Ah Pook in Manhattan

1. I recently visited a gallery in downtown New York to see Malcolm McNeill‘s Ah Pook Is Here, a vast, never-published collaboration with William S. Burroughs. McNeill was a young graphic artist coming up in swinging 1960s London when a magazine called Cyclops asked him to illustrate a comic strip for a Burroughs text called The Unspeakable Mr. Hart. McNeill and Burroughs had never met when this piece was published, but Burroughs sought out the artist who’d captured his uncanny likeness in the work, suggesting they collaborate on an ambitious project called Ah Pook Is Here.

Apparently based on the legend of Ah Puch, the Mayan God of Death, Ah Pook is Here is as inscrutable as any Burroughs text, and features many signature Burroughs tropes — mob scenes, strange societies, contrasting urban and jungle environments, omnisexual beings. It’s a fascinating and attractive work, and I enjoyed chatting with the artist at the show. I asked him what it all meant, and he replied that he found the meaning of the work within his long and happy friendship with the late Burroughs (whose visage seems to appear in various places within the collection’s many pieces). Malcolm McNeill, who stresses that he does his work in physical media rather than Photoshop, bristled when I asked which comic artists had inspired him. “I don’t see this as comic art,” he said, instead citing Hieronymus Bosch and Francis Bacon as key influences. See for yourself at the Saloman Arts Gallery in downtown Manhattan till December 14.

2. Belgian artist Guy Peellaert of Rock Dreams and Diamond Dogs fame has died.

3. Slavoj Zizek says “Use Your Illusions” in the London Review of Books:

“The reason Obama’s victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures — think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn’t really believe that they would disintegrate — like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama’s victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise.”

4. Whose illusion? It’s hilarious that authorities in China are protesting the new Guns ‘n’ Roses album Chinese Democracy, seeing the title as a call for Western-style democracy in their nation. Who ever looks to Axl Rose for insights into global politics? In case anybody’s wondering, the title appears to be a self-mocking comparison to Chairman Mao’s totalitarean leadership style (Mao used to claim, against all evidence, that China was a democracy). Axl Rose has kicked every other member of Guns ‘n’ Roses out, and apparently “Chinese democracy” is the only kind of democracy anyone should expect within Guns ‘n’ Roses now that Chairman Axl is in charge. As for the long-awaited record itself, I think it’s pretty good, though I need to give it a few more listens before I reach a conclusive decision.

5. 50 Cent’s The Money and the Power is probably the meanest reality show competition ever. Instead of “The tribe has spoken” or “You’re fired”, 50’s (bleeped) exit line is “Get the fuck outta here”. You know I’m a fool for good reality TV shows, and so far this is one of the good ones.

6. Carolyn Kellogg admires Johnny Rotten’s excellent autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, recently reissued by Picador.

7. I didn’t know there was a poetry series, “Poems and Pints“, at historic Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan’s financial district. We already missed Paul Muldoon and Mark Strand, but there’s still time to catch Dana Goodyear, Katy Lederer, Sharon Olds and many others.

8. Bob Holman and Papa Susso on the Griot Trail in West Africa.

9. The complete Allan Sherman boxed set.

10. A dead Shakespearean makes his stage debut … as Yorick.

One Response

  1. William S. Burroughs is one
    William S. Burroughs is one of my favorites and the artwork on this project looks very good. I don’t recognize some of the action in this particular section of the comic, but that’s not surprising, as Burroughs words are nothing if not alive and constantly mutating (I mean that in a good way).

    Rock Dreams was one of those books I liked but was embarrassed to say I liked it.

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