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Noise Poetry: An Interview with Thurston Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Interview

Katie Ingegneri: How did you first hear about Naropa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thurston Moore and Anne Waldman, presenting a panel

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The workshop taught by Thurston Moore at Naropa, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thurston Moore and MFA student Katie Ingegneri at Naropa

Final Academy 2012

FINAL ACADEMY / 2012 – Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, October 27th, 2012. 8pm. £8/£7.50 adv.

This event honours The Final Academy which took place in London 30 years ago this October, and which featured William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, 23 Skidoo, and Psychic TV.

Organised by Joe Ambrose, FINAL ACADEMY / 2012 will feature :
The movie Words of Advice; On the Road with William Burroughs
Language Virus by Raymond Salvatore Harmon with music by Philipe Petite,
William Burroughs, 1914-1997 by Gerard Malanga
Spoken word performance by Scanner and others.FINAL ACADEMY / 2012 wll be marked by the pubication of Academy 23, an anthology edited by Matthew Levi Stevens featuring Jack Sargeant, Joe Ambrose, Gerard Malanga, Emma Doeve, Paul Green, and John Balance (Coil).
Soundtrack for the event provided by Testing Vault, Plague Doctors featuring DJ Mix by DJ Raoul, Islamic Digger No1. One Way, Alma featuring Joe Ambrose.INFO
Words of Advice ( Dir. Lars Movin, Steen Møller Rasmussen) 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.
Scanner is one of the leading electronic musicians of his generation. In 2004 he was commissioned by Tate Modern to create thir first sonic art work. He is a contributing editor to kultureflash.net
Raymond Salvatore Harmon is a distinguished American graffiti atist, painter, and filmmaker. Utilizing new media, urban art, and interactive architecture in coordination with public performance, graffiti style ad bombing, and web based social engineering Harmon’s work has carved out an over arching form of contemporary media insurgency.
Gerard Malanga was, according to the New York Times “Warhol’s most important associate.” A poet and photographer, Malanga’s best known photographs feature his friends Iggy Pop, William Burroughs, and Bob Dylan.
Joe Ambrose directed the movie Destroy All Rational Thought featuring William Burroughs and co-prodced the album 10% featuring Marianne Faithfull, John Cale, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, and Scanner. www.joeambrose.info

‘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