Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of… Well I’m certainly not wealthy but as to whether I have taste or not, I guess that is quite a subjective question. I’m going to be plugging my new t-shirt design somewhere in this article, so you can decide for yourself.
There are something about elephants in the room that I find irresistible, I don’t know what it is but I just seem to have some form of Tourette’s syndrome where I have to talk about the thing no one dares say. Whether that be a truly talentless guy proclaiming himself as a polymath, a bunch of sad middle aged attention seekers kidding themselves that they are still cool by draping themselves in fairy lights and riding drunk up and down the prom or by mentioning the unmentionable, that Aleister Crowley, great beast 666 grew up, grew old and died in Hastings. Oh and there is also the little matter of this government systematically undermining the lives of the disabled and vulnerable. I’ll be poking that particular elephant good and hard until the rspca make me stop. There is this fantastic thing that the Japanese do where they casually bat away an invisible fly with their hand. This means, “I know what you are talking about, you know what I am talking about, but neither of us are going to say a word about it.” We don’t have that in the UK. There is a wonderful quote about the band Pink Floyd in the 1970’s before Roger Walters finally left. No one was talking to each other, they had separate management teams and the size of their egos grew to match their huge bank account. “Things got so bad that someone almost said something”. I think this sums up the British perfectly. We mutter, mumble, scowl and silently judge until we hit a point where we implode and by then it’s usually far too late to do anything about it. Heaven forbid the thought that we may not be liked, accepted or be seen to have a strong opinion that we’ve formulated for ourself.
When I first visited Hastings, in the days of dial up Internet one of the first things I wanted to do was visit Aleister Crowley’s grave. I imagined that it would be a Mecca for visiting weirdos of all persuasions akin to that of Jim Morrison’s in Paris. What I discovered was nothing, he had been cremated, quite a rarity for the late 1940’s. I then noticed that he was conspicuously absent from all the town’s tourist guides. As far as officialdom was concerned Crowley didn’t exist. I must admit, I found it hard to fathom, even someone as horrible as Jack The Ripper is a “celebrated” figure in his stalking ground, if eviserating women is something to be proud of ??? So what is it? Too soon? The truth is, I’ve never got to the bottom of the why but I felt at the time and have ever since that someone needed to acknowledge the Crowley connection, that someone has turned out to be me.
So Aleister Crowley, the great beast 666, was he truly evil? It’s a tricky question. Did bad things happen because of his actions? Certainly. But evil? If you read the likes of Nietzsche, evil is a point of view, nothing more, but then again he became a poster boy for the Nazis which isn’t the best of validations. I can think of a handful of people who hate me off the top of my head, does that make me evil? It may make me an arsehole, but evil? No. But then again if the people who hate you are universally regarded as arseholes themelves then being hated is a sign that you are on the right track. The problem with calling anybody anything is perspective, if you surround yourself with people who support your point of view then anything can be right. Casual racism was the norm in Britain up to the seventies and our Tory government was supporting the South African apartheid movement up until the early nineties. It’s important to get Crowley into perspective too, he was born into a wealthy family of Plymouth Brethren, an extreme branch of Christianity that is regarded by many as a cult. Being brought up in a repressive, controlling and technologically backward culture amidst the time of great wonder that was Victorian Britain he eventually began to rebel and kept rebelling for pretty much his whole life. He explored sex, drugs and the occult and then did them all at once. But then, so did the likes of Oscar Wilde, William Yeats and Arthur Machen. There wasn’t anything that remarkable in any of that at the edges of Victorian society. What was remarkable was Aleister’s gift for self promotion. If he was born into this age, he would have been a Bowie, a Kanye West or, dread the thought, a Tony Blair. Like many Victorians, Crowley was an adventurer and a famed climber, noted, amongst other things, for being one of the few people to climb up the treacherous sandy cliff face of Beachy Head, a few miles up the road from Hastings. There was an incident that got him barred from the European climbing community where he refused to go to the aid of some stranded climbers who scaled a mountain against his advice and they all died. Does that make him evil? Or just logical? Crowley didn’t play by the rules in a society full of them and what’s more he didn’t care. This isn’t intended to be a biography on Crowley, you can find plenty of those on YouTube and they have far more detail than I can remember. I just feel that in a world of arms dealers, warmongering politicians, coked up bankers and sex pest celebrities, dear old Crowley probably wasn’t that bad and at least he wasn’t a hypocrite.
So as far as Hastings goes, he went to prep school here, he visited the place often and when, as an impoverished, jaded and drug addicted, old man he returned to England he washed up in the faded old seaside town and spent the last of his days in, the now demolished, Netherwood House. So in terms of connection there is enough for a blue plaque at least, a postcard, a few souvenirs? Obviously not. So this is where I came in with my big hand on a stick for elephant pointing out purpose, first a poster, then a painting, a card, a badge and now a t-shirt. There are lots of hidden details in the image I’ve created but the thing that made me chuckle more than anything was the thought of the most evil man who ever lived sat in a deckchair as an old man, a tartan blanket across his knees trying to eat an ice cream as it melted down his fingers. So in celebration of this rather cosy, comforting and all too human thought I stuck an ice cream cone on his magical hat.
The frustrating thing about getting anything done that involves other people is that achieving anything changes from an endless string of ‘nows’ to an constant string of ‘whens?’. It’s that helpless, frustrating week or so you end up crawling up the walls waiting to see your idea become reality. I won’t use the word boredom as I don’t have to have anything boring in my life, more tedious, I guess. It’s in these moments that things can get weird. After having so much fun making the promotional video for my Clockwork Orange t-shirt I decided to make one for this too. I wanted something akin to the Blair Witch Project, jarring, edgy and scary as hell. Perfect for promoting a seemingly cute t shirt. Erm…….. Yes……… Well………… Anyway, I did the soundtrack first, learning from the copyright issues from my last attempt at being an auteur. This involved screeching, hissing, the singing in my best Micky Mouse and Barry White voices before heavily processing the results with effects and mixing down the resultant cacophony that was once “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside” into something really nasty. Next I spent a jolly evening burning copies of the image used in positive and negative formats whilst trying not to set off the fire alarm or cause such a stench that the neighbours complained. After this the fiddly task of editing seemed like pure joy.
Now here is where things started getting really weird and complicated. I was talking to my stockist, Clive, at St Leonard’s Central and he jokingly suggested that I put the shirts I was making up for sale at the price of £16.66 as a a sly nod to Crowley’s nick name. Whilst the idea greatly amused me my, pea sized, business brain thought “hang on, I’m doing myself out of £1.44 here” and cogs slowly started whirring. My first thought was to find a vastly over inflated currency so that the exchange rate would mean that we could price up the t-shirts at 666 of whatever but the fluctating nature of the world’s financial markets made that a logistical nightmare for all involved. The next logical step was to create my own currency with a fixed exchange rate of 37 of whatever to the pound. This is how the unit of currency I called the Dweeble was created. I like the fact that I can pin down what happened next to one fixed moment because Clive’s comment led me to spend and entire week establishing the Bank of Dweebling and it’s, not exactly, legal tender. I had an amusing couple of days doing the “engraving” or more accurately cross hatching the drawings with a biro so that, when shrunk down they resemble etching followed by the usual soul crushing day of adding all the typography with photoshop before trotting off to the printers. The next problem was getting the paper to sound and feel right, the commercial printers that I use are starting to get used to my eccentric requests but I think wanting to listen to their paper was slightly pushing it even for me but it really did have to feel and sound just right. Once that task was dealt with I had a pleasant few days of “telly jobs”, I do love a telly job! The sort of semi-menial task that requires a little bit of effort but not my full concentration. There were two days spent hand tinting each note with watercolour paint , and an afternoon spent adding the pen details, an evening inventing individual names for each and every bank chairperson as each has a different signature, a nervy afternoon cutting each note to size with a scalpel and an afternoon stamping the security “foil” with a rubber stamp and silver ink. I stopped calculating the cost of materials at the thirty pound mark and the hours spent at a similar figure. Suffice to say, my wheeze to save £1.44 per t shirt has cost me somewhat more. Then again it makes the whole act of buying one of these shirts a work of art in itself, which is why I do them in the first place. You get to keep your note once you have spent it as their unique nature makes each one effectively a gift token that can be voided without damaging them. This also means I won’t get thrown into prison for forgery, treason and a number of other rather serious crimes. After all, I wouldn’t want to be doing something evil would I?