Jean Genet wrote Our Lady of the Flowers while in prison in 1942. It was published anonymously the following year, and sold around 30 copies. It wasn’t until after the Allied Forces liberated France in 1944 that the bulk of the copies were bound and sold.
Due to its sexual content Our Lady of the Flowers was sold as high class erotica, but Genet never intended it as such. It would take until the book had been revised and reprinted by Gallimard in 1951 that Our Lady of the Flowers received the critical accolades it richly deserved - even if Jean-Paul Sartre described it as “the epic of masturbation.”
‘I’d just rented a little cottage, a country retreat, in Hungerford in Berkshire, and my next door neighbor - it was one Sunday morning and we were listening to Round the Horne, we all did on those Sunday mornings - and my neighbor across the fence leaned over and said.
“Oh hi, I think this book might interest you.”
And it was Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. And I began to read it, and as soon as I began to read it I could already see it on the stage, and I could see myself as Divine, the central character. And two weeks later, we opened it.
Only someone of Kemp’s incredible talents and vision could have produced Flowers, and the production put Kemp and his dance company literally “on the map.” Since then, Kemp and Co. have performed Flowers all across the world to incredible acclaim.
In 1982, a video was made of the Lindsay Kemp Dance Company performing Flowers at the Teatro Parioli, Roma. It is rarely been seen since, and the video is a incredible treat for anyone interested in dance, performance and theater.
Another segment from my Disinformation TV series that originally aired on UK television’s Channel Four network in 2000 and 2001 has been posted on YouTube. I wish it was streaming on Netflix so more people could see it, but you can still buy the DVD from 2006 on Amazon.
This was the SOLE piece, the only one out of all the shit I dropped in their lap for two years (“Uncle Goddamn,” Kembra Pfahler sewing her pussy shut, the extreme porn segment, etc, etc, etc) that the Channel Four lawyers docked from the show. They were amazingly lenient with me for nearly everything—I can’t believe what I got away with, looking back on it—but this one could not be salvaged because British libel laws are such that you can’t knowingly publish a false claim or untruth, and the law is pretty cut and dry on this.
But weren’t her claims of making mother/daughter dolphin porn directed by Sylvester Stallone a little too preposterous to be believed? The fact that no one would believe any of it didn’t really matter, as corporate lawyers, they very simply just could not let this story run. None of it. I was so happy with the way that it had turned out that this seemed like a bitter defeat at the time. Oh well, it’s now 12 years since the show was produced and anyone who wants to can see it on YouTube. Ultimately, I have no complaints.
So the backstory behind this is that I contacted “Brice” via email and told her about the British show and invited her to be on it. After an initially wary exchange, I suggested that we speak on the phone.
Her concern, she told me bluntly, was that I was going to make her look like a kook and I gave her my standard rap that I gave to every kook I wanted to get on camera: “Brice, if I have video rolling and you are saying kooky things, look, I’m a television producer, so I’m probably going to use that footage, yes, but if when the cameras are on, you’re true to yourself, you’re poised, you stay on message and you’re satisfied when I leave that you didn’t embarrass yourself, no, I’m not going to go out of my way to make you look like a nut. How would that work anyway unless YOU give me kooky footage? So just don’t act like a kook on camera, okay?”
AS IF, but that line of reasoning did seem to win her over a bit, although she still wasn’t convinced. I upped the ante: “Okay, what if we do the piece from YOUR point of view? In fact, aside from me asking you a question or two off-camera or something minor, the entire piece can be in YOUR voice—we can use the introduction to your book [Scroll to page 40] as the VO, it’s perfect, we’ll just mic you up and have you read it in a closet a couple of times—and you being interviewed on camera. You have my word that I will basically keep myself out of it. You’ll write the piece, how’s that?”
She was very definitely “in” after that and the very next day, the fearless cameraman and editor I worked with on the show, Nimrod Erez, second cameraman Brian Butler and I drove to a place in San Diego where she was staying (it was a gorgeous home in the hills that belonged to her therapist, who she also worked for doing some sort of New Age water/memory retrieval therapy thing that I didn’t really understand).
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by 6’4” retired FBI Special Director Ted Gunderson, a name well-known to fans of the most far-out variants of conspiracy theory. Gunderson, now deceased, but then about 75, was known for being an idiotic bigmouth who hounded the producers of shows like Geraldo! and A Current Affair for appearances. We were told that he was there to provide “security” for “the little lady” as he called her and he’d also invited himself to be on camera (something that she seemed to want, too) to bolster her bona fides. I was only too delighted to accommodate a blithering fucking idiot who would have a lower third identifying him as a former FBI bureau chief! This was a gift.
A few asides about Gunderson: One, he lived in Las Vegas (where he had a ham radio conspiracy theory show) and brought along three framed photographs on his long-ass drive to San Diego. One was him with Gerald and Betty Ford. Another was of him with Ronald Reagan. The third was a portrait of John Wayne, just a regular studio promo shot, not even signed to him or anything. Listen to him speak in the piece. He thought he sounded like John Wayne and he wanted me to somehow connect him to the actor in my mind. Maybe I’d even compare him to John Wayne, he told me.
The second thing was that it was OBVIOUS—and I mean OBVIOUS—that Ted thought he was going to get laid. He followed “Brice” around like a male dog sniffing around a female dog’s ass. When I wanted them both on camera at the same time, she balked and took me aside to admonish me not to “make it look like we’re a couple.” She wasn’t into him, but she wanted him there on camera to make her seem more credible… or something.
With a guy like Ted there to buck up your credibility, you ain’t got much to begin with! The best way to describe Gunderson is that he was like “Jethro Bodine” pretending to be a “double-naught spy” on The Beverly Hillbillies. At one point during his career he oversaw 700 plus officers of the FBI’s Southern California bureau, and yet frankly, he’s one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met. Whenever someone asks me how he got in such a position, I tell them, “He was big and he was pushy.” (I’d run into him a few more times over the years, including when I interviewed him about Satanic cults for another spot on the show. He was a comic foil for me twice in the series).
As the lights were getting set up, an anxious “Brice” asked me where the show would be seen and I told her what Channel Four was and I said “It’s network, not cable” and explained that there were fewer television stations in the UK than in America and this caused her to perk up. “You mean like they’ve only got four or five channels? And that’s what everyone basically watches? Do you think the Queen of England watches Channel Four?”
I was confused about where she was going with this and I demurred “Well, yeah, I’m pretty sure, of course, that she’s seen Channel Four, yes…”
“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! TED! TED! He says the Queen of England might see this show. Maybe I can get a message to her about my son!”
She turned to me, obviously cycling maniacally at this point: “So you really think the Queen of England will see this???”
Not wanting to dampen her instantaneous enthusiasm for the task we about to embark on, I replied that if the Queen of England was up watching late night TV and flipping channels while the Duke of Edinburgh snoozed, then, yes, perhaps there was a certain mathematical possibility of that occurring… (!)
I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but we discussed beforehand that when I would feed her the question about the Queen, she would shift from speaking to me, to addressing the camera/Queen directly for some added dramatic oomph!
With the interview, the B-roll and the voice-over in the can, we decamped to Kinko’s to get color photocopies of her family photographs. Gunderson came with us, at one point comically showing off that he was packing heat to try to impress her, but by then it was obvious that she’d gotten what she wanted out of him (the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego is hardly trivial) and she started making “Well, I’ve got to be getting home now” noises to clue him in that we wasn’t getting any of that Project Monarch pussy anytime soon.
When the piece was first edited, I invited my pot delivery guy, a fat queeny dude (think “Cam” on Modern Family) to watch it. When it was over, he looked at me and said “You know you’re going to Hell, right?”
Perhaps he’s right, but at least I kept my word about letting this utterly demented woman tell her “own story.” Although the piece did not air on Channel Four as I’d hoped, when “Brice” got a VHS of the segment, she seemed thrilled and sent me a copy of her book inscribed with a thank you.
Over the years, when I’ve been invited to screen the Disinformation TV shows at museums and repertory cinemas, the most ridiculous question anyone has ever asked me about this piece—and it gets asked nearly every time!—is “How much of what she says do you think is true?”
Um…. how’s about none of it?
And now, without much further ado, take it away Brice Taylor, mind-controlled sex slave of the CIA…
There are those who are late developers. Paul Gauguin was in his mid-thirties before he quit his job as a stock-broker and gave up his middle class life to paint pictures; Augustus John was twenty-eight when one summer, he dived into the sea, hit his head and emerged from the waters a genius; Mikael Karlsson was twenty-one when he decided to quit his job at the liquor store and become a composer.
Mikael Karlsson: ‘It was very late, it wasn’t until twenty-one when I dropped out of Law School. I’d always been playing piano and drawing, but I didn’t have much to say.
‘Three years into Law School, I realized I really hated it. I wasn’t performing well. So, I dropped out of Law School and found a piano teacher. I didn’t tell my parents that I had dropped out. For a year, I worked in a liquor store to pay for piano lessons, and then I started to bang things out on the piano and record them.
‘Two years later, I realized finally that here was a medium with which I had something to say with. Before then, I had pretty much succumbed to the idea that I wasn’t going to do anything artistic. It wasn’t in the cards for me, even though I had an urge. But I didn’t feel the confidence to do it until I was twenty-one and I was grown-up.’
Mikael Karlsson was born in Sweden in 1975. When he started playing the piano in the mid-1990s, it was more than apparent he had an incredible affinity with music. But without any academic grounding in music, Mikael was unable to enter any of Sweden’s music schools. He, therefore, decided to move to New York
Mikael Karlsson: ‘I’ve lived in New York since January 8th, 2000. I moved here to study. In Sweden admission to music school is centralized and as I was very much outside of that system, I would have not been admitted because I had no background in music.
‘On the other hand here in New York, you kind of pay-your-way into it. So I went to the cheapest possible stage school that would allow me to enter. I went to Queen’s College. What I loved about it was that it was easy to get in, and you could get a lot out of it. I spent 5 years doing that, getting my Masters here.’
Karlsson earned a masters degree in composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music and graduated Summa Cum Laude with departmental honors in June of 2005.
Mikael Karlsson: ‘When I graduated, I realized that the musicians I kept collaborating with lived here. So, I needed to stay.’
Since graduating, Mikael has produced an incredible array of work: writing and releasing albums; contributing tracks to the films of Bruce LaBruce; composing music for the Cedars Lake Dance Company; collaborating with designer and film-maker Anna Österlund; scoring and producing for Black Sun productions; writing music for video games; working with Lydia Lunch; and composing an opera.
Karlsson wears his success lightly. He delights more in other’s good fortune, rather than his own achievements. He makes his life seem like a series of happy accidents, rather than the product of his incredible talent and dedicated hard work, which make him so productive, so successful and such a brilliant composer.
If this weren’t enough, Mikael has the looks of pop star and a wicked sense of humor, which sparkled throughout our interview.
Paul Gallagher: How did you first start composing?
Mikael Karlsson: ‘My friend Niklas showed me how to sequence things on a computer, and I had been writing these little musical sketches, and now I was finally able to hear them.
‘I remember spending an evening programming pieces I had written but never heard performed on his computer, and when I played it back, it was one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had. I was just sitting in my apartment on the floor listening to it over-and-over-and-over again.
‘Finally hearing that there was something there mattered to me. It was a very different feeling. I finally felt content pouring out of me, and it made me curious. It made me wonder what the hell I was saying?
‘I was just exploring where music can go, and in a non-experimental way at first, because I wanted to figure out what the language was. I didn’t know any music theory, but it was now possible for me to replicate something that I heard. So, like any artist at the start, I learnt through copying. Eventually I accumulated a palette of what music I seemed to prefer, and my own language started growing out of that.’
Paul Gallagher: What was your early music like?
Mikael Karlsson: ‘My early pieces were very romantic, and there’s something of that even now, and there’s also that Scandinavian darkness that doesn’t seem to want to leave.
‘None of my pieces are about me. It’s not like I’m expressing something that’s just about me, I’m watching where the music want to go, and that’s what keeps it fresh, that’s how I keep wanting to do more.
‘I’m interested in seeing where elements of Classical music can fit into Pop music, and where Experimental music can fit into more conventional classical music. Such combinations became more interesting as I went along and I became able to do things.
‘Because I was very insecure about what I had made, I hardly allowed anyone to listen to it. But when I did, they seemed to be affected by it, and that was a fantastic kick for someone who had spent twenty-years refusing to go there.’
Mikael Karlsson has made a special sampler of his music for Dangerous Minds readers, which you can download here or click on the image below.
It’s early December and the first snow of winter is falling across the west coast of Scotland. Friends tweet their excitement, their child-like hopes for a white Christmas, posting images of blurry snow on lamp-lit streets. At her home in the north of Glasgow, Noise Artist Elizabeth Veldon stands in her garden, recording the sound of the snow falling.
Veldon is one of the most prolific and talented Noise Artists working today. Her work includes some of the most beautiful, brilliant, challenging and powerful soundscapes recorded. Her albums, such as A Blasted Victoriana, work on multiple levels offering up an intelligent critique of history, politics and sex. Others, including the beautifully mesmeric Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, a haunting celebration of the winter solstice.
When asked about her background, Veldon says there’s not much to tell. She was born in Scotland, into ‘a poor village with massive unemployment and a strict demarcation between Catholic and Protestant .’ This she says ‘probably led to my less than forgiving approach to religious belief.’ Veldon moved to Cambridge to study English Literature at college. It was as a student that her interests in the themes of gender, sexuality, feminist critical theory, poetry and politics, which would influence her musical work.
Returning to Scotland, Elizabeth met her partner 8 years ago. Her partner has been ‘a guiding force in my music.’ Over 6 years ago, Veldon started recorded her first CD. It sold out, and was collected by the Scottish National Library. From this Veldon started recording on a weekly then a daily basis. ‘I launched my bandcamp site around a year-and-a-half ago and since then have uploaded over 100 albums to it. I also formed my own label Black Circle records’ around 1 year ago, as a way to publish music based upon ideas of co-operation, collaboration and community.’
Paul Gallagher: When did you become interested in music and creating noise music/soundscapes? What were the key moments/influences?
Elizabeth Veldon: ‘I’ve always been interested in music, but I suppose this really took off when I met my present partner and two people obsessed with music got together.
‘I don’t know exactly when I became interested in making music but I remember why: I wanted to show that it was possible to make music without studios or finances, a kind of democratisation of the music making process. I began posting these on myspace (back in the days when everyone used myspace) and got positive feedback so I kept going. Originally I improvised tracks by playing multiple pieces by other artists over each other and recorded this to tape using a stereo with no speakers connected. This was then recorded back to my computer and then used as one of the tracks in a second layer and so on and so on until I had a completed piece.
‘As I began taking this process seriously, I started to think of it in terms of John Cage’s Fontana Mix, and began half-jokingly referring to it as Fontana Mix Without A Score, and John Cage has stayed my primary influence since then. I think it’s his belief that music is that which is produced by an artist or composer that most captures my imagination.
‘This led me to try to produce music that echoed the ideas of Pure Abstraction that is something which was not inspired by an external object or sensation. It was this that led me to experiment with feedback and wave forms.
‘More often than not the germ of a work comes from something read in a book or something I hear. For instance The English And Their Dogs came about from my partner saying ‘The Germans love children the way the English love their dogs’. While Satan Is A Very Poor Fellow was inspired by the cover of a book about German artists in exile during and after World War Two.
‘Other influences have included geometric abstractionism (in that it gave me a way to think about producing abstract music), 90’s feminist punk such as Bikini Kill, Derek Jarman (for his fearlessness) and early music.
‘That sounds like the most pretentious list of influences ever.
‘Lately I’ve found myself interested in landscape and finding inspiration from that and then, of course, there’s politics which is always present in everything I do.’
Federico Fellini had been working on his 12th feature film Casanova. It had been a difficult experience. Filming had taken over a year to complete, and Fellini had spent in excess of $10m, using up 3 producers. He claimed he hated his leading star, Donald Sutherland. There had been union disputes, and the negative had been “kidnapped” and returned. Then the Vatican declared one of Fellini’s previous films “obscene”. But the great master was unfazed by all of this.
‘I’m sorry if I disappoint you by not describing the tears in my eyes, my role as the victim, the artist forced to sacrifice his own integrity and purity,’ Fellini explained in an interview with the BBC in 1976.
‘I’ve never compromised. But then I’ve always been lucky.
‘On the occasions that I could be reproached for compromising, was directly attributable to my own laziness, because I was in love, or I wanted to finish the film. Or, simply because I was fed-up by it.
‘I don’t think absolute liberty is necessarily a good thing for people creatively. As far as I, or people like me are concerned.
‘Being Italian, I have a particular type of psychology: I am an artist who is conditioned to the idea of delivering his work to All.
‘The Popes in the 14th and the 15th century, or the great Lords of days gone by, they always used to commission painters or writers to create a madrigal or a crucifixion for them. It’s this necessity of an obligation - a contract - it’s an authority that forces you to work.’
For Casanova that authority was the American film company. Fellini may have had control over the designs, the sets, the costumes, the cast, the script, and the direction, but ultimately Fellini was answerable to his producers. This was partly why he had chosen to work with Donald Sutherland.
‘Well, in Casanova,’ said Fellini, ‘There was a precise plan for a certain type of character. Because the film is an American film - made by an Italian crew for a major American company. My contractual position is that the producer made me make the film in English.’
Fellini made Sutherland have his head partially shaved, his eyebrows removed and his teeth “cut” by 2mm. A false nose, chin and eyebrows were then added. Sutherland had to rethink how best to interpret Casanova’s experience in terms of 18th century expression.
Fellini wanted authenticity, and he knew his film would cause outrage from the prudes and hypocrites of his homeland, who had already burnt copies of The Last Tango in Paris on the streets of Rome.
‘You’ve got a real moralistic tyranny in Italy,’ Fellini said. ‘It is fast coming to the point where people are being told how to make love, how to dress, how to shave, how to look at a woman. I feel completely bewildered and confused. Clearly what’s going on in our country is a real mess. I cannot honestly see how we are going to extricate ourselves.
‘The Italians are like confused children. They’ve had a thousand years of Catholic up-bringing which has left us uncertain in our context of life. We are incapable, apparently, of making personal judgments because we have always asked other people. We ask our fathers, the teacher, police, the ministry, priests, the Pope. We have always asked others to give their opinion for us, without ever having to judge for ourselves individually.’