One thing that most recording artists today are all but universally terrified of, is the accusation of being a "Nazi" or of having fascist sympathies or anything resembling latent "racism." For the last several decades, the entertainment industry has been afflicted with a sort of puritanical political correctness which insures that anyone involved in that industry who strays from the accepted norms (one of them being anti-fascism and anti-racism), quickly finds themselves out-of-the loop in regards to distribution, promotion, and backing. For instance, the Swedish pop band Ace Of Base went from a chart-topping international pop act, to relative obscurity, when it was discovered that one of the band's members had been involved with some sort of "Neo-Nazi" organization in his youth; likewise, the American singer Glenn Danzig was dropped from his major label shortly after writing a track called "White Devil Rise" (which was never even released commercially).Amid this sort of neo-McCarthyist hypersensitivity in the music industry, Douglas Pearce of the genre-defining neo-folk band Death In June has never wavered from his course in dealing with the subjects and imagery relating to Europe's war-torn history, and specifically to Nazi Germany. For decades now, Pearce has never bowed to criticism and rarely explained himself publicly, even when his concerts have been protested and cancelled due to pressure from Anti-fascist / Anti-Nazi / Anti-Racist groups. Pearce is one of the very few contemporary artists who's not only unafraid of being perceived as exactly that which most other artists are petrified of being seen as, but who's even managed to use such perceptions to his own advantage. This is a markedly iconoclastic approach to art, and surely a very difficult one to maintain for such a great length of time, regardless of the motivations behind it. What many people are unaware of about the man behind Death In June, however, is that previous to that project's incarnation he formed one of England's most ardently left-leaning punk rock bands of the late 1970s, Crisis. During Pearce's late teenage years, Nazism (or what the public perceives as "Nazism") was a subject of genuine concern in the lyrics he wrote for Crisis, and ironically the same subject has led to much controversy surrounding Pearce's subsequent work with Death In June in the decades since. The apparent disparity between Pearce's two projects has been a source of much intrigue and speculation among fans and critics alike over the years, and continues to this day...
In 2004 I attended a Death In June performance near my home in Denver, Colorado, and through mutual friends, was fortunate enough to spend some time drinking with Douglas following the show. Unsurprisingly, for someone regarded as something of a 'media villain,' I found him to be thoroughly personable, articulate, considerate, and just plain nice (the 'bad guys' almost always are). So naturally, when the people from Apop Records later approached me about interviewing Douglas regarding their recent release of "Holocaust Hymns," a retrospective 'complete discography' CD by Crisis, I was more than happy to oblige; after all, there were plenty of things relating to the dichotomy between Crisis and Death In June that'd piqued my curiosity since discovering Douglas' work, and I was eager to ask him about. While none of Douglas' answers to my questions particularly surprised or shocked me, they nonetheless do serve to illuminate, if only slightly, the work of one of contemporary music's more complex, obscure and misunderstood characters...
BRIAN: In the late 1970s, Crisis marked your first appearance on the music scene, as one of the band's two main songwriters. In the years since, your music has evolved drastically; your current project of the last two and a half decades, Death In June, is markedly dissimilar to your work with Crisis, musically, visually and politically. That said, why a retrospective "complete discography" Crisis CD now?
DOUGLAS: First of all I don't believe that in retrospect Crisis and Death In June were that dissimilar on any of those levels. Certainly not musically towards the end of Crisis in 1980 and, the yet to be, birth in 1981 of Death In June. Visually we also had from the very beginning a look that could have easily blended into latter day DIJ with camouflage and black clothing being 'de rigeur'. We saw ourselves as 'Music to March To' and so did the British mainstream press and our followers - whatever side of the political spectrum they came from. And, despite being 'obviously' Left wing we had many far Right followers which gave birth to a whole gamut of interesting liaisons and conversations and mutual agreements and perhaps even respect. Nothing was ever straightforward, no matter how much we might have even liked it to be. If you were a punk or a skinhead - regardless of your colour, political stance or sexual orientation - in the UK in the late 1970s that was enough to blur all and every prejudice and boundary.
Whether I like it or not Crisis forms a very important part of my personal and musical contribution
to history and after six years since the last readily available compilation
I thought it was now time to issue another, better thought-out, retrospective.
"Holocaust Hymns" effectively replaces the "We Are All Jews And Germans" compilation
that was put out by the now defunct World Serpent Distribution. And,
it's a lot better than that one, after being remastered and with more accurate
track information, exclusive photos et cetera. For the first time in years
I actually am enjoying listening to this moment in time. And, going by the
amount of requests I've had for this material over recent years, so will many
other good folk. Basically, there was a demand and hopefully I've met it.
|[ Early Crisis photo. ]|
BRIAN: Crisis seems to have appeared fairly early on in the whole punk "movement" of the late 1970s; what initially drew you to punk rock, and what inspired you to form your own band?
DOUGLAS: Very simply
everything on all levels was horrible in England in the mid-late 1970s. When
I see newsreel footage of the UK during that period I can't believe quite
how dour it all looked - and was - especially if you were from white working
class backgrounds like Tony and myself! Something had to happen and it did
culturally, and had a continuing significant effect on youth culture and society
as a whole. I had hair down to my waist until late 1975 when I realised that
wasn't for me - that was another time - cut all my hair off and wandered around
being pissed off, looking like a runaway from Francois Truffaut's "400 Blows".
Then one day on the Tube in London I noticed someone else looking like this
and then I saw a poster for a Sex Pistols gig showing two cowboys greeting
each other but whose cocks were also exposed and touching, and then I heard
about The Clash, and then I saw in late 1976 The Sex Pistols on an English TV show called "So It Goes," hosted by Tony Wilson (later of Factory Records fame), and then Tony Wakeford telephoned me and asked
if I had heard of Punk Rock and if I wanted to form a group. I said "yes"
to both those questions and the rest is hysterical. It was a series of events
that led me to Punk early on, but in comparison to the trailblazers, we took
our time. Crisis came in the wake of those events and people.
|[ Douglas Pearce, performing live with Crisis. ]|
DOUGLAS: Crisis and my experience of Punk Rock in Britain/Europe was anything and everything but "fun" and this sort of idea comes from people who were either not there at the time, or were and have an axe of some kind or another to grind about their own experiences with Crisis. The years between 1977 and 1980 were some of the hardest of my Life and they certainly contributed to Tony and I wanting to destroy the group in 1980 and head for sunnier pastures artistically, culturally, and whatever else we could find. However, we couldn't deny our cultural imperative at the time. We were in Crisis unashamedly left wing or, at least trying to be, and wanted to be taken seriously politically. Which we were! So seriously in fact that when celebrities found out we were part of the Anti-Nazi League or Rock Against Racism benefits they withdrew their support. Names like the author Keith Waterhouse, TV compare Michael Parkinson and Football coach Brian Clough immediately spring to mind. They publicly withdrew their support because of Crisis! Crisis were referred to as "Red Fascists" almost from the outset, which seemed to confuse and upset some folk and also endear us to others. They were "interesting times."
And as regards any comparisons to Crass: They were not contemporaries of ours, I don't remember any comparisons at the time and I think we only became aware of them after the demise of Crisis and at the beginning of Death In June in the early 1980s. Certainly to us then they seemed like the guys at free festivals dishing out lentils and orange juice to those on a bad trip when they realised they had been left behind, there was no one left at the festival anymore and in order to catch up with 'the kids,' cropped their hair, wore black and decided to form what was I think akin to the Hari Krishnas; a caricature of a punk group, and do their bit for those who weren't there in the first place. I'm sure their hearts were in the right place and I love lentils and orange juice, and they did indeed invent their own particular version of Punk but,....
"Do they owe us a living?"
Of course they fucking DON'T!
|[ Crisis' song-writers: Tony Wakeford and Douglas Pearce. ]|
DOUGLAS: Even before the end Luke Rendall the last drummer in Crisis was basically headhunted by Kirk Brandon who was then in a group called The Pack. They went onto to form Theatre Of Hate which I quite liked and I saw a few of their early shows in the London area. I think my best memory was being backstage when Boy George was having a fit about some bloke giving Kirk the eye and how he was going to beat the shit out of him! This was before Culture Club and I have to say I think fame really became Boy George who seemed more like a transvestite psychopath that night than a Karma Kamelion. It also evidently made him lose interest in Kirk! I heard a few years ago that Luke had been murdered.
Lester, the lead guitarist of Crisis, went on to form a group called Car Crash International with members of the Sex Gang Children but I can't recall what they were like and am only aware of one 12" single that they put out.
Our two roadies Martin and Flea went on to work with The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite and Flea who designed some of the original Crisis record sleeves was even in several Big Audio Dynamite videos. I don't know how much input he had in their creation but he was a very talented artist and all-round interesting guy.
Sol Invictus, of course, came out of Death In June not Crisis.
With the exception of Tony Wakeford I'm not in contact with anyone from
those Punk days.
|[ Tony Wakeford, Douglas Pearce and Crisis fans. ]|
DOUGLAS: Even though we might have thought what we were writing/singing about was "specific" and "straightforward" it was soon interpreted as anything but. The song 'White Youth' is a prime example. We performed several times on the back of a lorry on demonstrations throughout the South of England / London that were organized by The Right To Work campaign. Crisis would play for up to seven or eight hours, with a few breaks in between, entertaining the people who had been marching in protest to their unemployment which was then rife in the UK. It was our equivalent to The Beatles slogging their way through similar set lengths in some sleaze pit in Hamburg in the early 1960s. Whilst they had their happy memories of the Reeperbahn, I have happy memories of stopping traffic crossing Tower Bridge in London playing "UK 79" and "Holocaust". We wrote with that marching rhythm in mind the song "White Youth," which we thought was about 'unity and brotherhood' [the song ends with the repeated verse, "We are black, we are white - together we are dynamite!"], but much to my surprise some smartarse in the New Musical Express was soon saying that it was a white supremacist anthem. There's no pleasing some folk is there! That was key in realizing that no matter what you wrote if it was any good it could be interpreted anyway, anyhow, anywhere. A Death In June prime directive!
BRIAN: The obvious question, of course, is why Crisis was so concerned with anti-Nazism, and played so many shows for Rock Against Racism, and why Death In June has repeatedly dealt with the same themes, but from what would often appear to be the opposite angle. Many have noted the paradox that Crisis performed at anti-racist shows and wrote anti-fascist lyrics, while Death In June is often accused of being racist and fascist - it's a very polarized transition between the two projects, and I imagine that fans of one project may often be diametrically opposed to fans of the other. What are your thoughts on this, and more specifically, on the irony that the people who most disturb and disrupt your current shows are often members of some of the very same sorts of organizations that you used to belong to and perform for?
DOUGLAS: Britain was a very strange place to be living in the mid-late 1970s. There was a definite radicalisation of political and cultural thought taking place. We, as young men, got very much caught up in that. Tony and I have probably spent the rest of our Lives trying to disentangle ourselves from that past. There are bound to be contradictions and naturally the irony isn't lost on me. So? Personally, I think the people involved in such organisations today are barking completely up the wrong tree. But, it's an easy tree to bark at and it fulfills their inner need to think they are doing something 'good'. When you look at The World as it stands in 2006, they are obviously pissing in the wind. Why should I stand in their way?
BRIAN: One undercurrent
that I personally see in your work with both bands, is the handling of the
theme of the ugly side of human nature. In Crisis, this was presented
literally and at face value; the listener was presented with some statement
about a particular state of affairs, and essentially urged to feel outraged
by it. With Death In June, the handling of human ugliness is much more
alchemical. As I interpret Death In June, there's a degree of ugliness
subtly interwoven with harmony and beauty; acoustic folk songs are calmly
intoned about war atrocities and then presented in lavishly designed, embossed,
glossy packages that bear symbols most often associated with death and destruction.
Again, it's quite a departure from the confrontational directness of Crisis.
As you've progressed from Crisis to Death In June, how has your
view on human nature or "the human condition" changed, or remained the same?
Is it only your approach to dealing with these subjects that's changed, or
has your outlook changed as well?
|[ Douglas Pearce, mid-1980s (Death In June). ]|
BRIAN: There's been much speculation over the years as to the origin of the name Death In June, most of it being attributed to political events that transpired in that month, during either the first or second World Wars. As I understand it, the true origin of the name had something to do with you mishearing something one of the other original band members had said to you over the phone, thinking he'd said, "Death In June." Considering the tendency of people to take innocuous things like this and choose to view them as being sinister, has this sort of misinterpretation been something that you've since incorporated into the imagery and content of Death In June - something you've consciously manipulated - or something you've simply ignored?
DOUGLAS: As I've already alluded to there is no need to consciously "manipulate" anything. People do that for you in the blink of an eye. Whatever you do, once you've attained a certain position in the public eye, people will either interpret or misinterpret in whatever way they see fit. There is nothing I can do about that. Even if I wanted to, it is far too late.
BRIAN: I've read some pretty harsh criticism of Death In June as being merely a scam through which you flirt with Nazi imagery and ideology, yet buttress this with what is actually an underlying leftist agenda; and that ultimately the project's flirtation with such taboo ideas is just a means of creating controversy so that you can sell more records. One critic alleged that your work with Death In June is about commodifying 20th century fascism as "pornography," further saying, "Pearce is a businessman and it is a matter of indifference to him if his fans join far-Right groups such as White Aryan Resistance or Green Anarchist - all that interests him is making money." While I disagree with this oversimplification of your career, I'm nonetheless curious to know how you'd respond to such criticism as the idea that you're, "only in it for the money."
DOUGLAS: They are absolutely right! I am definitely "only in it for the money." All the money that is still owed to us by different left-wing organizations like Rock Against Racism, who said the "cheque would be in the post." All the money that's owed to us by fuck-wit promoters who forgot to hire P.A. systems, which we then had to do ourselves at the drop of a hat and never be recompensed for. All the music distributors that have ripped off Crisis and Death In June over the years. Yep! I'm definitely only in it for the money!
But, what are these people
who write such things "in it" for?
|[ Douglas Pearce, performing live as Death In June. ]|
DOUGLAS: I think you're wrong. I think censorship is essentially 'Communistic' and left wing. Censorship was one of the first things that happened in Russia after the Revolution in 1917 and continued until it fell to bits decades later. The way I understand it is that, to paraphrase Mussolini, the Fascists are the real anarchists for they truly did do exactly what they wanted. Libertarianism and Fascism are bedfellows no matter how some people might find that repugnant. They are definitely not mutually exclusive.
People like the Mayor of Lausanne and the street people with a cause outside the club in Chicago are an irrelevance to me. The Mayor didn't survive the next election in Switzerland and is no longer and the types of people protesting around that club that night in Chicago have now realised that they were duped by a far right Xtian group into acting against Death In June or have probably been found dead from an OD in a heroin shooting gallery. Both of those types were so ill-informed and ignorant that they neither discourage me nor make me harden any resolve. They are nothing more than a momentary inconvenience and can't stand in the way of the inevitable March of Man's True Destiny.
BRIAN: Although I'm perhaps
not as familiar with your work as I could be, in the commentary that I have
read on Death In June, I've found that many critics feel compelled
to bring up the fact that you're a homosexual, and to interpret your work
though the tinted lens of sexuality, yet I'm unaware of any references to
your sexuality in the actual content of Death In June. I have however,
noticed that Crisis did have a track about homosexuality ("Alienation").
Do references to your sexuality in reviews of your work as Death In June frustrate you, or do you feel that they're relevant? Does the same hold true
for your work with Crisis?
|[ Douglas Pearce, 1990s (Death In June). ]|
I remember doing some of my first interviews for Crisis in Gay bars on Sunset Strip or Hollywood Boulevard in December, 1977 for Search & Destroy and Slash magazines et cetera. Vale from Search & Destroy (now RE/Search) made this classic comment to me as I ranted and preached about how huge Billy Idol / Generation X was going to be and how Crisis was going to reinvent the music scene;
"Do you know this is a gay bar?"
Duuh,..............thank you Vale for the warning!
Of course I did and I introduced him to my 58 year-old partner who had also traveled with me to Los Angeles that Xmas pretty much on the invite of Slash magazine after they saw our first performance in England.
I appreciate the work and Lives of people like Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima not only because their work was brilliant but that they were also gay. It adds so much. Like it adds so much to me that The Beatles were basically surrounded by a gay mafia, three of whom I've had the good fortune to have slept with. Crisis' first manager was a gay London gangster who eventually ended up being murdered and fished out of the River Thames. Most of the first Punk shows were held in gay bars and clubs et cetera. I don't believe it stops str8 people from appreciating my work but I certainly think being gay also adds to the appreciation of Crisis and Death In June. It gives it a certain little push in the right direction.
"The Jews Weren't The Only Ones," after all!
BRIAN: How has your work with Crisis / Death In June been received by the various gay communities in the countries in which you've toured and lived? Would you like Death In June to be regarded as more of a 'gay band' by the international gay community than it presently is, and if so, how would that be of any relevance to your work?
DOUGLAS: With the exception of a large feature in France's main Gay magazine 'Gai Pied' in 1984 I don't think Death In June has been received by any gay community - anywhere. I really think DIJ has slipped underneath the gaydar.
BRIAN: Being that you feel that a listener's awareness of your sexuality contributes to a more accurate and informed understanding of your work with Death In June, do you feel that an awareness of your past involvement with Crisis is equally important? Are fans who're unaware of your sexuality and/or your history in Punk Rock therefore missing a key part of what Death In June is about?
DOUGLAS: No, not particularly but like with anything that has proven to have longevity any aspect of the past will have an attraction to some of those who have an interest in the present.
BRIAN: I understand that you recently gave a performance in Israel. Would you like to share any thoughts on that experience?
DOUGLAS: It was brilliant
and long overdue! There are some fantastic people there and God knows how
they cope with that situation day in and day out. But, I'm sure the rest of
the Western World will find out soon enough as it gradually is and this is
a Crisis interview, anyway.
|[ Douglas Pearce with burning horse heads impaled on spikes, 1990s. ]|
DOUGLAS: In comparison to the rest of the 'Free World' America still does have a lot more 'Freedom' than most. I'd rather be onside with the greatest Industrial Military Complex the World has ever known, despite some of its more hokey faults, than be against it. Society in America has been based upon European guidelines in terms of culture etc. It is a European society albeit many non-Europeans live there. Pretty much like Europe, in fact!
Ignorance regarding my heritage isn't confined to America so it doesn't faze me any more than anyone else with an axe of ignorance to grind. The Americans I know and most of those I meet, regardless of ethnic backgrounds, all appear to be very well informed about most things that matter to me.
BRIAN: One of the things I find very frustrating about the way Western society functions, is the fact that people are usually judged by their words and beliefs rather than their actions. Someone who commits wholesale murder in the name of Christ, democracy, the proletariat, "freedom," or what have you, can often escape accountability and dispel criticism because they've justified unethical actions with conventional morality, whereas someone who espouses what is perceived at base to be an "immoral" ideology - yet who's done nothing the slightest bit unethical - is endlessly criticized and attacked, and essentially functions as a scapegoat. Do you agree with this sentiment, and if so, do you see that applying to you and your post-Crisis work with Death In June?
DOUGLAS: Post Crisis or otherwise, I've always seen that sentiment applying. But, luckily, for five years between 1967-72 I stood in my High School hall during morning assembly staring at a gold lamp with the inscription: "Deeds Not Words" written underneath, painted above the stage where the teachers sat.
It must have had some effect upon me.
|[ Douglas Pearce today. ]|
© Brian M. Clark