Alan Moore Interview
WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – MARCH 2017
You wouldn’t have to delve far into this blog to find Alan Moore‘s influence. From the magical ideas that act as a driving force to the narratives that inspire, his impact has been far reaching on the label since it was set up in 2014. Even the name, the quantum physics term, ‘Super Weird Substance’ was first heard in these circles, uttered with gravitas in his thick Northamptonshire accent.
Being a massive comic book fan, Kermit Leveridge was the first to discover the genius of Alan Moore, as far back as the early ’80s, and had been trying to turn his old sparring partner Greg Wilson onto him since their days together at the turn of the 1990s with the Ruthless Rap Assassins. Although Greg never read the comics at the time, the few things that were put in front of him left a mark and a visual reference to ‘Watchmen’ ended up on the ‘Killer Album’ sleeve.
In 2014, 23 years on from the last time they were in the studio together, Kermit and Greg found themselves working together on music again and Greg decided to set up a record label to act as a vessel. Having finally taken the time out to appreciate the cavernous depth of Alan Moore’s writing, Greg was in the process of devouring every piece of work he could get his hands on at the time and a particular interview from 2003 really stuck with him, gifting the label, not only a name, but a guiding mantra. He set up Super Weird Substance on 1st April 2014.
Bringing things in full circle, Alan Moore collaborated with the label at the beginning of this year, creating the fluorescent and psychedelic ‘Alan Moore’s Mandrill Meets Super Weird Substance At The Arts Lab Apocalypse’ mixtape. Ahead of him joining us at our 14 Hour Super Weird Happening on April Fools’ Day, I sent some questions down to Northampton and his precise and purposeful words were sent back. Here they are…
‘JERUSALEM‘ BUILT A MYTHOLOGY AROUND THE BOROUGHS AREA OF NORTHAMPTON IN A SIMILAR WAY TO HOW JOHN HIGGS’ KLF BOOK BUILT A MYTHOLOGY AROUND LIVERPOOL’S MATHEW STREET. WHY DO YOU THINK MYTHOLOGIES STILL RESONATE, EVEN IN THE MOSTLY SECULAR WESTERN WORLD?
It seems to me that mythology has always and will always resonate, possibly because mythology is always more essentially real than the apparent real, material world which surrounds us. Mythology is always exactly what it is: it’s open to different levels of interpretation, but the story itself does not change. Compare this to the supposedly real world, where the narrative is constantly changing, often retroactively, and nobody is entirely certain what any given fact actually means. This is because the material world is subject to the apparent passage of time, whereas the world of mythology is not. Myth is a kind of unchanging emotional and psychological bedrock upon which we construct the relatively flimsy, localised and temporary structures of the fleeting human world.
ONE OF THE MOST INTRIGUING ASPECTS OF ‘JERUSALEM’ IS YOUR ALTERNATE PERCEPTION OF TIME, WHICH HAS ECHOES OF EINSTEIN’S IDEA AROUND THE ‘PERSISTENT ILLUSION OF TRANSIENCE’. WHAT LIMITATIONS DO YOU SEE IN THE WAY WE CURRENTLY VIEW THE PASSAGE OF TIME?
I think the main problem in our general view of the passage of time resides in the word “passage”. For one thing, to anyone from a working class background, ‘the passage of time’ sounds like a perpetually shadowy and confined area where there’s usually a row of coat-pegs. More importantly, it gives the impression that time is actually passing, when from my perspective I have to say that it looks like it’s us that are passing, while time is staying exactly where it was. This, in Einstein’s view, is the so-called ‘block universe’, an eternal spacetime solid in which nothing is moving or changing except to us, as our consciousnesses move through this static mass along the time axis, much like the beam of a projector playing over the individual cels of a film reel: those thousands of individual images are not changing or moving, but when the projector beam (or our consciousness) passes across them, there is the illusion of narrative, of cause and effect, of morality, and of Charlie Chaplin saving the girl and humiliating the baddy. I believe that if people understood that this right here is the only life we ever have, but that we have this life forever, then they would lead happier and indeed better lives, rather than spending their entire lives under the unacknowledged shadow of eventual death or deferring all of their happiness and meaningful existence until they arrive in some promised imaginary paradise. In my opinion, eternity should not be seen as some impossibly remote point in the future but as something that is inherent in a solid spacetime where every moment is in itself eternal.
AN EARLIER IDEA OF YOURS, THE ‘FOOL’S LEAP‘, HAS BECOME A CENTRAL PART OF THE ETHOS BEHIND SUPER WEIRD SUBSTANCE, WITH 1st APRIL BECOMING SYMBOLICALLY SIGNIFICANT. IN ‘THE MINDSCAPE OF ALAN MOORE’, YOU EXPLAIN THAT ANYTHING OF VALUE IN OUR LIVES ALWAYS STARTS WITH SUCH A LEAP AND IT MUST BE TAKEN PURELY; WITHOUT THE ‘FEAR OF FAILING AND THE DESIRE OF SUCCEEDING’. IT’S LIKELY THE FEAR OF FAILURE THAT WILL GET MOST PEOPLE – HOW DO YOU WORK PAST THAT?
Fear and desire are both projections, and neither of them are particularly useful. Indeed, they are often the very things that prevent us from realising our goals. Many ways, fear and desire are two facets of exactly the same psychological process, are the same thing and precisely equal one another. Our desire for a peaceful and harmonious world is equivalent to our fear of a warlike and chaotic one.
And whichever world we wish for or dread, that world is not in any sense the real world but merely a projection of our fear and/or our desire, an imaginary utopia or dystopia, a theme park or a house of horrors. As to how we can avoid our fears, I would suggest that we must let our fears and desires cancel each other out. If we continue to desire we will continue to fear, whereas I find that if we simply stop desiring a certain thing or a certain outcome, then our fears around that thing will be similarly curtailed. At this point, unencumbered by the paralysed inertia of our mutually-annihilating fantasies, we might actually begin to make some progress towards our actual goals. In the general run of things – I’m not talking about if there’s a runaway truck bearing down on you, or if you’re hungry and you happen upon a luscious sandwich – fear and desire are both choices, and it might help if we remembered that.
YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU LIKE TO EXPLORE AREAS OF THE CULTURE THAT AREN’T BEING PAID ATTENTION TO, RATHER THAN PLAYING TO WHAT’S EXPECTED FROM YOU. THIS KIND OF BOUNDARY PUSHING USED TO BE THE NORM AMONGST CREATIVES BUT WE’VE BEEN SEEING MUCH MORE CONFORMITY AND FAMILIARITY IN THE ARTS OF LATE. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
I have recently come to the opinion that what we think of as culture and counterculture are in fact two necessary components of the same thing: culture needs counterculture to critique itself, to change and modify and renew itself, otherwise it will invariably ossify. I would say that the current lifelessness of culture might have something to do with the fact that we don’t appear to have been allowed a counterculture since the early 1990s.
IT SEEMS YOU STARTED LOOKING TO GET TO THE HEART OF THIS PROBLEM AROUND THE END OF 2015 WHEN YOU HOSTED A TALK ON COUNTERCULTURE AT YOUR LOCAL UNIVERSITY, WHICH SUBSEQUENTLY BIRTHED THE MODERN INCARNATION OF THE NORTHAMPTON ARTS LAB. WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THE ORIGINAL ARTS LAB THAT MADE YOU COME BACK TO THE IDEA WITH A NEW GROUP OF PEOPLE?
The beauty of Jim Haynes’ original Arts Lab notion was that it could take hold anywhere and could develop in any way that the self-appointed members saw fit. Working together, people were encouraged to try their hand at different disciplines and there was a glorious and uncontrolled cross-fertilisation of ideas. It shaped my whole approach to creativity, and I’m prepared to bet that it shaped the creativity of a lot of other artists too, noticeably the late David Bowie. It’s an idea and a working method that is timeless and not specific to any era, and is today, arguably, a vitally necessary one.
ALTHOUGH IT STARTED AS AN IN-JOKE AT THE ARTS LAB’S POST-BREXIT ARTMAGEDDON EVENT, DO YOU THINK IT’S FAIR TO SAY THE ‘MANDRILLIFESTO‘ HAS NOW BECOME A FLAGSHIP IN THIS BATTLE TO RECLAIM OUR CULTURE?
My position is that if you’re actually hell-bent on worshipping a horrific demagogue with an unusual mane and a weird-coloured face, a mandrill has got to be your first choice. Historically, no mandrill has ever been declared bankrupt; there are no sexual assault charges outstanding against mandrills; and mandrills are definitely not influenced by the Russians, or anything else for that matter.
IN HIS EXPOSE ON DRUGS, CHRIS MORRIS HIGHLIGHTED THE FACT THAT QUEEN ELIZABETH I GAVE BIRTH TO A CHILD RESEMBLING A MANDRILL, BY MISTAKE. PERHAPS THE MANDRILL HAS A FAIR CLAIM TO THE THRONE?
I think a major part of a mandrill’s charm is that they cannot possibly understand what a throne is, and the likeliest uses to which they might put it would probably be defecation or masturbation. So, actually, put like that, if a mandrill were to claim the throne, who would notice?
I’D GUESS YOU NEVER EXPECTED THE ‘MANDRILLIFESTO’ TO GROW LIKE IT DID. WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSION WHEN GREG WILSON AND KERMIT LEVERIDGE FIRST PLAYED YOU ‘ALAN MOORE’S MANDRILL MEETS SUPER WEIRD SUBSTANCE AT THE ARTS LAB APOCALYPSE’?
My jaw dropped so far that it dislocated, the way it does when I’m ingesting prey that’s larger than I am. I’d genuinely never imagined our rather minimalist rant being realised so sumptuously, and in such a range of musical genres. Having Greg and Kermit and the fabulous Reynolds sisters deliver it made me and Joe’s little tirade sound well and truly proper. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed hearing my own words half as much as with that uproarious Super Weird mix-tape.
YOU’LL BE HEADING TO ONE OF OUR SUPER WEIRD HAPPENINGS SOON, WHICH ARE SIMILAR TO THE ARTS LAB EVENTS IN THAT THEY’RE ABOUT CONNECTING WITH OTHERS AND COLLABORATING ON IDEAS. DO YOU THINK IT’S FAIR TO SAY THIS KIND OF TANGIBLE COOPERATION IS THE BEST REMEDY FOR THE INCREASINGLY FRACTURED WORLD?
I think it’s probably vital that we establish a network of arts collectives across as broad an area as possible: I see no real reason why, in today’s hyper-connected world, such a movement shouldn’t be able to reach global dimensions. Admittedly, if we take Brian Eno’s excellent definition of art as anything we don’t actually need, you might think that there were more important networks to reinforce or establish in these times of global fracture and dissolution. Art, however, can contain politics and culture and interpersonal relations and all those other things. If we can establish a neural network with our creativity, we can almost certainly use that network to facilitate any other kind of project that we may feel is useful. And, importantly, while the internet has given everybody a voice – with what would have to be called mixed consequences – a network of art could offer everyone a meaningful voice. Culture could aspire to a choral effect rather than a junkyard clamour.
IF THE COUNTERCULTURE WERE TO BE REKINDLED, SPARKING ANOTHER WIDESPREAD YOUTH MOVEMENT, IT’D NEED TO TREAD CAREFULLY SO IT DOESN’T ULTIMATELY END UP WITH ANOTHER ALTAMONT. WHERE DO YOU THINK IT WENT WRONG LAST TIME?
I think the enduring marvel of the Beat/Psychedelic counterculture is that anything went right. We were making it all up as we went along, in a largely unprecedented mass-rejection of our parent culture’s values. Also, we were doing this when most of us were still in the throes of adolescence and thus not necessarily prone to the clearest of thinking. And while we may have worked at overcoming them with varying degree of success, as a generation we had our prejudices and blind spots and our surges of naive idealism: not that there’s anything wrong with idealism, but when you’re employing Hell’s Angels as your pop concert security for no better essential reason than that it seems like a hip and groovy and alternative thing to do, you’re going to encounter possibly terminal problems. The thing with cultures or countercultures is that they never actually die. The counterculture of the Fifties and its ideas were available to fuel the counterculture of the Sixties, and so on. Countercultures change shape and evolve, meaning that what is happening now has the great benefit of being able to look back and consider the youthful errors of its earlier incarnation. In the Sixties, we tried to be inclusive but for a lot of the time we weren’t, or we wrestled with the concept to no great advantage. Looking at the people I see around me today – such as the people in our Northampton Arts Lab – I find it immensely heartening that today we handle that stuff so much better. In terms or gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age or pretty much every other issue, this is a much more diverse affair, and is thus more energetic and capable and efficient. As a system, it has far fewer bugs than what we had to work with back in the day. I think a big part of our job is to re-inform people; make them aware of the huge countercultural legacy they have as a resource in their individual struggles, and reconnect people with the idea of a counterculture after this quarter-century hiatus. Then, if we can get the cultural circuitry all arranged nicely, we can see what happens when we switch the apparatus on.
YOU’VE PREVIOUSLY SAID ‘THE INTERIOR OF THE HUMAN MIND IS INFINITE‘ AND HAVE EXPLAINED THAT IT WAS THROUGH IMAGINATION THAT YOU TRANSCENDED THE LIMITS OF YOUR EARLY LIFE. HOW IMPORTANT A ROLE DO YOU THINK IMAGINATION WILL PLAY IN SHAPING THE NEXT FEW YEARS FOR HUMANITY?
I think imagination is one of the single most important qualities, as individuals or as a culture, and certainly has a massive part to play in what happens next. I would caution, though, that imagination in itself can never be enough, and that it is important to understand that imagination only functions perfectly as part of a balanced and integrated system. With only our imagination, it is easy to become lost in fantasies, delusions, crappy superhero movies or dreams of what it will be like when we win the lottery, often to the detriment of our actual reality. As individuals, and thus presumably as a culture, we need to be certain that our imaginings are balanced and modified by both our compassion and our intellect. Then, when they have achieved that state of balance, we must use our applied Will to force them into manifest, material existence in the physical world. Yes, this is Trojan Horse kabbalah and magic, but it’s also the way that everything comes into being, be that a piece of music, a book or a social movement.
HAVING SPENT TEN YEARS CRAFTING YOUR CHEF D’ŒUVRE, YOU’VE NOW TURNED YOUR ATTENTION TO POETRY – AMONGST COUNTLESS OTHER THINGS. I GUESS THAT MEANS YOU’LL HAVE DIGESTED A LARGE PORTION OF THE GREAT WORKS. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE COME ACROSS THAT HOLDS A UNIVERSAL TRUTH THAT WOULD HELP US MAKE SENSE OF THE CONFUSING WORLD AROUND US?
So much of the best poetry is by definition crystallized around universal truth that I honestly wouldn’t know where to start. Blake’s ‘London’? Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’? Iain Sinclair’s ‘Lud Heat’? Brian Catling’s ‘The Stumbling Block’? Keats ‘Endymion’? Charles Olson’s ‘Maximus’ poems? Ivor Cutler? Salena Godden? John Cooper Clarke? Kate Tempest? The Sleaford Mods? The thing that we should probably remember is that all of the great countercultures of the past have had poetry right at their beating, beatnik heart. If your movement genuinely has something to say, I think it demands a fierce and original lyric voice to say it in. So, everybody, you have no excuses and a library that’s more than a thousand years deep. Poem up immediately.
Alan Moore will be coming to the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening at The Florrie, Liverpool 8, on April Fools’ Day.
Further info here
LEAD IMAGE BY MAL EARL / JERUSALEM BY ALAN MOORE / MANDRILL TAROT BY DOM MANDRELL / PEASANTS WITH PENS BY MEGAN LUCAS / MIXTAPE/HAPPENING POSTER BY PETE FOWLER / LONDON BY BLAKE