Last week, comic book legend Alan Moore strengthened his allegiance to the Occupy movement by donating a track to Occupation Records. ‘The Decline Of English Murder’ was released last week, on Guy Fawkes’ Night. That date is of course significant – the Fawkes’ mask worn by the lead character in his seminal V For Vendetta has become a symbol of the disparate protest movements of the modern age, first adopted by the Hacktivist collective Anonymous.
The track, tracing a grim story of inner city homicide out to a wider conversations, has some brutal things to say about the people running our financial institutions, and while the message might at first sound like it borders on the hysterical, the logic of his argument is compelling in the extreme,
Moore, who takes great pride in having neither a mobile phone or an internet connection, granted NME a rare interview for the track’s release. What follows is an extended version of the interview in this week’s magazine. He has some bold things to say about the potential of the Occupy movement, V For Vendetta, and why the sixties may not have been all they’re cracked up to be.
So how and why did this come about?
“After I’d been down and actually checked out the Occupy camp, I was very impressed with their level of organisation, and I’d said a few words to that effect. When they said they were putting together an Occupy album I was only happy to agree to it. As it turned out, one of the songs we’d been working on, ‘The Decline Of English Murder’ seemed very appropriate, so we did a brushed up recording of it and sent it in.”
What inspired the song?
“I’d just seen the first part of Red Riding on Channel 4 the night before, and I was thinking that there’s something in this unpleasant English world of murder and corrupt policemen. The first verse came out as a pretty much a description of a standard English murder. But I realised that’s not enough for a song. It has to have meaning beyond the sensationalism of saying ‘isn’t murder a bad thing?’ because I think most of us have probably got that idea already. I decided to completely generalise it, talking about an individual to the entire social landscape. It’s composed of various things, the line about bunches of flowers in pedestrian precincts, you see too many of them and they’re never a good sign.”
The song is incredibly provocative. Are you saying that corporate crime is actually more sinister?
“I was thinking about the genuine monsters that England has produced, and we’ve produced a fair few outstandingly horrible people, the Peter Sutcliffes. But at the end of the day you have to say that they’re abhorrent and horrific but they do have a reason for doing what they do, which is that they are mad. If you take the lives of seven people that’s a terrible thing and I wouldn’t want to diminish the awfulness of it.
But there is something more straightforward about that behaviour than the financial psychopaths who have been running our financial institutions for 30 years. Those people who at the stroke of a pen are knowingly committing thousands of people to a greatly diminished form of life, if not actual death.
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And there’s the knock-on effects. As people get more desperate, history suggests that they’re not going to rise in a mighty proletarian tidal wave and wash away their oppressors. They’re gonna turn on each other. It’s more likely that frustrated men will turn on their wives and children. These people have a case to answer. It’s not just ‘what did you do with our money?’ It’s ‘what did you do to our lives?’ That strikes me as a more calculated and morally evil course of action than killing the prostitute because God told you to.”
All that said, do you think movements like Occupy and Anonymous can be an effective opposition?
“The thing that impressed me most about Occupy was that this kind of action is very much a moveable feast. That’s perhaps one of their greatest weaknesses but also their greatest strength. Movements of the past have carved out their manifestos in stone and quickly made them into dogmas which have not kept abreast of a world that is changing rapidly. If you’re going to have any kind of political opposition in the 21st century then it has to be as fundamentally liquid as the rapidly changing society we’re living in. But this is an ongoing thing now, it’s not going to go away. What is most likely to happen is they will become the prototypes for more sophisticated forms of protest which will arrive with the next wave of technology.”
When did you first become aware that the V For Vendetta mask had become an emblem?
“A couple of years ago I saw them barracking the Scientologists and I thought that was quaint. I could see why against a litigious bunch like the Scientologists you’d want to keep your identity covered up. So that was practical. But it seems to have blossomed into quite a startling thing. It’s obviously a romantic symbol that’s seized people’s imaginations, and perhaps that story that I wrote does touch on today’s protest movements in some interesting ways. I’m not claiming I was prescient, it’s just the way we’ve been unfortunate enough for the world to work out.”
Do you take a certain pride in that?
“I can’t take too much because I’m not out there freezing my arse off on the steps of St Paul’s. I’m an old man who likes his books and comfort. I can’t take credit, but if something I wrote 30 years ago can be of some use then I take great pleasure in that. These protest movements that are better organised and more voluble than anything we had in the sixties – and I’m a sixties bore.”
Really? Our generation would say that you guys were better? Is it technology?
“We did some good and noble things in the sixties but a lot of those things were done by accident. We didn’t trust anyone over 30. We were ageist and were very conflicted about sexuality and gender. There was an awful lot of psychedelic chauvinism. Technology has made a difference but I think the people have changed too. In the sixties, for anybody to suggest that the government didn’t have our best interests at heart and policemen sometimes killed people would have automatically made them a radical firebrand lefty. That’s not the case anymore. At marches these days you’ll see just as many pensioners and toddlers.”
What do you make of the criticism that this is the same old bunch of crusties and trustafarians who’ll turn up to anything?
“I don’t know if there are that many trustafarians. I don’t know them that well, but this is a global movement, and any criticisms that might be levelled at the English branches of Occupy you couldn’t level at the Indginacos in Spain, it’s a different culture. Globally you can’t say this is the same old bunch crusties, because it’s a lot bigger than any of the protests of the past, this is global. Sometimes these criticisms have a germ of truth in them, but I don’t think it discredits the courage of the people involved.”