Annette Elects Herself
This interview with Annette was conducted in April of 1989 over the phone. The interviewer, Bill Reynolds, a Toronto journalist, phoned Annette where she lived at the time, in rural Berkshire, which is located about 45 minutes from London -- "I don't like cities particularly." Annette's bass player from that era was Ed Poole and her drummer was Simon Price. That trio was the unit that recorded the Abstract-Contact LP. Unfortunately for Annette, Poole quit the group two weeks prior to a much-anticipated engagement in Toronto. She phoned the promoter and begged off the gig because she didn't think she could find a drummer who could learn the intricacies of the arrangements in time. The gig, which was to be held at a club called the Rivoli in downtown Toronto, had to be cancelled. Consequently, the preview article never ran as scheduled in the alternative weekly newspaper that was around at the time, Metropolis, where Reynolds worked as a correspondent.
>>>This, then, a slightly cleaned-up version of the interview, is happily distributed to visitors of this site as Annette's new CD release for ECM, An Acrobat's Heart, becomes available. As the story on Annette never made it to fully edited form it should be kept that way.
>>>Abstract-Contact's magnum opus, the long, complex tune "Elect Yourself," is almost a revolutionary tract, a polemic of the very highest order. In it Annette rails against blind idiot capitalism, environmental degradation, youthful irresponsibility, regressions against feminism and so on. It's not surprising this interview focused on words and not music.
>>>Some of the discussion reads like it is quite out-of-date now, and yet at the same time is strangely prophetic. To take one small example, there is a discussion about "green products" as if they actually were a real response to possible environmental catastrophe, and not, as we all suspected, just another scam perpertrated by greedy corporations in order to polish their badly tarnished images. This is, after all, years before Mad Cow disease, Gulf War syndrome, Bosnia and a hundred other atrocities from the past decade.
Bill Reynolds: The song "Elect Yourself" could be construed as implying that you think there's no hope, that the Judeo-Christian male-dominated world will simply get worse.
Annette Peacock: I don't know. I used to be extremely optimistic. Now I'm more realistic about man's ability to transcend his basic nature, or his basic conditioning.
>>>Unless people start becoming active, in terms of doing what they can actually do in their own sphere of activity (within their family, socially, within their circle of friends, whatever), yeah, there is no hope.
>>>I call that the personal revolution. Drastic, extreme things have to be done in terms of consciousness raising and behaviour patterns.
>>>People are becoming more and more aware, but they are still in the minority. They're questioning everything that permeates the fabric of their lives -- too much waste, taking too much, what to purchase.
>>>That is happening, but it's a question of whether it will happen fast enough. The damage is being done exponentially, and of course we can't determine what the consequences of these kinds of things is going to be.
>>>I wrote a song called "I Belong to a World That's Destroying Itself" in 1969. That was 20 years ago. It's getting worse, not better. People are victims of habit. It's very difficult to break behaviour patterns. Not many people are able or willing to take the effort to do that. Unless it becomes a socially accepted lifestyle to change your behaviour patterns very quickly, I can't feel too positive.
BR: Maybe we'll just blindly end up poisoning ourselves.
AP: Yeah, or people will end up dying by disease more and more. There is so much pollution in the environment, and the body can eliminate only so much, and withstand so much assault. Your system becomes weakened by the environment. Of course, that's another way of eliminating the population, of dealing with another crisis, especially here in England.
BR: But there alternatives around...
AP: Yes, it is now socially acceptable and economically viable. In Safeway you can buy organically grown foods now. It's still a very small quantity. Five years ago Thatcher said she was going to remove the lead from petrol b1990, and she's still on schedule. But she's being pressured by the public to do it, because these concerns are becoming popular issues. Change is happening faster than it's ever happened before, because people are genuinely frightened. Also, there is a lot of profit to be made by going green.
BR: Business says, "Go Green!" because they can make greenbacks.
AP: It's up to people to say they're going to support green products. Here on television almost every day there is some kind of green issue being discussed, and information is being brought to the fore. But you go into health food shops and they're still not stocking organic products. It doesn't make sense. There's no intelligence behind it.
>>>People are in the habit of buying a certain brand. It's very difficult for them to change. You have to make a conscious effort to do that each time, before it becomes unconscious and automatic. That's very difficult for people living in a very stressful world who have to stay on their toes all day long -- it's so competitive and tough out there. It takes an incredible amount of stamina, mental agility to survive.
BR: How do you spend your days in Berkshire?
AP: I spend most of my time protecting myself from the environment. There was a scare here recently about dangerous levels of aluminum in the water, which causes brain damage in large doses.
>>>They also put large supplies of chemicals in the water to eliminate some kind of mite. They didn't notify anybody about it because they said it was harmless.
>>>I'm bent on a protective path, because you can't trust anybody. I get my vegetables from people I know who grow them. We don't eat fish anymore because you can't trust the oceans over here.
BR: Well, judging from the news, like the Alaska oil spill, you've got good reason...
AP: We just can't afford things like that anymore. They have to pass legislation for horrendous fines for people in business that will absolutely bankrupt them if they do this. Then they'll be pressured to take safety measures that are foolproof. This is very serious. It's life or death for everybody.
BR: Your line "No nookie till the nukes are gone" reminds me of Aristophanes' play The Lysistrata.
AP: It's a very basic elemental power that women have over men. It's the only threat that men will listen to. If there was just a sexual strike throughout the world... there's nothing that grabs a man's attention faster than withholding or offering sexual favours. Sexual politics I think it's called.
>>>As for women's liberation, we seem to be going in the opposite direction now. The offspring of the 1960s generation are very right wing. They are a conservative consumer society. I don't like that. >>>Take women's liberation, for example. There has been so much information and education about it, and still attitudes haven't changed that much. They're still crying the same blues. It's a subtle thing for women, insidious. Women have had so many roles in the relationship with men as they're growing up, so it requires so many strata of awareness and behaviour. Mothers have to reject all the behaviour patterns they grew up with. Unless your very survival depends on it, people won't change. Even then it doesn't matter sometimes. A lot of people know that smoking can kill them and they continue smoking.
BR: In the first verse of "Elect Yourself" you seem to be criticizing youth.
AP: I'm not criticizing them. I'm just defining them. I can't pass judgment because I was that age as well, and I might have been pretty fascist as well. But then, I didn't have a generation of proven success as a group of youth who were able to wield such political power. Who were able to bring down the government of the most powerful nation in the world at the time.
>>>It has been proven that youth can collectively effect great change. The power to do that is historical. For them not to use that power is a great tragedy. They've just reverted back to the way it was before, to the 1950s generation, to the time of affluence, a time of just having fun.
>>>This is the great emotional crisis of out tome. How to come to terms with the world we're living in. Each person has to find their own way. Many people don't take it personally and think it's happening out there, and not to them. That's totally untrue, and they must realize that. Unless they're just braindead zoids walking around, they must realize there is this discrepancy between the way they would prefer it to be and the way it really is.
>>>The people who are aware just try to survive every day within those thousands of shocks going on around them.
>>>Once you're aware it's your natural instinct to collect information in order to survive. At first you're shocked by it, but then you accept the fact that every 45 minutes or so a new piece of information comes in that could lead to insurmountable catastrophe.
>>>You feel helpless because you know that the people who are in power are not so concerned with the legitimate priorities. It takes so much effort for them just to continue the machine -- to keep the economy going and manage the running of a country. For them to start assuming responsibility for the environment and the whole world's environment, because you can't think about your own patriotic little patch anymore, it takes a complete reorganization of approach. Governments haven't even begun to take this into consideration. Every government should have ecology committees and representatives. There should be an ecological United Nations which is meeting continually to set down legislation.
BR: What about Swedish Prime Minister Gro Bruntland's much-discussed Sustainable Development and The Bruntland Report. you know, economics and environment cannot be sacrificed at the other's expense. Do you agree with her assessment?
AP: It makes perfect sense. A woman's logic. Women think is terms of maintaining. There are exceptions, like Thatcher, who thinks like a man. But that can be admirable too, in the lack of sentimentality and so forth.
BR: Over here in Canada, our Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has endorsed The Bruntland Report, has won an award for his commitment to environment issues, but then he has cut the environment budget by 60 per cent over four years.
AP: Politicians don't think past their terms of office. They can't think 50 generations ahead, but rather their own lifetime. Most people have trouble thinking beyond today. It's the nature of the way the human brain works. It has so much potential to achieve. That's what's dangerous about it. There are no restrictions on the level of enthusiasm. That's the thing about capitalism. It's a great theory, but it's very extreme. If you can make any amount of money, you will make any amount of money, at any cost.
>>>Bruntland doesn't have as big a profile as Thatcher or Bush. If she did, she could get a marketing machine working for her. Spend a lot of money promoting and publicizing principles. Putting them into action and showing that the work. It might become popular to behave in that kind of way for heads of state, and therefore we might be able to have real change.
BR: I get the impression you have a problem with men.
AP: They obviously have a need to create. They're inspired and they don't have the same physiological satisfaction that a woman fundamentally has by creating life within her own being. Obviously, though, that experience for a woman makes her realize how ephemeral life really is, how precious it really is because of what she's gone though to conceive and protect it.
>>>Also, giving birth trains a woman's mind to think laterally and in terms of cause and effect. [Annette was raising a toddler at the time of this interview.] A woman has to basically be a genius to keep a child alive through to the age of five. You have to think ahead, because anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy's Law. You follow through consequences all the way. If you don't think like that your child won't survive. That's all there is to it.
>>>Men, as a rule, don't think that way. They're very goal-oriented. They focus on one thing at a time, and put the thrust of all their energy toward concentrating on attaining that particular goal. They move straight ahead towards it, very fast, with a lot of momentum and vitality. They get things done, manifest change. But they're not cautious. They don't often think of the consequences of the actions they are taking.
>>>We need men and women working together to achieve a balance of sorts. Women move more cautiously, so if change is going to happen at the tempo it needs to happen to turn things from destruction to conservation, then we need that male force. But we also need that female force to maintain and sustain things and put the male force in check.
Bill Reynolds is editor-in-chief of eye Weekly, Toronto's weekly newspaper.
Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V