Going Thru Vinyl, 2012-01-31 (published 2012-02-03)
From: Jason Hoffer
To: daevid allen
Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 6:03 PM
Subject: GoingThruVinyl Questions
thanks for your patience; I think the questions turned out quite well. I hope you don't find it too long and I also hope that they bring a smile to your face (and maybe light some creativity within you)? I will be checking my email in case you have any questions about my questions. I'm eager to read your responses; please let me know if you need it send in a different format.
All the best,
On Sun, Jan 22, 2012 at 1:31 AM, daevid allen wrote:
Hi Jason, I'm working on yr interview gradually. Thats a lot of questions so I only work on it when i find it fun. Should be back atcha in a few days.
From: Jason Hoffer
To: daevid allen
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 3:33 AM
Subject: Re: GoingThruVinyl Questions
Just answer the questions you feel comfortable with. Also, I would like to send you a T-Shirt but I'll need you shirt size and mailing address.
JasonAll yours amigo!
Daevid Allen is a true innovator who, for the past 50 plus years, creatively taken from the best artists in the world, steeped it in a tea pot; sent it to the Planet GonG (situated in the seventh Sky), and given something back as creative space-Jazz brilliance. Getting inspiration from people like Terry Riley, Sun Ra, Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Jeff Beck as well as writers from the beat generation like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, Allen was able to create amazing soundscapes and musical worlds with tripped out lyrics about things like little green men and other planets.
This Australian started off his career in Canterbury, England with "the Daevid Allen trio" which quickly morphed into "The Soft Machine." The Soft Machine were instrumental in creating the Psychedelic, Jazz fusion Prog Rock scene which became to be known as, "the Canterbury Scene;" inspiring other bands like Egg, The Wilde Flowers, and Camel. But some might argue that the adventures really took off for Allen when he brought together his most trippy, ever-evolving, pot smoking, LSD taking band ever, GonG. After being denied re-entry into the UK because of visa issues, Allen left Soft Machine and put together the first lineup of what became the immortalized band "GonG"; releasing Magick Brother/Mystic Sister followed by Camembert Electrique. By 1973, Daevid Allen and his wife Gilli Smyth were ready to embark upon their greatest challenge and their best-known work, the "Radio Gnome Trilogy." This three part record release had been something that the two had obviously been secretly working on and piecing together since at least 1969 (GonG's first Album to mention a Pothead Pixie). All three albums (Flying Teapot, Angel's Egg and You), tell the story of Zero the hero and his adventures and the wonderful world of Planet GonG.
He has gone on to work with some of the coolest and forward thinking bands today like Acid Mother Temple and his new band Un1ver5ity of 3rror5. I was unbelievably fortunate to have this great artist agree to do a written interview with me.
Thanks for your time.
Take me back to Australia, when you were a child, first starting to learn to play guitar. What age were you when you first picked up the guitar? Do you remember the first song you learned to play?
I started on a green and white plastic ukulele when I was seven. In behind its soundhole, there was a cavernous soundspace where I could hide. I soon became jittery in there because every sound was rumpled by a Chuck Berry short repeat echo circa 1959. The problem was it was still 1945 and I was being bombarded by popular country music. But George Formby made me laugh like a drain. English Music Hall was a hoot.
Spike Jones also lit up my life. Then, like all of us I was intrigued by my first experience of electric guitar with Les Paul's "How High the Moon" single. A guitar revolution was nigh.
My father (who was an atheist and an aesthete, rare in rural Australia) played piano so my childhood was filled with passionate drunken choruses of the most elegant songs of the time.
We were all entranced by the great musicals of the thirties, the music of Percy Grainger and Classical Choral Music. I was pretty keen on Scottish marching bands as well.
One dusty summer evening in Horsham, the Australian town I grew up in, a truckload of fabulous Irish musos descended on the main street and good naturedly started to busk. They were a huge unruly family all of whom had a song to sing and a part to play. I was riveted. I began to understand that this was to be my destiny too.
Soft Machine was an epic band and seemed to touch upon other famous bands that put out important "mainstream" work (you opened up for Jimi Hendrix and were the backing band for Syd Barrett's solo albums). How important is fame and/or being recognized for your achievements to you?
Fame is an ego virus. You have to know how to dance with it. It can be seen methodically as a means to an end. But I have seen so many friends squashed by it, I have adopted a strategy of fame limitation. Whenever it gets over a certain danger level I drop out, vanish, do the least popular thing.
The timing of one's return is the next most important thing here. By editing fame I believe a band can survive at a good subsistence level for a long time.
You had left Soft Machine due to border issues. Did you ever investigate whether it was in fact Pothead Pixies interfering with customs so that you would have no choice but to create GonG?
I am not naturally paranoid, I have only been educated that way. Thus I may be relatively clear of it. However it is difficult to disguise my pleasure when I am confronted with an occult truth, however curiously phrased.
How did the other members of the band (Soft machine) react to you not being allowed to get into the country?
With unforced delight I imagine.
The Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy is full of symbolism; the first and most obvious symbolism to me is the concept of 'starting new' or the idea of 'rebirth.' It's found in the story of the Pothead Pixies being reincarnated with the help from the Octave Doctors in the Angel Egg and it's also in the beginning of your awareness of the Planet Gong . I could be projecting my own ideas and imagination, but I envisioned you (with Gilli Smyth) lying under a tree and having a moment of inspiration. Can you tell me more about the night on Easter 1966?
The Radio Gnome Trilogy was created to be a vision carrier not a fixed idea. The most important thing is the story you make from it as an individual. Your vision. From your vision you can find inspiration to understand your own path.
My part is to weave an archetypal story structure that serves as a launching pad for you so you can project your own ideas and imagination and envision what works for you.
There is no one correct story.
Planet Gong sounds like a wonderful place (a kind of Utopia). Could you describe what things like weather, recreational activities and possibly a day in the life of a Pothead Pixie?
Tis strange but everybody who has visited planet gong returns to contradict all contemporary accounts. So even if I tell you mine it will only be temporary. You wanna hear it anyway? OK.
There is no duality on this Planet. So there are no extremes. It is a continu-om. The majority of residents who I call the pot head pixies, can deliberately change body size and shape or disappear altho when nearbye, they seem to radiate a green warmth. Their voices are projected direct into the centre of our awareness using a concentrated mind power I have named telepot radio.
There is no day or night because the planet generates & provides a balanced equilibrium between all polar opposites. It is a planet that runs on the laws of music such as octave, harmonic and tone.
Their GUIDES are called OCTAVE DOCTORS
Your idea of a Utopia intrigues me, like do things ever change on the Planet Gong or do they always stay the same? It is not a utopia in the strict sense of the word because utopia implies something that arises as an opposite extreme to an unhappy condition.
On Planet Gong all conditions rest in a state of balance.
In a utopia it is thought everybody is very happy all the time.
But if there is no unhappiness, what does happy mean?
They say that pot (marijuana) is much stronger today than it was back in the 60's. Did the Pothead Pixies have anything to do with this?
On the contrary, the minds of earthlings have reinvented it producing hybrids that wd scare a nuclear scientist.
I sense a bit of the Merry Pranksters attitude in you and the band. Do you/did you find LSD to be an actual creative "tool" or was it just fun but listening back you realize that you were just really high?
Wot? Me?? Merry Prankster. Oh no. I am very serious indeed.
Far too serious as you can see from these answers.
I need a silly serum.
How can it not be a creative tool? I wonder…
I love the cover artwork on your albums;
My apologies for putting you in this situation.
I think that the prog-rock scene probably has the best artwork.
I think it's a pity we have been strapped in to the armchair of a cultural style known as prog rock. At first it meant music that was progressive. Then they called it Prog and it turned into a princess.
Those covers were drawn by you; have you always drawn?
Yes. I have always loved drawing. I even went to art school. You would think I might be getting good at it by now but…
Are they creatively the same thing for you (do you go to the same space when drawing as you do writing songs?
Well the creative restlessness which drives me and gives my life meaning is not an idea/space. It's a consuming passion. It fuels the relevant artistic discipline. Decisions take themselves.
Is success the opposite of failure?
First we have to successfully fail then we must fail to handle success. Success is the ultimate failure. This kind of statement could be why I am known as Professor Paradox.
Stage\Stadium technology has changed almost immeasurably from the early days of Gong. When listening to these albums, I'm often struck by what could be pulled off (stage wise) these days. Are there things (big screens or big stage props) that bands have now that you wish you had then? Would they have made a difference?
Actually I think they are a distraction. The last three European tours with Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy were major spectacles with massive light show and 1000+ audiences.
I felt increasingly distanced from my audience. Spontaneity and risk taking rapidly decreased as the show slowly became an exercise in caution. The same solos were repeated nightly. It felt like performance and business wise we were becoming corporate-ized. Vive la 99%.
What I enjoy most is the simple delight of watching and hearing a hot band play to a group of people. Big stadiums commodify and de-personalize. You are too often sold an illusion of an act. That is why I want to go back to a grass roots Gong asap and play to smaller audiences with plenty of direct communication and eye contact and no frills.
I was talking to Derek Shulman from Gentle Giant in an interview and he was saying that some of the Gentle Giant lyrics/concept was partly influenced by reading "The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel "(a connected series of five novels written in the 16th century by François Rabelais) and "Knots" of R.D. Laing. Did you happen to read either of these books. What other books have any impression on your work?
The poetry of the beats, of Rumi and e.e.cummins, Jung's Memories Dreams and Reflections, Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men, Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting through Spiritual Materialism, Hazrat Inayat Khan and Dane Rudhyar on music. Everything I could find on Sacred Geometry. But in the mid seventies I gave up reading in order to write without influences.
How about JRR Tolkin's books or other fantasy writers?
I stayed clear of Tolkein. I find the Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman more relevant at this point.
One of the things I like about you music is that it is positive, plus the fact that I like escapism. I like the way it engages my imagination. What's your feeling on escapism. What is it about escapism that you like? Do you find it harder or easier to escape into a dreamland?
Positivity is revolutionary in this pessimistic age. It is hugely unfashionable but it is not escapism.
Optimistic lifelines exist as alternative or parallel realities we can all access at any time. It requires discipline, focus and effort. I am hardly an expert but I am totally clear about its enormous value to humanity. Your use of the word escapism here makes positivity sound as if it were a naughty diversion from the all consuming and inescapable angst of real existence.
Paranoia and suspicion is escapism of the highest order.
Our own reactions make something either positive or negative of it all. We are responsible for our own reactions.
Album: Flying Teapot
"Have a cup of tea, have another one, have a cup of tea"… If you were to come over to my house I would offer you tea. What kind of tea would you like and how would you like it served?
If I come to yours, I will drink what you drink. At mine I only drink cold Japanese green tea from a glass at the moment.
It is summer in Australia and hot where I live in Byron Bay.
Tea in our mythology is much like wine is to Rumi. An agent of connection and transformation.
I want to know about love; I think the best way to achieve this is through learning telepathy (especially of women's minds [it's my only hope]). Can you tell me if there is anyone in North America that could possibly read my mind backwards?
The Witch known as the Snake Woman of Seattle is somebody I respect. Kaos Kitty from SFO might also oblige. But love is a mystery. To know it you must delete the need to engineer it or understand it, however much you desire it. In its purest form, it appears to happen like an accident.
I'm not sure about you, but for me there was a time when friends use to talk about having out of body experiences. I don't seem to hear that in people's languages anymore. Do you have anything to say or comment to make on that?
It used to be a fashion to misunderstand astral travelling in public. In reality it is actually a practical discipline tuned to help you realise that the real you is not just your body.
The final two songs on "Flying Teapot" , Witch's Song and I Am Your Pussy, wrap up the album with Zero struggling through inner space in his effort to find answers to life's conundrums. The answer is 42. Why did zero have to travel to the other side of the sky to get the wrong answer?
The only true liberation is to shatter your own illusions.
His was a true act of heroic errorism.
Album: Angels Egg
In this album, Zero is looking to spread the good words taught to him by the Planet GonG through this Radio Gnome Invisible. This reminds me of another person spreading the good word who also ran into prostitutes as well; does Zero have any or many disciples?
The difference is that, here, the "good word" is not coming from outside of you. It appears inside you, curled up in your inner ear.
Earth's Calendar is marked by B.C. as in Before Christ's birth or A.D. as in after Christ's Death. Does Planet Gong have a Calendar; if so how is it marked?
The most dangerous thing you can do for your own evolutionary progress is to create a religion. It is a service to humanity in one sense, but it is always based on a romantic projection so it will always end in tears.
The idea of zero is a powerful one and has a unique property; it both exists and yet doesn't. The question here doesn't exist, so could you please answer that for me?
On behalf of nothing whatsoever I salute you for the conscious emptiness that renders you gloriously meaningless.
On the album Angel Egg, Zero blows it by being too high and missing his big chance. Have you ever been too high? Was that what happened the day you decided to quit GonG the first time?
For the true shaman, the default position is balancing on the fine line between too high to function and still in there with a chance. Depending on the integrity of your intention, you will open the door to high or low quality possession. Low quality possession attracts fearful Karma. High quality possession can lift up a whole lotta people much like Jesus reputedly did.
I kind of think that the Radio Gnome Trilogy also say something about pirate radio. Did you spend time listening to pirate radio stations and what do you remember about them?
To promote the first Soft Machine single in 1967, we visited the Radio Caroline ship of the coast of UK on a small motorboat and were interviewed live in a pretty crazy way.
I have always loved radio. I was a child radio actor in Melbourne while still at school. But I have never felt anything as wild and wonderful as Radio Caroline at the height of its infamy. Everybody in the UK listened to it and there were no laws in place to stop it.
Is it part of your personality to infuse your story lines with humour, or is it a conscious effort and a necessary part of the tale?
It is my protection. I play the foole. I can't bear listening to myself talking seriously about anything. Fortunately I am deaf. But I also never want to talk down to anyone from some self righteous moral high ground. I am allergic to top-down systems.
Bottoms up is preferable but nothing beats from inside out.
Often the use of humour can obfuscate the conveyance of the message. What is your dedication towards having your audience get it?
They are only going to get it their own way and I will never know what that means to them. I am just the agent provocateur. I just drive the bus of irony. I am my own roadie.
What's it like being the doppelganger of Emo Phillips? Do you like his humour?
The idiot savant is a very useful disguise. You can get away with an awful lot like that. But you have every right to make this connection, even though I can't figure out why.
Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield came out a year and was a big smash hit for him and Virgin Records. I hear nuances of that in High Tea Moonweed playing on "You." Do you remember if you or he talked about that album (Tubular Bells)?
Mike Oldfield was recording Tubular Bells at Virgin's manor studios with producer Tom Newman at the same time as Gong was recording Flying Teapot with Simon Heyworth. We would work until we dropped and then they would work till they dropped. We all knew each other anyway so psychic cross fertilization could have happened at any time.
On the album there is a point where Gilli is talking about the police at the door; they are not at the door. Was this a paranoid drug trip of a real life event that you translated to music?
In the song's lyrics it is talking about building a temple with your imagination. How are people who are really high suppose to wrap their head around this?
If by high you mean helpless then it aint gonna happen. If by high you mean 360 degrees awake and acutely aware, then like astral projection, focussed visualization is a powerful tool that can definitely help build your own temple in your own mind.
Our hero is named "Zero" and is in search of a "real" hero (later to discover that it is in fact himself) hence the title of the last album "You." How close is pain and suffering associated with cultivating wisdom, compassion or courage?
Ecstasy swings to its other extreme which is suffering, until it eventually settles into a perfect balance between the two. This balance is empty of ego. It is zero ego. But it is also a reward for perseverance in the field.
Is it better to move toward or away from painful situations?
It is your choice based on your own character.
It is an obvious influence on the Band Ozric Tentacles. What is your thought on their music? I remember reading that they and you both played at Stonehenge; does that place have any meaning to you?
I liked Ed when I first met him in 1988 and we flirted with the idea of doing a single together.
Stonehenge is the dead drama queen. Her false teeth stick up out of that ancient turf but I personally prefer Glastonbury Tor which can be dangerously alive at times.
Many references state your influences to the beats, but through what I've found, Burroughs seems to have an exclusive impact. Are there any other books that have had as much an equal impact as Burroughs?
Not true. Corso, Ferlinghetti, Frank O'Hara, Diane De Prima, Ginsburg all came before Burroughs. His work was too junky dark for me though he himself was a true gentleman. Brion Gysin influenced me more than Bill.
Has the stream of consciousness approach influenced you?
I have two shoes. And half a mind. I need a new place to put 3/4 of my sandwich.
There is nowhere left to put it except your mouth. It might stop the flow of questions so I can go to bed.
Have you gotten onto unlearning?
It is a vital post-educational discipline which may save you from untold exploitation by your peers.
What's the sound of a falling tree doubting it's own existence?
A free form guitar solo by daevid allen whoever he is.
I would imagine Teapot transportation is pretty comfortable; I was thinking of swinging by to pick you up; I was wondering if you could give me a crash course on driving it and is there anything else we need to know about it before we take off?
A crash course sounds too dangerous. My great great grandmother's teapot is too beautiful to risk.
The symbolism runs thus: the teapot is the mothership. The handle the ear of intelligence.
The spout the phallus. The lid the cockpit. The infinity symbol is the energy supply. At the first landing in Tibet the teapot mothership was so huge it blotted out the sky.daevid