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Ode to Manic Street Preachers: 21 Years of Living and Nothing Means Anything To Me

22 Feb

Today is a very important day for me, almost like a second birthday to me. On this day, 22nd February, five years ago I discovered my favourite band: Manic Street Preachers. It was a life changing moment for me. I remember it well, and I don’t remember the moment I discovered every single band; on that grey late winter morning I first listened to their song Little Baby Nothing. I found it catchy but nothing more. The video featured only the singer, and the mystery of the band was yet to unravel. I ended up listening to it many times that morning and that same afternoon I was already listening to their first album obsessively over and over again, and then the second and the third….

Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh band formed in 1986, and originally consisted of four guys, James Dean Bradfield, Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore who were mates since they were kids. The band is still active, although without Richey Edwards who disappeared in February 1995. The band truly sprang from their lovely friendships and a shared feeling of angst, frustration of living in a small town and love for rock ‘n’ roll and literature. I love the fact that they had and have such nice, warm and lasting friendships, and I dreamed of having that myself. They released their first single “Suicide Alley” in 1988, and both the song and the cover photo were an unmistakable homage to one band they loved and looked up to: The Clash. In January 1991 they released a significant single that musically and lyrically served as a prelude for things which were to come: “Motown Junk” which shows both the band’s disdain for old music (the title is a reference to Motown classics) and their love for the American hip-hop group Public Enemy whose sampling serves as the intro for “Motown Junk”. The lyrics show the typical teenage boredom and saturation with culture and everything else:

Never ever wanted to be with you,
The only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in,
Adrift in cheap dreams don’t stop the rain,
Numbed out in piss towns,
Just want to dig their graves

Motown, Motown junk
I laughed when Lennon got shot,
Twenty one years of living and nothing means anything to me.

The same year they started releasing singles such as “Love’s Sweet Exile”, “You Love Us” and “Stay Beautiful” to name a few, that were to become songs on their infamous debut album “Generation Terrorists” released in February the following year.

Bored, alienated, angry, smart and glamorous, a self-proclaimed “mess of eyeliner and spraypaint”, in the early 1990s the Manics were a band that everyone loved to hate, and they, by no surprise, hated everyone in return. They despised their surroundings and deemed everything worthless and even slagged off the bands whose records they owned, such as The Stone Roses. Even the negativity of the song “Motown Junk” is just a performance because Richey later admitted to liking the Supremes and Otis Redding, saying that “everyone has a softer side”. Manics’ original plan was to make a double album which would sell 16 million copies and reach Number 1 worldwide. After they achieved their grand plan, they’d split up, declaring “The most important thing we can do is get massive and then throw it all away.” The album failed miserably in America where grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana were all the rage. Their debut album was an eclectic collage of everything they loved and everything that inspired them. A true musical diary of miserable teenage years; sadness and boredom coated in glamour.

Nicky with their first album, photo by Tom Sheehan, found here.

It brought everything I needed and wanted into my life; the combination of angry guitars and intellectual lyrics, provocative videos and interviews, stylish “glam-twins” as Richey and Nicky were called, wearing black eyeliner and tight white jeans. And the album had a slight over the top-DIY feel to it; as the British magazine The Quietus said later on: “It had to sound passé, it had to be overdone; if you’re trying to bulldoze the shiny edifice of western pop culture, you can’t do it tastefully or with subtlety, can you?” That’s exactly what instantly appealed to me about the Manics; their mix of trashiness with an intellectual knowledgeable basis. They could be giving slightly arrogant provocative statements in press or be deliberately shocking in videos, blending genders and adding a hint of eroticism, but in reality they were well-read and thoughtful individuals, and this combination together gives a whole different appeal than the bigmouth Liam Gallagher in his interviews where every other sentence is “d’ya know what I mean?” The theme of the lyrics switches back and forth from the criticism of capitalism and materialism to more introspective topics which were to prevail in albums to come.

A still from the video “Love’s Sweet Exile”

I was a shy, bookish and slightly clueless individual, and discovering Manics was like getting a direction in life, or more like a guidance on how to be a teenager from someone who knows it all too well. At first I was so captivated by the music alone that I stopped doing everything else, suddenly nothing mattered and I lived through their music, voraciously watched their interviews, read articles about them, searched their photographs, and even ceased writing posts for a while. I spent the next few months in a trance, living in the melodies and lyrics. As time passed, this mad blind passion did not subside but rather branched into more interests; I began to take some of my classes in grammar school seriously, I rediscovered my love for writing essays, I relished in studying sociology and politics because it all led me to the Manics again.

With all the cultural references included in their songs, listening to Manic Street Preachers takes you on an exciting trip; poems by Rimbaud and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”; both awoke in me a wanderlust that I tried to tame with endless long walks on the meadows, woods and by the river. Walking around my boring humdrum small town and enjoying the rare delights of nature in it seemed to be the only thing that eased my restlessness and a sudden overflowing enthusiasm for life.

“I wanna sing about a culture that says nothing. I wanna say the fact that basically all your life you’re treated like a nobody.” (Richey)

I craved excitement, and every new day brought the possibility of it. Rimbaud made me daydream of freedom and an idyll of the countryside with its barley fields and murmuring brooks, and Kerouac on the other hand, with his sad and romantic tales of trips around America and wild adventures with his eccentric friends, left me with a glamorous vision of the world which still hasn’t left me. The melodies of Manics’ songs followed me on every step. At home I would sit on my windowsill and write poetry, getting lost in the beauty of pink sunsets and spring rains, the smell of the lilac tree in my garden would make me delirious. I listened to the Manics every single day, and they took me on a glorious ‘book adventure’; I wanted to read everything that inspired Richey, and I did. I wanted to read everything Richey read and enjoyed, and thanks to him I have discovered some wonderful books which have become my personal favourites: “No Longer Human” by Osamu Dazai, “Thirst for love” by Yukio Mishima, “Naomi” by Junichiro Tanizaki, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, plays by Tennessee Williams, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Rules of Attraction” by Breat Eason Ellis etc.

Manics sparked in me a desire for self-expression, thirst for knowledge and taught me critical thinking. In my school essays I saw a unique opportunity to express my thoughts, and so I wrote them with passion. It’s a bit ironic, because the Manics were so miserable and depressed in their early years, but they gave me a lust for life, a passion, a purpose, and during that short period in time, I really saw life through rose-tinted glasses, and I was unbelievably self-confident and carefree. Their music filled me with passion that inspired me to write this blog, and even gave me a direction; I had found my mission at last. Everything had a strong impact on me; a song, a colour, a sunset, a line in a poem. I felt like I was on an acid trip every day. The awakening of nature in spring coincided with the awakening of my soul: I felt as if I had lifted the misty veil of childhood and entered the teenage years.

I have a very childlike rage, and a very childlike loneliness. (Richey)

Richey became my teacher and I was a diligent pupil, learning not only the books and politics, but also the art of being melancholy and glamorous. My lessons on Orwell and Dazai would be incomplete had I not mastered the art of putting on a black eyeliner around my eyes and donned something appropriate on. It’s clear by now from the pictures that Manics loved looking cool and expressing themselves through clothes too. They changed fashion styles from album to album, and I love their first glam phase the most when they wore white jeans, leopard print coats, shirts with floral prints or hand written slogans such as “Death Sentence Heritage”, “I hate American rock”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll suicide”, “Sensitivity”, “Spectators of suicide” and “Culture of destruction”, bracelets, messy hair, and occasionally red lipstick too.

Richey and Nicky were a perfect pair of faces to have on the wall of my bedroom where I simply sat and read and did things that are generally in life considered to be rather negative, just as Morrissey said in one interview. I like pretty things, and Richey was unbelievably gorgeous in all the pictures I’ve seen. His face, with dark doe eyes and a sad gaze appeared as melancholy as Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne Hebuterne, and with his killer cheekbones he looked as heroin chic as Kate Moss, whose picture he liked to gaze at. This is what Richey had to say about fashion: “If you’re hopelessly depressed like I was, then dressing up is just the ultimate escape. When I was young I just wanted to be noticed. Nothing could excite me except attention so I’d dress up as much as I could. Outrage and boredom just go hand in hand.”

Manics sounded great, looked great, and had plenty to say in interviews, and it was all too easy to fall in love with them.

I found this somewhere on tumblr years ago, and it couldn’t be more true for me, hell I didn’t even wear eyeliner before them!

As I already said, the first song I heard by the Manics was Little Baby Nothing. It’s a really catchy tune with a colourful video full of slogans and it’s a duet with ex-porn star Traci Lords which is really appropriate because the idea that influenced that song was cheap sex, that is, the sexual exploitation of women: “Your beauty and virginity used like toys (…) little baby nothing/ loveless slavery, lips kissing empty/ dress your life in loathing…” Manics needed a symbol, somebody that could sing the lyrics and represent them simultaneously. In an interview from 1992, Nicky said the song was about “a woman who had power and intelligence and was used by men”. I love the part sang by Traci Lords:

My mind is dead, everybody loves me
Wants a slice of me
Hopelessly passive and compatible
Need to belong, oh the roads are scary
So hold me in your arms
I want to be your only possession

No god reached me, faded films and loving books
Black and white TV
All the world does not exist for me
And if I’m starving, you can feed me lollipops
Your diet will crush me
My life just an old man’s memory

And the line “Moths broken up, quenched at last” is an interesting one and a direct reference to Tennessee Williams’s poem “Lament for Months” which meant a lot to the Manics, especially to Richey Edwards, about the moths who are drawn to light which ultimately kills them, there’s that delicacy in moths. I know I’ve focused on their first album a lot in this ode, but it’s just because it was the first album I have listened to and the aim of this post was to share my memories of discovering Manics. I really love their second and third album as well, as well as many songs from all the following albums, but I am a fan of their early years when Richey was still in the band and his influence was evident, both lyrically and stylistically; he was the most glamorous of them four.

Now let me share some of my favourite lyrics, first from the song “Stay Beautiful”:

Find your faith in your security
All broken up at seventeen
Jam your brain with broken heroes
Love your masks and adore your failure

(…)

Your school your dole and your chequebook dreams
Your clothes your suits and your pension schemes
Now you say you know how we feel
But don’t fall in love cos we hate you still

From the song 4st. 7lbs:

I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view

I want to walk in the snow
And not leave a footprint
I want to walk in the snow
And not soil its purity…..

I choose my choice, I starve to frenzy
Hunger soon passes and sickness soon tires
Legs bend, stockinged I am Twiggy
And I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me

Self-worth scatters, self-esteem’s a bore
I long since moved to a higher plateau
This discipline’s so rare so please applaud…

Yeah 4st. 7, an epilogue of youth
Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse
I’ve finally come to understand life
Through staring blankly at my navel

Nicky Wire in 1994

Wreckage inside all that’s real
Another bought product, no reality
Passive consumers with patrolled desires
Mindless countdown to retirement
(Methadone Pretty)

Richey with Nicky Wire, photographed for Select magazine in London, United Kingdom, 30 April 1993

My favourite from the second album is “From Despair to Where” which is also a single. It’s a song that, according to Richey, refers to the western concept of despair which isn’t realistic because everybody has a good living conditions compared to the third world countries, but most of the people feel disappointed with their lives for they didn’t reach any kind of fulfillment what so ever, they just feel let down; by life, universe, society, by the impossible dreams they had built themselves. As Richey said in an interview: “Everyone feels that melancholia regularly.”

I write this alone on my bed
I’ve poisoned every room in my house
The place is quiet and so alone
Pretend there’s something worth waiting for.
There’s nothing nice in my head
The adult world took it all away
Wake up with the same spit in my mouth
Cannot tell if it’s real or not.

Richey and Nicky looking elegantly wasted, by Kevin Cummins for NME cover 1991

Song “She bathed herself in a bath of bleach” is from the album “Journal for Plague Lovers” released on 18 May 2009 (the anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide), and all the songs on the album were written by Richey Edwards, the lyrics he left behind before he disappeared.

She’d walk on broken glass for love
She thought burnt skin would please her lover
To keep love alive and lust beside
Kind people should never be treated like
Empty arms and naked heart
The love she sought through faltering thought
Table for two, such a sweet delight
Whispers “I love you my darling” tonight

Song “Hibernation” is a B-side to “From Despair to Where” and it shows Richey’s vision of adulthood; its chase for money, pointlessness and marriage without love, life with no flair and lived like a repetitive routine of boredom:

This stage of our career
Things get tight
A ring helps get a mortgage

To move out of daddy’s home
Get a bigger car
Easy access to the city

I can read the papers in peace
And laugh at the homeless
I know my friends criticize

But we get by OK
So what if there’s no emotion
We can wake up anywhere

There’s never a row
No time for a kiss
When you’ve got schedules to meet
Trivialities seem so cheap

This is above love
This is more than real
This is all there is
This is as good as it gets-
Intense morality parades

 

Listening to the Manics now, after five years, is a nostalgic experience, and to end this ode I chose a song called “This is the day” which deals with a similar theme. It was originally written by the band The The in 1983, not the Manics, but if you watch the video, you’ll see how much it means to them because they’re remembering Richey and their early days. And this line is specially meaningful for me: “And all the money in the world couldn’t bring back those days”. Sometimes I wish my mind was a tabula rasa again and I could have the pleasure of discovering the Manics, Kerouac and Rimbaud for the first time, and to feel that rapture again!!! I am the kind of person who has been in search of lost times since she was five so even if I am very happy now I tend to be especially nostalgic for everything that passes.  So, to me, this video represents not only the history of the band, but also the history of my love for the bend:

You didn’t wake up this morning cause you didn’t go to bed.
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red.
The calendar on your wall is ticking the days off.
You’ve been reading some old letters,
You smile and you think how much you’ve changed,
And all the money in the world couldn’t bring back those days.

You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes,
You watch a plane flying, across a clear blue sky.
This is the day your life will surely change.
This is the day when things fall into place.

You could’ve done anything, if you’d wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky,
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together, together like glue.

I believe I would have been a different person today had I not discovered Manic Street Preachers. They appealed to me so much because of things that were inherently in me, but they also shaped the way I see life and world, and art to an enormous extend and I am endlessly grateful for that!

Franjo Krežma – Romance in F Major for Violin and Piano

14 Apr

The 19th century audience was fascinated with a virtuoso: a performer who possessed both the meticulous technical skill and inspired interpretation. Around 1830, the biggest stars were the pianist Franz Liszt and the violinist Niccolo Paganini; they travelled Europe, held concerts, had many female admirers, the rich lavished them with jewels…

The biggest Croatian violinist of the 19th century was a very young man called Franjo Krežma (1862-1881), whose career was brilliant yet short. He was immensely popular and immensely talented; he entered the music Conservatory of Vienna at the age of nine – and he was the youngest student ever to enter, and finished his studies at the age of thirteen. He travelled Europe and held concerts along with his sister Ana, a great pianist, in many cities, from Rome, Genoa and Venice to Paris and Prague. In his short life he met Franz Liszt and Verdi, and some even saw him as Paganini’s successor. Still, after holding a concert in Germany, he suddenly experienced a sharp pain in his ear, and died following a surgery. He was only eighteen and a half years old.

Olof Johan Södermark, Maria Mathilda Moll, 1840-48

The more I listen to this, the more I like it, and the daydreams it evokes are of the sweetest nature: I picture myself standing on the balcony, in Livorno or Naples, leaned on the balustrade, dressed in a long white silk gown, cooling my self with a fan and admiring the beauty of the sunset. Sky shines in colours of amethyst and jade, and its warm rich colour could only be compared to the canvases of Venetian masters. My view stretches from tall cypress trees on the left, to a dreamy kaleidoscope of little houses, all the way to the sea which glistens in the distance; its surface is dark and alluring, and I can’t wait to see it bathed in moonlight. The whiteness of my gown takes on golden shades from the last rays of sunshine.

For a moment, just after the sun has set and before the music begins, everything is peaceful. I can almost hear the ruby red roses breathing in the evening air and exhaling the most luxurious fragrance. I can hear the whispers of the lonely cypress trees. I feel a soft, velvety breeze coming from the sea. If I turn around, I’ll see the saloon bathed in lightness and vivacity; candles are flickering, people are chatting and laughing, air is coloured with magical sounds of violin and piano, but to me the solitude of the balcony is sweeter than honey. A heavy scent of orange trees and lavender permeates the cool nocturnal air…

This is my daydream, what is yours? No need to tell me, but please, close your eyes, and I’m sure you’ll see something beautiful.

British versus American Psychedelia

9 Jan

Last Summer I was intrigued to find out the differences between British and American Psychedelia. Whilst on a quest to study all the details, I listened to The Doors and Jim Morrison singing ‘Gloria’ while the last rays of sun peeked through my curtains in sunset, and I felt the gentle summer breeze, and I made these collages. But before I start, I want to say that these are my visions of psychedelia, so, if I failed to mention a particular band that’s because I didn’t listen to it. These are my observations, take it lightly.

***

British Psychedelia – Rose-Tinted Visions of the Past, Myths and Magic

“The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.” (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios)

British psychedelia is more whimsical and deeply rooted in ‘cheery domesticity and a fascination with childhood as a lost age of innocence'(*). It takes inspiration from Romantics and long-haired Pre-Raphaelite beauties, William Morris prints, tea parties, fairies and magic woodlands, love of nature with mystical overtones and books such as ‘The Golden Bough’ by James George Frazer, magical worlds created by Lewis Carrol, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, songs about gnomes, fairies. It’s driven by a desire to go back to childhood and the past.

mood-board-british-psychedelia-1-text

Screaming through the starlit sky
Travelling by telephone.
Hey ho, here we go
Ever so high.‘ (Pink Floyd – Flaming)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-2-text

Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh
Float on a river forever and ever, Emily
There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for may
See Emily play.‘ (Pink Floyd – See Emily Play)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-3-text

I want to tell you a story
About a little man
If I can.
A gnome named Grimble Grumble.
And little gnomes stay in their homes.
Eating, sleeping, drinking their wine.
He wore a scarlet tunic,
A blue green hood,
It looked quite good.
He had a big adventure
Amidst the grass
Fresh air at last.
Wining, dining, biding his time.
And then one day – hooray!‘ (Pink Floyd – The Gnome)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-4-text

The doll’s house, darkness, old perfume
And fairy stories held me high on
Clouds of sunlight floating by.‘ (Pink Floyd – Matilda Mother)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-5-text

All I need is your whispered hello
Smiles melting the snow, nothing heard
Your eyes, they’re deeper than time
Say a love that won’t rhyme without words.‘ (Small Faces – Tin Soldier)

mood-board-british-psychedelia-6-text***

American Psychedelia:

‘Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light
Or just another lost angel?’ (The Doors – LA Woman)

Unlike British, American Psychedelia was driven by the anti-war protests, and teenagers wanted to have freedom and be adults, some even joined communes. As I see it, American psychedelia is all about sun, beach and rock ‘n’ roll. Colourful houses in San Francisco, whose beauty I’ve first encountered in Jack Kerouac’s writings. For me, American psychedelia is Jim Morrisson’s mystic poetry, mixing Indian shamanism and William Blake, it’s Roky Erickson screaming ‘You’re gonna miss me child yeah’ in the same named song by the 13th Floor Elevators, it’s Janis Joplin in vibrant clothes, singing about love in raw, husky voice, it’s the brightly coloured vans with peace signs, it’s The Byrds with their folk-sounds and cheerful guitars, the imagined sunsets on Ashbury Haigh.

mood-board-american-psychedelia-1-text

I see your hair is burnin’
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar
Drivin’ down your freeway
Midnight alleys roam
Cops in cars,
The topless bars
Never saw a woman…
So alone, so alone…‘ (The Doors – L.A. Woman)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-2-text

Unhappy girl
Tear your web away
Saw thru all your bars
Melt your cell today
You are caught in a prison
Of your own devise.‘ (The Doors – Unhappy Girl)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-3-text

She lives on Love Street
Lingers long on Love Street
She has a house and garden
I would like to see what happens

She has robes and she has monkeys
Lazy diamond studded flunkies
She has wisdom and knows what to do
She has me and she has you.‘ (The Doors – Love Street)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-4-text

Hey what’s your name?
How old are you?
Where’d you go to school?
Aha, yeah
Aha, yeah
Ah, ah yeah, ah yeah
Oh haa, mmm

Well, now that we know each other a little bit better,
Why don’t you come over here
Make me feel all right!

Gloria, gloria
Gloria, gloria
Gloria, gloria
All night, all day
All right, okey, yey!‘ (The Doors – Gloria, originally by Van Morrison)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-5-text

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep.‘ (The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-6-text

I’ve seen your face before,
I’ve known you all my life.
And though it’s new,
your image cuts me like a knife.
And now I’m home.
And now I’m home.
And now I’m home, to stay.
The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine.
It’s so familiar in a way I can’t define.‘ (The 13th Floor Elevators – Splash)

mood-board-american-psychedelia-7-text***

Which one do you prefer, British or American Psychedelia? I’d goes without saying that I’m all about fairies, childhood innocence and tea parties, so it’s British psychedelia for me. Nothing’s gonna stop me this time, I’ll make the Summer of 2017 my Summer of Love! But for now, let these psychedelic tunes warm these short but never-ending winter days.

Bohemian Life: Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites, Hippies

27 Sep

Bohemian way of life has always been alluring to me and in this post I decided to assemble my love for Romanticists, Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground scene in the 1960s with a bit of fashion, aesthetics, art and music. I’ve also made collages which serve to substantiate the connection between these three art movements/counter cultures and the bohemian way of life. Enjoy 🙂

hippie romantics 1 text a(Click to enlarge)

‘Cult of genius’ emerged during Romanticism – for the first time in history an artist was considered an individual, an imaginative creature rather than a craftsman as it had been understood before. Romantics were the first rebellions, mostly artists and intellectuals led by the ideals of individuality and freedom they opposed the serious rules of the rationalistic world of neoclassicism. In the aspect of individuality, all the art movements that followed and the very perception of the artist himself owe a great deal to Romantic movement.

It’s not unusual that the word ‘bohemian’ appeared in the 19th century, though a bit after the romantics, but its meaning can fully be applied in context of Romanticists and their lifestyles. Term ‘bohemian’ was first used in French language to describe Romani people because it was believed that they came from Bohemia, Czech Republic, but it later came to symbolize any kind of unconventional lifestyle, often in the poorer but culturally richer parts of the city, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. Bohemians are also seen as wanderers and adventurists. When Pre-Raphaelites arrived on the art scene in the mid-Victorian era, they opposed realism and materialism, and questioned the false values and morals of Victorian society.

A century later numerous young people chose more unconventional ways of living and  opposed the conformist and consumerist Western society – those were the hippies. As you can see, every time period has its bohemians or outsiders. I could write about the large number of artists/bohemians on Montmartre in the late 19th century or the crazy early 20th century bunch on Montparnasse, but in this post I decided to focus on three art movement/countercultures that share similarities in terms of values, ideas, inspirations and aesthetics. How could I not compare the dangerous and dashing Dante Gabriel Rossetti with dark and brooding Lord Byron, and both of them with Syd Barrett for example – art knows no time, art knows ideals, moods and feelings.

hippie romantics 2 a text

Romanticists were rebellions and idealists, and in their works (especially regards literature and music) they put emphasis on subjectivity, love and intimacy, appreciation of nature, and delved into mysticism: they celebrated everything that contrasted neoclassicism and enlightenment. Romantic painters focused on the glorious past, though it often carried characteristics of escapism. The need to escape time or space is a longing which arises from the sense of dissatisfaction in a hopeless reality, and this longing characterised the whole art of Romanticism. Similarly, members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood were fascinated with the past, and in the idealised Medieval world they found the spiritual and creative energy that was (according to them) lost in the industrialised Victorian world. Pre-Raphaelites also found inspiration in their ‘spiritual predecessors’ the Romantics, and their artworks show their interest in mythology, specially Greek and Roman.

A century after the Pre-Raphaelites, in the late 1960s London’s underground came alive. As the Mods and Dollies were on the wane, an alternative scene was thriving in obscurity. Acid heads, pop stars, different eccentrics, artists and outsiders graced the London scene in those years, among that horde was Syd Barrett. ‘Syd was happy being a bohemian, like the romanticised ‘poetes maudits’.* Just like Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites before them, the London hippies drank from the fountain of the past. They drew inspiration from Eastern mysticism (yoga, Hare Krishna, Buddhism, I Ching, Ravi Shankar, Tagore) European mythology, Celts, English folklore, astrology, occult, Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation and vegetarianism.

hippie romantics 7 text

Music: Ravi Shankar

Parallels between Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground can also be drawn in terms of aesthetics. When artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth were commissioned to make posters for the UFO, they sought inspiration in the 19th century Orientalism and artists such as William Morris who was a member of the Arts and Crafts Movements, befriended Pre-Raphaelites and shared their ideas and style. In terms of fashion, one can notice similarities. In both cases, a bohemian lifestyle needed a bohemian fashion to match. Pre-Raphaelites came up with the aesthetic dress movement in an effort to loosen and brighten up the rigid and somber Victorian fashion. Likewise, London bohemians found a unique way of expressing themselves by wearing brightly coloured satin, floral prints, wooden bracelets, antique silver jewellery, bizarre and floral prints, velvet trousers, flowing silks… Although they lived a century apart, in terms of aesthetics and style, Jane Morris with her loosely cut dresses in natural fabrics and Marianne Faithfull or Brian Jones with their extravagant psychedelic outfits rightfully belong to the same stylistic universe.

hippie romantics 3 textMusic: Pink Floyd – Chapter 24

Apart from the fact they were inspired by similar things, these three groups of bohemians also shared some ideas despite the fact that they lived in different times and in differently structured society and social norms. Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites and hippies all shared ideas of originality, idealism, emphasis on feelings and love towards nature. Love, intimacy and identification with nature was for Romantics a wellspring of deep, almost mystical rapture. In poetry Nature reflected the way artist felt, but also influenced his feelings. As for Pre-Raphaelites, their paintings speak for themselves, but I won’t fail to mention the patience with which Millais painted the nature surrounding his drowning Ophelia. For London Underground, a part of which was formed by a group of young people from Cambridge, including Syd, nature was part of the growing up; they all enjoyed the Cantabrigian landscape, long walks by the river, in the woods. For Syd nature was imbued with mystical overtones, and he had a spiritual connection with it. I’ll quote the book:

”This profound connection with nature never left him. In his lyrics, the sky was a woman, and love was air.”*

Another thing they shared in common was the ideal of ‘free love’; a social movement which rejects marriage and perceives it as a form of social and financial bondage. It’s not the same as supporting promiscuity. Although the idea of free love is mostly associated with hippies and counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s, ‘free love’ was a much more radical and controversial concept earlier in the past than in the ’60s. Many Romantic poets supported the idea of ‘free love’, William Blake and Shelley among them. For example, Blake believed that ‘humans were ‘fallen’ and that a major impediment to a free love society was corrupt human nature.’ Percy Shelley, along with Mary Shelley who had inherited her mother’s liberal worldviews, also supported free love, along with vegetarianism – another trait common with hippies. As for the Pre-Raphaelites, one doesn’t need to go too far, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a good example because he lived with Elizabeth Siddal c. ten years before they married, an act very scandalous in Victorian times.

hippie romantics 4 textMusic: Syd Barrett – Opel

Caspar David Friedrich, the most famous German Romantic painter, is well-known for his landscapes with figures turning their backs on the viewers, as if they are gazing towards something eternal and infinite. Syd Barrett’s song Opel reminded me of Friedrich’s painting ‘Moonrise over the Sea’ which can be seen in the collage above. The beginning of the song beautifully captures Friedrich’s landscapes of skies in the dusk, evening or moonrises, emptiness painted in soft transitions of purple and yellow colour, tiny figures against the vast backdrop of the sea…

On a distant shore, miles from land
Stands the ebony totem in ebony sand
A dream in a mist of grey…
On a far distant shore…” (Syd Barrett – Opel)

In addition to the ideas shared by all three groups of bohemians, Romantics and hippies also shared the idea of pacifism, specially Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, the mood of Romanticism was a mood of disappointment, melancholy, sadness, loss of hope in society, whilst hippies tended to be a rather cheerful bunch (maybe Romantics would have been merry too, had they used acid), putting emphasis on altruism and their inner peace. Live and let live.

hippie romantics 8 text

And last, but not least, we could see how these bohemians lived their lives in different times and expressed their ideas. Percy Bysshe Shelley for example, lived a short but turbulent and unconventional life (as did many bohemians =). In poetry he cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’, and supported idealism, nonviolence, social justice and vegetarianism (he supported rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly!). With his strong principles and interesting ideas he became a hero for the generation that followed, poets beyond Europe, such as Rabindranath Tagore (whom the hippies loved) admired his work. Lord Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know‘ led a completely different life, with more danger than integrity, but his actions are good examples of unconventionality. He had numerous love affairs, you could say that free love was his cup of tea, fought in Greece and died there also very young.

As for Pre-Raphaelites, well William Holman Hunt traveled a bit, Millais ‘stole’ Ruskin’s wife Effie and had eight children, and Rossetti lived with Elizabeth Siddal until she overdosed on laudanum and died, painted a few beautiful red haired models, then retreated himself in a house in Chelsea, London, surrounded by ‘extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals’. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mother Frances Mary Polidori was John Polidori’s sister? And John Polidori was a friend of both Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. Strange.

hippie romantics 5 text

First and foremost, London bohemians of the late ’60s disapproved the lifestyle their parents led so the natural thing to do was to behave in a totally different way; to begin with they listened to blues records, wore colourful clothes and accepted a laid back attitude to life. They traded the drab and grey post-war reality with a colourful, psychedelic and mystical world of arts, music, flamboyance, love and freedom.

All in all, bohemianism is a personal, cultural and social reaction to the bourgeois life. The choice is yours, ladies and gentleman. Peace.

*Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe – Julian Palacios