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The Multifaceted Mike Batt

For the past few weeks, Mike Batt’s “Love Makes You Crazy” has been on constant repetition at my apartment:

Like the greatest music videos, this one launches us directly into a fully-realized world that’s simultaneously novel and derivative, four minutes of elaborate production design that ultimately leads nowhere. And it takes its brilliant conceit both seriously and ridiculously (see fellow citizen #69).

So who is Mike Batt?

Outside the UK, Mike Batt might be best known for the song “Bright Eyes,” which he wrote for the 1978 film adaptation of Watership Down:

(You can listen to the full version, sung by Art Garfunkel, here; Mike Batt’s own version is here.)

Batt also wrote music for the 1970s show “The Wombles,” a stop-motion animation adaptation of Elisabeth Beresford’s children’s books. Batt and his band performed these songs while dressed up as the Wombles:

He eventually quit the group to go solo.

As near as I can tell, like many pop stars, Batt is something of a musical chameleon, exploring the dominant musical styles of the times:

…Hence 1982’s Gary Numan-esque “Love Makes You Crazy.” But I wouldn’t call Batt a copycat. Rather, he strikes me more as a conceptual artist who expresses himself in a rather theatrical approach to pop.

For instance, in the mid-1980s, Batt composed an opera adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s long poem The Hunting of the Snark. The Wikipedia states that Mike Batt’s own site states that “It featured Roger Daltrey, Art Garfunkel, John Gielgud, Stephane Grappelli, John Hurt, Julian Lennon, Cliff Richard, Captain Sensible, Deniece Williams, and the London Symphony Orchestra.” (!)

More recently, Mike Batt was the man behind that John Cage/4’33” copyright infringement flap-up in 2002. (I’m not the only one who remembers this, am I?) Batt released an album with a track “A One Minute Silence,” which he credited to Batt/Cage. Cage’s UK publisher,  Peters Edition, (rightly) demanded royalties. Batt eventually paid an undisclosed sum to “cover” Cage’s composition. (He wouldn’t have had to pay anything if he hadn’t credited Cage; this is why I don’t credit my songs as being by Jameson/Lennon/McCartney.)

Returning to “Love Makes You Crazy”: like a lot of Batt’s work, it’s fairly literary. Just look at the first stanza:

I was reading in my history book.
Before the seventh war,
They used to have a thing that they called love,
That we don’t have any more.

Before Batt discusses love and its debilitating effects, he contextualizes it as an historical and literary concept. This is already more work than one expects from a pop song!

But “more work” is Batt’s bag in trade. “Love Makes You Crazy” is, no surprise, part of a bigger concept album, Zero Zero (1982)which was also conceived of as a pop opera:

It was originally commissioned by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) as a live concert to be performed at the Sydney Opera House to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was, however, actually recorded as an ambitious studio production directed by Mike and Australian John Eastway. Zero Zero’s ambitious graphics were part of Mike’s original concept, and his sketches for the sets, costumes and animations began at sea on the voyage from Los Angeles to Australia via Honolulu and Fiji. When he arrived in Sydney he had a nearly completed score and a set of quite advanced drawings from which to work in the production of the piece. […] The duration is 42 minutes, and it takes the form of a visual and musical ‘trip’ into some time zone in the past or future, where love has been abolished and is regarded as a disease to be avoided. Our hero, Number 17 (“but you can call me Ralph”) falls in love with Number 36, and is eventually committed to an Emotional Decontamination Center called Zero Zero.

A video production of Zero Zero was recorded—the “Love” video seems to be part of that. (So that elaborate production design does go somewhere, after all.) It’s available on DVD as part of a much bigger release, which you can read about here. (That post also includes some screen captures from Zero Zero.) I am now very eager to see it.

Batt is still performing and recording today; you can get a fuller sense of his career at his website. (He has a blog! And you can follow him on Twitter—though I won’t link to that.) And I’m happy to see that he has taken a rather enlightened approach to his videos being up at YouTube: rather than demanding that they be taken down, he’s linked to them. (He also has put up all of his song lyrics, so you can read Zero Zero entire libretto here.)

Good show, Mr. Batt!

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

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