2012/09/29

The Creation of Miss Lucifer

‘Miss Lucifer’ is a song by Primal Scream from their 2002 album Evil Heat. Evil Heat was the follow up to their critically acclaimed album from 2000 XTRMTR. The latter was a full-throttle chunk of extremely aggressive millennial nihilism. Evil Heat is the natural successor. Reviewers at the time commented on its nigh-on impenetrable walls of electronic production effects but slightly ‘lighter’ tone. Lighter, that is, compared to the likes of ‘Kill all Hippies’ and ‘Swastika Eyes’; which is to say, Evil Heat is still pretty dark. The chanting, Mansonoid ‘Rise’ was originally called ‘Bomb the Pentagon’ until, of course, someone actually did. ‘Skull X’ sounds like the guitar part of ‘The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice’ fed back through a tiny transistor. The songs which are actually slower and quieter like ‘Autobahn 66’ and ‘Some Velvet Morning’ are chilled-out but only in dialated, mainline kind of way. Its no surprise that ‘Autobahn 66’ was a favourite of Tony O Neill when he was writing his contemporary heroin classic Down and Out on Murder Mile (2002). None of these songs, however ‘upbeat’, have anywhere near the good vibes of Screamadelica (1991) (which is not a bad thing, mind you).

And then there’s ‘Miss Lucifer’. Doing the publicity rounds at the time of the album’s release Bobby Gillespie spoke at length about how the track was “electronic garage band future rock n roll”. In essence it’s a short, cocky guitar tune, but thanks to producer Jagz Kooner, its been twisted up and spat out as a spiky electro number. The lyrics, such as they are, go on about somekind of sexy, psudeo-nazi punk dancing about in “leather boots” and a “nazi hat.” And that’s it.



It was the first single off the album; it got some passable reviews and did fairly well for the couple of minutes it spent in the charts. Where things start to get a bit more interesting is with the promo video. It was directed by Dawn Shadforth, (fresh off her success from directing Kylie Minogue) and shows a malevolent, dancing succubus and two rasping familiars hitting the local nightclub. The clip starts with the Miss Lucifer character leaping up into the world from a black, viscous pool at the bottom of some awful looking underground car park. This manifestation doesn’t seem to bother the local boy racers, probably because their car park / nightclub already looks like an urban hellhole. A couple more demons won’t matter that much. Until they start to try and claw their club conquests to death, that is.

Its not clear the extent of the band’s own involvement in the video. They don’t appear and Shadforth is known for editing alone and designing her own choreography. The idea of a sexualised demon bursting into a nightclub is not new; see Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and even Species (1995). However, the imagery of the video is particularly evocative of ‘Havoc’, a short story by James Havoc that first appeared in his collection Satanskin (1992).

Satanskin was the tenth publication from Creation Books and James Havoc was the pseudonym of Creation’s publisher and editor-in-chief, James Williamson. His earlier book Raism (1989) was the first Creation publication and Williamson would go on to write several more using the Havoc moniker. In ‘Havoc’ the title refers to the name of a malevolent, extremely sexually predatory ‘she-vampyre’ who is supplied with meat, “adolescent playmates”, by the unnamed narrator. Havoc is accompanied into this world by “two excoriating hounds Leatherface and Teatcleaver”. The earthly manifestation or “rising” of these three demons is described as a liquid process comparable to that of the ‘Miss Lucifer’ clip:

[…] coated in vixen turmoil, fangs raging at the sun. She had perfected the art of coagulating, becoming as petrified as the reflection of a goat in obsidian or, again, gushing like carious starlight over the spires of primitive, hymnal bone that sheltered mankind. Mastiff fodder. Their raving lips pulped the fruits of sin – Death with three depraved heads.

As with the fluidity of the characters in Shadforth’s clip, the demons are said to have ‘poured in through meshed doors and windows’ and even the actual appearance of Havoc is similar to the creature in the video, with her elongated tongue and eyes that seem ‘drugged, remote, like a reptile doll’. Shadforth’s clip though ends with a rather trite confrontation and retreat. By contrast Havoc’s story is much more interesting as the narrator gradually takes the place of the demon.

It’s easy to make superficial links across different media like this, mainly because neither text is particularly original. The reason why I find this particular echo significant is that it points to the interesting history that exists between Havoc / Williamson, Creation and Primal Scream. Creation Books was originally set up as Creation Press in 1989 by Williamson and Alan McGee, head of Creation Records. The project was intended as an adjunct to label’s primary work in music. The pair did interviews together during the early period and on one occasion spoke to Tony Wilson about books being “the new rock ‘n’ roll”. A tiny snippet of this is visible in the Creation Records documentary, Upside Down (2010) and it can be heard on the album American Pensioners on Ecstasy (1991). Primal Scream signed to Creation in 1985 and the label handled all of their releases until 2000 when McGee closed down the operation. Williamson’s involvement with Creation records prior to 1989 is unclear but according to an interview he gave with Divinity magazine in 1991, it seems that he first met the band in 1986:

They were my second set of friends. The first lot got boring. I ran into them at gigs. I used to see the Pogues a lot too at that period. Primal Scream were my favourite live experience. I used to work with their original press agent Jeff Barratt in a shop in Bristol. Jeff used to put bands on up there and that’s how it all began. We had a shop and the opening party was something like the seventh ever gigs by the original Jesus and Mary Chain.

In the same interview Williamson talks about going on tour with the band. This not such an unreasonable claim given Primal Scream’s notorious proclivity for surrounding themselves with an extended entourage of friends and hangers on. More specifically, according to one or two hints in David Cavanagh’s history of Creation records, My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize (2001), it’s likely that Williamson was involved in an early incarnation of their fan club.

Writing in his introduction to Premature Ejaculations 1989-1999 (2000), a collection of Havoc material, Williamson nods to this period, claiming that an unrealised Havoc project was Loaded (Inflated Egos And Petty Debauchery): Confessions of a Primal Scream Groupie. Obviously, Williamson’s riff upon the conceit of the invented persona suggests that this project was just as imaginary as his fetch, but a few other details are verifiable. In support of the Raism book, Creation Records put out an LP, The Church of Raism (1989), featuring Williamson as Havoc reciting sections of the text backed by a band that featured the Primal Scream rhythm section, Robert Young and Andrew Innes. At the same time Williamson also made a very short Super-8mm film, Crimes Against Pussycat (1989) The title refers to a film mentioned in Ed Sanders’ book about Charles Manson, The Family (1974) and it was used as the title of a text that later appeared in Satanskin. The film is a loose assemblage of white faces and brief S/M shots. There’s no discernable plot but according to Williamson it features “James Havoc as Lucifer and a topless Meredith X as ‘concubine to the pig kingdom’”. Also in the film is Bobby Gillespie as ‘Gilles de Rais’. According to Jack Sergeant, Crimes Against Pussycat was not shown publically until 1999 and its only just become available online.

The combination of Lucifer and Gilles de Rais is typical of the ‘trangressive’ style that Creation managed to articulate within the space of their first few publications. ‘Raism’ is a direct reference to Gilles de Rais, the nobleman associated with Joan of Arc who became the historical source of the Bluebeard legend and subsequent research interest of Georges Bataille. In 2005 Creation published Dark Star, an anthology chronicling the crimes of de Rais. When speaking of Lucifer Williamson doesn’t mean this in a Miltonic sense, but he’s referring instead to Luciferian persona of Mick Jagger, a la Performance (1970), ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and by association Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972/1980). Divinity picked up on this personal, professional and symbolic ambience:

What Kenneth Anger was to the Rolling Stones, James Havoc is to Primal Scream […] Anger was a kind of non-aligned dark muse (similar to Manson’s lurid links with the Beach Boys) and Havoc’s relationship with Bobby Gillespie and Creation records’ ecstatic head honcho Alan McGee has all the trappings of just such a warped symbiosis

The partnership with McGee didn’t last long and by 1992 Creation Press had become the ‘globally distributed’ Creation Books. Under the almost exclusive editorship of Williamson, the company has, to date, published on a consistent series of obsessions: horror, sex, decadence and rock music in which Anger, Manson and Dennis Hopper all make regular appearances. In Havoc’s writing and that of his court scribe Stephen Barber a distinctive register appeared that covered these themes in a language of terminal ecstasy, solar impulses and incandescent velocity. Their 2004 / 2005 catalogue was emblazoned with a brief list of favourite words that could be taken as something akin to a company manifesto: “Peace, Love, Harmony, Ecstasy, Velocity, Atrocity, Creation”.

Primal Scream of course went onto cultivate a slow-burning superstardom coupled with a successive process of reinvention. What remained throughout their work though was a similar sloganeering lyrical style, shot through with comparable imagery and a parallel emphasis on the shadow side of the 1960s. In addition to the content of Evil Heat, Screamadelica features references to Roky Erickson and The Wild Angels (1966) whilst Vanishing Point (1996) was an extended homage to Richard Sarafian's 1971 end-of-the-sixties road trip of the same name.

Creation Books and Primal Scream emerged from the same potent stew of literary and cultural references. Whilst the latter has far outstripped the success of the former, the shade of Williamson / Havoc remains visible throughout their career. Pull back the veneer of mainstream success and the signposts of this particular underground origin continue to be active. To turn to a Williamson-esque phrase, both projects explore the incandescent velocity of the terminal sixties.


Very special thanks to Calum Iain at http://kvlt-kvltvre.blogspot.co.uk/ for providing a copy of the Divinity interview.




2012/09/17

Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Trocchi and Olympia Press




Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was first published by Maurice Girodias’s Paris based Olympia Press in 1955 and upon release received overwhelmingly negative reviews. Regular customers wrote to Girodias asking ‘why are you publishing junk like this?’. Others stated, ‘You’re giving your self a bad name’; ‘Trash like this is a sheer waste of time’; ‘any more like the last one and you can strike my name from your list’. In contrast to the moral outcry which was to greet the novel following Graham Greene’s positive comments in the Times Literary Supplement, these early readers were not expressing outrage in response to Lolita’s alleged pornographic content. Instead, they were complaining that the novel was not pornographic enough; as an apparently transgressive book concerning a seductive teenage nymphet it was simply disappointing and failed to live up to its promise.


Olympia Press exerted a major influence on post-war avant-garde writing translating and publishing a wide range of high-calibre European writing. In collaboration with the literary review Merlin, Olympia published work by Beckett, Genet and Bataille, amongst others. Their primary source of revenue however, came from the production of original pornography, the ‘Traveller’s Companion’ series of ‘d.b.’s’ or ‘dirty books’. In addition to accepting completed manuscripts, Girodias would contract writers to quickly compose novels based upon pre-existing outlines which would then be sold to a readership of American expatriates, soldiers in Paris on the GI bill and an English contingent of ‘lonely men and repressed husbands’. It was this lucrative audience who reacted so badly to Lolita. Two authors whose work they celebrated, however, were Frances Lengel and Carmenicita De Las Lunas. These were both pseudonyms used by Merlin editor Alexander Trocchi who produced a number of novels and translations for Olympia between 1953 and 1956. The most successful of these was Helen and Desire written in 1954 and based upon John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Nabokov diagnosed the particular marketplace expectations which contributed to the success of Helen and Desire and early failure of Lolita in his 1956 afterword, ‘On a Book entitled Lolita’. He claims that as a mode of writing pornography connotes ‘mediocrity, commercialism and certain strict rules of narration’. ‘Obscenity’, he argues, ‘must be mated with banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoyment has to be entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation which demands the traditional word for direct action upon the individual’. This aphrodisiac effect is compared to what Nabokov sees as the function of Lolita, and the primary role of fiction, to ‘afford’ the reader ‘aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere connected with other states of being where art, (curiosity, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm’. In establishing this separation, Nabokov enacts what Susan Sontag identifies as one of the key arguments involved in any ‘mutually exclusive definition of pornography and literature’, in that pornography’s ‘single-minded address to the reader…proposing to arouse them sexually is at odds with the tranquil, detached involvement evoked by genuine art.’ Nabokov moves further in his argument when describing what he terms ‘the nerves’ of his novel. These are details such as ‘the class list at Ramsdale School, Charlotte saying ‘waterproof’ and Lolita in slow motion advancing upon Humbert’s gifts’ which are termed ‘the secret points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the novel is plotted.’ We are told that these and other scenes ‘will be skimmed over, or never even reached by those who begin reading the book under the impression that it is something along the lines of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.’

The image of Nabokov ‘plotting’ his novel and his simulation of the consumer of pornography signposts an implicit narratological distinction in which pornographic writing operates primarily at the level of story in order to achieve the direct communication of sexual material with no additional intention. In contrast, the artistry of fiction occurs in the manner in which narrative material (which may or may not be of a sexual / erotic nature) is handled, organised and distributed through the text. Girodias mirrored this interpretation in his instructions to contracted writers. Olympia author Iris Owens stated that novels were requested to be ‘brutally frank’ and writers were discouraged from using parody or any other form of literary self-consciousness which would have had a ‘detumescent effect upon the expectant reader’. Linda Williams reinforces this emphasis upon the direct, visceral response terming pornography a ‘body genre’ which operates to create an intense physical reaction on the part of the viewer or reader. Similarly, Beatrice Faust states that it always aims ‘to record rather than to understand or to interpret’;

‘pornography documents sexual activity. It does not attempt to create fine prose beautiful images or craftsmanship. If written it is full of clich├ęs, when filmed or photographed it neglects exposure and editing and other niceties because the technique only needs to be good enough to yield an unambiguous record. The main priority is recording the action, not the quality of that record, it never rises above reporting.’

Trocchi’s text initially appears to closely correspond with this position. It is structured around what Nabokov would term a ‘crescendo’ of sexual scenes with new variations and combinations’ as Helen moves through a series of international encounters. These scenes are rendered in graphic, occasionally clinical detail. In addition, the novel is built upon the motif of a ‘found’ manuscript; Helen’s written journal. This is presented to the reader alongside several interpolated letters from ‘Major Pierre Javet to his friend, Captain Jacques Dacaeur of the French Garrison at Mascara, Algeria’. This paratextual framing creates the sense that the collated document is less a novel concerning the character Helen than it is evidence highlighting the results of an investigation on the part of the two writers. Javet appears to have scanned the manuscript for markers of ‘real geographical reference’ (p.87) and states that much of the ‘information’ offered by the text has been ‘corroborated’ (p.88). A degree of transparency is attributed to the document as there is assumed to be a line of correspondence existing between signifier and signified. Javet assumes that the various markers and signposts can lead the reader directly to Helen as originary referent. Trocchi appears to be amplifying the explicit nature of his descriptions by superimposing upon the narrative of sexual interactions the teasing possibility of additional contact and connection.

In contrast to this narrative logic of revealing, discovery and unveiling, Lolita ‘transcends the genre of pornography’ as outlined by Nabokov through the deployment of Humbert’s elliptical and transformative narrative voice. We are mercifully spared a ‘detailed account’ his apparent ‘seduction’ by Lolita an omission which Humbert attributes to his lack of concern with ‘so-called sex’, the ‘animality which anybody can imagine’. Instead, his interest lies with ‘fixing’ the ‘perilous magic of nymphets’; a process of identification, which as the early description of a Girl Scout photograph indicated, requires the discerning eye of ‘the artist, the madman or a creature of infinite melancholy’. Away from a consideration of the provocative aspect of Nabokov’s novel, we may question the taboo subject matter of this gaze but in relation to the interpretations of pornographic writing thus far highlighted, we see that Nabokov provides us with more than the objective viewpoint of the reporter. Humbert’s creative observation pinpointing ‘the deadly demon among the wholesome children’ indicates a perspective very much removed from what Trocchi highlights as Helen’s voracious receptivity, her continual anxiety to ‘record everything, to break through the civilised shell of expression’.

Having said this, Trocchi’s polarised position in relation to Nabokov is not entirely unambiguous. Helen’s role as recorder appears to position the text in the tradition of the uncensored confession, similar to the novel’s ur-text, Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Cleland’s narrator in the opening ‘First letter, part one’ states that in writing she aims for ‘truth, stark naked truth’ and that she will ‘not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze wrapper on it but paint situations as they actually rose to me in nature’. Here it is the ‘truth’, the material recorded which is communicated in an uninhibited way. The statement in Trocchi’s text is similar, however it is Helen, the ‘I’ who is attempting to ‘break through the civilised shell of expression’ as a result of producing the record. It does not seem that Helen wants to create a transgressive document but instead uses the record to evade her own entry into representation It becomes a self-supplement behind which she disappears rather than a means to create an accurate indexical marker of her own identity and actions. Critics such as Clive Bloom, Steven Marcus and Gary Day have read the type of narrative investigations initiated by Javet as indicative of how pornographic writing appears to offer the reader a perspective of objectifying mastery. Helen’s desire for disappearance her intention to ‘sink finally and be absorbed’ by her most ‘archaic part…once the record is complete and the communication made’, problematises this approach. Trocchi shows and then denies the novel’s internal reader the primary object of desire thereby foregrounding what Bloom calls pornography’s ‘sleight of hand’, the manner in which ‘it allows the illusion of power as it fantasises away that power making the reader totally open to the objects they may never posses as it tricks them with their own essence.’

Girodias conceptualised pornography as an escapist mode of writing, an ‘outsider’ literature which provided an alternative to the other directed narcosis of ‘the repressive Anglo-Saxon world’. Although initially appearing significantly opposed, we see that the writings of both Trocchi and Nabokov question this role. Trocchi in particular seeks to dislodge the pornographic text from its position of alterity. As highlighted, this occurs not through a rejection or denial of its features as with Nabokov, but through a critique of the apparent escapism offered to the reader. In a 1954 Merlin essay, ‘Words and War’, Trocchi speaks of ‘the east / west deadlock today in which every pronouncement is underrun by the stubborn implication that the statements and intentions of the other side are wrong / evil’. This ‘political deadlock’ we are told finds expression culturally in what Trocchi calls ‘absolutist aesthetic theories’. It is the role of the writer, working through ‘various cultural media’ to ‘counter’ such theories. This aim I would argue is manifested in Helen and Desire a novel which neither celebrates nor demonises pornography but works to show the reader a number of the genre’s mechanisms. From this perspective, Trocchi’s argument carries a covert critique of Nabokov’s comments on pornography as his attempt at generic separation and transcendence could be seen to embody an aesthetic absolutism. Trocchi would argue that Nabokov’s astute standpoint is essentially counterproductive as whilst highlighting a problematic mode of writing, little is done to challenge or change this situation. To express this distinction in another way, when writing, Nabokov rejects the world of pornography leaving the consumer to wallow in his own carnality, whereas Trocchi, to borrow one of Nabokov’s own images, shows the ape his cage.



Residual



“What?” he asked.

“I’d like you to have the word ‘residual’ looked up.

“Residual?”

“R-e-s-i-d-u-a-l”

Naz tapped a message into his mobile, then stood with me watching the cars turn and cut. His eyes, still sunk, glowed darkly. After a while he said:

“We’ll need to disappear afterwards”

“Disappear?” I said. I looked up at the sky. It was blue.

It was a bright, clear early autumn day. “How can we disappear?”

“Get out. Cover our tracks. We should remove all traces of our activities here, and get ourselves and all the re-enactors well out of the picture.”

“Where can we all go?” I asked.

“It’s very complicated,” Naz said. “There are several…”

Just then his phone beeped. He scrolled through his menu and read:

“Of or pertaining to that which is left – e.g. in mathematics.”

“Left over like the half,” I said. “A shard.”

“In physics,” Naz continued, “of what remains after a process of evaporation; in law, that which – again – remains of an estate after all charges, debts, etc. have been paid. Residuary legatee: one to whom the residue of an estate is paid. Resid…”

“Accrued,” I said.

“What?” Naz asked.

“Go on,” I said.

“Residual analysis: calculus substituting method of fluxions, 1801. Residual heat of a cooling globe, 1896. Residual error in a series of observations, 1871.”

“It’s because the time of year has changed but that’s not how he used it.”

“Who?” asked Naz.

“The short councillor,” I said. “He used it like a… you know, like a thing. A residual.”

“A noun,” said Naz. “What short councillor?”.



---from Tom McCarthy, Remainder [2005](London: Alma Books, 2006), pp.250-251.