William Burroughs Snr. Naropa, 1979

William S Burroughs -at Naropa University, moments before a reading event,
July 28, 1985. Photo by Allen Ginsberg  (c) Allen Ginsberg Estate


…continuing  from yesterday.

William Burroughs Snr. reading with his son, William Burroughs Jr. at Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado, August 15, 1979.

Audio for the reading may be found here.

Allen Ginsberg begins with a brief bibliographic introduction

AG:  William Seward Burroughs.. is the author of a great number of illustrious texts which have changed consciousness, not only in America but throughout the Western world and ultimately will affect the Chinese – Junkie (1952 – (sic) – published in ’53). In Search of Yage (written in ’52 and published in ’62 or so, Naked Lunch (written throughout the ‘Fifties and published in Europe in ’58 or ’59 and then finally published and successfully distributed in America after many government attempts to suppress it (Naked Lunch, that being), The Soft Machine (relating to software of our own consciousness and bodies), Nova Express (relating to conspiracy by powers-that-be to create Nova conditions, or total explosion conditions, for this aeon, or planet)  The Ticket That Exploded, Minutes To Go (first experiments..), Minutes To Go and The Exterminator (both of which short texts were collaborative experiments in cut up and random juxtaposition of language, placed forth from the brain out into the external table of the world and then reshuffled by chance to see what combinations would arise and to inspire alternative modes of thinking or non-thinking), The Job (a long interview with Daniel Odier, originally published in French and then in English), Exterminator! (a novel), The Book of Breeething (interpretations of Egyptian hieroglyph),  (The) Wild Boys (which initiated a good deal of the current punk rock spirit, prophesied it, or perhaps even guided it somewhat), Cobble Stone Gardens  (a nostalgic view of St Louis), Blade Runner (recently published in the last month, and I think just recent.. just arrived in the last few weeks in Boulder bookstores), Cities of the Red Night (magnum opus of the past half-decade, which will be published by Dial Press (sic) – [Editorial note the book was published in 1981 by Holt, Rinehart & Winston]. Later.. in the next year, Burroughs’ longest book I believe, and text he’ll read from now,  Gay Gun [Editorial note – The Gay Gun became The Place of Dead Roads]

WSB:  Ok… let me get it straight here… ok… The recent nuclear accident in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania alerts the public there’ll be more and more such occurences  since the incidence of accidents will always increase with the number of plants in operation over a period of time, stupidity and negligence remaining constants. Now the difference between nuclear and other disasters is not just the initial or directly sequential casualties that could be vastly higher running into the hundreds of thousands. Much more crucial is the issue of long range cumulative damage to the human genetic pool. And responsible biologists bluntly warn it’s dirty enough already. This is something none of the apologists for nuclear power want to talk about or hear about. I recollect two years ago in Newcastle-on-Tyne I was on a panel with a Doctor Pyke, he called himself a scientist, and he was defending, in fact extolling, the expansion of nuclear installations. “Responsible politicians know what they’re doing and nuclear power plants in England have a splendid safety record” (he seemed to consider it a purely local issue). And 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 no favorable 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 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?”

So this accident blows over, what about the next one and the next one and the one after that  and a steady leak of low-level radiation as folks go around moaning “Lawd Lawd, I don’t even feel like a human”, and the cancer rate goes up and up and up. No doubt about it, the increase in low-level radiation is one of the heaviest factors in the increase of cancer. An intrepid reporter investigating this correlation contracted leukemia and lost all his hair in the service. I saw him on tv.

Now, if we see the earth as a spaceship, and go further to invoke the comparison of a lifeboat, it is of vital concern to all of us in this lifeboat if the officers pollute the supply of food and water, distribute supplies on a grossly inequitable basis, or, worst of all, conspire to blow the boat out from under us. And what more blatant evidence of a Nova conspiracy than the development and use of an atom bomb in the first place. As the founding father,  J Philip Oppenheimer said, “We have now become Shiva, destroyer of worlds”. He said it on tv and wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye. And various top brasses 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 the time these “difficult decisions” were being made, top physicists, including Oppenheimer, entertained the possibility of a chain reaction igniting the atmosphere. However, he decided it was worth taking that chance to end the war and save white lives. Now the present day apologists of nuclear power lean very far in the other direction, “No, not a single death or serious injury” (not true, incidentally), “Oh, well, there is some danger but look at all the people killed in cars? What are you gonna do, take people’s cars away from them? -that’s a calculated risk”. “A calculated risk” is it? Well, whose calculations?

A Russian scientist has said, “”We will travel not only in time but in space as well.” And that’s what I’m doing in The Gay Gun, I’m going back to the nineteenth-century –

The Place of Dead Roads – William S. Burroughs, cover of the first Japanese edition

Now let’s go back a hundred years. back to the days of pure air and clean water, passenger pigeons abound in the woodlands of America, buffalo graze on the Western plains. You can walk into any drug store and buy opium, morphine, cocaine and hashish extract. The prudent trapper stocks a pint of laudanum for the long lonely Alaskan winter under the Northern lights. Back to the days when a silver dollar bought a sumptuous meal or a good piece of ass. Back to the days before mealy-mouthed lying politicians were taking calculated risks with your future, the future of your species and the future of your planet.

This is from the novel-in-progess, tentatively titled The Gay Gun:

“There’s a smell in the air after a thunderbolt hits. It’s one of those archetype smells like the smell of the sea and the smell of opium –  one whiff and you never forget it.  Once Kim Carsons and Jerry Ellisor (the retarded boy from next door) saw lightning strike the cornice of the old school building outside St.Albans, the smell so heavy you could see it drifting from the shattered bricks in a violet haze and the boys went crazy with the smell like a cat with catnip. They strip off their clothes and caper around  turning cartwheels and grinning out between their legs and screaming to the sky – “SMELL ME” – And Jerry’s slinky black hound dog throws back its head and howls, lightning popping all around them as the sky gets blacker and blacker with just a line of bright green around the rim and the next thing we are snatching up our clothes and running for the cyclone cellar, bricks from the school bouncing all around us. We both shit ourselves when the twister ripped the door, the cellar door off and the house went up like matchsticks. When we came up out of the cellar the house is clean gone, with Jerry’s bedfast grandmother who’d been alone in the house at the time since Arch and Ma were in town for their monthly shopping, and Jerry was supposed to look after “the old stink bag” as he called her.  “Maybe it droppted her in the river”, Jerry said as they poured hot water over each other in the sauna and washed the shit off. Everybody was glad to see the last of her, she’d been clean out of her mind the past five years, her breasts all eaten away with the cancer and Arch kept buying more morphine to finish her off but she had such a strength for it no amount would kill her and Arch said it was like buying feed for a hawg. “She’s a marl-hole in the worst form there is, no bottom to her”. “Well, leastwise she don’t eat much”, Ma said.  “Half a cup of soup a day. She can’t last much longer on that”. And Jerry pipes up – “I heard about an old Saint Woman lived twenty years and all she ever eated  was a holy wafer on a Sundays”. And Arch just looks at him and says, “You know any more stories like that?” – “Sure, plenty. Why this one old biddy lived forty years after the doctor said -” And Arch whops him alongside the head with a ruck-hoe handle.  Jerry took Kim in to see Grandma once. and she reminded Kim of an old rock covered with lichen and he thought she could live forever like that. Now the sauna was erected by a Finnish boy who witched wells and did tinkering jobs, and he had put a Finn magic on it because he had the power, Nobody could say his real name, so they all called him Sinki for Helsinki, where all the Finns is borned at. This Sinki had bright red hair, and one eye was blue and the other brown.  Kim recollects when the sauna is finished Sinki, Jerry and Kim is the first to get the cleaning in it. They didn’t have to worry about Arch and Ma butting in by this time they is both taking the morphine and taking it heavy only way they can stand up for the aggravations of Grandma when the morphine runs out of her any hour of the day or night she lets out such a bellowing Arch can hear it clear to the end of his cornfield. Well, Sinki rubs his long red pointed dick and Jerry grins his buck teeth bare so we all get hard and jerk off with a smell like fucking ferrets. Then Sinki draws a circle on the floor with the jism and says something in Finn talk and tells us he has put a magic on the sauna it will last the house out.  So when Arch and Ma got back they was glad enough to have the house gone so long as Granny went with it, and they built it on another spot to escape the hant of her. When the moon is full you can hear her bellowing from the old house site and the sauna is there to this day. Nobody uses it. Arch and Ma is like cats with the morphine, can’t stand the feel of water on their selves.

Jerry Ellisor, the retarded boy from next door went on to harass timid WASPs from New Yorker cartoons, the type of person who doesn’t want to get mixed up in things, a passerby 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 15-year-old girl who had both arms cut off by a rapist, rushed onto a highway, and three cars passed her by before one stopped and took her to a hospital.)

A friend of mine, Kells Elvin, was doing ninety in his Town and Country Chrysler on the way from Pharr, Texas to Laredo. He comes up over a rise and there is a fucking cow right in the middle of the road on the bridge. He slams on the brakes and hits the cow doing sixty. The car flips over and he is pinned under it with a broken collar-bone, covered from head to foot with blood and guts and cowshit.  So along comes a car with some WASP salesmen in it. They get out kind of reluctantly. He tells them how to jack the car up but when they see blood they don’t want to know. They don’t want to get mixed up with anything like that. Blood and dirt all over him. No control over himself. They get back in their car and drive away. They don’t want to get their car dirty. And then a truck driver comes along, he doesn’t need to be told,  he knows exactly what to do, gets the car off Kells and takes him to a hospital.

So here is this youngish exec WASP in a health-food store after a diet lunch of watercress salad and carrot juice. And a youth sits down right at his table, though it’s three o’clock and the place is nearly empty. The WASP becomes aware of a horrible odor – like ferrets, only more piercing – that 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 person nearest to you, the helpful person nearest to you that you are going to throw a fit -(in my own words). “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 will 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 for 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 wrapped 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, screamed for help. – “What are you doing with that kid, you filthy pervert.” A night-stick 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, 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 fit boy” as he was called, was allowed a  handsome remittance to stay out of the financial district. He went on to train a whole troupe of “fit boys” to terrorize the WASP community and exacted a huge tribute.

cover for the Russian edition of William Burroughs – The Place of Dead Roads – William S.Burroughs

This is also from The Gay Gun, entitled “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 poisonous Saint Louis matron. “The boy is rotten clear through and he stinks like a polecat”, Judge Farris pontificated. This was true. When 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 an extensive and eclectic library and Kim spent much of his time reading during the winter months. There were a number of medical books which Kim read avidly. He loved to read about diseases, rolling and savoring the names on his tongue tabes dorsalis Freidreich’s ataxia, climactic buboes...and the pictures! – the poisonous pinks and greens, yellows and purples of skin diseases, rather like the objects in those Catholic stores that sell shrines and madonnas and crucifixes and religious pictures. Kim thought maybe he would study medicine, become a doctor but while he liked diseases he didn’t like sick people and the thought of delivering babies is enough to turn a man to stone. 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 abominations like Humwawa, whose face is a mass of entrails and who rides on a whispering south wind. Pazuzu, Lord of Fevers and Plagues, and especially Gilal and Lilit, who invade the beds of men, because he did sometimes experience a vivid sexual visitation 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. 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  wallllllllllllll! 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 on 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 so that he fell and hit his shoulder against the wall at the landing. Nobody 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 Kim 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 empty old eyes, 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 see a 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, 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 who are snapping intestines out of each others’ mouths, their red eyes fierce and impersonal. They 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.

[and from Naked Lunch]

“..Rock n’ roll adolescent hoodlums storm the streets of all nations. They rush into the Louvre and throw acid in the Mona Lisa’s face. They open zoos, insane asylums, prisons, burst water mains with air hammers, chop the floor out of passenger plane lavatories, shoot out lighthouses, turn sewers into the water supply, throw sharks, stingrays and electric eels into swimming pools. In nautical costumes they ram the Queen Mary full speed into New York Harbor, rush into hospitals in white coats carrying saws and axes and scalpels three feet long, throw paralytics out of iron lungs (mimic their suffocations flopping about on the floor and rolling their eyes up), administer injections with bicycle pumps, disconnect artificial kidneys, saw a woman in half with a two-man surgical saw, they drive herds of squealing pigs into the Commodity Exchange, they shit on the floor of the United Nations and wipe their ass with treaties, pacts, alliances. “Please to be restful. It is only a few crazies who have from the crazy place outbroken.”

[and, finally]

This piece is entitled “In Last Resort – The Truth”,  (Editorial note – “The Coming of the Purple Better One) written in 1968 after I’d been to the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and in this piece a purple-assed baboon becomes a Presidential candidate (not so remote, nobody wants the job now, I don’t think.)

“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. You’d 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 of the University of Johannesburg was the strident voice from South Africa that would prove the southern ape to be the human ancestor. Dart put forward the simple thesis that Man emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only – because he was a killer.  And he said , 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 descendant of that illustrious line? Who else can restore to this nation the spirit of true conservatism that imposes itself on any human solution? Actually there can be only one candidate – the Purple Better One your future President.”