BRION GYSIN, MAGICIAN

Eddie Woods

Enter Brion Gysin. The famed painter, anti-poet and self-proclaimed misanthrope (“Man is a bad animal”); the man who’d turned Burroughs on to the possibilities of cut-up writing (a notion he himself had filched from the Dadaist antics of Tristan Tzara) yet later called William “Master,” and whoyears earlier had been unceremoniously evicted from the surrealist movement by André Breton...Brion Gysin was back in town, brought to Amsterdam by Benn Posset for a duet at the Melkweg with très avant-garde soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. I’d gotten to know Brion at P78, had visited him a couple of times in Paris, and for sure wanted to catch this dynamic twosome strutting their stuff. As ever (i.e., when all else failed), my press pass got me in. 

After the performance, I went backstage to say hello to Brion and meet Steve. Surprisingly, apart from the three of us plus Benn, the dressing room was empty. Nor was anyone saying much. They were waiting for ‘the man.’ From the look of things, all best would be if he got there soon: Benn was out of coke and clearly in need of a thick line, while Steve wanted to buy a packet quick and split for the jazz clubs. Although I had a small stash in my kick, it didn’t seem either my place or an apt occasion to offer. Besides, Brion was strictly into cannabis and it was him I’d come to see.

Another few minutes on and the dealer sauntered in, a pleasant English chap I knew from both there and London. Benn scored first and in no time flat was sniffing away. Having sufficiently stoked himself, he turned and offered toots, first to Brion (I think he accepted, out of politeness) and then Steve, who had a one-and-one and abruptly left. Now what? Benn couldn’t simply ignore me, not with Brion looking on.

“Eddie?” he said, taking a few steps towards me and proffering his tiny golden spoon. I said “Sure” and took a single hit. It wasn’t exactly the polar cap melting, but you’d have to be stone deaf not to hear a surface being scratched.

Benn crossed the room again and immediately got into an animated discussion with Brion. They were out of earshot, I was standing there quietly marking time, so I fingered for my little glass bottle and knocked back a hit or two more. Then Benn walked over to me and...started talking!

“Brion wants to go somewhere, but I don’t know the right places. Any ideas?”

I had ideas, all right, and they were precisely up Brion’s homosexual alley. My first suggestion met with instant approval.

“Wells Fargo? Let’s go!” said Brion gleefully. He’d recently had a fling with an heir to the corporate fortune, so the name alone struck a perfect chord. Within minutes we were seated in Benn’s car and heading for one of Amsterdam’s heaviest leather bars. Brion sat in front, not least because his colostomy condition demanded that much extra respect. And given the circumstances, one might even think I was lucky to be there, period. During the drive, communication between me and Benn was mostly kept to him asking and my giving directions, but that in itself was something. Or so I thought.

“Brion,” I impulsively blurted out, just as Benn was slowing down to scour for a parking space; “do you realize that this is first time Benn and I have spoken to one another in two years?”

Brion’s head swung sharply round, eyes glaring into mine for a seemingly interminable mini-second before his lips bitingly snapped: “Shut your fucking mouth!”

Gulp. I was too taken aback to try and notice if Benn was grinning, or even care. Benn parked and we all walked from car to bar silently, with me leading the way. The joint was overflowing with nothing but leather queens, and incredibly noisy. At either end of the narrow saloon, complete with sawdust on the floor, an oversized screen was showing a different yet equally graphic porn video. Ignoring both people and hubbub, and acting like he’d been there countless times before, Brion quickly cut to the right and ducked through a thickly-curtained doorway. Benn and I followed, first one then the other stumbling down an unseen cement step, only to find ourselves in a practically pitch-black grope room. With Brion already well out of sight.

“Back inside?” said one of us, the other promptly agreeing. We made our way to the longest of the club’s two bars and somehow found a pair of empty stools standing side by side. If I hadn’t known better, I might’ve thought they’d been reserved for us, they were so incomprehensibly deserted. We sat down, ordered drinks, sipped slowly when they came, and waited. Then ordered another round. But still no Brion. Yep, the tricky bastard had definitely done it. No wonder even Burroughs saw him as a kind of magician. Were the damn stools his doing, as well?

I forget who started talking first or what about, but it was Benn who broke the ice by offering me a surreptitious hit of coke, a gesture I surely reciprocated from my own stash. But for at least several minutes after the first word had been uttered (and it must have been a solid hour before Brion saw fit to reappear), our conversation could not have been anything but desultory: how long Brion would be staying, whether I’d be doing another issue of the mag, when the next festival was scheduled for, and so on. What I do clearly recall is, once we had exhausted all those rambling possibilities and another pause ensued, it was I who conspicuously changed course by turning to Benn and saying:

“You know, man, when I wrote that Newsletter, it was really intended as...well, as a kind of love letter.”

“Eddie,” he replied dryly, “love letters like that I can live without.”

And we both laughed, Benn literally going “Ho-ho,” which he was wont to do when in an exceptionally good mood. And ordered more drinks. And snorted more coke. And speculated and guffawed about what Brion might have gotten up to in the grope room. (Personally, I doubt he’d done anything beyond hang out, get off and poetically groove on the sounds, and merely kill time. Grope rooms and glory holes just didn’t seem his style.) And then kept talking, about this, that, and all sorts of other things. All of a sudden Brion was back and ready to leave.

The Ins & Outs building, which at that time also housed the bookstore we still had, was on the way to Brion’s hotel, so we stopped off there in order for Brion to collect a stack of the postcard I’d published showing him holding a ‘bandaged poet’ papier-mâché cast of his four-toed foot. I wasn’t yet living on the premises, but it was a short and refreshing walk along a red-light canal to the garret flat I occupied, upstairs from a brothel. Before they drove off, the three of us agreed to meet for breakfast the following morning.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Brion said, positioning himself beside me at the hotel’s luncheon counter. “I know who the guy is, what he’s about, and where he thinks he’s coming from. The time wasn’t ripe for you to say anything.”

“It’s okay, Brion; you did fine.”

“You understand then?”

“Perfectly,” I said. “And thank you.”

With which Benn ambled in and plunked his large frame alongside Brion. We had breakfast, chatted amiably, went for a leisurely stroll, and then each got on with his respective day.

 

© 2007 by Eddie Woods

 

Read the complete Soyo Benn: A Profile