Tag Archives: politics

The Baysiders: Cults Within Cults

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A while ago, I was trying to explain the Bayside movement to a couple of friends. My mother was quite involved with the group for most of the 1980s and even in the first half of the 1990s. I think she still considers herself part of it, though she’s not actively involved to the extent she was.

For those not in the know, The ‘Baysiders’ came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based around the ‘visions’ of Veronica Leuken, a housewife based in Bayside, a neighbourhood of New York City. Leuken claimed to start having visions of Mary, Jesus’s mother, in 1968, just before the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. After that, the visions came thick and fast and soon, according to Leuken, she was speaking with Mary and a host of Catholic saints. They gave her messages about the state of the world and future predictions (none of which ever happened within the time predicted). She had her ‘ecstacies’ recorded on tape and transcribed, which were then distributed as flyers or newsletters by her rapidly growing group of followers.

The followers gathered at Leuken’s local parish in Bayside, until the crowds started to disturb the neighbourhood and were moved on by the local government. Eventually, they were granted a site which was part of the 1964 World’s Fair pavilion in Flushing Meadows. Leuken and her followers would gather for ‘Rosary Vigils’, in which they would say the rosary for the duration of the night, while Leuken would “channel” Mary or whichever saint chose to speak to the crowd.

That’s the basic gist of what they’re about. Ideologically, they were (and possibly still are) very conservative and were committed to oppose the ‘modern’ changes to the Catholic Church, specifically the Vatican II Council, held in 1962. According to Leuken, Mary and the others were very disappointed with the changes. In fact, if you read even a smattering of the ‘prophecies‘, Mary and the other celestial, omniscient beings sound a lot like garden-variety John Birch Society members. They’re obsessed with Communism, with ‘Satanic’ infiltration in the Church, the U.N., homosexuality, the wayward youth and the minutae of how to say the Mass (“No communion in the hand”, deacons can’t have priestly powers). It also seems that Mary & Co. aren’t that big on equal rights for women, or allowing women to wear trousers, in another ‘traditionalist’ bent. Add to all that a lot of apocalyptic warnings about comets and wars and natural disasters wiping out large swathes of the planet’s populations and you’re left scratching your head about Leuken’s “God” and his benevolence and loving nature. To me, ‘God’ sounds batshit crazy and conspiracy-theory prone: he warns about the Illuminati and the Freemasons, a conspiracy to replace the ‘Pope’ with an ‘anti-Pope’, about record companies being under control of Wicca (???!!) and a ‘one-world government’.

Bear in mind that the Baysiders never separated themselves from Catholicism, prefering to protest from within. They would wear their blue berets to Mass and, instead of having the communion wafer handed to them, would kneel down in front of the priest and have the wafer placed on their tongues (as allegedly instructed by the ‘Virgin Mary’, via Leuken). They were also notable by their conservative dress, with ankle-length skirts and formal trousers (trousers only for the men, though – women were forbidden to wear trousers).

I don’t remember how my mother became part of this cult – I was still really young and in the haze of childhood. I didn’t really pay much attention to the ‘grown-ups’ and their doings. Suddenly, it seemed, she was spending time with a few Baysiders and adopting their views and mannerisms. She be-friended a strange old woman, who would bring over photo albums full of Polaroid photos with different coloured squiggles on them which contained ‘messages’, according to this woman. You see, they were taken at the World’s Fair site during these rosary vigils and ‘God’ had caused the shapes to appear on the film. It is interesting to note that Polaroid attorneys never really released a statement saying the photos were faked. The ‘zines printed by the group starting appearing in the house and my mother began to stock up on ‘holy water’ (water blessed by a priest).

My mother would tell my older sister and I (our other siblings were deemed too young, at that time, to understand) about prophecies like the “Plague Of Children” and “The Warning” and “The Chastisement”. It sounded scary as shit, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me that much. My sister was really frightened and, it seems to me, carried around that fright for a long time. When I was 11, my mother asked if I wanted to go to a vigil. I agreed, mainly as an excuse to stay up late. We got on a coach in Hartford and on the two-hour trip to Flushing Meadows, I was sat with my mother and surrounded by Baysiders. At one point, someone shouted “Look at the sun! It’s spinning!”, everyone immediately looked over to the setting sun and agreed that it was indeed spinning. I didn’t see it spinning, but it did seem to change from a orange-ish to green colour for a few seconds. That may have been my eyesight, though. I didn’t count it as a ‘miracle’.

At the pavilion – there were hundreds of people setting up deck chairs and blankets and clutching rosary beads. There was a statue of the Virgin Mary at one end of the pavilion and that end was already crowded with believers. Then, they started saying the rosary…and saying the rosary…and saying the rosary. This went on until midnight or maybe 1 a.m. I can’t quite remember because I grew bored and fell asleep. It definitely wasn’t worth getting to stay up late for. I can’t remember if my mother had brought our Polaroid to take ‘miraculous photos’. I was woken by my mother and wearily got back on the coach to go home.

I think I may have gone one other time about a year later, but after that, I eschewed any involvement with the gatherings. I couldn’t see the point in saying prayers over and over and nothing seemed to happen. The problem was, I still couldn’t escape their influence on my mother. I went to a Catholic middle-school and in my sixth-grade year, my mother kept me out of sex education class (in a Catholic school!!!) – which was pretty humiliating at the time. She used to hector my sister and brother and I about listening to rock music (which she claimed was ‘the devil’s music’). She tried to keep me from hanging out with a friend who lived down the street because his family were a bit too secular and liberal for her liking (at least, that’s what I suspected back then).

Eventually, as I grew into my late teens, I was finally able to shuck off any trappings of Bayside. My mother continued to see her ‘Sider buddies and go to the vigils – but I stopped taking any of it seriously (not that I had taken it that seriously in the first place). While I still considered myself a Catholic, I was a liberal Catholic and getting moreso all the time. In my mid-twenties, I gave up on the Church altogether, having decided that I really didn’t believe in it’s teachings anymore. I chose agnosticism as my path and have strived to keep to it as much as possible – getting rid of any long-held dogma.

Leuken passed away in 1995, which led to a schism in the Bayside movement. Her husband continued the vigils, but ousted one of his wife’s assistants – who promptly formed a rival Baysider sect. Mr Leuken passed away in 2002 and another woman has stepped up to lead the ‘original’ group. The Catholic Church still denies any authenticity to the prophecies…and the beat goes on. The strangest thing about the Baysiders, it seems to me, is that they’re more conservative than the main religious organisation they branch off from. Unlike certain sects of Sufism, which branches from Islam and Zen, which parts ways some from Buddhism – the Baysiders seem to want to turn back the clock with Catholicism and return it to a perceived earlier, ‘better’ period. They’re sincere, but ultimately misguided, as the world is passing them by. I suspect they’re all up in arms about the recent gay marriage vote in Ireland and still predicting that ‘great comet of fire’ is just around the corner. But hey, at least they probably agree with the current ‘Pope’ regarding the matter.

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Stewart Lee – “A Room With A Stew” – Oxford Playhouse – March 31st, 2015

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Stewart Lee appeared in Oxford again, with his new “work-in-progress” shows, titled (by the awesome Alan Moore, apparently) “A Room With A Stew“. The last time I saw him was at the New Theatre on the “Carpet Remnant World” tour, a few years ago. I wish I could remember a lot of it, but all I can recall are the YouTube comments bit, the budget Scooby-Doo episode (after the Tories ransacked the show’s budget) and his reference to Dr Strangely Strange‘s “Heavy Petting” LP. I do recall enjoying the gig a lot and was excited when the missus found out he was going to be at The Playhouse.

The missus had to pass on the show, due to a really bad chest cough, so I went with her brother, his wife and an old work-mate. We had decent seats, in the stalls, about seven rows from the stage. John Coltrane‘s version of “My Favorite Things” was piped through the in-house speakers as the crowd settled into its seats. Eventually, the lights dimmed a bit, a stage announcement was made and the man walked out to applause.

He explained that the two sets of the show would be broken into segments, as he was working on material for the newest series of his Comedy Vehicle programme, which was picked up for more episodes. The first bit consisted of Lee poking fun at the right-wing media pundits, who ask why no left-wing comedians ridicule ‘the Muslims’. He dove-tailed that with a shot at popular comics who use tired “observational comedy” (he did a funny bit where he pretended to run around the stage – in a Lee Mack or Michael McIntyre way) as the main part of their humour. In the end, Lee just said “How ’bout those Muslims you see these days?” There was a (possibly fictional – sometimes you can’t tell with Stew) story about a Muslim woman, who sat on a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, “The Watchtower”, on a bus. He diverted into other topics during the telling of the story, like Twitter-spying and Nigel Fart-age, before finishing the entire bit with a really funny and lengthy punchline (which I can’t recall completely at the moment).

The ‘second half’ of the first set started with a story about himself being urinated on by a group of bullies at his school. This led him, he suggested (in a Freudian way), to want to entertain people. He reasoned that on some level, as the bullies were laughing at him, he was ‘entertaining’ them. More off-shoots of the central premise followed, including a urine-based aphorism that his family used and a story about his grandfather, a World War II veteran, attempting to wee on flies in a Maltese gents room – pretending they were German aircraft. He said, with a lot of gravitas, “For some of those guys, the war never ended”. When the crowd failed to laugh at that line – Lee went into a (jokey) tirade about how comedians are under-appreciated and shouting “it’s crowds like you that tied the noose around Robin Williams‘s neck!” The hilarious faux-crowd-berating continued for another few minutes and then Lee bounded off-stage for the intermission.

The second half of the show involved surplus England flags, various bodily fluids and hanging England flags outside his home to dry and the impression it made on his neighbours. I won’t spell it out graphically – but I think you can piece the bit together from that. The funniest bits were him calling his cat “Paul Nuttall From UKIP” and referring to lustful feelings as “Nigel Farage is on the campaign trail”. There was also a part where he told how one of his friends looked very “Venezualan” (earlier in the show, he asked for a name of a country that would seem benign to the crowd) – a funny riff on how xenophobes view ‘foreigners’. He described how his friend would wear strange clothes (he came up with some fantastical outfits), listen to weird Venezualan music on Radio Three (he launched into an improvised record-scratching, high-pitched vocal and animal noise sound for about 5 minutes) and how, in the end, everyone but Lee’s friend knew he was ‘Venezualan’.

Lee finished with a short section that he referred to as an ‘encore’, but he did say at the beginning of the show that he wouldn’t leave the stage and walk back on. It was a short fragment of a bit about clients of sex workers leaving used condoms around the street and sometimes in Lee’s garden. I can’t recall the final punch-line, but it had to do with Lee’s wife and feminism, but in a praising way, not an obnoxious one.

I found the second half wasn’t quite as tight as the first – but to be fair, even these later shows on the tour are still opportunities for Lee to hone the material. In any case, I had a great time and it’s always good to see Stew – even when he’s mock-berating me for showing up to watch him.

Cinema Corner #315: “Dear Zachary” & “Bitter Lake”

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I was doing a bit of Wiki-hopping. You know, where you look at one Wikipedia page, then follow a link to a different page and so on. I bought a used copy of Spiritualized‘s Songs In A&E last week. Running through the other tunes are short tracks all named “Harmony” (with slight variations on the title). I thought I’d check the Wiki page for “Songs…” and discovered that the tunes are named that after Harmony Korine, the actor/screenwriter (most famous for writing the screenplay to the 1995 film “Kids“, a bleak look at da yoof in 1990s New York City). I then looked at the page for Korine and remembered reading about his film “Gummo” a while back. Apparently, it’s quite a difficult film to watch. That led me to one of those list-articles on Buzzfeed, about the “25 Films That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity“. Now, it is Buzzfeed, so expect a lot of hype – but some of those films seem to be really draining on the psyche, just from the descriptions. Amongst the violent revenge flicks like “Oldboy” and “I Spit On Your Grave“, is a documentary called “Dear Zachary“. Unlike a lot of the films on the list, it’s available to watch on YouTube. I was curious as to how it ended up on the list, so I gave it a go.

Essentially, it’s the story of Andrew Bagby’s murder in 2001, carried out (or so the evidence seems to show) by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. Bagby had a relationship with Turner while they were both in medical school. Bagby broke it off and Turner, unable to take being jilted, drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania and (again, as the evidence seems to show) killed him in cold blood after he agreed to meet her one last time. Kurt Kuenne (which he pronounces “Kenny”) was a childhood friend of Bagby’s and Bagby acted in a lot of Kuenne’s amateur films when they were students. There are several talking-head interviews with Andrew’s school friends and work colleagues and even his relatives in England, describing his personality in glowing terms.

Bagby’s parents, Kate (an ex-pat English nurse) and David, are given special focus, as they were the main campaigners to get Turner brought to trial in the States (Turner was a Canadian citizen and fled to her native Newfoundland after Bagby was murdered). Turner then revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child (she also had three other children from previous relationships). Bagby’s parents moved to Newfoundland to work on Turner’s extradition and then to get custody of ‘Zachary’, as the baby was eventually named. The Bagbys are awarded (very tenuously) joint custody of Zachary and Kuenne drives up to Canada to meet and film The Bagbys and the child.

Tragedy then happens a second time when, realising that her extradition may be imminent and that another episode involving a man jilting her caused Turner to become unstable – she strapped Zachary to herself and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned within minutes. It’s made obvious that the film, while being a tribute to Andrew and Zachary, is more of a tribute to The Bagbys and their resilience in coping with the loss of a grandson and a son and taking on the caprices of the Canadian justice system.

The film, despite it’s depressing content, is well-made. Kuenne probably could have relied less on the musical score for emotional cues (such as the Bernard Hermann “Psycho”-like music for the parts where Turner is shown). Turner is never really investigated, either – her family aren’t interviewed, her background isn’t researched or presented at all. She becomes mainly a cypher and a villain for viewers to project all sorts of ‘evil’ onto. Now, she was more than likely guilty of murdering a man in cold blood and she took the life of a child in a ghastly selfish way. Still, we never know what motivated her to behave that way. She clearly had mental health problems and was quite unstable. Also, the Canadian justice system seems quite flawed – but was this a case of a small community protecting one of its own? Particularly in the wake of 9/11, was there a broader link between the foot-dragging of the extradition trial and the central Canadian government (vis-a-vis: distancing itself from the U.S. government)? I suppose that may be veering into conspiracy theory, but it could be an interesting avenue to explore.

Adam Curtis, the UK documentary film-maker, announced on his blog a short while ago, that he was producing a doc to be shown strictly on the BBC iPlayer. It was to be about Afghanistan and its relationship to Russia, Saudi Arabia and The West.

It finally arrived (called “Bitter Lake”) on the iPlayer in January and I watched it as soon as I had a couple of hours to really absorb the film. It starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, on an American warship in 1945. The U.S. needed oil to run it’s growing industrial complexes and fuel it’s new-found military might. Abdulaziz agreed to produce the oil, but his condition was that the U.S. not interfere in the Saudi faith. That faith is Wah’habbism, a very conservative branch of Islam. F.D.R. also agreed to a massive dam project in Afghanistan, that would help work to ‘modernise’ that country and create a Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

The film then presents a dizzying lesson in Afghan history since 1945, using archival footage, interspersed with unedited BBC news footage shot after the 2001 invasion by U.S. and UK forces. The West, seeking to create a Middle East idyll in Afghanistan, runs afoul of the Saudis after the U.S. overtly supports Israel in the 1950s. The democratic Afghanistan does well in the the 1960s, but then Western student visitors bring leftist ideas with them in the early 1970s. A few years later, after the 1973/1974 oil crisis, which gave the Saudis even more leverage in world affairs, due to ‘petrodollars’ flowing into their coffers – Communism (with a capital ‘C’) started to flourish in Afghanistan. This didn’t sit too well with the Saudis.

Russian citizens, encouraged by this development, started to move into the country. There was a backlash, however, and soon things started to get ugly. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back the failing Communist regime. Groups of disparate tribal fighters (with Wah’habbists among their ranks) rebelled against the Soviets. The U.S., seizing an opportunity to fight a proxy war, trained and armed (via the C.I.A.) these groups, who came to be known as the ‘mujahedeen’. The roots of what then morphed into the the Taliban were formed in the mujahedeen.

Some of the uncut footage is extraordinary, unsettling and shocking, sometimes all at once. Footage of then-President Karzai’s motorcade wends it’s way through Kabul. Three men sidle up to Karzai’s SUV to greet him – suddenly automatic gunfire rings out and seconds later, the men are laying heaped in the street. U.S. soldiers are shown boasting about being ‘born killers’ and ‘off command’ kills (presumably that means civilians or people the soldiers themselves suspected being Taliban combatants, but weren’t confirmed as such). In one really lovely bit, a British soldier holds a small bird that has landed on his rifle, while a Middle Eastern pop song plays as a soundtrack.

The British presence in Afghanistan, particularly Helmand Province, after 2001 is shown to be largely an exercise in futility, as the soldiers couldn’t tell who were the ‘real Taliban’. Curtis argues that many of the locals were fed up with Karzai’s corrupt police forces and saw the British as backing the police. The locals decided to attack the British, which emboldened the Taliban to return from Pakistan – so essentially, the British were fighting on two fronts at once.

Things changed yet again after the 2008 financial crash, when the ‘bankers and techno-crats’, trusted by the leaders in The West to work out the complexities of the markets, failed to do so. Money was flooded into the U.S., UK and Afghanistan economies in an effort to prop up the system. A lot of the money injected into the Afghan economy was siphoned out to Dubai, further frustrating the Afghan people.

In the end, Curtis argues, despite many different leaders trying to imprint their version of Islam on radical groups, Wah’habbism was still the driving force behind even the newest group of fighters, ISIL (the Islamic State of Syria and Levant), or ISIS. The original strain of Islam that the king of Saudi Arabia tried to wipe out in the 1940s is alive and very much kicking. Curtis also states that The West had to confront the notion that all of its efforts to transform Afghanistan amounted to nothing, but like the lake on the planet in the 1972 film “Solaris”, Afghanistan has left an effect on the Western psyche.

You can watch “Dear Zachary” online here

You can watch “Bitter Lake” here (UK only) and here (rest of the world)

 

Leftovers: January 2015

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Hey now! Well, we’ve all transitioned into a new Gregorian Calendar Year – hopefully your holidays weren’t too stressful. Mine were quiet, which I enjoyed. I wasn’t really up for a busy X-Mas/New Year season.

I seem to have missed a couple of things in my 2014 round-up. The ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, which started at the beginning of the year, gained momentum and is continuing. Of course, this stoked the press in the U.S. and UK, with many freaking out that the virus might actually, y’know, start killing white people in droves. The BBC showed more than a few info-segments and Faux News bonehead-in-residence (one of the many) Glenn Beck demonstrating how difficult it is to keep the disease contained, even with protection suits, with chocolate sauce and spaghetti substituting for bodily fluids. Keep ’em frightened, Glenn, that’s the F.N. way, innit? There is some hope, though, as a vaccine will be tested and if successful, taken to West Africa.

The U.S., besides having to worry about a possible ebola scare, also witnessed a bad year for police brutality. Incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City compounded African-Americans’ mistrust of law enforcement and lead to near-riots in many cities. It was like 1991 again, except without a Bush in the White House (thankfully). Dreadful incidents, all. There were moments like those during the Occupy protests a couple of years ago, but when African-Americans are being singled out, it brings into sharp relief the precarious nature of race relations in the U.S. and of the increasing militarisation of some police departments.

2015 hasn’t got off to a banner start, either. The Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris was a reminder that radical Islam is alive and well. Both sides of the ideological fence weighed in on matters of free speech and whether faith ‘is’ a matter for satire. I thought about devoting an entire post to the murders, but I suspect anything I could say, someone has put far more eloquently. In the aftermath, the city did hold a ‘Unity Rally‘ and for a moment, the human potential for empathy shone through ideology and religious differences.

One bright spot was the Greek elections, in which left-wing party Syriza was swept in, defying both the far-right hatemongers Golden Dawn and the more moderate, austerity-policy parties. Will Greece give the IMF and the Euro-zone the boot? That remains to be seen, but it definitely seems a step toward something better for that country, which has been mired in mass unemployment and riots for a while now.

Busy Week: Mark Thomas – The North Wall, Summertown – 15th Oct./The Orb – O2 Academy, Oxford – 16th October, 2014

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Pixie and I actually had somewhat of an active social life this past week, as we caught leftie comedian Mark Thomas in action at The North Wall theatre, a tiny venue in Summertown on Wednesday night (15th October). The next night, we were at the O2 Academy in Oxford, to see The Orb on the current leg of the group’s 25th Anniversary Tour.

Thomas started his show by praising the hall. “I love this fucking space”, he exclaimed a few times – “I feel like there should be a priest hole somewhere”, he added. After that, he went into a few random riffs on what he’s been up to, while promising that “the second half is fucking great”. He had a competition to find a definition of “Farage” (which he insisted be pronounced “fair-idge”, not “far-odge”, like the media do). He chose the best one – which was the residue you find at the bottom of a food waste bin. He also hawked stickers saying “Daily Mail Free Zone” to place on trains and coaches. The first set was quite short, only about a half-hour or so.

The second set centred around Thomas’s work and protests with the C.A.A.T. (or Campaign Against The Arms Trade). The main subject is a fellow activist called “Martin” – Thomas never says his surname and we were never quite if his first name is even Martin. Martin was a convert to the anti-arms trade cause, after working in the trade for a long while. Thomas talked of how dedicated Martin was and the amount of time he spent organising and helping with protests. He cleverly used videos of fellow activists and ‘talked’ with them about Martin. All was well, until a rumour started circulating that Martin wasn’t quite what he seemed. An audit of C.A.A.T.’s computers turned up evidence that Martin was spying for B.A.E. Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer.

Thomas and a few staunch supporters of Martin refused to believe the allegations and Thomas even went so far as to shout denials to the organisation’s leaders. Somehow, though, to Thomas, something wasn’t quite right about Martin and he was eventually convinced to read the file on the audit. The evidence looked incontravertible and Thomas was forced to change his opinion of Martin. In the end, Thomas, despite many efforts, couldn’t get Martin to admit to what he had done. He closed the show with more videos of fellow activists who had also been spied on by either corporations or goverment agencies. It widened the show’s scope from personal betrayal to the enormous implication of spying going on in society at the moment.

The Orb have been on their 25th Anniversary tour since mid-2013 and the show stopped in Oxford on 16th October. The group, at the moment, is a duo of original member (and the only constant one) Alex Paterson – sorta the Robert Fripp of The Orb, with Thomas Fehlmann, who joined up around the time of “U.F.Orb”, released in 1992. To my surprise, the show was on the upper floor of the O2 Academy. It’s a smaller space and makes for a more intimate setting. We missed the support act – I think it was someone called Nick Hooper. He had the usual laptop/sampler set-up and was winding down his set as we walked in.

After a short-ish interval – Paterson and Fehlmann took centre stage where their gear was set up. I suspect most of the first half were tunes from the latest album (released in 2012), Orbserver In The Star House – a collaboration with dub reggae legend, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I don’t have “Orbserver…” yet, so I didn’t recognise anything until Pat Metheny‘s sampled guitar notes floated into the mix, signalling their classic “Little Fluffy Clouds“. A nice “Towers Of Dub” followed and a surprise “Toxygene” made it into the set. “Blue Room” was dusted off with a harder-edge beat than the studio version and “Assassin” made an appearance as well.

I also remember a re-working of Pink Floyd‘s “One Of These Days“, mainly using the bass riff and layered sounds. “A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain…” was announced by way of the Minnie Riperton sample, but it wasn’t its usual epic length. The nearly two-hour set wound down with what I think was “Ball Of Fire” off of “Orbserver…” (based on the spoken-word sample in it). Paterson and Fehlmann left the stage and the crowd stamped and shouted for an encore, but the house lights switched on and we all shuffled out into the street. A decent show – fairly stripped back compared to the shows of twenty or even fifteen years ago. The duo kept things moving along nicely and there weren’t any dull moments. The mix wasn’t the best, but then the acoustics in that space have never been, in my experience, ideal. A lot of the spoken-word samples were difficult to hear, so some of the depth of the Orb sound was lost. Aside from that, it was good to see the boys out on the road, bringing a bit of psychedelic ambient dance music to the faithful.

Mark Thomas: Cuckooed – North Wall, Summertown

First set: “What I’ve Been Up To” – including “Farage” & playing gigs in strange venues

Second set: “Cuckooed” (a tale of betrayal)

The Orb – 25th Anniversary Tour –  O2 Academy, Oxford:

Africa

Soulman

(not sure)

(not sure)

Little Fluffy Clouds

Assassin

Towers Of Dub

Toxygene

Blue Room

One Of These Days (Pink Floyd remix)

A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain…

(not sure)

Ball Of Fire

–no encore–

Daft Or Dastardly? The Laurel Canyon Conspiracy

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A short time ago, a FB friend posted a link to a site all about the supposed “Laurel Canyon Conspiracy”. I think the context was a post I shared about Aleister Crowley. I’m not a hard-core Thelemite – but I do enjoy Crowley’s books on magick and the bit of his fiction I’ve read so far.

In any case, the L.C. conspiracy seems to have been first posted online by a bloke called Dave McGowan in 2008. Since then, it’s been reproduced in sections or in it’s entirety on various sites. Usually, I dismiss that kind of thing outright as nonsense, thought up by paranoids who want to blame the shitness of their own lives on some over-arching group (The Bilderbergers, The Rothschilds, The Rockefellers, etc, etc.)

McGowan contends that the 1960s counter-culture began in the Laurel Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The main characters in the scenario, such as Jim Morrison and David Crosby, were the scions of upper-ranks military commanders and intelligence personnel. They were then indoctrinated into working for the CIA to….well, McGowan never really says. Was the aim to spread the gospel of non-violence and psychedelics, to create a pliable populace easy to manipulate? Was it to create a counter-culture to scare the god-fearing Joe and Jane Six-Packs into voting for a strong conservative government and perpetual warfare?

Maybe both, or neither. There seem to be a couple of glaring errors in his analysis, almost from the outset. He contends that Frank Zappa was ‘pro-war’ and that all of the bands hung out together and were all good pals. According to the testimony in other books, Arthur Lee, of the band Love, liked neither Frank Zappa nor Jim Morrison. David Crosby has gone on record several times about how much he loathed Jim Morrison. Frank Zappa lampooned the ‘hippie scene’ quite a few times on his early albums (especially “We’re Only In It For The Money“, released in 1968). The idea that these disparate personalities were all gelling together for the CIA seems ludicrous…add in Stephen Stills, Charles Manson, Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) and Neil Young and things seem even further far-fetched.

McGowan has done quite a bit of research on the history of Laurel Canyon, especially during the 1920s and 1930, when it’s homes were bought up by some big-name Hollywood folk, as well as stage magician extraordinaire, Harry Houdini (yep, he did some work for the U.S. gubberment too, says McGowan). McGowan impressively does find connections between a lot of the key L.C. players in the 1960s and while it may look like something sinister was happening, I’m not convinced that because a lot of the musicians were ‘army brats’, they automatically were drafted into helping the military/industrial complex. The U.S. military was a big employer immediately after WWII, when a lot of them were born – it doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence to me.

To be fair, there was a lot of weird stuff happening – but it seems L.A. does attract it’s share of chancers and miscreants and has done since the film industry set up there a hundred years ago. Add in psychedelics and sexual liberation and well…you got yourself a freaky scene, man. McGowan does shed light on the infamous Manson murders of 1969, deviating a lot from the ‘official’ story given by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. Apparently, it was the result of a couple of drug deals gone very badly. Manson botched a drug deal with an African-American dealer, which left him (Manson) paranoid and looking for protection. Allegedly, he approached the “Straight Satans”, a biker gang, who were hanging around Manson’s place for the ‘free love’ and drugs. They thought Manson was a joke, but agreed to protect him if he could score some mescaline for a party they were throwing in a couple of weeks’ time.

Manson went to Bobby Beausoleil, who had formed short-lived psychedelic band The Orkustra (who later morphed into It’s A Beautiful Day) and knew a lot of the Laurel Canyon players. Beausoleil then contacted Gary Hinman, an acquaintence and fellow musician. Gary spoke with a couple of chemist friends who said they could get the amount of mescaline together. Money changed hands and that was that. Until, according to the bikers, the mescaline was bunk and they demanded their money back. Beausoleil went to Hinman, who said he’d already spent the money. Manson got involved and Hinman was killed, after being kept in his home by Beausoleil. Hinman was suffocated, still suffering from a wound Manson had given him. To make the murder appear as a political attack, they scrawled “Political Piggy” on Hinman’s wall.

Beausoleil was, of course, the prime suspect for the murder of Gary Hinman and trying to protect him, Manson hatched the idea of a few more murders to make it look like a political gang was on a rampage – hence the “Healter Skelter” (sic) and “Piggies” scrawled on the walls of the Sharon Tate home in blood. Bugliosi thought that Manson was serious with his “race war” talk and run with that story. It seems it’s a lot more mundane. It was all about money and paranoia.

Getting back to the original premise – why would the CIA create the counter-culture, only to destroy it (via Manson and Altamont) a few years later? The Laurel Canyon theory also ignores all the other contemporary scenes in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Amsterdam. The S.F. and London scenes were already in action as early as 1964, while Laurel Canyon didn’t really start until 1965 or ’66. While isolated examples like Vito Paulekas and Zappa seemed ahead of the game, most sorta drifted in after the fact.

Aside from the Hinman killing and the Tate-LaBianca murders, the other major tragedy of the era was Paulekas’s two-year-old son, Godot, falling to his death in his father’s studio. There’s also allegations that before he died, he was ‘introduced to sensuality’ by being passed around to adults open mouths. So, yes, there’s alleged child abuse as well. Still, I don’t believe that everything and everyone in the Canyon at that time were CIA agents and connected to the government. None of the conspiracy theorists have offered any sort of official proof – wouldn’t a Freedom Of Information request turn up hard evidence that Crosby et al. were on the payroll? Perhaps I’m naive in that respect.

As with anything – you can read the theory for yourself and make your own decision – it is twenty-one pages long and covers a five decades or so, so it does get meandering. It’s here, if you dare.

Also, as a bonus – McGowan references the film, Mondo Hollywood, several times in the article – you can watch the film in it’s entirety below:

The ‘Iron Lady’ finally rusts away

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It was announced earlier today that Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, given her health decline in recent years. Another nail gets hammered into the coffin of the ‘Decade Of Greed’. She was the last of the big-name 1980s politicians to leave the planet.

I don’t want to re-hash her entire career – her main achievement was being elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. If only it wasn’t her – but she seized her moment and ran with it. It’s true that Britain seemed in a pretty dire spot in 1979, due to inflation and some union leaders being in it for themselves and not for the good of the union members. Still, her changes cut far too deep and her closure of the mines and other industries caused widespread unemployment and disillusion.

She remains divisive to this day and a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1980s. Now, I was living in the U.S. at the time and while I didn’t experience Thatcher’s policies directly – her counterpart in the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was playing funny games with the economy – deregulating the banks, sky-high spending on the military and other not-so-legal adventures. His theory was that by giving the very wealthy tax cuts, they would create more wealth and it would ‘trickle down’ to everyone. Of course, it didn’t work like that – the wealthy made more money and hoarded it – so nothing ever trickled down.

Thatcher also staved off negative criticism by going ahead with the Falkland Islands conflict, which, when the British forces were victors, boosted her popularity. Reagan did the same with the Grenada action (he needed it after the killing of 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut, following an attack on the U.S. compound in that city). It’s said both Thatcher and Reagan brought the Soviet Union down – but I’ll tell you, I was never more frightened of nuclear war than in the early 80s. Of course, films like The Day After didn’t help my paranoia.

I suspect that for all Reagan and Thatcher’s rhetoric, it was more of the relaxing of the Soviet leadership that allowed the break-up of “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall to collapse. Yes, the U.S.S.R. was bankrupt, but the UK and U.S. were heavily in debt from their own weapons programs.

In the end, Thatcher was ousted by her own party over the Poll Tax and for not regarding opinions of her cabinet. She became a feeble and withered old woman and it seems likely she would not have lasted long in the 1990s, even if she hadn’t been booted from Downing Street. Of course, her legacy lived on as the Labour Party practically adopted her policies in an effort to win elections. They were successful in 1997 with their leader, Tony Blair, who brought the party further to the right, ideologically and dubbing the party “New Labour”. Blair also followed Thatcher’s way of getting into conflict and partnering up with the U.S., committing UK troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reagan served two terms, but his image was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal and despite claims to the contrary, never fully recovered from it. It was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1990s and he passed away in the late 1990s.

We all know what happened in 2000/2001, after George W. Bush was elected. He’s the son of George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president and was elected to the presidency in 1988. G.W.B. and Blair engineered the invasion of Iraq (Bush’s father had forces invade in 1990, after Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait) and allegedly, Bush’s advisors were impressed with the way Thatcher handled the Falklands campaign. They modelled their action, which happened in 2003, on the Falklands conflict.

Maggie Thatcher remains a divisive figure – despised and pronounced a failure by one contingent and lionised and canonised by another. I must admit I’m far more in the ‘despised’ camp – the 1980s, to me, was a dismal time and I am glad they’re over. Now with Thatcher’s death, I hope we can all say goodbye to that decade. Not forget, mind – but lay it to rest.