Archives For November 2013

Trek to the Berg

NYPL close-up

The things I do in pursuit of the true Jack Kerouac . . . it’s always daunting driving into New York City from the landscaped suburbs over the George Washington Bridge down the Henry Hudson Parkway passing 115th Street by the river (the scene of the David Kammerer murder) continuing south to the lower numbered streets and then finding and squeezing into a parking space, not ever knowing for sure if the car will be there when we get back. There’s a great deal of anxiety driving into and around the island of Manhattan, even if you’ve been doing it for fifty years. We park the car on 21st Street and Ninth Avenue, close to the apartment where Jack lived with Joan Haverty on West 20th Street, stop for a tiny Manhattan-priced crème brulee doughnut next to the Chelsea Hotel, and walk the twenty blocks north to the Beaux-Arts landmark New York Public Library, navigating scores of tourists both on the streets and throughout the corridors of the great marble building.
I had written directions on how to approach the Berg Collection Reading Room that houses the Jack Kerouac archives on the third floor. Check coat and handbag in ground-floor cloakroom, carry wallet in plastic “Researcher Bag,” go to main reading room and apply for a library card, walk through the vast corridors with interesting framed exhibits on walls, from there ring bell at Room 320. A young woman appears and asks, do you have an appointment? No, but I have an email with permission granted for a visit. Okay, let me check the emails, one moment please. I wait. She comes back. Okay, found the email, please come in and I’m given more instructions.
A European professorial-type sits at the only other occupied table, away from the glass doors, at a long polished table, in the oak paneled room absorbed in his work. I fill out three pages of forms and sign here and there. Then, I’m presented with a big binder with all the archive items listed. I select 15.9 a second-draft typescript “I wish I were you (1945) Philip Tourian story” with later holograph note “45 Ryko Tourian novel,” by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, which, of course, is a manuscript of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.
The young woman retrieves 15.9 and brings it in a folder. Keep it flat on the green felt square on the table.
I do, and there we are, just the two of us, Jack and me . . . alone. I with Jack’s thin old typewritten pages in my hand, and I let out a little sob and weep. I weep for the humanity those pages represent, for the life of a man, a writer, who labored, suffered, and died. These pages verify a life and many, many other lives, the lives of his family and neighbors and friends, and now most of those people are dead, so I’m overwhelmed, and look at the single-spaced pages filled with big blocks of text, and, yes, Jack was a good typist, hardly an error with the type going all the way to the very bottom of the page, maybe to save paper because Jack was poor for a long time. There are a few corrections and handwritten notes in pencil and red ink, and a few sentences crossed out in pencil and all those words, words, words.
The room is temperature-controlled cold. It’s a big, probably often lonely room, sumptuously paneled (but without a fireplace or decanters of rare whisky and brandy and no cigars), a noble public library for researchers and scholars, and it is a privilege to be here. Jack would have written a good description of the rich dark room and the shaded lamps and the young archivist with soft hair and stylish eyeglasses who skirts about wearing black jeans and urban sneakers and a wooly sweater.
And then I start to read Chapter One pages 1-8. Here is a little of what Jack wrote:
“Everybody in the group came from the four corners of America . . . That’s what Manhattan is, a place full of little groups . . . Manhattan is a death trap, built right over hell: have you not seen smoke coming out of holes in its streets? What more proof does one need?”
And I smile, because Jack’s funny.
These second-draft pages are different than the final published story And the Hippos, but here’s the scene with the chewing of glass and razor blades, oh, those guys. Phil makes a safety pin earring, an early punk, and I look up and see tourists peering in the glass doors to look at the scholars, and all they get to see is me.
I don’t stay more than an hour because my kind and loyal husband—who indulges my romance with the Columbia troika of New York City Beats—and who drove me in is waiting outside in the November chill and wind. He isn’t permitted inside the room and it’s cold in here, too. I feel tired and sad, because I’ve been looking through the belongings of someone I’ve come to know as a friend. I close the folder and let the young librarian know I’m leaving. Thanks so much. She returns with my wallet and emails me more information on the online files. Perhaps I’ll come back again soon.
I’m happy to find my husband, and as we walk back to the car, we pass smoke coming out of holes in the street. I read out loud my notes and we laugh. That Jack, he was really something.
Thanks to Isaac Gewirtz, Curator, and staff at the Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

The Joy of “Book V” in You Can’t Go Home Again

You Can’t Go Home Again is a “nice, big fat” book, more than seven-hundred pages. Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), Thomas Clayton Wolfe (not to be confused withTom Wolfe, a present day writer) was an inspiration to Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). Thomas Wolfe was a contemporary of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.
Wolfe writes splendidly about writing, other writers, and publishing. It’s plain to see how this was of interest to the young writer Kerouac. Wolfe pits small city life with the thrills of the big city, New York City, as does Jack.
In You Can’t Go Home Again is charming “Book V” “Exile and Discovery,” especially the delightful chapters on Mr. Lloyd McHarg, which involve a road trip in a Rolls-Royce with a couple of “madmen.” The character McHarg is a great American novelist with a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln.Thomas Wolfe
But greater than that remarkable likeness to both the physical figure and moral character of Abe is McHarg’s unsurpassed generosity and kindness to an obscure writer. McHarg uses his status not in self-promotion, but in praise of the young author. Anyone who has ever been an obscure writer, and Jack was certainly obscure for many years, cannot help but realize the toothsomeness of that magnificent act of charity, which leads to the young writer’s fame. What writer hasn’t dreamed of being helped along by some august literary figure? As Wolfe’s protagonist George Webber declares, “It seemed to George then, as it seemed to him ever afterwards, one of the most generous acts, he had ever known . . .” George is astonished and joyful and grateful, and meets his benefactor and together they embark on a wild and hilarious ride.
It is my modest opinion, that this is one of the most delicious pieces of literature on writing and writers in all of American literature, comparable to the best of Dickens in the American vernacular. If the idea of reading an entire seven-hundred plus pages of an eighty-year-old book is too daunting a task, read “Book V” for the sheer fun of Thomas Wolfe.
Speaking of fun, in this same “Book V” the chapter “The House in the Country” is a “haw-haw-haw” comic scene about “helpless laughter” with wonderful characters and descriptions of life that are right (write) on. Break open the brandy, many glasses of brandy, and good cigars and enjoy, and see if you don’t recognize the “bright young man” and adhere to McHarg’s essential commonsense and the truth shall set ye free . . . “a writer always knows.”

Wolfe, Thomas. You Can’t Go Home Again. (New York: Harper & Row, 1940).

Marlon Brando Not a Beatnik


Back in 1959, the year that the Beats moved into the world of film with Pull Your Daisy, and MGM decided that the group made excellent Hollywood fodder, starting with The Beat Generation and moving on with The Subterraneans, Marlon Brando was busy denying any relationship with Kerouac and co.

brando(Click on image for larger view.)

The next issue of Beatdom will center around the relationship between the Beats and film, and includes an article by GK Stritch on Kerouac’s efforts to persuade Brando to play him in the proposed movie version of his classic On the Road.


Publishers Beware: Appletree Books


This is a message from the publishers at Beatdom Books. We aim to alert other publishers, as well as readers and other members of the public, of a particular menace. Appletree Books of Cleveland, Ohio, recently agreed to host a bookreading with one of our authors, Michelle Auerbach. They agreed to the reading approximately one month prior to the reading date, and requested 30 copies of her book, The Third Kind of

Naturally, we were delighted. Due to the event being promotional for both our author and our product, we were happy to provide Appletree Books with a very generous discount; more or less selling the book at cost in order to bring Michelle’s wonderful novel into the public consciousness. Sadly, Appletree Books – or specifically, their buyer, Jane Kessler – refused to cooperate, and took two weeks to reply to our e-mails.

Eventually, distressed at the possibility of being forced to pay for expedited shipping and thus losing money on the deal, we pushed along communication. Jane informed us that Appletree Books would be glad to pay for the books and we sent them along at a very, very large cost. Our total profit on the deal was: $0.00.

Today we receive an e-mail from Jane. She informed us that – despite having been very difficult to contact, and refusing to answer our e-mails – she would not be purchasing Michelle’s novel from us, but instead would go through another distributor. The result was a loss of $220 for Beatdom Books.

$220 is not much for most businesses, but for a small publisher it is a substantial sum. It is enough to place a large hole in our finances, and to hinder promotion of our current authors. While big publishers and booksellers are coming together to dominate the market, small companies must also learn to work together fairly and decently in order to ensure that quality literature continues to be disseminated.

Unfortunately, people like Jane Kessler will always exist. Greedy, incompetent, nasty little people. We hope that our readers and our fellow publishers take note and avoid Appletree Books, and instead give their business to more deserving companies.

I Want to Be Blue Haired Madame G. K. Rachou

When I get old
I want to be
Blue haired Madame G. K. Rachou
La Patronne de la Bohème Latin Quarter
With curtains of lace
And a charming French face
Singing like Mimì
There lies the heart
On rue Git-le-Coeur
And thus the start
With red roses from poets
And champagne with Lee
Cut ups and tea and Old Gold
And sun and shine from the last White Imperial Russian
And chocolates from everyone
Raspberry jam on the Left Bank at 9
Paintings of water lilies
Life will be merry and gay
In Paris fog and gray
But even so
Life will never be boring or dull
As in leafy plum suburbs
Down the road from bard physician of Rutherford
And me in the house
Like Emily Dickinson mouse
Shouting liberté, égalité, fraternité
To no one
Miles, Barry. The Beat Hotel. (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2000).

Volume IV: The Economics of Modern Living

Narcissus so himself himself forsook
       And died to kiss his shadow in the brook

-William Shakespeare


A summer’s worth of drinking only net me $5.40 in bottle deposits. I’d hoped for at least enough to buy a six pack of something decent. I guess it’s a couple of bottles of Pyramid. Or I could skip the beer altogether. Just the other day I told myself, “All this drinking and carrying on, it’s bestial, don’t you know? About time to give it up.”

I was, admittedly, a bit self-conscious rolling my shopping cart full of empties into Market of Choice. All these well-off women with their bags full of organic designer foods and their luxury SUVs in the parking lot…what do they know of struggle? Then again, they drink too. I see them filling their carts with bottles of Oregon Pinot and Riesling. It goes to show that “the good life” is just better booze in your glass, nicer threads on your back, a more powerful, better-handling automobile.

To drink, or not to drink, that is the question. I might as well drink. What else am I going to do?


You often hear people talking about wanting to “live their lives” or “live a little”, etc. I find this sentiment puzzling. After all, there is no aspect of “life” which does not comprise the “living” of it.

The way it is phrased, however, is telling. “Live” here is used as an action verb, something that someone can do. Thus, when someone says “I want to live my life” it means that they want something to happen of their own accord. It’s taking the fight to the enemy. And the enemy, of course, is time.

Consider: the average person spends 1/3 of his or her time working and another 1/3 sleeping. Of the 1/3 that remains, it is safe to assume a good deal of it is spent on what can be called “maintenance” (appointments, taking exercise, grooming, shopping, and so on). All told, a person has perhaps 4 hours left in their day for his or her self. From this, several hours per week more are subtracted for “bullshit,” all of those small, unexpected, time-sucking annoyances (waiting in lines, commuting, paying bills, talking to customer service in India about your faulty laptop, etc.).

At the end of the day, you might have 2 or 3 hours per day for actual “living.” Our energy tapped by the demands of life, we more often than not spend this time “unwinding”, which is another way of saying “being entertained”. So it is that we live our days in anticipation of one day actually living.


My buddy calls and invites me to the bar to watch the Oregon Ducks game. I resist initially. I don’t really give a damn about the Ducks or college football generally.

“Come on,” he says. “What else are you going to do?”

He picks me up and we head to a watering hole and grab a couple of seats at the bar. Eugene is ground zero for Ducks football. The bar is packed with gameday patrons wearing yellow and Green duck gear. One woman has a stuffed Oregon Duck on the bar in front of her which she ritualistically pets like a voodoo doll.

The game gets underway and cheers and jeers cut through the buzz of voices, clanking dishware, the announcer’s melodic baritone. It’s quite enjoyable to watch a game that I have no emotional investment in. Watching a team that you care about comes with the same emotional turmoil as a relationship. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are felt by adoring fans with the full force of human entanglement.

Why people care about sport so much is a question worth asking. Why, on any given Sunday (or Saturday or whenever), do tens of thousands of people—many of them adults—gather around television sets and playing fields and act a fool, screaming and cursing and painting their bodies and getting completely inebriated? Why do they feel that the outcome of a game played by strangers is consequential for themselves?

According to the leading research in evolutionary biology, two basic human drives account for the spectator sport phenomenon. The first is the drive for identification: We want our team to win so that we can be associated with winning (and conversely, we feel so bad when they lose because we feel as though we ourselves have lost). The second is the desire to belong to a group, something bigger than the self.

To summarize, we root, root, root for the home team as a way to live vicariously and self-transcend. But seeking the satisfaction of these deeply human desires through sports-watching amounts to a false positive. One cannot truly live by living through others, just as one cannot really transcend the self through deindividuation.

“But wait a minute,” you say. “I don’t give a damn about sport. It is rank and cretinous.”

Indeed it may be. But the false positives elicited by sport are similarly evoked by concerts, theatre, television dramas, politics, religion, nationalism, the Friday night scene downtown, et al. Like moths to a flame we gather around things that are imposing, impressive, larger-than-life. They blind and seduce us with their preternatural glow. We cannot turn away from the phantasmagoria of The Drama, The Spectacle.

Without The Spectacle, what is left to us? The daily grind. The trudge of changing seasons. Muted conversations in dusty corners. Unheralded victories. Falling leaves, passing clouds, ticking clocks. Silence. Solitude.

During halftime of the Ducks game scores from the day’s other matchups are shown. There’s an interview with Johnny Manziel—aka Johnny Football—of Texas A&M. He says something about “living life to the fullest.” Only assholes with names like “Johnny Football” talk about living life to the fullest. Most of us are just hanging on.


One of the promises of technological innovation is greater productivity and hence, more free time. But quite the opposite holds true. Technology has boosted productivity, but largely because workers are now constantly on-call. The majority of Americans today put in more than the standard 40 hours. Rather than freeing us up to follow our heart’s desires, technology places ever-greater demands on our time.

The notion of the 4-day workweek, introduced in the 1950s, has not been realized. This fact makes the prospect of a technological utopia—in which machines do all the work and humans have nothing but free time—unlikely.

But let us assume that a future without work will come to pass. In this Elysium-for-all, people will have the time and resources to live out their dreams. There will be no need to take a job that you hate just to get by. Survival will be trumped by living. Everyone shall be the protagonist in some sort of choose-your-own-adventure book.

Most folks, I think it’s safe to say, would hold this vision to be a noble one for humanity. If humanity had a goal, that is.

But humanity has no goal. What we have are myriad individual goals. Collectively, these goals are known as “The Economy.”

The Economy, we’re told, is not doing well. But who can understand all of the graphics and statistics that support this claim? We are at the whim of “the experts”, whoever they are and whatever they do.

More recently, we’ve had to deal with a “government shutdown.” Then there’s the “debt ceiling” and the threat of “default,” to say nothing of gerrymandering, the health care law, campaign finance reform, and all of the rest of these issues that we know are important but don’t understand. We vote every couple of years, but nobody really believes their interests are being represented. Rich pricks and corporations are running the show while the rest of us are becoming the working poor, we intuit, but how the matrix of power, politics, and special interests fits together, exactly, is beyond the purvey of those outside the Beltway.

The Tower of Babel has been rebuilt, only it more closely resembles Kafka’s Castle. The average citizen is disempowered and isolated. Politicians never fail to refer to “the American people,” but what is it that binds us together? We are many nations, no longer under god, divisible, with liberty and justice for some. The American Dream is increasingly a nightmare. If Horatio Alger were alive today he’d be flipping burgers for minimum wage and moonlighting as a 7-Eleven clerk to support two diabetic children and a wife addicted to online shopping.

What should unite the American People is an effort to undermine looming environmental catastrophe, totalitarianism, and economic collapse. What does unite us is willful ignorance of impending disaster. A nation of lotus eaters, Americans are awash in what Chris Hedges call “electronic hallucinations.” “We stare into electronic screens,” Hedges writes, “just as Narcissus, besotted with his own reflection, stared into a pool of water until he wasted away and died.”

It is tempting to think that work holds us back from more noble pursuits, that with more free time we’d do more soul-searching and gain the perspective needed to evolve. But on the heels of a period of unemployment, during which I succeeded in mostly adding to my bottle collection and playing headache-inducing amounts of Diablo, I don’t think this is the case. Work, after all, as Friedrich Nietzsche said, is a form of entertainment. Nietzsche also said, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

In a world without work people would watch more TV. They’d eat more, drink more, go out more, play more video games, fuck more, and sleep more. That’s about it.

To gaze long into the abyss, or to not gaze long into the abyss, that is the question.

Remastered BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE film trailer

In the upcoming movie-themed issue of Beatdom, we will be talking to Aaron Brookner – son of film-maker Howard Brookner, who made the 1983 classic, Burroughs: The Movie. Aaron has been working a project to digitally remaster and rerelease his father’s film, much to the excitement of Beat fans around the world.

Beatdom is delighted to bring you the trailer that the team have just put together:

Remastered BURROUGHS THE MOVIE film trailer from PINBALL LONDON on Vimeo.

Sad in Paris

Paris in search of a name
Meaning house in the field
Love Suffer and Work is thy motto
The loneliest man in Paris
Visited Bibliothèque Nationale
on rue de Richelieu
(but the best library in the west
is the New York Public Library)
Literature is companionship, quoth John
(because a Merchant Marine can’t call himself Jean)
Perfumed les femmes and French kisses
Crackling bread fresh from the baker
Creamy Breton butter in little clay butter bucket
(favorite last meal saith Jacques Pépin)
Raincoats and rain at foggy midnight
The lost suitcase weighed a ton
Homesick on the Côtes du Nord of the Atlantic
Inn on the sea in Finistère
Waving wine bottles by the sea, sea, sea
Cognac and Alsatian beer
Wild and powerful Gitane gypsy smokes
Hot strong coffee
He walked in the wet night
Where are the gendarmes?
He missed the three minute train
O, Anna Karenina, and the train, train, train
He drank in Brest Brittany 3:00 am bars

Kerouac, Jack. Satori in Paris. (New York: Grove Press, 1966).

American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke


While the name Herbert Huncke may not be well-known among the general population, it is certainly familiar to readers of the Beat Generation. You simply cannot tell the life story of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, or Jack Kerouac without it, and he appears quite obviously in some of their most important works, including Junky, On the Road, and “Howl.” These three writers, among the most important in American literature, each befriended Huncke, learned from him, and came to be known by a label that was coined by him – “beat”.

What is amazing is that until now, Huncke’s own story has gone largely untold. Ask most Beat readers about him and they’ll tell you a few repeated phrases: “career criminal,” “hustler,” “drug addict.” He has become a perennial footnote in Beat history, despite having played such a significant role that one would expect his name to be on the tip of as many tongues as Neal Cassady’s. The two men appear to have played similar roles – as deviant muses, unexpected sources of literary material, and also seemingly morally-challenged nuisances.

Yet while Cassady has long been known as Dean Moriarty, the wildman with the motor-mouth, inspiration behind one of the great American novels, Huncke has been sidelined until now. American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired The Beat Generation[1] is the first biography of Huncke, who died in 1996. He managed to write an autobiography, which was posthumously published by friends with the 1997 Herbert Huncke Reader, but this is the first serious effort to examine his life, and as such is an important addition to the Beat literary canon.

From the start, it feels odd reading about Huncke as you would any other important figure in literature. He is so commonly presented as a device – the hip bad guy who turns the real writers onto his mischievous underground ways – it is strange to read about his family history, and his childhood. Indeed, imagining Huncke as a child with a mother and father is quite jarring. This effect is perhaps exaggerated thanks to the author’s choice of introducing the twelve-year old runaway Huncke first and foremost, in the Prologue. She tells the story of Huncke’s attempt at running away, giving someone a blowjob in exchange for money, and then finally being arrested and returned home. This is the tragic Huncke to whom we are to be introduced later.

We are presented with a short description of his childhood, during which time it seems that both Huncke and the writer are keen to get on the road, to get away from being tied down to parents and school. There is the sense that he is meant for the big city, be it Chicago or New York, and always the idea that he will later turn into the man who has been kindly described as a “career criminal” with his own questionable moral compassing. Of particular interest is a charming story of his obsession with a Native American legend that foreshadows his own hobo wanderings.

Altogether, American Hipster is a welcome addition to Beat studies. Well researched and written at a good pace, it really brings light to the life of a pivotal character in American literature.

[1] The book appears sometimes to be titled “the life of”, which sounds better, but this reviewer’s copy says “a life of”

Meeting William S. Burroughs

Cabell McLeanBy Cabell McClean and Matthew Levi Stevens


Cabell McLean was born in 1952, a descendant of the visionary American writer James Branch Cabell (author of Jurgen), for whom he was named. After attending the University of Virginia, he first met William S. Burroughs when he attended Naropa College as a grad student in the late 1970s. He came to the attention of the poet, Larry Fagin, who told him: “Where you need to be is with William. You’re writing stories here, not poetry. Bill’s the one you should be talking to.” Anne Waldman and Michael Brownstein gave similar advice: “Go see Bill.” He decided to attend one of Bill’s classes before making up his mind about approaching him. This is his story.


The class was given about halfway through the short summer term. Although I had seen many images of William, I have to say I was unprepared for the real thing when I went to his class. I was completely taken aback by the ancient power that emanated from him. William in person is something entirely different from his image. You can’t say that about everyone, but it was certainly true of Bill. He simply amazed me, and I found myself almost speechless – a most unusual state for me, I can assure you! I had the overwhelming impression of ancient wisdom. I realize now that I was seeing the sheer weight of the Ugly Spirit on him. The spirit he had carried for so long, the spirit that he had been trying to write his way out of since his wife Joan’s death.

I was hardly conscious of what he said during the class. I was too involved in watching his face, listening to the sound of his voice. I felt I was absorbing his words as one does the rays of the sun. When the hour was over, I realised that I had hardly taken any notes, and had spent the entire class just watching him. From what I can recall of the class, it was an informative discussion of Bill’s efforts at writing screenplays.

He spoke in a low and monotonous voice primarily about Dutch Schultz, talking about the origins of the idea, about the process of turning the raw idea into visual scenes, and how the piece had been reworked many times. He talked about the problems of turning any piece of writing into a film. As a cautionary tale, he told an hilarious story about the doomed efforts to make Junky into a movie starring Dennis Hopper, and with Terry Southern doing the screenplay. “Of course with the dubious Baron de Luc de Sterne de Rothschild, my dears, as our financial backer, the project sank quickly under the weight of numerous coke binges.”

He talked at length about the cut-up technique, going over the history of its development from Brion Gysin to himself, its position among other stream of consciousness styles, its relation to the visual media, and so forth. Then he said something that struck me as remarkable. He said that he felt he had more or less exhausted all the possibilities of the various cut-up techniques. I thought I detected hints that he might be on the verge of a new approach to his writing, and it made me intensely curious to know more. I found him to be altogether a learned and careful scholar of his own works and writing techniques.

Some days later, I began to seriously consider approaching him. I felt it was important for me to meet him, though I didn’t really fully understand why at the time. I had come back to my place after classes, a few blocks from the school, and Richard, with whom I shared the house, was already there. I said something about wanting to go meet Bill soon. Of course, he immediately started kidding me about it, saying I’d never go. It was early afternoon, and we were drinking tequila. The more we drank, the more he prodded me. Finally, stone drunk, I stood up, weaving, and slurred out. “Awright, dammit! I’ll go, and right now, by God!” It was probably ten at night by then, but I got my portfolio and staggered out to Bill’s apartment and knocked on the door.

He opened it almost at once, looked at me with a sour expression and said, “Oh, it’s you!” I could tell he remembered me from class. I was unsure what to do next, but then he stood aside and said, “Well, come on in.” He offered me a drink (just what I needed!) and I took it. He was drinking vodka, and poured a tumbler nearly full, topped it off with tonic, and pushed it across the kitchen table to me where I sat. I told him I’d come to show him my work. He accepted this and opened my portfolio. My heart sank as he flipped through my carefully typed stories about the criminals and drug addicts I had known, each page receiving but a cursory glance before being flipped over and forgotten. He went through the entire collection of some twenty stories in less than two minutes!

“Is that it?” he asked. I just sat there stunned, saying nothing.

“Very nice,” he said, and I could tell he thought no such thing. I supposed they seemed terribly amateurish, and I was completely humiliated. I was already thinking about the best way to get out of there politely when he said, “Let’s go out on the porch.”

He stepped out onto the small, railed porch through the glass door and looked out over into the Varsity Apartments courtyard. In spite of the hour, most of the apartments were active and the courtyard was brightly lit. Across the way, we watched a young boy, perhaps fifteen, naked but for a swimsuit, climbing up the inner walls of the courtyard. “That’s Beade, Spence’s kid,” Bill murmured to me as we watched the youthful body pull and stretch up the wall. “Like a little monkey he is. Climbs all over the walls out here all the time. I never know when he’s going to climb right up and stick his head through the window to say hi.” I had to admit the boy was beautiful, and said so. Bill smiled at me in a way I came to know well later, the smile of a vaudeville showman, the smile of a gombeen man, and said, “Young boys do need it special!” He laughed and put a large, heavy hand on my shoulder, and suddenly I knew everything was going to be alright.

We spent the rest of that night talking and drinking. We talked about everything under the sun. I told him about my short life, and he told me about his youth in St. Louis and at the Los Alamos Boy’s Ranch. Much later, sometime just before dawn, we went to sleep, him in his bed downstairs and me in the next room.

The next morning I got up, made breakfast, and we talked some more. He told me that he had a companion named Steven Lowe, who I would meet. Steve had been hanging around with Bill for several years, and I could see that they loved each other. But Steve’s life had begun to change lately, and he had things he needed to do. He was telling me, in his way, that Steve was not going to be around as much as he used to be, and that there was a vacancy, a place for me, if I wanted it. I told him I did. I told him I would be proud to be his companion and helper, and that all I wanted from him was to learn from him, to learn the craft of writing from a master craftsman, however he was able to teach me. He thought this was a good arrangement, and we agreed I would stay. I stayed with him for a total of five years.


Cabell McLean left William S. Burroughs in 1983 to pursue his own career, although the two remained life-long friends and were in contact until William’s own death in 1997. Cabell would himself pass away 1st December 2004, due to complications from Hepatitis C and HIV, age 52.

Despite repeated offers to give paid interviews about their relationship, Cabell was always very reluctant to trade on his association with Burroughs. The only time he spoke about it in public was at Stockholm Spoken Word Festival in 1999. It is from a transcript of that interview that this text has been prepared, and we are grateful to his partner Eric K. Lerner for agreeing to its publication.

Eric is presently working with Matthew Levi Stevens to compile a small collection that will serve as an introduction to the life & work of Cabell McLean, to be made available via WhollyBooks Autumn 2013.

The photo of Cabell is by Kirila Faeh.