It was John Willett’s review of William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, in the Times Literary Supplement, that led poet and writer, Dame Edith Sitwell to make her famous statement about the book, in 1963.
Willett was a writer, critic and, most importantly, translator of Bertolt Brecht’s plays. His translations so impressed the playwright that it led to their collaboration on the Berliner Ensemble’s historic 1956 London season. Yet, for such a seemingly radical critic and writer, Willett hated Naked Lunch and made his thoughts well known in a review headlined “Ugh!”:
“[Naked Lunch]...is not unlike wading through the drains of a big city . . . [It features] unspeakable homosexual fantasies . . . ...such things are too uncritically presented, and because the author gives no flicker of disapproval the reader easily takes the ‘moral message’ the other way…..If the publishers had deliberately set out to discredit the cause of literary freedom and innovation they could hardly have done it more effectively…”
Appearing not long after the controversial trial and publication of D. H. Lawrence’s infamous Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, it seemed to many of England’s older and moneyed class that their world was under very real threat from the Barbarians at the gates.
One such figure, was Dame Edith, who upon reading Willett’s review fired off the following missive to the TLS:
To the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement
[published 28 November 1963]
I was delighted to see, in your issue of the 14th instant, the very rightminded review of a novel by a Mr. Burroughs (whoever he may be) published by a Mr. John Calder (whoever he may be).
The public canonisation of that insignificant, dirty little book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a signal to persons who wish to unload the filth of their minds on the British public.
As author of Gold Coast Customs I can scarcely be accused of shirking reality, but I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories.
I prefer Chanel Number .
Edith Sitwell, C.L.
What Dame Edith failed to grasp was that to a generation of young, free-thinking individuals, this letter was the perfect encouragement to go and buy the book.
Though Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Calder had made no small an impression at the Edinburgh Festival in 1962 (though arguably upstaged by the legendary spat between Communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid and Beat writer Alexander Trocchi), it is fair to say, this letter was amongst the best publicity they could have had for Naked Lunch.
Edith Sitwell is sadly neglected today, and her poetry, biographies, and one experimental novel are now mainly left to the reading lists of academics. Yet once, Edith and her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell, were the English Avant Garde—but time, fashion, politics and a World War soon usurped their position.
The poem mentioned in her letter, Gold Coast Customs (1930), was Sitwell’s own (almost Ballardian) tale of the horrific barbarism lurking beneath the artificiality of civilized humans in the city of London.
The following clip is of Dame Edith discussing her life, her parents and Marilyn Monroe, in 1959.
For twenty-years, artist John Butler has been the driving talent behind an incredible array of short animated films and science-fiction series. As one half of the Butler Brothers, John has produced, written and animated original, speculative fictions that examine the nature of our relationship with Government, Military and Corporations through technology.
Animations such as Eden, The Ethical Governor, T.R.I.A.G.E. and Unmanned have reinforced John’s dystopian view of the world, where technology is primarily developed as a means of control, war and exploitation.
‘I don’t think we’re doomed,’ says Butler, ‘But we are stuck with it. I think the self checkouts in supermarkets indicate where we are going, towards a cybernetic transaction space. They should give us a discount since we’re doing all the work now.’
Butler’s latest animation Acrohym is a satirical ‘song of praise’ to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency):
...the most exciting arts commissioning agency in the world today.
Acrohym stands for ‘Advanced, Central, Research, Organization, High-Yield, Markets.’ The kind of buzz words promoted by PR reps and technocrats, who are currently destroying language and democracy.
Butler is fascinated by this and the way in which organizations like DARPA, have become like art/science patrons developing new technologies for the military, while at the same time creating their own language.
‘I liked the idea that DARPA seemed to think of cool acronyms first and work backwards from that. Things like the FANG (Fast, Adaptble, Next-Generation Ground vehicle) challenge, the Triple Target Terminator (T3) and the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition ( MAHEM). They ruthlessly torture language to create a new form of technocratic poetry.
‘I think weapons design attracts the brightest minds and can draw on limitless funding, so it’s no wonder they make such fascinating stuff. It is an art form of sorts, increasingly so, as the systems become more baroque and dysfunctional, like architectural follies.
‘Form Follows Funding is the first Law of Procurement.
‘I think Defense is the seedbed of all research, but it eventually trickles down to the civil sphere. If private enterprise had created the internet, it would be a lot of bike couriers with USB sticks. Only a military project could have had such a long range investment strategy.’
John is working on his next project, but I wanted to know when he would be makinga full length feature film?
‘As soon as I’ve secured Ministry of Defense funding.’
The other day I was listening to Lenny Kaye’s immortal Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 box set and it occurred to me that there must be YouTube clips of many of the groups represented there, even ones you might not expect. Sure enough, this was the case. Not everything on the Nuggets box can be found there, but what is available is a great treat.
Here’s the original album, or at least what I could find of it. I highly recommend toking up and hooking up your computer to your HDTV for these and rocking out. Big fun.
The Electric Prunes miming to “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” on American Bandstand:
The Standells do “Dirty Water” on The Mike Douglas Show, 1966
In January of 1999, I started to put together the pilot episode of what would become a two series run of a show called Disinfo Nation if you lived in the UK, and Disinformation in the rest of the world. The very first day of shooting was so outrageous that it was really never topped during the subsequent two years of production, 24 zany months that saw me going to fetish clubs, listening to the sounds of plants communicating and “investigating” behind the scenes of various ludicrous conspiracy theories.
A film and video producer I knew by the name of Chica Bruce—known around New York for her work on Yo! MTV Raps—had become an aficionado of the “Montauk Project” conspiracy theory book series and when she heard about the TV pilot order I’d gotten from Britain’s Channel 4 network, she strongly encouraged me to do a segment on her new obsession. I thought this was a good idea, having read five of the Montauk Project volumes myself, books I considered to be mind rot at its absolute finest.
Chica had become acquainted with the key players in the conspiracy, as well as several “Montauk experiencers,” as she put it, young men who had “feelings” that they too were a part of the nefarious goings on at a disused Air Force base on Long Island. How this generally occurred, she explained to me, is that they would read the Montauk Project books and their own repressed memories of working on the project would resurface. There were more than ten “Montauk Boys” and fewer than twenty. Chica, a very attractive woman, was apparently the sole female traveling in such a circle, for reasons that would soon become pretty obvious. She scheduled interviews with two of the main Montauk players—and possibly a third—during a weekend shoot on Long Island. I also planned to interview Chica herself and have her show me around the site of the former Montauk Point Air Force base. I found her innocent willingness to buy into the obvious tall tales these clowns told added an entirely new layer to the story I wanted to tell. Chica could put herself through metaphysical logic loops that would have left someone with a less hardy appetite for weirdness feeling dizzy. Having a photogenic character like her to play off Jabba The Hutt-like Preston Nichols and Stewart Swerdlow—a campy goateed married man who told me on camera that he was sent back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ—was pretty perfect.
I always endeavored to present the conspiracy theory material with a completely straight face. I was heavily influenced by American Movie and the films of Christopher Guest. I wanted to make “real” mockumentaries. The goal was to produce something that lived up to a conceit of a title like Disinformation (meaning a mixture of truth and lies used as an information smokescreen) and the show’s cheerfully snarky tagline: “If you’re not wondering if we made this stuff up, we’re not doing our job right.”
The idea was to make the audience ask themselves if it was real or if it was scripted—several times—during the course of each show. For that to work, it had to seem like I believed it, too, no matter how preposterous or insane what the subjects were saying was. I also had to convince the interviewees that I bought into their reality, too.
I hit upon my interviewing style on the first day and it really worked for me: I’d ask extremely detailed questions, designed to elicit extremely detailed answers and then I’d have plenty to work with in the edit room. But there was an additional, less obvious psychological benefit to this approach. Here’s an example of what I mean by that: In the case of my interview with Preston B. Nichols, I went through every single page of his totally crazy books and instead of asking broad questions like “So tell me about your involvement with the Montauk Project...” I’d ask something more along the lines of “How were you recruited for your first job on the base or did you apply for the job? Was it a friend or a family member who told you about the job? I guess I’m a little unclear about how you found yourself there in the first place” and then he would be obliged to clarify it for me.
I’d follow that up with “Did you have to pass any sort of top secret security clearance before you started work there?”
You see what I was doing, demonstrating a better than usual familiarity with the backstory—I’d clearly done my research, which showed respect—but not getting it quite right so he’d be obliged to correct me on a small detail. I was a TV guy slickster in an expensive suit on his turf, so it was imperative that I disarm whatever nervousness my persona presented him with and get him on my side from the start or I wasn’t going to be able to get the sort of footage I needed. This little trick—and the fact that I can keep a straight face with the best of them—worked wonders for me.
Nichols’ home was a tiny old house that looked extremely incongruous among the million dollar McMansions that surrounded it. As we drove closer and saw the weed-covered yard and modified school bus in the driveway, it became obvious to us that we were indeed in the right place. Nichols lived there with his father, a morbidly obese old fellow who watched football perched on a La-Z-Boy® recliner. He reacted to the crew and myself like Gollum would after being exposed to light for the first time in years. He was so fat that it was hard for me to tell if he had any bones. He didn’t even bother moving as we tried to set up around him and he passed gas frequently, without any shame.
Their home was one of the filthiest places I’ve ever seen and a huge stack—and I do mean huge, there were at least 500 cans—of Spam (yes, the processed meat product) sat piled in one corner. Semi-eaten cans, with spoons dried and stuck to them, were seen all over the place, as if it was all the pair ate. There was junk everywhere. The bathroom was a rusty, pissed-covered scandal. The toilet seat had been cracked completely in half and then put back together with several rolls of tape. Preston wore a sweatshirt that had food spilled all over it. It was not pretty and it smelled real bad, too.
Although he was obviously quite suspicious of me—and not without good reason, of course—I got exactly what I needed from the interview (Except for one thing: Preston’s dead mother had constructed a memorial shrine to the actor Yul Brynner, an entire wall of framed photographs and magazine articles next to the massive pile of Spam. Afterwards, in the van, I asked the cameraman if he’d gotten some good shots of it, but alas he had not, thinking it had nothing to do with the story. No Spam pile, either).
Next up was Stewart Swerdlow, a curious fellow who told me in great detail, not only of his involvement with the project, but of his time spent in federal prison for a crime he told me that he’d been brainwashed to commit. I also met his new wife who explained that she’d been introduced to him while he was in prison by a psychic who told her that Stewart was her soul mate, so she divorced her husband for him. Stewart himself was uh, manually “deprogrammed” by Preston Nichols, as he quite self-consciously alludes to during the interview.
Lastly there was Chica Bruce herself, valiantly trying to convince me that I had not seen what I had just seen with my own two eyes—that Preston was a fat fibber/closet case using conspiracy theory for ulterior motives and Stewart being an extremely unconventional New Age con man (he was purveying “color therapy” at the time and offered to “do my colors” for a discount. I passed). I did an interview with her and then she took me on a tour of the decommissioned base (now a state park).
As we walked around the park—it was fucking freezing—she kept asking me things like “Don’t you feel that? C’mom man, you don’t feel ANY like inter-dimensional weirdness going on here? NOTHING?”
Chica was earnestly looking for the Montauk Project conspiracy. There was a conspiracy all right, just not the one that she was looking for…
With this background, have a look at “The Montauk Project”:
A couple of Mondays ago, on a cold, colorless morning at 9am sharp, I found myself in the singular predicament of joining the back of a queue of around fifteen 9/11 “Truthers” in a dismal magistrates’ court in Horsham, a small English town about an hour from London. These Truthers were mostly male, middle aged, and—I’m sorry to say—a little stinky.
Their conversation sounded something like this:
“… you believe that you’ll believe anything…”
“… Osama Bin Laden, don’t make me laugh…”
And the delightful…
“… other than the lizard thing—which I personally don’t have any great problem with—everything else that man has said has been spot-on…”
What was I doing there, dog tired and trying not to breathe through my nose? I was a tourist, waiting to attend what promised to be the weirdest TV license prosecution in history.
Last year, documentary filmmaker Tony Rooke decided he’d had enough of the mainstream media’s repression of what he considered the irrefutable case for the existence of a 9/11 conspiracy, and in an ingenious illustration of the old adage about using an enemy’s own weight and strength against them, had refused to pay his TV license on the grandiose grounds of Article 3, Section 15 of the UK 2000 Terrorism Act, which states that it is an offence to provide funds if there is a reasonable cause to suspect that those funds may be used for the purposes of terrorism (the TV License is a compulsory fee for all UK TV owners and pays for the BBC).
“Mr Rooke’s claim is that the BBC has withheld scientific evidence that demonstrates that the official version of 9/11 is not possible,” explained a press release circulated by the AE911Truth UK Action Group, “and that the BBC has actively attempted to discredit those people attempting to bring this evidence to the public.” As part of his defense, it added, Rooke had secured three hours to present his case, and had assembled a “formidable team” of defense witnesses, including Professor Niels Harrit (Professor of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen) and former intelligence analyst Tony Farrell. “Evidence such as this,” it concluded, “has rarely, if ever, been seen in any court of law…”
Yes, your correspondent was in Horsham not so much for a backdoor inquiry into the more controversial or contentious aspects of 9/11, as a cat-flap one. And he was very much looking forward to it!
While not exactly the toughest crowd through which to cut a dash, I am pleased to report that man-of-the-hour Tony Rooke did all the same. He was stood outside chain-smoking, with slightly floppy dark hair and a fleshy, dignified face that looked calm, thoughtful and somewhat oversensitive. As befits a defendant, he was dressed smartly, but had pulled this off rather well, something I feared would have been well beyond the reach of the other attendant Truthers, who were pointing him out to one another, murmuring in near awe that he looked “like a barrister.”
Arguably he was inspiring too much confidence. While it seemed pretty clear you would have to riffle through a fair few parallel universes before coming across a judge brazen or bananas enough to pitch the UK into an epistemological crisis over a TV license, some of the more optimistic Truthers were daring to dream, and by the time they opened the doors to Court 1 there were over a hundred cramming the narrow corridor.
This proved far too many for the tiny courtroom, which didn’t even seat thirty. Fortunately, I quickly found myself a cushy spot in the front row of folding orange leatherette chairs, but the vast majority of that large crowd was refused entry by a wiry usher with an ex-cop vibe—it was to be one in, one out at Loose Change Live.
The Truthers were in uproar: I was increasingly concerned about the possibility of the court being closed or cleared. Fortunately, the usher managed to eventually shut the door on them, and when Judge Stephen Nicholls entered those seated rose to their feet with something like reverence—due I supposed to the notion it was in this man’s power to turn the tide on their thus far rather one-sided battle with the Illuminati.
Nicholls was a man in his early-to-middle sixties, with glasses and bright white hair that had receded to a widow’s peak high on his brow. After scheduling later hearings for the day’s other defendants—a pair of understandably bewildered looking bruisers facing drink driving charges—Nicholls informed Rooke (who was representing himself), that although opening statements weren’t officially allowed, he would extend “a little leeway” in this instance
So, Rooke climbed into the witness box and launched into a decent speech. His tone was steady, reasonable, and wry as he addressed Nicholls. “I have incontrovertible—and I don’t use that word lightly—evidence against the BBC. The BBC had advance knowledge of twenty minutes of the events of 9/11 and did not do anything to clarify what the source of that information was. At the preliminary hearing I asked if you were aware of WTC7. You said you had ‘heard of it.’ Over ten years after 9/11 you should have more than heard of it. It’s the BBC’s job to inform the public—especially regarding miracles of science where the laws of physics become suspended. Instead, they have made documentaries making fools of and ridiculing those of us who believe in the laws of gravity.”
It crossed my mind that Judge Nicholls probably had since looked into WTC7 (a funny idea). Now, though, he interrupted (Rooke’s speech was getting increasingly polemical and wide-ranging). “This is not an inquiry into the events of 9/11,” Nicholls declared, collecting his No-Shit-Sherlock Award 2013 with the kind of silken irony you could only hope to spin from the soul of a judge. “This is an offence under Section 363 of the Communications Act.”
The prosecutor—a youngish guy called Garth Hanniford with a blandly handsome face and a horrible off-the-rack blue suit—was then invited to cross-examine the defendant. Good old Garth. He gave the impression of a man incapable of summoning much in the way of effort or enthusiasm for anything, and had been observing the extreme novelty of the day’s events—surely the most interesting afternoon of a working life spent prosecuting TV license avoidance?—with all the attentiveness of someone watching a friend play computer games.
He now stood up and launched into what one suspected was his habitual cross-examination.
“Do you possess a television Mr Rooke?”
“Yes I do.”
“And do you possess a television license?”
“No I do not.”
“And do you watch television?”
“So… you’re happy to make use of the service but not to pay for it?”
“Well, I’ll monitor it if I have to. Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. And it was only through watching the BBC that I could know that I would be committing a crime by paying for it.”
“No further questions,” mumbled Perry Mason, another day’s work already behind him.
On the wall behind the witness box, two decent sized television screens were on standby. There was something delectably Dadaist about the prospect that, any minute now, in a British court, we would presumably be watching the famous clip of the BBC newscaster informing viewers that the third building in the World Trade Center complex, WTC7, had just collapsed, while, in the background of the shot, it was still stood there—a stubborn facet of that surreal riddle (9/11) that had driven tens of thousands into the cold arms of paranoid schizophrenia. Now, as the witnesses for the defense filed in – the as-advertised all-star cast of maverick academics and former spooks—it was as if the national unconscious really was going to momentarily overwhelm the national superego.
Judge Nicholls, however, had other ideas. With an air of mild mischief, he started to tip his hand. As I understood it, his argument was that, even were he to sit through the show and at the end exclaim, “Jumping Jesus—9/11 was an inside job and the BBC are a pack of scoundrels!”—it would be beyond his jurisdiction to consequently exempt Mr Rooke from paying his license fee (let alone brand the Beeb “an organisation that supports terrorism,” or whatever). The day’s witnesses and exhibits, therefore, were superfluous.
In short, Loose Change Live was facing a major existential threat!
Judge and defendant went round in circles for a while…
“…I don’t want to incriminate myself by paying fees to an organisation complicit in terrorism. I will pay once the police establish that the BBC has nothing to do with terrorism…”
“… I do not believe that I have the power to rule under the Terrorism Act…”
“… I just want to present the evidence, that I am not allowed to do so leaves me slightly baffled…”
“…even if I accept the evidence, this court has no power to create a defense in the manner which you put forward…”
And so on. Meanwhile, the atmosphere was growing flat; the day building to a brutal anti-climax. Then, sensing the jig was up, Rooke suddenly lashed out.
“There is such a thing as morality, you know,” he declared (hell of a thing to chuck in the face of a judge). “You had me swear on a Bible, and now you’re asking me to commit a crime. If the BBC covers up a pedophile ring—keep paying. If they cover up 9/11—keep paying. Keep paying keep paying keep paying keep paying. When on earth does it stop? I’m sick of it.”
Judge Nicholls’ features darkened: there had been insolence (unanswerable insolence) in Rooke’s outburst, and the weight of the audience seemed suddenly and for the first time to press against him. He muttered he would retire to consider the evidence, stood up, and exited the court stage right with as near to a flounce as he had surely come in his entire career. Rooke had drawn a drop of blood!
When Nicholls returned to sentence him, the mood in the court received a further lift—he handed the defendant a conditional discharge of six months, ordering him to pay £200 legal fees, but not a fine, or even the outstanding license fee—it was a so-called “zero sentence.”
Rooke was passed a form to fill in.
“Can I just clarify,” he said, pausing with his pen in hand, “you’re ordering me to commit a crime?”
“I’ve given the judgement,” Nicholls responded, “I won’t be adding anything further to it now.” He raised his eyebrows. “Now do you want to fill in that form for me?”