Here’s What I Know About the KLF Novel So Far…
I was a huge fan of The KLF’s The White Room when it came out in 1991, not least of all because of their collaboration with Tammy Wynette on “Justified and Ancient.” Starting with the pseudonym the band chose for itself, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and culminating in a massively baroque music video that combine cutting-edge, multi-layered editing with goofy stage sets evoking the lost civilization of Atlantis, the song was an extended shoutout to The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson—which wasn’t just one of my favorite books growing up; it was one of the books that essentially shaped my adult worldview.
These days, when the Internet is filled with gossip about which pop music stars owe their success to membership in the Illuminati, it’s not easy to explain how genuinely far outside the mainstream this sort of stuff was in the 1980s, how “there’s no way Oswald acted alone” was just the publicly visible (and even then disreputable) tip of a vast iceberg. Like, you would hear stuff like “rock bands sell their souls to Satan,” but, at least in suburban New England, you weren’t likely to get your hands on any of the primary documents breaking down the evidence. (Conversations with friends roughly my age lead me to believe that, in different parts of the country, that kind of information flowed more freely.)
Anyway, when I stumbled onto the three-volume paperback set of Illuminatus! in a box full of donations to my public library’s used book sale, I snagged it immediately. (Actually, now that I remember it, I found the third volume, “Leviathan,” well before I found the first two, so I read the books out of order, which almost certainly blew my mind that much further.) My mind had been pretty well primed for conspiracy theory; as I mentioned just earlier, I grew up in an era when Kennedy assassination theories were a cottage industry, spilling over into Lincoln assassination theories, and from there into the absurd pseudo-significance of the “Lincoln and Kennedy each had seven letters in their name” school. But I was also raised (by the culture, not by my parents) on Chariots of the God-style theories of alien intervention in Earth’s history, which led to Ignatius Donnelly’s wild theories of Atlantis, Project Blue Book paranoia about aliens in contemporary America, and so on and so forth.
So: Hand me a book which says there’s been a single vast conspiracy that’s been trying to rule the world not just since the late 18th century, but since the dawn of human history, and even when I can clearly see that at least half of it is intended to be a joke, and teenage me is on board. Especially with you compound it with two other books by Robert Anton Wilson, the novel Masks of the Illuminati (which I’d actually read several months earlier, and which still has the power to keep me up at night, thirty years later) and the memoir Cosmic Trigger, but that’s another story for another time.
We’re getting a little far from the original topic here, so let’s try to circle back. The KLF, The White Room, turns out the two men behind the group were both big Robert Anton Wilson fans, and had appeared in a legendary stage production of Illuminatus! in London in the late 1970s. In the early ’90s, at the peak of their success, the duo filmed themselves literally burning £1,000,000 in paper currency and then pretty much stopped doing anything after 1994. And then, 23 years later, the word goes out that the KLF are coming back with a novel.
Tuesday, I received an advance reader’s copy of that novel in the mail.
You see, what I got was a galley of something called:
K2 Plant Hire Ltd Present:
2023: A Trilogy
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
There’s a table of contents, followed by a seven-page “publisher’s preface,” after which there are nearly three hundred blank pages, until a four-page “publisher’s appendix” at the end. But the “publisher” cited in those two sections is “Dead Perch Books,” rather than the book’s real-world publisher, Faber & Faber. And these sections describe how Cauty and Drummond, two undertakers visiting the Scottish island of Jura, stumbled onto evidence of a pair of young Russian women, Tat’jana and Kristina, who helmed an avant-garde band in the 1990s called the KLF, who had been influenced by a novel called, in English, The Twenty Twenty-Three! Trilogy, by “George Orwell,” which was itself a pen name for… Roberta Antonia Wilson. And it’s that novel that 2023 purports to be, once the actual text is revealed to the world on August 23, 2017.
The table of contents says 2023 is broken down into three books, with a total of 23 chapters. Those books are: “The Blaster in the Pyramid,” “The Rotten Apple,” and “The Christmas Number One.” Illuminatus! is also broken up into three books: “The Eye in the Pyramid,” “The Golden Apple,” and “Leviathan.” 23 is also a highly significant number in the trilogy’s symbolic framework, for reasons that harken back to William S. Burroughs—and, in fact, this was the book that first led me to Burroughs, so there’s another thing to blame it for, but I digress again…
Suffice it to say something is coming on August 23, 2017—something that promises to be pretty damn mindblowing, possibly with a multimedia component. I’m looking forward to it the way I was looking forward to Twin Peaks: The Return, and in all likelihood I’m going to be as unprepared for its final form as I was for that. Still, can’t wait.