Jun 262012

As I have an especial love of poker books, I decided to do a round-up of my faves from then til now. Most of these aren’t really oddities, but they are books. We will begin with:

Education of a Poker Player by Hubert O. YardleyEducation of a Poker Player, Hubert O. Yardley (1957)

Probably the first poker book I ever read, I’ve had this one for years. Yardley presents it as his autobiography though one suspects that it is at the very least heavily fictionalized. The main part of the book recounts poker table tales from the narrator’s boyhood as apprenticed to the tough-but-fair Monty who runs a backroom poker game and at the end of every night (and every chapter) gives Yardley a lesson. His apprenticeship begins at the age of 16, in 1905! Generally these lessons can be summarized by “play tight” which is probably the best advice for the game as of 100 years ago, especially as played with drunken degenerate gamblers.

Great stories involving arcane rulings on such unlikely situations as “he died holding the winning hand – what do we do now?” Reminds me a bit of the film A Big Hand for the Little Lady (IMDB).

It is said that sooner or later everyone of any note comes to the Café de la Paix in Paris to sip a drink and watch the crowd. I read somewhere that a detective, looking for a murderer from Indianapolis, Indiana, took up a position at the Café, sure that his man would show up.

Well, the detective might just as well have chosen Monty’s Place. To my young mind, everyone of note came there to lose his money–itinerant trainmen, barbers, magicians, actors, jugglers, owners of shows, drummers, coal operators, land speculators, farmers, poultry-men, cattlemen, liverymen. And of course there were the usual town bastards, drug addicts, idiots, drunkards, not to mention the bankers, small businessmen, preachers, atheists and old soldiers. There was also Doc Prittle, the local sawbones, who bragged he’d taken a six-weeks’ course in medicine at Prairie City and had a diploma to show for it. (I can’t include the whores, because they were not admitted in Monty’s Place, where men could tell a dirty story without fear of offending feminine ears.)

The second part of the book takes place in China, where Yardley was working for the State Department as a spy–I guess during World War II, though possibly before the Americans were in Asia. In this section the book is slightly marred by the sort of patronizing racist attitude towards the inscrutable oriental that was typical of the time, but still enoyable, as in this passage:

The next morning we were on our way to the tailor’s, where I had ordered several suits of clothes. The tailor, while fitting me, began to jabber to Ling.

“What does he say?” I asked.

Ling spat judiciously, Western-style. “He wants to know what side of your trousers you wear your waterspout.”

“Well, I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch,” I said, imitating Monty after all these years. “Tell the bastard he flatters me.”

Next, the poker book sine qua non–the one that changed it all, yes of course I refer to the great

Super/System: A Course in Power Poker, Doyle Brunson (1978)

The virgule is actually absent from my copy. Nobody ever really knew why it was there, but they should never have removed it. Actually the original original title was How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker which is great. I remember seeing a book in the Loompanics catalog called Play Poker, Quit Your Job, and Sleep ’til Noon which I never read, but liked the look of. How to Play Poker, Quit Your Job and Sleep til NoonIn fact, the internet has helpfully provided a thumbnail of’t:

Anyhoo, that’s what we in the business call “digressive”. But, speaking of digressive, this calls to mine another excellent poker book I read some years back before Super/System. I sure can’t recall the title, all I remember was that it was dedicated to teaching how to beat your dear friends like red-headed stepchildren, using such gambits as late in the evening throwing a submarine sandwich into a big pot that you don’t want anyone folding “just for fun” etc. A fine book. If anyone comes across this post and can remember the title to me, well, that would be dandy. I was recently watching the PokerStars.net Big Game on pokertube.com (nobody paid me to say so, by the way) and one of the pros referenced that very gimmick from that book but sadly they didn’t recall the title neither.

Now, Super/System. The great Doyle Brunson, one of the (if not the) old-school all-round Texas road gamblers, edited this hefty slab of formerly occult poker know-how with contributions from other top players, each explaining the ins and outs of the different varieties of the game, with chapters on draw, stud, lowball, razz, eck cetra.

The typography in this book is fantastic. I would guess these are reprinted from the original galleys and thankfully it’s never been re-typeset. Headings in Cooper Black, frequent Capitalization For Effect, bold and italic formatting applied liberally (/randomly), etc.

Apart from the type, the caricatures of the authors at the start of every chapter, and of course, the great poker folklore, Super/System is full of great advice on how to think about poker–probability, bankroll management and psychology, as well as the particulars of each different type of game.

Doyle Brunson's _Super System_For many people, Super/System was their first introduction to playing poker analytically, to win. Initially, I think Brunson caught a lot of flack from poker pros who thought he was giving away trade secrets, but as this book played a part in ushering in the current huge popularity of the game, they soon changed their tune. My impression is that something similar happened with the popularization of card-counting in the blackjack world. For every successful card-counter able to turn a profit, there are plenty of degenerate gambler types who half-ass card-counting to the casinos’ advantage.

 BE AS COMPETITIVE AS YOU CAN BE

Few people realize who intensely competitive you must be to become a good Poker player. I couldn’t play Poker just for fu, and I don’t think many of the top Professionals could. I’ve always played to win, and whenever I could discover any bad habits, I’ve tried to eliminate them just as I would try to eliminate mistakes in a business I might be running.

Use your best game against anybody you play. Many of the top Pros are close friends, but they almost never give each other a break in a game. Sailor Roberts, for instance, is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. He helped pick me up when I was young and unknown and broke. But when I play cards with Sailor, I do my level best to cut his throat and he tries to cut mine. It’s been like that from the time we met. In fact, the first time we played he broke me.

In the trade, this characteristic is called Alligator Blood, and it is highly valued and respected. It means you’ll do anything within the rules to win. You try to have special moves, such as making a slow, hesitant call in place of a fast call, when a man might bet at you again (after the next card is turned up in Hold ‘em). You might set a trap for him by leading him to believe you’re betting a hand which is a slight favorite, when you actually have a hand that’s practically unbeatable.

I go into a Poker game with the idea of completely destroying it.

(Doyle Brunson)

Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker, Doyle Brunson (2005)

Next “the most anticipated book in the history of poker”, which may not have been hyperbole. Saner typography, virgule permanently exiled from title, caricatures, illustrations and photos more professional. So the presentation is a bit of a letdown. However, the content is excellent. Includes a chapter by Doyle’s son Todd on 7-Stud. Also chapters by Jennifer Harman, Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, and others.

My favorite part is a series of lessons from the Mike Caro University of Poker (www.poker1.com). Doyle credits Caro as the best 5-Card Draw player in the history of the game. He’s known for his creative approach to the game. He used to be known as “Mad Man Mike Caro” because of his technique of babbling incessant nonsense and making seemingly nonsensical bluffs, blind bets, etc. The method to his madness was four-fold (at least!). First of all, playing with someone who seems to be crazy is distracting, even if you suspect he’s not quite as crazy as he pretends to be. Secondly, under cover of crazy chatter, he could subtly influence the other players’ impression of his holding. For instance, with a high two pair he might draw one card, put out a very large bet and then babble along the lines of “You’re probably wondering if I made my flush or not, well, let me tell you, I did. Ace-high flush! Fantastic! Or maybe I have nothing at all in which case I’ll be pretty sorry if you make the call I guess, but I’m not too worried, because I do have it so I know I’ve got you anyhow unless I’m making a complete bluff.” He has talked his opponent into considering the decision as a binary one – either he made his flush or he’s bluffing. The opponent has seen him make plenty of crazy plays or at least *represent* crazy plays effectively so he thinks it’s fairly likely that Caro missed; after all, that draw is only 20% likely to hit! A player with a saner table image would not be able to be so blatant about this manipulation. Caro also does things like root for his opponent. He plays as well as he can in order to win, but in the process he roots for his opponent to get lucky. He says this makes it easier for him to have fun as he plays because it means he’s happy no matter whether he wins or the other guy does. It’s also a way of psychologically reinforcing the principle that if you play properly, you’ll tend to win – it’s not about what happens in any one pot. Here are a few of Mike’s excellent tips:

MONEY YOU DON’T LOSE… buys just as many things as money you win

…Here’s the way I explain the concept at live seminars. If you’re losing $9,225 ina $50/$100 limit game, it probably won’t feel much different to you if you lose $9,925 instead. Even though logically you know that the difference is $700, emotionally it doesn’t seem like $700 you can spend. When you lose $9,225, you’re thinking of that money no longer being available. Same goes for losing $9,925. You’re not thinking that you can spend anything, in either case. But you can!

If you lost just $9,225, you’d still have $700 to spend that you wouldn’t have i fyou had lost $9,925. Obvious, I know. But the difference doesn’t feel like much in the heat of poker combat. When you began playing for the day, though, you would have felt that you were ahead if you’d won $700 – obviously. That’s because it would be very clear to you that you have $700 extra to buy things with. Well, the same is true if you play as well as you can when you’re running bad and cut the loss by $700 through superior play. You have $700 to spend, even though, in our example, you lost over $9,000.

If you’re unable to see it that way, maybe this will help. Suppose you were having a really rotten year and had lost $240,000. Now a genie pops out of a bottle. Don’t snicker – this actually happens to me regularly. The genie says “Wanda,” assuming your name is Wanda, which it might not be, “I can rewrite history and make you even for the year.”

You say, “That’s great, genie! Thank you so very much!”

“There’s just one thing I need to know.”

“I knew there was a catch,” you complain.

“Just tell me,” the genie continues, ignoring your unappreciative remark, “whether you want me to rewrite history by adding a little to each of your wins, so that they total $240,000 more, or take a little from each of your losses so that they total $240,000 less.”

Immediately you blurt, “I don’t care, genie. It doesn’t matter. Just do it.”

And then you recognize the meaning of your words. It really doesn’t matter, because saving a little from each loss – even a big loss – is just as important as adding to a win. It’s not amost the same money or theoretically the same money, but exactly the same money. And once you realize the truth of this, you will always play poker with the same amount of care, whether you’re winning or losing. It always matters equally.

TABLES WITH LAUGHTER ARE THE MOST PROFITABLE. Avoid silence!

IF YOU AVERAGE A BIG PROFIT BY CALLING… you’re not calling enough!

(I love this one – I’m reminded of the corollary I’ve heard before, which is that if you find your bluffs never get picked off you aren’t bluffing enough. Both of these are illustrations of the pitfalls of “results-orientated” thinking, that is to say looking at an individual success and being happy about it rather than looking at the overall profitability of your play as a whole. So if your bluffs are always successful, you tend to think of yourself as very good at bluffing rather than realizing that if you are missing bluff opportunities, you are losing equity)

POKER’S STUPIDEST QUESTION: “Why didn’t you quit when you were $17,000 ahead?”

…Here’s the main reason that “Why didn’t you quite when you were $17,000 ahead?” is the stupidest question in poker: When you win $50,000, nobody ever asks it.

May 132012

Sigh. The captcha plugin I’m using is apparently not strong enough. I’ll optimize at some stage but until then, disabling comments again!

Spammers are also welcome to comment if they are willing to take the trouble to get past the captcha plugin.

Mar 202012

Hello loyal readers (plural there questionable). I’ve been a little overwhelmed by spam so for the moment I’m disabling commenting. I’ll probably add captcha and re-enable soon.

I Live Again front coverI Live Again back cover

I Live Again Warwick Deeping

I don’t have much to say about this book. Haven’t read it and don’t plan to. I like the color coding! Very convenient. If it was coded red I’d be more likely to read it.

She stopped me. She had a loving voice. Almost, it caressed me.

“John–”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You were pert to Sir Hubert.”

“He was insolent to me, ma’am.”

“La, is that possible? But, John, I wish to test you.”

“You devil,” thought I, “you lovely devil. Am I a wasp to be trapped in a jampot?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said I.

“Sir Hubert is a very impetuous gentleman. If I walk with him–I would have you near.”

I nearly spilled the water when she said this. I seemed to know that something terrible would happen in the days that were to come.

I like this usage of the word ‘pert’, I’ve never heard it used this way. I guess it’s related to ‘impertinent’ probably.

Cover of Eugene Landy's Underground DictionaryThe Underground Dictionary Dr. Eugene Landy

A friend got this for me probably because he knew my love for lexicons and thought I would “dig it” but what he didn’t realize was that this is actually that Eugene Landy – Omnitherapist of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson!

To put it mildly, Landy was criticized for his approach with Wilson and other celebrity clients (including Alice Cooper and Rod Steiger). He was able to get Brian off (street) drugs and maintain some sort of psychological stability through a program of 24-hour control, alienation from friends and family and lots of pharmaceuticals. For years I believe. He wound up in legal trouble and surrendered his license to practice in California, relocating to Hawaii.

This is the story I’ve heard anyhow.

Reminds me (tangentially) of one of my favorite cults of the early 1970s, Synanon. I would guess this is the group parodied in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly – inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous, used recovery from drug addiction (mostly heroin I believe) basically as a front for cult recruitment. They claimed 100% success rate which I would imagine was accurate. I read a great book on Synanon (speaking of books) a while back but I don’t still have it nor do I remember what it was called. I feel like I heard lately there is a Synanon movie in the works, which stands to reason. Oh, and by the way, like any self-respecting California cult of the early 1970s, they did wind up shaving their heads and driving around in dune buggies with semi-automatic rifles.

While I’m digressing, ever hear of Narconon? I guess this is Scientology’s answer to Synanon.

Through digressing now, back to the Underground Dictionary. Not as much fun as you might think, though I do like:

gum n. A substance on which to get high. Soft mint-flavored gum is wrapped around banana peel; the whole is enclosed in green pepper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and put in a dark place for six weeks. It is then baked at 200° F. and the crust is scraped and smoked. From The Hippy’s Handbook, by Ruth Bronsteen.

Wow, that’s a lot more elaborate than the Yippie recipe for smoking banana peels (aka mellow yellow). The Hippy’s Handbook is unfindable for love nor money. I now must have it. Twenty dollar reward offered in cash for copy in any condition, as long as all pages and most of the cover is present.

mohair n. Black female with hair in natural style.

Mickey Mouse n. Policeman.

PS. Actually just did a little research on Synanon and discovered that (1) it was founded in 1958 (!) only becoming a wacky cult when it transformed into the Church of Synanon in the early 70s, and (2) there already was a Synanon movie (IMDB) in 1965! Still would like to see a good documentary that tells the whole story. And that still has nothing to do with Dr. Landy’s book.

Brian Eno - A Year With Swollen AppendicesA Year with Swollen Appendices Brian Eno

When is a book not a book? When it’s a diary.

What I mean by that is that a diary isn’t a book in the sense that a novel is. It’s a mode of communication, but not to a mass audience. It employs the book-machine for its physical workings, to facilitate a bundle of 365 pages, but in most cases a diary is something to be filled a page at a time, then filed and quite possibly never read again.

Some say that diaries are always kept with an imagined future somewhere in the back of the mind, that you must imagine the trivia of your daily life will become important when you do (probably long after your demise), and scholars of the future perhaps will pore over your daily record. Or maybe even that your random ideas while riding the tube will be discovered to be of such import that your diary will be published! In Brian Eno’s case, why wait? At least for the last few months of 1994, he knew he would be publishing his diary for that year – the first year he managed to continue to keep his diary past January.

Brian Eno is a funny character. He’s likeable, he’s a lower-case ‘g’ genius, or he has been from time to time. He strikes me as a certain type of intellect, that I have a kinship with, a wandering dilettante – here I’m talking about his interests outside music. I imagine he is technically a great producer and musician, certainly he has created and produced some amazing albums (remember albums?)… an art student, a wag. Not quite in love with himself enough to be a dandy. I always imagined him as an idle rich, I mean that he grew up with wealth and privilege and all that, but apparently he was the son of a postman, the wealth came later. And seemingly never idle, au contraire, so what am I talking about? I mean, I guess, that there is an atmosphere around him that he will always be supported on this bubble of wealth, that it’s a very long time since he had to make a decision based on likelihood of being able to pay the rent. And this has probably been true for some time even though it wasn’t a condition he was born into. And I should point out that I don’t mean this as a criticism of him, moreso that he has an air of a gentleman with the leisure to experiment, which is actually a great mode.

Much of his diary logs sessions working with U2 – when I heard he was producing them, it depressed me. In my mind marked the decline of his career, the zenith being his album Here Come the Warm Jets. This is my own personal prejudice of course. U2 has for the most part been one of my least favorite rock groups (of course – they are abominable). No mention in here of the saga of U2′s label bankrupting Negativland for having the temerity to do a parodic remix of U2′s ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. The members of U2 expressed their sympathy with Negativland but insisted they had no influence on the decision-making by the label (ho, ho)… This is a digression. The film Sonic Outlaws tells the story, and more stories of copyright infringement/remix culture better than I could anyhow.

This is a fun read, full of names dropped, if only because these are the sort of people he hobnobs with. “Dinner with Laurie and Lou where we discussed Andy”. (Anderson, Reed, Warhol, one assumes). And lots of reflections on modern life and methodologies (oblique strategies) sometimes verging on Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts. That’s a little unfair. But no amount of fun-making is unfair when the person you are making fun of thought their own diary worthy of a mass audience! Really.

14 February

Beautiful sunny morning: early to studio (8.15). On the way in I saw Terry the greengrocer, the pleasantly weatherbeaten old jazzer who stands out all day on the corner. ‘Lovely day,’ I said. He agreed, and I said how I liked these cold bright days better than hot ones. ‘Oh I love them all,’ he said: ‘I’m just happy to be alive.’ I really think he’s telling the truth.

Long note to Stewart on the Net. Tidying up for Greenaway visit (he cancelled). Called Bono and had a long and interesting chat about soundtracks and the return of ‘big’ (and the end of ‘grey’). His feeling is towards making a positive, assertive, strong next record. Also talked about professorships and other accolades (he’s iust been nominated by some students for a poetry seat at Oxford).

Worked on Photoshop (moiré grids) and a piece of music aptly called ‘Cycle of Despair’. Desperate. Listening also to old microcassettes from many years ago (got that machine going). How strange to have these moments from so long ago – my Mum and Dad talking, a machine I liked the sound of in Long Island, a long forgotten conversation with a taxi-driver.

Went for a bike ride up Kilburn High Road. Saw a lady with her nose smashed in, sitting dazed in a heap of bloody tissues with a policeman nearby. The scene had an African quality about it: the nonchalance of the passers-by contrasted with the woman’s plight. Like that time at the festival in Ghana when the amputee was attacked by a swarm of bees and, after a few moments’ helpless and hysterical bouncing round on the ground, he just settled down and let them cover him. Everyone was watching and laughing.

Bought a computer for the girls! Performa 630 plus with all sorts of kids software.

Met with Barry Levine, music fixer for Judge Dredd, at 192. Doesn’t seem right for me. Hollywood usually makes me puke, I have to confess. If I were a little less snobbish I’d be cleverly ironic about it all and just take the money.

Home to dinner and rather fabulous Castillo Ygay ’68 or ’87 (not clear which! – tasted like ’68). Anthea and I talked through JAMES, Bowie, U2, Greenaway. All this work with others. When will it stop?

I love the juxtaposition of the amputee attacked by bees and the fabulous Castillo Ygay ’68.

10 November

Bill over to the studio in the morning, looking at my computers and chatting. He seems very happy. Letter to Van Morrison suggesting we try working like this: send me the tapes; I’ll fiddle and send them back.

Passengers getting a complete range of reviews – suitably controversial. But there is a good buzz about it. I wonder now whether U2 will adopt it as one of their own, rather than holding it at arm’s length and blaming it on me! Elvis Costello called re working on something for The X Files. Told me at length about his weekend in St Petersburg with a group of repulsive Anglos gloating over the chaotic collapse of Communism.

Paul Simon called: ‘l thought it long past time that we were in touch.’ He’s working on a musical about a fifties Puerto Rican gang murderer and his subsequent life in jail.

Bowie rang full of excitement about his concerts. Says he wants to work with Tricky and P.J. Harvey.

Here is a great story from the appendices:

Duchamp’s Fountain

The attempts to keep art special become increasingly bizarre. This was a
theme of a talk I gave at the Museum of Modem Art in New York as part of
the ‘HIGH ART/ LOW ART’ exhibition.

Looking round the show during the day, I noticed that Duchamp’s Fountain – a men’s urinal basin which he signed and exhibited in 1913 as the first ‘readymade’ – was part of the show. I had previously seen the same piece in London and at the Biennale of Sao Paolo.

I asked someone what they thought the likely insurance premium would be for transporting this thing to New York and looking after it. A figure of $30,000 was mentioned. I don’t know if this is reliable, but it is certainly credible. What interested me was why, given the attitude with which Duchamp claimed he’d made the work – in his words, ‘complete aesthetic indifference’ – it was necessary to cart precisely this urinal and no other round the globe. It struck me as a complete confusion of understanding: Duchamp had explicitly been saying, ‘I can call any old urinal – or anything else for that matter – a piece of art’, and yet curators acted as though only this particular urinal was A Work Of Art. If that wasn’t the case, then why not exhibit any urinal – obtained at much lower cost from the plumber’s on the corner?

Well, these important considerations aside, I‘ve always wanted to urinate on that piece of art, to leave my small mark on art history. I thought this might be my last chance – for each time it was shown it was more heavily defended. At MoMA it was being shown behind glass, in a large display case. There was, however, a narrow slit between the two front sheets of glass. It was about three-sixteenths of an inch wide.

I went to the plumber’s on the corner and obtained a couple of feet of clear plastic tubing of that thickness, along with a similar length of galvanized wire. Back in my hotel room, I inserted the wire down the tubing to stiffen it. Then I urinated into the sink and, using the tube as a pipette, managed to fill it with urine. I then inserted the whole apparatus down my trouser-leg and retumed to the museum, keeping my thumb over the top end so as to ensure that the urine stayed in the tube.

At the museum, I positioned myself before the display case, concentrating intensely on its contents. There was a guard standing behind me and about 12 feet away. I opened my fly and slipped out the tube, feeding it carefully through the slot in the glass. It was a perfect fit, and slid in quite easily until its end was poised above the famous john. I released my thumb, and a small but distinct trickle of my urine splashed on to the work of art.

That evening I used this incident, illustrated with several diagrams showing from all angles exactly how it had been achieved, as the basis of my talk. Since ‘decommodification’ was one of the buzzwords of the day, I described my action as ‘re-commode-ification’.

I guess there are some replicas of Duchamp’s Urinal floating around, but the point Eno is (willfully?) missing here is that just as Duchamp miraculously transformed a urinal into a work of art, the formerly anonymous object itself then becomes itself a document of art history (however Duchamp or Eno may have felt about it) – and its authenticity therefore is seen as important – whether it is or isn’t really – but it became a work of art whether it was or was not really already one (Duchamp: it was). The role of the curator clearly is not to recreate the second artistic act (Duchamp’s appropriation of a piece of folk art) but to administrate the transport and display of holy relics! For that matter, why was it important to use your own actual urine?

All that aside, diaries are a particular and peculiar book-form and I will be blogging on several more of them shortly.

Nov 042011

Murder By Gemini - Cannon NovelizationLet us take you back to a simpler time. The early 1970s when Quinn Martin reigned supreme. This was the television producer that brought us classics like:

  • The Fugitive
  • The Untouchables
  • The Invaders
  • The Streets of San Francisco
  • Cannon
  • Barnaby Jones
  • Quinn Martin’s Tales of the Unexpected (!)

All the QM shows I recall were divided (by ad breaks) into Acts with a title for each Act which was a real touch of class. Then after all the action played out and the bad guy was either in police custody or fell to his death from some tall thing at the end of Act IV, after the last commercial break would be the “Epilogue”. This is the part where maybe somebody makes a stupid joke and everyone freezes mid-guffaw. Or maybe Cannon has a moment with a lady friend as he tickles the ivories, I guess.

As for the book, I haven’t read it. Have I even opened it?

As Cannon turned left on Pike Avenue, it happened. A cloud of stinging, pungent gas gusted up from beneath the dash. Reflexively, he inhaled, got a whiff, then clamped his mouth shut to bite off his breath. The gas had tasted nutty. Bitter liquids rose in his throat. Cannon’s plump face purpled. He arched his back, pulled away from the gas and could no longer see to steer. Bridger, Wyoming, why oh why are you doing this to me? Another gust.

 

Here to Go: Planet R-101, Brion Gysin interviewed by Terry WilsonHere to Go: Planet R-101 Brion Gysin interviewed by Terry Wilson

Brion Gysin is a pretty interesting guy. Along with his friend William S. Burroughs and a few others, he falls into a category that I don’t have a name for but his work is somewhere in the intersection of magic, art and science. Science, I guess, not in the sense of rigorous application of the scientific method, but rather the kind of screwing around that leads to scientific discovery. For now I’m going to call it ‘parascience’ which if you think about is what all magic and art are, aren’t they?

This book is a collection of interviews conducted by his friend Terry Wilson interpolated with relevant excerpts from various of Gysin’s writings including “Interzone”, a portion of his screenplay adapted from Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

Burroughs and Gysin 1965

W.S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, NYC, 1965. Final still from Anthony Balch's The Cut-ups

Most of Gysin’s experimentation over the years seems to be concerned with transcendence of the mundane earthly plain through various more-or-less mechanical methods:

incantation-like ‘permutation poems’ that cycle through the combinations of a set of words or symbols;

the dreamachine (do-it-yourself flicker device that can induce visual hallucination and/or trigger seizures), inspired by Gysin but developed by Ian Sommerville;

magical slide and film projections;

(most famously) cut-ups of the printed word, of audio tape, of film;

paintings of repetitive fields of scribbled shapes that resemble glyphs or maybe those maps made of human eye movements.

Both Gysin and W.S. Burroughs give the impression of being secret agents in the employ of some kind of (alien?) homosexual occult secret society trans-global (interplanetary?) (counter-) conspiracy. I hope to have some more entries on the both of them at some stage. I thought I had a copy of The Third Mind around here somewhere which is a collaborative work they did. If it doesn’t turn up I’ll use blogging about it as an excuse to re-acquire it.

I must share this video of Gysin doing some of his work:

goodnight eileen
B Am I gonna have to shout?
T Yeh-
B I’m surprised that you’ve even heard of Eileen Garrett . . .
T Well, I know that she was a directvoice medium . . . she was supposed to be on the payroll, wasn’t she, of the . . . CIA?
B God knows—they all are . . .
T Do they have a lot of these types of people?

Brion Gysin 1935

Brion Gysin c. 1935

B They believed in it very much indeed, they went to a great deal of, uh, trouble . . . about which one hears only rumors, but both the Russians and the Americans have been interested in telepathy, mind control, for purposes of control, yes.
T Yes. And she’s no longer alive?
B No, she died a few years ago (1970) in the South of France.
T Nice?
B Yeah, believe . . .
T Yeah . . . I remember William saying something there, that there was nothing in the papers, it was completely—
B Yes, one found that rather curious, because she had at one time been very much of a publicity star and had been talked about and written about in the 1920s, 1930s . . . was a publisher in New York in the 1940s . . . was obviously very much in contact with the sort of people who later became the CIA, I suppose . . .
T And I phoned, I believe, the Spiritualist Association in London to try and find out something about her . . . and, uh, blank, they didn’t want to know . . . to speak about her at all . . . they said that they thought she’d passed over.
B That’s all? . . . Well, there’s obviously some strange conspiracy of silence about Eileen, I don’t know . . . I met her in insane circumstances . . . I was in the Canadian Army attached to some Scots regiment at that time; I arrived in New York for a furlough of two weeks, wearing my uniform, and collapsed at a friend’s house . . . John LaTouche . . . a songwriter who wrote, oh, “Ballad For America” which Paul Robeson sang in the late 1930s, and then Touche worked on Broadway, he wrote the songs for Cabin in the Sky, “Taking A Chance On Love,” and lots of other things too, and was a marvelously funny, generous friend with whom I was very intimate indeed . . . and l just crashed at his pad which was in Washington Square on the top storey of a building in which Eleanor Roosevelt lived downstairs . . . and, uh, Roosevelt was President at that time . . . rather unusual to have a President’s wife with a flat of her own in the Greenwich Village area . . . and, uh, Touche said “Oh well, that is nothing . . . I’m gonna have all the weird ladies here this evening, and I hope that Eleanor will come too.” And I said, “Oh no, man, I just wanna relax and you’re gonna give a great big party, I’ll go away someplace.” He said, “No no no you must stay, I’ve invited all of the weird ladies who’re into the fourth dimension, and there’s going to be, uh . . . Evangeline Adams (who was the most famous astrologer at that time), there’s going to be Doctor Mamlock (who was a lady who read palms, a German refugee about which a movie was made, called Doctor Mamlock, about her husband’s death under the Nazis and whatnot, she was a sort of celebrity around New York) . . . and, uh, there was going to be . . . oh can’t remember his name now, Bob Somebody who’d been a wrestler in England in the 1930s when I went to school, had married Princess Baba of Sarawak who was the daughter of the Brooke family who owned the island of Sarawak and called themselves White Rajahs, and their children were called Princess Baba and Princess Pearl . . . Maybe it was Pearl who married this . . . wrestler . . . and I had heard nothing more of him until Touche said Oh! that he was going to be there too, and I said, “What’s he doing in this (laughing) galaxy of stars . . .?” And Touche said, “Oh, he’s doing hypnoanalysis for the American Air Force . . . and, uh, he’s great friends with all these people . . .

Eileen Garrett, medium

Eileen Garrett

And, there’s going to be Eileen Garrett, who’s going to be the Star of the Evening. And I said, “Who’s Eileen Garrett?” and he said, “What? You never heard of her? She was the woman who was arrested in England in 1920, whatever it was, under the Official Secrets Act because at a seance at Lady Londonderry’s—Lady Londonderry had a great salon of that period—she had gone into trance and contacted the captain of the British dirigible R-101, and he said, “The dirigible is on fire, we are going down,” so forth—“And it’s all the fault of these contractors at the Air Ministry who put in faulty material and swiped all the money” and so on—ah, there was a scandal . . . And indeed the R-101 did crash; the next day the news came that it had crashed: in Flanders, someplace between Belgium and France, something like that, and Eileen Garrett had given the name of the place that it was falling down to, and it turned out that the name of the place denoted a crossroads where there were only three houses on four sides of the crossroads; it had a name but it had a name only on the most secret military maps, it was not a name known to any except the peasants who lived there, or to the military authorities, and it was a hill a very short distance from this crossroads where the R-101 crashed and burned and everybody on board burned up with it—it was a hydrogen-filled balloon.* [* Actually there were six survivors. For the full story of the R-101 seances see John G. Fuller, The Airmen Who Would Not Die, 1979.]  And so Eileen was arrested because—how could she have known this; they didn’t believe in her fourth dimensional capacities, they believed there was another dimension . . . A-n-d . . . books had been written about this, and she had cleared her name, and she’d gone to Vienna where her extrapersonalities had been studied . . . not by Freud but by Adler, who was the nuttiest of all that group; in fact, he was a big coke head . . . and, uh, then books had been written about her and that she had these spirit guides, one of whom was a, I dunno, 16th century Persian at the court of Shah Jehan or something or other like that, on and on, all this kinda stuff, and uh, just while he was telling me all this the phone rang and, uh . . . I wish I could remember this, maybe I’ll remember the cat’s name . . . the one who was now, this Englishman who was now in American uniform doing hypnoanalysis for some secret US Air Force plan or plot, I don’t know, had phoned up to say that he couldn’t make it, and, uh, Touche said, “Oh, that’s terrible, because you had promised to come and cook the meal!” And he said, “Well, I just can’t come.” Touche then turned to his secretary, whom he was always bullying terribly, and said, “Philip, you must stay and make the food!” And “OOOhhh nnnoooo donwanna” . . . “No no, you must stay, that’s all there is to it—all these people are coming,” like that, there’s going to be Bessy Laski, who’s Jesse Laski’s wife . . ..y’know, Famous Players, founders of movies, going to be there; she’s bringing a young man who’s unfortunately losing his hair but he plays the Chinese lute so well and he’s a Mongolian gypsy and we hope that maybe his hair will grow again and maybe he can go back on the stage or something, and this was the first appearance of Yul Brynner in our lives . . . who never did get his hair back and got along very well without it (laughter). . . And, uh, so all have started to arrive, Bessy Laski, and Yul, and Evangeline Adams, and uh . . . Old Mama Mamlock and, uh, whole bunch of them like that—and no Eileen Garrett . . . So Touche said, “Oh, that’s just typical of her, she always tries to make an entrance; you’ll see, she’ll arrive, but she’ll arrive last” . . . she wasn’t gonna get there before any of the rest of these at all . . . daily twenty-four-hour-a-day game, naturally, being one up on your psychic opponent . . . So, uh, she did arrive, and she looked around and she said: “WHERE IS BOB? I’ve had a terrible fight with him, we’ve had this most intense psychic battle that’s been going on,” like that. “I have decided to do something absolutely terrible to him!” At that moment there was a BAAAAAAAAHH a great noise in the kitchen like that, and the secretary came out staggering with blood streaming from his hands and his face — he’d opened the oven and a glass pyrex dish had exploded and shot him full of glass splinters . . . Eileen said, “Oh dear!” she said, “I meant that for Bob! . . . Poor Philippe has been the victim and I shall never forgive myself!” And she swept away again; she wasn’t gonna sit there for some dumb dinner like that. She’d done her whole trick and made her effect and—she was like that, she was on the psychic jump all the time, on the psychic make . . . Uh, she immediately took one sweeping glance at my bare knees and my kilt, and asked the usual questions, which I showed her, that indeed one didn’t . . . umm wear anything underneath them . . . and the next evening she phoned up: (falsetto) “Who’s that charming young man in skirts? . . . Couldn’t you both come around to dinner?” . . . So that’s how I first got to know Eileen.

Wry Ego Dread

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Oct 102011

The Strange Case of Edward GoreyThe Strange Case of Edward Gorey Alexander Theroux

I grew up reading and loving Edward Gorey. His are the kind of books you might glance at and assume they are for children, then look inside with horror to find bludgeonings, beheadings, and (intimations of) all sorts of interpersonal depravity, though generally taking place out of frame, behind pillars, etc… But not always.

He reminds me a little sometimes of Hilaire Belloc, the same sort of arch, dark humor in the context, sort of, of work for children – I say ‘sort of’ because in Gorey’s case I don’t think he really did intend his work for children, though children I think generally love it – their capacity for imaginary violence and depravity much higher than adults give them credit for I think. I love the sinisterness, the obsessively crosshatched black chasms, obscure and ominous shapes on the horizon, peculiar old carpets and tall, thin, ghostly Victorian figures.

Edward Gorey, B is for Basil

A few things you may not have known about Edward Gorey:

  • Mostly self-taught in art
  • Harvard man (roomed with Frank O’Hara!), studied French
  • Lover of cats
  • Writer of plays
  • Illustrator of book jackets (not his own)
  • Collector of various things including teddy bears and fridge magnets
  • Lover of television, especially old movies on television

A sampling of Gorey’s favorite words and phrases:

  • “spiffy”
  • “icky”
  • “bunty”
  • “twee”
  • “cunning as a bisset”
  • “I would rather be smothered in bunny fur”

The book is published by Fantagraphics who have quite an amazing catalogue. It is a slim volume chock-full of interesting Goreyana as above, written by his friend and neighbor Alexander Theroux. For longtime Gorey-lovers like me it is a real treat to find out that the man himself is more or less just as we would have pictured him had we had the imagination to do so.

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