The Incredible String Band

Frankfurt, Germany
December 28, 2001
Frankfurter Rundschau

- Mike Heron called his long-term involvement [in Scientology] "silly", because he should have seen, "that the control it exercised over me was stronger than anything I could've learned from it."

Victorian nightgowns and Roman sandals

Psychedelia without Feedback: The Incredible String Band (1965-1974), they play again

Instead of that the group took another turn in its search for meaning, and Heron and Williamson got involved with Scientology in 1968. The dark side of their music turned black and their cheerfulness was subdued. People were buying the hippie image and the fans were delighted after many concerts - with projected images and intermittent, raucous dancing - by their personal presence, but they had a mission. Peter Neal made a movie whose second half consisted of a classically exotic swindler's story, in which Heron and Williamson, of all people, appeared as gods.

The first part of the movie, a documentary with refined countercuts, gives unique insight into the musical productivity of the Band, and during it you ask yourself why Licorice was not let into the group's core - neither did Grace Slick take a coincidental role. (Be Glad for The Song Has No Ending, 50 Minutes, was released last year by the English video music company Wienerworld on cassette, and is now appearing on DVD). About their connection with the cult with the Cold War Aura the two band leaders, moreover give accounts that vary widely. Robin Williamson maintains that he "never got into it so deeply that I had a need to get out." Mike Heron calls his long-term involvement "silly", because he should have seen, "that the control it exercised over me was stronger than what I could've learned from it."

It is actually remarkable that Rose Simpson left the Band when the connection with Heron fell apart, but Licorice stayed on, even though Robin Williamson married the official photographer of the Band, Janet Shankman. Heron said that Licorice was part of the Scientology connection, but Rose said not. In any case Heron and Williamson had gotten themselves into a bad situation, as was already evident in the summer of 1969 when they flew into the Woodstock Festival and their big appearance was bungled. The next one to take off was Joe Boyd, their producer. The group settled down in a series of cottages in southern Scotland, named Glen Row. Now each member of the Band has their own house.

Colorful Market of those who promise cures

Exhibit on "Sects, Spirits and Miracle Healers"

Frankfurt, Germany
January 28, 2000
Main Rheiner

"The more rational the world, the more emotional the person" - Reverend Wolfgang Piechota believes that this old saying is reinforced by the exhibition on "Sects, Spirits and Miracle Healers," which can be seen starting February 4 in the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer building.


Kerstin Zehmer

"Uriella," with the help of a cancelling ["Wegstreich"] technique, can heal almost all diseases, while Scientology founder Ron Hubbard promises, with Dianetics, to free the immortal Thetan spirit, which allegedly is hidden in every person, from its dependency upon space, time and matter, and, in this manner, to help enable people to solve all the problems of the world.

The exhibition in the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer building, which is being put on by the speaker for Evangelical Schools in conjunction with the Evangelical Church's Sect and Worldview Commissioner in Rheinland, shows all sorts of sects and movement which make promises of salvation, eternal health or other remedies. Satanism and doomsday cults are presented as are fundamental groups of the two Christian churches. Informational boards document the entire bandwidth of occult, para-psychological and esoteric phenomenon.

"We are trying to approach different ways of thought with curiosity and a preparedness for dialogue," emphasized Reverend Wolfgang Piechota, school speaker of the Evangelical Church of Nahe and Glan at the opening of the exhibit. Superintendent Hartmut Eigemann also stressed that the church is not interested in opposing other ways of thinking. "The exhibition is meant solely to provide help in orientation and ability to evaluate."

"Because of the large number of sects and esoteric groups a regular market has arisen for providers of meaning in life," said Joachim Keden, Sect and Worldview Commissioner. Reverend Keden manages the exhibition, which started in 1988 and has gone public regularly since then. He reported of a tragic case of a young woman who was a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. "The sect is against blood transfusions on principal." Keden said a 22-year-old woman in Duesseldorf died after a hemorrhage because she refused to consent to a blood transfusion.

But how can a sect be differentiated from a serious religious society? Classic sects claim to be the sole holders of the true belief and often segregate their members from the outside world and other influences, explained Keden. "The more unsure the times, the more access such groups have," the expert believes.

The minister played a tape recording of the voice of Gabriele Wittek, founder of "Universal Life," a sect from Wuerzburg. She began in a quiet, inconspicuous tone, but her voice became louder and more emotional until it took on fascistic and authoritarian characteristics. "Comparisons to Adolf Hitler do not upset her," said Keden.

A number of school classes have already scheduled visits. For people who have been affected by such groups, literature is provided which lists where they can get help.

Belief in Leaders withers on their word:
from political to the economic era

Frankfurt, Germany
September 23, 1999
Frankfurter Rundschau

Glee or Freedom

by Beat Wyss

A basic, methodical principle in the sense of information right up front: history runs according to coincidental necessity. Coincidental, as in the decision to choose a number in roulette, the mixture of jetons and the degree of force used by the croupier; necessity, as the centrifugal force, the friction of resistance, and the slope at which a ball finally comes to rest on the wheel. Events in the present can no more be predicted than can a turn of the wheel, unless they have already happened. When future prognoses can no longer be made, like an oracle on events which have already occurred, then the threshold of news is nothing other than the future turned around into present history. The impact of a large meteor can be calculated a couple of weeks before life on earth is extinguished. The really unforeseen surprises which came to us from the past have to do with epidemics: the plague, syphilis, cholera. Unfortunately, historical text is only aware of unexpected turns of events as being evil; No case is known where an inexplicably appearing, massive happiness or an epidemic of self-propagating well-being has been reported.

In particular it was the epoch of modernism which flooded humanity with unstoppable promises. A unique contrast: the phantasm of the predictability of human progress is confronted with the fact that the 20th century will be entered as the darkest in the annals of human history. Future generations will see these decades in abbreviated hindsight as being shadowed by world war, political crises and mass, ethnic persecution. The modernistic era was a time of forceful prognoses in science, politics and society. "Utopia" is one of the words which has been overused in every era. When I get involved with it, though, then I do so with the same caution used by one who clears away land mines, one who is disarming a dud from a past war. Ernst Bloch distinguishes two types: the utopia of happiness and the utopia of freedom. The former and elder of the two was developed by humanists like Tomas Morus, who rediscovered "Platons Politeia" for the new age. The ideal state is that in which the king is a philosopher, holds meetings with philosophers, serves as the guiding star for completely diverse interests: he ennobles the politics of absolutism and aroused the sympathies of early socialists and anarchists until he finally came to exist in real life and began in Lenin's and Stalin's areas of influence. The goal of this type of utopia was the bestowal of happiness upon humanity by the elite who, in their wisdom, knew what was good for the people. It is characterized by its often grotesque over-emphasis of ideals about economic and social relationships. The leaders have a magical trust on the effectiveness of the word. The arts are ascribed a higher value as a means of relations than are political conviction, persuasion or palliation.

The utopia of happiness has run its course; the second, newer utopia, that of freedom, has kicked into power. Actually, it is the opposite of the first. Happiness is now a private matter; everybody is so free that they can strive for it on their own, as confirmed by the American Constitution. Even though freedom was brought upon the world by the European Declaration, shortly after the French Revolution it had to emigrate to the United States, because the old utopia remained valid in Old Europe with its old relationships, more or less until after the Second World War. The utopia of freedom is not directed by politics, but by the economy. In this system, politicians are scapegoats for alarming statistics and falling profit curves which change slope daily. In is not the inability of the politicians that makes this looks so precarious, but the fact that they seem to think that their speeches can extensively influence social relationships.

The old utopia of planned happiness from above was incapable of keeping step with the irresistible developments of economy and information technology. The principle of centralization is, in any case, capable of operating steam engines, steel mills and concentration camps; but it it is not compatible with the personal computer, the lead instrument of the freedom utopia. The advantage of a "freedom" inspired society is the declining readiness for war. Not because people have learned anything from history or have gotten any better from the practice of the free market economy, but simply because war does not fit in. Racism, however, will not die out. Mistrust and hate of strangers reside within humanity; like inherited scabies they break out at any time on the remote fringes of society, where the poor live. But there will no longer be a political lobby which foments racism for gain. The Yugoslavian conflict was called a "war" in error: it was an early lesson for the old political era from the new economic; it will guarantee the monopoly of power in the future less through standing armies than through market law. That is the good news.

No appropriate place will be found in a cultural newspaper column for the camp of those who are already poor. Now we come to the bad news for the minority of cultural performers: your significance is withering. The political era was, in its need for symbolic markings, a promoter of art. The economic era is not. We are witnesses to a dramatic decline of state managed and sponsored cultural politics. The closing of the German Goethe Institute in foreign countries is a gesture of abdication. Where modern colonization once europeanized the globe, now globalization has begun the colonization of Europe. The only noteworthy difference between Frankfurt and Saigon will soon be only the climate. We will all turn into threshold countries, not least of all in regard to public promotion of culture. German museums in the 21st century will take on the moving, dusty charm of institutions for ethnology, as have the colonial agencies in Mozambique or in Georgetown, Guyana. The utopia of the free market needs no great words, no great expressions - its power of conviction lies in the wares, the stuff from which the dreams of consumers are made.

Unlike the era which lies behind us, where political attempts at happiness had a constant braking effect, the epoch of freedom in the next century is without competition. Not even fundamentalist Islam can maintain its push for victory, because the financing of terrorist attacks is dependent upon the world market's circle of regulation. The lone opponent of the successful phenomenon which we animate with the good, old word of "capitalism" will arise from within itself. Its principle of freedom is easy to infiltrate by the lawlessness of the mafias and sacrally cynic, tightly managed sects - any distinct society which operates better and more at ease without the state. What happens when the freedom utopia is controlled by an alliance of the Cosa Nostra and Scientology escapes any possible realization.

Beat Wyss is a professor of art history in Stuttgart.