Song of the day: CRASS – Reality Asylum (1979)

When the masters of the Feeding Of The 5000 EP arrived at the pressing plant in 1978, the workers downed tools and refused to press the record unless the opening track, “Asylum”, was removed. Thus the twelve inch was released with a short track of silence sarcastically called “The Sound Of Free Speech”. As “Reality Asylum”, the song was issued the following year as a seven inch. Totally unlike Crass’s usual punk racket, the piece is arguably the most important recording they ever made.

To my teenaged ears it was a revelation (if you pardon the wholly inappropriate term). Like many of my generation, I’d been dragged through the usual Anglican rigmarole: baptism, Sunday School, a C of E Primary school, church on Sundays etc etc. It wasn’t through some fanatical evangelism on the part of my parents (in fact my father would be at home with the Sunday paper puffing on his Players’ Navy Cuts while me and my brother were being dragged up the road by my mum), but simply because it was “the done thing”. I never got it, though. Even as a six, seven, eight year old, it all seemed like empty ritual: the endless standing, kneeling and parroting whatever liturgies were printed in front of us. The hymns were dirges, and the sermons indescribably dull. I quite enjoyed Harvest Festival when the church was filled with home made jams, and all manner of grub – and I liked the annual outdoor Carol service because a) the songs were a cut above the usual grim hymns and b) we got soup! But it all seemed spectacularly pointless. When the time came for my Confirmation, I point blank refused to have anything to do with it. No shouting, pleading, screaming or threats were going to change my mind. I’d already decided I was an atheist, and I’ve never wavered. Even so, it took a while for me to see through the rituals and the do-good rhetoric to see the malignant heart of the Christian religion. An interest in History helped, but so did Crass.

I can still remember the sixteen year old me, eyes wide with shock as I listened to “Reality Asylum” for the first time. Did she really just say that? I considered myself a broad-minded young man, but this broke taboos by the score. Hell, in 1979 you got censured for saying “fuck” on the telly, and there had only just been a lengthy court case to determine whether the cover of Never Mind The Bollocks was obscene! But as I studied the lyrics, I understood the message. That the real obscenity was the notion that us mere mortals should seek forgiveness from a figure whose followers were responsible for two thousand years of genocide, war, torture, rape, oppression and a never-ending crusade against knowledge, reason and enlightenment.

“Reality Asylum” nails (no pun intended) this in a vicious, furious invective which is also elegant, poetic and powerful. The monologue is spoken by Eve Libertine, and her plummy vowels are a world away from the stereotypical punk herbert image. She rails against the hypocrisy of someone who “hangs upon his cross in self-righteous judgment” and yet who “scooped the pits of Auschwitz. The soil of Treblinka is rich in your guilt, the sorrow of your tradition. Your stupid humility is the crown of thorn we all must wear.” The stench of genocide grows stronger with allusions to Hiroshima, before attentions are turned to the rotten misogyny of 2000 years of Christian tradition: “These nails at my temple – the cross is the virgin body of womanhood that you defile. In your guilt you turn your back, nailed to that body. Lame-arse Jesus calls me sister. There are no words for my contempt! Every woman is a cross in filthy theology”. Christ as “the ultimate pornography”. The poem concludes with a wry nod to Patti Smith’s “Gloria” with the declamation that “Jesus died for his own sins. Not mine.

There are no punches pulled with this track. Crass weren’t the kind of people who pulled punches. But it helped a young me, nearly thirty years ago, to see the Christian church as more than just an organisation of empty ritual, and silly pieties, but as the standard bearer of ignorance and fear, a cesspool of warped morality and an instrument of oppression.

The music behind the poem may seem almost incidental, but it deserves a mention. The track features just three of the collective playing behind Eve Libertine – Penny Rimbaud on tapes and radio, N A Palmer on guitar and Pete Wright on bass. It’s a very effective piece of musique concrete. It begins with the carefree laughter of children at play, before fading to one child reciting prayers as if in punishment. The atonal drones of the bass and guitar are backed with snatches of church chorale, sounds of warfare, and distorted organ. The track ends as it began – with the happy voices of children: the very children who are destined to be sucked into the wretched cult and pumped full of fear, guilt and self-doubt. Their joy is soothing because, even now, “Reality Asylum” is not an easy listen.

I’ve not reproduced the full text – it can be easily found through Google.

One response to “Song of the day: CRASS – Reality Asylum (1979)

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