The Cosmic Trigger perspective of ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’ is brought to you by our special guest writer, Michelle Olley. We have been looking forward to bringing you this particular memory rewind for some time…
Tales of Repetitive Beatnik Glory by Michelle Olley
Michelle Olley, one of the producers of Daisy’s Cosmic Trigger play, reported on Welcome to the Dark Ages for Discordia Britannica #9. Here it is, for posterity – with a footnote on the actors involved in November’s Burn The Shard situation.
Early in October 2017, a funeral took place in a beautiful spot in Epping woodland. As far as we’re aware, Irving was the first of the 400 to go, (although I hear rumours that there are some among the JAMs-inclined who have marked the passing of recently-lost loved ones by buying them a brick). Irving Rappaport was 70 years old. He was quite possibly the oldest ‘volunteer’ for Bill and Jimmy’s five day Temporary Art-onomous Zone, and he did it all on crutches after breaking his leg in three places six weeks previously. We’d travelled up to Liverpool together with my neighbour, Claudia Boulton, aka Eris from Daisy Campbell’s Cosmic Trigger play, arriving just in time for the Ice Cream Van Moment at News From Nowhere. Daisy has been on secret squirrel manoeuvres as the JAMs director on this thing for a while. We’d all stopped asking her for clues dark ages ago. It was a fun train-ride, nipping at Claudia’s whiskey and gently badgering a Static Gallery bloke who had the misfortune to sit with us for info. Irving told me all about his adventures with the original Lord Buckethead and promised to show me photos from when they stood against Thatcher in the 80s, which I guess will never happen now. Irving died on the 23rd September, on the first sabbath of Jewish new year…
Since fuuking off back to London, I’ve been writing obsessive little notes on my phone, hammering out sprawling mega-diaries (averaging 10,000 words for each of the three main days), soaking up reports from bloggers, Badger Kull stylists, undercover MOJO journalists, snarky broadsheet hacks and reams of excitable post-situational social media threads in all the usual KLF-related outlets. Consequences and schemes are still spiralling out from the event – books, businesses, mixtapes, videos, capers and whatever. Some people have even read 2023 – and not just the ones from the 99, threatened recently with a Dead Perch Menace test.
The last time me and Claudia were up in Liverpool was for Tommy Calderbank and Greg Wilson’s 14 hour ‘Super Weird Happening’ fundraiser for the Florrie arts venue in the Dingle on April Fool’s Day. About 15 of us were slinging on a ‘one time only’ play Daisy’d written for the Festival 23 room. Choice 5 is Coming Alive was a futuristic-ish concoction stuffed with characters from various Campbellian capers, including Robert Anton Wilson’s daughter Luna (the cryogenically frozen narrator, played by Dixie McDevitt), Melusine the money goddess (played by Jacqueline Haigh), Carl Jung and the Pool of Life dream (Bang Crosby from Bad Fractals), Daisy playing her dad in a bald cap with mushrooms glued on top of it, explaining Ken’s theory on the Four Choices of the Artist – and adding her own fifth suggestion, inspired by Alan Moore’s musings on art as magic, aliens from Sirius (Larry Sidorczuk and genius musician and DJ Horton Jupiter), Ziggy Stardust (aka Moksha poet and Cosmic Trigger co-producer Michelle Watson), Donald Trump (a tangerine triumph from David Erdos, roped in at the last minute), an acoustic version of KLF’s Justified and Ancient and some highlights from the Cosmic Trigger play that we were about to put on again for a month in London. Eris/Claudia, of course, was in full flow. All the above, and more besides, was also rehearsed ‘one time only’, on the minibus, driven by the Money Burning Guy, on the way up the M1. I came on at the end and did a monkey pirate rap/incantation – basically repeating ‘Choice 5 is coming alive’ over and over again, in a Birthday Party-era Nick Cave baritone, over a Gene Krupa-sampling syncopated house track, swinging a plastic shin bone around my head and getting everyone up and dancing… I know. You had to be there…
Ken Campbell’s Four Choices of the Artist
Choice One: you can distract, entertain and deceive about the true state of things and thus help to sustain the status quo
Choice Two: you can pose as exposing wrongs, but in fact deceive and therefore help to sustain the status quo.
Choice Three: you can expose wrongs and bring about change. Unfortunately this choice is not possible, because if you really knew what was going on then you can be sure they’ve got something on you.
Choice Four: To pose as exposing wrongs, but in fact deceive, but with a wilful mix of truth and lie, research and fantasy, so inscrutably compounded as to send the status quo hunting for needles that nobody’s lost, in haystacks that don’t exist, diverting attention from the ensuing release of hitherto imprisoned forces, which will bring about change, but of an unpredictable nature…
Choice Five: To create a narrative so utterly complex and so endlessly self-referential that it becomes to all intents and purposes alive.
Four months later, we’re in a situation that’s Choice Five As Fuuk. We’re living inside Bill and Jimmy’s Art War. We get to make monkeys of ourselves in the service of ideas. Some are ours, some are theirs. But we are always volunteers, willingly engaging as much or as little as we choose. This is made clear in the ton of rules and regulations on various posters and JAMs leaflets, none of which I manage to keep hold of for more than five minutes. The self-referentialism piles on thick and fast, starting with the handing out of ‘jobs’ on Day One Proper. The ‘How to Have a Number One’ thing is covered off in the various Badger Kull jobs. I’m a ‘Super Fan’, which it soon becomes obvious I don’t need to take it too seriously as loads of others are too. Finding shopping trolleys, ragwort and police cones is pretty Penklin Burn-y, as is the soup on Day Two. The whitewashing of the Ford Galaxie was a bit like the UKIP poster white-washing a couple of years back. The people’s pyramid scheme from Day Three has been on Bill and Jimmy’s bucket list since at least 1998 and of course, they needed to deal with the 23 year moratorium on the money burning. Day One’s hearing is the bait and switch part of proceedings which everybody who isn’t paying attention thinks is what all this shenanigans is about.
We are lured into Bill and Jimmy’s heads when we are charged with the burden of deciding from Five Choices why the KLF burned a million pounds. The evening at the Black-E was fascinating and highly entertaining, but I’m with KLF book author and final witness John Higgs, as usual, on this one – the really interesting question is why are we all here 23 years later, excited by what the JAMs are going to do next? Loads of us ‘spoil’ the pound-coin-in-a-bucket vote anyway – some of us voted twice or for more than one explanation – and one of our lot puts in a ferry token for the Mersey Ferry. Irving keeps his pound coin. Claudia says he’s very pleased with himself as he’s now “a pound up on the situation”.
About 23 of us get to overtake Tommy Calderbank’s house for five days, some of us (law of) five to a room. Most of us are Cosmic Trigger/Warp/Illuminatus! veterans, so being here is like being in our own version of the Dead Dead Gang in Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, with no pesky grown-ups telling us it was a school night and without being dead. Except we are already dead if you’re taking Moore’s time-block theory – or the funeral rites on Day Three – on. Tommy does his best to keep us fed and get us to bed before the dawn chorus, but most of us drink too much, sleep too little and talk too fast for the duration.
Book Day starts out with the potential to be a bit cringe but ends up being hugely enjoyable. We were all lined up along the inner circumference of the burned out church, receiving ‘our’ pages from 2023, trying not to tread on the plants – odds and evens either side so most of us got mixed in with new people. When Bill hands me mine, I say “Ta, luv” which I know sounds like no big deal, but it’s something my mum says all the time, and I never do, and it’s a personal Rubicon, like I’m owning my middle-aged wool-ness. I decide I’m going to say it a lot more often, because it feels like a thread back to my mum. Oliver Senton – the Officiator, but always and forever just-a-little-bit Robert Anton Wilson for those of us who saw him in Cosmic Trigger in Liverpool and London in 2014 & 2017 – is reeling off all this stuff about us needing to come up with something that represents our chapter, and we have to sign this and write in that and he’ll read our page for us if we like and we will be in the next edition of the book as the owner of the page and we can blah… bequeath… blah… It’s a lot to take in, frankly, and we’re already threading around trying to find our pages/people. We have about 15/20 pages in my chapter – Book 3, Chapter 4. Me, Anwen, Tommy, Michelle Moksha poetess, Dave Jones from our lot, plus Sofie, Lizzy, Joanne, Nina, Christian, Bishi, Greg, Huw, H and the ones that I didn’t track down, who if they’re reading this – please get in touch. After arm wrestling our way onto a table (nice one, Greg), we started a religion based on Mister Fox and the flimsy premise of his assertion that he “believes everything”. Anwen from Festival 23 suggested we call ourselves Fox Templars, and we were off on a feral pun frenzy that became the Fox Templar Manifoxto.
We made a banner – which I initially ruined because I forgot I’m shit at freehand drawing – wrote down all our fox jokes and chipped off for a few hours to buy fox accessories from Mr Smiffy’s, get some lunch and check out an art exhibition on Marc Almond a mate of mine had curated at The Gallery Liverpool in the Baltic quarter. On the way out of the burned out church, I notice rubber ducks in the water feature in the centre of the building. I take a photo to show to Irving later. Irving always maintains that the reason Daisy put Cosmic Trigger on was because a yellow duck glove puppet, which he had in his pocket at Ken’s funeral, told her right after the service it was time to put Illuminatus! on again. The truth is a little more prosaic. Dominic Search, who met Daisy around the time she was directing The Warp (Neil Oram’s 24 hour play that is sometimes referred to as the British Illuminatus!), had suggested something similar to her the month before, and she’d been thinking about doing some kind of sequel. So yeah, ducks. On the way down Bold St, I stop to chalk a Fox Templar slogan outside News from Nowhere. I get talking to Michael, the Big Issue seller stood outside. I give him a bit of a rundown of the situation. He tells me some of his tips for places to bed down in London, should I ever be in need. Make of that what you will. Michael made friends with a fox once.
Coming back a few hours later into what looks like a massive Sunday School craft project, it slowly dawns on us that our chapter hasn’t put in anything like the hours of the others, judging from some of the sculptures, scarecrows, posters, Russian signs and so on that are covering the church. Gulp. As the chapters presented their interpretations of themselves, we are treated to a huge outpouring of ingenuity. Loads of it is affectionately taking the piss out of the KLF. Highlights include a rousing version of Do They Know It’s Christmas? called Fuuk The World, fronted by John from AOS3, a chapter that burned a wickerman in a skatepark (possibly on top of a Banksy – bonus points if that’s true), some Kibbo Kift drumming kagoule people, the Big Mac and Fries x 23 chapter’s tale of chanting in a local Maccy D’s, an art action that involves Kate Alderton (who played RAW’s wife Arlen in Cosmic Trigger) sat cross-legged, eyes frowned shut, balancing fruit on her head – the Tangerine Nightmare. Our one has some amazing throat singing from Bishi but I foxed up, not handing the mic to Sofie when it was her line – my bad. Throughout all this, Bill and Jimmy sit there smiling and laughing and generally having a high old time. It’s an inspired reverse of creative current – the audience are the artists, the artists are the audience. By the time everyone is sat on the steps outside the church for the group photo, we are something new. We are the book. We are the 400. We are bound for life – and beyond – in the pages of 2023, and the eternal blocktime of these five hyper-real days. We’ve dealt with three situations already and come out the other side ready to have another laugh tomorrow, quite possibly in the face of death…
Corporations spend tens of thousands trying and failing to catalyse this kind of energy on company bonding events. This spark happens rarely – bands experience it on the roller-coaster of scrapes and blags that is the first album tour. It can happen in the long hours and seat-of-the-pants scenarios thrown up making a low-budget movie or slinging on a three-and-a-half-hour play for no money. Heroic capers can short circuit the inner robot, burning through old neural pathways leaving space for new ways of thinking and being, for new alliances and possibilities. They make you feel like less of a dick, so you’re more inclined to act like less of a dick, I find. When the soup kitchen lady outside the church asks for donations in their buckets, pretty much everyone digs into their chalk-dusted pockets, pouring in the notes and pounds like it’s a vote for high weirdness, leaving her in tears. Heady stuff, this situation malarkey…
Of course, Toxteth Day of the Dead is at The Florrie. Choice 5 is alive and kicking out the JAMs. The 400 feel like an army now. Everyone ricochets around the lovely old Victorian building, getting their badger skull face paint done, swapping war stories, buying Jamie Reid’s Save the Florrie T-shirts and nipping over to the massive Tesco for supplies. I enlist Cassandra, a photographer who travelled here from Melbourne to help me burn holes in a bootleg Westwood Too Fast To Live t-shirt from Camden Market – blowing a bit of a raspberry to Joseph Corre. I’m wearing my monkey butler hat and carrying a big plastic carton of American-style hotdog buns, it being a Friday and all. There’s talk among the Fox Templars back at the house of eating one later – and whether that would make us Toxteth Heretics. This is the sort of thing that happens once you’ve made up one religion, I guess – the novelty wears off and you’re itching to start another before the ink’s dried on the Manifoxto in Bill and Jimmy’s Grapefruit’s Are Not The Only Bombs book…
A lot of what happens next is marred by a massive jolt of adrenaline and cortisol. I get separated from my bag – which has my specs, water, fan, money, house keys and train tickets in it – when I get waylaid by a situation. To appease some agitated bouncers, I went to find Daisy, who is up to her neck in logistics for the ceremony. I need to find out if she knows that Dave Wybrow – the man who made it possible for Cosmic Trigger to come back in 2017 by coming in as our venue/co-producer, and the money burning guy, who has just stopped by with his friend Will on their way back from Jura on a personal pilgrimage to the site of ‘the burn’ on the 23rd anniversary, are trapped outside without a wristband. By the time I manage this, my friend Matt, who had offered to take my bag, is lost to the dark, boiling, skull-packed hall. I am rescued by Jacqueline and Claudia, who squeeze me onto their bench. No matter, I’ll catch him later. I’m sweating cobs, I can’t see. Once again, I’ve missed out on the paperwork, so I don’t really know what the fuuk is going on, but Jimmy’s 23 minute video montage triptych thingie is writ large enough that I get the gist. Foxes and burning Shards, Yoko Starbucks, Facepalms, canals, Putin, tower-blocks – all the stuff that’s been seeping through in the past two days. Hearing the choral version of Justified and Ancient, I realise I still remember all the words from the Choice 5 play last time I was in this venue, so don’t need the bloody leaflet anyway. The service/announcement of the pyramid is thrilling, particularly seeing the amazing she-lion of Discordianism and guardian of Chapel Perilous, Lisa Lovebucket was one of the Koffin bearers. Ru and Claire, who hosted a day of talks and performance for us at the play in May, are going into the funeral business with Bill and Jimmy. Sound. Filing out seems to take forever. Once we get going, I spend half of the procession trying to find Matt, and the other half trying to find a lift for Irving, who shouldn’t be walking three miles on crutches – that’s just not on. Irving’s pretty sanguine about it when I catch up with him early on, but this is clearly unwise. I lose him, and buzz around the procession like a lost dog, trying to find Matt and/or Irving until someone tells me – Oliver I think – that Irving’s somehow found his way into the back of the ice-cream van. Classic Irving. Always somehow at the centre of things. OK. Cool. I relax a bit and catch the transcendentally beautiful sunset through the gaps in the buildings as Anwen and I reach the site of the bonfire. I find some friends who help me to locate Matt. I ask him if he has the bag, he smiles and shows me his bag and then suddenly, his face drops as he realises what I’m actually asking him. Whooosh. Cortisol. Whooooosh. Adrenaline. OK. Contingency. Anwen has a plan. We will ask David from Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 , who’s been driving Bill around today, to take us back to the Florrie after the ceremony. In the meantime, I drink a LOT of sweetened rum drink from SuperSavers on Bold St to calm down and try and focus on the bonfire and the shouting and the two men with massive horns strapped to their foreheads in front of me. It looks magnificent, but I’m a bit beside myself – and the sweetened rum drink has leaked onto my Maplins battery that I carry everywhere because my knackered old phone only keeps power on its own for about an hour. So I’m sucking on a sticky battery, in front of a bonfire, dressed as a raggedy skull monkey, in a yellow kagoule, trying to Zen away my impotent, ego-clawed rage that no good deed EVER goes fuuking unpunished, when Bang from Bad Fractals comes up…
“Can I have one of them hot dog buns?”
“You do know it’s a Friday, right?”
“I don’t care, I’m starving. I haven’t eaten properly in three days.”
“OK. Do you want a banana to go with it? Do you want to do banana magic? It might take the edge off the heresy…”
Colin eats two hot dog buns, one with the banana, which we do banana magic with (basically three bites = three wishes. One for the world, one for someone in need, and last one for you. No funny business – aka black banana magic), then I go to bury the banana skin – because that’s what you do, and the location is highly auspicious. As I’m digging furiously in the stony ground by the mouth of the Mersey, Matt’s firelit, skull-face appears, all eyes and concern, holding my backpack aloft like Lion King – he’s been all the way to the Florrie and back – and come up trumps. A wave of serotonin and relief floods me and I keep digging, scraping the territory with a jagged stone while Oliver, now topless, stomps around the fire-circle, enunciating I know not what into a megaphone. Matt helps me bury the banana skin. I love Matt. He is my hero.
At the Graduation Ball later, I was in full-on jibbering rum monkey mode – so much for not feeling like a dick meaning not being a dick. A true initiation never ends, hey? Most of us 400 in that club looked a right state. Some had been crying – or maybe that was an allergic reaction or sweat. I had some make-up wipes in my bag and sorted a few out with a cleanse and moisturise through the evening, including a relieved blond fella called Dennis who makes amazing stained glass windows, Flinton from Badger Kull (probably the most superfan thing I did so: result!) and lovely Larry Sidorczuk, who was Bill’s set building assistant on the original Illuminatus! play back in the 70s and who also took loads of us to the manhole cover on Mathew St to recite Jung’s dream and point out where Illuminatus! was originally staged in what is now Flanagan’s Apple pub (Hail Eris). I’ve written so very much more – and I’m still tinkering and adding – because I want to remember as much from that incredible experience as possible, and the many vignettes with the many amazing people – hearing Lucy at the Static Gallery’s stories about falling asleep as a kid during the original staging of Illuminatus! (Lucy’s mum was Bill’s art teacher, who supplied Ken Campbell with the students that helped him put on the original production), flashing my Clinic T-shirt at the DJs, chatting with Annabella Pollen, Kermit, Hoppo, Adam and Cassandra’s John and Yoko murder stunt, meeting Mari/Yoko from Gays Against Guns, the list goes on and on – but maybe the best place to end the Liverpool jaunt is on the drive home on Saturday. Claudia found us a lift with a kind lady called George who lives in west London. Irving was meant to be coming with us, but decides to take the train instead, as it was kinder to his leg. We journey home via an airfield near Coventry where George’s dad used to spend his spare time maintaining a converted Shackleton maritime patrol plane. It’s a beautiful machine – all battered leather seats and strange instruments. To accelerate the decompression further, we drive past the Vanta-blackened shell of Grenfell Tower, a chilling visual rebuke to the burning Shard of 2023. Running up the steps at Ladbroke Grove with my luggage to catch an incoming tube, I crunch my knee. It’s still not right. Payback from Eris for the hotdog buns shenanigans? (kind of – I was trying to keep up with Claudia).
A month later, on September 23rd, me, Kate, Michelle Moksha, Dominic, Claudia and Daisy are going through what Love and Will – the Cosmic Trigger production company – are planning what to do next when Daisy gets the call about Irving. In a way, it’s good that we were all together. And it’s really good that we were all together in Liverpool four weeks before. When we go our separate ways – I swear on my dogs – an ice-cream van piped up and drove around the corner…
Irving enjoyed becoming a graduate of the Dark Ages and being with his Cosmic Trigger tribe. He’d been a central figure in Daisy and Ken’s life, ever since he was dispatched up north to see what his brother David was up to with this Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool business. He talks about it in this podcast.
Ken and Irving’s resting places are now adjacent. At the funeral, Daisy pointed out an arrangement of pine cones that she and Irving had put on her dad’s grave over the summer. In the centre of the arrangement was a single, jaunty, sticking apart mushroom – not a million miles away from the ones glued onto the bald wig Daisy wore when she played her dad in Choice 5 Is Coming Alive at the Florrie in April. The wonders of mycelium and their network of intertwining threads (aka ‘plant internet’) are something Daisy sometimes uses allegorically to talk about the connections starting to happen around the Discordian/RAW/Arts Lab and now JAMs world. As far as we know, Irving had no intention of becoming part of Bill and Jimmy’s People’s Pyramid – any more than he was going to put his pound coin into a bucket to vote for someone else’s explanation of something he hadn’t researched thoroughly for himself. He doesn’t need to anyway – he already got to ride in the ice cream van. And Ken’s mycelial threads will reach him soon enough…
Don’t be afraid… we’re already threads…
Burn The Shard Players
Some of the 400 – and maybe some of the 99 too – may recognise a few of the people in this report as characters in the recreation of scenes from 2023 on November 23rd. Kate, Jacqueline, Claudia and Horton were in Liverpool, Tom and Carrie were in Cosmic Trigger this year and Roddie was in Daisy’s production of The Warp. The new faces were Govinda, an artist who was roped in (literally) by Claudia, and Robert – an actor/photographer who came to the situation via Oliver. As for Badger Cardie, sorry Kull, I think they sailed there on the canal, and disappeared into Gimpo’s yellow mist, never to be seen again…
The players – in order of appearance:
Daisy Campbell – Daisy Campbell/audiobook narrator
Oliver Senton – Narrator/Officiator
Kate Alderton – Yoko Ono
Carrie Marx – Winnie Smith
Robert Boulton – Henry Pedders
Govinda Sah – Chodak
Claudia Boulton – Chodak’s first disciple
Tom Baker – Ronald McDonald
Roddy McDevitt – pidgin Macbeth recital
Jacqueline Haigh – pidgin Macbeth recital
Horton Jupiter – pidgin Macbeth recital
A version of this article first appeared in the sublime and essential Discordia Britannica #9. Used here with the kind permissions of both the author and publication.
All photos used with the kind permission of the image holders and credited accordingly in the photo captions.