The Big Hand
A book about the KLF should by all rights be interesting – but here JMR Higgs has created a book that is not only about The KLF (and very interesting) it’s also about art, science, magic, conspiracy theories and an exploration of the Discordian sect, of Dadaism; of cults and numerology, of psyche and intrigue. It’s a book about what makes artists tick. And about what makes art tick.
And it’s also (still) a biography of The KLF and of the performing career of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. So it is a music book and it’s about rave culture and pop music and authorship and auteurship. And entrepreneurship.
Fuck it’s a great book.
Seriously, it’s one of those books that stays with you for days – and of course I mean that it’ll stay longer, but in the days since I’ve finished reading it I’ve barely stopped thinking about it. I have other favourite (“best ever”) books. But I don’t think about them all the time. They crop up, I’m reminded of them, or by them. I go out and buy them – again. A second (replacement) copy. Or to lend to friends, or give as gifts. But KLF Chaos Magic Music Money has had me thinking about it nonstop. For it is, in some sense, at least at one point, a book about itself as much as it’s a book about any particular subject, theme or idea.
Higgs evokes stories of The Wicker Man, suggests the KLF’s pagan ceremonies to be an influence on the Burning Man festival and discusses, at length, The Illuminatus! Trilogy – a crucial hinge.
He also traces the timeline of Cauty and Drummond’s work together, beginning near the end with their outrageous act of burning one million pounds.
Everybody was dismayed, bewildered, outraged, offended by this. Including Drummond and Cauty. Certainly they claim to not ever quite know why they did it.
Using that act – you could call it, crudely, a prank – Higgs lays out their timeline and brings in outside sources not to create a biography (though he does that as a bonus; on the side essentially) but rather to understand the motivations of The KLF; its art, music and madness.
It was always going to be an interesting story – their Doctorin’ The Tardis breakthrough (as The Timelords) is credited, with ample justification, as being the thing that brought Dr. Who back from relative obscurity. They did the same with Tammy Wynette with the KLF hit, Justified and Ancient.
Higgs is a fantastic writer – and clearly he’s learned a lot from The KLF, questioning his own writing and motives for writing even as he’s creating the story.
It’s amazing to take this story in – in this way. Because he’s succeeded in not only creating one of the very best music books you could ever read, he’s also made a story that anyone interested in the arts, across any/all disciplines, should want to read. And then on top of that he’s written a book that stands – quite outside of being a music book – as a fantastic philosophy work; an engaging piece of mind-food.
No mean feat of course. And then all the more remarkable when you remember that Drummond has, across several published works, been offering clues, admitting to art crimes and giving a potted history along the way.
KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money is one of the best books I’ve read – this year. Or any. It’s an amazing piece of writing – and along the way it’ll further widen your reading list. And it’ll have you back listening to The White Room and all those other wonderful KLF/JAMMs constructions.