Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
I do not know about you but I am a names and dates guy. If you are here in the Studio, I suspect you are too. Just give us the factoids. Drown us with proper nouns. Shower us with historical dates. So maybe Michael Walker’s 2013 book What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born caught your eye. I saw it in my Amazon queue and in a few clicks it went on its way to my doorstep. Whew, that title is a mouthful. By the way, what is it with the long and convoluted titles accompanying non-fiction titles nowadays? It is getting ridiculous. The entire contents of the book are right there on display on the cover. In some cases you do not even have to read the book anymore. Anyway, it is not the covers of books that first come to mind when I receive a non-fiction title. Nor the dust jacket flaps nor the author bio nor the images placed in the middle of the book. No, I go straight to the index and look for my good friend Mr. B. More often than not el hombre invisible lurks in there somewhere in the pages of any book I am interested in. What You Want Is In The Limo proves to be no exception. There Burroughs is on page 107 in connection with the Rolling Stones 1972 American tour:
But Gibson-Stromberg [the Stones’ publicists] weren’t just good at spending their clients’ money; they were geniuses at playing the media like Keith Richards plays “Tumblin’ Dice.” Gibson-Stromberg orchestrated the publicity juggernaut for the Rolling Stones ’72 tour that Robert Plant would bitterly invoke when Danny Goldberg is hired to secure Zeppelin mainstream coverage in ’73. For the Stones tour, after landing covers and features in Rolling Stone and the cream of the mainstream magazines, Gibson-Stromberg made sure that writers almost as famous as the band were assigned to the stories. William S. Burroughs was briefly on board; Terry Southern took his place. Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner’s weakness for social climbing was fed by Truman Capote, a bit of stunt casting that resulted in no actual story for Rolling Stone — the magazine ultimately commissioned Andy Warhol to interview him about the tour — but endless free publicity for the band as Capote gabbed about life with the Stones on Johnny Carson. As Gibson summed up the strategy: “I would have liked to have seen Teddy Kennedy come along to write about the Stones. It’s just as ludicrous.”
What?!!? Burroughs could have been on the road with Keef? And rubbed shoulders with his nemesis Truman Capote? What is this about Terry Southern snorting coke with Jagger? Warhol is on the fringes too. Well, I’ll be, it seems like the gang’s all here.
So not surprisingly the above paragraph hit me with the force of an honest-to-God revelation. I emailed all my friends. Hey, man, did you know Burroughs almost toured with the Stones? Far out! It struck me as one of the greatest What-If’s in the entire Burroughs biography. And I am all about What-Ifs. This is barroom speculation fodder if I ever heard it. Bartender another round, please. Because not only am I obsessed by facts, I am not against fantasizing “alternative facts” if the RealityStudio is not churning out the film I want. You have to ask yourself: What would Burroughs have done?
And then I calmed down. The impact of a fact is dependent on one’s space-time continuum. I just happened to be in the right mind-space for this particular Burroughs fact. I had read it before. Miles’ Call Me Burroughs, which I rely on heavily in what follows, briefly and concisely lays out the facts of Burroughs’ brush with the Stones in the 1971-1972 time period. While reading Miles’ bio, I passed right by those names and dates without a single moment of wonder and excitement. At the time, it was hard to focus on anything in particular given the fact that the biography contained several mind-blowing gems per page. Perhaps what had changed this time around was that I happened to be listening to hours and hours of Stones concerts from 1969 to 1972, which I consider, like many, to be the sweet spot for the band. The Mick Taylor years. I usually stop listening after Exile on Main Street, but in listening to all those YouTube tracks, I happened upon the Brussels Affair deluxe set, recorded live from a series of concerts in Belgium in 1973, organized not so much for the Belgians, as much as for the French fans who could not see the Stones in their home country since the band was exiled due to drug offenses and other outrages that occurred during their stay in the South of France recording Exile on Main Street in the basement of Nellcôte. That concert blew my mind and the live tracks from the most recent album, Goat’s Head Soup, like “Dancing with Mr. D.”, “Star Star”, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” demanded that I reassess an album I dismissed because of the dreadful Angie.
So the Stones were definitely on my mind and the time was ripe for it to be righteously blown by the fact that Burroughs could have toured with Mick, Keith, and the boys. To be honest it really should not have been all that surprising. In the star-studded galaxy of the 1960s Underground, Burroughs and the Stones intersected with each other’s orbit for years. The pull of their personalities and personal myths naturally brought them all into proximity. The first interaction that comes to mind is from 1965 at Lester Persky’s “50 Most Beautiful People Party” held at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Burroughs attended, as did Brian Jones, and it is Jones, not the junkie icon Keith Richards, who ultimately may be the most Burroughsian Stone. The fragile, high-maintenance, struggling-to-maintain Jones seems much like some of the Dilly Boys Burroughs fraternized with throughout his London Years. Jones’ death by accidental drowning in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969 — the first member of Rock’s infamous 27 Club — inspired the same whispers of “was he or wasn’t he” that Burroughs’ shooting of Joan engendered.
Jones, not Mick or Keith, was the first of the group to be plugged into the frequencies of the international Underground (for example Jones conspicuously attended the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967) as well as world music. Burroughs and Jones shared a deep interest in Moroccan music. In February 1967, just after the infamous drug bust at Redlands, Mick, Keith, and Brian, along with an entourage that included Donald Cammell, Anita Pallenberg, Christopher Gibbs, Robert Fraser, and Michael Cooper, fled to Morocco to escape their legal troubles and the hounding British press. In Tangier the group met up with photographer Cecil Beaton and scenester Brion Gysin. In his autobiography, Life, Keith states that Burroughs was along for the ride as well. This appears to be a mis-recollection on Keith’s part as Burroughs was in London and did not visit until the summer, but an understandable one given the legend that surrounded Burroughs in Tangier; his presence pervaded the place and the Stones were in Morocco in large part due to the myth Burroughs and Paul Bowles created. In any case, Burroughs was there in spirit as he expressed sympathy with the Stones’ suffering under persistent drug harassment. In a letter to Gysin on April 20, 1967: “The drug nonsense here goes on and on. The Rolling Stones are searched wherever they go and were physically attacked by the French immigration officials at Orly. England is like a South Sea island hit by measles no resistance.”
As usual Gysin was star struck. Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust quotes Gysin’s initial impressions as follows:
The action starts almost at once. Brian and I drop acid. Anita sulks and drops sleepers. (She) goes off to sleep in the suite she shares with Brian. Keith has plugged in and is sending some great throbbing sounds winging after her and on out into the moonlight over the desert. . . . Robert (Fraser) puts on a great old Elmore James record out of his collection. Get Mick doing little magic dances for him. For the first time, I see Mick really is magic. So, as the acid comes up on me, Brian recedes into Big Picture (sic). Looks like a tiny celluloid Kewpie doll banked all around by a choir of identical little girl dolls looking just like him, chanting his hymns . . . Room service arrives with great trays of food in which we toboggan around on the floor. I am sorry to say Food? Who needs it? How very gross.
In Stones lore the trip would be famous for the drama involving Brian, Keith, and Anita, whereby Keith and Anita became romantically involved during Brian’s brief absence for health reasons. As the trip progressed the relationship became cemented after Brian threatened to beat Anita in Morocco when she rebuffed Brian’s request that she engage in an orgy with local prostitutes. The dynamics of the band would never be the same.
On a more positive note, the trip was also important for initiating Jones’ interest in Moroccan music. In 1968 Jones returned to Morocco, again accompanied by Gysin, to make recordings of the Master Magicians of Jajouka on July 29. Burroughs listened to the tapes with Jones soon after in Tangiers. From With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker:
I first met Brian Jones in the Parade Bar in Tangier. He had just returned from the Village of Joujouka, where he had recorded the Pipes of Pan music, which after his death was edited and processed in the studio at a cost of about 10,000 pounds. I went back to his room in the Minza and I listened to a selection of a tape made by a sound engineer with two Uhers. Very, very good job of sound engineering. That came out as the record and cassette of “Brian Jones Plays with the Pipes of Pan” [Burroughs owns and often plays this cassette]
After Jones died, the record company had no plans to do anything about this record, which was unfinished at the time of his death, although it was in pretty good shape. However, the Joujoukan musicians had a union and sent Hamri to London, and with the help of Brion Gysin and an awful lot of finagling and phone calls with the lawyers who were handling Brian’s estate, this thing finally came out and there was eventually some money for the Joujoukan musicians. You see, there was nothing of Brian Jones himself on the record and it was considered to be misleading because he didn’t play. He played with them in one sense: there is a suggestion of that, you see, in playing with the Pipes of Pan, he was playing with the God of Panic…
George Chkiantz was the sound engineer Burroughs remembered. Burroughs made an impression as well. Chkiantz had a vivid memory of “a guy in a homburg, with a black umbrella and a raincoat, looking pale and saying, ‘I’m not feeling very well, I’m off to the chemist.’ That is the sum total of what I remember, thinking how, when it was 30 or 35 degrees [Celsius], could a guy conceivably be wearing a black hat!”
Stanley Booth recounts a story of Gysin’s on Brian Jones’ reaction to the Moroccan ceremony:
And at one moment dinner obviously had to be somewhere in the offing, like about an hour away, everybody was just beginning to think about food and we had there acetylene lamps, giving a great very theatrical glow to the whole scene, rather like limelight used to be, a greenish-white sort of tone. And the most beautiful goat that anybody had ever seen — pure white — was suddenly led right across the scene, between Brian and Suki and Hamri and me, sitting on these cushions, kind of lying back, and the musicians out in the courtyard about ten feet away right in front of us, so quickly that for a moment hardly anybody realized at all what was happening, until Brian leapt to his feet, and he said, “That’s me!” and was pulled down and sort of subsided, and the music went on . . .
In 1973 Burroughs himself accompanied a musician to Morocco to experience the Master Musicians in action, in this case with jazz experimentalist Ornette Coleman, who also recorded an album influenced by his time there, Dancing in Your Head. The influence is strong on the track, “Midnight Sunrise,” which features Coleman alongside the Master Musicians recorded during a religious ceremony attended by the group. On assignment for Oui, a men’s magazine, Burroughs wrote a straightforward account of the scene he observed accompanied by an article by Craig Karpel in turn observing Burroughs in action. The previous trip with Brian Jones is mentioned only in passing but by this point Gysin’s initial impression of the Stones had soured. Gysin considered Jones cheap and selfish and regretted that Jones never compensated the musicians for their work on the eventual album: Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, which was released in 1971 after Brian’s death. The album is credited with introducing Moroccan music to a wider audience and starting the world music trend. According to Call Me Burroughs, Derek Taylor, the renowned publicist, hired Burroughs to write sleeve notes for the album and to record a radio spot: “Listen to this music, the primordial sounds of a 4,000 year-old rock ‘n’ roll band.” In the 1995 reissue CD Burroughs provides notes to the album booklet, but what is less-known is that Burroughs along with Jones and Timothy Leary blurbed the LP in 1971 in a full-page advertisement that appeared in the rock press: “Hashish visions take flesh in the Pipes of Pan. All is permitted to the children of panic.”
So in a sense Burroughs had already provided his take, however brief, on a Rolling Stones project before he was asked to be a magazine’s special correspondent to the Stones’ 1972 American tour. What magazine that was seems unclear. In Call Me Burroughs, Miles states it was Playboy and that the project was all set up by Gysin. Despite Gysin’s insistence that Burroughs take the assignment, after initially signing on, Burroughs had second thoughts and declined the offer. Turnabout is fair play. In 1965, Playboy rejected Burroughs’ account of his return to his hometown of St. Louis, which was eventually published in Paris Review later that year along with Conrad Knickerbocker’s groundbreaking interview with the then largely unknown author.
For this most recent snafu with Playboy, Burroughs felt he had no connection with rock and roll and therefore had nothing original to say and just like with the offer to tour with Dylan on the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975, Burroughs hated the idea of being in an entourage. Burroughs inspired his own entourage. He was too much the rock god himself to bow down to the Stones. In addition, at the time, Burroughs was compiling his archives for sale, which required all his time and effort. Ultimately the financial benefits of the archive trumped his limited interest in covering the Stones. Viewed in that light, Gysin agreed. Burroughs: “So he got me into it and then turned right around, I didn’t want to cover their tour in the first place.” This upset Playboy editors: “There are a lot of people going to be disappointed by this decision, not least the Stones.”
In S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones, Robert Greenfield states the magazine assignment was offed by Saturday Review:
It’s a terrible world all right, the rockbiz and the rock PR biz and the magazine world, and things going so fast and furiously that when Saturday Review phones wanting to send along William Burroughs, it’s an idea that gasses everybody. With the five major publication taken care of, Gibson figures it’s okay to fuck around a little, and Bill Burroughs is such a crazy sonofabitch anyway. God he could be great for the film they are going to make of the tour. The whole thing is an upper. When Burroughs drops out and Saturday Review substitutes Terry Southern, well, that’s okay too. At least he’s famous.
The Saturday Review was an American weekly, general-interest magazine that was in transition in 1971/1972, as it has just been sold prompting the resignation of long-time editor Norman Cousins. The magazine then split into four monthlies on various topics like Arts or Science. Perhaps the new owners were trying to shake things up and generate some buzz with the hiring of Burroughs to cover the Stones. It was not a very original idea. Burroughs had been used by magazines, little, mainstream, or men’s, for shock value and cool cachet for over a decade by this point. For example in 1959, poetry editor of Saturday Review, John Ciardi, provided one of the very first critical reviews of Naked Lunch. His positive and perceptive review proved crucial to the legal strategy of Barney Rosset down the road with Grove Press. Ciardi testified at the Naked Lunch trial and was a lynchpin of the defense. Ciardi left his post at Saturday Review in 1972 as well.
So it makes sense that Saturday Review would ask Burroughs to cover the Stones and Greenfield should know. He was there and was the Stones-approved correspondent for the tour. He had been following the Stones from their farewell concert in the U.K. in March 1971 on to Nellcôte on through the 1972 American tour. Few people know more about the Stones during this period than Greenfield. Furthermore, when Burroughs dropped out, Terry Southern put his nose in the Stones’ business (and their cocaine) with relish. Southern’s piece, “The Rolling Stones’ U.S. Tour: Riding the Lapping Tongue,” appeared in the introductory Arts edition of the Saturday Review on August 12, 1972, as a cover story, further suggesting that Burroughs was contacted by the Saturday Review not Playboy. That said, in what became the stuff of legend, the Stones stayed at the Playboy Mansion during the Midwest portion of the tour and made it their home base. Interestingly Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione acquired Saturday Review in 1987.
Just a few years later in 1975, again in connection with a U.S. tour, Burroughs accepted an offer from Crawdaddy, a rock magazine in the image of Rolling Stone and Creem, to attend a Led Zeppelin concert at Madison Square Garden in order to record his impressions and interview guitarist Jimmy Page. At the time Burroughs had a standing gig with the magazine for a column, much like he did in the late 1960s for Mayfair, the British equivalent of Playboy. Burroughs and Page bonded over their shared interest in the occult — Page lived in Aleister Crowley’s former residence (Burroughs knew the real estate agent) — as well as a discussion on Burroughs’ interest in using sound frequencies as weapons and for crowd control.
As recounted in What You Want Is In The Limo, Led Zeppelin broke all the rules then existing about rock and roll tours and in the process rewrote them for the future, but as the book makes clear, the Rolling Stones were there first. During their 1972 American tour, they set the bar for financial success (around $4 million for a 30-date tour) and raised the roof in term of rock and roll excess. As Led Zeppelin knew and tried to correct with their 1973 tour, they were not viewed by the media as on the same level as the Rolling Stones. No matter how hard Led Zeppelin would try, the 1973 tour would not equal the Stones of 1972. Surely Led Zeppelin out-earned the Stones ($6 million), but in terms of hip credentials and decadent cool The Song Remains the Same will never approach Cocksucker Blues.
Reading Burroughs in Crawdaddy, I wonder what he would have done with the unprecedented spectacle of the 1972 Stones tour. In terms of being an event, it was on par with the 1968 Democratic Convention, which Burroughs covered for Esquire alongside Terry Southern. I guess that if Burroughs was going to cover any Stones concert, it would have to have been Altamont, which resulted in the beating of Jefferson Airplanes’ Marty Balin as well as four deaths, including the murder of Meredith Hunter at the hands of the Hell’s Angels, which was caught on film by Baird Bryant, who previously filmed scenes for Easy Rider and Shirley Clarke’s Cool World. Besides the obviously Burroughsian elements of Wild Boys occurring at Altamont, the Stones set list from that concert seem particularly on point: the occult of “Sympathy for the Devil,” the misogynistic “Under My Thumb,” the menacing juju of “Midnight Rambler,” and the apocalyptic “Gimme Shelter.”
Burroughs on Altamont. Burroughs provided advice to Stanley Booth, who covered the 1969 tour and wrote one of the greatest books on rock ever written: The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. Booth remembered:
Burroughs was really above the fray, but he was very helpful to me. He lived in London at Duke Street, St James and I’d go and see him at his flat. He gave me a lot of good advice. We talked about Scott Fitzgerald, whose work he valued very highly, and he told me to read Carlos Baker’s book about Hemingway. He also told me not to smoke hash in front of the window. Those were both pieces of good advice. Uncle Bill was aware that he was a very famous junky, probably the most famous junky in the world at that time.
It is definitely an intriguing What-If, but Burroughs, on the equally interesting and in some respects more Burroughsian — as evidenced by Cocksucker Blues — 1972 tour, could actually have been a reality. This is especially true when you consider that fact that the attraction between Burroughs and the Stones orbits was never as strong as that in that 1971-1972 timeframe. Now I suspect Burroughs would have phoned it in: a brief introduction discussing the radical potential of rock to reach a mass audience of youth waiting for marching orders (such as Burroughs musing on the Stones for a projected 20th Anniversary book: “Rock and roll music is a sociological phenomenon of unprecedented scope and effect . . . The Stones as heroes of the cultural revolution . . . front line fighters pushed around by police and customs agents”) shifting to a brief interview with Mick discussing his recent role in Performance and maybe some interaction on the possibilities and potentials for a film version of Naked Lunch onward to a coda cut-up regarding the particulars of the 1972 tour. The Crawdaddy piece on Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin in a nutshell.
But that is not what My Burroughs would do; no, the 1972 tour was ripe to be covered in a truly Burroughsian fashion. How about a Roosevelt After Inauguration-style routine that depicted the behind-the-scene action of the tour? Ticket scalpers preying on the milling crowds in a slave auction-type atmosphere complete with young single mothers offering up there first-borns to rapacious sex traders for shitty obstructed seats in the back row or boyfriends ponying up their nubile girlfriends for group fuck scenes performed out in the streets in front of the arena, all to be televised live on the Dick Cavett show.
Or perhaps a routine depicting the backstage scene of roadies and police security, both in the form of purple ass baboons, terrorizing groupies, drug dealers, and hangers-on with all manner of violence and mayhem. Flash cut to beatings and rapes, the conspicuous consumption of mass quantities of heroin injected with massive syringes the size of Charlie Watts’ drumsticks, and the sound of the hog-like snorting of piles of cocaine of Andes proportions, all orchestrated by the baboons before and on a crowd willing to do anything to get into the dressing room in order to hold court with the distant, disgusted, and disdainful Kings of Rock.
Or maybe Burroughs might have recreated an AJ’s Annual Party-type scene from Naked Lunch as held at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. Mick and Bianca, Keith and Anita up on a makeshift stage performing, like Johnny and Mary, wild acts of gymnastic fuckattude before a rapt audience of purple-assed baboon roadies and Playboy bunnies, who increasing agitated and turned on by the performance on-stage — in which the participants shift genders, suck each other off like Mugwumps, and hang each other into spontaneous orgasm — themselves engage in a massive orgy that threatens to ignite into flames giving off fumes of semen, pot smoke, dynamite, and patchouli. Behind Mick, Bianca, Keith, and Anita is a large movie screen on which is projected a Burroughs-style cut-up film flickering rapid fire images featuring the ritual murder of Meredith Hunter at Altamont intercut with split second stills of Brian Jones, interspersed with shots of the band performing “Brown Sugar,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Street Fighting Man,” a fitting soundtrack of sex, drugs, and revolutionary/apocalyptic violence, alongside the Pipes of Pan, interlaid with footage of the daily rushes from Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues, all played at the volume of 7 Hertz, so that the audience’s organs rub together with such force that they erupt into geyser-like orgasms and burst into flames. The smoke clears into near silence with only the sound of Hef and Bill Wyman playing backgammon in the middle of a room full of charred carcasses; the two men seeming for all the world like nothing ever happened.
Probably not, but we can always have our fantasies.
Even for the Stones 1971/1972 was a very druggy time. From the groupies to the roadies up to the band themselves, heroin was everywhere. Keith in particular was in the throes of addiction. Not surprisingly Keith was drawn to Burroughs. In 1971 Keith attempted to kick using the apomorphine cure. It was a dreadful experience. Keith on the cure from Life:
Off of Bill Burroughs, I got apomorphine, along with Smitty, the vicious nurse from Cornwall. The cure that Gram Parsons and I did was total anti-heroin aversion therapy. And Smitty loved to administer it. “Time, boys.” There’s Parsons and me in my bed, “Oh no, here comes Smitty.” Gram and I need to take a cure just before the farewell tour of 1971, when he and his soon-to-be wife, Gretchen, came over to England and we went about our usual ways. Bill Burroughs recommended this hideous woman to administer the apomorphine that Burroughs talked endlessly about, a therapy that was pretty useless. But Burroughs swore by it. I didn’t know him that well, except to talk about dope — how to get off or how to get the quality you’re after. Smitty was Burroughs’ favorite nurse and she was a sadist and the cure consisted of her shooting you up with this shit and then standing over you. You do as you’re told. You don’t argue. “Stop sniveling, boy. You wouldn t be here if you hadn’t screwed up.” We took this cure in Cheyne Walk, and it was Gram and me in my four-poster bed, the only guy I ever slept with. Except we kept falling off the bed because we were twitching so much from the treatment. With a bucket to throw up in, if you could stop twitching for enough seconds to get near it. “You go the bucket, Gram?” Our only outlet, if we could stand up, would be to go down and play the piano and sing for a bit, or as much as possible to kill time. I wouldn’t recommend that cure to anybody. I wondered if that was Bill Burroughs’s joke, to send me to probably the worst cure he’d ever had.
Immediately afterwards Keith began using again. As Keith’s drug issues progressed throughout the 1970s, his interest and fascination with Burroughs persisted. Both men lived by their own rules, saw through mainstream society’s bullshit, and served as icons for the outlaw lifestyle. In fact, Keith’s publicists felt Burroughs and Keith were too closely associated and that Burroughs’ reputation as the Pope of Dope shed a bad light on the Glimmer Twin. In 1978, with yet another drug bust on his hands, Keith was advised not to attend the Nova Convention because the close proximity to Burroughs could adversely affect his upcoming drug trial in Toronto. Keith was on the poster announcing the Convention and audience members were greatly upset at his absence. Frank Zappa replaced him and performed the Talking Asshole routine.
Keith was not only familiar with Burroughs’ methods of cure, but apparently also with his cut-up method. As documented by Beatdom and elsewhere, Mick and Keith experimented with the cut-up technique.
Aside from the love of guns, hard drugs, being cultural phenomenons and part-time movie stars, what did William S. Burroughs share with the Rolling Stones?
Recently released on DVD, Stones In Exile is a documentary premiered by the BBC in May. Amid the great footage of the boys jamming and living at Keith Richards’ house in France, we get a glimpse of the song-writing process that put Jagger/Richards on the pop map.
One pleasant surprise, among many, is the creation of the song, “Casino Boogie“.
“Casino Boogie” was written in the famous “cut up” style created by Williams Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Words and phrases and cut from sentences and thrown into a hat. Then the cut up pieces of language are magically arranged by the forces that be and are divined by the artist, who randomly picks out the cut up pieces and puts them together into some semblance of order
From an interview in Uncut from August 2010, Jagger was asked about the lyric “million dollar sad”:
That song was done in cut-ups. It’s in the style of William Burroughs, and so-on. “Million Dollar Sad” doesn’t mean anything. We did it in LA in the studio. We just wrote phrases on bits of paper and cut them up. The Burroughs style. And then you throw them into a hat, pick them out and assemble them into verses. We did it for one number, but it worked. We probably did it ‘cos we couldn’t think of anything to write.
I think when we got to Casino Boogie, Mick and I looked at each other and just couldn;t think of another lyrical concept or idea for the song. I said to Mick, “You know how Bill Burroughs did that cut-up thing – where he would randomly chop words out of a book or newspaper and then try to sort them up?” That’s how we did the lyrics for Casino Boogie, and that was Bill Burroughs’ biggest influence on the Rolling Stones.
Here are the lyrics:
No good, can’t speak, wound up, no sleep.
Sky diver insider her, skip rope, stunt flyer.
Wounded lover, got no time on hand.
One last cycle, thrill freak Uncle Sam.
Pause for bus’ness, hope you’ll understand.
Judge and jury walk out hand in hand.
Dietrich movies, close up boogies,
Kissing cunt in Cannes.
Grotesque music, million dollar sad.
Got no tactics, got no time on hand.
Left shoe shuffle, right shoe muffle,
Sinking in the sand.
Fade out freedom, steaming heat on,
Watch that hat in black.
Finger twitching, got no time on hand.
Burroughs was one of the seemingly thousands of visitors who passed through the doors of Nellcôte, perhaps inspiring Mick and Keith’s experimentation. The line “kissing cunt from Cannes” has long inspired controversy. Does it refer to Bianca Jagger, Mick’s new wife, thought by many to be the Yoko of the band? Or Mick’s infidelities? Or does the line refer to the cut-up method itself? Some insist that the line is “kissing cut in cans,” such as the cutting and editing of film or of word associations, like that in Casino Boogie.
Most interestingly, if the Stones’ publicists pursued the services of Burroughs to cover the tour, Burroughs somewhat reluctantly pursued Jagger in return. In 1971 the movie version of Naked Lunch seemed a real possibility. Gysin completed a script, which Burroughs hated, and Gysin proceeded to make the rounds in Hollywood to get the movie made. Burroughs attended the premier of Performance and inscribed his program “Hassan-i-Sabbah was here”; he placed the program in his archive, and it is located in Folio 130, item 6. Burroughs thought Jagger was “great” but feared that in the future he might be distracted by groupies. Performance had numerous Burroughsian elements, including mention of Soft Machine (the song “Memo from Turner” features the line: “the man who works the some machine”) and Hassan-i-Sabbah, as well as utilizing, early in the movie, the cut-up methods that Burroughs experimented with in the 1960s with Antony Balch.
According to Call Me Burroughs, in an effort to ingratiate himself with Jagger, Burroughs attended the band’s farewell concert at the Marquee Club in London on March 26, 1971, and the band’s farewell party on March 30th. Burroughs attended with reservations: “That’s it. I never paid court. I don’t like their music. I don’t like rock and roll at all.” Further on the party:
I have never mastered the art of talking to people in the bedlam of a noisy party. Some people can do it, they get their voices right through all that stuff, and I remember Keith Richards talking to me and I couldn’t understand one word he said! Not a word. It wasn’t my thing. I didn’t have a good time at all. I don’t like parties. I hate parties.
Despite all the discussion and flirting, Jagger, who initially expressed interest in playing Lee, the lead character, refused to commit to the project; Jagger wanted to name the director and not use Balch, who Jagger hated in some part because in a meeting Balch noted the tightness of Jagger’s trousers, which Mick did not appreciate. In addition Jagger invited Burroughs to his May 12, 1971 wedding to Bianca Jagger in Saint-Tropez. Burroughs begged off: “I’m not gregarious; I don’t want to be involved in a massive thing like that.” Again Jagger was offended.
With Jagger out of the picture, they moved on to James Taylor, who the studio liked based no doubt on his performance in Two-Lane Blacktop, a cult classic from 1971, also starring Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. A James Taylor concert ticket is in the Burroughs archive in the same Folio as a Rolling Stones badge issued by Massachusetts Department of Public Works, perhaps from this period. The film went through a rewrite involving Terry Southern and one wonders if behind-the-scenes, Southern’s pestering of Keith and Mick about appearing in the film in some capacity, not his free-wheeling over-indulgence in the Stones’ lifestyle, resulted in Southern being thrown off the tour. Here is Greenfield on Southern working Keith backstage in Dallas:
A lot of people seem to have left the party, but time has little or no meaning at this stage of the game. Terry is leaning over and pitching to Keith, trying to sell him a movie. “Fantastic thing is, Keith, it’s you and Mick . . . musicians, see, from Kansas City . . open on a great shot of the two of ya in a bar . . . long-distance call, cut to New York City and all these fucked-up changes you go through making it.”
“Us from Kansas City?” Keith says. “You jokin?”
For years people have been trying to lay movie deals on the Stones, drag them into films that they’ll have to write the music for. Donald Cammel, who succeeded in getting Jagger and Anita Pallenberg for Performance, Southern, even William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, who are interested in having Jagger write the music for the film version of Naked Lunch. Somehow the Stones relate to it easily, as though it were only proper that they be consulted for the soundtrack for the best in anarchy their generation has produced.
“I’ve spoken to William about it,” Southern says now, “and it all depends on you doin the music . . .”
Ah, no, don’t really know at this time, Terry,” Keith mumbles.
“Ah, well, a certain person there . . . we uh both know . . . would love you bein obstreperous about it.
“Me bein physical, you mean?”
“No, acutally, I’ve uh spoken to William about and he assures me ah em aha (in a low voice) you would not have to ah . . . or even, uh, unless of course you wanted to.”
“Tell me whyyy/the doctor has no faaaaaace,” the cassette cries, unwinding again. No one in the room has the strength to turn it off, or try and answer the question.
If Mick was turned off by Balch’s advances, Southern’s role as pimp might not have just fallen on deaf ears. Keith exploded at him, “Can’t you see I’m sick? What the fuck do you want from me? Just fuck off and leave me alone.” Eventually the heat surrounding a film version of Naked Lunch cooled.
In 1971/1972, it looked like Burroughs and the Stones would collaborate in some fashion. It was not to be. Over the years, Burroughs remained an occasional influence. In 1983 on the Undercover album, Jagger acknowledged that Burroughs inspired the title track “Undercover of the Night,” considered by some the Stones’ last great single:
The sex police are out there on the streets
Make sure the pass laws are not broken
The race militia has got itchy fingers
All the way from New York back to Africa
Jagger: “I’m not saying I nicked it, but this song was heavily influenced by William Burroughs; Cities Of The Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression.”
Meanwhile, Burroughs ran hot and cold on Jagger and the Stones. Burroughs often stated openly that he hated rock music; nonetheless Jagger would continue to interest him. He said that he admired Jagger’s work and was impressed by the man. Burroughs on Jagger in 1979:
Mick gave off the impression of great energy and intelligence and a sort of special cool of knowing where his connections are going. I had admired his work, what I’d heard of it, and I also admired him because of the pressure he was under. There’s someone who is idolized and yet receives shockingly rude treatment. Six cabdrivers refused to have him in the cab when he and Marianne Faithfull arrived at the airport. There’s something about Mick that arouses great antagonism in a certain kind of person, the cabdriver-hardhat-redneck strata throughout the world, and to be able to stand up to that and be able to maintain his equilibrium and cool, as he certainly has, is quite something.
But Burroughs could not help but feeling the antagonism that he described as experienced by “rednecks.” In 1980, Victor Bockris coaxed Jagger to the Bunker for a meeting with Burroughs. The results were far from electric. By this point, Burroughs found Jagger narcissistic and obnoxious and experienced a Jagger in full-blown star mode, who had little interest in spending time chatting in the Bunker. The meeting, attended by Andy Warhol, lasted approximately fifteen minutes.
But perhaps Burroughs on the Stones in 1972 might have been different. For a brief moment in time, Burroughs and the Stones were drawn together by the gravitational pull of their personalities, creative interests, and personal myths. Surely, the result might have been a total eclipse providing no sparks of insight. But maybe, just maybe, there could have been fireworks that would have further illuminated their respective legends. Unfortunately it was not to be.
Or was it? In a last ditch effort to see if any fragment exists documenting Burroughs’ aborted magazine assignment, I passed by the menacing gaze of the lions guarding the entrance to the Library of Interzone. Perhaps in the Borgesian archive of Interzone, there remained some evidence of an event that never happened. And there after hours of digging I found, lying between Folio 121 on the Chicago Esquire piece and Folio 122 on the Rolling Stone interview with Robert Palmer, a single sheet of typewritten paper. Burroughs always understood the value of that space between. No date, no title. Just a single paragraph, which suggests a reality that just might stoke our wildest fantasies.
Before Burroughs declined the assignment, he wrote a short cut-up of his impressions of the Stones that covered not just the 1972 tour, but also his brief, but tantalizing, history with the band. It is all there: the death, drugs, and destruction that were the history of the Stones, and of Burroughs himself, with flickers of Altamont and the “murder” of Jones and Joan. It is just a taste, but, like heroin, it makes one wanting more, and wondering what might have been if Burroughs allowed himself to get swallowed up in the hull of the Lapping Tongue, to lurk backstage with the cocksuckers and cocaine cowboys, to stand in the wings of the stage alongside the roadies and groupies as the PA thundered “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!!!!!,” and to aurally mainline some “Brown Sugar” at the level of 7 Hertz.
Ouston — Oston — Ewyork — Kif with the junkie from Gothenburg — opium jones cops bennie at the bounty bar — dead flowers bloom in the bottom of the dropper — everything is permitted at altamont — just a shot away — no sign of sympathy — master musicians Grateful Dead hashish assassins — hunting the hunter — under my thumb with a sticky trigger finger — goat gods beyond their depth in swimming pools — hot rocks rocks off — out of their heads on hot shots — bye bye Johnny Yen — Nellcote lies in the heart — madame rachou mrs Murphy Spanish tony — and head west wanted by the French police — bribing judges with creative capital — cocksuckers orgasm in blue sparks — smell of jockstraps and top hats — antenna of jissom on pirate radio — 3000 tickets exploded in Montreal — riot noises feedback played back on abbey road — the subliminal kid tailor made solos — the pipes of pan — it will soon be here or not — butterfly wheels down Main Street — cruising for the man — waiting in line with mister jimmy — at bickford’s dunking pound cake — all my friends are purple ass baboons — hanged boy spurts spontaneous like Alice Cooper — roadies on the nod — groupies on the make — turd on the run — ladies and gentleman it’s a gas gas gas —