It’s a bit pointless me doing a full review as the book has been out so long. I also should mention that I helped the author out with some of the bits on Spanner/Dispatches which makes it difficult for me to be completely detached from it.
That said, I do think it’s extremely well done and David Keenan should be congratulated on the massive amount of work which has clearly gone into tie-ing together all the strands in the early 80s (post) industrial scene and beyond. Highly recommended, especially if SAF do paperback version for sensible money (35 quid does get you a lovely hardback book and a CD, tho).
Everyone interviewed is surprisingly candid about things like their (generally MASSIVE!) drug use, mistakes, fallings out, etc. I find that quite interesting as it’s a scene which has always relied on a certain amount of mystique and distancing from its fanbase.
The highlights for me were the sense of sheer chaos and creativity of the London crew in the early 80s and also reading about the impact that some less well known people in that scene had on the “stars”. There’s an ultra-left critique of “the myth of the great man” which basically says that social change really hinges on movements, collaboration, collective action, but that history generally only focuses on specific individuals within those movements.
I suppose in this case the attraction of reading the book for many is to find insights into the great minds of Balance, Christopherson, Stapleton and Tibet. For me it was much more rewarding for the revelations about people like John Gosling (on performance art “I tried to bring a football hooligan sensibility to the proceedings” – class!) and Diane Rogerson. It’s often women who get left out of the “surface” history of the counter culture. When I read “Wreckers of Civilisation” I was most impressed with the quotes and recollections from Cosey, the member of TG who is generally only portrayed as being nice to look at and/or as the girlfriend of Gen and then Chris Carter. (Also Michelle Bernstein and the Situationist International, apparently). Rogerson comes across as one of the most intelligent and interesting people in the whole scene (and I am in no way damning the rest of them by saying that).
Reading the book hasn’t really inspired me to dig out a load of old records. It’s funny because there was a time (15 years ago!) when I would play stuff by Coil, Current 93 or Nurse With Wound pretty much every day and a lot of my creative activities would be in some way influenced by their worldview. One thing, very clearly picked up on by Michael Cashmore in the book, is that all of these groups were very open about their influences on record sleeves or in interviews and you could follow them back and discover whole new worlds of thought or experience or ways of looking at the world.
There was a downside to this, as Nigel Ayers has pointed out somewhere in the archives of this blog – it lead to an off-the-peg set of cultural artifacts for people to be into which lead to another conformist “scene”. But there was scope for some radical elements as well and lots of people were given the chance to seek out things that, pre-internet, they might never have known about otherwise.
David Tibet seems completely consumed by his influences and the latter part of the book seems to feature him leaping between a series of increasingly obscure literary and theological muses, none of which I personally have any interest in at all. He also seems really down on himself about being into spooky weirdness earlier in his life now he has discovered (what he considers to be) something more positive. But that seems to miss the essential truth that you only gain insights from going through a process of developing thoughts \’96 maybe he would never have come to these realisations if it hadn’t been for all the dark stuff earlier.
It’s also interesting seeing which influences are taken up by the artists and which are not. Chance encounters lead to years’ obsessions, with Tibet especially taking on dead authors as almost god-like messengers. But some things don’t fit the “English” spin on the scene. Coil’s new house in the west of England is revealed (in order of importance?) as being: suitably spooky, an ex- boys’ school, and the former residence of Haile Selassie. Now obviously, for me, that was about an afternoon’s raised eyebrows and scratching of head, but there’s no other comment in the book on the subject. I imagine if His Imperial Majesty was prone to writing pot boiling horror novels or the odd bit of phrenology then entire albums would be composed in his honor, but in the absence of that there doesn’t seem to be much scope for including him in the pantheon. Which is fair enough, but it did get me thinking dark thoughts, m’lud.
I could write a lot more on this but I don’t actually have the book with me. Nice photos throughout. Oh yeah, and an index too – proper sensible decisions being made somewhere! Thank you.