William Borroughs with a gun

Yesterday our ethnic public broadcaster showed a doco about WB. In the 1970’s I was immensely impressed by the forces of irrationality: existentialism, surrealism, concrete poetry, the cut-up method. WB was up there alongside Allen Ginsberg, as he was in the doco & in real life, both out gays, pillars of the counter culture. I watched a series of younger stars of rock culture align themselves with the great man in public, as you would on yr upward climb to fame. Then WB’s crime began to be examined.

Firstly, having read the amazing Wild Boys, for me WB could do no wrong. In real time however, he was both married to a woman and living with a younger male lover; also he was a heroin addict and fiercely critical of the death penalty in the USA. So, as lovers often do, the three of them got bored one day & decided to play William Tell, getting the wife to put a glass of gin on her head, at which WB then aimed & fired. He missed the glass but killed her instantly; he then fled the country to Morocco.

In the years that followed the US legal system seemed to fall asleep over his murdering his wife, and he returned home, lauded by such kooks as Pattie Smith, Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth etc. He aligned himself culturally with punk culture, punk originally being the prison slang for a tough buck’s bum boy. The doco exhausted me, not least because my USB malfunctioned & only copied the first part of the doco. I went to bed to recover & found myself singing Jimmy Hendrix’s Hey Joe, about a jealous lover who shoots his unfaithful partner, then flees to Mexico, “where I can be free”. Until yesterday, I neglected to discern the absurdity of that affirmation; it made the crime & the escape positive events, not a moment of emotional chaos followed by childish escape. WB followed exactly that path.

There are people who assert their right to bear arms, to flourish their guns, to practise on the range? As a kid I joined my bro in using a 22 & 303 in the bush; I hated it, the savage recoil of the rifle butt into yr shoulder was so painfully unpleasant. When the joy of gun ownership is combined with inadequate control of one’s emotions, then things really do become pear shaped. And who among us can say we completely control our feelings?

At least when Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones released a song about “I like to carry guns because they scare people” or crappy words to that effect he had the grace to sing the words with a shit-eating grin; it was the cheesiness of rock business he was about: who could take it seriously?

An argument that the US gun lobby is simply not mature enough to address is how many deaths occur from a lethal weapon being readily to hand. Opportunity is recognised as a major component of crime and fatality. So much so, I believe there has been a major public discussion in the UK about banning the sale of pointed knives, when blunt tipped serrated knives can cut as easily but do not become ready, lethal weapons should the notoriously volatile atmosphere of the kitchen turn ugly.

I have not known many heroin addicts in my time; those I came across would not have wasted much effort resolving the contradiction of condemning the US death penalty while enjoying the personal use of guns. For a major cultural figure like WB, should one consign the disjunct to his schizo cut-up method? It is certainly not consistent, logical, or mature. Or have I just grown up a little, lately?


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
This entry was posted in cut up method, death penalty, right to bear arms, William Borroughs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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