Moorcock is, of course, well-known as a popular science fiction
writer, the author of the Elric series, as well as several
other cycles of books. Few, however, know of Moorcock as a musician
whose career in London's fertile underground of the '60s and '70s
saw the birth of such bands as Hawkwind and Mötorhead, and
fewer still are familiar with Moorcock the political thinker.
Some of his views, we think, will not be unfamiliar to CORPORATE
MOFO readers. Mr. Moorcock was gracious to answer some of our
questions about his career, his philosophies, and his life.
First off, I hope that your health is good, and that your family
(cats included!) is well.
My health is crap, by my standards. I've been hugely healthy all
my life, but since I moved to Texas I seem to have picked up all
kinds of weird diseases. I had a bad auto-immune disease which went
into remission and I have fairly serious progressive neuropathy
which is painful and makes it hard to get around sometimes and,
unfortunately, is going to get worse (though I live in hope!) but
which doesn't seem to slow down my flying fingers very much. I actually
exercise my fingers by playing guitar and banjo! Old blues player
told me that years agokeep playin', it stops the arthritis
taking hold. Cats are well and too hot at the moment. We hope to
be traveling with them in a month or so.
You dont mind us printing that about your illness?
I'd only not want an illness kept secret if it was going to upset
someone or stop an editor buying my next book and I don't have that
kind of illness. I always do interviews on the basis that if I say
something to the interviewer that isn't actually an admission of
crime I could be prosecuted for, then I stand by it.
I wanted to thank you for getting back to me so quickly. I noticed
that you're very open to questions from your fans, journalists,
and the community-at-large. Do you find this onerous at all? Do
the same banal questions come up time and time again? And, if so,
do you wish people would ask you more high-minded questions?
I think of myself unconsciously as part of a community. It is, if
you like, a community of intellect and temperament whose links are
strengthened and developed via the Internet, but I have always had
the sense that I am one voice in a community of voices. I therefore
tend to think of my work in part as an ongoing dialogue with the
reader and I am inclined to note readers' questions or demands and
often try to satisfy them in my fiction. Although fairly solitary
in general, I still see my interest as the same as my readers.
being available to readers has always been part of it. It led to
some spectacular problems in the '60s and '70s when I was at the
height of my cult success, but Hawkwind
used to have the same attitudewe'd go into the pub and drink
with the audience. You only get treated like a superstar if you
want to be. Most people are ordinarily polite and the more like
them you are, the more like themselves they'll treat you.
a natural anarchist. I really don't believe in leaders, though I
tend to see the point of parking meters. . . I was brought up to
expect and enjoy a very large degree of liberty. I was brought up
to respect people and to listen to their experience and ideas. I
was brought up virtually without preconceptions. My grandmother
and mother were fierce lovers of liberty and my whole family is
rather "bolshy" in its attitudes. So I'm used to argument
and like it. I enjoy the exchanges with readers, just as I enjoy
readings and discussions when I tour. By and large I am blessed,
as you can tell from the Q&A
site, with very smart readers, many of whom are writers
or have ambitions to be writers themselves.
I'm more "generous" with my time than many writers, but
I think I have a bunch of very generous readers. It sounds like
the rawest sentimentality, but I do just like people. I feel no
need to escape from this world, have no social problems living in
it, so I tend to use my fantasy writing as a method of confronting
certain ideas, rather than avoiding them.
to Mike Harrison the other day that some readers have a look at
Elric, for instance, and become positively enraged by the fact that
I haven't made him cuddly and likeable. These are readers who see
Elric as a failed escape plan. I have always used the methods of
escapist fiction to look at the modern world. That's what science
fiction gave me. When I read my first real sf [science fiction]
book (Tiger, Tiger/Stars My Destination by Bester)
I saw that it was possible to write imaginative contemporary fiction
which also incorporates ideas and ideals. For me that book was the
great American novel. I read it in Paris, where I found it, and
it has the best kind of American idealismwith that marvelous
populist ending. Trust the people. It was the book which made me
decide not to give up on contemporary science fiction.
of the best U.S. science fiction in those days very much addressed
social issues and often brilliantly. Pohl and Kornbluth are the
two most prominent. This was when American socialism was still alive,
if not well, under Joe McCarthy. What rock-and-roll and science
fiction offered the English reader was a voice from the real America,
from the working class and politically engaged America we could
see was already being buried. We responded to black blues and white
social protest songs because we were desperate to hear the voices
of the real Americans, not the horror of populist fascism, which
seemed to have been brought home on the boots of returning soldiers.
. . Sf and rock and roll meant a lot to usnot just as entertainment,
either. It brought Americans in contact with Europeansjazz
was doing that, too--and producing the cultural template which would
result in an explosion of talent on both sides of the Atlantic through
the sixties. I've said this beforebut Joe McCarthy, by sending
the likes of Kubrick and Ramblin' Jack Elliott to England, did the
world of the arts a power of good. That American influence came
back a few years later as the British Invasion.
I've heard you quoted as saying that if one wants to be a writer of
fantastic literature, or at least one worth his salt, it is imperative
to read everything but fantastic literature. Do you think of yourself
primarily as a "fantasy genre writer," or simply as a thinker
and writer who finds a certain mode best for expressing his ideas?
Or do you think questions of genre are simply irrelevant unless one
is employed in a publisher's marketing division and is trying to tell
the chain bookstores on which shelf to put the softcovers?
That's my standard advice to people who want to write fantasy: Stop
reading fantasy. I read very little in the genre and never read
as widely as most. I have no special liking for it, but I do have
a talent for it, so I suppose you can say I took the line of least
resistance. I have never really thought of myself as a fantasy writer
or a genre writer, although I've written plenty of genre, including
Westerns. But I began as a professional journalist and I tend to
think of myself as a professional writer. I started in Fleet Street
(actually just off Fleet Street) when I was l6. For many years I
wrote very little fantasy or genre, but mostly features or comic
strips about Vikings or Romans!
not irrelevant. Snobbery is a huge factor in a creative artist's
lifeas is fashion. Categorizing has the effect of helping
the snob determine what they won't read. Snobs are much happier
with the arts than science because you can have an opinion without
any information on the arts, but you need to know what you're talking
about in the sciences. As a result, a certain section of "educated"
society makes science less respectable a subjecti.e. the snobbery
has to exclude the entire subject because snobbery wing any of it.
Badly educated Englit [English Lit] majors are, therefore, one of
the worst aspects of the phenomenon. They tend to get the jobs as
lit editors and off you go. It's far worse in America where the
snobbery is even more endemic. Snobbery is the last resort of the
intellectually inadequate. Most of my first books, like Behold
the Man and The Final Programme were not published as
genre fiction. None of the Cornelius books, nor Gloriana,
were published as genre in the U.K. They were published as genre
in the U.S. (where much of my non-fantastic fiction isn't availableyou
can buy Mother London in Italian or French, but you can't
buy it in America).
You've already mentioned Brackett, Steerpike, Richard III, Byron,
the Norse trickster god Loki, and Gothic literature as influences
on the Chaos lord Arioch from the Elric series (in response
to my earlier query about Milton's Satan being a possible inspiration
for the character). More in general, what written works or personal
experiences do you feel have been most influential on your own writing
and personal philosophy? What are you reading right now?
My influences are a mixture, like everyone's, and include movies
and radio, of course. But Peake was probably the one writer who
made me realize it was possible to do my own thing and use fantastic
imagery at the same time. Two writers I admired and knew were very
considerable influences on mePeake
as an imaginative novelist and Angus
Wilson as a social novelist. Wilson was once regarded
as the leading literary figure in England. What people didn't know
was that as an sf advisor to Sidgwick and Jackson he also bought
Alfred Bester's Demolished Man
Tiger, which were also massive influences on my sf.
Bester remains the single greatest influence, I think. Bradbury
and Dick were others I admired.
romantic relish was for the pulps in which Brackett, Bradbury and
Dick, amongst others, appeared. I have no particular nostalgia for
pulps as such, but in those days you could find really good writers
therewhat you might call anti-modernists rather than post-modernists.
The pulps, by and large, never paid much attention to modernism.
G.B. Shaw was a big influence on me as a boy, as were Wells and
Huxley. I read Wells's History of the World and Huxley's
The Perennial Philosophy, which gave me a broader view of
the world's experience, and went on from there. I'm largely self-educated,
having been to a number of schools briefly.
reading much fiction at all at he moment because I'm writing two
books at the same time and that's more than enough fiction. Mostly
it's when I have to review something. I liked Dworkin's Scapegoat,
about the failure of Israeli men to incorporate their women allies
into the system. I recently read Landor's Tower by Iain Sinclair,
which is, of course, highly inventive and outside genre. I enjoyed
Perdido Street Station by Mieville, but liked his King
Rat better. Perdido Street had too many genre elements
for me to be wholly enthusiastic. I dip in to Tim Etchells' wonderful
Endland Stories and I love M. John Harrison's short storiesTravel
Arrangements recently out. I admire writers like VanderMeer,
Rhys Hughes, Steve Aylett and feel I should be finding more women
I like. Annie Proulx, Ellen Gilchrist, Sheena Mackay are all writers
I like. Glad to see Maureen Duffy's Capital back in print
(experimental novel about London done before Mother London) and
that Gerald Kersh is coming back, too.
to a wonderful company called Persephone
who specialize in reprinting modernist fiction by "forgotten"
women writers. They have turned up some great stuff. I am a huge
fan of Elizabeth Bowen, for instance, and her Death of the Heart
remains one of my all-time favorites, along with Victory
by Conrad, with which I bizarrely associate it.
You're certainly one of the most prolific writers in the fantastic
or any other genre. In fact, I can find no exact count of how many
books, novellas, short stories, and articles you've written. How
do you manage to be so busy? Also, though we're conducting this
interview via computer, when you write, do you still use a typewriter,
or have you switched over to a [bad joke alert] world processor?
Good health, natural energy and a training which taught you that
anxiety cost time and money and was best channeled into doing the
work. I work on anxiety-poweror used to. It was easier to
write a book in three days than sit about getting more and more
anxious about it for weeks. . . I'm a story teller. I have stories
to tell. I'd be telling them somehow, no matter what. One story
leads to another. I have, an old lover once said, an unsleeping
mind. I wake up thinking. My wife hates me in the mornings. I'm
curious about stuff.
proved a huge boon to mefor the 'net as much as the word processing.
I came fairly late to composing onto the WP and still tend to do
most of my work in long handI draw scenes pretty much the
way a movie director wouldsketching out a story board as I
go. I'm very visual. My notebooks have as much visual material in
them as written notes.
More on the ideas and concepts found in your work: Since Plato,
Western thought has cleaved to the idea that there is one true reality,
and the world we live in is illusion-in other words, that there
is knowable, transcendental, discernible Truth-with-a-capital-"T."
(Of course, today, the shadows on the wall of the cave have been
replaced with television and movie images designed by some of the
most creative human minds, all directed to selling us worldly goods.)
However, the concept of the "multiverse," of parallel,
equally valid worlds-which I believe you first conceived of in the
early '60s-goes distinctly against Platonic grain. How did you come
upon this idea? And how does that idea, as well as other concepts
found in your work, such as the balance of Law and Chaos, relate
to the political and social climate you were involved with at the
I think it has to do with experience. Growing up during the Blitz,
you became used to seeing whole buildings and streets suddenly disappear.
After the Blitz, new buildings and streets appeared. The world I
knew was malleable, populated, violent and urgent. After the war,
everything seemed dull and certainly the obsessions of most politicians
and writers didn't bear much relevance to my experience. I had no
particular worries about the Atomic Bomb (Brian Aldiss thinks it
probably saved his life, since he was just getting ready to invade
Japan when it happened. . . Of course, it would have been great
if the young Aldiss had liberated the young Ballard from his prison
simply wasn't dealt with in modernist fiction. You got stories of
how the war affected sensitive middle class people (Heat of the
Day) but nothing which really described what it was like growing
up with nothing else but war. My generation came out of those ruins.
To be honest, the likes of Martin Amis and Ian McEwen, let alone
the previous generation, didn't seem to be addressing my experience
any better. I noticed in Amis, for instance, that when he wrote
about Ladbroke Grove (the main spiritualcentre of the Cornelius
stories) I was probably one of the 'denizens' he was afraid of,
who lurked in the dark doorways he found so sinister.
lucky in having very little education and a lot of freedom. So my
response was, like my feminism and my 'post-modernism', spontaneous
and visceral rather than intellectual. Since then, of course, I
have given an intellectual gloss of what we've done, but it was
gut response that led to it, not sitting about discussing the crisis
of the novel (though we did that a bit, too, in the early days).
The same with New Worldsrun it up the flagpole and see what
comes down was our chief "policy statement." We were doing
post-modernism before the name
who can't stand the idea of unused space, I think I was psychologically
prepared for the multiverse before I described it. That book also
described black holes and a "shrinking" universe. It was
very predictive re: theoretical physics, but the images were poetic
rather than scientific, just as the physicists tended to use poetic
imagery to frame their ideas. I grew up with a mother who was both
highly supportive and loving and was a congenital liar on certain
levels, very perceptive on others. I learned early on that the "truth"
is malleable. It's what we make of it.
of course, we have developed the tools of making new "truths."
Modern society is inclined to see all "truths" as mere
statements of opinion. It makes argument difficult, if you are armed
with facts, because the tendency is for people to say that truth
is in the eye of the beholder and can't be persuaded by argument.
They are more likely to be persuaded by style or method of approach.
I think that some of this has to do with our horrible consumerist
economic system, which promotes a false idea of "individualism,"
and some is what people have always done. You have the idea before
you have the reality.
always felt mildly that the brain is a very powerful engine in a
slightly inadequate chassis. Early stories of mine tended to be
about people creating reality more or less whole. Forty years ago
we were saying that none of the existing accepted systems were that
useful for dealing with the amount of information we were able to
get. During that forty years we have improved the systems, but the
under-educated Englit world has scarcely understood it. Most of
them have been educated into a deep, specific ignorance. No wonder
so many of them feel inadequate or threatened by the modern world.
think we ever felt threatened by the modern worldjust the
politicians who were messing it up. New Worlds and Jerry Cornelius
embraced computers when in fact they were far too big to embrace
and needed specially cooled buildings. Polite society meanwhile
continued to worry about "computers taking us over". .
. We were curious to see what you could do with them. That was probably
what the cyberpunks saw in the English "new wave" (not
a term we used ourselves). What we saw was variety, proliferation,
possibility. It was far more exciting to us than moon-shots. I never
had much interest in space. Jimmy was slightly more interested in
astronauts than I was.
I'm confused about the ideas of free will and determinism expressed
in your works. The Elric series, for instance, has an undeniable
sense of doom about it; by the final book, Elric is convinced that
his path has been chosen for him. Yet, the Corum series ends
with one god destroying the rest, so that humankind can determine
its own destiny. A third idea surfaces in Breakfast in the Ruins,
where we get the idea that people are the products of their environments.
Have your views on this issue changed over time? How much free will
do we have?
No reason not to be confused, since these are ideas which have developed
from early romantic notions in my late teens to my present state.
I was very much writing under the influence of Norse mythology and
French existentialism when I did the first Elric stories.
Both tend to adopt a somewhat fatalistic approach.
Elric's roots in Norse mythology brings to mind another writer who
was influenced by Norse and Germanic mythology, J.R.R. Tolkien.
As a result of Peter Jackson's upcoming movies, a whole lot of attention
has been paid to Tolkien's work recently. Some are seeing The
Lord of the Rings less as escapist fiction, and more as a "serious,"
quintessentially postmodern work that draws on a mythic past for
a categorical rejection of modernity. In
fact, some are even calling the Ring
saga the "book of the century." I was
wondering if you had any thoughts on the reasons for Tolkien's popularity,
and your interpretation of what ways in which your views are in
harmony or opposed to his.
What I found lacking in Tolkien which I had found in, for instance,
the Elder Edda, was a sense of tragedy, of reality, of mankind's
impermanence. Tolkien really did set out to write a fairy tale and
in my view that's exactly what he didprovide a perfect escape
plan, which had the added attractions of having been written by
an Oxford don. I knew and liked Tolkien who in a bufferish sort
of way was very kind to me and encouraging. I looked forward to
those books coming out. I was deeply disappointed by their lack
of weight and their lack of ambitious language. They are about as
likely to last as the book of the century as Ouida,
Hall Caine or Marie Corelli, all of whom were judged the greatest
writers of their day by a contemporary audience. Thomas Hardy hardly
got a mention and well into the twenties people were still wondering
if George Eliot was going to last. . . You can just hope nobody
puts a curse like that on your own work!
polls remind me of what happened after Melody Maker stopped
being a professional musicians' paper and became a pop music paper.
They still ran the votes for best musicians. In the old days the
winner would have been someone like Louis Armstrong. By the time
the pop fans were voting, the best guitarist would tend to be whoever
was guitarist with the teeny fave bandI remember the guitarist
of the Bay City Rollers won one year. I am against popularity contests
on principle (they always result in some people feeling less popular)
as I am against literary prizes. They are only good to stimulate
interest in the trade or professional organization that puts them
out. Otherwise they are divisive. I grew up in an England that actually
thought high-profile literary prizes were bad for literature. That
all stopped after the Triumph of the Market (or the Marketer, actually).
has the right elements of snobbery and escapism to make it a huge
success. John Buchan for teenagers. A compendium of disguised bigotry
and English high church snobbery. I hate it for exactly those qualities
which made it so popular. It's a lullaby. Not sure we need lullabies
at the moment. Unless we're all just going to give up, go to sleep
and wake up dead. I really do feel contempt for Tolkien and a certain
disgust for those adults who voted him writer of the century. This
has nothing to do with why I decided to be a writer.
What you said about Tolkien"A compendium of disguised
bigotry and English high church snobbery" put me in mind of
Benjy at the end of Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury,"
bawling his head off because the horse-cart was taking him on other
than the accustomed route. Could one see "The Lord of the Rings"
as the last gasp of the former order, crying out for the way things
used to be? Similarly, can you see American conservatism as some
sort of grasping at the myth of Norman Rockwell's America?
I think the appeal of Lord of the Rings, like certain quasi-dystopian
science fiction stories which clean the world of all complication,
is the escape it offers from the industrialized world. Such work
(including mine) sells very well in highly industrialized societies
but does not sell well at all in non-industrial countries. The Gothic
was a clear response to the Industrial Revolution and Tolkien is
a clear response, in my view, to the post-Industrial Revolution.
It has the same discomfort with cities, the same 'volkishness' you
get in proto-Nazi stuff. It scares me a bit, but not that much because
times have changed. It would have scared me more if it had been
published the year it was conceived.
You were born in London, but now make your home in Texas. Of course,
there is now a Texan in the White House. Being a native-born Briton
living where you do now, what's your perspective on the political
mess in this country? Why do Americans tend to support a system and
political parties that openly cater to large corporations, instead
of human concerns such as socialized health care? Why are private
and public morality, or the semblance thereof, such a pressing issue
in American politics?
I'm a political person. When we decided to move to the States I
wanted to move somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon because that was
where I perceived the real, on the ground, politics to be happening.
It's post-LBJ America I'm interested inwatching the Civil
Rights and Immigration legislation making the changes, creating
the variety, creating the civil resistance, coming up with the strategies,
making an America Tom Paine would perhaps be able to revive a little
look to escape when I move (unless it's to nicer scenery) and can't
help but become involved in the politics of the area I live in.
After all, as a British residence I pay taxes but can't vote. The
cry of the London mob for two hundred years before it became the
cry of the American revolutionaries was "no taxation without
representation." I see the American Revolution as a re-run
of the British "Glorious Revolution" in which defeated
Methodists (as it were) continued hoped to continue their reforms.
The British Bill of Rights of 1689 is very similar indeed to the
American and I find it very odd that American history seems, in
modern versions, to have begun spontaneously in 1776.
tendency to romanticize and sentimentalize history is common, of
course, but has become somewhat institutionalized in America, even
in some academic circles. It means that the political continuity,
of which America is a part, is misunderstood. This is also the only
country which commercialized all its radio waves and didn't leave
anything for the public. PBS in this country is a lie. It is controlled
by government, through grants, and by big business, through patronage.
It is not controlled by the public by any form of licensing fee
to fund public airwaves (as in pretty much every other advanced
democracy in the world).
has always been in the hands of violent and ruthless entrepreneurs.
There would have been no "War of 1812" without the land-hungry
Madison and Jackson to fake it and the general treatment of Indians,
while continuing the tricks and hypocrisies and cruelties of the
original Dutch, English and French colonists, is a terrible indictment
for a country which alleges it founded itself on ideals of liberty.
The rhetoric, of course, is what makes the American who uses it
evidently provincial and poorly educated. You can hear Bush attempting
public speaking without the otiose cliches and its almost impossible
for him to speak at all.
of American politicians in the world in general are empty of content
and understanding. Americans are incredibly badly served by their
representatives and too many Americans seem to think of their representatives
as patrons. The authoritarianism in the political language is astonishing
to a modern ear. So I might sometimes despair of this huge country's
inadequate and unsophisticated bureaucracies and follies, but every
so often the clouds part and I see the same vision Tom Paine sawthe
same possibilities remain. All is not lost!
no representative. Therefore I make it my business wherever possible
to represent myself. They ain't getting those fucking taxes without
me having a say in how they spend them. This means I remain political.
I'm involved in local politics around water rights and social reform,
I'm involved in State politics with reference to Alcoa
and some of Dirty George's other get-rich-quick-and-fuck-the-people
schemes. I'm involved in national politics to the extent that I
write articles and letters concerning U.S. politics and join organizations
designed to ameliorate or reform U.S. social institutions. I'm still
involved with British politics. I was involved with the Women's
Shelter movement from the very beginning and still send money to
the original Chiswick
Shelter, which was the first modern women's shelter.
I have been a keen supporter of Womankind
Worldwide since it began (an outfit that puts the powerlike
the water purifiers and donkey enginesinto the hands of the
women, who will conserve, preserve and prosper whereas the men and
boys would swap it for an AK-47 tomorrow).
is hugely effective both as a fund-raiser and as a planner in our
local Family Crisis Center, which is regarded by Federal agencies
as one of the very best and as a result it now receives good funding
and is a model to others. I'm very proud of what she's achieved.
I've been involved in racial politics since I was a teenager and
helped get the U.K. Race Relations Act through. Now that the E.U.
has incorporated the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights into its legal system, there
is now far better machinery in place for solid social reform. If
I had time I'd work for that to be incorporated into U.S. law as
well, but the U.S. argues it already has a system.
the wonderful excuse of American big business. We already have a
good system. It was a good system for its day. it is now a pretty
awful system,. Canada and Australia, among other countries, have
learned from the US experience and got themselves superior constitutions.
The only problem is that the American version seems to work a lot
better for the rich than the poor. That isn't a Christian system,
whatever else it is. America sometimes seems to me to be more Old
Testament than New and a lot of the Jews seem more New Testament
humanismwhat young Americans believe is "socialism."
I grew up in a British version of socialism and it was very good
to experience. We have to understand that certain public services
actually are better provided by and for the community rather than
by and for private enterprise. Americans used to understand this.
I know because I've seen the movies and my friends used to talk
seen the quality of life and thought in America decline badly since
the full-fledged adoption of consumerism Ralph Nader warned the
world about so long ago (not capitalismconsumerism in my view
is totalitarian capitalism and it's the totalitarian bit I hateit's
also dumb and doesn't work, as the Soviet Union proved). We are
almost as badly mired in orthodoxy as the Soviets were, but we probably
have a slightly better chance of getting out of it. Mire, I would
say, is George Bush's middle name. (Well, mire's the polite word).
Theirs is probably the last attempt of the old guard to produce
the counter-revolution Reagan and Thatcher thought they had started.
They cleared the decks for the real thing, but the clearing was
unnecessarily brutal and still is. There are subtler engines for
running a large economy.
have a huge faith in American citizens to put their house in order.
But when everyone has been told they live in the best of all possible
worlds (they don'tthe French do at the moment) and that it's
thanks to the rapacity of big business, it takes them a while to
find out otherwise. Americans have been badly educated. It suits
crude consumerism to have an under-educated, self-esteeming public.
But it's short-term. That under-educated, self-esteeming public
makes blunder after blunder, and the economy of the country declines
as a result. Americans are just waking up to that fact and I've
seen improvements already. My sense of commonality extends, as it
were, to my fellow Americans. I know from my own experience that
there are lots and lots of smart Americans. It's time they got themselves
some real power.
have to understand how their public language buzzes with authoritarianism
and aggression and actually contradicts the idealism in the rhetoric.
Email correspondents in Europe are often astonished at the aggressive
language used by Americans and I still reel a bit from it when I
encounter it unexpectedly. A weird sense of "success,"
of competition, or value. They are also astonished at the ignorance
and bad education of so many young Americans.
I don't believe this will last. Nobody likes to be stupid. If you're
told you're smart and then discover that you're not as smart as
you were told, you tend to start getting yourself properly educated.
As I said onceif Jay Leno tells his viewers that 75% of students
at Harvard didn't know the earth went round the sun, by the next
day every one of those viewers is likely to have made it their business
to make bloody sure they know that and everything else associated
as the problem is identified, Americans can solve it. People love
solving problems. If they didn't there would be no market for crosswords
and detective fiction. You could argue that as it becomes unnecessary
for us to solve problems on a moment-to-moment basis, we seek out
problems to solve anyway. We are problem-solving machines who make
problem-solving machines. . .
Giant is capable of doing a lot of good for itself and the world.
It needs to drop the self-esteem and the rhetoric, however, and
start responding to reality. So far the world's perception is of
a selfish, greedy giant that merely spouts Disney sentiments while
stealing your cow.
You moved here from the U.K., but you're hugely critical of the
U.S. Why? Is it that you see this country as the place on the dyke
where you have to stick your finger in, lest all the world be flooded?
instance, you wrote: "When we decided to move to the States
I wanted to move somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon because that
was where I perceived the real, on the ground, politics to be happening."
Of course, the Civil Rights movement was one big example of this.
More in my own experience, I'm an editor for the nation's largest
school book publisher. (To wit, I'm working on the sixth-grade world
history book.) One of our biggest concerns is your adopted home
state of Texas, which is a huge marketyes, we write the books
"to the market," and no, it wasn't my idea, I'm a 26-year-old
junior editor. However, we have to take into account all sorts of
insanity, such as the Holy Rollers dictating that we can't talk
about evolution. How do you see what's going on in Texas as paradigmaic
of the rest of nation? Also, how can American education be saved?
Any thoughts on what Neitzche called "The Use and Abuse of
I'm hugely critical of any country I'm paying taxes in. It's as
simple as that. It's my privilege and I'm paying for it. I like
Americans and I like the town I live in. I am disgusted by how badly
served Americans are by their shoddy political system. That's all.
If I was living in France, you'd find me making similar commentsand
you might not have read much of my political writing about England
(The Retreat from Liberty for instance).
populist democrat. If the democracy doesn't appear to be working,
I want to know why. This is not anti-Americanism. I have a reputation
in Europe for being far more pro-American than most of the people
I know. In certain cases this makes people suspicious of my politics
because you're not supposed to like America and be a socialist.
I'm actually an anarcho-syndicalist by instinct and this is a far
more common form of American radicalism than it is British. I felt
that some Brit had to come over and carry on the work Tom Paine
started. . . That could be why I'm starting in Texas!
there is a radical tradition in Texas that produces some fine commentators
Ivens being one, Jim
Hightower being another) and in a sense the raw basics
of the American experience can be found here. I know it is also
'another country' compared to the rest of the US, but I wasn't going
to move to Mississippi because it's too hard to get out of fast.
Texas has major airports. American education needs even more strong-minded
educators who are already changing things (and things are changing
in Texasnot all teachers go along with that Neanderthal stuff).
here because I hoped to experience social change and I think I am.
Because Texas is a conservative state, it was more open to the idea
of going back to a more substantial method of education (i.e. its
not only bad policy, but it makes bad teachersit's a lot easier
to show consumerist-style "results" if you lower the boom
and concentrate on self-esteem rather than gaining self-esteem through
becoming knowledgeable, articulate and effective in the world).
is a big slow country. It took it ages to get on to VCRs and mini-dishes,
for instance. Once it got them, it embraced them. Ideas take even
longer to catch on. But they do catch on. This country is a strange
one in that it does offer a model for other similar democraciesbut
it doesn't have the foundations that some of those similar democracies
haveand since Europe sent America all her religious loonies,
we have generally very little religious bigotry in the mainstream
and you have a lot! That's glib, of course, but it might have a
truth in it.
I believe that Americans are far too responsive to bigotry and there
should be a lot more people out there telling the bigots that they
are fools. I disapprove of modifying schoolbooks to suit bigots.
Many years ago I wrote to the chairman of the Race Relations Board,
who also happened to be the boss of Collins, who did a lot of educational
books. They had a World History that was selling world-wide which
essentially described the Japanese as little yellow devils with
no respect for individual human life and soft-pedaled disgustingly
on South Africa (a major market). I wrote to him and asked why as
chairman of the RRB he was allowing such books to be sold. He wrote
back and told me that they sold millions and hadn't had any complaints.
. . Something I'm sure you're used to.
intend to live in America permanently much longer (maybe six months
to a year). I really am becoming tired of a culture which actively
celebrates philistinism. That would be my serious criticism of this
country. Intellectuals are marginalized, put into compounds virtually,
and have no real function in their society. European life incorporates
its intellectuals more cheerfully. But the BBC and any other large
broadcasting company that is not controlled by State or private
enterprise is the chief base of British civil society and the National
Health service is the other. If you are not afraid of losing your
health insurance, you can become a bolder citizen. Americans aren't
very bold as citizens. They complain and express shock at the lack
of humanity of corporations. They feel sorry for the children of
politicians as if those children weren't used to the life. They
defer to authority which has not been earned as readily as they
defer to fame for its own sake. They start wars they can't finish.
They make laws that can't, in any rational way, ever be implemented.
This isn't an active democracy. I think it will be again soon, though.
complain, but I also have a lot of idealism wrapped up in the American
experiment! It's a very big federation and has its own big problems.
What I mostly hate is the way big business has set the rhetoric
as well as the terms. It makes them harder to resist.
you mentioned, another preoccupation in America is race. I've noticed
that there is a certain reoccurring theme of the wise black man in
your works, such as the ebony-hued wizards sleeping under the volcano
in "Stormbringer" or the protagonists in "Breakfast
in the Ruins." Does race have a certain symbolism to you, or
am I reading too much into this?
The reason I made Hawkmoon German was because of the levels of anti-Germanism
in England at the time I wrote it. The Pyat novels, only
two of which have been published in the U.S., deal specifically
with the elements which allowed the Nazi holocaust. There is no
question that I deliberately made black people authority figures,
but they were based on authority figures from my own worldAmericans
have no understanding, I think, how important and popular Paul Robeson
was in post-war Europeand most of my early American heroes
were blackwhether mythic like John Henry or actual like Muddy
Waters. So I tend instinctively to see black men and women in general
as having more authority (not more power, but more authority) than
little experience of white men as such growing up and feel sorry
for those as did. When my friend next door's father came back from
the War, the noise level went up, everything became unpleasant.
Apart from my amiable uncles, who weren't given to barking or swaggering
about (my granny would have seen to that), he was the only adult
male I'd seen on a daily basis! My guardian, Ernst Jellinek, was
a converted Jew (Rudolf Steiner's Cosmic Christianity from
which, I suspect, a lot more of my imagery and notions of The Higher
Worlds comes from) who went in and out of Germany and Austria "buying"
Jews from the Nazis and helping others escape, often at threat to
his own liberty and life. Until well into the seventies I was meeting
people whose lives he'd helped save. So I have a rather fine model
to live up to. If the Pyat books are done for one person,
they are done for him.
injustice has a lot to do with what I write. See Nomad of the
Time Streams for a simpler version of the dialectic! Both the
current Elric book and the final Pyat book, which
I'm writing on and off. At the same time, address issues of racism.
By an amazing coincidence, I'm Jewish. Of course, you also have
to remember that most liberal Jews are college-educated and have
roots in the liberal Northeast.
My mother was Jewish, my guardian was Jewish (and helped Jews get
out of Germany and Austria -- he was Austrian). I remember Rabbi
Blue, who had been a child in Auschwitz, recounting how a group
of rabbis in Auschwitz had put God on trial and found him wanting
which proves, he said, that Jews care more for justice than they
do for religion. If it wasn't for her Jews, America would be a pretty
awful place, all in all! A passing pointI'm at the holocaust
period in Pyat now and have huge amounts of popular stuff from the
thirtiesmostly German, English and American. The German and
American are far more anti-Semitic in an unconscious, enculturated
way than the English. Cromwell, as you know, invited the Jews back,
so we tended to get some pretty nifty Jews (Isaac Disraeli and his
son Benjamin, who became Victoria's favorite prime minister) and
there just isn't the undercurrent of anti-Semiticism in popular
magazines and papers of the dayindeed, there is a philo-semitic
cast which was clearly attempting to offset the anti-semetic rhetoric
of the fascists. Far fewer racist jokes in UK publications than,
say, the original Life Magazine (U.S.not the photo-magazine
but the Punch-style first incarnation). I'm rather proud of this,
though of course even the pro-Jewish stuff has a tendency to talk
of us as "them"the Jewish Question. One thing I
have learned is that it became a matter of habit to describe Jewish
victims of the Nazis not as Jewish but as artists, doctors, lawyers,
intellectualsthis wasn't denying that they were Jewish, it
was an attempt to get understanding and sympathy without characterizing
them as specific minority. It looks like denial, these days, but
I know it wasn't. It was an attempt to counter the Nazi propaganda
and any appeal it had in the UK. Philip Wylie, that great fierce
critic of the US, pointed out that anti-Semiticism was everywhere
in the air in Washington during the thirties and he attacks the
U.S. for not taking a firmer stand against it. But racism is endemic
to an imperial power bent on taking over a large area of land from
the original occupants. It goes hand in hand, as I tried to show
in The Warlord of the Air.
American education is in the process of being saved by the people
who know best how to save it! That's what I mean about wanting to
be around as it's happening. Once the problem is recognized, people
turn up to start solving it. Economically, neither Britain nor America
can afford to turn away skilled immigrants and they have to get
their own populations better educated. They are realizing that a
passive market (poorly educated people educated to self-esteem without
meaning) doesn't supply the active intelligence you need to survive
in the IT age! I meet bright American kids all the time. The fact
that they are black, Chinese and Jewish mostly hasn't yet sunk in,
it seems, to my WASP niece, who is confidently expecting the life
of privilege WASPS have enjoyed in the US from the beginning. It
is changing importantly and the WASP is becoming a minority. Also
it is become an under-educated, self-esteeming minority. . .
what I mean about Civil Rights and Immigrationthe demographics
are also changing the ambitions and generally improving the goals!
Just heard, a bit late, that John Hartford died. Cancer. 63. Bummer.
American conservatism doesn't bother me. American bigotry does.
The fact that bigotry is now called "conservatism" is
more to do with the corruption and traduction of the language than
anything else, I think! I'm probably something of a conservative
myself, in that I like to preserve and celebrate stuff from the
past, and oddly my literary work tends to appeal to conservativesliberal
conservatives, if you like.
So much for race; now for sex. I've read your
excellent interview with Andrea Dworkin, which presents
her as a reasonable and articulate, if undeniably left-of-mainstream,
thinker. Yet, few bother to examine her reasoning in depth. I have
attended academic conferences where one of the attendees was selling
a book severely criticizing Dworkin, using her as a straw woman
to rail against the supposed excesses of the feminist movement,
and complete with a caricature portraying her as a man-hating Gorgon.
Do you have an opinion on why so many are so hostile to her ideas?
Men seem to be in constant terror of someone getting at their private
parts. I've never understood it. As I've said before, if men had
to muster the kind of courage the average woman has to muster on
an average evening, they would all be strutting around like heroes.
So full of themselves.
receives a degree less ferocity in England but honest I can't work
out the primitive nature of American sexuality.It baffles me. It's
a kind of materialistic consumer version of the real thing. And
it is a construct defended to the death. It is so deeply enculturated
(mostly, I'd guess from incoming peasants--seriously wrong invitation
that, Mr. Lincolnsend us your trailer trash is what he told
Europe. . . ) that I find it almost impossible to address here.
are fucked up. They always were. It's something Europeans know.
But I'm not the best person to judge, really. For some reason, I
grew up with very few sexual hang-ups. My work in Cornelius, for
instance, is just the way I look at the world. Most of what I learn
about sexuality makes me laugh, if I'm not horrified. I thought
the sexual liberation of the sixties was nonsense. It was simply
an excuse for everyone to enjoy their own brand of fetishism or
to get girls to sew your jeans for free. When I saw what they'd
been repressing, I was all for repressing it again! Jesus Christ!
And then there's the Washington suits who come up to you leering
and asking how they can get some of that "free sex" you're
having. . .
natural old hippy, I think. I really do believe in peace, love and
understanding. It's what I like best. Dworkin, for me, is simply
applying the logic of sophisticated feminism to the problems she
sees. She scares women because she says things that are true but
which they don't feel they can afford to think about. She scares
men because they seem to be scared of women, anyway. Seeit
comes down to the gynaephobia she thinks is there. I think it is,
though I don't think it's simple or that I have much hope of understanding
entering a period of history where women are gaining much more real
power, both financial and otherwise. I've seen enormous changes,
but they don't all come at once, or happen to everyone at the same
time. People didn't come to America because they wanted change.
They came here because they hoped that things would be the same
only better. It makes for a very conservative, deeply orthodox population,
carrying mores and ideas from pre-humanist cultures. Increasingly
that population is coming from countries with no humanist tradition
to speak ofEastern Europe and the Orientand while the
smart kids are absorbing that and thinking stuff out for themselves
as well, the dumber kids and their parents are still very reluctant
to initiate change. This is probably a specific problem for America.
Europe has the racial tensions and similar problems, it is not a
place which has traditionally depended on attracting cheap labor
from abroad, as America has. And that's what Lincoln was asking
for, to fill up the frontier and secure the nation. Fastest, cheapest,
dirtiest way of doing it. Canada didn't have the same concerns (being
part of a larger Empire) and therefore had less urgency about its
dealings with, for instance, the indigenous population. Civil Rights
has done wonders for the Iroquois, among others. You don't get "the
white man done us wrong" stuff any more. You get Huron Computer
of constitutional law to achieve what is usually best achieved through
common law (general consent) means that America is forever making
laws which don't have any common support and which can't be argued
through common law. When you argue ordinary cases through constitutional
means you are producing an unnecessarily abstract set of arguments,
which does not agree with our common notions of justice. As a result
Clinton is prosecuted forever under a system abandoned in England
in 1934 (grand jury) as fundamentally unjust, but gets away with
corruption on a scale which would leave even a French deputy gasping
(the new breed of young French prosecutors are taking that on even
as I speak) and OJ walks.
is a problem because it is at odds with the average citizen's notion
of common justice. If that happens, you get people increasingly
taking "law" into their own hands or ignoring it altogether.
American authority is so covered in corruption now that it has no
moral weight at all. You can tell a kid not to lie cheat and steal,
but if you demonstrate daily that lying, cheating and stealing is
easy and profitable, it doesn't make much sense. While the government
remains dependent so heavily on private money, both to gets its
members elected and to put certain policies into place, it will
remain thoroughly corrupt. One guy going Independent is simply laughable.
Here's a man able to take on Nixon, the Contra scandal and God knows
what horrors in the Middle East, but resigns on principle when farm
subsidies are cut. . . It shifts the power, but not enough.
are, I fear, pretty much all the same. They got there the same way.
They have all taken dirty moneythat is private money. That
is private patronage of public politicians. It isn't generally thought
an acceptable way of doing business in a modern democracy.
stop. Dworkin attacks the status quo. Men in suits have most to
gain from maintaining the status quo.
Anyhow, in reference to the Constitution and the wildcat nature of
American polity, what the Constitution realizes is that people are
inherently self-centered, and so it puts into place a system of checks
and balances. What our brilliant founders, with visions of plantations
and yeoman farmers dancing in their preindustrial heads, didn't see
is that money is also power. How do you think a society should provide
checks and balances for fiscal power?
Actually, I thought America was progressing towards a reasonable
series of checks and balances. But that was what "'deregulation"
was all aboutgetting rid of the checks and balances American
politicians, workers and activists have fought and often died to
achieve. Reagan pissed all over the American people and they loved
him for it. That is what tends to bring up the sense of contempt,
sometimes, I must admit. I find Americans real wimps, politically.
Then I remember Kent and realize most modern democracies have not
shot down their children on their university campuses. Maybe America
really is a natural ally to China.
I always remember is that Tom Paine, discovering corruption in Congress
(a particularly nasty scam whereupon public money was stolen by
the guy who told Congress he was 'buying' guns from France and Spain.
The French and Spanish, for their own reasons, were happily supplying
them free.). Tom reveals it and is effectively exiled to France.
. . It started like that. Dworkin says Israel has descended from
her ideals and suddenly virtually every Jewish organization in the
US cancels its invitations to her to speak. That's foolish. Israel,
right or wrong, given the American record, is a very ironic attitude
for them to be taking. I think society builds up its checks and
balances and is having to do so again.
the power of reactionary unions might have been necessary, but to
go on and destroy everything the unions built on behalf of laborof
the ordinary citizen, if you likewas obscenely cynical and
greedy and I loathe and continue to loathe those who took part in
that filthy exercise. As I've said more than once, men in faded
blue overalls fought to get those regulations. But that's
how it's done. Here, Americans have to start almost from scratch.
But Americans are great problem solvers. In fact they are better
at solving problems than they are at running other peoples' countries,
like the British, and should stick, like the British, to doing what
they do best. Of course, I'm still convinced the Teutonic expansion
hasn't stopped. It just changed names.
build the checks and balances. They are a bit at a disadvantage
currently but I'm sure they'll get there.
You mentioned how American language buzzes with words for competition,
conquest, and subjugation. Knowing a lot of Wall Street guys, I
thoroughly agree. You've also commented, in response to one correspondent's
question about a role-playing game, that you don't play games yourself,
that you're more likely to negotiate a solution. Why do you think
Americans are so competitive? How do we get out of the vicious cycle?
(And how exactly are Americans screwed-up about sex--I've noticed
several ways in New York, but complaining is useless. And I can't
think of a course of action.)
enough, I agree with you about negotiating solutions, but for different
reasons. While I've never lived through a war, I've studied karate
and classical fencing for years (partially as an exercise in self-
improvement; partially for romantic reasons) and I know that, ultimately,
power is better constrained than freely exercised. (For a related
reason, I think Americans will never understand schlager mensur
as practiced in German fraternities. We're such a win-win culture
that the idea of such an activity as testing rather than competition
is utterly alien.)
I agree with you entirely about fencing. Fencing is the only sport
I thoroughly enjoy and for that reason. A sport where it's up to
you to acknowledge a hit, for instance, and where politeness is
a necessary element can't be bad for the character. Have a look
about what I said about swords in The Dreamthief's Daughter,
although to be honest I haven't much time for schlager mensur stuff,
either. It's mainly butchery in real life.
has always been known for its aggressive competitive nature. It
has something to do, I suspect, with the amounts of adrenalin needed
to maintain early frontiers! Also the first merchants were certainly
pretty aggressive. It's not an unknown quality in Europe, of course,
but it is a kulak quality typically. I can't speak for the whole
of America but I know for sure that I am living in a kulak culture
in Texas--rich peasants, not middle-class urbaniteseven if
they live in cities. Much of America has a kulak quality to methat's
what I identify it as, thinking of Ukraine, Bavaria and other places
where the wealthy peasant is really the dominant cultural determiner.
And, of course, America was populated by kulaks or would-be kulaks
who think of politicians as patrons rather than representatives.
. . It reminds me a lot of Russia. You often get a sense that you
have stepped back into the 19th century, where issues of blood
and so forth are still alive. The strong sense of nostalgia the
European often gets from America would probably surprise most Americans.
But it is often like stepping back in time.
also has the most uncomfortable long-distance busses in the First
World. I suspect this is because the American perception of public
transport is that it is something poor (and therefore sinister)
people use. I've traveled all over the US on pretty much every form
of transport available and the busses are the worst. Trains aren't
a lot betterthough they were built when white folks were the
perceived customer so are much more comfortable. . . I know hundreds
of Americans who are astonished at our use of trains. They look
at us as if we might have been Klansmen deciding to travel with
black revival show. Of course, the trains are full of different
kinds of people. Many of them simply people too scared to fly! Great
way of seeing America and meeting Americans.
is a strong strain of communitarianism which runs through American
life and it is this which I respond to more than the competitive
crap (the military stuff is ludicrous to most other eyes--all that
yelling and running about). Kropotkin, rather than Marx, seems to
have a better idea more suitable for America. There are some thirty
women in the current Blair cabinet. When there are some thirty women
in the US cabinet, some progress will have been made. That's the
cabinet, not parliament. There are a lot more in parliament. There
are also Indian, black and other 'minorities' represented by MPS
and you don't have to cultivate a rich person to get elected. That's
the core problem with American politics. Nowhere else in the world
do I know of such a shambolic system. It won't be changed without
some sort of fight, because it suits the white men in suits who
dominate the US congress. Men in suits are still powerful in the
world, but check out the makeup of the German or Italian parliaments.
Just the comparisons show that America is neither the leader in
democracy nor in the fight against racism and sexism. A sense of
shame is lacking since Vietnam. It needs to be revived. But the
problems are being identified. It's a matter of time and hard work
before they're fixed. But Americans will fix 'em and I'll be there
to help, if asked.
add that the 'feel' of American culture for me is far more German
than English. Far more involvement in people's private lives, far
more social engineering, similar need for social approval (over-riding
private conscience). No Brit would carry a driving license or any
form of ID on their person, except by chance. It is considered a
serious breach of civil liberty to issue, let alone be made to carry,
identify cards. I was fingerprinted three times during the first
two days of my taking up residency in the US.
are considered direct, even rude, by Americans. If you disagree
with someone in England you can simply say That's rot!
and carry on with your argument. In America, you are supposed to
say While I agree entirely with what you say and of course
you are a person worthy of respect and attention, have you considered
that what you have just said is rot
honest, I feel happier in New York with Jewish friends. Both Linda
and I are fierce arguers. My mother loved her. All Jewish mothers
love her. I swore I wasn't going to marry a Jewish girland
here she is, sneaking in with an Irish name, a Baptist background,
and a Mississippi accent. What's a poor guy to do? Oh, yes, she
also gives you two ties for your birthday and when you wear one
asks So you didn't like the other one ? I am so guilty,
I told a shrink during a brief go at that, I feel the holocaust
was my fault, and it started before I was born. That could be why
I'm also popular with Catholics
almost every Londoner I ever knew, I had a fundamentally secular
upbringing. I didn't really know anyone who had had a repressive
religious background or any sort of religious background beyond
a vague tendency to want to get married and buried in church, until
I got Catholic friends. All my Jewish friends were from traditional
socialist backgrounds. All the emigres at our house weren't religious,
but tended to be left socialists. You would feel embarrassed if
anyone mentioned religion and Dr. Strangelove was the first many
of us knew of the way Americans call on God as some sort of personal
authority. I did say, since living here, that Americans are the
only modern Christian nation I know where Jesus is used as an authority
rather than an example.
always apologise for being ugly tourists. Americans, by and large,
are superb tourists, at least in public. They have a world-wide
reputation, however, for trashing toilets. They seem to have no
idea that others are coming in after them. Linda wouldn't use public
toilets for ages when she first came to Europe and we all found
this odd. Then she discovered that the toilets weren't trashed.
On a plane between the US and Europe I always try to get into the
toilet early, before it is totally destroyed. This reflects the
huge emphasis on public respectability you find in the US but it
also suggests that Americans are willing to be absolute selfish
slobs if nobody can see them... It IS a weird culture. Luckily,
the people are a lot nicer and better than the culture suggests.
And generalizations are crap, really, for such a big country. But
it's pretty general with the toilets. . .
I'm afraid this one rates pretty highly on the frequently-asked
questions list, but there's an aspect of your career that some are
aware of and some are not; to wit, music. I'm aware of your involvement
with Hawkwind, which later spawned Motorhead, as well as your solo
career. What other bands have you been involved with, and in what
I've written for Hawkwind, The Deep Fix and Blue Oyster Cult. Done
some session work, notably on the Calvert albums Lucky Leif and
the Longships and Hype. I used to be in demand for banjo workI
was the only Brit who could play five-string that anyone knew. Generally
these jobs have been casually arrived at. Eric Bloom suggested I
write him a song, so I did. It worked. I wrote some other songs.
Same with Hawkwind. I just do it if I'm asked.
was similar. One of the reasons I soon stopped performing with The
Deep Fix was because it stopped being enjoyable. Rock and roll is
a working holiday for me. My two enthusiasms as a kid wererock and
roll and fantasy fiction. They were mine. That was what kids want.
Something that is theirs and hasn't been picked over by adults or
were no journals of rock or sf when I was a lad. It was virgin territory.
Something you could make your own. I didn't make the rock as much
my own, I suppose, as the sf, but that's still the impulse. But
my preferred position in a band is as a sideman and backing vocalist.
I happen to have a good voice, so tend to do the songs when I'm
on stage, but really I'd rather be in the shadows working up an
interesting harmonic. Happily, I'm not the most self-conscious individual
in the world and I absolutely love stage work--rock and roll, acting
or reading or performing something of my ownI would almost
certainly be doing something like that if I wasn't writing. But
writing needs a rather solitary, disciplined life and I tend to
prefer it as my base.
had some great times in rock and roll, though, and it's nice to
have enjoyed all the things that most people only get a chance to
fantasize about. I'm musical. My own stuff tends to be more melodic
than Hawkwind but even less commercial ("Another Quiet Day
in Auschwitz" somehow never made it even to the indie charts.
. . ) and the work I've done with my partner (ex-High Tide and Third
Ear Band, bass and cello Pete Pavli) is much more complex. I gave
up recording it when we couldn't find an engineer who didn't want
to lay down bass and drums first. We were using neither. Pete and
I both had an enthusiasm for Schoenberg, Captain Beefheart and,
in my case, Iggy Pop.
Continuing on the music theme, what did you think of the punk movement
when it first came out, in the late '70s?
We were in the happy position of being the only band the Pistols
had any time for! That is the only 'long hair' bandthat is,
the Hawkwind, Motorhead axis in general. If you look at lyrics like
"Kings of Speed," "Sonic Attack" and "Needle
Gun" (all mine), you see more in common with punk than peace
and love. Our lyrics weren't that dissimilar. And Hawkwind, don't
forget, refused to play the media game very much as the Pistols
refused. We didn't have the pleasure of telling Bill Grundy he was
a miserable old hack, but we might have done, more reasonably. John
L. and some of the others were far more interested in power, however,
than we were. Glen wasn't. He got a raw deal from Lydon, but he
was the real base of the Pistols and without him they would have
been very little.
Linda and I went to the gigs of punk friends in the eighties, people
with Mohicans [Mohawksed] and black finger nails would
ask us if we wanted a chair or if they could get us a cup of tea.
I did a documentary about a punk revival in, I think, 1982 because
I was told I was the only person who Siouxsie would agree to be
interviewed by. We had friends in commonLemmy included. So
I liked the best of punk. I didn't like the worst of it, of course.
But there was no conflict for me. In fact, for some reason, I seem
to be accepted by people, as does Linda. It isn't anything we do
also don't tend to have preconceptions about people, either. I knew
early on that punk was just another form of dandyism and I'm a great
fan of dandyism. The true dandy, as exemplified by a certain version
of Jerry Cornelius, has to be able to keep their cool on all occasions.
As punk sank, like hippies, into mere fashion, I lost interest.
I spent time at Blitz because I knew a fair number of the people
there and was vaguely involved with some New Romantics, but I must
say I preferred the return of grunge.
Though I'm afraid it also rates pretty highly on the banality scale,
the question needs to be asked: What's your all-time favorite story
from the Hawkwind/Motorhead era?
I think if you look at Spinal Tap and substitute smarter people
for the main characters, you have a fair picture of Hawkwind at
their weirdest. There are lots of storiesthe time Nik Turner
suddenly rose into the air beside me when we were performingthe
time we arrived late for a gig and an outside, slippery stage. I
managed to stop at the edge of the stage as I ran out. Nicky didn't.
Dressed in a complete frog suit he flew out over the audience, saxophone
in handand was caught by an amiable bunch of fans who thought
it was all part of the act. They simply passed him back to the stage
and he started playing. . . You asked for the anecdote in the wrong
place. I'm worn out now!
Thank you very much for your time!
the interviewee: Michael
Moorcock is one of the most prolific and progressive writers working
today. He may be reached through his Web site, multiverse.org.