Chapter 15. NAKED TEA
I'd been nervous meeting Burroughs like that in Robert's flat. Suddenly there
he was. It had been a shock. He had an aura about him, the Great Junky Queer
Writer Of Naked Lunch. Let's be honest, I was scared stiff. I wanted to interview
him of course, but not there,
not then, and I didn't want to turn into another Burrough's groupie. So who
is this somber man in the suit and trilby who looks like a ghost of some
uprooted mid-Western FBI agent lurking in the Men's at Piccadilly Station? I
decide to find out.
My plan is simple. I'll ambush the
bugger...catch him shopping in Fortnum and Mason's maybe and see if I can't
talk him into a cup of tea. As long as I make it clear I'm not queer there
should be no trouble. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to write it...sort of
gonzo perhaps, pre-dated Hunter Thompson stuff. Make a few notes then knock it into shape and see if Miles
or somebody is interested. He's publishing a lot of Moorcock's stuff lately
so it might work.
I'm lucky. After only a few minutes in the great British Grocery established
1707 I spot the man himself in the Marmalade & Preserves section. He
is examining a jar of Mexican
jockstraps in jism.
'Hello Bill,' I say, 'remember me? We met at Robert Fraser's.'
'Oh,' he says, 'yes, So what do
you want? Drugs?'
'Well I wouldn't mind a smoke. But nothing hard.'
'Let's go to the Tea Room then.'
So we do. A place of tranquil pastel decor, starched
tablecloths and overblown oil paintings (near-naked damsels being tastefully
ravished), ivory ornaments and tired old rubber plants. It's late in the day so I suggest Earl Grey or perhaps
a light Lapsang Louchong. Burroughs insists on Breakfast Blend. Neither of us
dig scones and cream, clotted or otherwise thank you. I go for digestives but
WSB orders a plate of Cornish Fairings. 'I normally prefer the Lancashire
Flips,' he explains, 'but I was doing yage last night and they don't seem to
mix well. So, what can I do for you? Want to suck my cock?'
Better be up front about it, 'Sorry Bill,' I say, 'I'm not one of those.'
'Hmm, no drugs. Not queer. Shit man, you're no fun.' But said in a kindly
way, 'so what do you want? I can manufacture memories to order. Any kind you
Well naturally I have a few questions I want to ask. About things like
Kerouac, Tangiers, Ginsberg, and all the uh...manly togetherness, but I decide
to cut straight to the scissor work.
'I suppose cut-ups freed you from the tyranny of things like grammar and
syntax?' I ask.
'Now you're taking the piss. I hope this isn't going to be just another
I hope so too. Taking the piss? Curious expression for
an American to use. Perhaps he really does have an ear for the vernacular.
I start to think about the way art
causes things to happen how it jumps off the page, or spills out of its
frames into subway grafitti, will it stop there or will it become a living
thing? Will a basic disruption of reality occur? I want to avoid asking the
same boring questions he must have heard a thousand times.
The tea arrives. William is mother. So I ask a few questions and he seems
happy to talk. He tells me about this and that, shooting his wife, heroine
addiction, living in a male brothel in Tangiers, Gysin, Sommerville. I take
notes. There is something a little unreal about discussing ten foot
centipedes, Mayan priests, Life Time Fortune Inc., cut-ups and Scientology
while all around us ladies in twin-sets sip tea from fine china and talk in
genteel tones about their grand children and their rose gardens. Interzone,
the city of Tangiers, given magic and substance through the hypnotic use of
language, and language itself. He has a lot to
say about that. Bill goes on about parasitic organisms attaching themselves
to our nervous systems forcing us to make pointless conversation. It's
amazing really that anybody takes him seriously. But they do. He's a demi-god
to some people. I'm still not committed but I won't be mentioning that in the
actual review of course. Wouldn't be hip. Funny thing is I think I share his
compulsion to communicate. I just don't see words as the major threat facing
the planet. Nor apparently did the totally oblivious tea-sipping English
ladies chatting delicately away to each other. Remarkably unconcerned I'd say
with their rose wallpaper, sugar cubes, chocolate digestives,
haemorrhoids...one lump or two?.... In the room the women
continue to come and go talking of Michelangelo.
'Women,' says Bill as if he
knows what I'm thinking, 'a basic mistake God damn it. The whole dualistic
universe evolved from the error. Look at them...excisors of telepathic
sensitivity or so they think, osteopaths of the soul, investigating
infractions, charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit...don't get me
started...' The man is clearly mad but who am I to disagree? I'm getting an article
out of it, '...yakking away about their operations...'
'Sounds like a job for Doctor Benway.' I suggest.
'I don't suppose any of these ladies have ever been out of junk in East Saint
'No,' he smiles,' probably not.'
A rapport of sorts has been established.
'What about Patti Smith then?' I venture.
'Well Patti is an exception.' says Bill. 'Some women can be kind. Reminds me
of when I was working the hole with J.G.Ballard. Good Old Jim. He's got it
right you know but he's English. Can't do the George Raft stuff. He'd
legalize marijuana most likely but I can't see him ever annulling the
Oriental Exclusion Act.' What? Can we get some chronology here dammit. When
is this thing being written?
And is WSB's writing more than a pastiche of drug-induced prose poems,
essays, routines, dramatic fragments and therapeutic ramblings? I don't think
so. But neither is much of Swift, Celine, Miller, Jarry or Genet, even Joyce.
Just because it's plotless doesn't make it worthless. Changes in tense, person,
perspective and time may make it anarchic by most literary standards but
Burroughs would be the first to agree. He wants it to be surreal and
picaresque. Non-linear. That is how he sees the world. He is dealing with
some endless trauma. He is living a nightmare and writing is his salvation.
And at the core of it all a complex system of drug-taking and self-analysis
designed to suppress and/or control his own libido. He lives under a dark
cloud, which is only dissipated by sardonic humour. Sex and drugs are ways
of escape...altered states are a way, he hopes, out of his endless solitary
nightmare. Out of Time and into Space. He wants relief from the gnawing
emptiness and fear. But it's love or junk...you can't have both. Keep this up
and I'll soon have enough notes for a full-length review.
Then he starts on about words themselves. Words. How we are being used and
abused by the Nova Mob and it's our own damn stupid fault. We let them get
away with murder because we're so soft and compliant. He's right I suppose.
But I detect a paradox. Using language to destroy
language. Makes no sense. Has language died? Have all the books been written?
I think not. As for wising up the marks well shocking the bourgeoisie was
always the name of the game...still is...but what happens if the bourgeoisie
I'm just going to ask him about his preoccupation with hanging boys in limestone caves spurting everywhere...life
on Uranus...rivers of shit...writing himself into a corner with the
cut-ups...cats...immortality and so on...but I don't get a chance because a strange
thing is happening. The walls of the tearoom are dissolving to reveal a long
shot of a village in Northern Thailand, thatched roofed houses on stilts,
thin trails of wood-smoke in the morning mist...the crowing of roosters...
© Chuck Woww