Hit man, myth maker - 45- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: Hit man, myth maker - 45
Date: 26 February, 2000
Journal: Guardian
Author: Steven Poole
Type of resource: Reviews
Status: text
No. views: 8195
Description: Review of "45" in the Guardian Saturday Pages

Hit man, myth maker - 45

By Steven Poole (26 February, 2000, Guardian)

Bill Drummond the pop star deleted the LPs and burnt the cash; but the artist lives on.

Bill Drummond
Little, Brown, 12.99, 361pp

Bill Drummond is a conceptual artist; in fact, he and collaborator Jimmy Cauty are the only true conceptual artists of the last decade. And for all the eldritch beauty of their art, their most successful creation is the myth they have built around themselves.

It was a myth assiduously cultivated. In the early 90s, as the KLF and The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Drummond and Cauty sampled the fearful alarums of industrialised society and forged with them epic pop masterpieces such as "What Time Is Love?" and "3am Eternal". They went disguised in futuristic dayglo boilersuits and gasmasks, or as robed necromancers with rhino horns poking from their cowls. The songs were drenched in arcane numerology. Honoured at the 1992 Brit Awards, they busked a live thrash-metal version of their biggest hit and then sprayed the aghast audience with machine-gun blanks.

Pop had been too easy to conquer: their rivals were imaginative pygmies in the face of this situationist onslaught. So Drummond and Cauty deleted their entire back catalogue and reinvented themselves as the K Foundation. When Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize with her monstrous "House", the K men nailed 40,000 in cash to a wooden board and presented it to her for the worst body of work over the previous 12 months.

On the remote Scottish island of Jura, they carefully set fire to 1m and toured the country with the camcorder evidence, Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid . It was an ideologically charged crime in a society where the hope of having 1m in the first place is the officially sanctioned mental opiate, mercilessly pushed every Saturday night on the lottery. Drummond likes to say he did it "to keep warm".

So why, after all this, does he want to write a book? Presumably printed literature still secretes a tang of seriousness: after gambolling around in the foothills of other forms, you scale the peaks of prose. (Even Tracey Emin, for pity's sake, is contracted to write a book.) But Drummond has long considered himself a writer, and has already co-written two volumes. First there was The Manual: How to Have a Number One The Easy Way (witness his and Cauty's huge smash as The Timelords with "Doctorin' the Tardis"). And in 1996, Drummond and Z (aka ex-pop star Zodiac Mindwarp) published Bad Wisdom, the almost unintelligible hallucinogenic fable of their (real) quest to plant a statue of Elvis Presley at the North Pole.

45 (begun on Drummond's 45th birthday, and alluding to the 45 rpm of a pop single) is a collection of short essays. Drummond goes to Iceland to record songs by an imaginary band called The Fuckers (including "Teenage Virgin Supermodels Eat Shit" and one "in celebration of the recent and untimely death of Princess Diana, 'One Less Slag' "). He reminisces about his early career managing Echo and the Bunnymen and Julian Cope; analyses his Scottishness; argues with a sinister rickshaw driver in Calcutta; and meets Tammy Wynette (she cooks him breakfast).

The book really sizzles, however, with the plans he and his cohorts draw up for artworks. One, at the height of the BSE crisis, involves hanging two dead cows from an electricity pylon: "For the previous few years," Drummond deadpans, "I had relished the idea of stringing up a beast like this, with no further explanation than a plain cardboard label with the two words, 'FUCKING COW'... Of course, the reason for wanting to have just two cows... was not just to have one each but to proclaim, as loudly and as silently as we could, 'Mu Mu'."

At the last moment he bottles out of this, but with his friend Gimpo he does manage to drive around the M25 for 25 hours ("I am hoping to uncover some psychogeographical facts about both the ancient and modern roads and routes that radiate out of the unseen metropolis") and hand out most of a truckload of Tennent's Super to the homeless on Christmas Eve.

Drummond's theories of art are always provocative and deceptively erudite. But his disarming, self-doubting persona ("I want you the reader to realise that I can stand outside myself and think, 'What an arsehole you are, Drummond' ") implies a more interesting, almost desperate motive for the book.

The last public appearance of the K Foundation was in 1997: renamed 2K, they took to the stage at the Barbican for a 23-minute performance involving ear-splitting techno, a male voice choir and a colliery brass band. Drummond and Cauty were dribbling old men in pyjamas, buzzing around the stage on electric wheelchairs with pathetically flaccid rhino horns taped to their heads while the PA blasted out the tune's message, "Fuck the Millennium". As Drummond explains here, the gig was an attempted suicide: "The show was about the crapness of the comeback, of blowing one's own myth."

45 is a further attempt to bury the myth. Throughout, Drummond poses as an ordinary middle-aged man who lives in the country, drinks lots of tea and spends his mornings in the nearest library, with coffee breaks in the shopping centre. Yet the myth motors on, pitilessly. When he goes to Serbia to appear on an underground music station, he brings a recording of an unreleased KLF song called "The Magnificent". Soon it "had not only become the theme tune of the station, but the anthem of the democracy movement... A track we recorded in a day, never released as a single, thought was crap and had forgotten about had taken on a meaning, an importance in a 'far-off land'."

As Drummond surely knows, a myth like the KLF's is peculiarly omnivorous. Just as there can never be any evidence to disprove a conspiracy theory because the fabrication of such evidence - don't you see? - is itself part of the conspiracy, so the pop myth of the KLF can never be blown apart by anything they do, no matter how dumb or embarrassing. The myth will suck it up, like a black hole.

And so with 45. At its best it has flashes of twisted brilliance reminiscent of Iain Sinclair or Will Self, but the majority is most interesting because the author was one half of the KLF. Of course, that is more than enough glory for one lifetime. Yet the fact remains that this book will forever labour under the shadow of those horned men and their gleefully apocalyptic music.


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