Call Me Burroughs: A Life (2013) Barry Miles

Call Me Burroughs: A Life
I tried reading Naked Lunch (1962) in my mid-1970s middle teen years of eager exposure to the “countercultural” soon to be canonical and always already commercial literature, music and antics of Dylan, the Dead, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson. I knew what it looked like to be cool, hip, beat. … or did I? Who the fuck is the old dude in the suit and fedora that seems to appear in the corner of every scene; wait is that a gun? Let me read more to find out— is he “Old Bull Lee”?, “Billy Goat Burroughs”; “What did ever become of “Sweet Jane?” Accidental William Tell and Joan? smack smack Junky (1953), boys boys Queer (1985), cold really cold non-conformity. Alan Ginsburg is there to keep him safe and sane. That’s good, but I’m not reading that mess anymore.
I stuck close to the central Beat set scenes that by the end of my undergraduate reading in mid 80s led by way of Jack and Neal to the west coast— “Further” the bus, Big Sur— Kesey and Koolaid and the New Speedway Boogie.. “please don’t dominate the rap Jack!” Hell has Angels and Manson. That’s a mess.
And by way of Sal Paradise and Carlo Marx through to Armies of the Night, Abbie yoyo, Yippee and the Haight, ’68, the subterranean townhouse explosion and Weathermen who do not know the way the wind blows after all. A mess.
Redemption’s route by way of a maybe fraudulent MotorPsycho Nightmare and deep Woodstock hang out-hide out lures the masses of the muddy to gather with electricity and a Star Spangled salute to all of it and American Pie or Country Pie emerge in Nashville on the Skyline and on the TV with Cash co-crooning to that Country Girl of the North. Endurance this.. not a mess.
And so did Burroughs endure vitally and extensively amidst a life of continuous tragic mess with so many friends! .I learn in such wonderful depth and narrative detail from Barry Miles’s Call Me Burroughs. The index is extraordinary cast of literary, musical, film, artistic talent from the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s on four continents who spent time influencing and being influenced by Burroughs. A fantastic book. Together with a documentary biopic William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) the indie film Kill Your Darlings (2013) with Harry Potter disguised as Ginsburg a re-centered Beat Generation, not fated toward the end by tale of sad Jack alone, with mom, of course, through all of sixties until dead drunk before a tv set in 1969. Did the Miracle Met’s even float his beat boat? The moon landing? Way beyond television and motherhood and the sixties WSB shows the Beat G as the pre-figuring of punk rock and of gay liberation, of worldly ambition, knowledge seeking and experimental forms of expression and life. On the Road, indeed.. This biography is so rich in places. Back and forth of course between New York, St.Louis, Texas, Boulder, Bay Area, Mexico City, Peru, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Tangier,, “if you see her say hello..” and finally the longest living space for a “literary outlaw” in all dimensions of criminality and perversion and truth— Lawrence, Kansas.

 

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