Tag Archives: Texas

100 Facts on William S. Burroughs for His 100th Birthday

5 Feb

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The title say it all, and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s just get on with it!

      1. Burroughs was born on February 5, 1914, which would make him 100 years old today!
      2. But he passed away on August 2, 1997
      3. The S. in William S. Burroughs stands for Seward
      4. Burroughs is actually Burroughs II
      5. Burroughs’ father’s name was Mortimer Perry Burroughs
      6. Mortimer ran a gift shop called Cobblestone Gardens
      7. The II comes from his grandfather
      8. William Seward Burroughs I was the founder of the Burroughs Adding Machine company
      9. William S. Burroughs II named his son William Seward Burroughs III
      10. Burroughs’ mother’s name was Laura Hammon Lee
      11. Burroughs’ pen name was William Lee
      12. Burroughs’ maternal grandfather was a minister
      13. In the ’60s, Burroughs joined and left the Church of Scientology
      14. In 1993 he became a member of the Illuminates of Thanateros
      15. Laura Hammon Lee’s family claimed to be related to Confederate General Robert E. Lee
      16. Burroughs’ uncle was Ivy Lee, the founder of modern PR
      17. His family was not very affectionate
      18. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and lived on Pershing Avenue in the Central West End section of St. Louis
      19. He attended the private school John Burroughs School, named after the naturalist
      20. Burroughs was class of ’31
      21. Burroughs’ first publishing achievement was at the school when his essay “Personal Magnetism” was published in 1929 in the John Burroughs Review
      22. He didn’t graduate from John Burroughs School
      23. On its website, John Burroughs School calls William S. Burroughs a “controversial author”
      24. After John Burroughs School, he attended Los Alamos Ranch School, an elite boarding school in New Mexico
      25. Another famous author later attended Los Alamos Ranch School: Gore Vidal (born 1925)
      26. At the boys boarding school, Burroughs kept a diary about his attachment to another boy at the school
      27. Burroughs was a virgin through high school
      28. Burroughs dropped out of Los Alamos too
      29. Next up, he went to Taylor School in Clayton, Missouri
      30. From there, he went to Harvard to study art
      31. At Harvard, he was part of Adams House
      32. Back home on summer break, Burroughs became a cub reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
      33. His beat? Police docket
      34. Surprisingly, he hated the job and refused to cover gruesome stories
      35. That summer he lost his virginity
      36. He shed his virginity to a female prostitute
      37. It was back at Harvard that he was introduced to gay culture when he traveled to New York City with his wealthy Kansas City friend Richard Stern
      38. Stern was apparently a bit like Neal Cassady when it came to driving: he drove so fast that Burroughs wanted to get out of the car once
      39. Burroughs graduated from Harvard in 1936
      40. After he graduated, his parents gave him $200 a month
      41. After Harvard, Burroughs went to Vienna to study medicine
      42. There he became involved in the gay subculture
      43. He also met his first wife there, Ilse Klapper, a Jewish woman fleeing the Nazis
      44. Burroughs and Klapper were not romantically involved, but he married her in Croatia so she could move to the US
      45. After they divorced in New York, they remained friends
      46. By 1939, he had become so obsessed with a man that he severed his own finger — the last joint of his left little finger, to be exact
      47. In 1942, Burroughs enlisted in the US Army
      48. When he became depressed that he was listed as 1-A Infantry instead of officer, his mother called a family friend, a neurologist, to get him a civilian disability discharge due to mental instability
      49. It took five months for him to be discharged, and he waited at Jefferson Barracks, near his family home
      50. Afterward, he moved to Chicago
      51. In Chicago, the Harvard grad became an exterminator
      52. The Burroughs family was friends with another prominent family, the Carrs
      53. William S. Burroughs II was eleven years old when Lucien Carr was born
      54. During primary school in St. Louis, Burroughs had met David Kammerer, who was three years older than him
      55. Kammerer had been Carr’s youth group leader and become obsessed with him, following him to the University of Chicago
      56. When Carr fled to Columbia University in New York City, Kammerer followed — as did Burroughs, who moved a block away from Kammerer in the West Village
      57. Carr met Allen Ginsberg at Columbia and introduced him to Burroughs and Carr
      58. Burroughs met Joan Vollmer Adams around this time, and he moved in with her
      59. In the summer of ’44, Carr killed Kammerer with his Boy Scout knife, and then went to Burroughs — Kammerer’s friend — for help
      60. Burroughs flushed Kammerer’s bloody pack of cigarettes down the toilet and told Carr to get a lawyer and turn himself in, but instead Carr sought out help from Jack Kerouac
      61. Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as material witnesses, but Burroughs’ father posted bail for him (Kerouac married Edie Parker to get bail money)
      62. Burroughs became involved in drugs around this time, becoming addicted to heroin
      63. When Burroughs got arrested for forging a prescription, he was released to his parents in St. Louis
      64. When he was finally allowed to leave, he went back to New York City for Joan Vollmer Adams, and together, with her daughter, moved to Texas
      65. It was Joan who gave birth to William S. Burroughs III in 1947
      66. After Texas, the family moved to New Orleans
      67. Around this time, Burroughs was arrested after police found letters at Ginsberg’s place that incriminated him
      68. Burroughs, Joan, and the kids went on the lam to Mexico
      69. In Mexico, Burroughs decided to go back to school: he studied Spanish and the Mayan language at Mexico City College
      70. He studied under R. H. Barlow, a homosexual from Kansas City who commit suicide through overdose  in January 1951
      71. He also decided to take up a game of William Tell. It didn’t go so well: he shot Joan in the head, killing her
      72. He only spent 13 days in jail, after his brother bribed authorities to let him out while he waited for trial; witnesses were also bribed so Burroughs would appear innocent. Either way, Burroughs skipped town
      73. Burroughs considers his killing of Joan to be the beginning of his life as a writer; he wrote Queer at this time
      74. Queer was not published until 1985; Burroughs’ first book was actually Junkie, published in 1953 — four years before Kerouac’s On the Road came out
      75. Burroughs III went to live with his grandparents in St. Louis; Joan’s daughter, Julie, went to live with her maternal grandmother
      76. Burroughs himself went down to South America in search of the drug yage
      77. From there, he moved to Palm Beach, Florida, with his parents
      78. His parents paid for him to travel to Rome to see Alan Ansen
      79. They didn’t hit it off romantically, so Burroughs left for Tangier, Morocco
      80. When Kerouac visited Burroughs in Tangier in 1957, he typed up his manuscript for him and edited it into Naked Lunch
      81. In 1959, Burroughs moved to the Beat Hotel in Paris; Ginsberg, Ginsberg’s lover poet Peter Orlovsky, poet Gregory Corso, and photographer Harold Chapman lived there
      82. There, he discovered the cut-up technique of Brion Gysin, which greatly influenced his work
      83. In 1966, Burroughs went to London to seek treatment for his drug addiction and worked there for about six years
      84. Student editor Irving Rosenthal, of Chicago Review, lost his job for publishing excerpts of Naked Lunch and founded his own lit mag, Big Table, where he continued to publish Burroughs’ work. The United States Postmaster General found the work so obscene that he ruled it couldn’t be sent through the mail. This intrigued Maurice Girodias, publisher of Olympia Press
      85. A 1966 case against Naked Lunch remains the United States’ last obscenity trial against literature
      86. Back in the US, Burroughs’ own son had gotten involved in drugs and gotten arrested on prescription fraud (just like dear old dad); Burroughs took him to the Lexington Narcotics Farm and Prison
      87. Burroughs covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention for Esquire magazine; he refused to alter his style to fit Playboy‘s literary demands for another article
      88. Burroughs hated teaching because it expended all his energy and he felt like he got nothing back in return
      89. Bookseller James Grauerholz initiated Burroughs’ reading tour, which helped Burroughs remain in the public eye … and make money for it
      90. In 1976, Burroughs’ son had liver cirrhosis and underwent transplant surgery; Burroughs stayed with him in 76 and 77 to help care for him
      91. Burroughs III cut off his father, writing an article in Esquire that said his father had ruined his life, and died in 1981
      92. In 1978, the Nova Convention took place — a multi-venue retrospective of Burroughs’ work that included readings and discussions by Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, and Timothy Leary in addition to concerts featuring The B-52s, Debbie Harry, and Philip Glass
      93. Speaking of musicians, in the 90s Kurt Cobain hung out with Burroughs
      94. In the 80s, Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he spent the remainder of his life
      95. Always the gun aficionado, there he created an art form in which he used a shotgun to shoot spray paint bottles that would explode paint onto a canvas
      96. In 1983 Burroughs was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
      97. He played a character from one of his own short stories in the 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy
      98. His collaboration with Nick Cave and Tom Waits gave birth to Smack My Crack, a collection of short prose and spoken-word album
      99. Burroughs died from complications of a heart attack
      100. He is buried the Burroughs family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery
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Road Trip Writing: On the Road and Through Painted Deserts

16 Jul

Donald Miller’s New York Times-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz recently was made into an indie film, and I had the opportunity to watch a screening in Times Square before the film was officially released on April 13.  I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know some of the “characters” in the book.  I was so proud of them!  Penny Carothers wrote a beautiful article about her experience going to the premier and seeing an actress play her on the silver screen.

The film was very different than the book.  I knew this going into it.  The story of this process of turning a collection of essays from Blue Like Jazz into an actual storyline is told in Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  There’s a scene in A Million Miles when Don is told that he essentially needs to change his life story for the movie.  He says:

“You think they might be bored if we just show my life the way it is,” I clarified. I guess I was asking for reassurance that my life was okay.

From the perspective of a fellow memoirist, I found the process fascinating.   I think memoirists, particularly those who are in the process of turning their book into a movie, should consider reading Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and then watching the film, just to get a sense of process.

After watching the film Blue Like Jazz, I can’t help but wonder what will happen with the film On the Road.  After all, both are fictional portrayals of real life.  If Blue Like Jazz is any indication, On the Road will be very different than the book.  A guy I interned with years ago at the Bowery Poetry Club left a comment recently in response to one of my Facebook posts, saying that Kerouac wasn’t a good storyteller.  In a way, I kind of agree with him.  On the Road would seemingly make a lot more sense if it was just one big road trip across the United States.  Instead, the protagonist, Sal Paradise, barely hits the road before he turns back around.  There are multiple trips across the country, and the story can get a bit confusing because of that.  Maybe Jack Kerouac was trying too hard to stick to the truth to combine all the trips into one.  Then again, maybe he knew what he was doing.  There’s something so much more telling about Sal Paradise failing his first attempt at road tripping and then frenetically ping-ponging between his mother’s house and the open road than if it had all happened easily, perfectly.  Can the film capture that?  Will it try?  Will gaining cohesive action and a clear plot lessen the reality, the rawness, the beat-ness of life?

While I do recommend Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years for an honest look at not just the writing process but the process of living life, the Donald Miller book I’d actually recommend as an example of beautiful storytelling and craft is his first book, which was republished as Through Painted Deserts.  This is the book that pays more attention to the way words sound as they roll of the page.  It inspires because of its beauty and simplicity, and not because of grand, sweeping gestures and actions.

Through Painted Deserts is Donald Miller’s road trip book.  Here’s how the overview reads:

This classic road trip tale will inspire readers of all ages.

Fueled by the belief that something better exists than the mundane life they’ve been living, free spirits Don and Paul set off on an adventure-filled road trip in search of deeper meaning, beauty, and an explanation for life. Many young men dream of such a trip, but few are brave enough to actually attempt it. Fewer still have the writing skills of Donald Miller, who records the trip with wide-eyed honesty in achingly beautiful prose. In this completely revised edition, he discusses everything from the nature of friendship, the reason for pain, and the origins of beauty.

As they travel from Texas to Oregon in Paul’s cantankerous Volkswagen van, the two friends encounter a variety of fascinating people, witness the fullness of nature’s splendor, and learn unexpected lessons about themselves, each other, and even God.

Through Painted Deserts is the modern-day, Protestant version of On the Road.  It’s about a young man looking for truth out on the open roads of America.

PS::: You may also like:

my article on Church Hopping with Donald Miller

my article on Church Hopping with Penny Carothers