William S. Burroughs, 830 Broadway, New York City, February 7, 1984
I came home to 830 one afternoon in early February 1984 and found an older gentleman, wearing a three piece suit, sitting on a small chair in a narrow hallway writing in one of my books. It was William S. Burroughs, and for the next half hour so he carefully took a book off the shelf, wrote something in it, returned the book and then took another.
Later when I had a moment to look, I discovered he’d written something in all his books on my shelf, beginning with Junky, his first, and ending with The Place of Dead Roads, which had been published in 1983. Later, he signed many others as they were issued. Most just had a name and a date, but others had more. These are some of the things he wrote:
For Hank O’Neal, A perfect host; all the best for now and always; with best wishes dating back many years, with memories of hospitality and all best wishes; an amigo and a Johnson; all best wishes from The Wild Boys; all best wishes from The Dutchman; all best wishes from the Old man of the Mountain; with memories of East St. Louis and all the old times; may you reach the Western Lands; greetings from Kansas; and many more variations of the same thoughts of appreciation and good times. Over the years he signed about sixty books and booklets.
In late 1983, Allen Ginsberg told me William was coming to town to celebrate his 70th birthday and did I know of an inexpensive place he and some of his friends might stay. I suggested it wouldn’t be a problem to turn over 830 to William and I’d stay with Shelley on 84th Street. William arrived and took over the place on February 4th and remained in residence until the 11th. In between there were many adventures, hundreds of photographs, great conversations and many new acquaintances.
William liked guns and one afternoon we were talking about this and I told him I had a pellet gun that looked just like a 45. He had to see it and when he did he liked what he saw. We then set up an improvised shooting range in the large studio room and proceeded to demolish a bunch of 12” dance singles. William was particularly enthusiastic about shooting at a record by a group called 3 Teens Kill 4 and I have photographs of him shooting and reloading to prove it.
One afternoon was scheduled for a formal portrait with the big camera and about halfway into it, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky popped in. This led to a series of additional pictures with Allen and William together, as well as all three men sitting together. Towards the end of the session Allen and William were sitting side by side and Allen reached out and took William’s hand. It was a very nice moment and made for a wonderful photograph that has been very popular.
The evenings were filled with parties and celebrations at hot spots long gone. Who remembers Limelight, which is now a peculiar shopping mall or Danceteria? There were readings at B. Dalton, also long gone, and other bookstores, probably also long gone. But at seventy, William was as busy and spry as ever, eager to be the center of adulation. The Limelight gathering was quite elaborate. It was the official birthday party and was jammed with all the music and literary world celebrities, as well as social climbers and fans, one would expect at such a gathering. Various fire laws were, if not broken, under serious siege all night. James Grauerholz, who had been tending to Williams needs for many years and continues to do so, was probably glad to get him back to 830 where he could recoup for another day of celebrations.
The week ended quietly. I returned to 830 and found it tidy, with a note of thanks from William and James. We stayed in touch, but mostly by mail; Lawrence, Kansas was a long way away. The pellet gun was never fired again in New York City and now is hidden away in Pennsylvania. In 2007, when Goodie Magazine sponsored a gathering to celebrate the issue that featured me it was at a place on the LES run by Hattie Hathaway, a prominent member of 3 Teens Kill 4. I apologized for shooting up his record.
William eventually ran out of gas in 1997. I was in Europe, on my way to the Oslo Jazz Festival when I learned of his death. He died on August 2nd, but I was traveling and learned of it Gatwick Airport in the UK on the 4th. I was waiting for a connection to Oslo and bought a copy of The Times. The entire top half of the newspaper was devoted to a color photograph of Queen Mum, wearing a bright yellow dress and a handsome hat, ready for her day of birthday celebrations. Directly underneath the photograph of Queen Mum was another headline announcing William’s death. It was a complimentary piece but the headline was a bit scandalous and quite a contrast to the beatific vision of Queen Mum. But I think William would have been pleased to be remembered on the front page, underneath a picture of the feisty 87-year-old queen.
William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, 830 Broadway, New York City, February 9, 1984