Newsletter #31

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Nos Calan Gaeaf 2021 


NEW BOOK!

My next book is called LOVE AND LET DIE: BOND, THE BEATLES AND THE BRITISH PSYCHE, and it will be with you in ten months or so. Here’s some of the blurb:

The Beatles are the biggest band there has ever been. James Bond is the single most successful movie character of all time. They are also twins. Dr No, the first Bond film, and Love Me Do, the first Beatles record, were both released on the same day – Friday 5 October 1962. Most countries can only dream of a cultural export becoming a worldwide phenomenon on this scale. For Britain to produce two on the same windy October afternoon is unprecedented.

LOVE AND LET DIE is a story about two opposite aspects of the British psyche exploding into global culture. It is a clash between working class liberation and establishment control, told over a period of sixty dramatic years. It is also an account of our aspirations and fantasies, and of competing visions of male identity. Looking at these cultural touchstones again in this new context will forever change your understanding of the Beatles, the James Bond films, and six decades of British culture.

There’s more about it here.

But I know what you’re thinking – who will this book be dedicated to? Well, it might well be dedicated to you, if that so pleases. It will certainly be dedicated to someone who makes a donation to Shelter ahead of Christmas, and it would be great if that was you.

There’s a page up on JustGiving that has all the details, please click over there and see what you think. Anything you could do to help spread the word would be much apprectiated. Everyone who donates will get thanked in the book.

I mention on that JustGiving page that the person the book will be dedicated to will be drawn from a hat. I thought you might want to see exactly which hat. I know what you’re like for hats. It is this fella here:


CLAUDIA

Like many, I was hit hard this week by news of the death of Claudia Boulton. Claudia played Eris the Goddess of Chaos and Discord in the play of Cosmic Trigger – and pretty much in real life, also.

I wanted to share this photo, taken by David Bramwell, from the last time I saw her, at the Blame Blake event in Sheffield in August. This was from her ‘Tabletop William Blake’ talk.

I can only describe it as a magnificent shambles that I am lucky to have seen. I can’t quite recall now why putting a box on her head was part of a talk about Blake, but I’m sure there was a reason.

All emotions are mixed, even something like grief. For all its weight, it is mixed up with the awareness that you had that person in your life, so it can never be 100% dark. The huge outpouring of love for Claudia I’ve been seeing these past days is a reminder of how much someone can impact on people, simply by being resolutely and unshakeably themselves. It’s also been an illustration of how loss, just like life, is a communal experience. Much love to all who knew her. She taught us all that, when you get the cosmic joke, it never stops being funny.

For those missing her, and indeed for those who never knew her, a listen to her conversation with Jamie Dodds on the F23 podcast is highly recommended.


‘WHO KILLED THE KLF?’ DOCUMENTARY

I’m being asked a lot about the forthcoming KLF documentary, especially after the Guardian article about it.

I’ve lost track now of the number of times I’ve been approached by filmmakers who wanted to option the rights to my KLF book. It’s still happening in 2021, nearly a decade after that book first appeared. I respond by saying that I’d only agree if the filmmaker (a) had Bill and Jimmy’s approval and (b) the rights to use their music. Typically, I am assured that they will definitely get these things, then I never hear from that filmmaker again.

The one filmmaker who didn’t disappear was Chris Atkins. He was the guy who made Starsuckers, an exposé of how Murdoch and the British tabloid press works, which led to him giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry. He also made Taking Liberties, about the erosion of UK civil liberties after the Iraq war, and UKIP: The First 100 Days, which received more complaints than any other programme that year – the majority from Britain First members.

Atkins, clearly, has a thing for making powerful enemies. It is something you can imagine a therapist would want to talk to him about at length. In his defence he does choose his enemies well.

It had long been clear to me that someone would make a KLF film eventually – because people are still trying to process what it was that they did. The real question was whether that film would do them justice, or catch their spirit. Atkins was not in the slightest bit troubled that Bill and Jimmy did not want him making a KLF film, or that I wouldn’t option the book. He just ploughed ahead and made his film regardless, funding it himself, and delving deep into the technicalities of ‘fair-use’ copyright exceptions. There was something of Ken Campbell about the pig-headed way he ignored the difficulties and just did the work.

It was pretty obvious to me very early on that Atkins was the guy. He was the one filmmaker stubborn enough to see this through. He was also the one filmmaker who seemed to be driven by motivations that were just outside of the rational, like the cast of the wider story in my KLF book.

I still didn’t option him my book, but I wished him well and did an on-camera interview for his film. This was around 2015 or thereabouts, before I started turning down requests for interviews about the KLF. Full disclosure – I got £200 and a sandwich for doing the interview, sadly long spent. And eaten.

And then Atkins went to jail. His crime was falsifying invoices for the funders of Starsuckers. He is open about his guilt here, but it does seem odd to me that a director was jailed for five years because of how a documentary was funded. I do wonder if it would have happened if he hadn’t made quite so many enemies in the British establishment. But that’s probably just my paranoia – it was, after all, a very Chris Atkins-like thing to happen.

In jail, he became a ‘listener’, working with the other prisoners and their problems. When he got out, he wrote a book about this, A Bit Of A Stretch, which is very readable, empathetic and humane. Then he finished his KLF documentary.

Now, Bill and Jimmy are very much against this film and have taken legal action to try to stop it being shown at film festivals. Don’t think from that, though, that it’s a hatchet job, or it doesn’t do them justice, or it is in some way unfair or against them. Or at least, it isn’t to my eyes – I saw a nearly complete edit a while back and thought it was really well done. If you think of it as a version of my book for people who don’t read books, you’re probably not that far off.

Bill and Jimmy, of course, are very much against it and don’t want it released. The idea that public figures get to vet who tells their story, however, is not one I’m comfortable with. Perhaps that’s professional bias on my part, and I certainly understand why they were unhappy with the BBC documentary in the 1990s. But when artists do stuff that the wider culture can learn from, people need to talk about it and pass the story on. That’s not a process you can or should control. The KLF did, after all, tour a film of themselves burning a million pounds around the country and asked for reactions. They didn’t ask for reactions only from carefully vetted and approved individuals.

I know some long-term KLF fans are uncomfortable about Warner’s lawyers attempting to ‘protect their copyright’, and the heavy irony involved with that. But as a plot twist, it’s a stance which is so wrong that, in the larger story, it seems entirely right. Together with the whole saga of Atkins going to jail, the story of the KLF documentary is unfolding in a borderline ridiculous, larger-than-life way that seems tonally perfect for the larger myth. To my mind, there was always going to be a film, and it seems right that it’s this one.

The film should appear in the not-to-far future at cinemas in the UK. Unless of course, there are more twists yet to reveal themselves…


UNTIL NEXT TIME!

Just to say before I go – I’ve you’re curious about the Facebook/Meta rebrand, it’s worth reading chapter 6 of my book The Future Starts Here. Its basic argument is that yes, the whole VR/AR thing is going to happen, but heaven help us if Facebook control it.

Have a great Hallowe’en! If you need a suitable soundtrack for tonight, may I suggest Two Fingers by Sea Power?

See you at Midwinter,

jhx

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