William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)
The Final Academy Documents (1983)
""In 1983 William S. Burroughs participated in a tour of Britain called "The Final Academy" which showcased Burrough's work and performances by artists influenced by this iconoclastic writer and artist. On October 4, 1983 the show came to Manchester at the Hacienda club, famous for the Factory record label. A special edit of Burrough's film Ghosts at No. 9 by Genesis P.Orridge, and the Gysin/Burroughs/Balch film Towers Open Fire were aired. John Giorno also performed. And then Burroughs himself performed readings from his written work, including "The Place of Dead Roads." Originally released on Factory as a two VHS box set, this long unavailable set has been restored, making an excellent addition to any Burroughs collection, or a great introduction to the uninitiated."

""William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. The Final Academy Documents is the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

Burroughs appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Burroughs’ presence that evening at least managed to fill out the space, even if a large portion of the audience didn’t seem to know why they were there or what the whole thing was about. Some of the films made by Burroughs’ collaborator Antony Balch were shown on the club’s big projection screens then John Giorno took to the stage to give a spirited and funny presentation of his performance poetry. I hadn’t heard of Giorno before, or his Giorno Poetry Systems, which had been putting readings by Burroughs and others on record, but he was very entertaining.

Burroughs followed, reading from The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands. It later became apparent that this was part of an ongoing scheme by his manager, James Grauerholz, to get the aged writer in front of audiences and earning some much-needed money. Whatever money he made was well-earned since few writers can deliver their work in public with as much style and wit, as the numerous recordings of his later readings testify. I’m not sure now what I expected from his reading but I remember being surprised at the degree of humour involved. What might seem cold and dead on the page came to life dripping with satiric vitriol under the stress of that snarling delivery. After this, the screening of a lengthy video by Psychic TV was something of an anti-climax, even if the blood and other fluids on display did provoke one audience member to exclaim “Why are you watching this?!” before storming out.

The programme booklets and posters for the Final Academy were designed by Neville Brody. It would have been nice to see the DVD release use Brody’s designs but that’s obviously expecting too much of the incompetents at Cherry Red.

The Final Academy was a defining moment in what, for want of a better term, is now seen as the Industrial Culture scene, Burroughs having been adopted as godfather by most of the prime movers in that movement-that-wasn’t-quite-a-movement. Psychic TV grew out of Throbbing Gristle, of course, and one of the last releases on TG’s Industrial Records label was Nothing Here Now but the Recordings, a collection of Burroughs’ early tape experiments. 23 Skidoo sampled (in the days before sampling…) a snatch of those recordings for The Gospel Comes to New

Guinea, a single produced by Cabaret Voltaire, and both these bands played at the London Final Academy event. At the time this meeting of literary and avant garde musical culture didn’t seem so surprising but 24 years on it seems increasingly unique and unrepeatable. Despite Burroughs’ considerable influence, the events in London and Manchester weren’t the inspirational moment that the organisers and participants might have wished as the 1980s turned out to be a decade of pop trivia and much political and cultural conservatism. Burroughs continued to produce good work (his musical collaborations, Seven Souls with Material and the Dead City Radio readings were high points) but Brion Gysin died in 1986 and many of the musical performers gradually ran out of steam or lost their way as the decade progressed. The “final” part of The Final Academy was more of a terminal declaration than anyone realised at the time."

William S. Burroughs in UbuWeb Sound
John Giorno in UbuWeb Sound