Talking Lots of Shit, Folding Like Bitches
I was going to ask you about that Love balloon, and the part of the book where Mina describes “hippie fascism.” I recently watched Adam Curtis‘ excellent All Watched Over By the Machines of Loving Grace, and while he’s not the first to talk about the failed dreams of the ’60s, I am particularly fascinated by how that generation, and its technophilic children, have come to create our surveillance state.
Moore: From my perspective, when writing 1969, I was having to come up with a simulacrum of a time I actually did remember and have emotional connections with. In 1969, I was, what, 15? That was the age at which I began my short-lived psychedelic career, which also ended my school career in the bargain. So my view of that time was a very formative one. It’s an era for which I have an immense amount of fondness. However, I am not 15 anymore, not by a long shot. [Laughs] Not by about 42 years.
So my perspective upon that era has changed. You can find that in bits of the dialogue, such as when Mina Murray tries a bit too hard to embrace the ’60s. As she, Allan Quatermain and Orlando make their way to the Hyde Park festival, she says that they are all looking to the future and being incredibly progressive. And Orlando, who’s been around a lot longer than Mina, points out that no, they’re not. They’re just nostalgic for their own childhoods. Which, looking back, was a big part of the ’60s. It was reflected in a lot of the haunted nursery rhymes of that period, especially in the music of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.
So my actual feelings about the ’60s are that, yes, of course we had limitations. We talked a lot of shit, and we didn’t have the muscle to back it up. For the most part, we had good intentions. However, we were not able to implement those intentions. And when the state started to take us seriously and initiated countermeasures, the majority of us folded like bitches. Not all of us, but a good number. We weren’t up for the struggle that had sounded so great in our manifestos.
And so, as is reflected in the end of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969, within a handful of years the optimistic and ostensibly progressive hippie counterculture had all but disappeared and had been replaced by the punk movement. Which was full of incredible energy, but largely borne of anger, frustration and disappointment. And however fantastic those first couple years of punk are, even in retrospect, it was of course a movement largely centered around nihilism. Famously, there’s not really anywhere to go after nihilism. It’s not progressing toward anything, it’s a statement of outrage, however brilliant.
And part of punk was its understandable rubbishing of the values of the culture that had preceded it. At the time, I can remember being around 25 and thinking that punk was a movement that was determinedly anti-hippie, and yes, they had a point to a degree. We certainly didn’t do all we said we were going to do with the world, and we had left them a mess.
My position on punk was that I loved the music and I wanted to be involved in it. But unlike some of my associates, I wasn’t going to go out and get my haircut or spiked up. This was their generation, they were all much younger than me, and they deserved to explore it in their own way. Of course, I found out later that John Lydon was about, what, eight months younger than me! [Laughs] And I think that a couple of The Stranglers were nearly as old as my dad. So actually looking back on it, the ’60s generation, for all its faults and idiocies, was still about the only youth movement that actually resulted in what was, for a time, as intended as a genuine counterculture. It is the only youth movement that I can remember that wasn’t predicated upon rage and destruction! [Laughs]
In Jeff Nuttall’s wonderful book Bomb Culture, he talks about how, as a reaction to the vaporizing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the generation that followed World War II represented a kind of nuclear nihilism. Over here in England, we had teddy boys slashing cinema seats and police faces. Over there in America, you had the picturesque juvenile-delinquent culture, as represented by The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. These were both in many ways simply reactions to the new state of the world after the development of nuclear weapons.
So I think that even if the movement of the ’60s never amounted to a genuine counterculture, it was at least an attempt at one. That is the only positive response that a youth movement has since made to the questions of our viability raised by the disruption of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So I see the faults, but also the genuine bravery of those times , which have probably received more flak than they deserve. So I call for a balanced approach. Without having seen the new Adam Curtis documentary, although I really enjoyed The Power of Nightmares, I can’t really comment upon it.
It’s very good, although not as amazing as The Power of Nightmares.
Moore: I remember that phrase from Richard Brautigan’s poem, “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.” I was a big fan of his in the early ’70s. And I think I can remember similar sentiments from the excellent Michael Moorcock’s run on New Worlds, which was the most forward-thinking magazine that science fiction has ever produced. A lot of the critique of our growing mechanization was actually at its strongest, and arguably at its most perceptive, during the late ’60s.
I remember people like the wonderful John Sladek, who was doing endless amounts of incredibly funny sci-fi stories that seemed to have an obsession with codes and encryption. Of course, at the time, I thought, “What do codes and encryption got to do with the future?” Well, as it turns out, rather a lot!
And the New Wave over here certainly had a thematic connections to the New Wave over there, which would have included Philip K. Dick, who was kind of reaching the end of his line by then. His suspicions — well, let’s call a spade a spade here — his paranoia [laughs] regarding the shifting multivalent realities that our technologies would soon make available to us, was way ahead of the game. It seems to me that whatever the flaws of the ’60s, its counterculture has various pockets of very astute and acute perceptions.
An extensive version of this interview appeared at WIRED