Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
I got my mitts on a run of a magazine dedicated to the good shit that once again reminded me how full of it I truly am. Paging through Malcolm Mc Neill‘s Lost Art of Ah Pook, I came across a reference to Rush, a magazine of high entertainment, which featured in late 1976 the most comprehensive example of that graphic novel that ever saw print. Really should have seen this a lot sooner. Like years ago. But as is well documented, or as evidenced by the lack of documentation on RealityStudio, I have blinders on when it comes to appreciating the later work of William Burroughs. As a magazine like Rush proves yet again, this is my loss.
Rush was the Pepsi to High Times‘s Coke. Michael Horowitz, the foremost authority on all things drugs, noted that Rush was the most prominent competitor to High Times and he listed some other drug lifestyle mags I also never heard of like Hi-Life, Stone Age, and Marijuana Monthly. I have never come across these mags and I even wonder how prominent Rush really was. According to WorldCat, Rush ran for only four issues from late 1976 to early 1977. Now High Times is all over the Internet with extensive archives that document its long, illustrious run, but google Rush and you come up with almost nothing. Most of the references deal with the fact that the magazine printed Burroughs and Malcolm Mc Neill’s collaboration on Ah Pook Is Here in December 1976 in the third issue.
Here is Malcolm Mc Neill on how Ah Pook found its way into the pages of Rush:
Rush was an offshoot of Swank Magazine and someone had suggested, not long after I arrived in New York, that I should see about getting illustration work there. The editor was a young guy named Ben Pesta and we got along well. He was friends with writer Doug Moench at Marvel where I was also working and we hung out together on occasions. I’d used the Ah Pook imagery as the portfolio for getting work at both magazines and they were both Burroughs fans and loved the work (back in the day when Burroughs fans actually read his books). I’m not sure if Bill had previously been published at Swank or not — that would be your bailiwick. When the idea of Rush came up, being able to publish a preview of “the unseen drug-fueled apocalyptic new Burroughs book” — was kind of handed to them on a plate. They were already familiar with it and I was right there. Characterizing a book about Death and the Control of Time in that way naturally didn’t exactly blow my skirt up, but it got worse as I pointed out in Observed While Falling. The result was so disappointing; I didn’t even bother picking up my favorite Ah Pook image that was to be used as the opening page. One of the very few pieces of art that was actually Lost. It’s the image I wanted for the cover of the Fantagraphics and German OWFs and finally got to use for the Kindle version exactly forty years later!
Since they hadn’t been able to pay us much, Rush agreed to guarantee me four illustrations (I think) over the next year. I did one (Yage) and was working on another when the magazine folded. Everything about Ah Pook is weird, Rush was just one more crack to fall through.
In addition, the first issue printed Burroughs’ Cobble Stone Gardens. So it would seem that Rush was far from successful. As Malcolm notes, the magazine was published by the same guys who published Swank, which had a tradition of mixing counterculture writing with porn. For example, Burroughs appeared in an issue of Swank back in 1961. The inclusion of Burroughs in the pages of Rush suggests either that into the mid-1970s Burroughs was still a big draw for young heads or that the editors did not have any new ideas. Given Rush‘s short shelf life and the fact that Burroughs appeared in half of the mag’s issues, the latter appears to be the case although the editors of High Times dipped into the seemingly bottomless Burroughs well several times throughout the 1970s. If you were into drugs you bound to come into contact with Burroughs at some point.
I do not know about you but I am a Pepsi guy. I love the rip-off, the copycat, and the second tier. Give me a B-Movie and the D-List any day. Often this type of media can provide through its seeming lack of original ideas fascinating insights into the zeitgeist of the time. The copy becomes more interesting than the original even if its treatment of the spirit of the times is half-baked.
Flipping through Rush I am reminded yet again of just how fucking crazy the 1970s really were and how short-sighted it is of me to focus exclusively on the 1960s. It is cliché that the sixties were the decade of sex, drugs and rock and roll but when you get down to it, the seventies were when that holy trinity went beyond the initiated and entered into secular experience. In the seventies the sixties went mainstream. Hell, even Time ran a cover story in the mid-1970s promoting cocaine as a wonder drug for the emerging class of yuppies who wanted to work hard and party harder. For a young ambitious stock broker, cocaine was viewed as the perfect recreational drug. By the dawn of the eighties, the hangover and paranoia would eventually set in and cocaine would be demonized and ghettoized in the crack epidemic. Similarly the Summer of Love would hit suburbia in the seventies with swinger clubs for the bridge and tunnel crowd, like Plato’s Retreat, key parties in Levittown, and gay culture seeping into mainstream sexual practices until AIDS came in and scared everybody straight. To give some idea of just how weird the seventies became, like Rush, there was a short-lived glossy mag along the lines of Sixteen and Tiger Beat, called Star that championed the groupie lifestyle and the tweens and teens who aspired to live it. Articles gushed over the girlfriends of The Rolling Stones or advised how a girl could catch an older man. Even in a decade of rock excess epitomized by the questionable dating practices of Jimmy Page and David Bowie, Star was just too much. It ran for only five issues. Finally as David Hepworth notes in his book, Never a Dull Moment, 1971 was the year the rock exploded, or more accurately, the year the rock industry consolidated into a big business increasingly run by corporations and accountants.
The same could be said for William Burroughs. The seventies would be the decade when the Mimeo Revolution began its slow decline in importance as the main outlet for alternative writers until its eventual collapse in the early eighties with the rise of Reagan and the personal computer. Little mags became less and less important in Burroughs’ bibliography as mainstream publishers like Viking and Henry Holt marketed Burroughs’ latest releases. Burroughs would even appear in the pages of People. Rush is a forgotten mag that documents this shift. It captures a time when Burroughs as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll emerged from the underground bookstores and headshops on to their eventual presence in the checkout line at the supermarket.