Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr. by William S. Burroughs, Jr.; edited and compiled by David Ohle; Soft Skull Press; 210 pages; $13.95

reviewed by Gerald Nicosia

It would be easy to write off Billy Burroughs, Jr., as just one more tragic child of the Beats—indeed, that’s what a lot of people did, including many members of the Beat entourage who should have known better—but the important thing about Billy’s life was not how quickly or painfully it ended, but how much he actually got done in his short time on earth.
Although he died just short of his 34th birthday (in 1981), he had already written and published two of the best novels to come from the younger Beat Generation—Speed and Kentucky Ham—and was well along on the third novel of his trilogy, Prakriti Junction, whose fragment is included in Cursed from Birth, along with journal entries, correspondence, interviews, medical reports, and other material that fleshes out the final years of his story.
If people could indeed choose the situation of their birth, no one would have chosen to be Billy Burroughs, Jr. He was drug-addicted in the womb of his mother, Joan Vollmer Burroughs, since she used vast amounts of Benzedrine, speed, during her pregnancy, while his old man—later to become the infamous author of Naked Lunch—raised marijuana and shot lizards for target practice in the wasteland of south Texas. That sordid scene—a sort of demonic inversion of the happy Norman Rockwell American household—was actually described by Jack Kerouac in On the Road.
A few years later, the elder Burroughs shot and killed Billy’s mother in a game of William Tell in Mexico City. At the age of four, Billy was spirited off by his wealthy paternal grandparents, heirs to the Burroughs adding-machine fortune, and raised in Palm Beach, Florida, where he saw his father on brief visits maybe once a year. Predictably, he got in trouble early with drugs, guns, and—most unlike his queer, misogynistic father—with girls. By the time Billy was sixteen, in the early 1960’s, he was living on the streets of the Lower East Side of New York City and beginning the severe damage he would eventually inflict on his liver by shooting Methedrine several times a day. He would later also become a very heavy alcoholic. At the age of 29, he had a liver transplant to save his life after massive esophageal bleeding, but he did not curb his alcoholism. Five years later, he died alone in Florida—his body found along the side of a road, according to one story.
But somehow those stark outlines, however dramatic, and however colorful an addition they provide to the legend of his outlaw father, don’t really tell much of the story of this sensitive and big-hearted young man, who was a natural writer from the moment he first lifted a pen. Despite all the writing programs in the world, there is still something that can’t be taught—the ability to use words in a way that makes others fully see and hear and experience what you experienced—and Billy had that ability in spades. Cursed from Birth is chock-full of passages that are just plain good writing, apart from any Beat resonance.
Here is Billy finding his grandmother—who for all practical purposes had been his mother—locked in a mental asylum:

I spent the next ten minutes telling her that I didn’t really need any money
and then the nurse came in without knocking. "Your time is up." She left
and I mumbled, "No lady, not mine," and I couldn’t keep from starting to
cry. A pale, transparent shadow of my old strong mother looked at me
from her straitjacketed bones and said, "Billy! What’s wrong, lamb?" I
started to say I couldn’t stand to see her here, but then remembered that I
had no home to take her to and said nothing. She sighed, looked vacantly
out the window, and went back to picking at her robe. [page 25]

Billy’s compassion for the wounded of this world is matched only by his acid tongue for the stony-hearted, and most especially for the callous rich. He tells a story of trying to earn a few bucks as a kid by selling seed packets door to door in Palm Beach, only to have the door slammed in his face one rainy day by the wife of the owner of the Palm Beach Post, who says, "We don’t need any, we have a gardener." [page 9]
The stories he tells on doctors are equally fierce and chastising. After failing to close a large fistula in his abdomen (from the liver transplant) through which his intestines are "visible, squeezing themselves through a small hole that was getting bigger, looking like a beautiful cross between a cauliflower + a purple rose," the doctors blame the failure of the surgical wound to heal on his "state of mind," and proceed to question him on his possible sexual problems and whether he has ever manifested psychotic tendencies. [page 147]
Cursed from Birth is painful to read in places and not for the squeamish, but there are many transcendent moments that redeem the pain, as when Billy tells of the unquenchable love he bears for the father who could never manage to show more than a shadow of affection for him, whose own emotions were so deeply buried that he always found it easier to ask how Billy’s writing was going than to ask how Billy himself was feeling.
Moreover, there are deeply important lessons in this book about the price of testing limits—that achievement for which the Beats have become world-renowned—and a lot of unexpected truth about the dark avenues of existence to which genius often leads.
With each passing year, as the Beats become less of a radical threat and more of a commercial goldmine, the legacy of the Beats becomes more and more heavily censored. In fact, Cursed from Birth was cancelled by its original publisher, Grove, supposedly for fear of lawsuits from those who were portrayed unfavorably in its pages. Considering the recent suppression of another Beat child’s last novel—Jan Kerouac’s Parrot Fever—it is a miracle that this book got out at all.

first published in the San Francisco Chronicle



Reck reminded Pound that he had influenced writers all over the world and cited Hemingway as prima facie evidence. Ginsberg joined in. "You have shown us the way. The more I read your poetry, the more convinced I am it is the best of its time. For the ear, Bill Williams told me in 1961--we were talking about prosody, and I'd asked him to explain your prosody to me--anyway, Williams said: 'Pound has a mystical ear.' Did he ever tell you that?"

"No," Pound retorted,"he never said that to me."

"Well, I'm reporting it to you now, seven years later, the judgement of the tender-eyed doctor."

Pound looked away, smiling, pleased. Ginsberg went on. He spoke again of Pound's overriding influence on twentieth century verse. But the old man would have none of it. "The intention was bad," he said."That's the trouble--anything I've done has been an accident. Any good has been spoiled by my intentions, the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things." And then very slowly and clearly he added, "But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism. All along, that spoiled everything."

"Ah, it's lovely to hear you say that," Ginsberg responded."Well, no," he went on, "because anybody with any sense can see it as a humor, in that sense part of the drama. You manifest the process of thoughts, make a model of the consciousness. Anti-Semitism is your fuck-up, like not liking Buddhists, but it's part of the model and the great accomplishment was to make a working model of your mind. Nobody cares if it's Ezra Pound's mind but it's a mind like everybody's mind."

~EZRA POUND: THE LAST ROWER by C.David Heymann, Seaver Books 1980

Friday, January 26, 2007


Well, the big trees now stand alone at Allen's deserted house he gave his secretary the 70 area a house which must be worth a hundred and fifty grand now. We were staying there with wife & two kids & his secretary called from NYC and tried to squeeze rent out of me so we left as soon as we could. The book says no sex with secretary. I guess there were no closets in the farmhouse. Pam used to handle his mail. Mostly poetry wannabees and head hunter gurus and shrinks, etc. Later one of Allen's people moved in and trashed the place leaving a swastika painted on the wall and broken chairs, etc. Pam tried to warn him that we had heard things were going on up there like animal sacrifice and Allen said oh you mean when we feed the pets? Like we were the cops or something. Lucky we had left. I think he was flipping. He was asking about someone in town and Pam was explaining things about the person. I said innocently Oh you don't believe me? And he got mad a called me a redneck creep. I had never seen him like that. We got along better later when we saw each other and never mentioned it again.

Peter put enough money in that old house to have built a new one. We had bought a little building in town for $3,500 as long as Morgan is keeping track of figures. Allen was upset because he thought it would be a bunch of hippies and fuck up his meditation scene, but we made friends in village and actually helped them to accept the odd "farmers" up the hill who came down town and chanted not to drink, etc. Also they had to stay at our little store building some nights when they'd come in from NYC and the snow was too deep to get up the hill.

Much different than Bolinas where Allen I sat to look out over the ocean and he lay down and put my head on his chest. I imagined that was the way they did n the trail in 1800s. very romantically Whitmanesque. A film was made recently about that with cowboys like that was never done until NY movie or Hollywood invented it! Anyway back from Bolinas Allen bought a bunch of Caviar. I said I hated it. Neal said Allen is anal oriented ya' know. I said I'd watch my ass. We all laughed and Neal asked Ann to climb the step ladder with no panties while we jerk off. Just like Lash LaRue, he said. Later there was a reading with a bunch of poets and Neal wanted to read some of the work from his book he was working on. When he got up Allen started hugging his ass and pulling down his pants imploring his love for him. It made the audience uncomfortable and someone, I think Lew Welch or Kirby Doyle said Let the guy read! cp

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I would have liked your opinion you wrote of T.V. Baby poem to be shared I sometimes feel like I'm the ONLY critic. Also the Ginsberg estate has two photos on their site that were taken by me and not credited as they do everyone else's. The famous one of Neal I took with Allen's camera I borrowed for a second to get a good shot. Also they had a whole story obviously patched from files printed in the New Yorker a while back pieced together badly by the historian, Brinkly. They had the story mixed up with the Hudson with Kerouac et al back East. It was somewhat based on the story in Neal's '39 Pontiac (with no brakes) going up and down the coastal highway to Bolinas.Allen & I were in the back being tossed around like in a Marx Bros, movie and Neal & Anne were in front. He was gearing down and pulling on the emergency brake while slapping Anne. Allen had his hands over his head in his woeful mode, saying please slow down! I asked him calmly (because both Neal & I had raced) if I could borrow his camera for a good shot and later took some other shots in Bolinas. I wrote the New Yorker, since it is a psuedo-literary mag, I thought they might want, for the sake of future scholarship, to get things right. I explained how their story was garbled with the wrong characters, the wrong car, the wrong time, and the wrong geography. They wrote me a little thank you note instead of publishing the corrections. A very low premium on honesty, but that's how millionaire Beats and the Beat Industry is made in America. cp

Bruce: My opinion of "Television Was That Baby," or whatever the poem is called? (I'm moving house at the moment and Ginzy's collected works are in a box, taped up and ready to ship.) It's actually one of my least favourite Allen poems. Took me about two years to read it all the way through after I first came across it, because I kept losing my way in the maze of its long lines and overblown imagery. Seems an obvious attempt, as far as I can tell, to recreate some of the rhetorical fire of "Howl" a few years later. But it is an attempt that fails.
Read "Kaddish", I say, if you want poetical grandeur. Some passages in that are astonishingly good. I'm an admirer of his underrated shorter poems too--"Autumn Leaves" and "Personals Ad" (again, may not be the correct title), all that late dark Jewish death humour coming through.


Howl is one place that the Beat (Kerouac) dictum proved out. First lines best or whatever it is. Allen was thinking abt changing it. Although its pure hyperbole, it works as is. Some professor gave me the book when it came out in the 50's. If you know that photo of me in Kansas City Bop street going to see Charley Parker, you'll realize that to me most of the beats were still kind of square about that time. Except Huncke. And Kerouac did have the hipster sinc. He's about the only one of them who was really attuned to jazz and could read with it, which many have tried and lost to wrong beat finger poppers. Patchen understood jazz. Ferlinghetti would have liked to. Have you seen those pamphlets of me in 1950? A guy at 12guage press published a few. A photo is in "Some Mother's Son's." All my work is sold to collectors mainly on abebooks.com and places. I find some things on Google under Charles Plymell and Charles Plymell publisher. I found the TV Baby I printed first on black paper with silver ink on the press I printed the first Zap on. That copy of TVBaby goes pretty high, but a later edition someone else printed is sometimes available. It seems like everytime I pick up the Boss baby book something is off, so I don't read at it much. That's what happens when Allen becomes a millionaire off his archives and millions are made off Kerouac. I didn't know that was the Sampas sitting with us at the bar that night. I thought they were a couple of dorks driving Kerouac to the gig. Now they're millionaire dorks. Not that I care about money. I wish I had made some. I'm part Wyandotte Indian (founded Kansas City) on my father's side and Cherokee on my Mother's. I never understood white man's money. But I really didn't like poets who howled like a proletariat and became millionaires. Money is morality here, the more you can give to the church or your goony guru, the more Faith will win the world. Someone wrote something recently about me that I should be despised because I'm poor. Wait 'till China knocks out our electric grids and everyone will experience what it was like growing up on a farm with no electric! cp

Allen & Neal

This photograph was taken by Charles Plymell in front of the Gough Street flat in San Francisco in 1963 "in happier times just before JFK," as Charles writes. I think it's a masterpiece, as good as anything by those men and women who advertise themselves as Beat photographers.

Going to Kansas

Charles Plymell in Kansas in 1950 going to hear Charley Parker. A street shot for a dollar. He was what was called a hipster and sometimes punk and belonged to a definite sub-culture that did not surface in the mainstream. Keeping it cool was the main theme. This was well before he had heard of the Beats and says most of them at that time were probably still pretty square or just becoming hip. The term "hippy" didn't come into use until 1963 and "punk" as we know it now, much later.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I presume the poem you're talking about is 'Wichita Vortex Sutra'? Just wondering for my own curiosity. I think it is quite a good poem, though lacking a centre and maybe too much like a lost Canto by Pound...He does seem to think Kansas typified the mindset that got America into Vietnam, doesn't he? ~ Bruce, email to Charles Plymell

Yeah, it was the sutra that people regard as his third best. I will find some live lines in any Pound Canto. The lines die like a flat tire in the sutra. Allen had hounded me to edit his T.V. Baby poem of which I thought the only good lines was the title. I threw out whole chucks and he was startled. He took it back and had my mother-in law publish it! I was thinking last night the part where I took Allen down to see Monk on my Motorcylce isn't in the book. That was the most interesting to me because we were composing spontaneous poetry along the way from bits and pieces of signs, etc. I guess it's not included because it took a while for Monk to remember Allen. I was also thinking what girfriend I would be "paranoid" over as stated in the text. We had shared a girl that Allen & Peter had known in N.Y , I shared with Neal. And the girl who brought the lp Blowin in the Wind, that Allen seemed to have no reaction to, was an old girlfriend. Then the one I picked up on the corner of Castro and Market and launched her into London Times fame as Warhol's most beautiful, later poached by sycophant Miles. Then there was the one upstairs, on and on. After all it was the Sexual Freedom period. We all went to nude beach down by Baez (that trip isn't in the book?) and gathered a party for the night. And by the way, the flat was mine and Allen was pretty desperate for him and Neal to have a place. In the book it said I had a room, actually, two in which the beats met the hippes in a famous party when Allen returned from India though the hippies weren't named yet. But I guess I should be paranoid that the biggest queer in San Francisco would steal my girl!

"super graphic" ink on fabric

(c. Trudy Rowe 2006)

Trudy Rowe is an Australian artist who incorporates Beat themes into her work. You can see more of her art at www.visualartist.info/freebeatstudios .

Sunday, January 21, 2007


So every time I open the 701 pg confettibook, something's fucked up. Now its pg 423 where it is said I booked a half dozen readings for Allen. Now I'm an Impresario! I have never booked a reading for him! I went with him and Peter and Julius on the bus trip to Lincoln where the police were supposed to have stopped the bus along the highway. Bullshit. He was recording all this shit in the tape recorder that Dylan had given him ...in the back of the bus he'd bought with a Guggenheim. Peter had total disability for life. Both had ten grand grants from NEA. Poor fuckers. Allen & I picked up my mother who worked at a minimum wage factory job. He gave me a hundred bucks, I guess that was for poverty. Really poor fuckers on that bus! He asked me to supply the names of things on the landscape like the oil pumpers and windmills. I didn't know it was a poem he was recording. He seemed to blame Kansas for the war. I think more soldiers were from his state of New Jersey and New York. He asked how big a prick has the president. I asked how big a prick has his guru. We were near Eisenhower's town where his folks lived on the wrong side of the tracks and his father worked on a dairy farm. If you remember Ike was the General who brought the mayor and citizens out of their village to bury and witness the holocaust victims just in case history tried to deny it. Good thinking for a soldier. He also warned of the military industrial complex which is bringing the country down, ironically all based on faith. And when Allen got back to Wichita, he debated at length a Methodist minister about faith, His or whose can justify any war now can't it? Well, so much for the poor poets ride through Kansas. They say it's a good poem. Leafing through the book I find that Allen is amazed that Dylan was able to emphasize words not done since the Greeks. He was always amazed. In the book that was just brought to me by a friend from Lawrence, A much more important book in my opinion Cursed From Birth/ William Burroughs Jr. Allen is amazed again that his guru could prophecy that William Jr. was not going to die but has a lot of anger and resentment to work out etc.. New Age garble...no Allen any fool could have "prophesiesed" such. Maybe that's why William was sitting in our house in Cherry Valley when Peter came in and asked had we heard about guru and his illness? Burroughs said" I don't give a shit if he lives or dies". The guru had shown up at the hospital in Boulder and told Burroughs he thought that William Jr. was going to live. Back to the pronoun I celebrating the reflexive pronoun and the fucked up ego. The relationship with me had ended? What relationship? And I thought that Allen was trying to steal my girlfriend? What girlfriend. Fame and money has created a Ginsberg industry that has twisted history. Want to know Allen's reaction when I first played him Dylan? Stay tuned Dick Cheney biographers of the world.

Charles Plymell

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I'm into physics now and people send me stuff about the poetry business I don't want to spend time on. But Morgan's 7001 lbs of confetti reallly has me pissed.He didn't ask me about any of it. Where did he come from, anyway? Allen always brought heat as Neal and Huncke would understand. I got along with him cordially toward the end because Burroughs asked me not to be so hard on him and I respected Burroughs dearly. Back to Allen who joined me and Neal's girl and another in an orgy because that was popular at that time and Allen always played dumb or was dumb about things I couldn't tell which sometimes, but I showed him how to fk a grl doggie style and he acted like it was enlightenment and went on about it forever. I don't know how deep Morgan's "relationship' was, but an orgy a relationship doesn't make on my part. There were orgies at every pad in S.F. in those days. Also the 1600 was for Huncke's advance because I didn't want to do a Ferlinghtetti literary cheat on him and his book, like Furlinghetti did me. And why does the bore Morgan mention figures, anyway? I can give a lot of figures I know of where Allen was Moloch compared to the poverty i knew He got mostly state & fed money and gave it to his guru. First I saw his fool face in Morgan's book. Looks like Tojo on steriods. You weren't around in WW2, so you don't know the reference? It's all a waste of time. Everything that non-literary fool writes is slanted. He'd make a good Cheney biographer, so wd that Chauncy fucking Miles. Official biography his ass. That would be another Cheney biography. Corso wanted to punch him out. He shda. Boss Morgan makes it seem like we hung around the farm here. Well it was very much the other way around.

Friday, January 19, 2007


There's been one friend missing from my MySpace friends list for a long time and I couldn't figure out who it was. That's what it's like when you approve every invisible muso who's looking for a bit of cheap publicity. I have scores of people on my list who I haven't heard a word from since I added them.

Today, though, I worked out who was missing. It's Allen Ginsberg, my all-time favourite poet, a large b-&-w picture of whom hangs over my fireplace. He just vanished from my list and he didn't even say goodbye. How rude!

It got me wondering. Have I offended somebody in the Ginzy camp? It seems the only possible explanation.

I did, after all, publish a poem at the ULA site slamming the Ginsberg Estate.

I did publish King Wenclas' essay about the ULA's protest at the Columbia HOWL FIFTY shindig last year.

And I did, to be fair, publish Jonah Raskin's essay on the Estate's efforts to control, manipulate and profit from, the posthumous image of their boy Allen, then bring to the attention of my readers at Wholly Communion when Raskin was subsequently pulled from a radio debate with Estate big noise and Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan.

I have also sent out a few letters asking Beat personages whether they believe there is a blacklist of "difficult" authors like Gerald Nicosia, Jonah Raskin and myself (among others) being operated by the Estates of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Corso. The rumours, after all have been going around for years.

But the Kerouac MySpace page hasn't deleted me from its list. Our early friendly contact has ceased, but to be fair that could be as much my fault as theirs. I have a lot of correspondence to get through, and it's easy to let one drift.

Perhaps I am being paranoid. Maybe I am being unfair. Surely the Ginsberg Estate isn't so dictatorial, so sensitive to criticism, so determined to control how Ginsberg is perceived by the world, that they would delete from something as unimportant as a MySpace friends list one minor publisher whose only crime is the failure to kiss ass with sufficient enthusiasm?

Of course, the Corso page wouldn't even approve my request to be added to their friends list in the first place. But who pulls the strings at the Corso Estate?

Bill Morgan.

Yeah, okay guys, it's paranoia. I've smoked too many holy roaches through all those years when I was studying the Beats. Everybody's nice. Everybody's friendly. Everybody loves pink fluffy bunny wabbits.

How the hell did we get here from young men writing revolutionary poems for each other's eyes only in Skid Row hotels in the 1950s?