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Shooting At The Moon: The Collected Lyrics Of Kevin AyersDecember 20, 2019

Kevin Ayers lived in Deià on and off throughout his life and is very much part of the musical mythology of the village. Shooting At The Moon, a labour of love by Kevin Ayers’s singer-songwriter daughter Galen, is much more than just one of those collections of lyrics that send you hurrying back to the actual music of the artist being so honoured. Kevin’s lyrics are mixed in with photographs from his personal collection as well as recipes – he loved to cook.

The book is prefaced by an introduction by his daughter Galen, a perceptive appreciation by writer LA Weekly writer John Payne and a sweet note from Robert Wyatt, Kevin’s confrere in Soft Machine and a lifelong friend.

I’ll tell you a weird thing I haven’t told anyone. When I went to my Dad’s house about 24 hours after I found out he’d died, I packed some things, including the book I was reading that week. When I got to the house, I went to the seat where Dad had been the night before. There was his Gauloises cigarettes, his glasses and a half-opened book. It was the exact same book I was reading: The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.

Galen was kind enough to talk to me about Shooting At The Moon. She was at home in Los Angeles and I was somewhere in Europe.

What was your aim with the book?

Although I love myths and think they have value, with Dad and this book I might have done the opposite of contributing to the myth. Unknowingly, I think I wanted to keep him real, to offer an insight into this private man. No-one really saw the things that made him dance and made him write the songs he did. And I was desperate to get the tactile aspect of what my Dad represents to me in there, a sensuality in the true term of the word, a love of food, colour, glam, makeup. It really does pop out at you when you see the book.

Without having to explain it, I also wanted to share Kevin, to not have to carry him myself. I always promised him I’d do something like this book for him so I feel much more relaxed about life in general since I’ve finished it. I just feel Kevin would be so proud and would love the book.

I’m confident that with Shooting At The Moon you get the essence of Kevin. Including the recipes was, I think, important because cooking was such a big part of his life. 90% of the photos in the book are his collection he carried with him everywhere he went so we know those are the photos that meant the most to him. The book wasn’t curated, just lovingly woven together.

Right from the cover photo…

Photo by Hans Hendriks

I knew I wanted to call the book Shooting At The Moon. I thought the combo of that title and photo, with that colour, was so great. I had an old copy of a similar pose but in black and white, not the red one. On the back of my photo I found one of those old stamps that gives the name of the photographer, really faded. I did detective work and I managed to track him down. The guy told me I had the only copy of the photo. We had to mess around a bit to get it looking right. I have lots of stories like that where I just followed my instinct and found people who helped Kevin when he was younger.

In the press release for Shooting At The Moon, you’re quoted as saying ‘Editing and curating this book I revisited, remembered and clarified many “unsolved mysteries” that were missing in my understanding of my father’s life-narrative, and this has proven both transformative and necessary.’ What do you mean by that?

It helped clarify a lot of murky, grey areas where I didn’t quite know where Dad was or what was going on. Not necessarily physically, but where he was emotionally. I began to see the consistency of a man throughout a 45-year career.

There’s real consistency to the lyrics.

I agree. On a philosophical level, I see him open up, be hit by the world, clam up and try to open up again but it doesn’t really work. I also see the importance of money and his lack of it for most of his life, due to terrible and unfair record contracts. The practicality of being an artist. I remember the period of the mid-80s. He was broke, completely broke.

Did Kevin feel he wasn’t given his due in his lifetime?

He would never think something like that.

Was he compelled to write or was he one of those people who start writing when they have to deliver an album?

He preferred to trust his gut and he was incredibly prolific as a writer. That’s one of the reasons I love that I did Shooting At The Moon. It includes almost 300 songs. You try and do that! One of my signposts was the last conversation I had with him, that I refer to in my introduction, when Dad said ‘Galen, I don’t know anything of value—all the best of me, I’ve given to my songs. You’re better off listening to them than to me.’ He really didn’t have a clue what he was doing at that point. He was very unwell.

How do you feel when people suggest Kevin might have had a wasted life?

There’s no such thing, especially in my Dad’s case. The only thing that’s a bummer is that he died so young. But, having done this book, the closure I feel is that I have to let the anger at that go or at least transmute the poison into some kind of alchemy. That’s what I’ve been doing between my album and this book. With Shooting At The Moon I had to compartmentalize Kevin but with the album I could do what I wanted emotionally and investigate my own unfinished conversations. I’ve learned a lot about legacy, about the importance of roots and having a mythology without it being poisonous. We need to treasure people like my Dad and the sacrifices they make to give us such a consistent and large body of work.

Photo by Ronald Kienhuis

He seems to have been an extremely charismatic man.

He was very much in the present, very ‘there’, occupying the space. It took it out of him too much. In order to be there when he was, he had to be elsewhere a lot of the time. As a father, he would be intense for an hour or two and then it would be quiet time. He was also a narcissist so it was sometimes difficult being his child. But he was also wonderfully generous, creative and fun.

Kevin’s lyrics are elegant, often witty and surreal, but always simple. Was he much of a reader?

He was voracious. He always had to have a book. A book and a red birds eye chili pepper.

What did he read?

He loved Graham Greene. Towards the end of his life, his favourite, favourite things to read – because his dad was in the marines – were mysteries set in boats with huge thunderstorms and intrepid captains. He read them like comics. He would go to the old bookstores in Montolieu, France, where he lived and buy 40 for a franc. When he passed away, his whole basement was just boxes and boxes of boxes.

I’ll tell you a weird thing I haven’t told anyone. When I went to my Dad’s house about 24 hours after I found out he’d died, I packed some things, including the book I was reading that week. When I got to the house, I went to the seat where Dad had been the night before. There was his Gauloises cigarettes, his glasses and a half-opened book. It was the exact same book I was reading: The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.

What has been the response to Shooting At The Moon?

I’ve had the most incredible response. It seems to have been healing for people. One person emailed me saying ‘I read this book and now I feel like everything’s OK again. I had a traumatic childhood and that’s when I first heard your Dad. He made me feel everything was going to be OK back then too.’ I think Kevin, for all his foibles, somehow magically give people permission to be who they are. He needed connection himself and he connected with other people through music.

Last question, can I ask where the name ‘Galen’ comes from?

It means wise in Greek and crazy in Swedish. Which I think is kind of weird because, when I went on to study Tibetan and did my masters in Buddhism, I ended up reading a book called Crazy Wisdom and I thought how did I manage to be reading about my namesake? My Dad gave me the name and he always said, ‘You should be thankful I saved you from the garden.’ I found out that he meant Mum had written down a list of names for me and they were all flowers. Apparently, Kevin turned around and said with finality ‘Her name is Galen.’ I think what Kevin liked about it was that Galen Ayers has a flow. And my middle name is ‘Champagne’.

Kevin Ayers and Galen

 

Order Shooting At The Moon here.

The key to Kevin Ayers is in the unholy union ’tween his deceptively casual words and that full-bodied, rich-toned voice of his: a glimmering sea of sounds offering meaning and a cannily romanticized version of it. The words – he wrote them just because – but prolifically, in journals, notebooks, on the backs of envelopes and coffee-cup-ringed napkins. He never stopped doing that. Yet it was never all that easy for him.

John Payne

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