The key to Birmingham’s “Top 23” project and to his collection is this:
It’s unseemly to quote the following, but what the hell:
The most powerful collectibles are those which are personal. The best collectors are not just fans and appreciators of the artists and writers they collect but also their friends and supporters. It is not just financial partnership. If a collector’s motives are pure and not about pure profit, he can become part of an artist’s inner circle. Collectors are not muses, but enablers who encourage a lifetime addiction to art and literature.
Jan is not a one-trick pony. His literary magazine, The San Francisco Earthquake, is one of the great, if underappreciated, literary magazines of the 1960s. Burroughs’ appearances therein are some of his most revolutionary and challenging pieces to ever appear in a magazine setting. To see Burroughs in the context of The San Francisco Earthquake is to appreciate just how taken up with the ferment of the 1960s he truly was.
Oh, and about that pony ride:
For a brief period late in the decade, Burroughs deceived himself into believing that a revolutionary change was not just possible but imminent. Burroughs was a notorious skeptic and the last person to jump on popular bandwagons. So I have always taken the fact that Burroughs got caught up in the hype of the Long Hot Summer to be evidence of just how close to the edge of total destruction things seemed in 1968. … The Dead Star captures a flickering moment when change in art and change in society was all but assured. A dying star burns brightest and Jan’s monumental pamphlet still shines over four decades later, even if its revolutionary fire has been replaced by the aura of the art object.
A friend wanted to know, “How much are you paying Birmingham to do your PR? Whatever it is it’s worth it.” The answer is nada, of course. Birmingham’s opinion is not for sale. But if it were, given his rep in the world of Burroughsian book collectors and his expertise as a connoisseur of 1960s little mags, the price would be too steep to afford.