Originally presented at #BlameBlake on Monday 30th August 2021
<THIS PRESENTATION REJECTS COINCIDENCE AND EMBRACES SYNCHRONICITY AND APOPHENIA>
Blake Radio: Into The Nineties and Beyond
As a mathematician I like to look for patterns. As a fan of Robert Anton Wilson, being a mathematician probably isn’t healthy. But John’s big book about Blake sent me down the rabbit hole in search of patterns. You know you can trust John’s book because he mentions Carl Jung of page 130.
For the next 23 minutes I’d like to take the time to look at the genesis of the Blake Revival.
We will look at how Blake tropes entered popular culture in that liminal period of history at the end of the 20th century, after the Fall of The Berlin Wall and before the Rise Of The Internet.
I will speculate that this seemingly viral explosion happened pre-social media, pre-meme and pre-best selling books by John Higgs, and that it’s origins in The IDEASPACE were kindled by one of a shortlist of spiritual successors to Blake’s legacy.
And I will do this through the lens of Britpop.
My shortlist of just over half a dozen artists naturally named itself BLAKE’S 7, but before we start the countdown, allow me to dismiss a few wannabe’s.
If we are really generous we could make the following rash comparisons.
Shaun Ryder – There was a time when you couldn’t ask Anthony Wilson WB Yeats
Suede – Byron
Jarvis Cocker – Alan Bennett
Wilde, Bennett, Wood
Lennon, Noddy Holder
U2 – Experience, Innocence, Apple – Book of Job(s)
We’ve not got the time to mention Jay Wobble’s ‘The Inspiration Of William Blake’ or, indeed, to share one of Half Man Half Biscuit’s greatest couplets, from the song ‘Depressed Beyond Tablets’
Oh the results of my lifetime
Are a string of nil-nils
Does your bus go by
The Dark Satanic Mills?
Although, I just did.
Nor will I have the space to discuss polar opposite Blakean adepts, Julian Cope and Pete Doherty who both took Blake’s visions of Albion off on their own tangents.
First the foppish pretenders
7 – Damon Albarn Magpie/Poison Tree
6 – Richard Ashcroft London/History
Both artists borrowed heavily from Blake for lyrical inspiration, but stopped short of crediting him. Particularly in the case of The Verve, it seems that paraphrasing can go a long way.
Now for the serious customer contenders.
5 – David Bowie
Born just down the road, from the place where Blake wrote Songs Of Innocence, Europe, American and Newton, with Newton just happening to be the name of Bowie’s character in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
One of Bowie’s final statements, that was shared by Gary Oldman who collected his posthumous Brit Icon award, was that “(Music) has been my doorway of perception and the house that I live in.”
cf: Doors Of Perception.
But it is one of Bowie’s final musical statements that is the most interesting.
Blackstar or BLAKEstar contains some of his most baffling lyrics, but not if we use a Blake filter, and for that we need to go to Bognor Regis.
Within a square mile, we can find the Candle Villa, Ormesby Crescent and…Blake’s Cottage, where he began work on both, Milton and Jerusalem.
Diving deeper into the lyric, we get the prophetic lyric
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a Blackstar
I’m a BLAKE-star
Bowie is clearly referencing reincarnation here, but whose.
Received wisdom is that reincarnation takes four years, which is one of the reasons we have the Olympics and the US elect their president every four years.
Who was born exactly four years after Blake’s death? Madame Blavatsky, who was a strong believer in reincarnation. Four years after her own death, the German painter Georg Muche was born.
Muche was skilled in many disciplines in common with Blake and headed up the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, which takes us right back to Bowie.
Muche died March 26th 1987. Four years later, The Clash were number one with Should I Stay Or Should I Go? and The KLF’s White Room was high in the album charts. More about that later.
Next up we have Britpop’s go-to artists including someone who Bowie referred to as:
“William Blake as a woman, written by Mike Leigh.”
4 – Tracey Emin/Damien Hirst and the rest of the Sensation artists.
Blake noted in 1803, in a letter, that his work is “addressed to the Imagination which is Spiritual Sensation”.
Whilst Charles Saatchi’s stable of Sensation artists appear almost anti-Blake, anagrams reveal some hidden themes.
TRACEY EMIN > ERAYCE TIME
DAMIEN HIRST > HIM IS END ART
DAMIEN HIRST> SHARD IN TIME
> WHICH ART DEAL ‘ERE?
JAKE AND DINOS CHAPMAN
>ADMAN HIJACKS AND OPEN
>I SLASH ART CACHE
WILLIAM BLAKE > I AM BLEAK WILL
WILLIAM BLAKE> LAMB-LIKE WAIL
JERUSALEM > U REEL JAMS
The Tate in Liverpool held a joint exhibition of Emin and Blake in late August 2017. More of that later.
When Damien Hirst turned his attentions to the perfect pop single, he enlisted the help of Cheese making pal of Clarkson, Alex James, and someone who had already written one National Anthem.
3 – Keith Allen
Whilst writing one alternative National Anthem was all Blake could manage, Keith Allen managed two with World In Motion AND Vindaloo. Vindaloo of course featured a random cameo from a Richard Ashcroft lookalike. But as we’ve seen already, there is nothing random in our quest.
Like Blake, Keith Allen relished railing against the establishment. In the 90s he would storm out of any late night arts discussion show that would have him and to date he is the only person to make a ninety minute documentary accusing Prince Phillip of murder.
Finally, it seemed that two alternative National Anthems still wasn’t enough for Keith. The Fat Les follow up to Vindaloo? Jerusalem.
At the end of the 20th Century, Blake was all over the IDEASPACE, and Jerusalem was his calling card. Tony Blair’s vision for New Labour was, in the original words of Clement Attlee, to build a New Jerusalem and our final two candidates found new ways to reinvent Jerusalem.
Torrential rain pours down.
The A27 is closed for the night.
Nearby, the A23 wonders what it has done to deserve such a slight.
A tall Scotsman, in a long leather greatcoat that allegedly used to belong to Martin Bormann, recites the names of Northern towns. On Top Of The Pops he is joined by Morris Dancers. As the song reaches a climax, the unmistakable melody of Jerusalem emerges from the bass and acid bleeps. Bill Drummond is our runner-up.
2 – Bill Drummond
Time and Eternity were two themes that Blake always returned to and no one has sold more singles written about Time and Eternity than William Ernest Drummond. What Time Is Love?, 3am Eternal, Madrugada Eterna (Eternal Dawn), Last Train To Trancentral, Justified & Ancient…
As well as painting The Ancient of Days, in his later years Blake joined a group of artists that called themselves The Ancients, although these were probably different to The Ancients that Madame Blavatsky wrote about.
Both Blake and Drummond had an odd relationship with art and money, with Blake writing that:
“Where any view of money exists, art cannot be carried on.”
Both artists produced self-published series of pamphlets and while Blake ‘illuminated’ his words with paintings, Drummond made paintings of his words.
Both created their own mythology and while Blake wrote The Book Of Job, Drummond has produced books of jobs.
In 2023, a dystopian costume drama by Drummond and Cauty, a pilgrim pledges to build a great pyramid in the North of England and call it Jerusalem.
Blake wrote in Milton (‘To Justify the Ways of God to Men’)
“Whatever can be Created can be Annihilated
The Oak is cut down by the Ax, the Lamb falls by the knife
But their Forms Eternal Exist, For-ever.”
Why did The K Foundation burn a million quid? Blake told them to do it.
“Bring me my Bow of burning gold”
Why? Blake made them do it.
Back to the Top Of The Pops studio, and as the final, triumphant chords of Jerusalem ring out, the camera pans out to reveal a banner reading:
The North Will Rise Again
which, of course, was a line from:
✅Not appreciated in his lifetime
✅In touch with the angels
1 – Mark E Smith
First of all MES bares a striking resemblance to Blake, but was he possessed by Blake’s artistic spirit?
I think he was
On the 1982 album, Hex Enduction Hour, whose cover features a Blakean marriage of words and images, there is a song called Winter. Over the course of its eight minutes, a narrative unfolds in which the protagonist meets two characters who are both seemingly possessed.
In a letter to Thomas Butts, Blake described his theory of Fourfold vision.
Compare this to the final lines of Winter, Blake’s line about Newton, replaced by The Science Law.
Rather than Winter covering describing events witnessed by MES, does it in fact describe his own possession by the Spirit Of Blake at an early age.
Blake, of course wrote a poem called ‘To Winter’
Another track on Hex Enduction Hour is Hip Priest, which in its many incarnations has become one of The Fall’s signature songs. With a repeated refrain of ‘he is not appreciated’ is Smith referencing Blake’s own lack of acclaim?
As Blake’s influence grew, MES was compelled to do something that wasn’t strictly the done thing for indie rock stars:
Write a musical amount William of Orange.
But a quick review of the song titles, suggests that it is a different William that MES is singing about.
The first and last tracks are reworkings of Hip Priest, with even more emphasis not being appreciated.
Wrong Place, Right Time describes a genius born in the wrong place and time.
“I keep on knocking but there’s no bugger in”
Van Plague reflects Blake’s own works, Plague and Pestilence.
And, of course, there’s ANOTHER cover of Jerusalem, although Smith reappropriates Blake’s original words to go into great detail about his failed request for compensation after he slipped on a discarded banana skin.
It was, as Smith insists, ad infinitum, ‘the fault of the government’m
But why is Blake hiding as William of Orange?
We need look no further than the cover of Songs Of Innocence And Experience
Finally, in New Puritan, Smith lets Blake loose to comment on the state of the nation, now and then.
The year 2000 saw the recording of W.B., a song made up almost entirely of Blake quotes.
So there we are. Our BLAKE’S SEVEN.