Think not what your country can
do for you - you are cordially invited...
As with just about everyone of your generation, inter-nation conflict
would play a significant role in your life. Though no stranger to death,
following the sad loss of your younger brother while still in your own
youth, I gather it must always retain it’s profundity. You just missed
World War II (don’t feel bad, I heard it was awful), but you did get
called up for the Korean War in 1950, spending around a year at the front.
There’s a couple of interesting quotes in your book on the subject; "When
a soldier puts on a uniform, he puts on a mask. In many ways, he acts the
way the uniform is expected to act. He might seem to have become the
uniform." And “I
decided I belonged to North Europe Spirituality, that the old gods were
with us.” Perhaps you can expand on those a bit for us, share something of
your experience of the time and how it affected you as a person and an
The uniform people usually wear is what their communities expect them to
wear and act in ways in keeping with what they wear. One dressed as Santa
Claus might act, and feel, rather like Santa. – In uniform, I acted much
like soldiers had been acting since the beginning of time. “And will you
go on battle after battle, to The World’s end?” “Aye to the very end.”
It must have been much the same for the soldiers Layamon wrote about.
However, our spirit being is much larger than this. We are an awareness
which expands out beyond the stars. All our life we might live in wonder
– at the magic of
particles coming together to form an object that could see the stars. And
one could hold to be magical, every other such object.
Now there’s still the best part of two decades between your military
service and the real beginning of the Blacklight Braille story. I’m
interested in how the everyday life experiences in between continued to
shape the Owen Knight we find taking to the stage as the 1960’s draw to a
close. From soldiering, you have worked in construction, as a janitor and
taught a bit of theology along the way. From the man who left the army;
what else did you do; how did that vision of an aspiring Bard, resplendent
in cloaks of both cloth and eccentricity, come to full fruition; and at
which point did you become sure of what it was you wanted to do?
I might shy away from calling myself a bard, as bards have had forms which
they needed to fit into, rules which they needed to obey. In creating, I
have tried to keep free of rules. Because I am not trying to get the
rewards which rules give. My reward is the joy I get from creating.
Then, in the past, a bard would have needed to have a beard. With none,
he would have been thought, too young. – Between school and Bitter Blood,
I was audience. I took part in what Hippies were doing, met people.
It’s 1969, somehow we’ve ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where a group of
university students, both musicians and actors, combine efforts in the
process of forming Bitter Blood Street Theatre, aiming to incorporate
Theatre Of The Absurd with the finest traditions of shock rock, one
would hope with a respectful nod to Screaming Jay Hawkins and Lord Sutch.
How did you come to discover the troupe, what attracted you to join and
what are your memories of opening for the likes of
the Allman Brothers, Mountain, Joe Cocker, MC5, Frigid Pink and Dr. John?
Bitter Blood Street Theatre was a band of musicians who created visual
shows as they played. Until April 1970, I was audience and not on stage
with the band. Most of the bands mentioned were before that. I was with
the band when we played in front of Dr. John. I enjoyed Lord Sutch and
bought his album, but my influence would have been musician’s hippy
freedom and I was seeing that in Bitter Blood. Early Bitter Blood reminds
me of The Fool, out of Belgium, and Silver Apples, and Tonto’s Expanding
Headband. We lost some of that feel in 1973 when Fred Elig left. But our
stage kept a good amount of freedom. We could do things, then think about
the meaning later.
Bitter Blood Street Theatre were approached by Columbia Records in 1973,
eager to find more of the highly successful masked and shock rock acts
like Kiss and Alice Cooper, the latter of whom, rumour has it, may just
have borrowed a few ideas from yourselves! I understand there’s an
interesting tale of why your stay on the Columbia roster was something of
a short one, can you tell us what went wrong and to what extent the
downfall of one record industry executive affected the band?
The Columbia VP was flying our material up to Clive Davis, so I
understand. Before he got there, Clive Davis got fired. For us, that
might have been for the best. Might be best not to have Columbia own all
our creations. And did Alice Cooper pick up anything: Who can say? It
seems, everybody picks up things from everybody. – And Clive Davis, he
seems to be doing well now. In music, things change so quickly.
Owen joins Bitter Blood Street
Theatre on stage for a reunion gig in 2009...