When I first met Lee Gerard-Barlow he seemed like an intense bohemian plucked from another age. He lived in the middle of the West End above a gallery on Shaftesbury Avenue, his flat a witchs cave of rare records, arcane books and odd smells. We'd hang out there sometimes, me and my friends who worked in the gallery, trying (and largely failing) to absorb the strut of his raw garage rock 7s into our swagger.
At the time Lee was fronting a psyche krautrock band Groop, taking them all the way to the top, baby. He was great on stage, with a million mile stare and a loaded deck of freaky dance moves. It should come as no surprise that, like most of the worlds best bands, somewhere along the glittering, star studded path to the top, Groop went tits up. Theres only a handful of sought after 7s and a couple of bedraggled flyers to remember them by and whilst no one was around to record the wild live show, theres at least some of the music preserved on youtube. Heres a taster, listen right through to the finish for the euphoric synth coda
After Groops demise, Lee went on to form Sir Francis Dashwood & The Hellfire Club, a psychotic rock n roll outfit, not a million miles from The Bad Seeds. Again, they were ace, and again success proved elusive. Lee schlepped round London playing gigs to bastards, paying the bills with session work for the likes of Andy Weatherall. Life ground on.
One day, whilst dragging his amp to Camden in the pissing rain, he decided that it was all ridiculous, and his life needed direction. Hed spent years practicing meditation and researching forgotten magical arcana hence the crazy dance moves in Groop they werent moves, they were well I guess rituals is the word. It was time to focus on the mind and the magic. This is why now, a few years on, Lees become one of the worlds few practitioners of the ancient art of mesmerism.
The first I knew of this was a couple of grainy youtube videos Lee posted online. They looked like something found at the end of a forgotten VHS tape; bizarre clips of near silent, slow motion dances between Lee and his mesmerised patient. No need to take my word for it, here is some footage:
I watched that clip again and again, and still didnt have a clue what was going on. So when Lee contacted me, out of the blue, to ask if I'd like to talk about mesmerism for the Englands Dreaming column, I could only think it was a piece of synchronicity in action.
I met him in a pub in Clapton so he could explain to me what the hell was going on. To be honest I'm not sure that I'm much the wiser. But it seems like he's doing some good, somewhere, which is probably more than can be said for me.
R$N: So can you explain to me what mesmerism is about?
Lee G-B: Mesmerism was defined in popular usage because it stemmed from the practices of Franz Anton Mesmer. Memser was around in the early to mid 1700s. He was very active in the use of what was known as animal magnetism- this works on the principle that all things have polarity. If we look at the human frame, we can see we have two ears, two eyes, we have two sides of the nervous system on either side of the spine, two arms, two legs; its as if we were divided down the middle, as if were reflected on both sides. So through the laws of polarity- which exist in the human frame- we actually have a theory which came along with the idea of what Mesmer was doing, that a certain amount of magnetic polarity exists between these two sides, the two hemispheres of the brain. Magnetism is the use of this energy itself, and traditionally we dont use words, its not a verbal art.
The traditional forms of hypnotism began around 1880, something like that with a Scotsman called James Braid. He went to see the French Mesmerist Charles Lafontaine. Braid decided to put the mesmerism to scientific scrutiny and then decided that the form relied on various practices that it relied on things like muscular strain, ie muscular strain of the eyes, that it relied on things like suggestions of feeling heavy. He took these basic components and turned it into something that was reinforced by a verbal art, and he rebranded the whole thing as hypnosis after Hypnos the Greek God of sleep. And so people started to get confused from that point on, because in the popular mind hypnosis was thought of as the art of putting people to sleep. And thats never really true.
Speech patterns form a rather large chunk of hypnosis, which is something I trained in. The use of speech patterns is very important. What we now call traditional verbal hypnosis Ive now veered away from.
I'm not really understanding here is mesmerism, like hypnotism, the art of putting someone into a trance?
To use the word trance we start get into nominalisations we start to give labels to things that happen in nature all the time anyway. So when you use the word like trance, people have all sorts of associations with that word, in the same as they do with the word love or hate, or anything else. This is how traditional hypnosis works, through the implications embedded within words, and the actual associations people make with them. That tendency for the human mind to jump to conclusions and fill in the gaps around an implication, around what is only just a word, which is actually an empty vessel in and of itself, that tendency is the thing that makes hypnosis work.
OK, so hypnosis is suggestion by the spoken word of something ulterior to that which the spoken word purports to refer to?
Yes. You use words which create a mental state that has a feedback loop on the physical body. Whatever we perceive in our minds has a direct implication on how we feel in our body. The majority of people dont have any real sense of their body, this is the interesting thing.
So what we do with mesmerism, with magnetism, is we work with the body, as a primary reality. Its not rooted in concepts or conceptualisations.
So you believe there is a master reality, an over-riding reality
Yes, theres a thing called an objective state, yes.
We take people immediately away from the tendency to be always rooting about in the past or in the future, and getting tied up in knots about the implications of the past and future, when actually, most of those issues can be put into some level of harmonisation and balance if their focussing their attention on this moment, the moment we exist in, rather than losing sense of the body, and catapulting ourselves into a future projection of the body, or being obsessed with a past projection. Its like, take the idea of 10 minutes 10 minutes wasnt happening 10 minutes ago, and 10 minutes wont be happening 10 minutes into the future, it doesnt exist, its a concept. All we have is the present.
We use certain practices which fix the person more and more in the present. As a person becomes more fixed in the present moment they become aware of certain realities. When we talk about energy and the transference of energy, that is something that only exists on the present, its a bit like what William Blake said- and Im probably getting the quote a bit wrong here but it is to see heaven in a grain of sand. Its that thing of getting consciousness to the point where its no longer encrusted with huge amounts of conceptulisations, which take a person far away from where they actually are at that point in time. That can be hugely therapeutic for a person because it can shed them of the knots that are tying them up in the moment when they experience true presence.
Out of interest, have you ever tried to mesmerise an audience when youve been performing?
Im looking into some public events at the moment, but thats all I can say right now.
Musically, Im doing a project with Bish, a drummer I used to work with 20 years ago, and were working on some weird noises together. Ive also been doing some session musician stuff with Marc Almond and the Greek classical pianist Othon Mataragas, hes doing a project called Pineal based on the old Ayahuasca chants, so Ive done some guitar pieces for that.
Will you mesmerise me?
We can do that in the future, yes.
And thats where I'll have to leave it for now. I'm in the process of setting up a future mesmerism which I'll post up here in the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about Lee's therapeutic mesmeric treatments check out the site http://arcanatherapies.com/ - Lee's a convincing interviewee and Im fairly certain hes on to something, but of course that's for you to decide
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