Like Mother, Like Son

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William Burroughs, Laura Lee Burroughs, and Coke

By Graham Rae

Writing talent can run in families. There are many documented cases of male scribes with writer mothers: Oscar Wilde’s, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde, put pen to paper. More recently pseudonymous horror author Joe Hill was revealed to actually be Joe King, whose mother Tabitha is a writer. His brother Owen also lays down words and their dad just happens to be Stephen, but that statistically improbable inkspiller quartet is slightly tangential to what’s under discussion here. The creative baton can be handed down from one or both parents, or some other earlier generation, but there was certainly no parthenogenesis involved in the genetic penpusher inheritance of William Seward Burroughs.

Flower Arranging, Vol. 2At the start of the 1940s, Coca-Cola decided that it wanted to spearhead a campaign to get their drink into the home market. They decided the Trojan horse that would sneak their product into the home and heart and hearth of the average American was gardening and flower arranging, which were huge popular cultural pastimes back then. The soda’s bottlers were told, in part, this about the horticultural blitzkrieg:

Reduced to its essentials, this idea can be summed up as follows: Women are deeply interested in things that brighten the home. Flowers add to the charm of a home. Therefore, by showing women how to utilize the beauty of lovely flower arrangements in their homes, we can at the same time interest them in arrangements for refreshment with Coca-Cola.

Obviously this was in the time before women’s lib.


In 1940 the famous soda company produced the full-color soft-cover 56-page book Flower Arranging — A Fascinating Hobby with text and flower arrangements by none other than Laura Lee Burroughs (1888 — 1970), William’s mother, who by that time had become a top authority in the floral decorative field. The drink had stopped using the cocaine from where it drew part of its name in its formula in 1904, so soda popagandist Laura Lee wasn’t being a shill for drug dealers, something which her infamous son would no doubt have wryly highly approved of. 

Now. When I say that Coca-Cola was trying to push their product onto the average American, I should clarify that somewhat. They launched an ad campaign that ran alongside their ads in general magazines that used new, as-yet-unexplored soda-soapbox venues like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and on groups like the PTA and garden clubs, so the emphasis was most definitely on the average middle class American. 

By associating the 5c-a-bottle drink with a genteel pastime, Coca-Cola was obviously trying to present its product as a status symbol to the new flower-border-ordering hordes it was hoping to woo. And there’s no doubt that the well-bred Laura Lee Burroughs was a representative of this coveted wannabe-converted societal demographic. The flower-fad ads, which used a Burroughs arrangement as their visual copy, as well as some bottles of Coke of course, told the breathless reader that they could send off for a copy of the Flower Arranging book for an SAE and 10c to Georgia. They even had Coke bottlers distributing it (who were in turn sold on the book by a film extolling its virtues, and advising them to sell it to florists in their area — wonder if Laura Lee was in the flickershow) amongst the eager thirsty masses, and the company also distributed it at flower shows.

Mrs Singin' SamRadio airtime was booked for the ads. Coca-Cola bottlers sponsored a program called “Refreshment Time With Singin’ Sam.” Mrs. Burroughs and “Mrs. Singin’ Sam” (the mind boggles) discussed the book as commercials on the air in-between tunes spun by good old Sam, a popular minstrel-cum-vaudevillian radio personality in that medium’s early days. You have to wonder what Laura Lee sounded like. If it was anything like the flat otherwordly unemotional nasal burr of her son, you can only imagine the amount of poor listeners screaming as they reached for the off button on their knob-twiddler set, frightened and disturbed beyond all reason or hope of buying the fizzy liquid the primping woman was pimping. “Laura Lee was a beauty,” notes Burroughs bio Literary Outlaw by Ted Morgan, “with thick chestnut hair, a perfect oval face, the high Lee forehead, a lovely mouth, lovely skin, and a willowy hourglass figure.” But these qualities obviously wouldn’t be readily apparent to the average radio listener.

However, all this mad-fadvertising paid off in black liquid gold-sales-spades. As Flower Arranging — A Fascinating Hobby Volume 2 puts it in the introduction by Richardson Wright, who was the Editor-in-Chief of House & Garden magazine, and Chairman of the International Flower Show Committee (guess he was a big floral cheese back in the days of beverage-yore): 

The Coca-Cola Company last year published a book, relating their product, as one of the pleasant things in the home, to the fascinating art of flower arranging. Illustrated with full color reproductions from the skillful hands and brilliant imagination of Laura Lee Burroughs, here, for the first time, was a book on this absorbing subject, costing but ten cents, that everyone could afford to own. A million and a half copies have been distributed.

So. In 1940 Laura Lee Burroughs got into print 13 years before her son would, in 1953 with Junky, and sold far more copies than probably any volume by Wee Willie Junky ever has. And magazine readers from nearly 50 countries worldwide sent for Flower Arranging, including South Africa, India, and Peru. That’s a pretty good distribution spread, if they all got their books (and if it’s true). The second volume received an equally sales-rapturous reception, despite having the good luck to be full of Japanese-influenced flower arrangements in the same year that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. A San Francisco hardware store chain, Charles Brown & Son, decided they’d get in on the action and sell gardening and flower arranging paraphernalia by teaming up with local SF bottlers. Laura Lee “just happened to be in San Francisco at the time” and put in a series of appearances at Sheridan Bell, which were stores run by Charles Brown. 

You can only imagine what the cloistered sniffy autograph-signing Mrs. Burroughs would have made of the great unwashed (and vice versa) on her mini promotional book tour. Despite all this culture shock schlock, however, Volume 2 went down better than the Hindenburg. At a flower show in Shanghai she was even awarded a “Certificate of Merit” for her contributions to the pastime. Famously, JG Ballard was in Shanghai at that time. You wonder if his middle class mother was involved in that flower decoration decorative decision, and if the mothers of these two famous writers somehow met at the show and had a gin and tonic together. 

But you don’t wonder about this too hard. 


Good Housekeeping adEntitled Homes And Flowers: Refreshing Arrangements, Volume 3 in the so-far-so-good-sales series wasn’t anywhere near as successful as its predecessors, however. World War II had rendered pastimes like flower arranging somewhat frivolous and time-wasting — there were, after all, more important things to do than mess around with blooms on a table to make it look good when people were dying all over the world. Wartime austerity also had an impact on the materials themselves used in the final volume, and it used much cheaper floral materials like weeds and vegetables and ice cubes to paint its penny-pincher esthetic table and mantel tableaus. But interest in the subject matter of the books in general was waning and no further volume was ever produced after 1942.

Over six decades later, the Flower Arranging volumes themselves still stand the test of time. I showed them to my wife Ellen and our gay neighbor Mark, the two main demographics for horticultural activities one would assume, and they both thought they were beautiful and inspirational and stylish, saying they’d like to try out displays from the timeworn pages. They have value as sociological and historical and mass-media-anthropological time capsules — and of course as literary lineage documents, coming, as they do, from the mother of one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. 

I bought all three of these books cheaply and easily from various net sources, somewhat interested to see what they had to see about their author, her esthetic worldview and her writing talent, because of course these elements would shed a bit of light, no matter how small, on her son’s work and where he might have gotten his artistic proclivities from. And before we go any further, no, there are no yage, soul vine of the Amazon arrangements, or tabletop marijuana creations, okay? The latter plant had long been criminalized in America by 1940, and you get the sense that the prim and proper and puritan Mrs. Burroughs would have been aghast at the mere thought of doing anything against the law, though obviously you couldn’t say the same thing about her infamous son. Poppies are actually used in one volume, but only as an eye-pleasing display and not as a fundamental opium or morphine ingredient.

In Literary Outlaw Laura Lee is described as crippled by her Bible Belt upbringing, hateful of bodily functions, insensitive, cold, unaffectionate, vain, smart, and with a good sense of humor (glad she had at least a couple of good qualities to balance the others out slightly!). It is, of course, arguable how much of her personality and personal pathologies she passed onto her beloved Billy (it is said she worshiped the ground he walked on / lay on in a heroin stupor), as well as her artistic abilities, but looking at the Flower Arranging volumes you get a sense of extreme order and cleanliness and, well, sterility. Anal retentive is the phrase that comes to mind, and she was clearly a person who did not like disorder or dirt, qualities she most definitely didn’t pass down to William; they may well have been a large part of the reason why he rebelled (with contributions from his stiff-upper-lip, eldest-son-Mort-favoring middle class businessman father Mortimer, that is) and went in the other direction to such an extreme. She was definitely a person of class and breeding, and that comes through clean and clear.

What also comes through loud and proud is that Laura Lee was a very intelligent, educated woman, had a fine eye for flower arranging, and was a very good and precise writer. Her father James Wideman Lee wrote a book entitled The Geography of Genius and her brother, “Poison” Ivy Lee (don’t recall any poison ivy tribute bouquets in any of the books), spilled ink as a newspaper reporter, so writing quite clearly ran in the Burroughs family. And William’s own son Billy would write a couple of books further down the linewriter family line. Indeed, it’s very ironic that Laura Lee was shilling for Coca-Cola, because this sort of would-be mind-control mass media popcult-propaganda was the exact thing that William would rebel against (ostensibly in relation to the vile ‘word lines’ laid down by Ivy Lee) and create an entire anti-linear-line lineage in his own work. You wonder if maybe too much has been made of Burroughs’s hatred of his uncle Ivy’s creeping word-poison and not enough of his rebellion against his suffocating ever-over-loving mother and her own soda whoring, but we’ll never know for sure. 

Wordplaygirl techniques on display in the series include fairly frequent alliteration (“There is Cotton in the cabin and contentment, too, we might add.”), a wide vocabulary (“curvilinear”), puns (one photoshoot involving a duck decoration — duckoration? — is entitled “Gone With The Duck,” an obvious then-contemporary play on Gone With The Wind), and recontextualizing phrases from other works (“Consider The Lilies!” from the Biblical phrase) — “Steal anything in sight,” as her son put it. The famous mordant Burroughs sense of humor gets a look-in once in Volume 3 as well, no doubt when the author felt confident enough in her subject matter and guaranteed audience to be able to perform for them a bit. In a display entitled “Low Price Glamour” (note the “cultured” British spelling of the last word) involving delicate metal-legged chairs, Laura Lee writes: “We point with pride to the soda fountain chairs gilded and upholstered, looking adorable and comfortable with all but two hundred pounders. Best weigh in your guests as the airplane companies do.” Perhaps a clue as to where William got his dry sense of humor from as well.

The all-full-color arrangements in the volumes are full of plants and accompanying knick-knacks from all over the world including countries like Mexico (land of “flowers, color, and life in a pleasant tempo” — wonder if she still felt that way after her son shot his wife there), Argentina, China, America, England, Canada, Czechoslovakia, and more; a real cosmopolitan floral smorgasbord. Japanese flowers feature quite heavily in the works. The author had been taught their placing by an Oriental teacher, and she wryly reproduces one of her mentor’s didactic admonitions in the only piece of dialogue in the three volumes: “As the tiny Japanese teacher said, ‘Don’t make them look like me — too skin-nee.'” Written before or after Pearl Harbor? Who knows. Maybe this phonetic almost-insult helped that bombing along. You’d like to hope so anyway.

The introduction to the first volume talks of it being for people whose homes range from eighteenth century to just plain comfortable to young and modern; an all-prices real estate spread, in other words. Although hand-built, the Burroughs home at 700 South Price Road, St. Louis, where the plant-tome author would have been living at the time of publication, would no doubt have been far closer to the first price group mentioned than the others. Although the books were ostensibly a product-push towards all societal strata, Laura Lee’s own background is frequently betrayed in sentences like including stuff like “On the lawn near a badminton court” or “A game of bridge is in progress” or “You finish tennis and dash for a place to relax.”

Laura Lee Burroughs with CokeInterestingly, there are a few pictures taken inside the writer’s own home in the third book. One shows her sitting stiffly and unsmilingly holding a soda bottle (“Have a Coke and no smile?”) in an extremely tidy, light-pink-looking room (which may be white, with the supposed color just a trick of the light and/or the age of the books) with green décor. The same room is shown without her in it in another photo. “This is the arranger’s home, so she can speak of it objectively,” Laura Lee notes with lack of objectivity. “It boasts no priceless furniture nor art treasures. Everything about the room is a background for flowers. Consequently, all flowers look well here — warm reds in the winter, pink, yellow, any color. When there are no flowers, bunches of dark green leaves — Magnolias preferably — are used.” Then on into the BS unit-shifter pitch: “Bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola are at home in this room. They should be. They are always here, in a bowl of ice, or on a tray without ice.” You wonder how easy it would be to relax in a cold-looking room whose décor was designed solely for plant display, but I suppose that’s a moot point. 

What’s interesting to note, though, is that in the only photo in all three volumes with her in it, the single limelight-stealing piece of decoration apart from flowers is a book and a sheaf of papers placed strategically on the table in front of her. The tome’s title is tantalizingly unreadable, but its mere inclusion is an indicator of what Laura Lee thought to be important to communicate about herself and her interests and, in all probability, her aspirations. Maybe it was the esthetic choice of a frustrated writer who wanted to convey the impression the book was her own composition. As ever, we’ll never know, but it’s funny to note that the book in question is green to match the background décor and plants. Clearly she was ever the color-coordinating esthete!

There are a few shots sprinkled throughout the books where plants are photographed against leather-bound books in what appears to be a personal library / study. Their titles also remain out of focus and forever maddeningly illegible — they might have provided us with some interesting insight into the reading materials lying around the house when William was growing up. But as at least one book mentions being shot in a studio, there’s no guarantee that the photos were taken in the Burroughs home, so their inclusion is probably merely decorative. However, if their titles were legible, they might have provided us at least with a glimpse of which literary artists and works Laura Lee thought important and prestigious enough to complement her beloved blooms.

Woodshed WorkshopTowards the back of Volume 3 (every volume ends with a few boring pages of displays involving Coke), there is a section entitled “Woodshed Into Workshop” which provides a tiny glimpse into Laura Lee’s life, complete with another revealing room photograph.

For years, my flower decorations in the making were a source of annoyance to my family. My efforts in the kitchen always seemed to time with the advent of a pie. I had no pantry, no flower room. Finally, a woodshed was enlarged for me with cheap lumber, old brick and home labor — the roof line following the contour of a tree above it. The sink is a large tub, complete with drainage. The water faucet is high enough to allow ample room for vases. Heat is provided by an old-fashioned stove, painted up to give it flair. (This was found in a country store.) There are shelves everywhere, providing storage space for tools and vases.

The woman took her blooms very seriously indeed. And the first sentence here is the only time in all three volumes her family gets mentioned, unless of course you count talking about (cough) Sweet William flowers.

Mentioning the old-fashioned stove brings into focus another very prevalent aspect of the books: making something out of nothing, both finance-and-material-wise. Mortimer and Laura Lee, of course, owned Cobblestone Gardens, their gift and antique shop. The three Flower Arranging tomes are chock full of antiques and random found items — scales, pitchers, “old shutters purchased from a wrecking company for twenty-five cents each, complete with dirt and cobwebs” — and so on and so forth — shined up and used in some esthetically pleasing new flower-holding-or-highlighting context. 

Clearly the author’s antique-polishing-and-selling background came in extremely useful in writing the books and creating the displays, as did her evidently good eye for a bargain. Indeed, you have to imagine that at least some of the antiques in the pictures came from the shop. “A visit to a wrecking company might be treated as a treasure hunt for those with more imagination than money,” she writes in Volume 3. “You may find nothing you can use, but it is worth a trial if you need a short length of wrought iron, a marble mantel, a door to use for a panel, or if you are just looking for vagabond objects d’art. Don’t be surprised if you meet some of your most affluent friends on one of these expeditions.” Always assuming you have affluent friends, that is. This sort of cheapskate esthetic might suggest that there was more to William’s complaints about lack of family money than he is given (lack of) credit for; “fur coat, no knickers,” as the British phrase succinctly puts it. Then again, it may just be a case of the wealthy stylishly slumming it, and they never accrue money by actually spending it, do they?

On page one of the first Flower Arranging volume there is an odd, interesting, vaguely dramatic creative verbal illustration (mentioning crystal, a “clear” LLB favorite material, as it gets mentioned numerous times throughout the books): “One night when the temperature was high and funds were low, a clever young architect decorated his table with ice cubes and a few green leaves. Piled in a crystal bowl around a Crystal Polar Bear, which he had, the arrangement was not only beautiful but, in the vernacular of Hollywood, it was sensational. Incidentally, it cost nothing.”

Now. Consider this passage. We are never told the architect’s name, whether Burroughs ever actually knew him, or whether he ever even actually existed. This frugal-flower-sculpting vignette almost reads like some fetherlite artistic moral homily, and/or a fantasy of the sort of man Laura Lee would have liked to meet. You know, the kind of man who can pull a stunning floral arrangement out of thin air and ice cubes, but who still brings home the bacon in the form of his architectural earnings. If it’s fiction, an illustrative artistic moneysaver sketch, then it’s the first time that fiction from the Burroughs family (discounting the “creative license” probably taken with facts by Ivy Lee in his proto-spin-doctor press releases for various wealthy scumbags) appeared in mass-market print in the United States.

The arty architect is definitely the sort of person and class that William would satirize so viciously and mercilessly in Naked Lunch and many other works; all you have to do is add a sick twist and some mad humor to that paragraph to get something her son could have written. Cold, two-dimensional, somewhat poetic, evocative… what more do you want or need? And, of course, William would have been well aware of his mother’s publication, and perhaps been excited by the attention and adulation she received because of it. Might this have spurred him on to want to be a published writer himself, to make her proud of him, or to try get him affection from her because he loved and identified with her? He did, after all, use the name “Lee” as a pseudonym in his first publications. 

“Someday I wish you would write a book that we can read and dedicate it to Billy — he would like that,” Laura Lee once admonished her son, but not much seems to have come of this wishful thinking from her. This does show, however, that his parents either did not read, or did read and were disgusted, and perhaps confused by, William’s books. So if he was writing them for motherly approval he certainly fell far wide of the mark. Maybe he wanted to compete with her, or even to rebel against her; she would certainly have regarded using the name “Lee” for a book called Junky as a slap in the face anyway. Once again, we may never know if these factors were a part of his artistic motivations, conscious or otherwise; it’s just a talking point, that’s all.

“Flower arranging will give you an outlet for that artistic urge you long to use,” Laura Lee writes on page three of Volume 2. You suspect that this was exactly the case for her, an intelligent, educated, creative woman stuck in a time when expectations for women were much more presubscribed by rote societal role and form and ritual and design. Tiny flights of artistic fancy (anybody out there know if she was ever published anywhere else before or after these books?), or humor, or pragmatism, pervade the Flower Arranging volumes, betraying the fact that she was clearly a woman of depth and substance trapped in antediluvian gender roles. 

Plus she was a bit mental too. 

Reading these pop-historical works gives us an interesting, illuminating glimpse into a time over six decades ago when the world was a more innocent time. Before rock and roll. Before the net. Before Japanese amputee sex dolls. Before a random Scotsman decided to sit down and write about this stuff just for personal-interest kicks. Was it worth the effort? Maybe, maybe not; only you the reader can ultimately tell. I just decided to salvage a few things out of the dustbin of history, shine them up, and present them to you as “vagabond objects d’art.” Something of which the female subject of this article would no doubt have appreciated, lack of ice cubes and crystal Polar Bears aside. So let’s raise a (vodka and) Coke in toast to Laura Lee Burroughs.


And in tribute to the woman and her famous son, here’s a bonus sort-of cut-up made with cut-and-pasted chapter titles from all three volumes into a vaguely linear impressionistic ramblerant…

It’s blossom time out where the dried arrangement fun begins… a narcissi “Coke” party… Chinese flavor, refreshment in the home be it ever so humble back yard exotics… under a spreading flower tree the garden provides ladies’ day, a retreat from the heat, femininity personified phantom leaves grandmother’s urn, accent on pink, curved is the line of beauty… flowers make waterlilies and white swan refreshing accents… four seasons seed pod mauve period children’s table rhythm… the decorative weigh when you relax when you entertain by the bride’s table light of the moon… practical suggestions for beginners… you can do surprising things with the deep south…

Written by Graham Rae and published by RealityStudio on 10 November 2008. See also the selection of references to Laura Lee Burroughs in the work of William S. Burroughs.

RealityStudio acknowledges the use of some facts from the article “Flower Arranging Books” from the June 1987 issue of The Coca-Cola Collectors News by Randy S. Schaeffer and William E Bateman in the production of this article.

16 thoughts on “Like Mother, Like Son

  1. Her signature is interesting (photo where she’s holding the bottle in her lap.) The B is very like her son’s, and his closing hs was almost the same. A later signature of his I have also shows the same gap at the end between the g and hs. Very similar face there, as well (click to look at the photo in full, make a hole with your hand to eliminate everything – hair included – but the face, and take a one-eyed look at a young WSB with red lips!)

    Always been a sucker for peripheral Burroughs trivia. Two personal offerings: my father remembers Ian Somerville – vaguely – from school, and Terry Wilson once graciously passed on the same benign curse he’d received from Burroughs about Dreams of Green Base (publication may present considerable difficulties) to some (early, probably dreadful) oneiricist cutups I showed him.

  2. Graham;

    I am thoroughly enjoying your thoughtful, sensitive and very humorous review of this fascinating set of 20th Century publications.

    The note about Shanghai and JG Ballard is quite extraordinary. It reminded me that I was recently informed that my own mother may have been in contact with Brion Gysin’s mother. Apparently, she may have worked in Vancouver at St. Paul’s Hospital as a Speech Therapist while my mother became the first Dietician hired at St. Paul’s – 1935. Some day, I may track down the facts of this notion.

    When I found a full-set of the three volumes in 1975, I also gave them a close read and noted a few (amazing) linguistic similarities with some of the syntax and sentence construction found in her famous son’s writing.

    As for “…William should have been well aware of his mother’s publication…”

    According to William, my gift of the three volumes to him in 1978 took him quite by surprise as he told me he had never seen them before. At the time, this implied to me that he had no prior knowledge of them. After all, he was 26 years old when she wrote the first one and rather enmeshed in life in NYC and Chicago during those years.

    But, he was delighted to have been given a set to read and I have been delighted to read your review.

  3. Thank you very much for the compliments, Gary. That’s very strange that WSB never knew of his mother’s publications. When he said to you that he had never seen them before, maybe he knew of their publication – I find it almost impossible to believe that he didn’t – but he had never actually SEEN them because you had to send away for them. And he would hardly have been the sort of person to send away to Coke for them. I guess we’ll never know. I’m sure he was fascinated to read them. And a sentence or three in the books could DEFINITELY have been written by him. It’s uncanny.

    Interesting note on Brion Gysin’s mother. Our lives sometimes touch and pass through history in odd ways, eh? Makes us look at our mothers with renewed respect!

    Thanks again, glad you enjoyed the piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.


  4. Soundalike random text sample example (from P3 of the first volume):

    “One Calla plus three leaves plus one Anthurium equals happiness. It might just as well equal chaos. The ability to express happiness in any medium cannot be reduced to an equation.”

    Doesn’t that just sound like something WSB would or could have written, especially that last line? A dry factual statement leaving no room for further debate. I wonder if WSB ever was taught anything about writing by LLB, or picked up certain stylistic elements of his personality, and thus his writing, from her.

    We’ll never know.


  5. It most definitely does “just sound like something WSB would or could have written, especially that last line?” And I am ever so grateful for the corroboration you have provided to my own experience of her texts. (I’ve been waiting almost 35 years for a discussion with someone about this!)

    If I consider ‘nurture’ as a force flowing freely from Mothers towards their offspring, I reckon that William was very definitely taught something about the value of writing and literature by Laura.

    As for “…picked up certain stylistic elements of his personality, and thus his writing, from her…” I am moved to consider the ‘nature’ force of genetics flowing from parent(s) to child and finding myself believing that YES, this is entirely possible, even probable.

    Boys! (All you boys out there), I think we should always remember, we’re the product of our Mothers.

  6. 35 YEARS? You could have written the article yourself, Gary, and saved a lot of heartache and waiting!

    I’m only kidding. It’s very odd. When I was reading those books, and they can be read quickly so certain stylistic tics and tremors and themes come through very clearly and are easy to remember, I got weird moments of deja vu when I came across lines like the one above.

    If LLB valued books and reading and writing, as she clearly did, she must have passed that word-love on down to her favorite son; after all, Mort was his dad’s favorite, so she would have her own wee darling. And those books are the work of an accomplished writer, not just some word-dabbling dilettante. She must have practiced a lot to get as good as she did. So maybe WSB read some of her stuff and retained it, consciously or otherwise. I wonder how she came to be an authority in flower arranging, and how Coke came to know of her. Wonder if Ivy Lee had a hand in helping her out there.

    As I keep saying, we’ll never know the answers to some of these questions, but it’s interesting to think through and construct possible hypotheses about. I wonder what WSB thought himself when he read the works, thanks to you. Now THAT would have been interesting to know, if he had made the same connections we have here. Maybe not. A writer is often the poorest judge of his own work, and if WSB was so close to his mother he may not have been able to see their similarities. But I’ll bet he appreciated the artistry and clean lines involved in their writing.

    And we are DEFINITELY (literally) the product of our mothers.


  7. Now that most, if not all of the key parties have passed on and are therefore unable to litigate, this bit of trivia may be of interest, given the content of the exchanges taking place between Graham and myself about these Laura Lee Burroughs books.

    In the early mid-1970s, after receiving copies of “A Descriptive Catalogue Of The William S. Burroughs Archive,” from Richard Aaron of AM HERE BOOKS, I became more than obsessed with several of the photographs of WSB reproduced in that book.

    I designed a suite of silk screen prints based on the photos, – Gysin’s photos for the most part, if not all.

    I wrote to Richard Aaron in the hope of getting copyright clearance to proceed with my mad plans.

    Richard generously gave me the sought after permission and also sent to me an actual photo of the reproduction on the page immediately prior to page one of the Catalogue. An interesting and lengthy correspondence then developed between Richard Aaron and myself.

    Life went on.

    Then, in 1975, I found the LLB Flower Arranging books in a junk/second-hand store.

    I became enchanted with the picture of Laura, – I forget which volume – showing her in a beautiful dress/gown(?), primly seated on the settee behind the glass coffee table and the flower arrangement, holding a frosty bottle of Coca Cola in her aristocratic hands.

    I decided to somehow include this image in my suite of silk screen prints and mentioned this idea in a letter to Richard Aaron, including a colour xerox of the image of the page from the flower arranging book.

    Richard Aaron swiftly replied, advising me to forego any such plan for the picture of Laura in my project, as William was “extremely sensitive” and, if memory serves, “protective” about his mother.

    Needless to say to some, I dropped the Laura picture idea from the project immediately.

  8. Thank you for your interesting reminisces, Gary. They all help flesh out LLB and her relationship to her son, and what he thought of her. The picture of her on the settee is from Volume 3, and it’s a good and revealing snap. I must admit, talking like this makes me wonder about LLB and want to know even more about her. Maybe that’s something I will get around to sometime. We’ll see.

    Interesting what a random article can throw up, eh?


  9. Dear Graham, I came upon the notes from Gary Lee Nova and was pleased to see that he is still about. I still carry his “Small Electrical Storm In Element County” – thought what he was doing back then was exquisite and hope he is doing well. I’d be glad to hear from him. I continue selling books as always -many thousands of books listed on Abe in my Am Here Books listings. Love to all, Richard

  10. Thank you so much for this and the references page as well. I am currently writing a psychoanalytic account of Burroughs’ life and writing that will become part of my dissertation at SUNY Buffalo, where I am attending this fall as a 1st year PhD student. This article was very helpful in rounding out a few details of Burroughs’ psychical life involving his relationship with Laura.

  11. Thank you Jamie. I think I speak for Supervert as well when I say that you can feel free to quote this in your dissertation if you want – just give us a mention and send us a copy! I personally would be fascinated by a psychoanalytic account of WSB’s life, though I get the feeling that’s an incredibly difficult job to undertake. Good luck with that!


  12. Thanks Graham, I would be glad to. I’m writing an article on Burroughs that will hopefully be published sometime early next year. My teacher/mentor is in the process of looking for a publisher for me and a group of other students doing psychoanalytic stuff at the moment. But I’d be glad to send you a copy, official or unofficial when it comes out. Also: would you happen to know of any way to get ahold of James Grauerholz? He would be an excellent resource for this project, as well.

  13. Also, be advised that the essay/article will be a bit thick with psychoanalytic jargon (lots of stuff about melancholic preservations and anal sadism). But I would be interested in writing a more accessible version of the essay for this website. Sound good?

  14. Sounds good to me. You can always contact us through this site when it gets done with. I’ll let Supervert tell you if he’s interested in an accessible version of the perversion verse you’re writing or not. As for psychoanalytic jargon, well, don’t sweat it, I ain’t a dummy, I can figure it out. Melancholic preservations and anal sadism are a coupla my fave pathology paths! And if you’re looking for a next pathology study after WSB, might I recommend Eminem? His new album is, after all, a psychiatrist’s wet dream…talk about an insane mother fixation, shit…


  15. Copies are still readily available on Amazon for very low prices. I just bought all three books for 20 bucks including shipping. I got Gysin’s slavery book a few years back for almost nothing. Now the cheapest price is 42 euros. Get ’em while you can. I can’t wait to read them.

  16. Funny to see that people are still reading this years later. Hope you find the books interesting, Daurade.

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