Eight - Letter from James to Pedro
Addendum to the brief synopsis of
the most vital of the Marquess of Queensberry's rules governing
upstaging in a musical:
7. Unzipping your trousers and then
playing with the zipper while other actors have scripted dialogue
does constitute upstaging and can justifiably be met with derision
during the performance and physical punishment afterwards.
Just finished the Burroughs letters
through 1959. Maybe I've just had a very sheltered education, or
maybe I never studied the Beats very closely, but all these years I
managed to avoid knowing that they were all fucking each other. I
knew a little bit about Allen Ginsberg's sex life from Jim Carroll
("The Poet and the Vibrator" in Forced Entries) but of the
trysts and counter-trysts between Burroughs, Ginsberg, Neal Cassady,
Jack Kerouac and many other notable figures I knew nothing until
this latest book. I guess now I feel much more educated, if a little
Another interesting thing about
this discovery of mine is that to a certain extent their wives, when
they had them, didn't seem to mind too much. I guess toward the end
of the 50s Kerouac married a woman who felt the need to reform his
ambisexual ways, but Burroughs wife Joan actually seems from the
evidence to have rather enjoyed his philandering with boys, at least
until he accidentally killed her with a bullet in the forehead.
Those crazy Beatniks and their escapades.
Now I've moved a few more years
into the past to read a series of letters Henry Miller wrote to a
somewhat obscure novelist called Michael Fraenkel. Only Miller's
half of the correspondence is included, and it is fascinating, but I
have to insert a little book review here: the work seems to have not
been edited. Ostensibly it has been edited by someone called Michael
Hargraves, but the introduction by Mr. Hargraves is itself
desperately in need of editorial help.
Now let me emphasize that I'm
grateful to Mr. Hargraves for his work in publishing this volume,
but it's embarrassing to have the editor's comments be so full of
obvious errors. The publisher is Capra Press in Santa Barbara, and I
would certainly have expected them to review what they were putting
out a little more carefully.
Furthermore, although nobody
expects or even necessarily wants letters to be free from mistakes,
in light of the condition of the "Editor's Foreword" and
the absence of any [sic] markings, one doesn't know whether the
errors in the letters themselves are attributable to Miller or the
people who are reprinting him.
I'll confine myself to one example,
just so nobody who might read this letter thinks I am being unfair.
The following sentence appears in the editor's foreword. I include
the preceding sentence for clarity. "In a most profound letter,
Miller expounds on his theory of color. It is an amazing letter, one
in which truly impressed Fraenkel resulting with a glowing positive
For God's sake, even my computer
recognizes that construction to be nonsensical. It sounds like
different structures from two drafts were combined randomly by
someone who didn't speak English. And let me hasten to add, this is
not an isolated incident. End of critical book review.
I love reading Henry Miller, though
I seldom live in a way he would approve of. I'm more likely to
recite a mantra for the soothing power of the consciously evolved
Sanskrit than I am to actively give vent to my feelings, though the
passive aggressive outlets like publishing lists of violations in
obscure on-line literary journals do have their satisfactions. I'm
not sure that would have qualified in Miller's world as taking
I may never recover from the
comment, I think in Tropic of Cancer, that characterizes artists as
people who stand in the middle of a crowded square and rip out their
own entrails. I can't imagine a more inspiring definition.
I'm listening to Jerry Garcia
singing "Peggy-O" in a Dead show from 1977. For some
reason as I read that over it sounds a little surreal, but with a
strong promise of being a superlative experience, and, in fact, it
is. The sun has come up over the elementary school across the way.
There's the black shepherd with his ball and chain, still holding
out for the animal. There isn't a gecko, in the shape of an upside
down question mark. Almost time to head out for two Sunday shows.
Then two days off , the second of which just happens to be Fat
Tuesday. I'll see whether I can't find some trouble to make Henry
Miller proud, wherever he is. Until then....