Saturday, October 12, 2013

Isomorphic Drills: Beyond Fading Captain

"Of course, "Sufficiently Breathless," I know that one.  Classic, yeah, great song.   The name Sunfish Holy Breakfast came from it.  Go back and listen to it drunk and you'll hear it."

a SHOUt in the streeT

It isn't strange for me to suggest that the title of Guided By Voices Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP was birthed out of a misheard lyric from the song "Sufficiently Breathless" by Captain Beyond.  This kind of notion fits in well with the mythology of the GBV universe.  What is strange is my "proof."  This here is the evidence.

In numerous interviews Robert Pollard has stated that as a youth he based much of his record purchasing decisions based solely on how weird the band names were or how strange the album art was.  Captain Beyond's album Sufficiently Breathless certainly fits the bill.  "Captain Beyond" even sounds distinctly Pollard-esque, like one of the hundreds of band names Pollard dreamt up and made fake album covers for.  This record is definitely in Pollard's Progressive Rock Wheelhouse.

"Nothing Left To Live For..."
I also know that creative inspiration of this type has happened before with GBV.  One of their most widely known albums, Bee Thousand, was partially inspired by a typo on the marquee of a drive-in movie theater seen around town.  Instead of "Beethoven" it incorrectly read "Beethouen".  This "shout in the street" bled into the proposed "Zoo Thousand" title, becoming Bee Thousand.

Even the artwork on the respective album covers is similar, as both display a band of freaks hanging out in front of buildings with identical red brick walls (more or less).  And the lysergic disposition of the three long hairs sitting in bug-eyed lotus perfectly matches the refrain of the song.
For me, all the parameters for exquisite bullshit are firmly in place here, bullshit that is just entertaining and coincidental enough to convince a few fans that the story is true.

Who knows?  Maybe it is true.

Here Comes Everybody

I have always been obsessed with artists who command an unexplainable reverence.  Geniuses cloaked in mystery who, despite their fame, really don't belong somehow:  Lenny Bruce, Stanley Kubrick, Andy Kauffman, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, Pink Floyd.

One of the defining characteristics of these artists is that they remain coy when asked "what does it mean?"  Kaufmann never let down his guard.  Kubrick didn't explain shit.  James Joyce dropped Finnegans Wake on the world without a map, and Aleister Crowley reveled in the stupidity of fools.   These artists were content to allow their artistic output to speak for itself.

Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices is one of these artists.

One of the rewards of withholding answers to questions about meaning is that it gives time a chance to work its magic.  Over time, accidental intentions mutate and acquire occult meanings, liberating the deepest corners of the artist's unconscious mind and forming alchemical gold.  The subversive artistic agenda is Holy Actualized.

Enter the rune.

The Rune
Chemical Fun In The Sun

The rune made its first appearance on the Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP, released in November 1996, ten years after the first GBV release, Forever Since Breakfast, also an EP, and also concerning breakfast (a ritual associated with waking up).  Floating like a two-dimensional UFO, this odd little doodle first captured my attention when it reappeared on the cover of Mag Earwhig.   Soon it started showing up on t-shirts and promotional items at tour stops, on the tattooed arms of hardcore fans, and on Isolation Drills, the final appearance of the rune on an official album release (skipping Do The Collapse for some reason).

This "rune" has been referred to as a doodle, a logo, the symbol, and most lovingly, the "paper football thingy."  But of all the names given, rune is the most intriguing.  A rune suggests something of magical importance.  As I looked into the history of runes and runic alphabets, my focus moved away from the doodle and turned towards the script used to convey the album title itself.

Compare this writing with the writing of the Lord's Prayer in Old Norse (Runic Alphabet-Futhark):

King Felix
If anything was to be considered runic it seemed obvious to designate the alphabet used to inscribe the title of the EP runic, and not the "paper football thingy."  So how did the "paper football thingy" get nominated specifically as the "rune" while the alphabet was ignored?  Was this just coincidence, or was it a clue?

The earliest runic inscriptions found on artifacts give the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or sometimes, remain a linguistic mystery. Due to this, it is possible that the early runes were not used so much as a simple writing system, but rather as magical signs to be used for charms. Although some say the runes were used for divination, there is no direct evidence to suggest they were ever used in this way. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite. 

Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet, which is traditionally known as futhark after the first six letters. In Old Norse the word rune means 'letter', 'text' or 'inscription'. The word also means 'mystery' or 'secret' in Old Germanic languages and runes had a important role in ritual and magic.  

Magic.  All artists use it.  Therefore all artists are magicians.  I'm sure Pollard is quite aware of this, and I bet he possesses a working knowledge of magic in theory and in practice.  I bet he has also opened a few books on the subject too, books by many of the same authors that crowd my bookshelf:  Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Eliphas Levi, Israel Regardie, Robert Anton Wilson, Terence McKenna, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison.


beginners level study of magic will most likely include a discussion on the construction of sigils. Construction of a sigil is an extremely personal creative process which depends on reshaping and condensing multiple elements into a singular form.  It has much in common with collage, putting the use of sigils in Pollard's Magical Wheelhouse.

In modern uses, the concept was mostly popularized by Austin Osman Spare, who published a method by which the words of a statement of intent are reduced into an abstract design; the sigil is then charged with the will of the creator.  Spare's technique, now known as sigilization, has become a core element of chaos magic.  The inherently individualistic nature of chaos magic leads most chaos magicians to prepare and cast (or "charge") sigils in unique ways, as the process of sigilization has not been rigorously defined. Sigils are used for spells as well as for the creation of thoughtforms.

After looking deeper into runes, and recognizing that the alphabet used to express the title of Sunfish Holy Breakfast was runic in nature, I decided designating the doodle a rune was somewhat redundant.  It occurred to me that a sigil actually made more sense, and, taking a step back, I realized that the "rune" was actually a sigil constructed out of runes.  But who's runes?

Finnegans Wake Up With
Skills Like 

“To Joyce reality was a paradigm, an illustration of a perhaps unstatable rule.  It is not a perception of order or of love; more humble than any of these, it is a perception of coincidence.”              

Samuel Beckett

I began this exploration with a stoned-comedian riff on the entanglement of Captain Beyond's Sufficiently Breathless and GBV's Sunfish Holy Breakfast (SHB) because it illustrates the kind of lysurgical acrobatics necessary to distill the psycho-metalytic content of James Joyce's alchemical opus Finnegans Wake (I think this process is referred to in the rejected album title Non-Local Leap Frog).  It is this same freak process that I will use to discern the connection between Pollard's sigil and Finnegans Wake.

In Joyce's Finnegans Wake, the character of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker owns and tends bar in a suburb of Dublin.  His last name Earwicker is considered to be derived from eire-weiker, dweller in Ireland, but also carries many other associations.  One of them is "earwig."

Earwicker, the reader is told, was originally a gardener who spent his days trying to keep earwigs out of his garden.  One day, while he is at work, a king passes by and asks him what he is up to.  Earwicker's response is that he is "cotchin on thon bluggy earwuggers" (31.10-11).  This pleases the king, who then bestows the name 'earwicker' on him (3.27-8).  
Peter Mahon

Earwicker sounds much like "earwigger" and Joyce's dreamer, a Protestant, seems to suspect that his Catholic neighbors maliciously pronounce it that way behind his back.  The earwig is reputed in folklore to cause dreams by crawling into the sleepers ear, so the association Earwicker-earwig is appropriate for a book of dreams.
Robert Anton Wilson

A Waking Universe

From a press release for the album Mag Earwhig (ME):

The first GBV album by their new lineup, which consists of leaders Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout, backed by the entire lineup of Cobra Verde. This is a conceptual rock opera inspired by the Who's Tommy, the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow, Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and the Edgar Broughton Band's Wasa Wasa. Pollard is the main character in this sprawling narrative, an insectile cartoon figure named the Magnificent Earwhig, who interacts with a wild cast of characters in songs evoking nostalgiac memories of an Ohio boyhood, starting one's first band, and inhaling American roadside pop culture. "Despite the progressive conceptual 70's mindset informing this project, the record is still a collection of beautifully twisted pop songs and can be listened to as either an opera or just a series of rock arias." 

This could just be a simple coincidence.  But a coincidence involving James Joyce is rarely simple.
Joyce's understanding, use of, and reverence for coincidence has more in common with Jung's definition of synchronicity than the dictionary definition of coincidence.  Synchronicity is novelty energized by mystery; mere coincidence is novelty devoid of it.

Synchronicity exposes us to a reality saturated with hyper-dimensional intent.  It is a place where accidents simply do not exist.

Digging deeper into this coincidence of Finnegans Wake and GBV, I realized that both HCE and ME earn their keep by working in bars, establishments dedicated to intoxication, and that both authors, Pollard and Joyce, were born just outside of Dublin:  Joyce a few miles outside of Dublin, Ireland, and Pollard 73 miles outside of Dublin, Ohio.  Both spent time as school-teachers, both loved to write, and both loved to sing:

If he had not become a writer, there is a very good chance that James Joyce would still have made a name for himself by pursuing a career as a vocal performer. In 1904 he even shared the stage with the great opera singer and recital artist, John McCormack; and later on in life, after he had established himself as an author, he tirelessly promoted the singing career of his fellow Irishman and tenor, John Sullivan.

Pollard and Joyce both utilize collage as a significant channel for creative expression; Pollard primarily through visual arts, Joyce through the portmanteau of the written word.


This was enough entanglement for me to suspect Pollard might also be obsessed with James Joyce.   I say obsession because I don't think anyone is ever casually into Joyce; much like GBV, Joyce is either meh or full-blown obsession.

Visit This Place

"For a long time I didn’t have my own copy (of Finnegans Wake), because I had given it to Robert Pollard from the band Guided By Voices, of which you may have heard. He plunders it on occasion for song titles and lyrics."

James Greer was a member of GBV from 1994-96, and played bass during the 1995 recording sessions that would become Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.  Leftover material that did not make that album would eventually be released a year later as SHB.  SHB marked the final release of the "classic" GBV era ("One more!").  Pollard would break up the band shortly after and reform with another Ohio group, Cobra Verde, serving as back up band.

SHB then serves as a sort of wake for the GBV funeral, and the proceedings offer a few notable anomalies.  Upon release, Greer became one of only a handful of people in GBV history to have sole songwriting credit with the inclusion of his song "Trendspotter Acrobat." Another sole songwriting credit went to Tobin Sprout's "Jabberstroker" which opens the album.  No other GBV release before or after opens with a song whose sole songwriting credit is someone not Robert Pollard.  And of course there is the first appearance of the sigil.

I suspect that Greer's copy of Finnegans Wake was handed over to Pollard sometime in '95 and from there Joyce's influence began to take effect.  Peeling back a few more layers of the SHB onion we find other clues of Joyce's influence.  Greer's song "Trendspotter Acrobat" is a good name for the kind of deconstructive detective work necessary to make sense of Finnegans Wake, and the song "Jabberstroker" is evocative of "Jabberwocky," the nonsense poem written by Lewis Carrol, and a major influence on Joyce:

Many of the words in the poem are playful nonce words of Carroll's own invention, without intended explicit meaning. 

When Alice has finished reading the poem she gives her impressions:
'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) 'Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate.'

This may reflect Carroll's intention for his readership; the poem is, after all, part of a dream. In later writings he discussed some of his lexicon, commenting that he did not know the specific meanings or sources of some of the words; the linguistic ambiguity and uncertainty throughout both the book and the poem may largely be the point. 

Pollard's lyrical wordplay has also been accused of "linguistic ambiguity and uncertainty," but these accusations only hold weight through a superficial listen.  Any substantial investment of time reveals that even the oddest turn of phrase manifests some meaning (objective, subjective or otherwise).

Factory Of Raw Essentials

"I thought about it, a few years actually, and I decided that meaning and language are two different things. And that what the alien voice in the psychedelic experience wants to reveal is the syntactical nature of reality. That the real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish."

Terence McKenna

Taking over 17 years to construct, the Wake is the result of throwing multiple languages and systems of thought from countless cultures throughout history into an alchemical pot.  Joyce's decisions here were guided by voices from the past, the present, and even, as some have boldly suggested, the future.

If you have never skimmed the contents of the Wake, it is an unnerving confrontation with the bizarre, and it is impenetrable for the novice.  One cannot simply dive in head first; one must learn how to read it (Pollard being no exception).  Knowing the competitiveness that drives a man like Pollard, being confronted with the language of Finnegans Wake (FW) must have lit a fire to discover it's secrets.

The best way to start is to find a guide, someone to hold your hand and take you into the mess (see Joseph Campbell's Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake).   With plenty of miles to cover on the road from gig to gig during those years, I imagine Pollard spent some time with a few of the many guidebooks that help usher the novice into the Wake.

As I continued to dig deeper into the mess, I eventually learned that Joyce employed a runic alphabet to scaffold the architectonics of his 17 year work in progress.  Though rarely explicit in the language of the Wake, this runic alphabet can be found in the many pages of notes left behind in Joyce's archives.  After reading Robert Anton Wilson's exegetical work on this architecture, I started to grasp what Joyce was attempting with the construction of the Wake, and after many years spent wrestling with the beast, I now believe it was accomplished.

When I realized what Joyce accomplished, I awoke from what felt like a very, very long sleep; it had truly been forever since breakfast.

I get the sense that Pollard experienced much of the same thing.

Get Under It

According to Robert Anton Wilson's reading of Joyce's notes for FW, the runic architecture Joyce used to build FW forms a family tree which drives the dynamics of the inevitable recursive fall of man.  This family tree reflects not only the dynamics of the I Ching and the binary system of Leibniz, but also the dynamics of DNA and quantum physics as well.  It illustrates the intersection of spirit and matter, and it is the way reality seems to be when it is stripped down to it's most naked state.

At the top of this family tree is The Tao of the Chinese.  The Tao is a poetic representation of non-locality, that which remains when the dimensions of space and time leave the building.  According to Joyce, when the Tao is expressed locally (in the space/time continuum) it manifests as the mutually exclusive entanglement known as Yin and Yang (Male and Female, Particle and Wave).

Yang = Male = Particle

A particle can be either positive or negative, just as Yang can be either active or passive.  These polarities are further refined into the neutral particle, the moving Yang, also expressed as the mutational aspect of DNA into RNA.

Robert Anton Wilson believes Joyce expressed his understanding of this unified polar dynamic as "space-oriented arts like painting in opposition to time-oriented arts like music, with the eventual synthesis of both into Joyce space-time prose being gently hinted at."

The symbol for this synthesis of space-oriented arts and time-oriented arts is:

Though not exact, it certainly looks a lot like a goal post, or a busted tuning fork.

If Pollard's study of Joyce had led him far enough down the rabbit hole to find this symbol, it's meaning would have been heard loud and clear.  This polar dynamic not only merges athletics (goalpost) and music (tuning fork), it also reflects the synthesis of an artistic duality, with collage as our space-oriented art, and rock and roll our time-oriented art.

As a sigil intends, this rune is gently reoriented as a reflection of the magician's personalized influence.

Catching Waves Again

The second component of the sigil is the triangle sailing through the uprights.  This triangle in Joyce's runic alphabet represents the divine feminine, the Yin, the negative coil of DNA, or the Wave aspect of matter.  It could also be considered a muse.

Yin = Female = Wave

In Pollard's sigil, the triangle is colored in, reflecting the magicians personalized influence.

What Does It Mean?

Why would Pollard choose to mutate and merge these particular runes into a sigil?    What could his intentions have been in 1996, with GBV in ruins, and Pollard three years away from breaking through to the "big leagues" of major label rock and roll?

Here I go around the blame 
Here I go with hand over flame 
Down on the floor at 9:00 
A scene not fully recognized 
At precisely 9:00 
Here I go with clapping hands 
Here I go with "still no plans" 
Illuminate the mystery 
The film is not for view 
The film is not for you.

Bomb In The Beehive - R. Pollard

Or is this all just mere coincidence? 

Probably.  Only one person knows for sure.


  1. Recent musings for FW. Impossible for sane peoples. Nice syncs for all to read here in this post. Shine forth brave souls. Dennis

  2. One year later this is my Sync Book Three submission. Can't wait to see all the rest!

  3. Master Klaus,

    That is some fine detective work tracking down the James Greer>FW>Robert Pollard hand off. The WSU no-hitter mirrors Doc Ellis's in 1970, since we all know Bob is a living psychedelic. I never saw "the rune" as a tipped over goal post paper football thingy before, but now that you've illuminated it, it's impossible not to see. "Sometimes I'm programmed."

    Thanks for your inspiring visit to Universal Laevorotation - it took me a while to get the system set up for the Wide Foxtrot Eyes Yankee Shut Hotel triple-play as you suggest, but you've identified a level beyond the levels. I left a follow-up comment for you over there as well.

    Investigating innocence about the shallow manhole,


  4. "Servant to master
    Sinister bastard
    All the worlds are
    Colliding all around you
    Knowledge escapes you
    Society rapes you
    I've got my notebooks
    And I'm going back to
    Big school
    It's the big school
    Now we're talking about
    The big school
    Big school
    Now if I could free you
    What would you be then
    Look at my eyes through the telephoto lens
    And notice the traces
    Of faraway places
    We're both driving my car back to the
    Big school
    It's a million miles away
    And it's in the backyard
    The big school
    And it's way up on the hill
    The big school
    Big school
    Don't look back
    Don't you ever look back
    Cause it just might catch you"

  5. I see only a tuning fork and an arrow. It makes sense for me: "Guided by Voices".
    Arrow (Guided); Tuning fork (by Voices). This post is interesting, but I think that this symbol is not a rune...