Archives For Beatdom #11

After the Deluge


“What are you rebelling against?” the local girl asks one of the “saintly motorcyclists” in the

1953 movie The Wild One, and Marlon Brando drawls, “Whaddaya got?” That’s a biography in

brief of  French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who revolutionized literature and then abandoned it at

age nineteen.


He was born October 20, 1854, in Charleville, France. When he was six, his father, Capt. Frederic Rimbaud, left his wife, two sons, two daughters, and “walked beyond the mountain, like / a thousand angels parting on the road.”  Life with his hard mother was no good: “from her summit / of righteousness, she could not see the boy” (from “Nostalgia” and “The Poet at Seven”, from Imitations, a collection of translations by Robert Lowell). He started writing poetry at eleven, was a remarkable student for eight years, and published a poem at sixteen. He ran away repeatedly – at first he was hauled back, and then he retreated to his mother’s farm. He rejected God, the army, and his mother. He embraced filth, drugs, obscenity. He wrote the famous sea poem, The Drunken Boat, without having seen the sea. In Paris, he lived off friends, starting with the symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, who was ten years older. They became lovers, hanging out in cafés, where Rimbaud shocked or insulted all the writers and artists in Verlaine’s circle with his arrogance. Rimbaud rejected all French literature except, with reservations, Racine and Baudelaire. At a poetry reading, he said “shit” after every line.


He travelled with Verlaine in Belgium and England till their affair ended when Rimbaud walked out on the drunk and sentimental poet, who shot at him three times, hitting him in the wrist. Rimbaud tried to get the charges dropped, but Verlaine was sentenced to prison for two years of hard labor. Rimbaud went home to his mother and, in the barn, wrote A Season in Hell, his incomparable confessional prose poem. He published it, sent copies to Paris, and was disillusioned when he was snubbed there as both man and artist. In Charleville, he burned his manuscripts, letters, and author’s copies of the book.


In a letter to Paul Demeny, he said, “Inventions of the unknown demand new forms,” and he started writing Illuminations, which, preceded by Aloysius Bertrand’s fables in Gaspard de la Nuit, and Charles Baudelaire’s meditations in Paris Spleen, and influenced by Judith Gautier’s loose translations of the Chinese poets Li Po and Tu Fu in Le Livre du Jade, are the first true prose poems.

In every edition of Illuminations published since 1886, “After the Deluge” has been placed first, introducing the central themes of subsequent poems. It began,
As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided,

A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flowerbells, and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the spider’s web.

Oh! the precious stones that began to hide,––and the flowers that already looked around.

In the dirty main street, stalls were set up and boats were hauled toward the sea, high tiered as in old prints.

Blood flowed at Blue Beard’s,––through slaughterhouses, in circuses, where the windows were blanched by God’s seal. Blood and milk flowed.


The ‘Deluge’ is the Flood of the book of Genesis, Chapters Six through Ten, sent by God to punish mankind in its wickedness, and to wash the earth. The poem begins as if it were Chapter Eleven, after not only the flood but the idea of it had subsided, after mankind had forgotten its moral lesson. It opens not with men and women offering thanks to God for surviving, but with a hare praying to the rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant with all flesh. Nature is restored, and is pure: animals are reverent, gems under the earth, flowers on it; but humanity is seen as sliding back into wickedness: the streets are dirty, blood flows, Blue Beard kills, there are slaughterhouses, grieving children, overdone cathedrals, luxury hotels. And so a boy, with the weathervanes magically following him, waves his arms in the rain, as if summoning the storm. The poem ends with the poet learning that it’s spring, season of thawing, and, like the angry God, and the boy commands the waters of the high seas, the bursting rain, the pond, to rise and bring the Flood again, to destroy the unbearable world he knows and doesn’t know, in another apocalypse. In the original and in Varèse’s superb translation, we can hear the rising of the liquid ‘r’ – the sound of the waters.


This reading skirts over the actual poetry, which is remarkable for the way it fails to represent. Poets before Rimbaud would imagine a scene and develop it, incrementally and continuously. “After the Deluge” cuts from a meadow to a village on the coast, then without transition to the Alps, the North Pole, the deserts, the orchard, the budding forest. Where are we? The setting is the whole world. But with hares praying, stones hiding, flowers looking, weather vanes understanding, and the moon listening, it’s not our world but a fictional one. The characters are a monster from a folktale, children in a glass house, the boy in the square, the unnamed Madame, shepherds named for the pastoral poems about them, Eucharis, from the poetic novel The Adventures of Telemachus by François Fénelon, the poet, who suddenly appears, and the Witch. But who are they? Other people aren’t shown, but are implied by their place in society: commerce, they set up stalls; travel, haul boats; culture: install pianos; religion, go to Mass; exploration, join caravans; tourism: build hotels. Their actions are as in dreams. The boats are going towards an ocean that looks like a crude etching. The piano is installed in the mountains. The cathedral has a hundred thousand altars. The caravans set out from nowhere, to nowhere. The hotel is built in the Arctic Circle. The settings are dissociated, as are the characters and the actions, and all are unreal.


Reading the fourth paragraph, after a metaphorical look at the sanctity of nature, with the hare praying, we’re in a coast town, with a fictive-looking ocean, when with “Blood flowed at Blue Beard’s,” we’re in a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, from a book which includes “Sleeping Beauty,”      and which can be taken as a metaphor for human vice. Then the blood flows “through slaughterhouses, in circuses” – we’ve left the town and the tale, and entered the world, but when does blood flow in a circus? – “where the windows” – slaughterhouses and circuses with windows into their awful or strange spectacles? – “were blanched by God’s seal” – if the seal is the rainbow, the sign of the covenant after the flood, it’s many-colored; does it pale the windows by being glorious? “Blood and milk flowed” – what milk? Is it flowing where the blood’s flowing? at Bluebeard’s? in the slaughterhouse? inside a child? Each phrase has many possible meanings, but flies away from the others. Tzvetan Todorov, who discovered how to read Rimbaud, defines this discontinuity – “…each word may evoke a representation, but taken together they do not make a whole, and we are thus led to settle for the words.” Rimbaud has reinvented poetry as abstract art.


There’s a parallel in painting, as in the collages of Kurt Schwitters, which use scraps of paper found in the street, and make no attempt to represent reality, only their own internal harmony. In A Season in Hell, Rimbaud proposed a new poetry, inspired not by what was eminent in the past, but by what was scorned: subliterary genres, which occur as collage elements in “After the Deluge.”


A Season in Hell                                              “After the Deluge”


I loved. . .

old inn signs, popular prints;               the sea, high tiered as in old prints

antiquated literature,                                       Caravans set out

church Latin,                                                   Mass and first communions

erotic books. . .                                                the Queen, the Witch who lights her fire

the novels of our grandfathers,                       Eucharis told me it was spring

fairytales. . .                                                    Blood flowed at Blue Beard’s


Critics with mystical leanings, encouraged by Rimbaud’s saying, “I am working to make myself a seer” and the sense of illumination as enlightenment, have tried to read spiritual meanings into these enigmatic poems, but as Marjorie Perloff, in The Poetics of Indeterminacy, said of a similar misreading, “Nothing in the text…either confirms or refutes this interpretation.” Perloff was developing the ideas of Todorov, who, looking for symbolism in these prose poems, said they were “structurally. . . undecidable, rather like those equations with several unknowns that can have an indefinite number of solutions.“ He reasoned that, “Rimbaud has used the absence of organization as the very principle of organization that governs these texts.” It’s as if the poem is rebelling against itself.


Rimbaud appeals to rebels. Kerouac wrote Rimbaud, a long biographical poem which eventually became a City Lights broadside, alluding to “After the Deluge”:


—Illuminations! Stuttgart!

Study of languages!

On foot Rimbaud walks

& looks thru the Alpine

passes into Italy, looking

for clover bells, rabbits. . .


In his first novel, The Town and the City, he accurately portrayed Allen Ginsberg as carrying “under his arm, the works of Rimbaud.” Ginsberg was obsessed with Rimbaud, including him in the first draft of the “who read…” reading-list line of “Howl.” In his Naropa University lecture on “The History of Poetry,” after quoting and reflecting on “After the Deluge,” he said: “I was in love with Rimbaud. I was, in fact, physically, erotically, in love with Rimbaud when I was eighteen. It was my first…‘Voici le temps des Assassins’ just turned me on completely, and I went downtown to Times Square to meet the local criminals with their ‘pretty Crime howling in the mud of the streets.’”

During the rest of his life, Rimbaud went on the road, as a teacher in England, a student in Germany, a soldier in Java, a circus manager in Sweden, a farm worker in Egypt, a quarry foreman in Cyprus, a coffee exporter in Arabia, and a trader, explorer, and gun-runner in Abyssinia, where he published reports of his travels, and lived with a native girl for one year, and a native boy for eight years. On November 10, 1891, stricken with syphilis and cancer; delirious, paralyzed, his right leg amputated, he died in Marseilles, at the age of thirty-seven.

Critics have called Rimbaud the father of symbolism, antisymbolism, surrealism, primitivism, and existentialism. The prose poet René Char was closer to the truth when he said, “Rimbaud is the first poet of a civilization which hasn’t appeared yet.”





Ginsberg, Allen, “The History of Poetry, Part 15”, 1975



Hackett, C. A., Rimbaud: A Critical Introduction, 1981

Houston, John Porter, The Design of Rimbaud’s Poetry, 1963

Kerouac, Jack, Rimbaud. Scattered Poems, 1971

Perloff, Marjorie, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage, 1981

Rimbaud, Arthur, Illuminations and Other Prose Poems, translated by Louise Varèse, 1957

Rimbaud, Arthur, A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat, translated by Louise Varèse, 1961

Rimbaud, Arthur,Rimbaud Complete, translated by Wyatt Mason, 2002

Starkie, Enid, Arthur Rimbaud, 1961

Todorov, Tzvetan, Genres in Discourse, 1978

Todorov, Tzvetan, Symbolism and Interpretation, 1978




This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #11. The author is Larry Beckett, who wrote Beatdom Books publication, Beat Poetry.

Grizzly Bear

a short story

by Velourdebeast

Christine and Jason went to a new friend’s costume party dressed as grizzly bears. They learned to mimic a bear’s loose, muscular, pigeon-toed gait, and they artfully constructed outfits from shaggy fake fur. The couple spent much of their free time preparing for the party by sewing their costumes and watching videos of bears on the internet together. Jason had never seen one outside of a zoo, and Christine liked to remind him of the many times she had seen bears in the wild on backpacking trips. Christine was proud to know more about bears.

Jason grew up in the suburbs near a large city, and Christine lived in a rural farming community until she moved a few miles away, to go to college. They met while studying engineering in a small town that Jason loved wholeheartedly. Christine loved it halfheartedly, and she had been the one that wanted to move. “In your own little hometown old memories drag you back into the past, and in other people’s little hometowns you always remain an outsider. The only way to escape is to move to a city,” she had told Jason. Jason resisted at first, but later worried that he would lose her if he refused to move, and so he relented.

They only knew one other person at the party, and so at first they kept to themselves, standing in the kitchen, taking whiskey shots and eating apples. Christine snorted with disgust when she spotted a package of store-bought blackberries. The berries reminded her of the effusive generosity of the land she had left behind, where love bubbled up from the ground and formed prickly vines that crested into sweet dark fruit that belonged to everyone and no one. “I’ll be fucked if I ever actually pay for blackberries,” she said loudly. Several people turned around when she said this, and they looked her up and down with puzzled expressions on their faces before going back to their conversations.

None of this bothered Christine. She was comfortable whenever she was with Jason, whom she regarded as a magnificent, brilliant, loving, and honest man. She felt that he could shelter her from doubt, leaving her free to do as she pleased.

The drunker Christine got, the more she acted out her role, making loud bear noises instead of talking to people and pretending to catch fish from the host’s tank. Jason followed suit, and together they stole food from the plates of fellow partygoers and they got down on their hands and knees, crawling in an ursine way while people pretended to be afraid. Someone knocked over a trash can by accident, and they rifled through it for a second, which made everyone laugh. They became the focal point of the party, as they were obviously the ones having the most fun.

The morning after the party they walked through San Francisco’s Mission District where they had lived for the past six months. It was still dark, and both of them were drunk. They were in their bear suits and face paint, talking about their new life and the small town they had left behind that fall.

Christine listed things she missed about living in the country. “I miss silence. I hate the way the sound of traffic just fills my brain here. I feel like someone is always rushing towards me, but even worse is the sound as the car passes and recedes in the distance; the drone of it is so lonely, it makes you feel like someone is always leaving you.”

Jason worried about Christine, who was often depressed from her job as an engineering consultant. She worked at a firm that specialized in restoring ecosystems, trying to recreate the abundance of the land around San Francisco Bay before it was pilfered and razed. The slow progress being made by her firm left her feeling frustrated and drained. When she came home she usually stared silently at the walls of their small apartment for awhile, distractedly petting their dog and the cat they rescued from a negligent neighbor. “Sometimes I just want everyone to get out of my face,” she said to Jason one day. However, Jason noticed that on her days off Christine seemed freer and more energized than ever before. Soon after they moved in, they went inside a normal looking Thai restaurant and discovered that the waitresses were all very hot looking drag queens. Christine was entranced, all smiles for days afterwards. “It’s not the drag queens, exactly,” she said to Jason. “It’s just that people do unexpected things here.”

They both paused as they walked past a bakery, and their nostrils flared as they took in the aroma of donuts, leaving them open to the booze-sweat scent of a homeless man who was nestled into a seldom-used doorway. “I wonder what we’d be able to smell right now if we were bears? We’re probably missing out on so much! I read somewhere that Grizzlies can see as well or better than we do, and they have a much better sense of hearing and, of course, smell.” Christine seemed exasperated as she spoke, frustrated by the limitations of their species.

Soon they were crawling along Mission on their hands and knees, trying to capture that particular swagger that big bears have; that elegant, corpulent rolling of muscular limbs and rounded haunches. “I’m a mama bear trying to fatten up for the winter,” Christine said, and pretended to teeter on her hind legs and look into a trash can. A man walked around the corner texting and saw her in the shadow.

“Holy Fuck!” he said, and when she stood up and into the light he flushed with embarrassment. “Jesus, I really thought you were a fucking bear.”

City people, they both thought.

The man left and suddenly they really felt like bears, and they got down on their hands and knees again, laughing and growling. They turned off Mission and headed down an alley. Jason started to rock a big trashcan, imitating what he had seen so many bears do in shaky home videos. He fumbled drunkenly, and the can toppled over. They heard a person yelling and they stayed in character, running away on all fours. “I hope we hear something about grizzlies in San Fran on the news tomorrow,” Jason whispered when they stopped, hiding in a doorway and watching the yelling man look around.

When they were about seven blocks away, they got back on their hands and knees, and Christine knocked over another can. No one come out yelling this time, but some raccoons started moving in on the spilled garbage, tipping and waddling on their black leathery paws. A cat crept closer, and then a coon snarled and chased it away. Both of them were essentially well-behaved people, but the loud toppling of the cans and the wave of funk and chaos spilling over the concrete was thrilling to them as bears.

Suddenly, the raccoons vanished, hissing. “Huh,” Christine thought as they turned and walked away. They went a couple steps forward when Jason looked back, hearing the trash rustle and expecting to see the raccoons again. Instead, they saw a large dark shape moving within the shadows pushing around an ice cream box. It stopped and raised its snout, stepping towards Jason and Christine, its enormous head hanging low from a large blonde hump at its shoulders.

“Jason, it’s a grizzly bear.” said Christine, fear and exultation cascading over her body.

The bear’s eyes gleamed, and its brown fur blew in the cold wind like the short grasses of the tundra. It was big, and it reminded Christine of pictures of bears she had seen in late summer, after they had deposited a solid layer of body fat during several months of hyperphagia.

They watched, transfixed, as the bear rifled through the pile. It dug around for a little while, and then it sniffed the air and wandered over to a chain link gate that enclosed the back entrance of a Mexican restaurant. It stood up on its hind legs and put its front paws on the fence, bouncing its weight against the metal, flexing its long muscular arms and jiggling the fat on its belly. The gate held, and the bear gave up and walked off in the direction it came, sashaying slowly away from Christine and Jason.

They picked up their pace to get closer to the bear, and at about thirty feet away it spun around to face them. It popped its jaws and charged. The turned and ran but it gained on them easily, its long limbs raining down on the pavement and its mouth open as though it were about to envelop them in a wide tunnel of teeth.

When it was about ten feet away the bear stopped, lowered its head, and swept its gaze over the narrow alley. It sniffed the air and placed its big feet carefully on the pavement like a cat avoiding broken glass, walking toward them at an angle. The bear’s dark eyes moved anxiously, and Jason and Christine backed away slowly. They felt bad for trying to get too close, ashamed that their presence made the bear uncomfortable. “We were asking for it, I guess,” Christine said as the bear turned again and walked slowly away, glancing back every few steps.

The bear continued down the dark, straight alley until they could no longer make out the texture of its fur. Christine wondered what the fur felt like. Despite being afraid of the bear Christine longed to touch it. She felt her heart sicken a little as it left them.

Jason saw the sadness in her face as she watched it disappear. He ran over to the gate the bear had struggled with and lifted the pad lock that was holding it shut. “Can I borrow a few of your bobby pins?” he asked Christine, and she rifled hurriedly through her hair and handed him some pins. He picked the lock easily, and Christine gazed at him admiringly, realizing that after three years there was still a lot about him that she didn’t know. She wondered if she should ask him how he learned to pick a lock, but thought better of it, knowing that he didn’t like to talk about himself or his past.

Jason pulled a couple of clean bags full of expired ground beef out of the dumpster and ripped them open, spilling the meat over the pavement. They watched the bear sniff the air and return quickly to them and the spilled meat. Jason backed away, and the bear glanced at him out out of the corners of its eyes, as though trying to look as if it was ignoring him. When it was done with the meat the bear climbed into the dumpster, shoveling some trash onto its belly and taking a long time to lick some packages clean.

“We should head for that other burrito place a block down,” Christine said when the bear climbed out. All three of them crossed the street. A few cars passed them and stared but didn’t seem to notice the bear. But once it was across the street the bear turned down an alley past the apartment building, no longer trailing behind them. “It must be full,” Christine concluded.

“It ate so goddamn much!” Jason said, shaking his head.

Christine and Jason started to follow but the bear turned and snorted, and they worried it might charge them again. They backed away, and watched it disappear as the sun began to turn the sky a vibrant oceanic blue, their excited pulses ringing like bells through their bodies. “I can’t believe it!” Christine whispered reverently. “I thought the last grizzly bear to live in California was shot in 1922! And then to find one right in the middle of the city – goddamn, it’s so wonderful that it makes me want to set fire to the Palace of Fine Arts and SF MOMA.”

They crawled into bed, intertwining their arms and legs, their dog and cat curled up behind their backs. Christine touched Jason’s eyebrows and jaw, and then she cupped his biceps in her hands and ran her fingernails lightly down his arms. She kissed his chest. “You’re beautiful,” she said to him, and he said it back to her. When they made love that night Christine felt like she was leading him through a dark, humid forest full of wild creatures.

The next night Christine convinced Jason to try to get the bear back. They downed some whiskey and went out at midnight, roaming around and opening up dumpsters and knocking over trash cans, smiling like maniacs, grabbing each other’s hands and kissing fervently. The bear returned, its eyes twinkling like lakes reflecting a starry sky, it’s massive shoulders heaving upwards like ocean swells. This time they had hidden some scraps of meat inside the entrance to the apartment, and the bear followed the meat trail through the doorway and into the hallway, moving hesitantly into the enclosed space. They set a plate with a hamburger patty on it in the entrance to their apartment, and they turned on a little fan to blow the scent of the meat down the hall. The bear walked carefully up the slick linoleum stairs as it followed the trail of meat.

They had hidden scraps of meat around the apartment, and the bear rummaged around shelves and cupboards for awhile, knocking over books and dishes and lamps while they watched, fascinated and ecstatic. Jason edged over to their front door, slowly closing it, afraid that the bear would leave after it was done eating. In between bites of cooked egg, the bear looked Jason in the eyes, watching him start to close the door. It stopped eating and flattened its ears, barking and moaning. It came toward him, its head lowered. “Open the door!” Christine whispered nervously, intuiting that they should not make the bear would feel caged. The move felt disrespectful to her somehow, and she was disappointed in Jason for thinking that he could corral the bear in the apartment.

Jason swung the door back open, and as the bear trotted out its huge body made the stairs creak. They stood at the top of the stairwell and watched the bear disappear into the night, and Christine relaxed once more into a state of deep wonder. She reached over and held Jason’s hand.

He squeezed her hand a little, then let go. He turned to look at their apartment: the broken glass, the meaty pile of bear shit still steaming on top of a throw rug. “God, why there? It could have crapped on the linoleum, for fuck’s sake,” he said. Jason caught sight of himself in the mirror. His face looked tired, and he realized that he was going to have to go to work in a few hours with a hangover. And they’d have to clean the apartment that night, or at the very least they needed to get rid of the shit and the glass. Jason worried about what it would be like to go to work the next morning, how he would have to hide the events of the weekend from his new friends there, because they would doubtless think him insane. If any of his coworkers came across a bear in San Francisco they would have reported it to Fish and Game instead of luring it home.

Christine, however, was overjoyed. “I can’t believe we got it to come in here! Wow, real bear poop! I bet there aren’t many people in The City who can say a grizzly bear shit on their floor.” she knelt down and sniffed it, crinkling up her face in disgust, pretending to throw up.

Jason mumbled, “How many people want to say that about themselves?” and glowered at her.

They went to work bleary eyed the next morning. Christine was distracted and accomplished very little at work. She had trouble even caring about her job. That night they were both exhausted. Jason was irritable, and Christine was in a kind of dreamy daze, as if she had just had a great time on acid.

They were quiet as they made dinner. While they were eating Christine said, “It seemed like the bear preferred the raw hamburger. Maybe we should just stick with that. I think if we hid smaller pieces around the house we could get it to stay longer, and once it gets used to being in here, maybe it will want to stay and, you know, set up a territory.” Christine imagined that they would win it over as though it were a stray cat, that somehow there would be room for it in their lives.

“Yeah, maybe.” Jason kept his eyes lowered as he said it. He watched his plate as he wrapped some spaghetti around his fork and twirled it for awhile, the ends of some noodles flapping around in a circle like the tail of a dog chasing itself. He wondered why she had to fall in love with a bear, and the frustration in his mind gathered momentum. Why was she so intent on nurturing a giant, destructive thing? She seemed so uninterested in having a baby, and she talked about having babies as though it were a burden, as though it would take away her freedom. But what exactly did she want to do with all this freedom? Was it really freedom to step further and further away from reality?

That night Christine went out by herself in her costume, and a few hours later she was back, watching the bear paw through their kitchen and living room while Jason tried to sleep in the bedroom. He tossed and turned, worried and frustrated, until the bear left and she crawled into bed naked, facing him. He touched her face, he ran his fingers through her hair, and he slid his hand over her shoulder, down her arm, her hip, her thigh. She rolled over onto her back and he put his head on her chest and held her hand to his throat. He fit his lean body as close as he could to hers and then was finally able to sleep. Christine lay awake, thinking about how much she loved him and wondering why he loved her.

Jason convinced Christine to wait until the weekend to try to find the bear again. They canceled plans with friends for that Friday and, instead, spent the night luring the bear into the apartment. This time the bear stayed. After gorging itself and breaking more kitchen stuff it curled up in their bedroom to sleep. They worried that the bear would attack but they also enjoyed the feeling of being enveloped by the bear’s presence. They both felt warm and excited, and they made love, focusing easily on the beauty and strength of each other’s bodies.

They awoke the next morning to bright sun coming through their bedroom window. To their surprise, the bear was still there, sleeping on the rug with its head resting on a pile of dirty clothes and shoes. They watched it for awhile from bed, while Christine read aloud interesting passages from a stack of books about bears. She set down a book on bear behavior and stared contemplatively at the bear for awhile.

“It’s so warm and cuddly looking, but I don’t think bears really like each other’s company.” Christine asked. “Except for the mothers and the cubs. But I don’t think adult bears let each other get too close. From what I understand, at best they merely tolerate each other, like near rivers with lots of fish where they all gather to eat.” They thought about the bear’s animal warmth and luxuriant fur, how its life to them was also unimaginably lonely. “From what I read, individual bears have a certain radius of tolerable distance, and if you enter this personal sphere you can expect to get attacked,” Christine remarked.

Jason got up and made breakfast, trying his best to stay as far away from the bear as possible. It growled at them, and they gave it their breakfast. When it was done eating the bear tromped down the stairs and disappeared into an alley. It came back later that day and took a nap in the living room.

Christine spent all night observing the bear: watching it scratch itself and arise huffily to reposition itself for another long nap, drawing it, and whispering about it to Jason. “I wonder if its male or female? I wonder if we’re feeding it the right food – I think it needs more berries and root vegetables and fiber. I read that bears can have territories between 50 to 300 square miles, so this one probably possesses all of San Francisco. Where could it have come from?” She was quiet for a moment, and then said weakly, “Do you think we should call a biologist or a game warden?”

Jason said he did think they should contact someone. He thought that the city was an unhealthy place for the bear. “What if it eats something it’s not supposed to, or gets hit by a car?” he asked.

Christine agreed that the bear should have a safe habitat, away from the dangers of humanity. She remembered videos she’d seen of people interacting with bears, most of which were taken by drunken assholes acting macho, or soft-hearted tourists treating bears like oversized squirrels and feeding them crappy starchy food like donuts and white bread. They all displayed a remarkable lack of respect, and she suddenly felt ashamed and wondered if what she was doing was any different. She remembered the sadness she felt when her mom had told her that her touch hurts the leaves of plants (she used to like to stroke them as a kid) and later on when she was scuba diving and learned that corals will die from the poisonous oils of human touch. She thought about the longing she had to touch her pet rabbit’s smooth, fine hair. She hated how he froze when she pet him, tense with displeasure and fear.

Christine agreed to make the call, but never did. Each time he asked her about it, she made up some excuse about how she was too busy. Finally she admitted she wanted the bear to stay, frowning at Jason as though he was giving her a parking ticket. She wanted to protect the miraculousness of the bear’s appearance in the city, as though removing the bear would deplete the city’s soul.

The next day they left the apartment door open, so the bear could come and go as it pleased. Christine stood watch while Jason bought groceries. He found himself spending longer than usual in the store, not wanting to go back to their apartment with its smashed shelves, weird smell, and departure from reality.

Over the next few weeks, Christine started calling in sick to work. This made her feel guilty, but the bear dominated her mind, making it defiant, reckless, and disorganized to the point where she was unable to get much done at the office. Each morning she struggled with herself, often putting on her work clothes and then finding it impossible to leave the bear. She’d promise herself that she’d go to work the next day and make up for the time she took off, only to make the same decision again.

Instead of working Christine hid food around the apartment and spent long hours near the bear, trying to get it accustomed to her presence as she watched and celebrated it through drawings, poems, and quiet songs. She always gave the bear as much space as possible, usually maintaining a distance of at least ten feet. She was afraid of the bear, and the awe and fear she felt for it made her heart push a little harder, it made her feel more awake.

She was lonely in their apartment when Jason was gone, so she dressed up at night in her bear costume and wandered around the city’s alleys with the bear. Despite its incredible strength it appeared awkward, like a gruff infant. Christine adored the way the bear moved, its front legs swinging with a loose, masculine swagger and its hips rolling like those of a belly dancer.

Christine noticed Jason losing interest in the bear, and it frustrated her, making her doubt him for the first time. It was difficult for her to understand that one could ignore something so wild, powerful, and mysterious. She was disappointed that he didn’t want to watch it and study it as she did, amazed that he didn’t long to know what the bear’s inner life was like. She realized that he showed the same lack of interest in her thoughts and feelings, and that he was disinclined to share these things with her.

Jason started going out for beers in the evenings with his friends from work, and often on weekends some of Jason’s closest office friends would invite him over for potlucks. His coworkers often met up with their partners, and Jason begged Christine to go out with him. She did once, and was incredibly bored. She got completely wasted and puked in the toilet of a brewery. “I’d rather be back with the bear,” she told Jason. “They all just say the same thing, over and over and over again….”

Later that week Jason got a flat tire on his bike while heading to the bar to meet his office friends. One of the senior electrical engineers offered to drive him home in his SUV. When they reached the outside of Jason’s apartment he asked Jason if he could use his bathroom. Jason wanted to say “yes, of course” but then he realized that would mean the man would meet Christine, who was undoubtedly dressed in her costume, sprawled out on the floor facing the bear, drawing pictures of it or writing poems to it. He knew the man would be shocked at their squalid, broken apartment. Jason was proud that most people perceived him as a practical, hardworking, professional man, and their home, he realized, was now an affront to that pride.

“Oh, our plumbing is broken right now,” Jason lied. He hated lying in general, and he hated this particular lie, which he thought made it sound like he was incapable of making repairs, or that he lived in a slum. As long as the bear lived in their apartment, Jason thought with dismay, he could never invite his friends over, and he could never be part of the potluck hosting rotation.

One night Christine joined Jason in bed still wearing her bear costume. Jason rolled away from her, disgusted and horny, wishing she was dressed as a human again. She snuggled up to him in the middle of the night, and she woke up to him pushing her away. He gave her a look of frustration and impatience that she had never seen from him before that night, and the look scared her. That morning they fought for the first time, and when they yelled at each other the bear left.

Christine sobbed for hours that morning, after Jason left for work. Without the bear her mind felt vague and lifeless. Around noon she went guiltily to her job feeling weak and defeated, and she worked dispassionately. She was unable to eat all day.

That night Jason proposed that they move out of the city, back to the redwoods and the blackberries and the space they had known before. He talked about buying land near their old home, and he said he wanted to have kids with her. “And we could have goats and chickens and bees and vegetables,” he said. “I miss that life and I know you miss it too. We could live in the country, and there would be bears of course, but they would be outside, where they are happiest.”

But Christine pleaded with him. “No, let’s just stay here for a couple years. I can be whoever I want to be here. Please, please don’t ask me to leave yet!” They cried together on the bed for awhile until Jason left for the couch, where Christine could hear him tossing and turning. The next morning Jason started packing up his stuff. He left the house in the afternoon, planning to stay with some friends while he found a new job and a place outside of the city.

Christine watched him get into his car and drive away, her eyes raw and red, her nerves jangling and a deep sorrow filling her stomach like polar seawater. She worried about the coming months and years, about how she could possibly keep her heart open without his love. She wondered if the bear would come back that night if Jason was gone. She wondered if she should be afraid of it, now that she was alone.

She wandered around her neighborhood, her body feeling unsubstantial. Over the past few days springtime flowers, peonies and daffodils, had started to bloom. She leaned over fences to pull flowers from their stems, and soon she had gathered a big bouquet. A few people glared at her from their windows as she stole from them, but it didn’t bother her. She filled her hands with flowers.

When she went back into the apartment the bear was lying in the living room. It opened its eyes when she came in but didn’t move. She sat down and watched it, and then began arranging the flowers around it, demarcating the radius of distance she had respectfully and timidly maintained over the weeks the bear had lived with her.

Christine pulled the petals off of a giant peony, each one large enough to be a child’s hand, shaped as if making a cup to hold water. She set these at equal distances as she circumambulated the bear. She beheaded daffodils and put them in between the peony petals, and next to these – tight, tiny pink peppery-smelling rosebuds. She sprinkled tiny purple sage blossoms over the larger flowers, and she set the stems and leaves of the plants pointing towards the bear like arrows.

When she was done she stood up and took a step inside the circle of flowers. At first she walked toward it, but then she realized that looming above the prostrate bear would doubtless be interpreted as a threat, so she got down low on her hands and knees, almost slithering forward. The bear watched her, its ears up, but it didn’t move or make eye contact.

She doubted herself during the minutes it took her to get from seven to five feet away from the bear, wondering if what she was doing was stupid and disrespectful. However, as she grew closer her doubt was eclipsed by a reverent longing. When she was a few feet away from the bear it raised its head and looked her in the face. She knew this was an aggressive move, and that it probably meant the bear would attack her unless she retreated. She stopped and returned the gaze from its dark, watery eyes.

“Go ahead,” she said, feeling her voice resonate within her skinny chest, the words tingling like a kiss on her lips. Her eyes filled with warm tears. The bear put its head down and sighed as it relaxed its body. It’s shoulders, belly and hips stretched out across the floor like a range of rolling hills undulating across the horizon. Christine reached out and touched the bear’s chest. Her fingers worked their way down through the coarse outer guard hairs, finding the body heat trapped in the soft, dense undercoat. The feeling swept through her whole body, and she realized she was in love, that for the first time in her life she was completely at home in the world. “I will love you forever,” she said to the bear, who relaxed under her touch like a landscape caressed by the spreading rays of a rising moon.


Originally published in Beatdom #11.

Dick in Dixie: Hank Williams III

interview by Michael Hendrick


They say that I’m ill-mannered,

that I’m gonna self-destruct,

But if you know what I’m thinkin’

you’ll know that pop country really sucks.
Well, we’re losing all the outlaws

that had to stand their ground
and they’re being replaced by these kids
from a manufactured town
And they don’t have no idea
about sorrow and woe
‘Cause they’re all just too damn busy
kissin’ ass on Music Row.

Published by Hank Williams III, 2005,  Bruc Records.


Doing good.

Well, I mean, you know, what I am doing to my voice. No other musician out there is doing what we deliver, as far as three and a half hours a night, four different genres, so it takes a toll on the vocal chords. It’s the never ending battle, fighting for my voice, trying to keep it. That’s the hardest part…the road…but that’s just one of those things.


What are you up to currently? In September, you released four new albums on the same day…you don’t see many artists do that.


We did a West Coast run and we just did an East Coast run. In my career, I have always toured just to tour. This is the first time I am touring around the releasing of the records but…that’s just my work ethic and that’s just what we do. The two year thing is…I wanting to get to a lot of places I never got to play before. Places like Italy, Romania, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia…            I’m wanting to start from scratch and get over there while I can. The last twenty years I’ve really just kept it in the United States and Canada. I’ve been to Japan and Europe just a couple of times but I’ve mostly kept it in the United States.


One thing you notice about a Hank3 show is how devoted the fans are; there is a lot of loyalty show to the artist.


I do talk to a lot of people from China on Facebook…all that shameless self-promotion on MySpace and Facebook…that’s a lot of the groundwork on my end, trying to put the word out over there in a different way. I’ve gotten a lot of work off of it. I meet a lot of creative people, artists giving me stuff or making trades…a lot of guitar techs…you meet a lot of people that if someone else was running it [his Facebook page], you would not have all those great opportunities of getting to connect with folks. You just wouldn’t have the opportunities to connect to all those people who are reaching out to you if you had somebody else scanning all your stuff. So, I’ve always been into trying to be as much ‘hands on’ as possible.


It seems to be working. We have been following you since around 2000, and it seems like more people know your name now than ever.


You got to keep in mind that I have toured this road for twenty years so I would hope that it is getting a little more common out there for at least some people to know who I am. I am sure outlaw country has helped out a good little bit on that since they support me and I would just say  all the roadwork, the word of mouth, shaking all those hands, has helped a lot in getting me out there a bit. It has changed a little but there are still a few that don’t have any idea but that’s part of the beauty of it.

Also, I always strive to be grassroots-oriented. I mean that’s the main thing…not to get too big. If I had a number one song tomorrow, I would only be playing a small bar for two days in a row and stuff like that. That’s just a little bit of my mentality on that stuff…


On the subject of country outlaws, Johnny Cash gave you some help on how to write songs?


It was his advice to me…I’m not being selfish to my fans, but…the best song is, like, always just write a song for yourself. You don’t need to be writing a song for no company or sitting down on music row with an office. That’s not real. That’s not heartfelt. That’s fake and I have always lived by that. I do try to write songs and identify with my fans and make them feel connected on songs like “Six Pack of Beer” and “Drinkin’ Ain’t Hard To Do”…with the bad economy and stuff like that.

All in all, I have never tried to make a ‘number one song’ on the radio. I just put out what I do. If you get it, you get it; and if you don’t, you don’t. You definitely see that in my shows. If I wanted to be a rock star, I could just do the country stuff and walk off the stage and have a room full of people…all the girls and sex, drugs, and rock and roll would be available to me…but what do I do? I go the extra mile and I run everybody out the door and I play until the select few are left there standing with us. That has always been my approach, for now, while I got the energy to do that and take it to the next level.

If Lemmy [of Motorhead and Hawkwind] is still kicking ass at his age, the way I look at the future is – as long as I can deliver a good show then I will keep doing what I do but if I’m not able to deliver a good show like I want to, I might have to slow down and not tour as much. All in all, I’ll be touring until I’m fifty. I know that…full throttle until I am fifty. That’s the goal. It’s hard to say, I just don’t know how life is going to treat me…or health…or all that stuff and you just never can tell.

Billy Gibbons [of ZZ Top] is doing great. Hank Junior’s still out there to do his thing…Lemmy, Slayer…there are a lot of older guys who are still able to bring it to the table but I want to go out with my head up. I have seen some of my heroes, like Johnny Paycheck, on that stage barely being able to breathe with oxygen tanks hooked up to him. I have seen Waylon [Jennings] when he was shaking so bad that he couldn’t even hold a guitar pick. Me and David Allan Coe are standing over on the side of the stage. David is basically in tears because it is so hard to see him in that condition. That’s when I told myself, I want to have my head held high if I ever retire. Who knows what will happen?

A lot of it might go back to…I’m not the greatest businessman and who knows how my health will be or…I don’t see any of that Hank Williams money and none of this Hank Williams estate so, heck, I might have to tour just to have an oxygen mask…who knows, but it will be interesting to see what the future might hold for me besides music.


For all the talk of poor health, the interviewer witnessed Hank plough through a four-hour set and have time to meet fans. It is unique for anybody to put out such a show of sustained energy, both vocally and instrumentally. When the interviewer clapped Hank on the shoulder in departing, it was hard not to notice how muscular and hard Hank’s arm is.

The conversation turned to his songwriting process:


Alright, it is always a little different. First of all, writing is hard for me because of my learning disabilities, my ADHD, my dyslexia…writing has always been a challenge. Even reading has been hard for me. Sometimes I do write on the road, very rarely, but I will try to sit down with a pen and write some lyrics every now and then. Usually the pen gets in the way!

When I’m writing a country song, I usually hit ‘record’ and sing off the top of my head on what I feel and then I go back with a pen and try to make it a little more of a story or make a little more sense out of it. That’s always how I’ve just kind of done it. On some songs like “Crazed Country Rebel,” which was written on the road with Superjoint Ritual, I had a lot of downtime and I was just able to sit there and write the whole song out, then go back and put music to it later. Ninety percent of the time, it’s me singing with my acoustic guitar and kind of channeling or singing off the top of my head. I’m just singing what I feel and it just depends…because of my rhythm…I’ll either do something slow or I’ll do something fast or I’ll do something a little strange. That’s how it happens.

The rock and roll writing process is always the guitarist first, then I do the drums, then the vocals are last – because to me, in rock, you really don’t have to tell as much of a story. In country music the lyrics are a lot more important. People identify a lot more with the roots-oriented music.

It’s always been on me because most of my band is scattered. Not all of it…I have my drummer, Sonic Williams, he lives in Nashville…but most of my guys are out of town and since I play everything and I hear the rhythms and hear what it’s supposed to be, I just do it all myself and then give it to the other guys. It’s been like that because I enjoy playing drums. I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy recording. It’s fun for me and it’s a thrill to hear the finished product and stuff like that. I never, in the country world or the rock world, have done that well trying to write with someone else…just because I am kind of shy and intimidated. In general, I am just kind of nervous around people so I just feel more at ease when writing by myself.


You get a lot of great guests, though, like Tom Waits on “Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown,” (one of the four released in September 2011 on Hank 3 Records).


I just sent him the songs after they were created. I sent him a few songs to see which one he felt more comfortable with, so he definitely felt more comfortable with “Fadin’ Moon” because of the pushbox accordion. On the song, “Ghost to a Ghost,” he is just singing the last line but I was just going out there a little bit. It is not a country song. It is just a different sounding song but I was just trying to…in “Ghost to a Ghost” [the LP] and “Guttertown,” there are only about five or six country songs, in my opinion. There’s a lot of new stuff that is not really country at all. I am just letting people know I‘m a diverse musician and who knows what else you might be getting in the future…a little bit of everything.


Speaking of Tom Waits, both he and Bob Dylan claim they made deals with the devil. You sing about Satan a lot…did you ever make a deal?


Well, not to my knowledge. I mean, what I always approached was, my grandfather sang about the Light so it seems natural for me to sing about the Dark. That’s my big thing. I’ve had Satanism people try to recruit me and I’ve had all kinds of different people want to recruit me to try and be on their team. I do sing about the devil and stuff like that but I’m just gonna keep doing my thing and I’d rather just be an outsider and a rebel and an independent kind of guy.

So that is really hard to say. My grandfather had the woes – the sinning and the suffering because of some of the topics he might of put out there throughout his music but I’ve definitely taken that to more of an extreme level.

I do have a lot of guilt in me. I do my best to try to even out my karma… That’s why I do my best to try to be good to anybody I meet. I’m always down to earth and nice to them and try to put out the best positive energy that I can but I also know a lot of really dark people who practice that stuff and are really heavy into it but…I just…you know, that’s what they do and to each their own. It’s not my job to judge anybody…it’s whatever anyone feels comfortable with. I do have days where it is a lot harder than other days. So, you know, if I was an atheist, it sure would make things a lot more easier. I’m not necessarily on any team but I do believe in good light and dark energy and I have seen both of them work.

It’s just like the other night, when I played in Flint, MI, and somebody just said, “Well, you finally made it to hell!” So…whatever that means…and I am feeling it in my mind and in my heart. Sometimes I have those overwhelming feelings. Sometimes it goes back to, well, if I’ve made it all the way to hell, maybe I gotta just keep on fighting to get back out of it or who knows, it’s just one of those things you don’t know but I do sing a lot about the darker topics and I have felt a lot more comfortable in that world because it’s just been a natural rebellious thing for me, being raised in the Bible Belt. My mother burned all my music. I was forced to go to church four times a week and that’s back when the Satan Seminars were really big and I’m just always torn on that topic. I just never know where I really stand. I wish I did, so I could be like, “Okay, it’s said and done and this is where I’m at…” but it’s a forever, never ending fight.


 “You find out after you die,” is what some say.


I know people who have and some say there is something and some say there is nothing…like my half-sister, Hillary, she basically got killed in a car wreck and got revived and she had a nice experience. Phil Anselmo, from Pantera, he’s been dead and he came back and he is one of those guys out there who says there’s nothing. We all don’t know until our time will come.


The ‘hellbilly’ sound…


Well, to me, I’m not tooting my own horn, but I think I am close to being the pioneer of that sound. I never heard the term until I started bringing it up. I don’t think. To me, hellbilly, back in the day, was playing rock and roll on country instruments. Back when I was doing the full-on hellbilly, roots-wise…the acoustic guitar was running through a distortion pedal, the steel guitar, the fiddle, the upright bass…that was the hillbilly sound. In my songs, I was always talking about…well, I always liked Webb Pierce and I’m working on a farm and I’m singing rock and roll in a country style and this is the hellbilly sound. For me, hellbilly was just like being the independent outlaw. If you look at some of the biker clubs, whether it the Outlaws or the Hells’ Angels, or whatever, it was my way of creating a little bit of an outsider, Reverend Horton Heat on steroids kind of sound. That’s just what it was and it goes back to doing something against the Bible Belt…trying to do something a little different.


You seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Grand Ole Opry.


I have always paid respect there. I never disrespected that stage. I never cussed on that stage. I’ve never smoked in their building or anything like that. They try to embrace certain outlaws and it is what it is. I am one of the last few outlaws doing it and, the Opry means it. If you look back in history, the Grand Ole Opry was always full of kids. It wasn’t full of old people when it was really thriving and I’m just…well, Johnny Cash was doing the same thing back in his day.


Looking back at your earlier appearance at the Opry, you almost seemed ‘clean cut’.


At first, I was doing a little bit of paying respects just to get into the game, just to get a little money to pay for all the back support I owed for my child and then I started standing on my own two feet, knowing my past and fighting for my fans, fighting to be different.

Hank Junior has done the same thing on that stage. Waylon, Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, there’s been a few on there that’s done what I’ve done. It’s just that it might not have been televised.

It’s a definite fact that Hank Williams was playing rock and roll before they knew what rock and roll was.

Your example is…[sings]:

“I came in last night, about half past ten,

that baby of mine, wouldn’t let me in,

move it on over…well…

Dada da da, Dada da da,  dada da da da da da da,

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight,

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock until broad daylight…”

It’s the same fucking thing!…Bill Haley and the Comets was not the first guy to play rock and roll. Hank Williams was – they just didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, he just wasn’t having an electric guitar in his hand. A couple times he did, but he held that acoustic guitar more and he was timeless and he was crossing over and doing everything, but all in all…that is why there is a picture of Hank Williams in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are the true people that know that he was the founder of rock before rock and roll really happened, in a low key way. If you look at the structure, Hank Williams was playing the structure of rock and roll.


Your grandfather did so much in the 29 years he was alive. You put out a lot of energy, too. Are there any nights when you think, “Oh, this is what he felt like?”


There is a lot of differences between me and him. He did so much in so little time that it is still mind-boggling when you look back at the amount of work that was captured but as life goes on…or say it feels like I might be having a heart attack on stage or feeling like it might be my last day on earth, there are certain feelings because Hank told a couple folks that he kind of knew his end was near. I feel like that sometime. I definitely hope it’s not like that but the spirit of the outlaw energy, I feel it in the rooms a good bit and me and him have a lot of similarities but then, again, there are a lot of differences there. He was always an easygoing, kind of funny guy to be around, where I, on the other hand, am really not that much fun to be around. I’m kind of a downer. It’s just hard for me to laugh. I don’t know why, it’s just always been like that. He was real deep and felt at ease in his storytelling and for me, I don’t know why, but there is just a difference. I am kind of uptight. I have this nervous energy.

Maybe once in a while when I am singing I may feel him a little bit. If I have a real nasally voice, I might feel the spirit of him. There is also definitely a lot of differences. He was a very cocky individual at times, he would fight and get drunk and he would mouth off but, in general, he was good and he knew it. He was really sharp. Me, on the other hand, I have never been like that. I might be sharp but it’s not just arrogance. I’ve been real intent on making sure that people know that the ego is not out of control. I never wanted to be like my father, as far as cussing out the audiences or telling Yankees to go fuck themselves or all that stuff.

I’ve had my country heros and my rock heros dick me off and be assholes to me and I never wanted to be that guy to my fans, or my crew.


You mention Kid Rock and call him a ‘Yank’ and say he’s ‘no son of Hank’ in “Not Everybody Likes Us.” What is up with that?


He stuck his nose in the family business. He came in and tried to tell me how to act to my father. When you are going to do that, what do you expect? I’m gonna definitely put someone like that down…and that is coming from a guy says, “Well, you know I’m the next Elvis!” That’s the first thing he ever told me when I met him. So, I’ve never been like that and a lot of my fans are proud that I am not like that. They know that I put on my pants just like anybody else, work hard for what I do…nothing was ever really handed to me. I had to fight for my way in every little thing. I could have took the easy way out but I always stuck to the hard road and people ‘get’ that.


Since this is our nature issue, let’s touch on that…


I don’t hunt that much and if I do hunt, I’m mainly taking my son out, really. If I do hunt, I go through the whole process and clean it and eat it. I am not out there just to kill. I have never really been like that. I am very into animal rights, especially the shame with all the pit bulls and all the stuff that has been happening against them, especially in the South. It’s really hard to see. If you look back, the pit bull was the “Little Rascal’s” main dog…


How about the dog from the RCA Victor signs?


Yeah, that was “Petey” and there was about four or five different ones and that was the American icon, back in the day. People have made pit bulls worse, not the breed itself. It just goes to show how the corrupt people have damaged the reputation of that breed. I have always worked with no-kill shelters and animals rights activists.

This guy was trying to get back at his girlfriend so he hooked up her horse to the back of his truck and drug it for over four miles and left it at her front door…and he got a citation?! Shit like that…I would think he should have gotten six months in jail.

Animals have been so good to me and I care a lot about them. They have helped me through my hard times. It is my way of giving back. I also do “Homes for the Troops,” for the guys over there in the war who lose their legs, their arms…I do benefit shows for them, where they have to build special houses for them with ramps and stuff like that and raise money, even though the government should be paying that for the rest of their lives.

Those are the two main things I will take time out and try to raise money for.


Aren’t you active in the campaign to get you grandfather reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry?


There is a petition out on and all people can do is sign it. I just got a call from Nashville today that they ran a big story on it in The Tennessean…so things are starting to happen with it, even if we are just talking about it, but it seems like it is getting close.

I always said that the person who put it into perspective the best is Tom Waits because he called out the big corporate people and the average folks and really got them to see where the loophole is and he’s calling them out on the loophole. The 200th Edition of Mojo Magazine, has a story that he wrote and he really did a lot of homework and got in touch with the right people to call them out and let it be known. That’s what I always tell everyone to read because it calls out the big guys, the corporate people. He [Waits] is saying, “Well, why is he listed on your website as a member but in reality, he is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry?”…and just little things like that but it is a very interesting read. Find it if you can. He edited that whole edition.


But the petition has been around for a few years. Wasn’t somebody already trying?


No, I did a lot for that guy [an unnamed individual] out of respect but then he just started drifting a different way and not getting it and I had to pull the plug and shut it all down. If you not going to work with us and you’re going to think this is about you, well, guess what? It’s not about you, this is about Hank Williams…so we shut that down.


Bob Dylan just did the album, “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.” You were great on the tribute album to your grandfather, “Timeless.” Why weren’t you doing a song on this project?


It doesn’t matter if it’s “Hank Junior’s Big 40th” or all that stuff – they never ask or invite me to do things like that. I don’t know what it is. All I can say is that I guess it is just those corporate people in Nashville that just don’t want much to do with someone like me.

I’m not putting Bob Dylan down, but he owns my grand-dad’s stuff but never once has he reached out or anything. I have known players who play with him and he has had plenty of opportunities to say stuff to me regarding my family history since he is so into it but he never has…There is a whole other aspect to whatever that is. I know it has to do with some lawyers and people like that.

It is what it is. An unfinished Hank Williams song, in my opinion, might be unfinished for a reason. So, who knows?


You have dubbed Nashville as “Trashville.” It seems like you fit in better with the country players from West Texas. Why there?


I basically used to hang out a lot with Wayne [The Train] Hancock. He was one of my best friends out there. He showed me a lot…and Dale Watson, too… So, I have spent a lot of time in Texas. I have never lived there and don’t think I ever will live there. I enjoy living in Tennessee and I am proud to be from Tennessee. Ray Price was good to me and I got to hang out with Ray a little bit. Ray Vincent has been good to me. Junior Brown…I have recorded him at my house before. He came in a couple months ago and we all recorded a song of his and two days later it was on the radio. I am not singing on it. I just pulled the session together and recorded it. I played drums on it; I called up Dave Roe, Johnny Cash’s old bass player and got him involved.

As Junior said, “Man, I really like the vibe of your studio and the way you did it is the way it should be done. You used one microphone to capture all the different sounds and I think that’s what Nashville has stopped a lot. He had a hell of a time and it was our first time actually being able to hang out. I gained a lot of respect from him. As far as outside of Texas, Waylon Jennings had always been good to me before he passed on. David Allan Coe is basically like my father. He is the only man out there who has ever said, “If you need advice, or anything, just call me. If you need anything, you call me.” Not many people, even in my own family have been like that. Kris Kristofferson has also been very embracive to me on my career, also, and for a little while George Jones was good. Little Jimmy Dickens was always respectful to me in all those things.

I have been so busy just having to fight for my own way that I haven’t been able to hang out with those people. I don’t ‘do lunch.’ I don’t make the rounds in Tennessee. I’m worried about getting my crew and band on the road and making it happen again. That is where a lot of my time goes.

All in all, David Allan Coe is the only man who stood with my through the years and he has become a very humble man in his older age. He has done it all – he has had the number one songs and been ripped off for every one of his hit songs, and he is the closest thing to a family member that I have, one of the living outlaw legends.

I’ll never sign another artist to my label because I would never want to do another musician wrong. It is hard enough just keeping up with what I do. I would never want to make a musician feel like he did not get the sound he deserved on a song or the press he deserved or any of that stuff. I’m not that much of a business guy.


You would make a good politician, the way you shake hands and work the crowd. Did we read a quote about you thinking of it?


I think that was a mis-quote. I don’t ever see myself in politics. Look at Ted Nugent. When he is not onstage, he is politically active and I have never been into politics, hardly ever. I take the David Lee Roth stance on it…there are some things in music that just don’t belong. We are here to make people forget about their problems, not make them feel worse. You see enough about politics on every news, radio, internet…it is shoved down your face 24/7 and I take the stance that I don’t really sing about it that much.

The only political thing I’ll say is, “Yeah, it’d be nice to see that war end.” When I see how many kids come and go and how many bodies get destroyed and how many minds are being ruined…I would say it is just about time for them to wrap it up. Or, if you look at the position that Hank Junior took not long ago, if you are a gun activist, or you care about your ammo or your shotgun, you will notice that the Rights to Bear Arms are being taken away more and more.

Kids are dying for our freedom while rights are being taken away more and more everyday over there and that is sad to see…but I stay away from politics because I don’t research it. I don’t follow it. My politics is my music. I play music. I hope my gun is my guitar and I’m out there trying to let people forget about their problems. I just have never been that involved in it, not until I have to and right now I am just touring the road and have never been that into politics.

Hank, er, Pop, made that comment (likening Obama to Hitler)…I say the only musician who should say anything about politics is Jello Biafra because when he’s not playing music, he is actively involved. He is doing the speeches. He is doing the research. He is doing all kinds of stuff to raise awareness on many different levels, whereas most punk rock bands are just saying, “Fuck the government, 1,2,3, fuck the police, blahblahbla”…and they are not really doing their homework. That is my stance on it because I don’t follow it. All I will say is that if people should vote, they should vote for the smaller people…the mayor, the governor…that is where the big change is gonna happen, in the smaller communities. Not the Big Kahuna…


The ‘occupy’ movement seems to have missed that logic.


I don’t even think that is the right one. That doesn’t seem like the right movement or the motivation. The only thing the occupy thing has really shown is how the police can get away with beating old people down. That’s about it. That’s about all that happened. They can shoot you with the rubber bullets, they can pepper-spray an 84-year-old man…do all these things…It is just not the right revolution. It just does not seem like the right one. Whenever the day comes when they try to take guns away from Americans, that will be the new Civil War and that is when the revolution will happen.

The scary thing for me is on the gun level…I hear it from the Vietnam vets. I hear it from the kids that are in the war right now and then someone like my father, so it is happening on all fronts.

He [father, Hank Junior] made massive headlines…he was saying basically that Obama was Hitler. See, that all goes back to the guns. The only reason he is saying that is that the Right to Bear Arms is being taken away… or the ban to ban a single barrel shotgun. As my father would say, one of his most prized possessions is an old single barrel shotgun that his great-grandfather used in World War I and he still has it and Obama wants to put a ban on it? As he would say, FUCK THAT!

That goes back to why the kids are fighting for freedom while the rights are being taken away more and more. Ted Nugent can go there and my dad is very dialed into that but since I live very day to day and by the skin of my teeth, in reality I’m not a very rich man so that probably has a lot to do with it. Most of these people that are really hardcore into politics, a lot of them have a good bit of money. I never have had that which is another reason why I am bliss to that world right now.

It might have been joking because Hank Junior said he was gonna run for governor and then Jello Biafra told me that, “You need to run against your father and I’ll be your political advisor and we’ll have a campaign and do that.” So I might have been joking on that. I would never see myself in that kind of a position.


Originally published in Beatdom #11.

Billy Burroughs: Gentleman Farmer

The notion of Burroughs as a farmer – even an inept one – may not sit right with readers of his work, or those familiar with the history of the Beats. Yet before he was William S. Burroughs the writer, he was Billy Burroughs the farmer, and this period in his life – although largely overlooked by biographers – greatly impacted his literary output. When you look closely at his work, the short period he spent as a farmer in the late 1940s keeps cropping up, and yet it is glossed over in the biographies as though of little consequence. But Burroughs considered his time in Texas as some of the happiest days of his life, and during this period he developed the routines and heard the stories that made some of his best work. Even in his most famous work, Naked Lunch, the landscape of Texas is described with allusions to his own crossings back and forth in search of pharmaceuticals, and of course in Junky there are numerous references.

Burroughs grew up in St. Louis, and whilst he talked often of its red-light districts and skid rows, he also enjoyed the parks and the gardens, and especially going duck-shooting with his father. He enjoyed hiking and fishing, too, but he was not naturally suited to the outdoors. He was in many respects a spoiled child, disliked by other adults, and considered weak and pathetic. He was sent by his parents to the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, where the school song went, “Far away and high on the mesa’s crest/ Here’s the life all of us love the best!” and the boys learned camping, hunting, and fishing. Burroughs later claimed to have gained nothing from the experience except a hatred of horses, and especially hated that the school frowned upon reading as something “for sissies”, but it’s likely his life-long love of guns began here, and maybe even his interest in self-reliance.

At age thirteen, Burroughs read autobiography of Jack Black, You Can’t Win, and was captivated. “I was fascinated by this glimpse of an underworld of seeding rooming-houses, pool parlors, cat house and opium dens,” he said. From then on, it seems, Burroughs’ interests lay firmly within city limits, and for many years that’s where he remained.

The Beat Generation was in the early days an urban movement, set in New York City, among the neon lights and the fast paced life of the city. It played out in and around Columbia University between 1944 and 1946, with Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs at the centre, alongside a cast that included – at various times – Joan Vollmer, Edie Parker, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, and Hal Chase. Burroughs delved further into the criminal underworld than his Beat friends, exploring Times Square at night and planning to rob banks, living out his Jack Black fantasies. He fancied himself as a bit of an outlaw, with the government and society as his enemies. Later, Kerouac attempted to find solace in the mountains and forests of California with Gary Snyder, and Ginsberg sought serenity in nature throughout his life, but Burroughs has always been viewed differently. Less interested in nature than the supernatural, it’s easier to picture him in some seedy drug den than in the great outdoors, and as such his best writing explores the landscape of cities rather than mountains or forests.

In April 1946, the members of the Beat Generation began to move apart. Burroughs was arrested because of a forged prescription for Dilaudid and briefly imprisoned before his father bailed him out. His case was tried in June, and the judge gave him the worst sentence he could think of for an over-privileged young first offender: “Young man, I am going to send you home to St. Louis for the summer.”

Back in St. Louis, Burroughs ran into Kells Elvins, with whom he’d written “Twilight’s Last Gleamings” years earlier. Together they dreamt up wild get-quick-rich schemes, before eventually settling on the idea of citrus and cotton farming. Elvins already owned twenty acres of citrus grove by this point, having inherited the land from his father, but he was what is known as a “gentleman farmer” – he owned the land, watched the profits, and left the work in the hands of his immigrant laborers (known commonly as “wetbacks” or “wets”). At harvest time he had around two hundred workers picking what Burroughs’ claimed was $50,000-$60,000 worth of grapefruit. Burroughs’ parents were of the opinion that life as a farmer would be altogether more wholesome than letting him run around the city, and in June 1946 gave him the money for his fifty acres down in Pharr, Texas. “Fifty of the finest acres in the valley,” he called it, referring to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

During World War II, in an effort to keep the troops fed and clothed, the US government had pumped money into agriculture, particularly in areas like South Texas, where so called “Magic Valleys” allowed for year-round farming. The result was a boom in the industry, with men flocking to the land in order to make a quick buck. These were men like Burroughs and Elvins, who really knew little about farming, but were drawn to this macho pursuit, and the idea of sitting back on the ranch, shooting the shit as their men did the dirty work. Unfortunately for Burroughs, the war had ended before he made his move. Demand decreased and operating costs rose.

Later, in Mexico, Burroughs wrote his first novel, Junky. In it he speaks harshly of Pharr and the scams that brought “marks” like him to invest their money in what turned out to be a desert:


During the Twenties, real estate operators brought trainloads of prospects down to the valley and let them pick grapefruit right off the trees and eat it. One of these pioneer promoters is said to have constructed a large artificial lake and sold plots all around it… As soon as the last sale closed, he turned off the water and disappeared with his lake, leaving the prospects sitting there in a desert.


In 1987 he was telling a similar story in his novel, The Western Lands.

For Burroughs, this was no forced exile, and he certainly didn’t think he was the sort to be scammed. He always had a strong individualist mentality. In true Beat style, he disliked conventional society and the rules that it tried to force upon him. He wanted independence and self-sufficiency in his own private Wild West, where he could live by his own laws and not fear arrest for doing the things he loved (he returned to Pharr twice after drug busts). Rob Johnson, in his book, The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs: Beats in South Texas, suggests that Burroughs was also interested in creating his own socio-economic system that, in spite of his overtly conservative views at the time (not to mention his scorn for Ginsberg’s political leanings), appeared startling socialist.

Joan, meanwhile, was stuck in Bellevue, back in New York, having suffered a breakdown. Leaving Elvins in charge of the farm for the first, but certainly not the last, time, Burroughs enacted some brilliant timing by arriving in New York on October 31st, just before her release, and whisked her off to his new farm. En route, they later claimed, their child was conceived.

Farming, however, was not Burroughs’ forte, and for a while he convinced himself that he could become a wildcatter and drill for oil on his land (which inspired the famous “oilman” routine in Queer). But although he took it seriously and attempted to study farming as he had done with numerous other subjects during his life, nothing ever went well for him. Still, to his credit, during his short time in Pharr, it seems Burroughs remained somewhat interested in the running of operations, even if the hard work was done by his immigrant Mexican laborers.


The farmer did all the actual work. Evans (Elvins’s name in Junky) and I would drive around every few days to see how the cotton was looking… There was no point in looking at the cotton since neither of us knew the first thing about it.


From the offset, Burroughs found that his own private Wild West was not really as free from the law as he’d imagined. For a start, the border patrol was beginning to step up activities against illegal laborers, and even deported some of Burroughs’ workers. He didn’t like the government telling him what he could and couldn’t do, and was even more enraged when they tried to dictate what crops he could grow. He was convinced that the government was doing the bidding of “big holders” – industrial farmers with a thousand acres or more – who were trying to squash the little guy. Ever concerned about systems of control, Burroughs worried about being a “mark” and about being conned and manipulated by powerful forces. In Junky, he wrote:


The Big Holders are the house, and the small farmers are the players. The player goes broke if he keeps on playing, and the farmer has to pay or lose to the Government by default. The Big Holders own all the Valley banks, and when the farmer goes broke the bank takes over. Soon the Big Holders will own the Valley.


In a letter to Ginsberg, Burroughs explained this point, naming the “Benson Brothers” as the local Big Holders. “They just sit, and slowly the Valley falls into their hands,” he wrote, evidently unaware of the irony that he himself was mostly a wealthy, absentee landlord. “They are the financial beneficiaries of the U.S. wetback policy.” By this, Burroughs meant that small sharecroppers could only afford to stay in business by using immigrant labor, and that by deporting or regulating this workforce, small-time farmers would go bankrupt.

He found life in the valley somewhat depressing, and he referred to it in a letter to Kerouac as “the valley of heat and boredom”. Joan was unhappy, too. She loathed the local country club crowd and probably yearned for even more seclusion that their middle-of-nowhere property provided. (Years later, in their biographies, Barry Miles and Ted Morgan both failed to place Pharr on a map, somehow placing it in East Texas, despite acknowledging its proximity to the border.)

Burroughs empathized with the artist John Haughton Allen, who said of the area, “The best way to see the Southwest is through the bottom of a glass.” He and Elvins would drink heavily. The people who knew him during this period of his life knew him as an alcoholic, primarily. Burroughs’ friends were equally eccentric and all seemingly shared his passion for guns and drink. His stories from that period are wild, to say the least.

Most people, though, seemed to view Burroughs from a distance. They thought him odd. “Retarded” is one description that Johnson was given in an interview with some Pharr citizens. These citizens remember a Burroughs that matches well with the image of Kerouac’s Old Bull Lee – of an anti-social but occasionally enthusiastic oddball.

A major benefit of life in the Valley for Burroughs was its proximity to Mexico, where he had access to boys. None of his neighbours appeared aware of his sexuality, but he made occasional trips to Reynosa, a border town, where he was outed and became known as Willie El Puta – or Willie the Queer. Despite this indignation, he was captivated by Mexico for such freedoms that were tolerated more than in America.

One problem that Burroughs faced in Pharr was that his visions for a farm didn’t stop with citrus and cotton. Although in the beginning he was writing letters to Ginsberg that claimed he would make ten thousand dollars mailing oranges around the United States as gift baskets, what he really wanted were vast fields of opium poppies and marijuana. Unfortunately, “the Valley” wasn’t in fact a valley, and the land was as flat as could be, with everyone able to see what he was growing. So in December 1949, only six months after arriving in the Valley, and only a month after arriving with Joan, Burroughs left Elvins in charge of the farm and moved to East Texas, on Winters Bayou, between Coldspring and New Waverley, 50 miles northeast of Houston. “Man, are we ever in Hicksville,” he wrote of the property which was at least a mile from the nearest road.

Its seclusion was bliss for Burroughs, who by some accounts couldn’t even get his jeep near the cabin and had to walk quite a distance. They were surrounded by trees – mostly hardwoods – and swamps. There were a lot of snakes and scorpions but the family could bathe and fish, with huge catfish inhabiting the swamps. The landscape pleased Burroughs, and reminded him of his Missouri childhood. Even Joan was somewhat happy out in the middle of nowhere, and was glad to be away from the snooty types they knew in Pharr. Burroughs described it:


It was heavy timber. Oak and persimmon, not too much pine. The kind of country that starts in Southern Missouri and goes all the way down to east Texas. There were raccoons and foxes and squirrels and armadillos.


Here, Burroughs had ninety-nine (or ninety-seven, depending on the source) acres of land, where he did indeed have the required privacy to grow what he wished. Not much grew in that red soil, including the opium poppies, but the marijuana worked out. Burroughs lived out his new life as a gentleman farmer quite happily, with Joan and her daughter Julie, and even Herbert Huncke living with them, running errands such as Benzedrine trips to Houston. Burroughs got himself a small hound dog, and patrolled his land with it at his heel, cutting wood and shooting things. There was, in fact, so much gunfire on the property that his neighbours believed the area to be a gangster hideout.

Burroughs also spent a lot of time at the local general store, which was – and still is – owned by the Ellisor family. Andrew and Arch Ellisor would stand around telling stories, which Burroughs greatly enjoyed. A number of odd little background stories in his books came from old men in Texas, and these ones eventually became significant in the creation of The Place of Dead Roads. Of course, in this novel the character of Arch was loosely based upon Arch Ellisor.

On July 21st 1947, Joan gave birth to Burroughs’ only son, William Seward Burroughs III, who was born addicted to Benzedrine, and had a difficult life from the beginning. He was just another part of the odd and ever-intoxicated Burroughs family.

Even as a farmer, Burroughs rarely went without his trademark suit and tie. He woke late, gathered his mail and the papers, and spent his days on the porch of their weather-beaten little cabin, reading stories to his disinterested wife. Joan for the most part tended to the children and made the food, whilst also famously scraping lizards off a tree with a rake. Huncke seemed to be the only one doing much work, as in addition to fetching drugs and alcohol from nearby towns, he also took the role of groundskeeper.

They all drank heavily and seemed to be continually high. They constantly had to search further afield for drugs and alcohol as they “burned down” their local supplies and managed to drink an entire county dry. Sometimes they had to go as far as Houston to score anything at all. Although Burroughs seemed to go through similar troubles wherever he lived, these particular adventures found their way into Naked Lunch.

Burroughs seemed genuinely happy during these years. Moreover, he appeared to take farming seriously. J.G. Ballard once wrote that Burroughs was “one of the least likely people ever to worry about a carrot crop,” but his letters to Kerouac and Ginsberg were always full of excited updates over the status of his lettuces and peas. He seemed always convinced about being on the edge of great riches. These details, however, are usually followed by stories of minor disasters like the weather (the Magic Valley that he was sold appears to have been a myth; winter freezes killed a lot of his produce) and unusual market fluctuations.

Back on his Pharr farm, the work was still being carried out by “wetback” workers, who toiled in awful conditions. Ginsberg let Burroughs know that he didn’t approve of the low wages these workers earned, who he believed should be guaranteed a minimum wage, and Burroughs himself seemed distressed by the labor brokers, one of whom claimed to have shot dead two wetbacks. In letters, though, Burroughs claims to have shared some of his wealth with the workers, causing suspicion among neighboring farmers. Still, Burroughs noted that he was ethically in a more dubious position than when dealing heroin in New York:


In short, my ethical position, now that I’m a respectable farmer, is probably shakier than when I was pushing junk. Now, as then, I violate the law, but my present violations are condoned by a corrupt government.



On August 30th 1947, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady arrived in New Waverly, having hitchhiked from New York. Ginsberg was enraged by the fact that Burroughs hadn’t prepared even a bed for them to sleep in, but helped Huncke, who’d offered to take apart the furniture in his own room to build a large bed for the two visitors to share.

Despite problems between Ginsberg and Cassady, and the shock of arriving to find nothing prepared, their stay was fairly pleasant. Cassady helped Burroughs fence-in the property and they all had long talks and walked endlessly in the woods. Eventually Cassady – who was tired of Ginsberg’s physical and emotional demands – convinced Allen to leave, and stayed on to help Burroughs with the pot harvest.

Neal drove Burroughs and the marijuana back to New York, where they struggled to sell it. Unfortunately, Burroughs knew nothing of how to cure marijuana and had mixed male and female plants, resulting in low-grade ditchweed. Eventually he managed to get $100 for the entire crop, and was glad to be rid of it. A few years later, he wrote in Junky, “Pushing weed looks good on paper, like fur farming or raising frogs.”

In New York, Burroughs picked up another junk habit, and spent January 1948 in rehab at Lexington, Kentucky. In May, believing that “Farm work is the best cure [for junk sickness],” Burroughs attempted to return to Pharr and purchased forty additional acres of farmland. On the way to Pharr, however, he and Joan were arrested somewhere between Pharr and New Waverly for having sex by the side of a road. “Things very uncool in Texas,” he wrote Kerouac. Burroughs had been drunk at the time and consequently lost his license. It was decided that the family would move out of “Hicksville” and take residence in New Orleans, selling the East Texas farm and keeping the one in South Texas (which was still being run by Elvins, or rather by the men that Elvins employed).

It was in New Orleans that the family was visited by Kerouac and Cassady, and forced to play host to Helen Hinckle, in days that were retold in On the Road. Burroughs later bemoaned the description of him and his home given by Kerouac in his classic road novel. When Kerouac visited, Burroughs was “living in a little house laid out like a railroad flat and raised up on the marshy lot by concrete blocks.” He didn’t even have a front yard. What Kerouac appeared to be describing was Burroughs’ farm in Pharr, a description presumably gleaned from their letters and from Cassady, who Burroughs claimed could exaggerate worse than Kerouac.

It was in New Orleans, too, that Burroughs got back on heroin, was arrested, and decided to flee from the United States. His dabbling Texas and Louisiana had informed him that true freedom could only lie south of the border. In April 1949 he returned once again to Pharr after trouble with the law, knowing that its proximity to the border would allow him a chance to escape should he need it. It was the frontier, America’s last Wild West, and yet it was not far enough for Burroughs. This time around he felt the Valley was hotter and duller than before, claiming that it was virtually free of “life force”. He sold his land to Kells Elvins and left in October. “What a relief to be rid of the U.S. for good and all,” he wrote Kerouac from Mexico City, “and to be in this fine free country.”


Although various sources claim that Burroughs was finished with farming from the moment he realized how much of a failure his marijuana crop had been, it appears that his interest had not entirely vanished, and certainly the memories were significant moments in his development. Burroughs planned to get into ranching in Mexico, but it turned out that this country lacked such freedom and he required a Mexican business partner. Still, he wrote to Ginsberg that if he managed to buy a ranch, it would bring him “unlimited opportunities.”

It was in Mexico City that he killed his wife and became a writer, and evidently farming and Texas were still on his mind during this period. There are numerous references littered throughout his first novel, Junky, indicating that Texas was not an unimportant phase between New York and Mexico, as seems to be suggested in most books about the Beats. Interestingly, a section describing South Texas was cut out of Junky because, according to Allen Ginsberg, “agricultural society was not germane to the funky harsh non-literary subject matter,” and only restored in the 1977 edition. Maybe farming wasn’t hip enough for his readers.

Later, in Peru, during his exploration of the South American jungle, Burroughs found himself decidedly turned off when stuck in a small farming town. ”Farming towns are awful,” he wrote Ginsberg. Yet he also wrote about his colonial fantasies: “You live like a king on a ranch while you are making $.” In Ecuador he yearned to live off the land once again, his fantasies of self-sufficiency and life as a farmer apparently overwhelming the reality of his failures.


From Queer:


Lee’s plans involved a river. He lived on the river and ran things to please himself. He grew his own weed and poppies and cocaine, and he had a young native boy for an all-purpose servant.


During his life, Burroughs developed passing interests in ecology and environmentalism that probably had their seed in those farming days, as he viewed the disappearance of the Wild West and difficult of maintaining isolation. He may not have spoken as clearly in favor of the environment as the likes of Gary Snyder, but throughout his body of work he clearly states that humans have ravaged the planet, and there is a definite sense that the cities and the influence of humanity are creeping outwards and consuming all that is natural. Ghost of Chance deals quite firmly with environmentalism and ecology, showing how people spread like a virus and destroy everything that they come in contact with. In it, a pirate, Captain Mission, “threatened to demonstrate for all to see that three hundred souls can coexist in relative harmony with each of their neighbors, and with the ecosphere of flora and fauna.” A humorous essay in The Adding Machine, called “The Great Glut”, jokingly attacks “ecologists, as well as Allen Ginsberg” for caring about the environment, before suggesting that all excrement and even human corpses be utilized as fertilizer. His descriptions of the vegetables that would result from such farming techniques mirror his earlier excitement about his own crops: “potatoes as big as watermelons, carrots six feet long, artichokes the size of washtubs.”

Burroughs remembered his time in Texas right into his final years. His last journal entries mention his days there, and his last ever story was about one of his neighbours in New Waverly, Arch Ellisor, who becomes a true Wild West character and flies in the face of the law, before shedding his skin and becoming Pan, god of the wild, and of nature, and of mountains and forests. Perhaps this story shows how much Burroughs came to romanticize his life in Texas near the end of his life.


This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #11.

William Blake and the Beat Generation

William Blake’s influence on the Beat Generation is arguably more significant than that of any other writer or artist. Most notably he was Ginsberg’s “guru” and the “catalyst” for his poetry, and even warranted a mention in “Howl”. Blake supposedly appeared to Ginsberg in 1945 and read “Ah Sun-flower”, and again in 1948 when Ginsberg was reading “The Sick Rose”. He explained,

I was never able to figure out whether I was having a religious vision, a hallucinatory experience, or what, but it was the deepest ‘spiritual’ experience I had in my life, and determined my karma as poet. That’s the-key pivotal turnabout of my own existence. That’s why I was hung up on setting Blake to music.

Visions were important to Blake, who claimed that his poetry was not necessarily a work that he created, but something channeled through him. He referred to himself as a “true Orator” and claimed that poetry came from a voice that he simply wrote down.

This isn’t too different from Williams S. Burroughs’ claim about the origins of his own weird prose:

I get these messages from other planets. I’m apparently some kind of agent from another planet but I haven’t got my orders clearly decoded yet.

It should also be noted that Burroughs was supposedly unable to recall writing any of the original material for Naked Lunch. However, Burroughs – who originally leant Ginsberg copies of Blake’s poetry when they first met, not long before Ginsberg’s famous vision – was dismissive of the mystical idea of visions, claiming that Blake simply saw things that others couldn’t see.

Blake’s method of transcribing words from the ether also seems to bear a strong resemblance to Kerouac’s fabled Spontaneous Prose, which shunned traditional ideas of composition and sought to grasp something holy from within. Although Kerouac named numerous influences on his style, just months before he died he wrote to Philip Whalen and told him that “Blake’s Jerusalem…is worth a fartune” (“fartune” being a Blakean spelling of “fortune”). Jerusalem was one of the poems Blake claimed to have dictated from a voice.

But perhaps even moreso than Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac, it was Michael McClure that took Blake has his greatest literary influence. Like Ginsberg, Blake also came to McClure in a vision, and the two men marveled over the difference in their perceptions of this visitor. McClure explained,

Allen has a Blake who is a Blake of prophecy, a Blake who speaks out against the dark Satanic Mills. My Blake is a Blake of body and of vision.


This short essay originally appeared in Beatdom #11.

Rub Out The Words: Collected Letters 1959-1974

Edited and with an Introduction by Bill Morgan.


At the point this second volume of his Collected Letters opens, William S. Burroughs has been living outside of the USA for the best part of a decade, now settled in the “Beat Hotel” in Paris, and his breakthrough novel Naked Lunch has just been published by the Olympia Press. He was just about to be profiled in Life magazine – the subject of a pained exchange with his outraged mother, Laura Lee Burroughs – and his newfound friend and collaborator Brion Gysin had just had the “happy accident” that led to the Cut-Ups, of which we will hear a great deal.

The first volume ended with a letter to Allen Ginsberg, and this new collection picks up literally where it left off, with a letter written to him the very next day (Oct 30, 1959). We are in fairly familiar territory here: giving thanks to Ginsberg for a supply of mescaline, catching up on gossip about mutual acquaintances, Gregory Corso and Jacques Stern, and an amusing anecdote about Henri Michaux.

So far so good, but things progress at an accelerating rate: the real story here is Burroughs coming of age as a writer, differentiating himself from his Beat peers, and finding his own voice.

Defending his work at the 1962 International Writer’s Conference on “The Future of the Novel,” critic Mary McCarthy said that one of the things that set Burroughs apart was his “aerial perspective,” and it has been argued that he belongs more with the writers and thinkers of the European avante garde tradition. Editor Bill Morgan describes in his Introduction how these letters give

…witness to an era in which Burroughs became the centre of a new coterie of creative people who were not related to the Beat Generation. With their assistance, Burroughs became an influential artistic and cultural leader whose reputation spread well beyond the literary world…

As well as old friends Alan Ansen, Paul Bowles, Corso, and Ginsberg, Burroughs’ new horizons expanded to include, amongst others, Antony Balch, Charles Henri Ford, Timothy Leary, Norman Mailer, Barry Miles, Jeff Nuttall, Michael Portman, Ian Somerville, Terry Southern, and Alex Trocchi. However, the single most important figure is without doubt Brion Gysin, who soon replaces Ginsberg as Burroughs’s most trusted collaborator and confidante (although never lover). On December 2nd, 1959, Burroughs writes to Allen “I have met my first master in Brion.” They quickly overcame previous rather cool impressions from Tangier, and plunged into the slippery psychic symbiosis of “The Third Mind.”

From famed medium Eileen Garret to Hassan ibn Sabbah, Old Man of the Mountains & Master of the Assassins, against a backdrop of ecstatic Moroccan trance music, curses, mirror-gazing, spells and trances, and the non-chemical expansion of awareness made possible through Cut-Ups, Flicker, and Playback, we follow Burroughs’ life as it unfolds during this eventful period. We also meet the Cambridge mathematician Ian Somerville (“the technical sergeant”), who facilitates the Dreamachine and tape-recorder experiments, and spoilt rich-kid jailbait Mikey Portman (“the medium”) – who despite his bad habits, good looks, money, and youth would eventually drive Burroughs to distraction.

All the usual obsessions and preoccupations are here: Cut-Ups loom large, as well as endless iteration of their possible applications; Drugs, of course – although sometimes as much against as for, as numerous letters promoting the apomorphine treatment for addiction attest; Film – both the experiments with Balch and various projected adaptations involving Mick Jagger, Dennis Hopper, and a former CIA hitman that all-too-predictably amount to nothing; and the strange dance with Scientology, deserving a book all of its own…

Also included are diplomatic appeals to his long-suffering mother, too-little-too-late attempts to reach out to his “cursed from birth” son, Billy Jnr., and endless struggles with publishers (mostly over money).

It is ironic that as his concerns became ever more internalised – and at times quite literally Occult – and the work he is producing is amongst his most “difficult,” that the model of “William Burroughs” as an icon of counterculture cool is born (his appearance on the cover of Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles being perhaps the ultimate endorsement). His engagement with experimental methods, non-literary forms, and the Underground Press seems strangely at odds with his recurring hope that the next project will be a commercial breakthrough: it is nothing short of hilarious when he reports, regarding The Wild Boys, that “Antony [Balch] swears it will be a best seller…”

There is plenty here to delight diehard fans, entertain the curious, and fuel further speculation. The engagement of Burroughs & Gysin, firstly with Scientology, and secondly with what they called “the Magical Universe,” are two topics clearly deserving of exploration. The fact that at the time of this writing, Tim Cummins in his Review for English newspaper The Independent characterises how “the two worked at the centre of a web of occult and artistic actions” (and the order of emphasis that he gives there) gives notice that the time is right for just such re-evaluation.


U.K. hardback edition, 490pp incl. 16pp b & w plates, first published 1st March 2012 by Penguin Classics. Buy it here.

This review was originally published in Beatdom #11.


The Last Man Standing: Al Hinkle

The name Al Hinkle should be familiar to most readers of Beatdom, and if it isn’t then they’ll most likely know him by one of the names Jack Kerouac gave him in his novels: Big Ed Dunkel, Slim Buckle, or Ed Buckle. Hinkle and his wife, Helen were good friends of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady, and feature frequently as characters in a number of Beat Generation texts, including many of Kerouac’s, and also John Clellon Holmes’ Go!

Hinkle is known as the “Last Man Standing”, a reference to his position as the only male character from On the Road who remains alive today. In that novel he was Ed Dunkel, and his wife, Helen, was Galatea. In the original scroll, Hinkle is one of the people to whom Kerouac refers as “they” in his most famous quote, which begins, “they danced down the street like dingledodies…” He was one of the people who Kerouac followed, who inspired Kerouac, who taught Kerouac, and therefore a primary influences on the creation of one of the most significant pieces of mid-twentieth century American literature.

The Hinkles remained friends with Kerouac and Cassady until their short lives ended in the late sixties. Today, Al Hinkle maintains a website ( and Facebook page (, and speaks at events to help maintain the flow of information about the stories behind Kerouac’s classic novel.

He was kind enough to speak to Beatdom about his life, and also the forthcoming On the Road movie, with the assistance of his webmaster and biographer, Teri Davis.


How did you first meet Neal Cassady?


I first met Neal in 1939, when we were both 12. It was summertime, and I wanted to join the Denver YMCA. I didn’t have the money, but since hardly anyone did, they were pretty loose about membership. Both Neal and I spent a lot of time there, and we became good friends.


Neal and his father lived on Skid Row. Neal Sr. was an alcoholic, and spent a lot of time in the Denver jail as a trusty. The jailers would get his barber tools out of hock so he could give them, and the cons, free haircuts. Between Neal’s situation and my lousy home life, it was no wonder that we both wanted to be away from it as much as possible.


The Denver Y had a program come in called “Gym Circuses” that trained people to do circus acts. They chose Neal and me to participate, so we spent about 6 weeks practicing and tumbling. At age 12, I was almost 6 foot tall (I eventually ended up 6 foot 6), so I was the bottom man in the pyramids and the high wire act, and I was the catcher in the flying trapeze act. Neal was the flier; he would swing on the trapeze and do a somersault, and I would catch him. There was a net, but we hardly ever had to use it.


Life intruded after that summer, and we didn’t see each other again until a mutual friend reintroduced us when we were 19. Because of our shared experience, my little inside joke with Neal was that after all these years, I was still trying to keep him from falling!


An interesting side note: Recently Teri Davis, the woman helping me write my biography, was doing research on the Internet. She found a website –, which talked about the Denver Y’s trapeze and how it got there. Teri left a message on their site asking for more information and received this reply from Lynn Coleman, the founder of Aerial Fabric Acrobatics:


“My father was one of the trapeze flyers at the [Denver] YMCA when he was in college in the 1940’s. Our family learned circus skills and performed on the road as a result…

One reason that Kerouac came to Denver is that my Great Uncle Haldon Chase was from Denver. He is one of the characters in On the Road. He no longer is living…”

Isn’t that something? I never knew that our friend Hal Chase’s family got involved in those gym circuses too, and ended up becoming professionals. Small world, huh?

Tell us about Luanne Henderson.


Luanne! I fell in love with her the first time I met her. She was a beautiful, blonde 16 year old, outgoing and confident. She wasn’t forward with men, but she wasn’t shy, either. Luanne wasn’t a “quirky” girl; she was very down to earth and got along with everyone.


Neal had such complicated relationships. I remember us pulling in to the drive-in diner and being introduced to Neal’s beautiful little wife when she came out to take our order, then going to Pederson’s pool hall and meeting Jeanie, Neal’s girlfriend. It kinda shocked me.


I know Luanne was in love with Neal all her life. I could see that, even at 16, she felt that she was a married woman, not a child. She was the one that found the way to make all of Neal’s crazy plans work – she worked for money (or stole it), found rides, made sure she took care of her man. Even after he divorced her to marry Carolyn, Luanne made herself available to Neal whenever he asked, and I think she always felt that she was still his wife, even though they both remarried. When BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) first opened in the 70’s, I would take a ride from San Francisco to the last stop on the line – Daly City, and I would walk up this enormous hill to Luanne’s house and visit with her every week. I always had good feelings about her – she had earned her place in our gang and was fun to be with.  I know she had gotten into heavy drug use later, in her 40’s, but she went to rehab in Colorado and came back to California clean and sober.


How did you first meet Jack Kerouac? What were your first impressions of him?


Jack was a friend of Neal’s, and one of the reasons for the “OTR” cross-country trip we took was to pick up Jack in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  That was not the first time I met him, though. Jack had come to Denver a couple of years before that – in 1946. That was right about the time that my father, his wife and my grandparents took a two-week vacation to California, and we partied hard in their house while they were gone. We didn’t have permission, of course!


When my father returned, he found out about us using the house. He’d done a little investigating and he’d talked to several people, and some of those girls we’d been partying with at his place were underage. I was in deep shit as far as he was concerned. He decided to get me out of town. He said, “You are not going to stay here in Denver and maybe get sent to jail. You’re going to go to California and get a job on the railroad with your uncle.”


Obviously, there was a lot going on with me at that time, and I really didn’t have a chance to talk to Jack very much.


After we picked him up in Rocky Mount, I finally got the opportunity to know Jack a little better. I thought he was a true intellectual. He had a great shyness and a quiet intensity about him, and I felt that primarily he observed and internally recorded everything he experienced, filtering all through his own unique lens. I felt that his friends were all intellectuals as well and, having dropped out of school in the 10th grade, that gave me the impetus to further my own education. We became lifelong friends, and I sure miss him.


How did you and Helen feel about her stay with the Burroughs family in New Orleans, 1949?


I think I’ve mentioned before that the Burroughses weren’t all too happy to have had Helen ‘dumped’ on them. As a matter of fact, when Helen first got there, Bill wasn’t happy and began writing letters to Allen (Ginsberg) in New York telling him to tell me to come and get her out of his house, it’s not a hotel! When we finally got to their house, which was actually in Algiers, LA (across the Mississippi River from New Orleans), Bill and Joan welcomed us. Helen had made herself indispensible in the three weeks she had been there, caring for both the Burroughs children (Joan’s three year old daughter Julie and William Jr., who was an infant at that time); she bathed them, fed them, and generally kept them out of their parents’ way. Bill and Joan actually asked Helen and I if we would stay with them – he had a room all ready to fix up for us! But Helen wanted out – she couldn’t believe how they lived, how little care they took of their children; never mind the house, which was dirty, with lizards running around everywhere.

Helen was appalled by Joan’s use of the Benzedrine inhalers – she would open them up and swallow the cotton. Joan would send Helen to buy an inhaler almost every day. Once Helen mentioned to Joan that the pharmacist told her he would happily sell her ten inhalers at a time because he knew she was not the type to abuse them, to which Joan replied, “So, where are they?” And Helen never figured out that Bill was using heroin – she just thought he was stoned on marijuana all the time (which he was, on top of the heroin). It was all just a little too crazy for Helen, and she was glad when we turned down their offer of a room and found ourselves a room in New Orleans, where we stayed for about six weeks. It was a low-budget adventure, but we did get our honeymoon and we enjoyed it immensely.

Those three weeks you spent in New York with Kerouac, Ginsberg, and others: How accurately were they depicted in On the Road and Go!?


I would have to say that John’s account in GO! is probably the more accurate. Jack spent some of the time with us, but he also spent days at a time at his mother’s house in Queens, where he’d do all his heavy writing. Neal, Luanne and I went out every day and partied almost every night, and John was with us pretty much all of the time. We also spent a lot of time at John’s house, though we had to leave by 10PM because his wife, Maryanne, worked and needed to go to bed.


You know, Maryanne had worked and supported both of them while John went to college. She put up with a lot – John was out every night, or had people in the house all the time, partying and smoking marijuana – and I never saw her upset or complaining. But, once John got his $5,000 advance for GO!, Maryanne told him, “You have money now, you can stand on your own. I’m leaving.” And she filed for divorce. I guess all that partying got to her after all! Maryanne was the love of John’s life – he never remarried.


How did you feel when you first read On the Road?


My favorite book of Jack’s is On the Road. It was such a wonderful surprise to read! After reading The Town and the City, which was classic American literature, I read On the Road expecting more of the same, and instead it totally blew my mind. It was amazingly different, like nothing I had ever read before. It was brilliant.


Jack had just moved to Berkeley when On the Road came out in 1955. Neal, Luanne and I drove over to see him, and he had just received some advance copies of the book. He tried to hide them from us, but Neal grabbed a copy and started reading parts of the book aloud, whooping and jumping around with excitement. It was very exciting to read about our adventures, something written by our friend, something tangible that you could hold in your hand.


Jack was worried that we would be mad at his depictions of us, but we loved it. He was very relieved because, as he told us, “I have seven more books ready to go!”


In On the Road, Kerouac wrote, “and Al Hinkle would outlive us all telling stories to youngsters in front of the Silver Dollar.” How has your life played out since then?


I think that I have had an enjoyable life. I had a job that I loved, riding the rails; I would have done it for free. I achieved my goals, and despite being a high-school dropout, I graduated from San Francisco State with a Bachelor of Arts, and from Stanford with a Masters. I spent time as an Executive, and I worked for the Union as President of the San Francisco Region. I traveled to many places around this great world of ours, and I had 46 wonderful years with the love of my life…


I think the most important thing I’d like to let people know is that I’ve lived a grand and interesting life, full of good adventures, good times, good luck and wonderful people. I love having lived my life with liberty and freedom. I guess Jack was right; here I am today, 85 years old, the “last man standing” as they call me, only with my own Facebook page ( instead of a bench outside the Silver Dollar, telling my tales to a whole new generation of “youngsters” from all around the world who understand and respect what the Beats stood for. I am honored to be a part of it all.


What are your thoughts on the upcoming movie version of On the Road?


I think they stayed pretty true to the book and the message. I got to meet some of the young actors in San Francisco when they were shooting there, and later got to know them better at a party thrown for the cast. I fell in love with all of them! It was so satisfying to see how all of these young people took the story, which was written over half a century ago, to heart and showed it so much respect. They were all dedicated to doing the movie right. I just saw the trailer, and I’m really looking forward to the movie; I really think it’s got a shot at the Academy Award!



This interview originally appeared in Beatdom #11.

Hunter S. Thompson – Gonzo Frontiersman

Words by Rory Feehan

Photos by David S. Wills


“My only faith in this country is rooted in such places as Colorado and Idaho and maybe Big Sur as it was before the war. The cities are greasepits and not worth blowing off the map.”

–          Hunter S. Thompson (from a letter to Lionel Olay,February 16, 1962)

Hunter S. Thompson is a name that will always be associated with a variety of locations – from his birthplace of Louisville, Kentucky, to his longstanding fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado; from San Juan in Puerto Rico, courtesy of The Rum Diary, to Las Vegas and his journey to the heart of the American Dream. Thompson was a seasoned traveller and indeed such was the extent of his time on the road in his early twenties that he once declared his wanderlust made “Kerouac look like a piker.” Although the natural environment has always played an integral role in the make-up of Thompson’s work, it remains an element of his writing that is all too often overlooked in favour of focusing on the more radical characteristics that have come to define both his literary persona and Gonzo Journalism.  In order to fully understand and appreciate the various underlying principles that motivated Thompson and shaped his development as a writer, attention must be paid both to the manner in which he utilises the natural environment as a literary device and how the frontier as a concept lies at the heart of his literary oeuvre.

Interestingly, the very point in Thompson’s life where the aforementioned come into being, a time and place that could be considered the genesis of both the fictive persona of The Hunterfigure and Gonzo Journalism, is actually one of the most overlooked periods in his life. That place is none other than Big Sur, California. Thompson arrived there in November of 1960, in the hope of settling down to write what he called “The Great Puerto Rican Novel,” inspired by his experiences living in San Juan. His journey from the Caribbean island to his new home on the west coast of America had been far from straightforward, with New York City being the first port of call in July, 1960, in what would become a westward voyage across the country that echoed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. It is important, however, to first examine how and why Thompson ended up in Big Sur from San Juan, as the journey itself reveals important details concerning Thompson’s motivations that ultimately find their ultimate expression through his writing.

The West Is The Best – Goodbye to the Rat Race


The catalyst that spurred Thompson on his travels echoed that of certain frontiersmen that first journeyed westward across the land in search of pastures new: they were both equally motivated by a desire stay one step ahead of the law. In the time-honoured tradition of the outlaw heroes that he so admired in his youth, Thompson had fled Puerto Rico whilst out on bail awaiting charges of breach of the peace and resisting arrest. Rather than await his fate, Thompson, as ever, opted to control his own destiny and thus returned to the familiar scene of New York. Though he had become disillusioned with journalism following his stint in Puerto Rico, he still had a strong desire to get his fiction published and whilst in New Yorkhe made one final pitch to Grove Press to garner interest in Prince Jellyfish, his first novel. Success, however, was far off, and upon receiving yet another rejection letter, Thompson decided to move on from the novel, declaring to William Kennedy that he would “chalk that year up to experience.” For Thompson, though, New York proved to be only a temporary stay. His focus quickly switched to the horizon and an escape route away from the big city. He was never comfortable living in a city the size of New York, though he did find it to be a never-ending source of intrigue. When he first arrived there on Christmas Eve, 1957, the towering skyscrapers made such an impression that he later wrote,

I’d never been there, never even seen it. I remember being stunned at the New York skyline as I      drove over this big freeway, coming across the flats in Secaucus. All of a sudden it was looming up in             front of me and I almost lost control of the car. I thought it was a vision.


However, the constant struggle to survive on a meagre wage in New York had been the principle reason for Thompson fleeing to Puerto Rico by January, 1960, and now, six months later, he had come full circle. The city had proven to be a rich learning experience in the past, from his stint working as a copyboy at Time, to the classes in “Literary Style & Structure” and “Short Story Writing” that he had taken at Columbia University. Living inNew York had also exposed him to the very epicentre of the Beat Generation universe, and their rise to literary prominence did not escape his attention. He was particularly taken by Jack Kerouac, whose “confessional prose made quite an impact on Thompson’s philosophy for living, if not on his writing style,” according to Thompson’s literary executor, Douglas Brinkley. For Thompson, though, the negative aspects of living in New York far outweighed the positive to such an extent that he harboured a life-long aversion to the “rat-race” reality of big city life, a sentiment that was all too clear from even the earliest days of his time in New York, as illustrated in his letter to his former English teacher at Louisville Male High School, Arch Gerhart, dated January 29, 1958:

Anyone who could live in this huge reclaimed tenement called Manhattan for more than a year, without losing all vestiges of respect for everything that walks on two legs, would have   to be either in love, or possessed of an almost divine understanding. The sight of eight             million people struggling silently but desperately to merely stay alive is anything but            inspiring. For my money, at least eight million people would be much better off if all five      boroughs of New York should suddenly sink into the sea.


In the two years following that appraisal, Thompson had only found more reason to convince him that his time was best spent elsewhere. He had hoped thatPuerto Ricowould have been the solution to his problem, but even a supposedCaribbeanparadise turned out to have a dark side. Thompson, however, had not entirely given up on the region and by August, 1960, he had another island in the Caribbean in his sights – Cuba.

As with all of his endeavours, the potential for excitement and adventure was always paramount and now Cuba was at the centre of attention, following the exploits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara a little over a year earlier. The image of the guerrilla fighter in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, fighting to overthrow the Batista regime, greatly appealed to Thompson’s romantic sensibilities. There was also the Hemingway connection to contend with, which only served to heighten Thompson’s desire to travel to the country in search of work and indulge his fantasy of following in his literary heroes’ footsteps. The dream quickly fell by the wayside once Thompson realised that work opportunities on the island were scarce and his own financial situation had deteriorated to the point of making any return to the Caribbean impossible. Undaunted by this discovery, a new plan of action swung into gear by September, with Thompson and his friend Paul Semonin deciding to undertake the cross-country road trip that would culminate in his arrival at Big Sur.

The duo’s first destination was to be Seattle, which involved delivering the vehicle they were journeying in to a car dealer, after which they hoped to make their way down to San Francisco. Once they took to the highways, they quickly found themselves paying homage to Kerouac’s On the Road. As Paul Perry noted in Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson:

Their first rule of the road was to pick up every hitchhiker. In western Kansas, Semonin stopped for a          man carrying a five-gallon gas can. When the hitchhiker got into the backseat, he flipped the latches         on the can to reveal it was stuffed with clothes. “No one will pick you up if they think you’re a        hitchhiker,” he explained. “You have to be a motorist in distress.” Hunter smelled a story and   interviewed the man about the difficulty of getting rides. When they neared a signpost that proved    they were in the middle of nowhere, Hunter made Semonin stop and take a picture of the interviewee   with his thumb out, looking forlorn.


Given the nature of their expedition and literary sensibilities, the Beat Generation connotations are unsurprising. Thompson was particularly fixated on the image of the lone hitchhiker during this jaunt, with multiple photographs taken by both Thompson and Semonin along the way consisting of a solitary figure standing at the edge of an empty highway, awaiting the opportunity to catch a ride to the next town from a stranger that might never materialise. The sheer vastness of the landscape in the background creates an overwhelming sense of isolation but also raises the alluring prospect of endless possibilities and unlimited freedom. It was an intoxicating picture for Thompson but one that he felt was increasingly under threat, as is evident from his article “Low Octane for the Long Haul”…


Hitchhikers have fallen on bad times in recent years. The raised thumb, long a symbol of    youthful adventure, suddenly took on a threatening aspect when both Hollywood and the       Readers’ Digest decided the public would be better off if hitchhiking were a lost art. It almost       is – and things have come to such a sad pass that only uniformed servicemen and Jack        Kerouac seem to be able to move about the country with any ease. The others are having   trouble. Most people are afraid of them, insurance regulations prevent truckers from picking           them up, and a good many of those who still stop for the stranded thumb are often more          dangerous than the hitchhikers themselves.


It was a doomed image that Thompson himself brought to fruition in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with his alter ego, Raoul Duke, and attorney Dr. Gonzo terrorizing a hitchhiker on the desert highway to Las Vegas, a place that we are ominously reminded as being the last known home of the Manson family.

In 1960, there was still a vestige of innocence and youthful optimism that had yet to be swept away by the tide of violence that would come to define the decade ahead. Upon his eventual arrival in San Francisco in October of that year, Thompson delighted in seeking out the North Beach haunts of the Beats, including the City Lights Bookshop owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. But the novelty of the city by the bay soon wore off and, once more, Thompson found himself cursing the pressures of city life. The task of finding accommodation was temporarily eased by his friend John Clancy offering him the use of his vacated apartment until the lease had expired. Clancy was moving across the bay to Berkeleyand so Thompson seized the opportunity with relish. Yet the perennial problem of employment once more reared its ugly head, with a soon-to-be despairing Thompson applying for everything from bartending to selling encyclopaedias. He was met with rejection across the board. When his application to the San Francisco Chronicle for work went completely unacknowledged, Thompson sent Editor Abe Mellinkoff an Orwellian put-down entitled “Down and Out in San Francisco”…


City of hills and fog and water, bankers and boobs – Republicans all…city of no money except what            you find at the General Delivery window, and somehow it’s always enough – city, like all cities, of           lonely women, lost souls, and people slowly going under. City of newspapers for Nixon (“careful            now, don’t upset the balance of terror”)…where you talk with editors and news directors and         creative directors and hear over and over again how easy and necessary it is to sell out…


There was now also a notable political edge seeping into Thompson’s writing, no doubt a reflection of the extraordinary political circus that was unfolding before an electrified nation – the first televised presidential debates between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy.


Standing On the Edge of a New Frontier

With an average audience of some sixty million viewers, the four televised debates generated massive publicity and exposed the candidates to an unprecedented level of public scrutiny. When the black and white images beamed across the country there was a stark contrast in appearance between the two contenders – Nixon was recovering from illness and appeared gaunt, not to mention ill at ease, while Kennedy was confident, energetic, and relaxed. It proved to be a pivotal moment in American politics that sent shockwaves across the political spectrum, culminating in Kennedy’s victory that November. Thompson would later point to the televised presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy as a moment of great importance in his political awakening:


That was when I first understood that the world of Ike and Nixon was vulnerable…and that            Nixon, along with all the rotting bullshit he stood for, might conceivably be beaten…and it   had never occurred to me that politics in America had anything to do with human beings. It was Nixon’s game – a world of old hacks and legalized thievery, a never-ending drone of bad          speeches and worse instincts…With Nixon as the only alternative, Kennedy was beautiful –             whatever he was. It didn’t matter. The most important thing about Kennedy, to me and          millions of others, was that his name wasn’t Nixon.


The power of television had permanently altered the nature of electoral campaigns, marking the end of the Eisenhower era, and ushering in the golden age of Kennedy’s Camelot. At the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles the previous July, where Kennedy had been formally selected as the presidential candidate, he delivered his acceptance speech from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where he first used the term “the New Frontier” to describe the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead in the oncoming decade:


I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that   stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and       sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts,            nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world          strong and free…Some would say that those   struggles are all over, that all the horizons have         been explored, that all the battles have been      won, that there is no longer an American       frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment…we       stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960’sThe New Frontier is          here whether we seek it or not.

In many ways, the 1960 presidential election was emblematic of an entire generational shift in the national psyche. In his inaugural address, President Kennedy spoke of his election as, “not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.” Indeed, this change would become a cultural tsunami that would sweep across the country over the coming decade, altering virtually every facet of the American way of life in the process. For many, the opening salvo in this transformation had actually been fired almost a year before Kennedy’s election. The incident in question occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960, when four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College refused to leave a segregated lunch-counter in the local Woolworths store. The sit-in set off a wave of similar protests across the nation and became a defining moment in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Seemingly overnight, what had been bubbling underground for years, came rushing to the surface, but now the voice of protest, dissent, and rebellion had spread to form a multitude of different voices and groups, each with their own story and vision of change. InSan Franciscothat summer, protestors at City Hall adopted the sit-in as a non-violent approach to voicing their opposition to the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee, but what started off as a peaceful event descended into a brutal confrontation with the police. Many of the attendees were students at nearbyBerkeleyUniversity, which was becoming a hotbed of civil liberties activists, and such activism was rapidly spreading to other campuses. America was now bearing witness to the rise of what would become known as the New Left, whose underlying policy was to take to the streets and actively engage the opposition.

If action was the operating mantra, then no writer was more suitable to the call than Hunter S. Thompson, whose own work ethic operated on the same principle of shaping reality through action, and then writing about it. The road ahead for Thompson would prove to be as convoluted and challenging as that of the New Left, and while San Francisco would ultimately feature predominantly as a focal point for their respective endeavours, it had yet to deliver for Thompson as the year drew to a close. Tired of his fruitless quest for employment, his thoughts now rested solely on completing his Caribbean novel, but first he would have to settle on a suitable place that would facilitate such a commitment, and for a struggling writer in California there was really only one possible destination. Directly south of San Francisco, amidst the ancient redwood groves of the Santa Lucia Mountains and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, lay a territory of legendary repute – Big Sur.


Fear and Loathing in the Garden of Agony

Thompson’s attraction to Big Sur was inevitable, given its hedonistic reputation as a haven for a motley crew of artists and social misfits. One name above all had become synonymous with the area and that was Henry Miller. Thompson had long been enthralled by the work of the notorious iconoclast, whose first published book, Tropic of Cancer, had been banned in the U.S. on the basis that its content was obscene and pornographic. Miller lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962, during which time he produced some of his most revered writing – including Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. Unfortunately, Miller was absent for the entire duration of Thompson’s stay in Big Sur during 1961, having travelled to Europe for several months, leaving behind a notable void in the community. In the months that followed, that void was more than filled by Hunter S. Thompson, who made sure to leave behind an indelible mark as The Outlaw of Big Sur.

Thompson initially rented a small cabin, the kind of which were scattered all along the coastline, nestled in the shadows of Big Sur’s giant redwood forest. Here he was joined by girlfriend Sandy Conklin and, as usual, money was scarce. The couple survived on meagre supplies delivered on credit by the postman, as there was no accessible store within the vicinity. Never one to keep a low profile, Thompson was quick to reach out to the Big Surcommunity, in particular author Dennis Murphy, whose 1958 breakthrough novel The Sergeant had become an internationally acclaimed bestseller. Murphy was a native of Salinas, a small city just north of Big Sur and home to literary giant John Steinbeck, who had a close connection to the Murphy family.  Steinbeck allegedly used Dennis and his brother, Michael, as the basis for Cal and Aron Trask in East of Eden. The Murphy family were prominent in Big Sur, where they operated a large retreat compound, famous for its natural hot spring steam baths. Here Dennis Murphy would play host to his friends, of whom several were prominent figures in the Beat movement. He was particularly close to Jack Kerouac, who lived for a period in nearby Bixby Canyon, in a small secluded cabin owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Kerouac was battling alcohol addiction at the time and recounted his experience in the autobiographical novel Big Sur. In many ways, the Murphy compound was the nerve centre for Big Sur’s artistic circle and Thompson’s inclusion in this scene was all but a matter of time.

In the end, it was actually Thompson’s financial situation that propelled him into the inner circle at thehot springs. Unable to afford the rent for his cabin, Thompson sought out cheaper accommodation, and was directed to the Murphy compound by Dick Rowan, a photographer friend that lived adjacent to the property. The compound itself was run by Dennis Murphy’s grandmother, who was looking to rent a small annex to the main ‘Big House,’ as the family home was known. At only $15 a month, it was ideal for Thompson, who was further delighted to be offered the position as caretaker to the entire property, with the main house being vacated by Mrs. Murphy periodically throughout the spring due to renovations being undertaken as part of an ambitious project to transform the compound. Thompson moved into the annex on February 1, 1961.  Shortly thereafter, work began on what would become known as the Esalen Institute.

The brainchild of Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the Esalen Institute was envisaged as a centre “devoted to the exploration of human potential” where a select group of influential figures could “develop revolutionary ideas, transformative practices, and innovative art forms.” Focusing largely on the teachings of Eastern religions, philosophy, and psychology, notable participants included writers Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Ray Bradbury, Ken Kesey, and Joseph Campbell, the Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, who first synthesised LSD-25, Timothy Leary, and Richard Alpert. Throughout the sixties, Esalen would become a sort of countercultural Mecca, a focal point for the leading figures of the movement. Although Thompson’s arrival in Big Sur coincided with the genesis of Esalen, the spirit of personal growth and transformation had long been a feature of the community and it proved to be especially so for the burgeoning Gonzo Journalist.

Though he came to Big Sur to focus on writing “The Great Puerto Rican Novel,” Thompson also continued to submit articles to newspapers and magazines in an effort to provide some form of income to support himself and Sandy for the duration of their stay. His big breakthrough came when he finally managed to break onto the national stage courtesy of Rogue magazine, who paid him $350 for his article entitled “Big Sur: The Tropic of Henry Miller,” a timely portrait of both Henry Miller’s life in Big Sur and the off-beat community that had built up around him. A month prior to the article’s publication, in September, 1961, a high profile obscenity trial had taken place surrounding the attempt by Grove Press to publish Tropic of Cancer for the first time in the United States. Anything connected to Miller, censorship, or pornography became a highly sensitive topic in a politically charged atmosphere across the nation. In light of this, it is ironic that not only was Thompson’s article published in a magazine that was a market rival of Playboy, but also that part of the article itself involved the disclosure of the somewhat controversial escapades of the Big Sur community.

In retrospect, the article is as illuminating of Thompson himself as it is of the subject matter. In many ways, Big Sur’s eccentric community and its enigmatic figurehead proved to be the ideal vehicle for Thompson, affording him the opportunity to exercise his flair for wild language, which melded seamlessly with the overall context of the piece itself – a perfect reflection of the spirit of anarchistic freedom that remained a constant association throughout Big Sur’s storied history, irrespective of the somewhat inflated truth:


If half the stories about Big Sur were true this place would long since have toppled into the             sea, drowning enough madmen and degenerates to make a pontoon bridge of bodies all the         way to Honolulu…The very earth itself would heave and retch in disgust – and down these    long, rocky slopes would come a virtual cascade of nudists, queers, junkies, rapists, artists,          fugitives, vagrants, thieves, lunatics, sadists, hermits and human chancres of every description.


Writing with absolutely unapologetic conviction, Thompson crafts a portrait of the Big Surway of life that zeroes in on the truth behind the myth, despite compromising his position in the community in the process. It was a dedication to the story that foreshadows much of his later work, particularly that of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 and the manner in which he was unafraid to burn bridges in his pursuit of the real story hidden behind a web of political spin. In terms of the Big Sur myths, the first one that Thompson tackled was its reputation as a hell-raiser’s paradise, a wanton den of hedonistic pleasure straight out of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thompson was unflinching in his appraisal that the reputation was not entirely unfair, though more likely as a result of the behaviour of the weekend visitor, pinpointing Murphy’s Hot Springs as being the central focus for thrill seekers of every persuasion:


During the day most people observe the partition that separates the men’s side from the      women’s, but once the sun goes down the baths are as coeducational as a cathouse New    Year’s Eve party, and often twice as wild. This is the glamorous side of Big Sur, the side that            occasionally matches the myth – and none of it is hidden away in the hills, as a lot of people          seem to think.



In his assessment of the long-term residents, he was even more provocative with his choice of words, describing the owner of the Big Sur Inn, Helmut Deetjan, as looking “more like a junkie than a lot of the hopheads who’ve been on the stuff for years.” Of Henry Miller’s personal secretary, Emil White, Thompson claimed that people frequently mistook him for “a hermit or a sex fiend.”  Despite these inflammatory remarks, it is precisely these individuals who represent the otherBig Sur, a side that Thompson considered to be truly fascinating, particularly in relation to the almost pioneer-like sense of determination and independence that distinguished the long term residents from the ever-changing influx of tourists to the area. To reinforce this difference, he delves into the harsh reality of living in an isolated, lonely wilderness, which is so far removed from the norms of regular urban life that it takes a special kind of individual to truly tolerate Big Sur for any significant length of time. Having come toBig Sur and experienced this struggle for himself, Thompson made no attempt to gloss over the details, offering candid anecdotes that thoroughly dispel the romantic notion that life amongst the small bohemian colony served as an easy escape from the confines ofMiddle America. The majority of the individuals in this community were either artists or writers, who spent their time largely engrossed in their own work, unperturbed by the events of the outside world. Some even went so far as to be entirely self-sufficient, living off the land without so much as electricity. Having grown accustomed to living not only geographically, but also socially, apart from the rest of society, a tangible resistance to outsiders was prevalent amongst the group. Indeed, this is a sentiment to which Thompson repeatedly returned throughout the article, acknowledging the tension and distrust that existed between the community and uninvited visitors. In light of this observation, his decision to paint a thoroughly dysfunctional picture of Murphy’s Hot Springs in the closing paragraphs of the article proved to be a high risk manoeuvre. Not only was Thompson breaking the trust afforded to him by the community, but he was also undermining the Murphy family, who were in the process of launching the Esalen Institute. The image created by Thompson was precisely that which they had sought to leave behind:


         This place is a real menagerie…There are only two legitimate wives on the property; the    other females are either mistresses, “companions,” or hopeless losers…the late Dr. Murphy,         conceived this place as a great health spa, a virtual bastion of decency and clean living. But      something went wrong. During World War Two it became a haven for draft dodgers, and   over the years it has evolved into a lonely campground for the morally deformed, a             pandora’s box of human oddities, and a popular sinkhole of idle decadence.


The succinct but damning description firmly put Thompson on a collision course with his landlord, Vinnie Murphy, the matriarch of the Murphy family, which once more carried with it the inescapable sense that he was unable to exist harmoniously with any figure of authority. He did have a certain amount of breathing space before publication of the article, but his increasingly unpredictable and erratic behaviour in the intervening period ensured the prospect of a confrontation to be inevitable.



The Outlaw of Big Sur

The Big Sur article was a watershed moment for Thompson, revealing the changes developing within his writing, in conjunction with affording an insight into his ever-growing identification with individualist anarchism and the cult of personality. However, there is one particular statement from the article that is definitive in terms of illustrating the underlying reasoning behind the radical change in Thompson’s outward persona: “This place is a mythmaker’s paradise, so vast and so varied that the imagination is tempted to run wild at the sight of it.” Witnessing firsthand the fervour surrounding Henry Miller’s association with Big Sur was proof enough for Thompson that his statement was no simple theory. In writing of this phenomenon for Rogue magazine, Thompson creates a detailed portrait that illustrates the extent to which he understood the various factors that had elevated Miller from writer to icon. He had also witnessed the insatiable public appetite for more, withBig Sur constantly inundated by those who sought out the notorious writer, only to be met with something entirely unexpected:


They weren’t interested in literature, they wanted orgies. And they were shocked to find him           a quiet, fastidious and very moral man – instead of the raving sexual beast they’d heard          stories about.


None of this was lost on Thompson. Combined with the money and the confidence from successfully selling his article, he quickly embarked on his own relentless mythmaking strategy. To that end, the Big Sur wilderness proved to be the perfect setting for invoking the larger-than-life outlaw persona that would define his life and work.


The first to bear witness to this transformation in Thompson was the immediate community surrounding Murphy’s Hot Springs, where Thompson had embraced his role as caretaker with relish. Carrying a bullwhip and a truncheon as he patrolled the property, the darker confrontational aspect of his personality radiated an overt threat of violence that did not sit well with the more sedate, pacifist spirit of the larger community. One of the most notable figures that frowned upon his behaviour was Joan Baez, who had just released her self-titled debut album. In a way, the two figures represented the different sides to the Big Surenvironment, with Baez evoking the daytime tranquillity and peace amongst the towering Sequoia forest and Thompson representing the untamed violent underside of the night that ultimately governed survival in the wilderness. It was an opposition which ultimately proved to be the barrier that ensured that Thompson and Baez remained somewhat distant in their neighbourly relationship; the divide was far too ingrained for either of them to be able to bridge the gap. As Peter Whitmer noted in When the Going Gets Weird, Baez was “born into a legacy of pacifism in the same degree that Thompson was born into a legacy of Kentucky feudal violence.” It was also a division that would come to define the years ahead for both Thompson and his neighbour. Baez and many of the Big Sur community embraced that which would come to define the hippie generation – a peculiar smorgasbord of folk music, Eastern religion, psychedelic drugs, and non-violent protest. For Hunter S. Thompson it was a different path, one that would lead to riding with the Hell’s Angels and a trip to the very edge where the American Dream turned into the American Nightmare by way of the bomb and the bullet. That being the case, it was all too fitting that it was in Big Sur where he first seriously embraced what would become a lifelong obsession – guns.

Thompson liked nothing better than to punctuate the Big Sur serenity with drunken outbursts during the day and bouts of gunfire in the middle of the night, targeting raccoons with blasts from a twelve-gauge shotgun and simultaneously shattering his neighbours’ nerves in the process. The drunken antics were considered tolerable. The gunfire became a near constant in what was once a serene forest thanks to Thompson’s newest pastime, one that once more stemmed from his Hemingway fantasy – blood sport. Thompson’s accomplice, when it came to hunting down the game that inhabited the Big Sur wilderness, was a sculptor named Jo Hudson. Together, they soon acquired a less than flattering reputation. Whitmer explains,


The two men would pile into Jo’s car at night, stick a couple of beers between their legs, and          load up the back with their dogs and go deer hunting. “The Senseless Killers Club” was         what some called it – running down deer blinded by Hudson’s headlights on Route 1, or     shooting wild boar that roamed the Santa Lucia Mountains.


Of course, making an impact, negative or otherwise, was what mattered, as was the feeling of not only matching his literary idols, but going one step further. Douglas Brinkley described Thompson’s tendency towards “sardonic one-upmanship,” and went on to add that “if Hemingway, rifle in hand, had hunted big game around Mt. Kilimanjaro, then Thompson would stalk wild boar with a Bowie knife in Big Sur.” To compound the distasteful manner in which their hunting sorties were viewed by the rest of the community, Thompson delighted in utilising various remnants from a wild boar kill for his own brand of practical joke. The severed heads of the animals turned up in a variety of locations, including the hot springs, much to the distress of the unfortunate victims of the act. Thompson never let an opportunity for street theatre to go to waste.

This impulse towards the theatrical is further evident in the manner in which Thompson began to mould his outlaw persona with a level of dedication befitting that of a method actor. With the money he received from Rogue magazine he immediately set about boosting his armoury, first by purchasing a .22 calibre pistol, followed swiftly by a .44 Magnum and a rifle. He said,


With the Rogue money I bought a pistol and a Doberman and a lot of whiskey, and now a man up the road has put the sheriff on me for shooting while drunk and keeping a vicious          dog.


The .44 Magnum in particular would become an essential association for Thompson, remaining a constant part of the Hunterfigure image as renegade outlaw. Re-inforced through numerous references to it throughout his writing, it became a favoured prop when he was photographed. These new additions to his collection were not just for show.  Thompson furthered his alienation from the community by first shooting out the windows of his own cabin and then using his neighbours’ windows as target practice. Twice he was spoken to by the sheriff about his violent behaviour, but it did little to alter his ways.

The most notable event during Thompson’s Big Sur tenure was undoubtedly his confrontation with a group of gay men who had made a habit of visiting Murphy’s Hot Springs on weekends. Soon their presence became a problem, with Michael Murphy and Dick Price wanting to put an end to the activity that was taking place there. They sought to establish the Esalen Institute, whose operating ethos did not include the use of the hot springs as an all-night party venue. As caretaker, it was Thompson’s duty to enforce the new rules and, in typical fashion, he set about doing so in a particularly over-the-top and menacingly theatrical manner. Whitmer explains,


“The Night of the Dobermans” is how locals recall it: a mad romp around the baths,         maybe thirty or forty naked men doing whatever naked men who are willing to drive            pink Cadillac’s all the way from L.A. or San Francisco to Big Sur are prone to do. Suddenly, above the boom of the surf, above the riot of their own partying, came the           sound of pistol shots, the voice of Hunter Thompson, and enough canine snarling to ice their           blood.


The following night, the group of men returned the favour. Thompson suffered a severe beating and only managed to escape being thrown off a cliff due to the intervention of his friend, Maxine Ambus. When Thompson retreated to the sanctuary of his cabin for the rest of the night, he made sure to voice his displeasure at the incident in his own particular manner of expression. Again, from Whitmer,

For the rest of the night he punctuated the silence of Big Sur with rifle shot fired through his unopened window. In the morning, Murphy looked out to find a horizontal line of bullet holes, and Thompson’s clothes hung on the line. “They were stiff as a board with blood,” Murphy said.


Thompson was quick to capitalise on the balance of terror that he maintained with the local community in Big Sur, regaling his friends with letters concerning his daily strife in a manner that not only bears many of the hallmarks of Gonzo Journalism, but also illustrates an effort to stage-manage his life in order to project the requisite image. Brinkley said,


It is clear from the letters that Thompson deliberately cultivated himself as the American     Adam, a figure defined by critic R.W.B Lewis as “an individual standing alone, self-reliant             and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever awaited him with the aid of his own unique          and inherent resources.”


This marriage between the image that he was fostering in his writing, one that both reflected and simultaneously informed his way of life, is also evident in his photography from this period. The central emphasis is, of course, that which was also conveyed throughout his writing, that of the Hunterfigure as an outlaw, the rugged individualist and writer juxtaposed with the frontier-like vast wilderness of Big Sur. The most powerful of these images captures Thompson, pipe in mouth, typing at a small table overlooking the plunging cliffs of theBig Surcoastline. Another shows him surveying the view with a telescope, with a rifle by his side, accompanied by Agar, his Doberman. Hunting is a prominent theme, with many photographs capturing his boar-hunting exploits. One particular photo of the hanging carcass of a boar features Thompson’s handwriting on the reverse. It simply states – “Joan Baez butchering hogs – Big Sur 1961.” When he submitted various photographs in conjunction with an article, Thompson provided various explanations for each image. For a group shot Thompson identifies Jo Hudson as “yachtsman and big-game hunter,” John Clancy, “now a SF lawyer,” with Sandy described as “then private secretary and constant companion to Big Sur’s most prominent thug.” Another similar image, this one actually including Thompson himself, is captioned – “More of same. Foreground is the thug – in this case, the author.” In retrospect, these are the first photographs of Thompson in the guise of his literary alter ego.

Though clearly happy to promote this image and, indeed, live up to the name, Thompson knew that he was making life difficult for himself in the community. It was a pattern that dominated his life ever since his youth in Louisville. A copy of Rogue magazine containing Thompson’s article on Big Sur had made its way to Vinnie Murphy, the eighty-nine year old matriarch of the family and owner of the hot springs. She did not appreciate Thompson’s description of the antics at the baths, particularly his disclosure of its popularity as a homosexual rendezvous point. Thompson was given one month to leave the property. Though hardly a stranger to receiving an eviction notice, in Big Sur it proved to be a particularly difficult problem for Thompson to resolve. The Rogue article mentioned a number of other members of the community, who were similarly none too pleased by the article’s content. Finding a new property to rent proved to be impossible. It was clear that Thompson’s time in Big Sur had come to an end in a manner that could only serve to highlight the extent of his outsider status. Whitmer explained,

In his expulsion from Big Sur, Thompson was cast out of a community of castaways; even with an international reputation as a pornographer, Henry Miller had been welcomed here with open arms. Thompson seemed to be taking iconoclasm to new heights.


Big Surhad more than lived up to its reputation as a place of personal growth and transformation. For Hunter S. Thompson the untamed wilderness and the inherent freedom that it afforded represented anAmericathat was increasingly under threat. Though he leftBig Surfor pastures new, it is no coincidence that Thompson eventually settled in Woody Creek, Colorado. His “fortified compound” in the Rocky Mountains spoke to his romantic sensibilities, fitting perfectly with his image of the outlaw individualist. Free from the constraints of city life, it was a place where he could be the master of his own domain. It was this same wild nature and inclination to challenge the dominant and established power structures that also enabled Thompson to break free from the existing literary rules and establish his own unique genre of Gonzo Journalism. Beyond this, it often boiled down to appreciating the simple things in life – like being able to walk outside, stark naked, to fire your .44 Magnum at targets on the hillside before loading up on mescaline and blasting “White Rabbit” at 110 decibels while the sun comes up on the snow-peaks along the Continental Divide – and not get arrested.




Perry, Paul (1992) Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S.

Thompson. New York: Avalon.

Thompson, Hunter S. (2001). Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey

of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976 [Fear and Loathing Letters, vol. 2]. London:


Thompson, Hunter S. (2006). Gonzo. Los Angeles: AMMO

Thompson, Hunter S. (1992). Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the

American Dream [Gonzo Papers, vol. 3]. London: Picador.

Thompson, Hunter S. (1997). The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern

Gentleman, 1955-1967 [Fear and Loathing Letters, vol. 1]. New York: Villard.

Whitmer, Peter O. (2000) When The Going Gets Weird. Princeton: POW.

The Nature of Beatdom Issue 11 (with lots of photos)

Dear Readers,
We certainly hope that you like to look at pictures – because this is about as many as we think we can squeeze into a single post.

The idea is to show that, while the ebook and kindle formats are handy, Beatdom is still fun to have your own personal copy of, like in the old days of the literary journal, when you stuck it in your pocket or bag and pulled it out to read while on the bus, at the doctor’s office or in a crowded movie theater while some delinquent threw JuJubes in your hair.

While we all know you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, anybody who is familiar with French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the poem, ‘After The Deluge,’ from his earth-shattering collection ‘Illuminations,’ will spot him right away, That is thanks to the keen handiwork of multi-faceted artist Waylon Bacon, who graced the front cover of this issue with his brilliant dexterity and use of color.

It is a treat to get to see him do something for us in deep rich tones, since he has had to restrain himself to using black and white ever since we changed the format to that of the classic, standard old-style 6×9-inch black and white format, used by most literary journals.

In the following story by Katy Gurin, ‘Grizzly Bear,’ you can see more of Waylon’s work, only in the b/w format. This is still another excellent short story by Katy, about what can happen when people commune a little too closely with nature. This tale showcases her usual splendid imagination and wonderful gift for detail. Stuck in between there, shown on the back cover, since most people look at the front and back before opening it, is the advertisement for the next fiction release from Beatdom Books, ‘Egypt Cemetery,’ a memoir by Editor Michael Hendrick, which will be available soon at the usual outlets.

It is also worth noting that Katy will be publishing a full volume of her short stories with Beatdom Books, later this year. That volume will be illustrated by Waylon, since the two of them make such a great team for two people who have never even met each other. As Katy’s story continues the partygoers dressed as bears start to act more like bears just for the drunken fun of it.

Waylon not only provided the fine images you see here – but also managed to include some of his favorite monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster, his Bride, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, and some weird looking what-cha-ma-callits, that only he sees when he closes his eyes at night.

Bears like to catch fish but fishtank owners are not always appreciative. As you can see, our half-drunk pseudo-bears wander out into the Halloween night and do all the things bears are wont to do, until they are confronted by a real bear. How Katy thinks this stuff up is a mystery to us but we have been lucky enough to have her writing such inventive stories with truly absorbing plots since she was kind enough to provide us with her very first and fabulous yarn, ‘Meat From Craigslist,’ back in Issue Number Nine.

Next we have a look at the life of William S. Burroughs during his days as a farmer, written by Editor David S. Wills. Burroughs didn’t do so well working the land but Mr. Wills has been farming up quite a bit of information on the pistol-happy author while lurking about the Burroughs Archives at the New York City Public Library lately. Watch for more!

Somehow, archaeologist, activist and Beatdom regular Robin Como managed to find time to write two more of her intoxicatingly exquisite poems for your pleasure and if she doesn’t run away, we hope to have her back with more in our next issue!

Michael Hendrick tracked down Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, on Thanksgiving Day morning last year, forcing him to hold a copy of Beatdom Issue Nine and interviewing him on topics ranging from going to Hell, to how his grandfather wrote one of the first recorded rock songs before rock’n’roll was invented, to the Right to Bear Arms.

Taking time out from his extensive studies, returning writer Rory Feehan penned this account of still another famous sharp-shooter, Hunter S. Thompson and his ventures and misadventures while living a not so quiet existence at perhaps California’s favorite Beat retreat, Big Sur.

While everybody was awaiting the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Mr. Wills tracked down the last remaining live male character depicted in the movie, Al Hinkle, who Kerouac called Ed Dunkel in the book. Mr. Hinkle is delighted to appear here.

Assistant Editor Kat Hollister, who labored intensively to help put this issue together marked her first appearance in Beatdom with the poem you see below; her efforts were rewarded by the dubious distinction of having it placed across from a poem by returning Beat literate Chuck Taylor, on the dodgy subject of his erection. Mr. Taylor dug up the old form of ‘doggerel’ to justify it, along with the fact that we are the only journal who would risk publishing it.

Where have you seen this face before? On the cover, it’s Arthur Rimbaud again, next to an essay by poet Larry Beckett, who takes apart the aforementioned poem, ‘After The Deluge.’ It is an insightful look at one of Rimbaud’s best know works, and also gives us a glimpse at the fantastic style of literary critique to be found in Mr. Beckett’s upcoming offering from Beatdom Books, ‘Beat Poetry.’

Matthew Levi Stevens is a new name to Beatdom readers and here he presents us with a review of the latest collection of letters written by William S. Burroughs when he was still living as an expatriate.

Kat Hollister, following the indignity of having her poem placed facing Mr. Taylor’s doggerel, was happy to find a spot next to this wonderful photograph, ‘wetlands in march no.2,’ by well-known nature photographer, g. thompson higgins.

Artist/Photographer/Musician and Writer, Zeena Schreck returned again this issue, with this touching and enlightening article. She writes of how she and multi-talented husband, Nikolas Schreck, stepped up and acted to save the lives of eighty wolves, diverting their carriage to safe habitat as they were being sent to an otherwise slow and cruel death.

Ann Charters, a name familiar to everybody in the world of Beat Literature and Literary History spoke with Mr. Hendrick, on working with Kerouac, the beginnings of Beat, her meeting with Alene Lee and the importance of John Clellon Holmes to the Beat Generation.

Internationally renowned poet Michael Shorb, a strong voice on environmental issues, was kind enough to grace our pages with this, his first appearance in Beatdom.

Reaching past Rimbaud to William Blake, Mr. Wills weighs in with a quick word on the literary influence of one of the most visionary of voices and his influence on the Beats.

When we think of Beat we think of the road and it is hard to think of a band who pounded the pavement harder than the Ramones. Richie Ramone, the fastest of the fast, spoke with Mr. Hendrick about life on the road, his forays into the Big Band sounds of the Drum Gods and his activism on behalf of pooches in peril in Los Angeles.

As usual, Waylon won’t go back into his cage until he gets one last bite on the hand the doesn’t feed him, so we leave you with him and his now traditional ‘last page, last word.’ This one, Waylon aptly titled ‘Sometimes Eye Gets Crazy!’

Gabba Gabba Beat…Richie Ramone Talks to Beatdom!

Richie Ramone is Back: An Interview
with Michael Hendrick

(from Beatdom #11 – available on Amazon, Kindle, and at the Beatdom Bookstore)

In rock and roll there is a rarefied pantheon populated by a select number of bands who make us feel, who speak to Everyman, who splay the grizzled guts of the emotional, romantic, workaday routines of our lives into powerful melodies which touch and motivate us. Many bands exist in the industry of pop music but only a dozen or so speak to us directly, powerfully. These storytellers find themselves on a pedestal because they connect to our realities at the most basic, primordial level. The Coasters, the Crickets, the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and, of course, the Ramones come to mind first. There have been individuals, like Chuck Berry, Dion, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits who have done this, too. Bands like the aforementioned not only speak to us all but are known in the most seemingly remote parts of the world. Speaking for us all leads to deification and hero status. They influence younger musicians and, in so doing, influence our future, and light new recollections on the ends of the dying embers of old memories.

The Ramones may be the last of these supergroups to have emerged. Certainly, since the punk invasion that started in the 1970s Lower East Side of New York, many new groups have popped up, but few speak as well to our inner child. There have been more cerebral, more political, more ‘artsy’ bands, like REM, Nirvana, and the Patti Smith Group, to cite just a few. There are plenty of new faces in the melee of the indie music explosion, but not many of these are as recognizable or whose name alone can start a panic in countries where English is rarely spoken.

The Ramones had (and still have) this power. It is hard to imagine a world without the Ramones; just as difficult to imagine is the hard truth that their principal founders and faces – Joey and Dee Dee and Johnny – are dead and gone. Oddly, the drummers still survive. The pumping lifeblood of the trademark Ramones sound, part hard rock, part fifties tribute, part head-banging fun, drums drove the action. Other powerful groups of the era, like the Clash, the Dictators, the Damned – while all spurred to action by The Ramones – could not keep up the pace.

In a time when might was right and fast was class, the Ramones were hardest and fastest of them all. In the documentary film on the Ramones, “End of the Century,” the late Joe Strummer, of the all-powerful Clash, speaks of not being able to keep up with the boys from New York. Of all the Ramones drummers, Richard Reinhardt, aka Richie Ramone, was the fastest. This makes Richie Ramone the fastest drummer of all the original punk bands, which is no mean feat.

The Ramones were punks, not Beats. Their lyrics and lifestyles, however, were rife with Beat sensibilities and situations; the never-ending road, the need to express emotion through art and the Word, the ability to influence others to get up and move!
Recently, Beatdom caught up with Richie. As he came out of rock retirement and launched his new version of the Ramones 2012 Invasion, he has been very busy and we are happy to have him on the pages you hold.

Joey was your closest mate in the Ramones. He seemed to like other punk musicians who were on the intellectual side. A lot of them hung out with the Beat writers who lived on the Lower East Side, back then. Did you ever associate or see much of the Beat writers?

No, I never got to meet them or nothing. I don’t know that much about it. I’m not the biggest reader on the planet. I just never get around to it.

Why were you closest to Joey?
He was very supportive. Nobody else really wrote any songs before me, besides them…no other drummers really did anything like what Tommy co-wrote with the band. I was writing my own material but John didn’t like me to have more than one song because it picked his pocket. He would make less, the more songs I had, so that got frustrating…but Joey was always an encouragement to sing more. I was singing a lot of stuff live with him. It was really powerful, like in 1985-87. He was fully supportive of me. He didn’t feel like, “Oh, no, don’t take attention from me,” and that sort of thing. He even encouraged me to sing. That’s why I sing one of the songs on one of the records. He told me to sing it. I said, “What are you gonna do?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just sing it.” The song was mine…“Can’t Say Anything Nice.” I sang that song for the Ramones album.

“Can’t Say Anything Nice” is one of six songs written by Richie and released by the Ramones. The others are “Humankind,” “I Know Better Now,” “I’m Not Jesus,” “Smash You” and the ever-popular, oft-covered “Somebody Put Something In My Drink” – which got stuck in the interviewers head, incidentally, for five days after playing it on a car stereo.

When we were home, as far as Joey, he couldn’t really leave the house much without being mobbed but we would go places like bowling and do ‘normal’ stuff that he could never do on his own. We would do all that.

“End of the Century” shows you trekking all over the place at odd hours. On the road with the Ramones did not look like fun.

Traveling, when we went to Europe and stuff, we’d go for a month but other than that we’d do a lot of like… leave New York, go to Massachusetts, play, and then drive home. We would drive as far as Vermont, drive there whatever it takes, six or seven hours, do the show and then drive home and be back at six or seven in the morning. We did a lot of that with the group, as opposed to just sleeping there at night. You’d kind of sleep on the way home. You drive seven hours. Leave at noon. Get up there. Play…then just jump right back in. It’s about fourteen or fifteen hours on the road in one day. We would do that in winter with ice on the road and it was scary for the band. We always worried that we were gonna crash.

In “End of the Century,” it seemed a lot scarier in South America, where there is not much ice. We see that you are going back there this year.

In Brazil, the fans are crazy…a really good place to play.

You have been working the Gobshites, a Boston band, who mix rock and roll with traditional Celtic music. How has that worked out?

I never played live with them but we went to Ireland, to Dublin, and recorded the record there. The week we spent there was great. They are mixing and doing it up and that should be out in a few months or something like that. I played all the tracks. I’ll be doing some shows with them. I’m not a permanent band member but I will be doing some shows.

You also did some work with the Ramonas (an all-female Ramones tribute band from the UK).

I did one show with them. I went all the way to Ireland and London is only an hour’s flight away. I just said, “Ah, I’m gonna go do a show in London and I hooked up with them and did a show with them there so I could see fans in London. I hadn’t been in London for twenty years, so I did the recording, then went to London to do a show and flew home from there. I may do something else with them. They were a lot of fun and I may do a festival or two with them…you know, summer festivals in New York.

That sounds like fun! Tell us about the record you did with the Gobshites.

It’s great. It’s a mixed bag but there won’t be any electric guitar…there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, there is accordion, bass, fiddles, banjo…we actually cover “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”…a really cool version of that with lots of chanting vocals. I can’t wait to hear the final take on that. It is similar to the original, the same type of beat. They never really officially released that so I said, “Let’s cut this again,” and it came out really good. The rough tracks were really cool.

Another of the many projects you have going is an appearance on the second posthumous Joey Ramone solo album, “Ya Know?” (It is slated for release in May 2012.)
They found tracks of Joey’s…new stuff, so they just took the vocals and snipped the vocals out of it, really. Everything else was redone. It was done on four-track cassette machine and they processed the vocals and we put all our bits around it. I think there are fifteen or sixteen songs. I played on five of them. Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick played drums on two or three and some other people played on others.

In the Ramones, playing that kind of beat, with the third-sixteenth hi-hats [polyrhythmic hi-hat ostinato], it’s not half-time beat.

Yeah, no one had a right hand like I did on the hi-hat. People would just stop and stare at the hi-hats, how I could make that hand go so fast…haha…

So what do you think about being the fastest drummer of the original punk bands? Many say that the churn of drummers from the seventies into the eighties slowed the group down and you brought back the hard edge.

At that time [before joining the Ramones] I was in a band named 384. The scene was changing to groups like the Cro-Mags and speed-metal came out. All the new punks used speed metal and that’s why we started speeding things up more and more. That’s how our stuff got really fast. We just took our songs and played them faster.

The fans sure dug it but we understand the promoters didn’t?

The promoters would start to get upset because we would be short of an hour. That is how fast we were, we did 33 songs in less than an hour…haha…

What do you enjoy most, these days?

There are a lot of things going on with the Gobshites. We are doing an EP with a video and I am starting work on my own record. I rerecorded some of my songs and also some of my new material, my music.

What is it like?

I don’t stray too far away from what I do. Some of my stuff is a little but harder, a little more metal, a little more guitar soloing than the normal thing. My stuff is mainly a little darker than the Ramones. Not that fifties sound, as you can tell from the songs I wrote. There are a lot of things I will be doing this year. I will be on tour. I’ll be going to Australia…eventually. There is nothing set in stone but I was not around the scene for a while so that is what the whole ‘2012 Invasion’ is about. (Since taping this interview, gigs in South America have been booked, as well as appearances at a Johnny Thunders tribute concert and a benefit show to raise money for children with cancer.)

Before you decided to ‘invade’ and were out of the rock scene, what had you been doing?

I was doing orchestra stuff…I did “Suite for Drums and Orchestra” based on the theme from “West Side Story” with the Pasadena Pops. I orchestrated for the symphony…ten or eleven songs and made them an eighteen minute medley. It is all-around drumming and it is drum filled. It really glorified the ‘Drum God Era.’ It is a whole other side of drumming that people got to see and that they didn’t know I could do.

How was it received by the orchestra crowd?

Standing ovations! They jumped up…it was really crazy. You’re playing not so much to the punk crowd but playing to an older audience…and they loved it! It brought back the Buddy Rich/ Gene Krupa era. In the fifties, there were drum gods; in the eighties there were guitar gods. Now, all of that is gone. When they wheeled the kit on the riser wheels at the end of the show, people gasped. The funny thing about orchestra is that it is taboo to clap or anything until the piece is over. I remember the first time I did it…I wondered what was going on. They said they had never seen a response like that for the eight years that they were doing it. The people just jumped up and it was crazy.

I played a lot of outdoor events. I didn’t do many shows, only a handful of shows and the economy hit and you know orchestras are generally funded by donations so it slowed down. I am going to do it again. I am doing the rock and roll for now – but it would be a wonderful thing to do until I croak. You know what I’m saying? I really like it. It is really exciting! It’s you and your drums and they hand out the music and do one rehearsal and you go. You don’t have to deal with anything and you have ninety instruments behind you that you are driving and it is amazing. I really enjoyed that but I owe a lot to my fans right now and they are killing me to get back out on the road with my stuff. While I have the time I’m gonna do that first.

The main reason you gave for leaving the Ramones was that Johnny was being cheap and not giving a fair share of the tee shirt concession.

I have my own tee shirt line now. It has my name, not the Ramones. It says Richie Ramone.

We understand you are active in your community as an animal rights activist.

My dog passed away ten days ago. It was hard. I had to put him down. He had cancer but I still have two other min-pins, miniature pinschers. Every one was a rescue. One got stepped on so he has a limp. The other got hit by a car. The neck is a little tweaked. All rescues. That’s all I do. I spoke at City Hall (in Los Angeles) about what they do here, though…I like to get the dogs as puppies, when they are five weeks old, especially when you are dealing with mixes of pit bulls. Everything in LA has a mix of a pit bull in it. I don’t want them to be in someone else’s home for a year and they kick it around and the dog’s all fucked up, you know? Everybody…they take their kids and they go, “Let’s get a puppy!” They don’t understand the work involved…how to train the puppy. It starts shitting and pissing all over the house and they kick it and yell at it and then bring it back. The dog is psychotic by then. It’s a shame.

What did you speak about at City Hall?

Out here, what they have is…I used to go a place and you see the picture of the dog, ‘available this day.’ So I would go there. I remember once or twice, I would go there at six in the morning and they open at eight and I’m the first in line but it’s not ‘first come, first served.’ What happens is, if somebody else wants the same puppy, it goes to an auction and that’s the thing I was fighting. It’s really horrible.

So you have three or four families, people with children, and they start auctioning at $50, $60, $80…I have seen these mutts go for $300. The average family can’t pay that and the children go out crying, “Mommy, why can’t we get that dog?” It’s heartbreaking. I’m trying to get them to change this auction thing. Whoever has the most money in their pocket gets the dog. It’s bullshit. If you see a dog that’s available and you want it, pitch a tent, sit there all night and be the first one in line. Online it always said they keep the puppies for a week and it is available that day. Not many cities do this. It is usually like, “I’m the first one here. That’s the puppy I want.” You get it. It costs maybe fifty or sixty bucks for the shots. Auctioning them is heartbreaking. You see the families and they can only go to $100-150 and that’s it. It’s stupid. They go to auction in LA because they make more money. Half of these people that want the puppy won’t keep it because they have no idea of the work involved.

When I train my puppies, I am up every two hours through the night. It takes about a month with the box next to the bed. Then when you hear them walking, you get up and take them outside. It’s a lot of work for a few weeks. People don’t do that. They don’t know how to train a dog. They think it’s a toy. I don’t have children. That’s why I love dogs…because it IS a responsibility. You have to be there to take care of them. You have to feed them and all that stuff. Walk them and things like that. Without things like that in my life, I’d be totally lost…haha…The heartbreak is that they don’t last forever.

We hear you can have a cat cloned for $5000. Maybe they do it with dogs, too.

I think they can…I wouldn’t want that. Every time a dog goes, I always get another one but it always has something of the dog that passed in it…like the dog that passed before this never really ate. It wasn’t a good eater. Then I got this dog, who became the most fabulous eater and is still the same kind of dog…there’s always something in there. No, I would never clone. There are too many dogs in the shelter to begin with.

Elsewhere in this issue, Hank Williams III talks about how pit bulls have been demonized.

If you don’t own a house, you can’t even have a pit bull in LA. They won’t let you put it in an apartment. They won’t allow that breed in apartments. It really got a bad rap.

What shall we expect from you next, musically, that is?

There will be a lot on the future, the whole ‘Invasion’ is that you are gonna see a lot more of me on different records, and putting my album out…I just did something in the studio and am going to do a video with it. I’m just re-introducing myself to the world again. Then I’m gonna follow it up with a whole bunch of records because I am in this little bubble of being a Ramone and I don’t stray far from my rock and roll roots.

I write all kinds of different songs but I only perform the ones I like that are hard and stuff. I am looking to collaborate with other people and submit my other songs, which are really not for me. As an artist, I don’t only write one type of song. It could be a ballad. It could be a keyboard song…it could be for Alicia Keyes or whatever, so there is going to be more of that.

Are you working with anyone beside the Gobshites and Ramonas?
There’s a band out of Canada called the Rock and Roll Rats. I just did five songs on their EP. That should be out soon. It’s so cool. I never met them. They send me the files, then I record on them in my studio and I send them back. It gets them more attention. They can have Richie Ramone on their album and I can do it in my pajamas and sneakers…haha…It’s a wonderful, tool, Facebook…I’ve hooked up with a lot of people and gotten a lot of work from it. I make new friends every day. People can find me, you know?

You can find out more about Richie Ramone, the 2012 Invasion, and even buy one of his tee shirts at See him when he gets to your town, it is always fun to see a legend at work!