…the realm ... of those who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen
(John Ciardi, “The Divine Comedy: Introduction”)
Limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery.
These are the nine circles of Hell as described by Dante in “Inferno”, the first part of his “Divine Comedy”. In it he describes a journey through Hell itself, with Virgil acting as his guide. The nine layers of Hell unfold as concentric circles.
At the end of this journey Dante finds himself in the ninth circle, a frozen lake, Cocytus, surrounded by those who have betrayed those with whom they have enjoyed close relationships. There are four layers here, each reserved for a particular type of treachery. The betrayal of family ties, community, guests and of lords. Those who have denied God’s love are furthest from the warmth of the sun, trapped forever in an icy prison of their own making. Here resides Judas Iscariot, awake and plagued by the awfulness of his betrayal of the Saviour.
Some see “Inferno” as a work of poetic fantasy, an artists vision of the stories of the Bible, an attempt to explain the human condition. I do not see it as such, I believe it is, in fact, a glimpse into the afterlife. Dante was describing a vision. The Lord parted the veil and showed Dante that which few of us will ever see. “Inferno” then is a warning, a call to obedience and faithfulness.
I didn’t believe this until twenty-four hours ago.
Up until that point I hadn’t thought much about “Inferno” for many years. I no longer believed in God, my faith had been dashed against the rocks of reason and I was, at best an agnostic and, more accurately, an anti-theist.
Then I too was given a glimpse of Hell.
I saw a demonic figure.
I heard the awful sound that plays, on an endless loop, for those who have betrayed God, who have denied the truth of His word and who have turned their back on good works.
It was a terrible sound.
Like the honking of a goose possessed by the souls of Tanngnjøtr and Tanngrisnir, giant, screaming goats from the world of Norse mythology.
The vessel for this wailing was Ian Brown, once a cherubic figure of psychedelic, indie, pop group The Stone Roses. A man who once proclaimed himself the resurrection. Now revealed to be not, in fact, the Saviour, but a very naughty boy.
Clumping around a naked stage in Leeds, a backing tape playing karaoke machine versions of his solo hits, and him braying along to them in front of an audience of wildly disappointed music fans.
Brown brought a huge amount of negative energy to his doorstep by his Piers Corbyn-esque Covid ramblings during the pandemic. Lots of people had questions about all sorts of things during that time, questions about the effectiveness of masks, the purpose of passports, the morality of lockdowns and school closures…nobody minded those conversations. Brown seemed to have gone one step further and was taking the same stance as some rather unsavoury people. Music fans didn’t like it and they let him know.
That means that Brown returns to the stage, not as the hero/legend that he was, but as a tarnished figure…a fallen angel. He needed to give the faithful something special, something to reward their loyalty and willingness to forgive. Instead of that he has given them an empty stage, an empty vessel and some truly unpleasant noises.
Some have leapt to his defence, with Sleaford Mods suggesting that the beats and hip-hop inspired soundscape of his solo career works well in this new performance and that he wasn’t ever “Black Sabbath or summat”. That would be a reasonable defence, if any of it were true. A man with a backing track on a stage isn’t the same thing as seeing the likes of, well, Sleaford Mods or Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. In the case of the Mods there is a level of performance and interplay between Jason and Andrew, even when the stage is stripped of any of the usual frippery, finery, of “traditional” bands. In the case of Pip there are, shock, “real” instruments. In these, and many other cases, artists in the world of hip hop, spoken word, electronica, dance are performing, not just, as appears to be the case with this incarnation of Brown, reciting lyrics.
Who would have thought that such a fall from grace as this could befall Ian Brown? We’ve seen it before, of course, with more artists than we could list. But the adoration that so many have for The Roses, despite the horrors of their comeback releases, puts Brown on a platform that very few performers ever occupy. He should be better than this, and his disciples certainly deserve more.