In All Our Decadence People Die: Crass Era Fanzines 1976-1984: Crass, Dial House & the Art of Anarcho-Punk.Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
“I am no feeble Christ, not me. He hangs in glib delight upon his cross, above my body. Christ forgive… Forgive? I vomit for you, Jesu. Shit forgive. Down now from your cross. Down now from your papal heights, from that churlish suicide, petulant child. Down from those pious heights, royal flag bearer, goat, billy.” Those words were the first words I heard from Crass. Those words, spoken by Eve Libertine, were seared into my brain by her righteously indignant voice. “Spoken” does no service to the sermon that she delivered on that record. I was 14 when I first heard those words, and listening to them 12 years later still gives me the same chills and electric energy I felt then. There are few things that can make me feel the rippling waves of excitement I experienced in my teens. Libertine’s words excite me. Drinks don’t get me drunk the way they did years ago. I don’t get high the way I used to. Christmas doesn’t leave me with the same selfish and materialistic jolt of jubilance it once did. The silence in “They’ve Got a Bomb” will never cease to confound me and leave me momentarily alone with myself. “Lamearse Jesus calls me sister” will forever be one of the most powerful and irreverent statements I have ever heard. Crass gives me chills. Crass starts a movement inside me. Crass challenges my personal politics as well as the World’s.
A teenager is a sort of hydra with two heads. One head is stimulated by ideas, and the other is stimulated by actions. For a teenager, like Crass, art is in action—and not in quiet reflection. Crass always maintained a pacifist foundation, but they were incensed people. They were a band motivated by what they saw as injustices. Crass never made a record that Rolling Stone will tell you is “essential.” Crass never lip-synced live on Top of the Pops to the album version of one of their songs. Crass never had a single that the mainstream airwaves cared to play—or could play. In 1978 Crass declared, “Punk is Dead.” In 2001 I knew they were right.
Trends begin and end faster than you can connect to the Internet, and chances are you are always connected to the Internet today. Crass frighteningly foreshadowed that. Most people will agree that Punk “broke” in 1977. Sure, ’75 and ’76 were formative years that saw tremendous activity in New York City, and more than arguably, the birth of Punk. What happened over in the states then influenced the English. 1977 was Punk’s coming out party. Just one year later, and four years before Napalm Death declared, “Punk is a Rotting Corpse,” Crass had delivered Punk’s eulogy; it was fitting. Crass’ legend involves many players—and they all played an integral part in furthering Crass’ art attack on society. But, for the purposes of this story two characters stand separate and apart from everyone else.
Jeremy John Ratter is a name that many people will not recognize. He is a writer, poet, philosopher, painter, musician and activist. But Ratter does not exist—not by that name. You will never meet Jeremy John Ratter. Penny Lapsang Rimbaud was born fro the fire of boyhood desire—desire for knowledge, rebellion and a newer better version of the society we call a community. Rimbaud was one of the founding members of Crass and played drums in the band. He continues creating art to this day, predominantly as a writer and spoken word artist. The realm of the idea is the space he inhabits—words (written and spoken) are the tools he uses to draw his truths from the ideas that spin around us.
Gee Vaucher is the iconoclastic artist behind Crass’ visual presence. She has worked with many mediums, but is most known for her work that seamlessly combines collage and painting. It is this work that set the standard for Crass’ album artwork and aesthetic. He work with Crass became the archetype for Punk based art.
Rimbaud and Vaucher are the two most important players in this story. We are able to enjoy and experience the art of Crass, and its legion of fans, because of the work Rimbaud and Vaucher have done. Their legacies are inextricably linked to Crass and the fan-made art that Crass/Dial House received over two decades. Crass’ story is based in secular communion—their journey and legacy is shared with everyone who cares to take part.
Crass, Dial House & the Art of Anarcho-Punk:
Dial House is a farm cottage that was built sometime in the 16th century. In the late 19th century the writer Primrose McConnell lived and worked there. In 1883 he penned, “The Agricultural Notebook,” which is regarded as an influential work for the European farming industry. Dial House’s origins aren’t terribly remarkable. Dial House was not established as a cultural hub for the world’s counter-cultures to congregate at. It truly was a farm cottage, and until the mid-20th century it remained as such. In 1967 Dial House became something new.
In 1967 Rimbaud sought a new model for living—Rimbaud wanted a community that was separate and apart from the established society. In 1967 Rimbaud reclaimed and reestablished Dial House as an artists’ commune. It became an open house that anyone could live in for any period of time—as long as space was available. The only rule was that tenants needed to contribute to the commune. For many years Dial House was a self-sustaining environment. Tenants gardened, farmed and traded goods with other local farmers.
In 1975 Rimbaud’s friend Phil “Wally Hope” Russell died—this was a moment of change for Rimbaud. Russell was arrested and sentenced to a mental institution after a small amount of LSD was found on him. He was released in 1974 and was never the same. Rimbaud, as well as Russell’s friends, believes he sustained irreparable mental trauma during his time in the institution. His essence had been torn down by his experiences while he was forcibly hospitalized. He was given prescription drugs that crippled his personality. His 1975 death was officially ruled a suicide, but Rimbaud never believed that. Rimbaud believes Russell’s death was an organized hit, ordered by the State. It was here, perhaps, when Rimbaud became more of an anarchist and less of a pacifist. Crass was born soon after Russell’s death.
Dial House remained the center of activity for Crass. After Crass disbanded in 1984 (as they had always promised to do) the future of Dial House became uncertain. Property developers wanted to urbanize the London greenbelt that Dial House called home. Gee Vaucher and Rimbaud bought Dial House to preserve it. The purchase came at a cost and left Vaucher and Rimbaud £100,000 in debt. The debt they incurred was for a greater good: Dial House remains open to this day.