Raging against the dying

November 29, 2010
By Ned Raggett

To wake up one morning – a beautiful morning as well, cloudless if chilly and windy – to read of the death of Peter Christopherson is one of those events that should not be.  I went to sleep last night full of thoughts on what tomorrow would bring and woke up and continued on.  Christopherson went to sleep with even more thoughts and ideas than most could hope to ever pursue and never woke up again, there then gone.

The personal impact of death, when a friend, a lover, a relative dies is what measures the most direct of sorrows, when the absence is palpable.  The indirect loss of the creator, artist or public figure who helps define you in a different way may not be as crushing but it is no less of a time to pause and reflect.  As time goes on, death in general shifts from being the province of ‘old people’ to increasingly being something you can find yourself surrounded by.  Christopherson was only sixteen years older than myself; in my regular work at a college library I oversee student workers younger than me by an even greater age difference.  Those kinds of sudden shocks of recognition – or of realization – remind one that one’s personal experience of time, to the best of objective knowledge, is ultimately finite.

But Christopherson did not act as if that was the case; indeed, the argument can and should be made – is already being made, in the remembrances starting to emerge and which will accelerate – is one of gentle, honest awe at how he did not stop, how there was always going to be, or seemed to be, something else that would soon follow.  A note from a participant on the ILX boards is worth quoting in full as a note-perfect summary of that impact:

This is especially sad to me because his creativity has never really flagged – anything he’s done has been worth hearing, whether I loved it or not he was an artist who treated his gifts with the full-on immersion they deserved.  When TG reformed, they made new music.  Release for release, Coil was one of the best, most interesting acts of the age.  Someone who, if they put out a new record and you didn’t know it was coming, were much more likely to surprise and challenge you than any other act who’d been around since the early Eighties, really – so many artists from that time decide they have nothing new to say.  This idea seemed utterly alien to Peter Christopherson.  I hope the spirit he brought to music haunts this earth for some time to come.

‘Immersion’ is an excellent, telling word here.  If art can overwhelm, drown, shock the viewer, listener, whatever you wish to call the recipient, it can no less do so for the artist, and the regarding of the possibilities to pursue is one of the artist’s chief concerns.

What should be attempted?  Where shall the time be spent?  What catches the attention?  How is it interpreted?  Not every question like these or others is consciously approached in so methodical a fashion; the unconscious reaction or consideration made in retrospection is as important if not more so.  The possibilities are ultimately kaleidoscopic, or kaleidoscopic if one allows oneself the free range to pursue those routes wherever they may lead.  The supposed ‘dead end’ may in fact be necessary to achieve something more involving later; the work considered by others to be a career highlight may yet only be a brief waystation in the mind of the creator on the road to somewhere else.

To be immersed in all this and so much more besides is to be active, to embrace it, rather than to safely stop and move no more.  Security is no vice as such on an abstract level – we wish to wake each day not having to fear for our daily crust, the roof over our heads – but the kind of security that becomes the self-contained loop of artistic motionless, of elaboration on the previously communicated, is the security of death.  It implies a halt no matter how long one’s own life continues.

Christopherson resisted this idea to the end.  He raged against the dying of the light in a way that is not the full-throated roar, but the demonstration of action and possibility.  Consider his achievements!  Should one talk about his visual stamp via his work with Hipgnosis?  The incarnations, then and now, of Throbbing Gristle?  The eternal unwinding and variation and exploration of possibilities that Coil, with and then sadly without John Balance, brought time and again?  Even more musical work beyond those arenas?  Even that activity that may seem to be the ‘least’ of his work, the commercials and music videos he created for wide mainstream consumption, consisted of the application of his abilities in fields that assured him his independence; he put his stamp on work for hire even as he ensured his own work would never be for hire, would be a direct communication, an independence fiercely guarded.

But not the fierceness of flailing anger at the world’s unfairness, at finality.  Another ILX quote from an author and musician inspired directly by Christopherson’s work noted he was “a deeply thoughtful person, patient and precise, content to let others by his side be explosive and ‘star-shaped’ while he quietly remained steadfast, dedicated, cleaning up the messes and moving forwards.”

What more could want out of an inspiration, to know that there was someone not stopping, moving forwards.  Christopherson faced the world’s travails, its resistance to that which was ‘not normal,’ saw it for what it was, and created his own space, in his own right, in partnerships, in collaborations.  In doing so, he opened doors, and did not need to beg or shout for the rest to follow.  He demonstrated to those who would listen, watch and read.  His work still will.  If his spirit haunts us, then make it happy by never stopping.  However quietly, however loudly, however calmly, however forcefully, rage.

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