Introducton to A Critical Hidden HIstory of King Mob by David Wise.
"The adventure of the arts (painting, sculpture, poetry, literature, music) passes in its decline through three essential phases: a phase of self-liquidation (Malevich's "white square", Matt/Duchamp's urinal re-baptized "Fountain", Dadaist word-collages, Finnegan's Wake, certain compositions of Varese); a phase of self-parody (Satie, Picabia, Duchamp); and a phase of self transcendence, exemplified in the directly lived poetry of revolutionary moments, in theory as it takes hold of the masses..........."
- Raoul Vaneigem. A Freewheeling History of Surrealism. 1972.
Why should I even begin to write what could be a possibly longish text on something that happened so many many moons ago? King Mob, though only existing for a very brief period in the late 1960s, nonetheless affected everything I did afterwards, but I guess this response is also true of all others who were involved in one way or another. Always, always on my mind in some kind of way a push was needed in order to get it kick-started.
I met a prostitute – Angela W – from the fishing port of Grimsby on the mouth of the Humber in the north of England. I instantly fell in love with her in an all-consuming way. The pain inside my body so massively accumulated with the death of hopes for the social revolution which would have given my life any meaning and, in a way, symbolised by the death of King Mob in my youth, was kind of half wrenched out of me as she slowly and pensively shambled towards me in a disarming walk. She had a certain compassionate expression on her face. I was finished and fulfilled through, it seemed, this obviously contradictory hammer blow. She was 55 –my age – though 5 days younger. Little by little I got to know her and the intensity I felt towards her just convulsively increased. I adored. The odds were gone and there was nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon. I just wanted to give everything of my self to her: the money I had, my possessions but most of all the intensity of my experience – the sheer truth of it – warts and all. Over the following weeks I typed her letter, after much mulled over, letter. They were about so many things but constantly came back to the need to transform traditional notions of Eros – extending the "oceanic feelings" inherent in Eros to all aspects of daily life. It was as though my youth had been re-visited on me – a youth cut off so abruptly with the extinguishing of revolutionary hopes. All I waited for was her kisses, her beautifully wrinkled breasts, and her northern, out for a good time, life-enhancing laugh (knowing that it also covered a rebellious spirit tinged with a puritanism that also lacked the courage of its convictions). If necessary – cornball though true – I would have willingly died for her as it felt like a dying in order to live. I was a slave to her erotic, transforming presence and it felt like I was on the brink of a new and different catharsis (infinitely dialectical if you like) the likes of which had never been born concretely in this world.
Inevitably - considering a history and past I'm about to enumerate – I felt myself in the kind of Maldorean syndrome/episode which Lautreamont had described – that episode when God came down to consort with a whore and couldn't make it with her. Well it had the aura of that, though not literally. I wasn't God nor wanted to be. God was dead a long time ago. It was a certain similarity in situation: the forbidden transgression preparing for a fresh take-off for the erotic and starting necessarily from the point of a supposed degradation. Possible transformation (for both of us) was palpably there though never materialising. It was Angela that gave me the heat and passion to write this jumble of extended notes and to put them into some kind of order. After a number of years - in the mid 1990s - in which I felt too wiped out to even consider writing, simply because everything seemed so utterly hopeless, I'd been given a reason to begin again. This wanton relationship revived in me such long though still pregnant desires with past but not forgotten memories felt as keenly as though they'd happened a few hours ago. Perhaps, (along with millions of others?) I wanted to express as accurately as possible what had happened in that great rebellion. In letters I told Angela about this and the need to write it all down without stopping. She responded with a kind of intense interest (or, it seemed that way.) Kissing her most beautiful sagging breasts and her adorable wrinkles, she'd ask me how "the book" was going. No woman had ever been like this – encouraging me constantly to get facts and interpretation down on paper. I said I was now writing everything for her and for nobody else. More than that, it felt like the extension of a personal letter or email to those whom you really feel you can communicate with. It really did seem the best way of writing something, i.e. with no consideration of any audience whose ghostly presence might threaten any truth. She said she also wanted to write about her often "hilarious" (her words) experiences as a prostitute and I thought it was a great idea.
I also knew with Angela that this "theoretical respect" was (and is) particularly strong among the northern proletariat particularly those harking from that stratum with the dubious characterisation of the labour aristocracy. Her father had been a foreman mechanic in a division of Grimsby corporation, and Angela, after working for a short period as a nurse, married up, tying the knot with some kind of guy in financial circles and settling down into a suburban middle-class routine. Even though Angela had probably sold herself to the highest bidder in her late teens (it looks as though love on her part never came into the marriage brothel or equally "marriage hearse" as William Blake had so well put it) nonetheless being a fully-fledged professional whore had emancipated her from that stifling background and a quite stunning searching openness and frankness was beginning to flower. At times it was breathless in its audacity. It was as though Angela's "job" had freed her from a general mediocrity, from one to one "monogamous relationships" relationships and the ties of the family. Liberated somewhat by the emancipatory air of London (which the place still just to say possesses ) nonetheless too, something of the brilliance of that remarkable town of Grimsby had rubbed off on Angela even though possibly she'd spent a good deal of her married life combating what's so compelling about the place. Grimsby, that industrial fragment across the north east Lincolnshire plain, cut off from gentrification with its sprawling harbour full of unplanned invention where workers' cafes housed in old wooden shacks with plastic sunflowers gazing out from tiny windows; where streets twist and turn with an air of promise and delight... and where, on another mind blowing corner just ahead, a Russian sailor asks you in the only English he knows; "Asda store". Angela was quite rightly proud of Grimsby.
Unfortunately though, Angela, it seems, could only express all those often conflicting and incredibly disparate experiences and thoughts to me (bringing about the beginning of some yearned for unification?) Maybe. Maybe, or maybe not and there's the rub! As with so many prostitutes who cannot be fully honest and open about their trade they get confused and crash on the dichotomy between two separate existences and perhaps other existences before that. There was a petty snobbery, which ill befitted her and which one could call petite bourgeois in its hypocrisy if it also wasn't part of a process in motion. You get to a point where you must make a gigantic leap or fall back into endless quick sands until the end of your days. Like Nietzsche's "pale criminal" which so fascinated Freud, Angela took the latter course. (Remember Nietzsche in his critique of lack of resolution in the mentality of the "pale criminal" also wanted to see a lot, lot more of them). Finally she had to blow me out brutally getting rid of me without even allowing me to say goodbye. I think my subversive thoughts and drift rapidly disturbed her and how well in the past had I known that tale! She'd never met somebody like me and quickly she decided (as with so many others before) that I had to be stopped in my tracks – and harshly. Being an old hand at rejection, truth to tell I was waiting for the cruel return of the old familiar pain. I responded with a letter three months later to her address in Grimsby. All I can say in my defense is why go for this type of elimination? It seems though the contents of my letter helped precipitate a nervous breakdown – a breakdown that certainly could have been avoided if she been prepared to grasp the cusp of the situation and move it forward. My pain too was wretched. Her actions, precipitating an angry and hurt response, (sensing an imminent crack up?) weren't necessary either.
I started to write what follows under Angela's delightful influence, scribbling note upon note. Since then it has more and more been put into some kind of disordered order but the pain of beginning again was almost unbearable seeing I shall never see Angela again or know what happened to her. Not having the heart or inclination to engage in stalking, an utter letting go was inevitable. Somewhat - though very different in circumstance - like De Quincey's opium dreams about his dear Anny (- an orphan forced into prostitution rather than through big bucks inclination) whom he lost contact with in the then teeming centre of London's Oxford Street in the early 19th century and who he kept vividly remembering for the next 40 years, I sometimes see Angela still. Very different circumstances maybe but the end result - an on-going, palpable absence – remains the same. Much of the following book is about the lack of and renewed need for total critique. Let's therefore end this preamble by a beautiful comment written by William Hazlitt on love: "I have wanted only one thing to make me happy, but wanting that, I have wanted everything".
Initially this text / this 'book' came about through an informal collaboration with my twin brother, largely through reflective conversations throughout the years, so the text oscillates between an 'I' and an 'us'. Initially too it was put together in the hope of motivating others to make their contributions, perhaps correcting unknown errors, lapses and serious omissions which are undoubtedly there mainly due to the veil of time drawn across facts and memories. It may prove useful or it may not but it seemed to us that the record had to be straightened up somewhat as the trendy and marginal journalese mythology which increasingly surrounds King Mob (witness the growing number of books where King Mob is given a makeover) merely reflects the world of Rupert Murdoch and the fantastical constructs of the media in general. Speculation becomes factual evidence and flimsy, often fictional episodes become concrete facts, which are then repeated and embellished upon, in the next glossy presentation. Ideally, all of them should be binned tomorrow if truth had any say in this ever-darkening, miserable old world. In fact the responses to this text certainly provoked extreme passions; violently for and violently against and the only person who really helped out in a critical / practical way was Nick Brandt who painstakingly went through the text line by line often making valuable contributions, a fair number of which have now been included.
A lot of what's been written here has been written / talked about – with biro in hand – in the spirit of the ancient Persians: part done when sober the other when drunk / stoned, or both. Finally however, the two contrasting states were montaged together in sobriety and then again, semi-drunkenly modifying yet again each other in something heading towards ad infinitum. Perhaps Breton's claim in Les Pas Perdus (Lost Steps) is still relevant, "one publishes to find people, and for no other reason." But also, perhaps this no longer applies considering all genuine individuals most likely must necessarily remain in obscurity more than ever - simply to keep contact with reality which can only mean a life unmediated, as much as possible, by the spectacle. Moreover, contacting people because you seem to have much in common theoretically never seems to go anywhere if it isn't coupled with the spark of on-going very real everyday life; a life inevitably that most people at the sharp end have to endlessly endure. Within this outpouring of words, a certain sentence dyslexia must also be mentioned, partly because of the drunken, stoned writing method, and partially, because my sometimes rough hewn English has also been conditioned by a very basic education in secondary modern schools in the coalfield areas of Co Durham and West Yorkshire. You didn't learn grammatical expression like that, but, you were taught something far better than any educational achievement could give: a spirit of up-front honesty with each other meaning never letting your mates down. Later on, after the age of 16, attending Ripon Grammar School (where a past Tory leader William Haig was later to be a pupil) for two horrendous years, the Headmaster, a Mr. R. Atkinson would brutally call you stupid and thick remarking in front of the whole school that, "English is the language of Milton, and not bus drivers like you speak." Obviously, the fool knew nothing of Milton whose agitational pamphlets even in his lifetime were translated into the language of the Brazilian slaves as well as some of the languages of the Native Americans inhabiting the eastern seaboard! Only later were we to learn about this from Christopher Hill - and that subsequent knowledge only increased fury regarding past wrongs. Really though, it was a prelude for what was to become as, increasingly, we were to become a total disappointment to almost everybody of proclaimed value in this society for not fulfilling the expectations of artists, theorists, academics, revolutionary milieuists, trade union worker bureaucrats and aspiring girlfriends alike who wanted you to be somebody and the respectability which went with such a position! The first injury was the worst as increasingly after that it became like water off a duck's back.
It may be said we've written about King Mob before in The End of Music1 so why repeat the exercise? Well yes, apart from the fact the latter text was never meant to be published seeing it was merely a somewhat hastily cobbled together draft handed around to a few people in 1978 for comment and additions. Three or so years later we found out the text had been published by a group in Glasgow, which had been tied up with the formerly excellent Castoriadis influenced group, Solidarity. We literally had no knowledge that the text was being printed and moreover the name of David Wise had been supplied as author, which wasn't fully accurate. Part of it contained some kind of critical potted history of King Mob. On seeing the pamphlet for the first time, one of us asked for it to be pulped simply because it was merely some provisional notes strung together which initially had seen the light of day based mainly on conversations - which were quite exhilarating at the times during day to day work plastering, tiling, carpentry etc - on small building sites in East London mainly between ourselves and Nik Holliman who was later to produce The Sprint; c/o BM Chronos. One or two others, in different, mainly pub based scenes, had also made pertinent points which were jotted down but, basically, a name couldn't be put to it. A transcriber maybe, as it was nothing more than a product of collective, passionate yet democratic conversation (in the real and as yet unrealised sense of the term). Moreover, the people in Glasgow had altered sentences and captions - some were even created - and one or two things deleted in that editorial control freakism which is such a baneful cancer on our times and which has subsequently been applied to most of our texts not published by ourselves. Of course, this editing scourge from people gladly referring to themselves as "autonomists" in reality has yet to arrive at the simplest of individual bourgeois liberties letting a person say fully what they have to say without arbitrary censorship! Originally, these notes were typed up and about 30 photocopies made and passed around to individuals who might be interested, inviting comments. Some ended up in Leeds, falling into the hands of the remnants of the studenty, pro-situationist, Infantile Disorders – themselves a fall out from what happened in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the late 1960s - and the background and impetus to their subsequent rip off by the Gang of Four, Oxy and the Morons and Scritty Pollity punk bands. A fair number of criticisms were made (including some from the ex Infantile Disorders) and the intention was to put them together in a larger, more coherent, balanced document as the original tone of the provisional notes was far too wide-ranging, dispersed and moreover, far too bitter and over-reactive, failing to give any notion of the élan and inventive mood of the times described. In a way it was a rather submissive even perhaps a somewhat tired and fatalistic text and almost certainly of its time re the rising tide of reaction. Perhaps the bitterness was understandable considering one was seeing the shadow of those brilliant King Mob times (well, at least comparatively) itself part and parcel of the failed revolt of the late 1960s, reduced and resurrected everywhere as hip fashion (i.e. mainly punk rock) but that quite frankly wasn't good enough in putting forward the flowing outlines of a brief historical moment which partly the pamphlet had traversed.
Unfortunately, the pamphlet became a kind of icon – reproduced everywhere – particularly by that obnoxious recuperator Stewart Home. We cringed with embarrassment. A few years later after the newly re-named The End of Music (courtesy of Glasgow) was published, Larry Law, editor of the pretty meaningless, Situationist Times2 contacted BM BLOB asking if he could reprint. Something of the above was related to him through letters and a revised original was partially put together ready to be dispatched but before anything could get that far, Larry Law was taken ill, dying with a brain disease a few days later. The revised text never thus got off the ground. More work was still needed on it in any case. Even before Larry Law made contact, additional notes and some significant alterations had been made before 1979 but the text remained on hold as we had in mind to produce a long piece on the troubles in Italy in the late 1970s. After a turbulent journey throughout Italy (crouching at night behind convenient brick walls in the midst of gun battles in some of Rome's disputed areas between the mainly disintegrating Leninism of Autonomia Operaia -Workers Autonomy - and fascists and living by shop lifting food from super markets); we put together quite a few documents on the movement, mainly translations from the often exquisite, profound and melancholic Puzz comics3 which later partially merged into the 1977 Metropolitan Indian movement. Nobody was, as usual, interested in publishing and our own meagre resources were limited, obtaining some money from plastering but, coming from a poor background and having no recourse to inherited wealth, the book remained in a folder where it is to this day. It was a shame as it would have been the best book in English on the ferment in Italy. Later, in the mid-90s, we tried AK Press but with their policy of only showing interest in what sells, AK looked at you as if you were somewhat backward in even suggesting publishing such a loser.
But to hark back again to the beginning...... This book began with a quote from Vaneigem's Cavalier History of Surrealism4 not because it's some arbitrary show-off, demonstrating superior knowledge about modern culture, but because it is the most succinct expression of where King Mob can be placed – the moment of the passing of art – in that "phase of self-transcendence, exemplified in the directly lived poetry of revolutionary moments, in theory as it takes hold of the masses....." Inevitably the following text contains many artistic references in an attempt to map out more clearly where we were all coming from and how we attempted to put a certain momentum inherited from the last days of art into a new kind of attractive play essential for the "seductive inspiration" (Nick Brandt) inherent in the process of a modern social revolution.