|Michael Moorcock: Populist Intellectual|
Multi-award winning writer, rock musician, editor, essayist and occasional actor, Michael Moorcock stands at the crossroads of a number of earthly universes. Small wonder then that he should set his fiction in the Multiverse, a multitude of intersecting alternative universes which provide an infinite number of slightly differing realities.
Moorcock's references range even more widely than all the adventures of his characters Elric, Von Bek, Pyat and Jerry Cornelius combined. When Moorcock takes the mic, a World Fantasy Con panel on reading modern fantasy takes a sharp detour to Spectator editors who can't read comics on the way to the tortures of modern jazz. Crescent Blues invited Moorcock to treat our interview questions in the same way -- as just a starting point. Happily, he took us at our word.
Thanks. Here's some casual answers to be going on with!
…People are always asking me how I "broke in" to publishing and music. The simple answer is that I didn't. I was invited in. For some reason people used to see potential in me. I was smart and no doubt personable. I had no teenage traumas as I recall because I didn't go through all that shit teenagers seem to go through and maybe that's why I have no interest in "rites of passage" movies.
I was playing guitar in a whorehouse at the age of 15 not because I was that good on the guitar or that sexy, but because I got on well with the girls and they liked me. I was a sort of mascot. Sex, drugs and rock and roll have, as it were, never been something I had to yearn for. I had probably enjoyed most of life's sweetest pleasures for quite a lot of the time by the age of 22 when I got married and settled down. I have been invited in to the English Literature world, too, but haven't been very comfortable in their churches.
It was the same with rock and roll. [While still actively touring with the durable British space rock band Hawkwind in the 1970s] I went to lunch with the A&R man at United Artists. When do you plan to deliver the album to us, he asked. I didn't know he wanted one. So I did him one[New World’s Fair]. And we took a band out and I went out with Hawkwind when [Robert] Calvert was in the loony bin and there's nothing sweeter than going in front of an audience of several thousand people who are really, really glad to see you!
I like doing rock and roll songs but there are limitations. [Bassist] Pete Pavli and I did more interesting stuff, but just getting it engineered was sometimes different. If you use cello, for instance, for certain rhythms or tensions, rather than bass and drums, the engineers are often thrown badly! It gets boring. I wish I could have worked more with Eno. There is, however, a lot of fun in walking on stage to be greeted by an audience that has paid to see you and really wants you to be there!
Dave Brock [one of Hawkwind's founding members] wants me to go over for the [Hawkwind] revival get-together for the millennium at the end of December, but my old rule was that I would only do a gig if I could walk to it. It used to be handy when I lived near the Hammersmith Odeon, but now the gig would have to be in Lost Pines [Texas, Moorcock's current home]!
I think [British writer and filmmaker] Iain Sinclair likes using me because I don't try to control anything. My job is to control the page and to make sure I'm somewhere secure when I have to work, otherwise I'm inclined to drift with whatever comes along. Jobs and projects rather than public appearances, of course.
I backed out of Edinburgh, Brighton and Hay-on-Wye festivals last year because I don't think too much attention to myself is good for me or good for writing. I have to do a bit of public stuff, because it goes with the job and is necessary sometimes for promotion, but I'm talking about interesting ideas that come up... In that sense I'm far more like a film director or an actor than most writers. Which might explain the breadth of my work!
So if more film stuff came up, I'd do some. I'm even beginning to get the urge to work on the script of [Moorcock's 1967 Nebula Award-winning novella] Behold the Man myself. I'm engaging a bit more with the world of film at present. Doing a book on Heaven's Gate [Michael Cimino's notorious Western] for the British Film Institute. I should be interviewing some of the main participants next year when I plan to spend a bit of time in LA. I'm rarely interested in a project for the money, though sometimes I get paid very handsomely almost incidentally!
Don't let anyone tell you it's hard being a prodigy. That's just people who don't know how to enjoy themselves or believe they have to take the whole package. My advice to my own kids regarding school was -- take the education, but you don't have to take the attitudes. For some reason, obnoxious as this may be, I knew this from an early age.
I was an amiable child. Most people remarked on how "good" I was. But I went my own way. If a teacher failed to teach me decently, I would complain, usually after they had complained that I had seemed such a good pupil originally. Originally, as I pointed out, they had information I needed. I don't know why I was like this. I really was a very sunny child, but I was also very self-confident.
Maybe coming from a family that set high store by independence and freedom, in an old fashioned working class London way. Maybe because my mother's lunatic genius focused on me and helped me in ways I don't completely understand. Maybe because I was smart. I realize now that I must have been very smart. It didn't seem remarkable to me that I was reading [G. B.] Shaw as well as Edgar Rice Burroughs at the age of five, and it didn't seem remarkable to my family, who hadn't read either!
School was frustrating because I "got" the essence of what was being taught and then got very bored and then behaved fairly badly -- though mostly it was what the teachers saw as "cheek." It was still clear that they liked me, because they couldn't help laughing at my jokes. So I didn't get much harsh treatment (I was tied to the banisters once for some reason at a primary school).
I ran away from boarding school. I played truant at school. I did badly at exams (and still do). But had had the advantage of going to a Steiner school for a while where they teach algebra before they teach other math -- reasoning that a child is very receptive to symbolic logic (and it's true) and best taught algebra from seven years on. I ran away from there. The next school I remember putting up my hand and asking when we could do some algebra. I was laughed at and told we didn't do that for years yet. So there you go. A largely untrained or erratically trained mind. Ideal for a writer, probably.
[In the 1960s, Moorcock created Elric of Melnibone, an albino prince who remains his most famous fantasy character. Doomed by honor and a cursed sword to destroy all that which he holds most dear, Elric embodies Moorcock's notion of the Eternal Champion -- a heroic anti-hero reborn into an endless number of lives throughout the Multiverse to maintain the balance of Law and Chaos.]
Elric is Pierrot. Under every tragedy sneaks a farce. It all goes back to the 19th century -- the French and English romantics. Pierrot first became the romantic tragi-comic figure he is in [the classic French film] Les Enfants du Paradis (as it were) thanks to [George] Sand, [Theophile] Gautier and then, in the second wave, the likes of [Luc] Willette in [the turn-of-the-20th century Parisian cabaret] Chat Noir. Melmoth and The Monk. Melmoth as Ivanhoe... Melmoth/Ivanhoe/Pierrot... The Marx Brothers reinventing Commedia dell' Arte -- the sums of our culture.
[After a long hiatus, Moorcock decided to revive the character of Elric in The Dreamthief's Daughter, scheduled for release this spring.]
Two reasons [Editor's note: think Monty Python and the number of reasons why no one expects the Spanish Inquisition] for doing Elric:
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