MM – Good news is that record shops and bookshops are making a comeback as small independent stores.
I think “Sonic Attack” was the first number I performed with Hawkwind. My friend Jon Trux brought Robert [Calvert] round to see me one day. Bob, who had not yet performed with Hawkwind himself, was enthusiastic about the band and persuaded me to come to see them at a nearby hall. I loved them.
It turned out some of them read my books, and at that time they were saying Hawkwind came from Hawkmoon. With Dik Mik and Del [Dettmar] in the band, wandering around and sticking jacks into plugs to see what would happen, I said they were like the crazed crew of a ship that had been flying through space for too long.
Nik [Turner] and Dave [Brock] came round a couple of times before they asked me to write some lyrics. I did something that could be chanted rather than sang – “Sonic Attack,” “Wear Your Armour” and “Choose Your Masques.”
I was helping organize the gigs under the motorway, and Hawkwind were due to play. Robert by now was in the loony bin and very worried someone would take his job. Dave asked me to perform my stuff. I told Robert I'd fill in for him while he was in the bin, and he needn't worry about me taking his job, because I already had one. So from then on I'd help Bob get treatment, stand in for him while he was having it, and stand down when he wanted to come back.
|Hawkwind at Windsor Free Festival (1973)|
Robert Calvert, Michael Moorcock, Simon King & Lemmy Kilmister
Photo by Dave Walkling
There's a track from a live gig which is exactly that. I'm singing one tune, and Dave changes it (it appeared to me) halfway through. You can hear me fumbling to get back into the song.
KS – Robert Calvert was a complicated figure, arguably the most charismatic Hawkwind member (aside from Lemmy), and the performer of your “Sonic Attack.” You published his writing in New Worlds, and you played banjo on his Lucky Leif and the Longships.
Both you and Calvert have released recordings directly linked to works of fiction. In 1975, you released the New Worlds Fair LP with your band, The Deep Fix. The album title refers to the science fiction magazine you famously edited between 1964 and (with various breaks) 1996, and the group name is taken from the band Jerry Cornelius leads in your novels dealing with his adventures. In 1981, Calvert released the album Hype: The Songs of Tom Mahler, which ties in with his Hype novel of the same year.
What was it like to have a personal, literary and musical relationship with Calvert? How much influence did you have on each other’s work?
Island Studios were nearby. Occasionally, people would drop in and sometimes put a guitar riff on or something [during the recording of Calvert's Lucky Leif and the Longships album]. [Producer Brian] Eno thought it needed a banjo, so I said I'd go and get mine. When I dragged it out of its case, the strings were almost rusty. I said they'd have to wait while I restrung the banjo. Eno said “no” and to play it like it was. Eno was always inspired like that. “Hands on” had a whole different meaning when he was at the deck.
Hype was done at a little studio near Aldwych. I was living in Yorkshire with Linda and came down to do something at the BBC World Service which was near the studio. He wanted the sound I could get on my Rickenbacker. So Linda and I did some backing vocals, and I put some guitar on, and that was that.
|Robert Calvert in London (1985)|
I had the feeling sometimes that he wanted to do what I could do. He was a far better rock and roll performer than I ever was, and he could be magic on stage. I tried to help him explore his talents and so on but I felt, I must admit, that he looked down on R&R and wanted to be acknowledged as a serious artist, etc. etc.
The public was less interested in him as a poet than as a rock performer. You can see this at once by looking at YouTube. Lots of hits for rock, few for “The Kid from Silicon Gulch.” He was disappointed by the reception for his plays, but frankly I thought they were the least interesting productions of a very talented man.
KS – You’re credited as co-author of The Time of the Hawklords (1976), a science fiction novel with the members of Hawkwind as protagonists. Did you really have nothing to do with this besides suggesting the idea to Michael Butterworth?
MM – Both those songs were done for NWF [New Worlds Fair] but weren't really suitable. I performed them first, and Dave modified the tunes to suit him.
KS – Tolkien once wrote about his early dream of creating “a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of the romantic fairy-story,” stating that “[t]he cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”
You’ve actually lived his dream, creating a Multiverse mythos “of more or less connected legend” while leaving scope for artists and musicians to contribute to the totality. The major difference between Tolkien’s dream and your reality, however, is that you have yourself been so often engaged with these artists and musicians as a participant and co-creator.
Have your interactions with other creative types who wander in your mythology influenced your own ongoing creative process? Has your more recent writing of Elric been affected by the way he has been portrayed in other media?
MM – Not really. Elric is alive, within me.
I have never read an Elric book all the way through. I somehow know his story, perhaps because he really is a part of me. I rarely have to refer to earlier stories.
I never set out to create a complex cosmology/theology around the stories. Somehow, perhaps because it was incorporated into D&D, it has influenced generations.
|Promotional poster for Deep Purple's Stormbringer (1974)|
I've had my stories told back to me as urban myths by stoned dealers in the Mountain Grill and the Princess Alexandria. It's a very strange experience.
I didn't, of course, set out to do it. It happened because so many people, especially in the sixties and seventies, took my ideas and ran with them -- games, comics, movies, etc. That's how those ideas were absorbed.
KS – You also collaborated with the American band Blue Öyster Cult, co-writing three songs with vocalist and guitarist Eric Bloom. “The Great Sun Jester” (1979) references your novel The Fireclown (1965), and “Black Blade” (1980) is a song about Elric. The third collaboration – “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” (1981) – famously appeared on the soundtrack to the animated film Heavy Metal (also 1981). The title echoes lyrics to the Hawkwind song “Standing at the Edge” from the album Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) – an album to which you contributed lyrics and which centers on your idea of the Eternal Champion.
How did your collaboration with Blue Öyster Cult come about? How was your relationship with BÖC different from the one you had with Hawkwind?
|Poster for the Heavy Metal movie (1981)|
I met Eric in New York in the seventies, and he asked me for some lyrics. I gave him some I'd been performing myself with DF [the Deep Fix], and he modified the tunes to suit him. Eric wanted to make an Elric movie, but sadly we never got it together.
Eric's an amazingly good performer on stage, too. Although I performed a couple of numbers with Eric, I was never in the US long enough to develop the same relationship as I had with Hawkwind. Eric remains a friend.
KS – Your novelization of the Sex Pistols movie The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) morphed into a Jerry Cornelius adventure, which seems like a completely natural thing for it to do. Do you think that there was a serious political motivation behind the 1970s UK punk scene’s embrace of anarchism, or was anarchy just a pop music marketing gimmick – like 1980s metal bands using Satanic imagery and 21st-century pagan metal bands using the trappings of Old Norse religion? What was your take was on the original English punk scene as it was happening?
Happily, Hawkwind and Motörhead were admired by punks for not selling out, so I worked with The Adverts, for instance, and later tried to help promote young punks – for instance in a South of Watford TV prog which went against much of what the producers had planned. It's on YouTube, I think. When I interviewed Siouxsie [of Siouxsie and the Banshees] for it, I told her it was likely to come out like the usual crap. Unfortunately, I'd left my mike on, and the producers overheard, so that didn't improve things.
I liked most of the punks I knew. Everyone but Captain Sensible [of the Damned], who I strongly disliked. I saw the movement as the same as I'd been involved in but with different haircuts.
KS – I came to read Mervyn Peake through your (eternal) championing of his work. You’ve said that you wrote your first completed novel, The Golden Barge (1958), while you were “very much under the spell of Mervyn Peake.” Do you still sometimes feel his shadow fall upon you while writing, or was he a childhood love whose influence has dissipated over the years?
|Self-portrait by Mervyn Peake (1931)|
KS – In “Epic Pooh,” you write of the rural ideal and the urban reality:
Since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, at least, people have been yearning for an ideal rural world they believe to have vanished – yearning for a mythical state of innocence (as Morris did) as heartily as the Israelites yearned for the Garden of Eden. This refusal to face or derive any pleasure from the realities of urban industrial life, this longing to possess, again, the infant's eye view of the countryside, is a fundamental theme in popular English literature.Like the novels and stories of J.G. Ballard, much of your work dives deeply into the chaotic and confused contemporary urban landscape, but sees it through a lens informed by science fiction and experimental writing. It seems perfectly poetic that you were the person who introduced Ballard to the work of William S. Burroughs (and vice versa) and that they first met in person at one of your parties. How would you describe the relationship between the three of you, in terms of literary cross-pollination?
|Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Mike Kustow, J.G. Ballard|
Brighton Arts Festival (1968)
KS – Your characters have appeared in comic book form many times since 1969, when you wrote The Adventures of Jerry Cornelius for London underground newspaper International Times. Elric was the first of your creations to appear in American comics, when he was featured in a 1972 Conan the Barbarian storyline written by Roy Thomas on your plot outline. More recently, you collaborated in 2006 on Elric: Making of a Sorcerer with Walt Simonson, an artist legendary for his run on Marvel’s The Mighty Thor in the 1980s. How well do you think the comics medium works in presenting your ideas?
|Elric by Philippe Druillet|
Recently, the new Elric graphic novel published by Glenat was a best-seller and the best depiction of my old Elric stories.
Walter is an especially good collaborator, giving me back as much as I give him. For original work, Walter Simonson has done the best. We became very good friends while working on Michael Moorcock's Multiverse in the late nineties, though we've known each other since the seventies.
KS – Given the popularity of your novels and their continuing appeal to generations of readers, how is it possible that the only movie based on your work was the Jerry Cornelius adventure, The Final Programme (1973)? Have their been breakdowns with studio negotiations over creative rights, or is there something else that has prevented your works from reaching the screen? I don’t think it’s a given that every popular work of fiction must be turned into a film or television show, but much of your work seems very suited to contemporary cinematic treatment.
|Michael Moorcock and Jon Finch (as Jerry Cornelius)|
during the filming of The Final Programme
KS – I remember being completely baffled as a teenager when I found a nearly complete run of Heavy Metal at a used bookstore and read the late-1970s serial The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius by French artist Mœbius, reprinted from the French Métal Hurlant. You actually weren’t involved in creating the strip; the series was one of the many works featuring your characters by other authors such as Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot. You’ve been somewhat unique as a modern prose author who has actually encouraged others to use his characters.
|The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius by Moebius|
|Elric by Walter Simonson|
MM – I'd love it, if it were the latter! But I wouldn't mind getting a credit.
KS – Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, and thank you for all the literature and music that you’ve created.
MM – And so to bed.