(From the NME, 30 August 1986)
THE END IS NIGH!
...but will it hurt? asks MICHELE KIRSCH. Killing Joke's JAZ COLEMAN hopes so. "Nature is not compassionate," he says, before laying in a hoard of baked beans and Geiger Counters (£15, Exchange And Mart).
APOCALYPSE WHEN??? Rather soon, according to five men near a London bus shelter.
Only four of them, however, are getting rich and famous for saying so. They are Killing Joke, the four sullen faces staring from the 'Adorations' promo poster. The fifth is a religious fanatic, holding up a sign that says "Repent, the end is near".
Yes of course, but will it hurt?
I'll never know. My bus has arrived and I'm soon on my way to the Egypt Room of The British Museum - just one of the places Jaz Coleman goes for a couple of laughs. And laughter does not figure heavily in the Joke, a decidedly unfunny band. You know the line: "Through light and laughter flow / To dirge and death we go." It's that hypnotic song I've been humming for weeks. 'Adorations' is everywhere - radio, TV, video, and bus stop.
Though the words are the stuff of apocarock, the primitive KJ stomp has been replaced by a new age shuffle; the desperate warrior sensibility replaced with something approaching resignation. The lyrical focus is not so much on the end, but what comes after it. And it doesn't hurt.
Behind Jaz and bassist Paul Raven are a gaggle of Americanised European tourists, saying "when do we eat" in seven different languages. Before them, in the plexiglass display case, are the ruins of ancient civilisations. It's like an elaborate physical metaphor for Killing Joke; this battle of non-culture and sophisticated primitivism; this looking forward into the past; this search for something worthy of deification; this eternal struggle for perspective.
Jaz Coleman is posing.
They say his postures inspire fear, that his fantastic opinions and obnoxious behaviour make journalists tremble. Indeed, I am gripped with terrible fear as he spouts the usual guff about nuclear winter, General Pinochet of Chile and Chrissie Hynde, punctuating his comments with wild hand gestures, pokes, and pseudo-maniacal laughter; I'm afraid I'm going to tell him to shut up - not a rational thing for a journalist to say to an interviewee, but with KJ, all concepts of rational behaviour cringe behind the inflated postures of a man much less intense than his music.
Exactly what is all this noble savage jazz, Jaz?
He explains over a post-Egypt room cup of coffee: "If you listen to Killing Joke music, it's grandiose, it's very proud. I think it reflects a certain amount of nobility. When I hear the music I hear archetypes of human species. We are trying to build something perfect in the music. We try to better ourselves. I believe in the warrior and essentially we are predators. My main objective in life is to die with a certain amount of dignity. But I wouldn't use the words noble savage."
Every other word will do just fine. Jaz provides ten answers for everyone question - the anti-intellectual stance. The effect is like a stream of consciousness under a blazing sun, although the music articulates more effectively than the Joke that makes it. "I don't intend to do any more interviews ever again. You can read my book on my philosophy and take it as you will. Our music is our blood. We push toward creating something perfect."
Are you perfect?
"I actually believe we've materialised perfection on this latest album. I consider it a great work and that's by my standards as an orchestral composer. It's innovative. It's contemporary. The whole school of thought behind it is compatible with the atomic era. It's great. I'm Killing Joke's number one fan. I've always said that."
He pauses to consider an NME singles reviewer who is not a number one fan. Can he talk to him? Could I review the single again?
"We won't attack him or kill him."
No, you'd go to jail and wouldn't be able to play in Killing Joke anymore.
"Yeh, that's true, you know."
"You're right," adds Raven.
Just a moment of disarming logic, a normal exchange before more polemic - this time of the beggars of Bolivia.
"In Bolivia, right, when everybody's begging I tell them to fuck off 'cos that's the only way. I'm sorry, I know it's awful, but when I finished a meal I'd give what was left to whoever was there. But I believe in the basic law that if one day I should be in that predicament I must suffer. Nature is not compassionate."
"I believe I am. I like cats, for example. I like my mum and dad. But I try to be objective, to stand outside my individual feelings."
Isn't he a mite preoccupied with the apocalypse?
"I don't know what your fucking obsession with the apocalypse is all about," sneers Raven.
Jaz sighs, as if he's explained this a million times before: "It's not my obsession. I'm just trying to get perspective on it."
Do you think the survivalists have perspective?
"It'll be difficult for them once their baked beans run out. They're going to have big problems unless it's organised properly, prior to the transformation taking place. But in an old copy of Exchange And Mart you can get Geiger Counters for £15 each." He tosses his curls back with a fit of laughter.
After more coffee chatter on nuclear winter, redistribution of wealth and survival of the fittest - sprinkled with phrases like 'objectivity', 'subconscious conditioning', and 'prevailing ethics of the surrounding environment', Jaz takes a deep breath and I manage to get three words in edgewise.
Will it hurt?
"I hope so." (wild laughter) There are worse things, he explains, like rain forests the size of Portugal being cut down every year. And of course, there's Bolivia: "the unfashionable Ethiopia" ; drugs: "None of us have tried opiates. That's for Nick Cave fans"; his social life:
"I don't have a social circle other than my creative and my administrative unit."
His musical taste: "I listen to classical music."
Finally, God. Oh, him. "There is a divine act on an individual basis; that act can be deified. We can achieve a greater capacity of ability on a collective basis. Can you at all grasp what I'm talking about or shall I pack it in?"
I'll leave the reader to decide.
Here he kindly offers me the chance to watch the band practice for the Reading festival. It's important that I see the band "interact". Maybe a good blast of Joke percussion will be just the antidote for this rampant abuse of logic, sociology terms, and over-syllabication.
On the way to the studio on Saturday morning, I muse on all the KJ songs that end in the "ation" sound: 'Complications', 'Rejuvenation', 'Adorations' - all various states of the present, strange for a band that bases its career on future tense and musical tension.
Relaxation is more the state in the studio. Matey jokes, sipping cold coffee, eating chocolate digestives - even the dog fed out of compassion is there, thumping his tail to the beat of 'Wardance'.
I have decided beforehand not to ask any more questions for fear that Jaz might answer them. Instead, I'm treated to a spectacular private concert, a veritable wall of sound that Jaz is climbing in sputtering frenzy. He gets himself into a terrible state during each number, as if he's in his own private hell, and rather enjoying it. Every drum break brings on a facial contortion that's half silent scream, half evil leer. The burnt cork eye make-up makes him look like a maudlin clown, at the moment before he dives into a bucket of water.
The early KJ songs - 'Requiem', Eighties' and 'Wardance' - sound better than ever, lean and tight. Drummer Big Paul bashes away in calculated abandon, breaking every law of decibel, while Geordie seems to be saving up his energy for the real thing. A fifth Joker, in a fortress of keyboard and synthesizers, makes the room vibrate with sound; he's so unassuming in his 'crew' shirt, but so essential to the Killing Joke sound; in fact the fifth Joker is everything the other four are not. He embodies that ideal that you can enjoy the music (or make it) and not get caught up in THE CONCEPT, or the windy expostulations of Jaz.
But it's almost a law of nature for some pop stars to be this wild and impetuous. And nature is not compassionate.