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by Matthew Levi Stevens

I was a 14 year old schoolboy, and already a huge fan of William S. Burroughs, when I first made contact with Industrial Music pioneers Throbbing Gristle.  A year-or-so later I wanted to write something about them for a fanzine that I had put together with a loose collective of friends.  We were very much inspired by the DIY ethos of Punk, which as the end of the 70s ran into the 80s would fuel a veritable tsunami of underground ‘zines, and an attendant cassette-culture that saw ideas & images, sounds & words being exchanged around the world in a decentralized ‘movement’ that was like nothing so much as the internet – just before the computers. Throbbing Gristle were at the heart of this, of course, with their “Information War” attitude – which was in itself inspired by their readings of William S. Burroughs & Brion Gysin, as were their tape-recorder experiments.

No sooner had I met them than TG split, and one half became ‘Psychic Television Limited’, with its attendant Conceptual Art gag masquerading as Fan-Club pretending to be a Cult, ‘Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’ (sic), and for a while I was part of an inner circle that revolved around a strange hybrid of the ideas of Occultists Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare as regards consciousness alteration, dream control, & “sex-magic” [TOPY running curiously parallel – and at times feeding into – the then-emerging Chaos Magic(k) scene in much the same way as Industrial had Punk], and equally the life & work of Burroughs & Gysin, with their Cut-Ups, Dreamachine, Playback, and Third Mind offering a kind of toolkit for similar ends. It looked like if the Revolution was going to be televised after all, then Psychic TV would be first in line to put in their bid for the franchise…

September, 1982, and William S. Burroughs is in town for The Final Academy. Psychic TV are prime movers, and thanks to Genesis P-Orridge I have a ringside seat. Everybody wants to get their books signed, or have their photo taken with “Uncle Bill” as he is affectionately known. I choose to do neither, deliberately. As well as the PTV connection, I am in touch with J. G. Ballard, Eric Mottram, Jeff Nuttall, and know Bill’s old pal Alex Trocchi; I am also a skinny, pale, intense, bookish young boy of nearly 16. I’m sure none of any of these details hurt. Eventually I am in just the right place at just the right time…

When I get a chance to speak to William in person, I ask him about Magic – very much a preoccupation of the scene at that time – and whether he would care to recommend any books on the subject? Without hesitation he mentions Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense, even though he qualifies it as “a bit old-fashioned.” Then, without prompting on my part, he begins to talk of Black Magic and Curses in Morocco, travelling with Medicine Men up the Amazon, and Astral Projection and Dream Control. I realise that for Burroughs all this is UTTERLY REAL, the “Magical Universe” in fact. He tells me about a dream he had as a young man, working as an exterminator in Chicago: of watching from a helpless Out-of-Body point of view, floating above the bed, as his body got up and went out with some unknown and sinister purpose that he was powerless to influence. With a shudder, he tells me that possession is “still the basic fear.”

He asks if I would like to “get some air” and we take a walk round the block. To break the ice, I talk about books: he is delighted to discover that I have read his beloved Denton Welch, also J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment With Time. I have found them in my old school library, and know both have been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. Aware of his interest I also mention that I have just read Colin Wilson’s The Quest For Wilhelm Reich, published the year before. He likes Wilson, he says, jokes that “the Colonel” with his cottage in Wales in Wilson’s Return of the Lloigor and his own Colonel Sutton-Smith from The Discipline of DEare one and the same.  On something of a roll, I mention Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits, and he acknowledges that it has “some good information” – but is much more enthusiastic about Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway…

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