Friday, October 28, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at XOYO (2nd London gig)

Thursday morning was like many others, with the notable exception that I did not have to drag my luggage to another city and another hotel. It's a bit of a relief to stay in one place for a few days. Garry, ever hospitable, offered to take me on a walking tour of the Roman ruins of London, which we did en route to meeting up with Martin, and going to the Griffin for the pre-gig meetup. To be honest, I was not sure I was up for a long walk, though it did prove to be worth it--I had no idea that there were these old walls, bastions, and temple remnants hidden among the marketplaces and tall corporate buildings in the Eastern part of the city. We also visited the Roman amphitheatre recently discovered underneath the Guildhall. The excavated bits were in a room with projections of these Tron-like figures that were likely supposed to represent gladiators and other performers, which was quite unexpected. The amphitheatre is believed to have been built around 70 C.E. and abandoned around the 4th century, and I was impressed that wooden beams still remained from the structure. I noticed a sign that said this was a "scheduled" site, which likely means "registered as an historic artifact", but it sounds peculiar to the American ear. As if the British government has penciled in this site on its calendar. Before going downstairs, Garry asked where the amphitheatre was, and we were told, "Right--go all the way down the stairs, door to your right." This struck Garry as funny, as this is matter-of-fact speech is so very English. ("Hanging Gardens of Babylon?" "Make a right, second door." "Valhalla?" "Take the lift to the 5th floor, turn left." Etc.) We also visited the remains of a Roman basilica that's hidden away in a hairdresser's shop. Quite surreal.

The meetup was rather small, which was a bit of a surprise, as there were many fans who said they would turn up. It is likely that this is because John is doing a tour, rather than just one gig in London. Rather than travel to London, people are probably just going to see John play locally. Martin and I cut out slightly early to head over to XOYO, and I ran into Chris C., Chris O., Steve, and Isobel, standing outside just before the doors opened. The last time I saw Isobel was at the Troxy, and we kept having our conversations cut short, so I was very glad to see her for this gig. Karborn also showed up for this gig, looking almost distinguished in a proper shirt and jacket, though his shoes killed the "distinguished" part. Karborn said he just wasn't ready to be that distinguished.

"The Neat" was the first opening band for the gig, and I was surprised to see that they were traditionally guitar-based rather than a synth band. I ran into someone early on who had been at soundcheck, and thought they sounded a bit like Oasis. I liked their gig overall, as I am not one of those Foxx fans dedicated to electronic music--my taste is very eclectic. However, I did wonder what the hardcore synth fans thought. Xeno and Oaklander came on next, and did a very good set. It's difficult for me to comment very specifically on either band, as it was the first time I'd heard both of them. Garry said he thought Xeno and Oaklander sounded a bit like early Berlin.

John and the band finally came on about 30 minutes late, and did what I thought was a fantastic set. I stood in the back with Isobel this time, rather than being right up front, and the sound was very clear, John's voice sounded very good. At this gig, they dropped "Just for a Moment" from the setlist. I'm not sure if this was because the gig was running late. In the back, I was standing behind some young men who looked like they'd escaped from a bad 1980s movie. This struck me as funny, because the group of them were clearly impressed with themselves. When they finally left, I had a very good view of the stage from the bar area. There were a lot more people at this show than the one on Tuesday.

After the gig, security was keen on getting people out, and Steve had to talk to several people to allow those he couldn't get wristbands for to stay. Eventually it was sorted out, and John finally came from backstage to chat with us. They were all moving on to Benge's studio, and then to their respective places for the night, before heading for Holmfirth in the morning. (At least one person reading this post will realize that I have not mentioned tissues once in this posting. Well, at least not until now.)

So, it is the day after, and I'm feeling a bit sad that the gigs are over. I will miss seeing the band, the crew, and all of my friends here. I very much appreciate the hospitality shown by Chris C., Steve, John, Benge, Serafina, and Hannah while I've been following them around for these gigs, and I hope the tour finishes up spectacularly. I'm also indebited to Paul, Pip, and Rob for letting me tag along on my Oxford visit, and to Garry for going out of his way for me on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Tapio, Martin, and everyone else who bought me rounds and helped me out in other ways while I was here and pretty cash-strapped. Even though I'm tired and I have to go home, I really don't want to, I've had such a good time with everyone, and wish I had more of it.

Tomorrow morning I get on a plane for Newark bright and early. Today I have to switch hotels one last time, and will probably meet up with Tapio, who is also at a loose end before an early Saturday morning flight. It will not be a late night tonight for sure.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Day Off (UK Trip Day 14)

The morning after gigs is always an experience in not heeding the lessons of history. You wake up with a headache, your legs hurt, your eyes are blurry, and you swear that tonight will be different, you are going to take more care, get to bed earlier, eat better. By the time breakfast is over, all of that is forgotten, and the next day ends up being like the previous one. I don't know if it's more a case of not learning from the past or not giving a crap.

Wednesday was my "day off", as it was for the band and crew. I heard from Chris C., who was hanging out in his hotel farther North. I'd hoped to have a drink with him later in the day, but by the time he contacted me, all the trains running in that direction were seriously delayed, so I decided against it. I didn't dare consider taking a cab in either direction--given London rates, it probably would have cost me £200.

I did catch up with a couple of other friends, Garry and Tapio, both of whom were excellent gents, buying all the rounds (and just about everything else) for the entire day. When my lovely scrape from the previous night started acting up, Tapio was even prepared enough to have the right first-aid with him, saving me the need to walk to a chemist. I met Garry around noon, and we walked around Holborn and Covent Garden, up Charing Cross Road so I could satisfy my bookstore fixation. Garry knows this area very well, and was even able to tell me which bookshops were crap and which ones were good. I found an old 1930s hardcover edition of "Ghost Stories From an Antiquary" by M.R. James, an A.O. Spare grimoire (two, actually), and a copy of Crowley's "The Vision and the Voice", a timely purchase considering my recent readings on Enochian magic. The latter was actually published in Texas, which made me think of my friend Phil. The shop owner of Atlantis Bookshop and I had a conversation about Crowley, and she recounted something I did know previously--that the bookshop was the site of the old Mandrake Press. "Crowley has touched the same door handle you just touched when you walked in." I had been looking for Rodney Orpheus's new book, and also volume 2 of Jake Stratton-Kent's Geosophia (she had shelf full of Scarlet Imprint material), but she didn't have either in stock at the moment. When I said goodbye, I found myself thinking of the old Monty Python bookshop sketch, originally performed pre-Python by John Cleese and Marty Feldman ("Funny, you've got a lot of books here.")

We walked up through Hawksmoor, and I mentioned another bookshop I wanted to visit, Treadwell's. I think they used to be on Tavistock St. in Covent Garden, but apparently they had moved to Store Street. Garry reminded me that Store Street is mentioned by John Foxx in his "Electricity and Ghosts" essay. They had closed up for lunch, so we had a pint and then headed over. After that we went to Camden and met up with Tapio. We sat drinking in a Wetherspoon's, for good reason--it's cheap. By the time we left there and realized we were not going to get over to see Chris C., we headed to a small pub in Euston near where I was staying, which had been a Victorian train station waiting room. We were there until last call, which was not far off. (Highly recommend the Redemption Dark Ale, which is a porter).

Today is the last John Foxx gig, and I'm hoping to see a few more people tonight. Tomorrow is my last day in the UK. Going home will be a surreal experience after all of this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at XOYO (First London Gig)

So, back to London. I came in at King's Cross around 2:00, and decided to walk it to my hotel. I don't recommend walking a mile and a half with heavy luggage. Just saying.

Once I settled into my room, I got ready and headed out to what has been traditionally known as "Foxxgate"--a meetup of John Foxx fans prior to the show. This meetup was at the Griffin Pub a block over from the venue. There I met up with Garry, 2 Peters, Andreas, and Michaela. The first Peter was showing us some of his old Ultravox memorabilia, before heading off to soundcheck to take photos. After a few drinks, Garry took us to a chip shop, and then on a walking tour of John Foxx sites nearby (where John used to live, where the Garden studio was, et cetera). This is not a walk to make in high heeled boots, especially since there are cobblestones, and naturally I managed to trip and bang up my left knee, tearing my stockings in the process. Nothing serious, and I decided it looked very punk. After one more drink stop, we headed into the gig.

I saw Rob and went to the front row to say hello, as he was in the photo area. I ended up staying at that point for the entire show. This gig had two opening acts--Tara Busch and the Gazelle Twins. This was Tara's last set for the tour, and I'm sorry I didn't get to say goodbye to her, though I did have a brief chat with Maf when he was in the front. I'd never heard or seen the Gazelle Twins before, and I think I feel about them the way I did about Tara the very first time I saw her--interesting, but not sure what I think. Being tired, a lot of the dreamy, spacey sort of electronica was making me more sleepy than anything else. Not that this is anyone's fault but mine.

John came on with the Maths a bit after 10:00, and the set sounded excellent. I'm happy to say I haven't tired of the setlist, even after hearing it for the seventh time. Like the other shows, there were a few "misses" here and there, and there seemed to be some technical issues going on. Benge had a couple of misses, and I think it was because he was distracted by technical difficulties--either his own, or the ones Chris was trying to sort out on Serafina's side of the stage. I didn't get to really chat with the crew afterward, so I'm not sure what sort of challenges were brought on that night. Standing near me was our friend Tapio from Finland, and also Cian had come from Japan, and I was delighted to see both of them.

I found Steve after the show, and he went and got John to come out of the dressing room. (Benge had mentioned at the previous gig that the XOYO dressing room is really very small, and it was being shared by three acts, so it didn't really feel right to ask to go back there, though Steve initially said it might be all right). I think John was a bit overwhelmed by the people waiting to see him (judging from his facial expressions), but as usual, he takes everything in stride. One guy who came up to talk to him actually bent down and touched his feet, like John was a deity or something, which just made me laugh and shake my head. (The only time something like that doesn't look silly is when a younger Hindu touches the feet of one of their elders, which is customary). Other than a quick hello/goodbye I didn't get to have a very long chat with him. I don't know if they went out afterward, but I presume that everyone is quite tired and looking forward to a day off. I figured that the London gigs would be more chaotic, so I really didn't expect too much else. Hopefully I will get at least a little more time to chat on Thursday, which is my last gig of the tour.

As for me, today is my day off, and I'm looking to catch up with Garry and Tapio. Cab fare in London is ridiculously expensive (it cost me almost £12 last night to get back from the gig), and I'm sure I'll need to do that again Thursday, so I'm going to be very cheap the next few days, and will not turn down drink offers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

John Foxx at York Duchess

I arrived in York on Monday afternoon. The city is very beautiful, definitely the sort of place I would like to walk around and explore. There's a tremendous amount of history here, and lots of buildings that date back to medieval times or earlier. As usual on this tour, I really didn't get to have a proper look around. I stopped for a pint in the Golden Fleece (which they claim is haunted, though that's not why I went there), and then headed off to find soundcheck.

The energy at this gig was different from the others. I did not have a great feeling when I walked into the Duchess, though I couldn't really have told you why. Chris Oliver repeatedly asked me if I was OK, and I really couldn't say anything other than, "yeah, fine, thanks." At one point I was suddenly very cold, to the point that I could feel my bones shaking, which I attribute to travel exhaustion as much as anything else. The soundcheck seemed to go well enough, though there was some problems with Sefa's equipment that they were having trouble sorting out.

From the audience point of view, the gig sounded good, though it was clear that something was going on. Chris O. kept having to run across stage, and then over to the sound board, as both Sefa and Hannah seemed to be having issues. John seemed to be having some difficulties during "Underpass". Later, I learned that from the band and crew's point of view, the show was "total mayhem" (to use John's phrase). The band couldn't hear anything they were doing onstage, and at I saw Chris O. wince and stick his fingers in his ears at one point when Hannah picked up her violin. The main trouble was the sound board itself. From what I gathered (and my knowledge of sound engineering is zero), the sound desk at the venue had all kinds of programmable menus that could be set up--probably a very good and efficient thing if you have time to program it, but coming in cold a couple of hours before the gig was not good, and having to make quick changes through songs when they have to go through several menus each time is a problem. John told me that they were all utterly exhausted from trying to deal with the situation on stage, and from what I understand they were up late the day before, which I'm sure didn't help. At one point I could see my hands shaking while I was talking to him, and I realized it was from lack of proper sleep and food. I mentioned it, and John said that everyone was in the same boat--the band was pretty much the same way after several days of not taking proper meals, and then drinking at night and/or not getting much sleep. I'm actually looking forward to a "day off" in London as much as the rest of them probably are.

There were bright spots to the evening. I finally met Alex S. (who runs the Quiet City blog), and John came out to sign autographs and talk to people who were waiting, including Alex, who hadn't had a chance to talk to him in a couple of years. I also met a very nice gent in the front row called Martin, whom I chatted with between sets. The audience energy was very good, though we did have one person who had to repeatedly yell the name of each song as it was starting up. (I'd seen him wandering around earlier, and it's clear to me that he has "issues"--I won't start making diagnoses, though). However, as Martin pointed out, "Well, at least he knows John's material."

It is now Tuesday (Tuesday? Yes, it is Tuesday) morning, and I'm heading to London for the next 4 days, before going home on Saturday. I will not be doing soundchecks in London, as I hope to meet up with the Foxx fans who are going to the London gigs, and I will know more people there than at any other gig I've been to this past week. London is at least very much familiar territory now, so there will be no guessing about where I am or how to get around.

Monday, October 24, 2011

John Foxx at Glasgow Arches

I arrived in Glasgow on Sunday afternoon. It's a rather busy city, but mostly with your standard business rather than anything of particular interest. To be fair, I didn't really have any time to look around the city, though others tell me pretty much the same thing. I went to the soundcheck at about 3:45, and ran into Tara Busch and her husband, who were just arriving, and helped them bring in their things. I finally purchased a copy of Tara's album--her style has grown on me, and I very much like what she's doing.

I met some very nice people who were there for the VIP meet and greet, particularly Jess and Fraser (hope I'm spelling his name correctly). I also met "Numan Chris" from the Metamatic forum after the gig was over, and I was glad he introduced himself. (Turns out that he knows Fraser). Tara's gig went very well, and sounded good. One thing I should mention about the Glasgow Arches is that it's literally just that--a cavernous type place with huge brick arches. This ought to do wonders for the sound, but it's tricky with electronics, I think. Everyone sitting at the sound desk thought the sound was incredible, as did the band--they said it was the best it had been on tour thus far, and they were able to hear themselves. Standing in the front row, there were several times when many of us were holding our ears, from the loud reverb. "Running Man" sounded very distorted to me, as did the initial sound effects in "Dislocation". But other parts of the gig were perfectly fine. There were some interesting misses in "Evergreen", but they weren't fatal.

I think I have done enough of these gigs now to know what is different when I hear it. The setlist has remained unchanged, which is not really surprising, as John's own material had to be learned by the Maths, and they're going to stick to what they're comfortable with. Benge told me this was the first time he's ever toured--he's done one gig here and there, but mostly he's in his studio. By contrast, Chris Curran, who is the tour manager, has said, "Eh, it's a short tour", so it's no big deal to him. I'm not with the band, but I can say that following them at this pace is quite disorienting at times. From the second I arrive in a particular city, I have to see what time I'm going to the next one. London will be a relief, as I can park my luggage for a few days. On the other hand--I'm going to miss the dynamic of the tour up North. I've been able to spend a lot of time after gigs with the band and/or just John, and while that may be the case in London as well, it will be different.

I asked John where he would be post-gig, and he told me where the dressing room was, which security let me do with no trouble. I had a couple of beers with John, Benge, and Sefa, and we mostly talked about York and it's history, Rennie Mackintosh, and a bit about Umberto Eco (who I'm going to see in a couple of weeks in New York). We didn't spend too much time, as there were fans who wanted autographs, so John came upstairs to sign things for them, and then they were packing up and leaving for their next destination.

Today I head off to York at about 10:00. I have heard so much about the city, I am looking forward to it, and also to seeing some other Foxx fans that I know there (either through social media or who I have met personally). So, til tomorrow. Again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

John Foxx at Liverpool Guild of Students

My Liverpool trip had a rather rocky start. The train from Manchester was packed, and wifi was not working at my hotel. I was assigned to the top floor, and there was no lift in the hotel, so I had to take my 50 pound luggage up 3 flights of stairs. If I haven't lost 10 pounds by the end of this excursion, I will be surprised. My hotel was lovely, right on the lake in Sefton Park, but I didn't have much time to enjoy it.

I got to the soundcheck as they were just setting up, and was around for several hours. Rob and Rob turned up for this one, and I met some other people, some who were doing work for John, others who were there for the "VIP" meetup. Rob told me that John did a Beatles song during soundcheck; it must have been the moment I stepped out to make a call. Dammit.

There was some female pop singer playing in a venue next door, so there was about 8 million teenage and pre-teen girls outside. Some would occasionally walk into soundcheck, thinking they were somehow going to make their way backstage to the female singer's area. Security eventually threw all of them out. We all laughed and thought how funny it would be if they were there to see John.

Soundcheck ran late, leaving Tara Busch about 10 minutes to get set up and checked. The gig sounded good, though afterward I heard discussion that John's vocorder kept fading in and out, as well as the bass. The setlist was the same, and the projections were better at this gig than any other so far. The crowd was enthusiastic, and it seems that at every gig, I hear requests for John to play "Quiet Men". Must be a favorite.

After the gig, the two Robs and I ended up in the Maths dressing room, and had a beer with John, as the others had taken off for a local pub. John was in rare form. We chatted about Karborn (whom John expects to push him around in his push chair when he's old and wait on him), about how much roadies get paid ("They all have fancy estates outside of London. The band lives in council housing."), and yoga (We were talking about difficult yoga postures, and I mentioned that those are to prep the body for meditation. Then John came back with, "Yes, you do that before your medication." He pointed around the room and said, "Welcome to the fabulous rock and roll lifestyle. See how cheerfully the walls are painted, and how beautiful the furniture is, and how the woodwork has been carefully worn by bottle caps, as bands previous have tried to open their beer bottles on the edge of the counter, since they can provide beer bottles but not a bottle opener." (Apparently they found a place on the radiator that worked.)

We helped them gather up everything left in the room as they were getting on the bus, and said goodbye. Rob was kind enough to give me a lift back to my hotel, and I came to the unpleasant realization that I had to be at the train by 9:30 in the morning. (I am actually writing this on the train, fighting off another headache).

John Foxx at Manchester Club Academy (I've lost track of days)

Arrived in Manchester on Friday afternoon. The cab driver who brought me from Manchester Picadilly to my hotel sang the praises of the town. He also told me that he had driven someone in his cab the previous week who was friends with Bob Dylan--and was coming to see him play. The cab driver had never heard of Bob Dylan before then.

After checking in to my hotel and getting myself sorted out, I headed over to where Manchester Academy is located. As it turns out, there are 4 "Academies"--the first is a large building that seats about 3,000, and the academies get progressively smaller until you get to "Club Academy", which holds about 300 to 400 people. This is where John played.

I walked into sound check with no difficulty, and listened to the band go through "Dislocation", "He's a Liquid", "Evergreen" and "Hiroshima Mon Amour". Before they really got going, I chatted with Tara Busch, who was unpacking her own gear with her husband Maf. It turns out she's from Hartford, Connecticut (about 3 hours from where I currently live), and spent time in North Carolina before moving overseas. Tara spoke about John as an influence--she said she learned a lot from being in the studio with him. She was especially impressed with his minimalist style, and his ability to choose what sounds he's going to use "efficiently". As I've mentioned, Tara's songs are a bit complicated, but they are very good. There's probably no need to for her to imitate John's style, though in general, learning different ways is never a bad thing.

Afterward Chris Curran showed me where they were coming out after the gig, and I joined the queue to see what fans were there at the show. There were a number of children at the show--probably ages 6 to 8--which is a first for me. One of the gents at the show was kind enough to show "Manchester hospitality" and buy me a drink. I actually was able to sit on a stool by the side of the stage for the entire gig, and was able to see the stage clearly. There were a lot of people at the gig, but it wasn't packed to the point of not being able to move around.

The gig itself was spot-on; the sound guy later said that it was the best sounding gig out of the three so far, and I think I would agree with him. Tara opened, and this time she had no equipment difficulties. John started the show with "Shatterproof" as usual, and this time said, "This is for all the bankers." The show then steamed ahead, with very intense vocals, and great sound. (There were a few errors, but I have sworn not to reveal them. OK, one of them had to do with the "moment" in "Just for a Moment". I won't name names.). John later said to me that "mistakes happen in live gigs, it's just one of those things." None of the errors were fatal, though at least one was funny. One of the audience hecklers kept asking for them to play "Quiet Men", and then shouted, "John, you are the quiet man!" which made Serafina laugh visibly. The setlist was the same as the previous shows.

After the gig, I went to the backstage door, and Benge and Serafina came out. Serafina went back in and got me a beer. We sat on the steps with Tara and Maf, talking about mistakes made in the gig, and offering suggestions regarding a fancier drum riser for Benge. They let me come back into the dressing room, where John was getting ready to get changed after the gig, and had a couple of visitors. I went with Serafina and Benge to a nearby pub for a drink, and John joined us later. I've noticed that when John likes someone or thinks they're a decent person, he refers to them as "civilised". We talked a bit about the gig circuit, and John mentioned seeing the Talking Heads with the Ramones in Belgium around 1977. I think he also said that Ultravox had opened for Blondie around 1978. ("Now I'm name dropping" he said.) I had a couple of drinks, and when Hannah Peel finally joined us, she ended up going with Benge and Serafina to get something to eat, and I went back to the venue with John, so he could collect his things and go to his hotel.

As we walked, he told me how much Manchester University had changed since he'd been there. "Only about half these buildings were here when I was in school," he told me. We also talked about the difficulties of touring in a different city every day. John said, "I come to Manchester, and think, look how much has changed; I'd love to take a look around. Don't have time. Get to Liverpool. Notice how much has changed. Would love to take a walk around. Don't have time. Looks like they've done some reorganisation in Glasgow; would love to look around, don't have time. And so on." While I haven't been to most of these cities (except Liverpool, and that was just 2 years ago), I think I feel the same way--I'm here in a new city, but I basically have time to check into my hotel, head into town, look around for about an hour tops, and then hit sound check. By the next morning, I'm writing my blog posts after breakfast, packing up, and then heading on to the train to get to the next city. There's no time to explore anything here. Perhaps one day.

John was heading back to his hotel, and offered a ride back to mine, so I took a short ride in the touring van with John and Chris 1 and 2 (Curran and Oliver) to my hotel. Chris Oliver mentioned that he was playing soon in New York with Chameleons Vox, so I need to look up that gig when I get back to the U.S. Now time is flying, it's sunny in Manchester (which I hear happens only about twice a year), and I have to check out and catch a train.

So, now I am off to Liverpool. Until tomorrow...

Friday, October 21, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at Bristol Thekla (UK Trip Day 8)

I finally left Exeter about 12:30, and headed over to Bristol. The train was heading all the way up to Dundee, so it was packed with reservations. Between the guy having a loud argument via phone with his ex-girlfriend because she owed him money (and this is way more than I ever needed to know about him), and the disgruntled couple who were told there were "plenty of seats" on the train after they were given the wrong reservation date and now had to stand, I have to say I was glad to get off in Bristol Temple Meads.

I have been through Bristol countless times, but have never stopped here. The view from the train station is not very impressive (nor from the bus stop to Glastonbury), so I really didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised--Bristol is a lovely city on the river, and my hotel was on something called the "Welsh Back" which runs right along the river front, and is near the Grove, where Thekla (the venue John was playing) is located. My hotel was also surprisingly lovely, as the photos of it on the Internet are hardly a testament to good marketing.

I arrived at Severshed, where there was supposed to be a meetup, and had a very expensive beer, waiting to see who would show up. About 10 minutes later, Rob popped in and asked me to come over to the soundcheck. He helped me finish my beer and we went right over. Soundcheck was mostly with the Maths, with John turning up at the end. Brian was there, as was Cerise, whose name I've heard but never previously met. It was almost 6:00 when we headed back to Severshed for dinner and/or drinks, and there we met up with Mark.

So--onto the gig itself. The setlist was about the same as Leamington Spa, and the dynamic of the place was entirely different. The Thekla venue is on a boat (easy to forget in a place that looks a bit like the Mercury Lounge in New York). Everyone was packed in, and I managed to be up front with Brian, Rob, and Cerise. Tara Busch opened again, and she had some difficulty with one piece of equipment. She couldn't get it resolved, so she decided to forego the first song and move on. Besides that, she did a very good set, and I think her music is starting to grow on me. There are elements of her music that remind me of the Spacedog gig I saw last year in London, and I like it very much.

John and crew came on promptly at 8:30, as there was a 10:00 curfew (for the show, not the club itself, which is apparently open until 4 in the morning). The acoustics were not as good as they were at Leamington Assembly, but the audience energy was high, and the band seemed more comfortable overall. I finally met Benge after the gig while they were loading up their gear, and he mentioned that they were all a bit nervous at the first gig, as they weren't yet comfortable with the setlist. (Apparently he does read this blog.) It may have explained at least some of the tension at the Leamington Spa gig. Interestingly, I was chatting with a fan after the show while waiting for John, and he said that he'd recently been to see Stiff Little Finger, and how different the shows were, mainly because of the lack of audience interaction. I don't think he was being critical of John's lack of interaction (John doesn't banter with the audience), but simply noted that it was a very different experience. Having seen Stiff Little Finger before (only 3 days before the Sept. 11 catastrophe in fact--in downtown Manhattan), I would totally agree with that observation. Right after the show, Mark said it was probably the best John Foxx gig he'd ever seen.

Compared to other sets where they've performed material from Interplay, I'd noticed something different about the sound, and I finally pinpointed that John is singing the songs in a higher range. This has the effect of "lightening" some of the darker sounds of the songs.

To get trivial for a moment--I was close enough to John to see his breathing, and watching how he took in air reminded me of a Reiki Master beginning the attunement process. Those of you reading this who are Reiki Masters (and there are a couple of you) will know exactly what I mean--it's a type of breathing that I've never properly mastered (no pun intended). I only remark on it because it looked unusual.

After the gig everyone wanted to go for a drink, and I did too, but I also wanted to talk to John. The Thekla becomes a nightclub for twenty-somethings as it gets later, and I watched with another fan as these girls walked into the club in skimpy little shorts and half-tops, while the temperature was probably around 39 degrees Fahrenheit. I vaguely remember those days in my own life, and I am just glad that the "can't wear a coat out because it isn't sexy" phase of my life is very much over.

John did come out at last, and apologized for keeping me waiting. In between fan requests for autographs and photos, John and I chatted for close to 45 minutes, with Benge joining us (and Serafina briefly) later on. We discussed Manchester, the next tour stop, and he suggested I check out St. Ann's Square, which he said was "civilised". He said a 15-minute walk anywhere beyond that was not particularly safe, and that there were parts of Manchester that had been fine when he was growing up in that area that are no longer safe. We also discussed my visit to Exeter and prospective Ph.D., which branched off into me trying to explain to John what "Western Esotericism" is. He turned to Benge at one point and said, "Brigid's going for a Ph.D. in things that are not understandable". With John I think it's always a question of us having different definitions of terms (just like he claims his work has no "mythological" component), and to be entirely fair, Western Esotericism is a rather new field. He did like the idea of "Theology of Electricity" (someone's actual research topic at Exeter).

I am now back in my hotel room looking forward to a hot bath and breakfast before heading off to Manchester. Until then...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Medieval Exeter and Such (UK trip Day 7)

It is Wednesday, and a very bittersweet day. I am enjoying my last day in Exeter, but also keenly aware that it is my last day here. I will be happy to continue the John Foxx tour, but it's going to be hard to leave tomorrow.

This morning I was chatting with Loretta, the young woman always at breakfast at the same time as myself. We talked about conditions in America. I have to say I am not missing the constant updates on the election, the proposed job act, the economy, or anything else. I'm more than happy to read Yahoo UK stories about a dog that videobombs (is that a word?) a marriage proposal.

My favorite writing spot is in a pub right across from the Cathedral Yard. This afternoon the sun is shining brightly in the blue sky while a reasonably heavy rain comes down from a single cloud. I've never seen this sun/rain mix in quite this manner anywhere else, and it strikes me as a lucky omen.

I had a meeting this morning with a nice young woman called Alicia, who deals with prospective USA students coming to Exeter. We discussed my Ph.D. plans and options, and there was a promise from her to look at funding opportunities for me. She told me that accommodations would be no problem. "Everyone letting rooms to students is dying to have a female Ph.D. student. You're the ideal type. They don't want to let to undergraduates, especially not first-year students." I'm glad to know that I'm a desirable lot. Now I just need money.

After leaving the university, I headed to the Heavitree area of Exeter to do my laundry. The launderette was staffed by a loquacious Devon woman, who referred to everyone as "my lovely". I could not help noticing her yelling repeatedly at a woman on the phone. When she hung up, she looked at me and said, "Bless her, poor woman, she's stone deaf. Don't think she's got her hearing aid turned up." From her ensuing description of the conversation, it sounds like the woman is both deaf and has dementia. But I didn't mention that.

I brought my washing back to my hotel room, and then headed back to the Cathedral Yard for the last time. The pub I like to visit has an awning, one of the only buildings on that side with an awning. The rain from the sunshower picked up, and there was a crowd of young women at the window, trying to get out of the rain. Within about 10 minutes all had stopped, and they slowly drifted away.

Outside you can hear seagulls everywhere. There is a statue in the Cathedral Yard of Richard Hooker, one of the founders of Anglicanism. A seagull stands perched on his head. It strikes me as funny, and I feel like it has some ironic meaning, though I couldn't tell you what. The town is full of references to Sir Francis Drake, and I find myself thinking of the Monty Python episode about the fake Luchino Visconti ("Dlake has spotted the Spanish Freet, youl Majesty." "What news flom Prymouth?")

I am mesmerized by the Cathedral Yard, and I don't know why. I could sit here for days. Perhaps the age of the place affects me; I have always been in wonder of very old things and places. Alicia informed me that many wealthy Londoners have Exeter as their "second" home. While there is some diversity in town, both by nationality and religion, on the whole Exeter is "really, really white". This may be the only drawback the town has so far. But the locals are extremely kind.

There are free walking tours around Exeter with a local guide in the afternoons, at least until Oct. 31. I took a Medieval Exeter walk today, though it ran longer than I expected, and I ended up cutting out early. Our guide took us into various alleyways, courtyards, and other corners that clearly looked like throwbacks to medieval times, and would never have been noticed if someone hadn't pointed them out. The courtyard around St. Nicholas Priory was especially beautiful. Many parts of the towns and many street names end in "hay": Northernhay, Southernhay Princesshay, Bonhay, Freirehay, etc. He explained that "hay" means "enclosure", so these were various sections of the town that had been walled off. Exeter had seven gates around it, erected around 1286 after the murder of cathedral choir leader Walter Lechlade. Seems like a drastic step (especially since Lechlade was widely hated), but there was apparently concern for the safety of the clergy, so the area by the cathedral was walled off. By the time the tour headed down near the Quay, I decided I needed to get back. I ended up at the Ask Restaurant for dinner (supposedly haunted by the ghost of a monk and his illicit lover). Ghosts or not, the Italian food there is spectacular.

And thus ends my Exeter adventure. Tomorrow I go to Bristol, and will pick up with John Foxx reviews once again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Quay (Exeter and UK Trip Day 6)

Today is my second-to-last day in Exeter. It's a bit stressful, because I've just settled in, and then I'll have to be off again, on a whirlwind tour of 5 places, 7 shows. I had another brief meeting at the university today, this time with Prof. Daniel Ogden, who has written a number of books on ancient Greek and Roman religion, including one on necromancy that has been on my reading list. Talking with him was helpful, because he summed up the difference between British and American scholarship: Americans are interdisciplinary, the British aren't. The comparative approaches we prefer in the States don't have many adherents in the UK, and possibly not in Europe. The concern here, of course, is finding someone who can support my own intellectual approach to esoteric material.

After talking to him, I gave some more thought to Antoine Faivre's classification of esotericism, and decided to re-read something on his approach in the library. It seems to me that Exeter adopts what Faivre refers to as the "critical-historical" approach, rather than a "universalist" approach to esoteric topics. This is certainly to be an expected attitude in British academia, and I have noticed it elsewhere. Now the burden is on me to either define my interests in these terms and get going at Exeter, or to look elsewhere for someone who supports a more universalist approach. On the whole, I have done my homework on departments, and I feel Exeter has more to offer me than other programs, so I will have to give the issue some thought. Tomorrow I talk to the international office about what's involved for someone enrolling from abroad, and what my options may be with regard to funding.

Not all of my time here has been "business", and today was no exception. After a post-office stop, I made my way to the White Hart Hotel for a drink. The White Hart has been around since the 14th century, and the well out back was supposedly home to a "cockatrice", which is a cross between a cockerel and a serpent. It was identified by a foul smell. I suspect the foul smell has other origins, but that was a good enough explanation in 1640. It's a wonderful quiet place, with mostly older patrons, which suits me better that noisy pubs overrun by college students. I am something of an old fogey in my own way, or perhaps just "librarianish".

Afterward, I realized that the Quay was just a short walk from the pub. I headed onto the overpass crossing the M5, and went down a series of stairs by the old city wall, and down to the river. The riverfront has many stores and cafes, and I decided to stop for some tea and to sit by the river. After all, there is nothing more British than a cup of tea, even though most everyone seems to drink coffee nowadays. The day was chilly with a breeze, so I imagine they will not be having outside service much longer. There are birds all along the waterfront--swans, seagulls, and pigeons, mostly. An intrepid brown and white pigeon cased my table, so I gave him my crumbs when I finished eating. The afternoon was wearing on, and soon I realized I had to start to head back. If the day had been warmer, I think I would have spent a lot more time walking around, but things were getting quite raw.





In the interest of being frugal with my remaining cash funds, I've chosen to stay in tonight. Tomorrow I won't be able to do much either, though I am hoping to get in one more good walk around the city. It is a bit hard to believe that by week's end, I will have been in Bristol, Manchester, and Liverpool. At that point there will be little discussion of sightseeing, and pretty much all-John-Foxx-all-the-time, as I won't have much time to do anything else until I get to London.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More Exeter Reflections (UK Trip Day 5)

It's a lovely afternoon in Exeter, sitting in the Old Well House Tavern, listening to the rustling of leaves outside. A chilly October wind has come up, persistent enough to drown out the pub's music and conversation. On the Cathedral Green outside the door, a very chubby pigeon sits on the low wall in the sunshine, bracing his feathers against the cold wind. Eventually he gives up and moves on. It is said that the bones of plague victims are all throughout the ground in the Cathedral Green, piled so high that the occasional bone will stick up through the ground. To my left, there are 15th century buildings covered in reddening ivy.

I'm sitting near the door at a small table with a local bitter, and everything seems in its place. Everyone moves and acts in a manner exactly as I expect; everyone is polite, but no one is in your business. There are unspoken rules that everyone follows, and I feel like I know what they are. When such rules are broken, the British are hardly ever confrontational in a direct way, but more in a passive-aggressive way. The cultural norms are as hidden and old as the rest of the country.

A number of men in suits are standing around a rubbish bin, as though they're waiting for some kind of ceremony. I find myself thinking of the Monty Python sketch about the grand opening of a new mailbox. Tourists and students walk back and forth, wrapped in sweaters, pushing their hair back against the wind. I can only imagine how my own hair looks. A taxi is driving in reverse along the bricked road, with the phone number 66-66-66. The irony of this is not lost on me on a sunny day that was supposed to be gloomy. 666 is a solar number.

Earlier in the day I spoke with the department chair at the University of Exeter, and we had a lengthy discussion about what staff would be most suited to help me with my research interests. He also suggested the possibility of applying at the University of Amsterdam, where I could get a fully funded Ph.D. (though it is very competitive). While the idea is excellent, I couldn't bear to think of being anywhere but Exeter. It's not that people here are any different from how they are anywhere else. I just don't feel like I'm supposed to be anywhere else, as though Exeter has a secret just for me.

The wind is tossing about a great tree outside, making me think of the Algernon Blackwood story about the willows. Two young women, with dark red and purple hair respectively, sit on the lawn of the Green eating sandwiches. There is a delightful sense of integration here, a variety of influences and ages in one place with no conflict, yet no merging. The Jungian in me wants to say it's an individuated community in some sense.

My feet are very tired, as I have been walking around in boots all day. I spend some time examining Exeter Cathedral up close. Some restorative work is being done on the outside, but around the Gothic architecture you can still see gruesome faces and tall figures carved into columns that have been around since at least the Norman Conquest. I should like to examine the inside, and more of the surrounding area, but I am too tired.




My plans for the next two days were going to include a visit to Cornwall, but it appears I will have one or two more meetings at the university, so I am going to stay in town. I don't actually mind; if John Foxx wasn't playing, I'd happily stay here for the rest of my trip.

A phone call to my mother assures me that the cats are fine at home, and my house is still standing. Aside from the cats, I'm not missing home much at all. I've seen three black cats in town thus far--a chubby long-haired one that jumps the fence into the hotel's yard during breakfast, one running up the sidewalk towards the university, and another in front of someone's house along Prince of Wales Drive. I miss having a cat at the foot of the bed at night, though I don't miss the allergies that come with it. I have been remarkably allergy-free since coming to the UK.

Tomorrow will be a very ad-libbed day, as I don't know if I will be suddenly summoned back to campus. If not, it is likely I will get lost somewhere down by the Exe River, or in Northernhay.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Walk Around Exeter (UK trip Day 4)

Today has been a day spent wandering around Exeter. After a gloomy morning that didn't look promising, the sky cleared up and it ended up being a lovely day. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of where I went, I'll sum up my impressions of the town thus far.

The University of Exeter is not very old, but the town surrounding it is very old. Exeter has been in existence since Roman times, and many of the buildings in town are built on Roman ruins of some kind or another. It's an odd mixture of new and old; you'll find a modern Italian restaurant in a 14th century building, old ruins standing next to department stores, a Marks and Spencer's built on a Roman graveyard. The old city wall runs around an incredibly modern shopping district.

In the residential part of town, otherwise ordinary houses have some kind of characteristic that makes them stand out--an unusual paint job, stained glass windows or doors, or other decorations that catch your eye. Combined with the autumn leaves, it makes a striking visual effect when you walk down almost any street.







During breakfast I had a chat with a woman from Scotland, who was newly hired in the university's engineering department. I told her about my doctoral interests, and the obstacles I faced at home with debt, owning a home and such. She said, "I'm sure you'll find a way to get it all sorted." I think she's probably right.

I visited the university this morning, which was beautifully laid out. Like the town, there is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Mostly there are little ecological havens in the midst of the stark buildings. A young woman approached me in a very friendly manner on campus, and I instantly knew she must be recruiting for a church. I was right. I was polite, but tossed her card in the trash after she went away. Pip told me that Exeter was on a hill, and she is not kidding. I found myself walking along the road look down some rather steep inclines.

My next big stop was St. David's churchyard, as I was fascinated by the headstones I saw on the way in. I've noticed that church people don't like you looking at their yard, as if they expect you to desecrate the stones for some Satanic ritual or something equally idiotic. No one said anything to me, but the few people I passed got the looks they gave me returned to them. The stones were not as old as they looked--about 1860s and up. Still, it was a marvelously overgrown churchyard, with tombstone decorations I'd never seen before. In the U.S. I'm used to seeing the old "memento mori", or perhaps a finger pointing upwards, or a willow tree. These headstones had scrolls on them, window panes, and other snake-like patterns and designs that I've never seen before. One grave had a holly tree growing on it, giving it a very pagan feel.

Breakfast was huge this morning, so at lunchtime I stopped in the Ship Inn for just a pint and a snack. I learned from a book I'd purchased on the area that Sir Francis Drake used to frequent this pub, during the time of the Spanish Armada. Supposedly it is haunted by 5 different ghosts. I didn't notice any, but it was a lovely old building. Besides the 3 bookstores, I've noticed no less than 5 Italian restaurants (2 reputed to be haunted). Seriously, nothing more to be said there--2 of my favorite things, Italian food and hauntings. I don't have to be at the Publick House near my home in the U.S. to find it.

I think the juxtaposition of new and old was something quite unexpected for me. I didn't realize how old the town really was--there were even Viking invasions of Exeter, according to the book I've purchased. I also did not expect to feel as "at home" here as I do. Normally when I am in a town where I don't know anyone, I'm in a hurry to do my business and leave. Not so with Exeter--there's a casualness about my feelings towards the place, the same kind of casualness I would have towards my own home in the States.

After having an afternoon nap (I'd walked about 10 miles over the day, after all), it was still sunny and blue skies, so I went out to Bury Meadow, which is across the street from where I'm staying. Bury Meadow is a park, and from what I'm told, it's named after a Mr. Berry who had owned the land at the time. But in 1832 it was used as a graveyard for cholera victims, when there was a severe outbreak. Now there are slides and swings and other such amusements for children. I curled up on a bench with my book until sunset. As I'm writing this, it is dark out, and I'm tempted to go down and take some pictures there, as it is reputed to be extra-creepy at night.

We've had a spate of lovely weather in Exeter, as apparently is the case all over the UK. I see from forecasts that this is about to change, and some places may even see snow. It makes me glad that I brought my 45 pound suitcase (heavy mostly with clothes) so that I am not freezing to death during the middle of the week. I have not yet made my way to the River Exe; I intend to go down to the Quay tomorrow after my meeting at the university.

For now, I will enjoy the rest of the evening doing something I don't get to do very often--relaxing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oxford, Heaven 17 and Exeter (UK Trip Days 2 and 3)

The last two days have been so busy, I've not had much time (if any) to sit down at a computer. Therefore, now that I am sitting in my room in a quiet Exeter neighborhood, I am going to try to catch up with myself.

At both my arriving and leaving Leamington Spa, I couldn't help but notice that the area was familiar. Then I realized that I was between Banbury and Warwick, an area I had been in around ten years ago. The university I work for has a satellite college "Near Banbury" (that is the actual postal location), and I had gone this way when I was there on an administrative retreat. I became quite aware on the trip just how large Oxfordshire actually is.

I went from Leamington Spa to Oxford, and that day was a whirlwind of activity. I didn't really get to go sightseeing in Oxford, which wasn't a total loss, as I'd been there sightseeing last year. I checked into my hotel and headed straight over to the Eagle and Child (or the "Bird and Baby" as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to call it), and met up with my friends Rob and Paul for drinks (and lunch). Afterward we headed to Paul's house, and then picked up his wife Pip and headed back to London for the Heaven 17 show at the Roundhouse.

I am in no way qualified to comment on the Heaven 17 gig. I recall seeing Heaven 17 on MTV when I was a young'un, but I really remember nothing about them or their music. I am not really sure why; Heaven 17 was founded by Martyn Ware, who was originally in the Human League, and I love early Human League material. But I never made the connection. The show itself was excellent. I spent much of my time standing there listening to songs, seeing if any of them rang a bell (and trying to get a "vibe" for whether or not I liked them). Their big hit, "Temptation" sounded somewhat familiar, but I still couldn't swear that I really "knew" the song. For some reason my attention was focused on the dress of the female singer. It was an incredibly 1980s style, which is sensible considering the "retro" nature of the material. But I had a very negative association with it. I recall my brother once describing a woman at his company wearing a dress that sounded exactly like that one--to the office. I have blocked out this woman's name in my mind (no, wait, I haven't--it was Karen), but all I know is that she was a truly rotten person. This was at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a company that epitomized everything wrong with the 1980s. My brother said she was mainly hired because she was sleeping with someone in management, and really had no talent except "to stick her tits in someone's face". Because my brother did not respond to her advances, she looked into his background, and when she found out he was being treated for HIV, she managed to get him fired so he wouldn't have any health insurance. At any rate, that's a long time past, and has nothing to do with the woman in Heaven 17, but association is funny in that way.

Getting back to the gig--Heaven 17 performed the entire "Luxury Gap" album, and then went on to do some rarities, including some early Human League material, which made me very happy (and Rob as well). After the gig we were all knackered, and made the long drive back to Oxford.

It wouldn't really be a complete day in Oxford if I didn't learn something new. In this case, I learned several (mostly) new words. They are:

Oik
"Ish"
Nobby
Sniffy
(the two preceding words are in no way to be confused with "Toppy").

The first one is my favorite. I plan to use it in a sentence when I get home.

The next morning I had a lovely breakfast in Oxford, but also not much time until my train. I went to my room, paid my bills for the rest of the month online, and headed over to Oxford rail station. My morning and early afternoon was spent on trains heading over to Exeter. To get to Exeter, I had to stop in Reading, where I haven't really been since I was in school there 18 years ago. Of course there was no time to go out and look around, but I've been assured that I'm not missing anything.

When I got off the train at Exeter and headed into town towards my hotel, I had a very good feeling. I passed St. David's Church, and marveled at the old graveyard--I will definitely be checking that out before I leave. The town is a strange mixture of the mundane, the old, and the pseudo-old. It is a university town, so naturally there are university students everywhere you go. I went for lunch after checking into my hotel, and everyone was involved in studying or reading at their tables. Not that it was quiet by any stretch. On a Saturday, though, I could hardly expect to find quiet anywhere except in my room.

I went into town, and naturally the first place I gravitated towards was the rare bookshop. It was in an odd place--inside a shopping center (read as: sort-of mall), on the second floor, in a mostly vacant corner near a music shop. I would have expected it to be in a creaky old building. The older gentleman who runs the shop told me about the fairies in his garden. When I made a purchase, he wrapped it very carefully, like a present. I hope he continues to stay in business. I noticed that there are two Italian restaurants in town, which just adds points in my book. My other stops were rather mundane, a run to the mobile phone store and to Tesco's (who actually had J.P. Chenet Merlot, a wine I like to buy when I'm at home, in individual serving bottles. You may think this is silly, but you won't find such a thing in the U.S.). I mainly wanted to get a first look around the town. There is a lot more to see, but I prefer to go when it's not so crowded.

I've had enough of night life for a couple of days, so I am staying in, catching up on writing, and going to bed early. I'm looking forward to more exploration tomorrow, and to curl up in the back of a pub with a pint of Hobgoblin and a good book.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

John Foxx at Leamington Spa, October 13, 2011 (UK trip Day 1)

Wednesday night I flew to London, arrived the next day, and took a train to Leamington Spa to see the John Foxx and the Maths gig at Leamington Assembly. At the end of the evening, John asked me, "Brigid, what did you think?" I informed him that I would be blogging my opinion of the show, because there was too much to say in one sentence. He replied, "Oh yes. Your blog." He said it with that punctuation. I don't know if that's good or bad. At any rate, here is my review of the evening.

There was not much time for anything when I arrived at my hotel. I had time for a quick shower, change, and to run off and meet a friend at a nearby pub for a drink. Later, before the doors opened, I spoke with some very nice folks outside the Assembly. I saw Steve and Rob, and had drinks with Rob and some others before the start of the show. The show started around 8:15, and by the time I got into the room, there were very few seats left. (Yes, there were actual seats, surprisingly enough).

Tara Busch opened the show. I've never heard anything by her before, so this was my first time hearing her. I'm not entirely sure what I think. She has an amazing voice, and played very beautifully. Whether or not I can relate to her material I can't say. I'd have to listen to it more before deciding. In general, I thought she was quite talented, but perhaps not exactly my "thing" musically. I was surprised to realize that she is an American, and it makes me curious about how she got interested in synths. Synth music never took off in a big way in the U.S. the way it did in Europe (we were about guitars for oh so many years).

John Foxx and the Maths came on about 20 minutes after her set finished. The Maths on this tour include Benge, Serafina Steer, and Hannah Peel. Here is a photo of the setlist, with the caveat (per Chris Curran) that it is not exactly correct:





I was a bit taken aback by the start of the show. John began with "Shatterproof", and I recognize that the song is supposed to have a certain harshness of tone. But it seemed like the first few songs in the set were like that--he sang very fast, at a higher pitch, and with a kind of vehemence. At the same time, he really didn't show a lot of emotion to the audience when they applauded; he might give a slight nod or a terse smile. The sort of frozen expressions and language coupled with the very dramatic singing left me with strange impressions. It almost seemed like he was so determined to do a perfect set musically, he'd totally lost any sense of interaction with the audience. The best analogy I can think of for how it felt that isn't sexual--it was like two feuding family members in the same room trying to pretend that everything is wonderful between them, yet the tension is still there. For all the emotion in the singing, it felt like a lot was held back. The net result was an uncomfortable sense of barrier between the performers and the audience; Serafina and Hannah seemed to be affected by the vibe, as they seemed like they were holding back in their own ways, even though all the playing was brilliant. (Benge was in the back looking unaffected by any of it. He may be a bhodisattva). There was a bottleneck on both sides--performers and audience.

Then John performed "Catwalk", and everything changed. Members of the audience got up and started to dance, and that started to put the thaw on everything. John still retained his demeanor through the song, but as the rest of the set went on, he became more natural, and more interactive. That was also the first time I'd really noticed the two women onstage really getting into the performance--the audience energy affected the performers in a very good way, and it felt more like everyone was part of the experience. (Of course, following that song with "Summerland", and then "Just for a Moment" temporarily killed the dance vibe, but it was recovered).The most memorable shows are the ones where you really react to the performance--singing along, dancing, crying, whatever--it should move you. Everyone was moved, but there was an initial lack of expression. Once that broke, there was a wonderful flow that really allowed their stunning performance to come through. At the end of the show, John finally spoke to everyone--first with a "thank you, good night", then after the encore he said, "thank you all for having a good time". I suspect he may have noticed that change in energy as well.

The net result was amazing, making the concert feel like a life-changing psychological breakthrough. Maybe that's exaggerated, maybe it's more a reflection of where I'm at than where anyone else is or was at. Nonetheless, others agreed after the show that some kind of "barrier" was broken after "Catwalk". I do wonder if the presence of chairs in the hall when a "standing room" situation was assumed affected initial behaviors. One never really knows these things. But when they happen in that way, it's wonderful.

I don't wish to suggest by any of this that the first half of the set wasn't good--it was excellent, but that tension does affect things. It's not necessarily anyone's "fault"--sometimes it just ends up that way. In the days when Sleater Kinney was together, I remember that there was a huge difference between shows in Philadelphia and shows in New York. The audience members in Philly were like zombies, and it really sapped the energy of the show. In New York, it was like an ecstatic religious experience--there was no differentiation between the audience, its movement, and the music. Everyone there contributes to the atmosphere. The technical aspects of the show are only a very small part of the larger concert picture.

After the gig, I didn't talk to John for long, as he is en route to the next gig in Poland (I marvel at people who can function without any sleep). He asked me if Steve had given me a copy of the Maths new album (Shapes of Things--and by the way, go buy it. Now. Well, not now--it's only available at the shows. But as soon as possible.). I told him that I had a copy that I'd purchased. "Steve just wasn't fast enough," I said. (Note to Steve: I was joking. I did not expect anyone to give me a copy). "Oh," said John. "You really deserve to have gotten one." I told him I didn't mind contributing £15 to his personal income. I did not mention that I have encouraged others to buy "Interplay" by suggesting that it brings lasting happiness and cures male pattern baldness. But he doesn't need to know that.

So, I'm back in my room after an overall pleasant and rather amazing evening here in Leamington Spa. I will be blogging this entire UK trip--I will be here for 16 days, so be prepared for lots more Brigid-abroad-goodness, as well as reviews of 7 more John Foxx gigs that I will be attending (Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool. Glasgow, York, and 2 London dates).

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Numinous

When I teach classes about the idea of "deity", a word always comes up as a description: "numinous". I think it's fairly meaningless to most of my students, or really, to anyone. It's something they might write down on an essay test, or jot down in their notebook after seeing me write it somewhere.

Like a lot of psychological ideas, they really don't mean much to anyone. The description doesn't invoke any sense of what the word means. And yet all our lives are constructed around the numinous--either rigorous exploration of it, or hell-bent avoidance of it. You might call that the "purpose" of our lives.

So, what is it? It's probably best understood through example. I am not alone in my interest in the paranormal--our curiosity about life after death, ghosts, and other such related phenomena represent our curiosity about the numinous. I don't want to give the impression that this is "all" the numinous is about. It's really about anything we can't explain--things that are out of step with what we gauge as our "normal" perceived existence. It doesn't have to be anything as strange as a ghostly encounter. The "numinous" is anything that hits us out of left field. What I went through with my parents' house last week could be described as numinous--walking into an unexpected disaster, something out of my control. The numinous can make you feel very small, suggests that you are not as in control of your life as you think you are.

There are really two senses of "numinous". One is just as I've explained--encountering the unknown. It doesn't have to be negative; sometimes our lives change very suddenly in a positive way through totally unforeseen circumstances. Our human habit is only to remember the negative, unless the positive experience truly made us a new person. The other sense is that of the "weird". Stephen Carter (author of "Culture of Disbelief") noted that if you walked into a bar and started talking about your religion, people would find you...well, weird. When something happens for which ordinary explanations are not entirely satisfying, we find it "weird". Sometimes we laugh and marvel at the strangeness, other times we are "freaked out". In either case, it disturbs our ordinary vision of the world.

Horror writer Arthur Machen equated this second aspect of the numinous with what we often perceive as "horror" or "terror" in his story "The White People" :

"What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. An if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, an if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?"

Machen also notes in this story that "sin" is the "taking of Heaven by storm". Chaos, the disruption of what we perceive as the natural order of things. H.P. Lovecraft's horror is so successful not because he is writing about some religious battle of good and evil (in spite of any pleading by August Derleth), he is writing about the "acausal"--when the indifferent forces of the universe run ramshod over us, for absolutely no reason at all. It reminds us that we are at the mercy of something much larger than ourselves. Everyone senses this; the only difference between a religious man (in the Western sense) and the atheist (in the broadest sense) is that the religious man wants to believe there is something in the numinous that cares about him, while the atheist is certain that there is not.

We deal with the numinous in various ways. Many of us like to keep busy all the time, and like to always have company of some sort (even if it is in an online message or chat). We do not like long periods of doing nothing with much silence. The numinous fills that silence, and unless we are practiced meditators, that fills us with dread. Those are the times when we start imagining all of the potentially negative possibilities of our lives and others. That is when we hear the voices that remind us of our weaknesses. The numinous doesn't "cause" this, it's our reaction to it. How many people can't wait "to get back to routine" after a long vacation? Vacations are often anything but restful, if that is their intention.

We can be "victims" in the face of the numinous, or we can be "ship captains", and it's really a question of attitude. When the mystical religions talk about "surrendering", they mean accepting the numinous for what it is. Most of us cannot do that--we have ambitions and plans that we don't want to see wrecked. At least one principle of Chaos Magick involves never getting into set patterns, because then we fall into that trap of believing that we are in control of everything. But rather than go mad or go to pieces in the face of that lack of control (or get frozen like the schizophrenic), we should learn how to steer through uncharted waters--hence the "captain" metaphor. A ship at sea does not know what kind of weather it will encounter--there could be still waters that are a bane to sailboats, there could be violent storms. The captain is trained to deal with either situation appropriately, and has also amassed the correct tools for navigating the seas. Similarly--we have our metaphorical tools that provide us with guidance, and our negative experiences should teach us how to react to whatever comes our way. I say "negative" specifically, because if you are sheltered from such things your whole life, you will go to pieces when you're actually confronted with the experience, and no one really escapes it. The compass you have is your instinct--and hearing your instincts clearly all the time requires an uncluttered mind.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Water

The fastest way to have an out-of-body experience is to work and drive long hours, and then work and drive long hours again after only 2 hours of sleep. This week’s out-of-body experience for me is sponsored by God (my mother’s version), my parents, and Shiva the cat. And that’s just this past Friday. The last week is another matter entirely.

My adventure began on Monday. At the beginning of September, I always read Susan Miller’s monthly horoscope for my sign. She mentioned that after the Autumn Equinox on the 23rd, things were going to get “stormy”, so I should prepare for about 3 weeks of “storminess” (read as: crap). I remember thinking about this as I drove to work at the crack of dawn on Monday. I’d had a reasonably good weekend, and was dropping by to check on my parents’ house while they were on vacation. There’s no need for me to do this every day, as they have no living things in the house (pets, plants, etc.). I thought, hmm, what could possibly go wrong this week? (Note: do not ever think this. You will regret it).

Before she went on vacation, my mother stopped before closing the door and said a silent prayer: “Please, God, take care of my house while I’m gone.” (Here is where the God sponsorship comes in). As you know, I don’t believe in a personal God. However, it is clear that whatever God heard that prayer did not like the d├ęcor in her house—particularly not the 1970s-style bathrooms, or the 1990s carpeting, flooring, or wallpaper. So, He or She decided to take the opportunity to “take care” of it. I walked in the door that morning to the sound of running water. The upstairs toilet had a bizarre-looking crack in the front and back, and water had been pouring out of it as it continually filled up, probably for the last 2 days. Long story short—her upstairs carpeting, most of the downstairs floors, and most of the ceilings downstairs were destroyed by water.

And thus began my work week. I think I worked 2 hours on Monday, as I called every conceivable person necessary to deal with the crisis, starting with the fire department (who made sure that there were no fires in the walls from the wet electrical connections—the switches were buzzing), then my parents (who did not take the news well, as you might imagine), then the insurance company, and then a water extraction service. I had to let various people in and out of the house, and the water extraction crew was there for 6 hours. Mind you, I shut off the main water valve first thing, and 6 hours is a long time to sit without a bathroom. (Fortunately my parents’ neighbor let me use hers). Before the crew left, the project manager said to me, “You know, I do 7 or 8 jobs like this a day. This is the hardest one I’ve done so far”. I don’t know if we get a prize for that. Not likely we’ll get a discount.

My “stormy” week continued when a routine thunderstorm suddenly became a torrential event and flooded my basement to a dangerous level (4th time since mid-August). I need to find a reliable drainage method, and I want climate change deniers to pay for it. Thursday night I picked up my parents from the airport, and they went to a nearby hotel for the night. I am not close to the airport or my parents’ house geographically, so I got home after a long drive, and realized I had about 4 hours to sleep before getting up for work. Shiva (the cat) has been rather needy these days when I come home, so I looked at him and said, “Do NOT wake me up before 4:00 in the morning, OK?” He meowed at me, which could have meant, “OK”, or could have meant, “You’ll get up when I want you to, biatch”. I’m guessing it’s the latter, because he started his morning yowl at 2:15 AM.

Let me just say here that the bigger challenges of this week did not faze me. It is little things like being woken up by a yowling cat after 2 hours of sleep that make me want to commit harakiri. I am seriously looking forward to vacation this month.

By the way, it's slated to rain again tonight.