Robert Dellar, Splitting In Two: Mad Pride & Punk Rock Oblivion (Unkant Publishing) (Book Review)

Robert Dellar,
Splitting In Two: Mad Pride & Punk Rock Oblivion
(Unkant Publishing)

Splitting in two

Robert Dellar’s new book is part autobiography, part social history and in places morphs into fiction. It covers both Dellar’s own life via punk rock and the dehumanisation of those deemed clinically insane by the powers that be. While in academia the idea that madness might be the only sane response to capitalist society is often discussed in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-Oedipal theories, Dellar has a more hands on and activist approach to ‘bad craziness’. At the turn of this millennium, Dellar helped found the Mad Pride movement to fight against the stigmatisation of those labelled as having mental health problems.

Most of Splitting In Two consists of straight-forward accounts of Dellar’s life and his thirty odd years of involvement in the fight for the rights of psychiatric survivors. When the book occasionally blooms into what is obviously fiction, I take this to be Dellar’s way of illustrating how easy it is for anyone to go off their rocker in the sick and insane capitalist society that blights all our lives. The writing is never academic and it is much closer to a punk rock fanzine in tone than the post-modern abstractions of ‘anti-psychiatrists’. There are also quite a few pictures to break up the text. The title of the book and every chapter title is more or less a punk rock song, and the acts thus cited but not named are Alternative TV, The Damned, Sham 69, Annie Anxiety, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Adverts, The Raincoats, Johnny Moped, The Sex Pistols, The Lurkers, The Flies, Zounds, Public Image and The Saints. The musicians Dellar actually writes about because he has a personal involvement with them are generally lesser known but include The Apostles, The Astronauts and Alternative TV (and I’ll stop there although I haven’t got beyond bands whose names begin with ‘a’).
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Dope smuggling, LSD manufacture, organised crime & the law in 1960s London

I can’t identify with any certainty the first international drug smuggler my mother – Julia Callan-Thompson – befriended, but one she met early on was Damien Epsilon, an Irishman who’d lived in Ibiza before moving to London in the early 1960s. In 1962 my mother approached Epsilon in Henekey’s pub in Portobello Road. She wanted to go to Spain and had been told he was driving there. Epsilon agreed to take my mother and her boyfriend Geoff Thompson to Ibiza if they shared the petrol costs. After spending a few weeks in Ibiza, Epsilon returned to London and my mother travelled on to Andorra alone. Thompson, who’d proved somewhat erratic about covering petrol costs, went back to London at the same time as Epsilon, but separately. When my mother returned to London, she socialised with Epsilon until he moved back to Ibiza in 1963. She returned to Ibiza many times in the mid-sixties to hang with Epsilon’s set, and this may well have constituted the first of a number of international drug smuggling sets with which she was acquainted. [Read more →]

Peter Whitehead and the Sixties

peter

(BFI DVD 2007, RRP £19.99)

“Peter Whitehead and The Sixties” is the first official DVD issue of “Wholly Communion” (1965) and “Benefit of the Doubt” (1967), two documentaries ‘directed’ by an obscure and yet notorious figure. Peter Whitehead was, and is, a chameleon who excels at endlessly reinventing himself. As an undergraduate at Cambridge University he studied natural sciences but soon abandoned these to pursue fine art at The Slade in London. If one believes other versions of Whitehead’s life, then at Cambridge he may have been recruited by British Intelligence who propelled him into the bohemian art world. Regardless, in the mid-sixties Whitehead briefly but successfully refashioned himself as a film-maker (albeit not a particularly competent one). For many years Whitehead was close to Howard Marks, and veterans of the sixties counterculture tend to view his role as an important prosecution witness against this pot celebrity in a major drug smuggling trial as somewhat shameful. With the release of this BFI retrospective DVD, it would seem Whitehead is once more a film-maker….
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THE ECLIPSE AND RE-EMERGENCE OF THE BILDUNGSROMAN

You Can’t Win by Jack Black (AK Press/Nabat 2000 £12).

Bad by James Carr (AK Press/Nabat 2002 £11).

Sister Of The Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha by Dr Ben Reitman (AK Press/Nabat 2002 £11).

Memoirs Of Vidocq: Master of Crime by Francois Eugene Vidocq translated and edited by Edwin Gile Rich (AK Press/Nabat 2002 £14).

Nabat is an offshoot of AK Press edited by Bruno Ruhland whose avowed intention is ‘reprinting forgotten memoirs by various misfits, outsiders and rebels’. A curious concept especially as one of the books in the series Sister Of The Road is actually a novel, although when it first appeared it did find some readers credulous enough to believe it was the ‘genuine’ autobiography of a female hobo. Sister Of The Road is easily the worst book in the Nabat series, an anarchist fantasy written by one of Emma Goldman’s lovers and boosters Dr Ben Reitman. This absurd tale of one woman’s education in life and politics concludes as follows: “Long after Lowell had gone to sleep that night I lay awake staring into the dark, thinking. In my heart I knew, of course, that I must do what he had told me to – settle down and be a mother to my child. He had said that I had been running away from something and suddenly I realized what it was – I had been trying to escape my own natural need to be responsible for someone, to live for someone else, some special individual person who belonged peculiarly to myself. For years I had told myself that I didn’t want to be tied down, that I wanted to keep myself free to help others, to uplift the vast mass of struggling humanity. And I knew now that I had been rationalizing my need to be a mother, dissipating it over the face of the earth when its primary satisfaction lay within reach of my own arms.”
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Guy Debord (Biography) by Anselm Jappe (Book Review)

Anselm Jappe: Guy Debord
translated into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith with assistance from the author (University of California Press 1999)

The situationists declared somewhere that boredom was counter-revolutionary. They forgot to add that it is also wearisome and stupid. Jappe’s squib is both the most boring and by far and away the most stupid book to be written about a situationist to date – and in saying this I’m conscious of the fact that the competition consists largely of art monographs and the throughput of Andrew Murray Scott. Aside from the fact that it is printed on paper of some character – soft, off-white and pleasant to touch – about all that can be said in favour of Jappe’s handbook is that it is not a biography at all. The publishers puff Jappe’s guff as an intellectual biography – but a low-brow, one-sided and woefully inadequate introduction to situationism would be a more accurate description.

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