James Grauerholz met budding filmmaker Howard Brookner at Phebe's Bar & Grill in Manhattan during the Great Blizzard of 1976. Brookner lived around the corner from the Bunker and he and Grauerholz soon became fast friends, working on film-writing projects.
In 1978, Burroughs was preparing a return to New York City from Boulder, Colorado, where Bill Burroughs Jr. had been hospitalized. "I had talked Howard into covering the upcoming Nova Convention in September," Grauerholz remembers. "He and I and Jim Jarmusch, who was doing sound, went to Boulder to film William leaving for New York. During the coverage of the Nova Convention, William and Howard became great personal friends."
Their friendship led to close collaboration on Brookner's insightful 1983 documentary film, Burroughs: the Movie, and to Brookner's 1987 feature film, Bloodhounds of Broadway. Howard Brookner died of AIDS at age 34 in 1989.
In the 1990s, Howard's nephew, Aaron, took up the family filmmaking mantle. That story is told below. "Aaron's resemblance to Howard is truly eerie," says Grauerholz. "They even sound alike."
On February 5, 2014, during a wailing blizzard, Aaron Brookner and his film crew visited the Burroughs house in Lawrence, Kansas.
- B100: A brief history of Aaron Brookner.
- Brookner: I grew up in Greenwich Village. Howard Brookner, my uncle, started my interest in movies from an early age, showing me how to use a video camera and taking me to the set of his last movie, Bloodhounds of Broadway. A year after Howard's death from AIDS in 1989, my father moved us to New Jersey.
I majored in film at Vassar College. For a senior documentary class I made a short doc on the Federation of Black Cowboys - a group of black cowboys in Brooklyn who have a ranch, do rodeos and ride through the city streets promoting the history of America's black cowboys. One in three cowboys in the Old West was black but they were never represented. This group was trying to correct it.
The writer Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront, What Makes Sammy Run?), had seen The Black Cowboys at a festival and really liked it. He was 91, we got along well and I started making a film on his life inspired, obviously, by Howard's first film on William Burroughs.
Schulberg was covering fights in Las Vegas, co-writing a Joe Louis/Max Schmeling script with Spike Lee and touring France with a newly adapted version of one of his lesser-known novels, Sanctuary V. I started traveling with him, filming him, interviewing him and many of his contemporaries like Patricia Neal, Tony Curtis, Christopher Plummer and Arthur Laurents. I interviewed Eva Marie Saint and met Karl Malden. The film came crashing down when Schulberg died at age 95.
I had been making music videos and experimental work and then a low-budget fiction feature shot in London called The Silver Goat which we put out in 2012 as an app. We wanted to explore alternate modes of distribution. The app has been downloaded in twenty-four different countries and was a top entertainment seller in the UK and the Czech Republic.
Having made my first feature film I started thinking more about Howard, wondering about his films and where they had gone. Especially his Burroughs film, Burroughs: the Movie, which I had only ever seen on VHS and, in recent years, in low-resolution on YouTube. It had been such an influence on me, watching it hundreds of times through high school. I wanted to see it properly and wanted others too as well. Also, I wanted my uncle Howard's name not to be forgotten so I set out to bring back his work.
- B100: A brief history of your project to date.
- Brookner: My film started when Sara Driver and I started talking about Burroughs: the Movie. She was a great friend of Howard's; they were at film school together at NYU. All the elements to Sara's first film, an adaptation of Paul Bowles' You Are Not I, had been destroyed in a flood. Then a pristine print was miraculously discovered in Tangier after Paul Bowles' death. She was able to make a new HD master from it and show it again, release it, and know that it existed properly! I set out to do the same for the Burroughs movie, looking for the negative.
In my search I connected with James Grauerholz; Sara, of course, and also her partner Jim Jarmusch (who did sound on Burroughs: the Movie); the writer Brad Gooch (Howard's longtime partner); and, to an extent, John Giorno.
Everyone wanted to see the movie come back, everyone helped me on my search. It turned up all sorts of things like Howard's home movies, behind-the-scenes footage of his other films, video diaries, short films, writings, audio tapes, tons of photos and the missing film prints from his second feature documentary on Robert Wilson. Along the way, the stories that came from those who knew my uncle were full of life, adventure, and humor. His story began taking shape cinematically in my mind.
I found a really chilling letter he wrote to his parents to be read after his death, telling them he had AIDS, that he was dying and would die, but that he didn't want them to let it ruin their lives because, while it was short, Howard had done exactly what he wanted with his life. He went as far as he could go and in the end felt content. He wrote that if he lived on it was in our hearts and memories and the films he made. I was very pleased when this actually started happening.
The biggest discovery occurred when I was able to retrieve Howard's archive which had been stored in the Bunker for 30 years. These were some 200 cans and boxes of outtakes that didn't make his 90-minute cut---but they were beyond outtakes. They were an incredible documentation of a place and time, downtown NYC from 1978-1983, as seen through the world of William Burroughs.
In the raw material you get the source of the tone of the movie, intimate and playful and comfortable to watch. The source is Howard directing the movie. You can see him slating, or Jarmusch, hear his questions, his dialogues with William when the camera is still rolling though they aren't "on." James Grauerholz is always there. It feels like a real family.
In a storage container belonging to Brad Gooch, I found an audiocassette interview of Howard by Ted Morgan. Morgan asks Howard about the last shot of his film, where William and James Grauerholz are sitting on the back porch in Lawrence, and William in the back yard, and why he ended the film there. Howard said it was his intention to go back and continue the film in two more chapters: William's life in Lawrence; and William's funeral. Howard didn't get a chance to do this, of course.
For the Burroughs centenary I was shooting in St. Louis and Lawrence, picking up the story for 2014. Some very interesting things happened. There's a lot of magic going on right now, fittingly, in this centenary year, which is also the year Howard would have turned 60. I still have plenty to go through but I've begun assembling some of the material, hoping to translate some of this magic into the cut.
- B100: Describe a magic moment.
- Brookner: Last week I got into a cab in NYC with my film crew. The driver asked us what we were shooting. I said a documentary about Howard Brookner and William Burroughs. He knew Burroughs and we started talking about him.
He called Burroughs an activist through his art. Turned out the driver was a native New Yorker who had been into the downtown poetry scene in the late 1970s. In 1978 he attended the Nova Convention. At this point he started to look familiar to me. I photographed him, then compared the image later to that of a teenager in the audience of the Nova Convention from Howard's movie. Just a cutaway, but one Howard used obviously because the guy looks super-engaged. Sure enough--same nose, same eyes, same expression---it was the driver! This cutaway is even in the trailer we just made for the film.
Had I gotten to the corner of Center Street and Kenmare one minute later or one minute sooner I'd never know this guy existed. Instead, an overlap in time and a conversation about Burroughs and the Nova Convention started my day. Everything is pre-recorded except the pre-recordings indeed.
Part Two, coming soon.
Interview by Tom King
Keep your eye on the front sight and keep firing. Interview with William Burroughs's in-house photographer, Jon Blumb: Lawrence, Kansas, 2013 by Tom King
Keep your eye on the front sight and keep firing.........
Interview by Tom King, with William Burroughs Communications' almost official photographer, Jon Blumb in Lawrence, Kansas, 2013.
If the Burroughs estate has an official photographer it is Jon Blumb. When particular documentation was called for, Blumb was usually James Grauerholz's first call. Blumb's essay on Burroughs is included below.
Blumb: I knew William for 10 years. Our first meeting was in 1986 when I came over to pick up paintings to be photographed. I had been recommended by mutual friends and had worked on many exhibition catalogs. Burroughs was showing his visual art so much those days.
The first assignment? A stack of art. He wanted me to take detail shots from several works on paper which he would use for collages. We worked in the backyard.
I knew he liked photography but I didn't realize how involved he was with it personally, throughout his life. He took a lot of pictures. We related on that level and we both enjoyed firearms and shooting targets.
The portraits I made were usually candid, no set-up. I didn't want to overstay my welcome. Occasionally there was a formal situation or a recording or video session.
This photo was taken in September 1992 in the Red House recording studio in downtown Lawrence. It was eventually used in the packaging of Cronenburg's Naked Lunch DVD set.
William was recording several of his crime stories for a music video for the band Ministry. The lighting and video crews had constructed an intimate setting but there was so much activity that I had only a brief window of perfect focus. William was usually at ease in these situations. He was so much like one of his own story characters when he did readings. He became the disembodied voice of control on the radio.
William was sitting on the stage of the Kansas Union auditorium [University of Kansas] in November, 1996. It was an art symposium held in conjunction with his show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Ports of Entry, 1996]. Ginsberg was there too.
I think this is a humorous picture. William was out for an important event but something else was tugging at him, maybe Happy Hour. He kept rummaging in his security bag, a little gym or bowling bag he always had with him on his outings. No-one was sure what he kept in there but there was probably weed and some vodka and Coke.
1994. The ACP was a 45-caliber Automatic Colt Pistol, government issue, made for WWII by Remington Rand. This gun was one of William's favorites. The picture was taken out in the bottomlands between Lawrence and Eudora, close to the Wakarusa river. His pistol was unique. During WWII, the U.S. Army needed so many pistols that they farmed out manufacturing to any machine-making companies, including typewriter-makers. William always used ear protection and glasses when he was shooting. He was good about that. He always remembered exactly what he paid for a gun. He shot with many guns but his ethic was consistent: "Keep your eye on the front sight and keep firing."
July 1993. Steven Lowe bought the house at the northeast corner of 19th & Learnard. William often worked on his art there. Junky's Christmas was shot in that house. William was pretty obsessed about his visual art. He wouldn't have produced so much if he didn't enjoy it. Part of it was his enjoyment of working with his art materials: paint, ink, pencils, offbeat tools and different kinds of paper and canvases. He wasn't an art snob--he used anything to project his vision.
James Grauerholz was Williams' manager and caretaker. He was William's diplomat, best friend and biggest benefactor, a true gentleman. I worked well with James, we shared perspective and we both loved and respected William. Collaborating with James has always been an easy pleasure.
James made sure that William had what he needed to thrive and be happy.
This picture was taken in May 1995 at the second iteration of Red House when they moved to West 31 Street. William had just finished reading from Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Everything went very well, we went outside for some portrait shots. At some point, I asked James to join in.
August 1997. A memento mori. The guy on the left is Fred Aldrich, one of William's dear friends. He had on those federal agent sunglasses and I thought the scene was highly ironic so I took a shot. Later I thought, "I have to print that one." This was taken during the evening visitation at the funeral home before the ceremony at Liberty Hall. The next day everybody drove to Bellefontaine in St. Louis for the internment.
Hell, Man, I’m not gonna shoot ‘em ‘way out there!
The first time I set up a shooting range for William Burroughs, I went out to the farm early and set up targets on a board, an improvised table, and lawn chairs. When I brought William to the spot later that afternoon, he sized up the distance, commenting, "Hell, Man, I'm not gonna shoot ‘em ‘way out there! Move ‘em up closer—most gunfights are just across a room!"
He enjoyed shooting a full array of firearms from .38, .357 magnum, 9mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 long Colt, and .454 Casull. The more energy expended and recoil produced, the better! William liked to see and feel the results of his endeavors, from being physically pushed back by a firearm to examining the targets and touching the holes with his fingers, as if he had an intuitive system of scoring targets in which he merely had to touch the holes while his mind tallied up the scores.
That magnum theme came to be familiar in my dealings with William Burroughs. While the range might have been close, the content was large-bore. His gusto extended into his writing and art, as well. William always enjoyed art and photography, and had been active in both. When called upon to photograph new art works, I was amazed at the volume of paintings he would make in a week. They were not simply a pastime, but a serious obsession.
I met William while photographing his art. Having specialized in photography of fine art for years, it was a different scene to observe as William exhibited, published, and sold a large volume of his art. The reviews and attention came from a different audience, not the mainstream art establishment. Writers, editors, and musicians were interested. Collectors were buying William's art. It was entertaining to see artists' and critics' jealous reactions to William's notoriety. Soon I was invited to photograph him at voice and video recording sessions. I knew I was lucky to have access to photograph William without formality, and we enjoyed shooting together.
William often enjoyed speaking in the vernacular, skillfully using poor grammar to drive home a point or a mood, just like his tough-guy characters. Being present at recording sessions was an enjoyable benefit of my work. It was a rare chance to hear him use his theatrical voice to interpret the written word.
William lived unpretentiously and had many friends. Lawrence residents were flattered that he had chosen to live among them, and returned the favor by giving him generous amounts of privacy and respect. The week of his death, a few reporters showed up in town trying to dig up stories, but ended up frustrated by the treatment they were given by reticent Lawrence residents.
It seemed to many friends that William would live indefinitely, partly because he had outlived many of his contemporaries. When he died in August of 1997, it was a shock to his friends who were used to his energetic personality. It was natural for me to document in photographs his funeral and the final journey to his family's cemetery plot in St. Louis. Many of his friends were in a prolonged state of mourning, and I deliberately did not publish the funeral photos immediately. Now I feel that it is appropriate to show these photographs from the end of William's life.
William's death reminded me of the painful fact that people and opportunities will not be available forever. We must enjoy them now, while the time is ripe and the chance is at hand.
William was a collector of experiences, ideas, books, and weapons. He was an innovator with a creative, visual mind. To him, life was a fascinating journey. William identified with the spirit of the following quotation, attributed to Plutarch in 56 B.C.:
“It is necessary to travel. It is not necessary to live.”
- Jon Blumb December 2004
The Burroughs Guy: An interview with James Grauerholz by Tom King
James Grauerholz is heir and executor of the estate of William S. Burroughs-maestro of the Beats, writer of "Naked Lunch," international queer, academic junkie, wife-shooter, Harvard graduate, an undeniably American artist. Grauerholz lived 30 years with Burroughs. Street Level joins Grauerholz in a booth at Pachamama's for a moseying reminiscence of Burroughs and the Beats...
A brief history of James Grauerholz...
Grauerholz: I'm a Kansas boy from Coffeyville. Came here to KU in the late '60s, went off to New York in the early '70s. Began working with William Burroughs in 1974 and continued until he passed away in '97. Came back to Lawrence in 1979 and here you find me now.
You were responsible for bringing William Burroughs to Lawrence.
(laughs) Responsible? Am I to credit or to blame? It seemed like a good idea at the time. I left New York because I'm not down with glamour-the whole phenomenon of celebrity and fame, and how distorting that is to the famous individual's life. And even though I have some responsibility-or credit, or blame-for helping make William more famous, I got fed up with how delusional people become with their mental image of Burroughs, someone that they have to talk to.
What did you do to enhance Burroughs' fame?
Again, I don't know how much credit I can take. When he came back to the United States in January 1974 : he had pretty much been in London for 14 years or so.
When he got back to New York, he was in the category of: "Oh, him? Is he still alive?" Burroughs' fame was not recent in 1974. Only a few people really noticed that he had come back. He came back to do a semester's residency at CCNY (City College of New York)-Allen Ginsberg fixed him up with this appointment. It was a bit of money-which he needed-and it was a bit of work, and engagement with younger people, and so forth. It was also a getaway from London. I guess Allen had decided, in his opinion, that William's life in London was kind of a dead-end. William was drinking a lot, and he was preoccupied with Piccadilly Circus-they're called Dilly Boys, you know: hustlers. I mean, he had relationships too, but:
He was partying hard.
He was. It sounds funny to say about William Burroughs, but he was a disciplined person. He did work hard to write every day. But sometimes he was working too hard, and the writing wasn't : it became formulaic. He himself thought he was in a dead-end.
Here's a story you might like: When I met William, I had been given his number to make a dinner date by Allen Ginsberg-I had just arrived in New York, in February 1974. I had met Allen a year before on a visit to New York. I had written fan letters to each of them back in '72 from here in Lawrence. So Allen said: "Burroughs is here [in New York]." And I didn't even know it when I headed to New York. I was 21 at the time. I was excited to meet him. Ginsberg knew that I was a fan of Burroughs foremost of all the Beats and that I was a self-educated scholar of the Beats and their writings, and their lives. So I went over to meet William, and, when you look back on it, everything started up very quickly. We went out to dinner and had drinks. I visited again with him in a few days. And it was in a couple of weeks or less that he invited me to stay with him in the loft at 452 Broadway that he was subletting from the late painter Michael Balog. It was a huge loft. : So it turned out that I became William Burroughs' roommate. And we were very close-that was my domicile for a couple of months. Here are two anecdotes:
City College is way up in Washington Heights-Upper West Side. And to get there on the subway William had to get up at o'dark-thirty. Of course, he drank every night. He drank chilled Dewar's scotch and chilled soda-no ice. So I would sleep in, of course. Actually, I was working-I don't remember how many days a week-at Gotham Book Mart. Andreas Brown had hired me, just one of many young cataloguer types that Andy Brown helped. But I would sleep in when I could and I remember William coming back from Washington Heights and saying: "I feel like bitching you out, because here you're sleeping while I have to get up and get my ass out of here at six in the morning." Then he added: "But I realize I'm the one whose job it is, not you."
And the other anecdote is:
He once told me that he thought his : how did he put it? I'd like to get it right : He thought his talent was gone; he couldn't write another real book.
To you, who were the Beats?
Ginsberg, [Jack] Kerouac and Burroughs, not necessarily in that order. The friendships they formed, and the circle that coalesced around them at Columbia in '43, '44 and '45-during World War II-was a serendipitous combination of social backgrounds, of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They self-consciously intended to start a school, or a movement, or a literary wave.
Why are they called Beats? "We are the Beat Generation"-Kerouac was the one who popularized that, though John Clellon Holmes was probably one who shares credit in coming up with it. Herbert Huncke, the junkie raconteur, probably was the pathway of that expression into their circle. It's a street expression: "Man, I'm really beat"; or "A guy walked in with a beat bennie"-which means his overcoat is really worn out; or "He beat me for my change"-which means he took the money and went into the place to see the dealer and went out the back door of that hotel, never to be seen again. Or beat as in "beat down"-there are acres of speculation about what it means and where it comes from. And then, of course, Kerouac famously ex post facto comes in and says: "Well, it's beat like 'beatitude.' It's beatified, it's a beatification."
Around Christmas of 1943, they all have met-and I'll spare you the begats and how they actually connected-but they met from three different worlds. Ginsberg was 17, from Paterson, New Jersey, and Jewish-an intellectual with strong labor-lawyer, socialist leanings: his Communist mother Naomi Ginsberg, and so forth. Kerouac was from Lowell, Massachusetts. He was Catholic, of French-Canadian extraction, and his early literary influences would certainly include Thomas Wolfe-that would be the kind of thing he was trying to do. Ginsberg was 17, Jack was 21 and William was about to turn 30, in February 1944. He was considerably older. ...
Burroughs invented what became known as the Beats. He was the main vector of what went into that-and I don't mean to minimize the contributions of Kerouac and Ginsberg, or any of the wider circle of arguably Beat-termed people. But William had a classical education: he was a graduate of Harvard, he'd done graduate studies in Vienna-well, that was kind of laughable-in medicine, and at Harvard in anthropology, and at Columbia in psychology. He brought to the table the left-handed path in Western letters and philosophy. He brought the Voltaire, the Jonathan Swift, the Petronius Arbiter-The Satyricon-Thomas Nashe-The Unfortunate Traveller-and, of course, Shakespeare by the yard.
Burroughs studied under Kittredge and Lowe at Harvard, major scholars of Shakespeare and Chaucer. He brought this left-handed path: satire and : sort of like the book of Ecclesiastes-it stands out from all the other books in the Bible because it basically says: "You know all that stuff about human nature being basically good, or at least perfectible? Hogwash." Human nature, apparently-at least on the record-is wicked and contemptibly stupid. And that's amusing, in a bitter way-what later was called black humor.
In what ways did the Beats influence or impact American letters?
Let me say first that I have a little problem with the concept of "the Beats." They really are so different in the end. They were only grouped together by factors like their own deliberate self-legendarization-they were legends in their own minds. They had the vanity and the grandiosity of youth. Immortality, ambition-they weren't aware of the limitations of life. American letters at the time were in the condition where any change would be in the direction of freedom-any change.
Were you a fan of Burroughs' writing, initially?
I stumbled across "Naked Lunch" at the age of 14. And it wasn't the first bitingly satirical, black-humorish thing I had read, but it was far and away the best. I loved it. It changed my life. I knew it was changing my life as I read it.
Later in life, Burroughs became a kind of patron saint to a certain breed of rock and roller: Patti Smith, Michael Stipe:
There was a time when Burroughs was just Burroughs. The time when that changes is November 1959, when Life Magazine comes out with their article about the Beats, which they called "The Only Rebellion Around"-a rather dismissive, snotty, but sensational and kind of intriguing article about Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, but also others, very important, who'll have to forgive me for not mentioning them, as there are too many.
And then once he was Burroughs, this icon began to be built up around him. That's a collaborative creation, and it remains so. Who Burroughs was becomes a projection. Kerouac puts a Burroughs character in his books, under different names-that's his take on William. Ginsberg-not so much in his poems but in general-talks about Burroughs and promotes Burroughs. He was Burroughs' agent; he got him his first book deal for "Junkie." And I would have to say that, in a way, Burroughs starts to play into his own legend at some point-maybe not until the early '60s in London. How self-conscious it was, I don't know, I wasn't there. :
The Swingin' '60s. The youth culture was strongly related to bands, and the bands were not, by and large, what we think of as '60s bands from a U.S. point of view. A lot of it was coming out of Cambridge where you had sound experiment composers. Even McCartney used to attend concerts by Karlheinz Stockhausen. McCartney was interested in found music, in John Cage and Robert Wyatt's Soft Machine-which was named after an early '60s Burroughs novel. They were coming from prog rock avant la letter-before it had that name-and also psychedelic, before it had that name. It was trippy; Pink Floyd was trippy. So there was a music scene, and Burroughs was on the scene, and he was photogenic. His writing was influential and he was considered, as the saying goes, "mad, bad and dangerous to know."
All of which was exciting and alluring. He began to be a name check, actually-by the same token that a lot of people say they love "Naked Lunch" but, really, they didn't actually read it-which is fine with me, by the way. There's a new edition out, people. You can buy it and not read it, too. Pick it up.
The point is good. If you professed a certain kind of cool, you had to bring up Burroughs.
It was a name check. The perfect example of this is the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." There's the collage with the 150 little faces of people, and William is one of the prominent ones. And there are a lot of relevant people - Terry Southern comes to mind. [William] brought a lot of ideas. And let's not leave out a very, very important part of this-both as to the icon of Burroughs' persona and the façade, the concept, the edifice of Burroughs' work and what was in it, what it stood for, and the music scene in Europe, particularly London, at this time-and that is Brion Gysin.
Who was a dear friend of Burroughs.
Well, yes-he became a dear friend. Gysin was two years younger. Burroughs met Gysin in Tangier in 1954, when he first got to Morocco. Their encounters were few and mediated mostly by their mutual friend, Paul Bowles. They weren't that fond of each other. They were suspicious and dismissive of each other. But then it came to pass that Gysin and Burroughs were both in Paris in early 1958 and they became fast friends. They both lived in the so-called Beat Hotel at 9 Rue Git-le-CÅur in Paris. August of 1959 is when "Naked Lunch" was published, suddenly. Years of writing were suddenly under pressure from the publisher, Maurice Girodias, and was put together into the final book and was printed.
Did it come out in the U.S. at that time?
No. It had to be smuggled in, until there were some cases filed [in court]. Banned in Boston -the famous Boston case on "Naked Lunch," which the customs office claimed was contraband because it was obscene. That didn't stand. The first American edition of "Naked Lunch" was technically published in 1962, three years later, though it wasn't actually distributed until 1966 because of the court cases. Barney Rosset and Grove Press fought the good fight, speaking of literary censorship.
But Brion Gysin is in London now, in the early 1960s. He's a very flamboyant character who knew everybody-in a way, a kind of Truman Capote: completely different height and appearance, vocal timbre and background, but the same kind of charisma. And also, a storyteller, a raconteur extraordinaire. Also, a very important person in this part of the music answer is Barry Miles, because Miles was involved with the International Times, an underground newspaper with the Indica Bookshop, which was also an art gallery-where Miles introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono, who was having a show there. Miles had a role with Paul McCartney's financing a recording studio for projects by Ian Sommerville, Burroughs' Cambridge student boyfriend at the time, whom he had met right after "Naked Lunch" came out.
But I started to mention November 1959 because the same day Burroughs gave his interview to the Life Magazine reporter, Gysin discovered, or re-discovered, the cut-up technique. Collage and the random factor, aleatory and chance operations have a long history. I can show you them in Swift and in Dodson-I mean Lewis Carroll-and, of course, Dada and surrealism.
When Gysin found it he thought it was a fantastic idea-chance operations in writing. It was a very pregnant idea. John Cage, Earl Brown, and Marcel Duchamp are a few who stand for chance operations in music and the arts. And those ideas were very, very influential-and are to this day. And they were a little bit branded by Burroughs and Gysin, but at some point the brand wears off. At some point these ideas that were branded, "That's a Burroughs," became associated with the artists in different fields who picked up on it, who adopted it :
As Burroughs receives this credit, he also receives the attention of a new generation of rebels in rock music.
So here he is in New York in 1974, 1975, and it dawns on people by degrees that Burroughs is there. And the cognoscenti are burning up the phone lines to each other: "Burroughs is here!" And people wanted to come see him and meet him. And he started giving readings.
I remember reading Victor Bockris' book, "With William Burroughs: Report from the Bunker," nearly 30 years ago. Bockris has taken some criticism not only for his style, but also for a certain amount of self-aggrandizement. The way he portrayed the Bunker was like the Factory updated.
Well, he would. First of all, Victor Bockris is a dear friend of mine. I'm very close to him. I'm well aware, and he's well aware, of exactly those viewpoints you characterized. It really goes back to Andy [Warhol]. Andy's concept was that everyone is famous and that the mundane could be celebrated-and also the idea that glamour is contagious, it just spreads.
It was all a bit tongue-in-cheek-we know Warhol. The people he called "superstars" were guttersnipes. No offense to the surviving ones who are friends of mine-I'm sorry, Gerry. They were speed freaks and hustlers, and Warhol said: "These are the beautiful people." Well, this was very different than Camelot, which was the background to the Warhol emergence. Bockris was not only a student of, but also resonated with, the Warholian outlook on fame. It wasn't jumped-up. It wasn't overweening to make these people legendary and famous. It was part of the game.
So sure, you read "Report from the Bunker" and you're going to get an impression that it was a constant world of superstars. And Victor's editing of his material was very creative, kind of a hash of slice-and-dice. Conversations would be assembled from different days and places-that's his license. But even if you just limit yourself to the edited material of Bockris, you're going to see a comical, Keystone Kops side of the whole thing, too.
A famous example is when Victor brought Mick Jagger over to meet William at the Bunker. As the saying goes, "alcohol was involved," for one thing, and Jagger was evidently paranoid about being asked to do something. And there was some bad blood. William may have exaggerated it in his own mind, but he always felt that he had offended the Rolling Stones people when he was invited to the wedding of Mick and Bianca in Gibraltar-where Burroughs had been many times. At that point, he was living in London, and they didn't offer him a ticket. Burroughs was offended-droit de seigneur, you know: "If they want me there, they should send me a ticket." But the flip side of that was, he was broke. Anyway, there was this history there-quite a little thesis, in fact, on the Burroughs-Jagger relationship. He puts Mick in his books. I'm not going to tell you where. He makes Mick a key figure in two of his most important books. It's an open secret, actually... [Note: the secret is revealed in the podcast version of this interview below].
Many writers perceive their substance of choice as a muse. Did you see any change in Burroughs' writing, before and after?
There are two things I could say about William's attitude towards drugs and his writing. One is that he was a great believer in the beneficial, salutary effects of cannabis, in all forms. He thought that it contributed-if not necessarily always to his writing and the process of composing-at least to the generation of ideas. He would say: "I'm blocked, I'm depressed : take a few hits and sit around, and I start to get all these great ideas." Of course, that's a set-up for some right-wing joke, like: "Great ideas, ha ha! In the light of day, it's a dog's breakfast." But he found that it promoted his non-categorical thinking. It broke down barriers of ideas in his imagination.
As far as opiates-junk, as he called it; dope-he would never have said that the effect of opiates was any kind of muse for him. He had a limited interest in, and knowledge of, the allure, the seduction and the mysterious profile of opiates, but he didn't romanticize it. Well, a little bit. His main thing about junk in his writing was that it turned out, in retrospect, that getting his first habit, and everything that followed, made his career-because it gave him his subject matter. It's only in retrospect that you can see that.
There will always be discussions of whether or not Burroughs is a literary genius of the 20th century.
I recently ran across a review of "The Yage Letters Redux," a new, restored version of "The Yage Letters," edited by Dr. Oliver Harris. I saw a review in The New Criterion that was so negative and dismissive and contemptuous and scathing, it was amusing to me. :
I'll tell you what you can do with the word "genius"-here's a first-person account: In 1974, I went to some of these classroom meetings at CCNY, a creative writing class. And one of the students asked him: "Mr. Burroughs, how does it feel to be a genius?" And he said: "You get used to it."
He didn't with any grandiosity think of himself as a genius, but he had a very solid idea of his own place. You can't take away Burroughs. Burroughs is : a name that will endure.
This interview appeared on Lawrence.com July 30, 2007 to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of William S. Burroughs on August 2, 1997. Tom King is a writer, gardener and the RESIDENT caretaker of the William Burroughs house in Lawrence, Kansas. Reproduced with the kind permission of Tom King.
Originally published July 30, 2007 on Lawrence.com a subsidiary of the Lawrence-Journal World http://www.lawrence.com/news/2007/jul/30/burroughs_guy/?burroughs_2007
The Great Globe Is Paint In Air
by James W. Grauerholz
WILLIAM WAS a Foreseer. He foresaw our new century. He saw in to the shadows of his times, and he discerned the roots, deep in those darknesses, of what and who—today—we all know are the real Nova Mob. The Nova Criminals of our time, the 21st century A.C.E., have revealed themselves; they are right out in the open:
• The 147 transnational corporations who own (on paper, anyway) the vast majority of all planetary “wealth”—resources, assets, and financialized lies—on our Third Planet From the Sun ... but what they own has an aggregate “notional value” of many multiples of the planet’s actual total wealth, by any humane measure;
• The top 200 publicly-listed oil, coal and gas companies whose fossil-fuel “proven reserves” account for 1/4 of the planet’s unextracted hydrocarbons and amount to 745 gigatons of carbon dioxide—far exceeding the planet’s “remaining carbon budget,” i.e., 500 GtCO2: the absolute maximum carbon that can be further burned by Humankind without provoking global warming in excess of 2 degrees Celsius, hastening and worsening the already-begun worldwide climatic disaster;
• The Mega-Wealthy of Earth in 2012, their extravagant riches far surpassing anything ever known in all of human history ... William imagined them more than fifty years ago.
These très riches heures of Earth’s final human generations, before the Deluge, and the Ovens: in Naked Lunch,in the Cut-Up Trilogy, in The Wild Boys ... there were “A.J.” in “Le Gran Luxe,”and “Hassan,” he of the orgiastic “Rumpus Room,” and let us not overlook “Mr. Hart,” the embodiment of William Randolph Hearst as William imagined him in Ah Pook Is Here, nor his Mayan demonization of Henry Luce (“It is a control system. TIME LIFE FORTUNE is some sort of a police organization.”—WSB, January 1, 1965) ... and “Mr. Rich Parts,” the scar-carapaced, transplanted-organ king, cowering far below the surface in a refrigerated Bunker ... so many more, all right there.
We need not fine-tooth-comb the Burroughs-Scripture for Nostradamic arcana or magikal incunabula, because William laid it out bare, in plain English:
ALL OUT OF TIME AND INTO SPACE.
“Citizens of Gravity: We are converting all-out to Heavy Metal. Carbonic Plague of the Vegetable People threatens our Heavy Metal State. Report to your nearest Plating Station. It’s fun to be plated,” says this well-known radio and TV personality who is now engraved forever in gags of metal.
Sudden young energy--
Or, as William voiced a Nova Mobster saying, in one of the many tape-recorder audio works he made in the 1960s:
“Who ... let ... Burroughs ... get to that phone?!? and drop a dime on Us...?!?!”
Go to Nova Express, for Burroughs’ vision of Nature’s Revenge:
“Pay Color! Pay it all, pay it all, pay it all back!”
Or hear William’s mind inside the Controllers’ minds:
“Don’t let them see us! Don’t tell them what We are doing! Premature! Premature! Disaster to my blood whom I created!”
And here is what Burroughs said in “The Future of the Novel,” a text that he delivered in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the epochal 1962 Writers Conference:
A Russian scientist has said: “We will travel not only in Space, but in Time as well.”
That is, to travel in Space is to travel in Time. [...]
The conferring writers [here] have been accused by the press of not paying sufficient attention to the question of human survival—†
In Nova Express (reference is to an exploding planet), and my latest novel, The Ticket That Exploded,
I am primarily concerned with the question of survival--
But William Burroughs also said, quoting his closest friend and greatest collaborator, Brion Gysin:
“Man is a bad animal.”
William and Brion referred to the dogs-like aspect of Humanity:
“They will breed their ignorant peasant asses into the ocean.”
In his seventies, William allowed his Inner Misanthrope to flare-up when he read how the Third World‘s ballooning human population was deforesting Madagascar (to choose just one, very WSB-specific, example) ... their unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture irreparably destroying Lemur habitat, and that was already 30 years ago.
William snarled to contemplate the gentle Indri lemurs hunted by starving Malagasy human beings and eaten by them, as “bushmeat” ... he sneered and cursed those humans, so deeply was his heart hurt to think of it, he growled to swallow a sob, in his latter years when he contemplated the Future that is now our Present.
In this Present of ours, most of the Lemuridae are threatened with extinction, and many species are already forever lost. In 2012, it was reported that 91% of the 103 still-extant Lemur species and subspecies are at maximum risk of extinction.
It’s the end of the line for the Lemurs this time, people.
Go on, read William’s late-life “Jesus Lemur” novella, Ghost of Chance, then try to visualize how he would have despaired at what is happening right now. It brings tears to my own eyes, just imagining it. But the memory of William’s sterner stuff dries me up quickly, as it also rescued him in the mid-1990s, his final Earth years.
That was in the aftermath of his wrenching, heart-quickening “contact” with the Cats, his beloved cats, so tearfully recounted in The Cat Inside, published 20 years ago ... the eternal Cat, the White Cat, Margaras ...the White Light of Truth, still moistening William’s pages in 1995, in his book, My Education: A Book of Dreams.
For examples of his latter-day Redemption Songs, see William’s Last Words journals—where he wrestled the dark angel of hatred to the ground, but won the match, in the end, by surrendering.
William was explicitly, mystically Manichaean—not so much with the Zoroastrians’ chiaroscuro battlescape of Light vs. Darkness, but with their idea that the outcome of this struggle between Good and Evil is not pre-ordained, not “pre-recorded.”
And in that sense, all this foreseeable eventual planetary loss and desolation is no proof that the Nova criminals shall have won the day. Because that day is not today. One day it will be today.
As William wrote in his 1975 Foreword to Ah Pook Is Here, in words that can as easily refer to the planet’s fate as to one human’s life:
Your death is an organism which you yourself create. If you fear it or prostrate yourself before it, the organism becomes your master.
Then he breaks it down for us:
Time is that which ends.
The only way out of Time is into Space.
What did William mean by Space?
He spoke cryptically and contradictorily about Space, but in January 1965, he offered this clue:
The hope lies in the development of non-body experience and eventually getting away from the body itself, away from three-dimensional coordinates and the concomitant animal reactions of fear and flight, which lead inevitably to tribal feuds and dissension.
The interviewer then asked Burroughs if he was, as Mary McCarthy had suggested, a “soured Utopian.”
William’s reply can stand for his entire life project as a morally-committed American writer and artist of the late 20th century:
I do definitely mean what I say to be taken literally, yes: to make people aware of the true criminality of our times ... to wise-up the Marks.
All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable.
Now I have told you who are the enemies of humanity, and have shown you that humanity is its own worst enemy. In the furnace heat of that unbearable truth, William created his writings, and his paintings, and all his art. And as for me, I think that is about all we can do—but we can do that, and it is what we do.
To the Transatlantic Review’s collection of his 1962 prophecy at Edinburgh, Burroughs added a cut-up text he made for the Conference. The last paragraph of that text calls out to me to be given a place on these pages—at the top of the bill, as it were; the show-closer.
I dedicate William’s words to the memory of his dear friend, who is with him now in “The Western Lands”—my beloved brother in soul, who was obliged to leave our Earth Party already two years ago, and far too soon--José Férez Kuri.
Twenty-five years ago this month, José joined forces with William as his personal art curator and artistic consultant; their collaboration lasted 23 years.
José was a gift to William from our lifelong friends here in The October Gallery, and now, with this exhibition, the circle is unbroken. We all miss José, and we salute eternally his central role in William’s life as an artist.
I thank you all, for reading these words, and for seeing William’s Art.
Nova Police besieged McEwan Hall 
Foot Notes :
 Vitali, Glattfelder, Battiston 2011. The network of global corporate control. Zurich: Systems Design.
 Carbon Tracker Initiative 2012. Unburnable carbon: Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? London: Investor Watch.
Conrad Knickerbocker w/ WSB, 1965. “The Art of Fiction, No. 36: William S. Burroughs.” New York: Paris Review.
 William S. Burroughs, 1965. Nova Express. New York: Grove Press.
† Two months before the Edinburgh conference, the “Missiles of October” had held the world in delicate balance between nuclear suicide and global survival (at least).
 William S. Burroughs, 1962. “Censorship;” “Future of the Novel;” et al. London: Transatlantic Review No. 11 (Winter 1962).
 Mittermeier et al., 2012. Primates in Peril: the world’s 25 most-endangered primates, 2012–2014. Bristol: IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
 William S. Burroughs, 1979. Ah Pook Is Here. London: John Calder.
 Knickerbocker 1965.
 Burroughs 1962, Transatlantic Review.
By James W. Grauerholz (Nov. 21, 2012)
This text was originally published in the catalouge for the William S Burroughs show "All out of time and into space" at The October Gallery , London, December 2012.
To purchase a copy of William S. Burroughs: All Out Of Time And Into Space (October Publications) visit The October Gallery bookstore http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/bookstore/
You can view William S. Buroughs art which has been exhibited at The October Gallery on their website http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/burroughs/index.shtml
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