The Outrageous Lie (Part 2)

by Tobe Damit

Around 1969, Patti became quite involved with the Warhol drag-queen crowd They were part of the same cast in some plays and were all hanging out at Max’s Kansas City, It was around that time that they developed the concept of the Outrageous Lie. The idea was that if you simply lied, you would get caught but if you created an absolutely Outrageous Lie and truly believed it yourself, people would buy it, hook, line and sinker. During a rehearsal, Patti confessed that she had become pregnant at nineteen and as the baby grew inside her, it became impatient and it kicked until WHAM! A leg came right through her stomach wall and was hangin’ out! . ”Like all things that happen, it had a purpose. It was the right time for the Outrageous Lie. Everyone began to think of themselves in mythological proportions.” –From Patti Smith’ by Victor Bockris

Q and A with author Victor Bockris, esteemed chronicler of the New York Underground, about ”Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography” 

Patti Smith (Spanish Edition).
(Click HERE to read the review)
LAN: The most common editions on the market now say: ”Patti Smith:An Unauthorized Biography” by Victor Bockris. The copy I have doesn’t have the word ”Unauthorized” on the cover or anywhere else for that matter, so what’s the story?
Victor Bockris: O.K. I gave you the U.K. edition published in 1998 as opposed to the U.S. edition published in 1999. I prefer the first edition because it has more of a punk sound to it than its U.S. counterpart. I think Smith’s attorney asked us to add unauthorized on the cover. I never cease to be amazed by how little people in the rock business fail to understand the value of a good biography. After all the purpose of biography is to celebrate the subject’s achievements. I know my Keith Richards and Lou Reed biographies did their subjects a lot of good in six to ten countries. Keith was published to coordinate with release of his first solo album. Mine was the first book about Keith and the first to put his songwriting talents on the same level as McCartney and Dylan’s. I always had a hard time reading my books after they were published. So much time and work goes into them yet they seem woefully less than I expected. E.g.  I was surprised when the Smith book got published in four other countries.The simple fact is that I had not stopped writing biographies for more than a couple of weeks since 1983. I was burned out when I started to write the book in 1995 and things got worse end worse over the ensuing years. I should have taken a vacation before I began to research the Smith book,  but I was involved in an expensive marriage among other things. In hindsight I think an author who marries his work and sees his books as his children should not get married. Anyway, if is probably easier for American and Canadian fans to buy the U.S. edition, completed in collaboration with Roberta Bailey, from Amazon, etc. Those determined to get the U.K. edition would have to look for its black cover with Patti’s face partially obscured. Your review serves both books equally well because you really pinned the essence of the book.

 

LAN: Are there differences between the various editions??
Victor: The difference between the books is their length. The U.S. edition is sixty pages longer than the U.K. edition, but I think it’s just that I took longer to say the same thing. If anybody does a comparative reading of the two books I’d be glad to know whether they agree with me or not.
Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography, 1999 U.S. Edition by Victor Bockris with the help of Roberta Bayley
LAN: How would you describe your collaboration/relation with Patti?
Victor: Part of the problem I had with writing about Patti was that despite launching her career in the UK at a great Telegraph Books reading in London and publishing her first book Seventh Heaven, both in 1972, she soon developed a hostile attitude towards me, insisting that I had ripped her off. Telegraph Books sold for $1.00 each, which meant we would have received sixty cents per book if our distributor had ever paid us which of course they didn’t. Meanwhile we sold less than three hundred copies of her book. Even after doing the great interview with her the same year she continued to badmouth me. Patti did one lovely thing when she tried to set me up with her little sister Linda. Maybe it was because I didn’t follow through on it that made me such a bad person in her opinion. Linda was great and very pretty, what was wrong with me? I still haven’t found out!! No, the real problem with Patti was that when people make it out of the New York  underground they either continue to be themselves or they get weirdly arrogant and distant. The more successful Patti was the more arrogant, less likable and less truthful she became. On top of that I betrayed my calling by ignoring in my book a lot of nasty stuff she was involved in for fear it would upset her children, who had recently had to contend with their father’s death.  In short, what should have been the most fun book to write, since we came out of the same world, quickly turned into a nightmare. It is only now when I am looking at all my books as part of one work that I recognize the value and place of this book. And I intend to look more deeply into it.
Patti and her sister Linda, at a Saturday afternoon party hosted by Terry Ork in 1971 (photo by Gerard Malanga)
LAN: Do you feel that because of her huge literary background that maybe she is responsable for transmitting ideas and concepts from the Beat Generation, making that connexion with the Punk movement?
Victor: Patti is definitely the cross over figure between the Beats, the Warhol school/Dylan etc and the Punks. My book Beat Punks was an attempt to draw some connections between these three generations. In fact, the focus of all my work now is to trace the development of the Beat Punk Generation that ran through the last great art movement to come out of New York in the seventies and early eighties.
”Lou was a very special poet – a New York writer in the way that Walt Whitman was a New York poet. One thing I got from Lou, that never went away, was the process of performing live over a beat, improvising poetry, how he moved over three chords for 14 minutes. That was a revelation to me.”-Patti in Rolling Stone
LAN: Do you think she had a special role in music because of that?
Victor: Patti’s roll in music may still need to be properly judged. On the one hand, she was in the front lines of punk. On the other, since she never really took any social part in New York punk’s scene,  holding herself above us, New York punk is not really her home. Her self-image as a Paul Revere – Field Marshal off Rock figure puts her in a larger though somewhat lonely category. She may best be seen as a figure who dances between the cracks from Dylan/The Byrds-Yardbirds through the punk seventies, who just has not yet crawled out on the other side of it. I can see a whole other golden period for Patti if she figured out a way to take her whole crew of Saints, from Marianne Faithful and Rimbaud to Blaise Cendrars and Anita Pallenberg (R.I.P) etc, etc, on the road. She needs a family of visionary artists to protect her from the ancient crone syndrome that comes to those who have been careless with their friends.
Patti and Bob Dylan Bob Dylan, Rolling Thunder Revue tour, 1975. Photo by Ken Regan.
LAN: Apart of the fact the she adored her husband Fred ”Sonic” Smith, do you think that the MC5 had any kind of influence on Patti’s music. Was she a fan of the MC5?
Victor: Most of us embraced the MC5 as punk pioneers. There’s no question when Patti married Fred she foresaw a John and Yoko type of collaborative musical scene. They were going to make albums, tour etc. But like so many plans made by couples in the early days of their romance, reality robbed her of those victories.

 

LAN: In England, May 1976, Patti played 2 dates at the Roundhouse,the next night, Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols really dissed Patti’s performances, deeming them hippies. Patti herself felt that it was over. Looking back, do you think this was some kind of a turning point?
Victor:  It was not so much Patti as it was the Patti Smith Band’s album, Horses, that rang the call of the new. Horses is it. A great album, a game changer, still sounds fresh, their most valid contribution to the culture. The British punk scene was not as art oriented or romantic as its New York counterpart. Rotten was the #1 punk figure, whose voice and lyrics cut through everything to the hard-core of reality. His criticism of Patti also came out of a long history of English resentment of Americans and their baggage. I’m sure Patti had experienced the hippie slice of life on wonder bread in the summer of love, but she was more influenced by the Velvet Underground than The Big Balloon Band. John was just throwing darts.
The Patti Smith Group, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1976. (L-R) Lenny Kaye, Richard Sohl, Patti Smith, Ivan Kral and Jay Dee Daugherty.
LAN: Do you think the lack of commercial viability of punk can be overcome?
Victor: I think it was overcome by Nirvana. Even the Mighty Ramones were superstars in Japan and South America. The main thing about the punks is that like the Beats they never faded away. Punk will never die, but I don’t know a lot of people who learned how to live from disco music. Punk defies commercialism, Punk just is. Everyone who cares passionately about what they do and will never give up is a punk.
The Ramones on stage in the Netherlands, 1977. L-R: Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone.
LAN: What would be YOUR ”Outrageous Lie”?
Victor:  That I am just getting started, that you haven’t seen anything yet, that I’m a gift to the women of this world.

 

LAN: You never give up don’t you, punk!  I can’t wait to see what you have been up to!! Thanks so much for your time!!
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Patti Smith by Victor Bockris

Living the Outrageous Lie* (Part 1)

Patti Smith by Victor Bockris, 1998 UK Edition, Published by Fourth Estate

”The literary outpout of the short-lived punk movement has been largly ignored. No one came close to Patti Smith at the time in terms of her recognition as a writer.”-Victor Bockris

By Tobe Damit

I have already read and reviewed Just Kids and M Train before here on LAN so I thought that by now I had a pretty accurate and complete picture of Patti Smith: Poet, punk prophet, feminist icon, rock writer; a punk-rock star mixing her distinct voice and poetry with rock and roll music.  I was so wrong. Unforgettable, ”Just Kids” gives you a pretty complete picture of her childhood and early days, highlighting her relationship with now famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the Chelsea Hotel day while ”M Train” picks up years later with a more disheveled, haunting narrative but reading Victor Bockris 1998 UK edition of Patti Smith’s bio published by Fourth Estate,  placing her at the centre of the New York underground that included, amongst many others, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Blondie, Jim Carroll and William Burroughs, Victor Bockris’s biography investigates the private world behind the celebrity and gives you a very intimate, in-depth, exhaustive portrait of the playwright/poet/punk rock singer/composer who gave us (to cite only this one) Horses, an album viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of the American punk rock movement, as well as one of the greatest albums of all time. Her 2 most recent novels ”Just Kids” and ”M Train” are also best sellers and both won various very well deserved awards, furthermore her earlier poetry books have also received critical and popular acclaim. Patti is also one the most direct conspicuous link between the Beats and the early New York punk movement since her career was as stunning as a writer than it was as a punk-rock singer-songwriter.

Early poetry reading, St. Mark’s Church, NYC, ca 1971. Click on it!

Bockris goes through Patti’s life starting with her childhood and strict religious upbringing in South Jersey and Patti’s earliest influences (Patti Smith has been influenced by artists as diverse as Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, Antoni Artaud, Jimi Hendrix, William Blake, Henri Michaux and the Rolling Stones), her escape to New York where the Andy Warhol’s Factory was in full swing by 1967, her meeting with Mapplethorpe and the crowd that was hanging out at Max Kansas City, her staying at the Chelsea hotel where she would meet her most precious literary mentors as well as her rock’n’roll heroes. Bockris dynamic narrative alternates with wisely chosen interviews excerpts or quotes, the primary source of information being provided by Patti herself throughout the many interviews she has given during her career. The first interview done by Bockris in 1972, on the occasion of the publication of her first book  ”Seventh Heaven”, ”provides a paradigm for all the Patti Smith interviews that were to come, illustrating how she has always been able to take the most mundane question and weave her answer into a piece of spoken poetry.” Of course, to the readers’ pleasure, this memorable interview is duly generously provided in its entirety in the Sources Notes.  Furthermore that section of the book gives you a very clear overview on the extent and the quality of the research and the references used throughout the whole book. The people quoted, those who conducted interviews with the author as well as the sources themselves (books, magazines, newspapers, underground fanzines, etc.). All extremely pertaining to Patti and the people she knew as well as her cultural surroundings.

If you check out the complete works of our esteemed chronicler of the New York Underground, Patti Smith clearly constitutes a very important link between Beats, hippies and punks as well as between poetry and live musical performance. Making Patti the hinge as well as the source of many things to come on a musical, literary and social level. One could say that the first part of her life was somehow a tribute to those whom she considered to be her heroes. ”I’ve spent half to three-quarters of my life sucking from other people and now I’d like to give some‘ Patti says in that same 1972 first interview with Bockris mentioned earlier.

Here with William Burroughs at his home, Franklin St, NYC, 1975. ©Photo by Kate Simon.

The Chelsea Hotel was a heady place to be in the late sixties and the early seventies; Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Arthur Clark, Jim Carroll, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and of course William Burroughs amongst many, many others were hanging out at the Chelsea and all of them had a big influence on Patti. People from the Warhol’s Factory were also still very active and everything was set for the changing of guard to happen on a reading that took place at St Mark’s Church on February 10th 1971, before a very unconventional but eclectic crowd. St Marks was a very classic poetry venue, where Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and all of our poets performed and it was quite an honor to perform there. The event was hosted by Gerard Malanga who, ”despite recently having been dismissed from the Warhol’s Factory for the second time in two years, was still looked upon as and looked like, a bona fide Warhol Superstar.”

Flyer for poetry reading at St Mark Church hosted by Gerard Malanga (Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Cornell University)

Bockris vividly recalls: ”Patti appeared promptly at 8 p.m. accompanied in the background by the lanky figure of Lenny Kaye. The audience gasped with astonishment. She was a figure of the future standing before them, looking like something like many of them had never seen. The raw, rasping, heavily New Jersey accent with which she addressed the crowd gave Patti’s reading its edge that night. The content of her work leant heavily towards the sexual, mixing up male and female without concern. She also revealed a sharp sense of timing by alternating the works she read on her own with the ones she read with Lenny’s backing, and by keeping the set to a tight twenty-minute (…)She had the confidence to machine-gun her poems at the sophisticated if slightly stunned crowd. Patti ‘took’ St Marks that night. Malanga, whose reading was a superb and passionate rendition of some of his best work, was still the centre of attention at Max’s later on, but Lenny Kaye recognized that the changing of guard started on that very evening. And within a year the rockers would have taken over Max’s and other cultural outposts from the artists and poets…”

Patti, 1976, Vanity Fair. ©Photo Lynn Goldsmith,

Patti Smith then willingly takes on the part of being a rock star without really leaving poetry behind, rather fusing performance, acting, poetry and punk rock. Hence becoming a role-model for the first women in rock… Punk by nature. She was amongst the first ones to play the infamous CBGB OMFUG, headlining for the band Television, Tom Verlaine. Richard Lloyd and Richard Hell later replaced by Fred ”Sonic” Smith formerly from the Detroit garage band rock legends, the MC5 who were heavy influences on the punk movement to soon follow.  More than just another loud blues-rock band, the MC5 were endeared by fans for their anti-establishment lyrics.  The band’s use of itself as a political voice inspired future generations to do the same. Fred ”Sonic” Smith later formed the Sonic’s Rendezvous Band with Scott Morgan, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Ashton, formerly of the Stooges . The band Sonic Youth took its name from Fred Smith’s nickname.

Patti Smith guesting with Fred “Sonic” Smith’s Sonic’s Rendezvous Band at the New Miami in Detroit, Michigan, 1980. ©Photo Sue Rynksi.

At age 31, Fred Smith married and raised a family with Patti and the couple collaborated musically. He was the inspiration for her song “Frederick”, a single from her 1979 album Wave. Unfortunately the only album he produced with Patti Smith, Dream of Life (1988) had a very poor reception. Together the Smiths had a son, Jackson (born 1982) and a daughter, Jesse (born 1987). In these chapters, Bockris reveals a whole different aspect to the persona of Patti who had by then almost become a stay at home mum if it wasn’t for her amazing capacity to absorb from other writers and artists in general as well as always, always make poetry of everyone and everything that surrounds her in one way or another. Bockris has a very objective, non-judgmental point of view on that part of her life and it’s very fortunate because a lot of people and the medias have been quite narrow-minded towards some choices she made back then on the way she wanted to lead her life. I have to admit that for my part I don’t think anyone should have the right to judge anyone else’s choice, whether they are celebrities or not.

Jackson, Patti, and Jesse at home. St. Clair Shores, Michigan, 1996.©Photo Annie Leibovitz

The death of Patti’s beloved husband on November 4th 1994 obviously was a huge loss.  Patti Smith speaks of how Fred Smith encouraged her writing, crediting his influence on a number of the songs she released after his death, as well as the prose works she created during their time together in Michigan. Her 1996 album Gone Again features several songs inspired by, co-written by, or in tribute to, her late husband. In Bockris bio you will have a very in-depth look on how Patti managed to make a well deserved comeback and is now viewed for what she is. Her life has been made of ups and downs but I always thought that it’s in defeat that you see a real winner for they always manage to come back. Mohammad Ali was one of Patti’s inspirational model and poet. He had found his very own unique way to be a poet in life and to make his life a work of art, being a parental figure his kids could look up too, a loyal husband and grateful son, living his life as he dreamed he should be living it, exactly like Patti. ”By 1996 she had metamorphosed from an entertainer into that position Richard Hell had prophesied in his 1974 essay on ‘celebrity as an art form’ . Such a character is a living piece of American history, a walking icon, like Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Kennedy and, in her small world, Patti Smith.” 

I have learned to love Patti Smith first through her books, than through her music but now Victor Bockris has allowed me to acknowledge her lifestyle and thinking as work of art as well. She has paid many tributes to various writers, musicians, actors, poets and painters that she held high in her esteem. It now seems only appropriate that we now in turn pay tribute to Patti Smith who is all that. In his biography ”Patti Smith” Bockris has done just that as well as giving a voice to all those who were worthy to pay her homage.

Patti perfroming for a New Year’s Eve concert at CBGB’s, 1977-78

Allow me to leave you with one last quote, cherry picked from the bio, describing Patti Smith performing at CBGB’s, written by Charles Shaar Murray for the New Musical Express: ”She can generate more intensity with a single movement of one hand than most rock performers can produce in an entire set. She’s an odd little waif figure in a grubby black suit and black satin shirt, so skinny that her clothes hang baggily all over her, with chopped-off black hair and  a face like Keith Richards’ kid sister would have if she’d gotten as wasted by age seventeen as Keith is now. She stands there machine-gunning out her lines, singing a bit and talking a bit, in total control, riding it and steering it with a twist of  a shoulder here, a flick of the writ there — scaled-down bird-like movements that carry an almost unbelievable degree of power, an instinctive grasp of the principles of mime that teach that the quality and timing of her gesture are infinitely more important than its size. Her closing tour de force, an inspired juxtaposing of ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’ with a rock poem about a kid getting beaten up in a locker room, was undoubtedly the most gripping performance that I’ve seen by a white act since the last time I saw the Who”

©All quotes from Victor Bockris biography ”Patti Smith”, 1998 UK Edition, Published by Fourth Estate

*For those who are curious and wandering wtf is this ”Outrageous Lie” thing, wait for part 2, a Q and A with author Victor Bockris, soon on Loud Alien Noize!

The Mudd Club

All about the NYC’s notorious Mudd Club where art and music intersect with sex, drugs and the slumming glittering elite by Richard Boch!

Cover Photo©Bob Gruen.

“I was a Long Island kid that graduated college in 1976 and moved to Greenwich Village. Two years later, I was working The Mudd Club door. Standing outside, staring at the crowd, it was “out there” versus “in here” and I was on the inside. The Mudd Club was filled with the famous and soon- to- be famous, along with an eclectic core of Mudd regulars who gave the place its identity. Everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Robert Rauschenberg to Johnny Rotten, The Hell’s Angels, and John Belushi: passing through, passing out, and some, passing on. Marianne Faithful and Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs, and even Kenneth Anger– just a few of the names that stepped on stage. No Wave and Post- Punk artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers living in a nighttime world on the cusp of two decades. This book is a cornucopia of memories and images, and how this famed wicked downtown club attained the status of midtown and uptown. There was nothing else like it– I met everyone, and the job quickly defined me. I thought I could handle it, and for a while, I did. ”

–Richard Boch

Coming September 12, 2017 from Feral House – Available now pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, elsewhere and everywhere. US, Canada and the UK.

M Train by Patti Smith

”It’s Not So Easy Writing About Nothing”

I was expecting a lot when I picked up Patti Smith’s best seller ”M Train”.  Her previous novel (best seller as well) ”Just Kids” had a very profound effect on the way I perceive whatever life throws my way, especially the bad stuff. After ”Just Kids”, I somehow felt I would never be quite alone again and that all my beloved writers would always be there for me, already having accepted to share their deepest, most sincere intimate feelings at length on pretty much everything that really matters. All those miraculous novels holding a mysterious key could help me solve one of many riddles hidden in our seemingly insignificant lives, unlocking secluded passageways and concealed doors .

Patti Smith during her pilgrimage to French Guiana with Fred. Photo courtesy of Patti Smith

”Just Kids” is a touching story of unconditional love and friendship, two struggling, ascending artists who dearly rely on each other for help and support, whatever happens. Patti and Robert’s linear, chronological narrative differs a lot from Patti’s train of thoughts; that ”green train with an ”M” in a cercle; a faded green like the back of a preying mantis.” Series of small short scenes, delightful slices of life. Always having innocent seemingly facts invariably leading to another philosophical journey into Patti’s heart and soul, delivered to the reader without vanity, in a very intimate matter of speech. Her thoughts seemingly being instantaneously translated into words: ”When I was young I had the notion to think and write simultaneously, but I could  never keep up with myself.” I was ready to sit next to Patti’s table at Cafe ‘Ino, wanting to share the intimacy of her ever flowing thoughts, eager to learn what had become of that girl I had learned to admire and love so much.

Patti Smith with writer William S Burroughs in his NY bunker at 222 Bowery Street.

Patti is a woman with a fascinating story, putting things in a brand new perspective, showing us how different our life could be seen if we dared to focus and realise how each and every moment is rich of its very own history, how every little object has a story to tell if you can be kind enough to let it speak and have the courtesy to listen. Thanks again Patti for giving me solace in the present, allowing me to remember that each minute passing by is an opportunity to let the world know that everything is changing before our very eyes. No one else can make you embrace the life you were given, never forgetting to pay tribute of those who tried so very hard that they got swallowed in that moment,  forgetting that there is always tomorrow… Akutagawa, Dazai and Sylvia Plath, to name only a few of those mentioned in the book. ”M Train” is also an ultimate tribute to all of those that Patti held in very high esteem, modestly sharing her enthusiasm for the work of masters like Bulgakov, Jean Genest, Burroughs, Murakami, Kurosawami, Tolstoi, the Beats and many, many others throughout the book.

Patti’s favorite, The “Wedding Photo,” with husband Fred Sonic Smith, backstage, 8 February 1978. Fred died at the age of 45 in 1994.

Most of all ”M Train” speaks of times spent with her loved ones, we can feel Fred ”Sonic” Smith’s (guitarist from Detroit band MC5)spirit all through the book, all across the globe where Patti’s tales takes us, she left a little part of her everywhere with everyone because Patti is a generous soul and if she is very sensitive, she is also very strong and no matter what, the memory of those she has loved or still loves is always at reach, hidden in the bottom of the pockets of an old black coat, she can almost feel it with the tip of her fingers and it makes her happy. And it makes her sad…: ”We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small. feet swift. Everything changes. Boys grown. father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don’t go, don’t grow.”

Jackson, Patti, and Jesse at home, photo by Annie Leibovitz

 

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Ali Wanted To Be…

In Depth Interview with Victor Bockris, Author of ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”

by Tobe Damit

Victor walking around the camp with Ali holding his daughter in his arms, 1973. photo ©Bockris-Schmidlapp.

Foreword by Victor Bockris:

The Ali-Warhol Photo Tapestry shown up above as the ”banner” for this article is 60 x 32 inches and comes in various forms ranging from The Ali-Warhol Boxed Set (on 24 separate canvases) to the popular vertical edition on one large print thirty by six four inches, three images across and eight down. It is a beautiful and historic work executed by the Bockris-Schmidlapp team. Copies still available.

In order to enjoy this interview as I hope you will it helps  to know that I am talking about two slightly different Ali books. The first one called Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet was published in October 1974 on the day after Ali defeated George Foreman and regained his World Heavyweight Champion Crown. It was authored by Bockris-Wylie and contained over sixty splendid photographs by Peter Simon. It was also the last book published by the notorious Maurice Girodias’ Freeway Press. Bockris-Wylie was a writing and interviewing team of myself and my early seventies collaborator Andrew Wylie. Girodias, a great friend of mine, was a legend for publishing in the nineteen fifties some of the best books of our times, from Nabakov’s ”Lolita” to William Burroughs’ ”Naked Lunch”. The second one called Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” published in 1998 in the U.K. and 2000 in the U.S. by Victor Bockris consists of the original book without the photographs but with a new introduction and final chapter on Andy Warhol’s Ali portrait visit as well as over one hundred stills from Anton Perich’s Ali documentary, parts of which were filmed when Bockris-Wylie was visiting Ali in 1973. To snatch from flames the burning pages of  those days were to twist words into breathing wires in my brain. Let this flog of  memories attend you best. -Victor Bockris

Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie by ©Elsa Dorfman

This interview was done to complete the article ”Beat Muhammad Ali” previously posted in LAN by Tobe Damit.

Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven by Victor Bockris.

LAN: In ”’Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”, you explain the important role Gerard Malanga played in the birth of the whole project but I want to know why and when you got convinced that Ali was such an important player in the counterculture of the 60’s?

Victor Bockris: By November of 1972 I had established myself as a poet in Philadelphia by publication of two well reviewed books of poems and a documentary about me on local TV. I had included interviews in both books of poems when I found in them the poetry of human speech. I was now shifting my focus from writing poems to conducting a series of interviews with poets. In fact, in collaboration with Andrew Wylie I was about to embark on a collection of these interviews called ‘The Life of Poetry” . By 1972 poets had become more relevant than ever. We clung to the counterculture as the best thing to come out of the nineteen sixties, but in the early seventies it was constantly being attacked by the Nixon administration and poets were often our most articulate voices. The problem was it was virtually impossible to make money to help finance our work on ”The Life of Poetry” (unpublished) from interviewing poets. One afternoon Wylie and I asked ourselves, “Who is the most famous poet in the world?”  The great British poet W.H. Auden, who was the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in England, had just died. Some radical British students were suggesting that Muhammad Ali should be voted Oxford’s  new professor of Poetry. When we read in the local newspapers that Ali had playfully replied he would be delighted to accept the position, we instantly knew we should do a big interview with Muhammad Ali the Poet. Since the Supreme Court had reversed the sentence he received in 1967 for refusing to be drafted, Ali had increasingly been marketed as the champion of the  underdogs and anti-war protestors around the world. Furthermore, by becoming a Muslim in the sixties and staging his key fights of the seventies in third world countries he certified his credentials as one of the world’s best known anti-war voices. As far as we were concerned the fact that he used his fame to attract attention to the cause of World Peace made him one of us. I got the phone number of his training camp from a sports writer at a Philadelphia tabloid. It was ninety minutes north of us in Pennsylvania. Andrew was usually better at getting interview appointments than I was, but on his occasion since I had a strong British accent I made the call. Much to my surprise, Ali answered the phone on its second ring and when I asked him if we could do an interview about his poetry he gave us an appointment two days later. When we first met him that November morning at 10 a.m. Ali was stark naked. Was this his response to being asked about his poetry? Was he in fact in the tradition of Allen Ginsberg, who sometimes took  his clothes off during a poetry reading, emphasising how naked his poetry was? I have to ask these questions because I am looking for comparisons between my people. You have to wonder otherwise why write at all? Ali was coming off two victorious fights that year and approaching the top of his post sixties game. He was full of energy, he looked terrific. I think he granted us the interview because talking to young people who liked him kept him alert. He was a masterful talker cum rapper and being asked about his poetry sent him into a great long, funny rap about the origins of his poems.  As an indication of how in tune he was to our expectations, at the end of our first visit to Fighter’s Heaven Ali asked me to be his spokesman to, ”The white longhairs in the colleges”.

Muhammad Ali: A Poet In And Out Of The Ring. Gettyimage

LAN: I use the term ”project” for this book because it feels to me that it gave birth to numerous side projects that all had roots in what you were doing. Could you please elaborate on who was doing what and what were the ending results and concrete repercussions of all those things taking place ”in the side lines”?

Victor Bockris: Your are right in this perception. Between September 1971 to June 1972 I worked with Andrew Wylie and Aram Saroyan on our proto punk poetry press, Telegraph Books.  We published ten volumes including Patti Smith’s first book ”Seventh Heaven”, the Warhol Superstar Brigid Polk’s book Scars as well as my ”In America”. This work and my subsequent work received a lot of press attention in the Fall of 1972 leading up to the Ali interview. Outstanding amongst these works was an interview I did with Patti Smith and a poem I wrote called 1972”, which consisted of a list of some three hundred names of the counterculture’s favorite stars. It began with the names of the Rolling Stones, who reached their zenith in 1972 with Exile On Main Street”These two pieces, published together at a new friend Jeff Goldberg’s Red Room Books, marked the beginning of a new period. The first Ali interview, which became the base of the book Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”, was published the same month it was conducted in Phildelphia’s underground weekly, The Drummer.  It too was a transitional piece, taking us beyond poets to interviewing the One Hundred Most Intelligent People. Rock and Roll was central in my work, which has provided something of a bridge between the Sixties and the Seventies, leading up to Punk  Rock/Art. That was another thing that tied Ali in with my favorite subjects: during the early years of the 1960s Andy Warhol, Keith Richards and Muhammad Ali were all written off in the mainstream press as punks! Punk after all dates far back in time, for punk as I understand it describes a person who is fully committed to transforming themselves into who they want to be and equally committed to their calling. Above all they always do the very best they possibly can and never retreat or surrender. In its June 1974 issue Penthouse magazine featured our Ali interview, which made him happy because it was one of the few times when what he actually said was published instead of some phony rewrite by an editor.

The ”other book”: ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet” authored by Bockris-Wylie photographs by Peter Simon.

LAN: The Deer Lake training camp obviously represented a lot more to Ali than just a place to train with these huge rocks painted by Cassius Clay Sr, each one of them bearing the name of a great boxer; What was the very first impression YOU got about the camp itself?

Victor Bockris: Ali’s training camp Fighter’s Heaven has not received the attention it deserves as one of Ali’s greatest achievements. It was his idea. He was tired of paying huge sums of money to house his entourage in hotels and train in other people’s gyms in Miami. Ali decided to build his own camp and he found a good place at the top of a hill leading off Highway 61 in Deer Lake Pennsylvania. When I first got there Ali only had the gym, the kitchen and his log cabin built. The boulders had not arrived yet, but he worked on the place every time he stayed there. It was his drive that got it done.  Between 1972-1973 he surely turned it into a perfect place to get his head, body, spirit and fight together with his team.  Ali treated everybody he employed well, he often gave guys without the money to develop their skills jobs as sparing partners, etc. Ali made it clear to me how much he gained from living there, fresh home-grown vegetables, fresh water, fresh air, endless space to run, great camaraderie among his men. The camp also had an inspiring view across many miles of open country. He had great visions for the camp and every time we visited him he was showing us new stuff. One day he introduced us to Mr Moyer, who was just beginning to deliver the huge boulders on which Ali’s father would paint the names of the greatest champions. Ali got the idea from Archie Moore, who had the same thing in his camp when Cassius Clay trained there in 1962. Ali was exultant about the whole thing. It always felt good to be there. In between 1972-1974, the greatest period the camp ever had, Ali was close with his wife and children I often saw them there.  Everything and everyone was on his spot. Building organizing and running what became his superb camp was the most sustained and successful things he ever did outside the ring. The good vibes and solidarity of Ali’s camp had a lot to do with his victories in Zaire and Manilla. The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

LAN: Obviously this book was never meant to be about boxing per se. It seems that Ali was really proud about his poems and other aspects of his personalities. This must have been very thrilling. Would it be accurate to say that it was really important to Ali that people recognize him to be more than just an athlete at this point in time?

Victor Bockris: The main thrust of the Ali book was to make this transition in the popular conception of Ali. At this time he had in view defeating Frazier in their second fight and defeating Foreman to win back his crown. Many things interceded before he got there, but Ali made it clear to me in 1973 and 1974 that he soon planned to retire. Then it became retire after the third Frazier fight in Manilla in 1975. Ali had really enjoyed touring the colleges in the late sixties. Travelling was in his blood. He’d been led to believe Elijah Muhammad was going to give him an assignment to travel to mosques around the world. Ali dreamed of travelling around the world giving inspiring lectures seeking peace between East and West. It all made sense. After the Foreman and Frazier fights he would have enough money to support his family for the rest of their lives. It is quite possible he could have played a role in bringing east and west together via his Muslim religion. Unfortunately, none of this would ever happen. Ali’s business manager, one of Elijah Muhammad’s sons, took 50% of his income and the rest of Ali’s money after high taxes was so poorly handled he never had enough and was forced to keep fighting, like a cash cow for his handlers,  until everything was used up. It was one of the most vicious examples of what can happen to a man of Ali’s calibre when he des not have control of his resources, but trusts others to take care of them. This is never a good idea.

Ali applauds during a speech given by Elijah Muhammad at a convention of the Nation of Islam in Chicago

LAN: I think it’s a correct assumption to say that Ali truly revealed his ”real self” to you. What aspect of Ali’s blazing personality was the most striking to you?

Victor Bockris: I don’t think Ali revealed his true self to me. I mean Ali was complex, holding in himself contradictory motivations which left him supreme in his profession but weak outside of it. He once told one of  his daughters that he had never been able to feel  anything. He had insecurities. I saw none of these things. Remember I had asked for an interview. What he gave me on that first day was eight hours of his time, from talking to riding in his bus to watching one of his fights on video while Ali sat behind me and flicked punches just past my ear. He was playful. He was joyful. Nearing the end of this marathon visit to Fighter’ Heaven he became a little more personal. Over the years I knew him he always recognized me but never knew my name.

‘I’m so mean I make medicine sick’! Muhammad Ali. Photograph by ©Chris Smith/Hulton

LAN: The book contains an outstanding collection of his poetry; Ali read a lot of his raps and poetry to you. I know most people had heard his raps and rants (!) but was it the first time that he was reading complete poems he had written, commenting them and explaining the events and emotions involved. Do you think he was considering becoming a writer one day?

Victor Bockris: While Andrew and I were interviewing Ali between 1972-1974 our friend Anton Perich was shooting a documentary about Ali, which included the day Ali gave us a real poetry reading. Many years later I was sitting at a table in a nightclub in Copenhagen when I noticed a silent film of a man moving his head and body back and forth in a rocking motion projected slightly larger than life on a wall to my right. Loud disco music was blowing through the room that  seemed so perfectly in time with the man in the film I was thinking they should put this music on the soundtrack of the film when I suddenly realised ”WHATTT!?!” I was looking at Anton’s film of the poetry reading Ali had delivering so hypnotically at us thirty years ago. That image sums up the power of Ali’s delivery. He undoubtedly had a love affair with language but he also communicated with the language of his body.  We have to bear in mind that most of Ali’s poetry was copied from or translated from religious texts. This is no different from Bob Dylan taking songs from the past and making them his own. Ali’s voice was his greatest weapon outside the ring. Asking, “Can Muhammd Ali  write?” is like asking, “Can David Bowie act?” In the verbal department Ali was the most impressive world athlete of all time. Ali mesmerized the world with the language that he used. Millions of Ali’s words in interviews have been published all over the world. His verbal pyrotechnics were not the product of a slow mind. The man was sharp. If he had travelled the world giving speeches those speeches would have turned into books. Can he write? The man had a Great Rap! His gift was in the delivery of the poems and in working them into his raps, his strength was in the performance of the words. He was a great communicator. He could have gone on to be a great orator. Except by the time they were through with him Ali no longer had a voice.

LAN: There is a very interesting chapter about Warhol’s visit to the camp. Warhol seemed a bit ambivalent towards the champ even if Andy still managed to produce Ali’s favorite portrait, it seems there was sort of some ”disconfort” in the air when they actually met for the shooting. What would be your take on it?

Warhol taking photos of Ali. Thursday, August 18, 1977 Photo by ©Victor Bockris.

Victor Bockris:  Andy Warhol’s visit to Fighter’s Heaven came three years after publication of ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”. He had read the book and took me along as a buffer. I had also just published a profile of him which asked the question, ”Who Does Andy Warhol Remind You of Most? Answer: Muhammad Ali.” From the introductions onwards I was struck by how rude Ali was to Warhol. I’d never seen him behave like that. At the same time as we walked over to the gym to take the pictures he annealed himself to my side and talked nonstop. Ali acted this way because he knew Andy was gay. After he finished taking the pictures and got a perfect pose it seemed as if Andy had cracked the ice with Muhammad, who invited us on a tour of the camp. This delusion came crashing down when we got to his cabin and, after reading us a new poem he had written on the Concorde the previous night, Ali pulled a thick stack of index cards out of a big briefcase and proceeded for more than thirty minute to harangue Warhol about the gay influence on the nation. Suddenly I was astonished to see Muhammad abruptly break down in confusion saying he did not know what was happening but he could not talk anymore. When Andy told me afterwards he was so glad Ali kept staring into his eyes, I realised he had delivered the Warhol coup de grace, in which Andy would slice people up with his eyes, instantly discombobulating and dismissing them. Believe me I’ve been on the receiving end of it  and it is extraordinarily effective. On that occasion, Andy Warhol was much stronger than Muhammad Ali.

Warhol, Ali and his daughter Hana by ©Victor Bockris,1977 

LAN: Do you know what were Ali’s feelings towards ”The Greatest”?

Victor Bockris: One day Ali started complaining about how his publishers were treating the book. “Look at this,” he said handing me a  cheap xerox  invitation to its launch. The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate. The way his managers marginalized or ignored Ali should have sent shock bells of warning ringing in his ears, but Ali’s fixation on his mission did not allow him to doubt his people. It was a dilemma he never overcame until his fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, took over his finances. So far as I know he never read the book, which is a sad conclusion to his only book contract. Thus is a boxer neutralized and boxed in. His lack of control over his book would soon become a lack of control over his life. You could say Ali got much more from the Muslims than they took from him. Elijah helped to transform Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali which led to Ali becoming the most famous man in the world. He was also a strong father figure Ali really needed. But the Black Muslim’s did not just take the majority of his money they took way his voice not just once but twice. The first time was in his autobiography. Then by forcing him to fight  his last five years of brutal fights (1976-1981) they took it away again. By the time they were through with him Ali  was no longer able to give any speeches. Was this like some kind of mafia torture where they maximize the suffering? Ali won’t say a bad word against them, but people said he was frightened of the Muslims from the beginning. They destroyed and killed people with seeming immunity. No one was ever caught for killing Malcolm X in broad daylight. The bottom line was just like any crook they got the money, but they also neutralized the Champ. It’s a dark road between Ali and the Black Muslims. After Elijah’s death in 1975 Ali slowly changed his affiliation to the regular Muslims. I don’t want to go there because more than anything Ali was a huge Beacon of Light in a darkening world. When he came into it he was happy along with the Kennedy’s Best and Brightest men.  Then as the evil came out of the land and started shooting down those other beacons so did the evil come to Ali. That he overcame that evil again and again, even prevailing over the broken years of the mid 1980s is his greatest achievement. It took a great man to rise above all the corruption, theft, greed and murder, but he did. That is why he remains to this day that bright Beacon of Light. Now Ali’s light will never go out because it has become a star. Those of us who look up at it from all over the world see different things. For me Ali will always stand for his artistic integrity as a very strong voice for world peace. That’s what he wanted his message to be. He wanted to be seen as a man of peace.  That is what his message was. So let it go forth.

”The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate.”

LAN: When Ali got your book, ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” do you feel he genuinely loved the book and that it played an important part compared to all the book that have been written about the champ? If so, what makes it so special to him and/or to the public in general?

Victor Bockris: I first showed the book to Ali in the Spring of 1975 while we were walking down Central Park South in New York followed by a crowd of a hundred or more people. Bedlam surrounded him as he walked to a restaurant to have dinner. Cops shouted from horses, “Ali! Ali!” Cabs came to screeching halts, people yelled out of car windows, kids ran amongst our feet as he paged through the mass paperback book complaining about the clarity of the pictures on its cheap paper. He was also pissed because he had planned to use the photo he had given us which we used on the cover somewhere else! It was partially in humor. We had left a box of two hundred copies of the book in his suite at the Essex House hotel. We never told him that, just as the advance copies were starting to sell like hotcakes, the printer shredded the entire edition of 50,000 copies of the book because our publisher had not paid his bill. I always wondered what happened to those two hundred copies we gave Ali. Then in 1996 I got a copy of a book of Ali’s favorite photographs of himself called Muhammad Ali in Perspective by Thomas Hauser. It included a Howard Bingham photo of Muhammad holding the book up and reading it at a table sitting next to Lonnie. Both of them wear expressions of supreme satisfaction. I had never seen a photograph of Ali reading a book other than the Koran. Anyway I continued working on Ali projects like The ALI-WARHOL PHOTO TAPESTRY by Bockris-Schmidlapp (See top of the page). Then in 2000 my book ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” was published in the U.S. and I sent Lonnie and Muhammad  copies. They thanked me. Then In 2009 Lonnie sent me a letter saying that she was reading the book to Muhammad when he went to bed at night. It reminded him of a time in which he almost broke free from his violent profession to become the man of peace he wanted to be so now the book brought peace to him. What more perfect image can we end on? 

Ali riding his horse in Deer Lake ”fighter’s Heaven” training camp by ©Anton Perich

LAN: Indeed!! Thank you so much for your time but most of all in this precise case, I’d say thank you for letting the whole world know that Ali was much more than just one of the greatest boxer in the world. Looking back, how do you feel about having accomplished that??

Victor Bockris: I always loved the Ali book. It was my first book of prose and I loved everything about it. It was beautifully designed, it contained the only collection of Ali’s poetry. It as alive with his voice. I knew it was good, we also received a positive quote from George Plimpton we used on the cover and postcards praising the book from our friends Ted Berrigan and Eartha Kitt. By the time it was published in 2000 I had a better perspective of the book as part of my  Collected Works in fourteen volumes. Back in 1979 Andy Warhol wrote, “Victor Bockris only writes about three people, Muhammad Ali, William Burroughs and me.”  It is the relationship  between these names I see as my accomplishment. My achievement is that I was able, without planning, to write a connected series of books about outstanding artists of our times who shared in common an ability to communicate attitudes and  take actions which combined to play a large role in creating an enlightened counterculture in this country and around the world. And that counterculture, based on its international population’s efforts to stop the war in Vietnam and its lasting influences on our lives today, should in turn be recognized as one of America’s greatest achievements. 

Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol
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Beat Muhammad Ali

Afterthoughts on Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”

by Tobe Damit

I was reading ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’, one of a mutlivolumesque serie of very thorough biographies written by Victor Bockris, treating of everything that has to do with some specific thinkers and doers that were behind the 60’s counterculture and social revolution. Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” was published the day after his victory over Foreman in 1974 and it was Ali’s favorite book about himself (and mine too!). If you check out the author’s bibliography you will find some of the most iconic figures of that revolution: All of which can be related in one way or another to Beat Punks. I’ve already reviewed in-depth his remarkable biographies about Andy Warhol and Lou Reed . By the way, I intend to review all of Bockris’ biographies in the near future here on LAN.

So, in the blue corner, you have all these writers, painters and musicians and then, in the red corner, there is a real boxer, an athlete so good that he left for sure a permanent mark in the boxing world. And you may ask yourselves ”How did he get there? How does Ali fit in with all these people who triggered a revolution in the 60’s?” Let me just say for starters that they all, in their own ways, shed some blood, sweat and tears. Muhammad Ali was much more than an athlete or an inspiring success story. Most people remember him from the early days of his celebrity for being a loud mouth. He sure was one. For each and every opponent he fought he would ”bust some rhymes”, taunting his opponents, predicting in how many they would go down, making fun of them any which way he could as well as giving names and meanings to his fights like Thrilla in Manila, (Ali-Frazier III in Manila, Philippines, October 1, 1975) and Rumble in the Jungle (Ali-Foreman in  Kinshasa, Zaire, October 30, 1974) that led to a documentary called ”When We Were Kings”.

Ali remembers the origins of his poetry: ”It was ’62, when I fought Archie Moore. Moore rhymed with four, so the publicity for that fight was:
Moore will
hit the floor
in round four

Then I fought Henry Cooper, I said:
This is no jive
Cooper will
leave in five

*This is a quote from Ali in Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”.

Doesn’t that sound like rap to you?? It sure does to me. The very roots of rap were precisely a verbal fight between 2 opponents and organized as such in official contests and in my mind, those verbal assaults were the very first rap rhymes ever made. Some might deny him that but he did write poems. Now Ali also was a success story and a very good story-teller, you can’t deny him that. The very first ”big book” I read was Muhammad Ali very own striking autobiography ”The Greatest” that was later put into a mediocre movie in which Ali played his own character (of course!). Doesn’t it sound a lot like ”8 Mile’ to you?? (except for the fact 8 Mile is a good movie and Eminem a good actor). The irony is that ”The Greatest” was a fake bio written by a back muslim propagandist. Ali never read it and did not like it.  Bockris’ book about the champ was Ali’s favorite book. Victor gave it to him in 1975 and Ali had himself photographed with the book in the 1990s. His wife told me she was still reading the book to him in 2009! Because it is the most accurate account of his inner life and what he planned to do after he retired from boxing in 1975. The horror of the fights he was forced to fight from 1976-1981 made it especially appealing to the peace loving champion.

But first and foremost, Ali was an actor in his own life. He was an artist as a boxer, as a promoter, as a poet, as a spiritual figure, as a counterculture thinker, as a civil right champion, as a family man, as a life coach. Furthermore as you read Victor Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighters Heaven” you are told that they were rocks painted by Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., and transported by a guy named Harvey Moyer, huge rocks on the grounds of his training camp on which were painted the names of great adversaries, each of them representing a milestone in Ali’s life, installations that should be considered as conceptual art to be on the technical side of this but his skills were in every detail. These rocks meant a lot to Ali. What made Ali so inspiring is not so much what he did as how he did it and who he was, because who he was always transpired in the way he did things. Reading through ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’‘,  you can very well imagine how everyone around him; his family, his supporters, trainers, organisers, doctors, lawyers, etc. were all devoted and loyal to him because they loved him as a person. He was running things with love and discipline, using one or the other along the way as required by the circumstances. Always true to himself and his beliefs, as a man, as a father, as a colored man and as a muslim.

One of the milestones on the training camp grounds. This one dedicated to Sonny Liston (obviously). This was taken during his training for the ”Rumble in the Jungle” fight.

Ali saw in his birth name Cassius Clay the mark of the slavery that was a burden to his colored brothers and that is the reason that he changed his name and his faith.

Muhammad Ali Remembered, by Those Who Knew Him as Cassius – The New York Times

On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” This guy did what many thousands people promoting peace never even dared to do. This ”Black Muslim guy”, who was mistreated for as long as he can remember in his own country precisely because of the fact that he was black, said to the face of his recruiting officer that he had no intentions whatsoever to go kill another human being at the other end of the world, whom he had never met and further more who had never caused him any harm. Now it may not seem such an act of bravery but don’t forget that this young fellow still officially and originally named Cassius Clay, born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, this Muslim Black Boxer who at age 18, won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and turned professional later that year, was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles.

He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years and thereby lost a period of peak performance as a boxing athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war had made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation but he definitely paid a very steep price. Those years were lost forever for him and for all of the world to see him boxing at his best even if he is still considered by many to be ”The Greatest”.

Andy Warhol-Muhammad Ali at Fighter’s Heaven, 1978©Photo by Victor Bockris

Of course the ultimate integration as a counterculture figure was Ali’s placid but unmovable resistance to go fight the Viet Nam war. And the unveiled interest Andy Warhol had towards him just confirmed the fact that Ali had become one of the greatest leading spirits of the 60’s and the 70’s.  The encounter of Andy Warhol to Ali’s training camp is detailed in Bockris’  ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”. A man who’s dazzling virtuosity within the prize ring was matched only by his articulate and outrageous showmanship and integrity outside it.

I can see no better ending than to leave you with a poem written by Ali himself. This one of three poems that were exclusively published in ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” for the first time… This one is a poem about…

FREEDOM

Better far from all I see
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees
Better than of heart attack
Or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know
Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pain

Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.

– by Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016). ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” contains an outstanding collection of his poetry, along with his commentary on how he wrote the poems.

”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” also contains a complete utterly interesting chapter detailling the historic encounter that took place when Warhol went to Ali’s training camp to take pictures of the champ. Here’s a glimpse…

Andy Warhol was far from the only artist to depict Ali in his art, though Ali himself said Warhol’s piece was “by far the best painting I have ever had of myself.” The painting, he felt, successfully conveyed his “many moods.” In preparation for these prints, Warhol traveled to Deer Lake Pennsylvania where Ali was training for a match with Ernie Shavers. It was at the training camp that Ali and Warhol met, and where Warhol took the photographs that would eventually become Ali’s portrait. Initially, Warhol seemed unafraid of the larger-than-life boxer. After being teased about the excessive price the pictures would be sold for, Warhol asked “Could we, uh, do some, uh, pictures where you’re not, uh, talking?” According to Bockris is “Nobody had ever told the champ to shut his famous mouth in quite such a not-to-be-trifled with way.” By the end of the shoot, however, Ali managed to unnerve the artist. When Warhol was finished taking photos he reached to shake Ali’s hand and mumbled, “Thanks er, champ.” The boxer spun around and furiously demanded, “Did you say tramp?” Ali laughed, but not before Warhol lost his cool in a brief moment of panic. *Direct quote from the chapter recounting Warhol’s visit to the camp in Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”. 

This post is dedicated to Ali’s children: Laila Ali, Maryum Ali, Rasheda Ali, Asaad Amin, Hana Ali, Khaliah Ali, Jamillah Ali, Mya Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr. It is dedicated as well to all the children victims of crimes against humanity or civil rights violation. 

Read interview with the author here

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Transformer/Interview with Victor Bockris

by Tobe Damit
by Tobe Damit

After I posted a very extensive review of Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story (2014 updated edition) here in Loud Alien Noize under the title ”The Beauty of the Beast”. I felt the need to ask the author, the well known punk-era writer,   Victor Bockris about certain aspects of the biography and his relationship with Lou. He was kind enough to answer them, for your pleasure as well as mine.

LAN: This is a really in-depth biography, I have read several of your books and never before have you gone so deep into someone’s psyche. What is it about Lou Reed?

Victor Bockris: Transformer is the result of a close friendship with Lou between 1974-1979. This is from Rock’n’Roll Animal to The Bells. A solo workaholic rock star such as Lou is by definition a lonely guy. When I started hanging out with him he was living with a long time girlfriend he had known since 1966 at the Factory. Barbara Hodes had gone to Long Island and helped pull him out of his post Velvet’ slump, also offering him a nest in Manhattan. The first night Andrew Wylie and I went out drinking with Lou in fall 1974 the three of us were sitting around a table drinking when he suddenly said, “I haven’t felt this happy in years!” I was stunned. The point is Lou was looking for people he could really talk to. He wanted to emote about his life. No bullshit. We were the same way. And once Lou got a friend he wanted that friend to be available to him at any time. We called ourselves Bockris-Wylie. The first thing Lou did was break us up. Then he developed separate relations with both of us. All my time with Lou was spent in his apartment or mine talking about his problems or mine. He gave me much good advice I rely on to this day. Lou opened his psyche to me and that is why I could write about him so accurately. He once gave me a piece of paper on which he had written “From Lou#3 to Lou#8 ‘Hi!’” Writing from a psychological angle was the only way to start a biography of Lou Reed.

Lou Reed and Barbara Hodes at The Bottom Line, NYC. February 12, 1974. © Bob Gruen
Lou Reed & Barbara Hodes,The Bottom Line,NYC,1974©Bob Gruen

LAN:How would you describe the first impression you got from Loud Reed the first time you saw him in person?  

Victor Bockris: I first met Lou in 1974 shortly after interviewing William Burroughs, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali. I did not know that much about him so Bockris-Wylie met him on equal grounds, which probably helped. He was so lovely sweet kind and funny we got into a really cool conversation. I started telling him looked he looked like Frank Sinatra ands he came right back about Sinatra laying down Heroin at the Sands with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Then right in front of my eyes Lou transformed into the young Frank. It was so startling I glimpsed something dark in him. I almost fainted and ran to the bathroom trying not to throw up. The whole thing was so connected by the end of the interview he invited us to have dinner with him. Mick Jagger had called in the middle of it and we were committed to sending him a re-edited transcript the following day. So we had to decline. Later in the week we went out for that drink in Answer #1.

photo of Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie by Elsa Dorfman
Photo of Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie by© Elsa Dorfman

LAN: During the years you were the closest to him, What would you say his state of mind was and what seemed to be his main concerns?

Victor Bockris: Lou’s state of mind changed a lot during the five years I knew him. When he started living with Rachel he felt a lot more secure and protected, but he was suing his manager and most of his royalties were in escrow. For a man with an international rep touring the world he was quite poor. Of course Metal Machine Music had blown a hole in his fan base and pissed off a lot of people, but one of Lou’s greatest strengths was his courage to do it ”His Way”. There was also a truly perverse side to Lou that was his greatest weakness and his greatest strength. His greatest concern was making music that rocked but also dug deep into his psyche, like Kill Your Sons. It was amazingly moving to see Lou Reed on stage in those days singing into a storm of abuse – “It’s your life cocksucker Lou REEED ain’t no kind of human being!” – the poor bastard – but the Glory of Love now might just see you through. He was as great as Rimbaud. That was Lou. He was so beautiful he could make you cry.

LAN: At what point did you feel the need to write his biography? How did it happen?

Victor Bockris: In the summer of 1982 Andrew Wylie suggested I write a biography of Andy Warhol, saying he could get me an advance of $100,000. There was a limitation on who I could write about because I had to have spent some time with my subject. From thereon we came up with Keith Richards. In 1992 after I completed the Richards biography Lou Reed was the only big international star I knew well enough to write about. In each case Andrew got me the $100,000 advance. By the time we signed the Lou Reed contract in 1992 my books were being published in six to twelve countries, so were able to sell foreign rights to the Reed book before it was finished.

LAN: Did Lou knew you were writing his bio?

Victor Bockris: He did. In fact I heard that Keith Richards visited Lou shortly after we informed Lou I was going to write his biography. According to a witness Lou cried “I’m next – why me?” And they both cracked up. Lou had always complimented me on magazine articles I’d written about him. I also heard he appreciated my book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. The odd thing is that Lou could never have had the career he had without the vast number of highly appreciative well written articles about him from 1972 until his death in 2013, yet he always said he despised rock writers. Actually he befriended number of them across those forty years. I suppose if you are a star you can’t go round saying great book about me. It would not be cool.

Lou Reed, Denmark, May 16th, 1974 Credit: Jorgen/Angel/Redferns/Getty
Lou Reed Live,Denmark,May 16th,1974©Jorgen/Angel/Redferns/Getty

LAN: What was the first time and circumstances you saw him performing on stage? 

Victor Bockris: At the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in 1974. It seats around 4,000 and it was packed. As I indicated in Question 3 in those early years Lou’s concerts were like shock rallies lit by Andy Warhol’s suggestion Lou used the bright white light Albert Speer employed for Hitler’s rallies at Nuremberg. Lou Reed’s hardcore audiences had a love-hate relationship with him on stage, which perfectly reflected his persona and lyrics. As a punk rocker Lou’s art was based on contradictions. Everywhere he went he was offering himself as a conduit for the confused emotions of outsiders. He was their priest.

9 October 1974 at the Felt Forum, New York City
Lou Reed Live at the Felt Forum, NYC, October 1974.

LAN: You set up quite a few meetings between artists and you arranged for Lou Reed to meet up with Burroughs, I bet you were very nervous about it. Where you personally satisfied with the outcome? 

Victor Bockris: The 29 minute conversation between Burroughs and Reed I tape-recorded in August 1979 was one of the best pieces I have ever done. We arrived over an hour late, but when we got there we found William having cocktails with four friends. After going round the table putting everybody down, Lou asked Bill questions like did you have to sleep with your publisher to get your books published and did you cut off your toe to avoid the draft? Bill’s guest froze in horror, but he thought Lou was funny and hip. When Lou said, “We who play cannot stay,” Bill did something I‘d never seen him do before, he walked Lou down the stairs and out into the street. When Lou asked Bill, “Can we get together for a quiet dinner?” Bill agreed. However when I said “We should do that,” Lou replied, “What’s this we? I just wanted to get together with Mr. Burroughs.”
When I got back upstairs into the Bunker and tested my tape all I could hear was a buzzing noise like an out take from Metal Machine Music, under which was the faint rumble of voices. I immediately sat down and wrote the whole thing out verbatim from memory. Like I said, it was a memorable experience.

Lou proudly exhibiting Burroughs' Naked Lunch
Lou proudly exhibiting Burroughs’ Naked Lunch

LAN: I feel that this is the best biography you have ever written. How do you personally feel about Transformer??

Victor Bockris: ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was the third in a trilogy of biographies written one after the other with but a few weeks break between them. I did feel Transformer benefited from my experiences writing the Warhol and Richards books. It was also more of a story and had a good sense of humor running through it. I had a more emotionally close relationship with Lou than the others. So yes, it is in some sense the best written. But the Warhol biography is a better book because it deals with a much more significant figure. Of course I updated the Lou Reed book in 2014 with Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story. So far it remains the most accurate and in-depth account of Lou’s life. I cannot imagine how anybody could beat it.

LAN: If you could say one last thing to Lou right now, What would it be?

Victor Bockris: His death awoke me from the dream of life. His relationship with Laurie Anderson brought out the best in him. And his last album Lulu may well be the best thing he ever did. It was also hugely successful reaching 36 on the Billboard charts and selling over 100,000 copies in it’s first weeks of release in Europe, going into the top ten in seven nations. I was amazed by the number of critics who said it was a disaster, just like the critics had called Berlin a disaster in 1973. WAKE THE FUCK UP!

Lou Reed & Metallica
Lou Reed & Metallica

LAN: What are you up to now? Should we be expecting a new book in a near future?

Victor Bockris: So far this year my agent Helen Donlon has sold ”The Burroughs-Warhol Connection” in Korea and ”Warhol: The Biography” in Russia, both new countries for my books. We also have the film about Andy Warhol starring Jared Leto based on my book to look forward to. Meanwhile I am obsessed with finishing a memoir about my life as a writer. My lips are zipped on that one.

LAN: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that you made time for this interview! It’s always so interesting to know a little more about the circumstances and facts surrounding the writing of a book. It’s always delightful to hear your stories! I cannot wait to hear about your memoir! Hopefully I will finally be able to read more about your life as a writer! This should be totally and utterly entertaining!!

Victor Bockris: THANK YOU TOBE FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY TO REVISIT LOU REED, WHO IS STILL AMONG THE TOP FIVE ARTIST IN MY MIND. IT WILL ALWAYS GIVE ME IMMENSE PLEASURE TO LISTEN TO HIM SING. I wish somebody would take the time to look into Lou’s oft repeated claim that each of his albums was a chapter of his great electric novel. Oh yeah, the ace photographer Bob Gruen used to live above an apartment occupied solely by Lou Reed’s guitars and the man whose job it was to tune them. Bob said the sound of a hundred guitars being tuned never stopped, and sometimes they throbbed with such intensity the floor of his pad would shake and tremble.

Victor Bockris in his room at the Chelsea Hotel, 2004 Photo© Keith Green
Victor Bockris in his room at the Chelsea Hotel, 2004 Photo© Keith Green
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Cities of the Red Night

“Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted.”

Click on image for an amazing excerpt from "Cities of the Red Nights"

The Cities of Red Night were six in number: Tamaghis, Ba’dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana and Ghadis. These cities were located in an area roughly corresponding to the Gobi Desert, a hundred thousand years ago. At that time the desert was dotted with large oases and traversed by a river which emptied into the Caspian Sea.

The largest of these oases contained a lake ten miles long and five miles across, on the shores of which the university town of Waghdas was founded. Pilgrims came from all over the inhabited world to study in the academies of Waghdas, where the arts and sciences reached peaks of attainment that have never been equaled. Much of this ancient knowledge is now lost.

The towns of Ba’dan and Yass-Waddah were opposite each other on the river. Tamaghis, located in a desolate area to the north on a small oasis, could properly be called a desert town. Naufana and Ghadis were situated in mountainous areas to the west and south beyond the perimeter of usual trade routes between the other cities.

In addition to the six cities, there were a number of villages and nomadic tribes. Food was plentiful and for a time the population was completely stable: no one was born unless someone died.

The inhabitants were divided into and elite minority known as the Transmigrants and a majority known as the Receptacles. Within these categories were a number of occupational and specialized strata and the two classes were not in practice separate: Transmigrants acted as Receptacles and Receptacles became Transmigrants.

To show the system in operation: Here is an old Transmigrant on his deathbed. He has selected his future Receptacle parents, who are summoned to the death chamber. The parents then copulate, achieving orgasm just as the old Transmigrant dies so that his spirit enters the womb to be reborn. Every Transmigrant carries with him at all times a list of alternative parents, and in case of accident, violence or sudden illness, the nearest parents are rushed to the scene. However, there was at first little chance of random or unexpected deaths since the Council of Transmigrants in Waghdas had attained such skill in the art of prophecy that they were able to chart a life from birth to death and determine in most cases the exact time and manner of death.

Many Transmigrants preferred not to wait for the infirmities of age and the ravages of illness, lest their spirit be so weakened as to be overwhelmed and absorbed by the Receptacle child. These hardy Transmigrants, in the full vigor of maturity, after rigorous training in concentration and astral projection, would select two death guides to kill them in front of the copulating parents. The methods of death most commonly employed were hanging and strangulation, the Transmigrant dying in orgasm, which was considered the most reliable method of ensuring a successful transfer. Drugs were also developed, large doses of which occasioned death in erotic convulsions, smaller doses being used to enhance sexual pleasure. And these drugs were often used in conjunction with other forms of death.

In time, death by natural causes became a rare and rather discreditable occurrence as the age for transmigration dropped. The Eternal Youths, a Transmigrant sect, were hanged at the age of eighteen to spare themselves at the coarsening experience of middle age and the deterioration of senescence, living their youth again and again.

Two factors undermined the stability of their system, The first was perfection of techniques for artificial insemination. Whereas the traditional practice called for one death and once rebirth, now hundreds of women could be impregnated from a single sperm collection, and territorially oriented Transmigrants could populate whole areas with their progeny. There were sullen mutters of revolt from the Receptacles, especially the women. At this point, another factor totally unforeseen was introduced.

In the thinly populated desert area north of Tamaghis a portentous event occurred. Some say it was a meteor that fell to earth leaving a crater twenty miles across. Others say that the crater was caused by what modern physicists call a black hole.

After this occurrence the whole northern sky lit up red at night, like the reflection from a vast furnace. Those in the immediate vicinity of the crater were the first to be affected and various mutations were observed, the commonest being altered hair and skin color. Red and yellow hair, and white, yellow, and red skin appeared for the first time. Slowly the whole area was similarly affected until the mutants outnumbered the original inhabitants, who were as all human beings were at the time: black.

The women, led by an albino mutant known as the White Tigress, seized Yass-Waddah, reducing the male inhabitants to salves, consorts, and courtiers all under sentence of death that could be carried out at any time at the caprice of the White Tigress. The Council in Waghdas countered by developing a method of growing babies in excised wombs, the wombs being supplied by vagrant Womb Snatchers, This practice aggravated the differences between the male and female factions and war with Yass-Waddah seemed unavoidable.

In Naufana, a method was found to transfer the spirit directly into an adolescent Receptacle, thus averting the awkward and vulnerable period of infancy. This practice required a rigorous period of preparation and training to achieve a harmonious blending of the two spirits in one body. These Transmigrants, combining the freshness and vitality of youth with the wisdom of many lifetimes, were expected to form an army of liberation to free Yass-Waddah. And there were adepts who could die at will without nay need of drugs or executioners and project their spirit into a chosen Receptacle.

I have mentioned hanging, strangulation, and orgasm drugs as the commonest means of effecting the transfer. However, many other forms of death were employed. The Fire Boys were burned to death in the presence of the Receptacles, only the genitals being insulated, so that the practitioner could achieve orgasm in the moment of death. There is an interesting account by a Fire Boy who recalled his experience after transmigrating in this manner:

“As the flames closed around my body, I inhaled deeply, drawing fire into my lungs, and screamed out flames as the most horrible pain turned to the most exquisite pleasure and I was ejaculating in an adolescent Receptacle who was being sodomized by another.”

Others were stabbed, decapitated disemboweled shot with arrows, or killed by a blow on the head. Some threw themselves from cliffs, landing in front of the copulating Receptacles.

The scientists at Waghdas were developing a machine that could directly transfer the electromagnetic field of one body to another. In Ghadis there were adepts who were able to leave their bodies before death and occupy a series of hosts. How far this research may have gone will never be known. It was a time of great disorder and chaos.

The effects of the Red Night on Receptacles and Transmigrants proved to be incalculable and many strange mutants arose as a series of plagues devastated the cities. It is this period of war and pestilence that is covered by the books. The Council had set out to produce a race of supermen for the exploration of space. They produced instead races of ravening idiot vampires.

Finally, the cities were abandoned and the survivors fled in all direction, carrying the plagues with them. Some of these migrants crossed the Bering Strait into the New World, taking the books with them. They settled in the area later occupied by the Mayans and the books eventually fell into the hands of the Mayan priests.

The alert student of this noble experiment will perceive that death was regarded as equivalent not to birth but to conception and go in to infer that conception is the basic trauma. In the moment of death, the dying man’s whole life may flash in front of his eyes back to conception. In the moment of conception, his future life flashes forward to his future death. To reexperience conception is fatal.

This was the basic error of the Transmigrants: you do not get beyond death and conception by reexperience any more than you get beyond heroin by ingesting larger and larger doses. The Transmigrants were white literally addicted to death and they needed more and more death to kill the pain of conception. They were buying parasitic life with a promissory death note to be paid at a prearranged time. The Transmigrants then imposed these terms on the host child to ensure his future transmigration. There was a basic conflict of interest between host child and Transmigrant. So the Transmigrants reduced the Receptacle class to a condition of virtual idiocy. Otherwise they would have reneged on a bargain from which they stood to gain nothing but death. The books are flagrant falsifications. And some of these basic lies are still current.

“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” The last words of Hassan I Sabbah, Old Man of the Mountain. “Tamaghis … Ba’dan … Yass-Waddah … Waghdas … Naufana… Ghadis.” It is said that an initiate who wishes to know the answer to any question need only repeat these words as he falls asleep and the answer will come in a dream.

Tamaghis: This is the open city of contending partisans where advantage shifts from moment to moment in a desperate biological war. Here everything is as true as you think it is and everything you can get away with is permitted.

Ba’dan: This city is given over to competitive games, and commerce. Ba’dan closely resembles present-day America with a precarious moneyed elite, a large disaffected middle class and an equally large segment of criminals and outlaws. Unstable, explosive, and swept by whirlwind riots. Everything is true and everything is permitted.

Yass-Waddah: This city is the female stronghold where the Countess de Gulpa, the Countess de Vile, and the Council of the Selected plot a final subjugation of the other cities. Every shade of sexual transition is represented: boys with girls’ heads, girls with boys’ heads. Here everything is true and nothing is permitted except to the permitters.

Waghdas: This is the university city, the center of learning where all questions are answered in terms of what can be expressed and understood. Complete permission derives from complete understanding.

Naufana and Ghadis are the cities of illusion where nothing is true and therefore everything is permitted.

The traveler must start in Tamaghis and make his way through the other cities in the order named. This pilgrimage may take many lifetimes.

                                                 -William S Burroughs

During the Crusades, the Hashishins fought both for and against the Crusaders, whichever suited their agenda. As a result, the Crusaders brought back to Europe the Assassins’ system, which would be passed down and mimicked by numerous secret societies in the West. The Templars, the Society of Jesus, Priory de Sion, the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, etc. all owe their organizational efficiency to Hasan. In fact, the Illuminati had their origins in the mystical aspect of the Hashishin order, although most equate the Illuminati with the Bavarian Illuminati, which was a revised version of the Hashishin system (Tim O’Neill analyzes, in-depth, the influence of the Assassins in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture)

Our modern day “assassination cults” (the FBI, the CIA, etc.) have incorporated many of the Hashishins’ techniques into their methodologies. In a CIA training manual titled “A Study of Assassination”, you find traces of the Assassins influence throughout. Hasan Sabbah is even mentioned in the document, which is a must read if there ever was one.

If you want to know more about the secret order of Hashishins click on the image below.

They call him Shaykh-al-Hashishim. He is their Elder, and upon his command all of the men of the mountain come out or go in
“They call him Shaykh-al-Hashishim. He is their Elder, and upon his command all of the men of the mountain come out or go in… they are believers of the word of their elder and everyone everywhere fears them, because they even kill kings.” – Benjamin of Tudela

Love is a Dog from Hell

adogfromhell

Turnabout

she drives into the parking lot while
I am leaning up against the fender of my car.
she’s drunk and her eyes are wet with tears:
you son of a bitch, you fucked me when you
didn’t want to. you told me to keep phoning
you, you told me to move closer into town,
then you told me to leave you alone.”

it’s all quite dramatic and I enjoy it.
”sure, well, what do you want?”

I want to talk to you, I want to go to your
place and talk to you…

I’m with somebody now. she’s in getting a sandwich.

I want to talk to you…it takes a while
to get over things. I need more time,

sure. wait until she comes out. we’re not
inhuman. we’ll all have a drink together.

‘shit” she says, ”oh shit!

she jumps into her car and drives off.

the other one comes out: ”who was that?

an ex-friend

Now she’s gone and I’m sitting here drunk
and my eyes seems wet with tears.

it’s very quiet and I feel like I have a spear
rammed into the center of my gut.

I walk to the bathroom and I puke.

mercy. I think, doesnt the human race know anything
about mercy?  

 loveis by Charles Bukowski

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The Electrification of Mankind

lou-stare

”The next step may be the electrification of all mankind by the representation of a play that may be neither tragedy, comedy, farce, opera, pantomime,melodrama or spectacle, as we now comprehend these terms, but which may retain some portion of the idiosyncratic excellence of each, while it introduces a new class of excellence as yet unnamed because as yet undreamed of in the world”   edgar_poe

– Victor Bockris quoting Edgar Allen Poe  in Transformer/ The complete Lou Reed Story, to describe the way Andy Warhol designed the Velvet Underground shows (i.e. the first multimedia events)