The moon is a balloon, Muldoon announced to a half-empty auditorium. After all, who cared about the thoughts of an artist and poet, now that reality itself had the veneer of the fantastic? The moon is a balloon, he said, the earth’s plaything, let go, the toy of our childhood. When we first looked up, there it was, staring back down, into our cot, into our hospital bed. It was easy to mistake it for our father or our mother. Back then there was no difference. But really, it was we who gave birth to it. Just as in the story where the earth gives birth to the moon through its side. The earth is made fertile by the stars. I chose to paint the stars. I painted them in new formations, I gave them new names. But I first saw them, first realised them, when I visited the moon. Because of the moon, every child dreams of colonisation and of sexy space suits. There were some laughs around the room. I was unremarkable in that regard.
I travelled to the moon, illegally, to join a protest against the building of a second spaceport in the Sea of Tranquillity. There was the promise of riots and of some good bands on the bill, which is what every adolescent dreams of.
Again, there were some awkward laughs.
The Treaty of Twelve had attempted to close the moon to civilian traffic after the first wave of protesters arrived, but the moon wasn’t a nation state with borders and boundaries and fixed entrances and exits – at least not yet! – and so there was really no way to stop the fleets of handmade ships – Snowdrops, they called them – swarming across the face of the moon.
We touched down in the south-west of the Sea of Fecundity. I’ll never forget that first journey across the lunar landscape, the great arcing steps of our convoy, this feeling of endlessness, of incredible clarity, of scale revealed, the epic poetry of distance, it was impossible to fit it into your eyeball, whatever you could cram in there became the horizon. The movements, the soft gentle movements in zero gravity, felt more like swimming, as if we had regressed somehow, returned to the sea, like wise dolphins, and as we moved across the surface it was as if we were dancing at the bottom of the ocean. Still, there was something wrong, something disappointing, as if the idea I had of myself walking on the moon would forever outstrip the reality of it, like distance or remove was part of its magic. Once you get there, walking on the moon is just walking on the moon, not the . . . I don’t know, not the revelation that the idea of you walking on the moon would seem to contain or imply.
And that’s when I first saw the stars, really saw them. Their figures were so clear, yet nothing like we see them on earth. This slight shifting of the centre, a mere 200,000 miles or so, had resulted in a radically new perspective. The stars seemed to gather themselves in powers. We all walked with our heads up, or down, straining, as if we were hanging from the moon in space. I felt alive, finally, free of past and future. As we approached the Sea of Tranquillity we could already make out all the lights from the new spaceport, there was something quite beautiful about it, this explosion of light on the horizon, this fiery white corona, reaching up, but of course we all groaned and said it was ugly, a pluke on the face of the moon, someone said, industrial debris, a dumping ground, they’re blotting out the stars, someone else said, but it wasn’t true, the stars were clearer than they had ever been.
It made me think of a campfire, a single great bonfire, signalling our presence, like here we are on this lonely stone, stranded. Come and get us. There was something brave and forlorn about it. Still, no one wanted to see the moon turn into another shopping mall, another multi-storey car park, which is surely what would happen, in the end. Protesters had erected a series of huge geodesic domes around the area where the Apollo 11 mission had touched down and there were small buggies parked around them filled with amplifiers and small PAs and portable generators. Inside the domes they had managed to create artificial atmospheres thanks to salvaged military equipment and a few renegade government scientists who had become hippy drop-outs due to environmental concerns. This was the beginning of the movement, in a way. It really was like a music festival, they wanted to call it Moonstock but that was in poor taste, I thought, I mean, it made it feel like just another fucking teenage bacchanal.
We set up our own accommo-dome on the outskirts of the camp and then a few of us took a walk – though it was more of an arcing bounce – over to the spaceport construction site. Why do they even need a second spaceport? No one was clear. The first one had resulted in the placement of new telescopes, a new lunar study centre and some minor excavation work. Why a second one? All that anyone could think was that it was the first step in lunar colonisation, something that certain nation states had increasingly been calling for in the wake of impending environmental catastrophe. Of course, the creation of the Victory Gardens, thanks to the good work of all of the people gathered here, made colonisation irrelevant. But back then it really looked like it might take place.
I saw people with patches on their space suits: Keep the Moon Wild; Nicht Auf Luna Lebensraum, which Helpless Clairvoyants had coined, and which joined the dots to the Nazis’ land grab; Space Is Feral; Grow Up!; Use Your Imagination; Moon First; The Lunatics Are Taking Over the Adytum; all this kind of stuff.
And of course, with hippies involved, there was much talk of lunar forces that would come to our aid, sightings of inexplicable lights, reports of invisible presences, of shadowy life forms flitting around the boundaries of the spaceport and committing random acts of industrial sabotage. And, of course, there was a faction amongst the protesters that clung to the belief that the moon had once been occupied. Outings were arranged for groups to visit notorious craters like Eratosthenes, in the Sea of Rains, where the astronomer W.H. Pickering claimed to have seen the movements of migrating life forms. Of course no one was ever able to find this mythical moon tribe again. It was as if they had become invisible.
There was something eerie about the moon, which I’m sure many of you in the audience have visited and will probably have experienced yourself. There were murmurs in the audience, a few people said yup, and sure. It’s almost as if this eternal migration was always taking place, Muldoon continued, and of course, here we all were, protesting against another.
The full military might of the Council of Twelve was out in force. When we first cased the perimeter of the new spaceport we could see lines of guards with riot equipment assembled behind rings of steel fencing and barbed wire. Obviously on the moon you can jump a lot higher, so fences weren’t the best means of defence, and of course, try firing a gun up there. So there was a real sense of unease on both sides, like we were coming up against possibilities, against new modes of conflict that neither side had ever imagined before. People began talking about a mass assault on the spaceport, a spontaneous act of liberation. They talked about how, back in the day, during a protest against the Vietnam War, a group of heads had attempted to levitate the Pentagon. Up here, some people said, levitation was a real possibility. Others proposed a sort of co-ordinated mass leaping where fleets of protesters would be propelled into the air while attached to ground umbilicals and would rain down on the spaceport from the skies while attack buggies rammed the fences and forced their way through. Someone else suggested that we declare our raggle-taggle collection of geodesics a Free State and stage a full occupation. It was all pretty vague, which made it incredibly exciting.
When Helpless Clairvoyants touched down it really began to have the feel of a genuine happening. I knew Firth Column, the Clairvoyants’ lead singer and guitarist, from art school. We had been in the same year together. I saw him coming down the ramp from their Snowdrop, which was shaped like a pear and painted to look more like a single bright tear, come to fertilise the moon, and I laughed when I saw that he was wearing a pair of black shades beneath his visor. The rest of the band followed, and roadies began wheeling out stacks of Marshall amps. The Clairvoyants refused to play through anything else.
There were a number of bands on the bill, but no one was in any doubt that the Clairvoyants were the main event. They rarely played live, rarely gave interviews, and when they did they spoke only in German, even though they were all French. Sometimes their gigs consisted of a single chord, endlessly inflected, while Column played FX-destroyed guitar solos all over the top. On the day of the concert I took acid.
There were some whoops in the room, a few people even applauded.
Thank you very much, Muldoon said. I appreciate it. It wasn’t a particularly heroic dose, but I hadn’t taken it in years and it was a trip, for sure. I sat on the floor of this huge dome they had erected, and it was all lit up in pale whites and oranges and deep reds so that it felt as if I was behind a great eyelid or inside one of the organs of the body, even. I swear at one point the dome itself began to breathe, pulsing in and out like a great lung or a heart, more like, a heart that had been spilled on the moon. It was crazy. I watched a group of women on stage who were all dressed up in black skintight rubber space suits. They appeared to be singing backwards over the sounds of hacked transmissions from the earth to the moon played at ear-splitting volume, and every so often one of the women would leave the stage and float up in the air towards the roof of the dome and the rest of them would take out these long whips, like long lizard tongues, and whip her back down. At least, that’s how I remember it.
There were a few laughs in the audience, a few jokes about the effects of LSD.
All of the Helpless Clairvoyants’ roadies looked like they were tripping. They wore black all-in-one space suits with Nicht Auf Luna Lebensraum T-shirts. When the group played they formed a wall by locking arms at the front of the stage, so no one could get past. It looked amazing.
The gig was unbelievable; massively over-amped acid punk with endlessly reverbed vocals that seemed to consist of single syllables, simply exhaled. It was incredibly violent, when they played ‘Krankenhaus Blues’ the guitars sounded like they were tearing the sky apart, but there was something easy, inexorable, about the way the music progressed, like they were four receivers, channelling the music of the spheres. It was as if the stars above us were the score and Helpless Clairvoyants were simply reading it, or being played by it, more properly. It was elemental. I began to wonder about the genesis of their name. It made sense all of a sudden. And of course, back then, well, that was probably the moment that Xstabeth was born, somewhere in my mind, and her brother-sisters Lalino and Qbxl, all the paintings that I later made.
After they played, the atmosphere was really charged. People began chanting, Free the Moon, Free the Moon, and I imagined the moon severing its connection with earth and sending us all hurtling off into space. I wanted it to happen. It seemed like a good idea. I was peaking and ready to ride a dead stone through the cosmos at out-of-control speed.
I went to see the group backstage, but it was almost impossible to get near them; so many people were mobbing them. Then the bassist, Tomnado, spotted me and waved me over where a couple of roadies whisked me down this tunnel and into the inner sanctum. There were some girls around and Firth Column and the rest of the guys were spread out across a series of packing crates that were draped with Indian rugs and fabrics. Of course, they were all talking in German. When Column saw me, he raised his alco-pac and he toasted me. Heute ist Die Welt Tag! he said, and everyone cheered. Then he had his roadies clear the room of any hangers-on. Sorry, he said, I only speak in German in public.
I told him I loved the gig. That’s phase one, he said. Phase two is the assault. The guitarist, Yacob Yacob, fell back prone across the packing crates at this point and he remained like that, immobile, for the rest of the evening. I was beyond impressed.
You’re planning an assault? I asked him. Tomnado replied. We have information, he said. Intercepts that suggest there’s a lot more going on here than any of us might have guessed. There’s an entire subterranean complex, a bunker, beneath the new spaceport.
The spaceport isn’t the point, Column underlined. It’s only necessary for what lies beneath.
What do you think it is? I asked them. Dig this, Tomnado said. I think they found life. Beneath the surface. Or maybe the remains of a civilisation, Column added. Maybe there’s a whole new world down there. The point is, for us, the assault on the spaceport is only an excuse, a necessary diversion. We have the plans; we know where the entrance is. We’re going in, under cover of a riot.
Just then someone knocked on the door. A beautiful blonde girl stuck her head into the room. Glückliche Tage sind wieder da! Column burst, and the girl danced her way over to him and curled up in his lap. Das ist Candy, he said, vom Himmel. I took another hit, and the whole night dissolved.
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