|Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank the Plank, Baby!'|
|WORDS OF FANTASY,
WORDS OF MOORCOCK
By Steve Sneyd
CONTACT POINTS & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
My thanks to Jerry Kranitz of AURAL INNOVATIONS space-rock magazine for contact with Marc Powers. Al is at 1364 W.7th Ave #B, Columbus, Ohio OH 43212. Marc Power can be reached at 16 South Ave, West # 219, Crawford, New Jersey NJ 07016.
Thanks also must go to Kim Harten of AQUAMARINE music and poetry magazine for contact with TSOI. Aquamarine is at 68 Barlich Way, Lodge Park, Redditch, Worcs B98 7JP.
TSOI and FAMLENDE FORSOK records from The Crawling Chaos, Dave Jorgensen, Hesthag, N-4900 Tvedestrand, Norway - catalogue for IRC.
For Brian Tawn's book on MM's music involvement, contact Hawkfan, 27 Burdett Road, Wisbech, Cambs PE13 2PR.
Lyrics that relate to themes of fantasy and science fiction are by no means rare in modern rock music (that sentence is what is known as British understatement, or BU!) It's a little bit rarer, though (BU again) for the lyricist to be best-known as a prolific, legendarily so, F & SF novelist, paradoxically at once megaseller and cult figure.
Take a bow, Michael Moorcock.
His long involvement, though, petered out in frustration at the way concept album projects never came to fruition; earlier lyrics were used, and are still performed by, Hawkwind, but subsequently the World's Fair project never appeared in fully satisfactory form and the equally ambitious Entropy Tango sequence got no further than snippets which "escaped" on a bootleg. (Although the lyrics for the latter did appear in print, in his time travel/multiple universe science fantasy novel of the same name, playing almost obsessively with reminting the ancient triangle of Columbine, Harlequin and Pierrot).
The full story of MM's involvement with a series of rock projects is a complicated one, and has already been well and thoroughly told by Hawkwind expert Brian Tawn (in his book Dude's Dreams, Hawkfan Press, Wisbech, 1997).
What is striking is the way MM's lyric activities, and particularly the memory of the Entropy Tango project, have refused to go away. . .
It's more than twenty years since the lyrics for this other, less well-known possessor of the initials ET were writtens; the novel which incorporated them appeared in print from NEL as long ago as 1981. Yet those lyrics haven't been forgotten, with current activity around them on both sides of the Atlantic.
Currently, in the States, where space rock (SR) in a variety of forms is undergoing something of a boom, SR musicians Marc Power of Born To Go and Doug Walker of Alien Planetscapes (the latter known for his unique crossover of free jazz and space rock - he is the only well-known black SF musician since Sun Ra) are currently working on an ET project. At the moment it's reached the stage of rehearsal of Power's own new songs around the theme, with an approach, to quote Powers "more spacey and commercial than Btg, more song-oriented than Alien Planetscapes. Reminded people of Dark-side era Pink Floyd." The aim is to approach MM, who is already aware of the project in general terms, to incorporate his own ET lyrics as a centrepiece to take the concept into full development.
Heading East instead of West, to Norway, one of the ET lyrics written back in '78 by Moorcock, Columbine Confused (there are fifteen lyrics in all in the sequence, although several are very brief) has recently been included on the latest album from Norwegian band THE SMELL OF INCENSE (TSOI).
All the tracks on the album, 'Through The Gates of Slumber', are fantasy-oriented, and all use words in English from a variety of well-known fantasy writers, past and present, MM's "Columbine Confused" forming the first track of Side 2.
Others included are Lord Dunsany (his 1929 "A Word In Season"), the American pulp fantasy writers, both now cult figures, Clark Ashton Smith ("Atlantis") and Robert E. Howard ("Slumber"), Brian Lumley ("Kraken"), and illustrator of fairies Cicely Mary Barker (the first side's twenty-five minute track A Floral Treasury incorporates three of her fairy poems, respectively the "Song" of the "Winter Aconite Fairy", "Nightshade Fairy", and "Queen of the Meadow Fairy."
The album's title itself comes from the introduction, by fantasy writer Lin Carter, to a novel by that cultest of cult figures, scarcely known in his lifetime but today the most reprinted, and read, of American writers of the first half of the 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft (HPL).
TSOI's Dave Jorgensen explains the title link by the fact that he is "More than anything a fan of " HPL. (While TSOI is predominantly a psychedelic band, another of Jorgensen's bands, the more experimental Famlende Forsok, has made several Lovecraft inspired tracks, and continues to work on a Lovecraft tribute album.)
What is unique about the Moorcock lyric contribution is that, unlike all the other words, which were originally written as poems to appear in print, MM's was initially written as music lyric.
The whole question of the crossover between poetry for the page or for word-only performance, and lyric to be used with music of whatever kind, is an enormous field of discussion, far too vast to get into here. What is interesting is that Moorcock himself intended his writings in poem form to be seen, and used as, song lyrics, not regarded as "page poems."
Now, after too-long neglect of the Entropy Tango sequence, that intention is beginning to be realised. It's part of a process of rediscovery, as the century ends and assessment of it begins, of what was lost during the Maggieist "Loadsamoney" era and the often equally Earthbound attempts to counter it. That includes music with words and forms that looked beyond the immediately material, of which Moorcock's visions in the ET lyrics of timeless yet never static relationships, spiralling in endless universality, are a memorable example.
To quote the final words of Columbine Confused, "As the years flood away/Future and Past."
By Steve Sneyd
"Live music seems to be the only remedy. If only we knew why": amid the devastated ruins of London, the reincarnation of primeval beings of wisdom prepare to play their final great rock concert, aimed to liberate what remains of mankind. And that's only the first chapter!
All across music, science fiction ideas have been taken aboard. But the traffic hasn't been all one way. Enough science fiction writers have drawn on music as a key plot element to let fans of both get a combined fix - and the archetypal example has to be where we began, with the book its publisher's blurb pushed as "Rock and Roll Sci-Fi". In two novels, The Time of the Hawklords ('76) and its sequel Queen of Deliria ('77) (both Star Books), a real life iconic space rock band were fictionalised as saviours of humanity in a devastated near-future - and what a musos-in-action rollercoaster it is.
Michael Moorcock and Michael Butterworth are cover-credited as authors, although at the end of Hawklords' a full list of "Credits" calls Moorcock "Producer/Director" (ie idea-inspirer) and Butterworth "writer". The Music is credited to Hawkwind and Moorcock's band Deep Fix, and there' s a host of other credits (J Jeff Jones for "Acupuncture idea", for example, and, more relevantly here, John Celario for "Technical Advice (Music) ".
Gist of the story is that Hawkwind prove to be reincarnations of the ancient Hawklords, born again to finally carry out the primeval task of liberating mankind from the influence of a Death Generator, placed deep within the Earth, aeons before, by an alien race during an interstellar war; ever since, its evil mind-rays have distorted the development of the human species, till by the book's timeframe war and environmental devastation means Hawkwind and their music are mankind's last hope. Guess whether they prove worthy of the ultimate challenge?
Rock bands, although not themselves the saviours-to-be, are closely associated with a would-be Messiah in Brian Aldiss, extraordinary 'Barefoot In The Head' (Faber '69, Corgi '7l,f rom a" fix-up" i.e. novelisation of stories from New Worlds). Europe's air and water have been saturated by psychedelic drugs during a war involving their use as chemical weapons; civilisation stumbles along as rulers and ruled alike spend their time in a spaced-out high. A young Slav, calling himself Colin Charteris, proclaims an ad-hoc creed of liberation, is supported and proclaimed by rock bands, builds a mass following, and leads an incoherent Crusade to the Continent. Amid a chaos of endless car crashes and erotic swaps etc., it reaches Germany, achieving some political backing before Charteris reaches genuine mystic illumination and vanishes into the Central European forest (to wildly oversimplify a complex sequence of events seen through the drugged eyes of participants, and expressed in prose and poetry of Joycean surreality of language and image).
The book includes examples of lyrics supposedly those of groups, who support Charteris and entertain his "pilgrims" on their way, including the Dead Sea Sound (an early hit being titled "The Intermittent Tattooed Tattered Prepuce"), who become The Escalation and then Tonic Traffic to mark stages in the progression of events, the Nova Scotia Treadmill Orchestra, The Mellow Bellow, and The Genosides, as well as an extract from "The Threepenny Space Opera", a reminder for the reader of Hawkwind's influential "Space Ritual".
Aldiss used music as a key (pun intended!) to transfigure a character, a few years earlier in his classic story "Old Hundredth" (New Worlds, and '63 collection 'The Airs of Earth', Faber '63, Four Square '65, NEL '71). On a future Venus-twinned Earth, humanity is absent, self-transformed into immortal Involutes of pure pattern. Before vanishing, however, humans created as their successors the Impures, animals, current and revived - extinct alike, given intelligence. One of these, an ageing giant sloth, Dandi Lashadusa, knowing that her death is near, is intent before it is too late, on "rearranging" her essence into a musicolumn, an eternal entity which releases its music whenever a living being approaches. Her telepathic Mentor, a blind dolphin, demands she become music of his composing; she defies him, and turns herself into a l6th c. human tune, the hymn "All Creatures Great And SmalI", its nickname giving the story its title.
Music also transforms physical state in Charles Harness' novel, 'The Rose' (Authentic '53, New Worlds '66): Brian Stableford described the climax thus (in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, First Edition, Granada '79, Panther '8l) "a musical transfiguration of the Sciomnia Equations, embodiment of all rationalist knowledge, strikes the heroine dead, but some essence (of emotion cum inspiration) reorchestrates the deadly music and causes her transcendental revival".
At the heart of another instance of transfiquration-through-music SF, Kim Stanley Robinson's 'The Memory of Whiteness' (Macdonald '85, Voyager HarperCollins '99) is an instrument it would be a gross understatement to call the ultimate synthesiser. This eleven metre high tower is described by one character thus: "Imagine all the instruments of a modern orchestra caught in a small tornado". In the novel, the instrument, called the Orchestra, is taken round the Solar System - to inhabited planets, moons, and artificial planetoids called "whitsuns". Indeed everywhere but Neptune - by its Master, Johannes Wright, travelling from Pluto inwards towards the Sun. Harassed throughout by jealous rivals, uncomprehending or obstructive "space road" crew and shadowed by the enigmatic Greys, he performs on each world, achieving a kind of transcendence on Mars, meeting indifference on smug Earth, and at last confronting the Grey mystery head on as he plays for them on Prometheus; this artificial worldlet is harvesting and transmitting throughout the Solar System energy direct from the Sun, raying it to the "whitsuns" it keeps alive according to the equations discovered by Holywelkin, the symbolically named genius who also built the Orchestra. Wright, the Orchestra and the protective bubble in which they perform vanish into the singularity used to transmit the rays, transformed into pure energy while leaving a heritage of mystical music which will in time perhaps liberate Mars at least from the Grey's materialist dominance.
Solar System musical tours occur also in Allen Ashley's '97 'The Planet Suite' (TTA Press, 5 Martin's Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambridge, CB6 2LB), in which THE Holst, composer of the Suite, is reanimated, in a deadpan factoid chapter, as a rock megastar and, in Jack Vance's 'Space Opera' of '64, where the interplanetary tour, as the title implies, is that of an opera company. Nor is this selection by any means complete: among other SF writers who used music in novels, short stories, or both, are James Blish, John Brunner, Samuel Delaney, P.K.Dick, Fred Hoyle, and Michael Moorcock.