Collaborations and Associations
THE BEAT HOTEL
The hotel at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur (“Street Where the Heart Lies”) in the Latin Quarter of Paris was owned and operated by Monsieur and Madame Rachou between 1933 and 1963. It never had a formal name. Brion Gysin called it the No Name Hotel; Gregory Corso purportedly gave it its more famous moniker.
Rooms at the Beat Hotel were cheap, an attractive prospect to starving artists and writers. The Hotel was in close proximity to bookshops, galleries, affordable cafes and restaurants, and easy access to drugs. Madame Rachou supported artists, even accepting paintings and manuscripts in lieu of rent. She allowed residents to live as they pleased and did not ask questions. She was protective of her tenants, although she had arbitrary (and apparently mysterious) criteria by which she accepted tenants. The hotel’s forty-two rooms were small, and a shared Turkish-style water closet that loomed at the end of the hall on each floor. Electricity use was capped at 40 watts per room and strictly monitored. Rats plagued the rank hallways.
The Beat Hotel witnessed the completion and composition of many of the Beats’ most well known works and experiments: Brion Gysin discovered the cut-up technique and built the Dream Machine with Ian Sommerville. Burroughs completed and compiled The Naked Lunch with the help of Gysin and Sinclair Beiles. Ginsberg began “Kaddish,” in which he mourns the death of his mother Naomi who died in 1956. It is considered by many to be his masterpiece. And Corso penned his famous mushroom cloud-shaped poem “Bomb.”
The Beat Hotel was renovated in the 1980s. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Naked Lunch, a commemorative plaque was dedicated in 2009 honoring the Beat Hotel’s seven most well-known tenants: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin, Ian Sommerville, and Harold Norse.
Beat Hotel. San Diego, California: Atticus Press, 1983.
Inscribed by the author.
Poet and artist Harold Norse explored themes of gay identity in a straight-forward literary style. In Burroughs’s forward to the surrealist cut-up novella which became a Beat standard, he notes that Norse “played a pivotal role” in the development of the cut-up technique. Between 1960 and 1963, Norse, who introduced Burroughs and Ian Sommerville, Gysin and Burroughs saw one another daily in the Beat Hotel. Norse adopted the cut-up early on both in his writing and into his painting, which impressed both Gysin and Burroughs. Norse’s cut-up “Sniffing Keyholes” was published by Ira Cohen in Gnaoua.
Gasoline, introduction by Allen Ginsberg. San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1958.
Gregory Corso (1930-2001) believed poetry saved his life. His troubled childhood was spent in and out of foster homes and prison. As an inmate in Clinton State penitentiary in New York, he spent much of his time reading and was especially influenced by the poetry and philosophy of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Corso’s characteristic badboy behavior earned him the nickname L’Enfant Terrible of the Beats. He formed close and significant friendships with Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs. Corso was often without money and lived off the generosity of girlfriends and his friends. He was plagued by addictions to heroin and alcohol for most of his adult life. Corso married three times and fathered several children, none of whom he remained with for long. Corso has been described as the member of the Beat generation who truly lived its vagabond lifestyle.
Letter to William S. Burroughs, March 14, 1985
Robert A. Wilson collection
In this letter, Corso attempts to clear up a misunderstanding that had occurred during the summer of 1961 in Tangier. Corso had written to Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in November 1961 that he considered Burroughs “power mad” after the success of Naked Lunch and felt that Burroughs was untrustworthy. While Corso apparently respected Burroughs’s talent, he felt there was a major philosophical and ontological disconnect between novelists like Kerouac and Burroughs and poets such himself and Ginsberg. The verso of this letter bears an undated, untitled verse in Corso’s hand: “Painters give / angels their wings / the unicorn its horn / but poets make / unpaintable things / and from themselves / are born.”
The last museum. New York: Grove Press, 1986.
Gysin’s posthumously published novel was begun in 1968 and written and revised many times. The novel draws on the history and physical layout of the Beat Hotel, where Gysin, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, and others lived at various times between 1959 and 1963. The Beat Hotel is transformed into the Bardo of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and transferred room by room to California to be reconstructed on the San Andreas fault.
Beat Museum Bardo Hotel, Chapter 2. Oakland, California: Inkblot Publications, 1982.
A complete story unto itself, The Last Museum represents just a portion of a larger, unpublished novel. Beat Museum Bardo Hotel, Chapter 2 is another section of that manuscript. In addition to its influence from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it draws on the 1976 car crash that resulted in the death of Ian Sommerville. Chapter 1 was published in Soft Need #17 (1977), a Brion Gysin special issue.
William S. Burroughs
Early Routines. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Cadmus Editions, 1981. First edition.
Number 100 of 349 copies; signed by the author.
Burroughs’s writing style emerged from scenes and characters devised and rehearsed with friends. His creativity thrived on collaboration and the give-and-take between himself and a like-mind he trusted. Burroughs’s first collaborator was his childhood friend Kells Elvins, whom he met at the John Burroughs School. Burroughs and Elvins wrote the sketch “Twilight’s Last Gleamings” while they shared a house together in Cambridge in 1938. Burroughs read portions of this routine during his appearance on Saturday Night Live on November 8, 1981. “Twilight’s Last Gleamings” marks the first appearance of one of Burroughs’s most infamous characters, Dr. Benway. Burroughs called the results of these collaborative sketches “routines”—a term he credited Allen Ginsberg with coining. Barry Miles describes Burroughs’s routines as situations taken to their most extreme surreal and humorous conclusions. One of Burroughs’s most famous routines is the “talking asshole” routine from Naked Lunch.
William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Gregory Corso, and Sinclair Beiles
Minutes To Go. aris: Two Cities Editions, 1960.
Minutes To Go was the first of the “cut-up publications.” Gysin was known for saying that writing was fifty years behind painting, but the “cut-up method treats words as the painter treats his paint, raw material with rules and reasons of its own.” Beiles (1930-2000) lived at the Beat Hotel and assisted with the laborious editing of Naked Lunch.
Minutes To Go. San Francisco: Beach Books, Texts & Documents, 1968.
Frontispiece collage by French poet and artist Claude Pélieu (1934-2002).
William S. Burroughs, Claude Pélieu and Carl Weissner
So Who Owns Death TV? Beach Books, Texts & Documents, 1967.
So Who Owns Death TV? is a cut-up collaboration with German writer and translator Carl Weissner and French artist and poet Claude Pélieu (1934-2002). This copy represents the second edition, which bears the 75¢ price. It includes four pages of collaged photographs by French artist and poet Jean-Jacques Lebel (born 1936), American artist Liam O’Gallagher (1917-2008), and Pélieu. During the 1960s, the Beats were still relatively unknown in France, and Lebel translated and published several works by Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso. Weissner and Burroughs had begun corresponding in 1965, and Burroughs visited him in Germany in 1966; they remained lifelong friends. Jeff Nuttall published Weissner’s cut-ups in My Own Mag in 1965 and 1966. French artist and poet Claude Pélieu (1934-2002) met American artist Mary Beach (1919-2006) in 1962 in Paris. Beach, a relative of Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare & Company, established her own imprint under Beach Books, Texts, and Documents, through which she published Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Jeff Nuttall; some Beach Books were co-published or distributed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books.
William S. Burroughs
“Your Name, My Face” typescript manuscript with autograph corrections, circa 1973
Paul Bowles papers supplement
“Your Name My Face” is a short story that appeared in Antaeus No. 8 (Winter 1973). Shown here is the first page of Burroughs’s typescript. Edits appear to be in both Paul Bowles and Burroughs’s hands.
William S. Burroughs
Blade Runner: A Movie. Berkeley, California: Blue Wind Press, 1979.
Advanced review copy.
Burroughs’s film treatment of Alan E. Nourse’s 1974 cyberpunk novel The Bladerunner weaves Nourse’s plot with classic Burroughsian themes and symbols. After the Health Riots of 1994, medical treatment has gone underground. Based on the findings that modern medicine creates more disease than it cures, government-funded healthcare is restricted to a very limited portion of the population, while forced sterilization awaits patients who have pre-existing conditions. The 1982 Ridley Scott cult film Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford is not based on the Burroughs/Nourse material, but on the plot of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The title was purchased and refers to the medical smugglers (i.e., smugglers of scalpels and surgical instruments) of Nourse’s novel. No film of Nourse’s novel or Burroughs’s treatment was ever produced.
William S. Burroughs
Blade Runner: A Movie. Tokyo : Treville, 1990. Japanese translation.
William S. Burroughs
The Cat Inside/ with drawings by Brion Gysin. New York: The Grenfell Press, 1986.
Copy 93 of 133, signed by the author and the artist.
A renowned cat-lover, Burroughs explores the fragility and aesthetic beauty of cats through reminiscences of cats he owned, his dreams, cats’ own lives, and cats’ places in world mythologies. Burroughs’s 1996-1997 journals record the heartbreak he felt over the deaths of several of his beloved felines. The front cover also bears Gysin’s personal calligraphic sign he used throughout his work. The Cat Inside was likely Burroughs and Gysin’s final collaboration. Burroughs dedicated the work to his friend, who died on July 13, 1986:
My artistic and psychic debt / To whom I can never repay”
William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac
And the hippos were boiled in their tanks. New York: Grove Press, 2008.
In 1944, American writer and original member of the New York City Beats Lucien Carr murdered David Kammerer, who had long been infatuated with the much younger Carr and trailed after him around the country. Burroughs had known Kammerer in St. Louis, where the two had attended primary school together. It was through Kammerer that Burroughs met Allen Ginsberg. After disposing of Kammerer’s body in the Hudson River, Carr immediately sought out Kerouac and Burroughs for help. Burroughs advised Carr to obtain a good lawyer and turn himself in. Kerouac and Burroughs were charged with being accessories-after-the-fact. Drawing on their experiences with Carr and episodes from their own lives, Burroughs and Kerouac’s manuscript described a bohemian world of drugs, art, obsession, and violence set in 1940s New York. The title was taken from a contemporary news report of a fire that decimated a circus. Burroughs reported in The Adding Machine that Kerouac used portions of their early collaboration in The Town and the City and Vanity of Duluoz. The full text of their manuscript was not published until nearly 40 years after Kerouac’s death.
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, JR. (1947-1981) AND JOAN VOLLMER (1923-1951)
After the death of his mother Joan Vollmer in 1951, William Burroughs, Jr., was separated from his half-sister Julie and sent to live with his paternal grandparents Mortimer and Laura Burroughs first in St. Louis, Missouri, and later in Palm Beach, Florida. He never saw his sister again. The younger Burroughs, or Billy Jr. as he was known, was sent to live with his father in Tangier in 1960 after becoming troublesome for his aging grandparents. Burroughs proved distant toward his son, and Billy Jr. returned to Florida. Billy Jr. struggled with addiction to amphetamines and alcohol during the rest of his teens and twenties, requiring a liver transplant in 1976. He died in 1981 due to complications of cirrhosis. Devastated by his son’s death, Burroughs secluded himself in the Bunker and did not attend his son’s memorial; Ginsberg scattered the young man’s ashes after a Buddhist purification ceremony.
On September 6, 1951, Vollmer was shot and killed by Burroughs. After many hours of drinking, Joan Vollmer and Burroughs attended a party, where more drinks were had. Turning to Vollmer, he said, “It’s time for our William Tell act. Put a glass on your head.” The couple had no William Tell act. Much speculation has surrounded Vollmer’s tragic death; Burroughs attributed her death to his becoming a writer and writing being his method of coping with Vollmer’s ghost.
William S. Burroughs, Jr.
Speed. New York: Olympia Press, 1970.
In his introductory note, Allen Ginsberg compares Speed to Junky, not to the detriment of the younger Burroughs’s work, but with high hopes for it: “Speed shows traces of characteristic Burroughsian laconism and precision regarding genius fact [. . .] Senior had done his first job with the junk universe. Where will consciousness go next generation?” Like Junky, Speed is a frank narrative depicting the desperation of an addict.
Ginsberg’s autograph copy with note: “$500.00 for this preface went to Chicago 7 trial defense.”
William S. Burroughs, Jr.
Kentucky Ham. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973.
The younger Burroughs’s second novel details other aspects of his life, including his family and his stint in a Kentucky rehab facility. Burroughs, Sr. provided an afterward to the 1984 edition.
Nova Convention program, 1978
Paul Bowles papers
The Nova Convention was held November 30-December 2, 1978, in New York City in honor of Burroughs and his influential body of work. Called “the Charles Dickens of our age” by poet Anne Waldman, Burroughs’s influence was far-reaching as the 1970s drew to a close— Burroughs’s Naked Lunch was central to the 1960s psychedelic aesthetic; his cut-up technique deconstructed the linearity of narrative and influenced musicians like David Bowie, whose 1974 album Diamond Dogs was composed using cut-ups; his dystopian landscapes set the stage for science fiction cyberpunk; and the developing iconic persona of Burroughs was enthusiastically incorporated by the punk rock scene. The convention brought together artists, writers, and musicians for three days of lectures, panel discussions, films, exhibitions, performances, readings, and concerts.
Shown here is a program sent by Brion Gysin to Paul Bowles including Gysin’s handwritten edits to the line-up: most notably, Frank Zappa filled in for Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, whose originally scheduled appearance had been a major draw.
River City Reunion postcard and photograph, 1987
Robert A. Wilson collection
Postcard written to proprietor of the Phoenix Bookshop Robert A. Wilson with greetings from Anne Waldman, Diane DiPrima, Ed Sanders, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Michael McClure, and Andrei Codrescu during the River City Reunion, a weeklong arts and culture event held in Lawrence, Kansas, that brought together many members of the Beat Generation. The photograph shows American poet Robert Creeley, Waldman, Codrescu, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and first wife of Jack Kerouac, Edie Parker Kerouac.
Klaus Wegener, Heinz Dietz and U-Roy, editors
Kozmik Blues: William S. Burroughs Special. Hagen : Kozmik Blues, Reprotechnik Bruchhäusser, .
From the Library of Paul Bowles
Includes several pieces by Burroughs including “MOB,” The Partisans of Death,” and “The City of Mutants,” as well as an interview.