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My War

It wasn’t the heat that was getting to me. It wasn’t the seasickness, the overcrowded boat, getting jabbed in the ribs by the butts and muzzles of guns, or even the fact my right knee felt primed to explode.

We had been on the boat for seven hours, just drifting around the Gulf of Thailand, the temperature well above a hundred degrees, and us soldiers wearing itchy woolen shirts and trousers, oversized water-filled boots, and backpacks and guns. The only thing we didn’t have were helmets, which might have helped keep the sun off our heads.

It was important to crouch, though. That was stressed over and over. The enemy was hidden in the trees, possibly armed with sniper rifles, and a stray head above the bow would prove very messy. The heat, the discomfort, and this repetition of what it was we must fear had dragged morale to a record low. After long enough, we were actually eager to jump into the water, run to the shore, and throw ourselves onto the sand. What would happen next, no one knew.

The red arrow is pointing at the yours truly.

The red arrow is pointing at the yours truly.


Cambodia had fascinated me for as long as I’d been in Asia. It seemed more dangerous, more suited to an intrepid traveler, than the likes of Bali, Phuket, or Goa. The promise of landmines, mob “justice,” ubiquitous AK-47s, its de facto dictator, and the potential for a complete collapse back into civil war and the return of the Khmer Rouge all made it sound so very romantic. The town I’d chosen was famous for sexpats, drugs, corruption, and a freakishly high mortality rate among foreign tourists.

I’d bought an Irish bar in May, 2013, and by October I had hardly gone further than the supermarket. Business was good but my sanity was faring quite poorly. I was actually bored in Cambodia – undoubtedly one of the world’s most interesting countries.

One day I was writing an article for a French magazine when the editor asked me if I’d like to work as an extra in a movie. “Yes,” I said, rather immediately. He went on to say that it would pay and that it would feature well-known actors and directors. He told me that it was a war movie called Le Soldat Blanc (“The White Soldier”) set during the French occupation, and that the scene for which extras were required was basically a rip-off of the opening to Saving Private Ryan.

I didn’t care. I was already sold.

Back then I was working on a novella or novel (it never got finished, and looked like it was heading towards being the latter) about several generations of the same family who had fought on the Southeast Asian peninsula. I had done a lot of research into French Indochina, and it fascinated me. I was also going through a year-long phase wherein I convinced myself I could make a movie. The opportunity to see behind the scenes on a big movie was too much to pass up.


The day before shooting began, I was required to go for costume fitting at a swanky beach-side hotel. I was busy, and in an odd mood – perhaps drunk – and when I arrived there was a queue of drunken Russians outside. These, I soon learned, were my fellow extras. Despite having spent months trying to find suitable candidates in a town with as many Europeans as locals, the casting director had noted that it was nigh on impossible to find someone in this town that fit the criteria of being A) under thirty, B) not fat (ie thin enough to pass as a soldier), and C) believable as a French person.

Le Soldat Blanc filmingLong ago, I could speak French very well, but now I hardly know a word. When I arrived the Russians were waiting in the sun, and a handful of French people – looking to be in charge – were standing at the doorway. I walked immediately up to them and barked, “I’m here and I don’t have much time. Where do I go?” It was quite out of character, but I really didn’t have much time and I didn’t fancy standing in line for an hour.

I was taken through labyrinth of hallways to a few joining rooms that had been taken over by the production company. A very flamboyant man gestured at me and spoke in French until he realized I couldn’t understand him, and told me: “Dear, you don’t look like a soldier at all. You’re too skinny. You’re what we’d find if the movie was about breaking into Auschwitz.”

Alas, I was one of the few “French-looking” people they could find, and certainly the only person in the target age-group. The costume department, then, spent the next hour trying to make me look less like a concentration camp survivor and more like a kid who got mistakenly drafted a few years too early.

When I walked out of the building the line hadn’t moved, and my fellow extras stared daggers as I drove off.


The following morning, at 4am, I got on a bus with a few of the Russians. The casting director looked about ready to tear his hair out. He had needed forty extras, and had ended up with less than a dozen. It was also a French production, and most of the people on the bus could neither speak French nor English. It had “disaster” written all over it.

The film was being shot in Ream National Park, almost 20km east of Sihanoukville, but a good hour’s drive. The producers had more or less bought the rights to use the beaches and mangroves from one end of the park to the other, and had gone to the trouble of cleaning every piece of trash, leaving it nothing short of idyllic.

We filed off the bus to meet our new co-stars – the Cambodian Navy. Thanks to the impossibility of finding a semi-sober, non-obese, under-thirty Caucasian in Sihanoukville, this part of the script had been rewritten to include more “local” help. What the Cambodian Navy hadn’t been told was that they were actually playing the Vietnamese. No one dared tell them.IMG_7104

From the get-go, I was fascinated by the flurry of activity going on around me, but left somewhat in the dark by my inability to speak much French, or any Khmer or Russian. The casting director, however, seemed eager to keep me – as the closest thing to a believable French soldier – and informed of what would happen.

The schedule was set up like this:

The scene involved a unified Vietnamese-French invasion of Indochina at some unspecified point in the region’s turbulent history. There would be one boat (I don’t know why just one) and everybody would have to crouch down and wait for the order to storm the beach. The actors would go through their lines as the dialogue was filmed from every direction, and then we’d just jump off the boat.

That was it, except it would take two whole days. I couldn’t believe it. We would probably have hours of free time to roam the beaches….

They say that Rule #1 of making movies is that, no matter how interesting the final product, the process itself is soul-crushingly boring. I didn’t know this, or else I might have thought twice about agreeing to spend several days in the jungle with a film crew.

We began by getting into our uniforms which, outside the air-conditioned hotel room were rather uncomfortable. Before, I had been concerned by the itchiness. Now it was the sweltering heat. I was padded out because apparently being a 50kg man doesn’t make you exactly frontline material, and even at 6am it was unbearably hot.


Soon we were crouched on the boat. I kept being pushed to stand next to the lead actors, who went through their lines many dozens of times over many, many hours. My knees were giving way, and people were complaining loudly in their various languages. A woman was employed to put sunscreen on our necks, and another to pour water into our mouths. (We couldn’t be trusted not to hold the plastic bottles on camera.) The real actors handled it well. They were young, wild, friendly, strange people. Mostly it was their unbridled enthusiasm that got me. I didn’t know how they could keep doing their lines over and over.

In the beginning, I would take cues from the director on how to act. I was just an extra, of course, but in the West extras usually make some effort. It is their job, after all, they probably hope that it will lead to a speaking role. Here was an assortment of hungover people who didn’t want to be there anymore, mixed with the Cambodian Navy, who were busy sword-fighting with their guns.

Ream National ParkAt first I would try to convey a look of fear through my face. I never realized acting was so hard. “The enemy is on the beach. They will kill you when they see you,” the casting director – who had the best English – instructed me. I tried to look scared and probably failed miserably, but after a dozen or more takes, I just knelt there and hoped that I didn’t do any long-term damage to my knee.

The boat was spinning in the water as the sun rose, and as the day progressed morale dropped to abysmal levels, and I think the only reason that they stopped shooting was because it had become apparent that most of the extras wouldn’t return the next day if it went on much longer. I was certainly thinking that.

When we got back to the camp, the extras filed quickly onto a bus, where the driver had been sitting since 5am. It was now 5pm, and he’d been enjoying the air-con and doing a bit of karaoke. Predictably, when he tried to start the engine, the bus just spluttered and died.

After twelve hours of sitting in the sun, the extras had to push the bus along a jungle track until the engine ticked over just enough to start, and we managed to slowly wind our way back. It was evident that most people wouldn’t be returning, even to collect the money they were due.


The following morning I awoke and got back to the bus to find that indeed the majority of extras had bailed. Film-making isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, and in a town with as many bars as alcoholics, it wasn’t difficult to drown one’s sorrows.

I didn’t really know why I was there except that I’d become reasonably good friends with the casting director and would feel guilty if I let him down. Also, a certain vanity told me that having sat next to the lead actors for their speeches, I’d probably be featured prominently again, especially with fewer white people around. I certainly had no aspirations of a career in acting, but it would be cool to have maybe gotten a line or something to show my parents.

We were told the schedule for Day #2:

  1. Jump off the boat.
  2. Storm the beach.

It was more or less that simple, except that just jumping into the water once wasn’t enough. We’d have to do it over and over in order for the cameras to capture everything just perfectly. We did a few practice runs in our underwear, screaming and running with guns held above our heads, and it was actually fun.

This went on for a few hours, and then a few more. People started complaining about blisters from having water in their boots and everywhere else, and people were slipping on the metal and hurting themselves, or jumping on top of other people already in the water. One of the main actors got cracked in the mouth with a gun butt and bled. It was carnage.

After six hours of jumping into the water and running to the beach (which was only 10 meters away) the director decided that it would look better if the boat stopped at 50 meters out, and we ran from there. In order to ensure that his inexperienced extras looked sufficiently afraid, the director had instructed the effects team to carry out their work secretly, and when the first soldiers were only 5 meters from shore, one man began triggering explosives buried in the sand, while another opened fired with a paintball gun, spraying red paint into the water. People threw themselves to the ground, genuinely terrified, and it was probably the best take of the day.

But then it was back to the boat, and back to repetition.


Along Cambodia’s coastline, the water is ludicrously shallow, and so you can sometimes walk a half-mile out into sea. In this case at 50 meters I was chest-deep and it didn’t seem a problem. However, that soon started to change. Between the heat, the weight of the gear, the padding I was carrying to make me “less-Auschwitzy,” my months of drinking and smoking, and having effectively sprinted through water repeatedly for more than six hours, I struggled.

I struggled badly.

I kept it to myself and just did as I was told, but sprinting 50 meters through water is not easy at the best of times. In fact, some people would say it’s impossible. But, when you have an entire film crew watching you, you can’t be the last one there. You can’t trail behind. You have to get it right, or people will be angry.

The extras were carefully spaced and positioned, and for some fucking reason, I was the last man. I was at the 50 meter point, while some were at 15 and 20. As the takes went on, I started to feel light headed. I started noticing myself getting to the beach later and later, and started throwing myself down into the water instead of the sand.

At one point, one of the extras asked me, “Hey man, you okay?”Ream National Park

I couldn’t reply, so I waved his concern away and smiled, but he looked unconvinced. Other people were starting to watch me, too. It was embarrassing.


On the next take, I got most of the way to the beach and then woke up in the medical tent, slumped forward on a chair with the casting director and a doctor, and a girl giving me a head massage. (Khmers believe head massages can cure just about anything, and it certainly does feel good.)

After asking a few questions and getting some vague, confused answers, the doctor told me he was sending me back to town. “Exhaustion,” was the diagnosis. The casting director was red in the face, shouting about the director. “I told him, I told him,” he said. “It’s too much!”

I was helped back through the jungle and stuck in the crew’s temporary ambulance. My friend kept apologizing, and then handed me my money. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I got paid for the entire two days, even though I’d made it only one and a half.

We took off back towards Sihanoukville, and I kept feeling a mix of relief and guilt. I didn’t really care much about my lost career as a movie star. I felt bad for the casting director, felt contempt for the director, and quite pleased that instead of getting home at 9pm, I’d be home at 4pm with full pay.

I was worried, too, about my health. Working behind a bar isn’t exactly conducive to a healthy lifestyle. I had dropped a lot of weight and become very sedentary. That thought triggered a memory – one of the first from my time in Cambodia. It was the story of another French production company who had attempted to recruit “extras” from the local expat population. They were shooting a reality TV show that was purportedly filmed in Thailand, but to save money they’d come here and hired local drunks at a fraction of the price. The overzealous director had demanded these random barflies swim from one island to the next – a large distance – and had ignored the protestations of the various crew members, including the doctor. Predictably, one of the extras died. How they expected these poor men to make the swim, I don’t know, but the doctor and the director both killed themselves in shame.

That story was, perversely, one of my favorites when I first came here. It embodied the wildness of Cambodia – the fact that this is a place where anything goes, where everything is tinged with danger. Yet I had forgotten it, and in the end it was the lesson I should have remembered, rather than repeated as a bar story for a few months.

That I survived my own war story is a matter of luck. When you land face down, unconscious, in the sea, a victim of extreme exhaustion, you have to count yourself lucky. And hey, like I told the casting director as my jeep pulled away, “I think I’ll have the most convincing death scene in the movie.”

Hell’s Angels: The Precursor of Gonzo

*The following is the first in a series of columns by Beatdom editor, David S. Wills, concerning the mix of fact and fiction in the work of Hunter S. Thompson. 


Hunter S Thompson began writing at a young age, imitating his heroes and honing his own style. He worked as a journalist, got in trouble, travelled the world, got fired, made friends, made enemies, failed at writing novels, and then wrote Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It began as an article written for The Nation, May 17th 1965, entitled ‘Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders,’ and it was considered the first honest portrayal of the Hell’s Angels in any major publication.[1] The article drew praise and book offers, and Thompson was persuaded by Random House to spend the next year living with the Hell’s Angels, writing about their lives. The result was the book that made Thompson’s name.

Although it was ‘a world most of us would never dare encounter,’[2] Thompson careened into the realm of the Hell’s Angels with unnatural vigour. Where others would have been afraid of men who were renowned for their violence, Thompson brought them into his home, with Sandy and Juan hiding in the bedroom, warning them that he ‘didn’t go much for fist-fighting but preferred to settle his beefs with a double-barrelled 12-gauge shotgun.’[3] He introduced himself to the Hell’s Angels through an Angel/reporter, Birney Jarvis, who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle. Thompson immediately set down his objective, to determine the truth behind the myth: ‘I heard some bad things about you. Are they true?’[4]

That was his aim: to determine, and report, the truth about the most feared motorcycle gang in America. The resulting article drew enough praise to earn him a book deal, and the book confirmed Thompson as a major American writer, allowing him to go on and write the rest of his bibliography.


It’s easy to see in Hell’s Angels the origins of Gonzo, and one might argue that it is indeed a Gonzo text. However, it was a well researched and brilliant demonstration of New Journalism more anything one could label a literary genre unto itself. It’s clear to see in the book the presence of the reporter as a part of the story, but far more obviously as a device than a protagonist.

Thompson appears as the ‘I’ in the article, but doesn’t focus on his actions. Rather, he is an observer, playing the role of a reporter, watching and hanging back, collecting notes and conducting interviews with the subjects of the text. In the book he was far more involved in the action, giving the reader someone sensible to relate to, when alienated by the depravity of the bikers. The result is a carefully observed act of journalism that reads like journalism, only with the hallmarks of Gonzo dropped in here and there…

For example, we have the use of cuttings, clippings and references to other texts and sources of information concerning the subject, which are dropped in to make the book not only a journalism-prose hybrid, but throwing in an element of cultural criticism, giving a greater impression of society’s perception of the Hell’s Angels. In the book, Thompson takes these sources and attempts, through real reporting, to deny or confirm them, thus getting at the truth behind the angels. Included are police reports and both truthful and fallacious media accounts, which shine a critical light on society’s role in creating the image of the Hell’s Angels. Thompson is providing the reader with a cross-section of America and its opinions, while giving an insider’s view, providing an accurate all-round depiction of the subject of his work.

Therefore, we clearly have a book that leans far more towards hard-fact reporting than Gonzo’s ambiguity. Nonetheless, there are elements of fantasy, of wishful thinking, and the application of a collective voice for the Hell’s Angels, whereby the statements of several members would be spoken by one imaginary speaker. And with these features, the book’s journalistic integrity becomes somewhat more debatable.

An example of something that is hard to prove or disprove, but which shows Thompson’s tendency towards misrepresentation of the facts in order to get at the truth, would be in the fantastic violence of the book. It is easy to believe that the Hell’s Angels were violent; the evidence is irrefutable. But merely stating this fact is not enough. Thompson’s portrayal of violence is cartoon-like. In order to convey the lack of care with which members shed or drew blood, the beatings were over-the-top and unbelievable, with badly victims getting up and walking away. Indeed, part of the fear of the gang was in the fact that ‘they inhabit a world in which violence is as common as spilled beer.’[5] In chapter twenty-one, a ‘black Golith’ is beaten horrifically by the Hell’s Angels, but keeps getting up. The whole fight is theatrical and yet it gets across an accurate impression of the disregard they had for brutality. Perhaps these ridiculous fight scenes are the equivalent of Thompson’s collective voice technique, with several events condensed into one for the sake of the narrative.

Instead of quoting dozens of individual Angels, Thompson will use one voice to reflect the statements of many. This could be viewed as compromising the reliability of having one source state one fact, but keeps the narrative flowing quickly. We have to assume that Thompson’s familiarity with the group allowed him to mimic their speech and blend statements together, rather than just fabricate what sounded better for the story. Indeed, the collective voice sounds remarkably similar to the individual voices.


This, in effect, was what the Hell’s Angels had been saying all along. Here is their version of what happened, as told by several who were there:

‘One girl was white and pregnant, the other was colored, and they were with five colored studs. They hung around our bar–Nick’s Place on Del Monte Avenue–for about three hours Saturday night, drinking and talking with our riders, then they came out to the beach with us–them and their five boyfriends. Everybody was standing around the fire, drinking wine, and some of the guys were talking to them–hustling ’em, naturally–and soon somebody asked the two chicks if they wanted to be turned on–you know, did they want to smoke some pot? They said yeah, and then they walked off with some of the guys to the dunes. The spade went with a few guys and then she wanted to quit, but the pregnant one was really hot to trot; the first four or five guys she was really dragging into her arms, but after that she cooled off, too. By this time, though, one of their boy friends had got scared and gone for the cops–and that’s all it was.’[6]


Another method that is rare to see within a work purporting to be journalism is the author’s evident fascination with Biblical and historical imagery. There are in the text some brilliant uses of Thompson’s trademark literary mechanism: the use of language to imply what facts could not accurately convey.

Hell’s Angels opens with an image, beautifully and terrifyingly presented, of a motorcycle gang menacingly riding through the open roads of America on Labor Day. Thompson uses punctuation to string fragments of an image into one dirty great presentation, as he lists names and places, joining them with over-the-top metaphors and similes, eventually leaving the reader with no doubt of what the Hell’s Angels were all about, and only a page into the book.


Like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter’s leg with no quarter asked and none given.[7]


With descriptions like this threaded into a piece of journalism, which includes serious interviews and reports of events, one can see a more subtle application of Gonzo styling. Surely in objective journalism it is utterly inappropriate to compare a group of men on bikes to historical monsters and suggest that they’re alcoholic rapists… But it’s only a suggestion, and Thompson was planting his seeds of contempt in his own literary fashion. It appeared he was writing a novel about the Hell’s Angels, and weaving truth into it, and above all else, a reader in 1966, familiar with the curse of motorcycle gangs, and looking for an entertaining read, would have been captivated by the description.

And who’s to say that by comparing the Hell’s Angels to Mongols and sex fiends Thompson wasn’t presenting a more accurate depiction than was possible through meticulous study of their habits and actions. Although Thompson at times displays empathy for the bikers, the first page of the book provides the exact same understanding of their being as a methodical reading of the book from start to finish.

Which goes to show that even in the early days of his writing, Thompson had managed to evoke a hatred of a subject through vitriolic language, as well as through a long and hard study, presenting a year of solid research.

The first half of the book took Thompson a long time to write. It was well-researched, anthropological and even scholarly at times. It was the result of countless hours spent in the company of the Hell’s Angels, a process which earned him the reputation of being the expert on the subject, and offers from numerous publications. But the second half of the book was something that brought Thompson closer to Gonzo Journalism. Deadline approached and Thompson didn’t have the book finished. He didn’t want to pay back his advance, so he locked himself in a motel room with drugs, whiskey and his typewriter, and spent one hundred straight hours typing without sleep. It took him four days to write as much has he had in the previous six months, and he considered the latter half of the book superior to the first.[8] The result was the Fourth of July and ‘Midnight on the Coast Highway’ sections, where Thompson becomes the centre of attention. He claims that he wrote the latter part immediately after riding his motorbike down the Coast Highway, ‘face still frozen, dark red and crusted with tears.’[9]


Hell’s Angels is significant in the development of Gonzo because it brings Thompson’s writing a step closer to the style that emerged in ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved’, but it is also important in the history of New Journalism because Thompson set out to write the article, and then the book, partly to correct some of the flaws in the media. He viewed the idea of the Hell’s Angels essentially as a creation of the media, and whether this depiction was accurate or not, it was not fair that it was created by people without any real knowledge of the bikers themselves. Ultimately, the job done by the straight press in reporting the motorcycle gangs was faulty, and another approach was needed: He claimed that, ‘the difference between the Hell’s Angels in the papers and the Hell’s Angels for real is enough to make a man wonder what newsprint is for.’[10]

When he was approached by Carey McWilliams of the Nation, Thompson investigated the Lynch Report, the California Attorney General’s report on motorcycle gangs, and found that not one biker had been interviewed. All the sources were police officers. This, Thompson thought, was entirely unfair. ‘I can’t imagine doing a story without their point of view,’ Thompson said.[11] Thompson also found, after taking the assignment, that some of the facts were wrong. For example, the Lynch Report claimed that the membership of the Hell’s Angels was around four hundred and fifty, whereas Thompson found, after actually consulting the gang, that the number was in fact around one hundred.[12]

It is interesting, then, that in a study of truth and fiction in the work of Hunter S Thompson, we come so early to his contention that the media itself was inherently crooked, and that he was the man to bring the truth to light. But indeed that was his aim, and he clearly believed that the truth could be told through his own artistic methods, as long as the truth was there in the first place:


The Hell’s Angels as they exist today were virtually created by Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. The Times is the heavyweight champion of American journalism. On nine stories out of ten the paper lives up to its reputation. Yet the editors make no claim to infallibility, and now and then they will blow the whole duke. It would be senseless to try to list these failures, and besides that the purpose of this harangue is not to nail any one newspaper or magazine – but to point out the potentially massive effect of any story whose basic structure is endorsed and disseminated not only by Time, and Newsweek, but by the hyper-prestigious New York Times. The Times took the Lynch report [the pseudo-objective and vague report of an investigation mounted by California’s ambitious new Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch, concerning Hell’s Angels and “other disreputables”] at face value and simply reprinted it in very condensed form. The headline said: CALIFORNIA TAKES STEPS TO CURB TERRORISM OF RUFFIAN CYCLISTS. The bulk of the article was straight enough, but the lead was pure fiction: “A hinterland tavern is invaded by a group of motorcycle hoodlums. They seize a female patron and rape her. Departing, they brandish weapons and threaten bystanders with dire reprisals if they tell what they saw. Authorities have trouble finding a communicative witness, let alone arresting and prosecuting the offenders.” 


This incident never occurred. It was created, as a sort of journalistic montage, by the correspondent who distilled the report. But the Times is neither written nor edited by fools, and anyone who has worked on a newspaper for more than two months knows how technical safeguards can be built into even the wildest story, without fear of losing reader impact. What they amount to, basically, is the art of printing a story without taking legal responsibility for it. The word “alleged” is a key to this art. Other keys are “so-and-so said” (or “claimed”), “it was reported” and “according to”. In fourteen short newspaper paragraphs, the Times story contained nine of these qualifiers. The two most crucial had to do with the Hollywood lead and the “alleged gang rape” last Labor Day of two girls, 14 and 15 years old, by five to ten members of the Hell’s Angels gang on the beach at Monterey” (my italics)….The result was a piece of slothful, emotionally biased journalism, a bad hack job that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow or stirred a ripple had it appeared in most American newspapers…but the Times is a heavyweight even when it’s wrong, and the effect of this  article was to put the seal of respectability on a story that was, in fact, a  hysterical, politically motivated accident.[13]


Thus we come to understand why Thompson took the job of reporting on the Hell’s Angels, and also why he wrote the way he did. We may question his style of reporting, and how effective it could be at conveying any ‘truth’, but Thompson was no fool, and he knew how writing worked. He knew how journalists made lies sound like truth, and he knew how to convey the essence of ‘truth’ as though it were part of a fictional story, and thus create an ease of understanding between the subject and the reader. The reader may walk away at the end of Hell’s Angels with the same feeling of contempt for the subject as after reading a traditional, objective style report from the mainstream press, but it seems that Thompson’s conscience took a break in knowing that at least he’d gotten the truth in the first place.

Thompson was, thankfully, obsessed with truth. He believed that language was important, and he loved vitriolic, Old Testament style language, but that he should use that language on top of truth, to convey the meaning of what he knew.


I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language — and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.[14]


He loved the power of words, and wished to master them, but only when used in conjunction with truth. He would use his words in letters or conversations with friends, and he would hurt people and be sweet to them, and all of it was out of his devotion to complete honesty, according to Anita Thompson.[15]

In his work he adhered strictly to the truth, too. As he told P.J. O’Rourke, ‘Truth is easier. You can fall back on the truth. You can’t fall back on a story you made up because, by the time [you’ve finished writing it], you’re wondering if it’s good or funny or right.’[16]

What made Thompson and O’Rourke such great literary journalists was their adherence to the truth, and their ability to use language to tell the story. Whereas other journalists would use language to distort the truth or a lie, Thompson and O’Rourke would start with the truth and tell it brilliantly.


Perhaps the best known piece of Hunter S Thompson trivia, as the selling point for the Hell’s Angels book and the question asked by every journalist following its publication, is regarding the ‘stomping’ Thompson received after writing the book. In the postscript, he states that on Labor Day, 1966: ‘I pushed my luck a little too far and got badly stomped by four or five Angels who seemed to feel I was taking advantage of them.’[17]

This section contains dubious information, and really is the centre of the debate regarding truth in Hell’s Angels. The text suggests an entirely unprovoked beating, that started and ended abruptly, and was recalled in a typical Gonzo paragraph of fantasy and hatred: ‘I could see the vicious swine trying to get at me with the stone held in a two-handed Godzilla grip above his head.’[18]

However, Thompson’s later accounts of the event vary, and suggest that perhaps the postscript version was not as accurate as it could have been. In 1987, Thompson told P.J. O’Rourke that the motivation for the attack was money, and that it was not unprovoked:


I was showing the Angels the cover and it said $4.95… And the Angels said, ‘Jesus, $4.95!’ What’s our share? We should get half.’ And I said, ‘Come on… It takes a long time to write a book. Nothing – that’s your share.[19]


So the beating was apparently about money. However, Thompson has also claimed that it was due to his contention that his BSA motorcycle was superior to a Harley-Davidson: ‘I said my bike was faster than his… and all of a sudden, I got it right in the face, a terrific whack.’[20] Another time he simply stated that he knew it would happen, and that afterwards he remained friends with Sonny Barger, which Barger has always denied.[21] The reality, it would seem, is that Thompson witnessed an Angel called Junkie George slap his girlfriend and then his dog.[22] This is the story that Barger recounted in Hell’s Angel, his autobiography. Thompson apparently told Junkie George that, ‘Only punks slap their old ladies and kick dogs.’[23] This is quite a far cry from the unprovoked stomping by four or five member that Thompson originally claimed. Certainly, this goes beyond the notion of conveying truth through literary methods, and into the realm of simply fabricating a story.

Another problem then arises in discrepancies between the book and Barger’s account, as Barger claims there was only one punch thrown, as a direct result of Thompson’s actions. Thompson drove to hospital and phoned Sandy, photographed his injuries in a mirror, and then spent several days in bed. And all from one apparent punch. According to Barger, the whole thing was exaggerated and Thompson only provoked Junky George to create a marketing point for the book.[24]

[1] Johnson, M.L., The New Journalism: The Underground Press, The Artists of Non-Fiction, and Changes in Established Media, (University of Kansas: Wichita, 1971) p.131

[2] Fremont-Smith, E. ‘Books of the Times; Motorcycle Misfits—Fiction and Fact’ in The New York Times, (Feb. 23, 1967) P.33.

[3] Reference needed

[4] Vetter, C., ‘The Playboy Interview with Hunter S Thompson’, Playboy, November 1974

[5] Thompson, Hell’s Angels p.58

[6] Thompson, ‘Losers and Outsiders’

[7] Thompson, Hell’s Angels, p. 1

[8] Playboy interview

[9] Thompson, Songs of the Doomed, P115

[10] Thompson,  ‘Losers and Outsiders’, Nation, May 17 1965

[11] Thompson, Proud Highway, p. 497

[12] Litwak, L., ‘Hell’s Angels’, New York Times, January 29, 1967

[14] Thompson, Generation of Swine, Author’s Note

[15] Thompson, A., The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Hunter S Thompson, p.82-83

[16] From Gonzo Way, originally O’Rourke’s 1987 interview – need proper reference

[17] Thompson, Hell’s Angels postscript

[18] Ibid

[19] O’Rourke, P.J., ‘Hunter S Thompson’, Rolling Stone, November 5, 1987, p.232

[20] Playboy interview

[21] Bulger, A., ‘The Hunter S Thompson Interview’, Culture, March 9, 2003

[22] McKeen, Outlaw Journalist, p. 111

[23] Barger, R, Hell’s Angel, (New York: Harper-Collins, 2001) p. 126

[24] Barger interview on his website

Episode One

In this first episode of the Beatdom Podcast, your host, David S. Wills, talks with Charles Cannon about his Burroughs 100 event, discusses the questions of “What is Beat?” listens to poetry by Beatdom contributor, GK Stritch, and speaks with Michael Hendrick, author of the forthcoming novels Egypt Cemetery and Whiskers in the Wind.

As this is our first ever foray into the world of podcasting, please forgive our lack of technical expertise. The sound quality will improve in future and we are exploring various hosting options. However, we do appreciate constructive criticism, so please feel free to leave your thoughts below or via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.

The player below should be working, but if not, you can catch us on iTunes at: Don’t forget to subscribe in order to catch all future episodes.

Competition Time

To celebrate crossing a small milestone (900 followers) we are giving away copies of our two most recent publications: Larry Beckett’s Beat Poetry and David S. Wills’ Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’.

To be entered for a chance to win, please go to the Beatdom Facebook page, and like our most recent status update. After 48 hrs, a random winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

Edit: Time’s up. Competition is over.

Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ Out Now

David S. Wills’ ground-breaking text, Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ is now available on Amazon as both a paperback and a Kindle ebook. It will soon be available through the Beatdom Books website.


While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, take a look at some of the essays David has written on the topic of Burroughs and his Scientology infatuation:

The Weird Cult: How Scientology Shaped the Writing of William S. Burroughs – from Beatdom #10

William S. Burroughs on Scientology – from Reality Studio

William S. Burroughs: Scientologist – from The Nervous Breakdown

An excerpt also appeared in Matthew Levi Stevens’ Final Academy publication.

A Report on The Final Academy: Then & Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Matthew,

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




‘Academy 23’

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

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

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

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


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

– From the original press-release


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

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

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

Roger Ely, Statements Of A Kind


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Magic, like Art, is outside the Law”

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

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

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

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

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

A final teaching for The Final Academy


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

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

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

For more details, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Studying at Saint Hill

In researching my next book, Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult‘, I was given the opportunity to speak with one of Burroughs’ friends, Graham Masterton. Masterton was the man who drove Burroughs to Saint Hill, headquarters of the Church of Scientology, shortly before he enrolled in a series of courses there.

He was kind enough to share this photo with the readers of Beatdom:

The man on the left is Masterton and the woman is a Scientologist.

The Nature of Beatdom Issue 11 (with lots of photos)

Dear Readers,
We certainly hope that you like to look at pictures – because this is about as many as we think we can squeeze into a single post.

The idea is to show that, while the ebook and kindle formats are handy, Beatdom is still fun to have your own personal copy of, like in the old days of the literary journal, when you stuck it in your pocket or bag and pulled it out to read while on the bus, at the doctor’s office or in a crowded movie theater while some delinquent threw JuJubes in your hair.

While we all know you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, anybody who is familiar with French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the poem, ‘After The Deluge,’ from his earth-shattering collection ‘Illuminations,’ will spot him right away, That is thanks to the keen handiwork of multi-faceted artist Waylon Bacon, who graced the front cover of this issue with his brilliant dexterity and use of color.

It is a treat to get to see him do something for us in deep rich tones, since he has had to restrain himself to using black and white ever since we changed the format to that of the classic, standard old-style 6×9-inch black and white format, used by most literary journals.

In the following story by Katy Gurin, ‘Grizzly Bear,’ you can see more of Waylon’s work, only in the b/w format. This is still another excellent short story by Katy, about what can happen when people commune a little too closely with nature. This tale showcases her usual splendid imagination and wonderful gift for detail. Stuck in between there, shown on the back cover, since most people look at the front and back before opening it, is the advertisement for the next fiction release from Beatdom Books, ‘Egypt Cemetery,’ a memoir by Editor Michael Hendrick, which will be available soon at the usual outlets.

It is also worth noting that Katy will be publishing a full volume of her short stories with Beatdom Books, later this year. That volume will be illustrated by Waylon, since the two of them make such a great team for two people who have never even met each other. As Katy’s story continues the partygoers dressed as bears start to act more like bears just for the drunken fun of it.

Waylon not only provided the fine images you see here – but also managed to include some of his favorite monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster, his Bride, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, and some weird looking what-cha-ma-callits, that only he sees when he closes his eyes at night.

Bears like to catch fish but fishtank owners are not always appreciative. As you can see, our half-drunk pseudo-bears wander out into the Halloween night and do all the things bears are wont to do, until they are confronted by a real bear. How Katy thinks this stuff up is a mystery to us but we have been lucky enough to have her writing such inventive stories with truly absorbing plots since she was kind enough to provide us with her very first and fabulous yarn, ‘Meat From Craigslist,’ back in Issue Number Nine.

Next we have a look at the life of William S. Burroughs during his days as a farmer, written by Editor David S. Wills. Burroughs didn’t do so well working the land but Mr. Wills has been farming up quite a bit of information on the pistol-happy author while lurking about the Burroughs Archives at the New York City Public Library lately. Watch for more!

Somehow, archaeologist, activist and Beatdom regular Robin Como managed to find time to write two more of her intoxicatingly exquisite poems for your pleasure and if she doesn’t run away, we hope to have her back with more in our next issue!

Michael Hendrick tracked down Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, on Thanksgiving Day morning last year, forcing him to hold a copy of Beatdom Issue Nine and interviewing him on topics ranging from going to Hell, to how his grandfather wrote one of the first recorded rock songs before rock’n’roll was invented, to the Right to Bear Arms.

Taking time out from his extensive studies, returning writer Rory Feehan penned this account of still another famous sharp-shooter, Hunter S. Thompson and his ventures and misadventures while living a not so quiet existence at perhaps California’s favorite Beat retreat, Big Sur.

While everybody was awaiting the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Mr. Wills tracked down the last remaining live male character depicted in the movie, Al Hinkle, who Kerouac called Ed Dunkel in the book. Mr. Hinkle is delighted to appear here.

Assistant Editor Kat Hollister, who labored intensively to help put this issue together marked her first appearance in Beatdom with the poem you see below; her efforts were rewarded by the dubious distinction of having it placed across from a poem by returning Beat literate Chuck Taylor, on the dodgy subject of his erection. Mr. Taylor dug up the old form of ‘doggerel’ to justify it, along with the fact that we are the only journal who would risk publishing it.

Where have you seen this face before? On the cover, it’s Arthur Rimbaud again, next to an essay by poet Larry Beckett, who takes apart the aforementioned poem, ‘After The Deluge.’ It is an insightful look at one of Rimbaud’s best know works, and also gives us a glimpse at the fantastic style of literary critique to be found in Mr. Beckett’s upcoming offering from Beatdom Books, ‘Beat Poetry.’

Matthew Levi Stevens is a new name to Beatdom readers and here he presents us with a review of the latest collection of letters written by William S. Burroughs when he was still living as an expatriate.

Kat Hollister, following the indignity of having her poem placed facing Mr. Taylor’s doggerel, was happy to find a spot next to this wonderful photograph, ‘wetlands in march no.2,’ by well-known nature photographer, g. thompson higgins.

Artist/Photographer/Musician and Writer, Zeena Schreck returned again this issue, with this touching and enlightening article. She writes of how she and multi-talented husband, Nikolas Schreck, stepped up and acted to save the lives of eighty wolves, diverting their carriage to safe habitat as they were being sent to an otherwise slow and cruel death.

Ann Charters, a name familiar to everybody in the world of Beat Literature and Literary History spoke with Mr. Hendrick, on working with Kerouac, the beginnings of Beat, her meeting with Alene Lee and the importance of John Clellon Holmes to the Beat Generation.

Internationally renowned poet Michael Shorb, a strong voice on environmental issues, was kind enough to grace our pages with this, his first appearance in Beatdom.

Reaching past Rimbaud to William Blake, Mr. Wills weighs in with a quick word on the literary influence of one of the most visionary of voices and his influence on the Beats.

When we think of Beat we think of the road and it is hard to think of a band who pounded the pavement harder than the Ramones. Richie Ramone, the fastest of the fast, spoke with Mr. Hendrick about life on the road, his forays into the Big Band sounds of the Drum Gods and his activism on behalf of pooches in peril in Los Angeles.

As usual, Waylon won’t go back into his cage until he gets one last bite on the hand the doesn’t feed him, so we leave you with him and his now traditional ‘last page, last word.’ This one, Waylon aptly titled ‘Sometimes Eye Gets Crazy!’

What to Expect from Beatdom #11

As many of you know, the next issue of Beatdom marks a very special anniversary. It is the fifth anniversary of Beatdom’s inception. Five years is a tremendous landmark in this industry, and we’re celebrating by bringing you our best issue yet, including four massive interviews with some of the hippest, most Beat names around.

Here’s a list of contents…

“Grizzly Bear” Katy Gurin – short story

“Billy Burroughs: Gentleman Farmer” David S. Wills – essay

“Like Some Blissful Ferdinand” Kat Hollister – poem

“Somewhere Far Beyond” Kat Hollister – poem

“Tender Love Song” Chuck Taylor – poem

“Dick in Dixie” Michael Hendrick – interview

“Hunter S. Thompson: Gonzo Frontiersman” Rory Feehan – essay

“Interview with Al Hinkle” David S. Wills – interview

“Autumn’s Mardi Gras” Robin Como – poem

“You Movement” Robin Como – poem

“After the Deluge” Larry Beckett – essay

“Liberation Under the Snow Moon” Zeena Schreck – story

“Interview with Ann Charters” Michael Hendrick – interview

“The Rain Forest Massacre” Michael Shorb – poem

“William Blake and the Beat Generation” David S. Wills short essay

“Richie Ramone is Back” Michael Hendrick – interview

“Untitled Art” Waylon Bacon – art

What Is There To See Inside Beatdom 10 ~ The Religion Issue?

Greetings, Dear Readers!

We know you have been waiting for the new issue of Beatdom to come out. Well,  it is here and it is available and a lot of you have ordered your copy already at the crazy low cost of only $9.99 . Here are a few photos of the innards of this portable literary salon!

You will first notice the excellent cover art (above), which is a likeness of Krishna painted by Ed Terrell of the A.C.O.R. Gallery in Reading, PA. It is part of his series of portraits on Indian deities.

Hinduism: A Different Beat by Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra

Here we have a very interesting essay to go with that wonderful cover. Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra tell us about Hinduism and how the roots of the Beat movement actually spring from Hindu texts…which trickled down and eventually became the basis for Buddhism. The Mishras explain and show us why particular trappings of traditional Hinduism, such as same-sex relationships and the smoking of ganja to honour the Divine Entities, would appeal to our Beloved Beats.

A Short History Of Buddhism In Berlin by Zeena Schreck

Then, while you still have your Buddha on, check out what dharma has to do with the death of a fly in a new story by one of our newest contributors, Zeena Schreck. Zeena also gives us a tale of Sethian Awakening in another short story, called Lost and Found. These are great stories and we are sure you will enjoy them! Zeena is spiritual leader of the Sethian Liberation Movement and you can learn more about that at

William S. Burroughs: My Confessional Letter to the Western Lands by Nikolas Schreck

Also onboard as a new contributor is Nikolas Schreck,  Zeena’s husband. The pair collaborated on the narration of the film Charles Manson Superstar. Here, Nikolas writes a letter to William S. Burrroughs, in which we learn, among other things, that David Bowie used Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ method of writing in his rocking LP Diamond Dogs, which was news to us! You can always learn something new in Beatdom!

Kitty Bruce on Lenny Bruce, Religion and Recovery, with Michael Hendrick

It seems like hardly an issue of Beatdom goes by that we do not mention Lenny Bruce, so this issue we are delighted to welcome his daughter, Kitty Bruce, to the pages of Beatdom. In this interview, she gives us the skinny on why Lenny had it in for religion, what it was like to grow up in a legendary showbiz household and what she is doing to preserve and celebrate the memory of her father.  Comedy would not be as near the cutting edge as it is today, if not for Lenny.

Forever Stung by Michael Hendrick

Something that runs through every issue of Beatdom is wonderful artwork. The sketch of Lenny Bruce, as well as the illustration for this story, were penned by the magnificently ghoulish Waylon Bacon. This story tells how one of our beloved editors was not always a worldwise, bigtime publisher…he was a kid who fell for one of the oldest tricks between the two covers of the Bible, the lure of the Christian cult. Fans of TV’s Seinfeld will note that he was a member of what became the ‘Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaners’.

Eating The Beat Menu by Nick Meador

Since we are mentioning Art, we find still another new contributor of artwork in Kaliptus, who joined us to illustrate this story on Jack Kerouac by returning contributor, Nick Meador. Nick looks at the Jungian implications of Buddhism and Catholicism and the effect they had on Kerouac as a writer, a person and a speck of the universe.

Tristessa: Heavengoing by Paul Arendt

In a similar vein, we present you with another scholarly study on Kerouac, and the schism in his life created by his divergent beliefs in both Buddhism and Catholicism.  In this essay,  Arendt uses a lesser-known work of Jack Kerouac, Tristessa, to make his point and to pull examples from. If you have not read Tristessa, this will make you want to. It will also enlighten you as to Kerouac’s state of mind when he wrote it.

One and Only By Gerald Nicosia reviewed by Michael Hendrick

In some issues, certain Beats seem to get all the attention and in this issue Kerouac is King, it would seem. The absence of  material on Ginsberg does not mean we forgot him.  Nicosia’s book is subtitled, ‘The True Story of ‘On The Road,’ and in interviews with Luanne Henderson, who memorably rode in the car with Jack and Neal Cassady as they criss-crossed America, we find out how Kerouac’s famous novel became his undoing and how Neal became trapped in the image of ‘heroic entertainer’.

The Weird Cult: How Scientology Shaped the Writing of William S. Burroughs by David S. Wills

Back to Burroughs, here, Beatdom’s Editor-In-Chief reports on how William S. Burroughs got pulled into the web of Scientology, how it affected his writing, how he eventually because disenchanted with the sect and how he went after the group’s founder and leader, L. Ron Hubbard in a very public way. Mr. Wills continues research on this topic and will release a book on his findings, probably next year by Beatdom Books. What follows is another photo from Mr. Wills’ essay…

Then just to show that not all is serious and based on fact, we have another short story by Velourdebeast, about what can happen to a person when they have no faith in anything at all and throw themselves at the mercy of the world. Velourdebeast is a mysterious contributor from points West, who was literally born on the pages of Beatdom!

Maggie Mae and the Band by Velourdebeast

There is much more to this issue than the photos above, but we can only put so much in one post. There is lots of poetry and art that we just do not have the time or space to explain here but, on that, we shall leave you, as Beatdom does, with this last-page illustration by Waylon Bacon! Just remember that this is a print journal. While many of you enjoy it on Kindle and other platforms, there is nothing like seeing it in print. We took these photos to show that, and while some of them may not be in the best lighting, etc, we trust you all get the idea.

Beatdom 10 is available now for $9.99 on and at the A.C.O.R Gallery in Reading, Pa, 610-898-7684