his diverse circle of acquaintances as for sure, Don had a constant hatred of the real right wing but beyond that his anger was tempered by some form of psychoanalytical even Freudian-cum-Keats-like take on “negative capability” as he perhaps strove to understand the insides of what makes a person tick - only to forgive them. The trouble is does one really forgive like this with a polite glossing over and a forgetting; a friendly conciliatory gesture, maybe a drink together without any argument? For truth to tell with Don after the disarming get together and a sense of relaxation pending a boot quickly goes in only to be pulled away just as quickly but leaving you in no doubt where your place is in the not so informal hierarchy.
Maybe this is sparse comment upon Don simply because it hurts to write it. Enough to say that he had to leave these islands for New York, a place where class doesn’t figure in the same all consuming way and where any social apartheid isn’t so particular, often irritatingly miniscule and quite frankly shut down and hostile as it is here. Of course class does figure in America but in a very different way and has more to do with crude money than social provenance and a tendency towards a separate species being so characteristic of here. Certainly the American way of class is less encumbered by baggage but be that as it may. Don always said that the French Situationists didn’t have a clue about the peculiarities of these islands. He was right but only to depart to a place which eased his personal sense of being on that particular wrack he was incapable of talking about.
Phil Meyler was probably by far the most consequent individual to gravitate around King Mob, remembering that King Mob wasn’t any kind of formalised, card-carrying group but a field of magnetic attraction spreading ever wider, making it sometimes quite difficult knowing who to include and who not to. Phil Meyler in the ‘groups’ latter days played more than a big part often quite savagely leaving his mark on this particular scene through his various leaflets, actions and magazines and when drunk, managing to put every bodies back up at some time or another.
Basically, he gravitated towards this fulcrum through some kind of friendship with Ian and Di Clegg whom he quite rapidly thereafter rightly fell out with after a somewhat violent punch-up. After bringing out Arson News - a crude but fiery diatribe - he took the kernel of the chaotic King Mob breakthrough and tried to transpose it on Ireland, particularly Dublin, city of his birth. He put together a couple of editions of The Gurriers (Dublin lingo for hooligans) which completely upset the two dominant ideologies in Irish life – the Catholic church and an Irish nationalist culture orientation - launching a broad sided, wild attack on both which didn’t pull any punches if lacking somewhat in a more coherent theoretical approach that Red Rat in Dublin two or so years later, was fleetingly to provide. It was a promise which sadly was never fulfilled. One remembers with delight on first reading The Gurriers just how down home, raw and splendidly nutty it was. After the obligatory attack on professional roles there is the great exhortation: “You must destroy the lorry driver within yourself”. Wow, just how do you do that?
Remember though, when Phil initially launched his attack peppered with cartoon strips of nuns saying they wanted to be fucked, there were over 8,000 books banned in Ireland by the 1923 board of censorship dominated by a fundamentalist Catholic Church. His intervention was done in a kind of radical void in Ireland due to a basically intense sexual repression fostered by the church. Its effect spilled over necessarily involving all other aspects of thought and the nascent counter culture there was muted in comparison to America or most other western European countries at the time.
For his pains, Phil’s broadsides alerted the unwelcome attentions of the Irish Special Branch who seized what Gurriers they could plus related documents when they raided his Mother’s home in Dun Laighoire putting this poor, god fearing, semi-illiterate lovely woman through a horrible ordeal once she realised what blasphemous activities her son had become involved in. It was probably the biggest (and by far the most explicit) anti-cultural intervention that Ireland had seen since the hey day of its avante garde in the early 20th century perhaps since the moment James Joyce was forced to leave Dublin for more tolerant climes. It’s worth mentioning some of the choicer examples of Phil’s output at the time like the cynically accurate Tony Trend In Carnaby Capers plus some other cartoon strips also distributed in Ireland which further provoked the ire of the establishment there.
However, Phil’s major contribution came in the moments after the collapse of King Mob when he tried to grasp a lot more theoretically the nature and whys and wherefores of this collapse recognising clearly the looming reaction ambushing from all sides. In the States he produced a leaflet that he distributed at some New England seminal eco meeting around Murray Bookchin which did not go down at all well. In cartoon form the smell of defeat was put clearly and a character, like in some 19th century English Imperialist African venture, comes out of the jungle exclaiming; “I’ve been up front Bwana and there’s nothing there”. Few were sympathetic and Murray Bookchin took the disillusioned young man aside countenancing him to note the whole meal baked bread freely distributed at this venue, the vegetarianism and the on-going alternative life styles etc. Replying, “It’s all just become plastic Murray , all plastic” he drifted on to the nearby golf links crying his eyes out. Refusing however, to fall back into any kind of retardation, particularly a re-emerging and strengthening makeover of old leftism or a union-oriented workerism falsely claiming to be “the new unionism”, plus the growing eclipse of the critique of art, Phil Meyler was about to produce his best efforts.
In exile from Ireland after his escapades and unable to live in London or elsewhere in England preferring the States, in desperation and despair in early 1973, Phil moved to Portugal (much to the disapproval of those who objected to visiting Fascist countries like Portugal then was under Salazar’s dictatorship) where he became a witness and protagonist during the Portuguese revolt of 1974-6. Initially, he put together written comment after written comment on the events there which he dispatched to people in London and America becoming more and more involved with those of a autonomous persuasion like the melancholic and profound Situationist influenced Julio Henriques and those who gravitated around the ultra leftist group Combate. Through our help, having earned enough spare cash through hard graft plastering on building sites what developed from type written sheets to a whole book was published by the Cardanite revolutionary group Solidarity in England. There was certainly a deft re-arranging and probably some editing by Solidarity but they did the thankless and boring task of putting it all together and doing it well. Some people have criticised this move saying it was a step backwards to have consorted with Solidarity but we didn’t have enough money or technical means to do Phil’s long text with all it’s telling photos and it was too good to have been left on the side without hope of seeing the light of day. The book also needed to come out relatively quickly if it was to have any effect. Portugal: The Impossible Revolution, was more than good; it was the best book in any language on the near revolution in Portugal. It definitely surpassed Jaime Semprun’s book in French which was limited by a self-imposed need to say Situationist theory was being realised in practice by the Portuguese workers as that baneful “Our Party” syndrome gained its hold. Sure, “Our Party” was meant to be somewhat jokingly ironic but in its Debordist rigidity on all matters, it sometimes felt like that you were been given real stick over nothing! Phil Meyler’s account was a lot more complex, shot through with that unmistakeable “I was there” feeling not just as an acute observer but protagonist too. In a photo book in Portuguese on the thousands of slogans which covered the walls of Lisbon it’s surprising how many of Phil’s comments are reproduced from “Football Or Revolution” outside the Benfica stadium to a sober assessment of possibilities.
Moreover, at the moment of the attempted coup within a coup in late 1975, Phil quickly got together some of his companions, along with others mostly around Combate and began teaching them how to use firearms plus further elements of basic military training which he’d acquired through his compulsory stint in the Irish army where he’d been commended for his adept military prowess with rifles and sub machine guns. They started to laise with soldiers going up to their barracks or check points even asking for weapons which the soldiers weren’t very keen to hand over but he didn’t have to put his military knowledge into practice. October 1975 wasn’t a prelude to the May Days in Barcelona in 1937
The trouble is in dealing with a personal history/cataloging like this loses much sense of the collectivity which was the most important thing of all. We all bounced off each other. As enumerated in the general, more theoretical part of this book, some individuals were more persuasive and influential than others. This must be said of Chris Gray and as we’ve said so much about this guy previously the precis we are about to elaborate here concerns his later activities.
Slowly but surely with the decline of the revolutionary edge of the times, Chris Gray began moving towards things which others, forced to confront a sharpened survival, after they’d burnt their bridges and with no money to fall back on, found quite unacceptable. It began by endlessly playing the recently hyped dirges of Leonard Cohen, a pop musician quick to pick upon the renewed feeling of despair and nothingness even, in a sense, before such feelings had actually made their debut! Was Chris Cray thinking about himself when playing for the seemingly millioneth time “and the rain falls down on yesterday’s men” or did he think we’d all failed, that we were all yesterday people? But this was merely a taster. Instead of recognising what was tragically beginning to unfold, Chris Gray began to look for answers in dubious quarters few could go a long with. Dabbling with hard drugs and messing around with various other substances was fine but once serious heroin use was on the cards it was too much as it was accompanied by other interests, theoretical ones, which we were trying to get away from particularly a growing tendency towards mysticism, that quintessentially English fall back when nothing can be sorted out in terms of any practical critical activity. It wasn’t just the typical Guedjieff/Ouspensky orientation which was there but an interest in Aleister Crowley which quite frankly attempted to imitate the charismatic image Crowley contrived which was particularly effective in seducing young heiresses helping them to part with their wealth. Chris Gray was reasonably successful on this level too making certain that from now on he’d only hang around with women of some means like Lucien Freud’s daughter. Moreover, there was a fall back into Beat poetry and renewed friendships with the American Beat poet, Dan Richter and the ex-Situationist, Alex Trocchi although wheeler dealing heroin played more than a small part in the latter relationship. Disappointed that people, mainly for survival reasons, started to get involved in some type of work despite dole culture being still intact, even just coming on stream, Chris Gray on finding a penny lying on the pavement could say “look why work when you can find money lying about everywhere” neglecting to mention that he’d survived on tranches of inherited wealth and now, via the philanthropy of a well-off girl friend who was prepared to financially help. Funny, if you came from the working class it was rather more difficult to come by this solution though with the advent of consumer capitalism it wasn’t by any means impossible providing you were prepared to cut out a lucrative, aberrant career for yourself as a budding pop musician, artist, hip academic, ad maker or a drug dealing raconteur like Howard Marks capable of presenting yourself as true-blue posh.
Chris Gray became more than a little interested in the need to find and cultivate “some loony peer” which first saw the light of day in the one and only Manifesto Of The Black Hand Gang. We wrote the first draft of this in the spirit of some kind of drift around the possibilities inherent in James Ward’s huge painting of Gordale Scar in the National Gallery. Chris Gray considerably changed the original emphasis and he introduced the guiding light of a possible future benefactor - the loony peer syndrome. It gradually merged into the concept of finding some rich, preferably enlightened aristocratic type who possibly owned a castle and was utterly jaundiced and strangled by the aridity and banality of an everyday life increasingly colonised by commodity production thus searching for some kind of transcendence. If you like a modern day benefactor prepared to build an even more outrageous version of Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey and/or Ludwig the 3rds castle on a cliff above the Rhine in Bavaria or even Coleridge’s Pleasure Dome in Zanadu. This new Pleasure Dome though wasn’t to be mundane like say the original technological fall-outs based partially on this phantasy and built in the 19th century like Brighton Pier or Blackpool Tower but a fulcrum of experiment where individuals, groups and gangs etc would go out into the world to disrupt a reified everyday life. Inside this castle (preferably) Chris Gray talked about having workshops where all kind of things could be conceived, where weird machines could be constructed and strange costumes sewn together. Then with like-minded people at the helm, epigones of Chris Gray perhaps, they’d break out of the castle running amuck in the streets disrupting boredom and set ways of doing things. The basis for all of this had, of course, been the carnival gorilla/circus horse in Powis Square Notting Hill and the aggressive, bad taste float for the Notting Hill Carnival in 1969 plus those figures originally suggested by Chris Gray, dressed as giant bean cans who’d cavorted through the streets of London calling for revolution and an end to work and boredom amongst other things. This wasn’t street theatre as there was no plot or scenario to watch and it was too purely confrontational in a minor, pushy way though the lineage of Dutch Provo could perhaps be called to mind. In any case, street theatre had been met with disdain for its tame set pieces, which merely transferred the stage to the street never challenging the passive audience/actor relationships.
Nothing thankfully was to come of these schemes although Chris Gray spent a great deal of time and energy in the early 1970s looking for some kind of approximation to this ideal patron. Somehow or other he befriended Paul MaCartney and did some minor DIY jobs for him like tiling. He also cultivated a rising journalist cum property speculator named Benny Grey. For the time, Benny Gray was a new type of investigative journalist principally highlighting homelessness problems and had been involved with Christopher Booker (later of the Booker Prize yearly literary awards which of course was the art front masking the often brutal exploitation of food processing workers by the Booker food marketing empire). Like Booker and art, Benny Gray’s real concern wasn’t homelessness but owning homes, and lots of them, making millions of spondoolies out of property deals. Fawning like this got neither Chris Gray nor his erstwhile toff companion, Duffy Jordan anywhere. Neither the future Sir Macca nor Benny Gray was exactly the freaked-out rich looking for some true negative coherence against this banal world. In reality, Gray and Co, were merely the decorative entourage and necessary adjuncts to Benny Gray’s hip tycoon-style put-on or MaCartney’s more “concerned” caring intellectual image and they had no more intention of funding any serious revolutionary project than fly! It was obvious at the time and Chris Gray got very upset with any individual who crudely but rightly pointed this out to him. Instead of being Machiavellian as maybe The Prince calling the shots, Chris Gray was on his knees more or less groveling to them - hardly the strategy of a successful deviancy – seeing “deviancy” as a right on word was very much in vogue at the time. Needless to say gone had the slogan in the old English Situationist adaptation of the original French poster “C’mon he’s just another bloody Beatle”. To be sure, if Chris Gray had hung on in there he would have probably come across an updated eccentric peer like the hippie oriented Duke Of Devonshire who, as well as being a friend of minor dissident authors and actors like Heathcote Williams and Jeremy Irons, was purported to have a taste for Raoul Vaneigem, the French Situationist who relished passionism.
But there’s no way the Duke or even Paul MaCartney and Benny Gray would have been on the brink of accepting a thorough going revolutionary critique like perhaps the multi-millionaire entrepreneur, Gerard Lebovici aspired to in France during his long patronage of Guy Debord until Lebovici’s death at the hands of an assassin in 1984. Although one can soundly criticise the relationship between Debord and Lebovici,, as the latter certainly related to Debord through his notorious image cultivated in the French spectacle, France was a country where revolutionary uprisings had been regular occurrences since 1789 and where the concomitant ever more lucid disintegration of modern art was at its most intense. Our World Turned Upside Down had been nearly three and a half centuries ago and despite the occasional brilliant revolts and an on-going combative working class (up to say the 1990s) these revolts haven’t been accompanied by an evolving and general earth-shattering , theoretical lucidity since that more primitive take on the totality in the 1640s and which then was inevitably so shrouded in religious sentiment.
In a sense, all Chris Gray was doing was handing on to wealthy entrepeneurs and pop stars a more enlightened take on things than they probably wouldn’t have possessed otherwise. No wonder Paul MaCartney was later to be called the most clued-in Beatle. Interestingly, about the same time, Charlie Radcliffe became an adviser/intellectual-in-harness to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Afterwards, Chris Gray was to apply the same kowtowing technique of “enlightening the boss” to the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh in Poona, India who was given doled-out potted summaries of Vaneigem and Reich to add to his mystical brew. In any case, this snake-oil salesman liked to add all sorts of things to his ersatz version of old Indian scriptures and remedies and remember he’d started out in as an adherent of the Maoist inspired, Indian Naxalites. On looking at a photo of Chris Gray in the late 70s, Rod B was to say, “here’s mud in your third eye.” .All of this though had to have an air of dare about it and living off the sale of relatively minor amounts of heroin in order to fund a session with the Bagwash in Poona added charisma to both parties.
The castle/ loony peer syndrome in Chris Gray marked some kind of rapport, although obviously more superficially, with the beautiful statements of Ivan Chtcheglov in the early 1950s which were echoed in Chris Gray’s Leaving The 20th Century in 1974: “Who the hell is going to exert themselves to get another frozen chicken , another pokey room? But the possibilities of living in one’s own cathedral” was for Chris Gray a place of material fantasy where all traditional and modern usage be abandoned and where newly regaled and fleshed-out Arthurian legends could venture out from a remote Tintagel castle hung on a cliff face above crashing waves The trouble is this “grail” wasn’t the derive or drift that early psychogeographical experimenters in Paris had made comparisons with – perhaps in a momentary weak wording – summarising perhaps that the original participants were into something new that had yet to be found. Applied by Chris Gray, this grail was now heading in a much more traditionally English mystical direction. At the time, in the early 70s, it was impossible to separate Arthurian legend from a relatively passive and laid back hippy life style. Revolutionary critique didn’t enter into it but neither did historical accuracy. The search for the grail in England or Wales had none of the resonance of similar quests in Europe in the early middle ages that enmeshed with messianic peasant revolts of extreme radicalism in terms of a collective sexuality and often the abolition of property. True, there was much tabooed sexual transgression in the Arthurian legends but this wasn’t (and still isn’t) emphasised. Rather the emphasis is upon that elite band of knights through their quest bringing about a kind of realm of truth and beauty. Chris Gray at the end of his Leaving the 20th Century infamously compares Debord, Vaneigem et al to a kind of new Round Table.
In truth it would have been more appropriate if you really wanted to communicate through past references if Arthurian legend had been side-lined in favour of the Peasants Revolt of 1381, Robin Hood, the plasterers revolt during the reign of Henry the Eight and what have you, though to be fair these scenes had been mulled over by traditional leftism though not in an inspiring way. It wouldn’t have taken much to have written a kind of docu-polemic on the Peasants Revolt emphasising some remarkable facts, liking grinding down all gold to make it worthless, which are usually overlooked in pedestrian histories. In a sense though, Chris Gray at this moment was no longer in the hippy embrace but was on the cusp of new ageism harking back to more pagan times where simple revolts of the oppressed didn’t figure. However for Chris Gray the countryside was still a play area to be endlessly disrupted and he’d embark on many a walk in the Lake District (where else?) deliberately leaving farmer’s gates wide open.
Although a critique of The Situationist International had become necessary Leaving the 20th Century was only symptomatic of this malaise providing no indications of a way out. In retrospect, it was probably at the time impossible to conceive of such a thing seeing we were only beginning to experience the sheer enormity of the defeat. Consider two of Chris Gray’s statements from this publication which nonetheless were to have quite an impact on a younger generation heading towards careers via a recuperation reinstating old world specialisms ( the artistic/entrepreneurial activities of Suburban Press who helped produce the booklet and a future Punk Rock ). “ What was basically wrong with the SI was that it focused exclusively on an intellectual critique of society. There was no concern with either the emotions or the body”....“After their initial period, creativity, apart from its intellectual forms, was denied expression.” But is it possible to say that the original Situationist critique was intellectual like that? They thought - and thought accurately – but it was essentially anchored in an everyday life resolutely refusing professional roles particularly that of any paid-up intellectual, artist, sociologist or politico. Crisp thought and emotional experience came from the essence of that refusal predicated on the social space you inhabited marking that refusal! Believe us, sex and personal relationships (plus the serious absences which now multiply here through the sheer onslaught of the commodity directed against basic survival communities) are very different on this terrain than those mediated on the selection of status. As for the second italicised sentence, it seems like a coded plea hiding behind the loony castle, weird costume and provocative street displays, like a back door appeal for the reinstatement of art. Chris Gray wanted to bring all of this together in a campaign for a total revolution demonstrating the possibility of life; “simultaneous with the creation of mass therapy”.
The therapy isn’t defined (what was it; bashing cushions, screaming, endless me me me splurges?) but everyone at the time who had been involved in the “movement” in no matter how half-arsed away, knew now the pain inside as consequence of sheer defeat, or at the very least as the closure of all subjective hopes for a fulfilled everyday life. If we hadn’t been united in our assault we certainly were united in our grief! It’s difficult though to know in practice how such a therapy could have worked and just how could it have been different from the pandemic of a banal, dumb-fuck counseling that later was to appear as a placebo, achieving at times, pseudo-collectivity through the manipulations of periodic mass market grief fests like that for the obnoxious Lady Di in 1997. Soon after the Free Fall publication Chris Gray found therapy through that pseudo-mystic, the Bagwash, a solution, which was merely a talking/touching/fuck-in for those with economic clout and without any relevance to those at the sharp end who couldn’t afford it. He goes on to say that the American and English Situationists wanted:“ political subversion and individual “therapy” to converge in an uninterrupted everyday activity”. Well, did they? Despite being freaked out, somewhat crazy and depressed there wasn’t that much recourse to therapy. Some did but there was a certain pride in refusing to give in to such palliatives knowing full well Freud’s rueful sceptism on this crucial point. Rightly so considering how the therapy industry was to colonise society’s mores over the next 30 years in an attempt to make us adjust to an increasingly insane society and where even the cops were to become therapists.
Although Ron Hunt, even during the late 60s would have objected to be called an associate of King Mob nonetheless the link was there. Enough has been said about his influence in Newcastle, which was profound but what happened to him afterwards? In many respects throughout the King Mob ferment he was to write some of the most balanced and intelligent leaflets and commentaries. The Brigitte Bardot interview was his as was a contribution called: The Great Communications Breakdown, a previously mentioned text still retaining its merit. Ron though was to become increasingly bitter pushing him in a reactionary direction. Even during this apocalyptic time he wasn’t too enamoured of the Situationist critique although he went along with it as his intelligence was too keen not to recognize its inherent truth. Having hailed from a working class background in his teens working in aircraft factories in Bristol and later with a family to support, Ron was understandably hesitant. Despite all the deepening conflicts within Icteric he’d wanted the group and magazine to continue cynically hoping perhaps some research job could come out of it. Maybe Troels Anderson, the hip director of the Moderna Musset in Stockholm might employ him. Possibly through the effect of Icteric Ron gained sufficient prestige to host a superior Descent into the Street which was staged in the Stockholm museum in 1969. The exhibition turned into a display of various re-constructions made in Newcastle like Malevich’s Suprematist coffin which Malevich was buried in at Vitebsk, Tatlin’s Ornithopter, plus fresh photo-montages illustrating visually the surrealist schemes for the re-construction of Paris which interestingly the psycho geographers of 1950s Paris had rightly objected to because they merely presumed to alter the face of things architecturally, when it was the ambience/potential existing in present day reality that really mattered. Nonetheless, the exhibition was OK as history, particularly as most of the catalogue was in English. Although Anselm Jappe in his book on Debord mentions the exhibition’s “excellent iconography” – which was true enough – he fails to point out its essential feature: recuperation. It’s perhaps worth quoting at length some of Ron Hunt’s introduction here as it is well put, if a little tepid (befitting the mode of recuperation) and in contrast to the often somewhat crazy histrionics of King Mob.
Ron Hunt finally did take the cue from this recuperation. He was to dislike even more intensely the growing Situationist lucidity and refusal to take up cadre roles explicitly saying he “couldn’t go a long with that worker thing” putting such sentiment it in a greeting card form as; “militant self- sacrifice can be ideological as well as head-bashing for a cause.” As if it was that simple as the critique of the modern cadre didn’t by any means necessarily mean adopting a self-conscious worker role in order to make some point. Nonetheless, Ron moved up the ladder from librarian to college lecturer and there he stayed put getting more jaundiced by the second (remember Icteric meant “jaundice as well as a cure for jaundice”) as he failed to get anywhere in terms of the name in lights which it seemed he’d so much wanted. Obviously he had to get out of Newcastle as he knew he’d be severely punished as one of the instigators of a more general rebellion. He was however able to survive for a while on scholarships with many a willing reference from recuperators high up in European art establishments. However, in a kind of lacunae before hard-headed career choices had to be made, Ron Hunt wrote a book on the history of modernism and the avante garde which was never published, though not through want of trying. Though again recuperative, it was way better than the ultra safety shot of T J Clark’s The Absolute Bourgeois published by equally ultra safe, Phaidon Press around the same time, nay somewhat earlier. Knowing it was mealy mouthed in comparison to his own effort, the book infuriated Ron Hunt causing him to exclaim a little nervously that; “ Clark needs a rap across the knuckles”. Recuperators at war with recuperators, Ron Hunt being much more incisive and plain speaking than Sir Tim.
Moreover, unlike TJ, though from the same neck of the woods in the south west of England, Ron Hunt was from the wrong class and that really mattered in an England where thought is really only supposed to emanate from one class of person. However, if Ron had pushed harder he probably could have got his book published in perhaps Sweden, Canada or the States. If not he could have made 50 or so reasonably presentable photocopies and no doubt something would have come of it. Most likely he lost his nerve. Feeling reaction on his skin –and which sensitive person didn’t – he hunkered down under possibly thinking publishing such a text in the looming Thatcherite epoch would no longer be a choice career move. After the defeat of the 60s, Ron became very conscious of safety shots, bitterly retiring into obscurity and full of bile comments towards his former comrades, more or less blaming them for what he regarded as his demise, tending to cultivate the more right wing of local art establishments, fearing the sack, economic impoverishment and the wife fucking off. To top it all and after all he’d said and done in the years of youthful exuberance he embarked on the pursuit of easel painter!
Double-reflection. We were necessarily on the same path as our enemies. From recuperation to brutal hi-jacking as everything turned into its opposite.
Looking back on King Mob and its times one is struck by how different the general social situation is between then and now. Superficially everything appears so similar. Temples of consumption are literally everywhere and the Society of the Spectacle is now more omnipresent than ever it was in its more youthful phase in the sixties when the spectacular commodity economy still entertained a certain innocence through which genuine revolt could finally unfold. Fashion did indeed accelerate as revolution was treading on its tail. Since then all the attributes of this new and terrible phase of capitalist accumulation have intensified to degrees unimaginable over 30 thirty years ago. The grand manufactured lie is now all-encompassing and pervasive invading every detail of daily life. Truth is silenced like never before as the smoke and mirrors of a deadly magicians trick nightmarishly triumphs everywhere. Without our collective web site – Revolt Against an Age of Plenty - numbering merely four individuals, none of our utterances would ever see the light of day. Truly there has never been such a dark time to elaborate the subversive theory of our age; a theory no longer seamlessly bound to the late 1960s.
What we once said in the late 60s cannot be said again as most of it (as has been elaborated here) needs much qualifying and auto-critique if we are to get anywhere. A lot is irrelevant. As Nick Brandt once pointedly said: “We write from the present moving back over” and though at the risk of some repetition, it’s a serious of long querulous backward glances that must conclude this hidden history. In the 1960s we emphasized the totality alright and that essentially distinguished us from what was to come. The totality of what we trail-blazed was immediately lost in all its roundness as the mood was instantly recuperated and modified by a general ‘new’ culture of hydra-headed, issue politics successfully lobotomizing the general, totalising intent. Thrown back in our faces we hesitantly looked at our uncalled for offspring shaking our heads in bewilderment muttering; “no, no, a thousand times no, that isn’t what we meant” even though we were hard put to explain what we really did mean! It’s easy enough to say things after the event and one of the constant refrains through this book is an, ‘if only’ especially the ‘if only’ of a more reflective foresight. It unfortunately could be said that King Mob did realize itself in anticipating many tendencies and trends that mainstream society was to take up with a vengeance later on though it did so by essentially disconnecting each from the other as all notion of the totality evaporated to be replaced, at best, by a plethora of inter-disciplinary measures. As was mooted in Once Upon A Time in Nothing Hill (1988) things were turned into their opposites, or as Vaneigem quipped in the early 1970s; “everything was realized minus the essential”, allowing, with the passage of time, a certain glibness in such an assertion considering this society now has no revolutionary undertow. To be more precise, our take on riot, on never working, on anti-art, on crime, on individual self-expression – and so many other things beside – got more than turned into their opposite as it became impossible to even begin to recognize ourselves in a disastrous outcome we never remotely intended or, even in our most desperate nightmares, we never imagined could happen. Then too if you had a libertarian disposition in everyday life and were especially against racism it was acquainted with an anti-capitalist rebellious perspective. This is no longer the case. Indeed you can be all these things - and with feminism thrown in for good measure - whilst maintaining a deeply submissive, anti-life identification with present day capitalism. A strange and alarming conjuncture is brought into focus not too different in broad outline, if not in subtlety, to that broadly based, cosmopolitan elite perfecting repression and newspeak in the Oceania of George Orwell’s 1984.
Of course what we meant by the totality in the late sixties was relatively limited in comparison to what now would be considered a totality – if ever that crying need is to reassert itself again. Moreover, the totality as envisaged then was set in an everyday life still containing more than a whiff of genuine freedom. By revealing everyday life we also revealed it to the market that was to make brutal mayhem with the concept as our desires and social space were colonized at the same moment as our authentic self was exterminated. In its infancy then, it must be remembered that totality was a concept also aimed for rather than immediately grasped – a way of praxis if you like – as obviously we were often woefully short of sufficient knowledge and experience. The fact that we aimed for totality was in itself remarkable. Essentially it was a notion underpinned by commodification spreading everywhere though in terms of discussed content we couldn’t really then have possibly had any thoughts say on neuro-science, astro-physics, genetics, computers or, surprisingly in retrospect, just how serious the ecological crises was going to be. It could be said too that our analysis of the law of value as the corner stone of total critique was rather woefully absent. Nonetheless, it was rather better that that coterie now who eternally emphasizing the law of value in relation to everything under the sun, completely miss out on the totality of alienation.
Seeing our very essence was instantly denied (the counter revolution was quick, very quick to announce itself) our influence, becoming more diffuse by the day, was merely to change surface appearances which inevitably could only end up by making matters worse as we increasingly, were unable to combat changing (for the worse) times. Truly we were on the same path as our enemies as they rested control from us – a control they’ve grimly and powerfully hung onto ever since.
Centrally for us who had so vehemently tried to realize the rich subversive core of modern art saw our efforts over the decades turned into the very artistic commodities we so despised. We, in turn, were destined to be hung on walls as we became nothing more than a missing link in contemporary cultural history. If not that we only altered the shape of the environment our long shadow providing an occasion for new artistic roles most obviously from graffiti to graffiti artists and a step back into the picturesque.
It may seem ironical after emphasizing the totality but perhaps it’s necessary to go into some of the facets of the totality by deploying a kind of compartmentalization – a contradiction in terms if you like – if only to more exactly pinpoint how, from all sides, we’ve been had! Essentially though one underlying truth pervades throughout: a general drift towards monetary psychosis.
We lauded riot as the great truthful expression which would truly purge us of our present day conditioning and socializing, the authentic voice of our anger and essential in the creation of a new world. Well, we were right as for sure big riots then were impassioned social explosions full of communication and dialogue with strangers about to become friends ever ready to explore all frontiers of liberation. Riots were all-encompassing events and though one could get easily hurt or even killed in them, nevertheless they welcomed allies, were inclusive rather than exclusive. Don’t be afraid - even if shy or timid – join us! And then somehow, bit-by-bit, the whole mood of riot began to almost imperceptibly change as the decades unfolded and the revolutionary impulses waned. Finally riot was either done by militant rote or, as in those spontaneous urban outbursts, began reflecting more and more the hideous fears of the bourgeoisie in seeing an underclass hell bent on the attack and rape of ordinary citizens. This wasn’t what was intended by riot. And for every glorious Seattle or Genoa there were to be all the sickening others providing a venue for a maimed psyche giving more gist to the mill to the lurid fantasies of a sensationalist press seeing (perhaps even wanting) brutal mayhem everywhere. On our website, Revolt Against an age of Plenty, the introduction to the text on the 1979’80 Winter of Discontent notes the deterioration in the capacity to riot. In an article in the Leeds based Here and now in the early 1990s we noted a similar deterioration in the Newcastle-Upon Tyne riots of 1993. The sociopathic activities in the huge Bradford riot of 2001 where a gang of youths tried to murder drinkers bevying in a nearby cut-price Working Men’s Club by blocking all entrances to it with burning cars, meant that what was liberating in this event got lost by the imprint this dreadful incident was to make upon the minds of local people. The first firebomb lobbed at the club was thrown by a mid 40s businessman which in itself clearly states the overlap between gang activity and capitalism. This example of pure fuckhead hate-culture only served to reinforce the judiciary in handing out long prison sentences to those well-intentioned rioters who didn’t deserve this judgement and calumny. Now, more than ever, riot, to rewrite Rimbaud, “must be reinvented afresh” by rediscovering its lost innocence.
Closely related to the above we played on the form of the gang more as a two fingers up more than its reality, notably its often repressive and authoritarian hierarchy and most decidedly coloured by the recent experiences of mods, rockers and greasers than more traditional forms of the gang with their baneful lumpen overtones. A gang was a means suggesting violent and vandalistic escape from the strait jacket of a straight (and dull) society as well as something which put a distance to that party structure so enamoured of Social Democrats and Leninists. A gang proclaimed the aura of the urban streetwise at loggerheads with all the new forms of social control spawned by the new era of post war capital. In retrospect all this other emphasis had some kind of raison d’etre to it if only as a perspective putting some kind of clear blue water between ourselves and orthodox, procedurial leftism In short to bring to things a sense of life and urgency. As we’ve suggested before, unfortunately this positive side was at the expense of a more lucid analysis which should have reminded everybody that the gang unit had to be transcended and that gangs in themselves must acquire the ability to listen to what is going on around them (which necessarily implies their immanent end) as in themselves gangs are also useless and going nowhere.
Unfortunately, much of our gang emphasis, and unforeseen ourselves during the brief moment of King Mob, was as the decades passed by to become the form most perfectly compatible with an absolute finance capital. Times now favoured the racket, the vicious clique, the renewed robber baron tendency, the para-state drug cartel which could run a government. Mirroring this, on the street, the gang, in its most avante garde form, became the non-racist posse colonizing the very essence of a riot having lost its revolutionary innocence utilising a warped, almost psycho-geographical marker, as a means of mapping out its essential stake out, its future market. The dominant feature of the contemporary street gang was to become that of an un-licensed, wildcard, brutal business superceding the image of the old lumpen gang and, more latterly, that of sub-cultures and marginality. Spontaneous urban riots dominated by gangs thus no longer presaged victory over the machines of permitted consumption but a means of grabbing the commodity within its own term minus the drag of having to pay for them.
Fuckhead culture and its general reflection in Rap is the horrific recuperation of a revolutionary praxis emanating from visceral impulses marking the end of modern art nuanced by the free market and capitalist aggression in everyday life. Ending up with maimed praxis it now means vicious psycho assault proclaimed everywhere. To be sure the revolutionary praxis coming from the fall out of modern art must upset and disturb in its urgency but it mustn’t capsize into a blatant elimination of those people existing all around us (just in case everyone’s forgotten) who are the subject and means of generalized escape from these hellish conditions. Such a process must be infinitely dialectical full of an ever-increasing wisdom and forthright criticism plus more than a dash of seeming madness and imaginative leaps. Art throughout the early decades of the 20th century had to envelop and develop - though by fits and starts - a revolutionary praxis. There was literally no escaping such realisation. It could though be diabolically side-tracked and this has become the very putrid essence of the achievement and tragedy of the epoch we are enduring, hanging on as we are to sanity by our very fingertips.
Again we must reiterate that all these things are inseparable from each other as each flows into the other. The same goes for crime. To put a new or at least revived emphasis on crime regarding the part it plays in social revolutionary acts was, in the late 60s, justified but look how rapidly such emphasis lost its radical cutting edge as the capitalist mode of production itself has since then taken on more than a gangsterish hue. In fact crime and gangsterism has become its very essence permeating its highest echelons and well mimicked on a street level by a plethora of mugging, petty burglary and never ending assaults on poor neighbours. And we who loved the street; that aura where encounter and liberating potential lay, where the real future would unfold, saw it stolen from beneath our eyes meaning that emphasizing crime as something emancipatory in itself and set against unimaginative and routine ways of a deadening daily life, will never again be at the heart of a liberating social critique. Society isn’t dull so much as just plain frightening and we don’t need to be terrorized anymore.
Terrorism has become the foil, the means by which to seal our fear – a method the authorities have engineered to perfection to suit their own diabolical ends – that chimera and sometimes reality which stalks our everyday life. In this grim reality our terrorist style address which King Mob deployed and which had a certain innovatory dash to it at the time couldn’t be more inapplicable. True, we must still critique forcibly and be unrelenting but we can no longer give the State any leeway on this matter and we cannot supply them with the arms - meant here in the broadest sense of the term - which can assist in our future demise.
While we are mentioning arms we can only be more than careful in proclaiming old shibboleths like the arming of the working class. What resonance can we get from that old maxim with arms proliferating everywhere in the midst of mass paranoia and sociopathic impulses everywhere? As we’ve said before; arm the working class the better to shoot each other and/or as a means of proclaiming gangland ways or securing immediate survival – and perhaps a little bit more – for some small unit of people. Now we have under our belt examples like Albania in 1999 when an armed and seemingly insurrectionary population staged an ‘uprising’ which despite some anarchist eulogies made not the slightest difference in creating any hoped for wider social revolution. Basically Albania was a gun fest reinforcing crime and general gangland activities as the small amount of true subversive actions and tendencies retreated into almost total insignificance.
As for all the youthful zest which is essentially at the core of all genuine social revolt when will we see the likes of it again? Will we ever be able to eulogise youth like we once did now that a huge part are so enmeshed by the specific logic of the commodity they behave according to its inherent table turning mystifications? Once we could readily enthuse over Lautreamont’s maxim; “The storms of youth precede brilliant days” noting (even then!) he cautions with “precede”. We could identify with the sub cultures from Teds, to Mods and Rockers and most obviously, the Hippies (though well noting the Hippies obvious inadequacies) while we, rather masochistically perhaps, lauded far too much, the more violent sub-cultures. Generally though we were thrilled by the better qualities of all of them as truly at the time, they were indeed pointing to something better than passive acquience to spectacular consumption. Today we are presented with the end of sub-cultures, themselves living on as mere shadows and ghosts of their former glories. Within this lacunae “Fuckhead culture” has been spawned supported by a veritable industry of social workers and agencies empowering a victim syndrome never apportioned to the real sub-cultures of yester year. Thus moulded by an arm of the state their hazy use to capital isn’t like the traditional Marxist “reserve army of labour” as these people simply aren’t “good enough for work” as one of the characters at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs says. Fuckhead culture does equate though with an arditti of out of control community scabs readily attacking all and sundry (ironically a kind of nightmarish pastiche of King Mob provocative intervention) assisting – unbeknown to themselves – the state in curtailing many hard won rights the people forged for themselves over centuries resisting enclosure, limiting the power of landlords, and keeping some social space relatively free of capital. Worse than that, an outrageous free market finds Fuckhead culture useful, if only be selling its image back to them and the state finds its role useful, even perhaps formidable, in helping suppress authentic protest simply in keeping people locked safely up behind doors during their leisure time. It’s as though spontaneous youth rebellion is more split down the middle than ever before, a stark choice between splendid children’s riots opposing war on Iraq and a form of anarchically driven Fuckhead authoritarianism claiming and maiming the street. No wonder there’s been a hideous revival in its fortunes in the wake of the so-called ‘victory’ in Iraq. We weren’t the only ones aware of the subterranean relationship between these two seemingly disparate phenomena, but then the concept of totality always was a bonus.
Between these two extremes, for a brief period there was the inspiration of marginality. For certain King Mob and the more committed hippies were its harbingers forging “dole culture” as it was once nostalgically called. In the despotism of the free market dole culture could no longer be an option even though this form of resistance was, more often than not, safely recuperated and hedged in exhibiting itself as nothing more than harmless rebellion. (e.g. things like the “Demolition Decorators” of the 1970s). All such different ways of attempted survival, living and outlook were to be completely eclipsed in a brave new world of what American neo-liberalism was to call presenteeism i.e. the worker instead of never working never leaves work.
Thus sub-culture has given way to sociopathic expression and become perfect foil of a sociopathic mode of production and consumption with its nexus located in the image of the crackhead gang. It is also in the light of such developments that we must also put our fascination with the deranged and psychotic in the late 60s. No longer interesting examples of damaged psyches pushed to a limit, the hideous underbelly of a capitalism with necrophiliac tendencies but something tending to more closely dog us personally penetrating into our inner being. Shortly we shall all be mad, utterly depressed or – as a kind of reflex tragic outcome – suicidal exponents of a suicide capitalism.
If all this is over the top nonetheless you cannot be blamed for such a bleak take on things t possibly coming our way soon. Over the last three decades conditions have got worse and for those who’ve lived through it, there’s probably nobody on this planet that would deny it. As for us, the heady, well-intentioned protagonists of total revolution, for certain we weren’t prepared one iota for the long, drawn out, hideous collapse in the offing and still with no end in sight. Everywhere subversive tendencies stalled, even lost sight of going into sharp reverse or turning into their opposite. We played with all kinds of drugs, some light, some heavy only to quickly oppose Class A drugs like heroin and especially – though much later – crack, as once hitting the working class poor, they created mayhem severly hampering open class struggle. We welcomed the breakup of the uptight and impossible nuclear family only to see its disintegration often spawning monsters.
As Henri Lefebvre said sometime in the sixties: “The worst alienation is the blocking up of development”. Instead of changing things, things changed us. Disoriented and in increasing limbo we gradually lost all sense of ourselves and where we’d even come from as memory was consciously assisted in its annihilation by absolute capital. Thus with our own physical space broken into pieces and increasingly hapless we became prone to an easier-by-the-day manipulation.
Let’s as a finale return to the very beginning of this book – to the moment of the depassement of art – and where King Mob stepped in only to come to a quick and abrupt end without hint of intelligent supercession. Isn’t it a horrible though mighty achievement that absolute capital can successfully (seemingly forever?) divert the revolutionary consequences of modern art freezing its essential critique into spectacular effect in the general display of the modern commodity in urbanism, in media, in fashion, in language and performance etc, reproducing modern art’s more innocuous legacy everywhere without even a hint of its explosively revolutionary core? There was more than a hint of that in the late 60s. It has to return.
For other articles on King Mob see the following: