William S. Burroughs, in looking back on his life, would often comment that the defining moment in his career was the tragic moment when he shot his wife Joan Vollmer in the head during a drunken game of William Tell. Being one of the rare times that his master aim failed him, as well as the impetus that sent him into Tangiers and to the realizations that led to “Naked Lunch” and the Nova Trilogy, saw it as a telepathic event. As he said in the introduction to “Queer,” “The death of Joan brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had no choice except to write my way out.”
But if the death maneuvered him into a lifelong struggle, it also had vicious repercussions on the child he had with Joan, a son who bore his name…
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If you know me at all one thing you know about me is I read a LOT of fucking books. Sometimes I read more and sometimes I read less but reading is a constant in my life. In fact, the closest thing (besides my art) I’ve had to a “career” has been books, since I’ve worked at at least half a dozen book stores during my youth. So I obviously like books and there is a special place in my heart for short books. Short books are fun. I can only think of a few short books, around 200 pages, that one can read through entirely during the course of a day.
I read one such book last night, “Speed” by the son of the popular underground writer of opiate literature William Burroughs, William S. Burroughs Jr.
This poor kid has had to live in his father’s dark shadow all his life. Actually, since it is evident from his work that he had no outstanding literary ambitions (or even ability) of his own I don’t see that it could have been all that much of a torment to him. After all, having a famous father gave his life a sort of meaning, and the nature of his father’s fame ensured that his life would be eventful, at least in certain ways.
As a work of art W.S.B. jr’s “Speed” is very disappointing. I guess you can say it is a page turner, but that’s only because the whole story is told as if in just one breath. Breaking the type up into paragraphs seemed like it was a mere formality here.
Actually I’m not sure whether this book can truly be considered a work of true art at all. I feel like I just read some tweaker’s journal that I found wedged under a seat at a Greyhound bus station. Nothing really creative going on here much at all. It’s just a meaningless slice of life that someone felt compelled to scribble off into a ledger before slamming it shut and running off to score some more speed. It really was a pointless book. In fact, had I never tried speed before this book wouldn’t even have enlightened me about what it felt like, so the author’s fixation on it would have been a complete mystery to me. I mean, it’s plainly all about the drugs for this guy, so one has to wonder how he managed to overlook conveying anything about those drugs to his readers.
I guess maybe it’s NOT all about the drugs here, rather, it’s all about his personal obsession with these drugs.
I don’t get the impression he was one that used drugs to get creative, or to commune with any certain kind of creativity he found desirable. All he cared about was the drugs themselves so he used his book to simply convey to his audience that all consuming obsession. In other words it’s not about the fireworks, it’s about the burn.
The book itself isn’t joyful, it isn’t angry, it isn’t sad. It’s nothing. It’s all about drugs. Drugs we know nothing about. We don’t know how they feel, what they make you want, what they make you want to do even, except that they make you want to do more drugs.
If we want even a sad story we have to move beyond the book itself, but not very far, just hop off the pages into the writer’s life. It wasn’t much of a life. He burned through the liver he was born with by the end of his 20’s. They then wasted someone else’s liver on him and he used that one up in a few short years. Why he just didn’t buy another liver after that I don’t know but he died in his early 30’s.
You know, I really don’t feel very bad about my own drug use any more.
Fuckin grape culture