November 11th, 2010 / 11:24 am
Craft Notes

“Fuck now talk later”: Revisiting Burroughs’s The Wild Boys & why anything at all

I realized last night how I’ve never gotten over William Burroughs; how maybe more than any syllable maker I’ve read in my life it’s been him I’ve been mimicking in mind to large degree; him one of the first of all those I still read now still coming out since seventeen in more sentences than I should like to admit; how is indexed me somehow; how I could argue with myself that if every word I write is trying to match against or kill some father, it is him, even if by now I can’t always actually remember a lot about what he wrote beyond textures, images, residues, ideas.

I read Naked Lunch the first time having got caught gut-deep in the Beats, like so many did, when a friend brought a tape of Ginsberg reading “America” in to play for our American Lit class in 10th grade. We had to get permission slips signed before we were allowed to listen because he dropped the F-bomb and dissed on everything seemingly elemental about the suburban neighborhoods surrounding Joseph Wheeler High School (named, I heard whispered more than a few times back then, for a founding member of the Klan). The high school I went to was a weird mix of hood and upper middle class; there were fights at least a couple times a week; I vividly remember walking one day to the senior lot and seeing a truckbed full of dudes in masks with weapons coasting through without an inch of other motion: they didn’t find who they were looking for; or maybe they were simply there to be an image burned into my head. But more than them, and more than many things, there were these freakshows of strange language suddenly appearing in the half-slept muddle of all those other high school era books.

From my hard obsession on with Ginsberg, reading his Collected Poems back to back to back, I started going to a bookstore in downtown that specialized in Beat shit, and somehow ended up with Naked Lunch. I was 17. I read it cover to cover in the bathtub one night. I was naked in the light inside the house. This book all about drugs and violent fucking and machine language and the grotesque and collisions of image and conceptual zombies with names like The Lobotomy Kid and Leif the Unlucky and of course Dr. Benway; things I had no idea about, common life element, no recognition in as my humanity or reality or anywhere near it, or even what I would in practice in tactile life become: it slew my head. I don’t think I even realized anything else about it, not even being shocked or lifted up, but just like one of those moments taking something in that even if it doesn’t end up being you or part about you or something you even learn to like, you will remember how it came.

I didn’t read Burroughs for several years after that. I don’t know how I got back into him again. Maybe I was bored and found them in a store. Regardless, somehow I ended up with the books comprising the Nova trilogy; The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express. I was living in a bedroom in a basement of a friend’s house that had no windows and no doors to the outside. One big synthetic panel in the ceiling lit me. The other rooms down there weren’t finished. The dad of my friend would park weird foreign cars he was buying and selling in the garage beside my room; every week or two I’d come out and see another weird machine. Anyway, I read those three in the same day, back to back on the bed in the no light room; or maybe it was different days. Or maybe it was days apart. In my mind it’s as if I read them all at once. I have a list on my computer. I could look. I’ve been writing down every book I’ve read for the past ten years. I don’t want to look. The way they came in was how they are there now. One day I’ll figure it out; or not.

In this same space too I read The Wild Boys, which is the one of Bill’s if I had to pick one it would be the one I picked and wrote my name on in the inside flap. Maybe I even read The Wild Boys before the other three; the time then is so muddled; so a block rather than a thread. And yet, despite much of it flooding together, the way even things I read just yesterday do today, there are scenes and things in The Wild Boys that I remember as well as anything I’ve ever read, as much as I remember anything. Maybe the image of all books ever I remember most is in here too: near the end of the novel, where the boys are knocking around in these suburban houses like the ones I grew up in but jacked and full of trash and jacking off, they come out into the street and there is another boy who pulls up before them on his bike. I can remember without looking now the way Burroughs describes him pulling up in a U-turn, half naked and with weird description of the color of what little he’s wearing against his skin. It’s a super brief image. It functions in no way: like much of Burroughs’s glyphs, they sink into the muck and light of the whole assemblage, becoming instantly another part of a symbiotic, spinning, paranoid orgasm wheel. In my mind this U-turn, though, just fucking shakes. I can hear that U-turn, the rubber on the weird asphalt that Burroughs doesn’t even bother to describe, the color of the house, the air around the house; it’s all in there, rammed.

That feeling, and the overall destructive, destroying structure and noise and muck and making of the whole of Burroughs’s work, just, I realized tonight, has been on my back since then and forward, no matter what else I’ve taken in. This book, to me young, and now, was not only hyper-magick for how arcane and forbidden and otherworldly and cryptic it could seem, but for the weird other territory it managed to accumulate inside me without the grip of recognition or particular friction or even, even to this day, knowing why.

And even more confusing: in memory, the thing is not the thing quite inside my mind as on the page at all. Not wrong or shuddery, the way some thing you like young and come back to seem so off from how you’ve changed it’s like you were never that other person at all; but simply, some other kind of thing. Even though I’d reread Burroughs over the years, and oddly always finding it at lengths more volatile and relevant today than even then (I mean, shit, the man was so ahead of his time, and in some ways is still ahead of ours), I hadn’t gone back and read that specific singular scene in a while, until tonight. As I thought, and am okay with, the scene plays out differently, much more simply than I recalled.

We were walking down a long avenue littered with palm branches. Suddenly the air was full of robins thousands of them settling in the ruined gardens perching on the empty houses splashing in bird baths full of rain water. A boy on a red bicycle flashed past. He made a wide U-turn and pulled in to the curb beside us. He was naked except for a jockstrap, belt and flexible black shoes his flesh red as terra cotta smooth poreless skin tight over the cheekbones deep-set black eyes and a casque of black hair. At his belt was an eighteen-inch bowie knife with knuckle-duster handle. He said no word of greeting. He sat there one foot on the curb looking at Dib. His ears which stuck out from the head trembled slightly and his eyes glistened. He licked his lips and said one word in a language unknown to me. The Dib nodded matter of factly. He turned to me. “He very hot. Been riding three days. Fuck now talk later.”

Reading this again all this time later kind of felt like coming into a house. As much as the actual sentences, and hell, even most of the image, is not at all the way I’d held it in my head; the robins and the rain water and the speech; all I’d really held on to was the U-turn and the leaning of the body on the bike, something about color, something about houses. If anything this image is supremely tame compared to the onslaught of atrocity and grime and flesh acts and prismatic choppy language so much of this book and Burroughs’s corpus are made up of. And yet it seems exactly right. It seems like I’ve been writing at this paragraph for some time, and even in aim of practice, at the white of screens. Fuck now talk later. What else could I want about an approach for making; what else has it seemed like sitting days and days pressing the same buttons in slightly different patterns constantly if in some kind of trance or stupid swoon. Fucking the machine, fucking a chemical of idea, fucking in silence, pauses and turns. He very hot.

Regardless of how it comes off now in rereading, the image of what I’ve had is still the same. If anything now there are two images. And anyway, inside the book, the moment goes away like any silence or fucking is meant to too. The kid on the bike, the way he lurches into the organism of the story and the sentence and the image decimates it and excites it and fucks it and then instantly extract, disappearing into the roil: the next image begins, and that is quickly too, gone. Motion. Making of power systems. Making languagefuck.

This, as I remember, as I hold it in me, more than human, more than what a day is; all those dead days; is endless electricity of text; this act, on me, and in me, of the image of the sentence, for my life, was punk as fuck; this motivated me as a teenager at a technical college studying computer science and playing in weird bands to want to figure out how to approach the feeling in the real. Burroughs got me scribbling after my own holes in air and shifting buildings and memory chemicals weird machines. When he died in 1997 I remember sobbing, and feeling stupid for sobbing, writing a shitty eulogy in verse. Sometime around then I even had a dream about him, one that also still sticks with me these years later, of us wrestling in the aisle of a drug store laughing and knocking shit over, then later sitting on the curb outside, having bought candy and us eating, and me telling him The Wild Boys is my favorite book, and how he touched my leg not in the way he might have if I’d met him but as a friend and smiled without ego and said, “Thank you kindly.” He, here, somehow as a person, burned beside, coupled with whatever else you’d like to append. It doesn’t feel sexualized, in practice; it feels like life.

Though it wouldn’t be until later, when I read Wallace, Infinite Jest, that the glyph of Burroughs moved from something I could daze and freak in became something less affective and more cerebral, emotional, derivating in its own light; such a throat squeezer there suddenly was no other way; Burroughs was the father of the father of the father of what has, some ten or what years later, becomes my consumer of all-time; what I’m sitting in the room for; a lot of days, no joke, why I move. Whether I should thank him or want to smash his head is another question.

Ahh, fuck it. Thanks, Bill.

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