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:
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In 1959, the painter, Brion Gysin, “accidentally” cut through a pile of newspapers with a Stanley Knife and changed the future of writing. William S. Burroughs, who would popularize this “cut-up method” would prefer to say that Gysin “cut into the future,” but regardless of semantics – “art is merely a three letter word, my dear” – that which was done could not be undone. Burroughs worked to hone the technique from purely haphazard to a careful, almost scientific, process wherein cut-ups acted as inspiration. Though it had, arguably, been done before by the founder of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara, the cut-up method became Burroughs’ obsession during the 1960s, spilling out of his prose and into the wider culture. Continue Reading…
Originally published in Beatdom #14, and excerpted from the forthcoming memoir/scrapbook, Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg ’72 Through ’92.
Allen Ginsberg invited me to see William S. Burroughs in January 1977, when I was visiting NYC. As you may know, Burroughs’ residence at 222 Bowery was nicknamed The Bunker. It was a converted YMCA, with literally no windows and a shiny steel door. The walls were painted white with tiny minimalist art, like that of his old colleague Brion Gysin’s.
I thought it was definitely a great space and safe shelter, then and now. Various young people were hanging out with Bill at a big table like you’d see in a conference room, like James Grauerholz, his longtime secretary and then-platonic companion. Burroughs was extremely gregarious in this environment – a few drinks in him and some weed, and he became a hilarious story teller.
I told Burroughs that I had a dream about him where his face was covered with tattoos like Quequeg in Moby Dick, and was wearing a Hawaiian shirt like Hunter S. Thompson, and also looked like Thompson, which was not a stretch. In the dream, he told me he was a master of Peruvian magic. Burroughs didn’t seem to like the Thompson part, scowling slightly as I told it, but then leaned forward and said, “I am a master of Peruvian magic, my dear.”
I told Burroughs about this great sci-fi movie called They Came From Within – released as Shivers in 1976 – that reminded me of his work, where man-made parasites (looking like a cross between a penis and a bloody shit) turned you into an insatiable sexual zombie. It was actually David Cronenberg’s first feature, made fifteen years prior to his Naked Lunch adaptation.
Burroughs presented me with a signed copy of a recent chapbook. As we began slowly gathering ourselves to leave, I had the idea to use Burroughs as the subject for a rephotography film experiment I was considering. I talked to James out of Bill’s earshot and asked what he thought. James went off to Bill and came back with a “yes.” We’d meet for breakfast at a diner the next day and shoot Bill walking around the neighborhood.
The next morning, accompanied by my old pal, Richard Modiano, I went to the diner armed with my Bauer Super 8 and a primitive cassette tape recorder. But when we met, Bill was considerably more reserved, stiff, and looked a little hungover. Still, he was friendly in an otherworldly sort of way. He was also most definitely a good sport.
I turned on the cassette player, thinking I’d use it for background to the film. Our discussion turned to film itself, and I made some mention of Godard’s maxim that every camera angle was a moral statement.
“To move the camera or not to move the camera,” said Bill. “Right,” I answered. It turned out to be the only remotely audible section of the entire tape, which was mostly a cacophony of restaurant background noise. I later used these two sentences as a loop for the film, though there were only a few mortals who could recognize the words. Basically, Bill then took a walk around the neighborhood and I filmed him.
Later, I intercut the then rephotographed footage with fragments shot off the TV from Monster Zero, From Russia with Love, and White Heat. I also shot some peep show gay porn right off its rear-projected screen where fellow film student Craig Baldwin worked. Some cruising cat wanted to join me in the booth. I declined.
The San Francisco State University Film Department had this device where you spooled the Super 8 through and it would show up as a TV image, a sort of pre-VCR device the industrial world used that would allow cheap screenings of Super 8 training films. I had been introduced to this device by Craig (he was later to make the great Tribulation ’99: Alien Anomalies Under America), because it allowed all kinds of crude rephotography off the TV screen, going in for close-ups on what was originally a full shot, and filming second and third generations of Super 8 footage. Craig was a big influence, cementing an interest in found footage and deconstruction of image. He lived in this big ramshackle house on Andover Street in the Mission. It would eventually be condemned, with problems like a giant broken hole in the bathroom floor into the apartment below, covered with a sheet of plywood.
Blue first Burroughs walk?
— found poem of my own scribbles: how to edit Burroughs on Bowery.
I finished the work print in my graduate film production class, having a terrible contest of wills with instructor-filmmaker Karen Holmes. She gave me a C in the class and a D in the unit lab, basically because I wouldn’t do what she said. I had been used to a great deal more freedom and empathy in my undergraduate years. They were the worst grades of my entire film school career.
I continued working on Burroughs on Bowery, finally finishingand screening it for students and faculty for the San Francisco State Film finals. In those days, they would post how everyone voted. Three-fourths of students and faculty voted against including it. I was devastated but took the print to Naropa University in the summer of 1978 when Allen invited me out.
Burroughs had this cool queer secretary at Naropa, not James Grauerholz but a new kid named Cabal, dressed in thrift store New Wave – literally the quintessence of “skinny tie band” as the disdainful punks of the era referred to this refined look. I had never seen it before. Extremely short fifties hair, top button of thrift store collar buttoned, black skinny tie, natch, and a small lapel button like a Vote Ike sort of political button, only it was just a solid color with no words of any kind – a no-slogan button. Wow! This guy was one cool motherfucker. Here I was with my Jackson Browne hair and this cat was the next thing, like an alien off a space ship or some warp into the future – the new X-Man, baby! He also wrote prose that closely resembled Burroughs’ cowboy porn, The Place of Dead Roads (as Burroughs would later jokingly refer to the dismal stretch of Highway 5 between Oakland and Los Angeles). Years later I heard he was a little tyrant at the Bunker, bringing friends home to fix while James tried to shoo them away. Our little tyrant apparently told James off – he was Burroughs’ lover now, not James – as recounted by my ex-junkie pal who’d shot up with Cabal.
A teaching assistant, as per Ginsberg’s request, arranged the 16mm projector I needed to show Burroughs on Bowery to Burroughs. Cabal slipped on some white cotton gloves he’d picked up from an editing bench (this was the audio-visual classroom), prompting Burroughs to say, “Interview with the Vampire, my dear.” I struggled a little getting it threaded. Outside Burroughs apparently asked Richard if he smoked. He wanted a cigarette although he’d quit and then Richard came back in to the room with the projector and said, “He’s getting restless.” Fortunately, I then had it and finally showed the movie to Burroughs, who chuckled enthusiastically throughout with his characteristic Renfield/Dwight Frye close-lipped “mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm.” They say that closed lips make for a sinister laugh. They’re right. “Great film, Marc,” said Bill. The truly great thing was that I’d always thought the movie was very funny myself, but this seemed lost on virtually everyone who saw it. I remember asking my older brother if he thought it was funny. “In a psychotic sort of way,” he had replied.
Anyway, better to please Burroughs than the entire S.F. State University Film Department, fuck those motherfuckers.
Burroughs invited me and Richard over to his apartment. He offered me a vodka tonic which I first turned down. He frowned so I took it. Gun magazines littered his place. We hung out, made small talk, and sipped our drinks. Cabal was there too and joined in the drinks and pot smoking. It was actually a pleasure to talk in a low key way with the old man. I was just glad it wasn’t awkward.
Costanzo Allione, Italian documentary filmmaker and future husband of meditation teacher Tsultrim (nee Joan Rousmaniere) Ewing, (They met here for the first time), was shooting what became a great film on ’78 Naropa – Fried Shoes, Cooked Diamonds. Beat translator Nanda Pivano came along. She was the connection between Allione and Ginsberg, and had set up this meeting in Ginsberg’s apartment. Allione was in Allen’s apartment with his crew catching the conversation of Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and of course Ginsberg himself. Part of the time, I was also running around with a Super 8 camera making what would become my short collage, American Mutant. Gregory came in with his 16mm camera and announced, “I’m gonna shoot everybody’s feet,” and proceeded to do so. The film crew caught me over Burroughs’ shoulder.
The New Wave hip look came up again when this interesting queer had wrangled his way into Allen’s kitchen to hang with Leary. The guy had a weird sort of glam look, not quite on the money with it – but he was clearly not a hippie even with Prince Valiant hair – maybe it was vague eye make-up or his clothes, but it was some different quality that was glitter queer like the New York Dolls (whom I didn’t even know about yet and were actually straight anyway).
“What do you think of Crowley’s Book of the Law?” he asked Leary. “Not much,” Leary replied. That was interesting, since he had said in his writing that he considered himself to be carrying on where Aleister Crowley left off, and the queer had just mentioned Crowley’s most important work. It was fairly clear Leary felt no need to be consistent about anything. Ginsberg made some reference to me being of the David Bowie generation, and Leary said, “He isn’t Bowie, this guy is Bowie,” pointing to the glam queer. Well, he had that sorta right, and I duly noted it, even if Bowie had moved on to his Thin White Duke persona already – which was more like Burroughs’ Naropa secretary. I wanted to be like Bowie or Burroughs’ secretary, if not this glam queer, but not some old hippie, definitely, not anymore.
As for Leary’s lack of consistency, Allen and I were talking with him and Allen made some reference to his claim that LSD could cure homosexuality. Leary said, “Oh that was Ram Dass, not me.” Apparently colleague Richard Alpert a.k.a. Ram Dass had once wall-papered a room with Playboy centerfolds and attempted to reprogram himself with a massive dose of LSD. Remembering how astounded I was by porn when on mescaline at age sixteen (vaginas like the mandibles of strange alien fauna); I could guess this hadn’t worked out. After Leary left, both Ginsberg and I recalled that Leary had made such pronouncements in the past, particularly in a Playboy interview. Ginsberg wondered if they’d done something to Leary’s brain at Folsom, since Eldridge Cleaver had also come out of there as a “Mooney,” a follower of Sun Myung-Moon, the self-proclaimed Korean Christian Second Coming; Cleaver later identified himself as a Republican. During Leary’s Folsom stay, Tim started talking extensively about outer space travel, and in particular about alien contact, but dropped the alien bit very rapidly – a wise move, to be sure. Dolphin scientist John Lily had completely discredited himself once he began about his alien chats on LSD. Tim’s new slogan was SMI2LE, “Space Migration/Intelligence Squared/Life Extension.” He was also saying “Stamp Out Death.” Burroughs was actually intrigued, since he saw little hope for the planet.
I think it was this same conversation with Leary about the Book of the Law and homosexuality that included one of his typical quips that if Buddha was back today he’d be a molecular scientist or one of the Bee Gees. He also referred to Ralph Nader as an ecological fascist, which really bugged Ginsberg. “Now stop that!” he actually shouted, adding, “What does that mean, anyway?” Leary quickly backed down and said it was his position to be provocateur, not necessarily believing what he said; just stirring things up. A good gig if you can get it.
Burroughs had already shown the proper way to handle a .357 Magnum borrowed from student poet Richard Roth, drawing “the correct way, not the bullshit way they do it in James Bond.”
One morning, I got up and saw them both brushing their teeth in the bathroom mirror, both naked. Leary was tall with a basketball gut. He saw me and gave his characteristic conspiratorial wink. Tell me life isn’t a dream.
I finally started to really physically crash from the Ritalin and profound lack of sleep that everyone seemed to run on while partying at Naropa, with Allen at the head of the list. I was upstairs lying in bed when Allen came up and said, “Burroughs and Leary are downstairs!” “That’s ok, Allen. I’m tired.” “You’re missing all the good parties,” he said. “What’s the matter, you depressed?” I was depressed, and hated that he could see it. It was one of those depressions where you know that what’s going around you would be the envy of many, but it wasn’t working for you. I really just wanted a girl like in the movies. That’s why they call it samsara, or as my dad’s favorite reference, “the vale of tears.” Nobody gets what they want. Poet Amelie Frank later saw me brooding on a couch in a scene from Fried Shoes and said, “the little pouter.” Bingo. By the way, my traveling companion Richard Modiano is in the movie throughout, way more than me, and he’s probably one of the least ambitious people I know. More proof of Buddhism’s sensible irony in a brutal world. Cue that Buddhist monk with the tennis racket drum we kept hearing all over the place.
So in my American Mutant film, Leary was a CIA government official (when I asked him to be in the movie he was doubtful until I told him he’d be playing the head of the CIA), Allen some sort of Tibetan Mutant King, and Burroughs had already shown the proper way to handle a .357 Magnum borrowed from student poet Richard Roth, drawing “the correct way, not the bullshit way they do it in James Bond.” When I tried to direct Burroughs a little more closely, he said “I am not an actor.” Apparently he changed his mind, given the number of roles he wound up playing on screen, though arguably they were just about as demanding as what he did for me. Leary was even harder to direct – he kept looking in the camera and grinning idiotically. “That was great, Tim, but ah… could you not look into the camera next time?” Tim announced he always looked into the camera and smiled. It was a rule of his. “Well, if it’s a rule…” I trailed off, obviously disgusted. “Oh fuck it,” he said, and did it my way. I think I may have spared the directors who later used him (as in Wes Craven’s Shocker, of all things – good movie, odd choice for Leary).
I tried to persuade Gregory Corso to take a part as a sci-fi gangster. I had a .45 replica BB gun for Gregory but when I talked to him he was very hungover, saying with disinterest “Guns are bad karma, man.” I shrugged and his toddler son Max escorted me to the door, slamming it behind me while shouting “Get out!”
Leary came back from a meeting with Allen’s Tibetan Lama, ChögyamTrungpa Rinpoche, expecting to be recognized as some sort of colleague, it seemed. Instead he was made to cool his heels in what he described as a dentist’s waiting room, and when he was finally allowed to see Trungpa, all that the Lama said was “stay out of trouble,” seemed good advice to me.
1959 was an important year in Beat Generation history. It was the year that William S. Burroughs published Naked Lunch from Paris’ Beat Hotel, that the Beats were first profiled in Life magazine, and the year the MGM released a sensationalist cinematic nightmare called The Beat Generation. In the previous three years, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac had shattered the notion that young people must conform to strict social codes, and paved the way for further decades of rebellion, growth, and acceptance. The Beat movement was in full-swing and these once literary wannabes were now idols to an entire generation. But they were not stuffy and unreachable; they were literary bad boys in the vein of Rimbaud.
In 1959 Ginsberg was looking forward with visions of a new American voice, Kerouac was awkwardly attempting to live his life in the startling media spotlight, and Burroughs was overseas, a decade into his long exile from the United States. Back home, and even in newspapers around the world, they were known derisively as the “beatniks.” At a time when calling someone a Communist was about the greatest insult that could be uttered, Herb Caen had added “-nik” to Kerouac’s “Beat,” and suddenly what started as a literary movement was now tabloid fodder. The Beats were vilified as detrimental to the morality of the nation’s youth, and as such they were used as subject matter for Hollywood’s spectacularly vapid output.
In the coming years, the image of the Beatnik as a finger-snapping poseur or a drug-addled maniac would persist, yet in the world of reality – located far from Hollywood on any map – the Beats continued to develop upon their own ideas and literature. They continued to write, to read their poems aloud, to explore new avenues in publishing and in creating art. They even dabbled – to varying degrees – in filmmaking. One such example was Pull My Daisy, a short film that aimed to incorporate the sort of spontaneous, free-form, jazz-inspired principals that governed the Beats’ written work. Directed by photographer, Robert Frank, and painter, Alfred Leslie, Pull My Daisy began filming began on 2nd January and it premiered 11th November.
The film was based upon the third act of Jack Kerouac’s play, The Beat Generation, and it was supposed to share the same name, with Kerouac having coined the term about a decade earlier. However, in true Hollywood style, MGM had capitalized on the movement and copyrighted the title, leaving the filmmakers to choose the title of a poem that was collaboratively written by Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady in 1949. It didn’t hurt that the phrase “pull my daisy” was loaded with sexual innuendo, either.
The poem from which the movie took its title was written in the “exquisite corpse” Surrealist tradition, wherein various artists would take turns to add to a piece of work – whether a poem or painting or anything else. This fit in rather well with the spontaneous prose method and best “first thought best thought” notion that influenced the Beats, and was most noticeably espoused by Kerouac. Part of the poem is included below:
Rob my locker
lick my rocks
leap my cock in school
Rack my lacks
lark my looks
jump right up my hole
Whore my door
beat my door
eat my snake of fool
Craze my hair
bare my poor
asshole shorn of wool
The purpose of this method of composition, later used by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin in their Cut-up Method, as well as numerous other artists before and after the Beats, was to create a more accurate picture of reality by not over-thinking, and perhaps, as Burroughs often claimed, to cut to the truth that your mind would otherwise hide.
Indeed, the film is best known for being narrated by Kerouac, who again supposedly improvised his lines rather than reading from script or memory. Critics have compared his reading to that of someone in a “trance,” furthering his reputation as a mystical and near mythical artist, while others have noted that he sounded exhausted and that he had lost his youthful playfulness. The film, as mentioned above, was adapted from his play, The Beat Generation, and yet he seems to spontaneously riff the lines rather than reading his pre-written dialogue. There is no sound, and Kerouac speaks the lines for each character, regardless of gender, and narrates everything seemingly as it happens, in his inimitable scat-style.
Come on, Milo. Here comes sweet Milo, beautiful Milo.
Da da da da da.
And they’re going dada da da dada da da da… Let’s go. ‘sgo. ‘sgo.
Listening to him speak, it’s as though he was watching the movie for the first time, just saying the things that came into his head, even if just filler. There are very few periods of silence, and so Kerouac – who does not appear on screen at any stage – dominates the film simply through his voice. This is an attempt to continue Kerouac’s sketching style of writing, wherein he would attempt to note down everything that was going on around him. As such, the camera frequently pans back and forth, attempting to catch all the action as it transpires, rather than take it moment by moment, focusing on one character or one action.
For these reasons, Pull My Daisy, unlike The Beat Generation, was lauded by critics for many years. Like the poem from which it took its name, Pull My Daisy was considered a masterpiece of ad-libbed, off-the-cuff acting and narration. In the movie, key members of the Beat Generation including Ginsberg, Corso, and Peter Orlovsky, goof around, even smoking a joint at one stage. There are fewer hijinks than one might have imagined, and although the Beat characters’ antics result in comedy and farce, the action is toned down. Still, the legend goes that the actors simply did what they felt – being themselves, essentially – while Frank and Leslie recorded it all.
Yet Pull My Daisy, while certainly a Beat movie, and truer to the Beat ethos than the sensationalist attempts in 1959 and later years, was not as spontaneous as it was claimed to be. Nine years later, in 1968, Leslie revealed to the Village Voice that the movie was thoroughly scripted, with the implication being that the apparent improvisation was due to a lack of acting ability on the part of Ginsberg and the others. Later, both directors admitted that the movie had not – as was previously claimed – been shot in Leslie’s apartment, but had instead been filmed on a professional film set with a budget of $15,000. While not a large sum of money for a movie, it shows that the film was not quite what it appeared to be. Ultimately, while it had been implied that the film was just the poets goofing around as themselves, with hip artists filming and the hottest novelist around narrating, essentially gaining the best filmed record of the Beat Generation as it naturally existed, instead it was a carefully constructed piece of fiction. Many hours of film were shot and edited down into the twenty-eight minute film. Additionally, and most shockingly to fans of the movie, Kerouac’s lines had been recorded as many as four times as Amram tinkled on the piano and the movie played silently in front of him. While this is hardly a great crime, it certainly detracts from the movie’s reputation and Kerouac’s supposed adherence to spontaneous prose, and his depiction as the literary jazzman.
In the end, though, it is important to acknowledge that despite Kerouac’s advocacy of spontaneous prose – or even Burroughs’ automatic writing and routines, which are referenced in the film – the Beats were guilty of editing. Burroughs’ nearly unreadable texts were endlessly composed, Kerouac’s famous writing sessions that would end in a publishable book were often edited over many years, and Ginsberg, who tended to differ, only occasionally dabbled in unrevised poetry. It should be, therefore, no great surprise that Pull My Daisy – though it may appear to be entirely unrehearsed – was an answer to their critics. It was a deliberate attempt to perpetuate the notion of the Beats as unrestrained literary bad boys, and to hold their hands up and say that they are not ashamed, for this is their life and it how they wish to live. They considered themselves the Rimbauds of their age, and wanted the world to know. We should be thankful that it is this movie, and not the numerous Hollywood cash-ins, that is preserved, remembered, and freely disseminated online more than fifty years later.
 MGM would release The Beat Generation in 1959, the same year as Pull my Daisy. The movie was not based on any work by any Beat author, but rather was a sensationalist attempt to cash in on the Beat fad.
 The poem itself was set to music by legendary composer and Beat figure, David Amram. However, Ginsberg and Kerouac were reportedly displeased that when the lyrics were sung by Anita Ellis, certain words had been changed.
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…
In 1957 Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were in the midst of the obscenity trials in the US surrounding the publication of Ginsberg’s poem Howl. After being shunned by the clean-cut conservative American public, (who despised homosexuality and Ginsberg’s outspoken nature in the radicalised work) the pair went left to seek refuge in more liberal and artistic France. Eventually the couple sought exile with fellow Beat poet Gregory Corso in their very own sanctuary of creativity which happened to be a no-name, beaten-up hotel at 9 Rue Gît-Le-Coeur in the Latin quarter of Paris. The cheap and tacky hotel was later to be christened the Beat hotel by Corso. Continue Reading…
Charles Gatewood has not only been working for some of the world’s best publications for more than five decades, but his photos have given an intimate glance into the private lives of counterculture icons like Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. (One of his photos of Burroughs practicing with his E-meter appeared on the cover of recent Beatdom Books publication, Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’.)
Starting this month, Gatewood’s photography is on display at the Robert Tat Gallery in San Francisco. The exhibition focuses on his earlier work, including the famous “Bob Dylan with Cigarette” photo that launched his career in 1966.
For more information, see the Robert Tat website.
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…
“According to Brion Gysin, I was an Apprentice to an Apprentice and I have never claimed otherwise. In my work I have always done absolutely what I wanted to do at the time. I have been fortunate and privileged to encounter and become friends with some incredible people.”
– Terry Wilson, Introduction to Perilous Passage
“The standardised explanation was published. I shall oppose it with heresy…”
– Charles Fort, cited at the beginning of Perilous Passage
I first met Terry Wilson 30 years ago, at the time of The Final Academy in 1982. I was something of a star-struck schoolboy who couldn’t quite believe his luck that here he was meeting William S Burroughs – and of course Terry was part of the entourage, along with manager James Grauerholz, poet John Giorno, and of course the living legend that was Brion Gysin. There was also Derek Jarman’s former boyfriend Howard Brookner, who was following the action everywhere with a camera, making his documentary Burroughs: The Movie – in much the same way that Victor Bockris had been the Court recorder at The Bunker, making With William Burroughs.
And the others are arriving, phantoms in the heat… Bedaya, imposing, resplendent with his new wave black belt guitarist Attar scowling in his wake… The Little Corporal, who has laid on this show, a shaven-headed mascara’d death dwarf in his army fatigues carrying his thermos flask filled with real English Typhoo Tea fresh from Tesco’s, Hackney, E8, giving the fish eye to Holz, his fellow entrepreneur, an enormous ageing blond boy-from-the-backwoods eyes glittering behind steel rims, disconcertingly alien and impossibly straight at the same time like at any moment he might whip out a sheaf of Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets he strides quickly up to Whelme – ‘Good to see you. And I mean that most sincerely’ he intones, most sincerely – And, travelling in his wake, The Old Man, long, thin, bent, like an ancient cantankerous, infinitely ominous arrival from another galaxy.1
Terry was there in his capacity as Brion’s informal secretary, friend, collaborator, and “apprentice to an apprentice” (as Gysin himself had said), and would also be one of the performers on the bill. He was tall and thin, in a crumpled dark blue suit, pale face fading away behind a fringe of hair, and seemed nervous, shy: on the one hand in awe of Burroughs & Gysin (older gay men, established Writer and Artist, whom he had known since 1971) – and on the other wary of all the shaven-headed acolytes circling around event organisers Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV:
…the Final Entrepreneur. It was a great scam but it was rather too final for him. Dim as he is these days, his huge Crowleyesque peepers are still penetrating and liable to take a really good look around inside to see what there might be that he can make use of. Even dimmer, much younger flickering ephemeral figures hover around him with dead mongoloid mutant-like features and shaved heads, dispensable and fading in the last few days…2
I have already written elsewhere about the actual circumstances of meeting William for the first time, and there is also my review of The Final Academy itself (shortly to be reprinted). The only details I will add here concern Terry’s photo in the program, Statements Of A Kind, wherein an even younger Terry peers out from beneath a heavy fringe and William’s hat, a very English-looking flat cap, and is also wearing William’s clearly rain-spattered coat, standing next to a bed on the floor (Brion’s bed?) It was taken in Brion’s apartment at rue St Martin, Paris (opposite the Pompidou), by fellow neophyte Udo Breger in December 1980. He looks strangely like a young boy trying to look more ‘grown up’ than he really is – or even feels – by dressing up in his uncle’s borrowed costume. The accompanying text reads:
THIS IS the conclusion of ‘D’ Train, a very condensed novel of 23 pages using to some extent material left over from Dreams of Green Base. It is concerned essentially with out-of-the-body experience, the necessity of leaving the ‘D’ Train before it reaches its destination, and is addressed to Philippe Baumont.3
In David Darby’s interview with Terry (published as KA by Inkblot in 1986, and then later included in the reissued Perilous Passage), he says of Dreams of Green Base that…
It was a book for boys, written by a boy
…and there is a footnote that reads:
The original subtitle of Dreams of Green Base (inadvertently omitted by the publisher) was ‘The Ideal Book for Boys’. TW.
KA also includes the following exchanges:
I was in a strange, disconnected, almost catatonic state… and I was more or less simply recording dream experience, a period of which I remember very little, thankfully.
It sounds, and reads, almost schizoid.
More than almost I think.
Does it bug you now to be identified with the Burroughs circus?
No… the ‘circus’, well you have to get the show on the road… and keep it there…4
Then in 1985-6 I was visiting London more and more, gearing up for the inevitable move – still some lingering involvement with the circles around Genesis P-Orridge, Psychic TV and ‘Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’, but mainly encouraged by my growing friendship with Geff Rushton & Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson of Coil. Through them I became friends with Derek Jarman – also met the Poet Jeremy Reed – Kathy Acker, who was living in London at the time – the Filipino Performance Artist and Kinetic Sculptor David Medalla – became friends with the former Music Journalist Sandy Robertson (who would write The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook) – and eventually ran into Terry again. We became friendly, and he introduced me to a number of people that he knew, like Bob Cobbing, George Dowden, of course Felicity Mason, and Portuguese Artist João Penalva. It seemed obvious that when I did move to London we would see more of each other.
Right from the start it is made clear that Terry feels that his friendship with William and Brion – and, most particularly, his time spent with Brion in Paris, working on what would become Here To Go: Planet R101 – was a kind of apprenticeship, even an initiation…
But initiation into what, exactly?
Following Gysin’s death, Wilson felt isolated and cut off, and Perilous Passage was a way out of loss and despair, a magical writing making contact possible with other initiates, other minds. Third Mind techniques, including cutting-up, systematic disorientation, out of the body experiences, and the use of drugs in the transformation of the self, are all evoked…5
From the end of 1987 through to 1989 we were in pretty much weekly contact: a phone-call at the start of the week, then either a rendezvous in the West End or towards the end of the week another phone-call, co-ordinating trips to various Launches & Openings, or else just hang out – usually with a visit to his ‘local’, a gay pub, The Champion in Notting Hill.
Lancaster Gate – Notting Hill – Portobello just round the corner – could be Powis Square, the ghost of Turner passing in a phantom Rolls. The white façade of the building dazzles in the sunlight and then the front door opens at my touch as if I am expected, but Who Is There? An old Conjuror’s trick: I am in for a very different ‘performance’ here, and there will be no calling Dr Burroughs for a shot –
Then I am IN, and everything turns negative: the floor trips me and pitches me forward like a ship on storm-tossed seas, into-down-along high-ceilinged narrow hallways (“the walls are closing in”) and upstairs, don’t stop until you get to the top – a black tunnel hung with luminous calligraphies that flicker with their own light.
At the top the Sorcerer’s Apprentice appears, a shadow detached from the wall by the open door. His face swims towards me, wreathed with heavy-scented blue smoke, and the limp handshake reminds me of trying to bring like poles of two magnets together. Beyond the threshold I hear Moroccan music, as shadows dance like firelight, tinged red-orange-yellow. The flickering room, breathing, heaving…
“Uh, hi – glad you could make it. Enter freely and of your own will, and all that!”
I walk through the door into another world…6
I soon discovered that Terry was very much a creature of habit, with a weekly routine of a trip in to the West End, when he would ‘do the rounds’ of the bookshops (Books Etc. and Foyles were particular favourites.) Then down Old Compton Street to Patiserie Valerie, which had apparently been Brion’s favourite: “a little slice of Paris in the West End of London.” He very rarely ate actual meals, but would enjoy tea and the excellent cakes, and endless rounds of toast. He would point out to me the Soho newsagent where William & Brion had bought the Herald Tribune, the bars that they had used…
Always trying to REMEMBER.
…I have had to attempt – been compelled by his example to attempt – to tell a truth that, like Brion, transcends so-called fact. “A deceit in service of the truth” in the words of the Amazonian shaman Don Juan Tuesta (as quoted by Cesar Calvo, The Three Halves of Ino Moxo). “Fact” is right where you are sitting now…
I have worked principally from what are called dreams of an experience, rather than from the seeming occurrence, itself, as it were. Such is the Process. I’m not presenting what “really happened,” “factually,” because I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know if anything “really” happened at all. Do you? 7
Then back home on the tube via Notting Hill Gate, to try and write in the late afternoon in his high-ceilinged first floor apartment – which was surprisingly bare, except for a reed mat in one corner, a sturdy bureau-cum-writing desk beneath the window, a number of Gysin calligraphies and water-colours lining the walls, and on the mantelpiece a dry leaf-husk by way of a whisk for flies (in the Moroccan style.) There was a surprisingly large kitchen – equally bare and hardly used, other than to occasionally make tea, or fetch an ashtray or corkscrew and glasses – a small windowless bathroom – and a tiny monk’s cell of a bedroom: just a bed and a wardrobe, with very little in the way of clothes. Very little in the way of possessions at all, actually – other than books by William and Brion, copies of his own (of course), and an incredible archive of letters, manuscripts, and photographs…
A treasure-house of memories.
Perilous Passage focuses for the most part on events as they developed just prior to and after Brion Gysin’s death.
Ian MacFadyen has vividly described and commented on the general situation as presented herein in one of his insightful, rarely published essays…
“Phony magicians and phantom intelligence agents move in on rue St Martin, on the track of psychic power, while ‘predatory hustlers’ and ‘bloodsuckers’ emerge from under the floorboards, eager to grab a good-sized chunk of a dying artist’s estate… [The apprentice’s] initiation demands both risky out-of-the-body experiences and hazardous dealings with ‘CREEPS’, the con artists of a malign conspiracy…” 8
Our friendship develops slowly, gently, over the sharing of those memories – what little store I have to offer myself – as Terry smokes joint after joint (“Smoked transcendence is accessible to all!”), always a most generous host even with what little he has – and on some level it almost begins to feel like an education, of sorts – the next link in the chain of The Third Mind, “an experiment which failed, but which is still going on” as Brion said. Anecdotes about The Old Man/William and Bedaya/Brion – “It all reads like sci-fi from here. Not very good sci-fi, but real enough at the time” 9– and sometimes what could almost be Cautionary Tales masquerading as gossip: Antony Balch in a business suit by day, out cruising in ‘Leather Man’ drag by night… and how the last time he visited poor ‘Lost Boy’ Mikey Portman, he was whipping himself with a studded leather belt, shouting “Victory to Aleister Crowley!”, all beneath the poker-faced gaze of his decorators…
I get the distinct impression that Terry is wary, to say the least, of those who actively identify as Occultists, the seeming ubiquity of post-Crowleyan Theory & Practice. At one point he cautions me about “the company of predatory ‘magical’ thinkers” – “What, ‘magick’ with a ‘k’?” I ask – “Yeh…” he sighs. This is perhaps inherited from Brion, who I think was pretty dismissive of Aleister Crowley as a “queen bee”, and the “drones” who are such eager followers (he was not impressed with Kenneth Anger’s ‘box of tricks’, when he met him in the 60s) Besides, he preferred an older, wilder ‘magic’, whose passing he still mourned:
It was almost closing time for Magical Morocco. Electronic mind control was moving in and the Djnoun forces would soon be in full retreat gems to be snapped up before they disappear forever. Spells and curses. Dance and trance. The Other Method was up for grabs.10
He likes to talk about Charles Fort – says that Burroughs was more aware of (and influenced by) him than he would admit. Reads Buchan, The Power House, draws some strange comfort from the famous lines “You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass.” For my part, I try to be helpful, copying tapes of Brion that I have from the archives of PTV and Coil – typing up articles – bringing books that we talk about, that he is interested in: the recent works by Castaneda (clearly a major influence) – books on Hassan-i Sabbāh and his Assassins – from the British Museum a copy of ‘The Dispute Between A Man And His Ba’ that William has recommended – also the wonderfully titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes – all of which feed into our discussions, and our writings. Usually I bring along a bottle of wine. He particularly likes French reds…
Why was someone like Bedaya surrounded by such awful people?
I don’t know anybody who isn’t surrounded by awful people…
Fear of being alone…11
He has almost finished the follow-up to ‘D’ Train, a novel about his apprenticeship to ‘Massa Bedaya’ that William has suggested he call “Perilous Passage” (after a WWII thriller about the French Resistance, that was made into a rather trashy film with Anthony Quinn, James Mason, and Malcolm MacDowell.) Terry also rather likes the idea of “The Nervous System”. He later has this to say about his three books, which he loosely conceives of as a trilogy:
In these accounts I am not so much trying to detail a teaching method, a virtual impossibility in the case of the allusive and elusive “Massa Bedaya” (Brion resolutely refused to “teach”, without ever ceasing to do so), but rather to describe the effects of what he called the Process on those concerned, most particularly myself. 12
Later I interview Terry – he wants to get his story down, and I will try and get it out. Down… and out. Hmm… Badly cut versions do later appear, in small fanzines mostly relating to the emerging ‘Chaos Magic’ scene. The irony is not lost on us.
My books are an account of my apprenticeship under the tutelage of a master practitioner: Brion Gysin. – I was, as I have written, an eager – wanting – volunteer on the shining path. Brion, legendary “avant garde” maestro, peerless painter/writer-inventor/mentor was an accomplished shaman.13
At one point he is invited to contribute to a compilation tape that will accompany yet another small magazine, and asks if I will help him make a Spoken Word recording. He reads (You Hear Me Now?) from the manuscript of what will become Perilous Passage, and I add sound effects of telephone crackle and interference, shortwave and static. He seems very pleased with the results, but I don’t know if it ever actually got used; certainly neither of us received a copy…
I have to take control of this goddamn situation Bedaya has left behind. No one else can do the job… My “allies” for the most part are devious, unreliable, or plain bone stupid. Sometimes all three. Bedaya’s legacy.14
(You Hear Me Now?) is a study in paranoia, intrigue, confusion – of purpose, place, persona – as an unnamed narrator, presumably ‘Toller Whelme’ from ‘D’ Train (who is ‘really’ Terry Wilson) gets an ominous phone call at 4 a.m. “A hoarse, whispering voice” – one ‘J’ (who is presumably ‘really’ James Kennedy McCann) – rings to say “I’ve seen Bedaya, I’ve talked to him…” (‘Bedaya’, who is ‘really’ Brion Gysin – even though he has presumably been dead for a while at this point.) Spy thriller exchanges about attempts on his life are mixed – no, Cut-Up – with the question “How do we escape from Time?” – the answer being “…Hassan I Sabbah’s programme…” The narrator comments: “Well… I think it’s still in operation… You know we intend to continue by means of the Third Mind…” Then ‘J’ asks about “the other J” (presumably ‘really’ James Grauerholz) – “You know he controls the Old Man…?” (‘really’ William S Burroughs) – and it is suggested that he works for the C.I.A. – and we are back where we started, in a midnight mystery pulp espionage escapade…
The plot couldn’t get any thicker if it tried.
I’d like to emphasis this point about the Third Mind – Bedaya wasn’t fooling around, talking about this marvellous thing forever. It was necessary to produce some actual physical product. Immediately we made contact he got right onto the job. In other words, words were necessary, but he controlled and channelled them.15
Inspired by a certain recurring detail in ‘D’ Train – and partly in response to the emerging ‘Acid House’ scene – I record Terry reading the line “The Body 24 Hours Is Frivolously Dancing” and cut-it-up over a House beat, complete with tape-loops of Jajouka and a TB303 bassline.
The New Year starts warmly, a copy of ‘D’ Train dedicated “For Matthew with all best wishes for 89 and forever”, but over the next couple of years things start to become strained. Former ‘psychick youths’ that I have introduced to Terry and personally vouched for let us down – let him down – take advantage of him, he feels (and don’t even get the quotes or spellings right, or give credit where credit is due!) His health deteriorates – people begin to avoid him, suspecting HIV or junk, although of course it is neither…
“Maybe to’ve opened ourselves up to all those dreadful spaces with all those drugs wasn’t such a good idea…” 16
I have begun a sort of ‘Third Mind’ collaboration of my own with a young friend – William sees early drafts, and generously comments that it is “Accurate and honest… Young boys need it special. They may even listen.” Unfortunately exactly the same words he had written to Terry with regard to ‘D’ Train. There is perhaps for the first time a sense of competition.
Walking by the side of a large body of water, the sun beating down on me, dazzling me. Not really sure where I am, things seem… through a heat-haze, the figure of a man coming towards me: tall and thin, just sort of drifting along as if his feet aren’t quite touching the ground. As he draws nearer I recognise the crumpled dark blue suit, pale face fading away behind a fringe of hair – it is Toller. His usually nervous, haunted looking face bears a more relaxed expression and he smiles, reaching out to shake hands (as ever, I am reminded of trying to bring like poles of two magnets together)
“Hello! Well fancy meeting you here!”
“You’re looking well… Where exactly is ‘here’?”
I study Toller’s face for clues. He looks a little flushed, like he’s been drinking, or maybe it’s just the heat.
The heat… I start losing track of what Toller is saying, his words drifting off as my head swims… suddenly I feel faint, like it’s all too hot and hazy and I can’t… faint voices in the distance, “watch me as I unwind in droplets and flashes of tomorrow” – like going under anaesthetic, or… confused memories of hospitals, dying – dreams and conversations I haven’t had yet. The last thing I hear him say is:
“How’s your young man coming along?”
(It is to be remembered that the Ka usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, and is the same sex as the subject)
This morning a note arrives from Toller: he’s just got back after being in Paris and then going down to Milan with Vogue, where they stayed at the Lake Como resort. He says he has something for me, something that we will need to continue…
I decide to ring and tell him about my dream, and about what I have been seeing in the mirror.
“We have six thousand million years to travel but where will it take us?” he says, not really expecting an answer. “So the Old Man and I drew in the nets…” He talks in his sleep (someone has taught him how.)
“Last night I dreamt that there was this voice trying to write a book in my head. All I had to do was write down what it said, like taking dictation, but it was going too fast…”
Unlike me he seems to have little trouble remembering his dreams (someone has taught him how.) 17
He is diagnosed with M.E., but not everybody even accepts yet that it is a ‘real illness’. The press joke about this new ‘Yuppie Flu’, which doesn’t help. There are endless delays concerning Brion’s Will, his Estate – French red-tape – and in the meantime energy levels are at an all-time low, friends are scarce, money is tight…
There was a conspiracy to wipe out Bedaya and myself… Of course they intend to do everything they can to stop me getting any of that money. But the whole thing is part of a bigger scene – a big power battle, to neutralise and assimilate a lifetime of psychic power into three-dimensional financial manipulative areas.18
I have troubles of my own: relationships unravelling, projects that don’t materialise – for me too money is tight, and my health also begins to suffer… Terry leaves town to avoid the Notting Hill Carnival, begins to spend time with his parents in Southampton. His father cannot understand how as a writer with three books in print he has no money. Terry can hardly get out of bed, browses Buchan and Charles Fort, lets daytime TV wash over and through him… all the old movies. The grandfather who I grew up with has a stroke, I have to drop everything and try and help out. We lose touch…
Terry later said of this time:
“…I found myself in West End, in Southampton, and I just became extremely receptive, as if everything I read or heard or saw on T.V. was streaming right through me…” 19
In 1992 I hear about The ‘Here To Go’ Show in Dublin, and although I am with them in spirit, I am not in a position to go anywhere. For me, the ‘Perilous Passage’ is over – and, for Terry, despite the apparent promise of those years – the ‘Irish Connection’ – new adventures across Europe, reunited with Phillippe, trips to North Africa – and the whole ‘crazy wisdom’ that would inspire The Nervous System – the underworld patron and sponsor he had inherited from Brion, James Kennedy McCann, is finally arrested on Conspiracy & Drug-Trafficking charges in Dusseldorf while they are travelling together, leaving Terry quite literally high and dry…
He assured me that everything would be okay… “As long as you have the strength to survive this initiation…” 20
His next book would not come out until 2004.
So, eventually, the book with the 16 year gestation and 3 separate titles – Perilous Passage, The Nervous System and The Universe In Other Words – finally sees the light of day thanks to psychedelic environmentalists Synergetic Press of Santa Fe, New Mexico, but the first limited edition barely registers – nowhere stocks it, you can’t get it online, and there aren’t even any reviews. Is it too late for The Other Method? Has The Third Mind become occluded from the Time Space continuum? Having lost my old address books, I have no way of getting in touch with Terry again, and no longer know anybody that would know him, how he is, or how to get in touch with him…
“Wilson has described Cut Up as a form of ‘exorcism’. A narrative illusion is broken and the end result is intended as an act of magic…” – David Darby
Do you think of writing as an act of magic?
Well, I think it is.21
One has to wonder what it is exactly that Terry was seeking so desperately to exorcise… At times he seemed to be a haunted man, but a man haunted by that which he himself has conjured up – continually attempts to conjure up – until he is like some strange hybrid of slightly displaced Son-and-Heir & Post-Modern Mariner who cannot help but tell his tale – except it isn’t really ‘his’ tale, or at least not his alone: like the Professional Widow, the tale which Toller tells is more about someone else than it is himself – even in his absence, Massa Bedaya-Brahim-Brion Gysin is still the main subject of Terry’s writing. And in one very real sense his most recent book is – like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – one long love letter, except that it is addressed to a ghost. After surviving his Perilous Passage, experiencing The Nervous System, and even discovering The Universe In Other Words, Terry Wilson as ‘Toller Whelme’ concludes:
“I simply did not remember Brion in the usual sense. To do so – to really remember him – requires an enormous effort of recapitulation because what he taught is not accessible to ordinary consciousness. The only way to reach him is to follow him there. What on earth really happened to me? What techniques? Where is everybody? Who can say? Not me.” 22
Tellingly, the ‘Introduction Dreams of BG’ opens with the following, a clue perhaps:
“It is important to know that the world is held together by unresolved contradictions.” – Brion Gysin
And finally, Coming To Now, In Present Time:
There is a second edition, hopefully more readily available. There was a Launch at The October Gallery, there are Reviews online, and Ian MacFadyen (who writes an Introduction to this new edition, again from the good people at Synergetic Press) has worked pretty tirelessly to help get the ‘circus’ back on the road – including a lengthy, in-depth conversation with Terry, ‘Cutting Up For Real’, which is sure to become the definitive statement. It actually explains more about Gysin, his ‘Other Method’, and Terry’s adventures than any of his books manage to do, and should be read alongside them, perhaps as a kind of key. It opens with a reference to the end of my 1988 interview with Terry ‘Soul-to-Soul’, concerning Irish Coffee and “the beginning of a new age” – but for some reason un-credited – so for me at least something has come full circle here.
It seems fitting to close with the words of the Master himself, which is of course in a way where it all begins. In Brion Gysin’s novel The Process, during a pilgrimage across the Sahara in search of Initiation, his narrator comes to the following realisation:
I alone of all these Assassins had ever been foolish enough to conceive of happiness… There is no friendship: there is no love. The desert knows only allies and accomplices. The heart, here, is all in the very moment. Everything is bump and flow; meet and good-by. Only the Brotherhood of Assassins ensures ritual continuity, if that is what you want and some do; for the lesson our zikr teaches is this: There are no Brothers.23
1: from ‘Who Are They? (Time after Time)’, p.78 of ‘D’ Train, Grapheme, 1985
2: from ‘Crossing the Border’, p.40 of ‘D’ Train, Grapheme, 1985
3: from p.51 of The Final Academy: Statements Of A Kind, 1982
4: David Darby – KA: An interview with Terry Wilson, Inkblot, 1986
5: Ian MacFadyen – note to the reissue of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
6: Matthew Levi Stevens – Operation Rewrite, Synapse, 1989
7+8: from ‘Introduction Dreams of BG’, Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
9: William S Burroughs, The Western Lands, Viking Penguin Inc., 1987
10: from ‘The Man From Nowhere’, p.49 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
11: from ‘We Are Very Close’, pp.46-7 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
12+13: from ‘Introduction Dreams of BG’, Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
14: from ‘Fire’, p.39 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
15: from ‘I Am Here… (?)’, p.63 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
16: Brion Gysin to William S Burroughs, towards the end, rue St Martin, Paris
17: Matthew Levi Stevens & David Lengui – The Speed of Light, Synapse, 1988
18: from ‘I Am Here… (?)’, p.60 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
19: Ian MacFadyen – Terry Wilson: Cutting Up For Real, Reality Studio, 2012
20: from ‘St Lazare’, p.15 of Perilous Passage, Synergetic, 2012
21: Matthew Levi Stevens – Soul-to-Soul: talking to Terry Wilson, interview 1988
22: from‘The Nervous System’, 10% File Under Burroughs, Sub Rosa, 1996
23: Brion Gysin – The Process, Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1969