King Mob's graffiti vs Germaine Greer's mortgage, the wider context of West London in the 1970s until the 2000s, the women of King Mob.
A drift on Germaine Greer: One telling incident, feminism modern day shameless Ranterism, wreckage and total loss
The following was originally based on an email attachment to Ms Vicki Maguire in Liverpool in late September 2007.
A Telling Incident............
In the Guardian newspaper of 24.9.2007, Germaine Greer in G2's Arts Comment said:
'Thirty five years ago I bought a house in North Kensington, London. One of the reasons I bought it was that it sported a magnificent graffito. In those days, graffiti were usually texts, some of them; it was said, written by the poet Christopher Logue. This one spelt out, in foot-high block capitals, the undeniably truth that 'Boredom is counter-revolutionary'.1
Well sorry, the poets, least of all Christopher Logue didn't do these things! We from King Mob, the anti-poets, anti-artists did! Her future house was easy to spray paint - or by using a paint brush from an old-fashioned can of paint ' because it was hidden relatively from the street lights yet near to the main thoroughfare of Ladbroke Grove, sufficient to be noticed and yet something of a side road where the police weren't too vigilant. We also sprayed up, seeing Germaine mentions it: 'This too will burn'. Firstly, the obvious must be explained: We were penniless and still without means even three years later after spraying up these slogans and countless others when she was able to afford a mortgage on this property. Interestingly at the time just after she'd bought the house, four of us, two men (Phil Meyler from Ireland - he was putting together at the time - Portugal: The Impossible Revolution - and my nutty self) and two women (from Portugal), euphoric about the Portuguese revolt in the middle of the 1970s and out of our brains on grass and Portuguese bagacao did a further bit of spray painting on her abode after the midnight hour. This was also occasioned because Germaine Greer had just evicted squatters from her recently acquired though still empty home and the best people around Notting Hill were feeling indignant about her actions. Well, we managed to fuck up our renewed intervention because legless. Ms Greer called the police on us and we only escaped by jumping in builders' skips hiding under broken up plaster board. After the cops went and crawling out from the debris in a filthy mess we then set light to the skip because it was right next to Germaine's house. It made a merry sight; quite the equal of destroying Paul McCartney's expensive car on the hard standing in the front of his house sometime later in St John's Wood and again in the dead of night! (I simply loved - full of a building workers' strength and so young - picking up a huge potted tree in a gigantic plant pot and putting it right through the bonnet of his Merc)....but I digress.
That the poets/prats were interested in what we spray painted is true but to my knowledge only one intervened and copied our praxis and that was Mike Horovitz. He amended one slogan and (surprisingly) for the better! He diverted William Blake's 'The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom'. Horovitz crossed out 'wisdom' replacing it with 'Willesden'. (Willesden was - and still is - a really downtrodden borough to the north of Notting Hill, up past Kensal Rise and a little onwards via the 52 bus route. Horowitz's comment was also a celebration of the wild Irish and their 'mad' but often liberating drinking and that's still a daily occurrence in Willesden pubs. After all these intervening years, Willesden remains a downtrodden though now a real relief - I mean a real relief - to quickly journey to now that Notting Hill is acridly colonised by the filthy rich who came here, taking our genuine 'lan and turning it into its opposite thus destroying those who give the place its remarkable subversive ambience in the first place. In a way Horowitz was sensing that maybe for the future wisdom lay more in Willesden and that I cannot deny).
It's been more than that, much more and much worse. The subversive inhabitants of 'original' Notting Hill had to be destroyed - white, black, Arab, women, children, men and all so beautifully insane ' to be swept aside and their blood sucked dry so that the image of Notting Hill's former self could be processed then packaged and sold to the rest of the world.
Recently the same obnoxious crew, Working Title Films, who made the films Notting Hill, Four Weddings and A Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary and quote starring 'an internationally known cast' have prepared a new load of shite, a feature film to be called Hippie Hippie Shake. They constructed makeover stage sets throughout the whole area and on All Saints Road, a former fulcrum of the old days they constructed the necessary time warp morphing managing, at the same time, to be contemptuous towards us ' the original inhabitants - but with their obligatory condescending mannerisms as they covered our doors with hippy insignia trying to hide the presence of the crackheads living on our top floors of this rented accommodation who frequently spill out on to the pavement covered in blood.
Sometime later in the same Guardian G2 arts slot, Germaine Greer went on to carefully say she made no money out of her house in Notting Hill when selling it a few years later and obviously feeling rather guilty about the aforementioned squatter incident2 . What sticks out for us more though is her lack of apology on the way she hired an architect, albeit something of a low key, more sensitised architect typical of the 1970s when the profession was under rapid fire, to alter her self-same old 19th century four storey terraced abode. Nonetheless it proved for us even way back then it wasn't just the poets she respected but the architects too! And there's the nub of the matter and also why so much of the original feminist critique came as such a powerfully depressing upset to those of us trying to realise a radical perspective. It wasn't that women were speaking for themselves but that the women who were speaking were largely those with some up and coming stake in the system, tending to do so with blinkers still on, especially culture-counter blinkers. These people really did believe in so much of the old shit and moreover very deferential towards it. As for Ms Greer it's taken her more than a third of a century to update herself on art and if she got it wrong in 1970 firmly supporting outdated, trad forms somehow made acceptable because practised by women, she's still got it wrong now as unabashed apologist for the plethora of installation shit everywhere recently and banally demanding that artworks be distributed alongside Britain's motorways to alleviate their ugliness and boredom. (The Guardian, G2. 13.12.07). Worse that that, it's no longer architects with alternative veneers she praises but the real horror stories like Norman Foster and partners. She ends her rubbish on a priceless note: 'Give Antony Gormley or Anish Kapoor five miles of motorway to play with and three or four million quid to spend and you will have something fabulous, something that could make our day'3 .
Feminism and the Ranters
Ms Greer is, of course, well known as one of the major feminist ideologues. Historically though what was the distance, even the gap, between this nascent feminism and situationist critique? Again Ms Vicki Maguire wanted to know something along these lines and the following paragraph has been somewhat distilled from a spontaneous email. The trouble is the immediate response come 1970-1 was that the whole SI/King Mob thing was male chauvinist. The feminists were kinder towards the Angry Brigade but latterly that sympathy too has evaporated if Lynne Segal's book Making Trouble is anything to go by. And that pronouncement never elaborated on, believe it or not, was enough to finish off any attempt at critical re-evaluation of King Mob for decades to come. Initially you should have heard what all the King Mob women thought of all that from ex-aristos like Cathy Pozzo di Borgo, to upper middle class aficionados like Gill Woodward to working class women like Madeleine Neenan and Freddy Cooke - born on Liverpool's 'Cast Iron Shore'. All were wild women to some degree liking the wild side; dropping out, bashing cops, friendly sex, etc. You cut up untidy and you were out for a good time, because; 'all the rest was propaganda' as the film script went. Dare cross Anne Ryder and she'd sock you straight in the gob! And then emerged the feminists, straight into mortgages and the professional career structure, Trotskyism, university careers, Guardian journalism and the Labour party. They lamented failing marriages when the King Mob women thoroughly despised marriage. (Well to begin with as alas it didn't remain so regarding the above fairly arbitrary listing). Freddy's was the most coherent critique as she shacked up with 'Irish' from Newcastle , the guy responsible for all the 'disgusting' lavatory wall detourned drawings which the feminists bitterly objected to. Unfortunately Freddy died of cancer in her early 40s leaving two lovely children and many still crying over her as we worshipped her. But then Freddy was merely a typist (therefore humdrum nothingness) and wasn't a Prof like Lynne Segal who of course could make 'the proper' critique. If Freddy didn't know Germaine Greer she certainly knew Lynne Segal well enough and the end result was contempt not only for her wealth and privileges but her hypocrisy knowing also that Lynn Segal didn't have a clue not only about the lives of women at the bottom of the pile but on general theoretical levels too. No real theoretical radical makes an appearance in her recent book content as she is with mentioning as brilliant thinkers fink college lecturers like Stuart Hall. And what can one really say about the prolonged spat between the two antipodean feminists, Greer and Segal, other than it amounts to nothing more than the 'narcissism of small differences'. More though should be said than hinted at in this brief outline but I still wonder why Annie Le Brun's great surrealist/situ critique of feminism, emphasising the failure of social Eros, has never been published in English. Germaine Greer still, still, STILL won't even know who Annie le Brun is as she tries to catch up recently with surrealism in the well-paid journalism touted by the Guardian. Condemning the 'sexism' of much surrealist erotica she has yet to arrive at what happened after the demise of surrealism.
It has been muttered that King Mob women never made any comment - or rather enduring comment - about what happened during those halcyon days and/or the demise of the experiment. At best the criticism was fragmentary and always conversational which never saw the light of any day. (At this moment it is even sadder that it is a man who has had to broach this subject). Though King Mob women felt none too comfortable with the first feminist onslaught, bit by bit, and rather grudgingly, they did accommodate themselves somewhat with its momentum while remaining uneasy. You sensed they were more fearful (i.e. not wanting to stand out from the growing new consensus) than confident of saying anything too leading. Unable to come out with comments like 'the issue is not the issue' you sensed fear working in the background.
In such absence the really critical edge started to come from the bottom end of the social scale among those women who had dropped out of the rat race and/or had come from nothing money-wise and remained so, clearly contemptuous of those of their own sex who were on the make. Amazingly enough too among some it tended to contain a quite strong anti art edge and in retrospect you cannot help think this had something to do with the ripple effect out over stemming from King Mob days. These street level gals were outspoken noting well - and early on - that the women who made the most feminist complaints were those who'd bought into the consumer dream in the first place and which basically they still couldn't abandon; those who wanted the nuclear family, the good job and car to go with it, something of the 2: 4 children nexus and owner occupier status, though not necessarily sold in a package together like that. In short those who never possessed a negative perspective on all the bankrupt shit this society requires in terms of status priorities. Here in the same negative nutshell were the women we were really able to get along with through the decades to follow and still do. It began to transpire you could say almost anything to them regarding what was raging inside yourself without fear of moral censure or knowing you would encounter a brick wall of incomprehension. They may have been few on the ground that were so advanced as one or two of these proudly 'nameless women' were but generally you didn't have to watch your p's and q's. You could play the game of sexist put-on if so minded or in drunken repartee and antics just for devilment and although you'd be told to 'get lost', 'get out' or even given something of a hard kick in the shins, it didn't come with a dose of moralist shock horror because beyond the pail guilt mechanisms were a big no no. And throwing a party or having a spontaneous good time together with the sheer enjoyment of each other's company was the essential essence of life. True such disposition could manifest a certain working class puritanical anti sex orientation but it also wasn't hypocritically laced with a two faced come-on followed quickly by a slap down.
In other moments the experience became something of a modern day Ranterism - individually this dispersed clan of subversive women were nothing if not varied - their common denominator being simply they were fiercely independent, living at the sharp end, and you could never dare mess with them without encountering the wrath of combative harridans. If not that, it could be a shameless ambience bordering on a more worked out Ranter-like perspective if only these combatants historically had known who perhaps their forbears might had been.
Perhaps it could be said why should anyone make such fanciful comparisons and why on earth anyone would wish to repeat the moment of the original Ranters with its heyday immediately after the Cromwellian victory in the aftermath of the English revolution of the 1640s. True the original movement was more profiled by men like Lawrence Clarkson than women and though Clarkson was married he also believed in free love but essentially a free love which, though having an orgiastic side, was about respect for others. It most certainly was furlongs away from some form of suburban wife-swapping hooked on the status symbols of affluence and surfeited with trivial commodities en route to alienated encounter. Essentially though Ranter was not just about sex though it could be said in the early 1650s women were somewhat fearful of the movement at times because of fear of pregnancy and not too far removed from 'The Lords of Misrule' May Day rituals of complete abandonment. Pregnancy way back then without clear means of material support could indeed be onerous but we yet wait the day when feminists have anything critically good to say on the Ranters.
Moreover we well know the bawdiness connected with certain aspects of raw, even cataclysmic mass revolt or celebration cum revolt. Take the women of Clydeside during the great rent revolt in that city during the first world war who debagged the bailiffs whose job it was to evict them along with their young children and the thousands of women in the streets meant the police couldn't fight them physically without really losing face. The subsequent victory was enormous and the bailiffs rightly sexually humiliated crawled away eternally shamed. As for ourselves in our late teens we well knew the daily difficulty of entering a scampi factory in Whitby full of production line women workers who well knew how to use their power and collectively mock morphing into a daily embarrassment cum sometimes turn-on depending on mood and level of aggression. And on the present day Bradford estates where the cloth cap, social realist image has really bitten the dust, it can also at times mean a sexual free for all and variation on women's polygamy that also has a caring, communal side to it among a general rowdiness which unfortunately can quickly kick-in to fuckhead through children who have also lost any sense of knowing where they are. The latter is alas also a very serious difficulty which has been raised elsewhere in 'Wreckage and bric-a-brac'.
A final point: the general drift of the above vis-a-vis women and the social relationships between the sexes was initially discussed in Leeds in the mid to late 1970s around the Infantile Disorders groupuscule and ex members of Solidarity especially George Williamson. That an ex King Mob scene played a prominent part was also hardly surprising. In a way regarding orientation a kind of ex King Mob fellow traveller, Mick Carter, made a more than significant contribution; indeed he was preparing a long theoretical piece based roughly on the latter drift outlined above. In Leeds it was the time of Peter Sutcliffe and the ghastly Yorkshire Ripper murders and Mick was basically putting up the backs of Reclaim the Night feminists throughout the city as he wasn't averse to discussing the darker side of sexuality linking with commoditisation and a growing leisure industry. It was though an unfortunate conjuncture. Mistaking what he was saying regarding ambience the drift of his thought was also about the death of love somewhat bouncing off Mayakovsky's final tragic outburst that 'the love boat of life had crashed on philistine reefs'. Mick made many a good point about pornography and some of the subtleties within its orbit. Notably he once elaborated on the mis-selling of consumer holidays with an aura promising on the carnal heat of a tropical beach an ultimate and immediate erotic fulfilment, which could only fail, meaning you were then left with no choice but to fuck the nearest iguana. People were pretty outraged regarding such comment as sexism of the crudest variety and Nigel Fountain - editor at the time of London 's trendy leftist City Limits - erupted in an obligatory PC outburst telling the hapless Mick to get a grip of himself! Mick though was undoubtedly more on the right lines though unfortunately his wild but imaginative theorising sadly came to nothing unable to give it that extra determined nudge making it into really something because undoubtedly his intelligent though iconoclastic take would have shocked and perhaps splendidly so. Moreover, unable to stomach the real none-professional world; the world where real theory is made; the world of the anti-University, he had a nervous breakdown subsequently scuttling back into the safety net of lectureships from which he then never escaped producing etiolated sociological books about fetish objects such as hats.
Yet is it a final point? In many respects it is no longer a matter of sex simply because sex has been reduced to fucking with a sexual function colonised almost to the moment of extinction. Debord's 'Sexualisation of the spectacle means loss of eros in reality' is truer than ever though essential to probe in a more pertinent way. Sex and commoditisation are now inseparable; merely an addiction inseparable from that of crack or heroin; a craving form of release which once released brings no happiness other than the need to search for another release. Fulfilment has become nothing more than augmented absence and the imperious pain experienced by impossible social conditions under a capitalism entering the gates of an Inferno which can find 'no natural outlet or relief' - a twist and connectivity on Coleridge's famous lines we never made in the days of King Mob but which we'd spray painted on walls at the time. In Leeds in the late 1970s we even discussed a growing, though unacknowledged phenomena, 'the strike of the orgasm' and well noting the limitations inherent in the theories of Wilhelm Reich especially The Function of the Orgasm.
Perhaps though somewhat arbitrary and definitely too glibly it could be said ancient Greece conjured up myriad ways of sexuality among which the gay factor could figure prominently at times. More essentially this ancient world was about an eroticised surrounding vista geared towards life flows and it wasn't necessarily genitalised. Rome invented personal relationships issuing in a tragedy lasting millennia. Capitalism has finally brutally erected the orgy of consumption with sex its final victim imprisoned within an increasing cornucopia of commoditised nothingness. Now sex is reduced to endless streams of inter-gender spunk as a more organic substitute for commercially manufactured medicinal solutions dealing poorly with growing and cataclysmic depression. An old, old friend, Kischy, still manically skateboarding the streets of Notting Hill at a furious pace and plumb crazy in a very enlightened way said recently: 'fucking is fucked'. He wasn't wrong though the daily dose of heroin didn't help. But that essential actor, Eros, has virtually been extinguished. It now needs more than an appeal to Freud's later emphasis on the 'oceanic feelings', simply because every step taken indoors or outdoors has been swallowed up colonised by commoditised mores and we have no space to move towards the necessary goal: the total need to re-invent ourselves and any question relating to personal, erotic relationships cannot be separated from this ever starker and desperate general truth.
Text from: https://web.archive.org/web/20160312225106/http://www.revoltagainstplenty.com/index.php/archive-local/49-a-drift-on-germaine-greer-feminism-and-modern-day-shameless-ranterism.html