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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Memories of Nigel and Jenny

A writer named Ingrid Maclean is writing a book about the psychedelic revolution in London in the 1960s, of which a large part will be the story of the adventures of my good friend Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, and I was asked to contribute some reminiscences,. I procrastinated until the deadline was upon me, and quickly penned this the other evening. 
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By the time I went to Cambridge to study philosophy, I had been devoted to literature for years, and even intended to be a writer, having been producing poetry since I was 13. It was in literature, of all the creative arts, that I sought to learn about human nature and existence. I had thought that the study of philosophy would amount to considering such matters at an even higher level than poetry, but I had the misfortune to be at university in a period when British philosophy was dominated by logical positivism, which rejected all metaphysical notions as well as existentialism ("continental claptrap", opined my director of studies.)
Disillusioned with the courses and lecturers, I found myself devoting much more time and attention to drama, which at least seemed to be concerned with The Meaning Of Life. But I soon came to find the theatre world at Cambridge to be much more petty and cliquey than suited me. I had previously in London been involved with the Hampstead bohemian set, and came to know similar people in Cambridge, some of whom lived in a house in Clarendon St. owned by a recent graduate, Bill Barlow.
It was in a conversation with Bill that he made what seemed to me the radical assertion that my goal of being a creative person was not necessarily the most admirable path. Rather, he insisted, the elevation of consciousness was the greater priority. After all, the quality of one's creative work is bound to be a direct result of one's consciousness, and the most important criterion of its value was surely its effect on the consciousness of others as well.
Nigel Lesmoi-Gordon at that time was living at Clarendon St., and I soon realised that he was already of that persuasion, and it was from him that I learned about such authors as Ouspensky, whose Meetings With Remarkable Men and Tertium Organum were fundamental texts for the expanded consciousness movement, as well as Gurdjieff and R.D. Laing, who was making waves with his novel ideas about altered mental states. Nigel was quite familiar with the beatniks, and introduced me to many of their writings. I soon was spending more time at Clarendon St. than with my fellow students, delighting in conversation with Nigel and his lovely girlfriend,later wife, Jenny.
At about the same time that I left the university in 1965, Nigel and Jenny moved to an apartment in London, also owned by Bill Barlow, at 101 Cromwell Road. Once again I was drawn to their company time and again, and after living for a few months in Marylebone, I moved in to the room next door to theirs. Thus began the most intensely transformative period of my life to date. It's hard to believe that it really only spanned about three years, so full of experience and realisations was it. The history of 101 is well-known; the myriad of underground writers, artists, musicians and psychonauts who frequented the place has become legendary. Nigel was the most congenial of hosts, and Jenny brought a cleverly mischievous charm to all occasions, and there was hardly an evening when there were not several or many visitors, quite often enjoying the LSD that arrived there via Michael Hollingshead and John Esam before it was known at all in London.
Many histories of the 60s present the 101 scene as if it revolved around Syd Barrett, who lived there at various periods, and perpetuate the perspective typical of journalists and fans, namely that the most famous person in a group is the centre of it, implying that the people sharing space with him at 101 Cromwell Road and later at Egerton Court were "camp-followers" or "hangers-on." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just about everybody there had his own thing; most were there before he came, and some of them were his childhood friends. The creative atmosphere owed less to him than to such residents as Nigel, poet John Esam (who co-organised the Albert Hall Poetry Festival), photographer Dave Larcher, graphic artists Storm Thorgerson and and the others who formed Hipgnosis, visual artist David Gale (Lumiere & Son), poet-author of The Book of Grass George Andrews, budding alchemist Stash Klossowski de Rola, etc., etc. Other visitors to 101 included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Kenneth Anger, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, Alex Trocchi, and various Stones and Beatles. A much longer list could be made, but the point is that Syd was there because it was a matrix from which sprang the 60s London psychedelia. Of course, in addition to the psychonauts there were people who came merely because it was a Scene, people stuck at the level of personalities. Interestingly enough, many of these are the ones most eager to be interviewed about the carryings-on there, and their accounts often miss the essence as much as they themselves missed the point then through their exclusive focus on personalities.
At that time I was working as assistant to Robert Fraser (Groovy Bob) at his gallery in Duke St., which became one of the principal nodes of Swinging London. Through Fraser I met and became good friends with Christopher Gibbs, the two of them being central figures in a bohemian aristocrat set to which several Rolling Stones and Beatles were also attracted. I introduced Nigel to these people, and he and Jenny were immediately accepted with great enthusiasm. After all, few couples merited the term "The Beautiful People" as much as they did, and many of these privileged people and celebrities were becoming turned on to acid and welcomed the transcendental perspective that we sought to share, which interpreted the psychedelic experience as cognate to the experiences of mystics and occultists.
At that time there were basically two schools of thought about how LSD was best taken, which one might call the Leary school and the Kesey school. The latter, with its extroverted antics and missionary zeal, is well described in Tom Wolfe's Electric Koolaid Acid Test. The Leary/Alpert approach was based on eastern spirituality, though no less proselytising. Nigel, like most of us, was of that leaning, and our explorations of Buddhism, Taoism, Jung's writings and many other esoteric works gradually led many of us to a search for the ideal method of attaining what we were still bold enough to call Enlightenment.
It was in the company of Nigel and Jenny that my transition to vegetarianism began. While full-on tripping,we went to a restaurant and ordered a meal. When it came, I stared at my veal escalope in horror, muttering "Baby calf flesh", while Jenny gazed in dismay at her omelette. "Baby chickens,", I believe she whimpered. I can't remember what Nigel had ordered, but that experience pretty much converted me to a vegetarian diet. It was at another restaurant meal, incidentally, that I placed in a moment of verbal ineptitude an order for "a glass of two milks", a phrase that will live in infamy, now that Nigel has used it as the title of one of his recent novels.
It was from Nigel that I first learned about a Master in India who seemed to have all the qualities of a true master, as distinct from the many questionable gurus who appear in profusion, levitating, collecting Rolls Royces and materialising watches, etc. Several friends had been to his ashram, or Dera as it was called, and came back with glowing testimony to his being The Real Thing. It was not long, therefore, before Nigel and Jenny, myself and Adrian Haggard obtained permission to attend the Radha Soami Satsang in Beas, Punjab. Adrian and I set out to hitchhike to the Punjab, which was an adventure in itself, and we met up with Nigel and Jenny there. Over the next few weeks we experienced the amazing aura and wisdom of the master, Charan Singh, and as our stay there ended, we all received initiation into the practice of Shabad Yoga, the yoga of internal sound. Without doubt this has proven the most significant turning point in all our lives.
Nigel and Jenny returned to England, and I headed east, hitchhiking and working my way on ships until I reached Japan, where I have been pretty much ever since. We've got together several times over the years, in England and in India, and they remain among the most loved people in my life, true spiritual colleagues. Many of my best memories are of things said or written or otherwise learned from or together with them. If any one thing epitomises the shared vision we had from the start of what we might become, it is probably a Chinese poem Nigel had written out and pinned to his wall, which seemed to sum up the ultimate goal as not at all the gravitas of Enlightenment, but the shared delight of heightened awareness.
"When two masters meet
They laugh and laugh--
The trees, the many fallen leaves."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Choice

Don't take this to imply that I am morose, moribund or morbid, but recent contemplation of mortality has reminded me of a poem I published as a callow youth of 18. It's a trifle overwrought, but the basic idea remains as meaningful to me now as then, if not more so...


THE CHOICE
I have known of one, bound to a bed by wrist and ankle,
scarred by the pains of a wasting ache,
who,at the point of entering of the needle,
looked once around to take
the final view, then spoke.
The echo of that terribly witty joke
pursued the surgeon to his home in Kew,
deafened a nurse all night and leaden lay
on the heart of a thick skinned anaesthetist
long after they'd dispatched his ended clay.
That one lies in Oxford and is its earth.


And a woman in Germany, in a sightless trap
deep underground, to which another held the key,
surveyed without visible alarm
or twitching of a pinioned arm
the instruments laid out upon a table.
Then from her mouth there poured a stream
of satire deliciously edged until
the tormentor tormented stopped it with a boot.
She fell as ash, not bones , in Heimat fields.
All brave men breathe her when the wind
blows west from Danube.

And Tom Caine, when The Imperial was mined,
and water had flooded all but the wireless room,
spoke for fifteen hours from fifteen fathoms down
to his messmates on land, told several stories,
then to a physician carefully described
asphyxiation's onset and his doom.
He is grown one with water and surrounds the poles.
If ever you dip a cup in any sea,
Tom Caine is in it somewhere.

Mostly men die in fear; but not all men.
Perhaps we are never,
by any average mountain, wood or river,
more than a heart's breadth from the dust
of one who laughed with nothing left to lose,
who saw the joke beneath the mammoth's foot.
And what will I choose, if I am free to choose?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

To Write Or Not To Write?

I have often contemplated, and even been urged, to write an autobiography, but have consistently postponed it until such time as I can't do much else, such as when my emphysema will reach a point where I sit around and search the web for cheap oxygen canisters.

But it's more than that. It seems to me that to be worth foisting onto other people with a "Please read and review this". it would have to be more than a sequence of anecdotes and name droppings. It would have to approximate the concept of Bildungs Roman, of which the novels of Hermann Hesse are a clear example; a tale of the gradually evolving consciousness of a person. Anecdotes would have to mark moments of realisation, not necessarily entheogenic, but of the nature of humans and the general question of WTFIGO. But I suspect that I'm not interesting enough as a character or mind for the story of How I Became What I Am to be worth the effort, especially as age tends to bring with it the realisation not only that "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity", but that Life Is Not A Story, and that casting it in the form of one ensures that, as Glenn Gould said or implied, autobiography is definitely a subgenre of imaginative fiction, placing in mind-created timespace what really takes place in an eternal Now. I would be inclined to balance that by showing some continuity between the various disillusionments that determined changes in direction and perspective, featuring the recurrent (and to me welcome) realisation that everything I hitherto believed was wrong (or should I say "wrnog"?).

It could be entertaining if I described some of my Meetings With Remarkable People or friendships with celebrities and the rich, but mainly in how for the most part such experiences cured me of interest in fame, fortune and ambition. I fear it might be something of a downer for the reader, though, as I would have to chronicle how an entire generation in America and parts of Europe felt like outsiders in the 60s and created the so-called counterculture, with the vast majority of them gradually morphing into the Me Generation, learning to mock people such as myself, who don't see it as moving on from naive idealism to Being Realistic to hold, for example, that it actually makes more sense even from a hardcore empirical perspective to hug a tree than to cut it down for garden furniture or artisanal firewood. ( I recall in childhood being repelled by watching fish die in the bottom of the boat, and feeling something was wrong when I learned that my uncle's waterskis, which I so enjoyed using on Lake Winnepesaukee, were made from a giant redwood. (It's probably good to get an early start to accepting you're a weirdo.))

Writing an autobiography would, of course, provide ample excuse for the type of rambling you see above, and would doubtless lead to vast swathes of nested parentheses....

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Syd Barrett and 101 Cromwell Road

I had forgotten about this posting I made in 2002 to the 604 mailing list in response to one Clayton Hill's comments on an article in the Guardian about Syd Barrett, but record producer Shahar just sent it to me, having archived that list...

Clayton Hill wrote:
 Pretty gross, this glorification of an inconsequential blip in the history of Psychedelia. I don't think that Syd had all that much to do with the "Floyd" that most have come to know and love (Meddle onwards). I also don't think that he warrants this hero worship or pity, as he seems to have chosen this for himself, and would prefer NOT to be written thusly into history books and culture. As "brilliant" as Syd and his times may have been, articles like this only deepen the twisted legends and mythologies that are unproductive and unrepresentative of a culture, at best.
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Chris Case wrote:
It could be argued that legends and mythologies are in fact among the most representative aspects of a culture. As for "unproductive", that is hardly a relevant criterion, despite the modern obsession with Productivity. Nevertheless, it is certain that Syd was the inspiration -- the soul, if you will -- of the Pink Floyd, which in turn influenced and inspired many of the artists who now do likewise for many in the current wave. Mythologically speaking, Syd has been inducted into the pantheon as an instance of the archetype "Poete Maudit", updating in a way the Rimbaud archetype.

That said, the article does perpetuate the perspective typical of journalists and fans, namely that the most famous person in a group is the centre of it, implying that the people sharing space with him at 101 Cromwell Road and later at Egerton Court were "camp-followers" or "hangers-on." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just about everybody there had his own thing, most were there before he came, and some of them his childhood friends. The creative atmosphere owed less to him than to such residents as poet John Esam (who co-organised the Albert Hall Poetry Festival), filmmaker Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon (now producing great films about fractals, Mandelbrot, mathematics, etc.), photographer Dave Larcher, graphic artists Storm Thorgerson and and the others who formed Hipgnosis, visual artist Dave Gale (Lumiere & Son), poet-author of The Book of Grass George Andrews, budding alchemist Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, etc., etc. Other visitors to 101 included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Kenneth Anger, Alex Trocchi, and various Stones and Beatles. I could make a list twice as long, but the point is that Syd was there because it was one focal point of the matrix from which sprang 60s London psychedelia.

 Of course, in addition to the psychonauts there were people who came merely because it was a Scene, people stuck at the level of personalities. Interestingly enough, many of these are the ones most eager to be interviewed about the carryings-on there, and their accounts often miss the essence as much as they themselves missed the point at the time through their exclusive focus on personalities.

Syd was our holy fool for a time, though by no means the best poet among us, and, as things started to go bad, the recipient of vast amounts of protective concern. Unfortunately, none of us could without hypocrisy advise him to stop taking acid completely, but the efforts made to chill him out (I found Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier and St. Matthew Passion particularly effective) and rescue him repeatedly from his own flakiness were such that it is way off the mark to call this circle "fairweather friends". If anyone abandoned him, I'd say it was Roger, and his feelings of guilt permeate the Floyd's subsequent work ad nauseam. Had the friends who tried to introduce him to the therapeutic and harmonising effects of Shabad Yoga (yoga of cosmic sound) been more successful, he might have emerged from this episode as purged as many others of us did, but they certainly got no help from Roger, whose oafish dismissal of mysticism in favour of a middleclass version of surly "working-class hero" resentment gradually moved the Floyd's weltanshauung from Syd's sensitivity to English game-reality and from his whimsical symbology into schizoid antisocial ranting, culminating in "The Wall", or perhaps in an account at Coutts. Great stuff occurred along the way, I admit, but on the whole the Floyd betrayed the original vision and went down a profitable cul-de-sac, much as the "More is More" crowd of performers are doing today in the trance world.
_________________________________________

Clayton Hill wrote:

It's too bad that our culture, so bent on the misery and misfortune of others, can't respect his wishes and leave this man alone.
_______________________

Chris Case wrote:

This man manages to be as alone as he wishes to be. The occasional journalist or fan overloading his doorbell's bandwidth is hardly a form of persecution, compared to what most people have to put up with. I see no reason why he should expect total immunity to the karmic consequences of his own earlier behaviour. Pity of a sort might be natural, but there are countless more acid casualties who don't have ongoing royalties sustaining their alienated lives.

And if the truth be known, many of the most "successful" of that period failed every bit as much to evolve as spiritual and human beings, knighthoods to the contrary notwithstanding. Perhaps inside every Sir Mick there is a Syd Barrett struggling to deny himself. What the lucky few (George Harrison?) find through success is a deeper humility; if this is what Syd has found, he will only deserve our pity if he doesn't eventually also find compassion..

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cyberpunktuations

One of my articles in the Tokyo PC Users' Club magazine (c.1990) was a condensation of a article on cyberpunk by Mark Downham, some of whose statements were so obscure or pretentious that I was inspired to make cartoons of them:



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Charge It To My Valentine Card

Some years ago (around 1990, in fact), when I was editor of the Tokyo PC Users Club magazine, I wrote this poem for the February Issue.  I suppose I might be sued someday for copying the Look and Feel of "Let's Get Away from It All"...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dub Rhapsody-DJ Chris Mix

Here's a recording of a DJ set I played some time ago, in which all the tracks are at least somewhat dubby.

DUB RHAPSODY