I met William Burroughs twice. The first time I wasn’t completely forthcoming. It was at a reading he had in downtown L.A. I introduced myself to him after the reading and explained I had an assignment to do an interview with him. I did have writing assignments, but they were all to interview musicians. But I was more interested in interviewing Burroughs, so, the taffy-like stretching of the truth.
And, there definitely was a rock connection; Burroughs pretty much wrote the dictionary of rock. The term ‘heavy metal’ first appeared in print in The Soft Machine. One of the characters is described as “the Heavy Metal Kid.’ There was also a band called The Soft Machine. Steely Dan took their name from a steam-powered dildo that appears in Naked Lunch, and Duran Duran based the song “Wild Boys” on Burroughs’ novel. if I had pitched the story this way maybe my editor would have given the green light. Maybe in a Burroughsesque alternate reality I did have the assignment.
Regardless, he agreed to the interview. I left that evening with a confirmed date and time to interview William Burroughs in Brentwood, California; a very tony part of Los Angeles, for a chat with Bull Lee, the infamous writer of Naked Lunch.
One of the original beats, Burroughs helped spark a cultural revolution. Openly gay, his writing shocked and offended. Come to think of it, it still often shocks and offends. The fact that Burroughs accidently shot and killed his wife William Tell-style and was famous for his copious use of drugs, often drew as much attention as his writings.
Although Junkie was published in 1953, Burroughs is best known for his third novel, Naked Lunch, which underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws.
With Brion Gysin, Burroughs popularized the cut-up technique. A literary technique in which words are edited into weird new juxtapositions and sentences, paragraphs and whole pages are cut up and rearranged.
But, back to the interview. It was set for Saturday morning at an elegantly furnished home in Brentwood. Sadly, I forget the name of the poet who was there with Burroughs. The poet answered the door, let me in and then spent the rest of the time frolicking in the outside swimming pool. As I remember he has weird that Hyundai would it was a large pool. A large pool with exceedingly blue water.
As the poet splashed, I sat and waited in the living room. Burroughs entered wearing a suit. Did he ever not wear a suit? He sat facing me and the interview began with him staring at me in silence. I don’t remember ever being intimidated during an interview, or star struck. I had interviewed a number of celebrities, but here I kept thinking that I was sitting in a room with William Burroughs and my mind went blank. Finally, I opened by asking if he ever used the cut-up technique in his writings. He stared at me for a while and then in a very monotone voice explained that he was no longer interested in the technique.
My next several questions all elicited a similar response without any change in expression. I considered getting up and leaving to save us all further torture.
And then something shifted. He smiled leaned back and a conversation ensued. We discussed God, or in his case gods. He believed in many, always at war. Time travel; he believed it was possible and that in subtle ways we experience it all the time, but are not aware. How Ginsberg had been the PR genius behind the myth and legend of the Beats. The making of On the Road, and on serving as an advisor on the film. This was before the 2012 film by Walter Salles and Sam Riley that finally made it to the screen. (The production Burroughs was talking about remained still-born, as had so many others). He explained that the information that the government released on heroin and addiction was laughable and totally wrong and that heroin addiction was a disease of exposure. As to addiction, he believed that power addiction was the worst kind.
He liked living in New York (this was before his move to Kansas) because to him it was like living in a village. He walked wherever he wanted to go and his version of Manhattan consisted of only a few blocks.
As the conversation continued Burroughs, although never becoming animated, loosened up, laughed and smiled. He walked me to the door and as I left he said, “Come to New York, stop by, I’ll make you breakfast and we can continue talking.”
Fast forward (there is time travel). Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas and since his death in 1997, officials have dedicated a creek, a nature trail, and even a playground to him. A playground dedicated to Burroughs is something that I feel the writer of Wild Boys would appreciate.
And, as to my breakfast with, although I went to New York often, I never took him up on it.
I liked the memory I was left with. of Burroughs in his trademark suit, laughing as he walked me to the door and an image of a future where the author of Naked Lunch would cook me breakfast.