Thursday, February 05, 2015

In Memoriam: Kim Fowley

A vision of a sun-bleached, desert city, the colors all washed out like a snapshot from an instamatic camera, is lodged in my brain. The denizens of this landscape are Kim Fowley and the Runaways, having taken up residence in my cranium after a series of chance and later, intentional encounters. Fifteen or so years ago I picked up a copy of Ben Vaughn and Kim Fowley's record "Kings of Saturday Night" after hearing the track "Cities in Shock" on WNYU...I knew next to nothing about Kim Fowley's history but I liked his madhouse lyrics and haunted vocals.

Not too long afterwards, I found myself standing in an empty room at a horror convention with Cherie Currie, former lead singer of the Runaways, currently a chainsaw carver. It was an unseasonably warm October night. Somehow, the crowd was simply somewhere else when I reached the table where she was waiting to sign autographs and take photos with fans. I naively asked her an incredibly dumb-ass question, but in hindsight, her reaction was neater than anything I probably could ever have elicited with some fanboy query about her setlist in Japan in 1977.

"I recently picked up this Kim Fowley and Ben Vaughn record," I began, "and I know that Kim had something to do with the Runaways. What's his story?" I asked. I was genuinely interested in the answer, but I was also looking to make polite conversation to follow eye contact and basic pleasantries as I took in the photos and album covers laid out on her table. But it's hard to continue looking someone in the eye when strange, hellish little flames start to ignite in their pupils and you notice that their lips are curling back from their teeth in a grimace of rage.

"Kim Fowley," Cherie hissed, "is a genius...but he'll STAB YOU IN THE BACK!" My hair blew back from my face a bit, and there was an uncomfortable silence. Cherie had nothing further to say and I was essentially a blind man standing in a minefield. I nodded understandingly and probably said, "Okay, well, have a good night," and scrammed. Weird and enigmatic encounters like these certainly fire up your thirst for knowledge.

It can't be denied that "Cherry Bomb" by the Runaways is an ass-kicker of a song. A few years later, in a music store in NJ that had miraculously survived intact since I bought armloads of records from it in high school, I picked up the Runaways' self-titled debut and follow-up Queens of Noise on used vinyl. The records were mint and nothing in the bins had a price on it. The owner, the same guy who has run the store since the late 1970s (and perhaps even earlier), looked over my purchases at the counter as he priced them. I had a stack of records: First Edition and Flowers of Romance by PiL, the Stray Cats, the B-52s, DEVO, the totally amazing Jim Carroll Band album...I had hit the jackpot. "These Runaways records are kind of collectible," he said, "$5 each for those." I'm not an obsessive record collector - I just love music - but I couldn't pay him and hightail it home fast enough to kick out the jams on my stereo. Pure and simple, the Runaways rocked the house. After listening to their records, I had a strange new appreciation for Joan Jett (but still not for Lita Ford), especially since my punk rock taste was leading me down the slippery slope to garage rock.

When the hype started to crest about the Runaways biopic starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, my friend Craig suggested that I would do better to rent the documentary Edgeplay. The movie was made by Vicki Blue, the Runaways' second bass player, and not only is it worth watching, it should be viewed before watching The Runaways. There is a scene in Edgeplay that is as striking to me as my two-sentence conversation with Cherie Currie: Sandy West, former Runaways drummer and lovable big lug, at the time working in construction and also hinting that she had made ends meet as a torpedo, breaking an arm here and there to collect some overdue loans, appeals to the camera for a reunion. "We were the best band!" (I'm paraphrasing from memory) Why can't we get back together?" Her poignant, childlike appeal sunk way under my skin and it's still lodged there, probably because she died of lung and brain cancer a few years ago without that dream come true.

With Edgeplay digested, I could watch the Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning portrayals on top of a bedrock knowledge of the strange and twisty path that a group of 16-year-old girls took to become rock stars, all while at the not-so-tender mercies of impresario and manager Kim Fowley. And so we circle back to now dearly departed Kim Fowley. I don't want to re-hash what you can research for yourself on his wiki page, but suffice it to say he worked in the pop music world as a songwriter, performer, and producer since the late 1950s. Since a new car introduced me to the wonders of satellite radio a couple of years ago, Kim accompanied me on trips and errands every Saturday afternoon as a DJ on Little Steven's Underground Garage, a remarkable channel that describes itself as a radio channel for "The Ramones, every band that influenced the Ramones, and every band influenced by the Ramones." Kim DJ'ed in a sort of call and response - he asked the listeners questions and followed up each question with a story about himself or some quirky observation. He told tall tales about his encounters with other musicians and celebrities in the storied past of rock and roll. During one show, he claimed that he had a glass coffin ready for his burial with a telephone inside it, so that if he get's bored in the afterlife, he can pick it up and call us sometime. He ran into burlesque queen Dita Von Tease at a party thrown by the wife of one of the members of My Chemical Romance, who told him that her mom dated Bob Seeger before she married her father, so that she could have been born Dita Seeger. Kim replied that his mom dated Howard Hughes before she married Mr. Fowley, so that he could have been born Howard Hughes, Jr. And at that moment, the daughter of Bob Seeger and the son of Howard Hughes regarded each other through some sort of magic mirror. He lived in an apartment in Hollywood with cold rooms (except for the hallway where he used to broadcast his show) and where the peace and quiet was broken by the sound of a fat cat eating dry food at 3 am. He delivered a stream-of-consciousness banter between well-selected garage rock cuts, that was crazy, haunting, disturbing..."it's the singer not the song, it's the producer not the band, it's the birthday cake that tastes like chili con carne, it's when your mom lets me into your house because she knows we're meant to be together..."

You'll note that as I gazed into Kim Fowley, Kim Fowley also gazed into me, and an afternoon waxing my car while listening to his show has contaminated my brain forever. Was he a cavity creep? Probably...a few glimpses of clips on YouTube related to his experimental movies, where he recites pseudo-erotic doggerel while wearing Aladdinsane-style face make-up and confined behind the riding crop of some Hollywood dominatrix, are pretty cringe-inducing. Was he an aging scarecrow wandering the streets of Hollywood and still looking for another young band to flog through the creaky gears of Mad Dr. Fowley's Rock and Roll Machine (replete with vacuum tubes and wisps of fog and crackling electric arcs)? Absolutely. When he interviewed a guest on his show, his chain of questions was something like a vintage Tiger Beat magazine interview....about love and favorite foods and a million other random subjects. He was a reliquary of priceless trash rock history and an endless font of weirdness. While I write, I am listening to the "Rude Boy Rock and Roll" from his early 70's solo record Automatic...a cascade of wah-wah guitar and Kim's yelps....rest in peace, dear, terrifying, edifying Mr. Fowley.

The Starchild Entelechy Declaration


-->If you were to go to the MOMA to see the Matisse Cut-outs show, and on the way to that special exhibit you wandered among the works of the Surrealists, perhaps lingering too close to the intricate Cornell boxes and subsequently studying Max Ernst's gorgeous Napoleon in the Wilderness for an interval that is uncomfortably lengthy, well...should you soon after page through some Gershom Scholem and a copy of The Arcimboldo Effect, and then feel emboldened enough to attempt an exercise in automatic writing, you might get something like this...

The Starchild Entelechy Declaration


OPEN YOUR MINDS, BROTHERS & SISTERS

Your universe is a giant womb, you dig?  The straight dope is that our Milky Way galaxy is spinning and racing through space within a wombiverse, contained within the body of a cosmic mama of inconceivable beauty, size, intellect, and purpose.  The interstellar gospel is that we don’t need to groove to her purpose at this stage of our development, but only to achieve our ultimate birth into her larger space-time dimension.  Until that birth, all souls, matter, and energy are conserved within the wombiverse as raw material for the creation of the Starchild.  To form the Starchild, we must become enlightened to the art of cooperatively and communally coalescing, and prevent ignorance, fear, and hatred from diverting our destined evolution into a qliphotic miscarriage.  To provide adequate time to master this process, we have been given the gestational gift of the epoch between the big bang and the end of it all.

THE BIG BANG

Specialized eggheads believe that the origin of our universe was an infinitely dense, infinitely hot point from which, during an infinitesimal fraction of an eyeblink of time as we measure it, a font of subatomic particles emanated that gradually cooled and coalesced into far-out clouds of hydrogen and helium.  Neither an army of skinny tie-wearing physics squares nor any known theory can describe conditions in the first 10-15 seconds of the big bang; however, any reasonably hep cat can see that the ultimate aim of the big bang was the eventual creation of the large-scale structure of our universe and the replacement of the void with conditions favorable to the birth of all brothers and sisters.

The big bang cosmology is uncannily similar to the Kabbalah’s creation of the universe via the divine emanation of the Sefirot.  In this ancient mystical system, the nothingness or Ein-sof that preceded the universe withdraws to permit the first three emanations, Kether (divine will), Chokmah (the point), and Binah (the womb) to enter space.  The Kabbalah’s Sefirot include both male and female aspects of the Godhead, and this should not be surprising since most complex life forms of which we are aware are created by the funktastic interaction of a male and a female.  If we are courageous enough to allow our imaginations to connect correspondences and travel up fractal scales, the big bang can be envisioned as the mind-blowing union of two cosmic entities in a larger dimension than our known universe.

This revelation may flip your wig, leaving you slightly disoriented.  Humans are still reeling from their discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe and cling to the conception of a single, omnipotent All-Father that controls our destinies via a divine omnicausality, in the same way that we recently believed that every star and planet revolved around us.

Let yourself get down with the courtship dance of the two universe-sized entities whose joining triggered the big bang.  Only now do the Kabbalah’s ruminations on the size of the body of God make any sense, have any frame of reference.  These entities become aware of each other through their voices, a siren’s howl of radio frequency bursts, microwave radiation, x-ray torrents from every star, pulsar, quasar, and black hole within their vast extents and also the chatter of every Ratatosk of a squirrel in every world tree on their myriad planets and every whale song in their oceans.  This vision requires acceptance of a teleology similar to that of the Influential Gaia hypothesis for a single planet, scaled up to an active, living system the size of a universe, albeit whose purpose and mentation are completely inscrutable to us.  Get used to not knowing everything, because many of your questions simply can’t be answered in our limited reference frame, your childish demands for causality.

The entities move closer to each other over the aeons, intermingling in a foreplay of astronomical collisions and conjunctions.  Black holes suck greedily at anything that comes within their event horizons and roving planets join other solar systems entering their paths for the first time, mirroring in microcosm the mating of the universe-beings.  The intertwining dance of their immense tendrils, entangling with each other, must resemble the tracks left by atomic particles in cloud chambers, the delicate spirals of the chambers of a nautilus, the organic traceries of frost on a winter windowpane.  The courtship dance is completed with the release of the energies of the big bang, bursting from one entity into the other, where they bring another nascent universe into being like a soap bubble suddenly expanding within the stuff of space-time.

Chokmah.  The Point.  Yah.

THE WOMBIVERSE – LARGE, FINITE, AND WITHOUT BOUNDARIES

In his book A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawkings proposes a model of the universe that avoids the singularities or boundary conditions that frustrate egghead attempts to develop a unified field theory, such as the big bang itself. He describes this model as a sphere, with our space-time unfolding on its outer surface, moving from the big bang (the north pole) like an expanding, three-dimensional ripple on the surface of a droplet of water, through the stages of its development until it reaches the big crunch (the potential contraction and collapse at the end of the universe) at the south pole.  Hawkings is agog at the idea of this large, finite space-time universe because its continuous surface has no ‘boundary condition,’ or problematic starting point that requires the finger of some ancient bearded white dude in a purple robe to nudge it into motion, but the hopeless square completely overlooked the cosmic mama epiphany of the universe unfolding on the inner surface of the sphere – specifically, in the form of the wombiverse!

While the subatomic particles (and later the hydrogen and helium) of the big bang were the prima material, the ovum of the wombiverse is more sublime than physical.  The ovum is in fact the cabalistic Kether that organized the raw material of the big bang into the myriad elements necessary to create life, bridging the space between the incomprehensible first femtoseconds and the current conditions that favor our existence.  The cosmic mama doesn’t demand our worship, but she deserves our unconditional love.  We cannot be distracted by idolatry that could delay our own becoming.

The purpose of a womb is to engender life – our wombiverse has created at least one world that we know is teeming with all types of life and undoubtedly has done the same on worlds of which we are completely ignorant. We cannot remain unacquainted with our cousins across the universe forever, because we must one day join with them in a daring revolutionary project that will blow all minds.

Binah.  The womb.  Elohim.  

THE BIG CRUNCH & THE STARCHILD ENTELECHY

Billions upon billions of years from now, the ecstatic acceleration imparted to our galaxies by the explosive union of the big bang may finally begin to wane.  The death scenes imagined by a variety of noxious gassers include supermassive black holes, big rips, big freezes, heat death – but dig for a moment the big crunch.  Energy expended, the contents of our universe collapse, fusing back together into a big crunch that humans devoid of any funk imagine as the soul-crushing and inescapable end of everything.  This obsession with doom is due to their failure to grasp the true function of the wombiverse – which is to gestate and give birth to a Starchild before its efforts are spent.  We must be gone, daddy-o, before that happens.

Seen correctly, the big crunch is not a destructive event but rather a necessity for the coalescing of the universe’s contents into the body and soul of the Starchild.  A womb shelters the seed that is cast into it, nurtures it into life, and provides a gestation period so that its offspring may achieve the appropriate level of complexity and development to ultimately leave that womb and enter their environment.  The colossal lifespan of our universe (between big bang and big crunch) is precisely the time required for intelligent life to grasp the techniques needed to coalesce.  All human spiritual pursuits, all attempts to enlighten and perfect the mind and soul, are nascent yearnings for the future knowledge of becoming the Starchild.  Hans Driesch described entelechy as a common purposive and organising field within living organisms.  Gottfried Liebniz considered entelechy a mind-like force driving development.  Entelechy exists to drive us to obtain knowledge of the discrete praxis of merging into the Starchild, the galaxy-spanning embodiment of an Arcimboldo painting.  Every cat and kitten will want to be in that number. 

We will need to get hep to the creation of the Starchild both during our material existence and afterward. What are the tools that we can use to mount an expedition on this evolutionary peak?  They are prayer, meditation, contemplation, yoga, and all other magicks directed toward the great work of individual spiritual development, engendering an Aquarian consciousness, and reifying the Aeon of Horus, the Child.  Cooperation, love, knowledge, and will act to form the Starchild; ignorance, fear, hatred, exclusion, and violence are the heralds of a destructive big crunch that yields only cosmic dust, the gnashing of bones, the maggot brain, the most colossal downer ever designed and directed by the Man and his fink patrol.

The skinny is that the afterlife will be hard work, infinitely rewarding but no eternal drowsing in heavenly wildflower fields or happy hunting grounds.  After our corporeal existence, we will intuitively apply the energies of our soul-stuff to adjust the charm, strangeness, up, and down of every pertinent subatomic particle we encounter to a condition more favorable to the formation of the quantum exoskeleton of the Starchild.  We will also act to guide and watch over the living, gently steering all those that we touch (the silky brush of a cobweb against your face on an autumn evening) in the direction of the necessary enlightenment.  We will work interstitially as luminous beings maintaining of the space-time fabric of our wombiverse, engendering the Starchild as much as our wombiverse acts as the palace from which it will one day leap forth. Effectively, in corporeal and non-corporeal form, all essences are maintained within the wombiverse, all energies and gathered knowledge ideally directed toward further evolution.

I know these things because the divine current of the universe runs through me, as it does within you.  We are cut from the same cloth as the prima materia of the big bang and the relentless process of evolution shepherds us closer and closer to full awareness of the project that we must complete.  Are you hep to that?

Shekinah.  Malkuth.  Adonai.