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Today is ‘The Day of the Triffids’
05.08.2014
08:22 am

Topics:
Books
Movies

Tags:
Triffids
John Wyndham
Science-Fiction

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Bill Masen knew there was something seriously wrong from the moment he awoke in his hospital bed that fateful spring morning. He listened and heard only an eerie, disturbing quiet, occasionally infused with an unsteady shuffling. Last night the skies had been afire with comets burning-up in beautiful, Day-Glo colors. Masen had missed this spectacle, his eyes bandaged, temporarily blinded after a near fatal accident with a Triffid plant. Today his bandages were supposed to come-off, but when he rang for a nurse, no one came; when he called for help, no one answered; the only response was a soft searching of movement somewhere outside in the corridor. He knew it was a Wednesday, but it felt, sounded, more like a Sunday. It may have been mid-week, but this day, May the 8th, became known as the day the world ended, for this was the day of the Triffids!

(Cue dramatic music. Shaggy and Scooby say ‘Zoiks!’)

So begins John Wyndham‘s classic science-fiction novel The Day of the Triffids, which is one of the best known and and most influential sci-fi books of the twentieth century. Published in 1951, Wyndham’s tale of a world made blind after a strange comet shower and the giant, mobile and highly venomous plants that slowly dominate the planet, has inspired small libraries of books, films, TV episodes and series, all based around stories of nature gone awry and the ensuing world devastation. The zombie genre in particular owes much to Wyndham’s book, where zombies are interchangeable for Triffids—take for example Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie movie 28 Days Later, which is almost a direct lift of Wyndham’s story.

That’s not to say Wyndham’s book was wholly original, by his own admission the author had been inspired by H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which set the bar for apocalyptic fiction. Rather than killer extraterrestrials from Mars, Wyndham offered an enemy taken from a more worldly source, the Russian biologist and agronomist, Trofim Lysenko. In a bid to feed the Soviet population, Lysenko developed a form of “agrobiology,” which mixed genetic modification with graft hybridization to produce new species capable of producing unlimited food supplies. Under Stalin there was a lot of this dubious state sponsored science, including the notorious attempt to breed humans with apes to create a “humanzee” army. Wyndham picked-up on Lysenko’s theories and applied them to a fictional hybrid plant. Or, as Wyndham puts it in his book:

Russia, who shared with the rest of the world the problem of increasing food supplies, was known to have been intensively concerned with attempts to reclaim desert, steppe, and the northern tundra. In the days when information was still exchanged she had reported some successes. Later, however, under a cleavage of methods and views caused biology there, under a man called Lysenko, to take a different course. It, too, then succumbed to the endemic secrecy. The lines it had taken were unknown, and thought to be unsound—but it was anybody’s guess whether very successful, very silly, or very queer things were happening there—if not all three at once.

It turns out, the Russians have created Triffids, which are capable of producing vegetable oil of such quality, it makes the “best fish-oils look like grease-box fillers.” Whether these plants are the product of genetic engineering or have come from outer space is never clear. Whatever their origin, a man called Umberto Christoforo Palanguez, an entrepreneurial crook-cum-businessman, steals a box of Triffid seeds from their heavily guarded nursery in the outer reaches of Siberia. The plane in which he absconds is shot down by the Russians leaving behind “something which looked at first like a white vapor.”

It was not a vapor. It was a cloud of seeds, floating, so infinitely light they were, even in the rarefied air. Millions of gossamer-slung Triffid seeds, free now to drift wherever the winds of the world should take them…

Soon, these plant grow and multiply like Star Trek‘s “Tribbles” or the monsters in Stephen King’s The Mist to gradually inhabit and take over the Earth’s surface.
 
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But there’s a problem: Triffids are as dangerous as they are mobile, moving on three legs (like a man on crutches), and carry a deadly poison dispensed through a long “stinger” which is used to lash out at their victims. They are flesh-eaters and can also communicate with each other by tapping out a tattoo through small twigs on their lower trunk. They also respond to sound, moving towards any source of noise or vibration. At first the Triffids are secured by having their “stingers” docked, and are kept tethered to stakes in factory farms and parklands. This all would have been fine if the Triffids had not been set free the night the sky erupted in color with a comet storm that rendered all humans and animals who witnessed this beautiful event blind.

Bill Masen escaped the fate of billions of others by sheer accident. Temporarily blinded after an incident with a Triffid, Masen missed the night show and was spared complete blindness. Along with hundreds of others, he has to begin a new and brutal stage in human history.

Masen is a bit of a plank, rather pompous, po-faced and often unable to see things that are apparently obvious to everyone else. He is incredulous when a colleague, Walter Lucknor suggests that Triffids have “intelligence,” are able to communicate with each other, and may prove to be a deadly threat to humanity, as Lucknor explains:

‘Of the fact that [Triffids] know what is the surest way to put a man out of action—in other words, they know what they’re doing. Look at it this way. Granted that they do have intelligence; then that would leave us with only one important superiority—sight. We can see, and they can’t. Take away our vision, and the superiority is gone. Worse than that—our position becomes inferior to theirs because they are adapted to a sightless existence, and we are not.’

Of course. Masen’s naivety is a narrative device to filter information to the reader, but there are several instances within the book when this naivety is quite unbelievable. For example, when the child Susan points out that the Triffids respond to sound to locate prey.

Wyndham was probably influenced by the devastation caused during the Second World War, and the recurrent theme of food and its provision relates to impoverishment of food supplies, and the level of food rationing that continued in Britain after the war (this is something also reflected in George Orwell’s 1984, a book Anthony Burgess argued was actually a re-imaging of Britain in 1948). Wyndham’s descriptions of a post-apocalyptic London and rural England reflect how easily human existence can descend to chaos.

My father once told me that before Hitler’s war he used to go around London with his eyes more widely open than ever before, seeing the beauties of buildings that he had never noticed before—saying goodbye to them. And now I had a similar feeling. But this was something far worse. Much more than anyone could have hoped for had survived that war—but this was an enemy they would not survive. It was not wanton smashing and willful burning that they had waited for this time: it was simply the long, slow, inevitable course of decay and collapse.

Standing there, and at that time, my heart still resisted what my head was telling me. Even yet I had the feeling that it was all something too big, too unnatural really to happen. Yet I knew that it was by no means the first time that it had happened. The corpses of other great cities are lying buried in deserts, and obliterated by the jungles of Asia. Some of them fell so long ago that even their names have gone with them. But to those who lived there their dissolution can have seemed no more probable or possible than the necrosis of a great modern city seemed to me…

The Day of the Triffids was one of those set texts for UK schools during the sixties, seventies and early eighties, and that’s when I first read it. Though thrilling and thought-provoking, I found Masen lacked dynamism and appeared to have no natural inquisitiveness to his surroundings, or his engagement with others. He talks about how humans will have to evolve and think differently after the night of comet, but Masen himself hardly changes in his character (well, apart from falling in love) from first page to last. That said, I’d still recommend it.

The Day of the Triffids has been made into several below par TV series, and one enjoyable film, which depicted the Triffids as extraterrestrials, having drifted through space, land on Earth to colonize the planet. The film also suggests the comet show was part of the Triffids’ invasion plan, rather than a possible satellite accident as mentioned in the book. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the whole thing below. Or, better still give someone the book to read but not the badly edited Kindle version!

Happy Day of the Triffids!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The socialist politician Aleister Crowley nominated as his successor
04.25.2014
07:23 am

Topics:
History
Occult

Tags:
Aleister Crowley
Tom Driberg

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The name Tom Driberg might not mean much today, but Driberg was at the center of nearly every major political and cultural event during the twentieth century. He was, as his biographer Francis Wheen described him, like Woody Allen’s fictional creation “Zelig,” for Tom had been:

...on the picket lines of the General Strike, in Spain during the civil war, in America for Pearl Harbor, in Paris for the liberation, in Buchenwald just after it was relieved, in Korea with the Royal Marines, in London when it was Swinging.

Driberg was a respected British politician, a member of parliament and Chairman of the Labour Party. He was also a journalist and author. As a young man at Oxford University he had been part of the gilded “Brideshead” generation, alongside Evelyn Waugh, W. H. Auden (who he introduced to T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland), and Cyril Connolly, who later wrote of this privileged group:

“We were the last generation of womanless Oxford. Men who liked women were apt to get sent down.”

At university, Driberg indulged his sexual tastes and formed his political allegiance to the Communist Party. He had a brief career as a poet and became friends with Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell.

After university he started his career as a journalist establishing and writing the “William Hickey” gossip column for the conservative Daily Expres. Though Driberg married Ena Mary Binfield in 1951, he was gay and lived a dangerously promiscuous life in the decades before homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain. Driberg mixed with a variety of notorious gay underworld figures, including Ronnie Kray with whom Driberg was rumored to have had an affair. He also mixed with royalty and celebrities, such as Mick Jagger with whom he discussed revolution and politics and tried to convince the singer into standing for parliament as a Labour MP.

Driberg was expelled from the Communist party. He had links to MI5, knew double-agent and Guy Burgess and was always suspected of alleged treachery. In later years, Driberg famously supported the legalisation of cannabis and contributed to satirical magazine Private Eye where he compiled the crossword. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore famously satirized Driberg as a lecherous and predatory homosexual in stockings and suspenders.

Driberg may seem like a mythical figure, but this brief summation only skims the surface of his life. Indeed, one of the more incredible tales in Driberg’s biography was his association with Aleister Crowley and how the “Great Beast” chose Driberg to be his successor.

When Driberg was at university his writing came to the attention of Aleister Crowley who for whatever reason took an interest in his verse poem “Homage to Beethoven” and invited the young man to lunch at the Eiffel Tower restaurant.

Crowley was already there when I got to the Eiffel Tower. He stood up, stout, bald and middle-aged, in a well-cut plus-four suit of green hand-woven tweed, and greeted me. Then, as we sat down, he said, in a rather high cracked, donnish voice: ‘Pardon me while I invoke the Moon.’

We did not on this occasion go into these deeper matters. I asked him whether at this time he was performing any magical ceremonies in London. He took the opportunity to explain that they were very expensive to set up—the pentacle must be just so, et cetera, or it could be dangerous. All the same, a lot of rubbish had been written about his magic. Magic was simply ‘the art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.’ It operated in quite everyday ways: when you used the telephone it was magic, or would have been thought so a century ago.

After their lunch together, Driberg saw Crowley again from time to time. The Great Beast was under the misapprehension Driberg was rich, a belief founded on Driberg being part of the “Brideshead” generation at Christ Church college, Oxford. Crowley kept hinting to the young poet about the great works he still had to achieve, and his need of finance.

One day [Crowley] wrote to tell me that he had found a reference to myself in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual quote was: ‘From no expected house shall this child come’—and ‘what house.’ asked Crowley, ‘could be more unexpected than Aedes Christi?’ (Christ Church—the House’). It was hard to tell if he were serious or joking, as when, soon after this, he told me that he had decided to nominate me as his successor as World Teacher. He had assumed this role some years earlier, and dated all his letters from the year and the day of his epiphany.

However, Driberg wasn’t too impressed by Crowley’s proclamation as he had heard of one other man to whom Crowley had made the same offer.

...and I hope that he, rather than I, has inherited the burdensome legacy.

A few years later, after Driberg had left Oxford and started his career as the gossip columnist “William Hickey” at the Daily Express, he was contacted by a music-hall illusionist called The Great Cosmo who had acquired a trunk (“either as payment in lieu of rent or in the course of a moonlight flit”) that contained a selection of Crowley’s letters and journals.

I went along to see Cosmo. The letters were not ‘compromising’, but I relieved him of them. He also let me have something much more interesting—a small square volume, bound in red morocco and encased in baroque silver which must once must have held a missal or a breviary: this contained Crowley’s manuscript diary, recording his daily magical and sexual doings, for the period covering Loveday’s death at Cefalu and Mussolini’s subsequent expulsion of Crowley from Italy. (He set up another ‘temple’ in Tunis.) It also contained a number of pages bearing what may be called oaths of allegiance, signed in Crowley’s presence by various devotees.

Amongst these devotees was the journalist and “distinguished mathematician”  J. W. N. Sullivan, and on the front page of the diary Crowley had written all the titles he had given himself “Το Μεγα Θηριον” (“The Great Beast”), “The Eternal Word” and “The Wanderer of the Waste.” Having possession of Crowley’s intimate diary gave Driberg the chance to play a trick on the occultist.

One evening Driberg was invited by Crowley to dinner for curry (cooked by himself) and a few bottles of Moët and Chandon’s champagne.

Then Crowley did what he had often done before: he drew the little diagram known as the pentacle, used for telling fortunes by ancient Egyptians, and asked me to stare into the central space between the lines and tell him what I could see. I had never before seen, or pretended to see, anything: but now I recalled the little manuscript diary—which he did not know that I had—and began, in a trance-like voice, to describe it: the shining baroque silver, a monstrance with a Host on one side of it, the red leather, the writing inside which I could not quite read…I had never seen Crowley so staggered: he leaned forward in desperate eagerness. ‘Go on,’ he said, ‘go on!’ But the vision faded. ‘Try again,’ he pleaded. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I can’t see anything more…though perhaps if we had another bottle of Moët…?’

This was, I fear, a rather mean trick to play on the old boy: I excused it to myself by reflecting that it had given him such obvious amazed delight to see one of his own bits of magic actually coming true.

As Francis Wheen notes about the whole affair in his biography of Driberg:

...it was Tom who made the money out of Crowley, not vice versa. By rather dubious means he acquired Crowley’s manuscript diary…many years later Tom sold this for a handsome sum to Jimmy Page, the guitarist with the rock group Led Zeppelin.

In 1973 Tom raised more money by auctioning at Christie’s several volumes presented to him by Crowley. They included a copy of The Book of the Law, inscribed ‘To True Thomas of Eildon Hills with all best wishes from Boleskine and Alertarff’.

Tom Driberg died of a heart attack in 1976. His autobiography Ruling Passions was published posthumously, and the definitive biography The Soul of Indiscretion by Francis Wheen was published in 1990.

Below, the Great Beast speaks: Here’s Aleister Crowley’s recording of “The Call Of The First Ćthyr.”
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Meet the six-foot-tall George Harrison Marionette
04.18.2014
11:42 am

Topics:
Animation
Music

Tags:
George Harrison
puppets


 
This is a guest post written by Tabitha Vidaurri.

There exist a series of music videos of a life-sized, hand-made marionette of George Harrison. He sings songs like “Pisces Fish” and “Someplace Else” while strumming the guitar, banjo and ukulele. As a teen, I constructed a puppet of a blue cat wearing sunglasses and taped it singing “Land Down Under” by Men At Work, so when I laid eyes on this lovingly obsessive tribute to the Dark Horse himself, I immediately felt a kinship with whomever was responsible for its creation.

While I was not able to get in touch with the puppeteer, I did some digging and found that her name is Jenn, she has over 35 years of experience as a puppet builder and performer, and it took her six months to complete the George Harrison Marionette.

Jenn has also written about her project extensively on the Muppet and Steve Hoffman Music forums

Originally, ‘George’ was going to be much smaller…more the size of a traditional marionette (2 to 3 feet tall). Because of the complicated animations I had to build for the unique eyes, eyelids, and mouth, the size of ‘George’s’ head ended up being life size.


The puppet is is fully clothed in a store-bought two-piece suit, though Jenn notes she had some trouble finding non-leather, vegetarian-friendly men’s dress shoes. You Harrison fans will notice that the electric guitar used isn’t accurate, which is due to the fact that this was such a low-budget production. At $80, the tiny Dark Horse Records lapel pin on ‘George’s’ jacket was the single most expensive item used in the project.

A lot of love and nitpicky detailing went into this project to give ‘George’ a realistic appearance both in looks and movement.  His hands are completely pose-able thanks to an eternal ‘skeleton’ of stiff wires in his fingers. This enables him to mimic any playing position. His hands are also rich in detail, with knuckles, veins, and palm lines sculpted into them. The LP record cover of ‘Living in the Material World’ was used to insure his hands were correct to size.  I was adamant about having him be portrayed as himself, as a solo artist, instead of the far more common representation one sees of ‘Beatle George.’

The puppet is modeled off of late ‘80s/early ‘90s Harrison, a period when he was absent of facial hair and prone to wearing blazers. This era was chosen so ‘George’ would have the option to sing selections from the Traveling Wilburys catalog.

I admire Jenn’s devotion and peaceful attitude. She acknowledges that a 6-foot tall puppet—or puppets in general—may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if it does happen to be your mug of Earl Grey, then this is just the tip of the iceberg:

‘George’ is wonderful company…a bit quiet though, and seems perpetually content. He is definitely a ‘presence’ in the room, which some might find disturbing (in a spooky sense) while others may find it charming. The few people who have been able to see him in person have noted this.


To learn more, visit the George Harrison Marionette Facebook Page.

The video for “My Sweet Lord” features a behind-the-scenes look at how the marionette works; ‘George’ is operated Thunderbirds-style, meaning there are no electronic elements used, and a total of fifteen strings control his movements:
 

 
Jenn also filmed a music video for “Life Itself” as a bigger production with multiple camera angles, even creating storyboards. The final product has candles and moody lighting, very much in the style of the early days of VH1:
 

 
This is a guest post written by Tabitha Vidaurri.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Who was that masked man? ORION: The Man Who Would Be King


 
This is a guest post by Jeanie Finlay, director of ORION: The Man Who Would Be King

Ten years ago I was at a garage sale with my husband Steven in our hometown of Nottingham, England. On a stall filled with cheap ornaments and dog-eared paperbacks, standing proudly at the front of a box of faded vinyl records, we found the above album.

Orion: Reborn. Sun Records. Collector’s gold vinyl. Release date on the back said 1979. No songs we’d ever heard of, but that coverWho was this mysterious masked man, standing hand on hips, with his perfect raven hair and sta-press trousers? What the hell was his story?

We took the record home, put it on and within seconds the mystery deepened. Whoever this guy was, he sounded exactly–and I mean exactly—like Elvis. Except these weren’t songs that Elvis ever recorded, and there was no mention of the King on the record. But there was the fact of Sun Records and this odd story on the back sleeve about this guy called Orion Eckley Darnell and something about a coffin, and a book… Most of all, though, there was this guy in the blue rhinestone-studded mask with the voice of Elvis. I had to know more.
 

  

The story I uncovered was one of the strangest I’ve ever encountered. As a documentary-maker, I’ve long been fascinated with stories that peek under the surface of popular culture and the machinations of the music industry, or explore just how important music is in our lives. Stories like The Great Hip Hop Hoax–about two Scottish chancers who faked their way to a record deal by pretending to be American rappers; SOUND IT OUT about the very last record shop in my home town in Teesside or Goth Cruise a documentary about 150 goths (along with 2500 “norms”) taking a cruise in the sunshine to Bermuda.

But this story had it all. A roller coaster tale of the Nashville music scene in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death, taking in deception, a quest for success, a search for identity and ending in brutal and tragic murder.

Even if you’ve never heard of Orion, you probably know about the “Elvis is Alive” myth. What I uncovered was that the story of Orion is the story of how that myth got started. 
In the marketing offices of Sun Records, maverick producer Shelby Singleton came up with the plan to utilize the incredible pipes of Alabama singer Jimmy Ellis – a voice which was both a blessing and a curse to the singer. Ellis had found it hard to get a solid foothold in the industry because of the similarity of his voice to Elvis’ –a similarity which was wholly unpracticed. Jimmy didn’t try to sound like Elvis, he just did. That made it hard for any record company to use him.
 

 
Shelby had already tried one tack, dubbing Jimmy Ellis’ vocals uncredited onto the Jerry Lee Lewis tracks in the Sun catalog, releasing the recording under the name of Jerry Lee Lewis “and friends.” He’d leave it up to the audience to come to the conclusion –if they saw fit—that it might just be a previously unheard recording from the depths of the Sun vaults. After all, it sounded just like Elvis…

 

“I was born in Sun Records, in the studio.”

But it wasn’t until Shelby came across an unpublished manuscript by Georgia writer Gail Brewer Giorgio that the stars aligned for Jimmy Ellis.  Orion was the story of the world’s greatest rock star and how he fakes his own death. As a character, her “Orion” was not a million miles away from a certain Memphis-dwelling King. It was a fantasy that so easily could be true. A fantasy that could be made true… In a move that Shelby himself later described as “part madman, part genius,” Sun Records put a mask on Jimmy Ellis, rechristened him “Orion” and unleashed him on an unsuspecting world. In Jimmy Ellis, Shelby had “The Voice.” And the book gave him a name, and a backstory.
 

A copy of the letter announcing the name “ORION” for the first time. The mask was the beginning of the Orion mystery.

In May of 1979, one month after his announcement of the imminent arrival of “ORION,” Shelby Singleton sent the first single to the radio stations. The cuts were “Ebony Eyes” and “Honey,” but there was no label on either side. Shelby wanted to build the mystery. The voice was the thing. He knew that the moment they heard that voice, they would have a million questions. And they’d want to see the mouth it came from…
 

 
Orion’s first album was readied – but hit controversy when there were complaints about the depiction of the masked singer appearing to rise from the dead from an open casket. (It was replaced by the blue cover above, which was later to catch my eye.)

Orion was now out in the world. Performing across America, always in the mask, always in character (legend was that Shelby would fine Jimmy if he were caught not wearing the mask at any time). And the crowds came. Hundreds and thousands of them, many coming for that voice–and many simply coming for the fantasy, the fantasy that the thin mask kept precariously in place. But for Jimmy, it was a frustrating ride.
 

 
Orion traveled the world while on Sun–including, bizarrely, performing with Kiss in Germany—putting out seven albums on Sun in just five years, but Jimmy hated the mask; the gimmick that provided the all-important mystery was ultimately a trap.  He could never be himself.
 

“Look Me Up”

When the gimmick wore thin, Ellis discarded the mask. The fragile spell was broken – but Jimmy was free. However, he struggled to step out of the shadow of Presley and the voice he was “blessed and cursed” with. He tried out many different identities – Ellis James, Mister E – he put the mask back on, then took it off again - but he never really found the same bright spotlight again. In December 1998, back in Orrville Alabama, the town he had left many years before to find success in music, Ellis was brutally murdered in his pawnshop during an armed robbery. A tragic ending for the man with the voice of a legend.
 

 
For the past four years, I have tracked down the people that were close to Orion to discover his story and I am raising finishing funds for ORION: The Man Who Would Be King on Indiegogo so that I can finish the documentary. You can support getting this story to the screen by pre-ordering the film, getting some original Orion memorabilia or even a bejeweled Orion mask.
 

Orion and author Gail Brewer Giorgio interviewed in 1979 TV news report.
 
More Orion, the man who would be King, after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Pete Townshend and the Auto-destructive art of guitar-smashing
04.10.2014
07:33 am

Topics:
Art
Pop Culture

Tags:
The Who
Pete Townshend
Gustav Metzger

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Pete Townshend said it was an accident the first time he smashed his guitar. He was playing with The Who in a small cramped room at the Railway Hotel in Harrow, west London. The ceiling was damp with condensation, the room smoky, a smell of sweat and stale beer. The Who were playing “Smokestack Lightning,” “I’m a Man,” and “Road Runner” when:

I scrape the howling Rickenbacker guitar up and down my microphone stand, then flip the special switch I recently fitted so the guitar sputters and sprays the front row with bullets of sound. I violently thrust my guitar into the air—and feel a terrible shudder as the sound goes from a roar to a rattling growl; I look up to see my guitar’s broken head as I pull it away from the hole I’ve punched in the low ceiling.  It is at this moment that I make a split-second decision—and in a mad frenzy I thrust the damaged guitar up into the ceiling over and over again. What had been a clean break becomes a splinter mess. I hold the guitar up to the crowd triumphantly. I haven’t smashed it: I’ve sculpted it for them. I throw the shattered guitar carelessly to the ground, pick up my brand-new Rickenbacker twelve-string and continue the show….

This is Townshend recounting the first time he smashed a guitar in his autobiography Who I Am. It’s an event that Rolling Stone magazine considered so important that it was included in their list of “50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll.”

When The Who played the Railway Hotel the following week, the audience expected Townshend to give a repeat performance of his guitar smashing. He didn’t. The next time Townshend smashed his guitar was at the Olympia Ballroom, Reading, in April 1965. This time it was done as a piece of self-promotion. The Who’s manager Kit Lambert had “invited Virginia Ironside (Daily Mail) and writer Nik Cohn along to this gig and briefed Pete to create an impression by smashing his £400 Rickenbacker, despite the expense.”

This he duly did, and Keith joined in by smashing his drums. However, Lambert had been waylaid in the bar with the journalists when this grand spectacle occurred and was reportedly horrified to find he had been taken at his word.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Townshend’s trademark guitar-smashing regularly became part of The Who’s performance right up to a concert at the Yokohama Stadium, Tokyo, Japan, where he smashed a gold Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster.
 

 
Over the years, Townshend has given various reasons as to why he first smashed his guitar in September 1964. He has claimed he deliberately did it because he “was determined to get the precious event noticed by the audience.”

Pete: I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I bounced all over the stage with it and I threw the bits on the stage and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really had meant to do it.

And he has also said it was “really meaningless”:

“I’ve often gone on the stage with a guitar and said, ‘Tonight, I’m not going to smash a guitar, and I don’t give a shit.’ And I’ve gone on, and every time I’ve done it. Basically, it’s a gesture that happens on the spur of the moment. It’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant, and it’s really meaningless.”

“I thought, ‘It’s broken’” said Townshend. “‘Might as well finish it off.’”

But in his autobiography, Townshend ties his guitar-smashing into a more political act:

I had no idea what the first smashing of my guitar would lead to, but I had a good idea where it all came from. ... I was brought up in a period when war still cast shadows, though in my life the weather changed so rapidly it was impossible to know what was in store. War had been a real threat or a fact for three generations of my family…

I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single abso lute of our frail existence—one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time. The Cuban Crisis less than two years before had proved that.  On stage I stood on the tips of my toes, arms outstretched, swooping like a plane. As I raised the stuttering guitar above my head, I felt I was holding up the bloodied standard of endless centuries of mindless war. Explosions. Trenches. Bodies. The eerie screaming of the wind.”

All this from one smashed guitar?
 

 
It’s undoubtedly good copy, and gives the young Townshend’s actions considerable cultural cachet, as The Who at this time were still little more than a pop band singing songs about white boy angst—music for young white working class kids who thought they were missing out on something, but weren’t quite sure what. By 1965, there was nothing particularly new about their music or their obsessions with girls, dancing, or their generation. But the association with Mods, and Townshend’s guitar-smashing gave the band an edge, which counterculture figures like Mick Farren would later see as making Townsend and The Who revolutionary figures offering a kind of leadership in the fight against a police state.

In the early sixties, Townshend had been a student at Ealing College of Art, where he attended classes given by the auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger. In his autobiography, Townshend says he was “Encouraged too by the work of Gustav Metzger, the pioneer of auto-destructive art, I secretly planned to completely destroy my guitar if the moment seemed right.”

So, who is Gustav Metzger and what was his “auto-destructive art”?

Find out after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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