I’ve researched many heavy topics over the years, and read many unsettling books. But this post concerns both a topic (the tragedy of the early 1970s band Badfinger) and a book (The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer) I actually cried over; and how that topic and book, though in some ways very different, resonated with each other.
I’m going to tell you two stories today about the idea of a type of spiritual “contagion”…an “energy-virus,” an emotional virus. It’s when one mood “infects” another’s, almost telepathically. Not obsession so much as “possession.”
There once was a band called the Iveys. Formed in 1961 in Wales, it consisted of Pete Ham (lead guitar), Ron Griffiths (bass guitar), David “Dai” Jenkins (rhythm guitar), and Roy Anderson (drums). They had a fairly successful career in the Sixties, opening up for a bunch of “name” acts and continuing to build a reputation for themselves. In ’67, Jenkins was replaced by guitarist Tom Evans.
Then in 1968 came (what they thought was) their career-defining opportunity: they were signed to Apple Corps—the first non-Beatles act on that label. When their first singles on Apple failed to set the world on fire, a name change was suggested. And so the Iveys became the considerably more hip-sounding Badfinger.
By this point, Griffiths was out of the band as well, and Evans took a lot more of an influential role (perhaps, it seemed, actively pushing out Griffiths in the process). Griffiths was replaced by guitarist Joey Molland.
But whatever strife was behind-the-scenes, by 1970 it seemed Badfinger finally hit upon a winning combination. Their single “Come And Get It” (a very Beatlesque type track that is one of my personal favorites) hit #4 on the UK and #7 on the U.S. charts. The follow-up, “No Matter What,” was similarly successful.
Then came what might be considered their most memorable hit—if only because it would later be covered by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. “Without You” was a hybrid of two separate songs penned by Ham and Evans (put a pin in this for later):
Well, I can’t forget this evening
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that’s just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
Can’t live if living is without you
I can’t live, I can’t give anymore
I can’t live if living is without you
Can’t live, I can’t give anymore
Badfinger would have a few more hits in 1971, but the next year Apple Corps folded and things started to fall apart. They switched to Warner Bros. Music in 1973, but A Series Of Unfortunate Events (many seeming to revolve around their sketchy manager) led to a termination of the contract and unreleased albums.
The band was in financial, legal, and emotional turmoil. On the night of April 23 1975, Pete Ham received a call that basically said all the money owed to him from the label (via his manager) had disappeared. Ham contacted Evans and the two met in a pub in Surrey. Ham drank ten whiskeys. By the next morning, he was dead from hanging.
Ham’s suicide note read, in part:
“I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.”
Ham was 27 years old—that’s right, he was part of the infamous 27 Club.
Both Evans and Molland were in dire economic straits in the years that followed, essentially out of the music business. They eventually had a reunion in 1977 and formed a new band called Badfinger…only to eventually fall into more financial, legal, and emotional turmoil.
On the night of November 18 1983, Evans and Molland had a big fight on the phone regarding past Badfinger funds from the Apple Corps years.
On the morning of November 19, Evans hung himself.
“I am the last living person who knew Bishop Timothy Archer of the Diocese of California, his mistress, his son my husband the homeowner and wage earner pro forma. Somebody should–well, it would be nice if no one went the way they collectively went, volunteering to die, each of them, like Parsifal, a perfect fool.”
–Angel Archer, “The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer”
Philip K. Dick’s last book, The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer, opens in the aftermath of Beatle John Lennon’s assassination. Our protagonist, Angel Archer, is dealing with her own tragedies—the suicide of both her husband Jefferson Archer and best friend Kirsten Lundborg, and the subsequent mysterious death of her father-in-law Bishop Timothy Archer.
And so the rest of the book is the story of how it all happened: the unfolding of several related tragedies in a manner that Angel begins to suspect is some sort of spiritual contagion:
“Madness, like small fish, runs in hosts, in vast numbers of instances. It is not solitary. Madness does not remain content; it fans out across the landscape, or seascape, or whichever.”
Through it all, Angel, the biggest pragmatist and skeptic among them, struggles to keep herself untainted by this emotional virus; to help her do that she retreats into various intellectual exercises. The only other person to emerge from this massive spiritual contagion alive is Kristen’s adult son Bill; he has his schizophrenia to retreat into.
Dick based Bishop Archer on his own late friend Bishop James A. Pike. Like Bishop Archer, Bishop Pike explored spiritualism as a way to communicate with his late son (who also died a suicide). And also like Bishop Archer, Bishop Pike perished mysteriously in the desert in search of potentially heretical religious discovery.
Dick never quite got over the death of his friend Pike in 1969. One must wonder if the tragedy was one of the things that sent the science-fiction author “over the edge,” making his mind ripe for what he would describe as a visitation by the otherworldly entity VALIS in 1973.
Only sometimes…sometimes Dick didn’t think VALIS was an otherworldly visitor at all. Sometimes he believed he was flat-out possessed by the soul of his dead friend James Pike, the way the character Bill Lundborg eventually gets possessed by the soul of Timothy Archer.
Did the suicide by hanging of Pete Ham “imprint” on Tom Evans enough to cause a type of emotional “virus”…leading the musician taking his own life in the same manner?
What energetic resonance did the collaboration of Ham & Evans on the song “Without You” have—this incredibly popular song about love lost and an inability to continue to live as a result?
Did the tragic death of Bishop Pike send Philip K. Dick along his VALIS journey? Was the suicide of Pike’s son the start of this spiritual contagion? And has this contagion continued long after The Transmigration of Timothy Archer in 1982?
These are just questions, ideas. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive post.