Sunday, December 5, 2010

Killing Joke - "Good Samaritan" from the CD Revelations

Killing Joke Revelations album coverAh, Jaz Coleman! Ah, humanity!

What vital place in the soul does the mystic hold?

With the mighty Killing Joke having in the last fortnight released their 14th album, Absolute Dissent, and it being as apocalyptic, perhaps, as any KJ album since Revelations, I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at the centererpiece (to my ears at least--YRMV) of that third album, the masterpiece of bitter irony and hermetic paranoia that is "Good Samaritan."

It's no (heh-heh) Great Secret that KJ leader Jaz Coleman has been and remains postpunk's preeminent mystic. He claims to have organized his life and his band around Rosicrucian principles, The Rosy Crossto have in fact created Killing Joke, to have recruited guitarist Geordie and bassist Youth into the band as founding members, through the influence of Rosicrucian ritual magic. He claims to be a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn.

And of course Revelations is adorned with the symbols and the purported symbols of Freemasonry. The T-square and the compass--perhaps the Masons' most recognizable sigil--are displayed on the back cover. Too, featured prominently on each side of the LP's record sleeve are reproductions of the great seals affixed to the dollar bill and to the pound note, the Eye of Providence and the caduceus having long since been imagined by conspiracy-theorists and mystics to have been placed in these seals by the Freemasons who founded each country's bank.

The title that Coleman chose for the album refers of course to The Book of Revelations, which is itself known by a variant title The Apocalypse. And it is the Apocalypse with which Coleman is consistently concerned. In 2010, with the Cold War consigned safely to history, the apocalypse referred to in songs on Absolute Dissent is couched in terms of alarmist Malthusian principles (as on "The Great Cull") or in terms of a Kurzweilian singularity (as on "Here Comes the Singularity," natch).

But in 1982, with the United States run by a born-again trigger-happy cowboy by the name of Reagan, and with the Soviet Union on the edge of instability as Brezhnev lay on his deathbed, Coleman can almost be forgiven if he saw the future's dark horizon in nuclear terms. Read the lyrics and it almost makes sense to split for Iceland and wait for Ragnarok there:

Bright clothes and smiles and we'll talk sunshine
Although the light bulb's dim
And my beach ball is getting dusty
And the fun wears thin - thin.
It's much the same everywhere
Diversions right and we're ready to dance

Complacency seemed to kill the cat
Curiosity led me on
On what foundation is your pedestal built
The great architect to a tower block
And Uncle Sam says it's not long now
And we can play our way
My Marvel comic says a hawkheaded man
Led to a brighter day
It's much the same everywhere
We're getting ready and we're ready to dance

Happy, so happy, I just accept the way things are
I'll stick to songs - that's real
So happy

La la la

Dark indeed, and not just for the bitter, bitter sarcasm that puts such future exercises in cynical irony as The Minutemen's "Number One Hit Song" to shame. Coleman is not trying to write his lyrics plainly. To do so would be to violate the cryptic traditions he holds so dear. Note, though, that Freemasonry's GAOTU is reduced to designing high rises. The End Times are no Golden Age, that's for sure. And--most saliently--mark well how our good uncle can envision a playtime unencumbered by any longer having to deal with his enemies right around the corner.

I've never been a comic book kind of guy, and the internet codices of the Marvel universe seem at least to this surfer even more indecipherable than those of the hermetic. However, it seems to me that the hawkheaded man might be Horus, the same Egyptian deity whose Eye is reimagined as the Eye of Providence on the back of that one dollar bill on the sleeve. But be careful of that brighter day, though: it might be the one for which Timbuk 3 suggests you wear shades.

The slow sad bitter rumination that is "Good Samaritan" notwithstanding, much of Killing Joke has always been at its core dance music, and their idea of doing the Danse Macabre has been of much influence to other bands playing industrial or gothic music. But Coleman, unlike some of these other bands who have copied KJ for expedience' sake, really seems to buy into this, telling Quietus as recently as earlier this year that
I'd like to party at the end of the earth. But we will either way – if we don't die, great, and if we die we go out rocking
Coming from someone like Trent Reznor, Coleman's comment might seem like calculated nonsense, but when it's 2000 years of commentary on Hermes Trismegistus that are being referenced, rather than some Ministry tune from 1987, the nonsense Coleman spouts forth is at least a little bit enchanting.



File under: Proto-postpunk, Going to Iceland and Waiting for the End of the World Rock

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