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The most influential cultural figure of the twentieth century that most people have never heard of.

March 7, 2012 \pm\31 2:15 pm

That’s how Brion Gysin is characterized on the front cover flap of Nothing Is True Everything Is Permitted, John Geiger’s 2005 biography.  Gysin, however, is undoubtedly known to everyone who visits We Who Are About To Die.

The British-born Gysin (1916 – 1986) was a man of varied skills: painter, poet, novelist, recording artist, inventor of the dreamachine, producer of experimental tape recordings and the one who gave Alice B. Toklas the recipe for hashish brownies. As if his creative pursuits didn’t absorb enough time, he was proprietor of The 1001 Nights restaurant in Tangier for a few years in the 1950s. The Master Musicians of Jajouka were his house band and provided entertainment along with fire eaters and acrobats (imagine eating your dinner there—come to think of it, Gysin basically created the template for Medieval Times).

Early in his artistic life, Gysin was affiliated with the Surrealists when he was living in Paris. His paintings were part of an exhibition with the likes of Magritte, Man Ray and Dali, but on the day of the preview André Breton excommunicated Gysin from the Church of Surrealism and ordered his works removed.

Gysin’s lasting fame rests on a sliver of influence. While they were resident in the Beat Hotel in Paris, Gysin introduced William S. Burroughs to the cut-up technique the latter adopted as the guiding principle for Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and other novels.

Have a listen to “Kick” from Self-Portrait Jumping, a CD of Gysin performing his poetry and stories to music by Ramuntcho Matta. And while you’re at it, check out bryongysin.com.

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