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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, August 28, 2003
    K Foundation Burn A Million Quid
    At the end of the Brit Awards 1992, a stunned audience heard top pop act KLF announce that they had left the music business. A freshly slaughtered sheep was laid at the entrance to the post-awards party, with a tag reading: 'I died for ewe. Bon appetit.' The Guardian reported, "They had been presented with the coveted gong for best group, then immediately dissolved themselves." Then, on 23 August 1994, Bill Drummond and his partner Jimmy Cauty travelled to the Isle of Jura and, before a sceptical invited audience, ritually burned £1 million - in notes - of their own cash.

    I've just read K Foundation Burn A Million Quid. The story of the burning and what happened next, as they toured the home movie of the burning around the UK's village halls, arts centres, prisons, schools, mental health drop-in centres, anarchist societies, craft fayres, and even Republic Square Belgrade, asking the audience, "Why did we do it?"

    It's fascinating. But inconclusive. I feel numbed by it, because I'm no closer to forming an opinion about what they did and why. On the one hand I'm overawed by the symbolism of the gesture in a money-possessed society, and so can go along with Jayne (Casey?) of Liverpool, who is quoted as saying, "This is the most important statement of the late 20th century." On the other hand I feel I ought to be siding with the Catholic sisters who want to know why the K Foundation didn't throw their money the way of their charities.

    I'm fascinated by the Serbian audience who asked, "Why is £1 million so important to you? It is a meaningless figure to us" ... "In Yugoslavia nobody ever dreamt of wealth because it was never an option."

    I'm drawn by the interpretations of those who see magick in this act, like Mark Barrett of Scotland:
      You had the experience of perpetrating this act which clearly exists outside of the right/wrong, good/bad continuum. It seems that it has an alchemical quality ... an energy which has at sometime been transformed into the symbolic form money has ... by applying heat, extraordinary energies are released.
    But I can also appreciate the firey reaction of the punter (unnamed) who expressed a more concise opinion of Drummond and Cauty: "Wankers."

    It's a fascinating book and it does raise many, many questions about money and its hold on us, our rights and responsibilities in a money-led world, the possibilities of a money-less world. It's got scores of stills from the movie of the act (which took 63 minutes to complete). And is punctuated by the angst-ridden memoirs of K Foundation roadie turned cameraman Gimpo, Drummond and Cauty's greatly discomfited companion on this adventure who eventually did a runner before their final act - which was to shove all remaining traces of the K Foundation into a Nissan Bluebird and send it plummeting 600 feet off Cape Wrath, Scotland, on 11 November 1995.