Chapter 15. NAKED TEA


I'd been nervous meeting Burroughs like that in Robert's flat. Suddenly there he was. It had been a shock. He had an aura about him, the Great Junky Queer Writer Of Naked Lunch. Let's be honest, I was scared stiff. I wanted to interview him of course,  but not there, not then, and I didn't want to turn into another Burrough's groupie. So w
ho is this somber man in the suit and trilby who looks like a ghost of some uprooted mid-Western FBI agent lurking in the Men's at Piccadilly Station? I decide to find out.

My plan is simple. I'll ambush the bugger...catch him shopping in Fortnum and Mason's maybe and see if I can't talk him into a cup of tea. As long as I make it clear I'm not queer there should be no trouble. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to write it...sort of gonzo perhaps, pre-dated Hunter Thompson stuff. Make a few notes then  knock it into shape and see if Miles or somebody is interested. He's publishing a lot of Moorcock's stuff lately so it might work.

I'm lucky. After only a few minutes in the great British Grocery established 1707 I spot the man himself in the Marmalade & Preserves section. He is  examining a jar of Mexican jockstraps in jism.

'Hello Bill,' I say, 'remember me? We met at Robert Fraser's.'

 'Oh,' he says, 'yes, So what do you want? Drugs?'

'Well I wouldn't mind a smoke. But nothing hard.'

'Let's go to the Tea Room then.'

So we do. A place of tranquil
pastel decor, starched tablecloths and overblown oil paintings (near-naked damsels being tastefully ravished), ivory ornaments and tired old rubber plants. It's late in the day so I suggest Earl Grey or perhaps a light Lapsang Louchong. Burroughs insists on Breakfast Blend. Neither of us dig scones and cream, clotted or otherwise thank you. I go for digestives but WSB orders a plate of Cornish Fairings. 'I normally prefer the Lancashire Flips,' he explains, 'but I was doing yage last night and they don't seem to mix well. So, what can I do for you? Want to suck my cock?'

Better be up front about it, 'Sorry Bill,' I say, 'I'm not one of those.'

'Hmm, no drugs. Not queer. Shit man, you're no fun.' But said in a kindly way, 'so what do you want? I can manufacture memories to order. Any kind you want.'

Well naturally I have a few questions I want to ask. About things like Kerouac, Tangiers, Ginsberg, and all the uh...manly togetherness, but I decide to cut straight to the scissor work.

'I suppose cut-ups freed you from the tyranny of things like grammar and syntax?' I ask.

'Now you're taking the piss. I hope this isn't going to be just another interview.'

I hope so too.
Taking the piss? Curious expression for an American to use. Perhaps he really does have an ear for the vernacular.

I start to think about the way art causes things to happen how it jumps off the page, or spills out of its frames into subway grafitti, will it stop there or will it become a living thing? Will a basic disruption of reality occur? I want to avoid asking the same boring questions he must have heard a thousand times.
The tea arrives. William is mother. So I ask a few questions and he seems happy to talk. He tells me about this and that, shooting his wife, heroine addiction, living in a male brothel in Tangiers, Gysin, Sommerville. I take notes. There is something a little unreal about discussing ten foot centipedes, Mayan priests, Life Time Fortune Inc., cut-ups and Scientology while all around us ladies in twin-sets sip tea from fine china and talk in genteel tones about their grand children and their rose gardens.
Interzone, the city of Tangiers, given magic and substance through the hypnotic use of language, and language itself. He has a lot to say about that. Bill goes on about parasitic organisms attaching themselves to our nervous systems forcing us to make pointless conversation. It's amazing really that anybody takes him seriously. But they do. He's a demi-god to some people. I'm still not committed but I won't be mentioning that in the actual review of course. Wouldn't be hip. Funny thing is I think I share his compulsion to communicate. I just don't see words as the major threat facing the planet. Nor apparently did the totally oblivious tea-sipping English ladies chatting delicately away to each other. Remarkably unconcerned I'd say with their rose wallpaper, sugar cubes, chocolate digestives, haemorrhoids...one lump or two?.... In the room the women continue to come and go talking of Michelangelo.

 'Women,' says Bill as if he knows what I'm thinking, 'a basic mistake God damn it. The whole dualistic universe evolved from the error. Look at them...excisors of telepathic sensitivity or so they think, osteopaths of the soul, investigating infractions, charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit...don't get me started...' The man is clearly mad but who am I to disagree? I'm getting an article out of it, '...yakking away about their operations...'

'Sounds like a job for Doctor Benway.' I suggest.

'Right.'

'I don't suppose any of these ladies have ever been out of junk in East Saint Louis?'

 'No,' he smiles,' probably not.' A rapport of sorts has been established.

'What about Patti Smith then?' I venture.

'Well Patti is an exception.' says Bill. 'Some women can be kind. Reminds me of when I was working the hole with J.G.Ballard. Good Old Jim. He's got it right you know but he's English. Can't do the George Raft stuff. He'd legalize marijuana most likely but I can't see him ever annulling the Oriental Exclusion Act.' What? Can we get some chronology here dammit.
When is this thing being written?

And is WSB's writing more than a pastiche of drug-induced prose poems, essays, routines, dramatic fragments and therapeutic ramblings? I don't think so. But neither is much of Swift, Celine, Miller, Jarry or Genet, even Joyce. Just because it's plotless doesn't make it worthless. Changes in tense, person, perspective and time may make it anarchic by most literary standards but Burroughs would be the first to agree. He wants it to be surreal and picaresque. Non-linear. That is how he sees the world. He is dealing with some endless trauma. He is living a nightmare and writing is his salvation.

And at the core of it all a complex system of drug-taking and self-analysis designed to suppress and/or control his own libido. He lives under a dark cloud, which is only dissipated by sardonic humour. Sex and drugs are ways of escape...altered states are a way, he hopes, out of his endless solitary nightmare. Out of Time and into Space. He wants relief from the gnawing emptiness and fear. But it's love or junk...you can't have both. Keep this up and I'll soon have enough notes for a full-length review.

Then he starts on about words themselves. Words. How we are being used and abused by the Nova Mob and it's our own damn stupid fault. We let them get away with murder because we're so soft and compliant. He's right I suppose. But I detect a paradox.
Using language to destroy language. Makes no sense. Has language died? Have all the books been written? I think not. As for wising up the marks well shocking the bourgeoisie was always the name of the game...still is...but what happens if the bourgeoisie become unshockable?

I'm just going to ask him about his preoccupation with hanging
boys in limestone caves spurting everywhere...life on Uranus...rivers of shit...writing himself into a corner with the cut-ups...cats...immortality and so on...but I don't get a chance because a strange thing is happening. The walls of the tearoom are dissolving to reveal a long shot of a village in Northern Thailand, thatched roofed houses on stilts, thin trails of wood-smoke in the morning mist...the crowing of roosters...


     © Chuck Woww 2008