Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'Call Me Burroughs: A Life' / Barry Miles (2014)

Clocking in at 718 pages divided into fifty-two chapters, endwords, notes, bibliography and index, Barry Miles' Call Me Burroughs: A Life (New York: Twelve, 2014) delivers a treasure trove of biographical detail, cultural history and social context. One of my favorite big reads of 2014. 

Within this hefty tome, we find everything from little William S. Burroughs' childhood visions (a la William Blake) of a green deer; his calling of the toads; and instrumental collaborations with other artists -- Allen Ginsberg of course, Jack Kerouac for a time and Brion Gysin, among many others. 

In 1937 while in Prague, Burroughs had an emergency appendectomy and remained in hospital for seventeen days: "before antibiotics, peritonitis was lethal, so he was fortunate" (page 65).  The same year, he married Ilse Herzfeld Klapper, who was Jewish, in order to help her escape to the USA from the encroaching Nazis. 

That's "just a little taste." 

By the 1970s, the period when Burroughs was living at "The Bunker" in New York City and also associated with the Hotel Chelsea, he was befriended by Debbie Harry and Patti Smith, in the burgeoning music scene (which I've always found interesting). They remained friends, too. 

In his final years based in Kansas, Burroughs was visited by Kurt Cobain, a highly emotional "Burroughs fan." Given how weird Burroughs himself could be, one can't help but want to laugh or cry in response to his quip, after Cobain drove off from their meeting in October 1993: "There's something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason" (page 620). Cobain committed suicide about six months later, a member of the so-called twenty-seven club.

There are lots of other precious tidbits peppered throughout Call Me Burroughs. I hadn't realized that Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968) was gay, for instance. Nor had I quite grasped just how dramatically Jack Kerouac had broken off from Burroughs and Ginsberg, for so many of his last years, largely because of Kerouac's (and his mother's) freak-outs. 

Thank you, Barry Miles!

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.    


Charles Gramlich said...

I've read some of his work but know next to nothing about his life. I should have a look at this.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I never used to read biographies, but have become rather fond of them recently. This one definitely sounds intriguing. Have you read Patti Smith's Just Kids, by chance?

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, y'all, for the comments ~ much appreciated ~! Barbara, yes I liked that one, Even my older sister and younger brother read Just Kids without any one of us syncing to the fact until afterwards, which was cool.

jodi said...

Erik- I am SOOOoooo reading this!