Psychic Terrorism Annual #17

Vague #7

May 1985 reprinted 1989 Psychic Terrorism Annual

If – Situationists – Angry Brigade – Psychic TV – Decoder
William Burroughs – Aleister Crowley – Laibach – Miners Strike – Viz

If…. 1968

If

If is the Middle Word in Life
Mick Mercer [Panache fanzine, Zigzag and Melody Maker]

 

The headmaster stepped forward into the sunlight. Around him pupils and parents of the college were crouched in doorways or behind protective buttresses and cars, hoping to avoid the downward arsenal of bullets, mortar shells and grenades from the top of the building opposite. Bodies lay on cratered grass that had never before witnessed such degradation. With weapons eventually distributed some prefects, teachers and parents began firing back at the 5 rooftop rebels. The headmaster stepped forward. “Stop firing! Cease fire! Cease firing! Boys, boys, boys, I understand you… listen to reason and trust me. Trust me.” The girl in the camouflage jacket smiles, draws the revolver from her belt and aims it deliberately down, planting a bullet in the middle of his forehead. It was the end of the beginning. 1969 and I was glued to my television screen…

In the modern Gormenghast that was my allotted school, where I was a belligerent but cheerful second former, there stood rotting ranks of dusty teachers; hardened leftovers from the de-mob days, or before, all hopelessly misguided in believing that Victorian methods in modern surroundings would work. Character building and knowing your place, even in an insignificant grammar school, were of paramount importance. To a 12 year old this was a very odd place indeed. Every morning when you got off the bus you entered a mysterious museum completely removed from the real world, or the reality we had chosen. I (like you?) had been brought up on adventure; The Man from UNCLE, The Avengers, The Persuaders, The Champions, Land of the Giants, Civil War cards, Dr Who, Thunderbirds, Stingray, The Addams Family, Daktari, Adam Adamant, Captain Scarlet, Canonball, The Munsters, Casey Jones, Lost in Space, Batman and The Prisoner; shows that counter-pointed the real world and showed what we felt ought to be, particularly between good and bad.

The simmering disgust that filled us, that teachers mistook for traditional ‘high spirits’ came from that new found ‘liberalism’ (a derogatory phrase if ever there was one) that had entered the new, larger world, and the very air we unconsciously sucked into our lungs. To accept the life at school that they had planned would have been as ridiculous as sitting in the dark all day without complaining. The teachers, bless their empty little attic-heads, beamed down at us from the hall stage that very first morning quite unaware that in the 5 years to follow most of them would retire early unable to fight the virus of which we were lethal carriers. For our part we didn’t hate them, they were simply in the way. What at first was probably a childish affair; our tacit refusal to accept their methods; became much clearer and for me crystallized in the almighty If…. We did it without knowing why and when we found out why we did it all the more.

Too young to have witnessed the arguments over Look Back in Anger, A Taste of Honey or Entertaining Mr Sloane, we knew about rock’n’roll, Elvis and the Beatles, but so what? We didn’t care. James Dean, Cuba and Profumo meant nothing to us. Kennedy? Somehow that rankled and Vietnam began to confuse. Where was Vietnam? And why were these teachers so insistent that we learn Latin? If…. was one of the few films that captured something other than the times; going deeper into and sparking off the imagination. With noble grace it enters the sober company of Alfie (real ‘real life’), Morgan A Suitable Case for Treatment (comedy stretching out, and clumsily failing, for more surreal treatment), The Servant (the first brave study of male homosexuality), The Killing of Sister George (ditto, for lesbianism), Blow Up (the narcissistic elements of swinging London), Performance (film exploiting film’s possibilities and strangling the entire exotic mess), A Clockwork Orange (dealing with violence in a new way; so shocking people that you can’t get it on video today) and The War Game (post-holocaust blues; also banned, unlike the bomb).

In case you have had the great misfortune to have missed If…. let us step back in time to the

If

If Starring Malcolm McDowell and Directed by Lindsay Anderson Released: December 19 1968

imposing building and the boys, prefects and masters as they go about their hectic way on the first day of a new term. ‘Sanctus’ from the ‘Missa Luba’ is our soundtrack theme (subsequently used as intro music by Adam and the Ants and Animals and Men) in and around a building swamped in ritual, resentment, adolescent spots and the morbid odour of fear. The prefects characteristically have the sneering mouths of the all powerful and even the outdated luxury of the dreaded sideburns. They are back where they’ve decided they belong, marshalling the underlings; until Travis arrives. Travis, our main hero to be, enters wrapped in a huge black scarf and hat, buckling his swash away out of reach from prying hands that attempt to disrobe him. Safe in his study he reveals to his compatriots the experimental moustache, a petty rebellion but serious enough in this establishment. He shaves it off. There are greater things to be done.

The headmaster, in time, delivers his opening greeting-cum-lecture: “I’ve just one thing to say to you. And it is this: work and play – but don’t mix the two.” Our own oily headmaster once told us generously, “You may listen to pop music at home, but only if you listen to classical music too. Read comics by all means but study your Dickens.” The matron inspects their naughtier parts with her little torch and they settle down for the term ahead, the weak or physically different being picked on immediately, the focus alternating between the prime examples and attitudes of house life and the 3 mavericks, Mick Travis, Johnny and Wallace. Paradise, we are informed, is for the blessed and not the sex obsessed. Anderson is poking gentle fun at first. His tensions between anarchy and hierarchy, independence and tradition, liberty and law (the ever presents), then steamrollers onward for their raging climax, appearing through a happy coincidence with worldwide student revolt. A fortuitous event that brought the film greater success than anyone had expected. If…. was the high noon of integrity.

The headmaster stands more as barometer of the situation than a real character, much the way I remember our own headmaster, who apart from assembly, day by day, where he spouted some laborious prologue of religious distress, I met only twice in the 5 years I was there; once in the first year to be lectured on my appearance and finally in the 5th year when he suggested I leave school. “Of course some of our customs are silly… you could say we were middle class (long-shot of Gothic façade). But a large part of the population is in the process of becoming middle class and many of the middle class’s moral values are values that this country cannot do without.” Thus the bestial treatment of all concerned is excused. “We must not expect to be thanked. Education in Britain is a nubile Cinderella, sparsely clad and much interfered with.” The prefects, when not flirting with the younger boys (particularly the devastatingly pretty Bobby Phillips) take a more subdued line: “If we can’t set an example, who can? That’s why we’re given our privileges.” This then must explain why judges, barristers, guardsmen and politicians, eminent respected members of society all, appear so regularly in sex scandals.

We meet our 3 heroes more and more as school life kicks into second gear and almost at once we find them disciplined for their apparent lack of self discipline – thrown into the cold showers with the rest of the shower. When they leap around later in their cosy fencing lesson their words betray their feelings. Mick: “War… even to the knife!” Johnny: “England… awake!” Mick: “We are not cotton-pickers all… some love England and our honour yet!” Wallace: “Death to tyrants!” Mick: “What stands if freedom falls? Who dies if freedom lives?” Oh, these Shakespearian boys, taking from the language that their betters cannot. They are as middle class as you can get and yet I couldn’t dislike them as I did the majority, or the way any others within the cocoon of financial or social safety could always afford to rebel. Because, as Anderson has said, Mick Travis may play at being the intellectual but his anger comes from his genuinely outraged dignity and sense of fair play. Whilst his trio might have made unctuous company they are heroic in their setting. Mick Travis can certainly talk utter drivel (“There’s no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts. War is the last possible creative act.”) but he does manage to hit the nail on the head every now and again. “When do we live, that’s what I want to know?”

School itself became an adventure for me after all this; there were endless opportunities for fun. Assembly became a haven for selected gamblers with our prayer dice and hymn bingo. ‘Kolly Kibber’ cards (we were introduced to Brighton Rock quite early) appeared throughout the school, including on one odd and fateful day in the gravy. Some of the more vile and violent teachers began making constant visits to local garages to have their acid-splashed roofs repaired; running up an even larger bill for damaged tyres or shattered exhausts (that potato trick really does work) and no one got caught. We were polite or sarcastic in our class, never loud or bombastic, performing these deeds sporadically rather than laying ourselves open for an easily hindered campaign.

I produced my pre-Panache publication, known fondly as The Book That Will Not Burn, a crude collection of pictures involving nude men and women (thank you H&E) with new heads applied, taken from the abundant photographic source known as The Ashfordian (the school magazine). I made a popular line in headmaster decapitation posters which adorned the walls of the hall and notice boards but were swiftly destroyed, and best of all used the official school notepaper to write to parents and local firms; distressing letters about their poor service or fictitious accounts of their child’s surprising behaviour; the headmaster’s signature proving so easy to forge. This unfortunately had to stop when one barrage of letters brought parents to the school (all frantically denying that their children would ever streak naked through the school at morning breaktime). The head became a surlier brute than ever. He left his study one morning to find ‘The headmaster is in conference’ sign altered to ‘is in bed’ and hit the roof. Suspects were many but what could he do? Next day there was an even longer religious display than usual. He knew how to be cruel. That was when I began stealing the registers…

“Britain today is a power house… of ideas, experiments, imagination, on everything from pop music to pig breeding, from atom power stations to mini skirts, and that’s the challenge we’ve got to meet.” Gradually we were getting the better of the older teachers and some, after being locked in rooms for several hours, or having all their books removed to distant corners of the school where they would be found several days later intact (defacing them would have been futile; the idea was to confuse), left completely. Finally, within 3 years, they were dropping like flies and the ones who stayed on were mere shadows of their former selves. Oddly enough our own form master was the biggest bastard of them all and he remained steadfast. But even there you could have the answer. When he set 20 maths questions for homework; an hour’s work at the very least, it could easily be achieved, and neatly, in 5 minutes. You simply got all the answers wrong. He would then spend far more time than you had, explaining where your errors lay. By feigning confused ignorance we bemused them all and were more than content, in the third year, to be told we had achieved the worst exam results in the history of the school. (‘Sanctus, sanctus…’)

Meanwhile, out on a wholly irregular escapade in the nearest town, Johnny and Mick steal a motorbike and rush, sans helmets, through the countryside, eventually stopping for refreshment at the Packhorse Café, where they meet ‘The Girl’. Slapped face, black coffee, Mick and the girl rolling on the floor, sometimes fully clothed, sometimes not, and another one joins the clan. Girl, insistently: “Go on, look at me. I’ll kill you. Look into my eyes. I like tigers.” Travis and co receive vicious canings for their generally unruly behaviour and the confrontation draws near. Finally they break, on ludicrously overplayed college cadet manoeuvres; where with real bullets they shatter the tea urn and the chaplain in turn shatters his underpants when Mick fires a blank at his face from point blank range, then stands astride the writhing chaplain, threatening to drive his bayonet through his face. All the time issuing their essential war scream, “Aaaaaaaagh!”, the last word we hear from any of the rebels. Action speaking louder…

The headmaster, gloriously flummoxed by the whole affair but determined to reveal his more charitable nature is tolerant, even lenient, pulling open a drawer in his study, the chaplain sitting up in it to accept apologetic handshakes from the boys. This, as with the inexplicable appearance of the girl in a window opposite the school one night when Mick peers through a telescope, are never explained which is just as well. They are the perfect anomalies. The use of colour and black and white throughout the film, which has given the academic film devotees so much to discuss, is not anything crass or esoteric. Anderson used black and white when he felt it applicable and not because of lack of money or time.

The humour of If…., as witnessed in the chaplain’s surprise resurrection, was both coy and understated, as its sexual scenes were brooding and intense. Even the sight of the house master’s wife, Mrs Kemp, wandering naked through the deserted school (when everyone is out cheering the rugby) is made palatable, but Anderson fails to take it to excess in parts every bit as well as he controls his more artistic, middle class tendencies to cloak it in too important a style. It is very, very simple. But ultimately he is a failure. The finale is sad; we sit blanched with tears as the sacrifice and impressed with their actions but Anderson finds it all hilarious. The killing is metaphorical violence. The appalling lack of corpses at the end is not because he is scared to go too far, he simply wouldn’t have thought of it in the first place.

His wimped out weakness is ridiculed by the excellence of the actors (the supporting pupils/prefects/teachers every bit as much as the leadings players), although David Wood (Johnny) appears to be the only one, other than McDowell (who could have encapsulated on this and Clockwork Orange to become the new James Dean, except we don’t go in for things like that, do we?) to have survived the film. Wood can be seen regularly making a fool of himself, in a good natured way, on Play Away. Anderson would finally reveal in 1983 how poor his own abilities have become with the unbelievably dreadful Britannia Hospital, the third of the Mick Travis trilogy after O Lucky Man. Here he tackled social matters of class, privilege and racial discrimination with all the subtlety of Henry Cooper producing a medieval script. True Travis does die fighting (his head eventually ripped right off his body) whilst his colleagues let him down through total disinterest but Anderson’s vision comes through rheumy eyes and I felt comprehensively insulted. It should never have been made but it certainly showed how easily a man can be marooned in the late 60s/early 70s way of thinking.

If…. was considered shocking at the time of its release and was censored quite heavily. In Britain the censors broke precedent by allowing Mrs Kemp and the girl’s pubic hair to pass intact (though restricting it to an audience of 16 or over). In America it was also passed uncut, though distributors outside of debauched New York demanded the Kemp scene and the shower scene should both go. Australia cut virtually everything, even before its premiere showing, as did Italy but there the press kicked up such a fuss the film was eventually released unharmed. Ireland didn’t appreciate the sexually orientated discussions in Johnny’s study and South Africa (surprise, surprise) refused to show either Wallace licking a black pin-up or Mick’s declaration that he would like “to make love with her, then walk hand in hand into the sea to die.” In militaristic Athens the entire end sequence was dead and buried, whilst Portugal dispensed with all this bother by refusing to show the film at all.

Our headmaster speaks, now that the chaplain is happy again: “It’s a natural characteristic of adolescence, to want to proclaim individuality. It’s a quite blameless form of existentialism. Short hair is no indication of merit. This for instance is what lies at the heart of the great hair problem. I think you boys know that I keep an open eye on most things. And of one thing I am certain; short hair is no indication of merit. So often I have noticed that it’s the hair rebels who step into the breach when there’s a crisis – whether it be a fire in the house or to sacrifice a week’s holiday in order to give a party of slum children 7 days in the country. But, of course, there are limits. Scruffiness of any kind is deplorable. I think you’d go that far with me. Now you boys are intelligent. You’re too intelligent to be rebels. That’s too easy.”

And then, as though he hadn’t already done enough, he gives them a ‘privilege’ rather than punishment (that again being “too easy”), allowing them to clear out the storeroom under the stage where, aided by the girl and Bobby Phillips, they find amongst the rubbish – foetus in the jar and stuffed alligator – a hidden cache of ammunition and weapons. The school busies with preparation for founders’ day. And so do the rebels. The great day dawns, sunny as can be, with expensive cars filling the quadrangle; furs, uniforms and choristers entering the hall. ‘And when these days of school are past, though near we be so far, we’ll stand again for college, who made us what we are.’ 4 pupils are absent.

General Denson, an old boy, stands up to address those assembled, the way these people always seem to do, his speech progressing nicely with dutiful laughter at his medium dry jokes, until the smoke emanating from beneath the stage becomes too noticeable and the entire ensemble rushes outside to the sanctity of the open air. The first shell explodes on the grass. Mick strides to a new position on the roof, firing from the hip as he goes. Bobby Phillips, as ever, is helping Wallace, with the mortar. The girl has her own weapons but is mainly concerned with passing ammunition to Mick. The parents and prefects arm themselves, redressing the odds. Further bodies drop on the grass. Woman between bursts: “Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!”

If…., with the spirit of the Spanish Civil War on that roof, was punk before punk. It is a sad fact that since the mid 70s there have only been 2 equally magnificent films that slid to one side of normal categories, Jubilee and Erazerhead. Whether or not there will be any more we cannot predict. Maybe that arch con-man Julien Temple will make it, though he could be another Anderson, ultimately worthless. Maybe it will made by one of us. This film changed my life as punk saved it. I’d like to be able to repay that debt someday. Close up of Mick frantically blazing away with his sten gun – a continuous torrent of bullets. Camera holds on him: his face desperate, unyielding. Cut to black. Silence. Fade in superimposed title scarlet: If…. Fade out.

Psychic TV The Revolution Will Be Televised

‘Real total war has become information war, it is being fought now. Distributing information. That’s the key to change, to knowledge and the key to development on all levels really. It’s a mistake to believe in any dogmatic politics… We believe that there has been an endless process since very early tribal times, through settlements and towns and industrialisation to contemporary times. This we call the Control Process and it exists independently of any individuals. This Control Process can be operated by almost any vested interest group at any given time in history. This process does not take sides, has no morality, no obligations, no character, no sense of urgency. The Control Process is always present.’ Nothing Short of Total War stanza 1 from the desk of Genesis P Orridge, Industrial Records Ltd, 10 Martello Street London E8. Placefix: TGHQGB Timefix: 4/8/79 era vulgaris fading.

PTV reaches channels that ordinary TV cannot reach. Turn on, tune in and fiddle about. Don’t ignore the machine. September 7 1984 Highlights of Vague Psychic TV interview, Beck Road, Hackney, by Tom Vague and John Apostle first published in Zigzag October 1984. PTV then consisted of Genesis P Orridge (of Throbbing Gristle previous), Paula P Orridge, Alex Ferguson (formerly of Mark Perry’s ATV – Alternative TV) and John Gosling. Ain’t nothing here now but the recordings:

Genesis P Orridge: “We are from the television and film generation. We’ve been trained and brought up on sound and image and editing, and it’s a whole language and it’s so sort of rigid, the way the boards that control the media use it, that as soon as you play with it at all strange things happen. Like people go away saying, ‘I watched scenes of outrageous torture’, and of course they didn’t at all. If you take them through the video and showed it to them frame by frame, and asked them, ‘Where is it then?’ And they say, ‘Oh, somebody’s being cut on the arm.’ But it’s like 3 little nicks but because it fills a TV screen and it’s red on flesh, they think it’s really heavy. But they watch News at 10, people blown away, maimed, pools of blood, executions, Clint Eastwood movies.

“That’s one of the most banal, crass things you can point out to people. How come we’re not allowed to even think about dealing with anything to do with violence or sado-masochism? Even in the most obscure ways, like sado-masochism in terms of the way that people control the society and other people submit to it; which is S&M. Margaret Thatcher is actually a madam and we’re the slaves, if you like. And yet they can put all they want on TV, they can write about it in newspapers, sell newspapers totally on that, and that’s okay. But if we even mention it or deal with it, we’re outrageous and to be avoided like the plague and decadent and weird and horrible and nasty.

“We’re in the age of TV, we’ve got no choice, it has to be dealt with. It’s actually a matter of human survival, basically, mentally and physically. Because it is being used to hammer people into the ground. To make them as stupid as possible. To keep them quiet while they’re on the dole queue. It’s used as literally as that, it’s used like valium. We kick TV right in the face, ram our fist right into the centre of it and rip its guts out, and spill ’em around and just see what’s going on. And it’s very interesting that with the minimum amount of money and help, what a few hundred quid we’ve spent on our videos, we’ve actually managed to dig out and reveal a lot of weird things; worms and reverberations that people didn’t know were there. Nobody’s yet investigated just what television does to anybody. Did you know there’s never been any proper investigation? They don’t even know what the rays from it do to people yet…

“But then also the way it’s edited; one of the obsessions we’ve got with editing and the way that what we show proves that it’s true; if you close in on something so it fills the screen its significance changes immediately. Just the same as the music that’s with it can make it change; if it’s powerful, violent music it seems violent. If it’s gentle music it seems poetic. And there is a whole language which can’t be written down that is the way television is now edited. People who make TV programmes, part of the time unconsciously, are editing it to put across their own secret viewpoint. Like with a picket line; if you film from behind the picket, it looks like the police are being violent, attacking the picket. You put the camera behind the police line and it looks the other way around. Which is basic prejudiced technique… But it is a magical language. It’s an incantation. They actually are casting a spell over everyone, but half of them don’t know what the spell is or what it’s point is…

“Our interest in Manson and Jim Jones is – we’re interested in manifestations of social control, or aberrations of that, and if you like Charlie is a little microcosm of what happens in the whole of society. But there’s other aspects to it as well; in that for whatever reason he became an icon of the American subconscious, or the American paranoia. Far beyond the logic of what he did. I mean there have been far worse outrageous murders before him and since him. He was the right thug at the right time for the media. The media turned him into what he turned into. They could have treated him as a dirty old hippy that murdered a few people, but they chose to take it far beyond that. One reason was who he murdered. It so happened that they were rich and famous, and in America that is the aristocracy. In America if you’re rich and famous you’re the same as the royal family. It’s like killing Mountbatten or somebody.

“The Manson case is a really complicated phenomenon, there’s so many different currents going on – from banal and stupid ones through to really weird complicated ones – and reverberations, that it can’t be ignored. Because it’s almost like if you could figure out what it is about the case, that made it surface above everything else and survive for so long now as the bogeyman or whatever, then you could suss out at the same time all the real intrinsic problems in the American psychology. And I think that’s what they’re scared of in him – is that they raised him up before it dawned on them that he could reveal too many secrets in their psychology, the psychology of power.

“And I think that’s why they tried to bury him again and terrify everybody off. There’s something very basic like that going on. That accidentally he stumbled over phrases and attitudes, or ways to believe or control people, or frighten society, which first suited them in that they wanted to suppress the hippy movement, the free movement, the drug movement and so on. And he was a good scapegoat because he was an easy person to dislike. And then when they started to publicise it they realised that it had backfired, because he became a folk legend who will be remembered forever. And I suspect that he’s a not so bright but streetwise thug, who read more than they normally do and transcended that to a degree, but still applied his higher perception in a thuggish way. I mean if he got a record contract it would never have happened, it’s as simple as that…”
 

Tom Vague
(Vague Publishing, 1985-1989)
now out of print