Tag Archives: william burroughs

BURROUGHS

“I’m not anticipating any trouble, because I don’t like violence.”
William H. Burroughs

Something I’m working on led me back to Burroughs. You’re pretty much obliged to bow down to the beats and it’s understandable, but I’ve picked up plenty of tat in my quest for enlightenment. To be honest, ‘On the Road’ didn’t ignite an epiphany in me — I was more impressed by Kerouac’s ‘Doctor Sax,’ (written while Jack was living with William Burroughs), and Ginsberg’s NAMBLA support to prove a point left me perplexed. Maybe I need to reinvestigate Allen’s intent there. But Burroughs is the one whose work felt — and still feels — truly dangerous. Nearly every piece of the man’s work has a clinical oddness that’s somehow at odds with the sometimes squalid imagery in his head. He put impurity down with his own opiate-bred brand of twisting narrative that never felt contrived despite his celebrity status — in-demand from those seeking the seated figure with the memorably nightmarish voice and embalmed appearance. Even when he was being photographed for GAP and promoting Nike’s Max2 line, that creepiness remained. It was a perfectly tailored breed of hardcore, with a sedateness that betrayed what those eyes had seen, with no skull rings or posturing necessary. I’ve had to retreat from certain texts like, ‘The Ticket That Exploded’ (my mind wasn’t ready for that cut-up technique), but his love letter to the feline race, ‘The Cat Inside,’ was a revelation, exposing another aspect of a complex soul, evolving until the very end. Was he always so deadpan, or was it the drugs? Did that experimentation create the face that’s as hard to read as the prose?

When I’m watching footage of Burroughs or reading his work, as well as pondering just how high drinking nutmeg and water will make you, I’m looking for those glimmers of humanity, rather than the UFOs, viruses, governmental weirdness, extreme shape shifts and poisoned blood perversities, all the while bearing in mind that he shot his wife in the head once. In between all the dispatches from the dark side, there’s a joy in trying to decipher where his mind is at. With ‘Rub Out the Words’ — a compilation of his written letters during his ‘golden era’ — recently published (and worth your time, his near-constant financial issues explain that willingness to participate in so much during the 1980’s and 1990’s), and Burroughs’ shotgun art of 1986/87 going on display at Uruguay’s Bohemian Gallery & Museum of Contemporary Art, there’s always room for a retrospective. Blasting cans of spray paint in front of canvases with a firearm feels irresponsible, given the man’s relationship with bullets, but it’s an authentic representation of where his head was probably at. Had Burroughs had a knack for illustration, his canvases and sketchbooks might have been an even clearer depiction of his dreams. From recollections from fellow Harvard students that William was fond of firearms, to that day in 1951, to the end, where he’d entertain/scare visitors by producing a sword from his cane (as recollected in ‘Last Words’), weaponry was a significant accessory in the Burroughs mythos. That fetish gets a memorable outing towards the end of ‘Burroughs.’

Howard Brookner’s ‘Burroughs,’ filmed between 1980 and 1983, is a superior documentary that — like the Omnibus ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary — was a BBC production for the Arena strand with Alan Yentob heavily arrived that deserves a DVD release, quietly capturing the complicated subject at a significant point in their career. It’s one of my favourite documentaries, making good use of his readings (and I recommend the UbuWeb sound archives for a thorough collection of Burroughs audio, from him reading ‘Junky’ in its entirety to dubs of cassettes made with Genesis P-Orridge) and including some memorable moments — rare footage of William and his tortured, tragic son Billy at the table (Billy died in 1981, during filming) that’s interspersed with some unflattering remarks from James Grauerholz, William visiting the home of his old gardener and leaving him visibly moved with his surprisingly lucid recollections of the man’s deceased son, a visit to see Lucian Freud, a moment of mirth around his improvised ‘Danny Boy’ lyrics and quite a few weapons — on showing off a telescopic baton, he animatedly describes a telescopic blade to slash somebody’s throat “…right in the middle of a sentence” and shows off a massive knife and fires off a blow dart too. Then there’s his terrifying looking ‘Bunker’ that’s a disused YMCA locker room, where he discusses a paranormal visitor as if it’s simply a matter-of-fact. It’s a compelling watch and Jim Jarmusch was recruited for sound duties (Howard Brookner was gaffer on ‘Permanent Vacation’). Brookner’s passing at age 34 robbed the world of plenty more equally strong portraits.

Somebody has kindly upped the whole documentary on YouTube, but there’s also a full upload of 1984’s ‘Decoder’ there too. ‘Decoder’ couldn’t feel much more 1980’s, but with the real Christianne F (Christiane Felscherinow) as a love interest and Burroughs in some unsettling dream sequences, it’s worth 88 minutes of your existence if you’re my way inclined.



SICKBED BLOGGING

I’m bedridden in that unsympathetic netherworld between actually being ill and probably being able to get up and aimlessly wander around. Like is he? he is he isn’t maybe he actually is R&B failure Omarion after the London bombings said, pray for me. Man-flu is a killer. It means that this blog will be brief and half-cooked as it’s transmitting live from the duvet wherein I’ve been kept sane by Keith Richards’ autobiography, Bronson in ‘Deathwish III’ (the Lemsip of sickbed cinema) and the new Yelawolf and Trae track. Like a 24 hour bug, I have a tendency towards 24 hour obsessions triggered by a single remark, memory or paragraph. Even though Donald Cammell annoyed him back in the late ’60s and despite Donald’s suicide in 1996 (lucid and pain-free for approximately 45 minutes despite a bullet in the head), Keith isn’t particularly sympathetic,

“I met Cammell later in L.A, and said, you know I can’t think of anybody, Donald, that’s ever got any joy out of you, and i don’t know if you’ve ever got any joy out of yourself. There’s nowhere else for you to go, there’s nobody. The best thing you can do is take the gentleman’s way out. And this was at least two or three years before he finally topped himself.”

The moral there is to not annoy Keef. Did Donald actually care? Probably not. It’s a shame we don’t get more like Cammell making movies. I’ve written about him here in relation to ‘Performance’ but I still think there’s a great value in revisiting the frugal handful of films he also made (of which I get the impression that 1986’s ‘White of the Eye’ may have been his favourite due to a minimum of tampering. It’s little surprise that Cammell hung out with Mr. Kenneth Anger (he even appears in Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’) but despite being a ‘Hollywood Babylon’ series superfan—and yes, I’m aware that they’re factually questionable—the recent Blu-ray acquisition of Anger’s short films reminded me that I often prefer his work in theory rather than practise. Cammell’s other works, like the bigger budget ‘Demon Seed’ and the butchered then reassembled ‘Wild Side’ complete a quadrilogy of experimental, beautifully shot movies that are arty, unique and very watchable. Totally linear? Nope, can’t help you there, but there’s nothing else like these out there.

I get the impression that Cammell couldn’t help being a pain in the arse…he just saw something different out there, resulting in these curious mixes of the occult, sexuality and violence (again, it’s easy to see how he and Anger may have seen eye-to-eye). But his secret weapon on three of the four films of note that appeared was a former teen actor, typecast as a hood – ‘Rebel Without a Cause’s Frank Mazzola on editing duties. Frank is the toughest character in ‘Rebel…’ yet he’s one of the most intuitive editors in cinema history, understanding Cammell’s fondness for the unorthodox entirely. Cammell befriended Marlon Brando in hospital after Brando was hospitalized for scorching his testicles with coffee and they plotted a film and book together (‘Fan-Tan’ was released as a novel almost a decade after Cammell’s death and a year after Brando’s). It might be a cliché (something Donald seemed adverse to) but Donald Cammell’s life played out like one of his films. It’s a shame that his mooted film starring William Burroughs as a Supreme Court Justice kidnapped by terrorists and taken to Africa was scrapped because it required a budget that would top that of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but it’s well worth investigating his work.

Mazzola was a strong presence onscreen

A superior BBC ‘Transmission’ documentary on the man from 1997 ‘The Ultimate Performance’ (that even includes a substantial appearance by James Fox, who may or may not have found religion because of Cammell’s work) is on YouTube now. Watch. Get inspired. While you’re there, watch the Kenneth Anger ‘Hollywood Babylon’ from BBC’s ‘Arena’ from several years earlier too. They really don’t commission them like that anymore.

THE COCAINE, MILK & RED PEPPER DIET

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“There’s a fly floating around in my milk and he’s… he’s a foreign body in it, you see, and he’s getting a lot of milk. That’s kind of how I felt – a foreign body and I couldn’t help but soak it up, you know. I hated it when I first came here, I couldn’t see any of it.”

Cocaine’s a helluva drug. Curious that it’s easier to obtain now than herb, but that’s not the purpose of this post. Bowie appreciations are DONE. Yep, no stone has been left unturned, and they’re played-out like McQueen mini-essays (of which, this blog pleads guilty), but having been on a documentary kick, watching the great unreleaseds, and withheld studies of a few choice musicians, of which ‘Cocksucker Blues’ and ‘Cracked Actor’ stand tall, and with a bootleg of Bowie’s 05.09.74 Los Angeles Ampitheater performance blasting, self-indulgence wins again. After all, is it possible to tire of images of the great man at this point in his career? Well on his way to becoming an unlikely sartorial inspiration for a generation of British youth more inclined toward beating each other senseless than fey introspection around three years later, in 1974, his transitional phase between glam showman, blue-eyed soul and traces of the Berlin ‘look’ is present when he hits America’s west coast.

Pitched between absolute focus and a visibly burnt-out need to move on at the time of filming, it’s not surprising that David’s vetoed a DVD release of ‘Cracked Actor’ – first shown on BBC2 in early 1975, but if you’re looking for him at his absolute best, the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour is it. Sadly, this is the only footage of it, because understandably, the artist’s not too proud of his prodigious disco shit habit at this point-in-time. Beyond the sonic side, this is the ultimate example of the Bowie’s self-destruction and restless urge to reinvent to keep ahead of the imitators. They might have brought him to the peak of total destruction, but the drugs probably helped propel that level of genius. At the point in time documented, he’s the coolest motherfucker on the planet. No question.

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Were you to try to subside on nothing but top quality yayo, milk and red peppers, you’d repel people. Not so, Bowie, skinny enough to slip down a drain, borderline vampiric, yet, as is his way, still that dude. Numerous reports indicate he lived on that diet during the ‘Diamond Dogs’ era, with the addition of nicotine and a YSL wardrobe to compliment the pallor. As an addiction spirals, the artist still governs the zeitgeist. That’s no mean feat. Highlights in the documentary are the moments that reinforce tales of that consumption – a deleted ending, apparently present on a US screening, shows him holding a white bag that’s significantly more than an eight-ball, taking a hearty sniff and lick before downing some dairy. Ron Burgundy might have made an ill-fated choice with his hot weather beverage pick, but it seems even more curious when David’s in the back of a limo driving through the desert, brimmed hat on in the blazing heat, slurping milk and blasting Aretha Franklin, blankly making the above outsider observation using his carton as part of the analogy. Best of all is his lapse into excitable cockney wideboy on clocking a wax museum – “Look! A wax museum. Imagine ‘avin a bleedin’ wax museum out in the middle of the desert. You’d think it would melt wouldn’t you?

Proto-moonwalking across the stage, making out with a prop skull while wearing some of the flyest sunglasses ever made during a blistering performance of the titular track and including a young Luther Vandross in the backing band, from what’s collated here, this was an immaculately executed show, and as a documentary, it’s not judgmental or too intrusive (bar the aforementioned excised conclusion) when it comes to the obviously troubled subject. That’s a surprise given the sensationalist era in which it was screened. It lets Bowie do what he does, contradicting himself, occasionally slipping into introspect before coming alive onstage. An official release on DVD/Blu-Ray would be welcome. The following month, the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour would become the ‘Soul/Philly Dogs’ tour, with Eddie Floyd and Ohio Players covers in the set, but the same elements of expressionist, ambitious theatre in the staging of the shows, and the next incarnation, embracing those adopted elements fully.

In his Thin White Duke phase just prior to ‘Low’ during recordings made a year later, that diet might have altered, but Bowie was still fond of one type of the white stuff, but for some serious sniffs and jitters, his December 1974 Dick Cavett interview makes the chats caught by Yentob and company seem comfortable by comparison.

The dystopic views espoused on ‘Diamond Dogs’ owed a lot to old Bill Burroughs, so it seemed natural to bring the two together, as ‘Rolling Stone’ did earlier that year. Opiate wisdom versus cocaine babble makes for an engaging conversation, especially on matters of Warhol. It’s reprinted here, and in the excellent ‘Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.’ The accompanying photoshoot is good – it’s worth noting Bowie’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ tee, worn long before kitschy practitioners of plastic cultdom pumped ’em out everywhere. No piece on this period could work without a bunch of images, plus, for good measure, a killer shot of the great man post 1976 drug bust (hence the much Retweeted mugshot) flanked by his bodyguard and a Sunday Times magazine cover from the same year.

Enough of the weak potted history. The paragraphs above were just an excuse to chuck these grabs up on the site:

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