WEEKLY V. VALE EDITORIAL Published Monday Mornings
HOW I MET WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS (Part One)
In the Sixties I was in a band with a tall blond London expatriate art school dropout painter named Patrick Morrison. Everywhere he went, people thought he was Eric Clapton. He dressed the part, deploying his dazzling British accent, quick wit, and Carnaby Street sharp clothing. His then-girlfriend, an attractive brunette named “Madeleine” (shades of VERTIGO) had an uncle named Frank Sinatra and was currently working for the Committee Theater, managed by a tall man in a blue jumpsuit named Bill Love. Patrick told me that I HAD to read Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (the middle initial “S” had not yet been universally adopted) so I got a copy and read AT it, but had a difficult time “following” the narrative (or lack of it) — later I realized why, of course. But here and there were some very darkly humorous lines, but still, I was not a fan.
But in June 1969 an issue of EVERGREEN REVIEW magazine came out with an article titled “Journey Through Time-Space: An Interview with William S. Burroughs by Daniel Odier…The Mayan Control System, Hubbard’s E Meter, foldin and cutups — an exploration of the world of the author of NAKED LUNCH and his reasons for trying to break down the “word image” barrier.
This interview was nothing if not totally thought-provoking, acerbic, confrontational and prophetic. In the first paragraph Burroughs said, “I think the novelistic form is probably outmoded and that we may look forward to a future in which people do not read at all or read only illustrated books and magazines or some abbreviated form of reading matter.” (Is he predicting the Internet, here, where the average piece of writing is 2 pages?) He continued, “To compete with television and photo magazines, writers will have to develop more precise techniques producing the same effect on the reader as a LURID ACTION PHOTO.” Well, has this “come true”? And to think this was 1969, after all.
The next idea was “Writing is fifty years behind painting. How can the gap be closed?” Burroughs then posited that “The writer does not yet know WHAT WORDS ARE.” (Italics ours) Like, what do you mean? Later in the paragraph he talked about “a precise science of words and show how certain word-combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system.” Who else was giving forth ideas like these at the time? Nobody, and at that time I had not yet investigated Korzybski, whose tome SCIENCE AND SANITY apparently had no little effect on Burroughs…
This very generous excerpt continued from pages 39-41 to pages 78-89 and was so full of ideas that to demonstrate here the full scope of Burroughs’ vision would risk a lawsuit for copyright violation. Burroughs explained the cutup theory, quoted Brion Gysin, talked about his Paris Review interview, tape recorder experiments, film experiments, computer experiments (nobody had access to computers in 1969) with Ian Somerville, making street recordings, the word as an instrument of CONTROL. This single article was so concentrated as to be almost vertiginous — one article can indeed almost totally change the way you look at the world — if the article is by Burroughs.
From that day on — I must have read, studied and debated this article a hundred times — I became a Burroughs fan, and remember that “fan” is shorthand for “fanatic.” Starting that day I began tracking down every single Burroughs book, magazine article, interview, review, mention and piece of ephemera I could find. And this was in the days BEFORE the Internet and eBay … this relentless search was launched in the trenches, as I began visiting every possible used bookstore in the Bay Area. Fortunately, there still were dozens of used bookstores, not to mention thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets full of books and magazines — ah, the “good old days” when you could make a “score” and whoop for joy because this magazine cost ten cents or that book cost 50 cents. I felt like a knight on a personal crusade, scouring the countryside for hidden treasure markered by the name “William Burroughs”… (To Be Continued)
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