Friday, January 30, 2015

Interview with Michael Moorcock, Part Three

Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two of the interview.

KS – As a teenager, I found the Hawkwind compilation Masters of the Universe (1977) in a German record shop (back when there were record shops) and was surprised to see the piece “Sonic Attack” credited to you. After that discovery, I was obsessed with Hawkwind throughout my high school years. How did you first get involved with the band?

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

I usually couldn't do every gig on a tour, so I tended to do gigs when I could. Because what I was doing was a kind of declamatory chanting (I was not doing poetry!) it was easy for me to fit in my numbers. Where I'd rehearsed, I'd do a song or two – and hope Dave hadn't meanwhile modified the tune, as he did on “Coded Languages,” I think.

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?

MM – He was a bit younger than me, and he didn't influence me at all. I don't think my work influenced him, either. He was a friend.

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.

I'd helped him get organised and took him up to Yorkshire to try to teach him self-discipline and how to focus. He was worried how critics would judge him. As an editor, I was used to dealing with those sort of anxieties. He wrote a bit of Hype there.

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.

Robert Calvert in London (1985)

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 – I wrote the first page. The publisher put my name on it in big letters. Maybe because I did the rough outline, too.

KS – A later incarnation of Hawkwind recorded Chronicle of the Black Sword (1985), a concept album based on your Elric mythos. The album also included “Needle Gun,” a track referring to Jerry Cornelius’ weapon of choice. You can be heard performing with the band on the subsequent Live Chronicles (1986) double-LP.

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.

Often people have no idea where the battle between Law and Chaos, the Chaos symbol, and so on come from. Someone interviewing Deep Purple (is it?) about their album Stormbringer in [the British music publication ] NME asked them why they'd used my title. They replied that it wasn't mine. All that stuff was “from mythology.” “No, it isn't,” said the interviewer.

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?

MM – I saw an advance showing of the movie in Paris with all the guys from Métal Hurlant. We were all open-mouthed at the enormous number of lifts appeared in that film! I didn't know the album track was used, and a number of artists were amazed to see their styles ripped off. A strange experience.

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?

MM – The punks knew little about Kropotkinist political theory. They just wanted to get out from under and be heard. They were pissed off with the way rock and roll no longer seemed to represent the people listening to it. Glam rock was the last straw for the punks I knew.

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?

MM – He was absorbed as an influence. I have never felt anyone's shadow hanging over me, and for that I am forever grateful. I admire and promote writers I love, but I don't worship them.

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?

MM – Burroughs was an inspiration to both Ballard and myself. I brought the books back from France and later introduced them and Burroughs to Ballard, as I introduced [Eduardo] Paolozzi and others. I tended to go out a bit more than Jimmy [Ballard]! We all saw the techniques of SF as bringing a shot in the arm to modernism (or post-modernism).

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?

MM – Elric first appeared in Moi Aussi drawn by Philippe Druillet in the sixties. That was a very useful collaboration!

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.

MM – Until relatively recently, I discouraged movie versions of my work. Now the narrative determines the effects, rather than vice versa. Elric is in the process of being sold to a TV production company. My work is very visual, but that still daunts most producers!

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.

MM – More narratives, more complexity, more ways of looking at the same subject or character, but recently I've begun to discourage people from using my characters. Some have used them for trivial reasons and don't expand the idea the way Alan, in particular, does. Both Alan and Bryan did me the courtesy of asking if I'd mind and sending me copies when they were done.

The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius by Moebius

KS – Mythic figures like Thor and Loki are interesting in that they can be used as vehicles for storytelling in any age, by any author. Now that Elric has passed his half-century anniversary, he seems more mythic than ever. What do you hope for your characters in future? Do you want the book to be closed by your hand, or do you want authors in 3014 to be writing works set in your literary Multiverse?

MM – I'd love it, if it were the latter! But I wouldn't mind getting a credit.

Elric by Walter Simonson

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.


Anonymous said...

My introduction to MM's work was the opening to The Black Corridor, which had been painstakingly etched into the underside of the lid of my school desk by persons unknown

Unknown said...

Quite fascinating...

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