The book cover – quite an interesting photo. BURROUGHS: “Now, the photograph, that was a picture taken in black and white of Pima Indians, taken about 1884. Photographer unknown — at least not credited. From the archives of the Colorado Historical Society. We tinted it. It’s a very good picture and I’m surprised it doesn’t have a credit. Whoever it was, the picture is very carefully posed.” [Burroughs quote from Reality Studio, A William S. Burroughs Community ]

In December 1984, the ship I was working on had a brief stopover in Seattle and I received a first edition hardback copy of this book as an early Christmas present.

Soon back at sea again, I was alone in my cabin somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when I read this passage on page 246:

“What’s the date?” Kim asks.

“December 23, 1984”

“I could have sworn it was the twenty-second… So what exactly are we doing here?”

It was that date exactly when I read the words. It was a powerful moment. I was stunned. It was magical.

I wrote a critique of the book and sent it with a photo to be autographed by Burroughs, which he did and returned to me.

This is one of my favorite books by Burroughs. His evocation of place, in little details; his ear for local dialect – particularly the Midwest; his depiction of the everyday interactions of  a real relationship; his combination of straight narrative with the fantastical, science fiction; his sense of humor; his social commentary – this is one of the real heights of his art, for me.

In another passage, Kim sings this little ditty:

“Possum ain’t far

Thar he are, thar….”

This is part of one of Burroughs’ hilarious “routines”, little skits in his  conversation, writing and spoken word performances.

He incorporates his comprehensive knowledge and love of gun lore and creates a new, much more interesting vision of what the Old West was really like. He presaged by many years the sort of realism and humanity that “Brokeback Mountain” brought into the cultural vernacular.

I think Burroughs had started to mellow at this point. The hellish nightmare world of his drug addiction and the stifling mind control of the Fifties were no longer in such heavy play. He was older and wiser. He was starting to settle more comfortably in his achievements –  in the recognition of his revolutionary, groundbreaking body of work. He’d lived through some heavy times and had been one of the most important players.

The playfulness of his routines show the maturing of his art that he’d achieved. Everything was still inevitably gross-out humor. It was just… a little more tolerable, lol. And in reality, life is full of characters whose perversity is merely another facet of their persona, their essence. It’s an honest perverseness – compared to the moneyed class, corporate interests and warmongers that are presently destroying our society.

Recommended reading:

The Letters of William Burroughs: 1945-1959″.  This is the source for those interested in Burroughs’ biography. He urges Ginsberg to accept his queerness; chiding him, almost as you would a child. He writes about the depravity, the hellishness of his addiction – it borders on the unreal.

Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs“. A good biography. It often draws verbatim from his letters, which were subsequently published.

And do check out this video: William S. Burroughs, A Man Within (2011.) If you’re a Burroughs fan; if you wonder what all the hoopla is about, his place in literature, the arts, sociology, etc, check it out. It was lovingly created by the director with contributions from those that knew him, loved him and have great insight into his psyche, etc. I had to watch it a second time. For me, having had a long time interest, I find that this video is full of epiphanies and insight about the man.

This is a copy of the critique that I sent him. He sent me back the autographed photo I had sent him (below)

Burroughs’ autograph – I cut this picture from a poster advertising the then-named Naropa Institute’s 1984 curriculum. He wrote, “For Joe Hancock, all be best, William S. Burroughs”

the reverse side of photo, showing some of the teachers – quite a faculty!

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