Brion Gysin, “Junk”
By John Morrison · January 23, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

When British Canadian poet Brion Gysin died on July 13th, 1986, his friend and collaborator William S. Burroughs eulogized him beautifully: “He was the only man I have ever respected. I have admired many others, esteemed and valued others, but respected only him. His presence was regal without a trace of pretension. He was at all times impeccable.”

To understand Burroughs’s adoration of Gysin, one would have to understand the relationship between the two men. As the inventor of the “cut-up” literary technique that Burroughs made famous, Gysin challenged conventional notions of originality and authorship in literature. This breakthrough allowed Burroughs and the host of writers and musicians that followed to bring a genuinely new improvisational approach to writing. But Gysin’s contributions were not merely limited to literature. A committed multidisciplinarian, his genius also extended into the realm of music.

Junk is a collection of recordings that Gysin made while living in Paris in the early 1980s. Produced by visual artist and sound designer Ramuntcho Matta, the Junk sessions feature an eclectic group of musicians ranging from free jazz legend Don Cherry, Abdoulaye Prosper Niang (drummer for Senegalese rock legends Xalam), and members of post-punk acts Suicide Romeo and Modern Guy. The result of this diverse mixture of personalities and Gysin’s writing leaves us with a unique meeting of poetry and punky, avant-garde-influenced funk.

Junk opens with “Kick (Discomix),” a loose and rubbery jam. In true cut-up style, the line “Kick that habit, man” is dissected and rearranged to hypnotic, druggy effect. Don Cherry’s melodic lines on trumpet are a tasteful counterbalance to the rhythm section. “Sham Pain” opens with four bars of a lone electric guitar before it kicks into a swinging, mid-tempo groove. Like much of the music throughout Junk, “Sham Pain” occupies a world of its own, but the sound is closely related to Kid Creole & The Coconuts, and the funky post-punk bands like ESG and Liquid Liquid that made 99 Records infamous around the same time that these sessions were produced. Gysin was in his 60s when this music was recorded, and despite his elder statesman status, he was clearly tapped in with the cutting edge of the New York and European post-punk scenes. Like much of Brion Gysin’s life and work, Junk is an illuminating bridge between a handful of related cultural movements.

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