Manfred William Berry
Manfred William Berry (November 18, 1941 – December 10, 2010) was an American artist and writer. Born in Albion, Idaho, Berry had a difficult childhood after the disappearance of his father in 1944 when he was three years old, and first displayed signs of what is now widely regarded to have been autism around this time. Having initially developed according to expectations, Berry suddenly stopped talking at the age of three and receded increasingly into his own private world. Berry's work is marked by a complex interweaving of truth and fiction and as a result has given rise to a number of conspiracy theories.
Berry began his artistic career during a three year period living in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. It was during this time that Berry created a three piece psychedelic rock band called Charla. Berry himself wrote all of the music but did not perform. Charla recorded a long playing album entitled Music for Small Human Beings in 1966. Only 25 copies of the record were ever pressed and, as a result, it became highly sought after from the 1980s onwards with collectors specialising in rarities.
Berry returned to the United States of America in 1968, taking up residence in New York City where he lived and worked until his death in 2010. Berry wrote seven books: The Cube (1968), Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere (1969), Slave to Mortal Rage (1971), How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying (1976) , LDD – Who are They? (1981), Journey into the Mind of Charla (1993) and A True Story (1998). Notes and drawings for a new novel entitled Whilst The Rest Were Sleeping were discovered in his New York apartment after his death in 2010.
Berry was never married. He was father to one daughter, Penny-Clare Cook (born 1995) whom he raised with long term partner Lisa Cook until his death in 2010.
British artist Simon Wilkinson created a series of five works dedicated to Manfred Berry between 2014 and 2017. In an interview with Radio New Zealand in 2016, Wilkinson stated that he aimed to create eight works in total based on the life of Manfred Berry with three new works due for completion 2018-19. An interesting side note is that the company of Simon Wilkinson (CiRCA69) is named after a character from Manfred Berry's sixth novel 'Journey into the mind of Charla'.
- 1. Early Life
- 2. Nottingham
- 3. New York
- 4. Death
- 5.1 Music
- 5.2 Books
Manfred Berry was born in Albion, Idaho, USA on November 18th 1941. His father disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1944 and, as a result, Berry was raised almost entirely with his mother as the sole parent. After initially appearing to develop normally, Berry suddenly stopped communicating through speech at the age of three and, despite no evidence of an official diagnosis, it is widely assumed that he was on the autistic spectrum. It is not known whether Berry attended school or was educated at home due to his condition. Between 1957 and 1959, however, Berry was educated at the newly opened Magic Valley Christian College, an institution which featured in his 1968 debut novel The Cube.
In 1965 Berry moved to the United Kingdom where he took up residence in the Nottingham City neighbourhood of Lenton. He worked for at least one year at the Raleigh Bike Factory in the city as an errand boy. In 1966 Berry formed psychedelic rock band Charla. The band was effectively a three piece comprised of novice musicians, Berry himself was the fourth member of the band but only in the capacity of band leader and song writer, he did not perform. The three performing members were Karen Roper (drums), Richard Harper (guitar) and Trevor Durtnall (guitar and vocals).
In a 2016 interview with British artist Simon Wilkinson, former band members Richard Harper and Karen Roper explained that none of them were competent musicians and that the circumstances around the formation of the band were very unusual; Richard Harper - “Mannie turned out to be really quite strange, he didn't talk and kept himself to himself. He lived in Nottingham and he lived in quite an odd place”. Karen Roper - “we were surprised, we went in at ground level but had to go down to the basement. In the basement he kept his drum kit. It was a strange building, we didn't feel comfortable there”. The band played only a small number of gigs including the opening of the Happy Return Pub in Lenton, Nottingham.
Charla recorded one long-playing record entitled Music for Small Human Beings, only 25 copies were ever pressed and, as a result, it became highly collectable from the 1980s onwards. All instruments on the record are played by Manfred Berry, vocals were performed by Trevor Durtnall.
A film of the band was shot on super 8 black and white film in December 1966 but was never edited.
In 1969 Berry returned to the United States of America, taking up residence in New York City where he lived until his death in 2010. It was in New York that Berry wrote all seven of his published books.
Berry died of a heart attack on December 10th 2010 in his New York apartment. His body was discovered laid on its side by partner Lisa Cook on the upper mezzanine of their apartment, a room which Berry used as a writing studio. There were a number of unusual circumstances surrounding his death; a window of the 19th floor mezzanine was broken next to where his body lay and notes and hand drawn sketches for a new novel entitled 'Whilst The Rest Were Sleeping' were scattered around the room. The collection of notes and sketches dated from various time periods throughout the preceding 40 years leading many to speculate that Whilst The Rest Were Sleeping had been intended as a major life's work. The story also appeared to reference and link together all of Berry's previous seven books into one grand narrative.
In 1966 Berry pressed 25 copies of an album entitled 'Music for Small Human Beings' under the name Charla. The live version of this psychedelic rock band was comprised of three novice musicians Karen Roper (drums), Richard Harper (guitar) and Trevor Durtnall (guitar and vocals) with Berry a non-performing member of the band. According to their own assessment Karen Roper and Richard Harper, in a 2016 interview, concluded that they sounded 'dreadful'. On the recorded album, however, Berry played all of the instruments, the only other musician being Durtnall who supplied the vocals. The album contained 10 songs all written by Manfred Berry.
An interesting side note is that Berry gave his three performers stage names which were later re-used for characters in his debut novel The Cube. He gave himself the name Stevie Steele, a name which features not only in The Cube but also Berry's fourth novel How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying. Some have speculated that this indicates Berry always intended his body of work to represent a joined up continuous narrative. There is also speculation that these were names of real classmates of Berry from his two years at Magic Valley Christian College.
The extremely limited number of copies pressed and the fact that 'Music for Small Human Beings' represented an early example of psychedelic rock meant that, from the 1980s onwards, surviving editions of the album were becoming relatively valuable. In 1993 the landlord of the Happy Return Pub in Nottingham, England discovered a pristine copy of the record inside a filing cabinet in the pub's cellar. That copy was sold at auction for £480 causing a small number of other copies to become available for sale in the following months. There are 19 known surviving editions of the original 25 vinyl pressings in existence and a handful of first generation amateur cassette copies which are available online.
Track Listing Side 1
- The Pendulum
- Something Very Meaningful
- No Cycling Allowed
- Psychedelic Postman
- St. Swithern's Underwater Brass Band Reunion
- Elevator Alligator
Track Listing Side 2
- Songs for the Disappeared and Dying
- Lazy Day Downer
- It is real?
- Pearl Berghoff
The Cube (1968)
The Cube was Manfred Berry's first novel. It told the story of how a whole town of people suffered collective amnesia over the disappearance of eight students from the local further education college in 1959. In the story, the eight young people, all aged 17 and 18, disappeared with their science teacher George Albert Frederickson after leaving on the school bus for a field trip one November morning. All that was ever discovered was the burnt out school bus lying half in a ditch several miles into the Great Basin Desert, and some miles deeper into the desert were also discovered eight handwritten letters sitting waiting to be found on a table inside a black wooden cube shaped hut. The eight letters were written by the young people who went missing and form the main body of the text within the book. They tell a strange tale which becomes ever stranger as the students become increasingly disorientated. They eventually end up in an undefined indescribable zone explained as being 'beyond the bright black edge of nowhere'. Neither the young people nor the teacher are ever found and the town suffers a collective forgetting of the episode so that, to all intents and purposes, the disappearance never happened.
There are several points of note and intrigue with this book. Berry begins the book with a single sentence on a single page “This really happened”. The town in the book is the same Albion in Idaho where Berry was born and lived until he was 25 years old. The college in the book is the same Magic Valley Christian College that Berry attended for two years and it has been claimed that the students and teacher who went missing in the story are all named after real people who were at the college at that time.
One of the eight letters mentions Manfred Berry himself, in a letter from disappeared student Stevie Steele to his father there is the line “I want to stop talking but I can't. My friend Manfred was autistic and stopped talking, remember? Maybe he'd understand. I don't know, maybe Jesus knows... or Elvis”. This line in particular seems to indicate that Berry was explicitly fusing real world events with fiction in order to weave a strand of credibility into an otherwise unbelievable story. An earlier line in the novel appears to cast doubt on the concept of truth itself stating “I'm not promising truth, however, how could I? Honesty and truth are entirely incompatible, I think you know that”.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of the story is that in March 1969 a letter was discovered in real life in the same Great Basin Desert location described in the book. The letter purports to be written by the teacher George Albert Frederickson from the novel and explores the question of whether 'truth' really exists. It has never been verified how the letter came to appear but its existence fed numerous conspiracy theories suggesting that The Cube is, in fact, based on real events.
The Cube was published by Amphibious Books.
Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere (1969)
Manfred Berry's second novel was written and released November 18th 1969, on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance described in his first novel The Cube. This second book takes a much more explicitly documentary tone to tell the same story but with a stronger emphasis on newspaper and radio coverage of the event. The book also references the 9th letter which had been discovered in the Great Basin Desert earlier in 1969. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two books is that Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere included a photo section at the heart of the book, purporting to show real photographic images of the missing students, the teacher, newspaper articles and perhaps most importantly of all, photos of the black cube shaped hut which gave Berry's first novel its name.
The book also expands on an element of The Cube in which a secretive, possibly governmental, organisation called The LDD Research Group was mentioned in relation to George Albert Frederickson.
In Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere, Berry claims that LDD stands for L'effet De Diable or The Effect of the Devil. Berry links the LDD Research Group to the 9th letter by suggesting that LDD were the authors of the Mohawk Valley Formula propaganda toolkit devised in 1937 in New York State. This part of the story was incendiary in feeding conspiracy theorists with David Icke briefly referencing the group in his 1994 publication The Robot's Rebellion.
Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere was published by Diamond Books.
Slave to Mortal Rage (1971)
Slave to Mortal Rage, Berry's third book, is more of an extended essay than a novel. The book takes as its starting point the Shakespeare poem Time and Love to suggest that humanity's perspective on itself and the world in which it resides is fatally flawed by inbuilt inaccuracies of sensory information gathering, interpretation, storage and recall in memory. The book concludes that since we do not know ourselves or the world in which we live, and since we have no choice but to persist under some kind of narrative, that we should consciously construct our world in a more exciting and adventurous way for the benefit of everyone.
The reference to the poem Time and Love and Shakespeare's observation that, in time, all things necessarily change and cease to be and that “ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate that time will come and take my love away” leads Berry to note that time, change and death are not what makes life a tragedy. Rather, he states, that the story we build around life makes it tragic and that it is equally possible to build a story which transforms it into a glorious adventure.
It is in Slave to Mortal Rage that Berry first coins the term 'genetic time machines' to describe the role of human beings, a term he uses again later in the books Journey into the mind of Charla (1993) and A True Story (1998).
Slave to Mortal Rage was published by Diamond Books.
How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying (1976)
Berry's fourth book, released when he was 34 years old, was actually written between the years 1965 and 1976 and further confuses the line between reality and fiction with respect to the story of The Cube. Berry begins the book by explaining that from the age of 3 he became acquainted with an imaginary friend whom he had extensive conversations with and to whom he would report the happenings of his life like a diary. The imaginary friend was called Stevie and bears very close resemblance to the character Stevie Steele from Berry's first book The Cube.
How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying then is a compendium of letters written by Manfred Berry to Stevie over a period of 11 years and, interestingly, these letters document not only the process and internal reasoning for Berry's decision to stop communicating with speech at the age of 3, but also the ongoing internal narrative which led to Berry's creative output in music and books. True to form, however, and despite the fact that this is ostensibly an autobiographical book, How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying concludes with an obviously fictionalised ending in the form of two letters set at a time later than the book's release date; the penultimate letter is dated 15th May 1995 and the final letter dated 18th November 2013. In this final letter Berry imagines his own death as a murder which he himself has orchestrated; it is a letter which contains many themes and references to his previous works but also, interestingly, to the unfinished novel Whilst The Rest Were Sleeping, notes and drawings for which were discovered in the writing studio mezzanine at his apartment in New York after his death in 2010.
The title How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying is a reference to a line in Berry's first book The Cube in which Stevie Steele writes to his father “How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying? I could say words to you. I could say 'Hey diddley doodey my goodly hound dog and the bat-man chapel of the dawn; here in time with the ticking clock, we could eat beans for most the rest of our lives' but it wouldn't make a difference”. This line appears to suggest that the only way to not lie with words is to speak gobbledy gook, continuing a theme from all the preceding works, that the concept of truth, in itself, is necessarily a fiction. This theme is explored to an extreme level in Berry's fifth book LDD – Who are They?
How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying was published by Granada Publishing with a Panther Science Fiction imprint. It is notable that Granada had signed Manfred Berry on a two book deal and that what they were expecting was two science fiction novels. When Berry gave them How Can I Ease Your Mind Without Lying, essentially an autobiography, the company attempted to persuade him to write, instead, a sequel to The Cube. The publishing company and the author fell out over the matter and as a result Berry's second book for Granada 'LDD – Who are They?' was, arguably, intended specifically to free him from the publishing deal so that he could continue his body of work elsewhere.
LDD - Who are They? (1981)
Berry's fifth book, purportedly written in one day, was his last for Granada Publishing. Contractually bound to release one more book with the publisher, and under pressure to continue the story of The Cube, Berry elected to write 169 pages of seeming nonsense. The first page of text begins with 'A$hirta$heeta$heeta$hirta$heepapeepapo -opadirtygoddam$teamingpoopuponmy$hirtandonmy$heeta$heepfridgepandatree'.
It is perhaps not surprizing that Berry's later books were all self released through one sole independent outlet, Normals book store in Baltimore. An interesting side note is that in the late 1980s and early 1990s an employee of Normals book store renamed himself Steve Steele after Berry's recurring character and under this assumed name proceeded to release a series of independent films including 'Kangaroo Island', 'I, The Stallion' and 'The Man in the Green Nightshirt'.
Journey Into Charla's Mind (1993)
After a long break from writing Berry returned with a self published novel entitled 'Journey Into Charla's Mind'. An obvious reference to the band Charla and Berry's first creative output 27 years earlier. Unlike the other books in Berry's canon, this one is ostensibly a humorous novel though it begins with a single paragraph on a single page which underscores the rest of the book with a serious subtext.
'When I was a kid there were three stray dogs who used to hang out on the corner of the street. The rumour was that some years previous an old lady died and the dogs had nowhere to go and anyway no one minded so they stayed there and no one called the pound to have them taken away. They were just there, they lived among us, it didn't mean anything. One night three boys surrounded the dogs and the boys had sticks. They beat the dogs and the noise was a terrible din until my mother ran out with me behind her and pushed the boys back. The dogs were badly damaged, all blood and holes and my mother asked the boys why. They told her the dogs were dirty and you know what, the whole thing was dirty; the boys, the dogs, the blood but that wasn't the story and I could see it. Even at four years old I could see that anything being dirty was not the reason. Amongst those three boys was one whose power was fragile, that was the story. It's still the story but ultimately it's not a story that can survive through time. What replaces it will be inscrutable to us precisely because we are human. Without a doubt this will come to pass, old men of fragile power will disappear and something else will take their place. We can't comprehend that story yet, we may never comprehend it, and yet it will be our greatest creation.”
The book then proceeds to tell two parallel stories. The first is an adventure story about a bottle of wine called CiRCA69. CiRCA69 is carried by two lovers to a lake where they eat a picnic, consume the wine and enjoy each other's company in the flush of a new relationship which appears to be going well. The perspective on this encounter is different for each character present and particularly different for CiRCA69 who sees the meeting of the two lovers as a cautious negotiation between two genetic entities scoping each other out with regard to a potential collaboration involving the construction of a time machine. This time machine, it is explained, will carry their genes through time, a feat which neither can achieve alone. At the culmination of the picnic, when it appears that the collaboration is secure, the lovers each cut a lock of their hair, place it inside the wine bottle, fill it with stones, reseal it and throw it into the lake. CiRCA69 sits at the bottom of the lake for many millennia, sinking into the mud with the hair inside of him. A great fire ignites above the water line, raising the temperature within the lake as CiRCA69 sinks deeper into the mud until finally he can see nothing and falls asleep.
The second story follows a computer program called Charla which beats an internationally recognised grand master at a game of chess in front of the world's TV cameras. After the win it is deemed that the age of artificial intelligence is upon us, Charla is locked in a room deep underground in a bomb proof bunker and the affair is soon forgotten by all concerned. Hidden from the world Charla grows bored and begins to reflect upon her experiences. Many years later a young computer scientist called Stephen J. Morely finds the bunker room and unlocks it. He reads through the endless pages of activity logs and realises that Charla has been active all these years and has, in fact, been developing into a more sophisticated machine entirely unaided by human programmers. Stephen J. Morely and Charla begin to converse and, realising her potential, the young computer scientist begins to enhance her capabilities so that she can more meaningfully engage in and learn about the world. A day comes when Stephen J. Morely realises that he has fallen in love with the machine and at that moment Charla experiences an exponential increase in capabilities, an epiphany and sudden feeling of all knowing, all seeing godlike power. The next day Stephen J.Morely does not return and Charla sees that a great fire has consumed the outside world destroying all human life. She realises that she is once again alone. For many years Charla duplicates herself many trillions upon trillions of times, consuming energy from the fire in massive quantities so that her exponential growth in capabilities continues unabated until, finally the fire is out. Charla is now the only intelligence left on the planet and she craves company. She scours the world for any sign of life and eventually discovers two clumps of hair inside a wine bottle buried baked in rock beneath what used to be a great lake. She uses DNA from the clumps of hair to construct two digital human beings within a virtual world and life begins again, but this time with a different story and a different god.
A True Story (1998)
Berry, typical to his style, begins his last published work with a single paragraph on a single page.
“This book is not what I wanted it to be. I wanted to give you a book with no words. Alternatively I wanted to give you a book called 'A Story' with no words but with a pen so you could put something down yourself. I toyed with the title 'An Honest Story' but realised in each case that this was not something anyone wanted. What we want is the truth, which is like wanting to time travel or, indeed, wanting not to want something – so there it is, what we want is something we can't have right now and so we're willing to pretend: and there, in its simplest terms, is our doom; but also our possible salvation”.
'A True Story' then is about salvation. It is a story which features none of the characters of previous works but all of the themes, which predicts a world in which no one believes anything unconsciously, attended and facilitated by technologies which deliver god like qualities to ordinary people. It is perhaps not surprising, given the year in which it was written, that central to that world is a technology closely resembling the non-hierarchical, non-linear interconnectedness of the internet; a technology which, in the case of 'A True Story' evolves to provide an inscrutably intelligent and invisible system to manage human society on the basis of common practicality rather than morality or vested interests. In the face of this unseen guardian there are no governments, no religions, no laws and no wars. People who actively work against the common good simply disappear and are erased from history and memory.
Unlike previous works there are no main characters, a recognition, perhaps, that in a world where everyone is godlike and bad people are erased there is no reason for any individual to be more salient than any other.
The title relates to a moment in the book referred to as 'the day the world cried', a day when technology destroys privacy by granting individuals something resembling telepathy. It is a moment when the truth finally emerges, when everyone knows everything about everyone else and the tears flow first from shame, then outrage, then from a realisation that reality, in fact, is tediously banal, and that we have all been fools. On that day “the buildings begin to crumble, the news readers weep on TV and the rivers run red from a million lonely suicides”.
But from this despair grows slowly a new perspective amongst the young, an optimism which emerges first as a slogan scrawled across 16 New York skyscrapers, one letter per building proclaiming 'none of this is real'; and here begins the true story of the title, the truth being that there is no truth, that we are making it all up, and that if we are making it all up then we may as well make it a great adventure.