Thursday, March 20, 2014

Two Turn Tables and A Half-Read Book

When I pulled this off the shelf to take the photo, I was stunned to see I got better than halfway through it.

The summer of 1996 was a formative one.

I was an intern writing features at the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, a city far bigger than the one where I grew up, working with people far smarter and more creative than I was, and those people listened to cool music.

I was learning more and writing more than anything three years of college had taught me, plus I met a cute weird boy who I would go on to date for several years.

Fountains of Wayne's Radiation Vibe was always on the indie radio station and Beck's Odelay was always in my CD player. I didn't have cable in my short-lease studio apartment, but I'd watch the Atlanta Summer Games on the newsroom TV.

The entire experience was transformative, like drinking from a firehose. But I loved it. 

I was also reading Naked Lunch that summer. Or rather, I was trying to.

I remember one of my friends/coworkers left me a message on my answering machine (it was 1996, after all) telling me:

'You're never going to finish Naked Lunch so just forget about it. It's too much, too weedy. We're going to The Emporium, all of us, to check out the scene. If there's no scene, we'll be our own scene. See you there.'

I was at once delighted I was invited to be part of the 'scene,' but also stunned. How could he say I was never going to finish Naked Lunch? I mean, other than the fact that it is impenetrable, how could he say that?

I was reminded of my storied history with Burroughs' seminal novel last weekend when I read a review of the new book Call Me Burroughs, by Barry Miles. 

From the review:

Miles charts in detail how dependent this singular iconoclast was on the inspiration and editorial skills of his friends. Without Allen Ginsberg, who spent 10 weeks establishing some kind of order on the pages of “Naked Lunch,” scattered around the floor of Burroughs’s room in Tangier… we wouldn’t have any of his major works in their present form. Though the first and last drafts were always his, collaboration rescued Burroughs from the terrors and falsities of single authorship, giving him access to kindred minds with different resources. He knew they made his work, as Ginsberg put it, more “decipherable.”

I was staggered to read that Ginsberg spent 10 weeks putting order to the book. I can't fathom what it would have read like without that influence, nor can I fathom spending 10 weeks in the vain exercise of reading Naked Lunch as a 'draft.'

Ginsberg, you poor bastard.

I can't say for certain but I'm pretty sure I went to The Emporium that night with my coworkers. I can say for certain that I never finished Naked Lunch that summer… because I still haven't finished Naked Lunch.

I've moved that book from Fort Wayne to Virginia to Ohio and to probably 10 apartments in Cincinnati. I will never part with it.

I will never likely finish it either. It is a bright yellow, bound reminder of a great summer.

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