William S. Burroughs was a high modernist and a writer of complete trash; the two are by no means mutually exclusive. He was a genius and a bullshit artist. If his books prove anything, it’s that profundity and inanity can skip along merrily arm in arm. Sometimes his work was heavyweight, sometimes dumb. To borrow a Freudian analogy, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar and sometimes a man who taught his asshole to talk really is just a man who taught his asshole how to talk (what it’s saying and why is a different story). The paradox of the freest writer being a lifelong junky is really no paradox at all. As a user and pedlar, he understood the mechanics of how it all worked and kindly pointed it out to us, even as he was picking our pockets. He was a stiff morose patrician figure in a suit (so much so his friend Herbert Huncke initially took him for an undercover agent) with books and a history full of debauchery and depravity. If there seems a contradiction there, it’s in the eye of the beholder. What makes Burroughs’ work seem prophetic is that he was perceptive enough to see that people don’t change, the secret to all successful prophecies. We’re still continually re-enacting Greek myths on a daily basis and always will. Psychosis may mirror the zeitgeist (whether it’s paranoia of witches, Jews, communists, drug fiends, Islamists or whoever next) but its essential character doesn’t alter. The bugs and the feds are always with us and there’s only so much one man can do, calling door to door with an extermination kit.
In this triumvirate of maverick American talents, David Lynch emerges as the most old-fashioned, that is to say, formally consistent photographer. In The Factory Photographs he is represented by his pictures of the single subject of the title – deserted industrial spaces. (He also photographs nudes and forlorn snowmen.) His black-and-white photographs of decaying buildings are really black and grey. Taken as a whole they make a kind of elegy to industrialism and, in their ominous darkness, possess a unified aesthetic that sets him apart from the other two artists.
By David Gavan.
[Image: © Geoff MacCormack / Genesis Publications 2013]
“What a terrifically clever idea this is. I am all kinds of shades of green as I didn’t think of it first. Take the two of us and pretend that we went to America, Japan and, wait for it, fucking Russia of all places, me as a rock star and you as a cheerful backing singer and sidekick and then write a book about it. Brilliant! Will you actually be able to get this stuff published, do you think?”
– David Bowie, from the foreword to From Station to Station: Travels with Bowie 1973- 76
Back in January 1973, Geoff MacCormack was selling advertising space for a London construction magazine when he was head-hunted in the most astounding manner. A telephone caller told him (“Forget being asked”) that he was to provide backing vocals and percussion for Ziggy Stardust’s band, the Spiders From Mars, during their forthcoming world tour. The voice on the ‘phone belonged to David Bowie. By the end of the month, MacCormack (along with his camera) was bound for New York with his famously flight-phobic new boss on the opulently appointed SS Canberra.
“If that wasn’t cool enough,” he recalls, “David wasn’t keen to fly, so we travelled to America, Japan and Russia by road, sea, and rail, which was an absolute bonus. The week-long cruise to New York was as un-rock ‘n’ roll as it gets, so we’d kill the boredom by dressing for dinner, getting blotto, and chatting with our fellow passengers. During dinner we’d do our Oscar Wilde and Bosie routine: I’d ask David, ‘More vegetables, my dear Oscar?’ And he’d roll his eyes disdainfully and say, ‘I find vegetables so very vulgar.’ Obviously, we stood out a bit!