Sunday, 31 January 2010

Crowley: A Rotten Tooth?

Heroin, opium, ether and anhalonium addiction; deportation from France and Sicily; anti-Semitism; bankruptcy; bestiality; gonorrhea; sadomasochistic tendencies; Buddhism; a family brewing business; police investigations; scarlet women and mountaineering: Aleister Crowley wasn’t a bad climber. Indeed some would argue, his interest in chess and mountaineering were his only redeeming features.
Crowley climbed in British mountains, in the Alps and in the Himalayas… and at Eastbourne, where he was a real pioneer – making ‘epic’ first ascents of routes he named, Devils Chimney, Crowley’s Crack, The Needle, and The Tooth - on the White cliffs of Beachy Head. It’s clear that he had a special affection for chalk.
This is Crowley:
“The fantastic beauty of the cliffs of Beachy Head can never be understood by anyone who has not grappled with them… my association with the Head possesses a charm, which I have never known in any other district of England…I had the particularly delightful feeling of complete originality…On Beachy Head I was the only one – I had invented an entirely new branch (bristle even; read on!) of the sport.”
A soldier attempting to climb Beachy Head with a bicycle, 1898.

His account of actual routes on the Head (in East Sussex, remember) was contributed by some strange quirk of choice to the Scottish Mountaineering club Journal. With his friend Gregor Grant he climbed The Tooth and The Needle - the fabulous pinnacles of the Devil’s Chimney - on two weekends in July 1894.
Here's The Tooth, but spot the climber?
And here’s The Great Beast again:
After carefully reconnoitering The Needle, which lay beyond, and pronouncing it impossible… we then proceeded to do The Tooth, the summit of which, towered above me in all its rottenness. On this Grant  ‘fixed himself’- a humorous term we sometimes employ – and I went down the ridge into the Gash, ‘fixed myself', and began my steps…Five times I tried to cross The Gash, but with no decent handhold it is hardly to be expected that one can pull one’s self up to a vertical wall. One chance however, remained. I scooped a hole (in the soft chalk) out in the east face, inserted my chin and hauled. I had not shaved for a day or two, so was practically enjoying the advantages of face-spikes”. With this maneuver, Crowley not only avoided a close shave, he invented a new piece of climbing equipment: the chin-crampon.
The Needle was conquered. However, as it is not ‘built for two’ (and as everybody knows: you should never share needles), Crowley’s companion, much to his disappointment, had to stay on The Tooth.

Crowley’s avoiding a close shave through being unshaven reminds me of the time Baron Munchausen had to single-handedly get himself out of a swamp. The Baron had fallen into a swamp – was literally, up to his neck in it and sinking fast. But this fast sinking initiated some fast thinking. Munchausen lifted himself out of the swamp - single handedly - by pulling his own hair.
There’s also a Munchausen tale about a whale: a whale who swallowed an anchor and died of a swollen tongue. And don’t giant needles harpoon whales? And how about all those photographs in Boys Own books: of smiling men, sitting on teeth, in the jaws of a dead leviathan?
And thank goodness ‘floating whale theatres’ were never launched. The absurd idea (coinciding with Jarry’s altogether different concept of Theatre of the Absurd) was proposed at the Buffalo fair of 1901 – about the time Crowley was clinging on, by bristled chin, to a tooth on Beachy Head. If the floating whale theatre had been performing off the South Coast of England, and Crowley had fallen, the two great beasts might have met.  What a sublime thought: one Great Beast falling off a tooth, only to fall into the teeth of another great beast. 

Thursday, 28 January 2010

McTonsils: Crowley Coda

I’ve just received a communiqué from a devil-worshiper. He says he can see the head of the diabolist, Aleister Crowley, in one of the tonsils (the inflamed right tonsil - on the left as we look at it).
It is unfortunate that, Aleister Crowley, a man of peculiar and unsavoury reputation, whose biography entitled, ‘The Great Beast’, and whose writings include, ‘White Stains’; ‘A Boyhood in Hell’ and ‘The Book of Lies’, should be in any way associated with a cow-crucifying, pig-pulping, family-friendly, fast-food venture, like McTonsils.
It was even rumoured Crowley ate his own shit: if the Press get their teeth into that, our Big Mouths will be closed before they’ve had a chance to open; and surely it’s a myth that he ate babies? But the Great Beast didn't do much to dispel it: Look at his self-portrait - as a devouring demon; Crowley comes over as the Maternity ward's answer to Dr Shipman.
If this Crowley connection gets out we won’t be able to recruit the staff – the burger vendors to work in the tonsils. It’s one thing, to thrust burgers into cars from tonsils. But when the tonsil resembles the ‘Great Beast’! That's something else entirely: you can't feed young children, dead meat, from the head of (through the mouth of) a baby eater. It’s bad enough having to work – handle meat - in a mouth: but who in their right mind would want to get inside the head of Aleister Crowley?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Pay Lip-Service To McTonsils

I miss Woolworths. I miss the taste of their lips. When I knew the end was neigh – after kissing a ‘good buy’, goodbye - I embalmed (lip-balmed?) a set of their sweet red lips and gave them a funeral. Can you say, ‘a set of lips’? I preserved them in a tiny clear-plastic coffin – appropriated a dental-floss container – and on the day Woolworths ceased trading (January 6th 2009, with 27,000 job losses) I buried the lips down the back of a sofa; a sofa abandoned in the street; a sofa destined for landfill.
I’d never had much trouble with my teeth, but as soon as my lips were sealed, my gums started to bleed! Next thing, I get a mouth ulcer. Now, I don’t believe in coincidence, but a second ulcer sent me out searching for the sofa: but the sofa had gone; parked in its place, a Citroen Picasso.
To all the world I might have looked like I was admiring a Picasso; but I don’t drive - cars leave a nasty taste in my mouth: No, I might have been standing next to a Picasso, but Salvador Dali’s sofa - the thought of sitting on May West’s lips – occupied my mind (behind?).
But it was the lampposts that did it. I looked up at them looming over me, like gigantic toothbrushes. I followed the dental floss (white lines in the road) to the library where I immersed my head in mouths; illustrations of mouths in medical books.
That night, drunk on Listerine (swallowed not gargled), I drew-up plans for a brand new concept in ‘fast food’; a visually-stunning, verbally punning, mouth wateringly cunning new design of ‘drive-in’:  McTonsils Drive-in – Lip-Service areas: Big Mouths to rival Big Macs.
I plan to erect a chain of gigantic, drive-in mouths - situated in service-areas beside Motorways - up and down the land: massive open mouths surrounded by fields; mouths so big you can drive right into them; mouths with teeth that come up out of the road and slash your tires, if you try to drive-off without paying; mouths you can see from the air; mouths with their own abattoirs (way underground, where the stomach would normally be situated). Horses and cows will be herded off the meadows, straight into the mouths;  be processed (masticated?) into burgers, ‘on site’ and within sight, of their parents or offspring, in the very landscape they grew up in: environmentally friendly (smiling?) mouths.
Initial research favors a mouth with inflamed tonsils. Whilst this might put some customers off their red meat, the inflamed tonsil design has the advantage (over the mouth with normal tonsils) in that the inflamed tonsils - situated as they are, either side of the drive-in-ramp of the tongue – are ideally sited to function as food dispensing booths (points-of-sale). The driver will simply pull up at the inflamed tonsil (the tonsils will be manned 24/7, but unlike certain other well-known Burger chains, tonsil-encased-staff will be allowed to wear their own clothes – none of those mandatory dental gowns), wind his/her window down, order their flame-grilled burger, before driving on, through to the exit at the back of the mouth. But here’s the thing: Big Mouths-McTonsil Drive-ins are not only meat dispensers, they’re a carwash to boot. Massive hydraulic toothbrushes the size of lampposts, automatically scrub your Peugeot, Picasso, Clio, Mondeo, or whatever, before you’re vomited onto to the motorway again: another car-full-of-meat heading for a crash.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Walk The Talk

They may have been black and white days, but things were far from clear. I had a slippery relationship with my parents - got into the habit of finishing their sentences (prevented them getting to 'the point'): in the presence of my parents, doing replaced thinking; ‘actions spoke larder (louder, larger?) than words’.

All this ‘doing something visual’ eventually took its toll and I ended up spending a lot of time (and money) under a doctor in Germany (the only country where I didn’t feel bloated). Dr Rusteberg not only treated the cause of my bloating, over time, he became interested in healing the cause of my photographs.

A typical consultation would go something like this: I’d present Rusteberg with a photograph (usually a self-timed, self-portrait) and he’d silently study the image, during which time I wasn’t allowed to say a word. The cue for me to speak came in the form of a windowed envelope; Dr Rusteberg would insert my photograph into a large, used, slit-at-the-sides, windowed envelope. The doctor would then move the photograph around inside the window, examining every inch of the image, until some detail - often small and seemingly insignificant in the photograph, but large and made centre-stage, in the window - was isolated and framed.  Rusterberg was searching for, what Barthes, in Camera Lucida, called, the punctum. This point-of-reference quite often proved to be a 'telling' point-of-departure: Rusteberg, like Telly Savalas (in his song, “If”), understood that a picture’s worth a thousand words.

While good doctor’s ‘window-to-my-world’ technique, proved pivotal in reducing my bloating, it only acted to inflame my nasty habit of finishing other people's' sentences – even Dr Rusteberg’s. I’d presented him with a photograph of my parents ignoring me (my father reading the paper, my mother knitting) as I fell off their house.

In an accompanying image, I'm buttering the house – melting bricks of lard onto the wall with a blowlamp (making for a ‘difficult home’). The doctor moved the window over my blowlamp, before settling on the lard, and said, “It’s time you came down off the fence, you’re walking on a knife-edge; it’s a slippery slope, on the one side sanity…” But I didn’t give Rusteberg chance to finish the sentence; I stepped in and ejaculated, “On the one side sanity: on the other, towels”.

Nowadays I’m of the opinion: far from curing me, those ‘windowed consultations’ with Dr Rusteberg, only served to fan the flames. Within days of my return to England I was attempting to ‘walk the talk’, as it were. I’d swapped the window for a widow (my elderly neighbour, Mrs Sharpe) and any sanity, for towels. I threw Mrs Sharpe a block of lard (she was used to handling lard), it made her feel comfortable in front of the camera – gave her something to do with her hands.

My neighbour might have been a widow without a window, but she had her own ‘take’ on what would make a good photograph. After I’d finished snapping, as I was taking the towels down off the fence, she said, I’m disappointed in you Greg: I thought you were a nice boy? I’ve been stood here with lard, all this time, waiting for you to walk my washing line”.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Doorknobs and Duchamps

Believe it or not an adjoining door – an orifice - connects Marcel Duchamp and Larry Grayson. As we all know, Grayson’s catchphrase was “shut that door” - you can still ‘get it’ on vinyl and DVD; Duchamp too relished wordplay - enjoyed nothing more than a good pun (the night he died, he was reading Alphonse Allais). Duchamp believed naming something transforms it – and would have appreciated Grayson’s wordplay and role-play; both men punned, both camped-it-up, both men played with our perception of doors (doors of perception?).

But first, consider Duchamp’s appropriation of the Mona Lisa (1919). He gave her a beard, moustache (convincingly turning her into a man) and added the inscription L.A.O.O.Q. (pronounced in French as Elle a chaud au cul, ‘she has hot ass’): Grayson would been 'at home' with Duchamp, as Duchamp too had something to say about the opening and shutting of doors.

Much of Duchamp’s oeuvre illustrates the reconciliation of opposites – of contradictory or opposing entities – and perhaps the clearest example of this can be seen in a work simply known as Door: 11 rue Larrey, a fully functioning door Duchamp designed to connect two rooms in the tiny apartment he’d recently moved into in 1927 on the rue Larrey in Paris. This door was located in the corner of the main living area, positioned in such a way as to close the entrance either to the bedroom or the bathroom, but not both at the same time! Duchamp’s Door functions in opposition to the axiom implicit in the common adage “a door must be open or closed”; so if Larry Grayson had found himself in Duchamp’s cramped apartment on 11 rue Larrey, he may well have felt at home, but he couldn’t have “shut that door”.

So where are we? Larry Grayson minces down the rue Larrey, meets Duchamp and is lost for words – can’t “shut that door”; but as one door fails to close, another opens and we’re back outside on the street: Danny La Rue, remember him? After working in a fashion store in Exeter and a stint in the Navy Danny La Rue (1927-2009) had a glittering and glamorous career as one of the most popular and prolific entertainers Britain has ever known; La Rue entertained the Queen, looking like a Queen. In his legendary drag-act La Rue impersonated such diverse female icons as Marlene Deitrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Margret Thatcher. Bob Hope described him as “the most glamorous woman in the world” But clearly, Bob Hope never met Rose Selavy, Marcel Duchamp's alter ego; Rose Selavy (a reconciliation of opposing sexual identities).

A portrait of Duchamp, done-up as Rose Selavy, appeared on a perfume bottle, Belle Haleine, eau de voilette (Beautiful Breath: Veil Water) in 1921. But Duchamp couldn’t have had beautiful breath: he, like me, puffed cigars. But even something as macho, phallic and poking-out as a cigar, can be reconciled (as famine) by a puff.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

See, Rather Than Hear - Funny

Larry Grayson was a camp comedian. He came out of the risqué tradition of ‘Music Hall’, but I encountered him on prime time TV (and once, in real-life) in the 1970’s, where he was a kind of pre-curser to Julian Clary and Graham Norton. His catch-phase, “Ooo shut that door”, made a lasting impression - I can see him saying it now (see, rather than hear – funny!). When he wasn’t demanding doors be shut, Grayson would often make reference to a close friend, a special friend he appeared to live with, named Everard.
We never got to meet Everard and his role in Grayson’s life was somewhat ambiguous - Everard was a bit like Dame Edina’s fashion-designer son, Kenny - his outrageous (sexually implied) exploits were recounted with much innuendo.
I met Larry Grayson once at a band concert. He presented our brass band with a solid-brass horse and cart – some kind of award – I don’t know what we’d done to deserve it?
The concert happened to be our school (or Community College, as it was then known) and after the presentation ceremony Grayson mingled, chatting with the band members. I found myself propped up against the door to the gents clutching my horn, when Grayson appeared in front of me and spoke. It would have been a-dream-come-true if I could have told you, he said, “Ooo open that door”. Or better still - say I’d had the foresight to prop the door to the gents open with the hideous horse and cart - “Shut that door”. But Grayson said neither of these things: he looked me up and down, before fixing his gaze on my glimmering horn, and said, “Give us a blow”.
Strangest (sexiest?) thing about Grayson though was his address – the name of his road. He was born and lived all his life in a God-forsaken place called Nuneaton; Grayson and his invisible friend, Everard, lived together in a big white mansion on a road called ‘The Longshoot’!

The Longshoot Hotel was formally the Crossroads Motel. The Longshoot Hotel (it’s still there) acted as the external double for the 1970’s soap opera, Crossroads - the Midland’s answer to Coronation Street; and, Noel Gordon aside, the hotel was the most convincing actor in it! I can still hum the theme-tune to this Mother of all soaps.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Frozen Tune

I can see myself frozen forever in her laughter-lines; my arse-flier morphs into the arse emerging from her cheek on the album cover: my backside's her sunny-side. Very Bosse-de-Nage (Dr Faustroll’s buttock-faced baboon). But what’s the connection between cockpit and trumpet?
I’ll post my flier in the Bye Bye Blues album-cover and take it to Oxfam, leave it (the buttock-face connection) for someone else to discover.
I used to play in a brass band - played tenor horn. When it was this cold (minus 14 last night!) you’re spit – the spit that invariably collects in the instrument’s labyrinth of pipes - would make a terrible rattling noise when you played. You’d have a horrible job, would have to unscrew the valves and drain your horn of spit. I must have secreted gallons of spit on war memorials; we played around the war memorial on Armistice Day, at Christmas and for Lent. Led a double-life as a teenager; spent most of my spare time in the bandstand in the park; half the time in a blue uniform, blowing down a tube; the other half (when the band had gone), inhaling glue from a plastic bag, with a different band of friends. In the brass band I played the tenor horn, but in the school orchestra, I played the French horn. The strangest thing about the French horn, you play it with your fist thrust in the opening of the instrument: you become (feel) ‘part horn’. But my French horn also became ‘part me’.
When I wasn’t in the bandstand, blowing octaves or inhaling adhesives, I was out climbing on the rocks - jamming my fists in cracks; or, as you can see from the ICA flier, jamming my whole body into cracks.  One of the effects of hand-jamming is a build-up of calluses.
When playing the horn I got into the habit (a nervous habit - exams, exams!) of picking the calluses off the palm of my hand - my hidden-hand stuffed inside the horn; eventually the calluses would become detached and get eaten by the horn. If I inhaled, as occasionally happens, I'd swallow my own calluses: and eating yourself is wrong! Worse still, the horn was the property of the school, and horns live a long time; some poor child (generations of children since) could well have eaten my dead skin. Imagine the headlines: “Child horn prodigy chokes on hand-callus – school closed – horn operated on - genetic fingerprints taken – DNA tests ongoing – the police will find their man”.
Frozen tune: Baron Munchausen has a good horn story. He’s traveling by coach and horses (the post coach) through Russia, it's a freezing winter’s night: I travelled post, and finding myself in a narrow lane, bid the postillion give a signal with his horn, that other travelers might not meet us in the narrow passage. He blew with all his might; but his endeavors were in vain, he could not make the horn sound, which was unaccountable, and rather unfortunate, for soon after we found ourselves in the presence of another coach coming the other way… After we arrived at the inn my postillion and I refreshed ourselves: he hung his horn on a peg near the kitchen fire; I sat on the other side. Suddenly we heard a tereng! tereng! teng! teng! We looked round, and now found the reason why the postillion had not been able to sound his horn; his tunes were frozen up in the horn, and came out now by thawing, plain enough, and much to the credit of the driver; so that the honest fellow entertained us for some time with a variety of tunes, without putting his mouth to the horn-"The King of Prussia's March," "Over the Hill and over the Dale," with many other favorite tunes; at length the thawing entertainment concluded, as I shall this short account of my Russian travels.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Sound Of Music

I heard it long before I saw it, the sinister-looking tree house. I followed my ears out of the wood; emerged in a field: no people, no horn; just a tree house trumpeting-out Mozart’s horn concertos (I hung around and listened to all four). I’d like to think it was the ghost of Dennis Brain; that he’d been hidden away up there – playing endlessly - since his fatal car crash early one Sunday morning in September 1957. Brain was on his way from Edinburgh to London (to play in the Proms), when his car skidded off the road and hit an oak tree near Barnet: Brain’s French horn was found undamaged on the passenger seat. It was after first hearing Brain that I decided to learn the horn.

The sound of music; coming from the tree house, reaching out over the fields: no people. Say I sent these instructions to an illustrator; how would he draw “the sound of music”? As black notes, crotchets and semi-quavers – flying out of the tree house - ascending into the blue? If he were a collage-artist he might use black-tights to represent notes: black-tights caught on power-lines.

I’ve found a drawing for ‘An Office Duet’, but I’m no nearer to finding out why I made the photograph.

If you’d never seen a tree – didn’t know what a tree looked like, and you came across a tree-stump: would you ever be able to imagine a tree? And say there was a vinyl record sitting on the tree-stump, and you’d never seen a record, let alone heard a record – you had no concept of a record: could you in your wildest dreams imagine such a dead-looking thing could sing? - that something so thin and manufactured and black could contain anything so human and alive, as a voice?

I once did a performance at the ICA called, “The Death Of Vinyl: The Birth Of Olestra”. Olestra is a fat substitute (used in fat-free Pringles etc…) produced by Proctor And Gamble; an apt name for the company – you’d soon be under the proctologist if you consumed enough of this 'wonder-fat' - one of the many side effects of olestra is anal seepage! A condition that further boosts demand for another Proctor and Gamble product: Pampers.

Friday, 1 January 2010

An Office Duet

I used to see a woman, but I never saw her hands. Bunny wore bright- yellow washing-up gloves - all the time - everywhere. We used to meet in Peter Jones’ café, where she’d suck her coffee through a straw and speak in a whisper; she thought the lightshades were listening to our conversation! One time, there was an old man (about her age) seated with his back to us at a nearby table. He was bald, and like many men of his age, somewhat shrunken - withered, to the extent that his jutting-out ears looked gigantic in proportion to the rest of him. Bunny stared at the back of his head for some time before turning to me and whispering “Look at the size of his ears, do you think he’s musical?” 

I was reminded of Bunny (she died a couple of years ago) when recently, and quite by accident, I came across an old photograph of mine: Roy and Alicia: a duet. The problem is, I have no recollection of taking the photograph, and even less of an idea as to why I took it!

What do I know? It was a long time ago. What can I remember? Their names: Roy and Alicia. The date: 1984? What was our relationship? We worked in the same building, beyond that I hardly knew them at all. What did they do? No idea, except they shared an office: their job had nothing at all to do with mine. Why did I photograph them? I only photographed them on two occasions: the colour portrait was done as part of my job. One of my tasks was to photograph everyone who worked in the building. The photographs were for a notice-cum- picture board, hung in the entrance to the building.

Of the torn, monochrome image: I’m certain that I didn’t just walk into their office, find them thus engaged and take a snap – a la Winogrand. I can only assume I asked – whilst I was taking their ‘official’ portrait’ - if I could direct (conduct?) Roy and Alicia performing a photograph, an image I’d composed for a duet: Roy, label licking, accompanied by Alicia on the Smith Corona? Roy was on warfarin (rat poison). One of the side effects of warfarin, are prolonged, painful erections. I doubt whether Roy divulged this fact though. Alicia, who drove a red Alfa Romeo - an Alpha sud - lived alone, except for her dog, who’d occasionally accompany her to work (see the colour portrait). The only other thing I know: Alicia had some kind of problem with her hands – they kept clawing-up uncontrollably - and the condition was getting worse.

I must have learned this information about Roy and Alicia during the ‘duet’ session. But what I don’t know (have no recollection whatsoever of) is: why did I want to take (fake?) such a photograph in the first place? What was my intention? The scissor markings seem to indicate that I was going to make some kind of a montage: I’ve never made a photomontage! The image is so unlike anything else I’ve ever concocted, and studying it now (after 26 years), I’ve absolutely no idea - beyond the obvious improvised dualism - what it’s about. My journals of the period show no drawings, plans or notes relating to the duet; but the contact-sheet of the shoot is interesting: all thirty-six exposures – the entire film – show the same scene, the duet – photographed from one fixed viewpoint. Furthermore, all the photographs are identical; Roy and Alicia must have held the pose for 36 photographs!

Holding the same pose? licking the post? hiding the photograph? I’m no nearer the truth. The only thing that makes any kind of sense is the record-cover I chose to store Roy and Alicia in, all those years ago: Miki and Griff’s ‘I want To Stay Here’ (Roy and Alicia stayed there, undiscovered for a quarter of a century); a couple within a couple; a hidden relationship.