Check out the Chicago Archive Reuse Competition Hub! Read the Story

00 / 00

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs talk about their writing

BROADCAST: Mar. 11, 1975 | DURATION: 00:40:10

Synopsis

Writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs discuss life and their writing; passages from their writing are read by the authors and clip is played of interview with Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky.

Transcript

Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.

OK

Studs Terkel Two of the most creative and vital spirits in the American literary scene today are Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. They represent to some people a certain epoch in our society, a certain era, and they represent a good deal that is now, too. They're in Chicago at the moment, both together, and Friday night, they're doing a reading of their works, the prose poems and poetry. William Burroughs and the poetry of Allen Ginsberg. Mr. Ginsberg, you know, won the National Book Award last year for "The Fall of America", and is known for his two powerful works, "Howl" and "Kaddish", among his many other works.

Allen Ginsberg So we'll be reading at the Museum of Contemporary Art at 8 p.m.

Studs Terkel It's at 8 p.m., better get that straight. That's Friday night. William Burroughs, known best for his very powerful and innovative novel, "The Naked Lunch", also known for "The Soft Machine" and "Nova Express" and we think of him both as a novelist and poet,

Allen Ginsberg And most recent work "Exterminator".

Studs Terkel "Exterminator", and after this message

William Burroughs And "The Wild Boys".

Studs Terkel And "The Wild Boys"?

William Burroughs Yes.

Studs Terkel And after this message, we'll hear from our two guests, and there'll be a rather interesting introduction. In a moment. Un momento. [pause in recording] The occasion in which I last ran into Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs was an interesting one. It was Chicago 1968 August, immediately a memory and experience is evoked on the part of the listeners. It was the Democratic convention, and it was a very beautiful August evening, and it was in Lincoln Park, and when young people gathered to speak and young clergy were sponsoring it, and there were also, without my knowing it at the moment, Bill Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Suppose we recreate the scene through the words and memories, the day after the event is what you'll hear. James Cameron, British journalist and myself are scattered now. The tear gas came by 11 o'clock at night. The tear gas came. The police

Allen Ginsberg -- [Covering?] the cross of Christ, which was raised in the park.

Studs Terkel That's right. The young clergy and the kids who came there to protest Vietnam and other things

Allen Ginsberg [Had made the

Studs Terkel Had had carried a rude wooden cross and put it up, and the uniformed figures from the distance came, that is, the trucks came, and the canisters of tear gas. Everybody stumbled, and we found ourselves, and James Cameron and myself pick it up. [Different interview fades in] We found ourselves in the lobby of the Midland Hotel to escape the noxious gas that was, by the way, now by this time all over the street, and there were a great many, now here came this motley band in the lobby of a hotel Near North that, in which live oh, the Near-North-siders, the members of the half world, petty gamblers, wide variety of things, guys who live as best they can,

James Cameron Quite a few celebrities, too.

Studs Terkel In the lobby of course were also Allen Ginsberg, who had lost his voice singing mantras, and as one young guy says, "Tell him. That you'll be with him, since he lost his voice, just to say, 'Om,' and not 'ung' to save his voice," and there was Terry Southern and William Burroughs of "The Naked Lunch", and Jean Genet was there. And this was some lobby, all were there, and

James Cameron If the, if the police had only realized it, they could have come in and eliminated 3/4 of the new intelligentsia in one fell sweep if they'd wanted to.

Studs Terkel The interesting was Jean Genet, watching, not knowing English, with his interpreter, who was just watching it with the eyes of a child, almost. Noticed him there. I was furious 'cause I had just started to smoke my cigar when the -- I had this nice 15-cent cigar and I started to smo-- I thought the cigar could be my psychological weapon. Just hold a cigar. But, when the noxious fumes came nothing, and I lost that cigar. I'm furious. It was a good one, I just had a couple of good puffs out of it, but there we were in the lobby. Now, why don't you pick up the lobby scene?

James Cameron Well, it was as you say, a completely mixed-up sort of crowd, including these half-dozen really quite celebrated young writers of the left, and what I noticed particularly was across the lobby in the middle of all this extraordinary scene of confusion, with people retching and coughing and blowing their noses, a large tourist sign saying "Six Good Reasons for Visiting Chicago", and it seemed to

Studs Terkel And so with that lead-in, here Allen Ginsberg, some years later now, some seven years later, and William Burroughs, thoughts that come to your mind, Allen, as that scene's recreated.

Allen Ginsberg Well, a poem I wrote the very next day, which was August 28th after getting tear-gassed again in Grant Park because what happened was David Dillinger had led that pacifist march, which was stopped by the police. And then tear gas came down after, after the march broke up. So I was sitting in Grant Park after the melee. [pause in recording] I wrote that in Grant Park, still coughing.

Studs Terkel Marvelous surrealistic image for Allen Ginsberg. William Burroughs. Your thoughts.

William Burroughs Well, I was there to cover the convention for "Esquire", and I wrote something about that very scene. [pause in recording] That was that, so those were my impressions of the same

Studs Terkel Yeah, it's funny. I'm thinking of the two separate and yet very similar impressions written in different ways by Allen Ginsberg and Bill Burroughs about that one event.

Allen Ginsberg A few other things I remember. What I was doing, we were all sitting on a little knoll overlooking that cross, thinking, "Well, there's a certain strength and how marvelous, There's all these rabbis and priests out there raising up a cross against the violence," and all of a sudden, an unbelievable like [Burroughs'?] image of like a 1917 World War I movie with the tear gas moving across the field, slowly covering up the cross! And so remember Bill and I and Jean Genet held hands and slowly walked out of the park, and I think I was chanting in -- what I was chanting at the time was Om, which uh, since probably very few people at the time ever get to, got to hear it, and since Judge Hoffman wouldn't let me reproduce it properly in the courtroom trial

Studs Terkel -- We should point out that you were a defense witness for the seven

Allen Ginsberg Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial.

Studs Terkel Quote unquote "Conspiracy Trial." And Judge Hoffman wouldn't let you -- you might describe

Allen Ginsberg Well, the situation was that I was a witness for the defense to say that we were trying to do some nice peaceful things, too, like organized community chanting rather than fighting back. So Leonard Weinglass and William Kunstler, the defense lawyers, put me on the stand and asked me to chant "Hare Krishna" and to chant "Om" to Judge Hoffman and the jury to demonstrate exactly what the vibe was we were trying to send out. So Hoffman wouldn't let me play my little harmonium, which is a little pump organ. You can put -- sit on your lap with a pump in it and a keyboard, because he said that, "Well, you can only -- in American courtrooms you can only testify in English," forgetting that he was using Latin also. So what it was that I was trying to

Studs Terkel Nothing, nothing violent about that at all, is there?

Allen Ginsberg Well, it sets up a very definite vibe of a certain calming the scene, particularly if you can get a mob to be chanting, though I -- my great mistake that, that convention, which I corrected at the 1972 Miami tear gas convention, was shifting the mantra from "Om," which was relatively alien and foreign as a sound to something more American. A single word mantra, "Ah." So you can do, "Ahhhhh," or "Ah"

Studs Terkel What was the mistake?

Allen Ginsberg Well, "Om" was too alien, too foreign

Studs Terkel Oh, I see, "Ah" is better.

Allen Ginsberg "Ah" is a sort of a purification of speech and appreciation of the space. "Om" is too enclosed, you sort of close the eye and do mystical, "Ah" is open and sort of like open-eyed, and everybody can say, "Ah."

Studs Terkel Since Allen has brought up the subject of mantras and the harmonium, there's an early British and later American instrument -- The idea of many cultures are involved, the impact of the East upon Western technology has also had an impact on your writings, hasn't it, Bill? And Allen,

William Burroughs Well, certainly I think more impact on Allen's writing than on mine.

Allen Ginsberg But in yours, you lived a long time in North Africa.

William Burroughs Oh, yes. Yes, I did indeed. Yes, I did, and I've been very much influenced by my experience there, by Moroccan music, and, um, the whole Arab, the whole Arab culture.

Studs Terkel Could I ask this question of Bill Burroughs? What is that led you? This is a tough one. Bill Burroughs of St. Louis, of a rather wealthy background, IBM, yourself, led you not somebody's writing but to that area, to the North African quote unquote exotic area, away from what could be a much more conventional life.

William Burroughs Well, the conventional life was actually not all that available to me. I graduated from Harvard during the Depression and when a Harvard degree meant very little. And while my grandfather was the inventor of the adding machine, my family got almost nothing out of it, so we were -- could never have been described as wealthy. And, um, by the time I went to North Africa, I'd already written this book "Junkie", and had the experiences that are described in there, and I was more or less should we -- can say, committed to writing. And I had read Paul Bowles' books about Tangier, and it sounded like a very fascinating place, and I must say it fully lived up to expectations when I got there.

Studs Terkel I think Bill Burroughs' book "Naked

William Burroughs I lived there for five years.

Allen Ginsberg Bill had lived in Mexico also before for a little

William Burroughs -- Yes, I lived in Mexico for about three years.

Studs Terkel "Naked Lunch" was one of the earliest, one of the most vivid, was it not, description of the nature of dope on a guy, wasn't it?

Allen Ginsberg Well, more and more the nature of addiction, but not really dope addiction, but power addiction.

Studs Terkel How? Go ahead.

Allen Ginsberg Money addiction. Uh, petrochemical addiction. Control addiction as Bill develops it in his later, later works after "The Wild Boys".

William Burroughs I was struck by some pictures of Nixon during the Watergate, and he looked just like a sick addict. This power falling away from him.

Allen Ginsberg Withdrawal symptoms?

William Burroughs Yes. And I've had "Life-Time" photographers describe to me the terrible withdrawal symptoms when their expense account was withdrawn.

Studs Terkel Wow. Aren't we talking now about the connection, remember the play of Jack Gelber -- we're talking about everybody has a connection. Nobody has an addiction with religion. When you say power. Power, of course, is the, perhaps the most powerful of all addictions.

William Burroughs Well, remember, the effect of opiates is to sort of encase you, to cover you, to protect you, and exactly the same power and money do exactly the same thing. And if that cover is withdrawn, then you're, you have the withdrawal symptoms, the extreme sensitivity.

Allen Ginsberg So I think more listening to Bill read at Northwestern University last night, I get more and more struck with a central metaphor of his work, which is that as he himself underwent the withdrawal symptoms from opium addiction and went through the psychological transformation to get clean, de-addicting himself, he also got a tremendous amount of insight into the very basic mechanisms of addiction in American society. And that's the central metaphor of most of his work through "Exterminator" and "Wild Boy" [sic]. Do you have any passages that you could read during the program, sometimes that could exemplify that at all?

Studs Terkel As we go

William Burroughs I was just trying to think. You mean exemplify the nature of addiction.

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, as it applies in American society outside of dope. I remember in "Naked Lunch" there is the great phrase that, um, uh, selling is as much of a habit as using.

William Burroughs Selling is more of a habit than using.

Allen Ginsberg Uh, and then there's a further metaphor that the police, like the Drug Enforcement Agency, such as the people that are now attacking Hugh Hefner, are precisely addicted like junkies to power, and to their power over other people in their power to, to create paranoia in other people and to dominate other people. As like

William Burroughs And also it's true with power, that the more you exercise, power addiction there's the, the deeper you get into it, the more difficult it becomes to get out of it because you would be exposed to all the bad karma that you build up.

Studs Terkel In our very city, in our city at this moment, Richard J. Daley, perhaps is a, if there were a flesh and blood metaphor, is stroke, 72, but by God, he's gonna show 'em and of course he did, you see.

Allen Ginsberg Are you gonna hang around 'til that happens?

Studs Terkel No matter WHAT, you see, the city could be destroyed, doesn't matter. It's this addiction toward power is perhaps the most -- you said will it sell, of course selling, too. We think of a TV commercial of course, I guess the most pervasive single phenomenon visually of our life.

Allen Ginsberg Well, conspicuous consumption itself is precisely that addiction to the over-accumulation and consumption of material junk around

Studs Terkel Well, just as Bill Burroughs is haunted and is so eloquent and creative in describing addiction and power, before that, you, yourself and on your case, similar [row?] and yet from Patterson to different parts of the world and listening to the harmonium and Om, I suppose am I assuming your attempt to overlay it with a certain peaceful -- that is, to make it non-aggressive, to make life

Allen Ginsberg You know, Bill and I have known each other 30 years or more. Bill was my first guru, so to speak, or one of my first teachers, both literarily and psychologically. We met in 1944, Christmas in New York, and my intellectual development was really supervised by him when I was in school. And then he was in, so to speak, exile for many years in Europe. And I was holding forth here in Chicago but bearing a good deal of his basic ideas in mind because he influenced my development, and one of the first things he taught me was to de-addict myself from language, that language itself was an addiction, and that we were all addicted to a ticker-tape repetition of conditioned concepts and words running through our heads, determining our thoughts, feelings and apparent sensory impressions even, so that I branched out into the study of Buddhism and mantra as sort of applications of examination of my own consciousness and clarification and cleaning up of my unconsciousness. So I practice silence or practice mantra as a way of blanking out, like "Om" sort of or "Ah" purifies the speech, because it's like a white sound that turns off all the other chattering and leaves an empty space to appreciate.

William Burroughs Well, it's to be remembered that, um, sound, words are actual painkillers, that they can, dentists can operate, and even minor surgery can be performed just with music through headphones.

Allen Ginsberg Or hypnotic, or hypnotic suggestion.

William Burroughs So that certainly one of the, uh, one of the basic mechanisms of compulsive verbalization is as a [unintelligible] that it's a painkiller. It is literally junk.

Studs Terkel That's junk, too. That's interesting. Language is

Allen Ginsberg Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah, language as dope.

Allen Ginsberg So who controls the supply?

William Burroughs When

Studs Terkel Now we come -- there's a phrase long ago

William Burroughs Who's the pusher?

Studs Terkel Yeah, who controls -- wait, who

Allen Ginsberg I remember "The Selling of the President", the selling of the concepts and images say of Nixon, or the role of the mass media in selling images and words to the public but that's Bill's [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel So that's interesting -- who, who sells the language, who conditions you to think or use a certain phrase? And so this is interesting, language as junk. And so, in a way, Bill Burroughs played a role in de-addicting you from the use of what might be considered banal language or the accepted traditional language which is junk.

Allen Ginsberg Conditioned language.

Studs Terkel Conditioned,

Allen Ginsberg Habitual language. Habit language, right, we got, language we have to

William Burroughs Habit language and above all, compulsive

Allen Ginsberg Right, right.

Studs Terkel I was thinking, since you two speak of, you speak of early meeting, when Allen Ginsberg was here for "The Big Table", Paul Carroll's "Big Table" under attack by the, by the Comstocks of our day.

Allen Ginsberg For the language, for the breakthrough of language

Studs Terkel For the use of language

Allen Ginsberg Precisely.

Studs Terkel Several benefits. They

Allen Ginsberg They were trying to control the language in Chicago in '59.

Studs Terkel And this was 1959.

Allen Ginsberg Right.

Studs Terkel And you were here in the studio, another studio we had. You came with Gregory Corso and Orlovsky, Peter Orlovsky.

Allen Ginsberg Peter

Studs Terkel And now suppose we hear a part of that.

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, but I should say just before we

Studs Terkel -- Why don't

Allen Ginsberg That the reason we came was that "Chicago Review" was going to publish the first large section of Burroughs's "Naked Lunch" ever to be published in America, and that was being banned.

William Burroughs Or anywhere else.

Allen Ginsberg Or

Studs Terkel Oh,

Allen Ginsberg That was the reason we came.

William Burroughs First publication was at the University of Chicago.

Studs Terkel It was.

William Burroughs And that led, that led directly to the publication of the, of the novel in, by Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press in Paris in 1959. That is, he heard about this case, and that aroused

Studs Terkel Oh, so Chicago then really played a role.

Allen Ginsberg Immense.

William Burroughs A vital role. A vital role.

Studs Terkel Become a landmark book.

Allen Ginsberg And the reason that Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso and myself came here was to give a big reading to raise money to publish the work under the title "Big Table" magazine when "Chicago Review" wouldn't publish

Studs Terkel So this conversation we're having in this March morning of 1975 is really a part of a continuity, isn't it?

Allen Ginsberg Completely part of an old continuity that goes back from '59, it goes up to '68 to a tear gas-filled lobby in Lincoln Park when we were still chanting "Om" and trying to get our language across.

Studs Terkel Fifty-nine, this was the phrase, we'll ask about Bill Burroughs' contribution to this movement. Beat Generation was just new at the time, it had come into being, and we're hear Allen describing it in contrast to the previous so called "Lost Generation." We hear this, this is

Allen Ginsberg Let's hear what I said. [pause in recording] Saying, well, if the other generation was a lost generation, what would people be naming this generation? But it was just like a goofy conversation. It wasn't a big, serious, formal, let us now give a formal name to a generation as if there is such a thing as a generation.

Studs Terkel You won't be cubby-holed in other words. I mean, this is just a label.

Allen Ginsberg Well, it's a label that's been picked up, but it is, it's a, it's actually quite a beautiful label. In a way. It's poetically interesting. The remark is interesting. Kerouac said, "Well, this then would be a beat generation, let's say I, everybody's beat. everybody's sort of worn down to a point where they'll be able to receive God.

Studs Terkel Well, let's feel free in this, let's make this a roundtable with Paul and Gregory and Allen.

Gregory Corso Peter. Peter.

Studs Terkel Peter, I beg your pardon. Peter Orlovsky.

Gregory Corso Peter Orlovsky is a Russian angel, he's a Russian

Studs Terkel Russian angel in America.

Gregory Corso Yes, and he's come to Chicago to save Chicago.

Studs Terkel You're coming to save Chicago.

Gregory Corso [Unintelligible] saving, it's going to be saved here. There's a great tensity here. We feel it.

Studs Terkel And you want to save Chicago.

Gregory Corso No, no, I don't want

Studs Terkel No, no, but

Gregory Corso I want to see Al Capone's old heritage. I really dig him, you know, I pay homage to him.

Studs Terkel You pay homage to Al Capone. Once upon a time there was an evangelist here named Gypsy Smith, who sought to save Chicago by parading down Chicago's Red Light District year ago.

Gregory Corso Oh, but nothing like that. Nothing ostentatious like that.

Allen Ginsberg Naked?

Studs Terkel No, parade down naked, no, but on the subject of nakedness, that, we'll come to that as we go along. Let's dig further. Allen started, but with Gregory and

Gregory Corso Well, ask me

Studs Terkel Peter.

Gregory Corso See how I

Studs Terkel Are the question

Gregory Corso Don't make me embarrassed

Studs Terkel And then it became a rather wild and very, very funny conversation. And the poetry came in, and Allen ended by saying, we asked about definitions of various things, and you were saying "Death is a letter that was never sent."

Allen Ginsberg Yes. Actually, I was quoting a line of a poem that I'd written, saying, "Death is a letter that was never sent." And I think Gregory said "Fried Shoes" as a definition of poetry, and, you know, very odd thing, that was, this conversation and other conversations of that time was picked up by the, by "Time" magazine and sprayed around America, what was somewhat ugly version of the conversations, which was actually quite charming, as we hear it now, but unconsciously, it penetrated to a lot of young people, and 10 years later, in a conversation with Bob Dylan, he told me that reports of these conversations that he'd read turned him on when in and where he was in his little home

Studs Terkel Eveleth, Minnesota [sic - Dylan was born in Duluth, then moved to Hibbing, Montana].

Allen Ginsberg That there were other people out there in America just like him! And so that was like a little inspiration for him to turn on to.

Studs Terkel Come again, don't we, to something here, Bill, I get, I said, I use the word continuity earlier, that, a flow, that is, there is a flow, whether some trying to stem it or not, it continues. It goes on.

William Burroughs Yes, even by trying to stem it they often, particularly of course the media is very double-edged. That is "Time" was allegedly very opposed to us, but certainly they did a lot to, uh, to spread these concepts.

Studs Terkel As, as the word, [rather?] word not used today, Beat generation used then in '59, I suppose the meaning has a, it's jazz word, a beat, jazz word. It's also

William Burroughs -- Well,

Studs Terkel A word that has a feeling of tiredness, as being -- what else?

Allen Ginsberg I said in that conversation, uh, beat down in the sense of dark night of the soul, but then also opening the soul to receive God, which was my sort of crude terminology of those days. I would probably say now, leaving the soul open to the great spacious, uh, emptiness that we share.

Studs Terkel How did you

Allen Ginsberg Or the silence that

Studs Terkel There again we come to Bill Burroughs and yourself, Allen, you had he was one of your, he was your earliest guru, and

Allen Ginsberg I was camping a bit when I said guru, my old teacher friend here.

Studs Terkel He was an influence on you. An influence on you. How did you, become about what was called the "Beat Generation"? You one of the seminal figures there?

William Burroughs Well, through my association with, with Allen, with Gregory, and Kerouac. But I myself was in Europe from let me see, about, um

Allen Ginsberg Fifty-four?

William Burroughs From almost from 1950.

Allen Ginsberg It was a time that you were in New York with me in '53 we put together the [unintelligible] book that we

William Burroughs That, I was here for about -- or rather in New York for several months at that time, and then I was out of the country while all this was going on while the reading started in the Village in New York.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking also

Allen Ginsberg -- There was a great climactic reading was the one here in Chicago that got national attention, and that was all over your work.

Studs Terkel That was in all, that was again 1959. By the way, the influence of Allen Ginsberg and Bill Burroughs is not simply American. It's because there you were in different countries and there were tremendous events in which you took part in other countries.

Allen Ginsberg Occasionally, yeah, that I was involved with -- in Prague in 1965 on May Day, with a, during a time of thaw before the Russian tanks rolled in, simultaneous with the tear gas in Chicago in '68. There was a thaw in Chicago -- in Chicago? In Prague.

Studs Terkel That's interesting. I remember Chicago was called Prague at

Allen Ginsberg Well, the same things happening, like the student rebellions and the tanks rolling in. But I was part of like a student demonstration on May Day 1965 in Prague where I was elected the May King. They hadn't had those May King central European elections, which is an old traditional thing, since the Nazi times, and then since the Communist times, and it was a thaw, and I was in Prague and so got elected, and got involved with several rock 'n' roll spiritual empire and then expelled from Prague by the Communists, as I'd just been expelled from Cuba several months earlier, um, and then wound up in London seeing Bill, at big Parties with Bill and Mick Jagger and the Beatles in the mid-sixties in London.

Studs Terkel Now, I was thinking before we hear more readings from Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs from their work.

Allen Ginsberg Bill found you, found a text there that we could use.

William Burroughs Well,

Allen Ginsberg About the control thing?

Studs Terkel Before that, let's take a slight pause here for what is known as the message and then we'll return with a -- and also perhaps asking Allen, or Bill, particularly Allen, about art is work and life itself, and indeed politics, too. So we'll return in a moment after this message. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who are participating this Friday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art in a reading. They've been here for several days, and I'm sure [unintelligible].

Allen Ginsberg The amazing thing is, you see, we've never read together before.

Studs Terkel So first time?

Allen Ginsberg So this trip to Chicago, where we've been reading [around?] is first time for us.

Studs Terkel And it's Friday night at the Poetry Center of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is at 237 East Ontario Street, and it begins at, at eight o'clock or so.

Allen Ginsberg Right.

Studs Terkel Eight o'clock. And then, I suppose there'll be questions from the audience, too, if need be.

Allen Ginsberg I don't know what we'll do.

Studs Terkel But it'll be open.

William Burroughs Yes.

Studs Terkel It'll be -- I know what an exhilarating evening, it has to be that. You were saying about readings. Bill, is there something, Allen was saying something earlier that there was something in "Naked Lunch" or another of your writings that appropriate for [lunchtime?] really.

William Burroughs Well, yes, I could read that "Bradley the Buyer".

Allen Ginsberg Yes. That'd be interesting. Do you have that here?

William Burroughs I think I do.

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, we're gonna check that out.

Studs Terkel He also has "The Exterminator", "Exterminator" here,

Allen Ginsberg That's the most recent book.

Studs Terkel "Exterminator" published in America yet?

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, that's

Studs Terkel Cauldron & Boyle, it was Viking

Allen Ginsberg Well, Viking published "Exterminator" in the United States, didn't it?

Studs Terkel And here's

William Burroughs I was an actual exterminator in Chicago in 1942.

Studs Terkel You were, you say. You worked as

William Burroughs I worked as an exterminator in Chicago.

Allen Ginsberg That was a great glory when I first met him, [unintelligible] mythology.

William Burroughs If you -- little -- quote here from the article that I wrote for "Esquire" Saturday, August 24th, 1968.

Allen Ginsberg And then you came back in from

Studs Terkel That's very funny. I think, always think of Black Flag. I always think of Black Flag.

Allen Ginsberg When I first met Bill in New York, he'd just come from Chicago where -- I'd never met a literary person who had actually been working, you know, like anonymously in some far city suffering the pangs of unrecognized ego working in like a trade like extermination. It was sort of almost a Shakespearean notion. We were all reading Jean Genet, or "Celine", [unintelligible] "Celine" "Journey"

Studs Terkel "Long Day" -- no, not "Long Day", "Journey through the End of the Night".

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, and that was, it fitted into that sort of literary tradition. Henry Miller.

William Burroughs Well, yes, I consider myself very much in the picaresque tradition, the picaresque tradition. Just a rather series of incidents, rather horrific and that the

Studs Terkel And funny, too,

William Burroughs Yes, that the protagonist goes through. Ah, in the tradition of the unfortunate traveler, which is one of the very early novels. And certainly "Celine" is in that tradition.

Studs Terkel And I remember as a kid, I [unintelligible] reading that book, "Journey through the End of the Night", I'm still haunted by a guy named Robert, there were two, there was

Allen Ginsberg -- Robinson.

Studs Terkel Yeah, there were two figures, I mean there was this guy and his alter ego. Remember that, this as

Allen Ginsberg Kerouac loved

Studs Terkel As though the demon was pursuing this guy.

William Burroughs Exactly.

Studs Terkel So we're talking about demons, aren't we? And, and a way exorcising demons in the writing, aren't we? Before

Allen Ginsberg The demons of habit, the demons of conditioning, the demons of addiction.

Studs Terkel Again we come to

Allen Ginsberg The demons of power control.

Studs Terkel Suppose, suppose we alternate. Before Bill goes into reading an excerpt from "Naked Lunch", you have something I noticed called "Going to Chicago".

Allen Ginsberg Yeah, that's flying August 24th, 1968. Flying here to have a consultation with the, Earl Bush, former Mayor Daley's public relations man, who I think was, went to jail. Who

Studs Terkel Who has since then, yes, he's some unfortunate

Allen Ginsberg Well, Bush was trying to call off this, our anti-war protest, saying "Listen, I'm telling you, we're gonna settle the war. Just, Mayor Daley told me, trust, trust us."

Studs Terkel Oh, Daley's gonna settle the war!

Allen Ginsberg We're gonna settle the wars, so [don't tell 'em?] protest." So I was flying to Chicago to sort of meet Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis and look over the things and talk with City Hall and see if we could get a permit to go to Lincoln Park.

Studs Terkel Because you, I guess you have the possibility of horror, there's always the antic aspect, there's always a comic aspect. This is also one of the -- attributes of Allen Ginsburg's writing, isn't it, Bill?

William Burroughs Yes, it is, it is indeed.

Allen Ginsberg What you got there, Bill?

William Burroughs Well, I could read, uh, "Bradley the Buyer".

Allen Ginsberg That was, to get back to the point we were making about control as an addiction. Or the relations between the addict and the police. The symbiotic relation, I guess that

Studs Terkel You want to set the scene for this, Bill? Or just -- you want to preface this by describing the scene, or is this self-descriptive?

William Burroughs I think it's more or less self-descriptive.

Studs Terkel "Naked Lunch".

William Burroughs This is a reading from "Naked Lunch".

Studs Terkel Of course there are about four or five different dimensions to this, aren't there?

Allen Ginsberg What I was thinking was, Senator's -- Jackson's recent investigation of the Drug Enforcement Agency in which he said that the Drug Enforcement Agency itself was so involved in corruption that they had blocked an investigation into Robert Vesco's heroin operations, as were alleged.

Studs Terkel And what's so funny, though, when did you write, when was "Naked Lunch" first written?

William Burroughs Uh, it was written, really from over a period of years from 1954, and they were

Studs Terkel So about 20 years ago. In short, Bill Burroughs called the shot.

Allen Ginsberg Exactly.

Studs Terkel About 20 years ago, first of all, the earliest and most vivid and horrendous descriptions of addiction, dope addiction. But then comes the irony

Allen Ginsberg Of the analysis of the actual,

Studs Terkel And of industry itself.

Allen Ginsberg Yes.

Studs Terkel And

Allen Ginsberg [The free?], the threat to the industry on all levels.

Studs Terkel On all levels.

Allen Ginsberg That, see the point is that the Drug Enforcement Administration now has swollen its addiction to power and money to $110 million budget a year. Is this vast bureaucracy now dependent on junk.

Studs Terkel But what's so funny [you've got?] the great [humor?] drug addiction, you watch the TV commercials, and you're watching all those patent medicines, and you're watching all those drugs that are illegal, you know, [compose you know?] that just, to take care of colds and headaches and constipation

Allen Ginsberg -- Well, not the only drugs, petrochemicals.

William Burroughs Most of those completely worthless.

Studs Terkel But drugs nonetheless.

William Burroughs Yes.

Allen Ginsberg Well drugs, but then also alcohol, then also cigarettes, but then also automobiles and also oil and also energy consumption, the whole addiction to the material growth economy. In fact, you could even finally see capitalists growth economy notions as a sign of a oil burner habit.

Studs Terkel Leading up to gross, gross national product. I suppose gross would be the most descriptive adjective.

Allen Ginsberg I have a poem, oddly, written about flying to Chicago, talking about this point. Looking down from an airplane on Chicago.

Studs Terkel He's got addiction all over again.

Allen Ginsberg Well, actually, I was making use of Bill's metaphor.

William Burroughs Yeah, I was coming way back to the beginning of this conversation. About an hour ago, almost, the matter of Bill's metaphor of the addiction, every aspect of our lives. Power addiction. Even as you were think, I'm thinking of one more you could add there, sports watching addiction primarily by the males of the American population.

Allen Ginsberg The

Studs Terkel That aspect of it too, the passivity! Yeah, oh, by the -- isn't there also an addiction -- passivity, supineness, the watching, the spectator, also an addiction in itself, isn't it?

William Burroughs Well, a lot of people say it was partly television addiction.

Allen Ginsberg What's it, what's a cure? Yeah, I have a cure at the end here. Okay. Dust goes -- I remember -- I think there's a de-addiction is the

William Burroughs Empty.

Allen Ginsberg Willingness to observe the vastness, the spaciousness and the emptiness of the place where we all are together. Uh, with our habits, which fill up this emptiness with microphones, radios, complaints, voices screaming, voices demanding, voices wanting, voices

Studs Terkel Rejecting.

Allen Ginsberg Rejecting, uh, voices babbling and insisting, aggression. Uh, aggression materialize into automobiles. Aggression materialized into billions of dollars, $100 billion worth of Pentagon hardware heavy metal. So it's the willingness to like empty out the mind and to exist without a matter habit, so to speak, just short putting it in short form.

Studs Terkel This is not to remove then from you yourself than connecting, fusing, the writings you do, the poetry and the various essays

Allen Ginsberg With

Studs Terkel With meditation, with also participation. Was there are you, Allen Ginsberg taking part, there you were, not accidentally, with Bill Burroughs, even though you weren't on assignment from "Esquire", you'd have been there anyway in Lincoln Park, '68, or in Prague that day.

Allen Ginsberg Chanting "Om" in Prague and chanting "Om" in Chicago.

Studs Terkel That's also part of it, too.

Allen Ginsberg Chanting on Michigan, but what, what is your, Bill? What's your um, de-addiction medicine or practice or yoga or suggestion for whoever is listening?

William Burroughs Well, I think it's very much the same as yours, Allen, is the emptying, emptying of the mind, the ability to look at the whole situation without saying anything about it, compulsively, either in protest or in agreement. And this, as we know it is very difficult to do. And ah, Buddhism, meditation is one way of achieving this.

Allen Ginsberg Do you have an American

Studs Terkel That's

Allen Ginsberg An American practice that you think

William Burroughs Well, no, but it does seems to me that

Allen Ginsberg I think we need to develop an America practice.

William Burroughs That it is useful to use scientific discoveries since we have them. There's biofeedback, which enables you to know when you are, when there are alpha waves, the waves of relaxation, and and, um, alert receptiveness are in your mind. And then then when you learn this, you can achieve it at will. That's one I think, very useful adjunct to achieving

Studs Terkel There was a practice that you were talking about in London a couple of years ago, when I visited, which was, um, imagining alternative opposite states of emotion, using words. Can you describe that

William Burroughs Well, I think that exercise is very much a yogic exercise, it's known as the opposites. That is, you imagine, um, say you imagine failure. Let yourself, let yourself experience failure. And then you imagine success, so that in a sense, failure then will tune in success. Or fear will tune in courage. If you really let the fear come in, and let it flow through you and out the other side, that is the beginning of courage, it's not trying to suppress fear that you have.

Studs Terkel You know, it's interesting. Allen asked you a moment ago, is there an American equivalent, an indigenous United States equivalent to what, to Buddhism or the, and you just did it. You see? He said we are addicted to the other dict-- success number one! And somehow, if you're not number one, you're through. You're incompetent. You're impotent, you're not number

Allen Ginsberg The whole theory of our foreign policy, America being number one. So

Studs Terkel So now what, what, I, if I follow Bill using the opposite is, "Hey, wait a minute. Maybe if you fail in something, it does not mean you're dead. It merely means you're human." We may find that perhaps this may be what

Allen Ginsberg But what Bill was proposing was that we not be afraid to experience the sensation of being a failure, a total failure. Of being beat. Or and then and then also experience the sensation of total victory and go through a whole series of emotional oppositions, experiencing them both as objective experiences rather than being afraid of them.

Studs Terkel As we're talking, the hour goes, but we know we do believe in continuity and flow. And so Friday night there'll be more than a continuation of what happened, there will be an offering.

Allen Ginsberg Studs, I'm wondering, does this sound like a continuation of our conversation way back in '59?

Studs Terkel Absolutely. Absolutely. It was '59, and perhaps a continuation of your first meeting with Bill Burroughs back then.

Allen Ginsberg Oh, sure. I hope it continues for the next couple decades. Oh,

Studs Terkel Oh, I hope so. And perhaps we will, thanks to certain

Allen Ginsberg -- I hope we've learned something out of

Studs Terkel You know, after I tell the audience about again, reminding them of the Poetry Center, Museum of Contemporary Art where Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs will be reading and offering and indeed performing and participating. That's this Friday, eight o'clock and it's quite an experience, by the way, it'll be a very salubrious one for everybody, 237 East Ontario Street. You know, music is always good, and to end our conversation with -- you said instead of "Om" something like "Ah." So Bill Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg. Thank you very much.

Allen Ginsberg This space we're sharing through sound and purification of speech.

Studs Terkel Ahhh-men.