A number of news media sources report that a special committee of the UN will be debating the development (and deployment) of ‘killer robots’.

…amid fears that once created they could pose a “threat to humanity”.

I share concerns that people may be continuing to develop weapons that might be used as weapons…

Jetting past the pop culture whimsy, indicated by the nervous use of illustrative stills from Terminator films and jokey mouseover Dalek comments, that this has become an Official Issue for Discussion is actually a grave development. When the UN and similar bodies take seriously apparently novel ways to kill ourselves like this, it usually means it is already happening.

The idea of science fiction/speculative fiction being ‘today’s world set tomorrow’ can perhaps be augmented by seeing it as a kind of two-way wormhole. Creation and scientific development today also incorporate these projected views of different futures. Each informs the other.

I consider it a matter of worry and disappointment that we the species do not seem to take on board the negative aspects of our own interpretations, allegories, extrapolations. That we still view consensual reality and the future as things that need marshalling with guns, ever shinier and more complex. That we can look at the Terminator films and think ‘Yeah… we need those killer robots’.

We are still waiting for smart fruit…

Smart Fruit from Danny McKenna on Vimeo.

Stealth Bananas.

Anniversary Waltzing part 2…

Bill Hicks died ON THIS DAY (26th February) in 1994. A moment, people, I beseech you.


That’s kind of it, really. If you know Bill Hicks’ work, if you grew up (in whatever sense you want to take that) in the 1990s and 2000s knowing his work, then you too will have a little moment for Bill today.


If you don’t really know Hicks’s work… I mean, you have watched a few YouTube clips and thought “He’s not all that,” or read a couple of deflationary articles and decided to give him a swerve… then you will probably be wondering what all the fuss is about. He was just a stand-up comic, wasn’t he?

Well… yeah… but… There has been and will continue to be articles like this one, critiquing, praising, or with links to new material that always ends up being an iteration of already existing material. As a not-uncritical long-term fan of Hicks, this is my two penn’orth. I won’t link to Vice magazine, or The (Manchester) Guardian, or any of the other overly didactic/provocative views that hold he was “not all that”. While he wasn’t the messiah – and I don’t think he thought of himself as that, either, just to be clear – as a cultural commentator, he was, in fact, all that. No one was doing the same kinds of material as well as he did, I think. In his pomp, to use a couple of hackneyed phrases, he spoke the truth to power in a way that has remained as marginalised as much as it is now seemingly accepted.

Regarding the anti-Bill Bill celebrations, the 20th anniversary of Billdeathmas is proceeding much as the 10th did. Scottish publication Product Magazine marked the 10th aniversary of Hicks’ untimely death (from pancreatic cancer at age 32) with an article challenging the sacred comedic (and cash) cow that Hicks had begun to become. It was in Product 9, April-July 2004.

In one of the few occurrences of my actually carrying out a threat to write a stiff letter, my dander up, I had to reply. My original response was a 1,500 words gust of snooty just-got-a-degree efflatus, which the editor wisely – and generously – allowed me to waft away at until I got to the 500 word point. I’m still quite pleased with it, obviously, but don’t intend to rehearse the entireties of the original article or my response. Here is an ‘executive summary’ of common Bill arguments. Re-reading my frankly awesome writing, it struck me how much I could be saying the same things now. So, er, I did:

Critiques of Bill Hicks and any artist are important, particularly when the artist’s work is based in challenging consensus opinion.
However… such critiques, particularly Billular critiques, are too often ad hominem, based on attacking the person. This avoids focussing attention on what should arguably be the true object of the critique, namely, his subjects, including the political and moral complacencies or hypocrisies of contemporary culture.

There are dick jokes on the way, please relax.

“There are dick jokes on the way, please relax.”

One of the main flaws of pieces criticising Hicks is that they tend to assume Hicks would be essentially exactly the same person now.
Criticising a dead person for intransigence in their opinions is a peculiarly obtuse exercise.

People get Hicks wrong.
I mean, just not getting it. For example, in Product 9, 2004, the writer asserted that Hicks’ response to ‘post 9/11 society’ would probably be to engage in ‘gleeful, knee jerk anti-Americanism. And, er, that’s it.’ JUST talking about this comment, it is not only a circular argument, presupposing what Hicks may have said in order to criticise him for it, it is also deeply misrepresentative of what we can make of Hicks’ views on “America” from his transcripts. His “Persian Gulf Distraction” routines were soundly reasoned polemics against (both) Gulf Wars, and the dangers of fundamentalist thought of whatever stripe. He was profoundly sceptical of knee-jerk patriotism and the modern idea of “war”. At the time of his performing the routines – and 10 years on even more so, and 10 years on from that maybe a bit less so, but still – this was an uncommon position.

If, incidentally, you’ve never watched him, you have to see his act. He was a great physical, as well as verbal, comedian. Some material aspects of his act that people tend to foreground, such as smoking, “conspiracy theories”, his take on what constitutes “real soul” in music, the tendency to have a go at the audience if they weren’t listening… these are worthy of discussion, but not to the exclusion of his way with the microphone, his voices, his asides, his references, and his own critical engagement.

The ‘Hicks consensus’, his perceived widespread popularity and influence, is often uncritical.
“Oh, the Bill Hicks dollar? Huge dollar right now. Huge.” However, critics dismissing Hicks’ takes on pornography, drugs and the government as unevolved are, again, criticising the dead for not evolving. He was at least dealing with his own prejudices and opinions in an open way. “The Goat Boy also rises.” Hicks seemed ready enough to admit the paradoxes in his work. He may have felt the same about some (frankly shonky sometimes) sexual politics today… he may have changed his opinion.

He was a mystic and full of drugs and woo.
It is fashionable to deride anyone attempting to have a conversation about drugs or spirituality as being full of drugs and/or woo. Chemical change, myth and metaphor are deeply important to human understanding, and we don’t REALLY understand “why” (as if we need a reason). If life, an enjoyed life, were only about the appliance of science, we might be striding the dimensions like the gods we are. One could suggest we would benefit from further study of the Hicks Boson.

People not wanting to enjoy Hicks as an important performer often take a wilfully antagonistic stance, sacred cow bashing, contrarianism. Well, fair enough if you’ve watched all his stuff and had a think. Such a stance berates Hicks, deceased, for not changing the way one might think critically about him now, instead of commenting on, perhaps, the absence of his kind of critical thinking in a society that idly canonises controversial yet safely dead entertainers. In 2004 – and I will quote this – I wrote:

A society where the hip, smart, graduate cop-in with ADHD writing in the review pages of the Metro free paper is a cultural arbiter.

Then the Nathans took over the world and Michael McIntyre strode stages in stadia and Phil Kay released unironic documentaries about how his Oirish gyppo routines have amused millions, and no one seemed to blink when hundreds of satirical comedy panel shows said precisely nothing about anything. Ooh, you’ve gotta larf, aintcha?

You are free to do as we tell you! You are free to do as we tell you!

You are free to do as we tell you! You are free to do as we tell you!

While I think mainly a lazy way to discredit alternate ideas and views as emanating from some lunatic fringe, lumping Bill Hicks in with today’s challengers of the consensus like infowarrior Alex Jones (a fellow Texan) is probably not far off the mark. Bill’s vocal modulation and sense of irony, his distance from his own obsessions, was arguably superior. And as to his possible work over the last 20 years, given Hicks’ stance on marketing, for example, it’d be nice to think he would have avoided the bottled beer and Sandra Bullock movies trajectory his copyist contemporary Denis Leary followed… but then that’s me indulging in wish fulfilment, assuming the projected Bill Hicks of the Now would have been unchanged in a good way. Maybe he’d have nuzzled gladly on Satan’s scaly pecker to sustain his career. WHO CAN SAY?

Personally? I was fortunate enough to discover Hicks’ comedy and politics while he was still alive. Late night Channel 4, Just for Laughs footage from Montreal, and Revelations, his classic filmed appearance in Britain. You can probably get these on the Channel 4 player, and he’s all over the video channels. Then he died, so you just have to take what there is for what it is.

I liked him, anyway. So, love, laughter, truth, all that. Just thinkin’ of Bill (mimes pancreas giving out).

“25 albums that changed your life” (5×5 Part 9):
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Winterland

  • This was Number 9 (‘…number 9…number 9…’) on a chronologicalish list of ’25 albums that changed your life’. THAT was a thread some people were doing on Facebook “back in the day”.
  • A full explanation of all this is submerged elsewhere in the Mortal Bath.
  • If you get bored or disagree, substitute the word ‘arse’ for a word of your choice in the album title.

This piece has been kicking around for ages in search of a theme, if any theme other than the cosmic awesomeness of Jimi Hendrix is necessary. Then Jo Greenway at 10 minutes hate read my mind as usual and posted about the assault on the intellect that libraries have been undergoing in the UK, and it all came together.

JCG says:

The things we discover when we believe we are looking for something else entirely are often the most valuable.

This needs no further amplification. It is all about riffing (whatever “it” is, as Faith No More suggested), as far as I am concerned, and I am at my happiest digressing (no shit!). Riffing on what has gone before is essential for people to develop whatever happened, have fun with it, come up with something new.

Right, so, this Jimi Hendrix live album. Around the same sort of time that I was into Iron Maiden, Guns n Roses, etc, the medium of maximum profit for record companies was CDs. Lord how “they” miss it, as I type, attempting to convince digital natives, using electronic beads, that there is a better value proposition than free. I might as well note now that in typing CDs I had a sudden flash of future – possibly present day – readers of this rushing to a glossary, in the way that readers of Shakespeare have for at least three hundred years. There was a great joke about someone ‘of a certain age’ mentioning to a child that “Prince has released his new CD free with a newspaper,” to receive the response “Who did what with a what?”

CDs, anyway, had only been around a few years and were (as they remain) quite pricey. In the days prior to everything being available virtually immediately, if you didn’t want to buy something we had TV shows, radio, dial-a-song services, copied tapes and that was it. But what lovely it! Personal contact, whispered secrets, did-you-see?s, slow voices on waves of phase, hand-drawn packages passed from person to person in class, in the schoolyard, from siblings, teachers, mates.

In addition, there were the communal joys of the public library. I got into a fair number of bands through the library in Harrogate, where I grew up, and which at that time had a very well stocked record/CD library. Books as well, of course, but it was a great place to seek out new sounds, new civilisations. With my library card and at 80p per item, I got to take home and listen to (and tape at home, thus killing music) luminaries such as Pixies’ Surfer-Rosa-and-Come-On-Pilgrim, Pink Floyd, Prefab Sprout, Syd Barrett, Kinks, Roxy Music, Led Zep… and this CD by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Live at Winterland.

You do still get CDs and you do still get libraries, and they are often found together, but it is a matter of sadness, or, fuck knows what it is, nostalgia, bio-sentimentalism, sehnsucht, that the corporeality seems to be dwindling, and along with it the opportunity to “stumble upon” something tangible. This rush to GET RID of half the books in favour of computer terminals, no music and a fucking coffee bar, because that’s what will SAVE MONEY; stupid, needless cuts in the name of faith-based economics, one market under God… combined with the vogueish rush to have everything clickably instant and monetised into an app and flattened out into neat lines of 1s and 0s. Uncle Ray Kurzweil and all that immanentizing the e-schaton rag… Do we wish our physical lives away? Probably not really, not yet. Anyway, back in ‘consensual reality’ (that place with all the trees and birds)… as any geocacher might tell you, there’s something to be said for trove finding.

Actually finding a magic lamp, or even just something hidden under a rock. Time and memory mix up the exact sequence of events through which I discovered James Marshall Hendrix. I thought it might have been through a CD from the library called The Marquee: 30 Legendary Years. This had Purple Haze on it, among other standards of the guitar rock canon. Bands I came to love, like T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, The Who… all the Ts… That is also perhaps an album that could be on a Top 25 list, but – alas! – it has Genesis’s Turn it on again on it, and I’ve never understood their work. Too artsy, too intellectual.

Also, according to AllMusic, the Marquee CD came out in 1993, which is too late for the timeline in my head. Considering this crucial and vexed issue further, I am pretty much sure that First Contact with Jimi was made through the BBC Arena documentary on Heavy Metal, which first broadcast in 1989. Thanks to the super Real Gone blog and the other super blog Heavy rock – the playlist I have been able to confirm this. And thanks to Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The internet has replaced virtually all of this wearying, hand-tooled, questing on foot, organic education scenario. Bah, now I’m conflicted. It’s a double-edged thing – not a sword, though… probably an axe?

Arena, TV shows like The Rock n Roll Years, provided a vital supplement to my education. Cultural context, innit? TRNRY was a seminal (spunky and original!) series, featuring historical clip montages, accompanied by music. A crucial detail from the Wikipedia entry on it: “no presenters or voice-overs”. Definitely not one of the interminable sort of “100 Greatest Minutes of Rentaquote No-marks Being Facetious About Things They Didn’t Really See At The Time And Don’t Really Get”. Rock n Roll Years provided an in-depth education about (pop) culture.

With Arena, I don’t think it was a case of watching the documentary and the scales falling from my eyes, because I’d got hold of a few Hendrix records, and had been sent a few Band of Gypsies tracks on an extensive compilation mailed in a sock by a repatriated American best mate from primary school. Yet, it definitely had a big effect. It was all the meta-context, if that’s the right term. Seeing this exotic footage of Greenwich Village cafes, the British support cast – not only the Experience, but manager Chas Chandler, Alan Price, foils Clapton/Cream and The Who, etc… imagining the Beatles turning up to the hotly-ticketed gig and watching open mouthed as the Experience zip through a cheeky cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the day after it came out…

…these little scenes captured on grainy film, like flashes off a gold plate on the side of a deep space probe, remnants of an age of exploration. I found it compelling and fascinating.

At that time, 1988-89ish, rock music was shoring itself up culturally against the encroaching tides of dance music, the continued growth of hip hop, etc. The advent of CDs was carrying all the young dudes’ youths back into their living rooms, remastered, digitally convenient, but also reaching a new audience of heritage seekers like me, whose parents had grown up with it. I’m sure there are hundreds of words to be written about cultural legitimation/confirmation processes.

I do still find it fascinating, despite the attempted ruination of a lot of rock culcha by what I like to call the Uncut Mojo tendency, with all the connotations of belligerent academic white maleness that title might summon. It was a vital, LSD-binge exploration time for some, of course, but a money’s too tight, time down t’pits for others. A country struggling to loose the tie and hat legacy of wartime austerity and do something for and with itself, yet constrained (as now) by all the spare money being pushed up the noses of pop stars. Although now pop stars are all old grey whistle clean, it goes into trust funds, and it seems like no one is trying to kiss this guy.

Just watch the whole Arena documentary, because we can… the minute or so from 15.30 fried my little brains. I was fascinated by the history of the “baby boomers”, born as the second world war ended and by the 1960s ready for excitement, colour, music, clothes. So alien. In later years, other associations come into play. There is the closing theme to the decade, Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which needs to be seen with the wrecking ball clip from perhaps the ultimate ‘escape from the 1960s’ theatrical masque Withnail and I.

That would be followed most appropriately by the National Anthem. Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock is a performance about which millions of words have been written and muttered, none of which add anything. Good luck finding a version of it that doesn’t impinge on someone’s copyright. It should be compulsory viewing!

Back to the CD that was in hand, to the inappropriately sequenced end of track 2/start of track 3, ‘a kind of instrumental jam thing’, Sunshine of Your Love, by some real groovy cats, the Cream. Hendrix introduces the band again by detailing the equipment they’ve managed to destroy, with the fuzzy inexactitude of the has-to-be-just-a-teeny-bit baked, before uttering what is my favourite ever count-off, “And Mitch over here is on his third pair of arms… Fuck it, hell, I don’t give a damn,” and off they go.

In the absence of the Live at Winterland versh, here’s one off the Old Grey Whistle Test, noted for Hendrix’s comment as they abandon ‘Hey Joe’ that they are going to “stop playing this rubbish”… That and Sergeant Pepper and guitar music gone bonkers is what made me love Jimi Hendrix. Good new stuff is created when people have fun with old stuff.

And I would have maybe never come to it if wasn’t for our local library. Hands off the bibliotheques, you heathens, you’re getting in the way of some convoluted journeys of discovery.