Hit man, myth maker - 45- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: Hit man, myth maker - 45
- Date: 26 February, 2000
- Journal: Guardian
- Author: Steven Poole
- Type of resource: Reviews
- Status: text
- No. views: 7295
- Description: Review of "45" in the Guardian Saturday Pages
Hit man, myth maker - 45
By Steven Poole (26 February, 2000, Guardian)
Bill Drummond the pop star deleted the LPs and burnt the cash; but the
artist lives on.
Little, Brown, 12.99, 361pp
Bill Drummond is a conceptual artist; in fact, he and collaborator
Jimmy Cauty are the only true conceptual artists of the last decade.
And for all the eldritch beauty of their art, their most successful
creation is the myth they have built around themselves.
It was a myth assiduously cultivated. In the early 90s, as the KLF and
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Drummond and Cauty sampled the
fearful alarums of industrialised society and forged with them epic
pop masterpieces such as "What Time Is Love?" and "3am Eternal". They
went disguised in futuristic dayglo boilersuits and gasmasks, or as
robed necromancers with rhino horns poking from their cowls. The songs
were drenched in arcane numerology. Honoured at the 1992 Brit Awards,
they busked a live thrash-metal version of their biggest hit and then
sprayed the aghast audience with machine-gun blanks.
Pop had been too easy to conquer: their rivals were imaginative
pygmies in the face of this situationist onslaught. So Drummond and
Cauty deleted their entire back catalogue and reinvented themselves as
the K Foundation. When Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize with her
monstrous "House", the K men nailed £40,000 in cash to a wooden board
and presented it to her for the worst body of work over the previous
On the remote Scottish island of Jura, they carefully set fire to £1m
and toured the country with the camcorder evidence, Watch the K
Foundation Burn a Million Quid . It was an ideologically charged crime
in a society where the hope of having £1m in the first place is the
officially sanctioned mental opiate, mercilessly pushed every Saturday
night on the lottery. Drummond likes to say he did it "to keep warm".
So why, after all this, does he want to write a book? Presumably
printed literature still secretes a tang of seriousness: after
gambolling around in the foothills of other forms, you scale the peaks
of prose. (Even Tracey Emin, for pity's sake, is contracted to write a
book.) But Drummond has long considered himself a writer, and has
already co-written two volumes. First there was The Manual: How to
Have a Number One The Easy Way (witness his and Cauty's huge smash as
The Timelords with "Doctorin' the Tardis"). And in 1996, Drummond and
Z (aka ex-pop star Zodiac Mindwarp) published Bad Wisdom, the almost
unintelligible hallucinogenic fable of their (real) quest to plant a
statue of Elvis Presley at the North Pole.
45 (begun on Drummond's 45th birthday, and alluding to the 45 rpm of a
pop single) is a collection of short essays. Drummond goes to Iceland
to record songs by an imaginary band called The Fuckers (including
"Teenage Virgin Supermodels Eat Shit" and one "in celebration of the
recent and untimely death of Princess Diana, 'One Less Slag' "). He
reminisces about his early career managing Echo and the Bunnymen and
Julian Cope; analyses his Scottishness; argues with a sinister
rickshaw driver in Calcutta; and meets Tammy Wynette (she cooks him
The book really sizzles, however, with the plans he and his cohorts
draw up for artworks. One, at the height of the BSE crisis, involves
hanging two dead cows from an electricity pylon: "For the previous few
years," Drummond deadpans, "I had relished the idea of stringing up a
beast like this, with no further explanation than a plain cardboard
label with the two words, 'FUCKING COW'... Of course, the reason for
wanting to have just two cows... was not just to have one each but to
proclaim, as loudly and as silently as we could, 'Mu Mu'."
At the last moment he bottles out of this, but with his friend Gimpo
he does manage to drive around the M25 for 25 hours ("I am hoping to
uncover some psychogeographical facts about both the ancient and
modern roads and routes that radiate out of the unseen metropolis")
and hand out most of a truckload of Tennent's Super to the homeless on
Drummond's theories of art are always provocative and deceptively
erudite. But his disarming, self-doubting persona ("I want you the
reader to realise that I can stand outside myself and think, 'What an
arsehole you are, Drummond' ") implies a more interesting, almost
desperate motive for the book.
The last public appearance of the K Foundation was in 1997: renamed
2K, they took to the stage at the Barbican for a 23-minute performance
involving ear-splitting techno, a male voice choir and a colliery
brass band. Drummond and Cauty were dribbling old men in pyjamas,
buzzing around the stage on electric wheelchairs with pathetically
flaccid rhino horns taped to their heads while the PA blasted out the
tune's message, "Fuck the Millennium". As Drummond explains here, the
gig was an attempted suicide: "The show was about the crapness of the
comeback, of blowing one's own myth."
45 is a further attempt to bury the myth. Throughout, Drummond poses
as an ordinary middle-aged man who lives in the country, drinks lots
of tea and spends his mornings in the nearest library, with coffee
breaks in the shopping centre. Yet the myth motors on, pitilessly.
When he goes to Serbia to appear on an underground music station, he
brings a recording of an unreleased KLF song called "The Magnificent".
Soon it "had not only become the theme tune of the station, but the
anthem of the democracy movement... A track we recorded in a day,
never released as a single, thought was crap and had forgotten about
had taken on a meaning, an importance in a 'far-off land'."
As Drummond surely knows, a myth like the KLF's is peculiarly
omnivorous. Just as there can never be any evidence to disprove a
conspiracy theory because the fabrication of such evidence - don't you
see? - is itself part of the conspiracy, so the pop myth of the KLF
can never be blown apart by anything they do, no matter how dumb or
embarrassing. The myth will suck it up, like a black hole.
And so with 45. At its best it has flashes of twisted brilliance
reminiscent of Iain Sinclair or Will Self, but the majority is most
interesting because the author was one half of the KLF. Of course,
that is more than enough glory for one lifetime. Yet the fact remains
that this book will forever labour under the shadow of those horned
men and their gleefully apocalyptic music.
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