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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

William Burroughs Rat Poster reproducing cover of the October 4-17 issue of Rat

In my Burroughs searching, I saw that a sizable run (58 issues) of International Times from its first incarnation of 1966-1973 (in total 164 issues) is up for sale from Any Amount of Books (London) for about $1,300. This is roughly $22 an issue. That is a pretty fucking good deal. Just to give you a comparison, Between the Covers is selling the just the first three issues (which are present in the Any Amount run) for $1250. The Any Amount lot also includes the “Invisible Generation” offprint by Burroughs from Issue 3 as well as the famous “14-Hour Technicolor Read-In” Issue from 1967 that coincided with the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream held at the Great Hall in Alexandra Palace on April 29, 1967, organized in part by friend-of-the-Bunker Barry Miles. The “Read-In” Issue features a color centerfold by Gysin with texts from Minutes to Go by Burroughs and crew. This is currently being offered elsewhere as a $125 issue in itself. The concert was a fundraiser for the underground paper and became the defining event of psychedelic London. Famously, Pink Floyd closed the show at dawn. I see that Suzy Creamcheese was there so you know it was a party.  

As for IT, Burroughs appeared in Issues 2, 3 (plus the offprint), 5.5, 6, 12 (The “Read-In” Issue), 18, 57, 74, 81, and 83. Unfortunately the IT 5.5 Invisible Generation Poster by Michael English is not present, nor are Issues 57 and 74. Complete runs of IT come up for sale periodically and if I remember right they are in the five figure range. Personally I am not in the underground paper game. I have a few but the thought of storing a complete run of IT newspapers is daunting. I am happy with the IT archive. But then again I am a shitty Burroughs collector.

In related news, Bunker correspondent Kyle Schlesinger tells me that the effort to reprint the Rat Subterranean News, one of the most radical and revolutionary of the underground newspapers, is still ongoing. Back in 2016, it looked like this reprint was going to happen but things fell through as they tend to do in the publishing world. The brief history of the Rat is fascinating stuff including sex, drugs and rock and roll as well as revolutionary bombings and feminist takeovers. The Rat Underground News website has some interesting stuff on it and is worth a look.

Rat, December 25, 1969Burroughs fans probably know of the Rat and its primary editor Jeff Shero from the long two-part interview between Burroughs and Shero, conducted in Terry Southern’s apartment in 1968, which appeared in Rat 1, Nos. 18 and 19 in October 1968. This is Burroughs in Street Fightin’ Man mode and parallels what Burroughs states in The Job and Electronic Revolution as well as the recently published The Revised Boy Scout Manual. Burroughs appeared several times in the Rat besides the two part interview:

Rat 1 No. 16 (Sept. 6, 1968): “Writers Report,” a report on the Democratic Convention in Chicago

Rat 1, No. 23 (Dec. 13, 1968): “Suppressed Discoveries,” a reprint from Mayfair

Rat 2, No. 13 (June 19, 1968): “Mind Parasites,” a book review of Colin Wilson’s Mind Parasites

Rat 2, No. 14 (July 9, 1968): “William Burroughs: The Farm by Clarence Cooper, New British Library, Times Mirror,” a book review

Rat 2, No. 16 (Aug. 12, 1969): “Burroughs on Bloodworld,” a book review of Bloodworld by Lawrence Jennifer

Rat 2, No. 18 (Sept. 10, 1969): “Disconnect Notice,” article on Lomitol, a piece answered by Richard Lingeman in the Oct. 8, 1969 issue of Rat. Lingeman is the author of Drugs from A to Z who felt Burroughs criticized him in this article

Rat 2, No 19 (Oct 29, 1969): “Burroughs Back Again,” a letter replying to Richard Lingeman’s letter in the October 8, 1969 issue

Rat 2, No. 19 (Oct. 29, 1969): “Woodstock”

Rat 2, No. 23 (Dec. 3, 1969): “Burroughs’ Last Word on Lomitol,” in the letters section

Rat 2, No 24 (Dec. 25, 1969): “Uncle Bill Burroughs (Alias Technical Tilly) on Scientology,” a reprint from Mayfair 1968

Rat 2 (Feb. 1970): “Mind Control”

I have never read much of this stuff and I for one would love to read the Woodstock piece. There is much more to Rat than just Burroughs. A facsimile reprint would be great because visually the newspaper pushed the envelope in terms of graphic design. Its layout preceded punk stylings by a few years. It also edged into pornography with some of its covers. With its take on the political and pop cultural scene as well as its reporting on ecology and feminism, the Rat offers a unique time capsule of the radical Left in a time of crisis. There is great hope and disillusionment in its pages. Fifty years later seems like a good time to revisit the Rat and a reprint is welcome.

On the collecting front, Kyle mailed me a poster inscribed by Shero: “Sometimes Be a Ghost,” which is a reference to the time Shero spent with Burroughs in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in 1968. Shero and Burroughs were walking the streets of Chicago when suddenly the police appeared batons in hand to clear things out. Burroughs told Shero to stand against the building and think and act quietly. According to Shero, Burroughs proceeded to become invisible. Burroughs’ trademark banker’s suit was visible but there was no man inside. Burroughs had completely disappeared. “Be a ghost.” The policemen charged by and once again safe and sound Burroughs reappeared. More than fifty years on, we could all learn a lesson from Burroughs. And from reading the Rat.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 4 May 2019.

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