William Burroughs 1980 Naropa Reading

[William Burroughs – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg – © The Estate of Allen Ginsberg ]

Today, William Burroughs, from a three-person poetry reading that took place at Naropa Institute on August 13, 1980. (Peter Orlovsky the concluding reader, we’ve already featured (see here) – Harold Norse, the third of the readers, we’ll feature tomorrow.
We meant to run this last week but we got distracted (sic)

AG: The three readers tonight are William Seward Burroughs, Harold Norse and Peter Orlovsky and they will read in that order, Mr Burroughs will read first, forprobably twenty-five, thirty minutes, then Harold Norse, then we’ll take a short intermission and then Peter Orlovsky will round-out the program

William Burroughs has been considered by many elite intellectuals as being perhaps the greatest of American late-twentieth-century prose writers, a satirist comparable to Jonathan Swift and an innovator in prose and prose-poetic techniques of the order of (James) Joyce and Gertrude Stein for his exploration of the“cut-up” technique. His first book was a straightforward hard-boiled detective-esque fiction, style-wise, an autobiographical book called Junkie penned pseudonymously by William Lee, then published.. that was published in the early ‘Fifties in New York as a double Ace paperback, along with the Confessions of a Narc.. [Narcotic Agent]

Then from Paris, 1958 or ‘9, the Naked Lunch was published by Olympia Press and later went through one of the great..useful censorship trials (along with Lady Chatterly’s Lover, some of the work of Lord Rochester, some of the work of Henry Miller, Jean Genet) with a trial that was effective in opening up all of American Literature which had been censored and opening it up to the public, just breaking the censorship barrier – and that was one of the major works, a series of trials, in fact, that involved Naked Lunch, Mr Burroughs then began more advanced experimental work with the idea of collage applied… the painters’ ideas of collage applied to prose composition, with the raw cut-up volume, Minutes To Go (on which he  worked with Sinclair Beiles and Gregory Corso and Brion Gysin, (whose conception the “cut up” was, originally, as a painter)  And then a more refined version of that experimental work, published by Auerhahn Press in San Francisco called The Exterminator, followed by a trilogy of novels fully expanding cut-up techniques into dream compositional prose – Nova Express, Soft Machineand The Ticket That Exploded  (I think Soft Machine was first, then Nova Express, then The Ticket That Exploded). Then in England, where there was a considerable censorship of all this work, Dead Fingers Talk (a compilation of prose from all of the books) followed by a long exposition of ideas in the book, The Job, published by Grove Press, long interviews, Exterminator!, a novel, [Editorial note – short stories, actually], and Wild Boys, another novel, coming, I think, in the early (19)70’s, which made use of some vipassana notions of mindfulness – the “Do Easy” method that Burroughs has spoken of (that Burroughs spoke of in his Monday lecture (sic) a filmscript,The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, Cobble Stone Gardens, in the last few years, an autobiographical memoir (of) St Louis recollections, published by Cherry Valley Editions, the Blade Runner and Port of  Saints, recently put out on the West Coast by Blue Wind Press. The Third Mind, a how-to book, how to cut up, or how to make a third mind, published by Viking, and Roosevelt After The Inaugeration, put out about a half year ago by City Lights, which also published Mr Burroughs’ Yage Letters in the early (19)70s. A Book of Breeething, as well from Blue Wind Press positions and ideas associated with the Egyyptian hieroglyphs, and, forthcoming, a book of letters to myself from 1953 to 1956 [Editorial note – 1957, actually] to be published by Full Court Press],  and a giant best-selling novel called Cities of The Red Night which will be published by Viking? – is that right Bill?

WSB: No, Holt,Rhinehardt
AG: Richard Seaver Books
WSB: No…Holt, Rhinehardt and Winston
AG: Oh – Holt, Rhinehardt and Winston – edited by Richard Seaver
So, Mr Burroughs who has been to Naropa every year for the last four years will present his recent work

[Burroughs begins reading approximately five-minutes in]

[Magnus Pyke (1908-1992]

WSB: Thank you. I recollect some years ago I was on a panel in Newcastle-on-Tyne with a Doctor Pyke, he called himself a scientist and he was defending, in fact extolling, the expansion of nuclear installations. He said that “responsible politicians know what they’re doing and nuclear power plants in England have a splendid safety record”

And so I said to him – Well, Doctor Pyke, as a scientist yourself you are doubtless acquainted with the fruit fly experiments, in which generations of fruit flies, exposed to radiation, have clearly demonstrated that there are nofavorable mutations resulting from such radiation levels as would be massively released in a major industrial accident. The fruit flies all mutated, to be sure, wouldn’t you? – And all the mutations that were observed were unfavorable, grossly unfavorable. Just let me ask you one question, doctor, do you want to see your own daughter born with two cunts? – Well, he didn’t know how to answer me.

[J.Robert Oppenheimer (1904- 1967)]

It is to be remembered that on the occasion of the first atomic explosion at Alamogordo, New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer the creator and founding father himself entertained the possibility of a chain reaction that would ignite the atmosphere. Twenty years later, he still believe that nuclear fission would destroy the planet . In 1965 on a television program he said, “We have no become Shiva, destroyer of worlds” (“Now we have become death, the destroyer of worlds”) and wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye. And various highly-placed military officials appeared to say, “It was a very difficult decision…” (they’re talking about the decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima And I thought, God defend us all from a “difficult decision” in the Pentagon!  Nobody does more harm than folks who feel bad about doing it!”
Now with the.. well, let us suppose that the Earth is headed for destruction and just what are we going to do about it ? Well all this may have happened many times before in this old universe. Here we are trillions of years ago in Galaxy X, and a rally has been organized to protest the use of black holes as an energy source, (a bit late, as it turned out. “Closing-time, gentlemen”.
Brion Gysin has a bedtime story. It seems that trillions and trillions of years ago, a Giant flicked grease from his fingers and one of these gobs of grease is our universe on its way to the floor- Splat!

“He entered the bar with the best intentions in the world of establishing a warm human relationship with the local people, who had been, up to now, a bit stand-off-ish. “A man’s a man for a’ that”, he thought, lustily, as he walked into the bar with his fishing gear and a bit of a swagger. “You have to stand up to these people, you know, they respect you for it. He found himself somewhat stonily received and turning from the bar with his mug of beer to face the room, he maladroitly snagged an old peasant in the scrotum with his fishing plug. With a poorly-timed attempt at easy joviality, he whipped out his switchblade and said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to cut the whole thing off” Turning away he made an ineffectual gesture from a New Yorker cartoon with his knife, inadvertently blinding the proprietor’s infant son. Seeing that all his friendly overtures had fallen lamentably flat, he saw fit to withdraw as unobtrusively and expeditiously as possible.”

“A mad slasher with a meat cleaver is terrorizing the subways. He is described as a slender-light-complected black about eighteen years old carrying his meat-cleaver in a beige bag. So the man bought a tear-gas gun and patrolled the subways. He would quell the slasher and become a public hero and receive a medal from the Mayor. He recognized the slasher at once. There he was a slim yellowish kid with a little beige carry-all slung over his shoulder. A hush in the car as everyone sees the slasher, Then it happens. The boy dives into his bag and comes out hacking. The man’s voice cuts through the bedlam like a British officer quelling a room-full of noisy natives. “Put down that cleaver, boy”. The boy whirls toward him and the man gave that boy a face full of tear gas. The reaction is immediate and horrible. With a great inhuman bellow of pain, the slasher throws himself around like a stricken scorpion, hacking on all sides. People are screaming, clawing, piled on top of each other. Now he leaps up to the ceiling and comes down slashing with insane strength, lopping off arms with one stroke. Now he’s flopping around on the floor, striking up at legs and ankles. Considering that his attempt to benefit mankind and become a popular hero has entailed unforeseen consequences, it seemed advisable to fade quietly away, as the door burst open and the cops rushed in, screaming, “What’s going on, here?”, plying their night-sticks with impartial fury. And the man thought of the curse of the Pharoahs, but he told himself firmly, ”We are put on this earth to help our fellow men”

Thank you Thank you very much

Now this reading is, from a Western in progress, entitled “The Johnson Family” – Now “The Johnson Family” was a turn-of-the-century expression (used) to designate good bums and thieves and it was elaborated into a code of conduct, A Johnson honors his obligations, his word is good and he is a good man to do business with, A Johnson minds his own business but he will help when help is needed (he will not stand by while someone is drowning or trapped under a burning car).
“Alright BJ, so what is this novel-soon-to-be-an-epic-making-motion-picture about?” In the words of a great American, Franklin Delano Roosevelt – “Freedom from Fear”. Atom bomb explodes over Hiroshima. “Freedom from Fear”, indeed! – Er… in one word, this book is about safety.
Kim Carsons the protaganist becomes the shootist because he wants to be safe, having enough sense to be scared. He is an anti-hero and an archetypical punk.I have taken as the model of Kim Carsons an English writer named Denton Welch, who died in 1948 at an early age, a very great writer, in my opinion (he’s now out of print) [sic] – So I have abducted Denton Welch, much like a defector to the West spirited out by the CIA, to be the anti-hero of this novel. And it’s my feeling that I am doing his ghost a favor and he is lucky to be out from under England (as we all are in these United States. Never forget what we owe to George Washington

Now this is the space age and we’re here to go but there’s a lot of ballast holding us back, Just look at England – a Royal family, a House of Lords, rules left over from the Middle Ages stipulating what can and what cannot be sold in certain shops, licensing laws left over from World War I. Sorry, sir, the bar is closed”.Now the Lyons cafeterias and food shops are all over London. They sell bread and cake (and) horrible soggy sandwiches, milk, tea, coffee (but not sugar!). Ask the clerk for the sugar and it’s like you asked a respectable druggist to sell you a pound of cocaine. “We’re not allowed to dispense it, sir”.  You’ll all remember the trouble the  Sex Pistols had with their song, God Save The Queen..and the Fascist regime”, it’s a flabby, toothless fascism to be sure. Never go too far in any direction is the basic law in which Limey-land is built. The Queen stabilizes the whole stinking shithouse and keeps a small elite of wealth and privilege on top.

Well, here is my hero, Denton Welch , nee Kim Carson and he’s in St Louis, Missouri. It’s called Progressive Education. When Kim was fifteen, his father allowed him to withdraw from the school because he was so unhappy there and so much disliked by the other boys and their parents.“I don’t want that boy in the house again”, said Colonel Greenfield, “He looks like a sheep-killing dog”. “It is a walking corpse”, said a Saint Louis matron poisonously. “The boy is rotten clear through and he stinks like a polecat”, Judge Farris pontificated. This was true. When angered or excited or frightened Kim steamed off a rank ruttish animal smell.“The child is not wholesome:, said Mr Kindhart, with his usual restraint. Kim was the most unpopular boy in the school, if not in the town of Saint Louis.
“They got nothing to teach you anyway”, his father said, “Why, the headmaster is a fucking priest.”His father had a large collection of books on magic and the occult and Kim drew magic circles in the basement and tried to conjure up demons. His favorites were the Abominations like Humwawa whose face is a mass of entrails and who rides on a whispering south wind, and Pazuzu, Lord of Fevers and Plagues, and especially Gelal and Lilit, who invade the beds of men, because he did sometimes experience a vivid sexual visitation that he hoped was an incubus. He knew that the horror of these demon lovers was a gloomy Christian thing. In Japan there are phantom whores known as “fox maidens” who are highly prized and the man who can get his hands on a fox maiden is considered lucky. He felt sure there were fox boys as well. Such creatures could assume the form of either sex.
Once he made sex magic against Judge Farris, who said Kim was rotten clear through and smelled like a polecat. He nailed a full-length picture of the Judge taken from the society page to the wall, and masturbated in front of it while he recited a jingle he had learned from a Welsh nanny

Slip and stumble (lips peel back from his teeth)/Trip and fall (his eyes light up inside)/Down the stairs/And hit the walllllllllllllllllll”– His hair stands up on end. He whines and whimpers and howls the word out and shoots all over the Judge’s leg. And Judge Farris actually did fall downstairs a few days later, and fractured his shoulder bone. The Judge swore that a scrawny, stinking red dog, that must have gotten in through the basement window, suddenly jumped out at him on the stairs, with a most peculiar smile on its face too, showing all its teeth, wrapped its paws around his legs, tripping him up so that he fell and hit his shoulder against the wall at the landing.No one believed him except Kim, and Kim knew that he had succeeded in projecting a thought-form. But he was not overly impressed. The Judge was dead drunk every night and he was always falling down. Magic seemed to him a hit-and-miss operation, and to tell the truth, a bit silly. Guns and knives were more reliable

Kim Carsons training as a shootist begins. He meets a wise old assassin, Whispering Kes Mayfield. “Uncle Kes, This is Kim Carsons”. The old man spoke in a dead dry whisper. ”Your hand and your eyes know a lot more about shootin’ than you do. Just learn to stand out of the way”. Now his eyes, old, unbluffed. unreadable, rest on Kim as if tracing his outline in the air “City boy, did you ever see a dog roll in carrion?” – “Yes sir, I was tempted to join him, sir” – “Did you ever seea black snake pretend to be a rattlesnake?” – The scene flashed in front of Kim’s eyes. Jerry Ellison and Kim had chased and cornered a six-foot blacksnake. It was a Fall day, dead leaves on the ground. The snake coiled itself, opened its mouth, vibrating the tip of its tail in the dry leaves. Both boys saw immediately what was happening- “He’s pretending to be a rattlesnake, trying to scare us off, how does he know enough to do that?” “What do you think, Kim?”, the old man asked.”You think he once saw a rattlesnake scare someone?” – “No, sir, I think he just knows about other snakes” – “Kim, if you had your choice, would you rather be a poisonous snake or a non-poisonous snake?” – “Oh , poisonous, sir, like a green mamba or spitting cobra” – “Why?” – “I’d feel safer, sir” – “And that’s your idea of heaven?, feeling safer?” – “Yes, sir” “Is a poisonous snake really safer?” “Not really but he must feel good after he bites someone” – “Safer?” – “Yes, sir, dead people are less frightening than live ones” – “Young man, I think you’re an assassin” – “I want to be one, sir” – Kim recruits a band of flamboyant and picturesque outlaws called “The Wild Fruits”. There’s the Crying Gun who breaks into tears at the sight of his opponent – “What’s the matter, baby, somebody take your lollipop? – “Oh signor, I am sorry for you And The Priest who goes into a gunfight giving his adversary the last rites and the Blind Gun who zeros in with bat squeaks. Kim trains his men to identify themselves with death. He takes some rookie Guns out to a dead horse rotting in the sun eviscerated by vultures. The vultures flop away heavy with carrion. Kim points to the horse steaming there in the noonday heat, “Alright, roll in it!” – “What? – “Roll in it like dogs of war, get the stink of death into your chaps and your boots and your guns and your hair. The most of us puked at first but we got used to it and vultures followed us around hopefully. We always ride into town with the wind behind us. The townspeople gag and retch, “My god, what’s that stink?” – “It’s the stink of death, citizens” – Here’s the big shoot-out with Old Man Bickford’s guns – “Sixty of the best that money can buy”
They wait in the Charity Saloon.A Fifteen-year-old carrot-top sticks his head in – “Here they come”. Fifty horsemen are approaching with the speed of a tornado, a whirling black cloud of vultures above them, beaks snapping

After that the Wild Fruits seek a low profile and Kim sets up an organization known as the Johnson Family

Jerry Ellisor, the retarded boy from next door, went on to harrass timid WASPs from New Yorker cartoons, the type of person who doesn’t want to get mixed up in things, a passer-by on the other side… here’s a girl with both arms cut off trying to flag him down. He just swerves around something like that and keeps going. (I refer to the case of the fifteen-year-old girl who had both arms cut off by a rapist and she rushed onto a highway and three cars passed her by before one stopped and took her to a hospital).

And a friend of mine, Kells Elvins, was doing ninety in his town and country Chrysler on the way from far Texas to Laredo. And he comes up over a rise and there is a fucking cow right in the middle of the road on a bridge, So he slams on the brake and hits the cow, doing sixty. The car turns over and he is pinned under it with a broken collar-bone, covered from head to foot with blood and guts and cow shit . So along comes acar of WASP salesmen, They get out reluctantly and he’s trying to explain to them how to jack the car up and get it off him. They see that blood, man, they don’t want to know they get back in their car and drive away. Then a truck driver comes along and he doesn’t need to be told . He knows exactly what to do. He gets the car off Kells and takes him to a hospital. Well, the truck driver was a Johnson and the salesmen were shits – like most salesmen – they’re selling shit and they are shit.

So here is this youngish exec WASP in a heathfood store after a diet lunch of watercress salad and carrot juice. And a youth sits down right at his table, although it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, the place is nearly empty. The WASP becomes aware of a horrible odor, like ferrets, only more piercing, it makes his eyes water and his stomach turn. The boy smiles showing yellow buck teeth – “I always smell like this, just before…you know”.
The boy passes him a card on which is typed in red letters, “Hi, I’m Jerry. These are my instructions. When it starts to happen, stay calm, sit down wherever you are and quietly inform the helpful person nearest to you that you are going to throw a fit. When it starts you will wrap a handkerchief, towel or napkin around your finger and insert it in my mouth to keep me from biting my tongue off. With the other hand, you’ll be loosening my collar, belt and shoes and opening up my fly to relieve pressure on the groin. Erections frequently occur during my spells. It’s a fact of nature. Be careful during my recovery as I sometimes lash out at people or leap to your throat like a wild animal. God will reward you for your kind act. Your humble servant, Jerry Ellisor”. Without more ado, the WASP threw some money on the table and ran for his life. But he was too late. With a low throaty cry the boy threw himself in the WASP’s path, tripping him up, then wraps around his legs like a python. There was a sudden reek of urine and excrement as Jerry voided in his pants. The appalled WASP, seeing a policeman at the door, scream for help – “What are you doing with that kid, you filthy pervert!” – A nightstick crashed against his skull. Five hours later, trembling and near collapse, he was released from jail after his lawyer called a CIA cousin in Washington.

In the course of a fit, Jerry would sometimes shriek out prophecies which mostly came true. On Red Tuesday he rushed into the stock market, eyes glowing, hair standing up on his head, tore off his clothes and stood there naked in front of the petrified financiers, his body brick-red and steaming off the stink of a hundred polecats. He collapsed on the floor flopping around and showing his awful yellow teeth as he ejaculated “Sell, sell, sell” – It was the worst crash since ’29, dazed brokers and speculators later reported. “It was a voice full of money, you had to believe it”. The terrible Pitboy, as he was called, was allotted a handsome remittance to stay out of the financial district – but he went on to train a whole troop of Pitboys – to terrorize the WASP community and exacted a huge tribute.

Thank you.. not quite finished…one more

In last resort- the truth . A purple-assed baboon runs for President of the United States. It’s not so far-fetched at this point as it was then in 1968.

“A.J. in his Uncle Sam suit steps to a mike. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my coveted privilege and deep honor to introduce to you the distinguished Senator and former Justice of the Supreme Court, Homer Mandrill, known to his many friends as the Purple Better One. No doubt most of you are familiar with a book called African Genesis written by Robert Ardrey, a native son of Chicago, and I may add a true son of America. I quote from Mr Ardrey’s penetrating work: “When I was a boy in Chicago, I attended the Sunday School of a neighborhood Presbyterian church. I recall our Wednesday night meetings with the simplest nostalgia. We would meet in the basement. There would be a short prayer and a shorter benediction. And we would turn out all the lights and in total darkness hit each other with chairs”.
“Mr Ardrey’s early training tempered his character to face and make known the truth about the origins and nature of mankind. ‘Not in innocence and not in Asia was mankind born. The home of our fathers was the African highland on a sky-swept savannah glowing with menace. The most significant of all our gifts was the legacy bequeathed us by our immediate forebears a race of terrestrial, flesh-eating, killer apes…Raymond A Dart from the University of Johannesburg was the strident voice from South Africa that would prove the southern ape to be the human ancestor. Dart put forth the simple thesis that Man emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only: because he was a killer. A rock, a stick, a heavy bone was to our ancestral killer ape the margin of survival…And he said that since we had tried everything else we might in last resort try the truth…Man’s original nature imposes itself on any human solution.”
“The aggressive southern ape, suh, glowing with menace, fought your battles on the perilous veldts of Africa 500,000 years ago. Had he not done so you would not be living here in this great city in this great land of America raising your happy families in peace and prosperity. Who more fitted to represent our glorious Simian heritage than Homer Mandrill himself a descendent of that illustrious line?”
Actually, there can only be one candidate, the Purple Better One, our future President. This is the space age we are here to go.But the aggressive Southern ape, glowing with menace may block your way to space. That is precisely his function. The human species is about a million years old, only about thirty-thousand years have been accounted for by pre-historians, (and that leaves a long question mark). Perhaps a number of previous civilizations disappeared, destroyed by destructive use of a technology that could have led to the exploration of space, instead the human species reverted to its glorious simian heritage. It could happen again if we let that ape take the wheel…

Thank you.. Thank you, very much

[Audio for the above can be heard  herebeginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately thirty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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