‘Can the world be as sad as it seems?’   

Shocked and gutted to hear that Mark Fisher, aka k-punk, has died. I was privileged enough to work with Mark on a few brief occasions, and some of you may recall he supplied the sleevenotes for our Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1980 soundtrack release (reproduced below in tribute). His ideas and insights, communicated with style, zeal and a courageous honesty across books, journalism and of course blogging, were a constant source of inspiration. It’s impossible to overstate his influence on us or the surrounding culture. Rest in peace, Mark.

 

LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF DAVID PEACE

Appropriately, Channel 4’s production of David Peace’s Red Riding novels felt like something out of time – a throwback to the early days of the broadcaster’s history.

Red Riding was an anomaly amongst the new Channel 4’s property shows, cheap controversy-mongering and reality TV. Since there were only enough funds available to adapt three of the four novels – 1977 was the one which didn’t make it onto the screen – 1980 became the centrepiece of a trilogy. Here we had a vision of what British television could (still) be like. Director James Marsh and screenwriter Tony Grisoni constructed a film that was expressionistic, fractured, mythic. Marsh drew the best of an excellent cast, led by Paddy Considine, perhaps the most gifted British actor of his generation. Somehow, Marsh and Grisoni broke free, not only from the conventions of current British television, but also from the mediocrity that reigns in recent British cinema (a mediocrity which, sadly, was demonstrated all too acutely in Tom Hooper and Peter Morgan’s dreadful adaptation of Peace’s The Damned Utd).

Four years on from the Red Riding adaptations, and Peace’s work has come to seem even more prophetic than it did even in 2009. How is it that writing about the past could tell us something about the future? And yet, how many times, in the last few years, have we found ourselves saying it’s like something out of David Peace? In England, in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s as if some kind of spell is wearing off. The conjuring, the concealment, could only work for so long, and there is a growing feeling that the past is coming back, that what had been buried will no longer remain underground. All the occult deals, the secret meetings, all the silencing and the disappearances, all of them gradually coming to light. Everything that was necessary to build the reality system we have lived in for the last thirty years is now being exposed. The same unholy triangle – police, politicians, journalists – keeps returning, scandal after scandal: Hillsborough, hackgate, Savile. Dark networks of complicity, everyone compromised (and therefore compliant). It all connects…Pull on one thread and it all starts to unravel…

It’s like Peace woke up before the rest of us, laying out, in the novels he wrote between 1999-2002 a vision of British society that would be vindicated by the revelations of the last few years. The central character in the Red Riding novels has also had a returning role in some of this decade’s scandals: Yorkshire, which in Peace’s hands becomes the dark secret heart of England, a rival source of power to London, a cursed territory. The tendrils that connected Hillsborough to Savile pass through (or under) Yorkshire. Flash to a now notorious photograph of Jimmy Saville with Peter Sutcliffe and Frank Bruno…A light entertainer, a serial killer, a boxer…Like something out of David Peace…Then there’s the revelation that police investigating the Yorkshire Ripper murders considered Savile a suspect for a while…and one of the Ripper’s victims was found only yards from Savile’s flat…

By 1980, Peace’s fictional(ised) world was increasingly incorporating actual events, as the Red Riding story arc started to centre on to the bungled police investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper. With 1977, Peace had begun to move out of James Ellroy’s shadow. 1974 felt like a fairly simple translation exercise, in which Ellroy’s infernal vision of LA corruption was transposed to Yorkshire. Already, though, it was clear that the two writers had a very different orientation to what they were depicting. Ellroy is a pugnacious pessimist, rubbing our noses in the excrement of the world and calling us sentimentalists for expecting any more. There is no such acceptance of corruption in Peace’s work, which howls with an unexpiated sense of outrage at injustice and corruption. Peace’s is a Gnostic vision: even if the material world is dark and heavy with a corruption that is constitutive and indelible, even if there is no possibility of escape or redemption, on no account should we accept it.

Some of the moments in the Red Riding novels that most felt like melodramatic excesses – children kept prisoner in bizarre underground lairs, for instance – turned out to also to be prophetic. It seems that melodramatic ‘excess’ is built into the Real. Realism screens out this excess by reflecting the world according to common sense, and in this way abets power (this can’t be happening). Actual conspiracies are easily waved away by being dismissed as conspiracy theories. Yet, after hackgate, after Hillsborough, after Savile, it’s clear that conspiracy theories have a much better grasp on how things operate than level-headed Anglo-Saxon common sense.

Drawn into the murk of institutional cover-up, Peter Hunter in 1980 has no hope of exposing the conspiracy. (The conspiracy can only be revealed many years later, when the key players are retired or dead.) Hunter is led down blind alleys; he faces lack of co-operation, outright obstruction and deadly betrayal. Most ominously, he sees, necessarily too late, the way in which corrupt power responds when it is threatened. Cops, hacks and politicians all have the goods on each other. Ruling class consciousness: it is either watch each other’s back or be stabbed in the back. There’s no need to fear do-gooders like Peter Hunter. No one is pure; there is always something – a photograph, an indiscretion, a remark – that you would rather keep under wraps. They have something on everyone, and, when the time is right, they will let you see what they’ve got on you.

Mark Fisher, July 2013