Whatcha reading?

For the discussion of Movies, Television, Comics, and other existential distractions.

Moderator: Moderator

User avatar
Robert Nason
Posts: 1580
Joined: Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:50 am
Location: New York City

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Robert Nason » Tue May 13, 2014 12:01 am

MY WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS STORY

Well, it was spring of my third year at SUNY/Purchase (there'd be no third year for me since I wound up leaving and knocked around the world for a while before transferring to Columbia), and a woman I knew in the English Department came over to me in the cafeteria during lunch and said, "Hey, William Burroughs is going to be giving a reading from NAKED LUNCH on campus tonight -- my friend Katie's having him over to her apartment for dinner beforehand. Wanna come?" I instantly said yes, though to be honest I had never read any of Burroughs work, though that week I'd read an interview in the Village Voice between him and Tennessee Williams. So right after lunch I took the bus into White Plains and scoured the two or three bookshop there for any Burroughs books. I found a used Grove Press paperback of NAKED LUNCH and headed back to campus, but there was no time to read it --I had to be at the apartment for that early dinner. (These were the new apartments built just on the edge of the campus for students who, after two years, had had enough of the dorms; both were made of the same drab brown brick, as was every other building at Purchase, except the quaint white Colonial-style Administration and Admissions buildings.) When I arrived at the apartment there were a handful of other students already there. Katie was in the tiny kitchen preparing dinner. There was a smell of quiche in the air.

I happen to hate quiche. Always have, always will. But I was willing to take one for the team in order to meet Burroughs. He hadn't shown up yet and a couple of the guys were watching a baseball game on the TV in the living room. 'Turn that thing off, he's coming up the steps!" someone hissed. The TV was duly flicked off and I heard the doorbell ring, followed by a gruff low voice at the door saying, "Got anything to drink?"

Before he'd even entered the room, our hostess brightly said, "We have a really excellent bottle of wine..."

"No, I mean the hard stuff. Scotch, whisky."

Katie turned from the door and rushed into the living room, panic-stricken. She grabbed one of the guys and frantically told him, "He wants real the hard stuff, go out and find someone on the block who's got Scotch or something like that, hurry!"

The designated booze-hunter scooted out the door as Burroughs walked in. He wore a gray three-piece suit and carried a briefcase and looked for all the world like the vice-president of a small Midwestern bank. He was followed by a much younger male companion who was wearing a beige jumpsuit and resembled a young David Bowie. Burroughs sat on the cheap student sofa across from me and his companion sat on the floor in the corner in a kind of yoga position. Nobody knew what to say, but fortunately the bottle of Scotch arrived with admirable speed. Someone got a tall glass from the kitchen and brought it to Burroughs; he filled the glass to the top and he polished it off in one long swig. I was astonished.

Nobody else but Burroughs drank the Scotch -- that was his bottle. The quiche was handed out on paper plates which we balanced on our knees and we attempted some small talk. Our thoughtful hostess tried to bring the David Bowie lookalike into the conversation by asking, "So what do you do?"

He suddenly looked up and said, "Oh! I write," then went back into sleep mode.

Someone asked Burroughs what he was working on. "Oh, this movie script, but I can't seem to get it right."

Since I was then studying in the school's Film Department, I saw a conversational opportunity.

"But why be so Hollywooden old-fashioned and start with a script?" I offered. "Why not be just as experimental with film as you are in your books" -- none of which I'd read --"and improvise as you go along, letting the mages tell the story....or do without a story entirely?"

Burroughs looked at me as if he was that Midwestern banker whom I'd just asked for a large loan with no collateral. "No, no, no" he growled, "you gotta have a script, you gotta have a story, the producers won't give you any money without a script, don't you know anything!" At that time I was unaware that years earlier Burroughs had indeed made some very avant-garde films of the kind I was talking about; perhaps he now wanted to play with the big boys.

More desultory small talk ensued, and finally someone had the temerity to ask Burroughs "how" he wrote NAKED LUNCH. The Scotch must have loosened him up, because he launched into an absorbing account of how he'd written mountains of material over many years -- stories, sketches, anecdotes, hallucinations he'd had while stoned -- but never knew what to do with them. Then, sometime in the late Fifties, Allen Ginsberg told Burroughs he could get him a book deal if he had a manuscript ready in about a week or so. "A week!" Burroughs said. "I've got thousands of pages in no particular order and you want me to assemble them into a book in a week!"

Ginsberg said, Yes, Bill -- I know you can do it.

So Burroughs set about stitching all those disparate prose pieces -- possibly with Ginsberg's help, but I don't remember for sure -- and out of it emerged NAKED LUNCH. The very book Burroughs was now going to read from in a few minutes before a packed crowd in the Neuberger Museum (also built of brown bricks).

Dinner completed, we headed out the door where it was just starting to get dark. As we walked along the path to the museum, I gamely peppered Burroughs with questions: "Mr. Burroughs, I read that interview Tennessee Williams did with you in the Voice this week. It was all talk about drugs. Don't writers of the stature of you and Williams have anything elseto talk about?"

Burroughs glowered at me as we walked. "Of couse we did! We talked for nearly six hours about everything you can imagine! The editors chose to print just the drug stuff. Don't you know how newspapers work?"

I gulped and nodded acknowledgment of my increasingly apparent ignorance. But I tried again. 'Mr. Burroughs, I read you live down on the Bowery. Isn't that kind of...uh, dangerous?"

He shook his head. "Nah, it's just a lot of bums and winos. They're harmless.

My education complete, we entered the building. Every seat was taken, standing room only. I suddenly remembered the copy of NAKED LUNCH I had in my bag. I asked Burroughs to sign it and he wrote on the title page above the title, "For Robert," and underneath the title, in his scraggly signature, "William S. Burroughs." I'm looking at that page as I write this.

I couldn't find a seat, but what the hell -- I'd had the best seat in the house just twenty minutes ago. I crouched in an aisle as Burroughs read some of the wildest, funniest passages from NAKED LUNCH, doing all the voices, emerging from his dour Midwestern banker demeanor as an actor of considerable gifts and acute comic timing. The audience roared and ate it up.

Afterwards Burroughs took some questions from the audience. I only recall one, perhaps because it struck me as so insipid at the time (far more insipid than my own earlier questions, of course): "Mr. Burroughs, a friend of mine is seriously thinking of getting into heroin. What would you advise them?"

I was sure Burroughs would give a withering reply, but he just calmly said, "I can't tell anyone whether to use or not use junk. It's his life, he has to make his own decisions."

That seemed to wrap up the evening. Everyone dispersed, including me -- I headed back to my dorm room and learned only the next day that some of the guys from the dinner had gotten into a car and smoked some weed on the way to the Hilltop Bar, where they drank and told stories for quite a while.

And I'd missed it! I'd never used any kind of drugs during my three years at the college...but I think I might have smoked a joint so I'd be able to say years later, "I got high with William S. Burroughs."

It would have made a hell of a story.
"Thought is a strenuous art -- few practice it, and then only at rare times." - David Ben-Gurion

User avatar
Moderator
Site Admin
Posts: 10607
Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2006 12:17 pm
Contact:

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Moderator » Tue May 13, 2014 12:25 am

It already made for a helluva story, Robert. So very cool, with just a whiff of that academic pipe smoke that makes for such a great memory.

Thanks for telling the tale!
- I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

User avatar
Ezra Lb.
Posts: 4547
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:02 am
Location: Washington, DC

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Ezra Lb. » Tue May 13, 2014 8:30 am

Yeah Robert thanks, a great story! You're right Burroughs was a great performer. Not only of his own work. Fortunately he was well recorded on both audio and video. I have a recording of Burroughs reading Poe's Masque of the Red Death. I think my favorite of his work is the trilogy he wrote towards the end of his life, CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT, PLACE OF DEAD ROADS and THE WESTERN LANDS, especially the latter. Parts are pure poetry and frequently funny as hell. I can never read his stuff without hearing that flat midwestern drawl.
“We must not always talk in the marketplace,” Hester Prynne said, “of what happens to us in the forest.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

User avatar
Rick Keeney
Posts: 1099
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 4:40 pm
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Rick Keeney » Tue May 13, 2014 11:34 am

It's been my impression that the public Burrughs was a construct. For one thing, I have lived in the midwest for decades and never heard an accent like that one.

Robert, GOOGLE James Grauerholz. Is that the jumpsuited character.

Also: This version of NL has some fascinating material describing the construction of the junk novel.

Love that guy.

User avatar
Robert Nason
Posts: 1580
Joined: Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:50 am
Location: New York City

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Robert Nason » Tue May 13, 2014 3:55 pm

Steve -- Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, there was a lot of "academic" pipe smoke in the air on campus those days, and probably still is. One of my roommates had an impressive collection of pipes, along with what I'd guess was a lifetime subscription to HIGH TIMES magazine.

Ezra -- I have to get that recording of Burroughs reading Poe. That would be a real kick. I wonder if he ever did recordings of Lovecraft.

Rick -- I googled James Grauerholz and that could have been the guy I saw with Burroughs that night. The age fits, but I'm not 100% positive. The face does ring a bell, though.

I don't know what it is about St. Louis, but both Burroughs and T. S. Eliot came from there and both developed somewhat affected accents later in life, Eliot's faux-British and Burroughs's totally unique one. He was fairly soft-spoken except when I annoyed him.

The coda to the story is when I finally sat down and read NAKED LUNCH. Totally blew my mind, as we used to say in those days, shocked and amazed me. I kept thinking, "So all this is the product of the mind of that unassuming fellow I'd been chatting with over dinner!"
"Thought is a strenuous art -- few practice it, and then only at rare times." - David Ben-Gurion

User avatar
Ezra Lb.
Posts: 4547
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:02 am
Location: Washington, DC

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Ezra Lb. » Tue May 13, 2014 8:33 pm

Robert at your service!

http://www.amazon.com/William-Burroughs ... roughs+poe

You'll have to download it as an MP3.
“We must not always talk in the marketplace,” Hester Prynne said, “of what happens to us in the forest.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

User avatar
Rick Keeney
Posts: 1099
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 4:40 pm
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Rick Keeney » Tue May 13, 2014 8:53 pm

This is the book I mentioned earlier. Forgot to leave the url:

http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Lunch-Resto ... tored+text

Some choice additional material therein.

Mark Tiedemann
Posts: 2575
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 1:51 pm

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Wed May 14, 2014 5:59 am

I cracked open the new Pickety book last night, Capital in the 21st Century. I can see right off why the Right will hate this---he's evenhanded and reasonable.

User avatar
Rick Keeney
Posts: 1099
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 4:40 pm
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Rick Keeney » Wed May 14, 2014 8:36 am

Solid Burroughs site:

http://realitystudio.org/

No doubt there are more.

User avatar
Ezra Lb.
Posts: 4547
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:02 am
Location: Washington, DC

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Ezra Lb. » Tue May 20, 2014 9:10 pm

Anybody do audiobooks? I've been on the road a bit lately and I've had opportunity to download a few to listen on the long drives. Go to AUDIBLE.COM and check out some of the titles available (including our host).

http://www.audible.com/

INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino

One of my favorite books (a deserted island pick).

THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles, read by actress Jennifer Connelly. A wonderful reading, she does the voices (including Arab, French and English accents and some original languages) perfectly. She nails it. Hers is a performance not just a reading.

Next up ROADSIDE PICNIC by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky in a brand new translation from the Russian.
“We must not always talk in the marketplace,” Hester Prynne said, “of what happens to us in the forest.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Mark Tiedemann
Posts: 2575
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 1:51 pm

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Wed May 21, 2014 12:56 pm


User avatar
Rick Keeney
Posts: 1099
Joined: Mon Jan 05, 2004 4:40 pm
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Rick Keeney » Wed May 21, 2014 8:09 pm

Ezra Lb. wrote:Anybody do audiobooks? I've been on the road a bit lately and I've had opportunity to download a few to listen on the long drives. Go to AUDIBLE.COM and check out some of the titles available (including our host).

http://www.audible.com/

INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino

One of my favorite books (a deserted island pick).

THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles, read by actress Jennifer Connelly. A wonderful reading, she does the voices (including Arab, French and English accents and some original languages) perfectly. She nails it. Hers is a performance not just a reading.

Next up ROADSIDE PICNIC by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky in a brand new translation from the Russian.



I went through quite a few when I drove for a living. Very rewarding. Made a point of reading Dutch Leonard as well as stuff I knew I'd not read in book form any time soon. Russell Bank's THE DARLING really stuck with me. HATED that book for all the right reasons. Damn thing.

------------------------------------

Thsi hearkens back to the Wm. S. Burroughs conversation:

http://www.openculture.com/william_s_bu ... e_reading_


KICK. ASS. No? i'd no idea this existed.

User avatar
markabaddon
Posts: 1790
Joined: Tue Mar 14, 2006 3:24 pm

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby markabaddon » Fri May 23, 2014 12:15 pm

I have never been into audiobooks, but I received as a birthday present this year Neverwhere on audiobook, with all of the voices done by Neil Gaiman. It was pretty amazing, and fun for me to revisit that work, since I had not read it in over 15 years.

Ezra, I would certainly recommend that story, especially on a long drive
Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristrocratic forms. No gov't in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, gov't tends more and mroe to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class

User avatar
FrankChurch
Posts: 16283
Joined: Wed May 28, 2003 2:19 pm

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby FrankChurch » Fri May 23, 2014 12:33 pm

Audiobooks for the classic may work to make them more understandable. Just do not nod off driving.

User avatar
Steve Evil
Posts: 3519
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2004 3:22 pm
Location: Some Cave in Kanata
Contact:

Re: Whatcha reading?

Postby Steve Evil » Fri May 23, 2014 8:39 pm

Since having a long commute, I've come to rely quite heavily on Audiobooks. Listening to "The Battle of Midway" right now (well, during the commute rather), by some dude. For reasons I won't go into here, I can only stomach military history at the moment (though Dr. Zhivago comes close. . .)


Return to “Pop Culture”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests