Archives For October 2012

William Blake and the Beat Generation

William Blake’s influence on the Beat Generation is arguably more significant than that of any other writer or artist. Most notably he was Ginsberg’s “guru” and the “catalyst” for his poetry, and even warranted a mention in “Howl”. Blake supposedly appeared to Ginsberg in 1945 and read “Ah Sun-flower”, and again in 1948 when Ginsberg was reading “The Sick Rose”. He explained,

I was never able to figure out whether I was having a religious vision, a hallucinatory experience, or what, but it was the deepest ‘spiritual’ experience I had in my life, and determined my karma as poet. That’s the-key pivotal turnabout of my own existence. That’s why I was hung up on setting Blake to music.

Visions were important to Blake, who claimed that his poetry was not necessarily a work that he created, but something channeled through him. He referred to himself as a “true Orator” and claimed that poetry came from a voice that he simply wrote down.

This isn’t too different from Williams S. Burroughs’ claim about the origins of his own weird prose:

I get these messages from other planets. I’m apparently some kind of agent from another planet but I haven’t got my orders clearly decoded yet.

It should also be noted that Burroughs was supposedly unable to recall writing any of the original material for Naked Lunch. However, Burroughs – who originally leant Ginsberg copies of Blake’s poetry when they first met, not long before Ginsberg’s famous vision – was dismissive of the mystical idea of visions, claiming that Blake simply saw things that others couldn’t see.

Blake’s method of transcribing words from the ether also seems to bear a strong resemblance to Kerouac’s fabled Spontaneous Prose, which shunned traditional ideas of composition and sought to grasp something holy from within. Although Kerouac named numerous influences on his style, just months before he died he wrote to Philip Whalen and told him that “Blake’s Jerusalem…is worth a fartune” (“fartune” being a Blakean spelling of “fortune”). Jerusalem was one of the poems Blake claimed to have dictated from a voice.

But perhaps even moreso than Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac, it was Michael McClure that took Blake has his greatest literary influence. Like Ginsberg, Blake also came to McClure in a vision, and the two men marveled over the difference in their perceptions of this visitor. McClure explained,

Allen has a Blake who is a Blake of prophecy, a Blake who speaks out against the dark Satanic Mills. My Blake is a Blake of body and of vision.


This short essay originally appeared in Beatdom #11.

Excerpt: CBGB Was My High School

by G.K. Stritch – find it on Amazon

The Mudd Club turned out to be a bittersweet place where I had my cherished camera stolen.  It was dark and so packed you had to be on your guard, but that didn’t deter us.  Jill, Daniel, and I went often.  Our friend Richard Smith worked there, so not only did he let us in, but we didn’t pay either.  The other hopefuls who awaited entrance looked at us longingly, in secret, as we, the downtown celebrities, slipped through the line.  The club showcased a scene with all kinds of provocative people.  Elderly-looking, avant-garde writer and opiate enthusiast William S. Burroughs participated as a frequent patron. 

“Come here.”  Richard Smith pulled us aside in his attempt to educate us.   “That is the author William S.  Burroughs.  He wrote Naked Lunch and put a glass on his wife’s head and shot her dead through her forehead.”  Our teacher waited for our reactions.

“Why did he do that?” I asked.  Why wasn’t he in jail? I wondered.

“They were playing William Tell.”

We all looked at the elderly gent.  He was a little younger than the ghostly clericus who appears in Drugstore Cowboy.

Old Bull Lee, dressed in a gray suit, lounged with one leg crossed over the other, undisturbed.  A faint smile adorned his face.  Perhaps he pondered his bizarre life or desired a Viennese waltz, or maybe he sat in a haze of H, remembering days in Putumayo or Algiers or his house in the New Orleans swamp.  Or maybe he quietly recited Shakespeare in his mad old mind.  Jill and I noted his presence and giggled and gazed at him.  Never in our wildest imagination would we have thought of saying hello, but I wished I had.  I wished I’d spoken to the old rascal, and I wished I’d done that terribly un-chic, un-hip thing and asked him for an autograph, or had the nerve to take a photo with him.  I could have sat on his bony knee and that would have been a funny, funny picture.  But sophisticated me did none of those things.

Knowing that Burroughs was an author of note, I tried to capture his worn face in my memory and grew fond of him from a distance, the way a child might like a scary figure in a horror movie.  I probably won’t read Naked Lunch, but years later I did read excerpts from Junkie and was impressed by his brilliant, clear prose.  Recently hearing a taped recording of Burroughs’s routines revealed a grouchy old man’s voice, and he reminded me of a mean doctor from my childhood.  That very stern, creepy doctor had had no patience and pushed me out of his office.  I didn’t know what Burroughs was talking about on the recording: Roosevelt and baboons with purple hindquarters—he hated bureaucracy and liberals—but I still found him most amusing.  Burroughs proved his intelligence to me.  How much better for him to dwell among the youth and vitality and live performance and pretty faces at the Mudd Club than to languish away at home or behind the doors of a senior facility.  His drug administration must have been meticulously careful.  He lived until the age of eighty-three. Perhaps one of the best insights into the colorful life of Burroughs is in On the Road: The Original Scroll.

“‘Hurry up, please.  It’s time,'” called the bartender.  We hurried.  In the words of T.S. Eliot, “‘Goonight, Bill.'”

Rub Out The Words: Collected Letters 1959-1974

Edited and with an Introduction by Bill Morgan.


At the point this second volume of his Collected Letters opens, William S. Burroughs has been living outside of the USA for the best part of a decade, now settled in the “Beat Hotel” in Paris, and his breakthrough novel Naked Lunch has just been published by the Olympia Press. He was just about to be profiled in Life magazine – the subject of a pained exchange with his outraged mother, Laura Lee Burroughs – and his newfound friend and collaborator Brion Gysin had just had the “happy accident” that led to the Cut-Ups, of which we will hear a great deal.

The first volume ended with a letter to Allen Ginsberg, and this new collection picks up literally where it left off, with a letter written to him the very next day (Oct 30, 1959). We are in fairly familiar territory here: giving thanks to Ginsberg for a supply of mescaline, catching up on gossip about mutual acquaintances, Gregory Corso and Jacques Stern, and an amusing anecdote about Henri Michaux.

So far so good, but things progress at an accelerating rate: the real story here is Burroughs coming of age as a writer, differentiating himself from his Beat peers, and finding his own voice.

Defending his work at the 1962 International Writer’s Conference on “The Future of the Novel,” critic Mary McCarthy said that one of the things that set Burroughs apart was his “aerial perspective,” and it has been argued that he belongs more with the writers and thinkers of the European avante garde tradition. Editor Bill Morgan describes in his Introduction how these letters give

…witness to an era in which Burroughs became the centre of a new coterie of creative people who were not related to the Beat Generation. With their assistance, Burroughs became an influential artistic and cultural leader whose reputation spread well beyond the literary world…

As well as old friends Alan Ansen, Paul Bowles, Corso, and Ginsberg, Burroughs’ new horizons expanded to include, amongst others, Antony Balch, Charles Henri Ford, Timothy Leary, Norman Mailer, Barry Miles, Jeff Nuttall, Michael Portman, Ian Somerville, Terry Southern, and Alex Trocchi. However, the single most important figure is without doubt Brion Gysin, who soon replaces Ginsberg as Burroughs’s most trusted collaborator and confidante (although never lover). On December 2nd, 1959, Burroughs writes to Allen “I have met my first master in Brion.” They quickly overcame previous rather cool impressions from Tangier, and plunged into the slippery psychic symbiosis of “The Third Mind.”

From famed medium Eileen Garret to Hassan ibn Sabbah, Old Man of the Mountains & Master of the Assassins, against a backdrop of ecstatic Moroccan trance music, curses, mirror-gazing, spells and trances, and the non-chemical expansion of awareness made possible through Cut-Ups, Flicker, and Playback, we follow Burroughs’ life as it unfolds during this eventful period. We also meet the Cambridge mathematician Ian Somerville (“the technical sergeant”), who facilitates the Dreamachine and tape-recorder experiments, and spoilt rich-kid jailbait Mikey Portman (“the medium”) – who despite his bad habits, good looks, money, and youth would eventually drive Burroughs to distraction.

All the usual obsessions and preoccupations are here: Cut-Ups loom large, as well as endless iteration of their possible applications; Drugs, of course – although sometimes as much against as for, as numerous letters promoting the apomorphine treatment for addiction attest; Film – both the experiments with Balch and various projected adaptations involving Mick Jagger, Dennis Hopper, and a former CIA hitman that all-too-predictably amount to nothing; and the strange dance with Scientology, deserving a book all of its own…

Also included are diplomatic appeals to his long-suffering mother, too-little-too-late attempts to reach out to his “cursed from birth” son, Billy Jnr., and endless struggles with publishers (mostly over money).

It is ironic that as his concerns became ever more internalised – and at times quite literally Occult – and the work he is producing is amongst his most “difficult,” that the model of “William Burroughs” as an icon of counterculture cool is born (his appearance on the cover of Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles being perhaps the ultimate endorsement). His engagement with experimental methods, non-literary forms, and the Underground Press seems strangely at odds with his recurring hope that the next project will be a commercial breakthrough: it is nothing short of hilarious when he reports, regarding The Wild Boys, that “Antony [Balch] swears it will be a best seller…”

There is plenty here to delight diehard fans, entertain the curious, and fuel further speculation. The engagement of Burroughs & Gysin, firstly with Scientology, and secondly with what they called “the Magical Universe,” are two topics clearly deserving of exploration. The fact that at the time of this writing, Tim Cummins in his Review for English newspaper The Independent characterises how “the two worked at the centre of a web of occult and artistic actions” (and the order of emphasis that he gives there) gives notice that the time is right for just such re-evaluation.


U.K. hardback edition, 490pp incl. 16pp b & w plates, first published 1st March 2012 by Penguin Classics. Buy it here.

This review was originally published in Beatdom #11.


The Burning Gnat

Starring beat icon Herbert Huncke (1915-1996) in his sole acting role, The Burning Ghat was filmed on location in Huncke’s then apartment on Henry Street in Brooklyn, New York. Co-starring his longtime companion Louis Cartwright (later murdered in the East Village in 1994), the film was written and directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton. It was edited by Francois Bernadi (director: Walking the Dog, Original Beats, for a kiss…, The last boat), and shot by Michael Slovis (Emmy Award winning cinematographer of “Breaking Bad”).

Although conceived and scripted as a dramatic short, the film incorporates documentary elements reflecting the real life relationship between Huncke and Louis. Allen Ginsberg wrote of the film, “O Rare Herbert Huncke, live on film! The Burning Ghat features late-in-lifetime old partners Huncke & Louis playing characters beyond themselves with restrained solid self-awareness, their brief masquerade of soul climaxing in an inspired moment’s paradox bittersweet as an O’Henry’s tale’s last twist”. Harry Smith said of the film, “It should have been longer”.

The Burning Ghat was featured at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and included in the Whitney Museum’s “Beat Culture and the New America” show of 1996. It won the Gold Plaque Award for Best Short Film at the 1990 Chicago International Film Festival.


Beating the Odds: Kerouac in the Twenty-First Century

An Old Book for the Young

Although hardly an unknown fact to regular readers of Beatdom, it’s still worth reminding ourselves that On the Road is over half a century old. The idea behind the book is of course older than the published work itself – [amazon_link id=”0143105469″ target=”_blank” ]Kerouac [/amazon_link]had already been living the experiences described in his seminal novel before he put pen to paper , and the book itself was completed some six years before its eventual publication. More than just a thinly-disguised account of Kerouac’s own nomadic lifestyle though, On the Road captures the confusion and urgency of youth, and it is the vivid relation of these qualities that binds the work to each new generation of lost souls. So let’s examine what the Beat Generation means to Generation X.

In the Fast Lane

On the Road is a book full of movement, conducted primarily in a variety of fast cars. Sal’s choice of vehicles in the book is less important than the experiences they enable, but there can be no doubt that young people today are as intoxicated with fast cars as Sal and Dean are in the book. An entire film genre has emerged around this concept, examples of which stretch as far back to Bonnie and Clyde to the more recent The Fast and the Furious franchise and – yes – On the Road. The success of the latter is proof, if any were needed, that a youthful appetite for the thrills of fast driving and illicit deeds still exists, and no body of work articulates these thrills more acutely than Kerouac’s.

Of course, On the Road is at its core more than just a book about cars and the people who drive them. It concerns itself with movement – moving across borders, moving over time, and moving between relationships. It moves fast, and it moves often: such frantic agility is now a common experience in our globalised world, which is why the poetics of Beat resonate long after its pioneers have passed on.

Making Sense of the Trauma of Youth

Sal’s voyages traverse spiritual as well as geographical terrain, and although no great revelation ever emerges from these journeys (or at least none that are conveyed to the reader), it seems clear that the young American’s experiences are in a sense emblematic of his nation’s post-war struggle for identity. As America and the world beyond its borders emerged from the bloodiest war in human history, alongside the necessity of healing there arose a question about America’s place in the world, about the limits of its strength and the perception of its weaknesses, and crucially about who it could trust and who it needed to defend against. These questions are being asked in On the Road at a much more personal level as Sal moved from one girl to another, and drifts between friends; this isn’t to suggest an analogy, but it does demonstrate the novel’s ability to capture a moment and a feeling in a nation’s history as perceived by one young man.

America and its citizens are asking similar questions of themselves today as they recover from an economic catastrophe that ultimately affected the whole world. As it was after 1945, today’s younger generation is made to suffer again for the mistakes of the old as they stumble amidst the remains of a society that has endured a trauma, one whose origins were beyond their knowledge and control. Such a situation arouses anger and confusion, and the allure of the road is a fitting motif for the overeducated and underemployed.

The musings of Kerouac and Ginsberg have never been so fitting since they were penned as they are for a time and a place such as ours, where the best minds of a generation are being destroyed by the madness of greed and repression. Fast cars, fast talk, a refusal to conform, illicit thrills, and a journey inwards and beyond are the recognisable and coveted vices of every Sal, Moriarty and Marylou who drift between disposable jobs and indispensable friendships, looking for answers before they’ve even formulated the questions. Whether you can make it to the British Library to admire all 120 foot of Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript, or to your local multiplex for its cinematic representation, be sure to reacquaint yourself with Sal and the gang in some form at the nearest opportunity, and remind yourself of how Kerouac and his pals never missed a beat.

Guest post by Eve Pearce

Women and the Beat Generation: Literature, Art, Film

Conference at the University of Agder, Norway, September 2-4 2013

Organizers: Frida Forsgren and Michael J. Prince

Keynote Speakers: Mary Kerr and Polina Mackay

Papers and panel proposals are sought for a three-day conference on women and the Beat Generation. We encourage submissions on all aspects of this topic, including the role of women writers in the Beat movement and the representation of women in the works of Beat authors. Submissions on art and film are especially welcome. Other suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • narratives of gender and sexuality in the work of women of the Beat Generation
  • the Beat movement and Feminism
  • the influence of female literary tradition on the Beat Generation
  • experimentalism in the work of female Beats
  • aesthetic dialogues between male and female Beat writers
  • visual culture and Beat women
  • the work of female Beat artists, filmmakers or photographers
  • the influence of art and film on the work of Beat women
  • the significance of life-writing
  • films by and about women of the Beat Generation
  • women and publishing, editing and non-fiction writing


The deadline for submission of abstracts is December 15, 2013. Please send your abstracts to Frida Forsgren at


Beatdom 12 ~ The Crime Issue ~ Coming Soon!!!

Yes, friends, Beatdom Issue Twelve is on it’s way and today we unveil the cover, featuring the lovely Zeena Schreck – who was kind enough to contribute this wonderful photo for the cover, as well as a short monologue (meant for stage) which she wrote at about the same time the photo was taken.

“I thought they’d compliment each other in a film-noirish type way, for a crime-theme. I hope you like it,” she says and we hope that you enjoy her work, too. Zeena and Nikolas Schreck have been great contributors since they joined us, and we are always delighted with what they have to share with us.

Issue Twelve will be another jam-packed issue, featuring interviews with Patti Smith, Amiri Baraka and Joyce Johnson and a close look at the first person to publish a piece of Beat Literature, John Clellon Holmes. He is featured in a review of the great biography/period non-fiction book on University of Missisippi Press, Brother-Souls by Ann Charters and Samuel Charters.

There are plenty of other great contributions pouring in but there is still time for you to send something, if you have a Beat-tinged piece on crime, or even a Beat-related bit of work. We are happy to look at your submissions. Deadline is in two weeks on November 1.

Beatdom 12 should roll off the presses in the first weeks of December, so save some cash in that holiday budget of yours to get a nice present for yourself!

Cover photo: Max Kobal/Copyright: Zeena Schreck.
Graphic Design: Waylon Bacon

A Report on The Final Academy: Then & Now

17th October 2012 sees the publication of Academy 23, an ‘unofficial’ celebration of William S. Burroughs & The Final Academy, compiled & edited by Matthew Levi Stevens & Emma Doeve of WhollyBooks. Contents will include:

– articles, essays & reviews from Michael Butterworth of Savoy Books, John Coulthart, Paul A. Green, John May, Mike Stevens, and David S. Wills

– new & previously unpublished prose material from ‘Here To Go’ Show veteran Joe Ambrose, William’s former Naropa companion Cabell McLean, and Matthew Levi Stevens

– an account of a conversation with William S. Burroughs about books & magic, which took place at the time of The Final Academy

– an exclusive interview with Phil Hine, in which he talks about visiting William S. Burroughs, and his relationship to Chaos Magic

– photos of a visit with Brion Gysin from former Psychic TV associate Bee, and of shooting with Uncle Bill from Spencer Kansa

– original artwork by Emma Doeve in response to The Wild Boys

– extracts from an interview with Terry Wilson on meeting William & Brion, Here To Go: Planet R101 and finishing Perilous Passage

As well as its announcement online, Academy 23 will also have its launch at the event FINAL ACADEMY/2012 @ The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, London on Saturday 27th October. Organised by Joe Ambrose (who also co-produced Destroy All Rational Thought and 10% File Under Burroughs with Frank Rynne, and is himself a contributor to Academy 23), the evening will feature films, music & spoken word:

‘Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs On The Road’ (directed by Lars Movin & Steen Møller Rasmussen) which features previously unseen footage of Burroughs on tour in the late 80s, plus rare home movies of Burroughs in Kansas towards the end of his life. Contributors include Patti Smith John Giorno, Islamic Diggers, and Bill Laswell;

‘Language Virus’ by celebrated graffiti artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon with music by Philipe Petite;

Soundtrack for the event provided by Testing Vault, The Plague Doctors (featuring Final Academy Mix by DJ Raoul), Islamic Digger No1. One Way, Alma featuring Joe Ambrose;

There will also be discussion, introductions, & readings from author & poet Paul A. Green, artist Liliane Lijn (who knew Burroughs & Gysin in Paris in the early 60s), ‘Post-Industrial’ veterans Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner & Matthew Levi Stevens, and novelist Tony White.

Udo Breger and Terry Wilson have sent their best wishes, and both publication & event have received endorsement from original prime-mover of The Final Academy, Genesis P-Orridge, who sent the following email of encouragement & support:

Dear Matthew,

How great to hear from you! We really DO appreciate your mentioning our work in staging the First Final Academy. The original idea we had was to HOPE that further variations would occur. After so long it is good to see the meme expanding. we hope we see the book when it is finally out and wish you every success and FUN in all these activities.




‘Academy 23’

In the Beginning was the Word, in this case the words that William S. Burroughs wrote for British ‘men’s magazine’ Mayfair while he was living in London in the 1960s. Some years previously a young aspiring writer called Graham Masterton had written to Burroughs when he was still living in Tangier. By 1967, Burroughs was living in London and Masterton, who had landed the job of deputy editor for Mayfair, visited him at his Duke Street, St. James apartment to ask if he had any material he would like to contribute:

“He had long had the concept of an academy at which he could expound and discuss his ideas on government repression and big business and the future of social control, so I suggested that he write a series of articles which we would call The Burroughs Academy.”

The theme of an “Academy” where the young could be taught “a true and different knowledge” was one that engaged Burroughs increasingly as the 60s Revolution progressed. At the height of the Counter-Culture, he even entertained the notion of purchasing Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness, former home of Occultist Aleister Crowley (which was in fact later bought by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, at the time himself an ardent admirer of the self-styled “Great Beast”), but funds were lacking. Instead William Burroughs created a ‘virtual’ academy: first in the pages of Mayfair, then in the various articles for the Underground Press, and books like The Job and The Wild Boys. In a letter of 17th October 1968, he tells Brion Gysin: “Have finished the book of essays and interviews entitled Academy 23…” and although it would not in fact come out under that name, in its final published form as The Job the book of interviews with Daniel Odier, augmented with auxiliary texts, would include a long section entitled Academy 23. (As can be seen in the recent Rub Out The Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974, this desire to create some sort of ‘handbook’ would feed not only into the likes of The Job and The Revised Boy Scout Manual but also, ultimately, The Third Mind.)

Fast forward to the late 1970s, and another young man who had made contact with Burroughs during his London years, performance artist and “wrecker of civilization” Genesis P-Orridge, was also thinking of an academy… a FINAL academy. The Wild Boys re-envisioned via ‘Industrial Music’ as “psychick youth” – with a Temple all of their own. Uncle Bill and Gen had struck up a friendship of sorts in London in the early 70s, and through Burroughs Gen had also met Brion Gysin and Terry Wilson, who attended early Throbbing Gristle concerts such as the ICA launch and the show at the Nag’s Head. TG were profoundly inspired by Burroughs & Gysin and the idea of the Cut-Ups, particularly in relation to sound and the infamous tape-recorder experiments. TG co-founder, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, had experimented with found-sound and location recordings, building equipment to manipulate tape playback long before the modern sampling revolution. He had also bonded with Burroughs when he visited him at The Bunker to show him some of his photographic work featuring young male models that Burroughs was very taken with. TG’s sidekick Monte Cazazza recorded a rendition of Brion Gysin’s permutation poem ‘Kick That Habit Man’ for their label, and many of the key ‘Industrial’ bands cited Burroughs & Gysin as primary influences. Later, when Antony Balch died P-Orridge was instrumental in saving the original film-reels of his work, and TG’s Industrial Records would release the first ever LP of the Cut-Up tape experiments, ‘Nothing Here Now But The Recordings’.


‘THE FINAL ACADEMY is not a homage but a development towards the future…’

– From the original press-release


The Final Academy is an apocalyptic term. It is the place where knowledge and anti-knowledge are going to war.”

Genesis P-Orridge interviewed by Chris Bohn, NME, 25th September 1982

‘William Burroughs and Brion Gysin are two explorers of these New Lands [(that) little explored sit upon our shoulders] Both have shown courage in revealing their private thoughts, feelings, ideas and fantasies… Both have revealed the control mechanisms of those in power and seek to disarm them. But theirs is not a nihilistic gesture. They offer a future, a body of information that is beautiful, funny, and frightening and which points to the making of a New World.’

Roger Ely, Statements Of A Kind


Organised by David Dawson, Roger Ely, and Genesis P-Orridge, The Final Academy consisted of a series of main events over four days @ The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton: 29th September to 2nd October, 1982. William S. Burroughs & Brion Gysin would be celebrated in film, music, performance and readings. The famous experimental films shot by Antony Balch in the 1960s would be shown each night. There would also be performances by the experimental music groups that had been inspired by their example: 23 Skidoo, Last Few Days, Cabaret Voltaire and the debut of Psychic TV (recently formed from the ashes of Throbbing Gristle), as well as a variety of other poets and performance artists. Some, like John Giorno & Terry Wilson, were of course friends with Burroughs & Gysin; others, like Anne Bean, Paul Burwell & Ruth Adams, were associates of Roger Ely from the B2 Gallery.

An exhibition of Brion Gysin paintings, complete with Dreamachine, collages from The Third Mind, and scrapbook material ran concurrently at the B2 Gallery, Wapping. There was also a book-signing @ Compendium Books in Camden Town, William supported by Victor Bockris: A William Burroughs Reader, Cities of the Red Night and A Report From The Bunker: With William Burroughs all hot off the presses – and Here To Go: Planet R101 by Brion Gysin & Terry Wilson and the Burroughs/Gysin/TG special, both from RE/Search.

There were also ‘Regional Events’: Burroughs, Giorno, & Psychic TV @ The Haçienda, Manchester on October 4th; Burroughs, Giorno & Jeff Nuttall @ The Centre Hotel, Liverpool on October 5th; and a one-off @ Heaven, Charing Cross on October 7th, billed as: William S. Burroughs, John Giorno, Marc Almond, Heathcote Williams + Derek Jarman, Psychic TV, Last Few Days, Cerith Wyn Evans [at which Marc Almond will gamely cover Throbbing Gristle’s “marching music for psychick youth” anthem ‘Discipline’ for the first time!]

I had made contact with Throbbing Gristle as a 14 year-old-schoolboy fan, already very much into William Burroughs. It seemed like no sooner had I met them than TG split, and over the next year or so Gen & Sleazy’s half evolved into ‘Psychic Television Limited’, with its attendant Conceptual Art gag masquerading as Fan-Club pretending to be a Cult, ‘Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’ (sic). I was close friends with Geff Rushton (later ‘John Balance’ of Coil), only a couple of years my senior when he got together with Sleazy. Through my friendship with them I found myself for a while part of a circle that revolved around the ideas of Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare: all Astral Projection, Dream Control, Sex-Magick and Sigils. Equally, the life & work of Burroughs & Gysin – with their Cut-Ups, Dreamachine, Playback, and Third Mind – offered a toolkit for similar ends.

“Dear Mom and Dad: I am going to join The Wild Boys. When you read this I will be far away…”

End of September, 1982: barely a month shy of my 16th birthday, and for my sins I am a “Psychick Youth” – aspirant and unrepentant. The PTV entourage duly went to meet with The Old Man upon his arrival in the UK, and would be a kind of ‘honour-guard’ to William & Brion for the duration of their visits. Derek Jarman documented it all with his trademark Super 8 camera. Klaus Maeck filmed footage of Burroughs for the ‘Dream Sequence’ in Decoder. Sleazy helped set it all up, and can be seen – along with Burroughs & Grauerholz arriving by black cab – in Jarman’s Pirate Tape: a home movie of the filming in a used hi-fi & TV-repair shop behind Tottenham Court Road. Derek Jarman’s former boyfriend Howard Brookner was following the action with a camera, making his documentary Burroughs: The Movie – in much the same way that Victor Bockris had been Court Recorder at The Bunker, making With William Burroughs.

Thanks to Genesis P-Orridge I have a ringside seat when William S. Burroughs arrives. Everybody wants to get their books signed, or have their photo taken with him. I choose to do neither, deliberately. As well as the PTV connection, I am in touch with J. G. Ballard, Eric Mottram, Jeff Nuttall, and know Bill’s old pal Alex Trocchi; I am also a skinny, pale, intense, bookish young boy. I’m sure none of any of these details hurt. Eventually I am in just the right place at just the right time… When I get a chance to speak to William in person, I ask him about Magic, and whether he would care to recommend any books on the subject? Without hesitation he mentions Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense, even though he qualifies it as “a bit old-fashioned.” Then, without prompting on my part, he begins to talk of Black Magic and Curses in Morocco, travelling with Medicine Men up the Amazon, and Astral Projection and Dream Control. I realise that for Burroughs all this is UTTERLY REAL, the “Magical Universe” in fact. He tells me about a dream he had as a young man, working as an exterminator in Chicago: of watching from a helpless Out-of-Body point of view floating above the bed as his body got up and went out with some unknown and sinister purpose that he was powerless to influence. With a shudder, he tells me that possession is “still the basic fear.”

He asks if I would like to “get some air” and we take a walk round the block. To break the ice, I talk about books: he is delighted to discover that I have read his beloved Denton Welch, also J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment With Time. I have found them in my old school library, and know both have been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. Knowing of his interest I also mention that I have just read Colin Wilson’s The Quest For Wilhelm Reich, published the year before. He likes Wilson, he says, jokes that “the Colonel” with his cottage in Wales in Wilson’s Return of the Lloigor and his own Colonel Sutton-Smith from The Discipline of DE are one and the same.  On something of a roll, I mention Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, and he acknowledges that it has “some good information” – but is much more enthusiastic about Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway [years later I would discover that Burroughs & Conway had in fact exchanged letters on various subjects pertaining to magic, occultism, and psychic phenomena – but that is decidedly another story!]

He talks about different kinds of perception, and I hear for the first time his famous remark that the purpose of all Art & Writing is “to make people aware of what they know but don’t know that they know!” He describes the ‘Walk Exercise’, in which you try to see everybody on the street before they see you – “I was taught this by an old Mafia don in Chicago… sharpens your ‘Survival IQ’…  It pays to keep your eyes and ears open” – as well as an on-the-spot illustration of the theory of Cut-Ups as Consciousness Expansion:

“As soon as you walk down the street like this – or look out the window, turn a page, turn on the TV – your awareness is being Cut: the sign in that shop window, that car passing by, the sound of the radio… Life IS a Cut-Up…”

I ask him about Cut-Ups with tape-recorders, a hot topic at The Final Academy. Telling me about his experiments with ‘Playback’ (where recordings are made, cut-up, then played back on location, often accompanied by the taking of photos) he actually describes it to me with a chuckle as “Sorcery!”

The impact of the Cut-Ups is very much in evidence at The Final Academy, you could almost say that it is the one thing that unites all the performers – certainly where the bands are concerned. In his essay The Academy (The Virus Spreads) – which is included in The Final Academy’s lavish program, Statements of a Kind – David Darby writes:

“Terry Wilson has described Cut Up as a form of ‘exorcism’. Burroughs says it is like table tapping; you can use it to read into the future, to see what is about to happen and thereby control it. A variety of today’s music reminds me of this ‘disembodiment’. Holger Czukay, the German musician and psychic believer who edits music… inserting snatches of ghostly voices taken off shortwave radio and TV. The LP My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne – title taken from the novel by Amos Tutuola, spiritualist and medium – with its mixture of Islamic chant and Black American radio exorcism and evangelism dubbed over strange rhythmic instrumentals… New York’s Grandmaster Flash, who cuts in snatches of other records… Then, of course, there’s Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, 23 Skidoo, Psychic Television, all of whom have declared… a desire now to create a new music with video and taped voices, to redefine music as a percussive soundtrack almost, a muttered trance as much as a dance in which real and imaginary visions are seen…”

Brion Gysin I only met very fleetingly, I was just another boy in a roomful of boys, the youngest and at that stage still something of a star-struck fan. I DO remember his response to our ‘psychick youth’ honour-guard, though: “Gen, I don’t know how you’ve done this, but I’ve never had so many pretty boys being so helpful all day long!” Terry Wilson was also there in his capacity as Brion’s informal secretary, friend, collaborator, and “apprentice to an apprentice” (as Gysin himself had said), and would be one of the performers on the bill as well. He was tall and thin, in a crumpled dark blue suit, pale face “fading away behind a fringe of hair” [as Felicity Mason puts it in her essay for event program Statements Of A Kind] and seemed nervous, shy: on the one hand in awe of Burroughs & Gysin, on the other wary of all the shaven-headed acolytes circling around event organisers Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV.

What follows is a ‘taste’ of my piece ‘A Report from The Final Academy’ based on my actual Notes made at the time, previously unpublished. There has been some attempt at reconstruction – mostly with regard to the sets of William & Brion, who performed on all four nights – but otherwise this is as close as possible to my actual impressions & observations of 30 years ago [with the addition of occasional ‘editorial’ hindsight!] Word pictures of a moment in time…

The opening announcement, politely requesting that there is no flash photography and that there must be no recording, seems almost surreal: I have never been to an event that is so obviously being documented for posterity – it seems as if every other person has a camera or tape-recorder of some kind, and the strange binaural recording ‘head’ that I recognise from TG’s concerts is right in front of the stage at all times. I wonder what will happen to all the material?

Each night opens to a soundtrack of tape-recordings from the Burroughs archive, the kind of cut-up experiments that were released just last year as the final album on TG’s Industrial Records label, Nothing Here Now But The Recordings. Films are shown by the late Antony Balch (Gen helped to salvage them after he died of Stomach Cancer in 1980) Bill, Brion, Ian, Mikey Portman and others (hello Alex Trocchi!) in 1960s London, New York, Paris, Tangiers “Hello – Yes, hello – look at that picture – does it seem to be persisting? Thank You!” – Scientology training exercises – Towers Open Fire, The Cut-Ups, Ghosts @ No.9 (or Guerrilla Conditions), William Buys A Parrot – in colour!

The coming together of three generations, “like minds who share the common ground of The Third Mind – located at the intersection point of Cut-Ups, where the future leaks through – where logic is short-circuited, deprogramming Control.” William, Brion and John Giorno the older, literary pioneers; PTV and their pals ‘n’ peers being the younger New Wave. In between a more indeterminate crowd, performance artists and poets with a background in the Arts Lab Scene and ‘Happenings’ – they perhaps are the odder fit. Anne Bean & Paul Burwell acquit themselves well enough with their take on ‘White Man’s Got A God Complex’ (The Last Poets), but the lingering smoke from their fire-crackers didn’t do Brion Gysin’s asthma any favours. I’m not even sure Ian Hinchliffe actually appeared – the stage was in darkness, some barely audible mutterings on tape: was that him? Jeff Nuttall didn’t appear at all: apparently he was supposed to be met at the airport, and when he wasn’t just got on the next plane back to Manchester [a real shame, as I had been looking forward to finally meeting up with him: he has been a friendly, generous correspondent – sending copies of My Own Mag from back in the 60s… When Burroughs & Giorno appear alongside Nuttall later in the week at the reading he has organised at The Centre Hotel in Liverpool, any mention of Psychic TV or The Final Academy will be conspicuous in its absence…] Roger Ely’s story The Legacy was a haunting evocation of the perils of psychic attack and fallout from ritual experiments: a woman obsessed – or even possessed – by the spirit of her dead occultist father. I liked the slides that went with it, too (Ruth Adams?) The whole thing eerie after my first-ever conversation with Mr. Burroughs covering similar territory only the day before… “Possession is still the basic fear.”

The audience is a real gathering of the tribes: art students, bookworms, college lecturers, druggies, hippy survivors, political radicals, punks and queers. Wild Boys – and Girls! – of all ages, and of course a growing number of Psychick Youth. People have come from far and wide: I meet a tres serieux French couple who want to talk about apomorphine, General Semantics (but don’t believe that I have read Korzybski!), and an earnest, grey-clad group from Yugoslavia [Laibach] who have clearly hit it off with Last Few Days & 23 Skidoo.

There are sullen mutterings about the seating, lack of a bar, complaints that the event is “too literary” – others clearly don’t understand the connections: a schoolteacher asks: “What have all these weirdo bands got to do with anything?” Anne Bean is overheard to remark “I am neither psychic nor youthful!” A drugged-up punk girl sneers “Aren’t you a bit too young for all this ‘psychick youth’ bollocks?” – oblivious to the implicit irony. Terry Wilson treads uneasily between the more literary camp and the large circle of Psychick Youth acolytes, who flank Burroughs when he’s not reading. I keep a low-profile and thus secure a ringside seat on the edge of the group. Denise from Vox complains about the level of marketing: “we were constantly being handed leaflets about Giorno Poetry Systems, or Burroughs’ new book, or PTV’s Temple T-shirts. Not nice!” – but I just see this as a clash of cultures: the English ‘well-meaning amateur’ being challenged by American professionalism, and of course Counter-Culture from the Hippies through the Punks and on has always been wary of commercialism (as if nobody has to make a living!) Simon from Sounds is clearly a convert, though: talking of Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Austin Osman Spare – wants to know how he can get a copy of the PTV videos, gives out his contact details [Simon Dwyer (1959-1997) would later create world-renowned counter-culture journal Rapid Eye, in which he would showcase the likes of Psychic TV, Gilbert+George, Derek Jarman, and Kathy Acker.]

There is a weight of anticipation, expectation, about the launch of Gen & Sleazy’s new venture, Psychic Television, but they will not actually ‘perform’ as such. David Darby’s essay in the program Statements of a Kind suggests these are groups who are fast losing interest in what they see as the outmoded concept of band-on-stage. In the NME the week before, Gen tells Chris Bohn:

“William, Brion and the poet John Giorno used writing because in their day writing was the most vital, living form for propaganda. They got hold of tape-recorders and made films with (the late) Antony Balch, always trying to reapply what they discovered through writing to other media. Now you’ve got groups like Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, Last Few Days and Psychic TV who have followed through and used tape, cut-ups, random chats and sound in the way they’ve read or at least been inspired in Burroughs’ and Gysin’s books. They’ve put it, though, into popular culture, i.e. music, which happens at the moment to be the most vital form.”

One solution is the move towards film, slides, video – and Psychic TV would seem to be at the forefront here: if the Revolution IS going to be televised, after all, then PTV are first in line with their bid for the franchise…

As well as the films and readings, each night there is a band:

23 Skidoo, a firm favourite, start off proceedings. Their recently reduced personnel of Alex, Johnny & Fritz have moved far beyond their Post-Punk Funk origins to a new ritual ambience: the sound of bells, cymbals and gongs augmented by tape-loops and gas-cylinder percussion, “urban gamelan.” In Statements Of A Kind, the lavish program for The Final Academy, they describe themselves as “cultural assassins” who “embrace this ceremony of the constant random factor.” Like shaven headed warrior monks, they go about their almost meditative business on a darkened stage – while above them the films flicker like ghost-light…

Last Few Days are new to me, an unknown quantity, but I recognise Fritz from Skidoo, also former TG soundman Danny (‘Stan Bingo’). Cello, clarinet, megaphones, tapes. Their imagery, such as it is, is apocalyptic. ‘Apocalyptic chic’ is very much the thing at The Final Academy. “Ours is a soundtrack for a dying age.”

Cabaret Voltaire are also ‘reduced personnel’ now: down to a duo, Chris Watson has left. They have been recently ably augmented by drummer Alan Fish, but not tonight. Keyboards, movie dialogue and The Reverend Jim Jones cut-up & looped. Ambient music accompanying scratch-mix video – a barrage of cut-up visuals and deprogramming imagery, like their Doublevision release [but definitely NOT the ‘ambient music’ of Brian Eno & co.!]

Genesis P-Orridge introduces Brion Gysin, all in white: “And now, the man who makes the impossible, possible!”

Brion announces that the Cut-Ups are now about 23 years old, “the average age of my musicians, and I hope the average age of the house.” Each night there are songs (“Some old words, and some new tunes”) with music: Ramuntcho Matta (son of the Chilean Surrealist painter) on New Wave Funk guitar – I recognise Tessa from The Slits on cello, and the drummer from Rip, Rig and Panic – plus a percussionist [Giles from Penguin Café Orchestra.]

There are also readings from Here To Go (“Interviews with me by Terry Wilson… I understand you can buy it in the lobby”): No-one can give you the keys, even if you know what a key looks like (Korzybski, again!) Teaching is anything except what you expect it to be. “Turn the Boys Over is one way of doing it” – seduce the Teacher – Terry Wilson: “The knowledge is stolen?” “Knowledge is passed from a Master to a Disciple by the actual Act of Love” (the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi)

From The Process: the smoking circle, Youngest Brother speaks of “our enemy the sun” and Hassan i-Sabbah. “Mr Ugly Spirit himself disguised as a hydro-helium bomb.” There is no friendship, no love – the desert knows only allies and accomplices – “There are no brothers” Everyone is always ALONE, their adventure in life a singular one. A criminal, a magician, is an Outsider.

“Magic, like Art, is outside the Law”

And now the moment we have all been waiting for? Psychic Television, the propaganda arm of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (sic) – carrying on from the late TG’s ‘psychick youth rallies’(grey-clad acolytes, sporting shaven head and pigtail a la Tibetan Buddhist monks, very much in evidence)  – but “Psychic TV is not a group, we are not about entertainment”   – more a ritual in sound and visuals: a large video projection screen in the centre, TV monitors flank the stage, where Genesis P sits in near darkness, intoning a carefully prepared Statement to pre-recordings of soundtrack music, ritual ambience and holographic 3D sound effects, while Sleazy mixes the visuals. Tinkling bells and the moaning of Tibetan thighbone trumpets: the sound of souls in torment. A squeaking bicycle wheel. “Are you asleep, or do you want to wake up?” asks a pre-recorded, nasal voice [David Michael Bunting, recently dubbed ‘Tibet’ by GPO and part of the TOPY inner circle. Connections made at this time would eventually lead to his starting Current 93.] Then, amidst the swirl of lush strings, ‘A Message From The Temple.’ [Derek Jarman in a suit & tie mimes his part as ‘the Temple spokesman’ to the honeyed voiceover of tattooist & body-piercer extraordinaire Mr. Sebastian.] Meanwhile, the visuals: symbols of Control – “sex, power and magick” – I am amused to see that it’s clearly more than a lot of the hard-core Punks can take. The atmosphere is almost religious, for all that the images on screen are transgressive: bloodletting, genital piercing, initiation rites – something sexual, even if it isn’t clear exactly what. Glancing across to where William Burroughs sits, flanked by the Psychick Youth faithful, he seems captivated.

Speaking of the éminence grise, the Old Man of this particular Alamut: when Mr. Burroughs climbs onto the stage and takes his place behind the wooden desk, shuffling his papers and stretching awkwardly – like a doctor about to give a particularly unpleasant diagnosis – you could hear the proverbial pin drop. This is what everybody has come to see, to hear. At a brisk, business-like pace he starts with readings from the new book [the as-yet-unpublished Western The Place of Dead Roads] originally going to be called The Johnson Family after turn-of-the-century slang for ‘good’ bums, thieves, etc. A Johnson is a good man to do business with, honours his word – is not snoopy or judgemental – ‘Minds his Own Business’ – but also will not stand by when help is needed.

Burroughs introduces his alter-ego, Kim Carsons: a slimy, morbid youth, who adores ectoplasm, wallows in abominations – “when Kim was 15 his father allowed him to withdraw from the school because he was so unhappy there and so much disliked by the other boys and their parents” – He decides to go out West and become a Shootist “If anyone doesn’t like the way Kim looks and acts and smells, he can fill his grubby peasant paw” – He gets “a progressive education”  – “young man I think you’re an assassin” “I want to be one, sir!” – and recruits a band of flamboyant and picturesque outlaws, the Wild Fruits.

There are also extracts from Cities of the Red Night, Nova Express, and old favourites like ‘Twilight’s Last Gleamings’ and ‘The Do-Rights’ – the audience are attentive, rapt, respectful even, but lines like “He asks me what the American flag means to me, and I tell him soak it in heroin, doc, and I’ll suck it!” has us laughing in all the right places. Like the seasoned pro he is, William S. Burroughs has his audience right where he wants them.

Finally: The only goal worth striving for is Immortality, in Space: “This is the Space Age, and we are Here To Go.” Amen.

A final teaching for The Final Academy


‘The Western Lands is a real place. It exists, and we built it, with our hands and our brains. We paid for it with our blood and our lives. It’s ours, and we’re going to take it.’

William S. Burroughs, from ‘Statement on the Final Academy’

Academy 23 – an ‘unofficial’ celebration of William S. Burroughs & The Final Academy – compiled & edited by Matthew Levi Stevens & Emma Doeve of WhollyBooks. With contributions from: Joe Ambrose, John Balance of Coil, Bee, Michael Butterworth of Savoy Books, John Coulthart, Emma Doeve, Paul A. Green, Phil Hine, Spencer Kansa, Cabell McLean, John May, Jack Sargeant, Mike Stevens, and David S. Wills. Publication date will be 17th October, in commemoration of the letter from William S. Burroughs to Brion Gysin in which he first announces his plans for “a book of essays and interviews entitled Academy 23

For more details, please see:

Academy 23 will be launched at ‘FINAL ACADEMY/2012’ on Saturday 27th October at The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, London. Organised by Joe Ambrose, the event will include a screening of Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs On The Road – also Language Virus by Raymond Salvatore Harmon, with an original soundtrack by Philippe Petite – and Spoken Word performance by Paul A. Green, Scanner, Matthew Levi Stevens, and Tony White.

For complete listing, time, etc., please see:

Further to this, Matthew Levi Stevens will be reprising his talk on The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs at Secret Chiefs @ The Devereux Arms, in London’s West End, on Monday 5th November; then on Sunday 11th November Matthew Levi Stevens & Emma Doeve will be the special guests of Bath Omphalos Magickal Moot, where they will each give a talk on various aspects of Burroughs & the Magical Universe.

Further details of these events will be posted on WhollyBooks nearer the time.

As well as Academy 23, copies of The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs and Apprentice to an Apprentice: The Perilous Passage of Terry Wilson will also be available at each of these events.

In addition, the chapbook A Moving Target: Encounters with William Burroughs by Matthew Levi Stevens will be available shortly from Beat Scene Press.

A Willamette Valley Springtime

Posted on Tree at Art, Poetry Fair, Silverton, OR

Under a Crayola sky
and a festive landscape,

we walked by sea or
granny smith green branches,

mustard, even pumpkin,
and cranberry branches.

The sky was a pacific,
midnight, or maybe denim blue.

From a cool evening,
warm melting wax

of laser lemon
oozed on the edges.

White aspens and birches and dark weeping willows
and black oaks were electrified with electric lime,

screaming or yelling jungle,
full of fern and inchworm green.

What is sea or spring green
in a Willamette Valley springtime?

Noise Poetry: An Interview with Thurston Moore

As an MFA fiction student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (one of the longest, most consistently-made-fun-of school names ever), I was fortunate enough to be brought face-to-face with some of the most legendary members of the American cultural underground of the past 50 years. Since the Kerouac School was founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in 1974, we have operated in a lineage outside the cultural mainstream, inasmuch as the Beat Generation was somewhat welcomed into the fray with Kerouac’s On The Road, but is still consistently debated and misunderstood.

So you could say that we are still misunderstood as a school – from the infamous tales of Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs teaching some of the first classes, to today, when MFA programs are booming and we are still rarely mentioned in those lists. Merits of my education there aside, one of the most remarkable aspects of the program was getting to attend two summers of Naropa’s famous four-week Summer Writing Program, which Ginsberg had taught at nearly every year until his death and continues to feature some of the most cutting-edge writers and artists performing and teaching today, including legends such as Amiri Baraka and Joanne Kyger visiting, and Anne Waldman continuing to host the program every year.

My first year at the Summer Writing Program in 2011 coincided with the arrival of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to our little campus in Boulder, Colorado. I became one of the lucky few to get into his coveted workshop in the last week of the program. As an editor of the Kerouac School’s literary journal Bombay Gin, I also decided to make it my mission to get an interview with him. I had been cautioned not to bother him or take up too much of his time, but he couldn’t have been more accommodating and down-to-earth, willing to brave the Boulder summer sunshine one morning and talk to me for three hours – large portions of which didn’t even fit into the interview below and will potentially be repurposed somewhere, someday.

The first day Thurston came in to teach our class, he looked like your (taller than) average punk rock kid – Converse sneakers, a backpack, and a guitar – not the 30-year veteran of the American underground, the legend who had “hung out” with everyone from Ginsberg and Burroughs to Kurt Cobain, Yoko Ono, and Patti Smith. He told the class stories and histories, of writers and rock stars – an inexhaustible library of knowledge on every poet, every small press, every punk band.

But Thurston was not there to be the famous guitarist and singer from Sonic Youth – although he did incorporate a few songs into his poetry reading, and worked with our class to create a sonic experiment of music, poetry, and screaming distortion. Thurston came to Boulder, a college town of relative anonymity, and he came to Naropa, where he could be taken seriously as a writer and member of not just the musical counterculture, but the literary underground as well. A place he has rightfully earned through his lyrics, poetry books, and collaborative associations.

Beyond the living archive that is Thurston’s memories and mind, his appreciation for the world of small presses and publishing led him to create what is one of the most interesting and important collections of underground (and sometimes above-ground) American literature from the second half of the twentieth century. He is a cousin of the Jack Kerouac School, related through the spirits of transgression and subversion that haunt our corridors, the same spirits that gave a tall redheaded kid growing up in suburban Connecticut a copy of Naked Lunch and the desire to run away to New York City to play guitar.

Thurston is the space between the words of poetry and the scream of a guitar, the punk rocker and the professor, the father and the rebellious teenager. His work as a writer and musician has explored the space where the subversive becomes the commercially successful, where success doesn’t mean selling out, where you can create your own world and get everyone else to live in it. Where poetry is noise – and noise is poetry.

The following interview originally appeared in the literary journal Bombay Gin (issue 38.1, Fall 2011), published by the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Initially only available in the limited-run print release of that issue, it is now exclusively available here on Beatdom in its original form.


Katie Ingegneri: How did you first hear about Naropa?

Thurston Moore: It was through my interest in the world of underground poetry publishing and small presses – something I became fascinated by around the early 90s, and before then my interest in literature was more about the writer and less about the book, as far as poetry was concerned. But artifact collecting and the idea of a singular vision and an imprint was always interesting to me. I started getting more into collecting first-edition, first-printing books by certain authors that I felt were significant to my own interest. And it was a shared interest with a few other people that I knew, in my scene of being in a rock band in New York City. I always saw playing music for myself to have equal value to writing.

So book collecting became as significant to me as record collecting and documenting certain more arcane musical genres, like free jazz and avant-garde jazz and underground experimental rock and 20th century composer music that was really on the margins…and progressive British folk music…[laughs] A lot of my fascination with getting into rock n roll was about fantasizing, ever since I was a kid, about being in a rock band, but at the same time it seemed out of reach. I didn’t really know how to play guitar, and I wasn’t that proficient a technician as far as music was concerned, so I had more of a feeling I was going to be a writer. There was a lot of literature in our house, but it wasn’t very focused on poetry so much – it was more focused on philosophy. What resonated with me in the 70s as a teenager was certainly music coming from these people who had some connection to serious poetry and literature. People like Patti Smith, and Tom Verlaine, from Television, and Richard Hell, who had a band called the Voidoids, and I really was enamored by what these people were doing, for a lot of reasons. It was at a time when rock writers were in the same milieu as the performers, and it was kind of one of the last periods of when that existed, because it was completely pre-Internet, and it was all about the physical interaction between people. There was no real interest from high media on this activity.

So it was underground, and it was owned by the people. You know, Patti Smith’s whole thing, “we created it, let’s take it over,” about rock n roll music. That was a very powerful statement and everybody understood that…and that’s what drew me in. I knew that was the culture I wanted to be a part of, and it had a lot to do with the lineage of poetry that was under the hubris “beat literature” or whatever. For me, you would take it upon yourself to find these books by writers who these musicians were claiming to be their inspiration and influence in writing. Certainly Dylan did that in the 60s, but he was a little more obtuse about that – he was Dylan, he’s such an enigma as far as that’s concerned. But having not lived so much in the 60s, I didn’t have the sophistication or wherewithal to glean any sort of history of poetry or writing.

So as a teenager in the 70s, I really started responding to this information, of writers who inspired people like Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and it would certainly be William S. Burroughs, and it would be Allen Ginsberg – those two specifically. They were like the dynamic duo, and they were extremely interesting, once you saw these names in connection with rock n roll. How can this thin graying man with a fedora and a suit and tie, and smoking a cigarette, and looking very all to the world like he could shut it down with one glance – like who the hell is that? And then you’d go buy the book, and you’re sixteen years old, and you’d buy The Wild Boys or Naked Lunch, and Naked Lunch was so important cause it had the transcript of the trial with Allen Ginsberg and it was amazing to read, for me. And so of course one thing leads to another if you allow it to and you’re interested in it.

I figured out what that world was, and I knew right away that moving to New York and investigating it and working within it is all I really wanted to do. My romance with writing was that I’m going to move to New York, I’m going to be a writer. So when Anne Waldman introduced Eileen Myles the other night [at Naropa’s 2011 Summer Writing Program], one of the first things she said was that she moved to New York to be a poet. And when I heard that, it was so simple, and so beautiful, and it was both serious and romantic, and it just implied everything that was important emotionally for myself, that I immediately said, “if I ever have to write a memoir, that’s the title of my memoir: She Moved to New York to Be a Poet”! That was sort of how I felt growing up in a small town in Connecticut, was that I wanted to move to New York and I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to hang out with Patti Smith and I wanted to hang out with Richard Hell, and nobody in my high school knew anything about this stuff.

So all during this period it was all about my intention was to move to New York and be a writer, and I didn’t really have any kind of support for it. I didn’t know anything about St. Mark’s Poetry project, but I did know that Patti Smith did a very significant reading there, and I had a bootleg album of it. Throughout ‘76, going into New York a lot, to CBGB and Max’s and a couple of other places, I would see the [St. Mark’s] Church and I figured out where Gotham Book Mart was, up in midtown. I would go there and I would buy whatever was associated with her, and buy the books by Burroughs and Ginsberg, maybe buy a Gregory Corso book or something. It was discovering things completely outside the academy, you know, cause I wasn’t in school and I wasn’t doing any lit courses or anything like that. So my information, I was just gleaning it from connective tissues, in a way.

If somebody would do an introduction to a book, I would go out and buy the person who introduced that book. I would find out more about that person, and one thing would lead to another, and I would let that progress and I would expound on it – not overly academic or seriously. I moved to New York in very early ‘77, and I lived right near St. Mark’s Church. I would see activity going on there, but I was playing music with some people, and my whole thing was that. I was friends with some poets in my tenement building, who would read at certain places and I would go see them, and I would share my poetry with them, because I was writing poetry since high school, and I remember giving a sheaf of poems to these guys, who were like 10 years older than I was, and they were poets. Then they all came back to me with such enthusiasm, like they loved what I wrote. I mean, they said they loved what I wrote. When I look back at what I wrote then, it’s pretty teenage. But that was so encouraging, and I have one retrospective regret – not cultivating my writing by going to a poetry workshop at St. Mark’s. But I didn’t have so much awareness of it. I knew something was going on, but it didn’t really draw me in.

Thurston Moore and Anne Waldman, presenting a panel

The activity I was involved in, playing music and getting gigs here and there, at CBGB or Tier 3, was very important, and just what was going on with the people in the No Wave movement, with Lydia Lunch, and James Chance and the Contortions. These were people who also had the same trajectory as I did. I mean Lydia Lunch, she was a writer, but she came from this scabrous background in upstate NY, and ran away to New York City as a 16-year-old girl. She had this very wild, wild existence in New York, as Lydia Lunch, and she was trying to get her poetry out to people, that’s how she started. And she would hand her poems to people like Lenny Kaye, the guitar player in Patti Smith’s band, like “I’m a poet, I’m a poet.” But she got a response when she put a guitar on, which she didn’t know how to play, and turned the amp up and started smashing on it, and then she started reciting her words. And that’s when people were like oh, who’s this. So that became the obvious standard, like put a guitar on, and turn the amp up, and THEN do your poetry, and that became the new poet, in a way – the electric guitar poet was like the new poet. So it was like that was what punk rock had as a real blueprint.

But I think a lot of people shared the same response I had, that the lyrics were so interesting and new and they had such a quality of poetry to them, but that’s just the basis for later on becoming interested in avant-garde music through record collecting. Which I could never do cause I never had any money – I mean, I was kind of doing it, but it was problematic. But as soon as Sonic Youth started having a little more income I really got seriously involved with collecting records that were from these genres that were really arcane and interesting to me. Especially coming out of punk rock where it was about establishing an independent means in the industry, that didn’t have to utilize the industry. So when I started seeing other record labels from the 60s that dealt with avant-garde jazz or whatever that were independent, I was like oh, we’re not the first ones, this isn’t something we created. Even though a lot of people who were joining punk rock were like we’re so cool, we created this kind of independent network, and it’s like no, there’s a history there. So I became really interested in that history, and when I found out that there was a lot – that it existed in the literary, publishing scene, I became really fascinated with that.

But when I started finding out about the communication between poets through self-published literature, that’s when I became really involved and interested in the history and all the people involved with it. And by the ability to tour across the United States with Sonic Youth, I could go to every college town, and go to the local bookstores – second-hand bookstores – and go into the dusty poetry section and go to the end of the alphabet where they would have the anthologies or whatever, and invariably there would be some boxes of stapled mimeos from the 60s. I began amassing this collection and finding out about the different imprints and different writers that were associated with them, and just seeing all this activity of writing and communication between poets from different regions of the United States.

I was really into learning through investigation, pure investigation. I knew a couple other people who were interested in this stuff, and we would powwow about it, but I didn’t know the writers. So I started going to the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s, when I could, even though I didn’t live in town anymore. And I missed everything – I missed all of Eileen Myles’ running the programs there, being the director there, I missed all of Bernadette Mayer’s era, it was like God, what a fool I was, for missing it. But I just really did not know any better – it’s just this nostalgia for something that I didn’t know existed. But I turned Bernadette Mayer, and Eileen Myles, and Clark Coolidge, and all these people – they became my rock n roll stars, in a way. And it was very private for me. [laughs] So I would go see these people, and I would go up to Clark Coolidge with some of his earlier stapled stuff and have him sign it or whatever, and they’d always look at me like – where’d you get this? Who are you? And I was like, this kid. And some would know who the band was, and they’re just like why is the guy from Sonic Youth asking me to sign this completely obscure publication.

When I came to the school this week, I brought a couple of documents, and one of them was the 1979 curriculum calendar of student/faculty events at Naropa. And I carried it around with me a little bit, and everybody’s just coming up to me like, can I hold that and look through it, and somebody made a copy of it, and it had such value as an object. I mean, you could talk about 1979 at Naropa, and everybody was like yeah that must’ve been so cool, but to actually see this piece that existed from then, and it exists in this kind of living state, in a way. You know, it’s kind of faded, it’s kind of sunburnt, it’s been handled a little bit, which gives it this sense of time, but it’s like there’s a certain sort of gleaning that comes from this actual document of paper, that comes from that period. So I found that really interesting, and I brought a production piece from the workshop here in 1974. It was a series of broadsides, one of which was Anne’s, in this die-cut folder that was stitched together, in an edition of 46 copies or something like that. All numbered, which I had found in some bookstore amongst a bunch of other papers, and it cost pennies. I brought that here too, and I showed it at the panel. But that’s all anybody wanted to talk about afterwards, like can I see that, can I hold it, can I touch it, can I see it. So for me, the importance of the life – devoting yourself to the life of being a poet, to me there is such an importance to the history of what that is, and with the actual production and documentation of work that existed…and I never knew what kind of value to put towards what I was doing as an archivist of this stuff.  So it’s kind of wonderful, in a way.


Thurston Moore reading his poetry at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, 2011

KI: Now that you have this archive, do you think that will serve a purpose for future generations?

TM: I think it serves a purpose if it’s made accessible in a way that makes sense. I do want it to exist as an accessible library of sorts. I don’t want to let it out of my sight so much because it means a lot to me, but I have talked to a couple of other people who have similar archives and possibly talking to some kind of institution that might establish a library of sorts. But the fact that a lot of the material is so ephemeral, it almost becomes a thing like – do people have to put on white gloves to look at this stuff? I have some stapled mimeo stuff where the edges are crumbling a bit and you really wanna be careful looking at it. So what do you do about that? And there’s some talk about digitizing it all, so it’s all available as digital information, which kind of bores me a little bit. I like the idea cause it makes the work available to read and you can actually see what these pieces look like, but the physicality of the pieces is, to me, very important. So I’m not quite sure how to present it. In a way I feel like all this investigation I’ve done, and the archiving, has come to a really good point because I think a lot of the culture of poetry has become really dependent on the archive as a very real sense of vibrational history. Cause there is all this information, and historical information that’s available, through the Internet, and we can all share this knowledge – but the documentation of it, the actual documentation of it, and what that was physically, and what that meant, has just recently become something of import for a lot of young writers.

In the spring of 2010 I had a show at White Columns gallery [in New York City] where I exhibited a lot of the archive in vitrines and I kind of fetishized a lot of what I liked about it, the visual stimulus of it, and so I made huge posters of about 40 of the covers. And the whole gallery was postered with all these images. There was lots under glass, and I had readings once a week during the show. I had started editing and publishing a poetry journal myself from the year 2000 onwards, called Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal, cause I had a record label called Ecstatic Peace, and so the show was like a new edition of the poetry journal. And Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal was certainly all about referencing and wanting to continue the lineage of the aesthetic of this kind of publishing. Which I enjoy doing, to this day. And the idea in my class this week is to actually create one of these journals.

But I don’t really know what to do at this point. I mean, I’m not too concerned about it. I think at some point we’ll figure it out. There’s certain institutions I think that have an awareness of my collection. I know that it’s sort of idiosyncratic, its focus is very personal, so that makes it something else than purely academic. Anne and I were talking about my archive the other night, and she looked at it like “From the Library of Thurston Moore,” that’s its focus, and I was like okay, I like that. I do have everything on file – I keep a FileMaker Pro document of all the poetry – I have to, cause I’ll go into places and find old poetry stuff, and I’ll see these pieces that look so amazing to have been found, and I’ll come home and I’ll look in my FileMaker Pro and see that I have like three other copies of it. [laughs] So I just really don’t know how I’ll utilize it beyond it just being in my house.

But to me it’s artwork, and it sits in my house to me as art, and I’ll figure it out someday. I was actually thinking about weeding it out a little bit and refining it to some degree, and selling off some of it. Which is what I do with records as well – just crystallizing my focus a little more. But I’m not there yet, with that. You know when I think of an archive like Naropa, which is a lot of paper, ephemeral writing, and there’s also this recorded audio, a lot of it on cassette, that needs to digitized or has been digitized. I had come here six years ago and played at a benefit for the school to raise money to allow that archiving to continue. You know, there’s been a lot of relevance attached to the concept of the archive, the archive becomes this really mystical concern or something – which is fine, but it really is just this sort of personalized library, and it brings in this sense of the political where it’s like you’re responsible for your own culture, and recognizing the value of that culture, and what it means in a humanitarian way, what it means in an educational way, what it means in a very emotional way too. So I am okay with it existing contemporaneously as this living archive, we’ll see where it goes.

KI: Even in the past 10 years, it’s been such a shift with the Internet. When I was growing up, I was really into music and I would go to record stores, I was always buying CDs and creating my own archive of albums and CD covers. But now all the music I listen to is all just in my iTunes, and I don’t know how the archive is going to exist as we go further and further into this digital age.

TM: Well I think it has to exist, digitally, because that makes it free, it makes it safe, but it’s also intangible. So I’ve been coming into this focus of distinction, what that relationship is between yourself and the artifact, and a lot of it has to do with the equality of value towards aspects of the artifact where content is just one aspect, so it does become very physical – what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like, what it tastes like, whatever, that all to me is like – there’s a certain shared value in all of that. And so the culture of the Internet allows one value, and that’s basically just content. I find it very limiting. But it certainly serves a certain purpose and one of those is just to be what I refer to as the “exploded library.” So I don’t know what to think about that, cause I do see a new culture of record stores and book stores that exist with really focused appreciation on objects and they’re smaller, more boutique, in a way, and that’s fine. I don’t think that sort of thing is ever going to disappear, disappear. But there’s something really political about it that I am interested in, the idea of working at something that you love as opposed to working for the sake of making money, and how it’s very rare that anybody can work at something they love and make enough money doing it. And then there’s this whole idea of this Protestant ethic of “you have to suffer” [laughs] and there’s a denigration towards people who work at things they love and are compensated for it. I don’t think anything’s going to disappear, to tell you the truth. I think there’s gonna be a certain exhaustion that comes with the formlessness of the Internet as a library, as a store, as whatever, and it’s going to create a more independent and factionalized world of commerce. We just opened up a little record store in Northampton, Massachusetts, with these two young people, and [rock writer] Byron Coley and I have been able to fill it with all these secondhand records we’ve collected over the last 30 years and go out and buy collections and stuff like that, and we have some performances in the back room of traveling independent experimental music people, and we’re able to pay the monthly rent, and we each get a check for a few hundred bucks once in a while, but that’s fine. It services the community, and you’re amidst the pleasure of what you really like, which is music, and film – we have lots of DVDs, but nobody’s getting rich off this stuff [laughs], that’s certainly not the idea.

KI: When you were starting out, did you start writing poetry before you became a musician?

TM: It was kinda concurrent – I mean, I had aspirations to play music but I had aspirations towards being a writer, and I couldn’t really articulate what that would entail. I guess my idea of writing, I equated it with journalism, like I was gonna be a journalist, or I was gonna go to journalism school. The one quarter of a semester that I went to college in fall of ‘76, which was at a state college in Connecticut, I remember signing up for whatever English classes they had, and journalism class, whatever that was, and that invariably had some connection to the school newspaper. I wrote about music in the college newspaper, and I wrote about the Ramones, I wrote about Patti Smith – I wrote about what I was interested in, and people started responding to it, like, man that was so cool what you wrote about but what the hell was it – like nobody knew about this stuff.

So I wrote about John Cale. I went to see John Cale play, and I filed it, and they printed it, and they took it upon themselves to correct what they thought was my misspelling of John Cage. They changed John Cale to John Cage. And so my John Cale piece became this review of a John Cage concert which never existed, as if it was John Cale, and I went up to the office and I was like why did you change John Cale to John Cage? And they were like it was about John Cage, wasn’t it, we just thought you spelled it wrong…at that moment I was just like – I hate school. I’d had it, and I moved to New York. I found a place to live and I started playing music with some people, and I was writing – I’d always sort of written poetry in my later teens, and continued to write some in New York – but my involvement with playing music became my primary interest. I always kept notebooks when I was playing music.

You know, lyric writing to me was predicated upon the art of the rhyme. I also knew that poetry, the way it appeared on the page as far as it being rhyming schemes had become so quaint, a fairly passé presentation of poetry. I didn’t really see anything wrong with that but as far as it being lyrical in song – rhyme still worked as something that was really permanent and substantive. I understood the relationship between the poem on the page and the poem as a sung lyric, where the art of the rhyme had a different nature. So that was kind of important to me, and a lot of times when I would write and I had ideas of writing, I would think about how it would exist as a song lyric, and I would write down lyrics that had certain intonation and a certain sense of rhyme, but I never really thought of presenting them as poems. I thought I wouldn’t want to have them read as poetry just because there was a certain kind of sing-songy aspect of it that, without the context of the music, it just read too quaint on the page. I understood that distinction.


The workshop taught by Thurston Moore at Naropa, 2011

But all through the 90s, I understood the correlation between writing and poetry and writing and songwriting, and I invariably would get lyrics either from notebooks, poetry writing, and I would sort of reshape them for the song, or I would go to a number of poems and take lines from different poems and create a unified piece that would work in a song. Sometimes I would do that, which was a semi-kind of cut-up method, or had some kind of correlation with cut-up, but I was kind of into wanting to have an identity as an poet that was separate from an identity as a musician, which I always found very difficult. I would actually do a book of writing or poetry, that I would do myself or somebody would publish, and whenever I would see it in a bookstore it would more than likely be in the music section, cause I was a musician making poetry, or something like that. Which really kind of bummed me out, because it inferred that poetry was a dalliance, and I didn’t want to be Jewel [laughs]. And Spin Magazine, when my first book Alabama Wildman came out, they actually did this page where it was these three books of writing that were out, and it was Dee Dee Ramone’s book, Jewel’s book, and my book, and they were like – Jewel’s was this flighty romantic poetry, and Dee Dee Ramone’s was like this memoir of madness of being in a punk rock band, but then “we can’t even decipher what Thurston Moore’s was about,” they didn’t know what was going on with this different poetic kind of thing, cause there was nothing in that book that was relative to anybody who thought poetry was basically what Jewel was writing. [laughs] So it was just like, I was weird – this is some fucking weird thing this guy did. Which I like. I was like great, at least I’m not the musician making the bad poetry book.

KI: We spoke a little bit about your association with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. I was in a class this past semester on the history of the Beat Generation and we watched the recent documentary on William S. Burroughs, “A Man Within,” a project that you were involved with. I understand you and Sonic Youth collaborated with him on his album “Dead City Radio.” I also recently read that Sonic Youth celebrated Allen’s 60th birthday with him. How did you first meet these legendary writers (and Naropa teachers), and how did you come to collaborate with them?

TM: When I lived on East 13th Street between Avenues A + B in NYC in the late 70s I’d see Allen and Peter Orlovsky walking hand in hand around the neighborhood (and sometimes even on the L – very bold!) Allen’s place was on East 12th Street, same building where Kerouac lived, and where Richard Hell still lives I believe. Allen would appear at CBGB once in a while and play Buddhist harmonium chants on stage opening for Patti Smith, Television and other denizens of that stage. So he was a neighborhood figure. I didn’t really meet him until much later when Sonic Youth garnered a more prestigious profile. I seem to remember Lee [Ranaldo] and I going to a book publication party at The Poetry Project and talking with Allen and he had asked about working together. He called me up and we discussed possibilities. I said I thought it might be hip for SY to improvise music with Allen reading. He replied that that’s what Dylan also requested. Ha! I would run into Allen here and there and it was always cool. He came to hang out at the NYC stop of Lollapalooza 1995 and I have some pictures of him and myself with my baby daughter Coco. While I talked to him, Coco would be grabbing at his beard and mouth and while most people would flinch at such messiness, Allen allowed her to stick her fingers into his mouth and he sucked and bit at them. I was very impressed. We never did get around to collaborating beyond him sending me a package with a nice letter and a sheaf of poems to peruse.

Burroughs lived on the Bowery in a place called The Bunker, same place as John Giorno I believe. I remember having to call Giorno, as we were submitting a track to one of his Giorno Poetry System records, and Burroughs answering the phone. I can still hear that gravel tenor in my ear. After he located finally to Lawrence, Kansas we were invited to come to his house by his assistant James Grauerholz, who was a SY fan. We went a couple of times, once by ourselves and once when we were touring that area opening for REM. The first time I recall sitting in his living room and he had a number of Guns and Ammo magazines laying about and he was only very interested in talking about shooting and knifing. Not exactly a subject dear to me but it was amazing hanging out. And we went into his backyard where he had an actual orgone box built from the specifications of Wilhelm Reich, which I sat in, even though it was rife with spiderwebs. The recordings we did on the “Dead City Radio” LP were organized by Hal Willner, who had a personal and professional relationship with both these men as well as with SY.

KI: I’ve noticed a few Sonic Youth songs are dedicated to Beat writers like Gregory Corso. Were the Beats a big influence on you as a writer and/or musician – in terms of style, subjects, and/or their challenge to traditional, mainstream American culture?

TM: The Beat writers, even to this day, are still on the margins of American letters. Even though they are universally recognized as a significant development in modern and post-modern literature, they are still considered off-the-grid. In a way it was relative and resonant to the structure of American society and its professed standards in that they need to be defined as troublemakers, which is where I wanted to be. In that lineage. And, in music history, it was concurrent, where you had experimental and punk rock music on the margins of “popular” and acceptable. I came to Beat writing through music where music writers like Lester Bangs, Patti Smith, Richard Meltzer and others would point to Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and others as compatriots of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Iggy & the Stooges and many others.

KI: How has working as a writer and editor impacted your musical career, or vice versa? Do you find you get different rewards from different creative practices?

TM: Writing and editing are a more singular passion for me, whereas music usually has a more collaborative practice. Lately I’ve been more interested in writing music alone and am seemingly becoming more focused thus.

KI:  One of my Bombay Gin co-editors, Jade Lascelles, who was also in our class, had a question: When you returned to “Daydream Nation” 20 years later to perform it in concert, you said you had to return to the same kind of bodily space you had inhabited when you were first creating that album. Do you ever find you undergo similar experiences when revisiting old writing?

TM: I do, without a doubt. With writing though I find I can take the work and update it, sometimes. I find the more I study the work and history of poetry as a spiritual as well as academic vocation, the writing I’ve put to paper decade(s) past is very innocent and, in a way, I feel it best to choose to not update the work and keep it as a reminder of who and where I was.

KI: Do you think that there’s hope for a renewal of non-corporate creativity, in all forms, in the mainstream? Or will it all be underground?

TM: Well, that’s pre-supposing the mainstream as the more valuable environment. The underground is where all the foxes are.

T. Moore, Naropa University 2011

Thurston Moore and MFA student Katie Ingegneri at Naropa

[All photos copyright Katie Ingegneri, 2012.]