Whose Side Are They On? Not Nelson Algren’s

New York Times headline (8-19-2015)

It doesn't take much for headline writers, editorialists, reporters, columnists, sports writers, what have you, to grab the reader's attention with a catchy phrase. Some phrases have become such favorites that you see them used over and over. But I would bet that in plenty of cases the journalists who make use of them don't know where they come from. This one, for instance. They probably think it comes from Lou Reed's song, when it actually comes from the title of Nelson Algren's novel, A Walk on the Wild Side. The phrase shows up so often that … [Read more...]

Time Capsule: Algren, Burroughs, Mailer, et al . . .

'The Z Collection' by Jan Herman [AC Books / NY], 2015

UPDATED: Aug. 25 -- The Z Collection is available for ordering on line. My staff of thousands insisted on a plug for me: The Z Collection: Portraits & Sketches -- my reflections on many of the writers and artists I have known, worked with, or written about -- is being published by AC Books in New York in time for the fall book season and is now listed for sale in the U.S. by Los Angeles-based RAM Books and Distribution. The title seems like a reference to “The X Files,” but I had something else in mind: the hidden “Z closet” at Harvard’s … [Read more...]

A Little-Known Master Artist’s ‘Uncollected’ Works

Norman O. Mustill with one of his wall-size collages. The photo, a self-portrait, was taken in 2005.

The pages of Uncollected illustrate the variety of the artworks that a little-known master artist produced over the years. Most of the pieces have appeared in scattered places but have never been collected in one place — thus the title. Norman O. Mustill, who died in 2013, also produced many other works that haven’t been collected or even seen by any but a few devotees, certainly not by art collectors. I’m thinking, for example, of the blazing series of riotous wall-size collages made of billboards fragments that hung in his California living … [Read more...]

A Look Ahead: They’re Putting on a Party and a Show

Granary Books, with blue arrow pointing to my sliver in the bookstack

My staff of thousands informs me that the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the Granary Books archive. So publisher and library will mark the occasion with a bit of hoopla and an exhibition that opens Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. It's called . . . The Book Undone: Celebrating Thirty Years of Granary Books . . . and the public is invited. The party on Sept. 16 (ok, they refer to it as "the reception") will feature a distinguished lineup of speakers -- poets, writers, artists, book designers, and … [Read more...]

‘Freedom Is a Career’ — Obituary for Mike Lesser

Mike Lesser

By Heathcote Williams His approach to life and politics was fueled by emotion rather than the twisted logic of compliance. Finding himself born into an era when life on earth seemed daily--and increasingly--under threat, Mike Lesser's logic was visceral. Other Angry Young Men long ago may have mellowed and somehow come to terms with a culture slouching towards self-destruction. He never did. Mike Lesser has died aged 71. He had a fiery baptism into the counterculture when arrested at the age of 16 along with the nonagenarian philosopher … [Read more...]

The Outsider Writer on the Inside of the Outside

Charles Plymell [photo by Gerard Malanga]

Charles Plymell (Charley to those who know him, Charlie to those who don’t) has been an outsider for decades, self-declared and otherwise, railing against everything that smacks of the inside -- especially the arbiters of government arts grants, who have unfailingly overlooked him, even against his old friend Allen Ginsberg, whom he relentlessly excoriates for having become an insider. Charley may be the most inside outsider around. It seems there’s no cultural/artistic/what-have-you outsider he hasn’t known at some point in his long life … [Read more...]

Mike Lesser, R.I.P.: ‘In Conversation With a Dying Friend’

'Death Taking a Piss' by Max Klinger with an excerpt from 'In Conversation With a Dying Friend' [Cold Turkey Press, 2015

Heathcote Williams's elegy is a meditation on death. Alan Cox reads it. The collage portrait of Mike Lesser as a young man is by Claire Palmer. https://soundcloud.com/jan-herman-gmail-com/in-conversation-with-a-dying-friend-by-heathcote-williams/s-WwPud The text of ‘In Conversation With a Dying Friend’ is posted for reading at IT: International Times. “ . . . my atoms will just disappear. “There’ll be a moment when I’m me, and then not. ...” -- Mike Lesser (quoted in 'In Conversation With a Dying Friend') Michael John Lesser, … [Read more...]

Artist Bronzes Writer’s Life and Work in a Store Window

Window Display by Vera Bronsen (Heidelberg, Germany), 2015 [Photo: Signe Maehler]

The German artist Vera Bonsen has a window assemblage currently on display in a Heidelberg storefront that bronzes the life and writings of the American expatriate poet Cody Maher. The paper hangings consist of poems, diaries, photos and so on from 30 years' worth of manuscripts. The artifacts include hats, a pair of boxing gloves, scattered notebooks, collages, and all sorts of props such as toys and figurines that he hoarded from childhood. Maher tells me, "I simply handed her my life, not on a silver platter but in a cardboard box." Have a … [Read more...]

A Spanking New German Edition of ‘Royal Babylon’

'Die Wiindsors Eine Schrecklich Nette Familie' Royal Babylon [Westend, 2015]

And now if you just care to look this way ... it's bi-lingual, too. The dark side of the English royal family From the publisher: Did you know that Queen Elizabeth II is the largest landowner in the world? She owns 10 times more land than the recently deceased King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The history of the Windsors is as bizarre as it is appalling: arms deals, murderous feuds, xenophobia and undisguised sympathy for Nazism. The continuing positive image of the royal family can only be explained by the public's level of ignorance and … [Read more...]

Carl Weissner Gets Stellar Notice in Book Podcast

Carl Weissner [Photo by Michael Montfort, 19XX, from 'Nachtmaschine']

In his latest podcast at realitystudio.org Jed Birmingham zeroes in on the immensely talented Carl Weissner and his cut-up novel The Braille Film. Birmingham, who met Weissner in New York and Paris, talks about what made him so memorable and how he bought the book at auction some years ago for $75, believing it and Weissner -- both -- were undervalued. The Braille Film, with a "counterscript" by William Burroughs serving as an introduction, was published in San Francisco in 1970 and was originally priced at $1.95. Today's asking price on the … [Read more...]

Of Poetry and Fakery, Cultural Theft, and Stolen Identity

Heathcote Williams [photo: JH]

The title of Heathcote Williams's memoir, Of Dylan Thomas and his Deaths, reflects the author's belief that the great Welsh poet died twice, not once. He writes, "It can be said that he was to suffer no less than two deaths at American hands." The first death, contrary to the accepted claim that he died of a drinking bout, refers to his "mistreatment with morphine by an incompetent and flamboyant doctor" in New York, who misdiagnosed his condition and "brought on the coma from which he would never recover." The second death came in the form of … [Read more...]

A New Literary Memoir Recalls Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas, circa 1938
 Photo © Nora Summers / Jeff Town / Dylans Bookstore
Taken at the home of Caitlin Thomas's mother, Yvonne Macnamara, in Ringwood, Hampshire.

See update. A few weeks ago I remarked that Of Dylan and his Deaths, by Heathcote Williams, was so rich in the author's personal history and "so evocative of his first inspiration, Dylan Thomas," that it merited attention as a masterpiece of literary investigation. (The investigative aspect of the essay involves Williams's indignation over "the cultural theft of Thomas's identity by a famous imposter" -- namely Bob Dylan -- which is hinted at in the subtitle: "An Essay on Poetry and Fakery.") I also claimed that the memoir was infused … [Read more...]

Burroughs Makes Inroads, But What About Algren?

Burroughs wearing his fedora. [Photo: Harriet Crowder]

The British have always shown a serious interest in William Burroughs, evidenced by the fact that the most authoritative Burroughs scholars are or have been Brits such as Eric Mottram, Oliver Harris, and Ian MacFayden, for three examples, and that the most authoritative Burroughs biography, Call Me Burroughs, was written by another Brit, Barry Miles. But when John Banville makes a "soft machine" reference to Burroughs in the conclusion of his excellent review of John Gray's "bleak yet bracing new book," The Soul of the Marionette, you know … [Read more...]