Here, Paul Sieveking, founding editor of Fortean Times provides his thoughts on the life and times of Chris Gray:
In the months leading up to the May events in Paris in 1968 and the worldwide wave of unrest and university occupations, two explosive pamphlets made quite a stir in Britain among students interested in contemporary radical activity: The Totality for Kids (1966), a translation of Raoul Vaneigem’s Banalités de base (International Situationniste Nos. 7+8. 1962-63), described by one critic as a form of “hermetic terrorism”, and Ten Days that Shook the University (November 1967), a translation of Mustapha Khayati’s De la misere en milieu étudiant, which had caused a scandal in November 1966 when published in Strasbourg using student union funds and led to Europe’s first university occupation of the modern era. Totality… was translated by Chris Gray and Philippe Vissac; Ten Days… by Timothy Clarke and Don Nicholson-Smith, edited by Chris Gray.
Chris spent most of his first 10 years with his grandmother in Windle Hey, near Crosby, Liverpool (where he developed a lifelong passion for gardening) and was educated at Repton. His 11-year-old brother died of meningitis when Chris was 16, and his mother descended into alcoholism and madness, later cured by LSD therapy. Chris left home for Paris when he was 19 where he encountered Guy Debord and other situationists, and also spent time in Tangiers. He collaborated with Conrad Rookes on Chappaqua, a film about altered consciousness. He met Charlie Radcliffe, fresh from the Provo agitation in Amsterdam, and helped him compile and publish Heatwave magazine in July 1966, with material from the Provos and American anarchist publications like Rebel Worker. Following the second issue of Heatwave in October, Chris and Charlie – along with Don Nicholson-Smith and Timothy Clarke – joined the Situationist International.
Charlie left the S.I. in November 1967, while Chris and the others were excluded by Debord’s Paris cabal the following month for “maniacal excesses” and lack of theoretical rigour. (The S.I. had become notorious for its exclusions since 1958.) “The presence of the S.I. never made itself properly felt in either England or America,” Chris wrote later. “The English and what could well have become the American sections of the S.I. were excluded just before Christmas 1967. Both groups felt that the perfection and publicisation of a theoretical critique was not sufficient: they wanted political subversion and individual ‘therapy’ to converge in an uninterrupted everyday activity.”
In April 1968, following their exclusion, the London situationists brought out a magazine called King Mob Echo (named after Christopher Hibbert’s book on London’s Gordon Riots of 1780). This had the cover line “I am nothing but I must be everything – Karl Marx”. It included a translation of part of Vaneigem’s Traité under the title “Desolation Row” and a text by the radical Freudian Norman O Brown called “The Return of the Repressed”. King Mob 2 appeared in November 1968, with a piece by Chris on student power and the end of modern art. He also co-wrote (with Timothy Clarke) “The revolution of modern art and the modern art of revolution”, which was circulated in typescript before being published in Tom Vague’s King Mob Echo: English Section of the Situationist International (2000).
In 1969 came King Mob 3, largely recounting the exploits of Ben Morea, editor of the Dadaist Black Mask, and the New York street group the Motherfuckers. Chris and the other King Mobsters fomented various disruptions and demonstrations round London. In December 1968, for instance, a group of 25, including an art student called Malcolm McLaren, invaded Selfridges’ toy department and gave away toys to passing children. Not long afterwards, Chris made his first trip to India, where he recovered from an over-indulgence in Methedrine and other recreational drugs.
In the late Sixties, Totality for Kids and Ten Days… enthused a bunch of libertarian-inclined students in Cambridge, including John Fullerton, Anthony Wilson, and myself. Fullerton and I went on to form with others BM Ducasse, a “pro-situationist” group in London. In 1972 we translated Vaneigem’s Traité de Savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations (Dec 1967), which I published under the title The Revolution of Everyday Life (Practical Paradise Publications, April 1975). Wilson founded Factory Records and the Hacienda Club in Manchester (based on an old proto-situationist quotation: “The hacienda must be built” (Ivan Chtcheglov, Formula for a new urbanism, 1953).
I first met Chris in 1971 when he was living in Belsize Avenue in north London with Sue Cohen. He was delightful company, quick-witted and witty, kind, mischievous and mercurial. Charlie Radcliffe said he was “tall, neat, dark-haired, skinny, striking-looking, very intelligent, fastidious, softly spoken and serious but with a ready laugh that often collapsed into hopeless giggles when something really amused him. The name might be Gray, but the sense of humour, like the clothes, was often black.”
I gave Chris a hand in assembling the situationist translations that were eventually published by Free Fall Publications in 1974 as Leaving the 20th Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International, but by this time Chris had moved on and no one proof-read the text, resulting in several lacunae. The book, with graphics by Jaime Reid, had a decisive influence on Malcolm McLaren and the whole punk scene of the 1970s – see Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus (1989) and England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage (1992). (Leaving the 20th Century was reprinted by Rebel Press in 1998.)
Chris’s commentary ended: “What was basically wrong with the S.I. was that it focused exclusively on an intellectual critique of society. There was no concern whatsoever with either the emotions or the body. The S.I. thought that you just had to show how the nightmare worked and everyone would wake up. Their quest was for the perfect formula, the magic charm that would disperse the evil spell. The pursuit of the perfect intellectual formula meant inevitably that situationist groups were based on a hierarchy of intellectual ability – and thus on disciples and followers, on fears and exhibitionism, the whole political horror trip. After their initial period, creativity, apart from its intellectual forms, was denied expression – and in this lies the basic instability and sterility of their own organisations…
What needs understanding is the state of paralysis everyone is in. Certainly all conditioning comes from society but it is anchored in the body and mind of each individual, and this is where it must be dissolved. Ultimately the problem is an emotional, not an intellectual one. All the analyses of reification in the world won’t cause a neurosis to budge an inch…
…[W]henever I go out on the streets my being somehow reels back appalled: these terrible faces, these machines, they are me too, I know; yet somehow that’s not my fault. Everyone’s life is a switch between changing oneself and changing the world. Surely they must somehow be the same thing and a dynamic balance is possible. I think the S.I. had this for a while, and later they lost it. I want to find it again – that quickening in oneself and in others, that sudden happiness and beauty. It could connect, could come together. Psychoanalysts and Trotskyists are both silly old men to the child. Real life is elsewhere.”
In 1975, Chris and Sue travelled to Sri Lanka to study vipassana meditation, and then moved to Pune (Poona) to set up a vipassana workshop in the ashram of the famous revolutionary Jain teacher, Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It aims not merely to cure diseases and eradicate mental impurities, but also to heal human suffering and achieve full liberation. At Chris and Sue’s urging, I went out to Pune in late 1976 and listened to the guru’s wide-ranging discourses. Rajneesh (later known as Osho) gave Chris and Sue neo-sannyas names: Paritosh and Pradeepa. They separated a few months later, and Paritosh took up with Usha (Gina Raetze), before leaving the ashram in 1980. For his account of Osho’s teaching see his book Life of Osho (1997) by “Sam” (ISBN: 0-9531534-0-1). Available online at http://www.enlightenedbeings.com/pdf/life_of_osho.pdf
Pari’s last book, also under the nom de plume of Sam, was The Acid (Vision Press, PO Box 64657, London NW3 9NH. ISBN 978-0-9562049-0-5). Mike Jay, author of Artificial Paradises, Emperors of Dreams, and several other acclaimed history books, comments: “For anyone who thinks the story of LSD was written in the Sixties: think again. The Acid combines a sharp critique of that decade’s psychedelic adventures with a brave and original series of self-experiments in the present day. Returning to LSD after a hiatus of nearly forty years, Sam pursues its revelations systematically, and with a lifetime of experience to integrate into them. The result is an instant classic of acid literature.”
Christopher Nelson Gray, born London 22 May 1942; died of lung cancer in London on 14 May 2009.
For Charlie Radcliffe’s memories of Chris, see