Like a lot of this prior to email and texting business…this one starts with a phone call from Woody Creek, Colorado into Burroughs Communications office in Lawrence, KS.
NOTES FROM WBC - Watching a Grown Man Cry… HST visits WSB. Gonzo Goat Fuck.
By Jim McCrary
Coulda been mid 1990’s. And it was either Hunter or his ‘assistant’ whose name might have been Laura. The question was, “Would it be a good time to visit Bill Burroughs?” That was not an unusual request at the office. Lots of folks wanted to visit WSB and some of them actually took time to call and ask questions. Most all of them were deflected with the reply that Mr. Burroughs was too busy at the moment to have visitors. Truth be told he had enough visitors whom he wanted to see to keep him occupied.
So………..HST…..wanted to come visit. He would have to drive over since he wanted to bring lots of guns and ammo to share. How long would the drive be? 10 hours maybe….all on I70 interstate. Get on….get off. Get a room at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence. I think he and William talked it over on the phone. William was fine with all that…..and since Dr. Thompson was asking only for some time together….it seemed to William that it would be a good thing. And, in the end it was. Indeed.
So the date was set and off they went. Down the hill from Owl Farm and into the flatland of western Kansas. We expected them to call in a couple of days when they got to town. Nothing happening for a while. Then finally a call: "We haven’t left yet. Had to clear some things up, maybe leave Friday." The call came on Friday. "We're gonna leave Monday." And they did.
And I think four days later…”We're here at the Eldridge. Car broke down somewhere west of Salina. Dry county. Garage didn’t have the part. Paid a fortune for grease monkey to go get the part. Luckily had enough booze and coke to survive. Awful place. Stopped in Salina to watch Final Four playoffs. More later.”
(The story later told and I cannot do justice…believe me…Hunter stops in Junction City to watch a ball game at sports bar after getting car repaired and replacing booze stash. He watches the game in usual style and interacts with off-duty army personnel from nearby base. Ready to head out, he reaches for the keys on the bar….not there. “Where the motherfuck are my keys, you redneck assholes???” says Dr. Thompson. Says the barkeep…”I have them, sir, and you are in no condition to drive. Sir.” Imagine that…..dear reader…..just for a moment imagine that. As is often said in such stories…cooler heads prevailed…things were ‘settled’ and off they went. Who drove? Don’t know.)
That evening I went to Eldridge Hotel to pick them up. As I approached the desk to ask the room number, the concierge looked up and pointed at the elevator and mumbled 402. He looked exhausted.
When the door opened to the room a blast of hot steam escaped into the hallway. The assistant had the shower running full blast with hot water to steam out the wrinkles of a dress. His Gonzoness had the basketball game on full blast and all surfaces in the room were covered with dishes of food, drink and papers scattered around. He had obviously wound up the staff of the hotel and spent the morning moving from one room to another and had finally settled down. For the moment.
We spoke about the schedule for next couple days. Tonight, dinner at a local restaurant and then a short visit with Bill. Tomorrow a full day at the range, shooting. Dinner at Williams house. Drive back to Colorado. What could go wrong with that?
It took a while to get them out of the hotel room. We walked a bit around downtown Lawrence. It was pretty quiet. Thompson asked me where his old buddy and fellow sportswriter George Kimball hung out when he lived in Lawrence. I pointed out some of the spots where he used to hang, including the bridge where Kimball threw bricks of marijuana into the river during a press conference when he (and HST in Colorado), was running for office.
We finally settled at a patio table at an Italian place near William's home. It didn’t take long for the servers to figure out who they were serving and a never-ending group of them grazed around the table asking if we needed anything. Thompson was most happy to suggest something new that was needed. In the midst of all that he somehow managed to let slip off his lap a Skoll tin half-full of exceptional cocaine onto the concrete floor. I immediately joined him under the table in a valiant attempt to help clean up the mess best we could using the doubled v credit card method. Quickly done and actually applauded by one of the co-ed servers. Food flying around and across the table, pitchers of margaritas floating past…the evening continued.
We left soon enough and managed the final few blocks to Williams’s house. And then something amazing happened. Dr. Thompson switched gears. The minute he walked into the house his demeanor, his energy, his self became as quiet and attentive as a student before the master. Hmmm.
Well, there was the smoke and drink of course. The ur and not ur. The this and that. The how are you and all that. Yes. All that. And there they were. Across the table from one another. Mumble this and mumble that. Quiet. Then done. William had announced that it was his bedtime…and that was accepted by the company. As was his habit, William stepped out onto his front porch and waved a goodbye.
I went home and I do believe that Dr. Thompson continued his evening over a fresh batch of coke at the offices of the local alt newspaper after leaving the Burroughs residence. Later reports from friends indicated that the Doctor held forth for quite a while in the office above the Bottleneck club. As he was.
The big day arrived. And it would be fuck all. Another goat fuck for sure. The entourage grew and grew. Usually it was William and his old buddy George Kaull, a fellow geezer libertarian and crack shot. The two of them…some pot, some vodka and coke, some ‘snacks’ and a sack full of guns and ammo. Go out shoot, have a drink and smoke to steady the hand, shoot some more. Eat some cheese and crackers or whatnot. Have a drink and smoke. Shoot some more.
However, this time with HST it was lots more action. A video camera was unloaded and Miss Thing was told by Hunter to set up halfway between the targets and the shooters. William stopped that at once. No way would the young lady film beyond the firing line…which, by the way, moved around as the day progressed.
And there were others with aims to make or shots to take…some friends and handlers and who knows by now. Hunter was wound up and after the first round of shots from William and George with their favorite pistols and someone shooting a shotgun…Hunter announced the big surprise he had talked about since his arrival…the gift he had brought for William.
He pulled out a large wooden box that had an American flag embossed on the walnut. Opened it up and there in purple velvet lay a Freedom Arms, one-of-a-kind, 454-caliber pistol with all the goodies. A marker on the box proclaimed this was one of a hundred, if memory serves. And by the way, a 454-caliber gun has a hole in the end of the barrel the size of your big toe. The gun was admired and passed around. Hunter dug into the back of his transport for the ammo and then dug some more and then some more and then starting howling and throwing shit on the ground.
“Motherfucker….mothergoddamfucker shit my ass!!!!!!!!! WHERE THE FUCK IS THE AMMO!!!” Well, it wasn’t there. Gonzo was fucked and sat slumped on the tailgate looking a lot like he was ready to break into tears.
And then a friend of Bill's who was a shooter and a hunter and a photographer and a local says: “Well shit, I'll just run over to Topeka and get some 454.”
“They won’t have any, you stupid fuck,” Hunter said.
“Oh,” the guy said, ” I do believe they will.” And off he went and in the time it takes to empty a handy 44 Colt or a 38 S&W snubbie or a vodka and coke….he was back and the fun began.
Hunter was happy and pleased with himself and loaded up the 454 and handed it to WSB who looked it over, walked a bit closer to the target, hoisted it up and pulled the trigger. Motherfuck indeed. It did back him up at least five feet and when the smoke cleared there was a rivulet of blood tricking down Williams thumb and wrist. “Son of a bitch bit me,” said William giggling. He loved it. And shot it again and passed it around. Hunter was happy. Again. He had brought the old man a gift and the old man thanked him. The afternoon wore on in the noise and smoke and crash of lead into wooden targets and Kansas dirt clods turned to atoms.
(Aside to Johnny Depp or anyone who might know or has Thompson’s archives and/or belongings. Somewhere there should be a video tape of this trip. I once asked HST biographer Doug Brinkley to poke around for it but he never had any luck. Too bad.)
And that is that. The day ended with drinks and food at William's but I don’t remember. Hunter did hire a couple guys to drive his car back to Woody Creek. He and the friend flew from Kansas City back home.
I don’t know if that was the only or the last time those two were together. It was good time spent. Both would agree. Well spent. Indeed.
That was then.
[Jim McCrary lives in Lawrence, KS and worked at William Burroughs Communications for a decade beginning early 1990s. Misses the old man to this day. Every day.]
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
William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, 1981-1997
William S Burroughs, McCrary and S Clay Wilson on front porch 1927 Learnard Ave, Lawrence, Ks. This was taking when WSB was recovering from heart surgery...I cant remember the year. He was always glad to see Wilson who visited Lawrence when he came back to visit his parents in Nebraska. Photo McCrary
In mid-August 1997, on a hot summer night, William Burroughs lay dead in a open casket on the stage of Liberty Hall. The place was packed. The hipsters were out in full force for what would be a memorial service/wake. There were a few notables from NYC but most of the crowd was local. They knew William, or knew of William, or had seen William while he lived in Lawrence. They came to say goodbye.
The memorial was pretty awful. The after-party was a couple blocks south at a local college punk music bar and had more energy than the memorial. So it was that Lawrence said goodbye to Burroughs after his 15 years as resident famous old guy. And by the way, 15 years in one place was a very long time for Burroughs, longer than he lived in London, or Tangier, or Paris, or NYC or Mexico. His choice, believe me.
The next day William was loaded in a hearse and driven to St. Louis, Missouri where he is now buried in the family death plot. RIP. Truth be told, he was buried like all good Egyptian Kings with certain goodies necessary to make it in the afterlife…loaded ’38 revolver, couple joints, a silver dollar, a bindle of heroin and wearing a Moroccan vest given to him by his buddy Brion Gysin. Patti Smith leaned over the open grave and sang the ditty, if memory serves, ”Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?"
There were tears….some real, some crocodile. And then the gravediggers kind of shuffled forward, hoping the bunch of hippies would get the fuck out of the way. No-one moved. Apparently, few survivors in St. Louis stick around to see the newly-departed covered up in Mississippi riverbank funk. We did.
So that is what happened after William died. I cannot tell you what happened when he died, because I wasn’t there. Someone will tell you what happened because, based on what I have read and heard, there were as many as two dozen people in and out of the [hospital] room.
William came to Lawrence because he didn’t want to live in New York anymore. Too loud, too expensive, too much hassle. My opinion. James Grauerholz , William’s longtime friend, short-time lover, adopted son and caregiver--an all-around loving guy--also ‘influenced’ William's move to Kansas. That took a lot of moxie and Grauerholz deserves credit.
Lot of folks, especially in NYC, seemed peeved that William was ‘forced’ out of Manhattan. Their loss I guess. No one to hang on to anymore. Boo fucking hoo. But William might have gone to Santa Fe or Boulder. He didn’t. Didn’t go to San Francisco either, or Portland. Or St. Louis. Who knows why. Maybe because he knew fewer people in Lawrence. Fact is, I don’t think William knew more than two or three people in Lawrence when he moved here.
Of course, moving to Kansas didn’t stop people from searching William out. They did from day one until today, 16 years after his death…some still come. To look at whatever might be left.
Dead William is not (as is usually the case), as big a draw as William alive. After all, you can get a lot more from a living guy than from a dead one. Not many artists ‘collaborate’ with dead people, or not many musicians get dead guys to “perform” on their new CDs with dead guys pictured on the cover. It seemed to this observer that very few people--Allen Ginsberg, George Condo, Udo Breger and a couple others--came with the intent to be with William and spend time with William and not feel the need to leave with something from William, in one way or another. All the bad music and bad art created with William’s name attached didn’t make it any better, that’s for sure.
The women who came to Lawrence to see William did it because they wanted to. Several very well-respected scholars and biographers came. Writers like Kathy Acker and Patti Smith came. Lauren Hutton came. Anne Waldman came. And, of course, the uninvited and unwanted and unwashed came and knocked on the door and came in.
William was always gracious with the visitors. He listened to their tales of woe or whatever, and listened to the bad music or poetry. He took the time to look at the ugly, violent, half-assed art, and sent the visitors on their way. What I recall is that after visits by famous singers or sculptors or record producers or such…he never talked about it much.
He would tell me if he had a call from Tim Leary or Whitley Strieber. He would tell me if he had a card from Paul Bowles. The others…who knew? I mean, he went to KC one day to be in a film with U2. He had the limo and the entourage and all the rest. I didn’t go. He didn’t talk about it. Later, in a journal, he made a one-sentence comment about “the group called Me Two." He preferred to be left alone, and he was.
So, alone, and what to do? Well, cats do fill the time if you have six or eight (there never were “dozens of wild cats running in and out of house” as I read somewhere on line). I am the guy who held a sobbing William S. Burroughs in his arms as we left sweet, sweet Spooner at the vet’s office to be put to sleep. William loved his cats…all of 'em. From Calico Jane to Ginger to Fletch and all the rest.
He also loved the raccoons that came in through the cat door to look for food in the kitchen cabinets. He gave them his leftovers and took the time to borrow a Have A Heart trap from the Humane Society. I answered the phone one morning at the office--it was William:
“Jim, we got a huge raccoon in the trap. This thing is very, very dangerous. Come over now and we will take it to Mary’s Lake for release.”
And we did.
If you read the opening paragraph of Burroughs’ The Western Lands, there it is: the old writer living in a boxcar on the river bank. And then you see it in the empty field, out by the Wakarusa River, on the road to Lone Star Lake. The boxcar is there, sitting empty, sinking slowly into the river bank. Nothing is real. Everything is permitted.
William didn’t live in that box car but he did live in a Sears & Roebuck pre-fab bungalow that came on a train from Chicago. And he did have a cabin at Lone Star Lake, couple rooms with an outhouse. Full of mouse shit and pot smoke. A crumbly dock and a very small rowboat. A place to spend some time. Take a friend out in the rowboat.
“This is how you do it, Allen. Stand up like they do in Venice, look where you’re going.”
From the dock someone mentioned…”We could any moment see the last two members of the Beat Generation go overboard into the lake.“ And, of course, neither William nor Ginsberg were wearing life jackets….each with a huge smile though. I guess that counts.
William did three things to excess while he lived in Lawrence: drank a lot of vodka and Coke, smoked a lot of pot, and created a fuck-all amount of art.
William loved to paint and, for a while, he painted everything he could get his hands on. Most on paper, many on canvas, on plywood scraps from construction sites, and on doors (including a beautiful graffiti triptych from a mid-century, accordion-type garage door), and windows and cedar shingles and tin and metal and old signs and chairs and asphalt roofing shingles. He bought scrapbooks and blank books and 3x5 inch cards and painted them all, and he painted the boxes they came in (yes he did, and they are in the archives).
He painted all the file folders he could get from the office plus just plain paper. He made targets, drew or painted them…cops or sheriffs or men from outer space. My favorites were a Bounty Hunter that S. Clay Wilson drew as a target and a Buddha drawn by Ginsberg…both then filled with bullet holes, signed and dated by the ‘artists’ and filed away in the archives.
It is not my opinion that William painted so much because he was bored…he wasn’t. Was he obsessed? I think not. He was, as he wrote somewhere, “curious to see what emerged from the painting”. For instance, I arrive at his house once at 4pm with dinner groceries. Knock and go in.
He is in the spare bedroom/studio…the bed covered with paintings, one on an easel.
“Look, Jim, look at this!”
He is jabbing the picture, his nose an inch from the paper, a joint burning in the ashtray.
“Jim, do you see it? That is a dead-on image of Billy the Kid.”
And maybe it was indeed. Did he take it all that seriously? I don’t think so. How can you, when you paint on paper and file folders and windows (glass and frame), cutting up male porn mags and making collages with flying monkeys? No, not that seriously, I think. He said he could not draw: ”I cannot draw a table.” Sometimes folks showed up with their art and wanted William to “add something." Like I said, it didn’t make it any better whatever William did.
There were the trips to the methadone clinic with TP , going to Marty the barber , and to Sue and David’s for Thanksgiving Day potluck , or to Wayne and Carol’s  for the bardo burnings for Tim Leary and Allen Ginsberg. Or just to the store for cat food, the pawn shop for ammo and a chat, the surplus store for a new fatigue jacket or cap (dress like the locals and become “the invisible man”). The vet and the doctor too. Life is like that.
WSB (far left seated with cap on), unknown persons, WSB's good friend George Kaull (they were same age, Kaull was a Libertarian and local bad ass sculptor), McCrary far right. Others are member of a local band.....this was hottest summer day of year 106 degrees. We were out shooting in rural Leavenworth County. We were not well hydrated but somewhat baked. The shooting was good. We all survived. All rights reserved McCrary
And then the shooting trips. Usually the trips would begin with a phone call: “Let’s go shooting.” So it was arranged. William would call his close friend and peer, George Kaull. George was about William’s age, lived alone over across the Kansas River and always carried a loaded pistol in his pocket. George was a Libertarian and sculptor, a retired iron worker who helped build many of the bridges in Northeast Kansas, a retired honcho of the local ACLU and a beloved, elder trouble-maker in and around Lawrence.
George and William liked one another, and they loved to shoot. Targets. Not hunt; no, not hunt. So it was: William, George and a few others in a van with a sack of vodka and coke, bag of grass, backpack full of guns and ammo. Had we ever been stopped, who knows what? We all, I think, believed that a good cop would take a long look in the van and not want to get involved. Never did get stopped.
Maybe we went to Fred’s house or somewhere else. Shoot a while. Targets. Not from very far away.
“Most always it is very close….very close. Not like the western movies….one end of the block to the other,” William used to say. And didn’t he know from experience? He missed once in his life, missed badly down in old Mexico. I think he spent the rest of his life trying to improve his aim. And it don’t matter what others think about that whole deal. Period.
So we’re all out in some country place, shooting and then marking the targets…the date, the gun, the ammo. Go inside for a drink. Steady the hand. Little pot. Cheese and crackers, maybe a little caviar. Then back out to shoot some more, wearing ear protection and keeping an eye on each other. One day, someone scared up a snake and yelled out, “Here comes a snake!”
William put down the gun and tottered towards the kid shouting, “For Christ’s sake, don’t hurt it! Don’t hurt it!”
So it was. Good times spent.
But most of the time William was home. He did travel but not often. He went to Wichita and Kansas City. He went to NYC when Paul Bowles came to have an operation late in each of their lives. I was a fly on that wall; honored for that to have happened. William made it clear he wanted to see Paul when he heard he was coming to the States. We went.
William stayed at the Bunker on Bowery, Giorno the host. Went uptown to the hotel Bowles was in. When the two of them sat down and talked, everyone leaning forward to listen, well…..fuck sake, it was two old, old men who had been friends forever talking like……not two famous writers….but two old, old men who had been friends for a long time. Illness, death, memories, places and those they knew in common. What the fuck else is there? I think they both knew what the future held. They asked each other how they were and what they felt. One asked the other about some long lost Arab friend. Some hotel in Spain. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Photo of me (sitting on arm of chair) and William S Burroughs and Paul Bowles in NYC hotel room I think 1990. WSB and I travelled from Kansas and Bowles was in NY to hear some of his music performed at Lincoln Center and also to have a hip operation. It was one of the high points in my life to be with those two guys. Photo probably by fellow named Brad Kahler who also came from Kansas. He worked helping out with William for a while.
So…..home alone to paint and feed the cats and clean the guns and look out the window. To write a journal. A letter or two. Read the paper, the magazines--Scientific American, Cat Journal, Crop Circles of South America Illustrated--and read the pulp novels. He liked “bad nurse novels,” he called them…the RN that killed all his patients etc. Conrad, too, and the Weekly World News and anything about weird, deadly sea creatures (the blue octopus), and anything about lemurs. Maybe the history of Lawrence and William Quantrill . Picture books of tornados.
There were always books, magazines, articles cut out and filed away…underlined and commented on. Who knew why or what for? He did maybe but he wasn’t talking. People took a lot of pictures and movies and videos of all this and there are hours and hours and hours of William doing, well, nothing. Funny how that looks. He could be writing the best novel ever in his head and look like he was doing nothing more than picking hairs off his bedspread. It is all recorded: an old man, alone with a favorite cat and a friend to keep him company, another friend to fix his supper, talk about the latest nonsense. The occasional interview from some East Coast journalist:
“What do you think about cloning, Mr. Burroughs?”
“Anything that pisses off the Christians is okay with me," William responded. "Why not cloning? Can’t make homosap any worse than he already is!”
He left his last thoughts in his journals and we can read that in his last published book . He left his paintings and we can see them occasionally. He left his books and objects collected by him and others from around the globe. He left films and videos and photographs…some he made, and some by others. He left quite a few friends in Lawrence, Kansas. What he found in Lawrence was a comfortable place where he was allowed to be himself, to live quietly and gracefully.
And he did.
Jim McCrary first came to Lawrence in 1965 to attend the University of Kansas. He left Kansas and lived New York City, San Francisco and northern California, returning to Lawrence in 1990. He worked as the office manager for William Burroughs Communications from 1990 to 2001. During that time he saw Burroughs just about every day for one reason or another. McCrary has published a dozen books of poetry and his poems have been featured in print magazines, online publications, 'zines and broadsides. You could look him up.
-  Liberty Hall, 642 Massachusetts Street, was built as an opera house in 1907 and is now used as a movie and music venue in downtown Lawrence.
-  Tom Peschio, notable Lawrence musician and longtime William Burroughs Communications staffer, was Burroughs' caretaker, collaborator and close friend.
-  Marty Olson is a well-known Lawrence artist and proprietor of Do's Deluxe salon. "I met William just before he moved here. James brought him in. I cut his hair every couple of months and we always had great chats. I cooked dinners for him too."
-  Burroughs often joined Sue Brousseau and David Ohle for holiday celebrations.
-  Wayne Propst and Carol Schmitt live on a small farm north of Lawrence where they host bardo burns for departed friends.
-  "William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837 – June 6, 1865) was a Confederate guerrilla leader during the American Civil War. After leading a Confederate bushwhacker unit along the Missouri-Kansas border in the early 1860s, which included the infamous raid and sacking of Lawrence, Kansas in 1863." - Wikipedia
-  Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs, 2000.
Annotated by Tom King.
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