February 1988 Televisionaries
Vagrunts: Apocalypse Now in Stoke Newington comic strip by Perry Harris
Red Army Faction – Generation Zero – Abolition of Work
Smile supplement – Viz – Football
Televisionaries: Red Army Faction – Baader-Meinhof gang pop history was republished
as Vague 26 1994 and has been revised and expanded in digital format as Vague 63 2010/11
‘When fanzines get good is when they abandon the pretext of providing information on new bands and get into egomaniacal self-celebration. And what I’d compare the best fanzines with is rap – in both cases what you’ve got is a kind of theatrical megalomania, which is very funny and also a buzz – because these are postures that are ludicrous and yet strangely impressive. The rambling, aggressive self regard of Bzag, Tom Vague, The Rox, The Legend… the only heads this swollen, the only mouths this big, are to be found in hip-hop.’ Simon Reynolds Melody Maker
‘I treat Tom Vague as a psycho-perceptual phenomenology on the same Prigoginic level as the Videodrome; although Tom Vague is also a human individual – I enjoy the sense of unlimited surreality this opens up, it means I can speak about the marvellous, the fantastic through someone who I consider to embody and truly alone express everything that is Situationist.’ Mark Downham Crash
‘Technofear and Loathing: Is Stoke Newington really like a bad night in Saigon? Grab a copy of the latest wad of literary terrorism that is Vague and you’ll guarantee yourself at least 4 sleepless nights and 3 paranoid weeks. There isn’t a conspiracy theory, gothic hippy band, or Oz cartoon that Tom Vague hasn’t poked his big nose into and exposed in the pages of his annual for Psychic sidekicks. There’s no Vietnam book he hasn’t devoured, and no Situationist text he hasn’t speed-read. If Tom Vague could wake up to the 1980s he could become both publishing king and cool novelist.’ James Brown NME
‘Tom Vague takes the central role in Apocalypse Now retold, from the ‘Vagrunts’ title, with a helmet bearing the legend ‘Hackney Sucks’, through a superbly detailed Perry cartoon that spans a 16 page nightmare bus journey, with assassination of Genesis P Orridge as the aim, bellowing ‘Stanley Kubrick couldn’t direct traffic.’ Mick Mercer Melody Maker
Vagrunts: Apocalypse Now in Stoke Newington
Perry Harris cartoon script tribute to/plagiarised from Francis Ford Coppola/Michael Herr/Joseph Conrad
Urban Vietnam hallucination sequence: Stoke Newington in the rain, off-licenses, video shops, squats, graffiti, intercut with helicopters hovering overhead… air-strike leaving destroyed street… Tom Vague lying on mattress aerial shot, pan out to ashtray, Zippo, Marlboros, Vietnam books, Despatches, Heart of Darkness, Fear and Loathing in Stoke Newington, Hackney Sucks… TV looking through blinds. Narration: “Stoke Newington… shit… I’m still in Stoke Newington… When I was home to finish the last Vague it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was not going back to Stoke Newington. I’ve been here 4 years now, waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker and every minute hell crew squats in the bush he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter.
“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service… It was a real choice mission and when it was over I’d never want another… I was going to the weirdest place in the world and I didn’t even know it yet. Minutes away and hundreds of yards along a bus route that snaked through the city like a main circuit cable – plugged me straight into P Orridge.” Zigzag magazine office, Ray Street, Clerkenwell. William Shaw, assistant editor: “You’ve worked a lot on your own haven’t you, Tom. You’ve interviewed A Flock of Seagulls, the Cure, the Cocteau Twins…” TV: “I’m not presently disposed to discuss those operations.” Shaw: “Did you not sell T-shirts for Classix Nouveaux and the Cult?… Did you not interview Joolz in April 1985?” TV: “I’m unaware of any such activity or operation, nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist.”
Mick Mercer, Zigzag editor: “Tom, you’ve heard of Genesis P Orridge. He was outstanding, and he was a good man too. A humanitarian man. A man of wit and humour. He started Psychic TV and after that his ideas… methods became… unsound.” Shaw: “Now he’s crossed into Hackney with his Psychick Youth of his that worship the man like a god, and follow every fashion however ridiculous.” Mercer: “Well, you see Vague, things get confused out there. The power, ideals, morality and practical commercial necessity in the music business, it must be a temptation to be god. There’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil, and good does not always triumph, sometimes the darker side overcomes what Kris Needs called the better roadies of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Gen P Orridge has reached his and very obviously he has gone hippy.”
Shaw: “Your mission is to proceed to Stoke Newington on a 73 bus, pick up P Orridge’s path at Dalston Junction, follow it, learn what you can along the way, when you find P Orridge infiltrate his group by whatever means available and slag him off.” TV: “Slag him off…” Mercer: “He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable musical conduct and he is still in the business making records.” Paul Flint, Zigzag publisher: “Slag him off with extreme prejudice.” TV narration: “How many groups had I already slagged off? Shit, charging a group with being dodgy in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indie 500. I took the mission – what the hell else was I gonna do? But I really didn’t know what I was gonna do when I found him…
“I was being driven down the road in a 73 bus, a type of proletarian transport, pretty common sight on the roads. They said it was a good way to pick up information and move without drawing a lot of attention and that was OK. I needed the air and the time. Only problem was I wouldn’t be alone. The crew were mostly just kids, rock’n’rollers with one foot in their graves. The one they called Stringy was from Waltham Cross. He was wrapped too tight for Stoke Newington, probably wrapped too tight for Waltham Cross. John, on the tailgate, was a skateboarder from south of Lewisham. To look at him you wouldn’t believe he’d ever played a guitar in his life. Green, Mister Dave Green, was from some South Sidcup shithole. I think the light and space of Stoke Newington really put the zap on his head. Then there was the conductor, it might have been my mission but it sure as shit was the conductor’s bus.”
Conductor: “Where do ya wanna go?” TV: “Don’t worry about it.” Conductor: “You know, about 6 days ago I took a guy who was going up past the Junction at Dalston. He was a music journalist too – heard he shot himself in the head.” Shouting from a park: “Over ’ere!” “On me ’ead!” “Aarghh!” John: “What’s that?” Stringy: “Every time I hear that something terrible happens.” Dave: “Hell crew will never see them or hear them, man!” TV: “Let’s have a look.” Narration: “It was the Stamford Hill squatters first XI, our forward line and midfield. Those boys just couldn’t stay put. The squatters team were old punk rockers who’d cashed their Dr Marten boots in for trainers and gone tear-assing around the park looking for the shit. They’d given the hippies a few surprises in their time here.” Perry Harris, drawing, to TV and co: “Go on! Go on! Keep going! Don’t look at me! Just go by like you’re playing football! Like you’re playing football!”
Gary Kilgore, Stamford Hill squatters coach, to Dave: “How ya feelin’ son?” Dave: “Um, pretty bored and depressed.” Gary: “You’re supposed to say, like a mean mutha fuckah, sah! Alright, it doesn’t matter.” Dave scores. Gary: “Outstanding Dave, outstanding, get you a barrel of ESB for that one.” Gary to Dave after the game: “Do you smell that? Do you smell that?” Dave: “What?” Gary: “Ralgex, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of Ralgex in the afternoon. You know, one time we had a game up the hill, for 4 hours, and when it was all over I walked up! We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinking hell crew body! The smell! You know that changing room smell! The whole hill! Smelled like… defeat… Some day this cartoon strip is going to end.” Narration: “Some day this cartoon strip’s going to end. That’d be just fine with the boys on the bus. They weren’t looking for anything more than a way back to the storyline. Trouble is, I’d been back there and I knew that it just didn’t exist anymore.”
Stringy, at the back of the bus: “I’m walking through Ridley Road market gathering mangos and I meet Jamie Lee Curtis. I make a nice mango cream pudding, you know kinda spread it around on us. Hey, Tom, I wanna get some mangos.” TV: “Don’t go out there by yourself. You don’t wanna go out there alone, not unless you really know the territory.” Stringy: “Fuck it, I’m gonna go eat some mangos.” TV and Stringy get off the bus at Ridley Road market to have a piss. TV: “Stringy.” Stringy: “Yeah?” TV: “How come they call you that?” Stringy: “Call me what, Tom?” TV: “Stringy…” TV hearing something looks round the wall. Stringy: “What is it? Hell crew? Yo boys?… It’s a fucking socialist worker!” TV and Stringy run back to the bus with Stringy shouting: “Socialist worker, man. It’s a socialist worker. Ha ha! Holy shit, fucking socialist worker.” Conductor: “Let’s go!” Stringy, getting back on the bus: “Conductor, you were right. Never get off the fucking bus. Never get off the bus. Never get off the bus, I gotta remember, I gotta remember, never get off the bus, never get off the bus.” John, on top deck: “What happened? How many is it?” Stringy, coming up the stairs: “A fucking socialist worker.” John: “What?!”
Stringy in aisle on top deck taking his clothes off: “A fucking socialist worker. I had goddamn fucking shit for this! You can kiss my ass to the county jail because I’m fucking out! I didn’t come here for this. I don’t fucking need it anymore! I didn’t get on the goddamn bus for this kinda shit! All I wanted to do was fucking paint. I just wanted to learn to fucking paint, man! Ah hah, hah, hah, never get off the fucking bus, bye socialist worker, goodbye.” The journey continues in ominous silence… Then the bus pulls up at a stop by a new trendy winebar. Conductor: “This sure nuff is a bizarre sight in the middle of this shit.” Narration: “Only yuppies could build a place like this in the middle of Hackney, only yuppies would want to. Hell crew didn’t have much use for Filofaxes. He was dug in too deep or sniffing too much glue. His idea of great r’n’r was cider and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home, death or… no, death’s about it… No wonder P Orridge put a weed up the music business’s ass. The business was being run by a bunch of 4 star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away.”
Another bus passes with another group of anarcho-punk squatters on the top deck, one of them drops his trousers at the window, another throws a bag of chips at the TV bus… John jumps off on his skateboard. TV to conductor: ‘How long’s that kid been on this bus?” Conductor: “About 10 minutes, same as you, why?” TV: “He’s really specialising in busting my balls.” Conductor: “It’s very possible he thinks the same of you.” TV: “Oh yeah! What d’you think conductor?” Conductor: “I don’t think. My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking you lot, so I don’t. But one look at you and I know it’s going to be weird – wherever it is.” TV: “We’re going up the road about 7 stops past Dalston Junction.” Conductor: “That’s Hackney.” TV: “That’s classified. We’re not supposed to be in Hackney but that’s where we’re going. You just get me close to my destination and I’ll cut you and the crew loose.”
Narration: “I didn’t belong on this mission anymore, because I had begun to doubt it. Quite frankly it was getting boring, even for me… Stringy: “Hey man, do you realise that man is ’Nam spelt backwards?” TV: “Stringy! Knock it off! What do you think this is? This ain’t the Convoy! And stop smoking that dope!” Dalston Junction: Desperate queue to get on the bus, general scene of dereliction. Stringy at the front of the top deck with Dave looking spaced out: “Dave, hey Dave, what d’ya think?” Dave: “It’s beautiful.” Stringy: “Huh! I mean what’s the matter with you? You’re acting kinda weird.” Dave: “Hey, you know that last barrel of ESB I was saving?” Stringy: “Yeah.” Dave: “I drank it.” Stringy: “You drank ESB? Far out!” Hackney hell crew crusties behind corrugated iron fence shouting: “Yuppie! Yuppie! Yuppie, fuck you! Yuppie, fuck you!”
Narration: “He was close. He was real close. I couldn’t see him yet but I could feel him, as if the bus was being sucked up the road and the asphalt was flowing back into the city. Whatever was going to happen it wasn’t going to be the way I thought when I first had this silly idea.” Something hits the bus. Conductor shouts: “Cider bottles!” Stringy and Dave start throwing copies of Vague 18/19 from a box back at the Hackney hell crew. TV: “Conductor, tell ’em to stop. They’re just trying to scare us.” Conductor: “You got us into this stupid cartoon strip and now you can’t get us out because you don’t know where the hell you’re going do ya?! Do ya?! You son of a bitch! You bastard!” Then to the hell crew: “You suckers come and get it! You sons of bitches!” The conductor is hit by a cider bottle: “Ugh! A cider bottle…” Stringy in the back of the bus: “We ain’t got nothin’, we ain’t got nothin’ now, we’re fucking lost, oh god!”
TV fills his bag with Vagues and says: “You wanna stick with me?” Stringy: “We got to! We gone too far.” TV: “Alright, then we go up the road.” Stringy: “Wait, why you gotta get up there? What’s up there?” TV: “My mission is to make it up into Hackney. I’ve got to interview Psychic TV.” Stringy: “That’s fucking typical! Shit, fucking cartoon strip! We go through all this so you can do an interview? That’s fucking great! That’s just fucking great! Shit, that’s fucking great, I mean I thought we were going to a party or to score some drugs or something?” TV walking away: “No.” Stringy: “No, no, wait. We’ll go together – on the bus. We’ll go with ya. We’ll go up there, but on the bus.” Narration: “Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got there. I knew the risks or imagined I knew them but the thing I felt most, much stronger than fear, was boredom.” The bus journey continues…
Beck Road, Hackney. Sandy Robertson, former music journalist, amongst hyperdelic Psychick youths, waves the bus into the street: “It’s alright, it’s alright! It’s all been approved!” Stringy from the top of the bus: “I ain’t comin’ in there, not with them bastards dressed like that.” Sandy: “Zap ’em with the horn… Ah, that’s a pretty one, move it right in toward me. It’s alright. And you got the cigarettes and that’s what I’ve been dreaming of?” TV: “Who are you?” Sandy: “Who are you? I’m a Sounds journalist. I’ve covered Throbbing Gristile. I’ve been in Tottenham, Bethnal Green, Mile End. Cooe ee! Cooe baby! I’ll tell ya one thing this bus is in a mess, man.” TV: “Who are all these people?” Sandy: “Yeah, well, they think you’ve come to take him away and I hope that isn’t true.” TV: “Take who away?” Sandy: “Him, Genesis P Orridge. These are all his children, man, as far as you can see. Hell, man, out here we’re all his children.”
TV: “Could we talk to Genesis?” Sandy: “Hey man, you don’t talk to Genesis, you listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind, he’s a poet warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes you’ll say hello to him, right, and he’ll just walk right by ya, he won’t even notice ya. Then suddenly he’ll grab ya and he’ll throw you in a corner and he’ll say: Do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… I’m a little man, he’s a great man, I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas… Hey, don’t go without me, OK?” Narration: “Everything I saw told me that P Orridge had gone hippy. The place was full of them – new age hippies, anarcho-hippies, hippy goths. If I was still in straight trousers it was because he wanted it that way.”
Stringy and TV sitting on the battered bus surrounded by Psychick youths including Dave. Stringy: “This P Orridge guy, he’s wacko, maan! He’s worse than crazy, he’s evil! I mean that’s what the man’s got set up here, man, it’s fucking psychedelia! Look around ya! Shit, it’s loco.” TV: “Then you’ll help me?” Stringy: “Help ya? Fuckin’ A, I’ll help ya. I’ll do anything to get out of this script! We could blow all them assholes away, they’re so fucking spaced out they wouldn’t even know it. I ain’t afraid of all them fucking skulls and altars and shit. I used to think if I died in an evil place then my soul wouldn’t be able to get to heaven, but now, fuck, I mean I don’t care where it goes as long as it ain’t Hackney! So what d’ya want me to do?”… Stringy follows TV up Beck Road carrying boxes of Vagues.
PTV compound kitchen. GPO: “Did they say why, Vague? Why they want to slag off my new album?” TV: “I was sent on a classified mission, sir.” GPO: “It’s no longer classified is it? What did they tell ya?” TV: “They told me… that you had gone totally psychedelic, not that you’re method acting was unsound.” GPO: “Is my acting unsound?” TV: “I don’t see any method acting at all, sir.” GPO: “I expected a man like you. What did you expect? Are you a music journalist?” TV: “I’m a rock’n’roll ligger.” GPO: “You’re neither! You’re an outrageous plagiarist whose watched Apocalypse Now too many times and can’t think of any new jokes.” TV sitting on the pavement. GPO drops a punctured football into his lap. TV pushes the punctured football away crying: “Urgh! Yuk! Yuk! Oh no!” Urban Vietnam hallucination sequence again: The old street being demolished and gentrified. Narration: “The horror… the horror… drop the bomb, kill ’em all.”
Stoke Newington after the rain: Representation and difference in Apocalypse Now by Mark Downham
Mark Downham, the cyber-punk exorcist, got off the bus years ago – to become the world’s first method film critic. He doesn’t just review the film, he becomes the film – or 2 or 3 films at once. This was his last shortwave radio message from the worst place in the world.
I am Walter E Kurtz. I am the detonation of the first and last thermo-nuclear warhead. I am annihilation. A savage messiah. I was designed for this. Without morality. Without judgment, I wait for you to come, Willard. I’ve waited a thousand centuries. It will take seconds to infect you. Forget Vietnam. Forget napalm. Auschwitz is here. I was designed for this, this world surreal, this world inverted, this penumbra, this epicentre, the ground zero of extinction absolute, where madness is method and method is madness. I am Lear’s walking fire. I wait, revolving, spinning, dialectically free-associating, the Zen whirlwind. If I didn’t exist your primordial genetic programming – the desire to annihilate everything – would create me. The Amerikan gothik is plugged straight into me. I am the other. You are Willard and I await you in the worst place in the world. Auschwitz. An Auschwitz designed for Vietnam. The only world historical event. My personality will engulf you as you hack, tear, rip me to pieces, for we are twins. Come to this stygian penumbra of slow death, malaria, nightmares. Come through the mirror beyond your own private terror to this horror, this journey to the heart of darkness. Brooding, ever gazing into the blast furnace where I will mould you into death.
I am the final solution. I am Auschwitz run by its own inmates. The pain this causes crushes language. ‘Greatness is the capacity to bear the suffering of others.’ Vietnam, irreality and otherness. The hyperreal, the hype and the horror. The dual fate of Willard/Kurtz is clear. They are forgetting themselves to pieces. They are metamorphosing into pure Videodrome. Apocalypse Now in reverse. ‘You will remember me for a thousand years.’ Adolf Hitler. Apocalypse Now makes Vietnam irreal, because the intelligibility to experience it is missing. The derealising of real world event is an implicit theme of the film. Willard’s eyes are constantly shown registering disbelief that the events he witnesses are reality, but then he has shattered the mirror and crossed over into mythology. Apocalypse Now is Cambodia after the rain, through which Willard (you) is lured, dragged, drawn, called towards Kurtz, who is waiting, killing constantly without judgment, without morality, gazing back into the eye of the surreal maelstrom which is becoming Willard-shaped.
No heroic gestures, no klaxons blare, no alarms ring as Kurtz reaches out to flex his fingers in the stuff that is Willard; but surely, as he must, Willard comes. Somewhere else Apocalypse Now shifts into being war as Videodrome. War becomes cinematographic, televisual, hallucinogenic, surreal; just pure images coded into a fantastic psychedelic-technological semiotic, a hyperreality of surfaces. Here is a war – call it a film – where psychics predict enemy movement, combat drugs are distributed to induce psychotic-berserker visionary states, and experimental accumicon-visored helmets use bio-tech micro-circuits to enhance vision into multiple dimensions. Vietnam 1965 and El Salvador 1995 are interchangeable. War is idiot-servant machine intelligence observing itself. The treatment of Vietnam through Apocalypse Now ensures that war as hysterical violence-cum-insensate savagery becomes film, and film as fascination with this annihilatory vortex becomes war as semiotic. The two superimpose, intermesh, double, exchange genetic codings, united by their mutual overflows of technologies and bodies.
Apocalypse Now is conceived as a world historical event for which Vietnam is only a pretext, a superficial topography. Coppola reaches below the surface into a furious underworld and wakes up the beast. The beast wakes, gazes out through Kurtz’s eyes, smiles like an angel at the knowledge of being the worst thing in the world, then strikes – reaches out and takes this cyber-baroque dream of napalming the tropics, swallows it and recodes the film as a power already filming itself as it unfolds. Power – Apocalypse Now as the anticipation of reality by images, the procession of images and media in relation to events, such that the connection between cause and effect becomes scrambled and it becomes impossible to tell which is the effect of the other. Apocalypse Now is a war, a power, a magical operation of immense proportions, on which the movements of the planes, helicopters and troops are inscribing a mystical sign on the surface of reality, Willard’s retina, in which to survive, you – call yourself Willard – have to figure out your location and move accordingly.
Martin Sheen/Willard, Marlon Brando/Kurtz and Dennis Hopper/Tim Page actually triangulate reality; they locate each other within a coherent map of rituals, exchanges and events. When the other two are overtaken by the expanding hallucinogenic-semiotic topography, reality ripples, everything starts repeating itself and Willard starts to come apart. The film begins as it ends and begins again – a mobius loop – with the Doors song ‘The End’ on the soundtrack as Willard undergoes a nervous breakdown. This scene is wild, intense, intimate – the breakdown is expressive, but of nothing. After all, nothing has happened to him yet. The scene seems to be the initial exorcising of the possibility of expression. After this, as the film goes in reverse, his only expression/emotion – if emotion it is – is disbelief. But what of Kurtz? Kurtz is searching for a savage logic, attempting to decode the capacity of humanity to commit atrocities, to unravel the source, the will to do that and at the same time to understand the methodology of the annihilation of difference, the other.
Vietnam understands Kurtz. Kurtz understands Vietnam. Kurtz is mad. Sometimes Kurtz is sane. Think madness, think method. Think of a snail crawling along the straight edge of a razor. Crawling, laughing, dreaming – surviving. Think of a lethal weapon. Think power – everything is power whispering to itself through every broadcast, tape, transmission, page, reel, and it’s talking to Kurtz. There he goes, he’s really out there, listening, understanding, hacking, gouging, killing – yes, Kurtz is really mad, shot to the eyeballs with method. Willard, in order to understand Kurtz, traces delicately his voyage; through his own voyage they superimpose themselves on each other – each the other’s reflection of method and madness. Willard hits the same vanishing point as Kurtz. The beast smiles, reaches out, flexes its fingers and swallows him. When he rises out of the beast he has become Kurtz and wrapped in methodology, hype, horror, he dances that long forgotten dance of death towards Kurtz, who is attempting to download, on to a tape, the hyperreal coding of Vietnam. Forget Vietnam. Apocalypse Now becomes the expression of Auschwitz, the worst thing in the world. It is a forge in which the two-headed beast, Kurtz/Willard, beats out a primordial tattoo of insensate savagery and nuclear dreams, an hysterical violence. Somewhere Dennis Hopper/Tim Page is questioning everything as darkness falls.