Sunday, 17 April 2011

Alan Moore: Words, Worship and Glycon

Magically it is very fitting that the very act of writing itself revealed the divine nature of his work to Alan Moore.
While working on 'From Hell', an epic exploration of the shape of time and the nature of reality ostensibly presented as an examination of the Ripper murders of 1888, Moore had a character say the following:

'The one place Gods inarguably exist is in our minds where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity.'

Moore quickly realised:

'Having written that and been unable to find an angle from which it wasn't true, I was forced to either ignore its implications or change most of my thinking to fit around this new information.'

Choosing the latter Moore took the opportunity of his fortieth birthday to announce that he would now begin working as a ceremonial magician.
The transition seemed quite natural to Moore:

'I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people's consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.'

Having made his decision the next step was to decide on the form his magical work would take. Inspired by Steve Moore, a friend and fellow writer who also practised magic through the worship of Selene, the goddess of the Moon, he began to look for a suitable spiritual guide for this new journey.
Soon after, for reasons entirely unrelated to his spiritual quest, Steve Moore happened to show him an image of Glycon, a snake god with long, flowing hair who had his origins in ancient Macedonia.
Alan Moore has described this experience as 'love at first sight' and felt an immediate affinity to the deity.
Initally he was attracted by the notion of a snake god itself, with its potent mythological legacy as an image which Moore felt could be traced from fertility cults in prehistory through the Rod of Asclepius in antiquity all the way to the double helix of DNA which has defined our understanding of creation in the 21st Century.
Just as importantly, there was a very good chance that Glycon was a hoax.
The Greek prophet Alexander of Abonutichus had revealed the god, hatching him from a gooses egg in the middle of a marketplace and then over the week showing the people of the city of Abonutichus the prodigious growth of this new deity.
By the end of the week Glycon was the size of a human and had the features of a man on his face along with a full head of long blonde hair.
Glycon was a fertility god and would accept tributes from women who hoped to have children.
Lucian, a local satirist, decried the cult as a hoax claiming that Glycon was nothing more than a giant puppet and that Alexander's methods of increasing fertility in the local area were a lot less than magical...
Moore became fascinated by the idea of worshipping a god that had been proved NOT to exist. If the only place that gods truly exist is the imagination than their existence in the physical world was incidental.
The idea of Glycon would be enough to justify his worship.
A religion without any other followers was also intrigued him.
Ever the writer Moore found the concept of 'religion' linguistically unappealing.
From the same etymological root as 'ligature' the idea of religion had always been to 'bind people together. Moore couldn't understand why people, so different physically, psychologically and emotionally from one another, would decide to correspond exactly on something as vital as spirituality.
Moore has rejected entirely the idea that his worship of Glycon is religion:

'There is no church and no other followers. There's just me.
And I'm not recruiting...'

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States of America

In 1858 Joshua Norton, a merchant based in San Francisco, lost his fortune having speculated heavily on a cargo of Peruvian rice.
Bankrupt and ashamed, he vanished from the city he had called his home for almost ten years only to reappear a few months later.
During his time away Norton had decided that he had been ruined by the injustices that now pervaded his once proud nation but had determined a solution to the problems that had beset America.
Norton laid the blame firmly at the door of the country's government.
From the President downwards, Norton saw nothing but self-interest and maladministration dragging America to its knees.
His solution was simple.
He would become Norton I, the first Emperor of the United States of America.
In September 1859 Joshua Norton issued his first, but far from his last, Imperial Proclamation. It stated his desire to be recognised as the Emperor and requested that Representatives from the various States assembled in the San Francisco Musical Hall on February 1st 1860 to '...make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring...'
Norton had also informed the city's newspapers of his intentions and his proclamation was dutifully reprinted in the San Francisco Bulletin.
People laughed off Norton's announcment but he took his new role very seriously indeed.
He began to wander the streets of San Francisco in a bright blue uniform with gold-plated epaulets while wearing a beaver hat decorated with a peacock feather and a rosette. Norton was never seen without a cane or umbrella which he would use to punctuate his points as he regaled his subjects on a variety of topics and inspected his empire. Each morning a local flower vendor presented the Emperor with a carnation for his buttonhole and restauranteurs and theatre-owners always had a seat ready if Norton came calling.
The Musical Hall was burnt to the ground before the Emperor could assemble his Representatives but the proclamations continued.
Norton abolished Congress and, when they continued to meet, ordered that the Army should be sent to Washington to forcibly dissolve the assembly.
With the arrival of the Civil War he fired Abraham Lincoln for failing to prevent the conflict and began to wear two different outfits on alternating days.
One was his traditional blue affair but he also began to wear a grey uniform, similar to that of the Confederate Army, to show that he didn't favour either side in the conflict as he was the Emperor of all of America.
He published an edict banning the use of the word 'Frisco' as an abbreviated form of San Francisco. Norton described this as an 'abominable' word with 'no linguistic or other warrant.' Its use would see offenders fined $25 on the spot.
This fine was payable directly into the Imperial Treasury...
Although many of his proclamations appear frivolous or outrageous Emperor Norton seemed determined that if his voice was being heard he should also say things of value.
He petitioned for finance for an aviation pioneer, attempted to improve on the design for railroad switches to make the railways safer and called for a bridge and tunnel to link San Francisco with nearby Oakland.
Norton also attempted to bring religious tolerance and social unity to his empire.
On one occasion he stumbled onto a crowd of rioters about to set upon a group of Chinese workers who they felt had priced them out of work.
Norton stood between the two groups, bowed his head and began to recite the Lord's Prayer. He invited the mob to join him and recited the prayer again.
He then made an impromptu speech on the subject of the virtue of brotherly love, reminded the crowd they were all God's children and ordered them to disperse peacefully.
Rumours abounded of a possible marriage between the Emperor and Queen Victoria.
The fact that she was already married and was unlikely to see the appeal of an eccentric American did little to stop the whispers.
On January the 8th 1880 Emperor Norton collapsed and died on the streets of San Francisco. Despite the widespread belief that he was actually wealthy it became apparent very quickly that the Emperor was virtually a pauper.
His pockets contained five or six dollars in change and his room at his boarding house had only a few more dollars. The room also contained forged telegrams from Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the President of France on Norton's forthcoming engagement to Queen Victoria, some share certificates to a defunct gold mine and a pile of Imperial Bonds.
The bonds had become Norton's chief source of income through their sale to tourists.
Norton also issued his own bank notes which some businesses would accept as payments for his debts. But there was an element of self interest to the businesses that would do this. Norton was a popular character and a genuine tourist attraction. Displaying his notes and bonds on the wall of your shop was certainly of value to the owners. Similarly, the reastaurants and theatres that would welcome Norton made sure to put up large brass plaques announcing the Emperor's approval of their premises. It turned out that even the carnation that Norton was gifted each day was usually a leftover from the day before...
But the Emperor and his dreams lived on. The President and Congress remained in power and 'Frisco' is still a popular word in San Francisco today but some of Norton's more ambitious projects came to fruition.
A bridge was opened that linked San Francisco and Oakland in 1936 and a tunnel for rail services opened in 1974.
In 1939 a plaque was placed on the bridge in honour of Emperor Norton and his proclamation that a 'bridge shall be built.'
On the day of his funeral 30,000 people lined the streets to watch his cortege pass and he was buried at the expense of the city of San Fransico.
In 1934, San Francisco closed all its cemeteries and Emperor Norton's remains were relocated to Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma.He was re-interred with civic and military honors. The San Francisco Municipal band played and the 3rd Battalion of the 159th Infantry fired 3 volleys in salute.
In death Joshua Norton was finally accepted as what he had always seen himself as.
A pioneer, visionary and the Emperor of the United States of America...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mark Edward Bear, Globetrotting Teddy...

The reputation that Mark E. Smith usually enjoys is that of a spiky outsider.
His time as founder and frontman for The Fall has been an ongoing battle with various elements.
Clashes with bandmates, record labels and interviewers have established the idea of Smith as a monstrous figure, whose contrarian attitude has lead to constant friction with those around him.
On more than one occasion he has come to blows with members of his band.
A tour of Australia in 1982 was almost derailed when Smith saw two of his bandmates dancing to 'Rock The Casbah' in a club after a gig one night.
Smith ran onto the dancefloor and began to punch the pair of them, claiming they were 'embarrassing the band' by dancing to the work of The Clash.
In 1992 Smith ended up having an onstage punch-up in New York with the rest of The Fall and woke up the next day in a jail cell to the news that everyone else, except keyboardist Julia Nagle, had quit the band mid-tour.
That would have left Smith more prepared for the situation that arose in California in 2006 when he ended up fighting the lead singer from the band supporting them in the middle of a set. Smith had been arguing with the man for a few days and matters escalated when Smith had a banana or plantain (reports vary) thrown at him mid-set.
He immediately left the stage, removing his jacket and folding it neatly on the floor and pursued his assailant to the parking lot where a scuffle ensued.
He returned to the stage to find that everyone except his wife, keyboardist Elena Poulou, had quit the band, exasperated by Smith's attitude.
For some reason keyboardists seem to find Smith a lot easier to accept...
Smith was furious at what he saw as his betrayal by the rest of the band, particularly as he felt he was the injured party following the fruit-based assault.
He said afterwards:

'A lot of people laughed off what happened because it was a banana that was thrown at me. All I know is that at that point I felt threatened. How was I supposed to react? If that banana had landed an inch lower I'd have lost an eye...'

Smith famously quit Rough Trade Records after not seeing eye to eye with the label on a number of points.
Smith outlined some of the issues that the label had:

'They'd go, the teaboy doesn't like the fact that you slagged off Wah! Heat in this number... They had a whole meeting over the us mentioning guns in a song.
And I'd go, What's it got to do with you? Just sell the record you fuckin' hippy.'

His relationship with the music press has also been tempestuous with interviews ending with Smith getting slapped by Caitlin Moran and attempting to put out a cigarette on James Brown of 'Loaded' magazine.
When asked by Brown how he felt his fans would respond when they read what would be published in 'Loaded' after their scrap Smith, accurately, pointed out to Brown 'Fall fans don't read your magazine...'
However it would seem there is a softer side to Smith as well.
Legend has it that one day, walking through the streets of Salford, Smith saw a little girl crying. He went over to see what was the matter and the girl's mother told him that her daughter had lost her teddy bear.
Smith assured the girl her teddy wasn't lost. He'd seen her teddy the other day and he explained to the little girl that it was actually travelling all around the world.
The teddy had been meaning to write to her but he'd lost her address.
Smith took the girls address and assured her if he saw her teddy he would pass it on so he could get in touch.
Smith then proceeded to write to the girl from all around the world as he toured with The Fall.
He signed the postcards 'Mark Edward Bear' and sent a card a week until the girl was 28 years old...