William Burroughs – (July 1985 reading at Naropa – 1)

William S Burroughs at 101 – All of the focus on the Centennial last year, but the time has come around again.  February 5 – It’s William Burroughs’ birthday.

To celebrate we’re running this audio – an inspired July 1985 reading at Naropa (select readings from 1983’s The Place of Dead Roads and 1986’s  The Cat Inside).

[After some announcements regarding upcoming Naropa activities from Anne Waldman,

(and additional announcements from Allen), Allen, (at approximately two-and-three-quarter minutes in), introduces William Burroughs] 

AG: William Burroughs at the present age of seventy-one, has been teaching at Naropa steadily, every summer (maybe one exception…I’m not sure, I don’t think any were missed) since he was sixty years old – which is eleven years – one of our first adjunct instructors in the poetics department, and he has been faithfully helping us out in uniting the poetic community and inspiring the younger students here (as all over America and all over the world) with his intelligence and his insight, prajna wisdom, and cutting-through humor. At the moment, the bound copies of an antique manuscript from 1953 called Queer is circulating among reviewers with a 1984-85 introduction by Mr Burroughs occupying about a third of the space of the book, linking his thought of 1953 and his thought and emotion of 1985. So that will be the next book published. He’s also working on a long-range novel, the end of his trilogy, Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads  the third volume, the first draft of which, I think, is almost done, is The Western Lands, part of a long-range writing project that’s occupied, I guess, the last ten years. Very few writers have that much patience and devotion and energy with their work (certainly, I don’t!). Not many prose writers even have that sense of long-range composition, but Mr Burroughs has pursued his subject, which is control and consciousness, examination of basic good, for the last forty years, as I remember, and is now at the height of his powers, not only with the new manuscript, Queer, the new novel-sequel, The Western Lands, but also a very acute curious book on.. called (The) Cat Inside.  Mr Burroughs has six cats in Lawrrence, Kansas, upon all of whom he projects his imagination (and he is, like T.S.Eliot, St Louis confrere, also interested in cats as a medium between himself and the public). And so there’s a big cat book, the manuscript of which Mr Burroughs has here. So he’ll be reading from The Cat Inside, The Western Lands, and other notes. So we’ll have all new fresh intelligence from William Seward Burroughs.

WSB: Thank you. [He begins] – “I’d like to pass along a flatly insane recent news story – “A man swimming in a canal in Florida attacked two alligators with his fists screaming obscenities. The alligators dragged him down and drowned him. And the Sheriff’s office said that no attempt would be made to locate or sanction the alligators”.  I guess he got what he was looking for.”

How many of you have read my novel, The Place of Dead Roads? [minimal show of hands] – Good, excellent. You’ll remember that Kim Carson and Mike Chase get greased in the end (not that they’re likely to stay dead, in this league of operatives, dying is like trading in your old car, time  for a new chassis).  Now I just wonder how many of you figured out who killed them?  – Yes?  (it has to be someone I didn’t tell, because I told quite a few people here – did I tell you? –  (Yes) – well, no, that’s not fair then, no, it has to be someone that I didn’t give the answer to) – huh – looks like I really wrote a whodunnit – so but obviously, the whodunnit, the obvious suspects are not the ones. It wasn’t Bickford’s agents at all – and the clue’s to be found on page 126 – “Kim was aware of the danger from Joe the Dead but thought he could handle it” –  Famous last thoughts!  Joe says “Here I am the best technician in or out of hell and he brings me back from hell to make sling shots and scout knives and zip guns. Yeah, leave the details to Joe. He left one too many. Joe laughs, a dry rustling sound like a snake shedding its skin. I lifted that out of a spy novel, good enough to steal.

Joe the Dead belongs to a select breed of outlaws know as the NO’s, natural outlaws dedicated to breaking the so-called laws of the universe foisted upon us by physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and biologists, and  above all, a monumental fraud of cause and effect, to be replaced by the more pregnant concept of synchronicity – why, it almost fits right into a song, it must be the matter – synchronicity.  Ordinary outlaws break man-made laws. Laws against theft and murder, of course, are broken every second. You only break a natural law once. To the ordinary criminal breaking a law is a means to an end –  obtaining money, removing an obstruction. To a NO, breaking a natural law is an end, the end to that law. Ordinary outlaws specialize in accordance with inclination and aptitude, or they did. Many of them are on the endangered species list with the gliding lemurs, the rusty-spotted cat and the monkey-eating eagle (well, the monkey-eating eagle will not be missed by the monkeys).

Consider the Murphy Man. How many of you know what a Murphy Man is? Not one. Your Murphy Man steers the mark to a non-existent whore, having located an apartment building without a doorman and with the front door open. It’s mostly a black art. Only a black man has the Murphy Man boy’s cool insinuating familiar and the Murphy Man face – sincere, unflappable, untrustworthy. He spots a mark from out of town away from wife and kids for a night on the town. “Looking for some action, friend?” – “Well, uh, yes…” – The Murphy Man makes a phone call: it’s all set up. He leads the mark to this apartment.”Go up one flight, first door on your left, 1 A.  Prime-grade, friend, and she’s ready and waiting” and he gives him a big toothy smile. I wonder if there are any Murphy Men left?

And then there was the practitioners of the Hype or the Bill, that was a short-change routine. You start with twenty dollars. You get the change on the counter and then, “Aw, wait a minute, I don’t want to take all your change, give me ten” (and counts it back minus the ten). It’s hard to get a conviction because nobody can explain exactly what happened. I’ve had it explained to me many many times and I still don’t see how it works. But the basic principle can be found in a sketch by Edgar Allan Poe on nineteenth-century hustlers, who were known as Diddlers – Now a diddler walks into a tobacco store and asks for a plug of tobacco, and when the plug is on the counter he changes his mind, “Give me a cigar instead”. He takes the cigar and starts to walk out. “Oh, wait a minute, you didn’t pay me for the cigar”, “Of course not. I traded it against the tobacco plug”, “Well I don’t recall you paid me for that either”, “Pay you for it!  Why, there it is! None of your tricks on traveling men”. There was a neat little double-bind there somewhere.

Unobtrusive, insistent, practitioners of the Bill were almost always addicts. I wonder if there are any hype men left?

Remember Yellow Kid, while in the Big Store?  he would set up a whole prop brokerage office. The old-time bank robbers and the burglars who knew what they were looking for and the pickpockets trained from early childhood (the best came from Columbia they tell me). Where are they now, the Murphy Men? and the hype artists?, the Big Store? – Gone, all gone. Ou sont neige d’antan.

Oh yes (well here) – noteworthy is the hideously sordidyachting scandal still practiced – Now, they’re going to buy a boat together and sail to the South Seas. This swindle requires mark and swindler live in the same trailer, get drunk together every night and lay the same whore. Yellow Kid Weil would’ve been scandalized. “Never drink with a savage” was one of his rules. Well, ordinary outlaws specialize and so do the NOs. Joe the Deadspecializes in evolutionary biology. He dedicates his dearly-bought knowledge of pain and death to cracking two biologic laws:

Law 1 – Hybrids are permitted only between closely-related species and then grudgingly. The Biological Police bluntly warn: “To break down the lines that Mother Nature in her right wisdom” (I can smell it from here) “has established between species is  to invite biological and social chaos”.  Joe says “What do you think I’m doing here?  Let it come down”
Rule 2 – An evolutionary step that requires biological mutation is irretrievable and irreversible. Newts start life in the water with gills. At the determined time, the newt sheds his gills and crawls up onto theordained land,  now equipped withair-breathing lungs. The newt then returns to the water where he lives out his days. It might be convenient to reclaim his gills and breathe underwater again? “No glot clom Fliday”, says the Cosmic Uncle. It’s the law.

So for starters, Joe pulls a baby mule out of the cosmic manger. There is Mary – Mother Mule, and John [Joseph] – the father – and the impossible child with a glowing pulsing halo.
(Incidentally, the fact that John [Joseph] was a part-time veterinarian might, shall we say, illuminate without denying, the Virgin Birth. After all, a sterile syringe is not a corrupt and impure member, so she can still qualify as the Virgin Mary).

A Kansas vet, known as Joe Lazarus, after he was pronounced dead at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, having been kicked in the head by a mule, was the instrument of altered destiny. Like Saint Paul, knocked off his ass on his ass on his way to Damascus, Joe Laz, following his miraculous recovery, knew what he had to do. He set out to produce a fertile mule. He exposed sperm from his horses and donkeys to orgone and radiation in the magnetized pyramid. It didn’t hack it. So Laz went further, he rigged a magnetized manger and bombarded the copulating animals with Deadly Orgone Radiation – D.O.R – and he sewed himself into a goat skin and whipped his beasts to wild Pan music – any woman hit by the whip of the Goat God will conceive in nine months – and finally he created a fertile mule. Skeptics pronounced Joe Laz’s mule the most colossal hoax since the Virgin birth.
“I had it up my sleeve,” Joe deadpanned.

A quiet, enigmatic, former herpetologist resident in Florida challenges Rule 2. His name is Joe Sanford. Bitten by a king cobra, he recovered and devoted himself to a study of newts and salamanders. Sanford claims to have re-instituted gills into air-breathing newts by injections of a lamb-placenta concentrate, the same preparation used in fact by Doctor Kniehaus in Switzerland to turn back the clock for his wealthy patients, to name a few (this is true now) Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Pope Pius XII, President Eisehower (I remember Eisenhower waving a tiny American flag from his hospital bed with a big stupid grin on his face and wondering if he would ever die). Winston Churchill couldn’t qualify because he couldn’t or wouldn’t lay off the sauce for six weeks, which was a pre-requisite for the Kniehaus treatment (no exceptions). You will note that rule 2 carries the implicit assumption that time is irreversible. Sanford made a hole in time and Joe sloshes through the hybrids.All is in the not done, the diffidence that faltered... Let others quaver out:  “I dare do all that become a man, who dares do more is none“.  Not so, says Joe. /He who dares at all, must dare all./ When mules foal,/ Anything goes,/ When mules glow/ Anything  foals./ Hybrids Unlimited…/ HU HU HU.”

It is not necessary to prove, simply to state. This is a biologic revolution fought with new species and new ways of thinking and feeling, a war where the bullet may take milleniums to hit. Like the old joke about the.. someone makes a swipe with a razor, you know, and.. “Well, missed me that time” – ” (but) just try and shake your head three hundred years from now”

This is a…Dead Souls..this is a.. (yeah, from Gogol, of course), a film-idea loosely suggested by a sci-fi book called Lost Souls.  “Dead Souls’ postulates that a soul is an electro-magnetic field (possibly several of them, in a complicated grid) designed to occupy and activate a certain organism. While infinitely less vulnerable than the artifact it occupies, the soul can be dispersed and destroyed by a nuclear blast. This is, in fact, the sensitive function of the atom bomb –  a Soul-Killer. “Stacked up, you understand, like cordwood and non-recyclable by the old Hellfire, like fucking plastics”. We have to stay ahead of ourselves and the Ivans lest some joker endanger national security by braying out, “You have souls, you can survive your physical death!”. Ruins of Hiroshima on screen. Pull back to show Technician at a switchboard. Behind him three middle-aged men in dark suits with a cold dead look of heavy power. The Technician twiddles his knob.”All clear”. “Are you sure?” – The Technician shrugs. ” The instruments say so.” Oppyhe says, Thank God it wasn’t a dud” – “Oh, uh, hurry with those print-outs, Joe”, “Yes, sir”. He looked after him sourly, “Thank Joe it wasn’t a dud. God doesn’t know what buttons to push.”  However, some tough old souls, horribly maimed and very disgruntled, do survive Hiroshima and come back to endanger national security. So the scientists are put to work to devise a Super-Soul-Killer. No job too dirty for a fucking scientist (not even the worst of all crimes – Soul-Murder). They start with animals and there are some laboratory accidents. “Run for your lives, gentlemen!  A purple-assed baboon has survived  ’23 Skiddoo!” “It’s the most savage animal on  earth” – The incandescent baboon soul rips through a steel door like wet paper. (and) We had to vaporize the installation, lost expensive equipment and personnel.
Irreplaceables, some of them. Real soul-food chefs cordon bleu, you might say.

There’s an interesting detail from the book. The Soul-Killer gives off a smell of burning plastic and rotten oranges. Anything so bizarrely arbitrary is good enough to steal. I’ll been reading some trash sic-fi unspeakable horror book and suddenly I yelp out”GETS, GETS, GETS”  (good enough to steal). Like that agent shedding his… with a laugh like a dry rustling sound, like a snake shedding its skin, that’s GETS” Well, trial and error, we now have Soul-Killers that won’t quit, state of the park, sure the big fart. We know how it’s all going to end. The first sound and the last sound. Meanwhile, all personnel on Planet Earth confined to quarters, permanent party, you might say. Convince them they got no souls, it’s more humane that way. Scientists always said there is no such thing as a soul and we’re here now in a position to prove it. Total Death. Soul Death. It’s what the Egyptians called the Second and Final Death. This awesome power to destroy souls forever is now vested in far-sighted and responsible men in the State Department and the CIA.

The President with his toadies and familiars is now five hundred feet down in solid rock with enough find foods, wine, liqueurs, hash, coke,and heroin to last for a hundred years and the longevity drugs to enjoy (held off the market in the interests of national security).The President appears on national tv with his well-cut suit hanging loose on his skinny frame to pipe out an adolescent treble, alternately pompous and cracking: “We categorically deny that there are any [crack] so-called “Fountain-of-Youth” drugs procedures or treatments [crack] that are being held back from the American people [crack]”.He flashes as boyish smile and runs a comb through his unruly abundant hair. “And I categorically dismiss as without foundation rumors that I myself and the First Lady, my fag son, my colleagues in the Cabinet, are sustaining themselves on state-of-the-art vampiric technology,drawing off from the American pimples [crack giggle] so-called “energy units”! . His hair stands up and crackles, and he gives the American people a finger “I got mine, fuck you!  It’s every crumb for himself.

Well, I hesitated to read this piece because..not wishing to identify myself with the subject but, I nominate for the most flatly disgusting passages in recent fiction – a typical interview between the young Intelligence operative and The Chief:
“When Peter walked into the office, The Chief smiled. Agents have been known to get frostbite from The Chief’s smile. “Having trouble with the Jew boy?”  “He’s a bit stand-off-ish”, said Peter noncommittally. “Sure he is. We’ll treat a kike like a high-class Jew and a high-class Jew like a kike  – and he will come right back moaning for more.  Come on, right out with it, “You want to know a nice gentile Country Club? Well, we like nice Jews with atom bombs and Jew jokes”. Ah, Peter could see the Chief as some cold-eyed old exterminator  deciding on the bait to poison a warehouse full of rats… a little molasses, a little tinned salmon, plenty of arsenic. Peter knew he was in the presence of greatness. He squirmed with the schmaltz and then broke out fulsomely,  “I’m just beginning to realize what a cold-hearted bastard you are!” The Chief was pleased. He couldn’t help squirming a little but his voice was cool. “Well, that’s one way of looking at it. I call it “Staying on top of an op””. “The casualties could run into the millions”, “The billions, Peter, the billions”, The Chief spread his hands and smiled.”Outsiders, none of our people will be touched.Operation Bunker.” – “How long?” “Long enough for things to cool down. Then we emerge like the Phoenix, (without of course the inconvenience of being burned) . “Just drop him a few hints. Room in the bunker for the right kind of Jew. You know what I mean…. white Jews. None of that Galacian trash. Now they tell me Portuguese Jews are the best kind like Portuguese oysters.”  Peter squirmed deliciously, this was true greatness. You can’t fake the real thing. “You are a cold-hearted bastard! “, he ejaculated. White-out and back. “He’s coming around, Chief, just like you said he would.” Suddenly, out of a clear sky (he) says “it’s the kikes in our race that give us a bad name” ” Any trouble with the cracker, boy?””Not a peep I gave him the old white schmaltzright down the line, like you told me: “What are you doing over there with the niggers and the apes. Why don’t you come over here where you belong and act like a white man, huh? – Always a place in the Bunker for the right kind of darky, you know”. “He swallowed that did he? I thought he would. Believe me. He’s in the American Dream, like all niggers…well, as one menstruating cunt said to another, “I guess it’s in the rag, Mary””. The chief smiled slow and dirty.”

It is Colonel Bradfield’s job to investigate the practical potentials of ESP, sorcery, witchcraft, the lot He doesn’t give a shit for natural laws, what is and isn’t possible. All he cares about are results. “Bring me the ones who work” “What you bring this old beast in here for?” A withered old man dressed only in a loin cloth, stiff with yellow piss-stains, stinking like a  snake cave in spring sits down in a leather armchair. Fumigating the chair will be inadequate the Colonel decides. “He’s a natural Chief, he can throw an operative curse”.” I don’t doubt it, he can kill by proximity. “He’s got a good track record, Chief”, “Sure, Sure”. And eighty years in the making. So how did he get that way? To be a magician you got to be inhuman in some way. Easiest thing is to eat your own shit and eat it steady. You eat it in and shit it out and eat it in again, it gets eviler and dirtier, a stink nobody can smell and live. But who am I to be critical? Trouble is it just isn’t practical” “But Chief, no trays, nowhere to put trays for us”  “The Hell there isn’t. You think the Ivens aren’t into this shit, up to the ass?  You can..they can.. make up the evidence. We all do it and no one can trace it. Big deal! eighty shit-eating years!. to turn out one old human centipede (who) can throw a curse if you hold him steady on target. I can train an agent in hours with untraceable poisons and toxins, electronic devices to produce arhythmic heartbeats.” “He died in his sleep dreaming about a beautiful deadly woman and all he wanted to do was die in her arms”. See what I mean? We don’t need it”. “But, Chief, we can’t just throw away a thing like this?” “Indeed, where can we throw it? It’s radioactive, get it out of here, for starters, and take the chair out with it. Thank you.”

transcription of this William Burroughs reading continues tomorrow – see here  


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