This interview with KIX magazine by Bill Levy a former editor of IT was made to keep his flag flying…
Kix Mag: Welcome to KIX Magazine
Bill Levy: Yes; I am delighted and privileged to be interviewed in the same mag as Tupac’s sister and the uncle of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – not forgetting all those hot hat designers. I love hats. What do Tupac and I have in common? His name backwards – Caput – pronounced phonetically is Kaputt, a German word meaning broken-down, bust, knackered, ruined, done for, demolished. If something is Kaputt, it doesn’t work anymore. My name – Bill Levy. Backwards it is Yvel Llib, pronounced phonetically it becomes Evil Lib.
Kix Mag: Who was Michael X?
Bill Levy: 1934 – Born Trinidad. Black mother, Portuguese father a St Kitts merchant who didn’t live with family. Brought up in grandmother’s house in Belmont, on outskirts of Port of Spain. Not allowed to play with black children as half-white. Shunned by white children as black. Catholic schooling.
1948 – Sent by mother to work in father’s rum shop. Went back to Trinidad after arguments with father over women.”Two of my lady friends were old friends of his.” Back in Trinidad. Gets first sailing job on Norwegian freighter going to Canada. Barred from English ships because of being black. Sails on Norwegian boats to ports all over the world.
1953 – Went to Africa and smoked first marijuana.
1959 – Left the sea. Met and married Desiree, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. De Souza.
1960-1964 – Earns living by social work, poncing, gambling, post office robbery, and rent collecting for slum landlord. Apprenticed to best con-men in United Kingdom including Peter Rachman, Charles de Silva and Robert Jacobs. Resistance to white thugs. Speaks at funeral of Kelso Cochrane, young boy killed in Notting Hill race riots.
1965 – Becomes member of literary group centering on drug addict Alex Trocchi. Opens avant-garde record and bookshop, gambling hall. Contributes to Sigma Project run by writers Trocchi and William Burroughs. Organizes fashion show at Hilton. Official Trinidad representative at Commonwealth Poetry Conference, Cardiff. Tours England with Malcolm X. Sunday Times touts Michael as England’s black leader, associates him with worst aspects of the Movement, then turns on him. The history of Michael’s involvement with the Sunday Times is instructive. The Sunday Times needed a local figure corresponding to Malcolm X in the United States. Having been chosen for the part, Michael found himself beset West Indians in need of assistance, visiting black gangsters in need of entertainment, white liberals in search of reassurance and other journalists investigating aspects of racism. From that time he was under continued police surveillance.
1966 – Takes first acid trip. Has vision of the Holy City to be created in Notting Hill the “perfect balance of complimentary elements.” Founds and lectures at Notting Hill Free School. Founds RAAS, Racial Adjustment Action Society. Suggests that Queen has black baby. Attacked by press and Parliament and by friends. Develops feeling of persecution. Early contributor to underground newspaper IT. With Colin MacInnes founds Defense, a black civil liberties organization. Converted from Judaism to Islam. Changes name from de Freitas to Abdul Malik.
1967 – Continues literary and social activities. Speaker at Dialectics of Liberation (Roundhouse, London), sharing platform with Stokely Carmichael. Refuses invitation to join Moral Rearmament on religious grounds. Gives speech in Reading where he calls a Fleet Street journalist a “white monkey.” Charged under Racial Relation Act with inciting racial violence. William Burroughs offers to act as Michael’s interpreter to the court. Michael sentenced to one year imprisonment.
1968 – Publishes autobiography From Michael de Freitas to Michael Abdul Malik (Andre Deutsch). Serves nine months in Oxford, Brixton, Bristol, Stafford and Swansea Gaols. Released from gaol in August, Michael joins Black Eagles as Minister without Portfolio. Edits Black Eagle magazine – five numbers – “an attempt to transcend the barrier from oral to written tradition.”
1969 – Devotes full time and energies to founding and running Community Project “Black House” on Holloway Road, north London, together with soul-sick youthful millionaire Nigel Samuel. Charged with possession of cannabis. Removes typewriters from cowering radicals in IT office as part payment for his contributions – “A bad scene, man!” says IT business manager.
1970 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono give Michael their shorn hair for auction, proceeds going to Black House Project. Charged with demanding money with menaces from dry cleaner. Trips by hired jet airliner in company of Nigel Samuel and official chronicler Alex Trocchi (inoperative) to various black dictators in West Africa and Arabia. Samuel trying to set up Michael as a Third World Aneurin (Nye) Bevan. Also trips by hired train with similar company plus freeloaders to Cornwall and beyond.
1971- In January leaves England: “I managed to extricate myself from what was clear to me to be a long term imprisonment, I escaped to Trinidad where I was born and settled in on a little land in Arima where I am now building a home…planting for all our needs. There are seeds and soil.” (from letter to John Michell, March 17, 1971).Social and Agricultural Programmes with gifts of money by John Lennon, Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali etc. Sends for family. House invaded by black and white cause seekers among them demented publicist Hakim Jamal and doting English ex-MP’s daughter, Mrs. Gail Benson.
1972 – Leaves Trinidad to visit wife’s family in Guyana. In his absence house burnt down, body of local barber, Skerret, found buried in garden. Mrs. Benson’s body found buried in Jamal’s garden. Jamal flees for U.S. where he is murdered by a “black power group.” Michael extradited by Trinidad government to answer for bodies discovered in garden. Convicted of murder of Skerret on sole evidence of self-confessed killers who claimed they were acting under Michael’s influence. Sentenced to death by hanging subject to confirmation by Privy Council.
1972-1973 – On Death Row, Royal Gaol, Port of Spain, Trinidad. November 26, 1973 refused application to appeal to Privy Council. Michael’s lawyer says on TV, “It’s hopeless. He’ll certainly hang.”
1975 –On the 16th of May Michael was executed by hanging.
Further Notes: Three tomes of race-wresting fantasy were based on the life and times of Michael de Freitas/Michael X/Michael Abdul Malik. A proudly anti-Negro novel Guerrillas (1975) by the respected Trinidadian sentimentalist V.S. Naipul and the fabulist False Messiah: The Story of Michael X (1977), a tabloid style in-house cover up by the Sunday Times journalists Derek Humphry and David Tindall. Derek Humphrey went on to write the 1991 best-seller Final Exit and become the founder of Hemlock Society, a right-to-die group. The NY Times called Naipul’s Guerrillas “probably the best novel of 1975.” Back in Britain, however, Elaine Feinstein, the eminent poet, novelist and translator from the Russian, choose Guerrillas as the Worst Book of the Year because of the author’s undisguised fear of, and disgust for, women’s desiring body. Then there’s Diana “Jungle Fever” Athill’s ironic oooh-my-remarkable-affair memoir Make Believe: A True Story (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993).
Your are better off, however, seeing : Souvenir Programme for the Official Lynching of Michael Abdul Malik with Poems, Stories, Saying by the Condemned – Fully Illustrated, edited (by Michael’s friends) William Levy and John Michell (Cambridge: The Cokaygne Press, 1973).
The film Levy on Michell (10 min. 2012) makes reference to Michael, and this site also includes selections from the above book.
Though over politicized, there is the definitive and compassionate biography, Michael X: A Life in Black and White by John L. Williams (London: Century/Random House, 2008). My review of this volume can be accessed at:
Michael X the eponymous title of a play about politics in the Sixties by Vanessa Walters (whose novels include Rude Girls) was performed for six nights during November 2008 at the Tabernacle Centre, Powis Square, W11, London. Directed by Dawn Walton, the hour-long monologue was presented by Clint Dyer. According to John Michell (1933-2009) in an epistle to me about this theatrical event, he wrote:
“I went with Jenny, Michael’s daughter, and Desiree [his wife] and two other daughters and a smattering of grandchildren to a play at the Tabernacle about Michael. It was a recitation by an actor in an Afro of pieces written by Michael in the early days, showing him as a radical, ranting leader of black liberation, and fitting him into that popular academic study, Black History. There was a surprising number of young black people there, and I guess they were students of BH. They were shown images of disobliging white landlords, persecution and race riots, with nothing about the sympathies and cultural similarities between us that made the West Indian immigration the happiest one we’ve had. The young blacks at the Tab cheered in the right places but were good-natured, and I did not think they took the grievances imposed upon them by their BH teachers too seriously. There was nothing about Michael’s later friendships, his acid experiences or the universal idealism he developed. To depict him simply in BH terms is a travesty. He needs to be reclaimed as the white man his father was.”
Kix Mag: What is your connection with him?
Bill Levy: When I was newly editor of the underground newspaper IT (International Times1967-1968) Michael handed me an article he had written. Immediately I saw that what he was saying about race and class in Britain at that time made sense. But more, his writing was drawing pictures of sound. And sound is tactile. I could actually hear, feel, his writing based on an oral culture. It had a dulcet calypso resonance. I published it, and others he wrote. From that point an alliance grew…We became fellow conspirators in life and literature. As they say – We passed the spliff!
Kix Mag: From the urban clay ghettos to the silk cigar rooms of the aristocracy, Michael was astride with them both?
Bill Levy: In spite of all the disapproval, mainly from smarmy lower middle-class white university graduates angling to become tenured professors of bla bla bla, and edgy black socialists trying to create a global revolution leading to their world domination – by integrating Franz Fanon with Thelonious Monk, Michael himself was comfortable with almost anyone, and could make anyone comfortable, a natural aristocrat. He was welcome in Hampstead as well as in All Saints Road.
Just take at look who signed the final, albeit failed, petition to then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins asking for mercy and to stop his execution. Michael’s karmic pallbearers included (alphabetically): Marion Boyars, William Burroughs, John Calder, Eric Clapton, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithful, Jim Haynes, Kit Lambert, John Lennon, Bill Levy, John Michell, Yoko Ono, Alice Ormsby-Gore, Cedric Price, the Hon. Michael Portman, Dan Richter, Nigel Samuel, Feliks Topolski and Alexander Trocchi.
And he was, as well, of course a principal among his Caribbean peers in the Grove, in Reading.
Kix Mag: What is your relationship to the arts and literature?
Bill Levy: My interest is in practitioners of art and literature who become seditious. That’s why I’ve written about, and published books on, Michael X as well as the poet Ezra Pound, indicted for treason for radio speeches made from Italy during World War II and confined to a lunatic asylum for over a dozen years, the Vienna Action Artist Otto Muehl marinated seven years in a max security prison for organizing and directing an art centered free sex commune, and Dutch author Jacob Israel de Haan, shot dead in Jerusalem (1924) earning the dubious fame of being the first political murder in the history of Zionism. Wasn’t it Antonin Artaud who said: “All writing is pigshit.”
Kix Mag: Michael was cultivated was he not?
Bill Levy: I would rate Michael as warm and primal rather than arid and cultivated. Instinctive not bookish.
More a stealthy cat than a barking dog.
Kix Mag: Where can people discover more of your work?
Bill Levy: Someone wrote a Wikipedia page about me (I wonder who?) It’s only partially true or full.
Yet it does have a short list of links to a variety of my writings. Alert: I am listed under William Levy author. My Google-ganger, the other William Levy (actor) is a young and beautiful Cuban hunkerooney, eye candy deluxe. That one is not me. At any rate, something not Wiki-listed but recently published can be found in RealityStudio, a site dedicated to the work of William Burroughs.
Click this link:
Also check out:
William Levy: Beyond Criticism (40 min.) is a biopic from British director Malcolm Hart premiered at London’s Portobello Film Festival in 2006 – been knocking around since then. Now it’s finally available on YouTube:
Dr. Doowop (15 min.), directed by Michiel Brongers, about me, as the man behind the DJ voice of a exceedingly well-received weekly radio show in Amsterdam for twenty years (1987 – 2007), with over 800 live performances, on free (i.e. illegal) stations . A critic called it “one of the most eccentric and stimulating radio shows anywhere, Sartre, De Sade, Doo-wop and music from the gonads.” This flic has been screened in art house cinemas in England, Holland and Germany, selected for the Dutch National Film Festival (2009), and in the same year awarded “Best Film” prize at a festival in Szeged, Hungary.
Here it is:
Kix Mag: Any up and coming projects?
Bill Levy: My advice to everyone is… Do not get old: it is not for the fainthearted.
Kix Mag: What would you like to say about Michael X
Bill Levy: Actually the only trenchant and febrile thing I have to add to the cacophony of things written and whispered about Michael is this quote from the most popular novel of one of my favorite writers – the late-Victorian author George Gissing. In New Grub Street(1891) he wrote:
“A man who comes to be hanged… has the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last resource. He is a man of such fatal importance that nothing will serve against him but the supreme effort of law. In a way, you know, that is success.”
Kix Mag: How do you get your KIX? (Pleasures in life)
Bill Levy: I get my KIX from Route 666. Rama Lama Ding Dong Forever…
Interview by Joshua Cooper
An excerpt from Royal Babylon: The Criminal Record of the British Monarchy- An investigative poem by Heathote Williams
Video and Narration: Alan Cox