Thurston Moore curated William Burroughs Nova Convention exhibition

Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz (as The Ecstatic Peace Library) curated an exhibition of William Burroughs photographs and ephemera...
September '14

# and (as The Ecstatic Peace Library) curated an exhibition of photographs and ephemera, largely taken from Village Voice photographer James Hamilton’s images of the 1978 Nova Convention in New York. The Nova Convention, a three day celebration of readings, discussions, film screenings and performances on Burroughs’s work, included contributions from Laurie Anderson, John Giorno, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Brion Gysin, Frank Zappa, John Cage, Timothy Leary and others.

An exhibition catalogue also published at the same time, you can read Moore’s essay below. The exhibition ran until 13 July at Shoreditch Red Gallery.

The following is an excerpt from NOVA REFLECTIONS from the exhibition catalogue that describes the photography included therein:

Photographer James Hamilton was where I could only wish to be. I sat in the audience of the Entermedia Theater for the Nova Convention of 1978 excited to see and hear Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, and the honouree William S. Burroughs as a 19-year-old CBGB denizen. I lived a few blocks away on 13th Street between Avenues A and B.James Hamilton was backstage with a photo-pass courtesy of the Village Voice. It was another assignment on his schedule as a noted news staff photographer. On any given day he would attend at least three or four events in the New York City milieu of civics, arts and beyond. He’d awake to shoot a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Mayor Ed Koch, head over to a midtown hotel for a press conference with Brit rock rooster Rod Stewart, taxi to the Village Vanguard to catch jazz cosmologist Sun Ra, then end his evening at a literary soiree or possibly a Rolling Stones post-Madison Square Garden after-party. His extensive documentation has rarely been seen. In 2010, Ecstatic Peace Library published You Should Have Seen Just What I Heard, a select tome of his music personality photographs, all black and white. Forthcoming is James’ book of film event and actors and actress’s photos as edited by director Wes Anderson, whom James has been working with as still photographer since Wes’ “The Royal Tenenbaums” film.

What I remember of the Nova Convention, in my teenage potted reverie, was a palpable excitement of the importance of Burroughs’ return to NYC. He had been living and working in London for some time, and before that, was residing in Tangiers. My awareness of the poets and performers on the Nova Convention bill was obscure, but I did realise everyone there had experienced a history in connection to the man. The poet Eileen Myles performed, and I have a hazy memory of what she has since reminded me was a polarising moment that night: She and a femme cohort came out on stage and performed the so-called William Tell act where in 1951 Burroughs tragically sent a bullet through his wife Joan Vollmer’s skull, killing her instantly. According to Eileen she was hence persona non grata backstage, and frozen out from the coterie of avant lit celebrities shocked at her “reminder” performance.

Anne Waldman and John Giorno were both poets directly linked to the first generation Beat lineage. I certainly recall Giorno’s hyper repetitive sex-love incantation and Burroughs confidante Brion Gysin projection of a film where dreamscape changes occurred. I think, like most of the young somewhat rowdy 1978 hip Manhattan audience there was some restlessness and boredom with the readings, essaying, etc., as the rock n’ roll element of the program was held to the end. And what was promised was curtailed. Certainly a lot of tickets were sold with the announcement that Keith Richards was scheduled to appear. It had been suggested that the lyrics to “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction” were directly informed by a reading of Burroughs text. Which implied Keith wrote those lyrics, a heady thought. But the sign on the door said Keith Richards was a no-show (along with Susan Sontag). We were bummed but at least Patti Smith was gonna be there. And Philip Glass. And Frank Zappa.

Glass’s idiosyncratic high-speed minimalist pianistics was natural, gorgeous and sublime. Zappa came out and read a Burroughs excerpt “The Talking Asshole” which seemed appropriate and was mildly entertaining. Patti hit the stage in a glamorous black fur trench, purportedly on loan from some high-end clothier. She rambled on a bit, brazenly unscripted, testing the patience of the long night when out of the audience some fan-boy freako leapt on stage and bequeathed her with a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. She accepted it cooly and before long was gone. And we stumbled into the 2nd Avenue night.

Burroughs would continue to appear at the downtown punk clubs CBGB and Mudd Club and they were presented in the context of rock n’ roll band territory. Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and John Giorno did the same. Giorno, possibly with the influence of Patti and more specifically Jim Carroll, added rock musicians to his rant epiphanies.James Hamilton was able to capture the camaraderie and giddy love that was swirling behind the curtains of The Entermedia Theater where I was so intrigued to investigate. And his photos allow me in. There was always some magic in the air in NYC and it seemed like there could be no other world in 1978. Burroughs coming back to the city where he predicted the urban energy and flash lightning of punk rock was matter of pride and integrity. We owned the future.

Thurston Moore
London 2014 ✪


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