Pry Yourself Loose and Listen

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

“Not in Maynard and Miles” — the phrase is the siren’s song for Burroughs collectors. Obsessives like Eric Shoaf and Brian Shottlaender, spend much of their free time looking for these unicorns. Sometimes they are just narwhal horns, like “Wind Die, You Die, We Die” from the August 1968 issue of Esquire. It is hardly rare, given the circulation of the magazine at the time, but still it has that magic since it escaped the notice of Maynard and Miles (who, make no mistake, generally miss no Burroughs appearance not matter how weenie).

That is what makes “Pry Yourself Loose and Listen” so special. This piece is so off-the-radar that the title is derived by default from the first piece in the collection. I tend to think of it as the Gnaoua Offprint, which is more accurate as the piece collects all the Burroughs appearances in Ira Cohen’s legendary magazine Gnaoua from 1964 out of Tangier: “Pry Yourself Loose and Listen,” “Notes on Page One,” “Ancient Face Gone Out,” and “Just So Long and Long Enough.”

I first became aware of this publication in 1999 at the Nelson Lyon Sale at PBA Galleries. Lyon had an inscribed copy, natch. The estimate was $200-300. Now remember that in 1999 I was still a novice in the Burroughs collecting game so forgive me for buying the distressed copy of Gnaoua 1 signed by Burroughs and Michael McClure from that auction instead of the far more desirable and unusual offprint. I literally had no idea. I thought another one would turn up. Granted I have seen a few over the years, and, in fact, know of a collector who owned two, but the Gnaoua offprint is definitely not something you see every day.

Now do not get me wrong, the offprint is not visually stunning or innovative. It is actually very simple and that is its charm. This is ephemeral publishing at its best — a total afterthought. You have to wonder why it was even done. This would have been the first question I would have asked Ira Cohen when we thought about interviewing him for RealityStudio. Unfortunately it was too late by the time we got out of City Bakery and into action.

As far as I can tell searching on WorldCat, the only institution to possess a copy of “Pry Yourself Loose and Listen” is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So you are unlikely to see it anywhere but here unless you happen to track down your own copy. If you do, congratulations. It only took me over a decade to get mine. 

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - front cover

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Front cover

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - copyright and page 1

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Copyright and page 1

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - pages 2-3

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Pages 2-3

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - pages 4-5

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Pages 4-5

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - pages 6-7

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Pages 6-7

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - pages 8-9

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Pages 8-9

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - page 10

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Page 10

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - Back cover

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Back cover

Variant Edition

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - Variant Edition

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Variant Edition

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen - Variant Edition

Pry Yourself Loose and Listen
Variant Edition

Written and scanned by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 19 Sept 2011. Scans of variant edition courtesy of Big Crux.

10 thoughts on “Pry Yourself Loose and Listen

  1. I see what you meant about the cut between pages 6 & 7 Jed. Perhaps it was merely a paper fault on the part of the printer/binder, an elongated sheet excised. As the saying goes, “All good things come to those who wait.”

  2. I have always considered it an offprint of the Gnaoua material, so I treat it like the Letter of a Master Addict which is an offprint of the British Journal piece. Like the Master Addict, it is a separate edition from the original journal (which is C2, so the Offprint is listed under C2). Likewise I would consider the Pry Yourself a separate edition from the original magazine. So in Schottlaender, Gnaoua is C76, the offprint is listed under that.

    The first time I ever saw the Pry Yourself was in the Nelson Lyon catalog and they list it as an offprint. I have always gone with that rather than considering it a chapbook or pamphlet like Nova Broadcast The Dead Star that reprints the My Own Mag appearance, which would seem to me to be another possibility. The Pry Yourself, unlike the Nova Broadcast Dead Star but like the Master Addict, is rather plain and simple, which makes think offprint. That said there is unlike the Master Addict an attempt at production values and presentation in Pry Yourself.

    What do you think?

  3. I was going to use Dead Star as my argument for A-LISTING this mutha! But I may concede to the subtle gradations of the offprint…

  4. That cut edge between pages 6 & 7 is the extra bit of paper needed when you a bind a booklet using stitches at the fold between pages. You need this “hook” when the number of pages is not a multiple of 4pp (i.e an odd number of leaves). Pry these pages loose and you’ll find there’s an odd leaf of 2pp for 5/6. In the photo the stitch is hidden behind the hook.
    I am talking like an expert printer and booklet maker… ‘cos I am. Jim ..from Aloes Books.
    PS Jed… this is such a good site!!

  5. The cut paper at 6/7 is a ‘hook’ for the stitches to go through so that a saddle-stitched pamphlet of folded sheets can have an odd extra 2pp.
    This is indeed a rare item…it would be a nice touch if it could be authenticated as having been printed and finished by hand in Tangiers. The paper looks right.
    Jim Pennington at aloes books

  6. Jim,

    Just saw these posts. Thanks so much for clearing up the extra paper mystery. I would love it if you went through all the posts and provided some inside printing commentary. I come at this from a collector and really am lacking in terms of printing knowledge.

    I dont know the details of how this offprint came about. It is usually dated as 1964 which is the year of the magazine itself.

  7. Gnaoua magazine was published in Tangier but printed in Antwerp, Belgium. Some years ago I looked at the dossier of papers and proofs connected with the printing of the magazine which were for sale by an Antwerp rare book seller and there was no mention of an offprint. Had there been I am sure I would have taken note and tried to find a copy. Of course the printer’s dossier may not have been complete but I would suggest that the offprint is a later bootleg.

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