Live at the Hacienda: Mark E. Smith, Tony Wilson, Jon King, and Stewart Home in conversation
Photograph of Mark E. Smith by GB Jones
(AHW = Tony Wilson, JK = Jon King, SH = Stewart Home, MES = a last minute addition. Hats off to whoever originally retyped this.)
MES: So what's Situationism, Tony?
AHW: Malcolm McClaren thought it would be a Situationist act to create a band which would be massive simply because they were disgusting, and had no value in themselves. But...
MES: Forget all the pop shit. You got me here to speak about Situationists.
AHW: No I didn't.
MES: See, that's a typical Situationist reply.
AHW: No Mark, you were invited probably because in your attitude, demeanor, philosophy and activity...
MES: So this is Situationism? A sort of sub-psychiatry.
AHW: Mark, you are a Situationist but you don't know it.
MES: How do you mean?
AHW: You follow your own will. You do what you want.
MES: So that's all this philosophy means?
AHW: Look, I just like the slogans. I'll tell you the slogan I like. In 1969, as a child of the left, I went down to London for a meeting of the SI. It was the most horrendous evening of my life, but I found an image taken from the Return of the Durutti Column. It has two cowboys talking to one another. One asks what the other thinks about reification...
MES: The Stalinists did that better...
AHW Autonomia in Italy was good but the Situationists were funnier.
MES: Look, the thing about you Situationists is that you go into a situation and you just leave it. You don't work at it. You put people in a situation and then just piss off with your bloody degrees. Richard Branson's a Situationist.
AHW: No he's fucking not!
MES: Richard Branson signs 115 bands and then sacks them when he's bored with them. That's not art in my estimation. What's the difference between the Situationists and bloody Prince Charles? You just put people in situations and then bugger off.
AHW: Look Mark, it's about anarchy. Do you know what that means?
MES It's go down to fucking 10 Downing Street if you want to do something about it.
AHW: Yes, that's right
MES: You take the IRA. They've done nothing positive. They just fuck up working class people's lives.
AHW: I think you'll find that the Situationists were the most anti-IRA. Mark, we can all sit here and have a laugh, but anarchy means something. It's a term like conservatism or republicanism.
MES: But you'll still keep the chair. You remind me of Stalin at Yalta.
AHW: Anarchy's the complete fucking opposite of that. Look, I'll buy you a book on Buenaventura Durutti, which will explain to you what it means. No leaders- which is a dichotomy, because we always need leaders- no hierarchy. Make men fight through belief in themselves, not military discipline. Look, I'm a fan, and I just use slogans and references.
MES: See, you just keep changing the subject. The Situationists keep going around from art to politics to pop music...
JK: It's difficult to follow all that. What I found most interesting was not to be passive. I was attracted to the Situationist ideas of voyeurism, passivity, postponement, denial...(WAFFLES ON ABOUT COWBOYS, NEO-FASCIST ARCHITECTURE, AND THE GANG OF FOUR)...What matters is doing things.
MES: What, like the Gang of Four?
JK: I suppose we did.
MES: No I mean the Chinese gang of four. They killed ten million people.
JK: I have no sympathy for these people. The gang of four is just a phrase that was used by the Liberal Democrats.
MES: That's going back a bit.
JK: Yes it is. The good old days. And of course we have the religious name of your band, which refers to Adam and Eve. It is interesting to have with us today a religious extremist... I came into contact with the guys from Art and Language, which the Situationists weren't interested in. They booked a poster site in Newcastle, where they put up a Vichy poster. It had a Nazi head with, below it, workers carrying spanners. It read: ''Il donne son sang. Donnez votre travail'' I think we should have a whipround and book poster sites around the country. The poster should have a big NATO helmet and say: ''He gives his blood; give your work or non-work.'' Basically, I wanted to make music that was totally different and not easy to listen to.
MES: Is that why you tried to pinch my bass player in San Francisco in 1983?
JK: It was worth a try. We had 2 records banned by the BBC: ''At home he's a tourist'' in 1978 and ''I love a man in a uniform.'' Now I feel miffed at not making lots of money, but it gave you a sense of pleasure to know you had done something objectionable.
SH: I got into punk after seeing the Sex Pistols on Tony's TV programme. I was 14 at the time and switched on to see Mott the Hoople. It had a terrible effect on me. Now if we take genre theory from Marxist theory and apply it to punk, we see that the Sex Pistols were not a punk band. Of course it can be said that in 1976 the Sex Pistols were classified as punk, but that now, if you go into a record shop, they are in the rock section. There are different socially negotiated ways in which the Pistols can be defined. From the perspective of musicology, we can contest the punk nature of the Sex Pistols. If we listen to Johnny Rotten's lyrics, they are expressive, not monotone. The records are overproduced and not recorded on 4-track. If you listen to the drumming, it's pretty much meat and potatoes rock 'n' roll. "Never Mind the Bollocks" is not a punk record.
But we can't get away from history and the supposed connections between punk and the Situationists. Jamie Reid, if he were here, would say he liked the slogans, but didn't understand the texts. There is the historical myth that Malcolm McClaren and Jamie Reid were in King Mob in the early 70s. Now that is difficult to prove as King Mob didn't have an organised membership, but King Mob were part of the anarchist freak scene in Notting Hill. King Mob did contain people who had been in the British section of the Situationists but who were expelled because of their links with the Motherfuckers. If you read issues 2 1/2 and 3 of King Mob you see that there are eulogies to the Motherfuckers. They based themselves on the Motherfuckers, for instance going into Selfridges dressed as Santa Claus and giving out toys to kids then being arrested by the police. The Motherfuckers had already done this in New York
MES: Who are these Motherfuckers?
SH: You should read my book ''Cranked Up Really High.'' and a new selection of my essays which are on sale in this hall. Plug plug plug. The Motherfuckers demonstrated against art exhibitions. They would advertise that there was free booze, and then loads of tramps would turn up at art exhibitions.
MES: Are there any other bands you like?
SH: I like Panasonic, if you're into Finnish techno.
AHW: If you look at the intersections between British pop and Situationism you see that we are responsible for references to and popularisation of Situationist ideas. Malcolm and Jamie wanted to do something interventionist and failed, because the Sex Pistols turned out to be a fabulous band whatever fucking genre they are in. I think the only truly Situationist act in British pop music was Malcolm's ex-partner Fred and Judy Vermorel's beautiful glossy book on Kate Bush which can still be found in Virgin shops.
MES: Are you serious Tony?
AHW: I'm more serious than you've ever seen me Mark!
SH: You have to buy my books.
AHW: I think that shows how little we understand what we're talking about.
SH: No, they took all their ideas from me. You see this is all to do with historicisation. The Situationists needed a stalking horse in popular culture, and punk provided it even if they would denounce punk. Punk gave them an entree into the mainstream media.
MES: So basically you're taking the piss out of the working class.
SH: No I'm taking the piss out of the bourgeoisie.
MES: You ended up like bloody KLF.
SH: KLF are attacking the art establishment.
AHW: I think KLF wanted to be artists. I'm not sure about burning the million pounds...
MES: That was easy. You just use a photocopier
AHW: But I liked what they did on an icy field off the M4, blackmailing that idiot woman from the Tate to come out, and the Channel 4 team running around like scalded chickens trying to get rid of the advert.
MES: If you piss around like that you dilute art.
AHW: Yes, you dilute it 'til it washes away.
MES: But then you become like a Chinese, Russian or Soviet.
SH: How do we define art?
AHW: The rock scene has played a big role in popularising these ideas. Whatever you think of him, Greil Marcus' writings have kept interest alive. And all that comes from Factory records enclosing the horseman sticker in a record we sent him. Greil stuck it on his cassette player for 3 years until he wondered where the fuck it came from.
MES: There you go talking about the past.
AHW: But that leads to the present, to KLF.
MES: We're talking about the bleeding past. Art is timeless. It never stops. You've got to carry on.
JK: I agree. What matters is that people should do things.
MES: There are a lot of people who go on about the old days. It's a kind of middle aged crisis. I find this objectionable.
JK: Yeah, teddy boys and zoot suits.
MES: I always thought being a Situationist meant the now.
SH: The Situationists dissolved themselves in 1973 or 72. They're not going anymore.
AHW: This is a museum, Mark. I'm thinking about the most shocking band of recent times, who played on this stage, the Happy Mondays. Were they anarchist interventionists? Mark, I've always wanted to ask you: why did you try to stop me putting out their records? You left a message on my answer-phone in 1990 saying ''Tony this has got to stop." I've always wanted to know what time of the morning it was, and what you meant.
MES: It was probably 5 o'clock. I wanted the video back of my play. You were plagiarizing me.
AHW: Did you think we were corrupting society?
MES: I objected to upper middle class kids pretending to come from Salford.
AHW: The Happy Mondays were lower working class.
MES: Who cares?
AHW: It was you who brought it up, you dick.
JK: Why are you here, Mark?
MES: I was a last minute addition. I thought we were going to talk about French writers.
AHW: It could be because you, as a typical British rock star, embody these undercurrents. You do what the fuck you like, and you're objectionable.
MES: Maybe, Tony, you wanted to be a pop star?
AHW: Never. I'm musically incapable. I'm a journalist.
MES: And I just like to write.
SH: So you want to be a writer?
MES: Have you met any writers?
SH: I am a writer. I've published 4 novels, on sale at 5.95 over there...
AHW: Mark, do you ''drift?"
MES: What do you mean?
AHW: Do the streets coax you down?
MES: Mind your own business!
(The debate moves to the floor. A question is asked by Professor David Bellos)
DB: Can you explain to me why you called this place the Hacienda, and whether the spirit of Situationism lives on in it?
AHW: I didn't find the name. I would give to all my employees the little green book, ''Leaving the Twentieth Century.'' One day, my partner Rob Gretton was wondering, "What the fuck are we going to call this place?" He opened the book at Chtcheglov's essay and saw the phrase "The hacienda must be built."
DB: That is an anecdote about how you found the name, but does it have any meaning?
AHW: No, not at all. We were looking for a name for the bar over there. We were attracted by the anarchist idea of a pantheon of heroes. The Angry Brigades considered Kilby (sic) and Burgess to be great class traitors, comedians of the twentieth century.
MES: You find that funny? Two of my school friends were killed by them.
MES: What, Blunt hanging around with the queen? Is that Situationist?
AHW: At Cambridge the Angry Brigades had the Kim Philby luncheon club.
MES: They were pissheads, traitors.
AHW: Exactly, we called our can bar ''Hicks'' after Burgess' code name.
MES: Blunt was showing the queen paintings while my best mates were being tortured to death.
AHW: That's class war.
MES: Class war? Looks like the upper class fighting the working class.
JK: We should remember that a lot of bands took Situationist ideas seriously, and forwent commercial success. Raul Vaneigem's book changed a lot my way of seeing things: stealing slogans through detournement, disrupting clichés.
AHW: Although there was nothing in the books to guide us, I wonder how much Factory records was influenced by this world of thought. We were the only record company which did not own the music. Because of the contracts we signed in blood in 1979, we had no control over our back catalogue, which meant that when Factory ran into trouble four years ago, we had no assets. I wonder if this circle of thought led us to do something so stupid...and hysterical.
(The discussion drifts into revolution...)
SH: If we look at things historically, we see that those who made revolutions were all in their forties or fifties. Our society is trying to get rebellion out of the young before they can do real damage.
JK: According to a Situationist text, ''Misery of student life,'' the young have no economic value, no stake in the system. They can therefore be dangerous.
AHW: But kids today have loads of money. They are a big economic force. And they refuse to be brow-beaten into being selfish. I think it's very strange living in the nineties, after the end of history and the Left, to look back at the sixties and seventies. Then we were going round with Marxist and anarchist slogans unaware that they were bizarrely opposed. It was one of the tragedies of modern politics. When Bakunin was expelled from the International, the link was broken between community and individualism. From then on the Left was fucked. It's why the Wall came down. Because we're all individuals.
MES: No, it's because they ran out of money.
SH: I think you'll find that Bakuninist ideas of organisation were not abandoned. The Communist International was the realisation of Bakunin's idea of a centralised secret society. Leninism, I would contend, was the realisation of Bakuninism.