18 May 2018

Palestinians driven from their homes

On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, nothing has changed.

Israeli snipers murdered 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters including 16 children and injured 2,700 others. Further proof that the existence of Israel is the biggest obscenity on the face of the earth.

Allen Ginsberg’s solution was to move the United Nations there and make the Holy Land international territory. I totally agree with him.

Meanwhile I recommend the following essay, from Literary Hub:

Literary Hub

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The Chelsea Hotel

There are so many things I intended to comment upon, but didn’t have the time. One was the sale of doors from the Hotel Chelsea, rescued from a skip on April 12th. I admire the acumen of the homeless man, Jim Georgiou, once a Chelsea resident, in rescuing them back in 2012 and putting up for auction. As to their veracity, looking at pictures of them, It looks as if many of them were inner doors, rather than front doors. Those with numbers, right at the top, were identified easily enough, but much of the accompanying literature was ambitious to say the least. Jack Kerouac, for instance, did not write On The Road at the Chelsea. As far as I know, he only ever spent one night there: a one-night-stand with Gore Vidal that both he and Vidal wrote about. The door advertised as Andy Warhol’s room was Edie Sedgwick’s room, number 105. Warhol never lived there, although he did film Chelsea Girls at the Chelsea but only Rene Ricard was living there at the time. Anyway, good luck to Jim Georgiou who was evicted for not paying his rent, the sale made over $400,000 of which he is donating half to a homeless charity.

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28 March 2018

In the late sixties I rented a house on Lord North Street, Westminster, close to the Houses of Parliament. We had a black cat, called Nadja after the heroine in Andre Breton’s novel of the same name. She had an unfortunate habit of curling up and sleeping on your chest – the heating in the house in winter was virtually non-existent – and once you had gone to sleep, she would edge her way up until she was curled up on your face (usually resulting in her being thrown out of the bedroom and the door closed). One of our neighbours, just around the corner in Smith Square, was William Rees-Mogg, the editor of The Times. We shared a garden wall and he once sent me a note asking me to stop my cat from digging up his pansies. On fine days we could sometimes hear his baby crying or gurgling in its pram in the garden. This was, of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg, but it seems that Nadja did not find him warm enough to do her face sitting act. Sad really.

Rees Moggy. Age 12.

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22 November 2017

The exhibition of the British Underground Press of the Sixties was a great success. Far more people attended than we were expecting, a great many of whom were insistent upon telling us how they still had piles if IT or Oz in their attic or cupboard or under the bed. Carla, Stephanie, Vanessa and Rose did a magnificent job in answering questions and selling the catalogue.

Stephanie & Carla

Grayson Perry came early to the private view in order not to be disturbed while looking around, and spent some time at the vitrines. So many old friends came I almost lost my voice from so much talking. It was in many ways the completion of a circle, fifty years on, the same people, the same newspapers and magazines except this time they were in vitrines as objects of study, historical objects, instead of piled in the corner of the window of Indica Books, yellowing in the sun, or downstairs awaiting distribution. Strange to think it was all 50 years ago and, of course, to be reminded of Hoppy, Mickey Farren, Tom McGrath, Mal Dean, Felix Dennis, Sue Miles, Richard Neville, Edward Barker, Steve Abrams and all the others from the underground press days who are no longer with us.

James Birch & Grayson Perry

A couple of weeks later, the new illustrated edition of my In the Sixties was launched with a party in the same gallery, which was appropriate as much of the book is about IT and the underground press. James’s gallery was also where the book was first launched in 2002. Once again, scores of people from my past were there; people I had known for 50 years, like bookseller George Lawson, or 60+ in the case of my old friend Kipps, who I went to school with. A local restaurant gave us a lock in, and a dozen or so of us stayed till 4am. I’m told the party continued long after that.

On the last day Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley came in, Thurston to pick up number one of the special numbered signed edition of the catalogue which also contains four underground papers in a box. We all finished up at the Eagle for a late lunch. In the course of the exhibition I spent quite a lot of time in the gallery as James Birch and I needed a complete inventory of what was for sale and what not. This meant I got to meet many of the visitors, some of whom I vaguely remembered from my days running the Indica Bookshop; it’s easy for someone to remember the guy in the bookshop, but for the guy in the bookshop to remember the maybe 8 or 10 people a day you have a chat to is another matter.

With Kipps who I’ve known since I was 11

In The Sixties Cover

While all this was going on, an exhibition of Michael Basquiat’s work opened at the Barbican. In town for the event was Michael Holman, an old friend of Jean-Michel and a member of his noise-band Gray (named after Gray’s Anatomy, the inspiration for much of Basquiat’s label work). On the way to the party with Michael Holman, we accidentally ran into the Widow Basquiat on the street, who joined us. She is the subject of the beautifully written eponymously entitled biography by Jennifer Clement which I highly recommend to one and all. Rosemary and I used to attend Jean-Michel’s parties at the studio on Great Jones Street in New York that Warhol rented to him and (I think) where they produced many of their collaborations. Now the Eighties seem to be the subject of the same nostalgia as the sixties were. The Mudd Club and Club 57 are revered and the hedonistic revellers are heroic. Twas ever thus.

Michael Holman

Cassie Beadle & the Widow Basquiat

In my ongoing research into William Burroughs, I came across a line in The Soft Machine (1961) giving his opinion of Twitter users: ‘Posted everywhere on street corners the idiot irresponsibles twitter supersonic approval, repeating slogans, giggling, dancing…’ Good old Bill, prescient as ever.

 

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29 July 2017

I have spent a lot of time recently selecting the illustrations to go with the re-issue of my In The Sixties book which is coming out at the end of Sepember. It is being re-issued by Rocket 88, friends of mine who used to be packagers, and who I did Hippie; The British Invasion; Peace and several other books with. I made no attempt to re-write the book even though it was tempting. I did add one 3,000 word section: one of the stories I’d left out that several people were surprised not to find when it was first published. It is about going to see Cliff Richard with Paul McCartney and Peter Asher, going backstage and witnessing the uneasy relationship between the fifties star and the new usurpers (this was in 1965). It was fun choosing the pictures, and working with my friend Carla Borel who did most of the re-sizing for me. For example, here’s a picture from The Daily Mirror of Hoppy’s wedding. I was best man, I’m in background between the two lovebirds.

Hoppy's Wedding Daily Mirror 29 June,1968

Hoppy’s Wedding Daily Mirror 29 June,1968.

We made the cover a reference to Antonioni’s Blow Up poster, one of Mal Peachy’s brilliant ideas, so it’s all very sixties. That’s Sue Miles in the front, taken from a photograph by Ettore Sottsass in Milan in 1967.

www.inthesixties.com

In The Sixties cover

In The Sixties cover

At the same time, the same publishers are issuing British Underground Papers, the catalogue of the exhibition that James Birch and I have been working on that will be shown at James’s gallery beginning 28 September and running until 4 November. A22 Gallery. 22 Laystall Street. London EC1R 4PA. The show included sets of International Times, Oz, Ink, cOZmic comics, Nasty Tales, Gandalf’s Garden, Friends and Frendz, and the catalogue reproduces the front cover of every issue of every paper, so that’s been taking up quite a bit of time as well. There will be single issues for sale as well as posters and other sixties stuff. The painter Liam Ryan has been working hard getting the gallery ready. Here’s a picture of them discussing Liam’s fees:

Liam & James discuss fees

Liam & James discuss fees

 

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June 20, 2017

June saw two events to celebrate Richard Neville, co-founder of Australian Oz magazine (1963), and London Oz (in 1967). Richard died on 4th September 2016 and a number of his friends including Richard Adams and Tony Elliott put on an event at the Victoria & Albert Museum to celebrate his life. Louise Ferrier and Jim Anderson came over from Sydney for the event. There were speeches, but you can’t expect several hundred people, most of whom had not seen each other in decades, to keep quiet so as a formal event it was a bit of a disaster; as a celebrate of Richard it was a great success. The affair was opened by Tristram Hunt, the V&A’s new director. It’s extraordinary to think that he was born in 1974, the year after Oz went out of business. As is usual at these events I saw people I had not seen since the sixties, and a whole lot of familiar looking people whose name I could not recall. I’m sure we all had the same experience. And of course, conspicuous by their absence were those friends from the underground press who are no longer with us: Hoppy (John Hopkins), Felix Dennis, Mickey Farren; it’s a long list. There were drinks afterwards across the street at the Rembrandt Hotel. Here’s a snap of the three Jameses (or Jims, if you will): Anderson, Moores, Birch at the bar.

The Three Jameses-Anderson,Moores,Birch.

The Three Jameses-Anderson,Moores,Birch.

The next day, 18 June, Tony Elliott and Janey hosted a garden lunch party at their house in Primrose Hill to enable people to spend more time together. I talked until I almost lost my voice. All the usual suspects were there, and more. Here you have Richard Adams’s hat, Michael Horovitz, Louise Ferrier, Marion Hills, Jim Anderson and Jeff Dexter.

Tony & Janey's party.pg

Tony & Janey’s party.

 

 

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July 10, 2017

On 27 June I went to the private view of Natalie du Pasquier’s show at Pace. She is a French artist who has lived and worked in Milan for decades. In keeping with her origins as a founder member, with Ettore Sottsass and George Dowden of the Memphis Group, her work shows her to be a terrific colourist and a master of that dodgy area between painting and sculpture. She built a separate room in the centre of the gallery which contained paintings of paintings, but even there the colours were so intense that it was hard to see what was three dimensional and what was flat. This is a sculpture, for instance, on a real plinth against a red wall:

Natalie's show at Pace

Natalie’s show at Pace

 

There was an after pv dinner in Soho and here we are, avoiding the London rain.

Natalie du Pasquier at Pace, Burlington Gardens

Natalie du Pasquier at Pace, Burlington Gardens.

 

I went straight from there to Bergamo for the literary festival. I was interviewed onstage in the open arcade beneath the medieval town hall, the Palazzo della Ragione with Bergamo’s amazing cathedral to the left and Piazza Vecchia to the right. This was where most of the events took place, open to the public for free, with a huge video screen behind the stage, and free wine for the audience! (and speakers). There was a translator whispering in my right ear, so that I could understand the questions. Here’s a view from the stage, as the audience were getting seated.

11-My audience in Bergamo getting seated-July 2

My audience in Bergamo getting seated, July 2.

Afterwards one of my Italian publishers, Sergio Bestente, took a group of us, including the writer and musician Vittorio Bongiorno to dinner at a rooftop restaurant. When the cathedral bells struck 10:00pm, all the lights went out and we were left with just candles. After a few minutes, they came back on again. We thought maybe it was a power cut but the waitress explained that 10:00 used to be the curfew, when everyone was supposed to blow out their candles and go to sleep. This tradition is still referenced in the present day. We had tried to get into the huge communal restaurant, owned by its staff, but it was booked solid so we could only manage a drink there.

M,Sergio,Catherine,Vittorio Bongiorno.

M,Sergio,Catherine,Vittorio Bongiorno.

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June 10, 2017

At the end of May we went to Liverpool to see the Tonight At Noon exhibition organised by Catherine Marcangeli to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound by Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. This poetry anthology became a best seller and took poetry out of the academies and into the street, if only for a little while. The exhibition was held at the Liverpool Central Library and, for me – someone who ran a bookshop in the mid-sixties – it was wonderful to see the magazines and ephemera from the period, including many manuscripts and photographs, now lovingly displayed in vitrines. Catherine did a superb job: it really was like time travel. If only Liverpool Council had come up with the money for a catalogue, as originally promised. Running simultaneously, just across the road in St. George’s Hall, was another exhibition organised by Catherine, this time of the visual artwork of Adrian Henri and again, including a number of little known pieces.

While up North we visited Antony Gormley’s wonderful ‘Another Place’ in Crosby: one hundred slightly over life-size (unless he is bigger than I thought) cast-iron statues spread out across three kilometers of the Mersey shore and also, even more dramatically, a kilometer out into the sea. Not to be missed if you are in the area.

One of 100 Gormleys + Miles.

One of 100 Gormleys + Miles.

Gormley with another in the distance.

Gormley with another in the distance.

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20 April 2017

After spending some time in SW France and a few days in Paris, Rosemary and I went on our travels. I rarely go anywhere that is not related to work; usually book festivals; but this was pure pleasure. I had always wanted to see the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and looking at the way Turkey was going, we decided that it might be a case of now or never. The building encompasses the whole history of western architecture from Roman until the present. It has influenced countless other structures and it is almost a miracle that it is still standing. From 537AD until 1453 this giant Roman basilica was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. With the arrival of Mehmed the Conqueror it was converted into a mosque, but most of the Christian mosaics were plastered over rather than being destroyed. In 1935, under Atatürk, it was converted into a museum. It is one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever visited; up there with the Alhambra and Borobudur.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

I am not particularly keen on Ottoman architecture except for the mosaics but we had to see the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans. The palace museum was crowded with pilgrims, there to see Muhammed’s mantle, his bowl, his swords, one of his teeth, some whiskers from his beard and, my favourite, his footprint, left on a rock. However, unlike the other relics, this one is probably not genuine. It was extraordinary to see some of the pilgrims: there was a large group of nuns from Indonesia who had come there after a visit to Mecca. They looked cold in the inclement weather.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

The Hagia Sophia is late Roman, and Istanbul is filled with Roman remains, not the least the four and half kilometers of surviving walls and guard towers. We stayed at the Hotel Fehmi Bey, a modest affair a few doors down the street from the Hippodrome and its three surviving statues. (we were there in March low season, when it was only £23 a night including breakfast. Fehmibey.com) On the other side of the Hippodrome was the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, you could not get closer to the main tourist sites. The most extraordinary thing about the hotel was that in the centre of the window looking onto the street was a Burroughs Adding Machine, the very one invented by William S. Burroughs grandfather. For me that was a good omen. I liked the place even before I went inside. It turns out the hotel’s owner is a collector of obsolete office equipment but it was the Burroughs Adding machine that achieved pride of place.

Burroughs Adding Machine in window

Burroughs Adding Machine in window

It is very expensive to get insurance for the old traditional wooden buildings of Istanbul and many of them are falling down for lack of care. There does still appear to be some restoration going on which is good, even if it is only being done to attract tourists.

Some buildings need a bit of work

Some buildings need a bit of work

All over the old section of Istanbul you are aware that beneath your feet are the remains of palaces and wonderful Roman buildings. The largest mosaic in the world is there, in situ, in the Mosaic museum. We went twice, the work is so beautiful. But most of the time you are just aware that the uneven topography is caused by un-excavated ruins. The Roman remains include a number of huge cisterns, the largest of which re-uses several huge medusa heads as column bases. They were of no further use as Gods when the Roman Empire became Christian but made solid foundations for columns in this huge, underground reservoir.

The Roman Cistern

The Roman Cistern

Medusa head

Medusa head

Medusa head

Medusa head

I loved Istanbul which is suffering tremendously from the lack of tourists. Now that Erdogan has assumed almost dictatorial powers I am concerned for the future there: for intellectuals, publishers, news reporters, editors and academics, all of whom are seen as the enemy of the reactionary right. For the same reasons I am also concerned for our future in Britain under Brexit, America’s under Trump, and the appalling thought that Le Pen might gain power in France. These are bad times.

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16 April 2017

I have neglected the blog in recent months; apologies to any of my regular readers for not keeping up. I have been travelling a lot, including a publicity trip to Milan in February, where Il Saggiatore have published Call Me Burroughs in Italian. They had previously published In The Seventies and do a beautiful job on production. I am in venerable company: their list includes Sartre, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Genet. I was there for a small Allen Ginsberg Festival where I was interviewed on-stage. The publishers had even made a 15 minute short film on Ginsberg for the Italian audience. They publish his Selected Poems as well as other later books. I had a pleasant lunch with the publisher, and owner of the company Luca Formenton, who has a wonderfully enlightened approach to publishing: not looking for instant chart topping best sellers, but believing that there is a big enough audience in Italy for a catalogue of intelligent books, which he always keeps in print. The ‘tail’ as it is known in publishing. The company is doing well and he is clearly liked by his staff. So different than with some publishers I have known.

One extraordinary thing happened at the festival, which was held in an old factory converted into an enormous arts space. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and it was George Sowden, a friend from art school days whom I had not seen for 50 years. He left Britain in 1970 to work with Ettore Sottsass and was one of the founders, with Ettore, of the Memphis Group of designers in 1981. He has lived in Milano ever since and is still at work (sowdendesign.com). He invited me back to his place for dinner and we tried to quickly catch up on half a century’s news. It was great to see him again and to meet his wife, the artist Nathalie Du Pasquier in their loft which was conveniently near my hotel.

The Duomo always looks like its about to take off

The Duomo always looks like its about to take off

Unfortunately the weather in Milan was not that great, but I did manage to see a few sights. I had to walk down the via Manzoni to reach the Duomo, and so I passed the apartment block where Sue Miles and I stayed with Ettore Sottsass and his wife, Fernanda Pivano, back in 1967. Ettore had two flats, one above the other. In the one below he kept nothing but design research, housed in cabinets and plan chests. Everywhere you went with Ettore he would collect the beer mats, book matches, and, I remember one lobster dinner with him in New York, when he folded up his paper bib, which he had been careful not to stain, and filed it in his briefcase. He was in New York to judge a lampshade competition. At the via Manzoni he and Nanda did not cook. Anything you wanted, even a cup of coffee, was sent out for and a waiter, in a long white apron to his ankles, would come across the street from the Grand Hotel across the street. ‘Don’t look at the menu’ said Nanda, ‘Just order anything you feel like eating.’ Nanda was Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs’ Italian translator, which is how I knew her.

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