Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and The New Blockaders

The New Blockaders - Simphonie in X Major
Hypagogia. Cassette. PN03. 200 copies.

I first became aware of Christopher Hitchens earlier this year in an article written for the Observer newspaper. The article in question was written by his long time friend and author Martin Amis, in it you discover that Hitchens was a polemicist, an atheist [or as he would have preferred ‘an anti-theist’], an intellectual, a journalist, a writer, a documentary maker, contrarian, a thorn in the side of hypocrisy and the kind of person who would never suffer fools [The article is offline now but theres the great story of Amis and Hitchens enjoying a restaurant meal at the height of Thatcherism. As they were eating their meal a group of yuppies arrived one of whom decided to take it upon himself to arrange the tables to suit his liking. It soon became apparent to the pair that this fop haired product of materialism would need their table for his own devices. The man dropped to his haunches beside Hitchens and said ‘I know you’re going to hate me for this ..’ to which Hitchens cut in ‘you’re wrong, we already hate you’]. I don’t normally buy a Sunday paper but we were on holiday in Northumberland and with a lazy day stretching ahead in front of me I bought the Observer and read every word of Amis’s piece until  somewhere deep in my skull a sticky went up with ‘buy some of Hitchens work’ written on it. It wasn’t until a few months had passed that the sticky popped up in my head and I bought ‘God Is Not Great’, where Hitchens, with his subtle humour and giant intellect, dismantles religion and in the process left this humble reader wondering why I had wasted so many years not reading Hitchens. Not that there are many writers like Hitchens.

Hitchens passed away on Friday the 15th of December after succumbing to a cancer no doubt brought on by his huge appetite for whisky and cigarettes. At the time of his dying I was reading a collection of his essays [Love, Poverty & War], when I opened his book on Friday morning this was at the top of the next page:

“The moral superiority of atheism … is often less stressed than its intellectual superiority. The intellectual advantage hardly needs elaboration: we do not normally accept unprovable assertions at face value, however devoutly they are maintained, and we posses increasingly convincing explanations for matters that once lay within the province of the supernatural. Skepticism and inquiry and doubt are the means by which we have established such a civilisation as we posses, professions of sheer faith are a hindrance to investigation both moral and material.”

Its typical Hitchens and the kind of thinking that gets even the slightest inquisitive mind fishing about for a drive gear.

In the same book you find this:

"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."

And in 'God Is Not Great' this:

"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either."

The really sad thing about Hitchens passing is that he had reached the time in life when he was just about able to sit and bask in the reflective glow of his body of work.

I could go on for a while here, theres the dismantling of Henry Kissenger, The Clintons, Mother Theresa, his shift of political stance after 9/11, the heavy drinking, his verbal battles with lumps like George Galloway and numerous American TV news show presenters .. its best that you investigate him yourself. May he rest in peace.

Simphonie in X Major is another TNB release getting the 20th anniversary treatment from Hypnagogia and the only thing thats running through my mind is how much reissue treatment can one man take? Its worth remembering that once upon a time things used to get deleted forever but in the 21st century you’re nobody until the carcass of your back catalogue has been picked over, remixed, enhanced, put on the latest format and [in the case of Pink Floyd] shoved in a box with a bag of marbles, a scarf and some coasters. Not that I’m comparing the picking over of the the Pink Floyd corpse with a cassette reissue of a noise classic from 1991. I’m still certain though that any self respecting TNB fan will already have a copy of Simphonie in X Major be it on the original Hypnagogia LP or as part of the 4CD Gesamtnichtswerk. To have it on cassette is worthwhile though. Its two twenty minute-ish tracks contain all that is good in the world of TNB and by extension the noise world at large. Listening back to it on headphones is an aural delight that takes in massive amounts of junk scrape, reversed tapes, buckets of nails, cutlery wars, medieval catapults being drawn taught all of it harnessed into a framework of surroundsound tumult. I do recommend headphones for this by the way - there are moments on first movement when the sounds panning from ear to ear leave a gorgeous space of wasteland somewhere just about where your nose should be.

Seeing as how the obverse to X Major has already been dealt with by Harbinger Sound its a shame that O Minor will probably not now see the light of day on cassette which is a shame. Hiss or crackle? You decide.

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