"I am a natural anarchist. I really don't believe in leaders,
though I tend to see the point of parking meters." - M.M.
Michael Moorcock, born in 1939 is best known for his enormous literary output, especially in the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He has received numerous awards - incl. the prestigious Nebula Award for his remarkable twist on a time-travel story 'Behold the Man'.
By now his literary 'back-catalogue' comprises a great variety of formats and genres: from classic fantasy novels, to avantgarde fiction, 'standard' and experimental / satirical science fiction, essays, mainstream novels... - Apart from that, he became the seminal figure of the British "New Wave" of Sciene - not only as one of it's prolific writers, but as the editor of it's main forum, the NEW WORLDS magazine.

The great thing about having a career as long as mine is that you can test all these ideas! Stay on the carousel long enough and you go in and out of fashion like black leather stage costumes. I knew I could change New Worlds radically, risk dumping most of the old readership and get a larger new readership, because I'd done it twice before on Tarzan Adventures [a British magazine that reprinted the U.S. comic strips] and, with Bill Howard Baker, on Sexton Blake Library. I'd learned that familiarity is what people mourn and that something new quickly becomes familiar...

Less known - and by far less popular in strict commercial terms - are his equally varied musical activities - which also led to a number of collaborations btw. Moorcock and Robert Calvert, Hawkwind a.o. musicians.
On the following pages you'll get an outline of these musical activities and a few glimpses into his main occupation, his career as a writer.

Out of the Blitz & into the Brothel

That's my standard advice to people who want to write fantasy: Stop reading fantasy. I read very little in the genre and never read as widely as most. I have no special liking for it, but I do have a talent for it, so I suppose you can say I took the line of least resistance. (...)
I have never really thought of myself as a fantasy writer or a genre writer, although I've written plenty of genre, including Westerns. But I began as a professional journalist and I tend to think of myself as a professional writer.

A professional writer and editor he certainly is - and he didn't waste any time developing his various occupations: Moorcock began editing amateur magazines at eleven, became editor of Tarzan Adventures at sixteen; later an editor of Sexton Blake Library. He sold his first stories at age fifteeen and has earned a living as a writer / editor since - but also his musical career began early on with a spell as a blues singer / guitarist...and some strange locations to perform...

"My two enthusiasms as a kid were rock and roll and fantasy fiction. They were mine. (...)
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."

He may not have been to comfortable in these churches - but surely became successful in the reading communities. Surely, he received his greatest commercial succcess with his fantasy genre-work, but surprisingly also his stranger and more experimental works - like the Cornelius Chronicles - would attract a great readership.
After all, Moorcock was/is a war-child, and this became and remained an essential impulse of his work:

"Growing up during the Blitz, you became used to seeing whole buildings and streets suddenly disappear. After the Blitz, new buildings and streets appeared. The world I knew was malleable, populated, violent and urgent. After the war, everything seemed dull and certainly the obsessions of most politicians and writers didn't bear much relevance to my experience. (...)
Our experience simply wasn't dealt with in modernist fiction. You got stories of how the war affected sensitive middle class people (Heat of the Day) but nothing which really described what it was like growing up with nothing else but war. My generation came out of those ruins. To be honest, the likes of Martin Amis and Ian McEwen, let alone the previous generation, didn't seem to be addressing my experience any better. (...)
I was lucky in having very little education and a lot of freedom. So my response was, like my feminism and my 'post-modernism', spontaneous and visceral rather than intellectual. Since then, of course, I have given an intellectual gloss of what we've done, but it was gut response that led to it, not sitting about discussing the crisis of the novel (though we did that a bit, too, in the early days). The same with New Worlds — run it up the flagpole and see what comes down was our chief "policy statement." We were doing Post-Modernism before the name was invented."


In 1964 Moorcock became the editor of the New Worlds magazine...

"...suddenly we found ourselves, innocently, in the position of being rebels -
we didn't think we were. We thought we were joining the team."

Moorcock changed the NEW WORLDS conventional star-travellers SF character into a magazine of contemporary and experimental fiction, poetry and illustrations - to which Robert Calvert contributed some poems as well.

'The writers that came out or were associated with NEW WORLDS were interested in adults and as such it was impossible to continue that form - they were adults themselves and grew out of SF.'

Amongst the authors that came out of NEW WORLDS were such prolific writers as J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss, Philip José Farmer and John T. Sladek.

Behold the Man - bookcover
Moorcock also published various anthologies including The Best SF Stories From New Worlds series and The Traps Of Time.
His own novels range from fantasy and SF, comedy thrillers to serious fiction, often utilising unconventional structures - like alternating histories. Behold The Man for which Moorcock won the Nebula Award in 1967 is an outstanding example of this form.
Karl Glogauer, a religious fanatic time-travels to Nazareth, year zero, of our Lord - only to find out that his holy God's son is a hopeless imbecile...
- but in order to get (his) history back onto the right track, he gradually slips more and more into Christ's role - aiming for (his) ultimate fulfilment, the inevitable catharsis on Golgatha...

"It was one Easter in Ladbroke Grove. I think we were talking at the kitchen table, and I said I thought that Jesus was actually the product of the desires of his society, and that that was how such people are created: Adolf Hitler, for example. I was quoted in Private Eye shortly after the book, saying I could easily have picked Hitler instead of Jesus.
They took that out of context, as if there was something daft about it. In fact, I was talking about demagogues; about people who become invested with a legend and a power."

Dandyism, Subversion and J.C.

>> The reason why most of the classical Science Fiction is infantile is because it can't afford complex characters - so it's perfectly fair to make them adults - so the more you are going into that process the more you are losing the SF elements. <<

Among the many inhabitants of that MULTIVERSE of his own invention (with Elric of Melnibone being probably the most popular) - Moorcock is the inventor of a character named: Jerry Cornelius - and his many related, similarly named personaes - first published in the late60's.

"Originally I was attracted to science fiction and fantasy but I really didn't like most of it, so I tried to write space operas - but I couldn't really do it. One of the problems with writing space operas is that you can't write about character - I think that it's very hard to write about character in such stories. By the time I started writing about Jerry Cornelius - once I found my voice - I found enough confidence to start writing the way I wanted to write, in as style that was my own and a form that was my own."

Cornelius was described as a mixture of James Bond, Mick Jagger and a Messiah (with a capital MESS, I'd say).
Most characters of Moorcock's books are drawn from the densely crowded, heterogenous population, of his immediate surrounding of Ladbroke Grove, containing a lot of immigrants from all parts of the world. And like many others of Moorcock's protagonists, Jerry, the chiqué underground dandy-subversive, moves around in the adventurous, decaying landscape of London.
The Cornelius figure was adopted by some other writers like Thomas Harrisson who expanded and varied the story - and thus became a sort of cult figure among the growing psychedelic culture; protagonist of various comic series and a TV-film. A cult-figure of it's time, for sure - and one, that brought Moorcock a lot of critical appraisal:

"The creator of Jerry Cornelius has been compared by reviewers to Tolkien and Raymond Chandler, Wyndham Lewis and Ronald Firbank, Mervyn Peake and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles Dickens and James Joyce. I could throw in Nabokov and Borges…" — Sunday Times (U.K.)

No, Mr. Cornelius is certainly not the love'n'peace messiah - he's an utterly twisted and subversive dude...
Suspicious even to those, who have been compared to him....or were offered to act as him:

"Jerry Cornelius — English assassin, Jewish cockney, rock star, physicist, time traveler, and messiah to the Age of Science — has been hailed as the first cyberpunk anti-hero. A political non-conformist and ardent feminist, Cornelius ranks among the most complex characters in modern fantasy fiction.
Once considered shocking - Mick Jagger, offered the part of Jerry Cornelius by the filmmaker David Putnam, turned down the role because it was "too freaky" - the Cornelius saga was written between 1965 and 1976. The books were originally banned in Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Italy, and Burma, among other places, due to the highly sexed, violent, and seeming amoral antics of their central protagonist. Moorcock's hero later became the inspiration for the film The Crow, the Luther Arkwright graphic novels, and Alan Moore's "Watchmen" graphic novels, among many other cutting-edge endeavors."
(from a PR-text on the current re-print of the Cornelius books)

...talking of J.(erry) C.(ornelius) a.o. complex characters -
here's a short excerpt of a Moorcock inteview by Colin Greenland:
CG: But in Corneliana, vice an virtue are very much in question.
MM: There are still goodies and baddies. I can tell the difference,
    even if you can't.
CG: Well, you may not think so now, but I think you were actually
    in the business of confusing simple liberal moralities - I mean,
    of transcribing the moral confusion of that period.
MM: Moral confusion, granted, but there are still goodies and baddies.
    The good are the people who are happy to accept that there is confusion
    and live with it. The bad are the people who are just as confused, but
    are trying to impose their own version of things on the world.
CG: But our hero is 'The English Assassin', who goes through the story
    picking off victims from a shopping list and shooting them...
MM: True.
CG: ...crucifying them; setting fire to them...
MM: He does a little bit of that. But he's not a bad lad underneath. 

'Ironic reversal and parody was a basic method', as Harrisson put it - 'saying we may take it all too far or in the wrong direction - like the ecology movement; that's why Cornelius was wearing a panda fur suit.'

Moorcock: " The Cornelius books were attacking various media strategies - especially the way they spoke about Science and New Media - all Cornelius was saying is, take it easy, it's only technology, you can use it. (...)
I don't think we ever felt threatened by the modern world—just the politicians who were messing it up. New Worlds and Jerry Cornelius embraced computers when in fact they were far too big to embrace and needed specially cooled buildings. Polite society meanwhile continued to worry about "computers taking us over". We were curious to see what you could do with them. That was probably what the cyberpunks saw in the English "new wave" (not a term we used ourselves). What we saw was variety, proliferation, possibility. It was far more exciting to us than moon-shots."


This particular interest, this attitude about new technologies - also musical technologies - certainly was a good link to a band like HAWKWIND - and Moorcock, who lived in London's Ladbroke Grove at the time, was bound to run into them and ask them to share some stage time.
Dave Brock: "I used to read all his books - The Jewel in the Skull and all that series. For him to come along and say, 'Is it all right to come and do some poetry?' - fucking hell, what an honour!" - and a time of various collaborations was afoot.

  What I liked about Hawkwind was that they seemed like the crazed crew of a spaceship that didn't quite know how everything worked but nevertheless wanted to try everything out. - M. Moorcock  

Hawkwind 1972 In the early 70's Moorcock began his collaboration with Hawkwind - whose members used to hang out at the famous 'Mountain Grill' cafe in Ladbroke Grove where Moorcock was living at the time. The band employed SF motives from very early on and soon Calvert and Moorcock became their main contributors in that field. Calvert was becoming a more or less regular performer with Hawkwind as their 'resident poet' introducing more and more of his conceptual ideas. He started with the occasional recitation of his own poetry and later on also performed texts by Moorcock and began to contribute his own music. The best document for this unique mixture of music, poetry and electronic sound-collages is Hawkwind's live Space Ritual - the initial idea for this came from Calvert as well.
This Hawkwind classic also contains two substantial text-contributions of Mike Moorcock:Sonic Attack and 'The Black Corridor'

- the former remained a classic HW number up to now - performed, - in those days, by Calvert moving through a wide scale of emotions: from subtle, threatening whisper to a furious screaming outburst of paranoid commands.

> Read (and hear) the full text of SONIC ATTACK - incl. 2 different live-versions

> go to part II of the Calvert & Moorcock Collab-Relations pages

back to Calvert's CollabRelations

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