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Punk, Patti Smith, William Burroughs & capitalism: A ‘conceptual conversation’ with RE/Search’s Vale


Vale with William Burroughs

This interview with V. Vale was conducted by Michael Lee Nirenberg, director of the 2014 documentary Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story

Early in my conversation with publisher and writer V. Vale he called me a “conceptual conversationalist,” although that moniker really belongs to Vale himself. Vale has had an interesting life. He was born in a Japanese-American internment camp in 1944, moved to Haight-Ashbury at the height of the 1960s counterculture movement, joined the original lineup of Blue Cheer, went on to publish punk zine Search and Destroy while working at beatnik bookstore City Lights, and then made his serious mark on the emerging post-punk culture with RE/Search.

For me, the seminal RE/Search journals which Vale has been publishing since the 1980s are a snapshot of culture at its most vital and ideas at their most radical. RE/Search was like early Interview magazine but the interviews were largely unedited, ran long, and each volume more or less tackled a particular subject. Some of the more well-known ones are: Pranks, Incredibly Strange Films, and The Industrial Culture Handbook.

Needless to say Vale’s work has been an influence on me. I met Vale at the New York Art Book Fair last year and interviewed him by phone on April 2, 2017. Below is that conversation edited lightly and segmented because Vale is a stream of consciousness type guy and you have to just roll with him. Enjoy.
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On interviews and conversations

VV: So I invented a phrase for you while I was waiting for you to call; “conceptual conversationalist.” How’s that?

MN: That’s pretty good, man. All of a sudden I feel like I’m in a RE/Search interview.

VV: (laughs) Well that’s proper. It’s all useful. Conversations are two-way streets.

MN: I agree and I think that’s what attracted me to RE/Search throughout the years, and why I return to the volumes. I wrote out a dozen or so question but that doesn’t mean I have a script I’m going to follow. As you know a conversation takes you elsewhere.

VV: The holy grail of a conversation is when suddenly there appears a concept or an idea that neither person has contemplated before.

MN: Yeah. I agree with that and I think that’s when it’s the most successful.

VV: Whatever. I’m not a success or failure guy, I just observe what’s happening but that’s kinda rare and when it happens it’s a mini cause celebre.

MN: I think that’s a good point. I was wondering if everyone who has ever interviewed you has attempted to do a RE/Search interview on some level.

VV: I don’t really call them interviews, I call them conversations. That gives you a lot more latitude to go into some unexpected direction. Play and humor are like the supreme goal I suppose. I don’t know. I suppose I don’t know how to answer that one (laughs), I just try to have fun with whoever I’m talking to.

MN: Yeah, I think I do the same thing.

VV: Good! Hooray we’re on the same wavelength.

MN: Yeah, it seems obvious that humor is the thing that makes life bearable. And ideas.

VV: Well yeah… ideas. Especially ideas. Yeah, humor of course.
 

 
On Capitalism

VV: Oh yeah, ideas especially. The main idea always (laughs) is the overarching theme of how do we make this world a better place? How can we conceptualize a better world? How do we visualize a better world? For example I don’t understand why there aren’t more young artists making films about how life ought to be and dare I say a future that’s post-capitalism. I’m sure you know who (Slavoj) Žižek is and I think the best thing he ever said was, “You can imagine the apocalypse, you can imagine the end of the world, but you can’t imagine a world after capitalism.”

MN: Oh, that’s good.

VV: I’m a capitalist. I make books and hope someone buys them and I obviously need to make a profit so I can pay my rent, but I can’t imagine another system. Boy, if you can you will be the first!

MN: I struggle with this too. For all its flaws, the critiques don’t offer a way out. Look at the countries that went all in with socialism and communism. They started off as such high-minded concepts until they became religion.

VV: Even worse than religion (laughs). I think it’s all patriarchy, but yet I like most ideas of feminism which are actually the same ideas found in anti-racism i.e fighting privilege. There’s that famous saying you probably know which is “privilege confers blinders.” A lot of times if you have privilege you don’t feel it. It doesn’t even exist within the world you’re conceptualizing.

I always said my goal in publishing was (and I stole it from Hegel), “if you’re working, work for more freedom, more consciousness (that’s a great word) and more justice for more people.” The hard thing is the justice because then you get into the grimy world of lawyering and criminality and it’s just so much. Can you imagine if you were a heterosexual seeking a relationship with another heterosexual of the opposite gender. Let’s say complementary gender. I’m not a fan of opposite. I’m a fan of complimentary.

MN: Yes and relativity.

VV: Yes. Can you just imagine a world in which you try to act in perfect justice with another partner? I’m a huge fan of having a partner for a simple reason which is the hardest thing you can do. I’ve never had a job and I managed to support myself mostly and the hardest thing to do is guess what? Make next month’s rent.The other person (your partner) has to worry about the same thing. Take my word for it. It makes life a helluva lot easier and bearable.

More with Vale after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.15.2017
05:44 pm
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RE/Search’s Vale and JG Ballard on William Burroughs


 
This is a guest post from Graham Rae.

In 2007, I interviewed Val Vale, of RE/Search Publications, and the late futurologist novelist JG Ballard, about a writer whom they were both very favorably predisposed to, William S. Burroughs. I talked to the amiable Val by phone, and sent JGB a few questions by mail, sending him a copy of an expensive science book I had received for review, An Evolutionary Psychology of Sleep and Dreams, to sweeten the pot. The answers are below.

These interviews originally appeared on the now-defunct website of the fine Scottish writer Laura Hird, and do not appear anywhere else online; have not done for years. Thus the references are somewhat dated, but at lot of the material, sadly, remains very much in vogue. I had only been in America for two years in 2007, and my views here seem somewhat naïve to me now, but, well, them’s the learning-immigrant breaks. So without further ado…

Foreword: Noted San Francisco underground publisher V Vale has been publishing since 1977, when, with $200 he was given by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and poet/ City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti ($100 from each), he put out 11 issues of the Search And Destroy punk zine. In 1980 he started RE/Search, an imprint which still puts out infrequent volumes on subjects like schlock therapy trash movies, JG Ballard, punk, modern primitives, supermasochists, torture gardens, pranks, angry women, bodily fluids.anything and everything taboo and alternative and unreported was and is fair grist to Vale’s subversive ever-churning wordmill.

In 1982 he put out RE/Search #4/5, a three-section volume including William S. Burroughs, with the other two sections being about Throbbing Gristle and the artist Brion Gysin, WSB’s friend and collaborator who’d introduced the writer to the ‘cut-up’ method of rearranging his texts to show what they really mean.

The Burroughs section of the book include an interview with Burroughs by Vale (who is mentioned in Burroughs’ Last Words), an unpublished chapter from Cities of The Red Night, two excerpts from The Place of Dead Roads, two “Early Routines,” an article on “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin” and ‘The Revised Boy Scout Manual’ which is a piece in which Burroughs muses revealingly on armed revolution and weapons-related revelation.

I talked to the amiable publisher about this interesting volume, but only about Burroughs, because he was the reason I wanted to read the thing in the first place; neither of the other two subjects much interest me, to be perfectly honest. It’s an interesting volume that any Burroughs enthusiast would definitely enjoy. So join us as we (me with occasionally incomprehensible-to-American-ears Scottish accent) take a trip down memory lane and talk about snakebite serum, dark-skinned young boys, the City Lights bookstore, independent publishing, aphorisms, Fox News’s hateful right-wing Christian conservative pop-agitprop, the madness of Tony Blair and avoiding mad drunks with guns.

And after the interview with Vale you will find the answers to a few questions JG Ballard was kind enough to answer me by mail about his own relationship with El Hombre Invisible.

V Vale Questions

Graham Rae: First off, how did you first encounter Burroughs’ work?

Vale: Oh, jeez. Well, I encountered Naked Lunch at college in the late ‘60s. He was like the cat’s meow. Burroughs and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon—books like these. And it was obvious that Burroughs was this un-sane, slightly science-fictiony visionary, but he wasn’t really science fiction, he was extremely sardonic, that was his main appeal, with Dr. Benway and all that. And since I was more-or-less hetero oriented I think I more or less ignored all the references to young boys with blue gills and fluorescent appendages and whatever. That sort of went right by me like water off a duck’s back. It was only later that I realized that the imagery was kind of . . . how it was oriented. But what really turned me on to Burroughs was an article in a 1970 or ‘71 Atlantic Monthly magazine that came out with a huge excerpt in it from The Job, which is Burroughs’—I think it’s his signature book of interviews, it’s kind of the equivalent of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). And so I took this magazine and underlined it and kept reading it over and over, making lists and trying to get all the books that he talked about. And then The Job came out and that became my Bible

Yeah?

Vale: Oh yeah, it’s totally important. Still important; it’s got so many ideas in it.

Well that’s the thing about Burroughs, isn’t it? It’s like this sort of surreal mercurial Braille, it’s very strange. I mean you read it, you go back to it and then you go back to it and then you get something different from it because you’ve got a completely different level of understanding of it, y’know, I think, personally.

Vale: Well yeah, that definitely can happen with any great book. And I spent so much time with ‘The Job’ and with that ‘Atlantic Monthly’ article. It was obvious that this was sort of like a philosophy of life. I mean, instead of saying you’re right wing or left wing politically, you could just say, Well, I’m a Burroughsian. There should be almost a Burroughsian political party making fun of authoritarianism all across the entire political spectrum.

I’ve got that party in my head that goes on 24 fucking 7, man. Right. When and how did you first contact Burroughs?

Vale: Well I was already working at City Lights Bookstore and one of the perks of working there was that you got to meet all the so-called Beatniks and you were already in the in-group.

Did you meet like Ginsberg and that then, I take it?

Vale: Oh yeah, sure. The legend is that Ginsberg gave me my first $100 to start publishing. It’s certainly true, but I wish I had made a Xerox of the check, and I wish I had made a Xerox of the check that Ferlinghetti gave me, too. But you know, back in those days you didn’t have a home Xerox machine, you had to go to a corner facility and spend ten cens on a Xerox. Believe it or not, ten cents for a Xerox was a lot of money in 1976 or so.

Especially when you don’t have much money.

Vale: Especially when you’re living on minimum wage from City Lights, but you know you would parlay that, you’d stretch that out by: you’d get such a low income you’d qualify for food stamps, for example. They still give out food stamps—I see these old Chinese people using them still, but I hear they’re really hard to get now. But they used to be easy to get.
 

 
Continues after the jump with more from Vale and JG Ballard on WSB…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.24.2015
12:06 pm
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