Cosmic Trigger Festival Talk

originally posted November 25, 2014

It’s too early to say exactly what detonated at the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool this weekend, save to say that this particular firework was not a dud and much will be written about it.

At one point a man called Duncan Harvey handed me a memory stick containing a long lost photo shoot he did with Robert Anton Wilson at the Old Chelsea Town Hall, London, in 1986. I’ve placed my favourites throughout this post. Good, rights-clearable photos of Bob are in short supply, so if anyone has a use for these photos get in touch and I’ll connect you with Duncan. This is my absolute favourite:

I was due to give a talk and host a panel with Robin Ince, Adam Gorightly, Robert Temple and Daisy Campbell. This didn’t happen alas – whoever was in charge of the speaker’s room lost interest in that role and wandered off and the resulting confusion and free-for-all (Hail Eris!) claimed the time alloted for my talk. So rather than see that talk go to waste I’ve transcribed here roughly what I would I would have said, bar the ums and errs and general blather.

Rather marvellously the panel talk was replaced by an impromptu wedding between Greg Donaldson and Daisy Eris Campbell. This was entirely fitting as we were going to be talking about connections, but the weekend was working on deeper levels than mere talk. It was a weekend of theatre and ritual, and a wedding expressed the concept of connection far better than words alone. Without giving away too much of the story of the play, a connection of love in the dark heart of Chapel Perilous, expressed in ritual theatre, is exactly what the weekend was about. Chapel Perilous, lest we forget, is still a chapel.

Here’s what my talk would have been:

It is a year and a month to the day since I stood up, at the Horse Hospital in London, and spoke about Robert Anton Wilson. I talked about how people no longer reference Bob, and that I feared he was in danger of becoming forgotten. So how stupid do I look now?

As it turned out, the deathly quiet that I had mistaken for disinterest was a potent tingle of potential enthusiasm, waiting for an excuse to manifest. This was the day when Daisy Campbell spoke in public for the first time about her dream of putting on a Cosmic Trigger play, and this was the excuse that was needed. You know how a pearl forms seemingly out of nothing, provided it has a bit of grit to form around? Well, Daisy was our bit of grit. Which admittedly doesn’t sound like a great compliment but trust me, it is.

Watching this festival form over the past year has brought to mind the Noah’s Ark story. Noah didn’t go out and collect up all the animals. He busied himself building the ark. The animals just knew they were supposed to be there, and they turned up at the right time, and they got on the ark, and they didn’t eat each other.

It’s the same for everyone here – cast, audience, performers, backstage, and production crew. You somehow knew you had to be here and you turned up as and when needed. I’ve talked to a lot of you this last year and your stories about what brought you here are all very different. You are very different people, with different aims and motivations and baggage. Yet you all turned up, and you didn’t eat each other.

This coming together has been extremely productive. It’s been a virtuous circle of people being inspired by people being inspired. I’m reminded of a quote from Ken Campbell I saw recently, in which he said that the meaning of life can be peripherally glimpsed by being amazed and by amazing others, but it can fully grasped by amazing yourself.

When you gather together new-age heads and materialist rationalists, American libertarians and British socialists, the focused and the vague, the serious and the silly, the human and whatever it was that accosted me earlier, it does not sound like a recipe for getting things done. The only thing we all have in common is that we have at some point read Robert Anton Wilson and recognised and valued the impact that he has had on us.

So the fact this weekend actually happened is, I think, a great credit to Bob’s philosophy. Discordians take it for read that other people have different reality tunnels, and we don’t feel the need to force others into our own. We know it is as important that we don’t fall for our own belief system, our own BS, as it is that we don’t fall for other peoples’. Instead we value people like Robin Ince, a man who knows Alan Moore and Richard Dawkins, and who can be friends with them both and converse with them both and understand them both, without his head exploding.

I could tell countless stories about what brought people here. Scott Mcpherson who did all the animations and projections is a good example, as everyone has been raving about his projections today. When Daisy was writing the script, she wondered if it was possible to do stuff with projections, but neither of us knew anyone who did that sort of work or what it cost. And at that point, this guy @amoebadesign tweets out of the blue, asking if we need anyone to do projections. I’d seen him about on twitter talking about my KLF book and clocked that he was a Wilson head, and I’d assumed he was based in Glasgow. But no, he was in Brighton, where me and Daisy live. So we went to meet him.

He started showing us examples of his work including footage of a road in front of blue wooden garage door, with typography animated in the scene as if the words were filmed in the real world. I asked him why he had filmed those particular blue garage doors, and he explained that his then-office was right there, in the window next to the blue doors. And I explained that I know that road because I wrote the KLF book in the building opposite, sat at a window in an office which looked down at those doors. What was on the screen was the exact view I had as I wrote that book. Which was something of a coincidence, when you think about the size of the world… So yeah, I knew then that he was our guy and having seen what he did yesterday, I don’t think anyone will disagree. Although I do sometimes ponder if such close proximity to Scott’s psychic pollution during writing could have shaped that book in any way.

Another example of what brought people here is the band TC Lethbridge, who played their first gig last night, 23 years after they formed. Their story needs longer than I have here to do justice. In fact I’ve written a 28,000 word book about it, to mark their appearance at this festival. I doubt there are any other bands who have had a full biography written about them before they have even poked their noses out in public, and I wouldn’t have done so if they and their story hadn’t been so extraordinary.

That edition of that book is just limited to 111 copies – it’s not for sale bar for 5 copies which were placed, for obvious Discordian reasons, on the bookstall this morning and which have since gone. One reason why it’s not being made properly available is because I feel some unease about how badly a particular individual comes out of that story. But after writing it I realised that the book also works as a jigsaw piece. It connects to the story I told in my KLF book, and it also connects to my Timothy Leary book. With that work connecting the other two, the three books can be thought of as one larger story – if admittedly a lopsided and strangely shaped larger story.

This pleased me greatly, for what was my KLF book but a statement that five seemingly separate stories were, in a certain light, one bigger story? It was my way of saying that the stories of Bill Drummond, Robert Anton Wilson, Ken Campbell, Alan Moore and Doctor Who were parts of something larger, even if none of the characters in that story were aware of it. And so by joining up those three books, and squinting at them a bit, you get an even larger story still.

This, it seems to me, is exactly where we are as a culture. I’ve written a book about the 20th Century which will be out next year and which I’ll bang on endlessly about soon. But one thing I realised writing that book that the predominant story form of the 20th Century, especially in cinema, is what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. A young man (and it’s almost always a man) of lowly means receives a call to adventure, meets a patriarchal mentor, faces many challenges, defeats the personification of evil and returns home with treasure. You’re probably sick to death of that story, it’s been used in everything from Errol Flynn movies to Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. It’s the story of a single reality tunnel – it’s the tale of how the hero views the world.

But there’s been a huge shift in our culture. Look at the big hits that we get now. You have TV series like Game of Thrones, where the complicated interplay between dozens of competing reality tunnels proves to be a far more interesting, rewarding and illuminating piece of television than the story of one single reality tunnel. You get things like the Marvel cinematic universe, where all these separate individual superhero films join up into something larger, because Marvel understands that the sum is larger than the parts. In the Eighties the fact that Doctor Who had decades of backstory was a reason not to watch it: now people love it when they pick up on a Jon Pertwee reference from the 1970s. A simple children’s Hero Journey story such as The Hobbit becomes an epic 9-hour trilogy for today’s audience. Alan Moore understood all this decades ago, when he first began connecting up the entire world of fiction in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

And this is what this weekend is all about. All the stories, all your individual stories about what brought you here to this building on this day, they all connect up and form one larger story that is greater than the sum of its parts. And none of us can see that story, but we can sense it. We know deep down that this is exactly where we are meant to be, and that being here is important and will resonate with us for perhaps the rest of our lives. This weekend is about something other than one person’s reality tunnel. And yes, it is frustrating that none of us can see this larger story, but you know it’s there, just out of the corner of your eyes, because you keep getting flashes of it. So perhaps now is the time where we should stop hearing what me and the rest of the speakers think, and get as many different voices heard as possible. We’ll bring a few people back for a panel, people who you might have questions for, and people who might have insights into what you’re thinking, and we’ll see what we can learn from each other.

I’m hoping your heads are buzzing and fizzing and full of questions and connections, and that by catching glimpses of what you’re all thinking we won’t gain any clarity or closure, but we’ll go away with even more buzzing and fizzing and questions and connections.

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