Robert N. Lee

William S. Burroughs would have been one hundred years old today…

This is always my favorite thing he ever wrote:

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You wouldn’t believe how hot things were when I left the States—I knew this one pusher wouldn’t carry any shit on his person just shoot it in the line—Ten twenty grains over and above his own absorption according to the route he was servicing and piss it out in bottles for his customers so if the heat came up on them they cop out as degenerates—So Doc Benway assessed the situation and came up with this brain child—

“Once in the Upper Baboonasshole I was stung by a scorpion—the sensation is not dissimilar to a fix— Hummm.”

So he imports this special breed of scorpions and feeds them on metal meal and the scorpions turned a phosphorescent blue color and sort of hummed. “Now we must find a worthy vessel,” he said—So we flush out this old goof ball artist and put the scorpion to him and he turned sort of blue and you could see he was fixed right to metal—These scorpions could travel on a radar beam and service the clients after Doc copped for the bread—It was a good thing while it lasted and the heat couldn’t touch us—However all these scorpion junkies began to glow in the dark and if they didn’t score on the hour metamorphosed into scorpions straight away—So there was a spot of bother and we had to move on disguised as young junkies on the way to Lexington—Bill and Johnny we sorted out the names but they keep changing like one day I would wake up as Bill the next day as Johnny—So there we are in the train compartment shivering junk sick our eyes watering and burning.

The Soft Machine

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Hard to know what to say, exactly, about Burroughs. Just mentioning his name is such a stereotype for young art-inclined men of a certain disposition. Even if I’d never read or been enthralled by any of his prose, though, there’d be his huge influence on music – it is no stretch to say that in some small but significant part, the zeitgeist is only full of hip hop and dubstep remixes these days because of Burroughs.

That is crazy. I’d have to respect that, anyway.

And then there’s writing like that, my favorite bits of Burroughs, where he seems to become a mid-twentieth century urban prairie Aesop, spinning low lifey versions of Pecos Bill and John Henry and Br’er Rabbit.

If this makes sense: I don’t so much admire Burroughs for the parts that are science fiction as much as the parts that are folklore. Or maybe I like how much he makes plain how much they’re the same. If you take out the last two paragraphs, about the glowing scorpion metamorphoses, the little that remains is amazing by itself: the very short story of the dealer who delivers product in his own urine so if the cops show up, everybody can take a morals charge instead of a drug charge.

There are a few major artists along the way I learned more about words and how they work and what you can do with them from than anybody else. Burroughs is one, I guess, although I’m hesitant to admit it. It is, again, such a stereotype. For young men of a certain disposition.

No longer that young man, but here I am sitting around rereading Burroughs today, anyway.

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