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The Man With the Neutron Gun

‘If you want to pull off this kind of high-wire surrealist polemic, you need to write with confidence and daring. Even if your daily existence off the page is fractured by neurotic behaviour patterns.’ SWP muses on Gerry Reith’s Neutron Gun

I got the ‘dude look’ in Toronto Canada from a guy in a battered cowboy hat with eyes beneath like the proverbial pissholes in the snow.

It was December 1995 and the look he gave me said ‘you and I are fine fellows/kindred spirits and we know things other people don’t’. I gave him the benefit of a slight nod and accelerated my pace. He was fast on his feet in the way only a determined street seller can be, making a smooth u-turn and stepping smartly alongside. I also have eyes like PITS, which is probably why he tried to interest me in uppers or downers as we walked down Yonge St. at a nervous lick (Canadian cops can be particularly unpleasant).

My drug days were long gone by then so I graciously declined. In desperation he pulled a battered paperback from his coat pocket and offered it to me for two dollars. I said something like: ‘If I buy this will you fuck off quicksticks?’

That’s how I came to own a copy of Rants from Amok Press.

It contains a variety of short tracts, derived mostly from long out-of-print books. Marat is included in this fine volume, as well as the Marquis De Sade, Austin Osman Spare, Ezra Pound, Reich, Leary and many other outsider types. It was a bargain buy and it gave me few dark chuckles on the flight back.

Until I got to a piece called ‘The Roots of Modern Terror’ by someone named Gerry Reith.

The subject matter was predictably chilly, yet executed in the kind of precise language which correctly blends style and substance to great effect. It clung to me for days. I could think of only one practical way to exorcise this particular miasma. I decided to set it to music.

Once the instrumental backing track was complete I decided to deliver the text in the style of the late/great actor James Mason. Chris, my recording engineer, helpfully pointed out that it actually sounded like a bad John Cale impersonation, so I immediately lost confidence in the entire conceit and dropped the idea into the ‘not quite right’ file.

A couple of years later we bought some nifty pitch-changing software and Chris decide to test it out on the track we now referred to as ‘The Bus’. Suddenly the terrible thing sprang into an approximation of life.
The bus by Trebuchet-Magazine

I knew little or nothing about Reith at that time – didn’t know that he looked like a young Tom Verlaine on the cover of Television’s Adventure album, or that when he committed suicide in 1985 (by shooting himself in the head) his body was found slumped over a typewriter surrounded by blood soaked pages.

These facts were discovered when I purchased Neutron Gun, a slim volume from Neither/Nor press. The small press publisher had suggested a collection of his writings and tracts, but Gerry decided to temper his voice by including pieces by some of his close associates, which is why his cover credit reads: ‘assembled by’.

He needn’t have been so generous. His compellingly controlled desperation could have fuelled a volume twice the size. On joggers:

‘They lie to themselves about working at one’s peak thus disguising the desire to live forever that compensates them for the horror of an insipid present and the real activity it demands. We see the vain pursuit of physical health as overcompensation for mental debilitation, for paralyzed will’.  

A neutron gun, by the way, is described as ‘a doohickey that they put in certain types of nuclear warheads to give it that extra boost when it goes off’.

In the short story ‘…To Rust Unburnished’ a pregnant nurse reads a right-wing Christian magazine while simultaneously, its author is masturbating with the latest issue of Spermbank magazine open in front of him, while Miss May, the object of his undivided attention, is learning sales analysis at a business college with ‘an eternal golden braid in her hair’. The hero of the story is already dead at this point, having been shot by a man in a clown suit.

If you want to pull off this kind of high-wire surrealist polemic, you need to write with confidence and daring. Even if your daily existence off the page is fractured by neurotic behaviour patterns. Neutron Gun was published posthumously and you don’t have to read far between the lines of the tributes to realise that Gerry Reith was a restless, short tempered and uncompromising individual.

With the notable exception of William Burroughs and Phil Dick the literary output of most 20th century counterculture heroes now seem like museum pieces, tethered to long-vanished myth structures and easily forgotten ideals. Gerry was an exception who dared to look long and hard at the slathering beast which was forming rapidly on the edge of a consumer-driven society. Now that beast is almost grown and something we can no longer ignore.

I like to think that if Gerry Reith were still writing today it would be for the web pages of this particular magazine.

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