Saturday, February 05, 2005

Happy Birthday William Burroughs


I was tempted to write about William Burroughs today, on account of it being his birthday. Now I am not so sure. My Burroughs books are thousands of miles away in Britain, being guarded by someone I cannot really place my trust in. And that poor person has their own troubles, too, and I am thinking about the books, and the old carpet in the back room of his bungalow, the piles of journals and magazines in the lounge, and of myself, always making the same comment about dust mites at some point early in a visit, or requesting, then demanding some cheese on toast, of feeling in my pocket for whatever money I have, and shelling out for beer or a night out. So William Burroughs would've been 91 today. Maybe it's no big deal. He was a pioneer, he was a poet, a mythographer, an adventurer, someone who stirred controversy by following his artistic urges, not as some desperate quest to be "strange and unusual", in the mould of the tattooed and pierced types who focus obsessively, morbidly, on the drugs, the weird sex, in Burroughs work.

I suppose I feel sensitive about looking strange and unusual, as I look so boring. I've let my hair grow out for 7 weeks, and instead of becoming interesting, it looks stupid. Just as Burroughs in Tangiers acquired the nickname El Hombre Invisible, I feel the same way, not spectral, but simply anonymous. When I walked through the streets of Dublin with Leo, I would see people, mostly women, double-taking on my petite cavalier companion, with his second-hand clothes and neatly trimmed moustaches. I would see it in their eyes, their sense of wondering, "Is this man famous?" or "He's interesting." Leo is blessed with not only being interesting, but looking interesting. It's what drew me to him when we were at art college. He had made himself fairly infamous with his care-free behaviour during a trip to Leicester for an arts festival.

Now, you see, this is where Burroughs comes back into the story. Part of the festival, the grand opening, in fact, was an exhibition of Burroughs' shotgun paintings. If you're not aware, and it's no crime, why should anyone feel at a loss for not knowing about Burroughs' shotgun paintings? Their artistic worth is open to discussion, their impact on world affairs, surely negligible. The paintings have yet to cure a disease or assist in a rescue operation. But, still, we are all free to express ourselves how we see fit, and while many of us do no better than eating Pop Tarts and cursing other drivers as we head out to the shops, Burroughs did some shotgun paintings. And I saw them. Along with the rest of our party. And I beheld Burroughs' signature. And it was good.

When we came back to college, a few days later, I walked over to the shared house Leo lived in (it was a converted boarding school), and knocked on his door. And I said, "I don't really know anything about you, but I'd like to." And he welcomed me in, and things went from there. We ended up living together, working on pamphlets of bizarre writings and collages, playing chess, smoking grass and drinking. A visit from the landlady's family (too strange to explain), led to the addition of fleas to the apartment, so for two weeks afterwards, we engaged in all our usual activities, but with both of us wearing multiple pairs of socks, our trousers stuffed into them, to attempt to thwart the fleas that were leaping from the carpet to dine on our manly legs.

By 2000, Leo had left for Dublin, and four years later, I joined him there, and spent four months of my own in that great city. I had a wild time, but with few of the outward signs of wildness. And without looking interesting, apart from when someone asked if I was French. And then someone else commented, "You don't look like you're from round here." So, not interesting, but foreign-looking, despite the fact that I am basically of Irish ancestry (with a little French). The wild part was leaving behind England and the things that had weighed me down. You can know a place far too well, and then you stop seeing anything but your own prejudices. To quote Nabokov, "Transparent things! Through which the past shines." For me, the past was a bitter place. In Ireland, I discovered that it was English society that was sick and dying, not myself. There was a gigantic rush of freedom, the lifting of my spirits. I began writing again. I started this blog in September 2004, and it is still going strong.

Today, on the 91st anniversary of Burroughs birth, I am six floors up, in a Memphis apartment. I can walk out on the balcony and watch the flag fluttering over White Station high school, or stare past the bare trees towards Clark Tower, outlined aginst a gentle mix of blue sky and white clouds. I am not doing a huge amount but work, write my blog, put together the odd short story. It's another hiatus, while Hannah completes her Law studies, while I acquire some confidence on the American roads.

I am twiddling the gold wedding band on my finger, we bought rings yesterday. It was a case of wearing the rings, or worry all week about losing them. By this time next week, I'll be married, and it will be time for another new beginning.

I was going to write about William Burroughs today, and I never really got going. I was going to find a suitable quote, too, but I only have two of his books here. So, instead, I will finish up with a quote from another great American writer, Nelson Algren, as I am currently reading A Walk on the Wild Side. It doesn't tie in necessarily with how I feel today, but it's just beautifully done. Goodbye.

"Yet as the magic spring of 1930 died in endless drought, Dove's hours too grew drier day by day. Till filled with a nebulous homesickness he would shamble down a dead-end road that long ago had led men west. That led now only to tin-canned circles where hoboes hopped off the Santa Fe.

Years before a box car had slipped a coupling, scudded downhill and turned onto its side in the chaparral. Half sunk now in sand, ruined and stripped, only its bare iron skeleton and a few beams remained to cast a meager shade on days when shade was as precious as water. There were always a couple of hoboes resting there."

16 Comments:

Blogger HF said...

What a beautiful tracking shot. Moving. I think I might have felt like you when I left behind German society and arrived in Britain. Now having returned to Germany I had to realize that the emotion is not sustainable. I am rather saddened by the realization that the years in UK didn't change me as much as I thought they did. On the other hand our perception of our self is as unstable as our self. So this might well be a momentary thing. Keep burning Mr. Unction- for the light to shine into the darkest corners of Old Europe.

2:54 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

Thank you, my friend, Heiko. I'm reminded of all that "map preceding the territory" blah that they pumped us full of in Performance Writing. I was only ever looking at my map while I was in Britain, it had overwhelmed me fairly early on. Not that I wasn't seeing genuine injustice, there's something hugely unfair about how British society operates, but I was dying, fairly literally, from the effects of feeling there was no place for me.

It fell away so quickly once I fled into exile, that I wonder if I ever had any idea of who I was, other than a negative picture, formed by "all the things I never wanted to be". It reminds me of my father's aims for me, when i was growing up. While comfortable families may be happy just to encourage their offspring to emulate or go beyond their own achievements, my father's mantra was a negative -

"I never want you to work in factories, like I have all my life."

4:56 PM  
Blogger anan said...

Much to feast on here.
Thank you.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Claypot said...

Wow. Great writing. Looking forward to reading your published works when they come out. Have fun at the wedding!

3:52 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

Do I become a Blog-Lit person. If Fun E Real can become high profile, it fills me with equal amounts of hope and despair. Actually, despair is slightly ahead

10:34 AM  
Blogger Claypot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:14 PM  
Blogger anan said...

ouch, C.

12:36 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

Anan, i'm pretty sure this was a backhanded compliment!

hmmm, i'll interpret it in a favo(u)rable light, as clay is always good to me

x

12:52 PM  
Blogger Claypot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Claypot said...

I've just tried to delete that insulting comment and the one after it but Blogger is being NAUGHTY and won't let me. Apologies again, I only open my mouth to change feet. My comment confidence has now been shattered and I may have to return to being a lurker. I will shut up and go away now.

1:51 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

no, don't lurk, please.
human interaction is driving me on, no-one is to stay in the shadows, even if they only emerge into the light to slide the dagger of nastiness into my stomach of generosity.

besides, this satisfied a life goal, double figure comments on a single blog post!

hoorah!

6:57 AM  
Blogger anan said...

aw-claypot... i was just joking, don't go away mad. You know i have all the sensitivity of a three-day pool of rhino scum!

9:38 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

I AM so tempted to turn towards Clay, pull an annoying face, and say... "WHO needs a HUG?"

!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Well done. I can only assume that for someone like you to end up in a place like Memphis, there must be a proverbial woman to blame. Hannah must certainly be a catch.

It seems you are destined to be "not from 'round here." It's a feeling I know well.

Burroughs is one of my favorites as well. Not only his books, but his acting! I remember watching Drugstore Cowboy and being the only one in the theater who laughed at his part.

Congrats on your wedding!

11:56 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

Thanks Butcher.

I don't think Memphis is bad at all, I am just at a loss not having a car. Nothing could've prepared me for how difficult it is to live a little way out of the city without transportation.

In Dublin, i would walk (for Memphis readers, remember that? it's the thing you do with the legs. the only leg exercise in Memphis sounds like the kicking a robber might give you), i would get on a bus (in ireland, people WITH jobs ride buses), or i would take the LUAS (a light railway). i could also live quite happily just in Rathmines, and wandering around at night was also terror-free.

but, yes! despite such gifts from the Creator, i was lonely, so across the Atlantic I came in the cause of true love.

and love wins, beacuse, despite the drawbacks of Memphis, i'm happy, enthusiastic, and full of life.

12:09 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

Oh, and on the subject of Burroughs, yes, he was quite a performer. I was surprised there wasn't more stuff on the web to commemorate him.

I feel sad sometimes when I think the world will see no more new books from Burroughs. he's one of the few writers who was getting better as he aged, he'd have been devastating by the time he hit 300

12:11 PM  

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