To William S. Burroughs

August 3, 1997

I just heard the news that Burroughs died. I was about to start creating a page with all the pertinent details and facts, but then I realized that news sites like CNN are already doing this, as well as a number of excellent independently maintained sites, like Malcolm’s, Luke’s and Critter’s.

So rather than rehash the news, I’d rather say something personal about the man who just died. But I feel somehow at a loss for words. William S. Burroughs was a porcupine-skinned writer, not always easy to like. Sometimes l liked him a lot, sometimes I didn’t. Ultimately, though, I believe there was more kindness and compassion inside this complicated writer’s soul than he ever let show through.

If I had to pick a favorite thing he ever wrote, it might be this exquisitely executed excerpt from ‘Naked Lunch’. But actually I think it’d be an essay I found reprinted in his book ‘The Adding Machine,’ called ‘My Own Business,’ in which he explains the principles he lived by. Here’s the beginning of the essay. I admire these words like crazy.

From My Own Business

By William S. Burroughs

Brion Gysin, Stewart Gordon, and I were sitting in front of a little Spanish cafe in Tangier when this middle-aged Spaniard walked by, and we all gasped: ‘My God, that’s a harmless-looking person!’ I’d noticed him around town, and spotted him as a real which is nothing special, just minds his own business of staying alive and thinks that what other people do is other people’s business.

The old hop-smoking rod-riding underworld has a name for it: ‘a member of the Johnson family.’ Wouldn’t rush to the law if he smelled hop in the hall, doesn’t care what fags in the back room are doing, stands by his word. Good man to do business with. They are found in all walks of life. The cop who slipped me a joint in a New Orleans jail, for instance. Or when I was pushing junk in New York back in 1948, the hotel clerk who stopped me in the lobby: ‘I don’t know how to say this, but there is something wrong about the people who come to your room.’ (Something wrong is putting it softly; ratty junkies with no socks, dressed in three boosted suits puffing out, carrying radios torn from the living car, trailing wires like entrails. ‘This isn’t a hock shop!’ I scream. ‘Get this shit out of here!’ Regaining my composure I say severely, ‘You are lowering the entire tone of my establishment.) ‘So I just wanted to warn you to be careful and tell those people to watch what they say over the phone … if someone else had been at the switchboard …’

And a hotel clerk in Tunis; I handed him some money to put in the safe. He put the money away and looked at me: ‘You do not need a receipt Monsieur.’ I looked at him and saw that he was a Johnson, and knew that I didn’t need a receipt.

Yes, this world would be a pretty easy and pleasant place to live in if everybody could just mind his own business and let others do the same. But a wise old black faggot said to me years ago: ‘Some people are shits, darling.’ I was never able to forget it.

Mexican druggist throwing a script back at me: ‘We do not serve dope fiends.’ It’s like Mr. Anslinger said: ‘The laws must express society’s disapproval of the addict.’

Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has …


Place of death: Lawrence, Kansas

Time of death: 6:50 pm, August 2, 1997
Cause of death: Heart attack, approximately one day before his death

My Burroughs Page
Ron Whitehead’s Interview With Burroughs
Malcolm Humes’ InterNetWebZone
Luke Kelly’s Burroughs Site
WSB at Chris Ritter’s Bohemian Ink
R.U. Sirius’s article at Wired
Steve Silberman’s article at Wired
WSB at The Mining Company

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