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THE SPIRIT SPEAKS »
OZZIE RULES PART II: 'MEAT'
OZZIE RULES PART II: 'MEAT'
Shit. What did I sign up for this time? My credit card shines demonically beside my hotel bed.
I close the window headed 'Catherinebach.com' and open the email, tentatively.
'Do You Eat It?'
It takes me a little while to work out that it's a message from a woman called Cathy Vogan. My Kiwi ex-girlfriend Victoria said she'd hook me up with this old art school pal of hers. She's having a dinner party. I've never met her, I know nothing about her, apart from she's a bit older than me, Australian and Arty. I do a bit of light stalking. She's got a website: www.vogania.com. On the first page I'm assaulted by a head-melting animation:
There's a bloke's head tick-tocking behind a row a silver clacking beads, which turn into the heads of distressed people, then the bloke's head turns into a clockwork robot with glass eyes while warped clocks undulate in the background. Argh. It's like the Ketamine nightmare of an overworked accountant. Underneath is a graphic saying 'DRIVEN' in very large type. The 'V' is represented by a hand giving a two-finger salute. Behind it is an eye crying. The tears are men, falling.
I click on a button marked 'resume', and her CV appears; she's a computer expert, award-winning digital artist, actress, musician, poet, singer, and filmmaker, And she's currently working with SPK, a cell of legendary, ultra-dark Australian Industrialists. My CV reads roughly: keyboardist, blogger, transvestite, ponce. Now I'm scared to go to dinner with this woman.
I've just spent an endless night breathing toxic air in a hermetically sealed plastic box. This seems to have regressed me into a second puberty; my voice rasps and squeaks, and I can't stop looking at porn. Combined jet lag and hangover (a Jangover?) has depleted my cognitive abilities so now I'm kind of like an educationally subnormal adolescent in the body of a 41 year old man. Should I bring a bottle of wine?
I try to compose myself and dial her number on the hotel phone. A stern, efficient woman answers. I squeak and stutter. She's not impressed. I tell her meat is fine; I like my supper freshly murdered. This seems to appease her. She gives me the address, and suggests I turn up around 8.
Around 9, my taxi pulls up to a colourful bungalow in a cul-de-sac over the Anzac bridge. Cathy Vogan answers the door. She’s not like I imagined; hair in bunches, witchy, a mischievous glint and a gap in her tooth just like mine. I tell her the clinical term for this gap is a 'Diastima', and is regarded as a sign of great Wisdom in Guyana. But she already knows. Cathy Vogan already knows a lot of things...
The place is ramshackle, warm and strange, like a peculiar Uncle you're quite fond of. Nasty art objects lurk in the corners; a T.V. in a birdcage here, a visceral transparency there, and in the middle of the dining room table a sheet of glass propped up to film a game of existential ping-pong. So often these days I meet people my age and the first thing they want to do is show me their new conservatory, and pictures of their potato-headed children. Cathy beckons me in and offers me drugs. Thank God; I'm amongst civilized people.
In the living room I'm introduced to an old pal of D.Wayne's, Dom Guerin, A.K.A. the Tone Generator. Dom and the Reverend used to hang out in a squat in Pimlico in the Eighties. They've got matching scars on their forearms to prove it. Dom is tall, rangy, handsome and boss-eyed. He's an original member of S.P.K. This acronym has stood for many things, including System Planning Korporation and Surgical Penis Klinic. But the band was originally named after the German Socialist Patient's Collective. * SPK started on a psychiatric ward when two disaffected orderlies began to dream of a day when the lunatics would take over the asylum. This was in the days before the term 'Radical' became devoid of meaning for everyone apart from skateboard owners.
Gather round, children, put away your iPods and your Ketamine and let uncle Spirit tell you of a time, a time before X-factor and Sir McCartney’s Academy of Spunk. It was a dark time, my lovelies, a time when depressive rage was an attractive quality in a boyfriend. A time before pop music became the promotional arm of the mobile telephone industry. A time when the majority of girls with lip piercings were Ethiopian brides. When it was all fields round here, before they built them big houses. It was just after the war; in the time they called 'Post-Punk'. Thatcher ruled the waves, and our ports were derelict. We were red, white and blue, and we dreamt in black and white. There was no electricity; we had to weave our own.
Ah, we were poor then, but we were happy. Oh, no we weren’t, we were semi- suicidal. So we jacked up speed and heroin at the same time, cut our forearms with rusty razorblades, and fomented revolution. And as we did so, Mancunians sung to us about forced prostitution in concentration camps. That cheered us up a bit. So then we masturbated over pictures of Kali, and on the point of orgasm, visualised the death of our enemies. And as we did so, we listened to Psychic TV, Test Department and SPK.
Why? In the words of the original Socialist Patient's Collective ' the system has made us sick. Let us strike the death blow to the sick system.'
Amongst the original, so-called 'Industrial' bands of the early 80's, SPK, along with Test Department, were possibly the most overtly left wing. Psychic TV were sort of Libertarian in their curdled Gnosticism, and Test Department were staunch and Leninistic. But the Ghoulish Anarchism of SPK demanded a self-willed psychotic reaction as praxis for a revolution starting not in the head, but in the lower bowel:
'Within the interstices of society, we have sought to liberate the imagination through shock tactics designed to expose the institutionalized violence and the seamy underbelly of an increasingly 'normalized' humanity. This includes acts of archaism... and the utilization of images of brutalization...In order to avoid [the] process of cooption, our productions remain antithetical to the saccharine, EuroTrash/MTV values of the popular mainstream; we have sought to render ourselves at the very least unpalatable - and ideally toxic to that all - consuming digestive tract of the cultural industry.' (K.Osmosis)
In practice, this involved cut up images of acts of clinical evisceration, projected to sphincter-loosening frequencies of electronic noise, M.C'd by a bloke dressed as one of the Knights Templar, slicing up a pig's head with an electric chainsaw. Maybe you think that's silly, or distasteful. But most of what we're served up today tastes, in comparison, like a Pret-a-Manger Cheese salad sandwich. Actually, It was rather exciting, and it beat listening to Wham.
In the flesh, Dom is smart and laconic. For a necrophiliac chess grandmaster he's surprisingly warm and personable. Dom has a recurring retinal condition, which has forced him to endure hours of excruciating eye-surgery. This has given an acute insight into the clinical milieu, and an unusual relationship with pain. He recently eschewed anaesthetic during a root-canal procedure, because 'It's more fun that way'. He presents me with a DVD; it's a retrospective collection of material collated and digitized by Cathy, who has taken it upon herself to exhume SPK's corpus.
In the softly lit living room, I'm introduced to two other guests. Reema is an intense eastern European beauty who makes dresses out of metal spikes that lacerate anyone within a three-foot radius when she dances. And Mira is a mysterious, well-spoken Indian girl who describes herself only as 'an administrator'. She's smart, sweet and self-contained. She scares me more than the rest of them put together.
Cathy offers to play me some of her latest work, and beckons me into in her furry bedroom/studio.
She is, in fact, driven, and fantastically prolific. She's about to stage a performance based on 'mirror neurons'; flashpoints in the brain that fire in response to observed behaviour in others, reacting as if the observer herself were acting... She points out that her name is etymologically linked to the Cathars, a heretical medieval sect who rejected the material world as the work of an evil God, opposed to the disincarnate God of pure Love. (wikipedia.org/Catharism)
Through the speakers, accompanied by a plangent electronic string section, seeps a disturbing alien voice. The voice is sneering, vituperative, inhuman. The kind of voice a paranoid schizophrenic might hear inside her head... (THE_ACCUSED)
This is SPK's new work. She tells me that the words are a quotation from the Prosecutor in the trial of Nicolai Bukharin, an intellectual firebrand who, along with Lenin and Trotsky, lead the Russian revolution of 1917. A loyal member of the Politburo for many years, he was tried as a traitor under the regime of Stalin, his former comrade, during the Great Purge. Bukharin's doubts about Stalin's policy of enforced collectivisation made him an inconvenience to the Great Bear's project of rapid mass-industrialisation; after a show-trial in 1938 he was executed by firing squad. Bummer.
The prosecutor’s speech was written by Stalin himself, who lurked in the wings to watch his old comrade condemned to death by ventriloquists dummy. (wikipedia.org/Bukharin)
Bukharin originated the phrase 'Socialism in One Country'. Marx predicted that once a socialist revolution occurred in one country, the rest would fall like dominoes. He was wrong. Isolated, with the forces of Western Capitalism reigned against her, Russia had to deal with the devil in order to survive, to succeed, and in the process, became a devil herself.
Schism, betrayal, megalomania - being a revolutionary is like being in a band; incendiary ideas, forged in the white heat of youth perverted and pimped out for the sake of survival, for the sake of success. It's an old, boring story. The gritty Industrial Road lead to the Palace of Marilyn Manson, and the exhibitionistic self-harming of Trent Reznor. There are Deputy Headmasters in Cheshire with eyebrow piercings. SPK were sold out by one of their number, who turned the band into a metal-bothering synth-pop outfit; now he's composing film-scores in Hollywood, living it large in the belly of the beast. Yum Yum.
That SPK are over. But a new SPK has exploded, with the help of Cathy, like dead stars whose light is brighter than ever. Cathy instructs me and Dom to lay the table for supper. There's no question who wears the combat trousers in this house. Places are laid and the feast appears. The dishes are cold.
© Orlando Harrison 2009
* The original Sozialistisches Patientenkollektiv were a group of mental patients who transformed themselves into an anarchistic guerilla cell under the guidance of a Dr Wolfgang Huber. During their group therapy sessions, the SPK were reputedly discussing dialectics, Marxism, religion, education and sexuality. In fact, they were secretly studying explosives, radio transmission, photography, judo and karate. Dr Huber was able to report dramatic improvements in the condition of his subjects... (wikipedia.org/Socialist_Patients'_Collective)