Cold Spring approached Dial House to seek their support for the project and received a response from founder member, drummer and lyricist Penny Rimbaud which indicated that he neither supported nor opposed their plans. Rimbaud explains that while he could in no way be ‘persuaded to directly endorse any Crass bootleg, still less give it “official” approval’, he was willing to write a statement explaining his position on the planned releases. ‘It’s my way of saying “yup, it’s fine by me”, and if others don’t like it, then that’s also fine by me’, he explains.
Rimbaud contrasts the nature of the Southern Records studio recordings with the impromptu lo-fi live recordings: ‘while the studio recordings were a record of how Crass might have wanted it to appear’, he suggests, ‘the bootlegs are documentation of the times as they were, warts’n’all – one big crazy gathering of giggers, liggers, dreamers, schemers, bums and beats’n’bootleggers alike.’
No other former members of Crass have yet commented publicly on the plans; nor has the Southern Records label which continues to manage the ‘official’ Crass back catalogue.
More details will be made available by Cold Spring shortly. News of the planned releases has been picked up by Vive Le Rock and The Quietus amongst other outlets.
There’s a place for us, a time and place…
Thomas Jefferson once said in a letter written in 1813: ‘If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me’.
In a perfect world there’d be no yours or mine because everything would be shared or, at most, swapped in fair exchange. Why’s that? Because in the perfect world we’d realise that there’s no such thing as ‘them and us’, no separation between self and other. In short, we’d be as one and we’d behave as one. Then how do we go about creating this perfect world? Firstly, I guess, by realising that apart from the trials, tribulations and conflicts that we humans bring to it, the world is perfect, silently getting on with its own business without thoughts either of profit, a gaggle of shareholders ever ready to justify corporate avarice, or an army to force the issue. In realising the above and taking it to heart, we’re already halfway there.
When I was a child, my father frequently regaled me with tales of what he called the ‘real world’, demanding that I abandon my youthful waywardness in order to find a place in it. Without a hint of irony, he told me that unless I conformed, I’d never get a proper job. At that time his proper job was as a board member of British Rail, seeing that the trains ran on time which, given the free-flowing nature of the temporal world, they more often than not didn’t. In short, he was setting before me a thoroughly undesirable and unworkable model existence. Coupled with that, he’d often tell tales of a war he’d helped win in order that I should be free which, considering his frequent and rude interventions on my youthful self-styled freedom, seemed entirely contradictory.
The Native Americans considered the land in the same manner as we consider the air; it was beyond enclosure and ownership. Equally, wisdom was shared as ‘common sense’ rather than coveted as intellectual property; the land, water and air were a reflection of that commonality and an inspiration to those who maybe didn’t quite get the message. If modern day capitalists could market air, you can rest assured that they would do so. They’ve done it with the land and water, but when it comes to air, they simply pollute it, thereby in some cocked-up way possessing it – they pocket the profits of pollution while we suffer the consequences, and sod climate change which, not so coincidentally, they greatly profit by too.
Yours? Mine? Anyone’s? No one’s? Intellectual property? Copyright? Mine all mine, but taking into account the transient nature of our existence, can any one person truly hang on to anything within what is commonly referred to as the ‘real’ or ‘material world’? Can an idea be owned when largely it is culled from the pool of ideas to which we are exposed every day by self and others? In any case, why should we seek to possess ideas? In that respect, it’s like love, for isn’t possession the very antithesis of love, an ossification of ideas? Why do we seek to own the object of our love or cosset the product of our ideation? Why seek to consummate and contain them, thus depriving them of their natural freedom? A caged songbird is deprived of flight, deprived of freedom and everyone apart from its owner is deprived of its beauty, albeit one which will inevitably diminish under the deprivations of captivity. In this sense, its captivity is also ours. All forms of enclosure, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, deprive us of our fundamental right to exist free of imposition. Then clearly, if we seek that freedom, we must start by attempting to minimise on the impositions that we place on others and thus, conversely, upon ourselves. In other words, never mind the Rolex, it’s a manacle to time, and time is a manacle to place and, further, both are no more than illusory constructs.
The public domain is a funny place to be. My mother used to talk about public face and private armpit, the armpit being where we stored up our personal secrets. There are things which can be said ‘out there’ and others which, if only out of circumspection, are better left unsaid, at least that’s what she used to tell me. But how much damage do we do through keeping things to ourselves? Is this not the root of the unresolved issues that keep us at each other’s throats or, at the very least, so separate from each other?
Amongst many other things too innumerable to mention, John Lennon is remembered for his aphoristic ‘life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ which, in fact, was first coined by cartoonist, Allen Saunders, when Lennon was still only dreaming of the stardom that gave him the unquestionable right to claim creation of the planet itself, after all, ‘war is over if…’. Nonetheless, as I see it, the saying has deep roots in Taoist philosophy from which by some circuitous route it must have emanated. So who owns what? Rip-off, tip-off or judicious use of common-sense wisdom?
Prior to the sixteenth century and the creation of precise if inhibiting forms of musical notation, musicians knew by heart their body of work, as needs would anyone else who might have sought to replicate them. So, was the humming of a tune picked up from a wandering minstrel an early form of bootlegging or an unqualified and unconditional expression of respect for its creator and joy in its creation? We can freely whistle a blackbird’s song if we have the ear for such musical complexity. Is that, then, an act of bootlegging? Meanwhile, the blackbird sings on regardless, and another dusk draws a close to another day.
It was in the early sixteenth century that what was possibly the first documented act of musical bootlegging was made by the fourteen-year-old proto-punk, Amadeus Mozart. On a visit to St Peter’s, Rome, he heard Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ being performed and later, in the privacy of his lodgings, he transcribed it note for note. Admittedly, on finishing the transcription he had to make a brief return to St Peter’s to check its accuracy, but his achievement surely must stand as confirmation of the power of the mind left to its own devices, and as a major indictment of those who nowadays see Google as being synonymous with memory. More seriously, however, through Papal decree it was in those days forbidden, under threat of excommunication, to transcribe the ‘Miserere’ or to perform it anywhere outside the Vatican. However, on hearing of Mozart’s achievement, the resident Pope was so impressed that he summoned him to the Vatican and showered him with great praises for his youthful genius. The ‘Miserere’, as liberated by Mozart, has since become one of the most universally loved choral works in the classical canon, and one is forced to wonder what might have been its fate without his intervention. One also wonders whether other works of such profound beauty are still confined to the shady vaults of the Vatican alongside other possibly darker secrets.
So, where does all this take us? What on earth has Crass got to do with the Vatican, or Monseigneur Steve Ignorant with the Pope or, indeed, bootlegging with righteous common-sense sharing of common wisdom? The simple answer is all or nothing.
I had, perhaps, hoped to write a brief history of bootlegging, ignoring its alcoholic connections in favour of its more cultural implications. I had intended to begin by citing the first ever performance of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ and the almost complete live solos of Charlie Parker, both of which having entered the public domain in the form of bootlegs, but, as is a common trait of mine, I chose a more universal approach.
But let me now maybe get to the point. Whereas piracy or outright theft is more often than not driven only by a desire for personal profit, and offers little or no creative addition, bootlegs are more commonly acts of love practised by fans who quite rightly want to carry away a memento from a gig which otherwise might be destined to become no more than a faded memory. In this respect, I have always supported and encouraged bootleggers and have been able to thoroughly enjoy listening to their offerings of which, in the case of Crass, there are many. As I see it, if a band chooses not to record their own concerts for the benefit of those who might have been unable to be there, then they really have little or no reason to complain when others choose to do it in their stead: it’s not as if any real theft has taken place. On the one hand we can react with elitist, separatist ideas demanding ownership of a recording which is not ours, or we can accept a wider picture which recognises rights with which we might not all be comfortable, but which, without doubt, express a true democracy, and I do not mean here the political so-called democracy from which we are all in some way forced to suffer, and which I see as a mere extension of ancient feudalism.
When Justin of Cold Spring Records wrote to me seeking permission to release a series of Crass bootlegs, I replied that essentially it wasn’t anything to do with me, him or indeed anyone else, because, in my understanding of it, bootlegs are up for grabs. I might have been Crass’ lyricist and drummer, Justin might be a label owner and someone or other must be the sound recordist bootlegger and, in all probability, ne’er the twain shall meet. However, Justin persisted, and whereas in no way could I have been persuaded to directly endorse any Crass bootleg, still less give it ‘official’ approval, I suggested to him that I could write the essay that you are currently reading, explaining my overall feelings on the subject which, hopefully, I have successfully done. It’s my way of saying ‘yup, it’s fine by me’, and if others don’t like it, then that’s also fine by me.
There are, no doubt, those who might object both to Justin’s actions and my tacit support of them, but, frankly, I don’t really care. Crass happened thirty years back and the party was great while it lasted. Since that time there’s been a fair amount of revisionist reinterpretation of what was or wasn’t the nature of that party, but if anything can recapture its true radical vibrancy, it must be the bootlegs of the period. In a studio recording, we (Crass) were firmly in control, whereas at gigs we were out there and up against the wall with our terror, jubilance, bullshit and profundity in equal dosage. So, while the studio recordings were a record of how Crass might have wanted it to appear, the bootlegs are documentation of the times as they were, warts’n’all – one big crazy gathering of giggers, liggers, dreamers, schemers, bums and beats’n’bootleggers alike. Crass? You bet.
Smash the system? For sure, but of all the systems that are worthy of consideration for such intervention, it surely must be our own ideas that require the most attention. If we can’t change those, we can’t change anything.
Love, blessings and sweet joy, Penny Rimbaud. Summer 2015.