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NSFW RIP — obituary for a friend, Heathcote Williams

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Sunday sadness — for Julian West and Gabi Nasemann, each of whom loved Heathcote no doubt better than I ]
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NSFW might well have been John Henley Heathcote Williams’ initials. There were few boundaries he did not push, he taught himself fire-breathing and burned himself breathing fire to impress his then girlfriend, the model Jean (or was it Chrissie?) Shrimpton, and breathed fiery words all the livelong day. Here’s his final tweet, containing a poem you may want to watch:

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I’ve posted this before, but do so again today because I’m old enough find it very funny, and because it piercingly reminds me of my friend:

Oh, and the beauties of his days loved his ugly mug — this I posted before, too:

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As someone observed, Heathcote was a Ranter in the fine old tradition:

Coppe went up and down London streets ‘with his hat cockt, his teeth gnashing, his eyes fixed, charging the great ones to obey his Majesty within him.’ Clarkson as ‘Captain of the Rant’ entertained women to his lodging house but made canny financial provision simultaneously for his wife. This was the ugly face of Protestantism. It was what countless opponents of the Reformation had inveighed against since Munster: antinomianism was the logical, if perverted, conclusion of dissent. Anabaptists attracted the opprobrium in sixteenth-century Europe; Quakers inherited this legacy in later seventeenth-century England. But it was the Ranters who were the enemy of orthodoxy in England in 1650.

Myself, while I have Ranter sympathies, am also a Royalist and Cavalier.. Heathcote, no way: he’s an unabashed anti-monarchist through and through.

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An Old Etonian and overlap-contemporary of mine at Christ Church, Oxford, Heathcote took language to the street:

Believing the world to be a common treasure house to all
I spray-painted this slogan almost everywhere,
‘USE YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE AS A CREDIT CARD’,
Suggesting to be born entitles you to a share.

I’d then keep an eye on the graffiti’s lifespan
And would often find myself amazed
By its lasting for years in the poorer districts
But if they were gentrified, it’d be erased.

And he meant it!

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Heathcote, I’ve owed you a review of your book on Badshah Khan. I have been too fatigued to write it, but take it as a mark of your singular intelligence that you know, revere and celebrate the man!

Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior by Heathcote Williams

Thin Man Press is delighted to be publishing this timely and important ‘poetic investigation’ by Heathcote Williams (‘Whale nation’, ‘Falling for A Dolphin’, ‘Autogeddon’, ‘Royal Babylon’…).

With the news full of Islamic extremism, terrorism and the steady rise of the ‘Islamic State’, Heathcote Williams brings us a different story – the amazing life of Afghan Pashtun leader, Badshah Abdel Gaffar Khan, a devout Moslem, revered spiritual guide and champion of world peace who was a close friend and companion of Gandhi. Gaffar Khan spent much of his life as a political prisoner, and was tortured by the British; but he remained committed to his ‘jihad’ of peace, kindness and gentleness, which Williams relays with clarity and passion.

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But onwards, to death.

Speaking of Van Gogh, in There has to be an afterlife, Heathcote wrote:

He believed that the heavens were our future destination
And he declared, “we take death to reach a star.”
Now that there’s stardust in every single cell of our body
More mystery is added to knowing who we are.

But in bereavement it’s a very great comfort
To those who are feeling dispossessed
To consider that those they’ve known who’ve died
Have simply changed their cosmic address.

Heathcote, are you going soft?

Or is the new address you address yourself to — and have now achieved — “among the stars, dissipated“?

I’ll miss you, until I’m dissipated, too.

Robert Pirsig, RIP

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — obit as bead game ]
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A meditation on Robert Pirsig‘s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:


Tryptich: zen speaks to zen, Suzuki to Suzuki, motorcycle to motorcycle

Pirsig died yesterday at his home in Maine, after 88 years hereabouts.

Michael Yon on the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron ]
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king-bhumibol

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Michael Yon on Facebook, and (illustrated) on his journal page under the heading Rivers of tears flow tonight:

On one level, there is not much to say other than that one of the greatest leaders in history graced us for so long. He is the Father of Thailand. He was a champion of peace, freedom, and prosperity, and a good friend to America and to American people. His Majesty is loved by many Americans.

Americans normally do not like Kings, but King Bhumibol is a great exception. Those who studied him grew to respect him, then to like him, and finally to share in the love for the King of Kings. The love for His Majesty is so immense that it could fill the Gulf of Thailand.

Thais are among freest people on earth, thanks to His Majesty. He brought his millions of sons and daughters very far, and he taught lessons and brought inspiration to foreigners such as me.

He was a musician, and good, and his photography was excellent. Highly educated, he visited every corner of this great country, into the deepest jungles to help villagers, into the mountains, out to the islands, down the rivers. He went everywhere. His Majesty was a man of the people. He wanted to see with his own eyes, and he did.

Finally his body has worn out. We wish his body had lived to 110 but his body wore out. He spent it working for Thailand. But this is not the end. Only his body is gone. His Majesty is more alive now than ever before.

Strangely perhaps, since I only knew of him from a smattering of press accounts, I too am moved to tears by the death of this man and monarch. May he rest in peace.

Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]
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02PapertObit2-blog427
Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit

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Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson

    The Champ: knockouts, protests, sufism and the man

    Saturday, June 4th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Muhammad Ali ]
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    The knockout:

    Obviously, the champ was a knockout — and this photo is almost certainly the loveliest photo of a sporting event I have ever seen — victory and defeat in perfect symmetry:

    Ali mandala of victory
    Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images via The Guardian

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    The protestor

    quote-there-is-one-hell-of-a-difference-between-fighting-in-the-ring-and-going-to-war-in-vietnam-muhammad-ali

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    The sufi:

    How did your dad come to embrace Sufi Islam, and what attracts him to it?

    My father has a collection of books by a man named Hazrat Inayat Khan. They’re Sufi teachings. He read them front to cover. They’re old and yellow and the pages are torn. They’re amazing. He always says they’re the best books in the world.

    My father is very spiritual — more spiritual now than he is religious. It was important for him to be very religious and take the stands he did in earlier years. It was a different time. He still tries to convert people to Islam, but it’s not the same. His health and his spirituality have changed, and it’s not so much about being religious, but about going out and making people happy, doing charity, and supporting people and causes.

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    The man:

    How Ali wld like to be remembered

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    May he cross the bridge and attain the lake.


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