Writing about Shane MacGowan in the last blog (my sincere apologies for misspelling his name on several occasions) got me thinking a bit further about the notion of ‘outsiders’, a notion which first gained currency in the immediate post-war period (1945-) and was a marker for a couple of generations of artists, musicians and scene-makers generally. After the success of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider in 1956, it was a cachet to achieve ‘outsider status’. Just look at The Rolling Stones, who carved a career from urinating in a public place, and who now feature a knight of the realm on lead vocals. To be ‘out’, there has surely to be an ‘in’ - the standard OED definition states that the outsider can be “an uninitiated person,layman, person without special knowledge, not fit to mix with good society…thought to have no chance in a race or competition”. What is it about modern society that have made such qualities both desirable and admirable in some quarters? In today’s Trump culture, such a description sounds like that of a ‘loser’, a favourite put-down of Derogatory Donald.
Shane M. is an objective correlative of the paradoxes of this terminology - a supposed gifted poet who has ‘systematically deranged his senses’ (to use a get-out clause invented by the 16-year old Arthur Rimbaud in 1871, to give some sort of gravitas to his laudanum and absinthe excesses, and which consequently gave several future generations of wasters a handy excuse for getting off their tits - ‘systematically’, naturellement). Similarly, the expression ‘drug experimentation’ may be appropriate when referring to Albert Hoffman, but is far less convincing when fans/hangers-on of William Burroughs or Keith Richards try to rationalise their excesses. Part of he 60s and 70s generations tried to make taking drugs out to be a noble, self-negating attempt to ‘explore inner space’, which maybe it was in some cases, but ironically these particular ‘sense derangements’ soon became a sort of norm, once the commercial counterculture got involved, and one more outsider activity had its teeth extracted.
There are some who feel that there are still outsiders operating at the edges (the ‘outsides’?) of rock music, even today - Stephen Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) and Jandek (not my cup of tea at all), for example, and reading an article in this month’s Wire (February 2018) on the Ceramic Hobs group (who were previously off my radar) demonstrates that the notion is still current, in this instance with regard to the ‘outsider status’ of the mentally ill. I’m probably a tad defensive here, as I was for many years a mental health nurse or ‘oppressor’ to use a bit of jargon from ‘’psychiatric survivor’-speak. It still troubles me, even five years after retirement, when I read about Mad Pride, not that such organisations exist (they provide a community often, for people that don’t belong to any), but because they can set up unhelpful (and unwinnable) inescapable basic assumptions of a fundamental conflict between service users and the supposed patiarchy, an updated development of the military-industrial complex, and still featuring the usual father-figure bogeymen. By setting up an ‘enemy’, much psychic energy is frittered away by individuals who are ‘outside’ because they can’t help it, rather than it being part of a career plan. The following is all too typical of the level of debate - “…Recovery In The Bin, a user-led group who see the recovery model are wholly inadequate when people are subject to the crushing pressures of late stage capitalism”. Once SWP language starts being spouted, you know that you are on the road to nowhere, and, more importantly, vague rhetoric starts to replace practical and emotional assistance, which most service users need far more than dialectical materialism.
As I need to end this, I will sign off with the Ceramic Hobs’s Stephen Morris, who seems to want his psychotic cake and to eat it: “..I don’t necessarily think you have to be unstable to be creative but a look at the lives of writers, artists and musicians shows that most of us clearly aren’t quite the full shilling”. This comment really needs a blog to itself, but basically it’s a more right-on update of “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”. Wild Man Fischer is the patron saint of this particular branch of the Outsider Artist Club, rather than Nick Drake Brian Wilson.