The Naked Express: William Burroughs and Tom Veitch

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Naked Express coverIt is amazing how a single sheet of paper can capture a special moment in history. My first issue of NOW provides a snapshot into the literary history of San Francisco in the summer of 1963. Similarly my offprint of Tom Veitch’s The Naked Express does the same for the mimeo scene in the Lower East Side in the mid-1960s. A month or so ago I came across this mysterious item in the BeatBooks catalog. Here is the description from the catalog:

Veitch, Tom. The Naked Express. Np: no date. Single sheet, printed on both sides. Credited to Tom Veitch and “Willy”, with, in facsimile holograph, William Burroughs’ signature and the inscription, “(collaborations 1964/1965)”. Burroughsian cut-up and collaged newspaper columns and typescripts (incl. small ads for Joe Brainard’s first one-man show and “C” Magazine), done as the credit suggests, in collaboration with Burroughs in 1964/1965. Short edge-tear; sl. age-toning; faint stains to verso. o/w Very Good plus.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw it. I had never come across this item before. It is not mentioned in the bibliographies by Maynard & Miles or Eric Shoaf. No mention of Veitch in any Burroughs bio that I know of. Daniel Kane does not mention Veitch in his book, All Poets Welcome, which chronicles the literary scene on the Lower East Side in the 1960s. Clay and Phillips do not list The Naked Express in the C: A Journal of Poetry / C Press portion of Secret Location on the Lower East Side. If C Press even published it. What in the hell was this?

Naked Express coverI bought it and eagerly awaited the package from London. I was quite happy when it arrived. As you can see from the images, it is a striking item for anyone interested in Burroughs’ newspaper experiments of the mid-1960s. I immediately thought of Time, APO-33, and a host of other magazine appearances, but what seemed most similar was Sigma Project No. 1: “The Moving Times” poster. That poster was designed to hang in London subways in 1965. The Moving Times combined advertisement, underground newspaper, broadside, and poster art all at once. It seemed like a fantastic way to get the word out about Project Sigma, a hazily defined counterculture movement dreamed up in large part by Alexander Trocchi as he was on the nod. Trocchi got the idea from Timothy Leary’s “consciousness revolution” mixed in with the radical thought of the Situationists. Like a lot of Trocchi’s big ideas (think the Long Book), Project Sigma was long on hype and short on results. The poster idea never fully flowered in the days before the Summer of Love. Burroughs’ “Invisible Generation” essay appeared in poster form in 1966 after it was printed in International Times. Listed in Maynard & Miles as yet another Sigma Project item, it apparently never was distributed beyond the offices of IT. The posters proved much too expensive to produce on a large scale. Several hundred (??) copies of The Moving Times were printed, but they never appeared in the tube and the idea was abandoned. The Naked Express looks exactly like one of the smaller size offprints of The Moving Times that were in fact printed on both sides.

Literary Days coverWhen I saw The Naked Express in the BeatBooks catalog I realized that it fit in nicely with the story I am slowly unpeeling, like an onion, on Burroughs in New York City in 1964-1965. While researching that piece way back when, I came across no mention of The Naked Express, but I did run into the name and work of Tom Veitch. In 1964, C Press published Veitch’s first book, Literary Days. That book is mentioned in Secret Location on the Lower East Side and it is a fine example of the C Press aesthetic. Is there such a thing? Anyway, Literary Days is DIY publishing at its best. Think of all those wonderful issues of C: A Journal of Poetry with the Joe Brainard covers. Brainard designed the cover for Literary Days as well. (By the way, I recommend the recently released book celebrating Brainard’s fascination with the Nancy comic strip. Nancy appears on C Issue 11. If you love the artwork of Brainard, The Nancy Book is a must. Re-read Brainard’s masterpiece, I Remember, while you are at it.)

For those interested, copies of Literary Days are available online for $30-$45. A particularly nice copy showed up on eBay around the time that The Naked Express was available. The eBay copy had a photograph of Veitch tipped in and, if I remember correctly, was signed. Some truly amazing photographs of Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett during the period I am discussing were also available. If you were into the Tulsa wing of the New York School (to borrow a phrase of John Ashbery’s), it was a bonanza on eBay. All these items were heavily sought after and a few of them — such as this photograph — have found their way back on the rare book market.

C Journal 9A copy of Veitch’s Literary Days fell into the hands (and eventually the scissors) of William Burroughs, because Burroughs created a cut-up based on the book. Burroughs’ “Intersections Shifts and Scanning from Literary Days by Tom Veitch” appeared in C Issue 9 in the summer of 1964. If you compare the cover of Literary Days with the cover of C Issue 9. They are almost the same. The C Journal cover appears to parody the idea of a Brainard style and the Literary Days cover in particular. Perhaps there is more going on here. Was Brainard, like Burroughs, recycling Literary Days? It is interesting to note that around this time, Brainard drew a cover for “St. Louis Return.” According to the Brainard Archive at UC-San Diego, Brainard drew the cover in 1963, but Burroughs did not return to St. Louis and write the piece until late 1964. Right in the period we are discussing. The “St. Louis Return” cover was rejected and never used. Playboy rejected the piece and “St. Louis Return” was eventually published in Paris Review 35 along with Conrad Knickerbocker’s blockbuster interview with Burroughs. (The published interview also contains a manuscript page from “St. Louis Return.”) Brainard, Burroughs, and Veitch appear one after the other in Issue 9. Perhaps this grouping in the magazine comments on their creative collaborations. “Intersections Shifts” presents Burroughs the poet. Reading it you can see how a piece like this would appeal to poets and artists of the New York School, particularly ones like Ted Berrigan or Brainard who incorporated the cut-up and collage into so much of their work.

When The Naked Express came in the mail, I started digging some more. Who is Tom Veitch? Why would Burroughs cut up his work? Why would Burroughs get a copy of Literary Days? What was the full nature of their “collaboration?” Clearly Burroughs was interested enough in Veitch’s work to cut it up. I started googling and digging. Star Wars fans probably know Tom Veitch for his comic book work. You may have heard of Tom’s brother Rick Veitch. If you have been following the story of Burroughs collaborations with Malcolm Mc Neill, you can see where this is going. Turns out Tom Veitch and Burroughs talked in the mid-1960s about a project to create an illustrated Naked Lunch. Like Mc Neill, the potential collaboration made quite an impression on Veitch. In July 2006, Veitch read at Kingdom Books from a 150-page memoir in progress on his interactions with and thoughts on Burroughs. I contacted Ron Padgett who put me in contact with Veitch. The Burroughs memoir still exists and it is currently on the back burner given Veitch’s incredibly full plate. Hopefully selections will find their way online or in a little mag. Maybe even here on RealityStudio. Has anyone out there heard Veitch read from this memoir? Has anyone seen a hard copy? I would love to hear more about it. Does anybody know any details about a proposed illustrated Naked Lunch project from the mid-1960s? Did I make this up? It makes sense, but I cannot find any details on it.

So The Naked Express was, like the memoir years later, an expression of Veitch’s fascination with Burroughs. According to Veitch, it was more of a tribute than collaboration. Burroughs did not actually provide any of the material. It must have been written in late 1964. The title, obviously, refers to Naked Lunch and Nova Express. Nova Express was released in October of 1964. A close look at The Naked Express reveals all sorts of links to the mimeo scene in the Lower East Side of the mid-1960s. “A Nice Day” was a collaboration of Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett. The holograph at the top of The Naked Express is in the handwriting of Ted Berrigan (the initials are “T.B.”). Berrigan had his own collaboration of sorts with Burroughs in the publication of Time in 1965. The name “Willy”, in reference to Burroughs, has a ton of associations. Burroughs referred to himself in letters as Willy Lee, the junkie writing boy. William Lee, of course, was the pseudonym for the Ace Junkie. There are a ton of others, but in 1965 in the Lower East Side mimeo scene, “Willy” would refer directly to the Fuck You Press publication of Roosevelt After Inauguration. That publication listed Willy Lee as the author, instead of William Burroughs. Burroughs’ other contribution to C Issue 9, “Giver of the Winds is My Name,” features Egyptian hieroglyphics. Possibly, Ed Sanders turned Burroughs on to them. The Naked Express appeared in Issue 3 of Aram Saroyan’s Lines, another wonderful mimeo, in early 1965. Later in that year a Burroughs cut-up turned up in Lines 5.

My details on The Naked Express and the collaboration between Veitch and Burroughs is patchwork at best. Consider this post a call for information. If anybody has any more info on the illustrated Naked Lunch, The Naked Express or similar pieces of ephemera that tell an interesting story about Burroughs, please drop me a line.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 14 July 2008.
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