A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
STANDING ON THE VERGE OF GETTING IT ON
Those of you with long memories may recall a little book I put out in 2014 called 2000TC: Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On. This was a biography of the almost mythical band TC Lethbridge who, being monolithically slow, famously took 20 years to record an album. It was written to mark their first ever gig, 23 years after forming, at the Cosmic Trigger festival in Liverpool, and it is a story about the impact – both good and bad – that creative projects can have on your life. I suspect TC Lethbridge are the only band to have a biography written about them before they played their first gig.
For reasons that made sense at the time, the book was limited to 111 copies, was 111 pages long, and was 111mm wide. The story features characters who appear in my Timothy Leary and KLF books, so it acts as a jigsaw piece that connects the two. To this day, people still give me grief about not being able to get a copy.
The band were named after the radical archaeologist TC Lethbridge who, in the 1950s, wandered the Gogmagog Hills near Cambridge searching for evidence of long-rumoured Neolithic hill figures. By inserting rods into the ground to determine when the chalk beneath the turf had been last uncovered, and then mapping the results, he uncovered on Wandlebury Hill what he thought was an extraordinary piece of landscape art.
The wider archaeological community were not having this, however. Lethbridge’s methodology made no sense to them. As they saw it, there was no reason to believe that the figures had ever existed before, so they were promptly covered up. All of which raises the question of where that design comes from. If it had never existed before, then it emerged somewhere between the geology of the hill and the mind of Lethbridge.
Enter Flinton Chalk of the band TC Lethbridge (and also, of Badger Kull). He is currently trying to get the figures unearthed again – not with any claims about them being authentic Neolithic designs, but simply as a piece of extraordinary landscape art. Part of this process requires an environmental survey of the hill’s insect life, and to get money to pay for this he’s been hassling his record company. Mark Sampson of Iron Man Records tells that story here.
To help fund this – and also to guilt trip the band into finishing the new single they have long promised – we’ve printed a second run of the book, again limited to 111 copies, 33 of which I have secured and which are now available for sale to you newsletter readers in my online shop at £8 each. The only difference is that instead of being signed like the first edition, these have been stamped with Gog in purple ink. Oh, and a sticker changes ‘first edition’ to ‘2nd edition’, which is classy.
If you read this newsletter too late and those copies are gone, then all is not lost. Keep an eye on Iron Man Records, and the bulk of this run will shortly become available there.
Incidentally Iron Man were also involved in the recent audiobook version of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger II, read by Oliver Senton, which I know a lot of you will enjoy.
Forgiveness is a rare concept indeed these days. In the world of social media, an idea like forgiveness is deeply unpopular. It’s just not how social media works. Bad people need to be exposed, and their crimes need to be held up to horrify us all. In The Future Starts Here, I noted that although we were becoming a more emotionally aware culture, these were usually the emotions of childhood – more mature concepts like forgiveness were notably absent.
As the online world sees it, people mustn’t get away with what they have done. From this perspective forgiveness can seem like a cop out – a failure of karma and retribution. But forgiving is not forgetting, and neither does it require covering up bad behaviour. Forgiving is stepping away from the system of abuser and victim, and psychologically refusing to be involved. It is to learn from a situation, rise above it, and move on.
Leaving behind the guilty/victim perspective is a rare thing at the moment. Algorithms reinforce our inbuilt need to see ourselves as good guys and victims. No matter where you are on the tree, there’s always some bastard above whose fault everything is. Defining yourself as the victim is so widespread now that even the billionaire President of the United States does it.
And yet, if there’s one thing that Black Lives Matter, MeToo and the climate movement have shown us, is that we all carry some guilt – if only by being part of the systems we were born into. This is a different level of guilt to that of predators and the intentionally cruel, of course, but it still needs to be reckoned with. Deep down we all believe we are the good guys, so it causes a lot of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps the growing visibility of this guilt, and the growing cognitive dissonance it causes, is part of the reason we are all so desperate to display our victim status these days. It’s not easy to see yourself as both guilty and innocent at the same time.
When we self-define as a victim we can’t walk away from the guilty/victim dynamic, and the result is the general lack of forgiveness you see around you. All of which brings me, like a stuck record, to William Blake (no surprises there). While working on William Blake Vs The World, I was surprised by the importance Blake put on forgiveness – this is an aspect of him that is rarely highlighted.
For Blake, forgiving is not just desirable, but absolutely necessary. To be unable to forgive is to eternally imprison yourself in ‘mind forged manacles’, forever suffering from the acts of others. To be able to forgive, in contrast, is liberation. In Blake the act of forgiveness is everything. Being forgiven, in contrast, is an irrelevant side effect.
Perhaps his most extreme account of this occurs in Jerusalem. Here he writes about the biblical Mary and Joseph, at the point Joseph realises that Mary is pregnant with a child that is not his. Joseph, naturally, is not happy, but Mary is pretty damn unrepentant. She argues that Joseph should be grateful, because she has given him the opportunity for forgiveness. With this, his soul can be free. Without it, he would be damned. Fair play to Mary, that was one ballsy argument in the circumstances.
Now, no-one is saying that forgiving is easy, or popular, or always possible. There are things that will never be forgiven. But as the 2020s develop, keep an eye on whether or not forgiveness returns. People who are increasingly capable of seeing themselves as guilty and innocent at the same time – as Blake could – would be a promising development indeed.
Until next time,