bill bissett | Interview | ‘Awake in the Red Desert’ – Zoner Masterpiece
A few years ago Feeding Tube Records issued a fantastic reissue of 1968 zoner masterpiece by poet bill bissett and his fellow Vancouver freaks.
bissett is a sound/concrete poet of high repute when this was recorded, and he was also something akin to the king of the Vancouver underground scene. The original album was issued by Jim Brown’s See/Hear label, which Brown founded as an adjunct to his Talon Books imprint. Backed by a band of interesting musicians (a few of whom went on to straighter afterlives), bissett created an insane mass of sound, comparable to what Mayo Thompson’s Red Crayola was doing in Texas around the same time, laced with heavy Fugs overtones.
Pure freaked sonics, created while stoned, for an audience that was similarly blasted, and was willing to decode what was going on using the very best acid logic available.
The reissue was part of the Feeding Tube’s Unknown Province series – a run of records dedicated to exploring little known nooks of the Canadian underground, curated by Alex Moskos.
bill bissett asked us to publish unedited text. He further explained it’s just the way he writes and perceives language, and told us to respect that.
A.J. Kaufmann; Hello bill, it’s really nice to talk to you on behalf of It’s Psychedelic Baby! Magazine. I would like to begin our interview with a question about the album ‘Awake in the Red Desert’ that you released in 1968. In my eyes, it’s a cult classic – its combination of poetry, experimental music, tribalness, and original sound concepts works wonders both as a psychedelic experience and a pioneering work for sound poetry. Do you have any fascinating stories to share about this LP?
bill bissett: 4 me th most fascinating storee is that jim brown th producr got us all 2gethr 4 th recording he had a studio set up sumwher on th ubc campus n we did a few hours recording n all went home thn he notisd he had not turnd on th record button he told us next morning whn he came 2 get us from wher we wer n we did it agen no preconcveevd nosyuns just us being sew inventiv was wun uv th best xperiences uv my life martina clinton gregg simpson terry beauchamp hartly we wer all sew in tine n in synch with each othr it happend thn was amayzing 4 us
‘If Awake in the Red Desert’ was your only work, you’d still be a legend. What are other early works of yours our readers should check out?
MEDICINE my mouths on fire i think 73-74 thers a record with it its a solo reeding recording
In your early days, how did the poetry world look like? How does it look now? What are the differences you like, and what do you dislike?
i dont think abt th poetree world onlee th poets
n 4 me as a reedr n listnr thats alwayze brillyant yes?
Do you have any fun stories to share from the 60s?
68 jail was brillyant brain surgeree was awsum being on trial was awsum starting blewointmentpress was amayzing marreeing draft dodgrs 2 amenabul cdn women amiabul all our efforts 2 stop th war in vietnam pees marches working with milton acorn on i want to tell you love th book we did togethr onlee in 2021 getting releesd from university uv calgary pressshepherdid by eric schmaltz
Please share your favorite poem you’ve written back then with us.
Veronika 86 ode 2 frank silvera 68 a o b d a 0 a 69 ode to d.a. levy 68 jed bi kor bensk trik 68 sew manee favourits i dont reelee have favourites killer whale th canadian rainbow mewsic what we dew if ther aneething we dew is 2 take care uv th erth i cud compile a book uv mostlee sound pomes leeding up 2 n continuing on from th rhythma uv veronik 2 rodeo archipelado in th nu book ium working on now i love th recording uv th ride 2 th place uv meditaysyun dermot foley n i recordid as sonic horses 87
In 2022, almost everything from the 50s/60s is considered pioneering work, especially by the younger generation. How did you perceive writing back then? Creating? Making music? Did you think of yourself as a pioneer, or were you simply doing your thing?
manee phone conversaysyuns with bpNichol abt deekonstruking th poetree literaree world we had inheritid we wer both followrs n lovrs uv gertrude stein we felt we wer reelee part uv a nu world wide band uv devoteez 2 n with change th word n how its pesentid
How did your poetry change with the times?
th poetree duz keep changing on its own anothr v erlee favourit how we use our lungs 4 love cud have bin writtn prior 2 itself or much latr th
writing n has its own time masheen n cud b analyzd tho as th rhythms uv veronika yes
Which works of yours are most important, according to you, not the critics?
all uv them
You started sharing your recorded works on Bandcamp – are there more materials coming there? What you already released is an astounding body of work – can you tell us more about these works and your collaborations?
Mor nmor is apeering on bandcamp curatid by simmon hutton n ub kours th pete dako albums th latest stars or previous nothing will hurt
Please tell us more about your band, Luddites.
its not reelee my band gerry collins peter denny n murray favro askd me 2 audishyun n i did n thn they askd me 2 join them they wer alredee 2gethr ludditees playing touring southern ontario n we wer starting 2 get reel air play was wun th best xperiences uv my life 86-91 alternativ rock huge lerning xperiens n byond byond wundful live life xpeeiences
How do you think poetry interacts with music, speaking of art, not of entertainment?
You have a YouTube channel, I especially love the ‘Geneva 2011’ piece. Please tell us more about the materials on that channel – it is wonderful to hear and watch what you decide to share with us. What are your favorite works shared there?
Probablee a favourit work 4 me is th ‘geneva 2011” work ‘othr times th sea sew …”
You are mostly recognized as a poet. I’d like to ask about recent works that our readers might not be yet familiar with. Do you have a new book out, or a new album? How does it feel to be still so creatively active after all those years?
i love being creativ nu books b r e t h / th treez uv lunaria from talonbooks 2019 n its th sailors life / still in treetment meditaysyuns from gold mountaiin 2022 both books from talonbooks n burst with chris meloche cd 2022 anothr amayzing byond wundrful xperiens 4 me was acting in helen posnos magik brillyant playy challenging the sea long 1 act play with 6 actors playing 6 charaktrs trying 2 accept n dslodge fom a ship wreck n c ing if they cud rebuild hope amayzing awsum dialog with huge sensitivitees 2019
What’s new for you? It seems you never stop creating – if there are some news you’d like to share, please do, we will be definitely looking forward to your new works!
my nu book its th sailors life/ still in teetment meditaysyuns from gold mountain 2022 an epik portik novel abt langwage n speech from talonbooks out now n stars nu cd with pete dako on bandcamp
Thank you for your kindness and time, and greetings from It’s Psychedelic Baby! Magazine.