The Big Fix!


One of the stories that was new to me in recent book purchase, Strange Ecstasies (1973), was The Big Fix by Richard Wilson, a science-fiction piece about a junkie in New York City looking for something newer and better than the heroin habit he’s trying to quit. The story first appeared in Infinity Science Fiction for August 1956 but the first half of the narrative seemed so unlike the usual SF fare of the time that I kept flicking back to the copyright page to check the date. The Big Fix of the title (or The Big Fix! as it was in the magazine) is a substance named uru given to the narrator by Jones, an alien in disguise; smoking the drug induces a telepathic conversation with Jones followed by a journey through space to his home planet. In the second half of the story we discover why Jones (or Joro as he’s known at home) is transporting low-lifes from New York and offering them a chance to live on his world. The explanation is as pedestrian in SF terms as an episode of Star Trek, a factor which makes the first half of the story seem all the more striking, replete as it is with junk-life details, contemporary slang and discussion of the (for the time) very obscure South American drug known as yage, aka ayahuasca. Was this written from Wilson’s personal experience or had the details been lifted from a contemporary authority?


A few minutes of searching turned up the solution in an illustrated spread from the magazine: the original printing opened with a paragraph from Junkie (1953) by William Burroughs (credited as William Lee) which not only explains the accuracy of the drug and slang details but also why Wilson was mentioning yage. Burroughs’ connections with (and influence upon) the SF world are well-documented but this is a surprising example—maybe the first—of his influencing a story before he was known as William Burroughs. I wonder now if he ever knew about this instance himself, or if the excising of the Junkie paragraph from subsequent reprints marooned the detail in the magazine. At the end of the story there’s more contemporary relevance when the narrator has managed to return to Earth and is helping some researchers with their mescaline experiments, a process whose higher status he attributes to “the Huxley effect”.

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The William Burroughs archive

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Audio Arts


Audio Arts was a British audio magazine established by Bill Furlong which appeared on vinyl LP, cassette tape and CD from 1973 to 2006. The Tate website has an archive section devoted to the magazine which allows you to listen to each of the tapes, surprisingly when much of the content on the Tate sites is fenced about with copyright restrictions. The contents are as varied as any regular arts magazine: reviews, interviews and so on. An interview with Marcel Duchamp from 1959 is one of the featured highlights. Of greater interest to this listener is an interview from 1981 with Laurie Anderson discussing her epic stage work, United States Parts 1–4. This would have been around the time that one of the songs from that show, O Superman, turned her into a UK pop star for a few weeks.

In addition to a great deal of talk some of the tapes contain recordings of sound pieces or performances. One tape from 1985 features nine works by the Bow Gamelan Ensemble: Ann Bean, Richard Wilson and PD Burwell. The Bow Gamelan Ensemble were at the arty British end of the 1980s’ vogue for making music with industrial detritus, a trend developed and popularised by Z’EV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Department and others. I never got to see the ensemble but their pyrotechnic live performances always looked like fun. The tape gives an idea of their uncompromising sound. (Tip via The Wire.)

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