S.R.: HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT YOUR CARTOONING AND WRITING WILL BE PERCEIVED BY MANY AS "EXPERIMENTAL", WHILE YOUR MUSIC MIGHT BE CALLED "POP"?
P.B.: I can only say that my own favorite music, the stuff I grew up listening to, the music that made me think; "Oh, this is what I want to do." was music that used melody, harmony, careful structures. Like the Beatles, folk music, these were the things I liked the most. It is only, in a way by accident that I got involved with the groups like Faust in the 70's, and Henry Cow, and John Zorn, Arto Lindsay and people like this in New York, and I really saw the clear walls between these things. To me, it's always an experiment! Trying to make any structure that has a satisfactory form to it, even if it is an open form, it's all experimental. I don't feel that I'm using a different "muscle" in my mind when I'm writing a toe-tapping (singing) to just screaming feedback...
S.R.: WHY DID YOU MOVE FROM NEW YORK TO LONDON?
P.B.: I was born in New York city and grew up in Connecticut, until I was about 13 or 14, and that's 64' or 65', and me and my brother were getting to the age when you could be drafted into the army, the Vietnam war was raging, Martin Luther King and Kennedy had been assassinated and the whole American scene was very nasty. My parents were sort of left-wing, very much against the establishment. They were both artists and Europhiles, my father is in fact Danish, and my mother met my father in Paris, just after the second world war. They were very eager to get out of America and go back to Europe. A cheap apartment became available, and we all moved; the whole family, without knowing of what we'd find. My father is a children's book illustrator, and he can work anywhere as long as there is a mailbox.
S.R.: TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FATHER'S WORK, WHEN DID HE START ILLUSTRATING?
P.B.: He is now 76 years old and illustrating his 100th children's book. He must have started in Denmark during the war. The first that he illustrated was a book about fishing, not a children's book. But as soon as he landed in New York, in the 50's, he began to do that work... His friends included Edward Gorey and lots of lesser known people. This was pretty fascinating for a kid; when Christmas came other children would get sports equipment under the Christmas tree, but my brother and I would get ink and paper, and we just drew all the time. I only really got interested in music in the early 60's, when the Beatles were on TV, and I suddenly thought; "That's the thing to do! You get all the girls, you make this wonderful noise, you hang out with all your friends... it's better than being in a gang with leather jackets and switchblades", because that's what I liked at the age of 11, by the age of 13 I thought; "So, the electric guitar is even cooler than a switchblade!"
S.R.: WHEN DID YOU START CREATING COMICS?
P.B.: When I first saw "head comics" in the 60's, I was going to boarding school in England. I saw Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, maybe Spiegelman, some of the early Bill Griffiths stuff, and it was a revelation! Particularly Crumb, as for so many other people. I suddenly realized; this was really a universal language and you could say anything with this form. Why be tied to the literary page? I did a few experiments, just for my own amusement, never showed them to anybody. I guess I was always toying with the idea, I always saw the possibility in my mind, and I still do; that there could be a new relationship between written word and visual stuff. My big obsession in the 70's was Marcel Duchamp and his Large Glass, which is a completely mysterious, inscrutable thing. He's written all these notes about the symbolism and the meaning of it; so if you have the books that explain his scheme, and you look at the work again, you have a whole new take on the thing. That to me seemed like an apotheosis of illustration.This is what I like: a symbiotic marriage between text and image...
that's not exactly cartooning, but this is the direction my ambition headed in. In fact, John Greaves and I made a record in '76 called Kew Rhone, which was an attempt to do that with songs. the lyrics to the songs were so complicated, you had to stop the record, look at diagrams on the cover. Some of the lyrics are footnotes to other songs, and all those kind of things. I did a couple of cartoon strips that were trying to make it as complicated as possible for the reader, which was maybe a little bit anti-social, I don't know. Anyway, I didn't get seriously involved in comics until I found myself without a job in London without any money and I had a wife and child and I thought; "This is so bad, I've got to go back to school and learn something useful, like computer technology" or something like that, which seemed like having to die. I didn't want to do that at all. I'd made another record, it had disappeared, which they usually do, and there wasn't any money and then by a curious coincidence, somebody who was working for a newspaper saw a drawing that I was doing to amuse the children in the neighborhood, and he said; "Oh, you should come out with the cartoon idea!" So I doodled some ideas, one of them, which was the idea of this omnipotent baby; because that's always been my perception of the human species: infants, right up to the grave! It eventually led to the job I now have, 5 1/2 years later, doing a weekly cartoon strip for a paper called The Independent on sunday, and the baby is now called Leviathan.
S.R.: I'M VERY INTERESTED TO HEAR MORE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIMENTS WITH IMAGINATION AND DREAMS.
P.B.: It was in those early days in New York City, in the 70's, when I had to paint those backgrounds for Peanuts animated films, and illustrated other things. I became aware that when I try to draw any object, a person, a thing of any sort, directly from my imagination; it was difficult for me to have any confidence that the way I drew it from my imagination would be readable for someone else. It seemed like a personal symbol for a thing, and I think maybe I wanted more reality in it. So I found myself first trying to draw the thing economically; without getting off of my chair, just drawing what I had in my mind's eye; and being dissatisfied with it. Then going to a library and looking it up, and drawing it carefully from illustrations in an encyclopedia or whatever, then after a suitable time I became curious to see what had survived, so I would draw the image again as I remembered it to have been. In the end I would have 3 images of the same thing, and I've conceived the idea of maybe devoting my whole life to an encyclopedia of everything in the universe depicted 3 times; and this would be an ultimate autobiography, sort of a catalogue of everything I had in my head...furthermore I was very interested in the whole nature of imagination and also how it effected language. So I began these experiments with tape recorder set up by my bed, and as I went to bed at night, I would just start talking as i got tired. I would say just whatever I saw in my head; hypnagogic imagery, and basically that's what it would be for the first 10 or 15 minutes, it would be just descriptions of the imagery that was flowing through my brain, but gradually as I got sleepier, there would be longer gaps, and the language got stranger and stranger. Eventually about 2 or 3 weeks into the experiment I was listening back to the tape which I was transcribing the next morning, and I realized that I didn't remember any of these, this was not spoken in a hynagogic state, this was me talking in my sleep! And the effort to come out of sleep enough to move my mouth to say the words, would just wake me up enough so that I could then say; "Oh, that meant so and so." and very often the whole story was compressed into one little formula! All that stuff interests me very much. My attitude to it is semi-serious... We are our own laboratories, constantly experimenting with ourselves, and that seems a pretty good way to occupy the time between the womb and the tomb... what else you gonna do?
S.R.: YES; TO EXPLORE YOUR OWN UNIVERSE.
P.B.: You got to keep yourself occupied sometimes!