Our Literary Editor Joe Ambrose has been somewhat AWOL lately, apparently busying himself with social and personal life in Tangier, Morocco. So he says, anyway. He's now back in action, that's for sure, with a brand new show coming up at London's Horse Hospital this October, a short story due out next year, and a second volume or extreme travel writing in the works.
The London show is FINAL ACADEMY / 2012, a salute to The Final Academy, a 1982 London affair organised by the extraordinary Genesis P Orridge in honour of William Burroughs and his sidekick, Brion Gysin. FINAL ACADEMY / 2012, due on October 27, features a kaleidoscopic array of artists who've experimented with light, sound, and word.
We talked Joe about the show and first of all, asked why he was doing this FINAL ACADEMY thing right now?
"It came about by chance. I was asked to contribute to a book that's coming out, Academy 23, which proposed to be a tribute to the Here To Go Show, which I helped put together exactly 20 years' ago, and to The Final Academy, which happened exactly 30 years ago. Both events sought to promote the broad range of ideas believed in by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. With the two anniversaries coming up I thought it would be a good idea to question that legacy and to see what has become of it. So I got onto the Horse Hospital and they were on for it. I've previously put on events with Anita Pallenberg and Richard Hell in the venue."
What kind of a night can we expect at FINAL ACADEMY?
"We've got great people – it'll be a kinky groovy affair. We have a movie Words of Advice, a documentary concerning William Burroughs on the road, doing readings and book signings. Full of fantastic footage most people havn't seen. And it has a funky soundtrack from Patti Smith, Bill Laswell, and my own band, Islamic Diggers. Scanner, that most superb of electronic musicians, is dropping in and will do a spoken word performance. Visual artists Raymond Salvatore Harmon and Liliane Lijn are involved. Harmon is an outstanding graffiti artist and media shaman – I'm a big fan. Liliane Lijn was pally with Burroughs, Gysin, Sinclair Beiles in Paris in the early 60s – and she works on a parallel wavelength. Some of her ideas relate to kinetic art, with beautiful explorations of light and words. Gerard Malanga, whom I met when I was in New York doing my Iggy Pop book, is contributing. Gerard was described by the New York Times as Warhol's most important collaborator but he's also a moving poet and poetic photographer.
Can you expand on Academy 23, and the book being published at FINAL ACADEMY?
This is the brainchild of Matthew Levi Stevens and Emma Doeve. They're friends of my homie Spencer Kansa. They're gotten together some great stuff for the book – a previously unseen interview with Burroughs. Something from Coil's John Balance. Jack Sargeant – no such book would be complete without Jack, one of t he outstanding counterculture scholars and commentators of our time. It's a book full of goodies. I've contributed a piece, Festimad, which reflects upon my adventures on the fringes of the Burroughs industry. We have the support of Genesis P Orridge for the venture – this is great because I'd be nervous about doing this if he was opposed.
It would seem that the influence of Burroughs and Gysin has been somewhat marginalized in relation to literature whereas their experiments pervade a lot of alternative music. Can you see a reason for this?
They're much in evidence in the visual arts too and, of course, both of them worked as visual artists. Gysin moreso – and Gysin's literary reputation is negligable. I guess they had such an influence on music because both of them worked hard in the music area. Gysin had his dalliances with The Master Musicians of Joujouka and less celebrated collaborations with the likes of Ramuntcho Matta. Burroughs was much more in evidence, in his last years, within the musical realm - there were alliances with Kurt Cobain, the Disposable Heroes, Patti Smith, Bill Laswell, dozens of others. And then there was their joint venture into the Cut Up Method which produced noise music. Panic music - a term invented by Burroughs to describe the sound of Joujouka. This notion of noise and panic music had a big influence on punk. And the Cut Up, most famously, was used by Bowie during his Thin White Duke days. Or daze. Many writers are fascinated by music. I am. The connection seems obvious to me. I listen to music - loud - when I write. I think Genesis P Orridge gave Burroughs and Gysin some idea of the extent to which they could put "rock music" to use in popularising their ideas.
Are their ideas about the Cut Up, the word virus etc. more relevant in the age of instant communication and the internet?
Some of their "ideas" were the product of excessive drug consumption but more of their ideas were just so far ahead of their time that technology had not caught up with their thinking during their lifetimes. Burroughs lived on into the Mondo 2000 world. Listen to what he actually had to say on that controversial Nike ad. The notion of word virus is expecially pertinent to the anti-intellectual force that the internet can sometimes be.
FINAL ACADEMY / 2012, Horse Hospital, The Collonade, Bloomsbury, London. October 27th, 8pm. Tickets: www.thehorsehospital.com
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