Human faces tentative flicker in and out of focus. We waded into the warm mud-water. Hair and ape flesh off in screaming strips. Stood naked human bodies covered with phosphorescent green jelly. Soft tentative flesh cut with ape wounds. Peeling other genitals. Fingers and tongues rubbing off the jelly-cover. Body melting pleasure-sounds in the warm mud. Till the sun went and a blue wind of silence touched human faces and hair. When we came out of the mud we had names…
…Larval people whispering flesh. Eyes ejaculated spine mud. Black gum in member. Old junky coughing limestone in the obsidian morning: the sale mirror to red sky. Manipulated spasms puppets vestigial meat. Pulsing pink shell. Red pagodas and crystal accounts. Wet dream eyes hanging in lust of dead flesh patios. Boy chrysalis in streets of postcard. Eating birds patrol black lichen. Catatonic sports sear lungs of dream clay. Lust of mud bubble coal gas the insect street. Flesh ejaculation. Penis in the broken mirror rocks of Marwan. Serving the crystal dawn photo of sex. On the Brass and Copper Street…
An evil old character with sugary eyes that stuck to you…They were ripe for the plucking forgot way back yonder in the corn hole—Lost in little scraps of delight and burning scrolls…The man opposite me didn’t look like much—A thin gray man in a long coat that flickered like old film…in these times when practically anybody is subject to wander in from the desert with a quit claim deed and snatch a girl’s snatch right out from under her assets…When the boy peeled off the dry goods he gives off a slow stink like a thawing mummy…Crab men peer out of abandoned quarries and shag heaps some sort of vestigial eye growing cheek bone and a look about them as if they could take root and grow on anybody…
William S. Burroughs, The Soft Machine, 1963.
William S. Burroughs is one of those authors that people either love or hate, but that’s the objective, the purpose of his work – to be a human lightning rod of gesticulating and mercurial passion. Like yours truly, in other words.
Always wanted to see a good movie about this maniac, who has always been one of my favorite writers.
I gave out Naked Lunch to a few of my friends, and they would bring it back warily with shaking hands convinced that I was obviously gay. Well, Burroughs’ writing is full of gay sex, but that’s not a reason to read it. The sex is boring and repetitive anyway, but the descriptions of it like all his writing are often beautiful. Gay sex scenes usually disgust me, and I end up throwing the book at the wall. This often breaks the spine and pages fall out, but it’s just as well. That book deserved that wall for the audacious travesty of daring to put that awfulness in there. But Burroughs, that I can read.
Anyway, 90% of the people who read Burroughs aren’t gay. Burroughs is so much more than a gay writer. For a while there, he may well have been the greatest writer in America.
I read almost all of his writing. Most people thought I was a freak for liking the guy in the first place. But Burroughs is not only a Beat but the original avant-garde writer and the forerunner to punk rock. More than that: Burroughs actually was a punk, decades before his team. He’s been loved by hipsters, artists, and cutting edge freaks and psychos for decades. He’s very much worth reading.
His writing is a lot of things, but it’s often also beautiful, which is strange given its often ugly subject matter. But to find beauty in the awfulness of life, the sublime amidst the squalor, is one of the purposes of life.
Viewed one way, half of life is glorious and the other half is sad. Half of life wonderful and the other half is horrible. And that’s if you are lucky. I have counseling clients who are sad. I tell them that sadness is a natural part of life and that half of life is sadness, even if the other half is radiant happiness.
“When you feel sad,” I tell them. “Say to yourself, ‘Thank God for that feeling! Sit back somewhere alone and just immerse yourself in the sadness of life. Don’t kill yourself or do anything drastic. Just be part of the reality of life’s essential sadness.”
If half of life is sad (and that’s being generous – Jack Kerouac often said that that Buddhists said, ‘All of life is sadness’ – and in way he was correct), then it only makes sense to make yourself aware of that fact and even bask or immerse yourself in it if you dare. If you do that, you may find that there is even an a transcendent beauty in sadness, something the great artists and mystics have taken about forever. Ever seen a great sad movie that moved you to tears. It was awful and beautiful at the same time, right?
Burroughs led a very interesting life. He lived in Mexico City for a while with some other Beats. One night he was playing “William Tell” at a drunken party with his wife Joan (yes he was married for a bit and even fathered a child named Billy), trying to shoot a drink glass off her head. He missed and shot her in the head instead. Police interviewed and determined it was an accident and let him off. Talking about this with a friend who liked Kerouac a lot more than Burroughts, my friend shook his head, “He definitely went crazy after that,” he said. Maybe so. But Burroughs was always pretty crazy, even as a boy. The great writers and artists often are after all.
Your task: Identify the following famous Beats and hipsters in this short film:
- Allen Ginsberg
- Lucien Carr
- Patti Smith
- Herbert Huncke
- John Giorno
- James Grauerholz (twice)