Call Me Burroughs
I have been working on the research for Call Me Burroughs, an authorized biography of William S. Burroughs for some time now. The idea is to publish it on February 5, 2014, the 100th anniversary of Bill’s birth. The authorized biography was originally commissioned by Grove Press in New York in 1999 from James Grauerholz, the man who knows more about Burroughs than anyone else on earth. He was Bill’s friend and confident for 23 years, he was Bill’s adopted son and now, after Bill’s death is his heir and the executor of his estate. James did a phenomenal amount of research, and wrote a number of research papers that I have drawn heavily upon, including Burroughs in Chicago – the wartime period – The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs, an almost book-length study, looking at every scrap of detail and reporting on all and every angle. He also wrote another carefully researched study of Bill’s childhood in St. Louis and his family background.
Paris, Summer 2009
On several occasions in the course of writing Call Me Burroughs I went to Paris on other business. Naturally I used the time to revisit the streets and alleys of the Left Bank. I know the area pretty well, in fact it is the only area of Paris that I know well. I first went there in 1963 with Sue Miles, my friend Kipps and his wife Chris. We flew, and had terrible trouble making ourselves understood as none of us spoke French and in those days the French spoke no English. I think Sue was best at it because she had spent a summer there with two American girlfriends back in 1960 in a student exchange when she was at the American School. When we started Indica, John Dunbar and I went over and stayed at the Hotel de Seine on the rue de Seine: John was arranging to exhibit pictures from the Denise Rene Gallery and I was arranging to buy the remaining stock of Gaït Frogé’s English Bookshop on the rue de Seine which we used to bulk out the stock of Indica Books. As this was where Minutes To Go was published and Burroughs’ first spoken word album, Call Me Burroughs was recorded and released, it was a nice continuation to have her stock, some of which had come from Sylvia Beach’s legendary pre-war bookshop Shakespeare and Co.. (Just as it was great that the staff of Indica later went on to become the first staff members of Compendium Books in Camden Town, continuing the lineage.)
Though we were only just beginning to discuss the idea of me collaborating with James Grauerholz on his Burroughs biography, I used the occasion of the NL@50 conference in Paris to have a really close look at what remained of Bill’s traces there. I had stayed at the Beat Hotel, in its new guise as the Hotel de Vieux Paris, when I was in Paris publicizing the French edition of my Paul McCartney biography in 2004, so I knew the extraordinary way in which the building has been ‘modernised’ and had seen its terrifying wallpaper. Now, however, a plaque was to be unveiled on the front. It was a really hot day and most people were in their shirtsleeves (it was a mostly male occasion). The rue Git le Coeur was closed to traffic and we all gathered outside the hotel drinking champagne, waiting for the owner, a rather bemused looking woman of a certain age, and Jean-Jacques Lebel, who was enjoying every minute, to reveal the plaque. They both tugged at the white sheet but it stuck and for a moment looked like it might pull the plaque down with it as gave an extra hard tug. Rather than just Burroughs, the plaque commemorated all the writers who lived there: Brion Gysin, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Ian Sommerville and William S. Burroughs, stating that this was where, ‘W. Burroughs y acheva le festin nu (1959).’ Unfortunately it missed out the American crime noir writer, Chester Himes, who had lived there before it was discovered by the Beats, but like them had found it to be refuge. For the Beats it was a bohemian enclave, where homosexuality and free love were not frowned upon and where the landlady, in all likelihood, knew nothing about drugs. For Himes, it was one of the few places where a Black man could live easily with a younger white girl.
The conference, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Naked Lunch by Olympia Press in Paris in 1959, attracted Burroughs scholars from all over: Jed Birmingham – from the magnificent Burroughs website Reality Studio – and his wife were there from Baltimore; Udo Breger from Basel; Carl Weissner from Mannheim; Frank Rhynne from Dublin and so on. The conference was held at the University of London Institute in Paris on rue de Constantine in the 7th, just about walking distance from the Beat Hotel. I was staying in a friend’s apartment way over in Belleville and so got to know the bus route quite well. Sadly this was the last time I would ever see Carl Weissner who died in January 2012, but fortunately we did have time for several long conversations. Udo and I dined together a couple of times and another night a group of us including Jed and his wife went to a more touristy restaurant. Jean-Jacques Lebel was, of course, the star of the show. J-J had known the Beat Hotel and had been around during the whole period that the Beats lived in Paris whereas most of us were latecomers. It was J-J, for instance, who introduced Burroughs, Ginsberg and Corso to both Duchamp and to Henri Michaux. He arranged for Ginsberg to meet Breton, but when Breton sent him a postcard arranging the time, Allen couldn’t understand the French and missed the appointment. As Kaddish is profoundly influenced by Breton’s poetry this would have been an important meeting. They never met as Allen left town shortly afterwards. I have never understood why Allen lived so long in Paris without making an effort to meet Sartre, de Beauvoir, Beckett, the Existentialists and the Surrealists. It was only when he was about to return to New York that he began frantically rushing around, meeting Celine (with Burroughs) and all the people that J-J knew. For pictures of the conference, see the Gallery section of this site.
Physically the streets surrounding the Beat Hotel have not changed much; the area is protected, but the narrow medieval lanes have all been tarted up. In the sixties and seventies the area was filled with cheap hotels – I had a dozen in my address book – and it never took long to find a place if you arrived with no prior arrangements. Now the small shops and cheap restaurants have given way to designer clothes shops and the cheap hotels have all gone and even the Hotel de Seine is Euro 150 or more a night. It is still possible to find virtually all of the sites of the famous 1959 Brion Gysin – Ian Sommerville photographs of Burroughs in Paris: one can still stand on the Pont des Arts and look up the river as Burroughs once did, now rebuilt after a boat hit it (it’s covered with small padlocks, left by lovers, thousands of them.); the front door of the Institut de France which houses the Academie Française has not changed since Burroughs posed in front of it; the corner of the rue Git le Coeur where he and Maurice Girodias were photographed is untouched; the front door of the Beat Hotel is changed, but the building remains; the Palette, where Bill sat and stared at the camera is still there. I have never found the site where Bill posed in front of a clochard, and the building site where the ‘Danger’ series was shot remains a mystery (the columns are not those of the Odeon, after all.) As for his other haunts: the Mistral, now called Shakespeare & Co, remains in business, now run by George Whiteman’s daughter, Sylvia; Gaït Frogé’s English Bookshop on the rue de Seine closed in 1965 and the building now houses a rather good art gallery; the market on the rue de Buci still operates and there are still very cheap cafes on the rue de la Huchette. Though it has been more than half a century since Burroughs lived here, it is easy to imagine the streets as they were then, particularly around the rue St-Séverin where Girodias had his ill-fated restaurant and the rue Git le Coeur, which remains, for the most part, shabby as ever.
I was in Chicago in 1999 for a Beatlefest conference and James drove over from Kansas, some distance, to see me. I was staying at a huge hotel out by the airport, along with Gordon Waller and Georgie (Georgiana), Astrid Kirchher and other Beatles-related folks. The Beatlefest was amusing: some very good Beatles tribute bands playing songs, such as Sgt Pepper, that the Beatles themselves never played live. It was a bit un-canny at times, some of the groups were so good. In the end, I didn’t want to hang around for days talking about the Beatles, James and myself, Gordon and Georgie spent a fair amount of time drinking together. James found the stories about London in the sixties – which was the last time I’d spent any time with Gordon – quite amusing (at least I hope he did). When I wasn’t on stage reminiscing about Beatles recording sessions or sitting at a desk signing copies of my Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now book, James and I scouted Chicago for traces of Burroughs.
James was just starting his biography and we first tried to find A. J. Cohen Exterminators. Burroughs said it was on a street that dead-ended at the river. We went to the Chicago Historical Society and looked at the directories for 1943 and made photocopies of all the listings for exterminators in the commercial pages. Using the satnav in James’s huge Range Rover we quickly eliminated all but one of the addresses. The dead-end was still there, ending in a tangle of barbed wire, stinging nettles and undergrowth, with the sluggish river beyond. The building at that address was a low, single story commercial structure, obviously rebuilt since the war, but we were in the same volume of space that the young Burroughs was in when he parked his black V8 1938 Ford and went in to collect his pyrethrum powder from the Chinese quartermaster. We also found the site of Mrs Murphy’s Boarding House, from which Burroughs was finally evicted because Lucien Carr and David Kammerer tore up her Gideon Bible and pissed out of the window. The other similar buildings in the block are still standing but the one at the address listed for the only Mrs Murphy with a boarding house has been demolished – it was at the end of the block – and when we were there it was just a waste lot, waiting for development. The buildings had the wooden stairs and balconies in back, as described by Burroughs, with the elevated running behind. It was fun doing this research and I envied James the task.
But a combination of family problems and ill health delayed the project; years went by and James was accumulating research but hadn’t begun a text. Then in 2009 at the Naked Lunch @ 50 conference in New York he and I discussed the idea of writing it as a joint venture, an idea that we toyed with for a while even though we both secretly knew that it would be very difficult to work together, partly because I live in London and he is in Kansas, but also our writing styles are very different. We knew it was possible because we had previously combined to write the essay that appears in the Restored Text edition of Naked Lunch that we co-edited. Then we had had our differences, but we had not come to blows. In the end, during a visit to Lawrence, Kansas, after giving a talk at Harper College, James graciously suggested that I should write it myself, which is what I am now doing. I am, after all, a professional writer and have a certain amount of form: a dozen or so full length biographies as well as dozens of illustrated books, quickie rock biographies and scholarly bibliographies: this will make fifty in all.
I had masses of material at my disposal. For a project called Evil River, I had been commissioned by James for the Burroughs Estate to transcribe all of the interview tapes made by Ted Morgan for his Burroughs biography, a project that took about three months. These have, of course, been invaluable. They have already been put to good use in David Ohle’s auto/biography of William S. Burroughs Jr, Cursed From Birth, and in James’s various research papers (some of which are on-line). In the mid eighties I had interviewed Allen Ginsberg at length for my biography Allen Ginsberg: a Life, as well as Lucien Carr, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many other Beat figures, most of them now dead. I had also interviewed Burroughs himself on several occasions, for magazines like Esquire. Most of my first hand Burroughs material came from the notes I took when I was cataloguing his archives in the early seventies and so worked with him virtually every day for many months. I first corresponded with Bill in 1964 and worked with him on a number of projects: I published him in Darazt magazine (1965), in International Times (many times late sixties), I co-wrote his bibliography with Joe Maynard in the early seventies for the University of Virginia Bibliographical Society (1974) and described his archives (1972) during the course of which I was able to piece together a copy of Queer from carbons, ms pages, thermofax copies and other scraps: it was this ms that was finally published in the eighties. The other Burroughs text I ‘discovered’ was Interzone, which was filed in the Butler Library at Columbia University as an ‘enclosure’ to a letter to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I called it up to see what the enclosure was – a photograph? A short story? It turned out to be the complete ms of Interzone. On the strength of that, and the ms of Queer, Bill got a six-book deal from Viking.
The fun part of any biography is the research. I had known Burroughs in New York, and visited him on many occasions in the Bunker, his apartment on the Bowery. I had also made several visits to see him in Lawrence, Kansas, and in 1984 had visited with him in Boulder, Colorado. During the many years he lived in London I saw him in his two different apartments on Duke Street, St. James, and I was familiar with the Beat Hotel in Paris, even though I had not stayed there before it closed in 1963. I did know George Whitman at the Mistral Bookshop, and more importantly Gaït Frogé at the English Bookshop – I bought her remaining stock for Indica Bookshop when she closed the shop and moved to New York. I was also an old friend of Jean-Jacques Lebel, who from 1966 was the Paris correspondent for International Times, and Brion Gysin whom I used to visit with in Paris, and also knew from London and New York, so I had the Paris end down. I wrote a whole book about the Beat Hotel so there was no need for further research there. There were still many locations of significance to investigate. The events in Mexico City occurred so long ago that nothing much could be gained from a visit, particularly as I don’t speak Spanish. Plus, James Grauerholz had covered the ground so thoroughly that there was nothing left to find.
I wanted to run a blog about the writing of the book, but though I kept notes for much of the time in a series of pocket notebooks, I never actually found the time to set up the web-site to house it. The following entries, though only posted recently, are taken from notes written at the time, a sort of retrospective blog.
I contacted Christopher Gibbs to request an interview because he had been a friend of Burroughs’ in London in the sixties and early seventies, and also was a close friend of Mikey Portman, Ian Sommerville, and Robert Fraser, who were all close friends of Burroughs. As they were all three dead I hoped Christopher would have stories of their friendship. Knowing that I would have to investigate Burroughs’ traces in Tangier, Christopher very kindly offered to put me up when I was there. In June 2011, Rosemary and I flew into Fes, where our friend Jane Mann’s daughter runs a riad with her Moroccan husband in the Medina.
Fez was extraordinary: within its huge falling-down medieval defensive walls is the medina of Fes el-Bali, over 9,000 narrow alleys, sheltering medersas, fondouks, riads, mosques and souks and the oldest university in the world. We naturally got lost almost at once, but Fez is not that large and eventually you come back to somewhere you know. The entire medina is protected and there is a massive World Heritage Fund restoration programme in progress to restore the most decayed buildings. The 1,000 year old medina is the largest car-free urban area on Earth, but goods are transported by motorcycle, overloaded mules, donkeys and horses and on carriers’ backs making it very difficult to get down the streets. Each neighbourhood is defined by a gateway and each trade has its own quarter: the wedding throne section, the tanneries, the copper-beaters, the Berber pharmacy, the spice sellers. Stalls on the street are little more than tables with a few items: one we passed had five goats’ heads on it and two young kids tethered to the leg. When we returned, there was only one kid and only two heads left. Chicken sellers carried live fowls, legs tied together, slung over their shoulders; water sellers wore traditional red and yellow outfits and banged brass cymbals, it is like stepping back into the middle ages. Despite being a tourist trap, the die-works really do belong to another age. I think the strongest sense of being in an alien culture came from the amplified call to prayer echoed down the narrow alleys and passages. But we only had two days to explore then took the train to Tangier, a four-hour trip through poor countryside.
Christopher lives in some splendour on the Old Mountain, just across the road from the King. He has a number of houses in his compound, including an old chapel he converted into a house where he lives. It is separated from the original house by gardens and huge swimming pool that he uses every day. There are several other houses set in several acres of gardens filled with trees, palms and walkways, tended by at least five gardeners. Christopher works from a large table covered with books, looking out over the garden towards the sea. We stayed in the original house, spoiled for choice of a series of bedrooms. The rooms are all filled with books, artworks and antiquarian and ethnological objects: a wall of Ceylonese wedding aprons next to a collection of pizzles or Bully Sticks, a Roman grave marker on a marble plinth, paintings and photographs. Just as I’ve finished examining all the books in one room Christopher will casually remark that there is another Book Room in another building or upstairs. He has an excellent library, concentrating on art and antiquities, huge volumes of Burke’s Landed Gentry or the Palazzi of Sicily. The rarest items he keeps in London, ‘The incunabula is all in Britain.’ He has a wall of paintings by his great friend John Michell and an interesting Brion Gysin in the bathroom. There are many gardening books and the antiquities also extend to the garden where Jewish tombstones have been rescued and given their own graveyard, and salvaged Moroccan stone carvings, carved stone baths and fountains form the focal points of different views.Then began the search for traces of Burroughs’ years in the city. In the English graveyard at St. Andrews church the tombstone of Paul Axel Lund (October 29, 1915 – July 23, 1966), the upper-class criminal from Birmingham to become one of Bill’s best friends. They had adjoining garden rooms at El Muniria Hotel, and Bill loved his stories about British criminals: ‘You don’t ‘av to worry abaat ‘im, we dumped ‘im dahn a marl ‘ole.’ Cats dozed on the warm stones surrounded by banana palm fronts and tropical trees. They are all there, the Hon David Herbert, Dean of Dean’s bar, the ex-pat community of the fifties and sixties. Christopher took us to the Petit Socco, where Burroughs was a central member of the Petit Socco Group, a gang of gay-ex-pats who spent their afternoons at the Café Centrale. As we took out seats outside the Café Tingis, Christopher’s friend Jonathan Dawson came and joined us. As we shook hands he glanced down and said, ‘Have a shoeshine on me,’ and gestured to a shoeshine boy who was hard at work on my grubby shoes before Jonathan had even drawn up his chair. The conversation came from another era. Dawson was debating whether he should get another dwarf servant and the pros and cons were discussed with a certain amount of irony, but nonetheless, he was serious.
Aside from the Hotel Muniria, Burroughs spent most of his time living at 4 calle Larachi in the Marshan. Christopher drove us there: a short quiet street, only half built up, with a substantial three-storey building where Bill and Ian Sommerville lived together in early sixties. It was much larger than I had expected with a wide front porch, hidden from the street by a metal barrier and bars and another logia on the top floor. Relations between Bill and Ian and the local Moroccans became so bad that they used to draw straws to see who would venture outside to buy milk or cooking oil. They had to run the gauntlet of angry women and children who threw mud and stones at them. The reason why was never clear but probably it was because they did not employ and servants. One time a wooden top came crashing through their skylight and one woman liked to bang loudly and persistently on their door at 7:00am.
The first night Rosemary and I were there Christopher took us to his regular restaurant, the Casa d’Italia. We ate there again with him and his old friend Tessa Coddrington, who had wonderful stories of her family’s four generations of living in Tangier, though they also have some pretty impressive holding in the UK by the sound of it. Her book, Spirits of Tangier, about all the most memorable characters in Tangier, was invaluable for my research into the scene there. He also drove us out to Chez Abdou in the Forêt Diplomatique, about 20 minutes outside Tangier on the beach. An amazingly kitsch place, with lots of separate dining areas set under shade trees, and filled with strange sculptures. Very good seafood.
There was no-one left who could remember Tangier in the fifties: they were all gone or dead. We did meet Blanca, Hamri’s wife, however, who remembered Burroughs from his subsequent trips to Tangier. She is an ebullient, amusing, energetic American who reminded me of Mary Beach, Burroughs’ French translator. Both were free spirits from an age when women were supposed to know their place. Blanca is younger, in fact, but seems to have held her own in an astonishingly male-oriented society pretty well.
Christopher is the churchwarden of St. Andrews Anglican Church and it seemed only polite, and of course of great interest, to attend a Sunday service. Berber women sell vegetables right outside the church gate, still dressed in their extraordinary conical hats. It is curious to see the flag of St George flying from the church tower, as it does from Grace Church on Broadway in New York, which we used to overlook. A typical English church surrounded by palms and bright sunlight. There were maybe 20 expats there, mostly old, and another 50 or so Nigerians who had somehow walked or managed to cross the Sahara to get to Tangier where they hoped to somehow get across the straits to Spain: so tantalizingly close that you can see the individual houses in the villages on a clear day, about eight miles away. One young man in the front row had a t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘suck my dick’ but no-one remonstrated with him. I had never been to a regular Church of England church service before though, having gone to a C of E primary school I had attended special ceremonies, and again at Grammar School, which had founders’ day and other similar ceremonials. The chancel, which is shaped in a Bazarabic horseshoe arch, has the Lord’s Prayer written round it in Arabic (apparently). At the end of the service Christopher went around shaking everyone’s hand and was then surrounded by a group of Nigerians, all clamoring for money, ‘Mister Christopher, I must talk with you! It is very important!’ He thought it probably cost him about £100 to attend church each Sunday. In addition, he sometimes took the role of Godfather, to newly born children (‘the last one drowned’ – so many illegal boats capsize and don’t make it to Spain.) Even when they reach Spain, many of the Africans are arrested and Christopher has to deal with incoherent long-distance calls from lawyers and distressed family members, all of which he takes on as part of his Christian duty.
There appeared to be a tradition that after the service, Christopher went with the organist to her house to enjoy a glass of gin. This we did, sitting in the garden overlooking the straits, Staying with him was one of the most pleasurable experienced I occasioned in writing the book, he was so kind and generous, and also gave me a wonderful interview about Bill’s time in London in the sixties. We returned to Fes by train and after a couple of days flew back to London, enchanted by Morocco and determined to learn more about its culture and its cuisine. I have since cooked many of the dishes in Paula Wolfert’s huge Moroccan cookbook and even acquired a large tagine.
June 14, 2012
Wein Kunsthalle Burroughs Show
Rosemary and I flew out to Vienna for the opening of the Cut-Ups, Cut-Ins, Cut-Outs, The Art of William S. Burroughs, show at the Wien Kunsthalle on June 14, 2012 and took a cab in. The gallery had provided a hotel right next door to the back entrance to the museum (the front looks out onto Museum Quarter). I had worked closely with Colin Fallows on the show and lent a large number of items to it. In fact I had the final four items in my bag and we had to open the vitrines at the last minute to arrange the final objects. The show was curated by my friend Colin Fallows from Liverpoool John Moores University and Synne Genzmer from the Kunsthalle. Rather than have a general survey of Burroughs’ work, they had restricted their selection to Burroughs’ use of Cut-Ups, an area that he explored exhaustively. The manuscripts on display showed grids, columns, outlines, texts in colour grids, outlined in circles and so on. There were some of the collages that the Cut-Ups eventually led to and a collection of other images: pictures of Burroughs by others and periodicals and magazines featuring his work. It was a substantial show and very informative. I contributed an essay, as well as a bibliography, discography and filmography, and a list of periodical publications by Burroughs featuring cut-ups to the catalogue. There was also an interview with me by Colin. There was a different director in charge when the show was first planned so there were a number of tensions and difficulties, but the show must go on, and it did and I thought it was terrific. There was a good turn-out and, because the museum is free and there were thousands of people in the Museum Quarter, they had a satisfying footfall.
Rosemary and I coincided with the first hot summer days in Vienna and the Museum Square and the cafes were packed. Some of the traditional coffee houses had to close because they had no air conditioning and became unbearably hot. There was a Vegan food street fair and also the annual gay parade: a large number of slow moving floats with different sound systems and people in fancy dress. One guy walked the length of the parade stark naked and Rosemary took a great photograph of a group of friendly lesbians. There were lots of cross-dressers and festive folks and good-will all around. Following directly after the last float came the Vienna cleansing dept: the road sweepers’ trucks festooned with rainbow flags. This is Austria and no litter is allowed so no sooner than the parade had passed than the streets were spotlessly clean again. It was so amazing we laughed out loud. We saw an even more extreme example. In the square, a happening of some sort was being enacted. Confetti was being thrown from an upstairs window over the performers and in between each handfull, people rushed forwards and swept it up before the next load descended. Everyone was so happy that it was warm and sunny that the atmosphere was perhaps un-naturally relaxed and friendly when we were there.
We stayed on after the show’s opening for a few days in order to research traces of Burroughs stay in Vienna before the war. Thanks to the previous researches of James Grauerholz, I had a list of addresses where Bill had lived and, amazingly, all but one of them was still standing. We first visited the Hotel Konig von Ungarn, (Hotel King of Hungary) Schulerstrasse, 10, Vienna 1010, where Mozart once lived. There is a plaque on the wall next door (Mozart, not Burroughs). It’s been a hotel since 1746. In August 1936, when Burroughs arrived in Vienna to study medicine it was an ‘anything goes’ hotel where the International Queer set brought their boys. Burroughs told an amusing story about it: ‘Somebody brought back a queen in drag to the hotel and they said, “I’m sorry sir, you simply cannot bring a woman into this hotel!” And he said “Woman?” The guy took off his wig. And he said, “Oh, I’m sorry sir. Come on in.”’Rosemary and I ate dinner there, wanting to try traditional Austrian fare. It was good, but expensive.
The area is all late medieval, but was so completely restored after the war that there is a slightly false feeling to it. There was not a lot of Vienna left standing by the time the Red Army had driven the Nazis out, but anything that could be rebuilt they did: painstakingly replacing all the coloured glazed tiles in the highly patterned roof of St. Stephen’s cathedral just down the street from where Burroughs lived. The narrow cobbled lanes and alleys still give a good idea of what the neighbourhood must have been like when the 24-year-old Burroughs was roaming the streets.
From the Konig von Ungarn Burroughs moved to a flat at Garnisongasse 1, which is also still there. Burroughs had plenty of money at the time and was able to live in some splendour. The centre of Vienna is quite small and he could easily walk everywhere. The Garnisongasse flat was close to the university. From there we set out for Freud’s house, which is nearby. Burroughs never made any attempt to visit Freud while he was there, he was too young and didn’t yet realize the significance that dreams would play in his life. Freud’s actual couch, of course, is in London, along with his collection of antique statues but there is still a palpable sense of his life in these rooms, and the curators have assembled a large a selection of documents and pictures to make it a thoroughly worthwhile visit.
There was a photograph of Freud sitting by his window, which I tried to imitate with Rosemary sitting in the same place, but I should have posed it better. However, the window frame remains the same. It’s the same volume of space, more than 70 years later.
There are a number of ‘must-see’ things in Vienna; one of which being the Rachel Whiteread memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered in the Shoa. It is a powerful work: negative library of cast library shelves turned inside out in her usual manner, known as the ‘Nameless Library’ and standing in the Judenplatz. There are no doorknobs on the double locked door, there is no way in or out. The plinth is engraved with the names of all the concentration camps in which Austrian Jews perished. It was an almost impossible commission but she did a brilliant job.
The other site is the Vienna Secession on Friedrichstrasse; one of the world’s most extraordinary art galleries. It is a Jugendstill building, the Austrian Art Nouveau, by Joseph Maria Olbrich dates from 1897 and totally eccentric. Its great treasure is the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. The guards were particularly keen that no-one took photographs of the frieze, which when we were there ran right around the walls and was viewed from a stand in the centre of the room which brings you up to eyelevel. I think this was only a temporary arrangement.
We continued to look for Burroughs sites. Unfortunately the Hotel Dianabad, on Obere Donau-Str, was destroyed by the Red Army in fierce fighting during the liberation of Vienna and has been replaced by a bland glass and steel office building. Bill clearly had a good time when he lived there: The Hotel Dianabad, it brings back a host of memories. It was a hotel, it was also a Turkish bath, a huge Turkish bath in Vienna. You could rent a whole section of the Turkish bath for sexual orgies, all the waiters were queer, oh it was a marvellous place!
Not far from the site of the Dianabad, however, is the Prater, a well-known cruising ground where Bill picked up boys. The park is also home to the Wiener Riesenrad, the famous ferris wheel that featured in Carol Reed’s The Third Man. The views are fabulous but the gondolas are a bit rickety and date back to 1896. Some had been reserved for drinks parties or lunch and were laid with table cloths, glasses and cutlery. We had to wait for an empty one to show up. Bill used to take his boyfriends on it.
After the Dianabad, Bill took another flat close to the university at Auerspergstrasse, 21; flat 5 on the fifth floor, where he apparently shared with a man twice his age. Builders were working on one of the flats and, as the front door was open, I was able to go in, climb the marble stairs and take a photograph of the double doors to Bill’s apartment.
Another site that still stands is the building that once housed the Romanische Baden, the huge Turkish baths complex at Kleine Stadtgutgasse, 9, another notorious pick-up place for boys.
We were fortunate in that we have a friend who lives in Vienna, Elisabeth Kamenicek who showed us her favourite coffee houses and restaurants. She also came to my aid when I dropped my glasses and trod on them, mangling the frames. A friendly assistant in an optician with a big smile fixed them free of charge. Maybe it was the hot weather, but Vienna seemed a very energetic place, packed out with young people. I particularly liked the fact, after dinner, on our way back to the hotel through the Museum Quarter, there were thousands of young people still sitting around drinking outside the cafes and restaurants there. And it was great to see the poster of Bill outside the Kunsthalle as we climbed the steps up to our hotel.