Sprawling Projects

One of the reasons I’m obsessed with the film Synecdoche is the horror of watching Caden Coutard’s project spin out of control. There’s that moment in the trailer, where the cast face him and someone asks: “When are we gonna get an audience in here? It’s been seventeen years.”

So many of the things I’ve worked on have spun out of my control – on a smaller scale than in Synecdoche, but still out of control. The book on curry feels like it exploded all over my hard drive and bookshelves. I have reams of notes, but no clear single thread. I’m not even sure where to start with it now. Even things like the spoken word show, which received such positive response, have stalled.

I’m currently working on a project about hiking and Brexit (I’ll return to curry eventually). This  emerged from a talk I gave in October, as part of the Indelicates album launch. I’ve been working on that same subject much of the time since then. And it’s sprawling. I’ve done my best to keep it under control, with Scrivener saving me from losing track of the notes.

I think the only thing that will keep this under control is getting things out into the world. One of my aims for 2018 was to produce something every month. I managed this for the first three month. My April project, a zine about hiking and Theresa May is part of the hiking/Brexit project. It won’t emerge until May, but the second part should also turn up the same month. I have several trips booked during the summer, which form part of the research. The difficult thing is going to be moving forwards despite all the different threads in play.

I think it’s worth doing, and hopefully I’ll also learn enough about managing these epic projects that I can then work backwards and fix the other ones.

Amorphous Albion by Ben Graham

Last week, I read Ben Graham’s novel Amorphous Albion. The book is linked into the ongoing Discordian Revival in the UK, which Ben talked about in a recent interview with Historia Discordia. This revival links in with a lot of things I’ve loved for years including British comics, the KLF, and Ken Campbell. Ben has used this rich stew as the basis for an adventure story about the battle between order and chaos.

The book is written in a fast-paced pulpy style which reminded me of Michael Moorcock. But it’s also a richer text, with a dense network of associations. I picked up on a lot of them, but I had to pop online to check a few things, such as the Jimmy Cauty image of Stonehenge. I knew I’d love Amorphous Albion from the first page, which includes the line “We came back to earth with all the grace of a floundering car-park”. Ben is a poet, and uses this with fine effect, with some stunning use of language.

Amorphous Albion starts out on Brighton beach, with the Hove Space Program, who are devoted to the ‘exploration of inner and outer space’. Something bad has happened to the country; Ben describes how the i360 “lay on its side, half-submerged in the pebbles like a downed flying saucer”. The book heads out from Brighton on a tour of the country. It describes the fate of commuters at Three Bridges, what happened to Glastonbury, and Stonehenge overrun by military camps of Salisbury Plain. Lord Andrew Eldritch makes a cameo as the Raven King.

You don’t need to know about Robert Anton Wilson or the KLF to enjoy things like Ben’s theory on the 5th Beatle, which is sublime. But there are some lovely references, such as the way the 1992 KLF Annual becomes important to the plot; or the importance of Sheffield’s connection to Brighton. It’s also great to see mention of Wonderism.

Wonderism is the opposite of terrorism. There’s increasing terrorism in the world — to counter than, we have wonderism, which is random acts of joy…re-enchanting the world, making it seem strange and wonderful again through various artistic acts.

Sometimes I feel cynical about the Discordian Revival. There is a danger of the whole thing turning into counter-cultural cosplay – it can’t just be DJs and writers who are on the second or third act of their careers. Writers like John Higgs and Ben Graham shows there is more to it than reformed bands. There might actually be something gathering, a return of a counter-culture. “The loose collection of rebels, shirkers, outcasts and oddities generally known as the amorphous freak franchise… We’re not any kind of organised movement as such, but we know each other when we cross paths”

Ben has been working on some live performances of the book, including one at last year’s Superweird Happening. There was another one in Glasgow this weekend, and hopefully I’ll catch one in Brighton soon. (I missed the one last April to watch the Sisters of Mercy in London – very much the wrong decision).

While I’m cynical about some aspects of the Discordan revival, works like this make me authentically excited. While it does hark back to RAW and the KLF, there is enough new raw energy here to make it worth reading.