Archive for the tag 'William Burroughs'

Bowie, Burroughs and Me

January 12th, 2016

David Bowie died on 10 January 2016.  He was 69 years old, three years younger than I am.  The only album of his that I owned was Ziggy Stardust back in 1972 and, later, I was a big fan of three of his movies—The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (also 1983).  There were rumors that Bowie visited William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, but our paths never crossed.  Not in the usual way, anyway.  I have already written about all this in paulstephenlim.com (under the subsection “Limoscenes” for my play Lee and the Boys in the Backroom).  You can read the full entry there, but I am reproducing below the part that deals with David Bowie.

Because of my friendship with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz (see also my NAKED LUNCH entries in the “Limerances” section of this website), it was only a matter of time before someone would suggest that I adapt something by Burroughs for the stage. I forget now who made the initial suggestion. It might have been James Grauerholz himself, or it might have been Mary Doveton, the artistic director of the Lawrence Community Theatre, where my plays CHAMBERS and FLESH, FLASH AND FRANK HARRIS had originally premiered. I was intrigued by the suggestion, and immediately read all the published works of Burroughs. The dramatist in me responded best to the novel QUEER because it was the most linear of Burroughs’ books, and also because it was a tragic love story on many levels.

When James and William both agreed to let me adapt QUEER for the stage, they also gave me permission to look through and use carte blanche any of the unpublished correspondence during the time period of the novel (1949-1952) between William and his friends back in the United States, among them Allen Ginsberg. How can any playwright resist this offer? And so I looked through the letters in the filing cabinets in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, and the structure of the play began to emerge and evolve.

I showed big chunks of the play to William and James as I finished writing them, and they both seemed very pleased. After they read the first draft, the only suggestion I got by way of feedback from James was that I should cut some of the puns I had introduced into the text. James told me that, although William was a wordsmith and loved wordplay, he was not really a punster. And so I combed through the script and cut out most of the puns, this being perhaps the only time I’ll ever confess to being caught with my puns down.

Back in 1987, I wasn’t sure if calling the play QUEER, like the novel, would be a good move, even in a liberal town like Lawrence, KS.  However, back then in America, within the homosexual community, even with thousands of people dying of A.I.D.S., it was well known that many gay men continued to have unprotected sex in gay bathhouses and also in the dark backrooms of gay bars and xxx-rated movie houses. I tried to draw a parallel between Lee’s promiscuity in Mexico forty years earlier, with what was going on within the gay community in America in the late-1980s. And, of course, there was that lusty song, “The Boys in the Backroom,” which the gay icon Marlene Dietrich had sung in the movie DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. I thought the song was rousing and carousing, maybe even arousing in a different context, and that’s why I decided to call the play LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. In retrospect, maybe I should have had the guts to just call it QUEER, after the novel from which it had been adapted.

My friend Paul Hough was not available to direct this play. I did not think there was anyone else around who had the right “sensibility” for the material, so I decided to direct it myself for the Lawrence Community Theatre, May 8-12, 1987. Because William S. Burroughs is who he is, and also because James Grauerholz is a superb publicist, the production attracted a great deal of attention. I remember there being a great deal of talk about another production, Off or Off-Off Broadway in New York, but this never actually materialized.

James informed me later that I had never actually entered into a legal arrangement with William to adapt the novel and/or the letters, that there was no contract, that I had no right to pursue other productions of the play. Besides, he said, there were other “more important people” who were also interested in adapting the novel QUEER, not for the stage, but for the movies. Among the names he mentioned was David Bowie. But, to make matters worse, James dropped some hints that both he and William never really liked my play. Because of this, James and I stopped talking to each other for a long time. But we eventually made up before William died. We’ve never talked about the play again, and there has never been another production of LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. Nor has David Bowie (or anyone else) ever adapted QUEER for the movies. But this may still be forthcoming.

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

November 2nd, 2009

It has been a while since I’ve updated this section of the website.  The plan, originally, was to pay tribute properly to friends and colleagues who have contributed to my own personal growth, not only as a writer but also as a human being. The list seems to grow longer every time I wake up in the morning.  Sadly, there are just not enough hours in a day for me to write and share personal stories about each and every one of them, many of whom I continue to miss fiercely, some on a daily basis.

I hope to retire soon from teaching, and will have more time to devote to these absences in my life.  Meanwhile, I am naming this entry after Jim Erdahl’s favorite song from Les Miserables, his favorite musical, which I am glad we were able to see together on Broadway before he died.  My friends…my friendsI see them all, taking their places again, one by one, the way they did in years gone by, when there were no “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

My friends…my friendsReynaldo (Ronnie) Alejandro, Robert Anderson, Sam Anderson, Nobleza Asuncion-Lande, Lyndsay Boynton, William Burroughs, Mike Cherniss, Tony Cius, Dick Colyer, Jolico Cuadra, Jack Davidson, Jed Davis, Pio de Castro, Carolyn Doty, Victorio Edades, Carroll Edwards, Jim Erdahl, Bob Findlay, Jean Gagen, Elaine Goodman, Grant K. Goodman, James Gowen, Ed Grier, Chez Haehl, Dennis Helm, Bud Hirsch, William Inge, Ken Irby, Judith Joseph, Bob Kahle, Clay Kappelman, Nick Katigbak, Paul Kendall, Eartha Kitt, Mark Knapp, Clay Kappelman, Glenn Kappelman, Tom Klavercamp, Joseph Kuo, Mandy Labayen, Carl Lande, Chuck Lown, Arthur Miller, Kaye Miller, Fusa Moos, Jack Oruch, Jim Pearce, Terry Moore, Charlie Oldfather, Maura Theresa Brennan Piekalkiewicz, Shirley Rea, John Roderick, Ed Ruhe, Amby Saricks, William T. Scott, Jim Seaver, Ken Smith, Eunice Ebert-Stallworth, Ilse Steinhardt, Andrew Tsubaki, Anne Turner, Jane Van Meter, Grace Wan, Josh Waters, George Wedge, Max Whitson, Ron Willis, Theresa Windheuser, Ed Wolfe.

  • LIMITATIONS
  • Comments Off on Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Lee and the Boys in the Backroom: A Play Based on the Novel QUEER and the unpublished correspondence of WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS

July 24th, 2009

Requirements:  38 parts played by 8 M and 1F (Voice Only).  Additionally, Lee’s wife Jane and Allerton’s girlfriend Mary will be represented on stage not by live actors but by life-sized ragdolls.

Setting:  A bar, a bed-sitting room, a movie-house, and various streets in Mexico City, 1949-1952.

Plot:  Lee and his wife Jane are American expatriates living on the fringe in Mexico City.  Although Lee seems to have some affection for Jane, he is also unabashedly homosexual. He meets and falls desperately in love with Allerton, a young American who claims to be straight and who has a girlfriend named Mary.  Lee wines and dines Allerton, and ultimately seduces him with outlandishly comic and absurdist stories which we see dramatized; and also with the promise of hallucigenic drugs and mushrooms.  Because Jane and Mary are represented on stage by life-sized ragdolls with large eyes and pursed lips, they are aware at all times of what’s going on with these men in their lives, but they also remain essentially voice-less.  When the sexual liaison doesn’t work and Allerton finally leaves, Lee is devastated.  He sinks deep into an alcoholic abyss, and would not have recovered had there not been other friends around him who cared about his well-being.

Theme:  This is a play about sexual passion and yearning; about what we do to our loved ones while we  are pursuing other love interests, especially if the new objects of our affection are illusive and ultimately unattainable.

Notes:  Because of my friendship with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz (see my NAKED LUNCH entries in the LIMERANCES section of this website), it was only a matter of time before someone would suggest that I adapt something by Burroughs for the stage.  I forget now who made the initial suggestion.  It might have been James Grauerholz himself, or it might have been Mary Doveton, the artistic director of the Lawrence Community Theatre, where my plays CHAMBERS and FLESH, FLASH AND FRANK HARRIS had originally premiered. I was intrigued by the suggestion, and immediately read all the published works of Burroughs.  The dramatist in me responded best to the novel QUEER because it was the most linear of Burroughs’ books, and also because it was a tragic love story on many levels.

When James and William both agreed to let me adapt QUEER for the stage, they also gave me permission to look through and use carte blanche any of the unpublished correspondence during the time period of the novel (1949-1952) between William and his friends back in the United States, among them Allen Ginsberg.  How can playwright resist this offer?  And so I looked through the letters in the filing cabinets in Burroughs’ house in Lawrence, and the structure of the play began to emerge and evolve.

I showed big chunks of the play to William and James as I finished writing them, and they both seemed very pleased.  After they read the first draft, the only suggestion I got by way of feedback from James was that I should cut some of the puns I had introduced into the text.  James told me that, although William was a wordsmith and loved wordplay, he was not really a punster.  And so I combed through the script and cut out most of the puns, this being perhaps the only time I’ll ever confess to being caught with my puns down.

Back in 1987, I wasn’t sure if calling the play QUEER, like the novel, would be a good move, even in a liberal town like Lawrence, KS.  However, back then in America, within the homosexual community, even with thousands of people dying of A.I.D.S., it was well known that many gay men continued to have unprotected sex in gay bathhouses and also in the dark backrooms of gay bars and xxx-rated movie houses.  I tried to draw a parallel between Lee’s promiscuity in Mexico forty years earlier, with what was going on within the gay community in America in the late-1980s.  And, of course, there was that lusty song, “The Boys in the Backroom,” which the gay icon Marlene Dietrich had sung in the movie DESTRY RIDES AGAIN.  I thought the song was rousing and carousing, maybe even arousing in a different context, and that’s why I decided to call the play LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM.  In retrospect, maybe I should have had the guts to just call it QUEER, after the novel from which it had been adapted.

History:  My friend Paul Hough was not available to direct this play. I did not think there was anyone else around who had the right “sensibility” for the material, so I decided to direct it myself for the Lawrence Community Theatre, May 8-12, 1987.  Because William S. Burroughs is who he is, and also because James Grauerholz is a superb publicist, the production attracted a great deal of attention.  I remember there being a great deal of talk about another production, Off or Off-Off Broadway in New York, but this never actually materialized.  James informed me later that I had never actually entered into a legal arrangement with William to adapt the novel and/or the letters, that there was no contract, that I had no right to pursue other productions of the play.  Besides, he said, there were other people, more “important” people, who were also interested in adapting the novel QUEER, not for the stage, but for the movies. Among the names he mentioned was David Bowie.  But, to make matters worse, James dropped some hints that both he and William never really liked my play.  Because of this, James and I stopped talking to each other for a long time. But we eventually made up before William died.  We’ve never talked about the play again, and there has never been another production of LEE AND THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM. Nor has David Bowie (or anyone else) ever adapted QUEER for the movies.  But this may still be forthcoming.

Availability:  From the author, for reading purposes only.

Naked Lunch in Lawrence, Part One

June 26th, 2009

“Party Time in Academe.”  Reprinted from The Wayward Professor by Joel J. Gold.  Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1989.  Pp. 119-121.  The piece appeared originally in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

”…One of our most dashing graduate students, who had earlier rented a Chinese restaurant and ordered a special dinner for about half of the English faculty, now decided to give a ‘Naked Lunch’ party in honor of author William Burroughs, who was visiting the campus.  I do not recall seeing the guest of honor that night, but then I seem to have missed a number of other sights as well.

“We were welcomed at the door by our convivial host bearing a tray of pale drinks he informed us were Fallen Angels.  A sensible man would have put the glass right back on the tray after the first sip.  It carried an overwhelming taste of mothballs and was, I later learned, a deadly combination of four parts of gin to one part crème de menthe.

“The action was already lively when we began to move about.  Threading my way among animated students and professors clutching their Fallen Angels, I wandered into the room where masses of food, hot and cold, covered a long trestle table.  Amid the platters of spiced shrimps, hot cheese rolls, cherry tomatoes, clam dip, and hot meatballs was a long low centerpiece.  It took up most of the length of the table.

“Sipping warily at my Essence of Mothball, I nibbled my way down the table, maneuvering carefully past what might almost have been called the extended limbs of the centerpiece.  About halfway through the Swedish meatballs I became aware that the centerpiece did indeed have arms and legs:  it was clad in blue jeans, a white tee shirt, Adidas, and tan socks.  It was curled up on its side in a fetal position with its head resting against the bowl of fresh fruit.  Inspecting the head more closely, I discovered beneath a glaze like that on a breakfast doughnut the face of a young man.  Other guests were picking their way thoughtfully around the display and were discussing the possibility that the centerpiece was actually one of our undergraduate students.  The glazed expression seemed to confirm the hypothesis.

“By the time I had disposed of my third cheese roll and fourth spiced shrimp, I was positive the centerpiece was breathing.  As I dipped some raw cauliflower into the sour cream, the figure arose carefully from its cluttered bed and wandered off to the toilet.  It returned a few minutes later sans Adidas and socks.  All conversation ceased as it climbed onto the table, curled up comfortably among the hors d’oeuvres, and became comatose.  I decided to pass up a fifth shrimp in favor—God help me—of another Fallen Angel.  This one seemed to go down more easily, and I could at least assure myself that I was protecting my wool jacket from the inside.

“Out of the corner of my good eye (the other was beginning to fog over) I saw the Glazed Man walking past and then, a few moments later, returning to the place of honor, now without tee shirt.  The food, which had been disappearing from the table at a rapid rate, seemed to be lasting longer as professors and students alike were growing more timid about reaching for anything on that table.  I finished my third drink at about the time the centerpiece shed its blue jeans and resumed the fetal position clad only in a pair of flowered briefs.

“Even through the haze—internal and external—the symbolism broke through for all us befogged academics—Naked Lunch!  The next twenty minutes were going to be crucial.  I sloshed into a chair near the trestle table and sipped slowly while I peered intently at the stuffed mushrooms, the avocado dip, and the flowered briefs.  A sociable Milton specialist insisted on getting us each another Fallen Angel, singing loudly as he returned, of man’s first disobedience and the fruit.  We awaited the final unveiling.

“I blush to admit it, but I never saw the fig leaf drop.  I understand that it did, but by then I had been poured into the passenger seat of my automobile and unloaded gently on my doorstep.  My wife says I got myself to bed, but I recall no details.

“What I do remember vividly is just how sick I was.  All that night and all the next day I cursed those Fallen Angels with a ferocity that would have made Milton proud.  I added a few unkind words for my host as well.  When the epic hangover lasted until mid-afternoon two days later, I wrote him a curt note indicating my low opinion of a man who would poison his friends—to say nothing of his professors—under the guise of conviviality.  I did not mention the glazed centerpiece because I was no longer certain that I had actually seen it.

“Later, however, when my head and stomach had returned to their accustomed sizes and functions, and I no longer felt a compelling urge to accept the first offer of euthanasia I could find, I sought out others I thought I could recall at the party.  We shared our blurred and somewhat incoherent memories.  Evidently, it had all happened pretty much as I remembered.  There had been a young man couched among the plates of food.  He had risen occasionally to divest himself of some article of clothing.  There had been a final revelation—a naked lunch!

“In retrospect, now that I was no longer in fear of immediate dissolution, I felt rather proud of having been there.  It was like those fabulous parties Scott and Zelda used to give.  People are always interested when I tell them that I attended the famous Naked Lunch party, and they are fascinated when I describe the periodic disrobing of the glazed figure on the table.  In the retelling, I always stay to the end, and what my auditors like best is my detailed description of the shedding of the final garment.  I mention the huzzahs, the glasses being smashed, the young man hoisted on shoulders.  Envy clouds their faces, and they go away wishing they had been privileged to be a part of that wild party scene.

“I do believe I have learned how those novelists do it.”

  • LIMERANCES
  • Comments Off on Naked Lunch in Lawrence, Part One

Naked Lunch in Lawrence, Part Two

June 26th, 2009

I was riding high in 1977, coming off, as it were, from the “success” of my first play, Conpersonas.  Marshall Fine, the Arts Editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, had somehow convinced the editor that the local paper should cover the invitational performance of the K.U. production of the play at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  Marshall filed stories and photographs every day about what the cast and crew were doing that week in the nation’s capital, and so we were all minor celebrities upon our return to Lawrence.

At that time, I was living in Grant Goodman’s house at 934 Pamela Lane, house-sitting for him while he was off teaching in the Netherlands.  The house has five bedrooms, much too big for one person, so I took in a roommate.  Charlie Williams was a student at K.U., a short, stocky, blond, blue-eyed, sweet-tempered kid from Texas.  I don’t remember now how I met him, but he was a fun roommate, always ready for new adventures.

I also don’t remember now how I met James Grauerholz, most likely through the K.U. English Department, because James wrote poetry at that time.  In any case, James turned out to be a good friend of William Burroughs, and when I heard that Burroughs was coming to visit Lawrence, to check out the scene to see if this was a place he would eventually want to live in, I asked James if I could give an evening cocktail party for Burroughs.  James gave the go-ahead signal…and that’s how The Naked Lunch Party came into being.

I remember having formally invited 70-75 people to the event, mostly friends and colleagues from the English, Theatre, and History departments, and a sprinkling of other assorted cronies. But word got around that William Burroughs was going to be at the party, so there were lots of gatecrashers.  I have no idea how many people were actually in attendance, perhaps over a hundred.

Right from the beginning, because of the notoriety of the “novel” by Burroughs, I knew I wanted to have an attractive young man as a centerpiece on the buffet table.  Charlie Williams was willing to be the centerpiece, but I needed him to be the bartender.  When I found the recipe for a cocktail called “Fallen Angels” in the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, Charlie decided he wanted to dress up as a “fallen angel,” barefoot and bare-chested, with strap-on wings and a bowtie, looking like a beatific Chippendale outcast from heaven.

The food, as I recall, was mostly prepared by Mrs. Mildred Tryon, a devout Catholic housewife who lived at 1334 Pennsylvania in East Lawrence.  I never had any trouble finding her house, because she had a big statue of Our Lady of Fatima on her front lawn, arms outstretched in friendly greeting. Mrs. Tryon catered  many of my parties in the 70s and 80s , and people loved her fancy finger sandwiches, no doubt inspired by the BVM Herself.

Joel Gold in his humorous essay about the party, which first appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and later anthologized in his book The Wayward Professor, says he wasn’t sure if William Burroughs was actually at the party.  He was.  As a matter of fact, Burroughs and James Grauerholz were the first guests to arrive.  But when Burroughs learned that Marshall Fine of the Lawrence Journal-World was going to try to interview him at the party, he escaped to the backyard and stayed there for quite a while until he heard about the disrobing centerpiece on the buffet table inside the house.

As I recall, the disrobing centerpiece was a law student I had met at some other party, who said he would “do it” for $20 but only if he could wear some kind of a mask, so people wouldn’t recognize him, and only if no photographs were taken of him in the nude.  The “glazed look” on the boy, which Joel Gold describes in his essay, is actually a translucent mask which I bought for 99 cents from a store called Fun and Games in downtown Lawrence.  I later used the same sort of masks for the two models in the poster for my play Homerica.

Meanwhile, back at the party, the plan was for the centerpiece to start discarding various pieces of clothing, every half hour on the half hour, and that he would be THE NAKED LUNCH in his full frontal glory at the stroke of midnight.  This did, in fact, happen.  It was really quite funny, to see all the faculty wives gathered within spitting distance around the centerpiece as the bewitching hour approached.

Joel Gold was right about the “Fallen Angels” being absolutely lethal.  For anyone who’s interested, here’s the recipe that Charlie Williams was supposed to have used:

Juice of 1 Lime or ½ Lemon
1 ½ oz. Gin
I dash Bitters
½ tsp. Crème de Menthe (White)
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry

After the first couple of guests were served, I think Charlie abandoned the recipe altogether.  He had nearly a hundred people waiting impatiently to be served.  At one point, I saw him simply pouring everything unceremoniously into an old bucket, but no one seemed to mind…until the morning after.  Speaking of which, the morning after, I found three or four mismatched women’s shoes around the house and in the backyard.  I kept them around for a couple of months, dreaming of Barefoot Contessas, but no one called to claim them.

William Burroughs eventually moved to Lawrence in 1981.  He bought a house at 1100 E. 19th St., and lived there until he died in 1997.  Although William and I saw each other frequently in Lawrence in subsequent years, we never talked about  The Naked Lunch Party.  But James Grauerholz tells me the party helped to convince William that Lawrence might be a fun town to settle in.