Archives For October 2013

Chelsea’s Ghosts Revisited

For literary types and students of Beat history who intend to invest a few cool million in real estate at the someday gentrified Chelsea Hotel, consider a few things. Yes, this was the home of Herbert Hunke and Gregory Corso, and Bill Burroughs and Ginsberg and Kerouac all stayed or passed through here and numerous writers and artists and near writers and near artists and every other type of, as Burroughs might say, “characters” from the world’s stage, and shall we say even those from under the world’s stage, some through windows and through walls, have passed through. The twelve-story hotel, built in 1883-1884, has a history of ghosts and is one of the most haunted buildings in New York City. It truly ranks as a Beat Hotel. Continue Reading…

Fact and Fiction in Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is now generally considered a work of fiction. It is the work for which Hunter S Thompson is best known, for which he receives the greatest praise and parody, and about which the most debate exists. It’s the book that inspired a generation of wannabe Gonzo writers, sent idiots armed with quotations to hassle Thompson wherever he went, and made the author a public enemy and the biographer of modern America. It was his On the Road. None of his other books contained such excess, madness and brilliance. He incriminates himself, sends each and every reader into shock and fits of uncontrollable laughter, and sums up the death of hope for the American Dream as eloquently as any great writer. Continue Reading…

The Second Wave of American Interest in Japanese Culture: Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder

by Charlie Canning

Photos by John La Farge and David S. Wills


Since the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1853, the United States and Japan have had a long and varied history. Initially, the United States wanted trade with Japan to extend American influence in Asia as well as to compete with Britain, Russia, and France. These were mercantile and political concerns that had little to do with Japan as an extant civilization with something to offer the West. But three times in the last one hundred and fifty years, American interest in Japan has been decidedly cultural. Continue Reading…

Bill on Will and Writing

William S. Burroughs knew his William Shakespeare and referenced him in conversations in everyday life throughout his life. Young Billy Burroughs first immersed himself in Will at the Taylor tutoring school in his hometown of St. Louis, and later as a student who audited George Lyman Kittredge’s class—the famous Harvard class by the professor who joined the Harvard faculty in 1888—definitely old, old school. Part of Kitty’s method was to have students memorize the Bard. Thanks to his photographic memory, Bill retained Will’s words easily. [i]
A seventeen-year-old Allen Ginsberg was impressed by his first meeting with Burroughs, by way of introduction through his new friend Lucien Carr. Bill’s remark to the literary Carr, about a lesbian bar scene involving a woman biting another’s ear, “In the words of the immortal bard, ‘ ‘tis too starved an argument for my sword.” How smoothly Shakespeare’s words rolled off the tongue of Burroughs, who seamlessly spewed forth Will. [ii] Awe struck Ginsberg had never heard the Bard used in such an effortless way.
At the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Burroughs was asked, “Who are your favorite authors?” He answered, “Shakespeare . . .” Favorite passage? From Macbeth [iii]:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

Bill, sardonic and educated, undoubtedly used Shakespeare’s words as he reflected on the tragedies of his own life: the disconnect with his father, brother, and son; the accidentally shooting that killed his deeply loved wife, and haunted him throughout his life; his mother’s last unhappy years in a nursing home, where he visited her not once; the short and painful life of Billy; and his own addictions and struggles and those of his close friends. As a writer, a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, “a walking shadow” and “poor player” he told tales, full of “sound and fury,” but they are still heard, and apparently signify something, a whole other chapter in the history of literature.
Burroughs once wrote to his son, “Writing is a very depleting, exacting, dangerous and underpaid profession . . . in order to survive we must become performers as well, and peddle our wares like purveyors of snake oil.” [iv] About his own work, “When someone asks me to what extent my work is autobiographical, I say ‘Every word is autobiographical and every word is fiction.’”[v] To the apathetic students he briefly taught at City College, who sat in his New York City class reading comic books, he wanted to dissuade them from writing and yell, “Be a plumber instead!” [vi] Not many plumbers during Shakespeare’s time, but Will was criticized as a jack of all trades: actor, playwright, poet, theater manager, and businessman, yes, a performer, “that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

i Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William. S. Burroughs. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012), pp. 60-61.
ii ibid., pp. 96-97.
iii ibid., pp. 670.
iv ibid., pp. 528.
v ibid., pp. 573.
vi ibid., pp. 502.

Strange Rumblings on the Way to Las Vegas

Ruben Salazar was killed by a police officer on August 29, 1970. The journalist was killed in unusual circumstances on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium march and rally against the Vietnam War, and soon became somewhat of a martyr for the repressed community.

Hunter Thompson covered the story for Rolling Stone, in the article, ‘Strange Rumblings in Aztlan’. This article is the first real introduction of Oscar Zeta Acosta, and it was during the writing that Thompson and Acosta took their famous trip to Las Vegas, which resulted in the novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Continue Reading…

Burroughs on Filming The Great Gatsby

John Tytell: They are making a movie of The Great Gatsby.

William S. Burroughs: I’m sure it will be a real mess.

JT: But not at the box office.

WSB: I’m not even sure of that. Generally speaking they know what they’re doing, but they don’t always. They will go all out on these spectaculars that don’t work at all. I was just looking the book over myself with an idea of making a film, and there just is no film there — everything’s in the prose. You take that away and you’ve got wooden dialogue and creaky action… It isn’t cinematic.

William S. Burroughs talking about filming The Great Gatsby in 1974.

Jack and Frank

“Jack’s ultimate vision of success was himself and Sinatra as drinking buddies singing songs to each other.” [ i]

Jack Kerouac loved Frank Sinatra. The smooth, free-wheeling Frankie, ah, what is it about Frank? The cool, the voice, the ring-a-ding-ding. The swing, the sway, the broads, the babes. The tough guy, the mob, the cigarette, the Jack . . . Daniels. When Frank stayed at the swanky Waldorf Astoria in New York, he always ordered a bottle of Jack, a salami, and loaf of Italian bread. All that and to be backed by the great Basie band, Sinatra: “Put on your Basie boots. . . .” Jack [singing along]: “Put on your happy boots!” [ii] Frank’s music swing-a-ling-lings as Jack’s writing swings the way of giggling-ping. Continue Reading…