Don’t Hide the Madness

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg, edited by Steven Taylor

Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg, edited by Steven Taylor

There is no single, right way to tell the story of William Burroughs. Here was a guy who distrusted and refused to believe in the tyranny of the definitive article. Burroughs hated the Do-Rights. Those with THE answer. A single doorstop biography, such as Ted Morgan‘s or Barry Miles‘, no matter how detailed and inclusive fails to fully capture a man so complex and so protean. Something always falls into that space between. Those who proclaim to have the true story, the full Monty, can only be talking assholes. How can you possibly organize such a multidimensional, fantastical life? Given Burroughs’ travels far and wide across multiple temporal Interzones, as well as inner and outer space, geography has proven popular. These attempts hopscotch the globe like that cut-up byline from of the Nova trilogy. “Ew york Aris Ome Oston” and so on and so on throughout North and South America, Africa, and Europe. Surely, a valid and often fruitful approach, but I have always wanted to know more about all those Burroughsian locales outside of the context of Burroughs. But is there a truly a context outside of Burroughs? He is seemingly everywhere.

William Burroughs in front of La Palette, photograph by Brion GysinMiles expanded the lens on Burroughs by focusing on a single locale with the history of the Beat Hotel but I fantasize about something even more archival. I envision a 1950s steamer trunk, like that with which Burroughs travelled, filled with the artifacts of Fifties and Sixties Paris. A vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunk is an artifact of Paris in and of itself. Nothing is forbidden; everything is permitted. The trunk is hungry. Throw in menus from the cafes and restaurants Burroughs frequented. What were the food and drink served at La Palette? How much did everything cost, including the drugs Burroughs copped there? Fill the trunk with copies of the books that Burroughs read as Naked Lunch came off the press in the exact editions and printings as consumed by Burroughs. What populated the bestseller list in Paris that week? Ditto for newspapers and magazines. What was on the newsstand the day the cut-up was rediscovered? What little mags circulated? What papers lay underneath Gysin’s Stanley knife? What songs drifted through the streets of Paris as Burroughs walked back to his garret at 9 Rue Git-le-Coeur after an afternoon browsing at The English Bookshop on 42 Rue de Seine? What teams won the national soccer matches, the French Open, the local elections? What movies flickered on the screens of the movie houses? What plays and shows entertained the Parisian public? What concerts? What paintings hung in the white cubes of the galleries? What exhibitions filled the museums? Gather as much of the archival evidence as it is possible to find. Track down the ephemera: the posters, the handbills, the pamphlets, the catalogues, the advertisements. But dare not distill them. Dare not write them up. Throw them all in the trunk and let Burroughs fans experience them for themselves. Construct their own narratives. Cut them up in their own minds.  

Yet maybe this is all wrong; the truth may not be stranger than fiction, the facts over time can only be recreated as myth and the story of Burroughs is best made up as fantasy. Each Burroughs historian a novelist or, better yet, a poet. There are as many ways to tell a Burroughs story as there are Burroughses. I wrote up My Burroughs. One’s own Burroughs might be the only true one, if only to the maker. I also desire a history of Burroughs as told through his bibliography. I tried my hand at this as well and that story, too, was as much fiction as fact. To be honest, the entire RealityStudio trunk, as deep as it is, as vast and infinite as the Internet seems to be, is only a fragment of the Burroughs story. There is far, far too little on the Burroughs of the Seventies and beyond to say nothing of the Burroughs of the Thirties and Forties.  

William Burroughs in 1936 Harvard YearbookAnd there lies yet another approach to the Burroughs story. Chronicling Burroughs’ pivotal years. I have always wanted to know more about Burroughs in 1936, his final year at Harvard. There is a book I have been meaning to read on gay Harvard in 1920: Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage Purge of Campus Homosexuals. Was Harvard in the Thirties the same? What was it like for Burroughs living in this persecuted underworld? I would also like to reconstruct Burroughs’ complete curriculum at Harvard from freshman year onwards. All the classes, all the syllabi. Burroughs received a remarkable education, one which stuck with him his entire life. Burroughs memorized his reading at Harvard and it was this classic education that astounded and fascinated the New Vision Beats in New York City in the Forties. I need to get all the yearbooks. Who was there? The mere fact that James Laughlin, founder of New Directions, overlapped with Burroughs at Harvard, has sent my mind racing for years. I have yet to write the piece on Burroughs, James Laughlin, and New Directions that ping pongs and pogoes in my brain as I sit in the alley behind my house with a 12-pack of Natty Bohs. Someday. Someday.

Rightly so, geography is important for Burroughs, but let us not forget that Burroughs was also obsessed with time. Miles and Morgan link geography with time as a structuring device. This practice serves as the foundation for Burroughs biography. Texas 1947-1948. Mexico 1949-1952. Tangier 1954-1958. Paris 1958-1960. London 1966-1973. New York 1974-1981. Lawrence 1981-1997. It would be interesting to break with geography and focus on time down to the granular. Individual pecks of sand in the hourglass. What if we broke Burroughs’ life down to just ten pivotal years, or even more finely to ten pivotal dates, and blow these minutiae out to book-length with ten individual chapters. Think Greil Marcus’ History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs. The key years may look something like this:

  • 1959
  • 1951
  • 1944
  • 1981
  • 1965
  • 1973
  • 1953
  • 1985
  • 1962
  • 1992

The pivotal dates might read something like this:

  • September 6, 1951 – The shooting of Joan Vollmer
  • Late July 1959 – The publication date of Naked Lunch
  • July 7, 1966 – The Supreme Court Decision on Naked Lunch
  • 1944/1945/January 1946 – Meeting Herbert Huncke
  • August 1973 – The Sale of the Vaduz Archive
  • October 1959 – The Rediscovery of the cut-up
  • August 26-29,1968 – Democratic National Convention
  • August 20-24, 1962 – The Edinburgh Conference
  • November 7, 1981 – Burroughs’ appearance on Saturday Night Live
  • December 27, 1991 – The Release of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch

For sure, this is yet another example of My Burroughs. For example, listing the meeting of Herbert Huncke and not the meeting of Ginsberg, Kerouac, or Gysin might seem like the hottest of takes. Now, I love a hot take more than anybody but this is one that I firmly believe in. It is an event so monumental yet so ephemeral that it seemly occurred out of time. The dates shift from 1944 to 1946. A shady deal shrouded in mystery. To me the guy who introduced Burroughs to a lifetime of hard drug addiction is more important than the guys who arguably introduced Burroughs to the writing life. “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” a true Burroughs classic, was written well before Kerouac and Ginsberg ever came on the scene. In this story the routine as form is fully developed as is Burroughs’ style of humor. Junky could only be written after meeting Huncke and Huncke served as Burroughs’ Virgil in the Times Square underworld, a world that eventually led Burroughs from the hell of addiction to the paradise of Naked Lunch. I also think that Burroughs’ writing has more in common with Huncke than, say, Kerouac. This strikes me as particularly true in terms of Burroughs’ nostalgia for a romanticized Midwest and the hobo/criminal life of Jack Black, a life Huncke experienced firsthand.

Seemingly, books making arguments for the importance of pivotal years come out like clockwork. Usually after fifty years. Gysin may have had something when he noted writing looked back fifty years in the rearview mirror. From the list above, books have recently been written on 1959, 1965, and 1968. It would not be too difficult to frame a chapter around these histories and structure ithem around Burroughs’ biography. I have flirted with documenting Burroughs’ pivotal years. It could be argued that RealityStudio is an entire site built around Burroughs and the counterculture of 1964/1965. I have also written about Burroughs in 1981. These years could easily be expanded into individual chapters. As for the dates, James Gruerholz has already written the chapter on September 6, 1951, the day Burroughs shot and killed Joan Vollmer. The Supreme Court decision on Naked Lunch has been the subject of books and numerous essays already. Surely the telescoping of time does not preclude a larger canvas. I love histories that take on a seemingly narrow topic or timeframe and then expand them into the history of the entire universe.  

William Burroughs, David Cronenberg, and Peter Weller on the set of the Naked Lunch film1992, which is in my opinion was Burroughs’ last pivotal year, also happens to be my first truly Burroughsian year. Now I read Naked Lunch maybe a year or two earlier, but 1992 was the year I truly took the deep dive. And it was the Grove Press reissues of that year which made that possible. Now, the pastel yellow Naked Lunch was not my Naked Lunch. I read the earlier Grove mass market paperback published in 1990. This was not an ideal situation. Although the 1990 Grove was truer in size to the original Olympia edition, I appreciated the space of the larger format Grove reissue from 1992. I definitely experienced the cut-up trilogy in the rainbow Grove editions of 1992. Maybe even The Wild Boys as well. It is these novels which separate the Burroughs beginners from the Burroughs fanatics. You can go in two directions after Naked Lunch on the road to becoming a Burroughs devotee. The path well beaten is Naked Lunch and Junky on to the late trilogy and then maybe on through to Exterminator!, Port of Saints, Blade Runner, Queer. This is the path of narrative. The path less taken is through the cut-up trilogy to Minutes to Go, The Exterminator, Time, APO-33, the little magazines. But no matter which direction you take, for readers of my generation, Coupland’s Generation X, the 1992 reissues were often the starting point. These editions and their cover design served as a tie-in to the Cronenberg movie, which was for me, after the reissues, the other pivotal Burroughs event of 1991/1992. If these books served as a jumping off point for a generation they were also the beginning of the end. The reason I say this is because the 1992 editions were the last major reissue series before the Restoration Era that completely changed the landscape of Burroughs’ bibliography. Current readers of Burroughs may never read much of Burroughs’ output as it was published in Burroughs’ lifetime unless they become collectors. Is there another writer in 20th Century literature with such a publishing situation? Which leads to a poem:  

A Dissertation Written on the Occasion of Seeing Naked Lunch For Sale at Hudson Booksellers in Washington, DC’s Union Station

I Kidd
Because
I love
When I say
That
The only way 
To read 
Burroughs 
Is to 
Collect him
And
In a world 
That cannot 
Agree on
The 
Definitive
Article
We have
To restore
Our faith 
In 
Piracy

I happened to be living la vida Burroughs in 1992; a life of self-imposed exile, or, maybe more accurately, a life inspired by the travels in Kerouac’s On the Road. For more than half the year of 1992, I was living in London as a student abroad and it was Kerouac and the Beats who encouraged me to see the world. I aspired to go to Oxford for the year but I did not make the grade; my second choice was studying in Australia, but the schools there did not make the grade, so I somehow found myself at King’s College, London smack dab in the center of The Strand. I could not possibly have made a better choice if I planned it. As I have written before, Eric Mottram, the first scholar of Burroughs and the father of American Studies in the UK, taught at King’s, and established a curriculum centered on the American counterculture and literature that was probably better than my college back home. I know the library system was far superior. By attending King’s College, which had a fine library, I was able to gain access to the entire University of London system. I spent days in the stacks and travelled high and low to the London University satellites searching for books I needed for research projects on the characterization of women in James Bond and the novels of Chinua Achebe; “The Ballad of the Despairing Husband” by Robert Creeley; the use of Biblical writing structures in Ginsberg’s “Howl”; Nabokov’s powers of deflection and deception in the depiction of sexual deviance in Lolita; and, finally, an essay on Naked Lunch‘s anal imagery. It was also here that I discovered the writings of da levy, who was nowhere to be found in my college library, the poetry of Charles Olson, and a host of others.

In the late spring during break, my dorm room turned over to tourists; the dorm basically became a hostel, so I was forced to travel for a full month or pay for room and board for a bed that I had technically already paid for. Forced is the wrong word; because by reading the Beats, I could not wait to wander throughout Europe without a plan or itinerary. This was no following in their footsteps. I did not see the Beat Hotel when I was in Paris; when I got down to Madrid, I did not tag along with a group I met on the train, who were heading down to Tangier (my biggest mistake on the trip), so I guess I was not totally into the Beat biographies by this point, just their writing. Throughout my travels to Amsterdam, Madrid, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Milan, Grenoble, and Paris, I carried a backpack that held more books than clothes. I distinctly remember packing a single pair of blue jeans for the entire month and as for the books, there were several, half a backpack full, but the only one I can remember, is J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, which was a perfect choice for a young man studying abroad in the UK. Reading the adventures of Sebastian Dangerfield was heady stuff and I could not help but see myself in Sebastian and wish that I could turn a phrase and write with the poetic flair of Donleavy. It was an inspired choice for the trip and a book I found roaming the fiction stacks at the University of London, which I did for literally hours at a time.  

During my time abroad in 1992, the letters of William Burroughs had yet to appear. Even the legendary letters of Jack Kerouac remained unpublished except in fanzines, like the Knights’ Beat Journey or Beat Road. Inspired by a legendary example that I had yet to fully experience, I sat in places like The Bulldog in Amsterdam or U Flecku in Prague (Flecku 13 remains one of the finest beers I have ever tasted. As with LSD, a good sip is all about set and setting. I was a beer snob then, a member of the first craft beer revolution, yet like many revolutionaries I became conservative in my old age. Give me the beers of our forefathers. Pabst, Schlitz, Ballantines. In 1992, Flecku 13 was considered extremely expensive at a dollar for a huge mug. In comparison, at a workingman’s spot, a sizable Pilsner Urquell and a sausage cost about twenty cents.) and fired off long letters to my girlfriend back in the States filled with what I saw as great adventures worthy of the Beats. Nowadays I guess a series of texts or social media posts would suffice, but if 1992 was the beginning of the end for readers to experience the unrestored Burroughs, it may also have been the last great era of letter writing. It was no big deal to sit in a café or bar for hours and bang out a five- or six-page handwritten letter and then trek to the post office for stamps in order to send off a packed envelope filled with not just the letter but beer coasters, a sheet of Eastern European toilet paper on which bathroom graffiti was transcribed, or other ephemeral items. Maybe that is why I am so obsessed with publications like Semina and Floating Bear and the relationship of the postal system to art and literature.  

Not all my time in London was spent in the library; there were of course the pubs, which I haunted like Sebastian Dangerfield during much of my free time. I especially sought out literary and historic pubs in order to drink in whatever atmosphere remained. The Cheshire Cheese, which was just down The Strand from King’s, was closed for renovation, so instead I spent a lot of time at The Blackfriars near the Blackfriars tube stop. I commuted from south of London into Blackfriars each morning and afternoon so it was convenient and an Art Nouveau beauty of a pub to boot. I was just beginning my studies into the counterculture so I had yet to read as deeply as I did recently when I finally cracked open Barry Miles’ London Calling on the post-WWI counterculture. I had only an inkling that I was right in the middle of a counterculture flowering with raves happening all over London and the UK. While I was chasing the ghosts of literature past in pubs and libraries, mini-raves sprouted like mushrooms all over the dorm behind closed doors in rooms transformed into E-dens for all-night dancing and partying.  

William Burroughs, Seven Deadly SinsMy idea of a party was attending the gallery opening at The October Gallery on April 28, 1992, for Burroughs’ Seven Deadly Sins series of paintings. This show is all a blur. I am pretty certain I was at the opening but how I got there is a mystery. Quite possibly, Clive Bush, a professor at King’s, may have been responsible, as I wrote the paper on Naked Lunch for him. He could have gotten me a ticket. It is both funny and frightening (did it happen if it is not on YouTube?) that I have to go on YouTube in order to know that Marianne Faithfull was there (and other London scenesters) although at the time I would have had no idea at all who she was. I was a complete fish out of water. A total bumpkin. “Who the fuck are these people and what do they do?” was my primary response at the time. I dimly remember the showing of Burroughs reading “The Thanksgiving Day Prayer” and a spotty audio (or was it video) hookup of Burroughs back in Lawrence where he addressed the attendees. What I distinctly remember was that The Seven Deadly Sins books in various editions were ungodly expensive. At the time I may not have even started book collecting, but if I had, my holdings would have been scant. Around this time I bought a Grove Ticket That Exploded without a dustjacket. The bookseller convinced me that I could marry the jacket later. Yeah, right!! A complete rip-off but a lesson learned. I also owned a paperback first of Corso’s The Happy Birthday of Death published by New Directions, found at a book sale in the Berkshire Mall in Reading, Pennsylvania. So as a mere beginner The Seven Deadly Sins books completely intimidated me and it did not occur to me to pick up every last scrap of paper in the entire fucking gallery as a future collectible. As Burroughs would say, I was a rube, but 1992 was the start of my collecting life and The October Gallery show really opened my eyes to a whole new world.

With all the pub-going, I had little money for expensive Burroughs books; in fact, I scalped my ticket for 100 pounds to see a show by The Cure, which was described as a warm-up show before they went on the road in support of the Wish album. The show was on May 3, 1992, at The Kilburn National Ballroom. Another big regret, not attending that show. The buffet pizza that I ate for the next few weeks was nothing like the feast for the ears that is The Cure playing “Pictures of You” at the height of their powers. Again YouTube to the rescue. Right here, right now, listening on YouTube I find the show completely enthralling and a pure joy. Yet at the time in 1992, The Cure and, in fact, music in general, were just not of interest. That would come later after a term of study in a rare bookstore as I turned thirty and only then would I appreciate The Cure, New Order, Joy Division, and The Happy Mondays just to mention the Manchester bands that played constantly in rooms though out the dorm at King’s.  

That art gallery opening was the closest I ever got to a Burroughs reading. Attending readings and signings was just not my thing; it is still something I am not fully comfortable with. For someone so immersed and interested in literary events of the past, like the Six Gallery reading, the Black Mountain happenings, or the Berkeley or Vancouver Conferences, I literally have to drag myself to attend such events in the here and now. Hate may be a strong word but I know I feel very uncomfortable at a reading or conference. At one point I was on video stating as much, in less than polite language. That said, 1992 was probably the year where all that could have changed. I am very much of the kill your idols mind set. I want to keep my distance from those I admire. It is enough for me to read their work, studying their biography, and pour over their letters and journals. I have no illusions that my literary idols were saints or even nice people; I often wonder whether I would enjoy their company at all. But if a friend of mine said to me in 1992: “Let’s head out to Lawrence and see Bill!!!!” I would have hopped in the car in a second. 1992 was a year of beginnings and exploration and I was open for anything. It was not to be. The connections with other Burroughsians had yet to be made. I read and thought about Burroughs in solitude. What if I had reached out to Burroughs? What would it like to be in conversation with Burroughs in 1992, a year of beginnings for me and endings for Burroughs?  

Don't Hide the MadnessWell, now, I have at least something of an idea; in what, I guess, is the fitting way for a wallflower like me, by reading a book. In case you did not know this is a book review of the Three Rooms Press edition of Don’t Hide the Madness: William S. Burroughs in Conversation with Allen Ginsberg with a cover illustration by R. Crumb. The book is due out in October of 2018. In this over 300-page volume, with pictures taken by Ginsberg, Steven Taylor, longtime assistant to Ginsberg, transcribed eleven tapes of conversations between Burroughs and Ginsberg between March 18 and March 22, 1992. I want to stress these are conversations not interviews, which is the joy of the book. Ginsberg, Burroughs, and others in their company fly from one topic to another. Tapes stop in the middle of conversations and prove to be inaudible in other instances. This is raw footage so to speak. This is the closest I could come to experiencing a sit-down with Burroughs in 1992, besides actually being there.

As I began to read, I wondered to myself: Am I going to enjoy this? Well, it was a shaky start because the Burroughs that I dislike, the Burroughs that is definitely not My Burroughs, is all over this book. The book opens with a conversation about Burroughs’ experience with a shaman hours before the tape starts rolling. This ritual, which also opens Miles’ biography of Burroughs, was conducted to exorcise Burroughs of The Ugly Spirit. Shamans, exorcisms, demons, Ugly Spirits, cats, guns. It is all here; the Burroughs of conspiracy theories and newspaper tabloids is on full display. Yet I must admit that the participation in a shaman ritual by Burroughs is precisely why 1992 is such a pivotal year, a year that also saw Burroughs suffer heart problems and have a car accident. Burroughs is facing death and coming to terms with his past. The release of the Naked Lunch movie signals another ending for Burroughs. The book was supposedly unfilmable, completely immune from being co-opted by the mass media. Yet the impossible had happened. Burroughs and his work were now packaged for mass consumption. 1992 was the Burroughs of sound bites, factoids, and People articles. Burroughs was schlepped by the Time-Life empire he fought against all his life. The Burroughs’ address at The October Gallery was basically a sound bite to sell books. The Grove reissues: yet another ad campaign. Bright colors, fun typography. An effort to make Naked Lunch and the cut-up novels inviting and accessible. It was bound to happen; it had been happening for decades, but the outsider was now truly a man inside. El hombre invisible was fully in the public eye and broadcast by the mass media.

Don’t Hide the Madness is full of Burroughs’ and Ginsberg’s assessment of the movie. Burroughs understood that this was Cronenberg’s project and not an accurate representation of the book or even of Burroughs himself. It was the product of one genius being inspired by another. It was yet another form of collaboration. Burroughs allowed his collaborators room to operate, to express their creative side, to have their say. The same cannot be said for Ginsberg. Ginsberg is in full Ginsberg mode throughout this book. Monopolizing conversation and directing it to what he wants to talk about, obsessing about sex and his diet, and coming across as a needy, whiny wimp. Some of the funniest sections of the book are when Ginsberg complains about the treatment of him as a wimp in the movie versions of Naked Lunch and Heartbeat. Ginsberg knows it is accurate; he just does not like it being public knowledge. For all of Ginsberg being Ginsberg, these conversations would be totally different if conducted by anybody else. I doubt Burroughs would be so comfortable and so candid. The scenes of Burroughs and Ginsberg shooting guns are priceless. I despise Burroughs’ gun fetish, but here, visualizing Ginsberg shooting a .45 at a target of the Buddha with Burroughs acting as shooting coach, is just too funny to hate on. It was scenes like this that won me over and made me think that hanging with Burroughs for an afternoon might be fun after all.

For readers, like Michael Stevens of The Road to Interzone, there is a ton of information about Burroughs’ reading and what he thought about other writers. Burroughs read deeply and throughout these conversations Burroughs quotes texts from memory, a trick honed at Harvard, and you can see his breadth of knowledge, which astounded the young Beats with conversation of Spengler, Rimbaud, Gide, and Yeats. Burroughs’ ability to not just quote Shakespeare but to quote him off the cuff in a manner pertinent to an ongoing conversation was what impressed the young Ginsberg (an episode recounted in Don’t Hide the Madness). The section on Greenwich Village writers of the 1920s is great and gossipy. Burroughs lecturing on lesbian poets (he can spot them a mile away), recounting his aborted visit with Witter Bynner (he was drunk and would not answer the door), and discussing truly obscure poets, like Adelaide Crapsey and Sara Teasdale, are classic stuff and thoroughly enjoyable. Burroughs on Teasdale is gossipy, bitchy fun. Burroughs quotes Teasdale, a fellow writer from St. Louis, who was forced upon Burroughs at an early age, from memory as definitive evidence of Teasdale’s lesbianism. I would have loved to have experienced Burroughs in this mode. Ginsberg and Burroughs speaking on the Salman Rushdie affair demonstrates just how powerfully the Fatwa on Rushdie hit the literary community at the time. There is one brief section where Burroughs and Ginsberg reminisce about meeting Edith Sitwell in 1959, just after the Life magazine hack job, and then shift to a quick tangent about red raspberries and then just as quickly Burroughs is off gushing about cats and love. This is just one example of the tapes doing a wonderful job of capturing the twists and turns of conversation as opposed to an interview.

Reading the book, I laughed at Udo Breger’s attempts to question Burroughs. His questions were always interesting and always cock-blocked by Ginsberg, who invariably jabbered on about his salt intake. Poor Udo. He did get a word in edgewise at one point with a brief account of his first encounters with the Beats in print in 1962. I had the pleasure of meeting Udo in Paris in 2009 at the Naked Lunch Conference. I distinctly remember sitting across from him at a Mexican restaurant (!!) in Paris along with Carl Weissner, Jan Herman, Oliver Harris, Miles and others. The conversation was far-ranging and riveting. Udo took my single favorite picture of my wife at that restaurant. That same trip Miles gave my wife and me a guided tour through the streets of Paris pointing out the location of the club at which Jim Morrison really died before he was carried to his bathtub for discovery by the authorities. I have already recounted in a podcast a late afternoon dinner with Carl Weissner at Allard. The food and the conversation were delicious. This was 2009 not 1992. Participation in RealityStudio made participation in those conversations possible. RealityStudio built up my confidence and established relationships. In 1992 I was still finding my voice, getting my bearings in the world of the Beats. I may not have had much to say but I was ready and willing to listen.

William Burroughs, 1965As I finished the book, I felt regret for never making the trek to Lawrence in 1992. I was ready for the experience in what was a pivotal year for me. It could have been life changing. But reading Don’t Hide the Madness now, I feel that this Burroughs, Burroughs v.1992, is not the Burroughs for Jed v.2018. And I wonder which version of Burroughs I most want to have a conversation with. The Burroughs of 1944, who so marveled the New Vision Beats. Burroughs in 1951 hanging out at The Bounty Bar in Mexico City. Burroughs in 1953 in a tent in the Amazon. Burroughs in 1957 in the Grand Socco sipping mint tea in Tangier. Burroughs in 1959 at the bar at the Beat Hotel. And it goes on and on. The possibilities are endless just as our time here is finite. Personally, I would have loved to talk to Burroughs at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City in 1965. The Knickerbocker interview in the Paris Review of that year gives a glimpse into what that Burroughs was into at the time and that is My Burroughs. Burroughs of The Third Mind, the Mimeo Revolution, the assault on the Time-Life empire. Burroughs the experimentalist and book artist.  

For those of us who missed our chance and for those who were born out of time, books like Don’t Hide the Madness prove invaluable. They capture a moment, in this case a pivotal moment for Burroughs, and, maybe as in my case, a pivotal moment for the reader as well. Along with Burroughs Live, Don’t Hide the Madness is essential reading. It captures an intimate, casual Burroughs missing from Burroughs Live and, for this reader, represents a missed opportunity much regretted. Thanks to Three Rooms Press for the chance to experience it, even if only second hand.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 15 July 2018.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Hide the Madness

  1. Dear Jed — I dont hafta tell you how good the piece is. I do have a slight very slight bone to pick re Ginsberg. Though I understand your sense of him (as others and even I have sensed him at times), I can tell you that when he focussed on you one-on-one, he could be VERY impressive. His authority was real. It was wide and deep.

  2. Amen, Mr. Herman…..My Life was very similar Mr. Birmingham…there is a point in your dialogue It sounds almost like my own memory and history…including when I joined the military and went to Europe every moment I got the chance. Allen Ginsberg was in Mississippi Fondern area in the early 90s and I took advantage of him while he was in my home (close minded state) … I had cherished conversations over tooooo much wine there are cherished conversation over dinner…when you have met one of these ‘Beats’ amigo…..life is never the same….I majored in political science and ‘Administration of Justice’ ….a term in ambiguity and I tell you. learned more from them and the main sense of intelligence etc…But Sir…You bring and brought back so many memories…from my collecting the published works first editions to periodicals and audio collections I envy you Like you have to envy anyone that finds Burroughs for the first time and moves on from Junky through Exterminator through Naked Lunch and still can hang..I am not gay but I am a rare breed that adores Burroughs and All the Beats leyt alone the East Coast Beats so called, in every way..including when I met Robery Bly for the first time hell even William Carlos Williams..OMG brother…to this day read the 100 greatest books ever but all of Burroughs ..edgar that is including all of the known publishing’s of William,,,ginsberg, Corso, Huncke, lewell, Ginsberg, Cassidy, prima, etc……reading list of Ginsberg and Burroughs almost had it complete anyway by the time i reached the 8th grade without ever knowing the Beats…seriously…giffted chiled and feel I really understood the children or grandchildren of whitman….collected so much..learned so much other than school…jeeze
    hang tough

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