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.

 

Love and Capital: A Family Affair

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Among the new books marking the return of the “Critique of Political Economy” referred to in this blog title is Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel. Her book puts real flesh and blood to the common cardboard cut out of Marx the negligent father who left his family to poverty and sickness as he roamed the barricades, pubs, and libraries of  Europe from the 1848 uprisings to the 1870s Paris Commune.  Instead Gabriel shows us the Marx story as outlined above , but as a family affair! Karl and Jenny Marx’s marriage was at it’s best when roaming

1860-marx-engels_2059317iEurope one step ahead of the state police and two steps ahead of the censor. Their home life was a vibrant hive of politics, literature, language learning and hosting a continual parade of revolutionaries and intellectuals. An extremely protective father and loving husband he kindled the  tremendous passions and devotion the family had to each other’s ideals.  Frequent poverty, illness, and infant death were as common in the Marx homes as in those of the working classes. Not likely though that many decided to do as Dad and daughter did one tough cold ill winter to keep the mind alive at least– “let’s learn Danish together,” he said. Frederic Engels in Gabriel’s telling is not the economic benefactor of the family– he is very much a member of the family!  The long time family housekeeper is also very much a member of the family. The scandal sheet version comes out when Gabriel concludes that the boy “Freddy” was not son of Engels and the housekeeper, but of Karl and the housekeeper!

English born daughter Eleanor “Tussy” Marx , his youngest was Daddy’s favorite. Her life is also subject of a recent detailed biography by Rachel Holmes.  Eleanor stayed the revolutionary course of her dad by labor and feminist activism, intellectual endeavors– she translated the first English edition of Flaubert, and was a leading player in the late century Bohemian crowd around the British Museum.

 

Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks, Victor Maymudes (2014)  

19286538I had heard the author on a couple of pre-release radio bits and eagerly picked it up right away. I am as a big a Dylan fan as anyone ever was, which does not mean I rush out to read each and every bio or lit crit treatment that come along from the popular and academic presses. So many. One can be discriminating. This one belongs on the small shelf with Sean Wilentz, Greil Marcus, Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s Chronicles, and the collections of the interviews. [Ellen Willis essays, reviews too]. Lots of anecdotes and details that are new. But more than that it is a beautifully conceived and executed work. A father/son story. Not Bob and Jakob, but Victor and Jacob. Bob and Victor, an epic friendship, each had boys in 1979. Jacob and Jakob. Victors contribution to book are transcribed from audio tapes he made privately that survived a family fire, and Victors death. In Jacob’s hands and with much of his own voice offering and analyzing his Dad’s tremendously exciting life in “the scene” and around the world with Dylan for a good part of 40 years.