Tuesday, July 10, 2018


'MIDWAY THROUGH the twentieth century, two unusual new molecules, organic compounds with a striking family resemblance, exploded upon the West. In time, they would change the course of social, political, and cultural history, as well as the personal histories of the millions of people who would eventually introduce them to their brains.
'As it happened, the arrival of these disruptive chemistries coincided with another world historical explosion—that of the atomic bomb. There were people who compared the two events and made much of the cosmic synchronicity. Extraordinary new energies had been loosed upon the world; things would never be quite the same.' 

Thus begins 'A New Door'. the Prologue to this substantial work 'How To Change Your Mind' by American writer Michael Pollan. The two molecules he refers to are LSD and Psilocybin.

Over the last twenty years, Pollan has become best known for a string of books that connect the human and natural worlds: the ethics and ecology of eating, food and agriculture, gardens and architecture. See list here).

His 2002 book 'The Botany of Desire' contains material on psychoactive plants. Through this research, he was surprised to discover 'a universal human desire to change consciousness'. Pollan admits to have taken some magic mushrooms in his youth  which was more of an aesthetic experience that a full blown trip. So, as he outlines in the book's prologue, he had reached 60 without having had a full-blown psychedelic experience himself or a mystical one for that matter. 

The real trigger for writing the book was a 2006 paper from scientists at John Hopkins University entitled 'Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meanign and Spiritual Significance'. Pollan was intrigued by this new frontier between science and spirituality and began to investigate.

His book is essential reading and provides an up-to-date survey of psychedic research and its applications. Firstly he delves into the history. His account of the huge amount of work with psychedelics carried out in the 1950s not only by scientists but also by the CIA contains much information that will be new and surprising to many readers. For instance, in one Canadian state large hospital was devoted entirely to treating alcoholism with LSD. Much of this early research was either lost, ignored or supressed.

Timothy Leary, the most well-known figure in the field, brought LSD into the mainstream but his efforts to turn the world on also created a moral panic about its effects that led to a complete ban on psychedelic science for more than 30 years.

Now even his critics recognise that Silicon Valley in particular was inspired and developed to a significant extent through LSD use and that Leary played an important role in a much more complicated historical story than has previously been recognised.

There is also a lengthy and detailed chapter on the rediscovery of psychedelic mushrooms, particularly psilocybin and other fascinating fungi.

The new work at John Hopkins and at other US universities signals a renaissance of investigations into the use of psychedelics - particularly psilocybin - for the treatment of depression, addiction and for helping patients with terminal illnesses prepare themselves for their demise. Most seems to lose their fear of death, the drug giving them the realisation that we are part of a connected universe.

Pollan uses psychedelic guides - an undeground network of trained people who can sit with you while you are tripping and help you understand the experience after you land back in the real world. He takes LSD, psilocybin and DMT which comes from a Mexican toad. The last trip is the most dramatic and the briefest - a roller coaster ride. He describes his trips in great detail and the reader can share vicariously his experience.

The book then looks at the latest neurological experiements whereby patients are put in an MRI scanner and given a dose of psilocybin. This allows scientists to see what is happening in the brain when these experiences are taking place.There is now huge confidence that psychedelic experiences can help with many of the world's most important mental problems which we urgently need to address.
There is an excellent 2018 radio interview with Michael Pollan on NPR 'Reluctant Psychonaut' Michael Pollan Embraces The 'New Science' Of Psychedelics' and another interview on KQED entitled What We Can Learn From Psychedelics.

There's a valuable review in the Evening Standard  entitled 'How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan - review: a man who believes you’re never too old to take a trip' by Richard Godwin.

Michael Pollan's own website


Inside Dope: LSD In Britain


Read more about Timothy Leary here with a review of 'I Have America Surrounded',
a biography by John Higgs.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Jimmy Page with the poet Scarlett Sabet

Items from the Counter-Culture collection of the Generalist Archive on wall and in display case. Jimmy Page turned up for the show as did Jarvis Cocker.
Exhibition is open until August 22nd.

STOP PRESS: 10,000 visitors+ in the first four weeks.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


This is a special era for THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE as, for the first time, items from it have gone on show in Brighton and will be on show in London. This is a great step forward for drawing attention to what has been judged by professional archivists and librarians from several universities as being a valuable and important collection. A website for the archive has now gone live at www.generalistarchive.co.uk

 This week-long pop-up museum was created for the Brighton Festival Fringe by Jolie Booth of Kriya Arts and Lucy Malone and was built at The Spire, a former church now a community centre, at the far end of Kemptown.
Full details can be found on their website.

The items lent from the Archive were a mixture of badges, original handouts, prints, photos and underground papers - some original documents, others prints. They were very well displayed and the whole exhibition was a professional job done on limited funds and time.

Last Saturday I took part in a panel discussion with others who had contributed to the project, talking about the Archive and the counterculture of the 60s/70s on the South Coast.

This week a documentary is being shot of the Archive of which more news anon.

This coincides with the launch of a major show at Somerset House in London called PRINT! Tearing It Up. celebrating the wave of new hip magazines being produced in recent years but also showcasing something of the history of alternative magazines and papers.

The curator Paul Gorman chose 200 items from the Generalist Archive which have been loaned for the show. Not sure at present how many will make the final cut. The show is free and runs from 8th June to 22nd August. Full details here:

I am also to be profiled on the Magculture web site, online this Friday, in the Journal section where you are asked to choose favourite mags now, favourites from the past and thirdly some mag detail that is important to you.  An example here:

Friday, June 01, 2018


Published by McFarland & Co.
Back in 1979, I made two trips to Hollywood to get material for Star Wars Monthly, which I was one of the main contributors to. I was also commissioned to produce a 64pp newstand special on the second film in the trilogy (and I think the best) The Empire Strikes Back. A detailed story of my adventures can be read in a Previous Post: 'Star Wars: Memories of a Galaxy Far, Far Away'.

Some years back I was contacted by Craig Stevens who explained to me his plan for a special book documenting the world of Star Wars in Britain - much of the film was shot at Elstree Studios and a number of Brits were involved in the production.

Craig's other great interest is Star Wars merchandise of which he a pre-eminent collector and I believe he holds the  record for the highest price paid for a Star Wars figure.

JM and R2D2 on the set of the
Bog Planet at Elstree Studios 1979
This labour of love has now been published in the UK and the US. It is the most thorough and detailed account available and will be welcomed by Star Wars fans as a valuable reference source.

Craig interviewed me for the book in which he quotes me extensively and reviews every issue of Star Wars Monthly which are now collector's items. He also credits me for small but important detail of Chewbacca's life. He writes that:
 'John May tacked the subject of Chewbacca, of whom nothing was known except that he was 200 years old...His imagination firing on all cylinders, May put forward the idea of Chewbacca owing his life to Han Solo, explaining why he was following the smuggler through the galaxy. This concept became entrenched in Star Wars literature, with Chewbacca described as having a life debt to Han. Although Chewbacca did not receive a medal at the end of Star Wars, May asserted that the Wookiee was indeed presented with one by Priness Leia before he and Han left the rebel base to pursue their adventures...It may be a coincidence but the Marvel Star Wars story "The Day After the Death Star" would go on to depict Chewbacca receiving his medal at the rebel base from Prtincess Leia, who was standing on a table.'

Thursday, May 24, 2018


 The Generalist is more than a little pleased to have permission to be able to run this interview by Jonathon Green - one of the great writers on the underground press, author of two seminal books on the 60s [See left, both published in 1989] who is now a world-class lexicographer of slang. My interview with him can be heard on the audio Generalist site, recorded on the 5th July 2007.

Tom Wolfe , who died at the age of 88 ten days ago, was a great hero of the New Journalism movement which also included Hunter S. Thompson and many others. See Previous Post: The Archaeology of New Journalism. When this interview took place, one of his most famous books - 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' - had just been published.

This interview was in the very first issue of Friends magazine, published on 22nd November 1969, designed by Pearce Marchbank. The founder and editor was Alan Marcuson. Jonathon was News Editor.


Tom Wolfe, iconoclast of the western world, chronicler of style and the esoteric, talked at length to FRIENDS of Rolling Stone, on his recent visit to England, where he has been filming a 'One Pair Of Eyes' episode for BBC2.

After the Marvel Comix style of his books, he is a pleasant surprise, quietly spoken and with less flights of fantasy, although the white suit was always there to remind one of the well-created image.
“I read a review of my last book in your paper”, he began, “I thought it was a load of crap . . . how about you?' Nevertheless he agreed that the time lag between writing his pieces and their eventual publication does them no good.

His conversation covered many topics, and resembled a milder and more considered version of some of his published work. Last here in 1966, when he wrote most of 'Mid-Atlantic Man', he talked of the changes he had seen both here and in the States, the personalities and the philosophies that have interested him.

He talked of his trips, but refused a joint, maybe the photo would have been too compromising. However we talked for over two hours to produce a rap that reads something like one of his own pieces. What follows might best be seen as `Tom Wolfe Today' . . .

“Everything has spread since I was here last (1966)—I mean Mary Quant was just starting having a big thing when I was here before, now she's so big, she has fashion shows going in practically every continent she has to have a calendar to figure out what the temperature is in Santiago, Chile, in January, because it's the season to show her dresses ... There's more clubs instead of less and what I call the black cylindrical lamp set has just spread, the first place I saw it in was the Trattoria Terrazza and then it spread to Alvaro's and now it's a place called Arethusa . . . I guess they're all owned by the same guy, but whoever that guy is he isn't sorry. [See footnote]

 “I know this is superficial evidence here, but there used to be one wild place called Biba's and now there's 50 wild places like Biba's... and Biba has come to be a junior scale Harrods. That's what makes me think that rather than England's future being a sinking, decaying, gradually falling into the sea . . . instead, England's great product now has become style and people will come to England . . . it will be like a super Disneyland of European high fashion so people will come to England to take a train ride for example . . . they will come to England for a weekend of first class hotel service.

“Have you ever been to Disneyland? Disneyland is just great, because you walk in there and you've got a whole 1890's American village which instead of being like a museum they are all functioning . . . you can buy things like you can't buy anywhere else: like instead of popsicles you can buy frozen bananas with chocolate on them which was the old form of popsicles . . . and you get people with sticks on nails running around picking up trash as soon as it hits the ground, it's always clean — and I think this could possibly be applied to England because it's got such an intricate style . . . you know like Bond Street; it's incredible you can walk four blocks and there's a hundred stores for men each one dealing with the most esoteric items of dress.

"I think this carries through to a lot of areas, for example there's still people seem to take things like the proper use of titles very seriously . . . on one hand they make a joke out of it and on the other they’re damn sure when addressing an envelope that it comes out right that if somebody is a Viscount...

“When I started writing those pieces I didn't have any kind of theory it came out of a purely journalistic impulse it just seemed to me that suddenly I was surrounded by a whole lot of bizarre new sort of things and a lot of them being done by just ordinary people . . . I got fed up doing stories about movie stars because I really couldn't drum up a lot of interest anymore and I don't think a lot of other people were really interested.

"For example, for about six months when I was working for The Washington Post I was the Latin American correspondent... I was in Cuba and the Dominican Republic and all the places that should have been pretty interesting . . . and the managing editor of the paper asking me if I wanted to be permanent Latin American Correspondent — which was tremendous promotion for me because I had always just been a general reporter, which is the lowest job in the paper, but also the best . . . and I thought about this for a second and suddenly I just said 'No, I don't want it', and he says 'what would you like to do', and I couldn't think of anything off the top of my head and I just suddenly said 'Well, I'd like to do some more of those escaped ape stories', because that was the first thing that came into my mind and he said 'What are they?'

“And I said 'When I'd first come to the Post it was a Sunday afternoon and this story came in and there was some kind of chimpanzee lost in the suburbs and being Sunday afternoon and not much going on I went on out there — they sent me out there, and sure enough there was this ape going down these electrical wires and the police were out there and they didn't know whether they were going to shoot the thing or what to do, in fact after I started talking to people I found that this was the fifth ape that had escaped in that little suburb . . . and there were all these people with like a complete zoo . . . there was one guy had a tapir in his own backyard, you know what a tapir is, it's like a hamster that's crossed with a rhinoceros . . . and another woman had some carnivorous fish . . . and it turned out that all these people, just ordinary people, so they were taking these sort of exotic trips, and for vacations they were going off to places like Tahiti or Barbados and they would come back with these animals that were a sort of symbol of what they could bring back and they were doing something different and getting out of themselves . . . and it struck me that it was a kind of remarkable thing that was happening, that people on a kind of basic level were starting to break loose.

"And these stories intrigued me a lot more than anything that was happening in politics in America or anywhere else. Especially America, where politics are really dull even today with real issues, Vietnam, Racialism and so-forth . . . I mean: it's just put in a hundred thousand troops, pull out a hundred thousand troops, nobody really says seriously fight until the finish, until the last American is dead. It's a very stable country really. No one seems to realise what a stable country it is . . . and politics are dull, there are no surprises, you're not going to discover anything; and that's what journalism should be about: discovering things particularly the life around you.

“So that's what got me starting thinking about style . . . but when I did start thinking about style I realised that one of the first things that people do to show that their life has changed is to change their style. In one sense it's surface, but in another sense it's very revealing . . . the two things that have happened are this: dress and vocabulary . . . I am often accused of dealing in trivia for the amount of attention I spend on what people wear and their dialogue and I usually try and get their speech right but I think that's what it's all about...

“I am always greatly flattered when occasionally I've read in reviews that Tom Wolfe has become a cult figure . . . I always kind of secretly enjoy that sort of thing, because of this, if there is a cult I'd like to meet some of the members. The closest thing of being a cult around me is the act of parody... and I've done something about it which makes me feel kind of fulfilled; a true Christian mission in the world. The act of parody seems to liberate a lot of writers when they are parodying me they really seem to enjoy it.

“I mean look at that incredible long parody by Kenneth Tynan for example of the ‘Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ and I really don't think enough people here had read the book and knew what the hell he was talking about in this parody . . . I really think it was doing something for him. I really think Kenneth Tynan started writing well for the first time in his life, you know I think he enjoyed it, and in any case I think that's the reason people turn to parody there's no conscious motivation.

"Sure [Ken] Kesey was rockin' the boat the thing about him was that he was off on what I call 'a beyond catastrophe frontier', which is this. After all the threats you get to this question: What are we going to do? It's like having a blank cheque and saying 'What are we going to do with it', and that was like Kesey . . . I remember Kesey saying once “I knew all sorts of people who are neurotic, I have sympathy for them and I want to put my arm around them and help them but I can't feel what they feel” . . . Because there was never any hang-up that I could detect in his life; he didn't have a row 'with his family, and he wasn't a slave either, he was very close to his parents, but he was never tied to them; he had the absolute all-American background, he was the school athlete, the school scholar he was also on the dramatic squad, or whatever you call it, he was crew cut, he was a fraternity man; all the right things and in other words what I'm saying is there was nothing in his background to which the usual psycho-pathologist . . . What do you do with your potential? This was a question which obsessed him and finally obsessed him to the point of 'Can men become God? So Kesey used to do some very strange things that seemed sort of looney to everybody like lying on the floor and getting high and trying to communicate with all the planets. But his statement was 'You never know, if you don't try it', and a lot of it was just being high . . . he never had any fantasies about life hereafter or anything of that sort, he was very practical . . . he just thought somebody has got to swing from the heels and see how far they can go . . . occasionally Kesey didn't really realise that the people around him might not be as strong as he was ... [See four Previous Posts written in Sept 2011, starting here.

“Yes, I've taken acid ... I really didn't take it under the best of atmospheres so I had a bit of a struggle to keep sane but after . . . the thing that I got out of it more than anything else is that it wasn't really a light show that it was all about; but it was really much more the whole business of feeling that you had finally entered into other things totally without having a hallucination and this is the thing that will probably be very useful about LSD when it eventually gets over the publicity state it'll sort of tell people how the mind actually [works].

“There is a great question of how serious people are when they talk about revolution. I often get the feeling, when you meet, as you often do, somebody who is calling for total revolution and things, and saying we will not settle or agree to any demands, as soon as you agree to them. As soon as you agree to them we will rebel again. The total revolution is of people being photographed in fantastic gear in Look and Queen and Harpers Bazaar. You wonder how serious it is and whether people really want revolution because I have a feeling that there are a lot of revolutionists who are really_ frightened when the serious guys, the serious kind of Trotskyites, come around and they're wearing these greasy neckties and suits and yet they're into the hard core of organisation.

I was at Arethusa one night, and there was the other side of what we were talking about, the Lord Scruff look. You see a guy in front of the mirror, and he's ripping his shirt apart and messing up his hair and he's getting his jacket wrinkled and this is what he looks like when he gets into dinner . . . You see these great Lord Scuff types coming out in their ripped open shirts and scruffy hair and their leather vests and the rest of it and there’s the doorman dressed in a Lieutenant Colonel's uniform of 1869... You wonder where the serious core is ... nostalga de la bove ... it’s a very powerful thing, it's a funny mixture of a real longing for kinda primitive strength in quilt. I think one reason it’s catching on really strong in London would be the fact that there are say five hundred thousand unemployed...

“There’s a great little touch in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ in which Ratso and Joe Buck are walking through The Plaza in New York and there's a whole bunch of hippies handing out peace leaflets and Ratso Rizzo, who's never had a job in his life, he’s a Times Square hustler, he's very indignant and starts saying "Get a job ya creep" and there, in a very nice way, is the difference between the class difference of people who are swept by nostalgia for the mud and the proletariat like Ratso Rizzo.

“This was also very evident in Haight Ashbury when that was really a psychedelic scene instead of just a commercial one. There was so many middle class kids there who were taking great delight in the mud and sleeping four people on a dirty mattress and everyone drinking out of the same pot, and this scrounging sort of life. I mean what kick is this for a guy from the Fillmore district who’d just as soon, if he could forget about it and if he’s going to live a bohemian life he wants to live a sort of up-town bohemian life for a change.

“Maybe if the Beatles suddenly, turned up with crew cuts . . . but I don't think it will happen . . . Like the rumour that Paul McCartney is dead. Hemingway had the same thing there was a rumour that he was dead six or eight years before he died . . . Warhol had this kind of theory that was very interesting. Subliminal Celebrity Theory — there are certain types of people that are so famous that they no longer have any identity by what they do, in other words, like in the USA, Marilyn Monroe was only ever Marilyn. Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy were both ones. Just Jackie.

“The Beatles . . . John, Paul, George, Ringo. I met one of them on curious circumstances working for the New York Herald Tribune. I was sent to cover their arrival in what must have been January 1964 [It was the 7th Feb]. I didn't know one from another and there was this big mob scene in Kennedy Airport. There were about 200 reporters in this room with the Beatles up on the stage and crowds of kids outside. After they'd answered the questions, there was a great rush for these four limousines, like one Cadillac per Beatle. So in the scramble I managed to dive into one of the Cadillacs which happened to be George Harrison's. I'd made such a great effort to get into one of these cars that I didn't know any sort of question to ask him. So I started asking very simple minded questions like 'What did you think of the reception?' The thing that struck me about Harrison, I don't know about the rest of them, was that in spite of all this incredible emulsified bullshit, he was totally straight in his response in what I was saying. 'Well', he said, 'Everywhere else we've been, you couldn't hear the noise of the airplanes for the cheers of the fans. But here, the airplane was so loud, you couldn't hear the cheers'. And then I asked him 'Would you send your kids to public school?' and instead of giving the normal flip answer which I would have given, he said 'Well, I might and then again, I might not.' And he really got into it.

“The [Merry] Pranksters still exist as a group. Kesey was here with two [Hell’s] Angels not long ago. And now I think there's nobody left on their farm. Kesey, I believe, is doing some writing right now. Over the last two years since the action ended they kind of come and go and it has been a very quiet scene. They've joined another group called the 'Hog Farm', which were always very closely allied to Kesey. They discovered a very useful device in this particular age. If people keep their hair short other people don't mind what they do.

“There are a lot of things I'm interested in covering but I really want to do some more books.

“You've just given me an idea I've never thought about before: Noel Coward is a real person. He wrote a poem once 'Love Song' I guess it was called, and this thing was terrific, it just breaks me up, and there's one passage in there which seems to me could apply to any difficult situation in life . . . `If it's a question of being sincere/ And dear if you're supple you've nothing to fear/ So she swung upside down from a glass chandelier/and I couldn't have enjoyed it more'. It sort of sums up a lot of things.
[It’s actually part of a verse from ‘I’ve Been To A Marvellous Party’ written for a revue entitled ‘Set To Music’ in 1938. [See Footnote]

“That's another sobering thought. When you go back to, say, some of the literature of the late 20's and the late 30's, like Evelyn Waugh novels particularly 'Vile Bodies' it's really about a lot of things . . . that are going on right now including this whole thing for nostalgia for the mud I was talking about just now you read in there like captive divigibles, you know, like tied down, and people dressing up like Indians and one thing and another . . .

“Have you ever read anything about the Regency, it's very similar to today, even down to LSD. In that case there was Humphrey Davy who invented Nitrous Oxide —Laughing Gas and there were all sorts of writers and painters who would go over to Humphrey Davy's and stick their nose in this silk bag full of laughing gas and go away and write down their experiences. There was a great vogue, the coachman's vogue, the coachman is of a very low status but he is a kind of dashing figure because he used to drive fast and he wore a lot of capes because of the cold I guess — so people started dressing like coachmen, it gave small coaches and a lot of big horses riding around like mad . . . and then there was a thing where they were all dressing like boxers, fighters — That was called the Bruiser Pose — which was again dressing like the lower orders for romantic effect.

“Everything happens so fast that there is no longer any natural evolvement of style, it suddenly pops up . . . then it's put on a big screen and the people themselves see it again and say 'Oh, that's the way it's supposed to look' and that's really how the motor cycle gangs got started . . . they saw the movie 'The Wild One' and they say 'oh that's the way we are supposed to look'. That thing has a curious history. There was a Motor Cycle riot in a town in California in which a lot of bars were broken into . . . there was this story about it which I thought was very weird. It sort of took these Motor Cycle characters as some sort of IBM men of the future ... automatons who'd been in the service of fascism — totally regimented, I think the author was really taken aback by those sun glasses because they look very sinister, they make people look like they have on uniforms . . . and he saw them as kind of Nazi troopers. `The Wild One' was a pretty good picture and didn't try to push this fascism thing.

“While I was down there at Tiles [nightclub in Oxford Street] talking to these kids who were dressed to the teeth with these fantastic suits on ... a kid comes down (whose name I can't remember, it was in the book somewhere) anyway he's the same age as them, but he's a public school boy who got sent down or something . . . He had on a suede jacket that had been custom made to look like a denim one and it cost 75 guineas or whatever . . . he was rejected by the mods, he looked very scruffy and they could sense that he was being scruffy on purpose and anyway they talk so differently...

“In America the money talks loud . . . it gets you almost anything you want, unless there's some moral stigma attached to it . . . as in the case of Hugh Hefner, there's a slight moral stigma because of the tit magazine ... so he's gone to great lengths to get around all that . . . It's only in New York that you have any trappings of a European style aristocracy, that's the wrong word . . . but even there the publicity for all sorts of people who are what used to be called Cafe Society, and the whole impact of the communications media as an industry there, have an effect . . . it's like me having a PhD; when I started working in newspapers I had to hide all that.

“I would say the only really American state would be Southern California — Los Angeles let's say, just because there's almost none of Europe left there at all. The one thing that's happening more in America is that it's breaking up into all kinds of areas so you can find almost any kind of life you want, that's why I really don't understand who so many of my intelligent compatriots can be so pessimistic about the United States right now, there's really a lot of freedom there . . . you can choose all sorts of areas to live in for the kind of life you want to lead ... of course things could be improved, for instance if you want to live in a commune you shouldn't have to run the risk of Vigilante raids . . . but there's plenty of areas where you can do that if you want to. Even the Government are beginning to change their methods for the better ...”


Mario Cassandro established restaurants with Franco Lagattolla – starting with La Trattoria Terrazza in 1959 – that served up food in a manner not enjoyed before. La Terrazza [also known as the “Trat”] in Romilly Street, Soho, was London's first restaurant of the modern era, new in its menu, its presentation of food, its design and its attitude. In 1961 the partners opened Tiberio in Mayfair; in 1964 they doubled the size of La Terrazza; and in 1966 they unveiled Trattoo in Kensington. [The Telegraph obit/27th June 2011]

In 1962 Alvaro Maccioni became manager of La Trattoria Terrazza’s newly opened Positano Room, which quickly became among the most fashionable dining rooms in London. In 1966, he left to form his own trattoria, the eponymous Alvaro in the King’s Road in Chelsea. [The Telegraph obit/29th 
Nov 2013]. The Arethusa was also in Chelsea.

Noel Coward's lyrics read as follows: 

'I went to a marvelous party/I must say the fun was intense,
We all had to do/What the people we knew/
Would be doing a hundred years hence.
We talked about growing old gracefully/And Elsie who's seventy-four
Said, ‘A, it's a question of being sincere,
And B, if you're supple you've nothing to fear.’
Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier,
I couldn't have liked it more.]

Thursday, April 26, 2018


Polaroid photo by Tony Diefel [11th Jan 2009]

This post began as a book review but now also serves as a tribute Larry Harvey - artist, philanthropist and the co-founder of Burning Man, who, at the beginning of this month, suffered a massive stroke and subsequently died on April 28th, aged 70. [update]

The legend of Burning Man begins with a romantic night in 1984 when Larry (aged 36) and his then girlfriend and her teenage son went down to Baker Beach on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, a public beach northwest of San Francisco within site of the Golden Gate bridge, to celebrate the summer solstice. According to an account in the Wallpaper:
'A friend of Harvey had dressed mannequins in polyester, and thrown them into a bonfire while a boom box beat ‘mechanical thuds’ around the flames. [My girlfriend’s] son was doing something only a 14-year-old would invent. He was saturating the sand with gasoline, and then taking a burning stick and writing in fire. So I knelt with my lover and wrote [in the sand] – it was supremely romantic,’ Harvey explained at a 1997 speech in Nevada. ‘And so, having thought of this morning and night for a couple of years I woke up on the solstice  and I thought “I’m tired of this.” So, I called up a friend [Jerry James] and I said ‘Let’s burn a man, Jerry.”
Larry and Jerry built an 8ft effigy out of scrap lumber and, on the summer solstice [Saturday June 2nd 1986], with the help of ten friends, hauled it down to Baker Beach, poured petrol over it and set it on fire. A crowd of some 35 people suddenly turned up to watch. Legend has it that one woman ran forward and held the effigy's hand. Harvey recalls: 'I looked out at this arc of firelit faces, and before I knew it I looked over and there was a hippie with his pants on his head and a guitar standing there, materialized out of the murk. And he started singing a song about fire...That was the first spontaneous performance, that was the first geometric increase of Burning Man. What we had instantly created was a community.'

The Burning Man became an annual event for the next four years and each year, the effigy and crowd numbers got bigger. In 1987, it was 15ft tall and 80 people showed up. In 1988, 200 people watched as the 40ft Man was set alight. The giant figure was charred but didn't collapse so had to be sawn up and burnt on a bonfire. The following year, the legs and the pelvis of the 40-ft effigy collapsed and it was burnt in a semi-erect position, watched by 300 people. Finally, in 1990, the Golden Gate Park Police decided that it would be unsafe to set light to the Burning Man as it might start hill fires in the surrounding landscape. The 350-strong crowd quickly turned into an unruly mob. As a compromise, the police agreed that the statue could be built not but burnt. Harvey and his collaborators realised this was the end. The BM was dismantled and put into storage.


There things might have ended had it not been for members of the SF Cacophony Society. Who they?

According to Wikipedia it was started in 1986 by surviving members of the now defunct Suicide Club of San Francisco. They describe themselves as "a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” 
Cacophony has also been described as an indirect culture jamming outgrowth of the Dada movement, and the Situationists
One of its central concepts is the Trip to the Zone, or Zone Trip, inspired by the 1979 Film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. [See Previous Posts]
One of their main tenets is enshrined in the phrase 'you may already be a member' which means you  can self-designate your membership. The anarchic nature of the Society also means that any member can sponsor an event. 'Cacophony events often involve costumes and pranks in public places and sometimes going into places that are generally off limits to the public.'
The single best source of information on the group of the book 'Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society'. Unfortunately the book is available from Amazon, AbeBooks and other websites but the cheapest price is around $350! In the absence of that,this website is a good source. The puff for the book [see right] reads:
'A template for pranksters, artists, adventurers and anyone interested in rampant creativity, 'Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society' is the history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of. 
'Rising from the ashes of the mysterious and legendary Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, at its zenith, hosted chapters in over a dozen major cities, and influenced much of what was once called the underground. The Cacophony Society’s epic exploits radically changed the way people live and play in the world. The group inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s 'Fight Club' and Burning Man and helped start pop culture trends including flash mobs, urban exploration, and culture jamming. A large-format, full-color, hardbound homage to this protean group Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society' is packed with original art, never before published photographs, original documents and incredulous news accounts.'
 Again according to Wikipedia, Cacophony member Michael Mikel attended the Baker Beach event in 1988 and publicised it in the Society's newsletter 'Rough Draft' [pictured above] in 1989. That same year Cacophonist Kevin Evans and other members attended a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert near Gerlach in northern Nevada, organised by a creative collective known as Planet X.

This inspired Evans to suggest, in 1990, a Zone Trip on Labour Day, publicising it as "A Bad Day At Black Rock' after the famous Spencer Tracy movie. According to the Burning Man chronology, they invited 'the architects of the wooden construct along for our voyage to the bizarre setting, making it the biggest, most elaborate piece of firewood - a glorious conflagration.' Incidentally three weeks prior to the event, the Burning Man was vandalized being 'reduced to kindling by chain saws, the result of an accident'. The figure was rebuilt in San Francisco with two hours to spare before being transported to desert and destroyed.

Photo by Douglas Rawlinson. See website:
Jump to the present day, the Burning Man now attracts some 50,000 people who for a weekend live in Black Rock City pictured above, built in the middle of the dry lake bed ten miles from the tiny town of Gerlach. The fact that the weather is extreme and dust storms are common has not put people off coming.

Details of this year's festival [Aug 26th- Sept 3rd] are at this site: https://burningman.org/ ] The 2018 theme is 'I, Robot' [named after the sf novel by Isaac Asimov].

It's not only the Man that gets burned. Each year there is a magnificent temple constructed. This too is also burnt to the ground at the end. Thanks to The Building Centre's newsfeed, discovered that this year's festival will feature a huge spiralling temple made out of a light coloured timber.

‘Galaxia’ is designed by French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani of Mamou-Mani Architects and is inspired by the swirling structure of the cosmos. Galaxia celebrates hope in the unknown, stars, planets, black holes, the movement uniting us in swirling galaxies of dreams,” Mamou-Mani Architects explain. “A superior form of Gaia in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Galaxia is the ultimate network, the fabric of the universe

These two books are the first and the latest to be published on this remarkable event  and they complement each other extremely well.  'Burning Man' was published by HardWired (the publishing arm of Wired magazine) in 1997. It focuses mainly on the people, many of whom are taking advantage of the 'clothing optional' rule. These wild early years are powerfully captured in large full screen images with some foldout pages. Copies are still available on the internet at a good price.

Photos by Barbara Traub (left) and Kevin Kelly (right)

Shot by Ny Guy  in 2014, 'El Pulpo Mecanico by Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel'
'Art of Burning Man', which has just been published by Taschen, is a revised 2nd edition of a sumptuous photo collection by Ny Guy, a Canadian photographer living in London. Guy attended Burning Man every year from 1998 to 2014 and his book is a distillation of the 65,000 photos he took. The book focuses almost entirely on the creative structures - custom cars, giant machines, art installations - and pyrotechnics that make Burning Man such a feast for the eyes and senses. See more at the book's website and at Guy's site.

There is a long and detailed entry on Wikipedia here

The main Burning Man site has a complete list of published books and a detailed chronology of the Burning Man's history and the 10 Principles that guide the events' ethos.

There's lots of Burning Man video footage on YouTube. These are a couple I enjoyed:
Burning Man 2017 from above - drone 4K by Matthew Emmi.
Burning Man 2017 Hyperlapse by Mark Day

Great article in Wallpaper: 'How the art of Burning Man ignited a cultural movement beyond the desert' by Jessica Klingelfuss. Stunning pictures.
'In recent years, there have been murmurings among purists that the festival’s DNA has been altered too much, becoming a magnet for celebrities and influencers, as well as earning a reputation as a networking event for the tech elite (Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have all attended).'

Monday, April 23, 2018


Published by Strange Attractor Press

The Generalist first briefly met Shirley Collins in 1969 when she came to play at a folk club we had set up in Worthing. We reconnected in 2005 in Lewes when I discovered that she was one of my neighbours. She gave me a copy of her wonderful book documenting her travels to the southern States of America with the folk song collector Alan Lomax which is reviewed here:
 Over The Water and Over The Road

By this time Shirley had made tentative steps towards singing again after a gap of nearly 40 years. Then in 2016, this site was one of the first to announce the fantastic forthcoming release of a stunning and magical new album Lodestar. Post contains extracts from Stewart Lee's brilliant sleeve notes. See: Shirley Collin's Lodestar. This was followed by a review in Shirley Collins2:

Running alongside the plans and recording for this album, work was already underway on a documentary 'The Ballad of Shirley Collins' which I got to see last week. Directed by Rob Curry and Tim Plester, with sound recording by Ludovic Lasserre and camerawork by Richard Mitchell. Happily this is not a sterile BBC4 run-through of Shirley's recording career but instead a much more creative and magical exploration of  Shirley's life and times. The film is layered with material from different time periods and places. Lewes and Hastings feature as does the South Downs and the southern USA. Shirley is a wonderful narrator and story-teller of her own life and her remarkable recent flowering means the film ends in triumph over adversity. It's now out on DVD in a package with the CD soundtrack.

Photo by Brian Shuel
The Lewes screening was also a launch event for Shirley's new book 'All In The Downs' [published in a finely produced and illustrated form by Strange Attractor Press] which I have been under the spell of for the last five days. Its a window into a lost world. Shirley paints wonderful word pictures, is very open about her personal affairs and has so many great tales to tell - including a sweet meeting with Jimi Hendrix. 

The period when she wasn't singing is remarkable in itself. It was long struggle to keep the family afloat and she worked in a variety of jobs - including at a Job Centre, the British Museum bookshop, an Oxfam shop and for a London publisher's agent (during which, incidentally, she typed up the manuscript for Len Deighton's The Ipcress File).

Shirley is widely known to be not only one of the great singers of English folk songs but also as someone who is hugely knowledgeable on their history and background in a completely non-academic way. She has had many years of touring word and music evenings that enlighten and inform. Her love for the subject and the singers of the past is palpable.

Her style of singing is focused on presenting the original song in its original form without stylistic additions, in clear, beautiful and authentic renditions. She says in the book that when she sings these songs, many of which have been passed from singer to singer over hundreds of years, she feels as if they are standing behind her. These were, by and large, workers and labourers whose names and importance would not have been recognised without the efforts of impassioned song collectors like Shirley and the Copper Family.

The South Downs captured her imagination from childhood but it was in the 1970s when the spirits of the downland worked their magic and inspired much of her work. She writes movingly of her sister Dolly who was both a music arranger and sensitive player on an ancient form of pipe organ. Her death hit Shirley hard but their work together is happily fully preserved and available for posterity.

Shirley has, in recent years, been showered with Honours, including the MBE, but she remains totally modest and down-to-earth, overjoyed to be once more presenting the music she loves so much. Her musical collaborators are first-class and have lifted the presentation of Shirley's musicality to an even higher level. She has also acquired a huge band of admirers who see, in her remarkable life story, a strength and integrity that has earned her the soubriquet of the Queen of British Folk. Shirley's substantial collection of recorded works is a testament to her dedication and passion for bringing the old haunting tunes and stories of these lands back to life. Her warm words and her belief in the presence of the spirits of the land and nature are an inspiration to like-minded folk and an encouragment to younger generations at a time when we need to reconnect with our roots.