The celebrity ‘suggestologist’ Russ Burgess believes that everyone can exhibit psychic powers if they just follow his instructions.
ESP – extrasensory perception – has never struck me as the sort of thing that one simply develops through bloody-minded determination. If it exists at all – and yes, that’s a big ‘if’ – then it seems to be something that some people just have, like a third nipple or overly-hairy eyebrows. But if we are to believe Russ Burgess, then it is a skill that can be acquired through practice alone. In 1973, Burgess self-released the LP The Burgess Method: Developing Your ESP Powers in which he made the rather dubious claim that anyone with a minor level of ESP – how minor remains a bit of a mystery – can fully develop it with the help of relaxation and yoga techniques. Burgess compares it to an amateur painter who, given time, might create a masterpiece though this seems to disregard the number of amateur painters who work at it all the time and remain completely awful throughout. It also rather glosses over the fact that art is very much in the eye of the beholder – the difference between an acclaimed classic and something painted by an elephant holding a brush in its trunk might be negligible to some observers – but ESP seems a very specific skill. You can either see through walls, move things with your mind or kill goats by staring at them or you can’t. And most people (maybe all people) can’t.
The album back cover describes Burgess as a parapsychologist, hypnologist and suggestologist – I can’t say I know what a ‘suggestologist’ actually is, but it’s probably no less a real thing than ‘parapsychologist’, which of course requires no actual qualifications and is a study in woo. Maybe a suggestologist is someone who makes money by suggesting that you can develop non-existent powers by listening to what sounds suspiciously like a hypno-relaxation record. Now, for the record, I have nothing against such things – I’ve use various Paul McKenna recordings to help with insomnia and while none of them have made me more confident, slimmer, richer or any of the other claims that his books and recordings make, they have helped me to nod off and that’s all I was really looking to happen. If these recordings were on vinyl though, it might feel rather less relaxing to have to get up after twenty minutes or so to change sides and so I can’t honestly see how Burgess could possibly help people develop their latent psychic powers through the art of helping them unwind.
You might also think that if Burgess really could develop ESP in people with a simple 40-minute class, he would’ve been snapped up and employed by the government and the military for assorted nefarious activities. He probably wouldn’t have been doing cabaret shows, appearing on TV chat shows and working as a bird trainer. His other recordings are rather more run-of-the-mill hypnosis subjects – lose weight, stop smoking – and his own psychic powers never seemed very developed. In 1968, he was quoted in the press as saying that Jacqueline Kennedy would never remarry.
Still, it’s hard to really object too much to Burgess. This LP might have been a scam, but it was a fairly harmless one and compared to some other celebrity psychics, it’s hardly an offensive grift. Burgess kept his act going into the 1980s but is now almost entirely forgotten.
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