Archives For Matthew Levi Stevens

Here To Go & Back Again: The Lives & Arts of Brion Gysin

If Brion Gysin had not existed, it probably would have been necessary to invent him, as the saying goes. Pre-eminent multimedia psychedelic shaman of the latter-half of the Twentieth Century, Gysin was something of a jack-of-all-trades: Artist, Calligrapher, Entrepreneur, Kinetic Sculptor, Novelist, Performance Artist, Photographer, Poet, Raconteur, Restaurateur, and Traveller in This-and-Other Worlds. Brion did it All. And even a brief list of the names he crossed paths with sounds like a veritable Who’s Who: Laurie Anderson, Francis Bacon, David Bowie, Paul Bowles, Ira Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Max Ernst, Marianne Faithfull, Leonor Fini, Jean Genet, Keith Haring, Billie Holliday, Brian Jones, Timothy Leary, Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, Gore Vidal – and, of course, his long-term friend and collaborator, William Burroughs – are among the friends, fellow-travellers and sometimes collaborators that have spoken of their admiration for the Man and his Work. As his biographer, John Geiger, wrote:

Continue Reading…

From Albion to Shangri-La

From Albion to Shangri-La consists of collected excerpts from Peter Doherty’s journals, circa 2008 to 2013, with an added selection from his tour diaries, all rounded off with a previously unpublished interview with editor, Nina Antonia – the rock journalist’s rock journalist, no stranger to the darker excesses of some of rock’s more elegantly wasted sons – whose sharp eye and clear ear have been called upon to assist in this literary distillation, as explained in her Introduction. Continue Reading…

Storming the Reality Studio with Uncle Bill: Some Thoughts on William S. Burroughs and the Movies

From Beatdom #14

 

Until really quite recently, of the “big names” that one thinks of in association with the Beat Generation, it was always William S. Burroughs that was easiest or most likely to think of in connection with film – for a variety of reasons, some fairly obvious and others not so. It is something of a cliché that of the Big Three, each had a decade of which they were very much a figurehead and representative: Jack Kerouac, with his cross-country driving marathons and hitch-hiking, and denims and lumberjack shirts, was clearly the Action Man of the Fifties; Allen Ginsberg, with his free love, long hair, beads, and trips to India, was clearly everybody’s favourite Gay Auntie for the Sixties; and William S. Burroughs – uptight and undercover, with his anonymous suit and hat and coat, and his sardonic, knowing manner – was A Man Within for the Seventies… or was it the Eighties, or Nineties, or…? Despite the best efforts of Robert Frank’s Pull My Daisy, Ginsberg’s appearance in all manner of cinéma vérité, and documentaries from the Swinging Sixties, it is Burroughs whose presence is now everywhere.

What imaginary world of adventure is complete these days without a depiction of some incredibly louche bar where strange beings meet to slake even stranger thirsts, ply dubious but usually fantastic trades, and indulge unknown appetites? Black ops and conspiracies, arranging deception and double-cross on a monstrous scale? Emerging supernatural, mutant, or alien-beings contending with humanity, for better or worse? Increasing polymorphous perversity, as the parameters of desire expand in an attempt to accommodate the possibilities presented by these beings – and, consequently, blurring of the boundaries between gender and species… Or, in the case of those who take androids or cyborgs as lovers, even between the organic and inorganic? From the “Casablanca-in-Space” template of the cantina in Star Wars – where all the riff-raff, flotsam and jetsam of who knows how many galaxies all go to get off, hook up, and lie low, and the “followers of obsolete unthinkable trades . . . black marketeers of World War III” of Naked Lunch, would hardly be out of place – to the latest Fantasy and Sci-Fi extravaganzas, it’s all there.

The serious literary types might have taken their time over Burroughs, but the really forward-looking Sci-Fi writers of the 1960s onward were there pretty much from the get-go: Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard (remember when he wrote Sci-Fi ?), Samuel Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock… and, later, William Gibson, then Richard Calder. Burroughs is like The Velvet Underground of Science Fiction: he may not be famous in mainstream Sci-Fi, but all the people he did influence are the really cool, smart people who went on to influence everybody else. He got an acknowledgement in the credits for Blade Runner – even though it was based on a Philip K. Dick story. Some people would argue that Alien is H. P. Lovecraft updated for the Space Age, via Burroughs. And, of course, his later playmate, David Cronenberg, built a whole career and mythos around Body Horror . . . Cyberpunk, Steampunk, you name it.

Along with Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy are some of the fastest growing, most exciting and innovative areas in contemporary film and TV, reaching bigger and bigger audiences all the time. Increasingly, even mainstream audiences are becoming more familiar with and accepting of themes and tropes that were previously only really the subject matter of more speculative Science Fiction: virtual reality, time travel paradoxes and non-linearity, parallel universes, nanotechnology, mind control and mental powers – the whole lot more often than not helped along by strange new designer drugs… Or, in the case of HBO’s hugely successful True Blood, a drop or two of euphoria-inducing, habit-forming, mind-expanding vampire blood (you heard me.)

Savvy commentators such as Emma Doeve and Camille Paglia have observed that the Fine Arts, increasingly orphaned by Conceptualism, have sought refuge in the movies. It has also been pointed out that, increasingly, the best contemporary draughtsmanship and innovative design is to be found in the comic books now come-of-age and known as “graphic novels” – the best of which frequently have the epic storytelling and mythic resonance of powerful motion pictures, and with their frame-by-frame form, often resemble high quality storyboards for imaginary movies. With so many of today’s more exciting and innovative films often having their origin in comics and graphic novels, the relationship is a close one.

“Graphic novel” is a marketing term that was introduced sometime in the 1980s. It was considered a more “grown up” description for a medium that had been evolving ever since the hippy doper underground comics of the 60s, with better artwork, better writing, and, frequently, more adult themes; also it was found that high street bookshops were more likely to stock something if it was called a “novel.” One of the more commercially successful stepping-stones was a long-running, high-quality French comic magazine, Métal Hurlant, featuring far-out (and often erotically explicit) work from leading artists and writers. When an American version was launched in 1977, it was renamed Heavy Metal, after the phrase that William Burroughs had originated in The Soft Machine.


Coincidentally, the long-running collaboration between Burroughs and the young British graphic artist Malcolm McNeill, Ah Pook Was Here – which they conceived of as a totally new form of book, with some pages of text, some pages of just artwork, and many pages of art and text interwoven and juxtaposed, commenting on and illustrating each other – would be incredibly prescient of the graphic novel form that would emerge over a decade later. Although only a small fraction of the combined art-and-text appeared in the British Underground Press – and, tragically, after seven long years the project was abandoned – it’s innovative example was considered hugely significant by those in the know, and it is perhaps not surprising that three of the biggest names which emerged from the world of British comics to lead the way for graphic novels – Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison – have all spoken of their admiration for Burroughs, and the liberation of the imagination they see in his work.

In contrast, it is hugely ironic that such “transgressive lit” poster-boys as Dennis Cooper,  Will Self or Irvine Welsh, chose to sneer that Burroughs was passé – once they had made their names and reputations, taking for granted their freedom to now safely follow trails that he (and other pioneers like him) had blazed while they were still in short trousers. When being queer, or a junkie, a criminal, or boy-lover might still have had real-life consequences, and wasn’t just something to add colour to the C.V. of a “bad boy” writer…

One of the ways in which El Hombre Invisible has been almost a little too successful, perhaps, is that his ideas and influence are often absorbed indirectly, in keeping with his role as éminence grise. The most obvious example of this is, of course, his iconic status with generations of rock stars, experimental musicians, DJs, and their fans – even if most of them had hardly read a word of his actual writings. Like surrealism, which is now everywhere, from advertising to comedy to fashion, Burroughs is almost too much part of the DNA of post-modern culture for a lot of his contribution to be recognised…

But take away the queer sex and hard drugs, and the creations of the fantastic, imaginative realms of William S. Burroughs’ Magical Universe can be seen all around us. Are the worlds of Avatar, The Matrix, X-Men – even Pirates of the Caribbean and the equally swashbuckling romp of that other Burroughs, Edgar Rice’s John Carter of Mars – really that far away?

His influence seems to have passed, almost by some kind of weird occult osmosis – or perhaps by the post-modern agent of viral replication known as the meme – going about their business like an undercover agent, unnoticed and undisturbed, almost invisible, subtly altering, infecting, and mutating.

Word begets image and image is virus.

The seeds of our Future were sewn Once Upon A Time in the Interzone of his imagination, and he is still with us.

Look:

William S. Burroughs, C. J. Bradbury Robinson, and Williams Mix

Love or hate him, venerate or revile him, the life and work of William Seward Burroughs continues to inspire and intrigue. In addition to “The Work,” since his death in 1997 we have seen further biographies, celebrations, collections of letters, and critical studies, as well as restored and even previously unpublished texts. There has been reassessment and re-examination of various aspects of the life and work, starting with Burroughs and Homosexuality in Jamie Russell’s Queer Burroughs, Burroughs and Literature in Michael Stevens’ The Road to Interpose (an encyclopaedic study of reading Burroughs’ reading” that is surely essential to fan and scholar alike); and more recently, Mayfair Burroughs in the introduction to Graham Masterton’s Rules of Duel. Continue Reading…

Meeting William S. Burroughs


By Cabell McClean and Matthew Levi Stevens

 

Cabell McLean was born in 1952, a descendant of the visionary American writer James Branch Cabell (author of Jurgen), for whom he was named. After attending the University of Virginia, he first met William S. Burroughs when he attended Naropa College as a grad student in the late 1970s. He came to the attention of the poet, Larry Fagin, who told him: “Where you need to be is with William. You’re writing stories here, not poetry. Bill’s the one you should be talking to.” Anne Waldman and Michael Brownstein gave similar advice: “Go see Bill.” He decided to attend one of Bill’s classes before making up his mind about approaching him. This is his story. Continue Reading…

Missing Poets: Looking for Cabell McLean

Cabell McLean

(5th February 1952 – 1st December 2004)

 

“Boulder at sunrise… .36-caliber pistol… It was me all the time of course… Cabell was me… the curse came down from me….”

William S. Burroughs, My Education: A Book of Dreams

 

“Cabell Lee Hardy was Burroughs companion in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1970s, and they remained friends thereafter.”

James Grauerholz, Note to Last Words by William S. Burroughs

 

At first glance, Cabell McLean (aka Cabell Hardy aka Lee Angel Hardy) could almost have stepped from the pages of the novels of William S.  Burroughs: descended from American literary innovator, James Branch Cabell (author of Jurgen, for whom he was named), he was a cross-dressing drug-taking gender-bending Wild Boy who also had an academic background in History, Literature & Medicine  – having studied Elizabethan & Jacobean Drama, Fitzgerald & Cabell; reading Chaucer in the original and speaking Mandarin Chinese – was a keen student at Naropa, tutored by Larry Fagin, Michael Brownstein and Ann Waldman, shared a flat with William Burroughs Snr. – hung out, fought, and was friends with Billy Jnr. – was published alongside Jim Carroll, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg, in the likes of Bombay Gin, Heroin Addict, Huncke-Times, and the Washington Review (where the first-ever excerpt from what would become The Place of Dead Roads was published as “From Gay Gun” and attributed to William Burroughs AND Cabell McLean), and later Ashé Journal of Experimental Spirituality, the anthology Playback: The Magic of William S. Burroughs (Rebel Satori Press), and now Academy 23 – was pals with John Giorno and Herbert Huncke – later lived at the epicentre of the New York Punk scene, flatmates with Calliope Nicholas and Patrick Mack, managing his band The Stimulators (‘Loud Fast Rules!’) – yet later resurfaced as Lee Angel Hardy to become a tireless AIDS/HIV activist, setting up ARIC and writing the 302-page ARIC’s AIDS Medical Glossary – all of which he characteristically dismissed as “just being a Johnson” – and then latterly appearing at the Stockholm Spoken Word Festival in 1999 (in part thanks to the tireless efforts of Genesis P-Orridge), where he spoke at length for the first time about his life, his work, and his friendship with William S. Burroughs (whose companion he was from 1976-1983, the two remaining lifelong friends), something he had assiduously avoided cashing in on – despite previous offers of money and publication.

Cabell McLean tragically died of complications on Hepatitis and HIV in 2004. He is survived by his life-partner of 18 years, Eric K. Lerner, who retains Cabell’s archive of letters, manuscripts, photos & recordings.

In collaboration with Eric, WhollyBooks are in the process of cataloguing & reviewing Cabell’s unique archive, with a view to publishing a limited edition chapbook (for late Summer-early Autumn 2013) which will gather together remembrances of Cabell, the best of his short work and excerpts from his unpublished longer works, and look at his long-term association, collaboration, and friendship with William S. Burroughs.

If anybody is interested in being kept informed of our progress, or knew Cabell McLean, or thinks that they might have something to offer, please get in touch via wholly-books@hotmail.co.uk.

Thank You.

 

“Cabell McLean was one of William Burroughs’ ‘Wild Boys’, but maybe a lone wolf separated from the pack.”

Emma Doeve, Introduction to Legend Days Begun, by Cabell McLean

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. Continue Reading…

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.

Genesis

“VIVA LA EVOLUTION !!!”

 

‘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: www.whollybooks.wordpress.com

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: http://www.thehorsehospital.com/now/final-academy/

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.