The last time I saw William Burroughs was in November of ’96, around ten months before he died. There was an opening for a show of his paintings at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas where he lived at the time. My wife and her writing partner were invited to read at one of the scheduled events, so I tagged along. The night before the event there was a dinner party in a restaurant that occupied a large Victorian house, and the guests for the Burroughs party were given a large table in its own room away from the other diners. Burroughs, Ginsberg, James Grauerholz, and others close to Bill were seated at one end of a very long table. Myself and my wife were at the other end of the table along with Richard Hell, Kathy Acker, and I can’t remember who else. After cocktails were served (Burroughs was drinking vodka and Diet Coke), Bill came down to our end of the table, moving slowly, leaning heavily on a walking stick. He sat down next to me, put his hand on my thigh, just above the knee and gave it a squeeze, he asked “What do you do for exercise young man?” I felt like Doris Day when Rock Hudson would get fresh in one of those goofy 50’s movies. Just thought I’d share that special moment…
It’s the 50th anniversary of the American publication of Naked Lunch, and a new edition has been published, taken from a manuscript that pre-dates the U.S. Grove edition that we all grew up with. Personally, I prefer the Grove version (by comparison, I think the “original scroll” edition of Kerouac’s On The Road, which keeps the charachter’s real names and leaves in the sex and profanity, is a much better book than the one we all read as teens). Not the subject for today though, today’s post concerns his Burroughs first novel, the classic Junky aka Junkie*.
I was digging through boxes of cassettes in the basement, looking for the lost Hasil Adkins tape which I posted back in February and I came upon a pre-recorded two cassette box of Burroughs reading from Junky. It’s an abridged version, long out of print, and very hard to come by these days. It’s a lot of fun to listen to. I like to play it at bedtime. I don’t know why Penguin never issued it on CD, but here it is, the files are large (45 minutes +) but you can download ’em (highlight the link and hit alt/option, then move it into Itunes) and listen at at your leisure.
Since we’re on the subject of William S. Burroughs’ discography, Call Me Burroughs (ESP Disk, 1965) is one of my favorite albums (freeloaders can find it here). Burroughs reads selections from Naked Lunch and Nova Express. Call Me Burroughs was recorded in a basement apartment in London that Paul McCartney had outfitted with some tape recorders and which Burroughs had access to. Naked Lunch had started life as a series of “routines”, little spoken word scenarios that Burroughs would entertain his pals with. To hear him read “Dr. Benway” or “Bradley The Buyer”, in his dry, flat, timeless voice, is like having a private performance of Burroughs doing routines right in your own home. I prefer Burroughs recordings without music to those recorded in the 80’s with producer Hal Wilner that added musical backing. I’m a big fan of Hal’s (especially his Mingus tribute album), but I guess in Burroughs case I find the music a bit distracting.
Getting back to our subject, one of my favorite parts of Junky was edited out of most editions and only restored in the 90’s, you can find it on pages 105-111 in the current Penguin paperback edition, it concerns the Valley around the Rio Grande River and the poor suckers who were sold real estate there, expecting to have an easy retirement by raising grapefruit. I’m too lazy to retype the six pages here, so you’ll just have to find it for yourself. I’d tell you to just read it in the bookstore but most bookstores keep Burroughs behind the counter, he’s the most shoplifted author (along with Bukowski) in history.
Anyway, here it is:
* The earliest editions are titled Junkie, the spelling was changed to Junky in later editions, the latter being Burroughs preferred spelling. Also the first edition was credited to William Lee (to keep Burroughs family from embarrassment and was bound together with another book
called Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrand.
ADDENDUM: Perusing the web I stumbled upon a very interesting piece of Burroughephila–
A must read for any Burroughs fanatic.