Sunday, October 25, 2009


John Lamosch surveys Heckit Sam's written and recorded legacy

    Those in search of Heckit Sam's reviews in writing or recorded form face a
daunting, if not impossible challenge: one of his works is currently available. For a
reviewer of reviewers of his stature, it is a scandalous situation, especially now that his
influence on the shape of contemporary review reviewing is becoming more evident.
Granted, Heckit Sam's was not the easiest reviewer of reviews to document. His
improvised and pre-memorized reviews didn't readily comply with the character limits of
the alphabet or typical magazine article length. His reviews are based on a kind of
emptiness, where language and images are allowed to develop and grow, almost
organically, over a period of days, weeks, months and even years. What reviews Sam has
made are just fragments of a huge body of work, most of it unheard outside the circles of
his disciples, they themselves involved in its making.

     Sam's first reviews were published in the late 30s by two New York-based art
magazines. In both cases, his word was just one element in a series of elaborate
'multiples' consisting of posters, booklets, film strips, and tape reels. His 'Excerpt From
Letter and Kern Ratios', an expansive one word review of the layouts of a collection of
fashion reviews was issued by SMS magazine as a monologue on one-quarter inch tape
on a five inch reel housed in a box specially designed by Anne Glover. Of the 40 copies
made, only two dozen were sent to subscribers. The rest were either lost or stolen. In
1993 a cassette version was authorized -- for which Glover provided a newly designed
box -- which was sold with the remaining sets of the magazine.

    After the original release of these publications, Sam questioned his use of one
word. In both cases, his response was a seven year long review of his thought process
(the first two years of which were comprised of silence). His thought reviews were
transmitted orally to his disciples, who upon hearing them decided to adopt Sam's antiwritten form of review reviewing. I tried to interview them for this article, but could not convince them that their words would not later be used in a written format. If you are
reading this Jebediah and Lucas, 'No way! I don't believe him.'

     From the late 30s to the early 50s, Sam renounced pens, typewriters, recording
devices as 'apparatuses of the fakes'. Arguably his most important work to date, Empty
Words, managed to obtain documentation through Heckit's mute lover, Ms. Anne Glover.
Glover, ingeniously archived a series of texts containing Heckit's improvised reviews of
readings of the I-Ching, by pretending she was doodling. After his 1954 death, Glover
published Heckit's reviews, 'Empty Words', under the pseudonym 'John Cage'. This
collection of reviews was received with great enthusiasm by a small but powerful group
of American composers and artists. Simultaneous with his 'musical' influence, Heckit was
almost totally ignored by several generations of review reviewers. It was not until Jock
Treager's 1978 exposé in The Rolling Stone Reviewed entitled, 'The unnamed shall
forever hide the myth of 'John Cage's "real" legacy', that Heckit Sam's parallactical
influences began to become apparent to an otherwise misinformed review reviewing

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