(From Melody Maker, 21 August 1982)
Death, doom, end of the world & all that JAZ
Steve Sutherland flies to Los Angeles with KILLING JOKE, only to find that the future of civilisation as we know it is in Iceland.
It's Friday the thirteenth. Lord knows, I'm not the sort of chap to turn to the Tarrot when E.R.N.I.E. flunks out, the only old straight track I acknowledge is the one that leads to the local laundrette and there's not a Drac movie yet that's had me draping the doors and windows with garlic.
But I'll tell you, when the sky turned black over mid-America, I'd have gladly swapped my duty frees for a copy of Gideon's Bible. Flying at 30,000 feet over Christ knows where, the 'plane bobbing and weaving like a punch-drunk prize fighter and Jaz Coleman cackling over my Walkman... "Slowly slowly, all fall down..."
So maybe this was the real Killing Joke? Three days of surprisingly free communication with the world's most feared and misunderstood band only to plummet, tapes 'n' all, into twisted, wasted oblivion?
I could still hear Coleman's parting words: "You've got the only Killing Joke interview ever, do it justice," and it occurred to me that it all could have been a mighty wind-up. I could visualise him on a craggy hill above Hollywood, gleefully invoking the elements like some power-crazed sorcerer, urging the lightning to frazzle us all to Kentucky Fried Humans...
And yet, since the 'plane touched down, shaken but safe, at London Heathrow and memories of shimmering pools in the LA sunshine have blurred to surrealist snapshots, things have taken several turns to the weird.
All attempts to translate three hours' worth of garbled Joke philosophy into something resembling comprehensible creed have been hindered by a series of untoward accidents: a lorry exploding out in the street, the tube catching fire while trapped in a tunnel, a watermain bursting outside the house, the cat taking on a large Tom in the garden!
Voodoo warnings, jinx or Jokes? In short, dear reader, I've no idea but I'll be glad to get it out of my hair.
So, here goes...
When Killing Joke, in the words of singer Jaz Coleman, "burst like a spot in the bitter dregs of punk", there had never been anything like them. Squatting in Notting Hill, attracting a spectacularly squalid following, they set about producing what can only be described as "music" of monstrously ugly proportions. Marauding like an army of spastics on a route march, their recordings were hailed by some as the ultimate in aggressive expression, dismissed by others as "snot- gobbling crap". But love 'em or hate 'em, one thing's for sure: no one knew what the hell they were on about.
A decidedly uncommunicative attitude to the press - most liaisons petered out in a welter of grunts and abuse - coupled with fruity rumours of drug abuse, violence, fascism and black magic contrived to bless the Joke with a notoriety that even surpassed their grim musical antics. Then came the corker. With "Revelations", the group's third album, making odd, uncompromised moves up the charts, Jaz "freaked out" on stage in Brighton and, amid sensational stories of weird visitations and unsavoury obsessions with Aleister Crowley, he disappeared to Iceland. Weekly press bulletins (bootins!) followed the saga with sordid desperation, relishing the luxury of some good ol' rock 'n' roll gore to spice up pages peopled by smiling new Monkees. The killing joke was that Killing Joke were no more, and yet more famous than ever.
Then came the news. Geordie, the Joke's sombre, silent guitarist had joined Jaz out in Iceland. Then Paul Ferguson, the muscular drummer with the mad, bulging eyes, quit Brilliant, the band he'd formed with Joke bassist Youth, and also rejoined the fold.
Only Youth himself declined the option, accusing the others of mercenary monetary motives. So enter Mr Raven, an excellent bassist of no real fixed abode, three days before an American tour and enter me, some four or five dates in, to glean some explanations.
"There's been more tales about this band than any other," Jaz Coleman cackles within minutes of my arrival. "It's really funny - especially when we didn't do it! Like on the last tour, smashing up hotel rooms and smearing excrement on the walls. I don't smear excrement on walls - I've got better things to do ... I would go as far as to say that I have a destiny."
He fixes me with a quizzical stare and embarks on the first of many manically intense lectures I'm to receive over the next couple of days. "I feel I'm a catalyst but I have not reached my fate yet, it lies in the future. Ever since I was born, I've had a strong personal sense of destiny. I'm not afraid to say that. I see it in myself. I see it in my face when I look in the mirror.
"I've always known that I disturb something in people, it's part of my nature that I can't ignore. I mean, thinking back over the last couple of years and the amount that Youth actually contributed to Killing Joke, it boils down to a couple of bass-lines. I think that ever since his strange experience (tripping out nude in the King's Road), Killing Joke frightened him and now he's decided to make some money playing money music.
"I hate pop music," Jaz continues on the helter-skelter of his own personal logic. "All those people trying to crawl out of their existences. I mean, I'm not the kind of visual entity that people can make a leader out of," he explodes in staccato, self-mocking laughter. "You can't do that with me. I'm not the type. I could stand at the front of the stage and do my hair up, put my shoulders back and look really cool but what does that inspire but a perpetration of the crap that we've been through in the last 15 years of the rock 'n' roll scene?
"I mean, Theatre Of Hate... they have a place in the music scene, they're pretty accessible, they're nice boys. Killing Joke are not nice boys, right?"
Um ... sure ... right!
"We are powerful. There's nobody else with a sound with the power of us. I ask the public to beware of second rate copies even now ... eh ... I seem to remember my dear friend Youth saying that my departure for Iceland was basically the act of an unstable mind. Well. I don't think I'd have lasted 10 days more. I think I'd have ended up like that character in Joy Division but I'd been waiting six, seven, eight months to go. I knew what I was doing."
Before you decide we're talking loonie, what Jaz was up to was forming a base for the Killing Joke empire built on theories culled from assorted far-flung mythologies and his own unsettlingly fertile imagination which, in simple terms. boils down to the fact that when the bombs go off, Iceland stands more chance than most of surviving.
The whole band plan to settle there later this year to work in their new-found seclusion and harmony.
So all's hunky dory? Well...
"...I wish l had my sword!"
"Yeah, ceremonial sword!" Paul is literally trembling with rage in the backstage car park in the cool of the night. Geordie smiles the callous, cruel smile of one enjoying another's agony and explains how the Joke treasure all sorts of blades and love to get pissed and slash up their homes.
"Once," he chuckles, "I was slicing away with a penknife and I found a rip in my trousers and when I looked down I'd nearly gutted myself. It was great! Very therapeutic!"
Paul's beyond such consolation. He claims that during the evening's performance at the Whisky A Go Go - a tacky, two-tier version of our dear old Marquee - Jaz had continually contrived to upstage the rest, dervish-dancing across the stage like a cabaret crab, muddling up his lines and racing from song to song with no regard for the others' increasing exhaustion.
Breaking point came when Paul's set list, hastily compiled by Mr "Gee You're Cute" Raven, failed to match the one Jaz was using and they simultaneously embarked on different songs. Jaz ploughed on regardless, Paul hurled a drumstick at his head and stormed offstage. The song Jaz was singing was called "Complications"...
Backstage Jaz is near to tears: "I don't fuckin' need this! I don't need to be hit on the head with a drumstick!"
"Just fuck off!" Paul glowers and sprays him with a shaken bottle of Coke. The two don't talk for 24 hours.
"This band has always been about four people." Paul says, turning on me. "And Jaz is becoming the focal point. I'm not gonna be part of someone's fuckin' support band."
Later, Jaz comes round to my hotel room to explain the situation and, almost incidentally, the Joke. "Killing Joke has always been a struggle. It has to be. It's so intense between me and Paul, it's peculiar. The hate we have for each other comes out of a deep respect. But did you see the audience? They didn't know what to do! Excellent! Excellent!
"America, to me, is the perfect place to start the new Killing Joke because it's where spiritual depravity is at its highest and where the darkest forces are gonna descend. This place is where the big change is gonna be generated. You call it the third world war. I call it the big change.
"See, I consider we have entered a new dark-age of barbarism. I see absolute bloodshed, mass bloodshed, megadeaths ahead and when it happens, I think it'll be a necessary process of initiation to push the mind and the body into the next stage of evolution. There's this really ancient rhyme an old Icelander told me, and me and Geordie use it when we feel hearty and drunken. It's only four lines, but it sums up a lot of feeling I have. It goes:
"I see the earth rising a second time,
Out of the foam fair and green
And down from the hills fish to capture
Wings the eagle, waters flow...
"This rhyme is carved in runes in a cave hidden in the middle of Iceland and it goes back to something called the twilight of the gods where, they reckon, the civilisation that was before was about to be destructed (sic) and this was their feelings of after the destruction. I consider this change goes on for eternity.
"On the bed of the sea, who can say the continents that have been covered over and the consciousness and the extent those civilisations stretched to? So we must adjust to different ways and the one thing I want to emphasise is the will. I see the will being more important than the intellect because, with a powerful will, one can push oneself to a level where it can comprehend anything. So, first and foremost, I think the will is the key to the times ahead, to more than survival.
"You see, I see all present moral values crumbling, good and evil, right and wrong, all falling to bits. Morals have nothing more to do with it. I want to emphasise our views on equality, our views on democracy, our views on mediocrity. We hate them all. I do not agree with democracy.
"What we call democracy these days is a three party system whereby the party elected is determined by the financial aspects of advertising and manipulating the ignorant. I see the most honest system ahead, quite frankly, is a system of hierarchy where you have the aristocrat and you have the slave. I consider a slave someone who has not found themselves, who has not located their true will.
"Anybody can be an aristocrat, anybody can be a slave. I see no other system as honest as that. What we're trying to do with the music is adjust the senses to a different level. I don't have any hopes. I don't particularly want to change anyone or anything. I think change within people comes from the will of the individual to change himself or herself, the will to stamp out mediocrity, to be conscious of the demands our bodies and souls make of us. "It's like Neitzsche said. God is dead. Man is God and if man doesn't see himself as God, he is immediately stifling the inconceivable potential of the self. Those people who understand this and make the necessary preparations are automatically members of Killing Joke, the Gathering.
"Killling Joke is more than a group, it's an idea, a feeling where we bring the age we see, the eternal war dance, man's subconscious desire and bloodlust and focus it right down to a stage where we herald the advent of the barbaric dark ages that are coming upon us. Killing Joke is one of the few bands that think about what we sing about, what we write. I do not want to be in one of those bands that whine and wimp about how awful everything is. We are going to control our environment.
"One thing that sets Killing Joke apart from any other organisation is that all we've written, we've experienced physically and mentally. How, however could we be condemned as nihilistic or pessimistic? Not in the slightest!
"You see, what you've gotta remember with Killing Joke is the reason why most people misrepresent us or don't understand us is because we are not interested in rationalist thought at all. Geordie and I study geomancy and we consider the earth the same as our bodies - you have to treat the one as the other basically.
"The earth has certain areas on it like pores in the skin where it breathes; I found stone circles were all built over where two underground streams crossed and it was basically a system of acupuncture and again, the reason why a lot of strategists couldn't understand a lot of Hitler's ideas in the second world war was because he worked on the theory that if you conquered a country's sacred place first, all resistance would drop.
"People have become so alienated from nature, have pumped the earth so full of shit that it has to throw up to adjust to the gross imbalance and your physical environment controls your psyche, right? Well I intend to control an environment by my will where I can literally uncondition myself. The intention is to take the songs we've been writing, trying to make people aware of what the hell is gonna happen in the next 24, 36 months - not that far off, I'd say - and put them into absolute reality, so when you bring this to a stage, people can either adjust to it or not.
"You must understand that restriction is the ultimate sin in our eyes. Until we can not only spiritually but biologically go with the creative force, there is no hope. That's why, when you come to Killing Joke, the whole area in the hall, or whatever, is the atmosphere of what we see now and ahead. Simple. Simple as that. You either adjust, take lust from it and use it or not. The gig should start after the concert is finished."
LA's experience of the new Killing Joke was of a simpler, sturdier, more melodic and, maybe, less explosively exacting band than that which Britain has come to know and avoid. New songs like "Take Take Take" and "Birds Of A Feather", with Jaz scuttling out from behind his keyboards and gesticulating in triumphant gestures, evoking the haunting climax of the "Phantom Of The Opera", are more explicit, less steeped in arrogant elitism than the mechanical mincer of yore.
As Geordie sways lethargically in his own private trance, Jaz suddenly turns on him: "What do you think Geordie? Can they think for themselves? No! Puppets! Ought to be burnt up! Uncle Sam says 12 months!"
Some wag screams back: "Too long!"
Without the benefit of all the warlords and wizards background baloney, America treats Killing Joke like a freak show. They have no inclination of the Joke's intention to "let nothing be fantasy". They have no idea that Jaz listens to Wagner on his Walkman, that his own five-part symphony is soon to be performed by the Iceland National Orchestra, that his career as a classical violinist was terminated in search of "more emotive music", that in truth he wears black underpants and that he'd rather be playing Hiroshima "because they'd understand." "The best place in America," Jaz says, "is in the van ... just like our favourite place in Britain's Heathrow. The only two things in Britain worth preserving are tea and the British sense of humour. But, at least there are some people there capable of understanding. See, I like the idea of music that stirs the animal in people. The sort of music I'm interested in inspires fear of the elements, fear of what is beyond man, nature. I find there's a lot of beauty in Killing Joke music that people often dismiss. We work with certain chord structures that unsettle yet they make one most aware, most alert.
"I can't understand music that, figuratively speaking, puts people to sleep or numbs you. I've heard people say -my good friend Youth, even Mr Lydon - that you can only take guitar, bass and drums so far. I think this is crap. A guitar, bass and drums are like pencils and pens. You can do anything you like with them, the restriction lies in yourself. "We like strong rhythms because you've got a heartbeat, everyone's got rhythm. Rhythm is healthy and when I studied the orchestra, it was interesting to note they took the drums out of the orchestra in the 16th century after the Tudor period, when Christianity was getting to its peak, because they said the drums inspired the carnal spirit in man and so music became pure melody and one transcended the confines of the body or whatever their idea was.
"When drums came back - we're talking really about the jazz days in the Fifties - sex came back with it. It inspired lust. Healthy! I see sex playing a major role in the future. You can orgasm not just between your legs but in the mind too! I consider the biggest problem of our species has been sexual because it's been restricted for so long. Restriction is perversion on every level. We live in a totally restricted environment which my will will overcome."
I put it to Jaz, as we sat in the increasing darkness, that Killing Joke inspire more fear and ridicule than respect, not because, as he insists, people are shocked by the reality of his message but, on the contrary, because they can't understand a word of what he's on about.
"So what?" He grins. "We're doing it because we love doing it. We like life and we want the maximum out of it as anyone with open eyes does. The absolute maximum, y'know? 'long hall and benches, flesh on the spit, music was playing, wine to drink, women of scarlet, faces of flame, laughter and argue, ever the same.'" He's quoting the lyric from his song "The Pandys Are Coming".
"HUMAN! We get drunk, sometimes we fight. We want to become more human. The more human our species can get, the more we will evolve to the superman whose senses and mind acknowledge the demands of the self and not only meets them but transcends them as well."
I sigh, dear reader. Wouldn't you? Exasperated, defeated by the impossibility of translating such intuitive whimsy into comprehensible logic.
"Ha!" Jaz laughs. "Someone like yourself, a journalist trying to express Killing Joke in words subject to the mercy of letters of an alphabet of a language of a conditioned culture - now that is a killing joke."