Tag Archives: Paul Bowles

THE FLOWERING OF the Beat Generation


f9afdcac57a301906e112e180e6402c1THE FLOWERING OF the Beat Generation in the late fifties was the result of a very slow germination process. The four original Beats, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, met in New York in the late forties. More than a decade would pass before Ginsberg’s Howl ignited the explosion that would coalesce the disparate ideas, the sense of lifestyle, and the philosophical musings into a full-fledged literary movement.

The term beat was first used by Jack Kerouac in 1948 while talking to his friend Clellon Holmes: “So I guess you might say we’re a beat generation.” Holmes later wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine, entitled “The Beat Generation,” saying, “It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul, a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness.” Soon Ginsberg and Kerouac were emphasizing the “beatific” qualities of the word, making of it a mystical, transcendental experience. Ginsberg explained, “The point of Beat is that you get beat down to a certain nakedness where you actually are able to see the world in a visionary way, which is the old classical understanding of what happens in the dark night of the soul.” Howl led the way; Kerouac’s On the Road followed with unprecedented media attention; Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, banned and vilified, broke through the barriers of censorship, and a literary movement was born.

Howl and Other Poems

Allen Ginsberg. Howl and Other Poems.
San Francisco: The City Lights Books, 1956.
Marvin Tatum Collection of Contemporary Literature

ORIGINALLY READ FROM the manuscript at the now famous Six Gallery reading of November 22, 1955, Howl was an immediate and resounding success, first among the poets associated with San Francisco’s literati and then throughout the hip community at large. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the City Lights Bookstore, had recently begun publishing avant-garde poetry; he wrote to Ginsberg that night saying, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?” Published in 1956 as Number Four in the Pocket Poets Series, Howl led to the arrest in May 1957 of Ferlinghetti and City Lights bookstore manager Shigeyoshi Murao on charges of selling obscene material. Against the background of heightened publicity, Judge Clayton W. Horn, a Sunday School bible teacher, found Ferlinghetti and Murao not guilty in October 1957. With a foreword by William Carlos Williams, Howl, often referred to as the “Beat Manifesto,” was the first successful publication of the Beat era, and became one of the most influential books of twentieth century American poetry.

Junkie:  Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict

William Lee. Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict.
New York: Ace Books, 1953.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature

JUNKIE, WILLIAM BURROUGHS’ first novel, was published under the author’s sobriquet, William Lee, and chronicled Burroughs’ descent into the underworld drug culture of New York, New Orleans and Mexico City. Burroughs drew from his personal experiences the scenes of a novel Jack Kerouac described as “imitating a kind of anxious Dashiell Hammett of William Lee.” Published as pulp fiction by his friend, Carl Solomon, who worked as an agent for Ace Books, Junkie sold an astonishing 113,170 copies, though most of the readers were not of the literary set that eventually admired Naked Lunch.

AFTER HIS WIFE Joan’s death in Mexico, Burroughs accidentally shot her while playing a drunken game of “William Tell”, and a trip into the Amazon jungles in search of the drug Yage, Burroughs settled in Tangiers where he fell into a state of drug addiction and spiritual lassitude. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to kick his drug habit, Burroughs succeeded with Dr. John Yerbury Dent’s apomorphine treatment in London. Returning to Tangiers, fueled by marijuana and coffee, Burroughs began typing at top speed for six hours a day, letting the pages of yellow foolscap fall to the floor as they were finished. He then called for his friends and in 1957 Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky arrived in Tangiers to help with the manuscript. With the assistance of Alan Ansen, Ginsberg worked six hours a day for two months putting the manuscript in order. Kerouac supplied the title explaining, “the title means exactly what the words say: Naked Lunch –a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” Fearing censorship due to its graphic depiction of drug use, homosexual acts, cannibalism, and raw language, the novel was offered to Maurice Girodias and the Olympia Press in Paris who eventually brought out the book in 1959. Naked Lunch was banned in the United States, and only after Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was cleared of obscenity charges in 1962 was Naked Lunch published here. Naked Lunch benefitted greatly from the notoriety of its author, his association with the Beat movement and the censorship trials it faced. Though it initially did not garner a single review from the established press, it became one of the most important novels of the Beat era.


Also included is a typescript of a page from William Burroughs’ memoir of his life in Tripoli, Algiers, and most importantly Tangiers, where he writes of working on Naked Lunch and of visits by Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Kerouac, and Alan Ansen. He also mentions seeing Paul and Jane Bowles.

On the Road

Jack Kerouac. On the Road.
New York: Viking Press, 1957.
Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature

ON THE ROAD, conceived before Kerouac and Neal Cassady began their cross-country excursion in 1951, went through many transformations before it was finally published in 1957. The writing style, drawing inspiration from bebop jazz, modern poetry, and heavy doses of Benzedrine, captured the frenetic, beat-driven lifestyle of the urban socially displaced. Inspired by a letter from Neal Cassady and the in-progress manuscript of William Burroughs’ Junkie, Kerouac taped together rolls of tracing paper, lined up a supply of Benzedrine, cigarettes and coffee, and began a marathon nonstop writing session that lasted three weeks and produced 186,000 words. The manuscript, one long roll of paper, was too chaotic to be published. It was reworked over the next five years and finally published by Viking Press in 1957. The media had begun to look for alternative Beat material after the success of Howl, and On the Road was an immediate hit, staying five weeks on the best seller list. On the Road remains one of the most influential novels of its time and stands as the seminal novel of the Beat period.

The First Third and Other Writings

Neal Cassady. The First Third and Other Writings.
San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1971.
Alderman Library

ALTHOUGH NEAL CASSADY’S literary output was small, he was one of the major figures of the Beat period. He became the bridge between the Beats of the fifties and the fledgling psychedelic movement of the sixties, when he joined Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters in late 1962. Cassady was raised in a condemned flophouse in Denver, Colorado, and by his early twenties he had stolen more than five hundred automobiles, had been arrested ten times, and had spent fifteen months in juvenile detention. In detention, he discovered the prison library and upon his release he continued his self-education at the Denver Public Library. When he headed east in 1946 he had acquired the requisite knowledge to talk literature with the likes of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg fell in love with him, Kerouac found him to be the quintessential modern American, and Burroughs was the first to make use of his soon-to-be-legendary driving skills, when he hired Cassady to drive his marijuana crop from Texas to New York in 1947. Cassady’s cross-country driving trips with Jack Kerouac became the experiences from which On the Road was written –Cassady was Dean Moriarty to Kerouac’s Sal Paradise. Although he was the larger-than-life model for so much of what was written during the Beat period, Cassady at times tried to maintain a middle-class existence –he lived with his wife and three children in suburban California whenever he was not on the road with his soon-to-be famous friends. Published in 1971, three years after his death in Mexico, The First Third and Other Writings is a compilation of excerpts from letters, fragments of writings, and short pieces from the memoir that Kerouac and Ginsberg encouraged him to write.


From left to right, Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and others, early 1950’s

Paul Bowles, expatriate writer, composer and traveler who lived 52 years in Tangier, Morocco.

Paul Bowles, expatriate writer, composer and traveler who lived 52 years in Tangier, Morocco.

paul bowles1

paul bowles

Paul Bowles

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”




A Portrait of Paul Bowles.
By Millicent Dillon.
Illustrated. 340 pp. Berkeley:
University of California Press. $27.50.

Paul Bowles is the bridge between the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation, even though his work exceeds Beat fiction in technical interest and even though he, as Norman Mailer was among the first to point out, was quick to foresee the craftiness inherent in any unvarnished stance. Now 87 years old, Bowles has lived in Morocco for more than 50 years. Like his wife, the novelist Jane Bowles (who suffered a stroke in Morocco in 1957 and died at a sanitarium in Spain in 1973), Paul Bowles emerged out of the New York art and social scene of the 1930’s; he gained his own earliest reputation as a composer before rewarding himself with expatriation in the 1940’s.

Millicent Dillon’s biography of Bowles, ”You Are Not I” (the title comes from one of Bowles’s short stories), is not an attempt to narrate the events of Bowles’s life or the histories of his influence; that has already been done in two earlier biographies and a documentary film. Dillon, the author of a life of Jane Bowles, is also a novelist and believes in evocation, not reduction. With implications well beyond what she intends, her new book is a strange and uncanny success. Using the atmosphere of Tangier to advantage, Dillon lights the chilly Bowles from a number of angles; she eschews even portraiture in favor of a dramatic strategy based on her many conversations with him in his Tangier apartment beginning in 1977. Bowles’s sadness and the sense of opportunities lost suffuse Dillon’s narrative and weigh it with emotion.

Beneath the tea and sympathy, however, beats a deeper purpose. Despite her impressionism, Dillon wishes to find a classical way to understand both Bowles’s work and his relation to others. As Jane Bowles’s biographer, she is particularly fascinated by the dialectic of the Bowleses’ marriage and work. Why the contrast between the contempt and humiliation served up to opposite-sex characters in their novels and their love and respect for each other in real life? (Dillon is understandably preoccupied with the absurd rape sequences in Bowles’s 1949 best seller, ”The Sheltering Sky,” although she fails to press him about them.) How did these two homosexuals find sexual happiness in each other before Paul twice struck Jane and destroyed their intimacy forever? And why was it not until after Jane had asked Paul to edit the manuscript of her first novel in 1941 that he, too, decided to make prose fiction his primary metier? Was this a heightened dialogue between them or a form of violence and usurpation?

Primal scenes tumble forth from the ordinarily reticent Bowles, who sits, befogged by kif, as he and Dillon explore the relation between art and experience. Bowles’s father was a dentist in Jamaica, Queens, who wanted to be a violinist and who regularly hit his son on the back of the legs when the child did not move up the stairs fast enough. Paul was often left home alone at a very young age, too, growing so lonely that he tried to make friends with mosquitoes. He even recalls seeing his father in bed with his aunt while his mother stood alongside laughing.

But the links between Bowles’s life and art remain, like all else in Tangier, elusive. ”You Are Not I” makes us reimagine the relation between life and art, and between art and its explanation. The book abounds with new notions if we look and listen, especially when Bowles’s friend Mohammed Mrabet appears. He is a Moroccan storyteller whose ”performances,” as Dillon calls them, force the realization that there is little difference between life and its narratives, no cause in the one for the other; they commingle. Both are performances. Given Bowles’s influence on her, it is as if he had, as Dillon realizes, written his own biography. To be sure, Dillon brings insufficient material to the performance from her own life and desires. She has left her side of the dialogue out. Is she letting Jane Bowles do the talking for her? Or is she simply being too modest about finding in Bowles himself an unexpected quality of feeling?

Perry Meisel, a professor of English at New York University, is the author of ”The Myth of the Modern.” His new book, ”Romanticism to Rock and Roll,” will be published in October.

DECEMBER 4, 1949
An Allegory of Man and His Sahara


After several literary seasons given over, mostly, to the frisky antics of kids, precociously knowing and singularly charming, but not to be counted on for those gifts that arrive by no other way than the experience and contemplation of a truly adult mind, now is obviously a perfect time for a writer with such a mind to engage our attention. That is precisely the event to be celebrated in the appearance of “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles’ first novel.

It has been a good while since first novels in America have come from men in their middle or late thirties (Paul Bowles is 38). Even in past decades the first novel has usually been written during the writers’ first years out of college. Moreover, because success and public attention operate as a sort of pressure cooker or freezer, there has been a discouraging tendency for the talent to bake or congeal at a premature level of inner development.

In America the career almost invariably becomes an obsession. The “get-ahead” principle, carried to such extreme, inspires our writers to enormous efforts. A new book must come out every year. Otherwise they get panicky, and the first thing you know they belong to Alcoholics Anonymous or have embraced religion or plunged headlong into some political activity with nothing but an inchoate emotionalism to bring to it or to be derived from it. I think that this stems from a misconception of what it means to be a writer or any kind of creative artist. They feel it is something to adopt in the place of actual living, without understanding that art is a by-product of existence.

Paul Bowles has deliberately rejected that kind of rabid professionalism. Better known as a composer than a writer, he has not allowed his passion for either form of expression to interfere with his growth into completeness of personality. Now this book has come at the meridian of the man and artist. And, to me very thrillingly, it brings the reader into sudden, startling communion with a talent of true maturity and sophistication of a sort that I had begun to fear was to be found nowadays only among the insurgent novelists of France, such as Jean Genet and Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

With the hesitant exception of one or two war books by returned soldiers, “The Sheltering Sky” alone of the books that I have recently read by American authors appears to bear the spiritual imprint of recent history in the western world. Here the imprint is not visible upon the surface of the novel. It exists far more significantly in a certain philosophical aura that envelopes it.

There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement.

The story itself is a chronicle of startling adventure against a background of the Sahara and the Arab-populated regions of the African Continent, a portion of the world seldom dealt with by first-rate writers who actually know it. Paul Bowles does know it, and much better, for instance, than it was known by AndrÈ Gide. He probably knows it even better than Albert Camus. For Paul Bowles has been going to Africa, off and on, since about 1930. It thrills him, but for some reason it does not upset his nervous equilibrium. He does not remain in the coastal cities. At frequent intervals he takes journeys into the most mysterious recesses of the desert and mountain country of North Africa, involving not only hardship but peril.

“The Sheltering Sky” is the chronicle of such a journey. Were it not for the fact that the chief male character, Port Moresby, succumbs to an epidemic fever during the course of the story, it would not be hard to identify him with Mr. Bowles himself. Like Mr. Bowles, he is a member of the New York intelligentsia who became weary of being such a member and set out to escape it in remote places. Escape it he certainly does. He escapes practically all the appurtenances of civilized modern life. Balanced between fascination and dread, he goes deeper and deeper into this dreamlike “awayness.”

From then on the story is focused upon the continuing and continually more astonishing adventures of his wife, Kit, who wanders on like a body in which the rational mechanism is gradually upset and destroyed. The liberation is too intense, too extreme, for a nature conditioned by and for a state of civilized confinement. Her primitive nature, divested one by one of its artificial reserves and diffidences, eventually overwhelms her, and the end of this novel is as wildly beautiful and terrifying as the whole panorama that its protagonists have crossed.

In this external aspect the novel is, therefore, an account of startling adventure. In its interior aspect, “The Sheltering Sky” is an allegory of the spiritual adventure of the fully conscious person into modern experience. This is not an enticing way to describe it. It is a way that might suggest the very opposite kind of a novel from the one that Paul Bowles has written. Actually this superior motive does not intrude in explicit form upon the story, certainly not in any form that will need to distract you from the great pleasure of being told a first-rate story of adventure by a really first-rate writer.

I suspect that a good many people will read this book and be enthralled by it without once suspecting that it contains a mirror of what is most terrifying and cryptic within the Sahara of moral nihilism, into which the race of man now seems to be wandering blindly.

Mr. Williams is the author of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and other plays.



images (24)Expat Writers in Tangier

From 1923 to 1956 Tangier was an International Zone, governed separately from the rest of Morocco by a loose collection of foreign governments. Known as the ‘Interzone’, the promise of cosmopolitan freedom attracted Western artists and writers in the 50s and 60s.

Naked-Lunch51dpP-2lLiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Tangier beats_allen-ginsbergimages (23)Paul Bowles, Alen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Michal Portman in Tangier

Anything could be bought at a price’ was part of the mythos of Tangier’s ‘Interzone’ period. In this heady time, Tangier gained a reputation in the West as a haven for spies, criminals, businessmen and adventurers. It was this alluring promise of freedom that attracted a small community of expatriate artists and writers to the city.

The man who started the trend was Paul Bowles, an American writer who moved to Tangier permanently in 1947 and served as first port of call for later visiting writers. His novels The Sheltering Sky and Let it Come Down explore the uncertainty of North Africa and the temptations of Tangier.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles,The Sheltering Sky

Port and Kit Moresbury, a sophisticated American couple, are finding it more than a little difficult to live with each other. Endeavoring to escape this predicament, they set off for North Africa intending to travel through Algeria – uncertain of exactly where they are heading, but determined to leave the modern world behind.

Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down

Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down

Tells the story of Dyar, a New York bank clerk who throws up his secure, humdrum job to find a reality abroad with which to identify himself, and his macabre experiences in the inferno of Tangiers as he gives in to his darkest impulses.

William S. Burroughs moved to Tangier in the early 50s after being inspired by Paul Bowles’s fiction. He stayed for four years, enjoying the low cost of living and the lack of interference from the authorities over his homosexuality and drug use. It was here that he began work on Naked Lunch, the novel that made him famous. It was edited and compiled by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg who visited him in Tangier for a couple of months during his four year stay. The Interzone in Naked Lunch is clearly inspired by his Tangier experiences. He also earned the nickname ‘El Hombre Invisible’ from the local residents for his ability to move through the crowded, hustler-filled streets without being noticed.

William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch

The anarchic, phenomenally strong-sellling classic from the godfather of the Beats. Welcome to Interzone!

William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs, Interzone

Portrays the development of Burroughs’ mature writing style by presenting a selection of pieces from the mid-1950s. This book tells how his outrageous tone of voice represents the exorcism of four decades of oppressive sexual and social conditioning.

The artist and writer Brion Gysin arguably immersed himself in Moroccan life more completely than any other figure in this list. Born in England but of Canadian descent, he moved to Tangier after visiting Paul Bowles in 1950. Whilst there, he ran a restaurant called The 1001 Nights that was popular with the expat crowd; it was here that he first met William S. Burroughs with whom he would later collaborate in Paris. He lived on and off in Tangier for the next twenty years, and acted as tour guide for the Rolling Stones when they visited in the 60s. He also recorded the Joujouka musicians in the Rif Mountains with Brian Jones and contributed liner notes for the CD Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. The calligraphy of Arabic script in particular had a profound effect on him, and heavily influencedhis paintings.


Brion Gysin, Tuning into the Multimedia Age

Guy Brett, Brion Gysin

A biography of Brion Gysin, a multi-faceted artist whose work has influenced performers such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Recalling the heady atmosphere of the so-called Beat Hotel in Paris in the late 1950s and 1960s, it features first-hand reminiscences by contemporaries.

Brion Gysin, Dream Machine

Laura Hoptman, Brion Gysin: Dream Machine

Catalogue for the 2010 Brion Gysin retrospective at the New Museum, New York. Featuring incisive texts, a photo essay, and appreciations by contemporary artists, this exciting new book captures the remarkable daring of an artistic visionary.

Another important, yet little-known Tangier figure was the photographer, poet and artist Ira Cohen who lived there during the 60s. In Tangier Cohen published a literary magazine titled Gnaoua which means exorcism. It contained early writings from the Moroccan Beat circle including William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. This extremely rare magazine can be seen online here.

The Moroccan writer Mohammed Choukri also lived in Tangier during this period and befriended many of the Western writers who sojourned there. His own account, In Tangier, provides a useful commentary on the expat literary community.

Mohammed Choukri

Mohamed Choukri, In Tangier

A haven for many Western writers in the twentieth century, Tangier drew the likes of Paul Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. Each was befriended by Mohamed Choukri. This book offers insights into these three cult figures of twentieth-century literature.

Richard Goodman
Most followers of the Beats know that Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allan
Ginsberg were friends and kindred souls in New York City in the 1940s. They most likely know
that Burroughs is the character “Bull Lee” in Kerouac’s On the Road and that he appears in two
other Kerouac books. They probably know that Kerouac supplied the title for Burroughs’ most RROUGHScelebrated book, Naked Lunch. (“A frozen moment,” Burroughs writes,” when everyone sees
what is on the end of every fork.”) They may also know that Kerouac and Ginsberg visited
Burroughs in Morocco when Burroughs was living a drug-drenched life there in the 1950s. And
that Kerouac typed out the first two chapters of Naked Lunch for Burroughs who, in Burroughs’
own words, was so drugged out he“could look at the end of my shoe for eight hours.”
What they may not know is that before Morocco, before On the Road, before Naked
Lunch, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac collaborated on a novel. This novel, And the
Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, was only published last year—sixty years after it was
written. The book is based on a murder in which Burroughs and Kerouac played minor
supporting, non-lethal roles. However, a case can be made that this murder, and the subsequent
book collaboration, made Burroughs understand that he could write—something he had not
thought of before and had, in fact, disdained.
In other words: no murder, no collaboration—no Naked Lunch.ichard Goodman 2
It all centers around an unlikely character named Lucien Carr, a childhood friend of
William Burroughs’ and a most peculiar fellow.
The facts, more or less, are these. Jack Kerouac, the young man from Lowell,
Massachusetts, had come to New York to attend Columbia University in the early 1940’s.
There, in 1944, he met, first, a young man named Lucien Carr. Then he met Allen Ginsberg, and
then, shortly after, William Burroughs. Here’s how Kerouac himself describes it in the Paris
Review interview, which Kerouac submitted to a year before he died:
First I met Claude [Kerouac’s pseudonym for Lucien Carr]. Then I met Allen and
then I met Burroughs. Claude came in through the fire escape…There were gunshots
down in the alley—Pow! Pow!—and it was raining, and my wife says, “here comes
Claude.” And here comes this blonde guy through the fire escape, all wet. I said,
“What’s this all about, what the hell is this?” He says, “They’re chasing me.” Next day
in walks Allen Ginsberg carrying books. Sixteen years old with his ears sticking out. He
says, “Well, discretion is the better part of valor!” I said, “Aw shutup. You little twitch.”
Then the next day here comes Burroughs wearing a seersucker suit, followed by the other
The “other guy” being David Kammerer, about whom you will hear shortly.
Ginsberg, a scrawny kid from New Jersey “with his ears sticking out,” holding a burning
desire to be a genius and a festering guilt about his then unacknowledged homosexuality, was in
awe of the Apollo-like Kerouac. Their relationship would always have an edge to it, with the
twin prejudices against Jews and queers lurking in the back of Kerouac’s mind. The Kerouac
scholar Isaac Gewirtz said that while Kerouac would from time to time in his journals make
cutting remarks about Ginsberg’s homosexuality, he never said a negative word about
Burroughs’ gay proclivities. Burroughs was then living on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village.
The whole lurid drama of David Kammerer and Lucien Carr unfolded in short order. ichard Goodman 3
Lucien Carr—a friend of William Burroughs’ from St, Louis where they had both grown
up—was acknowledged by anyone who met him to be angelically handsome. He was also
strange and manipulative. David Kammerer, an older gay man, and also a childhood friend of
Burroughs’ from St. Louis, was obsessed with the younger Carr. He had been his teacher at one
time and followed him from state to state, hoping for some kind of idealized, or actual,
consummation. When Carr came to New York, so did Kammerer.
Carr seems to have tolerated this obsession and perhaps was even titillated by it. (Isaac
Gewirtz thinks this was because “Carr was a sadist.”) In any event, on the night of August 16th,
1944, on the Upper Side of New York, David Kammerer and Lucien Carr were sitting together in
Riverside Park near Columbia University. This time, apparently, Kammerer, who always
seemed to know at what point to stop his advances, went too far. Lucien Carr stabbed David
Kammerer to death with a pocket knife. He tied Kammerer’s hands and feet together, and threw
the body into the nearby Hudson River. Realizing the grave nature of his deed, Carr first went to
his old friend, William Burroughs, for advice. Burroughs told him to turn himself in. Ignoring
this counsel, Carr went to Jack Kerouac, and Kerouac, for some reason, helped Carr dispose of
the murder weapon.
Carr did finally turn himself in. He was tried and convicted, but he served just two years
in prison for the murder. A homosexual preying on a youth was a very sure defense back then in
court. Kerouac spent a few days in jail for aiding and abetting. He got out by marrying his
girlfriend and having his in-laws post bail. (His own father would not.) Burroughs’ was put in
jail, too, but his father posted bail immediately. ichard Goodman 4
When the dust settled about a year later, Burroughs and Kerouac decided to write a novel
together based on the murder. The two men, along with Edie Parker—Kerouac’s former wife
and intermittent lover—and Joan Vollmer Adams—who Burroughs would later marry and, in
Mexico City, shoot to death—were all living together in an apartment on the West 115th Street.
In August of 1945, Burroughs and Kerouac began writing And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their
Tanks, quite clearly based on the Kammerer murder. Burroughs wrote the first chapter, and then
the two men alternated after that, chapter by chapter. It took them just a month to finish it.
There is no doubt this is a roman à clef. If you’re a stickler about these things, and
demand proof that the novel is, in fact, based on this rather tawdry murder, the proof is in the
New York Public Library. A few short weeks ago I was at the Library visiting the Berg
Collection of English and American Literature. I had before me the second draft, in typescript,
single spaced, on onion paper, of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. At this point, it
was called I Wish I Were You. At the top of page one, which is dated August 25, 1945—it’s
quite sobering to think that two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan just two weeks earlier—
are the names of the main characters, in Rosetta Stone-like fashion, deciphered. It says:
Phillip=Lucien [Carr]
Dennison=[William] Burroughs
Ryko=Jack [Kerouac]
Ramsey Allen=Dave K[ammerer]
When the novel was finished, Burroughs and Kerouac tried to get it published, but with
no success. Burroughs didn’t think much of the book. In any case, the men went their separate ichard Goodman 5
ways, literarily and actually, to meet again in Louisiana, Mexico and, in the mid-1950s,
Morocco. They also went on to write their own books and to carve their individual niches in
American literary history. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks was forgotten, or, more
accurately, was unknown to all but a few people. The book did, however, achieve a kind of
mythical status by those who had heard of it. An unpublished Burroughs/Kerouac manuscript!
Will it ever surface?
James Grauerholtz, the executor of William Burroughs’s estate, promised Lucien Carr—
who, by the way, after he was released from jail, went on to have a long career with United Press
International and is the father of the novelist Caleb Carr—he would not try to get the book
published while he, Lucien Carr, was still alive. When Carr died in 2005, Grauerholtz felt free to
try to get Hippos published and, in 2008, it was, by Grove Press, the American publisher of
Naked Lunch. I should say I don’t think the book is a major literary event—just a curiosity.
However, others do attribute merit to the book. Here’s what Ian Pindar of England’s Guardian
newspaper wrote about the book in late 2008, a month after And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their
Tanks was published:
Neither Burroughs nor Kerouac is at his best here, but Hippos has value as a
testament to their latent talent. Both men, though young, come across as natural writers
with an instinct for the telling detail. Burroughs is grimly fascinated by the abuse of
authority, his sarcastic, petty-minded landlord Mr Goldstein being a distant relative of the
County Clerk in Naked Lunch. If anything, Hippos proves that becoming a junkie was the
making of Burroughs, pulling his unique vision into focus.
Now you can read the book and see for yourself:ichard Goodman 6
You might be curious as to the genesis of the title. According to Kerouac, “Burroughs
and I were sitting in a bar one night and we heard a newscaster saying [remember, this is during
wartime], ‘….and so the Egyptians attacked blah blah blah…and meanwhile there was a great
fire in the zoo in London and the fire raced across the fields and the hippos were boiled in their
tanks! Good night everyone!’” Burroughs caught that and suggested it as a title. He and
Kerouac went through a few titles—I Wish I Were You being one of them—but finally decided
on And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.
I met Burroughs in 1971 and spent time with him in London and in New York. That
affects my response to Kerouac’s description of Burroughs in On the Road and, especially, in
Vanity of Duluoz. Burroughs was nine years older than Kerouac—although you will read in
some biographies that he was eight years older—something that surprised me. (Kerouac wrote,
“He was nine years older than me but I never noticed it.”) I think it surprised me because
Burroughs always looked old, even when he was young, and Kerouac, when he was young,
looked like the epitome of youth. This is how Kerouac describes that first meeting with
Burroughs, or “Will Hubbard,” in Vanity of Duluoz:
When I had heard about “Will Hubbard” I had pictured a stocky dark-haired
person of peculiar intensity because of the reports about him, the peculiar directness of
his actions, but here had come walking into my pad tall and bespectacled and thin in a
seersucker suit as tho he’s just returned from a compound in Equatorial Africa where
he’d sat at dusk with a martini discussing the peculiarities… Tall, 6 foot 1, strange, ichard Goodman 7
inscrutable because ordinary-looking (scrutable), like a shy bank clerk with a patrician
thin-lipped cold bluelipped face, blue eyes saying nothing behind steel rims and glass,
sandy hair, a little wispy, a little of the wistful German Nazi youth as his soft hair fluffles
in the breeze….
Well, I am here to tell you, having met William Seward Burroughs, that this description
is spot on, the best physical description of Burroughs I have ever read and one that captures him
perfectly. I feel as if he’s stepping right out of the page when I read this, and it brings me back
to that day, in 1971, when, as a young man, I nervously knocked on the door of Burroughs’ Duke
Street flat in London, and William S. Burroughs himself opened the door to let me in. But I want
to go forward a bit to quote another passage to show you that Kerouac could not only describe
Burroughs’ appearance, but his mind and spirit and his character, as well. Kerouac understood
that, though he called Burroughs “a teacher,” their relationship was not one-sided at all. Here’s
what Kerouac writes about those early days in New York,
I think it was about then he [Hubbard/Burroughs] rather vaguely began to admire
me, either for virile independent thinking, or ‘rough trade’ (whatever they think), or
charm, or maybe broody melancholy philosophic Celtic unexpected depth or simple
ragged shiny frankness…
In fact, everything Kerouac writes about Burroughs, and about the two of them, is
powerful and pristine—and, above all, generous. Here’s one of his rhapsodies in Vanity of
O Will Hubbard in the night! A great writer today, he is a shadow hovering over
Western literature, and no great writer ever lived without that soft and tender curiosity,
verging on the maternal care, about what others think and say, no great writer ever
packed off from this scene on earth without amazement like the amazement he felt
because I was myself.ichard Goodman 8
I won’t linger too much more on physical descriptions, only to say that in On the Road,
Burroughs—or “Old Bull Lee”—comes across as much more of an eccentric shaman. Of course,
On the Road was written many years earlier than Vanity of Duluoz.. The narrator visits Bull Lee
at his farm in Algiers, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans on his cross-country ride. “It would
take all night to tell about Old Bull Lee,” the narrator begins. Then, later, he says, “He [Bull
Lee] spent all his time talking and teaching others. Jane [the actual name of Burroughs’ wife] sat
at his feet; so did I.” Kerouac goes on to replicate some of the quirky, wonderful speech of
Burroughs’ during their stay with him. He speaks as well about sitting at Burroughs’ feet in his
By the way, “Lee,” as in Old Bull Lee, is a pseudonym Burroughs himself used for his
first book, Junky, published in 1953 by Ace Books. So volatile was the subject matter at the
time—a book written by a dope fiend!—that Burroughs felt compelled to use his mother’s
maiden name, Lee, for his own. So the very first edition of Junky is by “William Lee.”
The fact is this: fairly soon after they met in New York, Jack Kerouac and William
Burroughs wrote a book together. It was clear that Burroughs, a Harvard graduate who had
studied medicine in Vienna and had a wide-ranging mind, was the better educated man, certainly
from the point of view of certain kinds of reading and exposure to the world. Kerouac had no
problem at all acknowledging that Burroughs taught him a great deal in that area. In Vanity of
Duluoz, Kerouac describes one such instructional moment,
Harbinger of the day when we’d become fast friends and he’d hand me the full
two-volume edition of Spengler’s Decline of the West and say ‘EEE dif y your mind, my
boy, with the grand actuality of Fact.’ When he would become my great teacher in the
night.ichard Goodman 9
If anyone had more experience as a writer at that point, though, it was Jack Kerouac, the
younger man. (Kerouac was twenty-three at the time, Burroughs, thirty-two.) Not only that,
Burroughs did not think of himself as literary, much less a writer. He abhorred the very idea.
Kerouac at this point had a strong yearning to be a writer and was already writing the book that
would become The Town and the City, his first published novel. In short, Kerouac knew he
wanted to be a writer even then, at twenty-three, and even before. Burroughs had no idea, and no
There is a wonderful little book titled Photos and Remembering Jack, by Burroughs,
published by White Fields Press in 1994. The photos are by Allen Ginsberg. In the photographs,
we see Burroughs is an old man, bent over, with a cane, but still vigorous, at one point rowing a
boat. There are only two short passages in the book. In the first, Burroughs wrote, simply, “Jack
Kerouac was a writer. That is, he wrote…. He went there and wrote it and brought it back for a
generation to read, but he never found his own way back. A whole migrant generation arose
from Kerouac’s On the Road….”
So whereas Kerouac’s feelings toward Burroughs were somewhat worshipful, it may be
said, as Isaac Gewirtz notes in his fine book, Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road,
Burroughs credits Kerouac for his writing career. Gewirtz quotes an essay by Burroughs titled,
“Jack Kerouac,” in which he, Burroughs, elaborates on this:
It was Kerouac who kept telling me I should write and call the book I wrote
Naked Lunch. I had never written anything after high school and did not think of myself
as a writer and I told him so… “I got no talent for writing…” He insisted quietly that I
did have talent for writing and that I would wrote [sic] a book called Naked Lunch To
which I replied “I don’t want to hear anything literary.” He just smiled. In fact during all ichard Goodman 10
the years I knew Kerouac I cant remember ever seeing him really angry or hostile. It was
the sort of smile in a way you get from a priest who knows you will come to Jusus sooner
or later…”
Gewirtz reconfirmed the importance of Kerouac’s influence on Burroughs. “Burroughs
always acknowledged that Kerouac was the reason he became a writer,” he said. “He never had
a qualm about that.”
So what I am getting at here is that Burroughs’ influence on Kerouac is probably less
than we think and Kerouac’s influence on Burroughs is probably a lot more than we think. This
is surely not the popular consensus. Burroughs was a very powerful personality, and I can tell
you he was quite formidable in person. He was forbidding and formal—not rude or
discourteous, but just, well, awesome, in the original sense of the word. Kerouac was a very
powerful personality, but his power was of a different sort. It derived from a strong life force. I
think there has come down the notion that Kerouac was much more the absorber, and this is
partially reinforced by the narrator’s role in On the Road, which is, basically, one of hero
worship of Dean Moriarty—i.e., Neal Cassidy. But the evidence points us to another, more
equable conclusion.
I think, in the end, we can say that without Jack Kerouac there may never have been a
Naked Lunch. But I’m not sure that we can say without William Burroughs there never would
have been an On the Road. I believe the book would still have been written—without “Old Bull
Lee” in it, of course, but Dean Moriarty would still be there, and Moriarty is the heart of that
book. It’s all an exercise in literary gamesmanship, though. The good thing is, we do have both
books—however they got written. That’s all that matters.