This Is Hawkwind -- Do Not Panic

Nov 9, 2007 at 6:08 pm

In the late afternoon, a ray of light that originated in the heart of the sun roughly twelve minutes ago slips through the blinds behind me and re-shapes itself as six-inch tall, black-and-white dappled column on the upholstered walls of my stale cubicle. This interspace traveler is my only connection to the world outside this office, and it exists for barely a dozen minutes a day in a constantly shifting pattern of cubes and polyhedrons too thin for me to perceive as anything other than a flickering, two-dimensional representation of its life-giving glory. I find it no great coincidence that the universe has seen fit to place my late-afternoon visitor's point of departure at just such a distance from my own position in this universe; roughly twelve minutes is the exact same slice of time it takes Hawkwind to power through "Time We Left This World Today" on the digitally-restored edition of Hawkwind's live album, Space Ritual. There are no coincidences when it comes to Hawkwind. Light and sound move at completely different rates of speed - only the passage of time seemingly links the occurrence of light's passage to Earth and Hawkwind's passage through a song. But look closer - time is the link, and Hawkwind is time. One must accept that Hawkwind is, was and will be; that is all. The Church of Hawkwind makes no rules for its pilgrims. The music is the sacrament, the holy days occur whenever you take the sacrament, and there is no dogma other than "keep an open mind" -- a state that can be obtained merely by taking the sacrament. Hawkwind is, was and will be; that is all. Time is, was and will be; that is all. Hawkwind is Time is Time is Hawkwind. Any confusion you are experiencing is purely temporal. Step into my four-dimensional parlour and let us discuss further the transubstantiation of Time via the mystery of Dave Brock's pineal gland.

The bald facts of Hawkwind can be laid out thusly: British in origin; space-rock in direction; one-time home to Lemmy Kilminster; collaborators have included the science-fantasist Michael Moorcock, the poet Robert Calvert, the dancer Stacia; the drummer Ginger Baker; common thread is the involvement of Dave Brock, a multi-instrumentalist who sings or doesn't as the mood takes him; recorded history stretches back to 1970; most recent live show to happen in December in England of this year. But bald facts do no more to reveal the grandeur of Hawkwind any more than the adjective "wet" does to describe the ocean. If you wish to know, you must immerse yourself in it. And so it is that for the past few weeks, Hawkwind has again been my constant companion. The "Collectors Edition" of 1973's Space Ritual was the first sign; a two-disc set with a bonus DVD audio mix, a deluxe booklet and a nice gatefold approximation of the original album art officially released at the end of August, it appeared in Vintage Vinyl in mid-October. The sound is lush, so rich you can actually hear Stacia dancing. Listen to the second version of "Time We Left This World Today" on disc two through a pair of headphones; DikMik's hot electronics chatter away in the left channel like an insect's mandibles while Nik Turner's saxophone riffs up and down with Dave Brock's guitar in the right channel. Dead center in your head sits the rhythm section of Lemmy's earth-bass and Simon King's steady-banging drums. The whole mechanism pulsates like skyscraper-scale engines propelling a starship through the endless void, the stars their destination. A rising and falling approximation of the solar winds flanges by the portholes; Brock's guitar slaps and tickles on a slight delay, then slips into a keening note that mimics Turner's sax. The last known communication of starship Hawkwind is a spectral blur of echo and Turner's bleating oboe, a Morse code that comes dimly through the subspace transponder, Captain. And it lasts just long enough for that mysterious ray of light to dance on my cubicle wall. I became aware of the light while listening to "Time We Left This World Today." Hawkwind is Time is Time is Hawkwind. The incarnation of Hawkwind that recorded Space Ritual was fleeting; Hall of the Mountain Grill and Warrior on the Edge of Time are the next albums with the same line-up. Mere days after acquiring Space Ritual, Mountain Grill appeared at Vintage Vinyl. Then Xin Search of Space. Then the first album, Hawkwind. Then Live in Nottingham 1990 -- all albums I had been searching for the past few years, as more of my tapes wore out and snapped. (I assume Space Ritual is calling them to me, or perhaps they're arriving one per day on that beam of light. California Brainstorm showed up just moments ago, according to VV's Web site.) They're arriving out of sequence chronologically, but does the order matter? The Hawkwind of 2007 is not the same as the 1973 model or the 1990 model or the 2010 model, but Hawkwind is Hawkwind regardless of era, epoch or local chronological variance. On the night of November 3, "D-Rider" soars through the darkness on billowy waves of keyboard and the stuttery down strokes of Brock's chiming guitar. It's an epic Hawkwind construction, unfurling its wings with a stately flourish. The volume is maxed out so that the sound waves seem to pressurize the interior of the car; it feels like being overtaken by a massive thunderhead that flicks out splinters of lightning without breaking open entirely. "Our course determined by our stars, our mum knows just where we are/the earth is calling far below, our records show which way to go./Spacing out we're spacing in/facing out by facing in/turning in by burning out/lifting off and gazing in." The message was first transmitted in 1974, and I'm on my way to an anti-war play in 2007. This is not the first time I've heard "D-Rider," but it's the first time I've really paid attention to the lyrics, written by psychic wizard Nik Turner. That "facing out by facing in" line is all about introspection, looking deep into your soul for answers. The idea of contemplation of the self leading to a universal understanding, that from the knowledge of a man comes a knowledge of Mankind - what some might call empathy, or perhaps The Golden Rule -- is the theme of this evening's play. Thirty years on and Turner's still offering advice to a wayward race bogged down by suspicions and an unshakeable faith in agreements brokered by the barrel of a gun. Did I notice this in 1974? Did he write this in 2007? Time's ligaments snap and unravel in looping backtracking coils and all things are possible in this instant of cognitive dissonance. On the morning of November 5, great carpets of leaves have dropped from the trees overnight. Hawkwind's "Born to Go" is percolating through the back brain when I enter the park; a wild and reckless stomp that recycles the chant "We were born to go" over and over as its main rhythmic thrust. Did Brock and Calvert steal the phrase from Brion Gysin's book Here to Go? Gysin's phrase refers to his belief that it's humanity's biological destiny to evolve out of our physical bodies and then leave this planet. I've been reading Terry Wilson's book about Gysin the past few days. But now, unbidden by any conscious thought, Howard Nemerov's poem The Consent bubbles up. The Consent memorializes the phenomenon of the sudden leaf drop and questions what causes it: "What signal from the stars? What senses took it in? What in those wooden motives so decided to strike their leaves, to down their leaves, rebellion or surrender? and if this Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt? What use to learn the lessons taught by time, If a star at any time may tell us: Now."

Nemerov wrote The Consent in 1975, mere moments (in the grand scheme of things) after Hawkwind wrote "Born to Go," which came on the heels of Gysin's after Here to Go. And yet all three have collided near the duck pond on an otherwise non-descript morning. I watch the yellow leaves flicker and dowse to the signal that only they can hear. Brock and Turner are in my head, singing "We were born to go, and leave no star unturned." The leaves let go with no regrets and drift through space to their ultimate destiny, rippling and slipping through the sheets of sunlight just climbing over the horizon. And they look just like the motes of light that fracture and reform on my cubicle wall for a dozen or so minutes every afternoon. "We were born to go, as far as we can fly/we were born to go, to blow the human mind" sing Brock and Turner, Lemmy's maniac bass flying along unhinged through universe - it's the signal the trees have obeyed for the whole of time. The universe is smaller than we comprehend, and greater than we imagine.