I picked up the phone the moment it rang. It was Ira Cohen calling from New York. And (unusual for him back in those late-80s days before all my money went down the drain) not reversing the charges. Didn’t even bother saying hello or anything, instead went straight for the jugular.
“Thank God it’s not you!”
“What’s not me?” I asked.
“You’re not. You’re not Eddie Woods. Had me worried for a moment.”
Since I am Eddie Woods, and had already been close friends (yeah, we’ll go with that, never mind that we’ve had more fallings-out than Carter has liver pills)…had been all too well acquainted with Ira for more than a decade, you can perhaps appreciate my confusion.
“It’s another Eddie Woods,” Ira replied.
By then I was detecting relief in his voice. Yet still decided to risk turning the anti-conversation we were having into even more of an Abbott & Costello routine.
“Who is, Ira?” I said calmly. “And what the fuck are you talking about anyway?”
He explained. Ira fashion. Which is to say, speaking even more rapidly than I often do. Employing those sonorous Ira tones that help project him as either the natural raconteur he is or a headache in the making (i.e. yours), depending on whether his purpose is to uplift-cum-educate you or launch a verbal assault. He’s a past master at both, and those who have seen but one side of his personality coin are missing out on experiencing the complete Ira. It’s kaleidoscopic, to say the least. As are his unique photographs and frequently exquisite poems.
Anyway, the Ted Morgan bio, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs, had just appeared. And of course the first thing Ira did after obtaining a copy (I’ve no idea how; though in the old days before bar codes and gotcha’ alarms at the door, Ira invariably wore a very long and loose-fitting overcoat fitted with numerous deep pockets when going, you know, ‘book shopping’)…his immediate instinct was to swoop to the index and find his name. Five separate page references; not too bad. Then leaf through the rest of the section to see who else might be there. And more urgently, how many times.
‘What?! Woods, Eddie four times plus an extra double? Him six to my five; how can that be? I introduced them, didn’t I?’ (Sure you did, Ira, same as you introduced me to my own mother.) Whoosh, quickly flip to each of those pages and find out why. Ahhh, salvation.
“So that’s that, it’s not you,” a now utterly secure in his own skin & image Ira continued; “it’s some other Eddie Woods, one of the two witnesses to the Joan shooting down in Mexico. Did William ever mention him to you?”
No, William hadn’t.
“Funny, eh?” mused Ira. “You sort of think he would have. But forget that, it’s not you.”
Always good for a pat on your ego, is Ira!
So was this Eddie Woods, the present-party Eddie Woods, in there? He wasn’t and isn’t. No real reason to be, especially considering the biography’s timeframe. Not to mention that Ted M. didn’t then and still doesn’t know me from Adam. Yo, a double bonus for my ol’ buddy Ice Cream Cohen. And hey, no big deal. Same as William, I too can sometimes be an hombre invisible.
Soon enough any number of people began mistaking me for this ‘other Eddie Woods.’ Even to the point of insisting I was him, despite my protestations to the contrary. Including: I only met William Burroughs in the flesh in 1978; didn’t get to start knowing him till a year later (to begin with during a long leisurely Amsterdam stroll, just he and I, that found us discussing all manner of things…from guns to his son Billy and Trungpa Rinpoche to the price of smack and such); that with the single exception of an afternoon foray into Nogales in the mid-1970s, I’d never been to Mexico, and certainly wasn’t there getting involved in weird-ass gun deals with Bill Burroughs when I was only 11 years old!
Still, people believe what they want to believe. And that they were choosing to believe this somewhat reminded me of the ‘Akbar del Piombo affair,’ as I like to think of it. How readers of high-quality ‘naughty books’ became convinced that Akbar was a pseudonym for William Burroughs. This thanks to Maurice Girodias, whose occasionally shady business acumen led him to adorn the credits page of the first Olympia Press edition of Cosimo’s Wife (“the best porn novel ever,” according to Ira Cohen; and he’s right!) with a listing of ‘Other works by William S. Burroughs.’ In 1980, in New York, the real author, the writer and dada-absurdist collage artist Norman Rubington, told me the whole story and asked if I couldn’t please do something, anything, to finally set the record straight. As well as passing the word, so to speak, I also managed to get a horse’s-mouth handwritten ‘certification’ from the main man himself, when some years later William inscribed my copy of Cosimo thus: I am not nor was ever meant to be Akbar del Piombo. Norman did it! Inscribed the book using a Bic pen, the kind William rather adamantly preferred. Case closed, for posterity.
(Ah, that copy of Cosimo ought to be in my archive at Stanford University, in the Norman Rubington/Akbar del Piombo file. But I’m afraid it’s one of the few thousand volumes ‘I ate’ after going broke. Sold it to the same second-hand bookshop that also got (for a pittance) my triple-signed first edition of Minutes to Go, a particularly precious gem that when I last checked on the internet was going for a mere—wait for it—33,000+ dollars! Tja, win some, lose some.)
Back to Eddie Woods. I could’ve written William to ask… But ask what? That he interrupt his more important endeavors (his painting, his writing, his meditations) in order to indulge my more or less idle curiosity concerning a recently-discovered older namesake? Naw, stuff like that is best saved for one-on-one chatting about. And lo and behold, precisely such an opportunity knocked, grandly so, in September of 1993. When as part of a long and immensely entertaining William Burroughs Tribute evening at Amsterdam’s premier multi-media center, de Melkweg (or Milky Way), Udo Breger and I spoke directly with William via a special telephone hookup with Lawrence, Kansas. An exchange everyone in the audience could hear; and that for years afterwards others might listen to, compliments of the video recording that was made of the entire event.
No, it’s not you (came the reply to my having inquired whether William could maybe elaborate a bit on this chap so many people were convinced was me). Blond. Short, not so short, about 5-8; kind of muscular. Nice guy. He liked to talk, liked to argue, but he was never violent. Grey eyes. He’s still alive, think he’s in California somewhere. Yes, I saw quite a lot of him. Matter laid to rest, permanently. Now the only remaining Eddie Woodses I need to distance myself from, Google and Wikipedia-wise, are this horse trainer dude in Florida, some song lyricist whom I’m beginning to suspect of having purloined my name; and above all the movie actor whose career pretty much nose-dived after James Cagney was made to swap roles with him in the classic 1931 gangster film The Public Enemy. Oy, that other EW, the one without an s at the end of his surname, the world’s worst-ever director, immortalized by Johnny Depp in the film Ed Wood…he ain’t me either!
The William anecdotes can go on and on. Some I’ve written about, others I eventually will. Enshallah. Like the time William broke up what looked to be heading for a fist fight between me and my gopher Tom, out in the street in front of the old Ins & Outs building, just as William was leaving after having visited for several hours. Now there, boys, no need to get all hot under the collar. Go back inside and cool down, he said, while stepping between and physically separating us. Or some minutes earlier when one of my dearer lady friends, Corry, seeing that William was having difficulty donning his outdoor wraps (it really had been a long afternoon and evening), went over to him saying: “That’s not the way to get a coat on.” And then proceeded to first take Bill apart and then put him back together. A gentle act for which he was clearly grateful. And a fleeting occurrence that those who are under the mistaken impression that William S. Burroughs was a misogynist would do well to bear in mind.
William signed and inscribed a lot of books that day, among them one (I forget which) to my cuddly stuffed animal (soft toys, the British call them) with the deerstalker cap and magnifying glass: To Bearlock Holmes, who sees all and knows something. William Burroughs.
“My, but is Bill ever a signing fool today,” joked James Grauerholz. Either before or after setting a mirror (or more probably a giant slab of agate) embellished with lines of coke in front of him.
What’s this? asked William.
“Uptown,” James replied.
William shook his head. With which I handed a small wad of cash to gopher Tom and sent him out to score some…’downtown.’
Tom. The only person in the room (my office, actually), and there were a dozen or so of us there, who couldn’t get beyond addressing William as Mr. Burroughs.
“Mr. Burroughs,” queried Tom, half kneeling beside the chair Bill was seated in, “have you ever been to prison?”
‘Huh?’ I thought, overhearing what was bound to be an intriguing albeit exceptionally short-lived tête-à-tête.
Yes, William responded.
“For what?” said Tom innocently (some achievement, come to think of it; for a former wartime soldier and ex-live show performer), thereby sticking his head all the way into the lion’s jaw.
So there you have slices of the up close and personal William I came to know. And then we have Burroughs the writer, the one everyone should know. If they know what’s good for them, that is. Did I, as Ira Cohen claims to have done, read Naked Lunch seven times and then go back for more? No. Twice plus the Cronenberg film did the trick for me. While it’s no secret (to those with whom I’ve discussed William’s books) that I lean toward the straighter writings as opposed to the cut-ups. With Junkie and Queer being especial favorites. That said, I have nonetheless been influenced to some extent by the concept of cut-up. After my own fashion. And it’s an example of this with which I should like to close. A ‘mind cut-up.’ Composed years ago in collaboration with the Australian writer & musician Gideon Chalmers and…you guessed, Ira Cohen. It ran as an editorial in the second issue of Ins & Outs magazine and is entitled Top Secret.
It is a widely held misconception that there are such things as facts. This vicious rumor has been perpetrated by the mechanical saints, winged messengers of the Wiesbaden Computer. The purpose of this disquisition, entertainment aside, is to provide an alternative set of variables. Witness Vermeer and his utilization of magnetic tape, glowworm of the Sun King. Witness again Rembrandt and his own critical involvement with the Wiesbaden Computer.
Armies of the night are on the move, searching for a final resting place.
Shadowed by the Taunus Mountains, neo-Nazi demonstrators—recruited from the ranks of unemployed bit actors—assemble in dawn light before the main programming complex in Wiesbaden, demanding that no machine, armed or unarmed, have the right to purchase property. GASTARBEITERS DEMAND MORE MUSHROOMS AND PERMANENT VIDEO CONSOLATION.
Meanwhile, several hundred miles to the south, an artificial tapeworm disguised as Danny La Rue drives at breakneck speed to deliver flowers for Aldo Moro’s empty module container. In such circumstances a superior man will hesitate before performing miracles over the telephone. After all, it might well be bugged.
Now let us look at the anti-facts. Two unidentified individuals, clairvoyantly sighted on the road to Wiesbaden carrying time-bound modulators on their arched backs, are in fact deserters from the Limelight script. Proof of this, as well as other premonitions, is slowly crystallizing in the bleeding memory bank, a martyred mirage of the relevant time sequence. Insert Rembrandt and the Wiesbaden Computer, module two.
Immediately upon receiving this information, the liquid perceptions of our assigned investigators (agents Chalmers, Cohen and Woods) were attracted to an image of the fleeing comedians, Messrs. Chaplin and Hitler. According to the fundamental reality of the paranoid state, the proposed belief system was instantly brought into action as an essential counter-defense maneuver to the lobotomized condition in which Europe now finds itself. What is needed, however, is more than a new set of proposals. A new dignity is required, as well. This, then, is a schedule for an act of mercy.
Predawn procedure. Warm-up motor of an imaginary vehicle running at 12,000 revs per cosmic second. Blue flashing relays of the outcast overmind arrive to restore the peace. The awaited signal for the Autobahn Ballet. A little fear goes a long way.
And now, with but 21 years remaining until the Nostradamus debacle, we can do no better (and certainly no worse) than to advise you in the incorruptible words of the mild-mannered guru of Igatpuri: Having meditated quietly from the base of your own mind, please…take rest, take rest, take rest.
Written for and delivered at the William Burroughs conference Naked Lunch©50, Paris, July 2009