Sonic Attack – Hawkwind
In case of sonic attack on your district, follow these rules
If you are making love it is imperative
To bring all bodies to orgasm simultaneously
Do not waste time blocking your ears
Do not waste time seeking a sound proofed shelter
Try to get as far away from the sonic source as possible
Not all music is the food of love. Some music is challenging, ugly, vicious, cruel and cold. Many of my friends like certain bands who perpetrate these kinds of musics. There is almost a family tree which runs from The Velvet Underground throughout guitar music which is bleak and discordant. Deliberately so. It’s not for me. Not much anyway, which is why the vast majority of this blog has been melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, beautiful in one way or another. But of course that’s not the whole story, of my life or any other. Music has been used for war and torture ever since the trumpets sounded out against the walls of Jericho. Eminem was used extensively in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, as was Christina Aguilera. There are theories that early hunters used music to lure animals into the open. Guitars are strung with catgut – the word for sheep or goat intestines. Horn instruments originally were the actual horns of beasts.
I first heard Hawkwind’s Space Ritual when I was tripping in the early summer of 1973. Andrew Taylor – Tat – had bought it – and invited a group round to listen, handing out the microdots first. Tiny little black dots which I knew from experience (see My Pop Life #133 ) were powerful. I’d already done acid – once. I was just sixteen years old, it was 1973, I was in Lewes, East Sussex, with Tat, Martin Elkins, Jon Foreman and Pete Smurthwaite. Adrian Birch declined to trip and thus became the steady hand on the tiller of the next 12 hours. Always a good idea we found. We ‘came up’ sitting around and smoking joints in Tat’s bedroom and Hawkwind were playing live. When Sonic Attack blistered through the speakers into my warping brainwaves I was fully tripping and I almost freaked the fuck out. Perhaps privately I did because I can still remember the flickering light and vibrating forms of my friends who seemed unfeasibly OK.
The hollowed-out voice of Robert Calvert, entirely lacking in compassion but brimming with arch, vitriolic & dripping disdain shattered my illusions of hippy bliss, sharing, getting stoned with mates…
Think Only Of Yourself (yourself)
A horrible little elfin voice echoed the first one – is it Nik Powell the sax player or Dave Brock the leader of the gang ? Chilling, evil, wrong. Ice trickled down my spine. Some of the lads found it funny, especially Jon Foreman who’d also laughed hysterically at The Exorcist which we all went to see that summer (for another post)… Tat chuckled knowingly to himself and poked a biro down a circular rizla tube, evening-out the tobacco and hashish mixture. We only smoked hash in 1973 – it was all we could get. Afghani black, Red Leb or Moroccan Gold mainly. With tobacco. Old Holborn, Golden Virginia or occasionally a Number Six.
Every man for himself…..
Statistically more people survive if they think
Only of themselves….
Was this some kind of test ? Does taking LSD always have to invoke some kind of demonistic energy ? Calvert’s english voice haunts this LP, and it does not comfort the listener at all. It stares out at the void of Space and finds it to be NOTHING.
We walked out of the house after a while, perhaps a cup of tea had levelled things off (always calming) and climbed the steep downland path above Tat’s house. He lived on Southover Street, at the end of Cliffe High Street and below the great chalk cliff which looms above the River Ouse at the east end of Lewes. Up we went towards the golf course, and found a grassy outlook point overlooking the river, the whole town, what felt like half of East Sussex.
Perfect. I remember little of what happened after that, except that we wandered through Lewes, hallucinating gently. But I never forgot the chills of Sonic Attack, and they were to reappear the next time I took acid too, on Kingston Ridge with Andy Shand, in the middle of the night.
The great mythology around LSD was that everything that happened to you came from inside you, that if you can’t handle acid, you can’t handle yourself. Your own fears, your own demons. You wanna see them ? Actually see them ? I realised too late, sitting high on the hillside with Andy at 2.00 a.m. that yes, he relished this aspect of the drug. As the few cars on the A27 echoed into splinters of sound pierced by starlight, he announced without protocol or reason two words :
He didn’t laugh, and neither did I. I suddenly found him to be rather weird. He said it again. I think I might have asked him why he’d said it. His answer was equivocal. We walked down the hill and he sang a few lines of Black Sabbath :
“what is this that stands before me ? A figure in black who watches me…“
Again, I wasn’t full of joy at this image either. My vulnerability increased. I was panicking really. We were in Waterlilies that night, home of The Ryles (see My Pop Life #47 ) and for some reason Tat was sleeping in Conrad’s room with Elvira his girlfriend. At one point I couldn’t stand Andy’s incessant embrace of the darkness any longer so I woke Tat up. Must’ve been about 4.00am He glowed a pale lilac in the moonlight. Even as I tripped I was aware that he was tired. He counselled me words of wisdom :
It’s just the acid. It will wear off.
At which point Andy came in with the cat in his hands, put it down and said :
Urgh… I can feel all it’s bones and innards…
I felt vindicated by this public display of uncool dark glee and drifted back to the kitchen for the apparent organic downer of orange juice as Tat went back to sleep. I was convinced that I had unearthed a vital precious stone, a clue to my so-called friendship with Andy Shand. We had absolutely nothing in common. Christ !
Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones
You have only a few seconds to escape
Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die
Do not panic…
Hawkwind were based around the figure of Dave Brock, a spaced guitarist from Notting Hill in West London, and neighbour of the writer Michael Moorcock. Full-on greatcoat-wearing acid-casualty hippies, the band were pioneers of the Stonehenge Free Festival, (which happened to be the next time I took acid the following summer) and they also pioneered a smoky but eerie space rock sound. The only bands that sounded remotely like Hawkwind in 1973 were Can, Neu! and Amon Duul II, German garage rock now seen as seminal. We didn’t listen to them. We didn’t know them. Masters Of The Universe was our big Hawkwind record, and of course Silver Machine, the single from 1972 which allowed them to mount the huge Live experience which was The Space Ritual Tour, with synths & electronics courtesy of Del Dettmar and DikMik, dancers like the legendary Stacey, lights and smoke, weed and the words of Michael Moorcock, the walking bass guitar of Lemmy Kilmister and the thundering drums of Simon King.
Michael Moorcock I did know, for Tat and I were immersed in the world of Jerry Cornelius, hero of a quartet of Moorcock novels :
The Final Programme
A Cure For Cancer
The English Assassin
The Condition of Muzak
which I thought (aged 16) were flipping marvellous, but I didn’t make the connection to Hawkwind – or at least I certainly didn’t realise that Moorcock had written the words to Sonic Attack. Would I have forgiven him if I’d known that ? He was my hero. I know now it was a chilling spoof of the public information films which polluted our screens in the 1960s, the feeling that an official death was awaiting us all in some soulless nuclear bunker. Peter Watkins‘ The War Game had covered similar ground, made in 1965 but had never been shown on television. BBC bosses felt it was too realistic. We all grew up in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which my parents actually witnessed on the cinema newsreels. My father was in CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament) in the early 1960s and carried me on his shoulders on the first Aldermaston March. Unsafe, safe. Now I was left, alone and abandoned, with my mum & brothers and sister, but fine enough to listen to Hawkwind on LSD without disintegrating into the nearest mental hospital. Unsafe, safe.
On the album Space Ritual, Sonic Attack is on side 3, immediately after 7 By 7 which is a marvellously evocative Space Odyssey-type journey through a meteor shower and a swirling galaxy with “my astral soul” by my side, and includes another spoken word interlude by Bob Calvert as your friends and companions slowly melt beside you, quivering, vibrating softly, juddering into infinite glistening spiderwebs and droplets of mirror, chuckling gently into infinity as their smiles remain like the Cheshire Cat. “A doorway, to which I must go”