Hair Today

“We had a roadie guarding his dressing room, to stop him [Graham Bonnet] getting out, because he was threatening to have his hair cut. It was very petty, but it had become an obsession with me. But he got out of the back window and went and got his hair cut. I didn’t see him until we went on stage, and, sure enough, he’d had his hair cut really short. He was doing it just to annoy me.” — Ritchie Blackmore: “[…] Music is very serious”, The Guardian, 25/v/2017.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #38

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Nature by Numbers30-Second Elements: The 50 Most Significant Elements, Each Explained in Half a Minute, ed. Eric Scerri (Icon 2013)

Fresh FleshThe Complete Illustrated Guide to Freshwater Fish & River Creatures, Daniel Gilpin and Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya (Hermes House 2011)

The Reich StoffRocket and Jet Aircraft of the Third Reich, Terry C. Treadwell (Spellmount 2011)

Past MastersJustice for All: The Truth about Metallica, Joel McIver (Omnibus Press, revised edition 2014)

Ant on E – Burgess on Waugh

M.O.R. of BabylonSleazy Listening: Frottage, Fladge and Frenzied Fornication in the Music of the Carpenters, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #26

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

World Wide WingsThe Big Book of Flight, Rowland White (Bantam Press 2013)

Kite WriteThe Kite-Making Handbook, compiled by Rossella Guerra and Giuseppe Ferlenga (David & Charles 2004)

Gun GuideSmall Arms: 1914-45, Michael E. Haskew (Amber Books 2012)

The Basis of the BeastKillers: The Origins of Iron Maiden, 1975-1983, Neil Daniels (Soundcheck Books 2014)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #19

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Book in BlackBlack Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, Mick Wall (Orion Books 2013)

Critical Math – A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, John Allen Paulos (Penguin 1996)

Rude BoysRuthless: The Global Rise of the Yardies, Geoff Small (Warner 1995)

K-9 KonundrumDog, Peter Sotos (TransVisceral Books 2014)

Ghosts in the CathedralThe Neutrino Hunters: The Chase for the Ghost Particle and the Secrets of the Universe, Ray Jayawardhana (Oneworld 2013) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #16

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Brit GritGranite and Grit: A Walker’s Guide to the Geology of British Mountains, Ronald Turnbull (Francis Lincoln 2011)

Singh Summing SimpsonsThe Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, Simon Singh (Bloomsbury 2013)

Go with the QuoStatus Quo: Still Doin’ It – The Official Updated Edition, compiled by Bob Young, edited by Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt (Omnibus Press 2013)

Breeding BunniesThe Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the Extraordinary Number of Nature, Art and Beauty, Mario Livio (Headline Review 2003) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)

Brit Bot BookReader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain, J.R. Press et al, illustrated Leonora Box et al (1981) (@ O.o.t.Ü.-F.)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

More Musings on Music

Black Mother Nirvana — from the potency of Purushmedh to the blast-beat barrage of Bodhisattva

Groaning and Grieving — the ashen passion of Slough of Despond

Pummelling Putridity — probing the purulence and putrefaction of Paraphistomiasis

Elsewhere other-posted:

• More Musings on Music

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #8

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Auto-BiommiIron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi, as told to T.J. Lammers (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Halfway to ParalysedHalfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock, Alwyn W. Turner (V&A Publishing, 2008)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Vigor Mortis

Front cover of The Best of Black Sabbath
In the Christian religion, the resurrection follows the virgin birth. In the rock-graves at Heysham, the virgin birth follows the resurrection. Or rather: the virgin-births follow the resurrections. There are many of both. The rock-graves at Heysham* are carved in solid rock near the remains of St Patrick’s chapel, an ancient ruin overlooking Morecambe Bay on the coast of Lancashire in England. You may have seen them before, because they appear on the cover of a compilation album by the heavy-metal band Black Sabbath, where they’re filled with ice and look suitably dark and sinister. But the graves are sometimes full of life and activity. In spring, as the rainwater filling them begins to warm, there are resurrections – dozens of them. Tiny crustaceans (a group of animals that includes crabs, shrimps and woodlice) hatch from eggs that have over-wintered in the sediment on the floors of the graves. Some of the crustaceans are called water-fleas, others are called seed-shrimps. Water-fleas, whose scientific name is Daphnia, hop through the water with jerks of their antennae, sieving it for fresh-water plankton. Seed-shrimps, or ostracods, are enclosed in tiny double-sided shells through which their legs protrude. They trundle over the stone sides of the graves, scraping off algae and catching even smaller and simpler animals like rotifers and protozoa.

The rock graves at Heysham (c. 11th century A.D.)

Rock graves at Heysham, Lancs. (c. 1000s)

Water-fleas are famous for parthenogenesis, or their ability to produce offspring without sex. Those that hatch first in spring are female and give birth without mating with any males. A single water-flea in a jar of stagnant water soon becomes a swarm. It’s only later in the year that males are born and the water-fleas mate to produce winter eggs, which sink to the floor of the graves and lie there through the cold weather. The eggs of water-fleas and ostracods can also survive desiccation, or drying-up, and can be blown on the wind to new sites. That is probably how these crustaceans arrived in the rock-graves, which they must have occupied for centuries, through the coldest winters and the hottest summers, dying and being reborn again and again. When a human being or large animal dies, chemical changes in the body make the muscles rigid and wood-like. The scientific term for this is rigor mortis, or the “stiffness of death”. Rigor mortis wears off in time and the body begins to rot. The rock-graves at Heysham are an example of vigor mortis, or the “vigour of death”. Medieval human beings created the graves to bury their dead, but the bodies that were once there have been lost to history. The water-fleas and the seed-shrimps remain, tiny, overlooked and fascinating.

A seed-shrimp or ostracod

A seed-shrimp

A water-flea, Daphnia pulex

A water-flea

*Heysham is pronounced HEE-shum and is an old coastal village near the city of Lancaster, after which Lancashire is named.

Get Your Locks Off

Led Zeppelin, Ray Tedman (Titan Books, 2011)

Front cover of Led Zeppelin by Ray Tedman

The most important thing in this big book of photographs is, of course, Robert Plant’s hair, which often looks remarkably like mine in both its colour and its curliness. There’s also little to choose between me and Robert Plant in the sex-god stakes, so I’ve often wondered precisely whose gigs my mother was attending in her youth (related rumours circulate, muso mutato et mama mutata, about at least one other keyly committed core component of the counter-cultural community). These aren’t unusual thoughts for me when I look at a book about Led Zeppelin: their hair interests me more than their harmonics. I usually get bored well before songs like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway to Heaven” are over and I would much rather listen to the Beatles or Black Sabbath, even at their worst, than to Led Zeppelin, even at their best.

But, at their best, before their locks were shorn as the 1970s ended, Led Zeppelin did look much more like rock-gods than either the Beatles or Black Sabbath. One thing all three bands have in common is their classic quadrivalency: there are four men in each filling the four standard rock roles. I’ve outlined my humorous theory of the classic guitar-bass-drums-vocals line-up elsewhere, so all I’ll say here is that Led Zeppelin fit the theory well. Each member has a distinct personality as he plays a distinct instrument. Each is also distinct in appearance: Jimmy Page is rake-thin, Robert Plant well-built, John Paul Jones average, and Bonzo stocky. Bonzo always had facial hair too, which must say something about his psychology. The colour of his hair certainly says something about his psychology. Like skin-colour and eye-colour, hair-colour is a chemical phenomenon: different colours signal different chemicals or different levels of chemical in the body, and so in the brain. Lighter hair, like lighter skin and eyes, tends to go with a more introverted, less aggressive personality and it may be significant that Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, with lighter hair, are said to have been the two best-behaved members of Led Zeppelin. Black-haired Bonzo was notoriously bestial and also the heaviest drinker. Jimmy Page wasn’t violent, despite having black hair, but his somatype, or body-shape, doesn’t predict violence.

His face may predict high intelligence and high artistic achievement, however: he has always been a good-looking man. Good looks are related to symmetry, and symmetry is related to intelligence and coordination. Again, this isn’t an absolute rule: good-looking people can be stupid and bad at music, just as ugly people can be intelligent and good at music, and strange things can sometimes happen at the extremes of the bell-curve. But biology is about averages and tendencies, not absolutes, and biology is central to understanding human beings and their behaviour. That’s one of the things I find interesting about looking through this book, but there’s much more than individual biology at work here. Led Zeppelin followed fashions as well as setting them and faithfully reflected the look of the three decades in which they existed: the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s.

Or first year of the ’80s, anyway: Bonzo died on 25th September 1980 and the band broke up. The book then follows Plant and Page into their solo careers and their occasional re-unions with Jones, but nobody looks as good as he did in the band’s mid-’70s prime, when their locks were longest and their testosterone levels highest. Endocrinology, or the science of hormones, is another essential part of understanding human behaviour and rock music at its loudest may influence hormones with more than its rhythms and melodies. High volume affects the entire body, not just the ears, and Led Zep were loud and proud, a band who shook the glands of their fans in more ways than one. As I’ve said, I’m not a big fan of Led Zeppelin myself, but if you are I can recommend this book. The photos range from the casual to the candid, the rampant to the risible, the phallocratic to the fan-worshipped, and there are regular biographical pages to guide you through the Led Zeppelin story. Oh, and there’s an index too, which books like this often lack.

Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, Brad Tolkinski (Virgin Books, 2012)
Front cover of Light and Shade Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski
I’ve seen too many bad bios about big beasts of the rock jungle to expect much when I pick up a new one, but I was pleasantly surprised by Light and Shade. It does descend into rock-journalese from time to time – Cream and Jimi Hendrix adopted “a new, heavily riff-driven mode of expression” in 1967, apparently – but the conversations with Page are interesting, intelligent, and even impish, as when Page reveals he can mock himself:

On your 1973 tour you started using your own private plane, the Starship. Was that a good thing, or did it just guarantee that the party could continue and you’d never have a moment of rest?

No, it was a good thing. It was a place where you could bring your music and books and create some semblance of continuity as you travelled from city to city. However, [our former tour manager] Richard Cole ran into one of the air hostesses on the Starship recently and she told him, “You know we made a lot of money off you guys,” and Cole asked her how. “Well,” she explained, “when people on the plane used to sniff cocaine, they’d roll up hundred-dollar bills to use as straws. Then after they were high or passed out, they’d forget about the money. So we would go around and grab all the money that was laying around.” That might’ve been true, but I’ll tell you one thing: They never got any of my money! [laughs]

(Ch. 7, “The tours were exercises in pure hedonism…”, pg. 172)

And now you know, if you didn’t already, why Page has the nickname “Led Wallet”: he has always been canny with his cash. But don’t be misled by the coke reference or the chapter-title: this isn’t Hammer of the Gods, the most notorious of the Zeppographies, so the sex’n’drugs side of Page’s rock’n’roll story doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as his music, his metaphysics, and his mutating fashions. There aren’t many photos, but they’re all well-chosen and you can trace the evolution of Page’s looks, locks, and collaborations right from the 1960s to the present day. There are also contributions from John Paul Jones, Jack White of the White Stripes, publicists, guitar experts and fashionistas, so you do get a well-rounded portrait of an interesting and highly influential musician. I’m not a big Led Zeppelin fan and I still liked this book. And regretted the absence of an index. So it’s a shade light there. Otherwise, it should provide many pages of pleasure for Page-o-philes.


Cover of Nation of Ashes by Man Will Destroy HimselfMan Will Destroy Himself, Nation of Ashes (2007)

I’ve enjoyed this album a lot. It’s short, sharp and psycho-sonically stimulating. It could be called sonic-ironic too. Hardcore, in the guitar sense, is an accelerated and intensified form of punk that first appeared in the late 1980s. It was then an extreme, bleeding-edge – and bleeding-ear – form of music. But now it has three decades of tradition behind it. One of the men who first championed it, the BBC D.J. John Peel (1939-2004), would be seventy-four if he were still alive today. This is from Peel’s auto/biography, Margrave of the Marshes (2004), which was begun by him but completed by his wife Sheila after he died of a heart-attack in Peru:

William [one of Peel’s sons] and I [his wife writes] went regularly with John to gigs that Extreme Noise Terror and Napalm Death played together at the Caribbean Centre in Ipswich. They were grimy, chaotic affairs attended largely by crusties wearing layers of shredded denim and dreadlocks thick as rope. The moshpit was like an initiation ritual – if you could make it out of there in one piece, you knew you could survive anything life had to throw at you. People would stagger out with nosebleeds, clutching their heads, complaining of double vision, drenched in sweat. And yet a good-natured atmosphere prevailed somehow. William, who was around thirteen at the time, took one look at these crusties, who mostly shunned bathing or showering, and decided that this was the musical sub-genre to which he wanted to pledge undying allegiance. His karate teacher attended the reggae nights upstairs at the Caribbean Centre, and would say to William on the way out, “What are you doing listening to that?” (Op. cit., pg. 387-8)

That extract sums up the music well: hardcore is adolescent and part of its early appeal was its ability to shock your parents and conventional society. Okay, the adolescent William Peel was attending Extreme Noise Terror gigs actually with his parents, but then John Peel was a permanent adolescent and the music didn’t appeal to the karate teacher. Before long, William Peel probably did something his father never did, namely begin to grow up. He would then have lost interest in hardcore. Or grindcore, as Sheila Peel calls it. I don’t think E.N.T. were grindcore (and neither do they, apparently) and I don’t think Napalm Death belong with E.N.T. or with Man Will Destroy Himself. For one thing, Napalm Death are crap. For another, they are, or became, much more metal and lost the grimy authenticity of E.N.T. and M.W.D.H.

Grime is authentic, after all: you’re closer to reality when you’re dirty and smelly and living in a squat, far from the nine-to-five conformity of deluded mainstream society. Or are you? In fact, the crusties – named from the crustiness of their unwashed skin and hair – could not have existed without the generous benefit-systems of Western Europe. Crusties sneered at straights – and lived off the taxes of straights. They bemoaned the brutal military-industrial complex – and were kept safe by it from a communist system that would not have tolerated their rebellion for a second. And, of course, they were using electricity to create and record their music. Not to mention benefitting from the transport network for food, the sewage network for hygiene, and the generally law-abiding, relatively uncorrupt societies that surrounded them and without which their “lifestyle” would have been impossible or unsustainable. If crusty political ideas had been realized – or are realized, because they’re alive and well in the Occupy movement – even crusties might begin to see that Western society was rather more complex and benign than they recognized.

But recognizing the complexity and benignity would get in the way of the self-righteousness that is another and essential part of hardcore’s adolescent appeal. You have to strip down your music to get the exciting speed and you have to strip down your ideas to get the exciting sneer. The first track on this album, “Subdivide”, begins with a sample from the end of the film Planet of the Apes (1968), when Charlton Heston learns, in a particularly dramatic and memorable way, where he has been all the time and what man has done with his super-sized brain. “Goddamn you all to Hell!” he cries – and the music swells up and screams off in that exciting, but by now very familiar, hardcore way. It’s an effective opening, but it reminds me of the term used of art by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1931): “emotional engineering”. The sample relies for its power on listeners’ previous knowledge of the film. Man has indeed destroyed himself – but in a science-fiction universe. The sample is effective, but insincere. Heston is acting and so, I feel, are M.W.D.H. The theme of nuclear armageddon was very well-trodden well before the ’noughties, when this album was released: Planet of the Apes appeared in 1968 and is based on a book published in 1963. Extreme Noise Terror were railing against the arms-trade from the beginning and E.N.T. have been assaulting ears, offending noses, and straining their throats for a long time now. Which is sonic-ironic: M.W.D.H. could never shock E.N.T. with their music, even though E.N.T. are probably old enough to be their dads.

Global warming, the apocalyptic theme now occupying the progressive community, isn’t so much fun to scream about: it’s slower and less obviously an act of malevolent free-will. But what about the much bigger threats posed not by man but by Mother Nature, with things like asteroid-strikes and mega-volcanoes? Well, hardcore bands have never worked themselves into self-righteous frenzies about those. How can you be self-righteous about billions of people dying if no human agency is involved? If we’re wiped out by an asteroid or a mega-volcano, it will be, at worst, a sin of omission. We could have spent more money researching the threat and inventing ways to prevent or avoid it. We’ve not been wiped out like that yet, but the threats remain and I think we should spend more money watching the skies, for example. But it’s difficult to get emotional about it: there are no self-righteous thrills to be found in nearby asteroids. Nuclear arsenals are different: men made those and men may use them. So you can get emotional about the threat. The strong sensations of hardcore aren’t supplied by just the speed and volume: the self-righteousness and sanctimony are important too. That’s why M.W.D.H. use that sample from Planet of the Apes and put nuclear missiles on the front cover of this album.

I don’t know whether they scream about global warming too, because I can’t understand the lyrics and haven’t found them on the web yet. The final track, “M.O.A.B.”, is presumably about the mega-munition called the “Mother Of All Bombs” by the U.S. military. Whether or not that bomb is the subject, it’s surprising how quickly you reach “M.O.A.B.”: this album whirls by and can seem even shorter than its actual running-time of twenty minutes. Hardcore is headlong, like sheets and shards of metal being blown along by a hurricane. And metal is a word that comes to mind a lot as you listen to this album. The sounds are metallic in an almost literal sense: strong but flexible, meaty but malleable. Nation of Ashes sounds like a sonic factory taking the raw ore of volume and hammering, twisting, and rolling it into shape. That’s appropriate for a form of music that depends on an advanced technological civilization, though it’s sonic-ironic because the music is being used to criticize that civilization. But Nation of Ashes also sounds metallic in a more strictly musical sense. As I’ve said, M.W.D.H. and E.N.T. aren’t metal bands like Napalm Death, but heavy metal does influence the sound of hardcore. There are throbbing, thundering passages between the headlong charges on this album, but that variety increases the power of the music. And has been doing so on hundreds of albums for thousands of days. So, as M.W.D.H.’s music pounds, listeners can ponder things like authenticity and originality.

I’ve certainly pondered my own originality while writing this review. I’m pleased with the title of the review – “Guitardämmerung” – but I’ve found from a web-search that it’s been used before. Other minds have worked like mine, noting the similarity between “guitar” and Götter. The point of a pun is to distort language and create a new sensation from something familiar. That’s also what punk did to rock music, and what hardcore did to punk: they were distortions for new sensations. Sometimes musical distortion is inadvertent: new forms of music, like new forms of life, can arise when there’s a mistake in copying. Or when the technology of the art does undesigned and originally unwanted things, like causing feedback. An accidental thing like that can then become something pursued and valued in its own right. Hardcore is about distortion in lots of ways: it uses distorted guitars and voices to protest about the distortion of society and justice. But this album isn’t distorted in one way: it adheres faithfully to the hardcore recipe first laid down in the late 1980s. So that’s sonic-ironic again.

“Guitardämmerung” also blends ideas in the way that hardcore blends punk and heavy metal. Götterdämmerung means “Twilight of the Gods” and refers to the cataclysmic end of the world in Norse mythology. Man Will Destroy Himself use electric guitars to create music about cataclysm and apocalypse, but are we now in the final stages of guitar-based music? Will hardcore, heavy metal, and other forms of rock exist much longer? I don’t think they will. There are cataclysms of various kinds ahead: political, social, scientific, and technological. The political and social cataclysms probably won’t be those foreseen by the self-righteous and sanctimonious crusty community (crummunity?). And that community may realize that it’s been working for political and social cataclysm in a lot of ways, rather than against it. The scientific and technological cataclysms will be more powerful and long-lasting in their effects – assuming science and technology survive what is ahead in politics and sociology. I don’t think the Deus Ex Machina, the electronically enhanced superhuman now in preparation, will be interested in loud guitars. But I’m not superhuman, or properly grown-up, and I am still interested in loud guitars. Although the music is quite different, this album makes me nostalgic – or prostalgic – in a similar way to the mediaeval ballads on Music of the Crusades. That music was traditional, and so, sonic-ironically, is hardcore, three decades after it first appeared. Hardcore expresses ugly emotions in an ugly way, but it’s still human. And Man is indeed about to be Destroyed.

Nation of Ashes is available for free at

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Musings on Music