Huncke, Holmes & Burroughs at Naropa, 1982

The legendary 1982 Jack Kerouac Conference at Naropa (then Institute, now University). We’ve featured a number of postings consisting of transcription from events at that one-of-a-kind stellar gathering (on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kerouac’s On The Road),  but not, for some reason, this one – Herbert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes and William Burroughs, introduced by Allen Ginsberg.  We hereby rectify that omission.

AG: …William Burroughs is renowned and his name is known throughout the world. John Holmes, less well-known (although to American aficionados of the literary scene, a very familiar name, Herbert Huncke, a name more legendary than read because his books are not much available. The order in which they’ll read will be Mr Herbert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, and William Burroughs.

Herbert Huncke – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg – “Herbert Huncke New York, 1984, my kitchen, at the table, wry conversation – his new manuscript, Guilty of Everything, still to be edited” (Ginsberg caption)  c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Herbert Huncke was a friend of Jack Kerouac’s,  introduced to him by William Burroughs an extraordinary New Yorker at the time (who had come, originally, from Chicago, and was living in 1945 (44-45-46)  in different apartments and hotels around Times Square, was working as an informant and guide for Dr, Alfred Kinsey, when Dr.Kinsey was putting together the information, the statistics, for Sexual Behavior in The Human Male, and as connection to Dr.Kinsey introduced William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and myself to that immortal paradise of sexual behavior, so that now our own delights are statisticized in that book, which was the opening blow of the sexual revolution in America, the first biblic book thrown at puritannic mores in (the) mid-century.

Kerouac appreciated Herbie (Huncke) as a story-teller, thought that his genius was as an American story-teller, teller of tales, tremendous conversationalist, subtle conversationalist, with a great charm and great dignity in his conversation, and also great intelligence, and amazing diction, an original indiginous diction that was nothing like European literature, was nothing like academic literary diction, but was his own American-ese derived from experience in travel, in working on ships, working on carnivals, hanging around in Times Square, hanging around in the big urban lumpen scenes, the half world of the gay world, the jazz world, the second-story man’s world, a language that was actually spoken in America but ignored completely literarily but expressed many insights that average Americans refused to acknowledge. So, in a sense, Herbert Huncke is the originator of the Beat Generation, in that, I think, the word “Beat” was first heard in Kerouac’s ears when pronounced from Herbert Huncke’s lips.

So, the secret and grand-hero creator, innovator, word-man then, the secret, original word-man of the entire literary movement known as  “The Beat Generation” is Herbert Huncke.

HH: Let me test the microphone, Can you hear me, everyone? Everyone in back?…A little louder? Is that better?..(I’ll) get closer, perhaps, to the microphone.. No, this is about right, I don’t want it too close to me.. At any rate, we’ll begin. I’ll try to read this story, as I sort of like it. It’s about a little experience I had, in the withdrawal hospital, in the hospital withdrawl procedure.  [Huncke reads his story, “Joseph Martinez”] –  (“Joseph Martinez is a twenty-four-year-old man from Brooklyn who was born in Puerto Rico…”….”My guardian angel””)   –  How much? Is that it? Another ten minutes?.. Well, do tell me –  [Huncke continues]  I do want to add just a little bit to the very, you know, touching introduction Allen just made. It sincerely reaches into me. I want to say that some of his euphemisms are… “second-story man”, (that sort of thing), is a nice way of putting it {laughs] – At any rate, I’m going to read things that many of you have heard before) maybe some of you will be hearing for the first time. I rather liked your (intro’) [to Allen], to be perfectly honest with you, because it gives you a little conception of how I tried to express myself at the time. We’ll start out with “Elsie John”, which is a sure shot.  It goes like this – [Huncke reads his story “Elsie John’]  – (“Sometimes I remember Chicago and my experiences while growing up and as a youth…”…”..,exposing themselves to him and yelling all sorts of obscenities.”) – My mouth is extremely dry and I find myself, you know, sort of missing words, so. I’m sorry, I can’t help that – thank you – Oh, I’ll read this short thing at the end of this book [The Evening Sun Turned Crimson]  that I titled “Fantasy” –  This just happened. It sort of…        I can’t explain it. I won’t even make an effort to bore you with how I felt about it. Let me just say, to fill you in on one thing. Elsie was a young woman that I met shortly after I had come out of prison and had seen Allen and Peter. She was living in the building that Allen and Peter were living in. This was approximately around 1961 and I.. you know, she made quite an impression on me. I liked her. I thought she was very beautiful. There was something inwardly warm and fine about her. So she… As I say, this is surprising… [Huncke reads “Fantasy”] –  (“I asked Elsie if she still had her notebooks..”…”I told you I would not be saved if all this fanfare dies down hard”) – What does it mean? – [Huncke laughs] – This is too long –  I was going to read “Alvarez”, but it’s too long, I’ll…

AG: John (Clellon Holmes)’s going  to read next.

HH: Okay, Mr Holmes.

John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988)

AG: John Clellon Holmes had an apartment on Lexington Avenue around Sixty-sixth Street in the late (19)40’s, when Neal Cassady visited New York, so his apartment was a hang-out for Cassady and Kerouac exploring New York mid-town literary people rendezvous, place-to-go, late at night, place to stay-over. sleep-over, communications center, so John Holmes house was that place with a great bookshelf with complete Balzac, lots of Dostoyevsky (so lots of conversation about Dostoyevsky’s characters and Shakespeare’s phrasing – I remember Kerouac saying in his (Holmes’) apartment, “Shakespeare is funny”) –  so, working together as prose peers, grown-up writers interested in  extended narrative, in paragraphs, in sentences, in dialogue, lots of conversation between them, part outgrowth of the conversation in their mutual interest in music and in poetry and in the consciousness revolution of that time (with John Holmes’ celerbrated early novel Go.  So, many many years later, with “Nothing More To Declare“, Mr Holmes is with us.

JCH: When I contemplated coming and giving a reading here, it seemed inevitable that I should read something about Jack (Kerouac)…  I discovered that, looking through things, that I had, inadvertently in a way, writtten much more about Jack than I had realized and it was difficult to choose something that would be fitting for this occasion.The last piece that I’d write on him was about his death and the funeral and that seemed gloomy. We’re here to celebrate, not to mourn. So, I have taken.. I had written a piece in 1964 about Jack. It appeared in this book, Nothing More To Declare   (1967 – but this piece was written while Jack was still alive, very much alive, with accomplishments and pains ahead). I have had to cut it. I hope I have cut it enough witout doing damage to it but ifthe sequence seems a bit bumpy it’s because things have had to be left out in the interests of time. It’s called “The Great Rememberer”   – “A great rememberer redeeming life from darkness”, this Kerouac self-described  (“The life redeemed  from darkness that Kerouac described is nothing less than the whole of his actual life”…””I missed him keenly and knew for sure he would survive”).

AG (announces a break and makes  public announcements); – Before I introduce the next reader, you’d maybe like to stand and stretch a moment?…. (while we’re stretching, people with car space available to go to… people who are going to the Red Rocks Grateful Dead concert, who have car space available, can you please meet at the front table after the reading…   Okay, sit down, shall we..  sit down again, please.. The next reader (can you hear me?)  – {Audience – No} –  I think.. okay…that’s better…

William Burroughs at Naropa Institute, 1984 – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

The next reader, William Seward Burroughs was Jack Kerouac’s psychotherapist for a year or so in…the mid (19)40’s, while Mr Burroughs was himself being psychoanalyzed, or undergoing psychotherapy with a student of (Sigmund) Freud, Dr. Paul Federn, someone who was analyzed by Freud, Kerouac was occasionally sat on the couch talking to Mr Burroughs. They wrote books together, beginning with the (19)40s composite novel, interchanging chapters, And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. At the time, Kerouacthought he was the most intelligent man he’d ever met, certainly the most intelligent man in America, and he appears in Jack’s books as a sort of father-figure, somewhere.. a sort of composite between an old Mississippi gambler, a modern Faustian adventurer, old “Bull Lee”,, but a father-figure, in any case). Kerouac respected Burroughs’ work sufficiently so that , as.. On The Road was going into publication, Kerouac went to Tangier to help type up the first version of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

As (Herbert) Huncke was sort of a familiar and turn-on, a turn-on person, who introduced Kerouac to, like, a new world., and as John Holmes was a companion and peer, as a novelist, Burroughs was sort of an inspirer, elder, teacher and father-figure. So it’s, actually, remarkable that his friends and peers still survive [ 1983]  and have that memory after thirty-eight years since their first meetings (as it were, from bebop to  new-wave). With Burroughs, the inspiration..the continuous relation.. the relation between music and writing continues (as with Kerouac’s interest in bebop, so there’s an enormous influence by Burroughs on the latest generation, through Steely Dan, and Soft Machine, and heavy metal (the whole notion of  “heavy metal”, which was Burroughs’ phrase, taken over for a whole genre of music). So, as with Kerouac, as John Holmes mentioned, he’d rarely seen anybody where the man and the vision were inseparable. so, at some point or other, William Burroughs had died in this life and died into art, died into his art and died into himself as an artist – one of the rare phenomena and it’s a… One scarcely meets a writer who is completely a writer, or an artist that is one-hundred-percent  artist   (just like one rarely meets a yogi who is one-hundred-percent yogi). So here we have one-hundred-percent yogi-artist, William Seward Burroughs.

WSB: Thank you.. Can you all hear me?  Good.. No?  Yes, good. I’ll be reading from a novel-in-progress, practically finished, called The Place of Dead Roads. The original title was The Johnson Family. This is a turn-of-the-century underworld expression connotating good thieves and bums and it took shape as acode of conduct. To say someone’s a “Johnson” means he keeps his word and honors his obligations. He’s a good man to do business with and a good man to have on your side. A Johnson minds his own business. he’s not an interfering, self-righteous  type person, but a Johnson will help when help is needed, he will not stand by when someone is drowning or trapped under a burning car. This is from  The Place of Dead Roads  – Introducing Kim Carsons, hero of a novel-in-progress, entitled The Place of Dead Roads  – “Kim is a morbid, slimy youth of unwholesome proclivities with an insatiable appetite for the extreme and the sensational…” – (He had a dark side to is character and he loves it) – “His mother had been into table-tapping and Kim  adores ectoplasm, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras. He wallows in abominations, unspeakable rites, diseased demon lovers, loathsome secrets imparted in a thick slimy whisper, ancient ruined cities under a purple sky…”,,,, “Young man, I think you are an assassin””…”His Father’s Picture – Kim Carson, aged sixteen, (1876) – So many faces, yet something that is Kim in all of them, caught in his father’s portrait The face is flawed and scarred and nakedly diseased…” _ “”Bring out your dead”, what a splendid line”, Kim thought, and what better thing could most of them bring out” – “Kim Makes His Bones” – “As soon as Kim walks through the swinging door, he knows that this is it..”… “,,,,Two lousy sons of bitches, melted into air and powder smoke.”..”Kim remembers his first adolescent experiment with biological warfare”…”a weed-killer they called it” –  “The  horse is as much a part of the West as the landscape but Kim never really made it with the horse..”….”pick up a horse, keep it for a week or so and release it” – “My Last Cayuse –  Shoot-out in front of the Dead Ass Saloon, still noon heat…”…. They killed my old strawberry, Kim told the reporter and there were tears in his eyes, not ashamed of it, Kim has no shame”…”that fuckin’ strawberry, Kim thinks, was a good horse. if there had been someone there to shoot him every day of his life” –  “Kim recruits a band of flamboyant and picturesque outlaws, called “The Wild Fruits”…” “My God, what’s that stink?” -” It’s the stink of death, citizens”. – “Kim makes the Grand Tour. Kim dislikes England at first sight…”…” they were there before you came and they will be there after you are gone” -“What hope for a country where people will stand in line for three days to glimpse the royal couple..”…”They get out of the spaceship and start looking about desperately for inferiors”…”The Hyde Park…”…”no doubt about it, these are the lower classes”…”Kim had never doubted the possibillity of an after-life…”…”..oh, someone is fucking with my mummy, and, brother, you are fucked”…  “Mummies are sitting ducks..”..”anybody buying into a deal like that should have his mummy examined”….”The Johnsons are taking over the Western Lands and we are not applying in triplicate to the Immortality Control Board…”… “That coon weighed fifty pounds” – “I consider that immortality is the only goal worth striving for, immortality in space…”…     The Western Lands is a real place. It exists and we built it with our hands and our brains. we paid for it with our blood and our lives, it’s ours and we’re going to take it.” – Thank you.

Audio for the above can be heard here [Herbert Huncke begins reading approximately three-and-a-quarter minutes in, John Clellon Holmes begins at twenty-seven minutes in and starts reading at approximately thirty minutes in, concluding approximately sixty-one minutes in,   and William Burroughs begins his reading approximately sixty-seven minutes in

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