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Herbert Huncke – Times Square Superstar

by Spencer Kansa.

 Spencer Kansa and Herbert Huncke London

I first met Herbert Huncke in the Spring of 1992, during a layover in New York, en route to visiting William Burroughs at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. Shortly after my Manhattan arrival, I received a phone call at my hotel from Burroughs’ consigliere, James Grauerholz, who graciously welcomed me to America. During our conversation, I joked how I’d been hanging around Times Square, looking for Huncke, figuring the guy was long gone by now, only for James to tip me off that, on the contrary, Huncke was very much alive and could be found playing poker most evenings at the Chelsea Hotel.

Naturally I was excited by the chance to meet this legendary catalyst to the Beats, and as I headed out from my Midtown hotel that evening, nightwalking the charged, narcotic streets, I felt high just from being on them. I was amazed by how deserted New York became at night, and the fact that you can walk entire blocks of the teeming metropolis – inhabited by over a million people – and not see a soul. The sidewalks fresh from a recent rain shower, glistening under the orange haze of street lights. The skyscrapers as broad and impressive as Robert Mitchum’s shoulders.


I eventually arrived at the Chelsea around ten, but when I asked after Huncke at the front desk I was told me that he hadn’t dropped by tonight, but I was free to wait for him in the front lobby on the chance that he would. I took a seat on the couch there and got talking to Nina, a spaced-out, Mogadon voiced broad who, I later learned, was one of the main drug connections in the place. Studying her puffy, heavily made-up face, I zeroed in on her staring eyes, which never once blinked as she ran through the gamut of famous names she’d met here.

Once Nina left, I passed the time surveying the art trophies on the wall and watching as the former Warhol actress Viva Superstar swanned out of the building, trailing domestic melodrama, before another Warhol acolyte, the dancer Victor Hugo, pirouetted in. I’d subsequently ask Huncke about Warhol, imagining he would’ve been an ideal candidate for the Pop artists’ rogues gallery of outsiders, but Herbert admitted that, when they met, he and Warhol hadn’t gotten along at all.

Over an hour passed and there was still no sign of Huncke but, eventually, a gambling gal pal of his, Linda Twigg, did show up and put me on the phone with him. My ears were soon greeted by a woebegone, Droopy Dog voice which, although mournful, had a strangely suggestive quality to it. After a pleasant back and to, we hooked it up to meet the next day.


At that time Huncke was living in a basement along a row of bombed-out brownstones on East 7th Street, in the furthermost wastelands of Alphabet City, a locale that got progressively more derelict the deeper you ventured into it. I tapped on the dusty window, as per instructions, and heard the man himself shuffling down the hallway. He was small and seemed pigeon-chested, and the hollow cheeks and drawn mouth of his gaunt face, billboarded a half-century heroin habit. But, it was true what they say, the smack really did seem to have suspended his ageing process. It wasn’t only his nice head of slicked back, chestnut brown hair that made you forget that this was man in his late70s. It was also his attire – blue jeans and a dark blue bomber jacket. In fact, he could’ve been Iggy Pop’s long lost father, something I would tease him about later. Herbert actually held out hopes of meeting the stage diving Stooge one day, but I don’t think anything ever come of it.

It was only my second day in New York, and I was already breaking bread with Herbert Huncke, a man who’s gritty autobiography read like a real life film noir. Celebrated by Beat historians as the vice-ridden Virgil who guided Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg through the nocturnal New York underworld of the 1940s: a demimonde of dark delights. The seasoned schmecker who administered Burroughs his first shot of morphine, whose plaintive expression of feeling beat – tired, exhausted and worn-out – was reinterpreted by Kerouac and transformed into the uplifting beatific spirit for their post-war generation.

The next seven hours spent in his company sped by in a cocaine-fuelled gabfest, as I lapped up the hard-won lore laid down by this wily, old street fox, who had spent the best part of sixty years doing whatever it took to survive. Huncke certainly lived up to his legend. I was treated to a personal reading and listened, enraptured, at his first-hand accounts of watching my heroine, Billie Holiday, crooning her heart out at Birdland. Or the yarns spun about his old partner in crime Phil White – AKA The Sailor in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch – and the trips they took abroad, including a memorable stopover in London just after the war.

Prompted by my name, Huncke recounted how he once had a black boyfriend called Spencer, who had worked for Gore Vidal and, on the subject of monikers, he reminisced how black pimps used to crack up when he told them his surname, because it sounded so similar to “honky.”

Unsurprisingly, given Huncke’s modus operandi, law and order was a recurring topic of conversation and, during our first encounter, he rapped about the Tompkins Square Park riots that broke out, four years earlier, when heavy-handed cops waded in to destroy the makeshift “tent city” that the homeless had established there. With vexation he described the sickening scenes of violence as cops cracked skulls with their billy clubs and made sure their badges were covered up so they couldn’t be identified and later prosecuted. Huncke then fished a handgun – a .45 – out of a trunk, which he kept as protection.

In the middle of our powwow, Huncke’s friend, Dimitri, showed up. He was also a musician, like myself, and came across as a soulful dude, with Andre Agassi eyes and gypsy features. Over more snorts, the newcomer brought up the controversy over the new Joe Camel advertisement campaign, and the two of them noted how the chain smoking camel’s cartoon face appeared redolent of both male and female genitalia, depending on how you looked at it.

I quizzed Herbert about his friendship with Burroughs and although suspicious of Burroughs’ sometimes waspish manner and caustic world view – “That’s just Bill being Bill”, he sniffed – whenever he spoke about his old confrère it was always in glowing terms. He considered Burroughs one of the worlds greatest writers and gave the impression that he felt both grateful and bemused to have been taken up, originally, as a streetwise fount of knowledge, by these budding literary lions. Before I left Huncke asked if I would pass on his new address to Bill when I met up with him, and I was happy to be used as a go-between,

In contrast to Burroughs’ mordant misanthropy, a bare-bones humanity poured out of Huncke’s own writing, and my favourite memories of him were when he’d read from one of his books, be it Huncke’s Journals, Guilty of Everything or The Evening Sun Turned Crimson. It was riveting listening to him recite his poignant, compassionate portraits of the often marginalised characters he had known in his life, such as the heart-rending story of Elsie John, a six and ½ foot tall hermaphrodite sideshow freak, who took the tenderfoot Huncke under her wing, and introduced him to the joys of junk. Huncke’s relationship with Elsie ended with her arrest and, on a chilling cliffhanger, the reader is left to imagine the fate worse than death that awaits the vulnerable androgyne, as she’s about to be thrown to the wolves in the prison bullpen.


Huncke wrote how, after taking a shot of heroin, he would close his eyes and his mind became absorbed with visions of people and places, past times and old faces. A vanishing world of vaudeville hotels leftover from the Wild West, and a sleazy backstreet bar in New Orleans, where a trick once paid him to watch as he balled a Negro whore. A compendium of folktales drawn from the underbelly of a lost America that was magically brought back to life in the pages of his memoirs, or passed on, via the oral tradition, at his private and public readings.

I especially enjoyed his descriptions of the opium dens he frequented in Chinatown back in the old days and, in common with all many users, Huncke could be a real sweetheart when he was smack sated, but the more he started jonesin’ for his next fix, the crankier he become. If left unassuaged, he could turn into a real crabby curmudgeon. But it all came with the territory. Huncke possessed an incredible metabolism. He remains the only guy I’ve ever met in my life who would do cocaine to get some sleep! Like Burroughs, he railed against the evil and idiocy of drug prohibition and the phoney war on drugs, and similarly blamed their demonisation on an ignorant and histrionic media. He had earned his insights.


Born in 1915, in Greenfield, Massachusetts, but raised in the middle class environs of Chicago, Huncke was barely in his teens when he fled his broken home and all the restrictions it placed upon him. He set out, like a depression era Huck Finn, armed only with a cigar box containing a toothbrush; a razor, a handkerchief and a clean pair of socks. Seeking peace of mind, and possessed with a wanderlust to explore the country, he hit the road, hitchhiking and riding the rails with hobos across all 48 American states.

Under the tutelage of Runyonesque reprobates, he engaged in prostitution and low level larceny – nefarious misadventures that provided him with two pivotal experiences in life – his first joint and his first blow job. Although he could enjoy such hedonistic pleasures while he was still honing his street wits, the outlaw life was a precarious business, and one disastrous nights stay in Los Angeles culminated in an arrest that left him with a lifelong loathing for The City of Angels.

New York, on the other hand, was a different matter, and it was there, in 1939. that Huncke’s wayfaring came to end. Nestled in the bohemian bosom of the Big Apple, he felt a true sense of belonging at last and, for the first time in his life, he could walk around 42nd Street and hold his head up high.

Living the hard knock life of a junkie and petty criminal extorted a terrible price though, and the consequences of his risky choices meant he had to endure the long drawn-out misery of serving time in such brutal hell holes as Sing Sing. It was while incarcerated that he learned that the difference between a faggot and a street hustler like himself was: “A faggot is everyone’s property.”


In the autumn of 1994, Huncke flew into London to undertake a short reading tour in promotion of his books and a new spoken word CD: From Dream to Dream. We hung out while he was in town and I visited him again in New York that Christmas. By then he was ensconced at the Chelsea Hotel, having moved there that summer following the tragic death of his ace boon buddy, Louis Cartwright, who was stabbed to death during a street fight in the East Village, reportedly over panhandled money.

Huncke was living in room 828, a tiny shoebox of a room with a single cot, a sink and a window view of neighbouring rooftops and apartments. His rent paid at the charitable behest of those psychedelic sons of beatniks, The Grateful Dead. Although he was, by then, the only interesting person left in this obscenely overpriced roach pit, Huncke confided that the hotel management didn’t like him, and when I enquired why he sighed, “I’m not good for business.”

The final time I visited Herbert at the Chelsea, he’d just returned from the Kerouac Festival in Lowell, where he had read alongside Patti Smith. A framed poster, picturing the two of them, hung proudly on his wall. Huncke was also basking in the latter-day glory being bestowed upon him by the Whitney Museum, who treated him as a VIP guest at their Beat Culture and The New America retrospective.

It was great to see Huncke getting some legitimate recognition at last. Herbert and Louis, a deeply affecting documentary, directed by Laki Vazakas, was already in the pipeline, and Huncke had recently been interviewed by the BBC for a TV documentary on the pioneering sexologist Doctor Alfred Kinsey, who, back in the mid-40s, had paid Huncke to solicit the colourful denizens of Times Square, (including Burroughs and Ginsberg), to be interviewed for his groundbreaking report into The Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male.

Typically, the book publishers waited until after Huncke’s death to release his collected works. A crying shame, as Huncke could have sorely used that moolah while alive, but, alas, the old adage about how the best work is worth most after the workman can’t be paid, followed him to the crematorium.


One of my lasting memories of Huncke dates from that period. It occurred the night before I flew home to London, and he begged me for a favour. Herbert had an appointment at the methadone clinic the next day and asked if I could supply a sample of my urine for him to take there, as his was bastardised with traces of smack, coke and God knows what else! I was clean at the time and more than happy to lend a, ahem, hand. In fact, it was a dubious honour.

Huncke always used the sink in his room to take a slash, but I passed on that and went to the john at the end of the landing. After I presented him with the beaker of pure piss, Huncke gave me a peck on the lips and promised to call me in the morning before I left for my flight. It was then, as I was descending the staircase, that the screwy thought hit me: God! I hope that is what he’s using it for. I sure hope he’s not guzzlin’ it!

What to Expect from Beatdom #12


It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here!!!!

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. Beatdom #12 – the CRIME issue – is now on sale. You can purchase your copy on Kindle or good old dead tree format, both from your favorite industry-crushing internet monopoly. The Paypal link from Beatdom Books is coming soon…

If you’ve read Beatdom before, then you’ve probably already placed your order for this new installment. You know what to expect, as we always deliver the best of the best of the best. But for those of you out there who have never before set eyes on the beatest literary journal around, let me give you a run-down of what to expect:

Firstly, let’s talk about the interviews. Beatdom editor, Michael Hendrick, has been busy talking with Patti Smith and Amiri Baraka – two of the biggest names in their respective fields. The conversations span politics, pens, and poetry. David S. Wills talked to none other than Joyce Johnson, one of the key influences in bringing to light the women of the Beat Generation. She discusses her new book – The Voice is All.

Then there are the essays. As always, you can count on Beatdom to bring you the finest in literary criticism and history analysis, and this time we have once again triumphed. We start with David S. Wills’ essay, “Beat Rap Sheet,” in which he highlights the criminal records (or unrecorded criminal activities) of the Beat trinity- William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Matthew Levi Stevens takes it from there with a deeper look into the criminality of Burroughs, whose psychologist once referred to as a “gangsterling,” for his juvenile obsession with bad guys. We take a slight detour from the Beat route to look at Raymond Chandler and his portrayal of Los Angeles’ infamously mean streets, before returning to the Beats with essays by Chuck Taylor and Philip Rafferty, who discuss the value of Kerouac’s poetry and the extent to which the Beats were truly Zen, respectively.

Poetry is always a huge draw for our readers, and this time around we’ve packed a lot of quality verse into our little magazine. Our poets for this issue are Jamie McGraw, Catherine Bull, Michael Hendrick, Velourdebeast, Kat Hollister, Holly Guran, MCD, and Alizera Aziz.

We have fiction from Beatdom regular, Zeena Schreck, who has given us her theatre monologue, “Night Shift, Richmond Station,” and also from newcomer, Charles Lowe, with his tale of life in China, “Baby American Dream.” Both continue our exploration of the criminal element.

Jerry Aronson, director of the magnificent documentary, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, is back with a special Beat photo, and Spencer Kansa, author of the first ever Beatdom Books publication, Zoning, recounts a visit he paid to the late Herbert Huncke – the very man who inspired Burroughs and co. to their own criminal exploits in the 1940s.

We also have a review of Ann Charters and Samuel Charters’ book, Brother-Souls, which examines the life of John Clellon Holmes. The review functions also as a biographical essay, detailing some of the more interesting aspects of Holmes’ life.

Finally, we wrap up this outing with yet another piece of artwork from the one and only Waylon Bacon, entitled “Rogues Gallery.”

A Report on The Final Academy: Then & Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Matthew,

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




‘Academy 23’

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

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

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

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


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

– From the original press-release


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

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

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

Roger Ely, Statements Of A Kind


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Magic, like Art, is outside the Law”

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

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

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

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

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

A final teaching for The Final Academy


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

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

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

For more details, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatdom Books on Kindle

It seems that one of the hottest Christmas presents this year was a shiny Kindle gift card. It’s really a great idea. There are a ton of wonderful publications on Kindle these days and they can be downloaded in a matter of seconds. But the problem is – as always – what to buy, of the many, many titles out there.

Well, call us biased, but we think that Beatdom Books has some great options. Of course, there are issues of Beatdom magazine – well, only issues nine and ten. These contain some brilliant essays, short stories, and poems, so there’s a little something for everyone. What’s more, they’re dirt cheap! A copy of Beatdom on your Kindle will set you back around a dollar.

If you’re looking for a novel to curl up with over the coming cold months, think about David S. Wills’ The Dog Farm, a rum-soaked romp from the “wrong side of the world”. It’s the second biggest story from the Korean peninsula in 2010, beaten only to the punch by the death of a tyrant.

For a shorter, weirder read, take a look at Spencer Kansa’s debut novel, Zoning. A tale of magic and madness from a warped world, this wild ride will keep you glued to your Kindle all night. Beat fans will probably know Kansa from his interviews with legendary Beat figures, including his friend, William S. Burroughs.

Zoning Released

Fantastic news!

Readers, as you await the release of the ninth issue of Beatdom magazine (which is coming soon… we promise!!!), we are proud to announce the release of Beatdom Books’ first publication, Spencer Kansa’s debut novel, Zoning. William S. Burroughs once said, “Zoning reads like an urban Celine.” And it does. You’ll dig it.

Click here for more info.


The above image, titled “Moloch!” was produced by Beatdom Books author, Spencer Kansa. Kansa’s first novel will be published this July by Beatdom Books.

The Final Photo

Folks, thanks for helping celebrate our fourth birthday. May has been a fantastic month for Beatdom magazine once again. We’ve received some superb submissions for our upcoming Drugs issue, and we’ve announced the release of two very exciting books – Zoning by Spencer Kansa, and The Dog Farm by David S. Wills.

As you will surely be aware, we have given you three previously unpublished photos from the Beat Generation to help celebrate our birthday. Today we have released the fourth – a photo of Allen Ginsberg in Grant Park, taken by Jerry Aronson in 1968.

So thanks again for helping make this a great month. Please continue to check in for progress reports on Zoning, The Dog Farm and Issue Nine.

And, if you missed them, here are the other photos from this series: here, here and here.

New BB Publications

Beatdom Books is proud to present two new novels set for a 2011 release. The first is Spencer Kansa‘s Zoning, which William S. Burroughs described as “an urban Celine.”

Spencer Kansa has written for a wide variety of publications including Hustler, Mojo, Erotic Review and The NME. He is the author of Wormwood Star, a biography of the American artist and occult icon Marjorie Cameron (Mandrake of Oxford). His interviews with literary icons William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles and Herbert Huncke feature in Joe Ambrose’s book Chelsea Hotel Manhattan (Headpress).

Kansa has written for Beatdom twice – the first was about Burroughs’ role as a “heavy metal guru” and featured a photo of the two men together, and the second was an interview with Carolyn Cassady.

To learn about Zoning please visit the BB website. For more about Kansa, see his website:

The second book is David S. Wills’ long-awaited novel about ESL teaching in South Korea, The Dog Farm. The novel revolves around the shady world of drunken teachers in a strange and unwelcoming country.

David S. Wills is the editor and founder of Beatdom magazine and an occasional travel writer. He blogs frequently at his own website:

To learn more about The Dog Farm, please take a look at the BB website.



To pre-order either book, please contact the staff at editor [at] beatdom [dot] com.

Beatdom T-Shirts

It’s been a big month for Beatdom. May is our birthday month (we don’t party for just one day; we do it all month long) and this year we turn four. This is also the month that we’ve launched Beatdom Books and announced the first B.B. publications – Zoning by Spencer Kansa (which William S. Burroughs said, “reads like an urban Celine”) and The Dog Farm by David S. Wills.

To celebrate we’ve been giving our readers a real treat – never before published photos of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, courtesy of Jerry Aronson. So far we have released three of four photos, with the next coming soon. (View them here, here and here.)

Finally, we have given you an early look at the cover of the next issue of Beatdom magazine, which was designed by the fantastic Rachel Harper. What’s even more exciting is that this cover will be printed on a limited number of t-shirts for sale to Beatdom readers. Please e-mail us for more details.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn Cassady

Carolyn Cassady was born 28th April, 1923. She is best known for her participation in the Beat Generation – both as a character in the works of the Beat writers, as well as for her memoir, Off the Road.

Spencer Kansa interviewed Carolyn Cassady for the last issue of Beatdom. Take a look.

Or search Beatdom’s archives for more info about her.