Spencer Kansa's new book is called Wormwood Star and it's about the extraordinary Marjorie Cameron, a mesmerizing, natural born artist whose spiritual quest and essence was reflected in her paintings and drawings. Her first husband was Jack Parsons who by day was a brilliant rocket scientist who helped formulate the rocket fuel technology that helped launch the American space programme. By night, however, he was master of the Agape Lodge, a Californian fraternity dedicated to the pagan philosophy of Aleister Crowley. Prior to his death Jack introduced Cameron to Crowley's teachings and she inspired many artists, poets and film makers cutting their teeth in the Californian underground scenes of the 50s and 60s. She starred in Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome film and Curtis Harrington's Night Tide.
I first met Spencer through our mutual connection with the world of William Burroughs. Unlike me, Spencer knew Burroughs well and went to visit him in Lawrence, Kansas. Spencer was responsible for me getting to meet the original Beat, Herbert Huncke. His Cameron book is the best counterculture book to be published this year and shows off, to dazzling effect, his knowledge of California's murky occult underbelly.
Joe Ambrose: Who is the kinkiest person you ever met and why?
Spencer Kansa: Ha! Me probably! Years ago I used to write for Hustler magazine when pornography was still a transgressive, underground thing. Now, just like Rap, it's become mainstream and lost its outlaw status. During that period I had the great fortune of befriending Juliet Anderson, a sex Goddess from the golden age of pornography, who often worked under the moniker Aunt Peg. She was a real force of nature. She sadly passed away in January and I wrote a tribute to her for Erotic Review which you can read here.
She certainly enjoyed a kinky kinda life.
JA: Who'd you speak to for the bio?
SK: Movie stars like the late great Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn, and from the art world John Chamberlain and Wallace Berman's widow Shirley. Some really fantastic people. Brilliant Beat Poets like David Meltzer and Aya. One of my favourite writers John Gilmore, who knew Cameron back in late 50s from LA's coffee house and party scene. The great film director Curtis Harrington whom I co-dedicate the book to.
JA: What did you think of Dennis Hopper?
SK: Dug him. Despite his illness he was very chipper and quick to humour. He was very open about the past and still extremely turned on by all the art forms.
JA: Who is your favourite writer and why?
SK: Favourite living writer is James Ellroy who I read religiously. When I was a kid - and still today - my favourite thing was to watch old film noir movies - of course I didn't know that's what they were called at the time - but I've always felt a deep affinity with that era and milieu which has in turn provided the backdrop for Ellroy's early crime novels - the LA Quartet - which was what got me hooked initially. I love the later, more political stuff too like American Tabloid which to me is the only genuine literary masterpiece of the last twenty years.
JA: Who is your favourite rock star and why?
SK: Bowie between 1970-1980. No one was more magical, audacious, inspiring, kooky and beautiful to watch. I think the Thin White Duke in particular reigns supreme as the archetypal - cool as fuck - rock star and is a testament to the beneficial usage of black magick and white powders. It's such a shame he got all sane and rich.
JA: Who is your favourite rap star and why?
SK: In his late 80s early 90s heyday I would have to say Ice-T. I remember Coolio talking about going on tour with Ice and how he couldn't help but notice how journalist seemed so endlessly fascinated by him. It's something I've seen firsthand and felt in person too. He's an individual thinker which is always important to me, plus he has a worldly-wise take on things based on hard won experiences and his rhymes are razor sharp, darkly funny and always dead on the money. I've interviewed him a few times and he's always a delight to talk to. To me he's a bullfighter in a world full of bullshitters.
JA: How did you meet William Burroughs?
SK: I simply wrote to him when I was a kid and sent some poems and stuff and lo and behold he wrote back with encouraging words. I received an insurance chq when I turned 21 - in 1992- and I used it to travel to America for the first time and I caught a greyhound bus down from New York to visit Burroughs at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. He taught me how to shoot guns - shanghai style - and I shot a series of photographs of him working on a spray paint canvas. We got high too. Everything's been downhill ever since!
JA: How did you meet Herbert Huncke?
SK: On that same trip. While in New York I joked with Burroughs right hand man James Grauerholz how I'd been hanging round Times Square looking for Huncke figuring he was long dead - remember this was pre- internet - so I didn't know any better, and James tipped me off that Herbert could often be found playing poker at the Chelsea Hotel most evenings. So I trekked down there and waited in the lobby for him to show. He never did, but eventually Linda Twigg, a gal pal of his, did and she put me on the phone with him and we arranged to meet at his place in Alphabet City the next day. He was living in a basement flat of a beaten up brownstone and back then the whole area looked like Berlin after the war. But it turned into quite a magical experience. He read stories to me from his books then we did a shit load of coke. He was a fabulous storyteller and a terrific writer in his own right, irrespective of his status as a catalyst to the Beats. I used to joke with him that he looked like Iggy Pop's long lost father, and to this day Huncke remains the only guy I've ever met in my life who would do cocaine to get to sleep!
JA: Didn't you send me a record years ago also called Zoning with William Burroughs on it? What became of that material?
SK: I put it on my website: www.spencerkansa.com for the whole world to headbang to.
JA: What is your favourite city in the world?
SK: Used to be New York but I know it far too well now so it's lost a great deal of its allure and appeal. LA's the place for me nowadays. I particularly love the deserts of Joshua Tree and Mojave. LA also has the best subway system in the world, which most Angelinos don't even know about! I use it to travel out to places like Pasadena - which is a beautiful part of town - and I'm often the only white face amongst a sea of hard working brown people, the kind who do all the tough, dirty jobs that keeps the city's wheels greased. Also there's nothing quite like cruising round the Hollywood Hills late at night - it's eerily exciting.
JA: What is your least favourite town?
SK: Any town in England. It's become a joyless, charmless, backwards, violence ridden zoo over run with Neanderthals. Spiritually bankrupt, marred by rubbish breeding rubbish.
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Joe Ambrose wrote 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe sadly passed away in 2018. Visit Joe's website which was completed just before his passing, for more info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
about Joe Ambrose »»
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