July 18, 2012

David Mitchell, Kenneth Anger and Graham Kerr

No, not that David Mitchell. Nor that one. Not even that one. But this one. This week, the excellent bfm Flying Nun Records series Extended Play got up to Exploding Budgies and Goblin Mix, two 80s New Zealand bands that perversely or brilliantly did the so-called Dunedin sound in Auckland, before reinvigorating Dunedin itself (the 3Ds, later in the history). Two bands that were also vehicles for the eccentric genius (guitarist, singer, lyricist, artist) David Mitchell. Is genius fair? Yes, probably. And a rare spirit of rock 'n' roll in this otherwise fairly sober series (a typical story begins, "The first time I lost all my front teeth ..."). The 3Ds were excellent, of course, and -- like all the best rock bands -- entirely unpredictable. The Ghost Club, a more concentrated exercise in Mitchell-ism, has had its moments too. I never saw these earlier two bands, nor Plagal Grind. I never had the records. But I still know the songs. Especially "Kenneth Anger".

A David Mitchell song about Kenneth Anger was no surprise looking back, even if you were doing nothing other than paying attention to the wayward imagery in some of Mitchell's sleeve art. But here's the bit from Extended Play where he talks about writing the song:
When I was a nipper, I used to go to some second-hand book store called Bloomsbury and I was obsessed with Aleister Crowley and all these sorts of things. I used to buy all these occult books, which had these stamps on them: "Graham Kerr". After getting about, God, 15, I thought, "Who is Graham Kerr? This is amazing. Why do you have all these books since you were the Galloping Gourmet?" He was really into the occult, black magic. So how that ties in with rock'n'roll, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure nobody in any of the bands I have ever been in understood why I write songs.
My sister lent me a book on American underground film-makers. As a 15-year-old, you're sitting there reading about Kenneth Anger. At almost the same age, he's borrowed his dad's 16mm camera and he's filming Fireworks, which is about a bunch of gay sailors and it kind of ends up in this masturbation sequence where the fire rocket sort of goes off. As a kid, I just remember thinking, "Fuck, I love him." And he made movies like Scorpio Rising and Inauguration of My Demon Lover* and I fell in love with the idea of Kenneth Anger and I love the name, anyway. So as a music autism sort of chap, I desperately tried to write some music that would sum up what I thought his films might be like. I never saw them for like ten years after that song was written.
In fact, he came into the Flying Nun office. He was making a documentary about this really incredible witch in Christchurch**. Or maybe it was at bfm, somebody had mentioned that somebody had written a song about him. He went into a fury and stormed off down to the Flying Nun office with his henchman trying to find out who it was so he could sue him. I got this phone call saying, "Oh my God, Kenneth Anger just came into the office. He was furious. We had to play him the song and he listened to it and said he really liked it." So he wrote me a little note on the Exploding Budgies CD saying, "Love the song. Lots of love, Kenneth Anger."
* Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome or Invocation of My Demon Brother.
** This will have been Rosaleen Norton, who was born in Dunedin.
Hopefully someone can write in and correct me if I'm wrong, but I would guess that the above story happened during Kenneth Anger's 1993 visit to New Zealand with the Magick Lantern Cycle. At the same time, the then-new Wellington community paper City Voice got a sensational front-page story out of Anger's (entirely legitimate) anger over discovering bootlegged VHS copies of his films for sale in New Zealand. Again, if memory serves.

Anyway, the song:

And Graham Kerr? As noted, David Mitchell means this one. Google searches for "Aleister Crowley Graham Kerr" and "Occult Graham Kerr" returned exactly no results but that doesn't mean that the story isn't true. There are plenty of references to Kerr suddenly becoming a born-again Christian at some point in the 70s or 80s ... It's a strange world.