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Rock’n'roll as spontaneous Paganism: Mick Farren on Nick Cave, Elvis and the Devil
06:29 am



Guest post by the great Mick Farren—an exclusive extract from his contribution to Mark Goodall’s Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions on The Fall, The Beatles, The Wu Tang Clan and more. Now available in paperback for the special price of $20.77.

Even the most cursory theological (or even Reichian) shakedown will reveal that rock’n’roll has quantum multiples of the potential mythic/mystic power ever commanded by conventional Satanism. Where so much of contemporary Satanism—with its upside down crosses, modified but still liturgical robes and rituals, its ammended litanies, the serving of a faux-Eucharist from the naked torso of an immobilized cooch dancer on bad acid (shout out, hey, Susan Atkins!)—reveals it as nothing nothing more than an inverted critique of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. (Much in the way that Marxism was essentially a critique of Victorian capitalism rather than a stand alone philosophy.)

Rock’n’roll, on the other hand, arrived on its own mythical half-shell and right away went about its own anarchic rites and wild communions. Jim Morrison, although decidedly from the death-star dark-side, and a fully accredited Agent of Chaos knew he didn’t need any contracts with Beelzebub. He was the Lizard King. He could do anything. The only deal he’d cut would be with Dionysius. John Lennon had stood in the power-eye of the rock’n’roll hurricane and knew what he was talking about when he made his famous “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” remark.(That is, oddly, rarely quoted in full.)

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock’n’roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.

A full decade before Lennon and Morrison, however, some of the preachers who railed against rock’n’roll showed an awareness this brand new back-beat-from-the-pit might not be an instrument of Satan at all but a whole new independent threat to the god-fearing. In April of 1956. Lutheran minister W. Carter Merbreier attended an Elvis Presley show in Philadelphia where he observed “nervous, giggling girls screaming, falling to their knees as if in prayer, flopping limply over seats, stretching rigidly, wriggling in a supreme effort of ecstasy.” A few months later Des Moines Baptist, the Rev. Carl Elgena, warned his congregation that “Elvis Presley is morally insane and leading other young people to the same end. The belief of unholy pleasure has sent the morals of our nation down to rock bottom and the crowning addition to this day’s corruption is Elvis Presleyism.”

The concept “Elvis Presleyism” brings us to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album The Firstborn is Dead. In the opening song, “Tupelo”—a radical reworking of a John Lee Hooker classic—Cave makes the vividly dramatic suggestion that the birth of Elvis Presley, coupled with the death of stillborn twin, Jesse Garon, was the product of a supernatural, of not apocalyptic, event horizon.

The black rain come down
Water water everywhere
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
No fish can swim
Til The King is born in Tupelo!

Cave wrote ‘Tupelo’ in 1984, seven years after Presley’s death, when it was plain that many of Elvis Presley’s more obsessive fans maintained a personal relationship with their idol that was wholly akin to born-again Christians professing to have an exclusive one-on-one with Jesus. When the Reverends Merbreier and Elgena hinted, way back in 1956, that Elvis might be the dangerous pied piper of some form of neo-paganism, they had the protection of the pulpit. For a lay person to explore such a concept would have been to court accusations of being certifiably crazy or worse. Who in their right mind could seriously suggest that the Son of Gladys might be—in addition to all his other accomplishments—a 20th century fertility symbol inately desired by a frightened world, maybe even before the mushroom clouds had fully dissipated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Humanity had developed the chain-reaction capacity for global-scale species-destruction, but had failed to evolve a philosophy to handle such hideous and overwhelming power. Couple that with plans for cookie-cutter totalitarian capitalism in one hemisphere with mirror-image Marxist repression in the other, plus new and tricky concepts like consumer uniformity and the pharmaceutical-brainwash tyranny of the psycho-civilized society (a major favorite of Sidney Gottlieb and the gang at MKULTRA), and a great many people—especially young people—wondered if they’d be better off back in the jungle for some animalism among the Old Gods.

Could the Elvis, the hillbilly cat, also be a Avalon mist-figure from an Arthurian Lord-of-the-Dance saga, or the myths of wounded Fisher Kings that stretched clear back to the megaliths of prehistory — and were so seriously and ironically invoked when Constantine and St. Augustine were mixing up Jesus Christ with Mithras to create the official deity of the Roman War Machine? Elvis the Fertility God may have also found himself cross fertilized by the horned and phallic, dark Legba divinities of Dahomey with their human sacrifices and Amazon girl soldiers, but, hell, isn’t that the just story of rock’n’roll?

If the pop culture of the mid-20th century was indeed a neo-pagan theocracy on the half shell, Marilyn Monroe could well have been drafted in as goddess-consort—although that might well cause a measure of temporal confusion that perhaps Jack Kennedy was the true Boy King from Camelot who actually took the hit. This would leave Elvis—who, by 1963, had been shorn and symbolically grunt-castrated as a conscript in what had formerly been George Patton’s Second Armored Division (Hell On Wheels)—as a much more esoteric entity.

But did anyone promise theology would be fast? Religions do not coagulate overnight. Christianity has had two full millenia on the game, plenty of time to work out its tortures, terrors, inquisitions, witchhunts, and multiple varieties of auto-da-fé. Rock—should it really prove to be a pagan belief system, or, more likely, a suspension of disbelief—has only been rolling for a tad over half a century, and, although it has exerted a profound effect on the culture of the times, its behaviour has been remarkably benign. It has provoked a number of peaceful mass gatherings, a few riots, only a very modest number of actual death cults, and made something of a junkie mess of the war in Vietnam.

Rock’n’roll has yet to pull any kind shit that stacks up against the Crusades or the Malleus Maleficarum. Although the second decade of the 21st century is hardly a halcyon time for paganism of any kind, and Evangelical Christianity—in the USA at least—is being allowed to get away with wholly unreasonable acts of fundamental stupidity. Route 66 runs now through a cruelly synched Bible Belt, and bands I don’t even care to name sell holy relics of what was once truly sacred. Perhaps some minor reformation might be about due, although the time is hardly ripe for burning corporate rock bands or even Simon Cowell in the cathedral square. At best we might reflect on Nick Cave and his speculations on what wonders might have attended the birth of Elvis Presley on January 8th, 1935, and wonder where they may take us.

In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin
Where the rain came down and leaked within
A young mother frozen on a concrete floor
With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw

And Robert Johnson? Well hell, maybe he was taking about a wholly different devil.

The King will walk on Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo!
He carried the burden outa Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo! [Repeat]
You will reap just what you sow

Mick Farren

Previously on Dangerous Minds: Punk Esotericism: The Occult Roots of the Wu Tang Clan

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Lego my video: Tim Pope reacts to seeing one of his videos for The Cure recreated in Lego
10:07 am

Pop Culture


This is a guest post from renowned director Tim Pope.

OK, I admit it: I am the one that chucked The Cure over a cliff in a wardrobe.

The main part of the video was committed to celluloid in a large, wet floored hanger in London—in fact one of the largest spaces I can remember ever filming in. Weird, given the fact that we were literally doing the claustrophobia of the cupboard’s interior.

The exterior bit was filmed at Beachy Head, a beauty spot in the UK’s west Sussex, where the snowy white rocks fall away to the ocean, 162 metres below. A frocked priest even drives this stretch of coastline in a Landrover vehicle to talk people out of committing suicide here, for which it has become synonymous, and there are on average sadly over three attempts a week.

Little did I know that I was shooting something I would be talking about thirty years later. To me, this was just another in a string of videos I made for the group. All in all, I probably did 37 Cure videos. I say “probably” because I honestly don’t know—let’s just leave that to the experts. Ask the average Goth in the street “how many videos did Tim Pope shoot for The Cure?’ and he or she will tell you, with precise dates, the meaning of the video and most of all about what haircut Robert sported that day. See, these videos seem to ‘run deep’ with people, indeed. I often, still to this day, get people contacting me to ask if their university thesis might be about our videos. I of course made, and do make, videos for many other artists, of which I am exceedingly proud: Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The The, Talk Talk, Paul Weller. More recently, Fatboy Slim, Amanda Palmer, The Kaiser Chiefs, others. But still it is generally The Cure ones that people want to come back to, especially as the fans seem particularly fervent and loyal.

Often on a cab ride, when it comes in the conversation to the part about what your job is, I will portray myself as a plumber, or private detective, or fireman. Anything, but to talk about ‘that’ video. However hard I try, though, it always seems to come back to: “Oh, you did the wardrobe video! I love that video! It’s my favorite from the eighties!” I guess it’s going to be etched on my gravestone: “Tim Pope. Yeah, he did the wardrobe video.” Still, mustn’t grumble, eh? Like they say, “better to be remembered for something.” There were others that (amongst the guesstimated canon of 37) have gone in deep to people’s psyches, seemingly penetrating their inner beings like syrup tentacles. “Lovecats” for The Cure saw Robert dance in circles about a room, talking about “cagey tigers,” while he sent the audience giddy with his cat-like choreography—oh, and I punched him on the nose with a stuffed cat.

“Love Song” saw him and band—Simon, Porl, Boris, Roger—in a cave of penises; shocking even to me when I saw the film back in the harsh light of the editing suite: “Oh God, I’ve gone too far this time!” “Inbetween Days”, where I placed the (very expensive) camera in a shopping basket attached to a piece of rope, so we could give the effect of Robert chucking the camera away, and then catching it again. “Lullaby”—and here we come to the point of why I am writing this now—where Robert (to quote the lyric) “feels like” he’s “being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes” (One of the best lines of any pop song, ever, surely?). What was I to do with the video?

Famously, Robert was shocked to see my interpretation of a spider’s mouth—go check the video for yourself and tell me if you think what ‘eats’ him resembles any part of the female anatomy. In other parts of the video, where he is bed-bound, he spent a day inside a spiderweb made from glue like candy floss and doubtless had colorful, solvent-based dreams that night. The byproduct of the glue was that it pulled out half of his hair when he tried to remove it from his face. Which, when you are a RS, is, I guess, bad news—bad news if you are anyone, really.

These videos are all part of my misspent youth—the equivalence of the “naughty things” others got up to behind bicycle sheds. Mine just happened to be a little more, erm, public. I am used to seeing piss-takes, versions, ripoffs, of my work with The Cure, but I was particularly taken with the intriguing version of “Lullaby” in, wait for it, Lego.

Yes, like most people, I have built many a building or airplane from this iconic stuff, but never a video. See it here on Dangerous Minds for the first time. Part of me wants to know why someone would go to all this trouble? To replicate an entire video, frame by frame, cut by cut, shot by shot—wow! My congratulations to the person who made it, credited on the end title card as “Lucas Tuzar.” Lucas says something, in further words, about it being “for Nicola Tuzar’s birthday” and a few others “all of them are big The Cure fans”. I don’t know if he means “big” in terms of their physical size, or he is referencing their passion for the group. Probably the latter, I would guess.

So, there you have it: one of my videos now made in Lego. Thank you, Lucas!

You can see more of my videos at my website, or you can get my Twitter feed @timpopedirector.

Below, the original Tim Pope-directed “Lullaby” from 1989:

The Lego remake:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Where Saying ‘I Love You’ Can Get You Put In Jail: Free Roger Mbédé
03:49 pm



Most of us do it everyday without thinking. Tell that someone special we love them. But do it in Cameroon and you could end-up in gaol.

That’s what happened to Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé, who was sentenced to 3-years in prison in 2011 for sending another man an SMS that read:

“I’m very much in love w/u.”

Mbédé was detained by Cameroon’s Secretary of State for Defense (SED) on “suspicion of homosexuality.”

He was formally charged with “homosexuality and attempted homosexuality” on March 9th, 2011.

He was then tried and on April 28th, 2011, Mbédé was found guilty on both charges and sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment at Kondengui Central Prison.

His sentencing was condemned by Human Rights Watch, who described it as “a gross violation of Mbede’s rights to freedom of expression and equality.”

In prison “many suspects were tortured or otherwise treated poorly in custody until they gave confessions, which were then used as evidence against them.

In 2011, 14 people were prosecuted for homosexuality, 12 were convicted.

Roger’s 3-year conviction led to a campaign by Amnesty International and Rights activists, which saw Roger provisionally released on bail in July 2012, on health grounds. However, an appeals court upheld the 3-year sentence against Roger.

All Out is running a campaign to help release Roger from jail:

Roger still has to serve 2 more years in jail under horrible conditions, but Cameroon’s President Biya could free Roger from this sentence and end the anti-gay laws that jailed him in the first place. Biya has made statements that could indicate he’s evolving ont his issue and he knows that Cameroon’s reputation is at stake.

All Out have started a petition to President Biya, and Justice Laurent Esso which reads:


We call on you to free Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé, who was jailed for sending a text message, and to place a moratorium on Cameroon’s discriminatory anti-gay laws.

These laws deny basic human rights to many Cameronians like Roger and create an environment of hostility and fear. End the use of laws that make it a crime to love who you choose and encourage their permanent repeal.

If you want to help with getting Roger released from prison then please sign and share this petition. Thank you.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
DM talks ‘Godless Mysticism’ with John Gray, the world’s Greatest Living Philosopher
05:29 am



A review of John Gray’s new book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Myths (interview below)

I remember reading John Gray’s epochal Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals sometime in 2004, and occasionally laughing out loud at the sheer misery and horror presented therein. Indubitably the book—one of those you’re likely to read not only without putting it down but without blinking—made an exceptional case for the human animal being frail, amoral, savage, irrational and (last but not least) collectively and individually doomed, but as such reading it felt vaguely masochistic, and reading its brilliant successors—from the happy-go-lucky Black Mass to the laugh-a-minute Al Qaeda and What it Means to Be Modern—frankly perverse (like philosophical self-flagellation). One persisted because Gray was so obviously among the finest writers alive—the nearest thing we have to a Nietzsche by a country mile.

Well as it happens, Gray’s new book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths is not merely an exercise in iconoclasm, and finds the author in an altogether different mood, exploring what might be advisable to the human animal whose precarious existence is compounded by an indifferent universe.

An important thing to note here is that Gray’s books were never meant to revel in pessimism, but to warn us away from reckless delusion. Were fatuous optimism harmless, then maybe we would all do well strolling about looking forward to an eternity in heaven, or, alternatively, anticipating the imminent defeat of death, as did some Bolsheviks (which Gray investigated in his last book, The Immortalization Commission). Such giddy dreams, however, tend to come at quite a frightening price, and the Inquisition or Stalin’s terror represent the respective and bloody tips of those particular icebergs.

Furthermore, although he must have savaged a few thousand modern myths in his time, Gray’s objection is not with myth per se. How else, after all, could he or we hope to grasp his work’s guiding equation—in which to attempt to impose or even seriously imagine an existence without suffering and death exponentially multiplies their influence? The myths of Prometheus or the myth Genesis, Gray suggests in The Silence of Animals, are the very medicines needed to treat those modern myths fathered by Socrates and Christ, two martyrs who chucked caution to the wind… and inspired the rest of the species to follow suit.

Now, if we subsequently see Prometheus or Genesis as being “true”—what do we mean by this? Not that they actually occurred, that’s for sure (Gray has pointed out before that it was only recently that Christians started to consider Genesis as being a literal account of human origins). But this eschewal of literalism is not necessarily an eschewal of mysticism. When we use myth as we have done here, we are trying to access something beyond language and even science—story and symbol are all we have.

For the so-called “New Atheists,” on the other hands, nothing exists you can’t just slap a word on, so their “disbelief” is a matter of having the word “God,” but not having an entity to affix it to (they’ve looked everywhere). Gray suggests an altogether more elevated position:

“Atheism does not mean rejecting ‘belief in God.’ It means giving up belief in language as anything other than a practical convenience. The world is not a creation of language, but something that – like the God of the negative theologians – escapes language. Atheism is only a stage on the way to a more far-reaching scepticism.”

The Silence of Animals is a profound exploration of this “far-reaching scepticism”—or “Godless mysticism.” It is also one of Gray’s best books. No mean feat.
An interview with John Gray

Thomas McGrath: John, how did you conceive of The Silence of Animals? Penguin are calling it “the successor to Straw Dogs”—was this your own conception of the book?

John Gray: I do think of The Silence of Animals as a successor to Straw Dogs, though that only became clear to me as I wrote the book. I began it as an exploration of secular myth, especially the variety in which meaning is embodied in cumulative advance in time, but it soon became an attempt to dig deeper into the themes of the earlier book—in particular the idea of contemplation. The chief difference between the two books, from my point of view, is that by presenting contemplation as correlative to a life of action. The Silence of Animals is more positive in tone.

TM: Your The Immortalization Commission is pervaded by the fascinating spectre of the subliminal self - to what extend do you feel something like this guides your own work?

JG: I wrote The Immortalization Commission for three reasons. First, to show how bizarre the history of ideas actually is—and how different from the cleaned-up version that is commonly accepted. Second, to show how the most far-fetched ideas can become an integral part of life as it’s actually lived. How many people know that Arthur Balfour entered into an imagined posthumous correspondence with someone he may have loved? How many that the embalming of Lenin was part of a larger attempt to conquer death? For the people whose stories are told in the book, overcoming death through science wasn’t just an abstract notion. Thirdly, I wanted to tell a story—two stories in fact, though they overlap and interlink—rather than just set out another argument.

Again, these reasons only became clear while writing the book, so I suppose it is true that my writing is in some degree guided by a subliminal thought-process. Maybe this is true of all writers, whether or not they recognize the fact.

TM: The Silence of Animals seems to me your least iconoclastic work. For the first time, you seem to be exploring how the individual might approach the world as it’s presented in your other books. Is this an accurate interpretation?

JG: The Silence of Animals does flow from my earlier work, and you’re right to say that it tries to show how someone who accepted the view of things presented in my other books might approach the world. I’m not sure it will be seen as less iconoclastic—those who hated my earlier work will also hate this, I’m sure, because it too refuses to take seriously the faith in action and progress that they think they live by.

TM: From The Silence of Animals: “By creating the expectation of a radical alteration in human affairs, Christianity—the religion that St Paul invented from Jesus’ life and sayings—founded the modern world.” Given that this “expectation” is the very thing you diagnose as lying behind all the Utopian mythologies you attack, to what extent do you view Christianity as a pivotal and essentially detrimental emergence in the history of humankind?

JG: I think of Christianity as being like many world-transforming movements—at once extremely harmful and highly beneficial. Either way it marks what you call a pivotal point in history. Christian myth seems to me deep and interesting, at times also beautiful, whereas the myths of its secular successors strike me as shallow, banal and ugly.

TM: This critique of Christianity’s influence on humanity resembles Nietzsche’s—especially since you see its influence as allied with Socrates’. I’m interested in your relationship to Nietzsche. It’s obvious how you differ, but was he quite formative to your worldview?

JG: Nietzsche was a gifted moral psychologist from whose writings I’ve learnt a great deal. As you can see from my response above, I don’t share his outright condemnation of Christianity. He was in fact much more confined by a Christian world-view than Schopenhauer, an early and powerful influence on him. The later Nietzsche—who became a sort of hyper-humanist—I find absurd, though still more interesting than the dull, respectable, neo-Christian humanists of today.

TM: One way you distinctly differ from Nietzsche is on the matter of morality. Indeed, in The Silence of Animals you describe slavery and torture as “universal evils.” As a reader, however, I feel I know very little about your views on ethics and morality, or the philosophical foundation for such a statement.  How would you define your moral philosophy? Do you, perhaps, have this in mind for a future work?

JG: You are right that I differ from Nietzsche in thinking there are universal evils such as slavery and torture. You’re also right that I intend to focus on ethics in future work—more specifically, I’m thinking of writing a post-Nietzschean genealogy of morals.

TM: You like telling stories about intellectuals. What events in your own life were pivotal to your worldview?

JG: I don’t think any single event has shaped my thinking. I was influenced by the collapse of communism—a development viewed by mainstream opinion as beyond the realm of reasonable probability, but which I thought quite likely from the early eighties onwards. The financial crisis of the past few years has also been formative, in that it has reinforced my view that the near future is often far more discontinuous with the present than is commonly imagined.

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
‘Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead’: Nick Cave’s psychotic cameo in harrowing 1989 Aussie prison drama
10:58 am



Last week I blogged about “Jubilee Street,” the new Nick Cave video directed by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless, The Proposition) and in that post I mentioned that Cave had appeared, in an extremely striking cameo role, in Hillcoate’s 1989 feature debut, the gripping prison drama Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead.

It’s a really amazing film, but one that is sadly little-known outside of Australia (and extreme Nick Cave fanboys—admittedly I saw Ghosts…, alone, at a midnight screening in NYC—I think it was the only one there was—back in 1989.)

Perhaps it is a misconception, but due to the worldwide popularity of films like Chopper and the classic camp TV of the 1980s women-in-prison soap opera Prisoner: Cell Block H,  I can be forgiven, I hope, for assuming that Australians, on the whole, are a bit obsessed with criminals, violent crime and incarceration. I guess it’s in their blood, so to speak. (I kid, I kid, Aussie readers! Please don’t kill me!) Loosely based on the life and writing of Jack Henry Abbott, the psychotic murderer turned literary protégé of Normain Mailer turned psychotic murderer once again, Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead features an ensemble cast of real-life ex-convicts, former prison guards and tough-looking motherfuckers they found in local Melbourne gyms. This film is realistic. Scary realistic.

Narrated by a (fictional) former prison guard, Ghosts… takes place deep in within the bowels of a maximum security prison, somewhere in the Australian outback. The place is an incessantly humming, fluorescent-lit nightmare. There has been a three-year lockdown that is still ongoing. The tension is palpable, the place is a claustrophobic, concrete Hell that no sunlight penetrates, a hatred and resentment-fueled timebomb waiting to go off.

As events transpire, the viewer begins to see that the prison authorities are actively trying to provoke the prison population, and that they are pitting the guards against the inmates, preying on both to escalate the violence in order to crack down on the prisoners ever harder and to justify building a fortress even more fearsome, inescapable and “secure.”

Ghosts… has layers of unexpected meaning. Although the script (co-written by Hillcoat, Cave, one-time Bad Seeds guitarist Hugo Race, Gene Conkie and producer Evan English) tells a reasonably straightforward tale of the prisoners—captive in a high security fortress that escape from seems impossible—versus the authorities who manipulate them into chaos, there’s a wider allegorical message of the power dynamic inherent in Western capitalism: Conform. Do exactly what we tell you to do, or there will be consequences. Like this high security Hell on Earth.

Michel Foucault would have most certainly approved of Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, I should think.

Although contrary to the way Ghosts… was marketed, Nick Cave is onscreen for just a short appearance, but having said that, it is a cinematic moment of pure genius. Cave plays “Maynard,” a violent psychotic who paints with his own blood. Maynard is an absolute fucking lunatic deliberately brought in by the prison authorities to make an already bad situation much, much worse. His psychotic ranting and raving riles up the situation into complete murderous chaos. Although he is seen just briefly in the film, it is Cave’s Maynard who lights the bomb’s ever present fuse.

Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead is extraordinary film, as as bleak and as uncompromising a work of art as I have ever experienced. Unforgettable, really, but perhaps difficult for the squeamish to sit through. Once seen, it can never be forgotten.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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