Coming out next week ( on Tuesday) – and much anticipated – Don’t Hide The Madness – William S Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg., from 1992, a documentary record of the meeting of two great minds.
As Burroughs and Ginsberg biographer, Barry Miles has written – “Steven Taylor’s transcriptions of Billl and Allen’s table talk are so accurate that it’s just like being there with them: Bill restless, changing the subject – Allen doggedly pursuing his point.”
As Steven Taylor eloquently notes in his taut and informative introduction: “The original impetus of the conversation was to provide the London Observer with material for a brief article to be published concurrent with the European release of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch film.” (the film, along with many other subjects, is discussed in the book at length). “Allen took the opportunity to record some sixteen hours of conversation. My job was to transcribe the tapes, with the idea that Allen would go through and edit an excerpt to send to London. My mandate, I knew without having to be told, was to transcribe everything as accurately as possible, for the sake of the “literary history” that was part of Allen’s overall mission..”
“Allen asked me if I would transcribe the tapes of the interview, I agreed. (He) spent March 17-22 in Lawrence and came back from Lawrence with eleven 90-minute cassette tapes comprising, potentially of sixteen hours of talk…I spent a couple of weeks working on the transcription and wound up with a single-spaced typescript of some three hundred pages. A short excerpt from the transcript appeared in The Observer. The same material, somewhat amended, appeared in The Collected Interviews of William Burroughs, edited by Sylvere Lotringer but the bulk of the material (has) remained (hitherto) unpublished….”
until now! – what a cause for joy! – what a delight, this rambling 300-plus page book of Beat lore and gossip, deep profundities and quotidian ramble.
Allen’s visit coincided with a key moment in William’s life, an exorcism of “the Ugly Spirit” that he still believed was dwelling inside of him, by Navajo shaman Melvin Bestsellie. The book includes a detailed account of the ritual/ceremony, and, incidentally, a revealing portrait of Bestsellie.
AG: I was surprised I remembered so much. But you know what I didn’t get…I couldn’t remember, did we go around four times?
WSB: Four times, what do you mean?
AG: Remember, He [Bestsellie, the shaman] did four times and four separate sections.
WSB: And I remember I took four puffs of the pipe and..
AG: Remember what you were saying when you wanted to…the moments when you wanted to leave, or when the smoke was so overpowering?
WSB: Well I don’t remember except that I needed air, I needed to get out.
AG: And you finally lay down with your head near the door.
WSB: Yes, I finally lay down near the door and then I felt better…and…you know… I felt I had to stick it out and stay there, I couldn’t break this…when he…putting the coals I felt better. As soon as he was using the coals, and..I immediately felt better.. And I thought, I know that he knows what he’s doing.
…. …. ….
WSB: That was something – he had coals in his mouth.
AG: Yes, but I didn’t see it in his mouth, see, Steve (Lowe) did.
WSB: Well, even in his hand?
AG: Did you see them in his hand?
WSB: Well, I don’t know. He, he came and blew on me with a coal, it was very close and I was surprised (and reacted to the) burning.
AG: Did you see him holding it, or was it being held in his palm or…?
WSB: I couldn’t tell.
… … …
And, concerning the experience of it all:
AG: I was wondering if you felt any of the affection.
WSB: The what?
AG: The affection that was directed towards you.
WSB: Oh, yes, yes… His affection…it was very strong…a very good, you know, good (feeling) person.
AG: That’s what I get from Gelek.
WSB: From what?
AG: That’s what I get from Gelek Rimpoche.
WSB: Oh yeah.
AG: That sense of someone who cares for me and is really interested in my welfare. Very compassion…not compassionate, but giving himself to me.
WSB: Yes. A good person. And I felt…it was really tough and I could see that he was suffering…he was hurt by this spirit. And he says he hadn’t realized the power of this entity, the full, evil, power . And he was, you know, it was almost too much for him.
Speaking of teachers:
WSB: That I met in England. So…and later he told Allen he had thought me a man like a stone!
AG: No, no no no no, he said, why’s it….this was after Lucien (Carr) said “fuck you”…
AG: …at one of his things. He said “the people you bring are like stones”
AG: Like stones. Hard as stones.
AG: The people you bring.
WSB: Oh I thought you said…
AG: ‘Cause there was Harry Smith, who he slapped..
WSB: …that he said about me…
AG: Lucien, who said fuck you
WSB:…I was a man like a stone..
AG: No..generically…talking generically
WSB; Well anyway..
AG: Tough customers.
The book describes in the course of the conversations a whole plethora of “customers”, tough and otherwise (riveting reading). And then, of course, there were the pussy cats –
WSB: Ruski is living now with Steve and Wes right around the corner. Oh, I’m so glad to have him back, he’s an incredible cat. Never has he scratched me or bitten me. And once he was in a fight with Fletch. Real….I pick him up and carry him away, he didn’t scratch me. Now that’s really extraordinary.
Fred (Aldrich – neighbor): What about the Siamese cat that David Cronenberg gave you?
WSB: No, it’s not a Siamese cat, it’s a Korat. He’s with Udo….it’s known as Boy
Fred Aldrich: Is he still as aggressive?
WSB: He’s not aggressive, Nips, little love nips.
Fred Aldrich: That night we were over for dinner I would have called him aggressive, in fact he’s the closest thing to a watch cat that I’ve ever seen.
WSB: He’s doing fine. He’s doing fine. That’s a Korat cat. They cost. This is a pedigreed one, they cost about seven hundred dollars.
Wes (Pittman): Thailand.
WSB: Peter Weller walked in with this bag. He said, “it’s alive”. And I opened it up and I couldn’t believe it was a cat. I thought it was some kind of monkey. And… well he’s settled down beautifully. And Ruski my old Ruski.
…. …. ….
WSB: That is a cat that never bites. Never scratches. Ruski…
Fred Aldrich: Bubba’s really a mellow affectionate cat. Hey, Bubba.
WSB: C’mere Bubba. And I have that other cat, Spooner. Jumps into my laps and puts his arms, his paws around my neck.
Fred Aldrich: He has a loud purr too.
WSB: Oh man, I really love cats… Here he is, come here Bubba..
… … … … …
Here’s a wonderful Burroughs-ian memory/portrait:
WSB: The worst drunk I ever saw was…what was his name? He was sweet when he was sober but he was a nasty…but my God I went out with him one night in Tangiers and he got drunk. He pulled out a knife, “Anything that gets in my way gets this!” And he’s weaving from side to side from one end of the street to the other waving this knife [laughs] For God sakes would you put that thing away before we get hurt. Before something awful happens.
AG: You used to wave that machete around. Isn’t that the same thing? Saying what you’d do exactly, if you were to rn amok or you ran across somebody running amok.
WSB: That guy that ran amok, Manusi was his name. Everybody could see it coming. He was a real walking time-bomb. The last time I saw him, he said to me, “Why does the American embassy have wires in my head?”
AG: Oh-oh. Like my mother…
WSB: Then there was my little boyfriend, Rubio. Blond. A red-haired boy from the Rio… And he was called Ginger, Well Ginger went and stabbed the Grand Rabbi of Tangiers.
WSB: In the stomach
AG: Over what?
WSB: Just crazy, you know. He saw him as a enemy. This was a great personage. He used to sail around like a ship; he had a beard and this grand manner, he sailed around. And well he recovered. All the Jews were out there praying for him in front of the Spanish hospital. And Ginger went to the nuthouse they had in Tangiers. It was run by a Belgian doctor. It was a very humane place. No beating of the inmates or anything like that. Then he was moved to Rabat. And I sent him some money…”
….. ….. …..
AG: …”The Ugly Spirit”…(and so) Brion (Gysin) was the one that named the Ugly Spirit
AG: And did the shaman (Melvin Bestsellie) catch it?
WSB: He said he caught it and got it out of the body, but it’s still hanging around.
AG: He put it in the fire.
WSB: Now he’s going back here (Lawrence Kansas) on Tuesday, back in town, so he wants to bless the house.”
….. ….. ….. …..
Bill Morgan reviews it – “Far and away the best book I’ve read in a long time. Burroughs and Ginsberg were the closest of friends for more than fifty years and this book gave me the chance to sit in again on their insightful, absorbing, and at times witty, conversations. For those who are just discovering the Beat Generation, their enthralling dinner-table talks will help put a human face on these literary giants.It’s like pulling up your own chair and eavesdropping on genius at work…”
Peter Weller – “Two of the best minds of my generation are certainly the angel-headed hipsters, Burroughs and Ginsberg. I read them at 18, again at 40 and have fumbled through their brilliance ever since. This book, their dialogue is a 20th century headstone! Like a crab’s eye at end of a stick, a penetrating riff on the starry dynamo of America.”
The book goes on sale officially on Tuesday. There will be a book-launch in New York on Wednesday October 24th (7pm) in the gallery at Le Poisson Rouge, featuring Steven Taylor, Peter Hale, Hal Willner, Steve Dalachinsky & others