EXCERPT FROM THE ILLUSTRATED VIVIAN STANSHALL
They called Vivian zany. He was never zany. He was elegant. He was dignified. His work, even when drunk, was crafted with intense care. His "antics" were Dadaist works of art sponsored by Keith Moon who aspired to be Vivian. Keith fought to be more than a drummer stuck in the back of The Who. Drumming brought him riches and fame. Nothing ever brought Vivian riches and his fame meant nothing.
Keith's frenetic disruptions were pleas for recognition and love. Vivian was an artist.
'What Keith could do', said John Walters (who'd semi-controlled them both in the vacationing John Peel's Radio Flashes as "Colonel Knutt & Lemmy") 'was imitate, he could copy and he had good timing'.
What Keith could also do was show up on time. As Walters said, 'When Moon is the dependable one, you know you're in trouble'.
To expose humanity as V did and then to have people call his work "zany" tormented Vivian.
Vivian's experiments with Moon were not zany. They weren't funny. They certainly weren't pranks. Not through Vivian's eyes. They were épater le bourgeoisie, dada performance of a quite serious sort, meant to rattle, knock-off-kilter and enlighten sleeping souls. The whole point was to elicit human reaction. He'd been doing them long before meeting Keith. Usually on trains. On trains scores of Brits did cryptic crossword puzzles. These were often devilishly clever and difficult. Vivian rapidly, and with great confidence wrote in the wrong answers. His fellow puzzlers expressed covert envy. He graduated to overt disturbance by very precisely blacking in every square.
Soon after his stint in Halliwick's loony bin, believing himself to be having a heart attack, Vivian fell to the pavement clutching his heart. He wasn't having a heart attack, but never mind. He certainly thought he was. And no one took a blind bit of notice.
Aside from being appalled at the lack of humanity this required, he was also intrigued. How far could this go?
A clergyman in hard-to-miss distress on the pavement—no one comes to his aid. A thief on a bus—no one alerts the victim. A man hanging himself, but the rope is too long. He shortens it and tries again. Everyone buries their face in a newspaper. All too obvious dress-up famous fascists—everyone is offended but no one rises up. In Keith's pub, the Crown and Cushion in Chipping Norton, they dressed as forelock tugging servants, carried bags, solicited tips. 'People loved it. They loved being groveled to'.
Vivian was exposing the human mind, the human soul, making clear how caged we are: how blind, how deaf, how controlled by normal convention. To trot out descriptions of the things they did, V as creator, Moon as patron, repeating them over and over as if they were comedy skits, is as uncomprehending and numb as those who step over a man dying on a sidewalk.
Vivian Stanshall's "pranks" were a urinal in the Tate.
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