Witch Switch

Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (1998)

The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:

Theodor Kittelsen, Sorgen (1894-95)

But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:

Crippled Lucifer (detail)

Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?

Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:

Crippled Lucifer (original cover)

Crippled Lucifer (figure-and-snowscape mirrored)

I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.

When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.

I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:

Sorrow (original)

Sorrow (mirrored)

The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.

Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:

Sunn O))) in black robes

In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:

Sunn O))) photo (mirrored)

I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.

Freeze Please Me

“Ich habe unter meinen Papieren ein Blatt gefunden,” sagte Goethe, “wo ich die Baukunst eine erstarrte Musik nenne.” — Gespräche mit Goethe, Johann Peter Eckermann (1836)

• “I have found a sheet among my papers,” said Goethe, “where I call architecture a frozen music.” — Conversations with Goethe

N.B. The aphorism “Architecture is frozen music” has also sometimes been attributed to Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) and Ganopati Sthapat (1927-2011).

Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

The toxic title of this paronomastic post is a key reference to core Beatles album Please Please Me (1963).

Golden Goat-God’s Gateway

Although this blog stands strongly and sternly against the use of any drugs weaker than water (which is all of ’em), some interesting art has been inspired by those weaker drugs. The front cover of Bongzilla’s Gateway (2002) is a good and skilful example. Please be aware, however, that smoking grass is more likely to induce psychosis than turn you into a golden goat-god. Especially coz artificially strengthened varieties of grass are not what Gaia intended. (dot dot dot)

Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Yes, the horns on the album-cover are those of a bovid, not a caprid, but I like to think of the image being that of a goat-god rather than a bull-god.

Toxic Turntable #21

Currently listening…

• Acid Rainbows, Hammer of Goth (1992)
• Greenlandic Three, Danish Daze (1992)
• LeuKoToMy, You’ve Gone Harpist (2020)
• Johan Zunder, Nine Pines (Remix) (2012)
• Decurrent-CDX, World Warp III (1988)
• Oswestry Quintet, Wrekin Heaves (2009)
• Yim Pamuvb, Iaqahhu (2008)
• Kinaesthetica, Plinnit (1988)
• Alchemia, Xenotrope / Quagmire (1994)
• Vanadium Sorceress, Vanadu (2001)
• Freaky Bulbs, Under the Serene (1995)
• Gaccub Liuoba, Pvjuyo s 1980 (1979)
• Twa Corbies, Bonnie Blue Een (1991)
• Tania By Torchlight, La Reine Vous Voit (1999)
• Knights of Viriconium, Naphtha Regimen (2007)
• Uzegor, Ec’ac Gqa Ihtku (2003)
• Gwen Lebrun, Whispersong (2000)
• Quentin’s Figs, Laddie Chutterly’s Liver (1997)
• Two Million Lightning-Bugs, Went Zooming (1985)
• Georg Friederich Händel, Organ Concerti (1993)
• Hank Yorpen, Ja! Licht und Nagel! (1998)

Previously pre-posted:

Toxic Turntable #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11#12#13#14#15#16#17#18#19#20

Loose the Juce

Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer live on stage

Pre-Post-Previously Post-Pre-Posted

Decibelle — Amber Valentine with her amplifiers

Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Well, it’s your actual double entendre, innit.

Toxic Turntable #20

Currently listening…

• Ultravirago, Force Majeure (1979)
• Vuo Taş, Uorjao (1963)
• Plotting with Heini, Flaxen (2004)
• Eye Sway Tiger, Zoo of Deleuze (1984)
• Ecuador Goetica, Outslew (2008)
• Locked Zodiacal Nailbar, Zodiac III (2009)
• Arkham Daylight, It’s A Given (1981)
• Crastic, Cool Your Jets (2014)
• VII Blades, Oceanic Panic (1981)
• Imperil, La Japonesa (1997)
• Quicksilver Gothlings, Paolo il Lupo (1994)
• Philip Molyneaux Orchestra, File under Fog (1959)
• Ocean of Ice, My Peony (2007)
• Hiq Nsujuir, G’Ykuq Iw EP (2001)
• Quail in Morse, Peel Session 2 (1989)
• Mví Yíjó, Ajax + Ulysses (1990)
• Whipt Quiff, Under the Sward (2018)
• Joseph Bastermoe, God Be With (1984)
• Domenico Scarlatti, Harpsichord Sonatas (1986)
• Msakimoh, Pvalroh (1996)

Previously pre-posted:

Toxic Turntable #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11#12#13#14#15#16#17#18#19

Maximal Moz

Morrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, ed. Paul A. Woods (Plexus 2016)

It’s very Mozzean that one of the most Mozzean things in this book is marginal. That is, it’s not in the interviews or anything Moz himself says: it’s in the mini-bios of the “Contributors” section at the end of the book. For example, Dave McCullough interviewed Moz for the long-defunct Sounds in 1983. And I thought it was a joke when McCullough’s mini-bio ended with “His current whereabouts are unknown.”

But it happened again for Shaun Philips, who interviewed Moz, again for Sounds, in 1988: “His
current whereabouts are unknown.” And again for Elissa Van Poznak, who interviewed Moz for The Face in 1984: “Her current whereabouts are unknown.” And that sentence is the last in the book, apart from the acknowledgements. What happened to these three journalists? They had lives and careers, friends and family. Their writing was once regularly read by many thousands or even millions of people. And then read again in this book. But “Their current whereabouts are unknown.” They’ve dropped out of sight, even maybe out of life, and the editor of the book, Paul A. Woods, hasn’t been able to find out what happened to them. Not even in this ultra-connected internet age.

That’s very Mozzean. You could even wonder whether they’ve succumbed to a belated form of the Curse of Moz, or the career-failure that strikes bands after Morrissey praises them or takes them on tour as support. Or you could wonder whether, like Morrissey himself for so long, they were struggling with depression and an urge-to-self-annihilation even as they achieved professional success. You’d certainly expect the first publication of this book in 2007 to have flushed them out. But it didn’t. Nor did the second publication in 2011. But perhaps the third publication did in 2016.

I don’t know and I’d rather not know. I like the Mozzeanism of three missing journalists. And I liked this book too. A lot. Obviously a lot of other people did too, or it wouldn’t have been printed three times. But I suspect it won’t be re-printed again. Why not? Coz of Moz on Muz. Guardian-readers were not pleased by Morrissey’s comments on Muslims and Muslim immigration after the Manchester bombing in 2017 or by his support for Brexit and the “far-right” For Britain party. You can get T-shirts now that say “Shut Up, Morrissey!” and there have been a string of anathemas and excommunications issued at Moz from woke bastions like the Quietus (where bad English goes to die). Guardian-readers feel deeply betrayed by Morrissey, who once said all the right things about economics, animal rights, vegetarianism, and the evilness of the Conservative and Republican parties – as you can read here.

But you’ll also read here about disturbing early signs – or sounds – that Moz wasn’t prepared to buzz with the hive-mind on everything. After he began his solo career in 1988 he released songs with titles like “The National Front Disco” and “Bengali in Platforms”, the latter of which opined “Life is hard enough when you belong here.” But there was enough ambiguity and authorial distance in the songs for him to deny plausibly that he was being racist or sympathizing with racism. And he still had a whole heap of good-will from the Smiths, so he survived the first campaign to cancel him and came back as strong as ever.

Well, the good-will has disappeared now. Moz has burned all his bridges to the Guardian and I don’t think there’s any chance of this book being re-re-re-printed. Indeed, I bet a lot of former fans have thrown out their copies or even ritually burned them. It’s their loss, because Morrissey is one of the wittiest, most interesting, and most intelligent interviewees who ever lived. As the back cover says of an earlier edition of Morrissey: In Conversation:

It’s proof, lest we forget, that in terms of great copy, Morrissey has rarely been anything other than interview gold. – Q magazine

But that quote itself needs trimming of its Guardianist fat: “It’s proof, lest we forget, that Morrissey has rarely been anything other than interview gold.” Moz himself is rarely guilty of saying more than he needs to. He’s both articulate and acute. It’s hard to believe that he came from a big working-class Irish family in Manchester and spent years on the dole after being shunted into a bad school by failing his eleven-plus. If he’d passed that selective exam he would have gone to a better school and most probably on to university. But I think university would have been bad for him. He probably wouldn’t have had a career in music and he certainly wouldn’t have become the Morrissey that millions of people either love or loathe.

But he would have become someone who habitually said “in terms of” and “prior to”. Alas, he does sometimes say “in terms of” in later interviews here, but it’s a minor blemish and I read everything in the book. Except – speak of “in terms of” and the windbag appears – Will Self’s “The King of Bedsit Angst Grows Up” from 1995. As usual with Self, I began losing the will to live half-a-paragraph in and gave up. If it had been a proper interview rather than Self blotivating on themes Mozzean, I might have persevered. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Most of the other pieces were proper interviews, but either way I always persevered. You can read how Moz’s ideas and allegiances changed. And you can also see how Moz himself changed, because there are some good photos too. I bet some of the interviewers now regret their association with Morrissey and their appearance in this book, but that adds to its appeal for me. Moz has bitten the hands that typed about him and they’ll never forgive him for it. But they were warned:

Are you a bad man?

Only inwardly. (“The Importance of Being Morrissey”, Jennifer Nine for Melody Maker, August 1997)

And here’s more from the man himself:

What else could you do [besides perform]?

Nothing. I’m entirely talentless… it was all a great big accident – I just came out of the wrong lift. (“Mr Smith: All Mouth and Trousers”, Dylan Jones for i-D magazine, October 1987)

What does your music do to your fans?

Well, they wear heavy overcoats and stare at broken lightbulbs. That’s the way it’s always been for me! (“Wilde Child”, Paul Morley for Blitz, April 1988)

“I often pass a mirror,” he confides, loving the attention he’s getting, “and I glance into it slightly, and I don’t really recognize myself at all. You can look into a mirror and wonder – where have I seen that person before? And then you remember. It was at a neighbour’s funeral, and it was the corpse.” (“Wilde Child”)

What was it like playing live again when you appeared in Wolverhampton in December [1988]?

It was nice. I did enjoy it. It was nice to be fondled.

Was it good to be back on stage again?

No, it was just nice to be fondled. (“Playboy of the Western World”, Eleanor Levy, Q magazine, January 1989)

My perfect audience are skinheads in nail varnish. And I’m not trying to be funny, that really is the perfect audience for me. But I am incapable of racism, and the people who say I am racist are basically just the people who can’t stand the sight of my physical frame. I don’t think we should flatter them with our attention. (“Morrissey Comes Out (For a Drink)”, Stuart Maconie for New Musical Express, May 1991)

I would rather eat my own testicles than reform the Smiths – and that’s saying something for a vegetarian. (“The Last Temptation of Morrissey”, Paul Morley for Uncut, May 2006)

My best friend is myself. I look after myself very, very well. I can rely on myself never to let myself down. I’m the last person I want to see at night and the first in the morning. I am endlessly fascinating – at eight o’clock at night, at midnight, I’m fascinated. It’s a lifelong relationship and divorce will never come into it. That’s why, as I say, I feel privileged. And that is an honest reply. (“The man with the thorn in his side”, Lynn Barber for The Observer, September 2002)

Favourite shop?

Rymans, the stationers. To me it’s like a sweetshop. I go in there for hours, smelling the envelopes. As I grew up I used to love stationery and pens and booklets and binders. I can get incredibly erotic about blotting paper. So for me, going into Rymans is the most extreme sexual experience one could ever have. (“Morrissey Answers Twenty Questions”, Smash Hits Collection, 1985)

Toxic Turntable #19

Currently listening…

• Robin Westerhouse Quintet, Tripolis (2009)
• Lux Harmonica, Siever of the River (1988)
• Rudyard Kirby, Pudd’nhead Rash (2011)
• Symimi, Speculum Deæ (2007)
• Oil Koir, Bordergland (1983)
• Shiggiv, Shiggiv Lives (2014)
• Edenic Leap, Toilers in the Heat of the Day (2008)
• Joe Keef, Photophilic Ossifrage (2018)
• Olga Mjuko, Cocotte (Remixes) (2019)
• Ahmrikkimlua / Uusuut-Iagoi, Unitary / Half-Torus (split EP) (2009)
• Nzvoh, Whispers from the Willows (1964)
• 97-Jeulo, Hast Ðu? (1996)
• Aiden Snail, Trafalgar (1982)
• Os Dolocos, Coronemus Rosis (2014)
• Gottzunge, Musikkimus (1968)
• Papa Rupu, Ibunun Vavolos (1974)
• Newth, We • Are • Newth (1997)
• Johann Baptist Cramer, Piano Concerti (2002)
• Shake the Snake, Hakúr Mā Qú (1980)

Previously pre-posted:

Toxic Turntable #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11#12#13#14#15#16#17#18