Back in 1993, Allen participated in an extraordinary event, in collaboration with “author, filmmaker, painter, and imaginer”, Clive Barker, a preview party for a new club, Light, Wisdom and Sound, located in New York’s old meatpacking district on West 29th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Barker was commissioned to make a painting that night and its unveiling was part of the evening’s entertainment. Jill Abrams documented Allen’s performance (a midnight reading of the Perfect Wisdom Sutra – see here and here). She also filmed an impromptu interview at the club between Clive and Allen, which was quite remarkable, as the two hadn’t known each other, (they’d only just met (a mere hour before!). They warmed to each other (as you will see) and got on like a house on fire.
The re-discovery of that footage is a treat indeed and we are grateful to Jill for recovering and restoring this wonderful lost-in-time moment. The video begins (rather loudly) with an announcement by the m-c, followed by brief footage of the unveiling of the canvas. After which Allen and Clive get down to business.
AG: What is that painting..
CB: What is that painting about?
CB: It’s a.. I was commissioned to do this painting, which is a large painting, twenty by twelve-and-a-half..
AG: The largest you’ve done.
CB: The largest I’ve done, by the club and the title of the club is Light, Wisdom and Sound, so bang in the painting is the symbol of wisdom.
CB:To the left of that figure is a symbol of sound, is a guy with an extruded face with a trumpet for a mouth, and on the right there’s a symbol of light, the guy with the single eye with the beam of light. And bang in there middle I’ve tried to be as democratic in my theology as I possibly could have done.
CB: The character in the middle is a collection of religious symbols, he’s a wise man…
AG: Including the god Pan.
CB: Including the god Pan, and, actually, there’s a stigmata on his hands from which eyes.. blood and eyes are flowing, so it’s intended to be a combination of imagery.
AG: You got any Buddhist imagery in there too?
CB: You have to tell me that
AG: Well, I’ll have to go look very carefully.
CB: Okay, that’s a deal
AG: Are you influenced by William Burroughs at all?
CB: I can’t believe anyone who’s writing at the moment cannot be, at some sense, influenced by what William Burroughs does
AG: Yeah, I think that seems to be universal, from the grunge bands..
AG..back to David Byrne, back to (Bob) Dylan, back, and forward, to there high-school kids who carry (The) Wild Boys around, or Exterminator!
CB: I think one of the things about Burroughs work for me is that in.. he taught me that you can deconstruct things and you can still end up with something that is incredibly powerful, and that, for someone’s who’s obsessed with story, which is what I am, that’s quite a lesson.
AG: And for myself, obsessed with poetry…
AG:…,what’s interesting is to find that there are all sorts of young kids now interested in “perf po” (performance poetry)
AG: And some sort of revival of ‘forties,’fifties, and ‘sixties high counter-culture, but, as usual with the media, there’s more style than substance, but the substance does exist with the young kids in actual learning and actual real good poetry. So don’t be.. people who are listening shouldn’t be deceived by the trash you might read of the lower-grunge depths..
AG:…but get to the upper-grunge depths
CB: The other thing that I want to say was (pointing to Allen) what this man brought was the sense that apocalytical or revelatory material could be part of popular culture
AG: What he pointed out, Burroughs pointed out, was that apocalyptic material was also a part of everyday life in the newspaper headlines – threat to the planet – maybe lose the planet in the next couple of hundred years, unless we mutate (or, Burroughs’ word is mutate) or at least some opening of consciousness.
CB: Well mutate and taking to the stars is something that I deal with fairly regularly, but I mean, what I’m trying to do is pass that message along to a popular audience, the guys who will pick up a novel on the airport racks.
AG: Yeah, I’m a little more interested in having the human race land on earth finally!
CB: Very good!
AG: We’re already.. we’re already in outer space, everybody knows (something that (Timothy) Leary‘s been talking about for years. The lights, the wisdom, and the sound are all related to the planet Earth
AG: It’s important that the younger generation get from the media a little less style and more substance in the revival of the counter-culture
CB: Okay, for the record, I don’t believe in the counter-culture.I think its all one system which flows in and out of itself, and I think one of the very dangerous things is to actually say, that there is this thing which is separated from the mainstream of culture which we will loosely call “counter-culture”
CB: I think for me, in the ‘nineties, what’s important is to marry up what have been outsider activities..
CB: ..and fold those in to mainstream, and say, “Yes, I too, as someone who, for lots of reasons, may be considered marginalized..
CB: ..am actually part of the flow. I’m not somebody who’s running a parallel path, I am part of the flow. I said it on an interview I did recently, in the Advocate, I said, “I don’t see why Jerry Fallwell has to say that, you know, God speaks in his ear, God speaks in my ear too. And I think it’s important not to be… to have the mainstream constantly be claiming that the revelatory, the apocalyptic, the absolute, belongs to them.
AG: Now wait a minute. Yeah, we do have the mainstream saying that the wrath God is theirs.
CB: Okay but…
AG: But we also have Burroughs saying that the wrath of God is the whole planet’s.
CB: But can I also… can I be sentimental, if you like, and say “What about the love of God?”
AG: Well the love of God, I wonder how much of it is on the.. Jerry Falwell, I wonder how much love he’s got there.
CB: Well, it may not be something on Jerry Fallwell’s agenda, but its something on mine.
AG: I don’t actually.. I don’t even believe in God
CB: I do
AG: You do?
AG: I knew there was a snake at the bottom of your garden. No, I’m a Buddhist atheist (Buddhism is atheism). What is your God?
AG: What is your mind? What is your God? – Tell us about it
CB: My God is what happens when I go to the desk every day. My God is the Imagination, it’s (William) Blake
CB: My God is Jesus, the Imagination. My God is the idea that there is within us pure flame which can transform use and it is most..it shines most brightly in the creative act
AG: I see. And I would say that the word “God” is a little funny word, but pure brightness might be the vast emptiness of things that allows everything to be born, the womb of creation is emptiness.
CB: I don’t think.. I don’t think we’re that far apart, actually. I think we’re both talking about the brightness, we’re just using different words.
AG: As long as he doesn’t have.. as long as the brightness doesn’t have a long grey beard and a book of laws that condemns!
CB: You know what? The brightness doesn’t even have a sex.
AG: Well, (it) might have several sexes?
CB: I like that. We should go back to the painting and look at it now.
The interview concludes. Barker is then asked by there audience – “When did you come together?” and astonishingly replies, (“only) “about an hour ago”… He is asked about upcoming projects – “My next project? – I’m finishing a novel, three movies that I’m producing, and a lot of comic books. I’m trying to get my imagination, strange as it is, into as many minds as I possibly can” – And Allen is pretty busy too (AG: “My immediate projects are an opera, Cosmopolitan Greetings (with Robert Wilson)..[CB: An opera, Very cool!] – (it just came out on CD), a second opera with Philip Glass called Hydrogen Jukebox, which we just recorded the other day, a book of poems Cosmopolitan Greetings 1986-1992 [CB: Harper and Row? AG: Yep] – Journals, 1954-1958, which is just ready now..
For more on that Light, Wisdom, Sound evening – see here
For more on Clive Barker – see here