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Burroughs: The Movie Interview

Film director Aaron Brookner discusses the restoration of classic documentary Burroughs: The Movie, made by his late uncle, Howard Brookner. The project coincides with the William S. Burroughs Centennial in 2014. Interview by Tom Cottey.

Originally published in Beatdom #14 – the MOVIE issue. Buy it here:

 

 

What is your personal connection to Burroughs: The Movie?

 

I grew up seeing the Burroughs: The Movie poster on the wall of my grandmother’s house. All I knew was Burroughs’ face from the beginning, before I knew who he was. Then before I had read anything by Burroughs I had seen Howard’s movie. I probably watched that film hundreds of times on VHS, from like ages ten to twenty, and then started reading Burroughs beginning with Howard’s copy of Junkie. It wasn’t until years later, seeing clips on YouTube, that I wondered where the actual film was. That led to this long search to find out where it was.

 

What was the restoration process like?

 

I started looking for a negative at first and it seemed like it was just gone, disappeared. Then it came to “can I get a print of the film?” It seemed like the only print was in Australia. They brought it out and it had all these tears in it and was really beat up. It had been Howard’s festival print. Then I found one in Berlin, but that had German subtitles burned into it and was also pretty tattered. Then finally, kind of in the back yard, it turned out that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York had a print donated shortly after Howard died by Brad Gooch, who was Howard’s long-time partner. It had been there more than twenty years, which goes to show the state of shock that Brad was in, as he didn’t have any recollection of it.

With MoMA began an interesting debate, an ongoing one with archives, which is: when you’re an archive your job is to preserve the film and it’s risky to let it out. MoMA being an archive, and I don’t fault them for this, didn’t want to let the print out of their vault. So then I was presenting the other side to the story, which is if no one knows about the film what good is having it preserved? It’s a bit of a “if a tree falls, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound,” scenario. Eventually we came to an agreement to get the print out one time and do a good remastering of it, and make a digital master of the film.

That’s when we turned to the Kickstarter campaign which was super encouraging to find out how many people all over the world (including the U.S., Europe, Russia, Far East, Japan, South America, Argentina, Brazil, you name it), were interested in Burroughs: The Movie.

 

What feeling did you get about Burroughs having watched the film before reading the books?

 

In my grandmother’s house we have pictures of our dogs, my great grandmother, pictures of us swimming on the lake, cousins, uncles, aunts – normal stuff up on the walls – and a giant poster of William Burroughs. That was the context in which Burroughs was for me andwhen you watch the film I think he feels like family; you’re just sitting there with him. Later on I heard Stew Meyer describe him in a way that clicked for me. He said: “Burroughs was the grandfather who wouldn’t judge you,” and I think that’s great. That’s exactly how I felt about having this creepy, weird, yet also familiar and comfortable character in my family up on the wall forever… it was really comfortable andcool. And yes, he wasn’t going to judge you for the weird stuff you couldn’t tell your other family that you were into.

 

What was Howard’s relationship with Burroughs like?

 

I know that Howard found him really funny and I think that definitely comes across in the film. A lot of people approach Burroughs as this serious, epically dark, epically intelligent Beat icon, you know in these big terms. And of course he is all those things, butHoward also approached him like “Uncle Bill who was really funny.” And what comes across is the sense of humour from the very first shot of him fading in from nothing into his chair, “Little did I know what it was like to be a writer.” And the way that he shot the whole film is like a very classic, public television portrait of a classic American writer, only it’s William Burroughs. It is totally perfect because of course he is in a three-piece suit; he’s American aristocracy – even though he’s really not! But the suit that he wears is the form that Howard takes to approaching the style of his film, and the substance that comes out is wild and brilliant, and fun-loving Uncle Bill. To have a structure that fit the character so well, he clearly knew his subject.

Howard was an excellent person at relating to other people. He would look you very intensely in the eyes and make you feel like you were the only person in the room.  He could get that connection with people and I think he probably got that with Burroughs. In this case, it was that kind of framing; it was that kind of style because that was the Burroughs world. If he went at it and tried to make some crazy, cut-up thing it would be a different film. That would be like an interpretation of Burroughs’ creative work. This was not that. This was, “I am going to take you into Burroughs’ world as it actually is.”

 

How did Howard fit into that particular world?

 

At the time, you had the “Beat” guys living in the same place as people in their twenties. A lot of people from outside, the Midwest and other places in the country, they would come to New York because it was cheap and you could be an artist there. You could live openly gay if you wanted, you could do drugs; they found their comfort there. So Howard was one of those characters. The family lived in the suburbs, and he was gay, and had gotten an Ivy League degree in political science. He was going to be a lawyer and then all of a sudden went to film school.

Howard could have a punk aesthetic, and went to punk clubs to hear music, and had friends in bands, and was into heroin, but Howard was also very literary. He was an excellent writer and had excellent grammar. And, he knew the same spectrum maybe, obviously in a smaller way because he wasn’t a sixty-eight year old writer like Burroughs, but he was very smart, very well educated, all those elements. I think he could see the spectrum of Burroughs from the literary background to the drugs on the Bowery. Clearly Burroughs trusted him an awful lot to be the person to tell his story.

The thing that’s taken for granted, now that Burroughs is a more well-known, established figure, is that at the time he had basically been in exile from the U.S. until shortly before this movie was made. He was known as a junky and the guy who killed his wife, and maybe because he was gay – there were lots of misconceptions about him.

 

How does Howard deal with Burroughs’ killing of his wife Joan Vollmer?

 

It’s the only time I’ve ever heard a very simple straightforward account of that story by Burroughs. When I hear Burroughs convey that story through that movie I don’t see any big myth about it, I see a story as it actually happened and I do see that it really affected him. And then I think it’s great that Howard also juxtaposes it with [Allen] Ginsberg’s point of view, because Burroughs was the person who lived it. It’s a more visceral story that Burroughs is telling, but Ginsberg offers more analysis from the other side. Burroughs is elegant enough not to really talk about Joan’s role in the incident, he keeps it to himself, but Ginsberg analyses what was going on with Joan and expresses his theory that Joan was very miserable and egged him on to get her out of this world.

 Burroughs the Movie

Who was involved in making the film?

 

Well it started as a twenty minute film for Howard’s master’s thesis at film school. Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo were two of Howard’s best friends from New York University (NYU). They each worked on each other’s student films, and guys like Jimmy Lebovitz. A lot of the people for example who worked on Permanent Vacationalso worked on Burroughs. That was the thing; it was just a student film in the beginning. Spike Lee and Sara Driver (who were two years younger and working in the equipment room), were checking out cameras and sound kits to Howard, Jim, and Tom to go film with William Burroughs. Then Howard realised he was really on to something there and kept going and did it “professionally” after school – which involved the hard truth reality of having to raise money. It took him five years to finish.

 

And what do you think Jarmusch and DiCillo got out of making the film in terms of experience?

 

I think what is interesting about that whole group of filmmakers that whole time is that they incorporated a very documentary aesthetic. Now of course, Jarmusch films don’t look like a documentary, but the attention to natural detail, the pleasure of what’s actually going on in the street for example, he captures beautifully in Stranger than Paradise or Down By Law, or Mystery Train or Night on Earth, all his films really – it’s these beautiful details, often moments of gritty city life – and it’s the same aesthetic as Howard’s using, as an almost fiction backdrop in Burroughs: The Movie.

You’ve got this amazing set of the Bowery with all these crazy characters, with Burroughs in a three-piece suit, with a sword in his cane walking down the street. You could say that’s as awesome as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins playing the manager of a motel in Memphis in Mystery Train. And the same thing with Tom, certainly in his early movies Johnny Suedeand Living In Oblivion, it’s these crazy characters in this crazy place of downtown New York that you can’t make up, so they’re all drawing on this same real environment that they’re around; same thing with Spike Lee by the way. He took it to such a degree that he said “I’m going to tell you about the characters, I’m going to tell you about New York, I’m also going to tell you about the weather.” Y’know – Do The Right Thing is great because it’s about the heat; it’s about how fucking hot it gets in New York.

 

What perspective do you think the audience will have now on the film, thirty years after it was made?

 

Probably how incredibly ahead of its time the subject matter was, or how incredibly relevant the subject matter is today. I mean Burroughs is talking about a lot of things like creating a gay state to “protect ourselves.” He was dealing with the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6 in 1978, when they were trying to outlaw all homosexuals from becoming teachers basically; same thing as is going on in Russia with not wanting to spread homosexual propaganda, whatever that means. So how incredibly timely it is.

I also think that the way that the film was made is very refreshing to watch. There are a lot of documentaries made now where we’re kind of used to a certain form. I mean there are all kinds of different documentaries made, but we’re used to the sort of Oscar contender documentaries which are: talking head, archive, talking head, archive, kinda thing – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, like a pop song. By comparison, Burroughs: The Movie is so raw and pure, the story is just unfolding, it’s happening right before your eyes, and you’re also aware of how very complex it is. He’s incredibly complex subject matter to tackle.

And it’s funny to think that here was a film, made for four years, by filmmakers who started out as students in very raw, gritty circumstances that BBC Arena then broadcast twice, and it had a theatrical run. And another interesting thing is that it was self-distributed by Howard and Burroughs. They took the film around to all these art house cinemas in Europe and in the U.S.  Burroughs would give a reading and then they’d play the film. They’d both be around to talk and sign things afterwards.

 

When and where can audiences expect to see Burroughs: The Movie?

 

2014 is the Burroughs centennial and I’m hoping to have the film available before that year is over. Hopefully we will make a very special edition DVD and Blu-ray, maybe even a remastered release with some super exciting new material. But I also hope we can take the film back to where it came from starting with a theatrical release and showing it at a festival like the New York Film Festival. Many Burroughs events will happen next year for the Burroughs centennial and we hope we can show the film at many of them after the re-launch.

 

What can you tell us about Howard Brookner’s other works? Will we see those too and where and when can we find out more about him?

 

I think I became a filmmaker because of Howard. Looking up these old films of Howard and Burroughs: The Movie triggered this realisation that he had other works and other films out there that are also really fascinating, like a feature documentary on Robert Wilson… Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars. I also found the original 16mm material surrounding that, along with a lot of items that tell his whole story. I have been wanting to tell Howard’s story for a long time and this was the perfect material to include in my film on him: Smash The Control Machine: Howard Brookner and the Western Lands. Jim Jarmusch is executive producing it. I hope it will be finished by 2015. It will put Howard’s life in context and Burroughs: The Movie in a greater context of his work as a filmmaker, as an artist. I think it will be a film that will look at his life and his times from today’s perspective, while also recovering a lot of his long lost art.

Remastered BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE film trailer

In the upcoming movie-themed issue of Beatdom, we will be talking to Aaron Brookner – son of film-maker Howard Brookner, who made the 1983 classic, Burroughs: The Movie. Aaron has been working a project to digitally remaster and rerelease his father’s film, much to the excitement of Beat fans around the world.

Beatdom is delighted to bring you the trailer that the team have just put together:

Remastered BURROUGHS THE MOVIE film trailer from PINBALL LONDON on Vimeo.

1st Burroughs Documentary to be Rereleased

The first long feature documentary about iconic writer William S. Burroughs, one of the most radically subversive literary figures of the 20th century and Godfather to the Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, is set to be restored and re-released after decades of being out of print.

The campaign to restore Burroughs: The Movie will officially be launched on Kickstarter on World Aids Day December 1st 2012 and it will run for 30 days. A rare screening of the film will be held December 11th 2012 at 7pm at the October Gallery in London, UK (24 Old Gloucester Street Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3AL).

The late Howard Brookner began his Burroughs film while in NYU film school in 1978 with his fellow students Jim Jarmusch, who did the sound, and Tom DiCillo on camera.  Five years later Brookner had finished Burroughs: The Movie with the help of BBC.

Burroughs: The Movie was Howard Brookner’s first of three feature length films followed by Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars (1986) and Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989) – starring Madonna, Matt Dillon and Jennifer Grey among other well known actors. He died of AIDS in 1989, at thirty-four years old. “If I live on it is in your memories and the films I made”, he wrote in a letter he left to his parents. “That letter was my engine to bring Howard back to life through his work. After a long search I found the only print of Burroughs: The Movie in good condition and embarked on a project to remaster it and make it available to the public”, says Aaron Brookner, nephew of the filmmaker. “The remastering is part of the work I want to do to preserve my uncle’s legacy”.  Howard Brookner’s archive includes more than 300 assets that need urgent preservation. “The re-release of Burroughs is a first step towards recovering what he made while he was alive.”

‘Burroughs: The Movie’ features the writer’s close circle of friends including Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Francis Bacon, John Giorno, James Grauerholz and Terry Southern. The film premiered at the 1983 New York Film Festival to rave reviews. Janet Maslin from The New York Times wrote: “Rarely is a documentary as well attuned to its subject as Howard Brookner’s “Burroughs”, which captures as much about the life, work and sensibility of its subject as its 86 minute format allows. (T)he quality of discovery about “Burroughs” is very much the director’s doing, and Mr. Brookner demonstrates an unusual degree of liveliness and curiosity in exploring his subject”.

February 5, 2014 will mark William S. Burroughs 100th Birthday and the film should be released by then. Also 2013 will mark the 30th Anniversary since the release of Burroughs: The Movie and that’s when the restoration will take place.

Howard Brookner’s archive collection contains never before seen material from Burroughs: The Movie including interviews with Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, Brion Gysin, the legendary Nova Convention, Brian Jones, Anthony Balch and more. “He documented what was probably the last comprehensive counter culture movement which came out of downtown New York City in the late 1970s/early 80s, influencing so many of the leading styles and ideas of today,” says Aaron Brookner.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the restoration of the Burroughs film, any proceedings beyond the target funding will be used to restore and preserve Howard Brookner’s archive described by Francis Poole, head of Film and Video Collection at the University of Delaware, as “one of the most amazing collections I have ever seen”.  Aaron Brookner, who is also a filmmaker, plans to create a film about his uncle’s life called Smash The Control Machine: Howard Brookner & the Western Lands using much of the found footage. “Howard is a strong inspiration and he lived a short but beautiful life full of sardonic wit.  He was a great filmmaker and this discovery will allow the world to enjoy his work. I want to honour who he was through the memories of those he influenced, and the films he made.”

To finance the restoration project, a crowdfunding campaign will be launched on Kickstarter to raise USD 20.000 (approx 13.000 British Pounds or 16.000 Euros).

For more information about the campaign to restore Burroughs: The Movie, Smash the Control Machine film and Howard Brookner’s archive please visit www.aaronbrookner.com

 

 

 

To contribute to the Kickstarter Project, please click here

Follow its progress on Facebook here.

‘Apprentice to an Apprentice’: The Perilous Passage of Terry Wilson

“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

And:

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

 

 

Notes:

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