Kansas Heritage Group]

Beats In Kansas: The Beat Generation in the Heartland

Remembering William Burroughs
and Allen Ginsberg

by Jim McCrary

[Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs at home, with visiting Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Personal observations by poet Jim McCrary, a longtime friend of William Burroughs, and his Office Manager for ten years. Last photograph of Burroughs and Ginsberg together.]

I've been asked many times to put something up about William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas. Sort of. Okay, once someone asked me WHAT he did out here. What he did? All this because I had the extreme privilege to work for William Burroughs as Office Manager for ten years, as well as the opportunity to spend time with him on a daily basis doing well...nothing most of the time...until William died August 2, 1997. William, of course, had a steady stream of visitors in Lawrence, and one of those was his best friend, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. I use William and Allen's friendship to offer a 'snapshot' of what I observed.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs,
November 2, 1996, Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas. Their last
public appearance together. George Kaull, Burroughs' friend, in background.
Copyright, George Laughead Jr., 1996

Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at their last public appearance together, November 2, 1996, Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas. George Kaull, Burroughs' friend, in background. Photo: G. Laughead Jr.
Burroughs and Ginsberg, larger version.

Allen Ginsberg was William's oldest and closest friend, to say the least. So Allen would stop over, over the years, on the way from here and there - Boulder, New York City - where ever. (William didn't travel much in later years. Couple times. Once to see old friend writer Paul Bowles in NYC.) Allen certainly enjoyed the rest and privacy he found in Lawrence, and William certainly enjoyed seeing him. There was a quiet, close, emotional aura around these two as they visited in William's house. There was gracefulness between them and it was private - they didn't perform at all. I guess when you know one another 40-plus years - you don't have to do squat. There you go.

What follows are four of my fond memories of these two. I've chosen these for a couple of reasons - obviously I remember vividly these events and they also illustrate to me what should remain in our memory. I simply here, now, offer a closer view to augment what we have already collected.

Often it went like this. Allen arrives and settles into William's house - scattering firearms, cats, cans of pepper spray and the 'stuff' William collected in his guest bedroom (his painting studio at the time).

The morning I arrived early to find William and Allen seated at the breakfast table - scattered with the crumbs of tea and toast - Allen's camera (always) and his tape recorder (sometimes). They are both wearing those old fashion cotton print PJ's with big buttons - very hot retro today I suppose (those old trend setters!). The discussion concerns a boy in Tangier - sweetened accusations of who did what behind the other's back forty years ago. Ahh - memories for sure.

Photograph: Beat Generation founders William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg wearing old fashion cotton PJ's with big buttons,
in William's house. Photograph by Pat Elliott, copyright, all rights reserved, used with permission.

A great moment in time caught forever. Beat Generation founders William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg wearing old fashion cotton PJ's with big buttons, in William's house. Photograph by Pat Elliott, all rights reserved, used with permission.

The day we went target shooting and Allen drew targets on large white sheets of cardboard with a felt tip pen. Beautiful Buddhas in the Ginsberg style to be pumped full of 9mm holes. They were both good shots and the smell of gunpowder, vodka and cowshit framed the perfect outing for these two gentlemen of letters.

Once, late afternoon, I came in and found Allen in the kitchen bent over a rather large pot of something on the stove. Turned out to be some kind of macro turnip stew - and he was obviously enjoying the preparation. William came in to feed the cats. "Come here you little bitch, Calico Jane." (Named after Jane Bowles whom William always greatly admired.) Notices the pot. "What is that!" Lifts the lid. "My God, that won't do!" If memory serves, I was dispatched to the store for a couple of lamb chops. Who wouldn't, eh?

The time Allen was invited to an 'open mic' reading at a local brewery. Allen agreed and asked if William wanted to come along. "No, you go ahead," responded William, with that wonderful blue-eyed smile, obviously not wanting to spoil Allen's public appearance with his presence.

I could go on, but that is not the point. They will be missed by your reporter, missed hard and long. No where to go...no one to see. How it all comes down - to spend just a bit of time with two beautiful old men - men who'd been around the block and came back to sit down in a old frame house on a tree-lined side street in a small town and talk about the old days and the new one coming. And they both knew, both damn well knew, what the future held and didn't much give a fuck about THAT, for sure.

Adios amigos.

(© 2002, Jim McCrary; Edited for web from material first published in Rampike magazine, Toronto, Canada, 1999. Photograph, Beats In Kansas, © 1996, George Laughead Jr. & © Pat Elliott "Burroughs and Ginsberg in PJs")

Also see: Shooting Joan Burroughs: William Burroughs at Home, 1997
Return to the Beats In Kansas or to Kansas Heritage Group. Relate site: WWW-VL: History: United States 1960s History.
Return to the Top. Posted: 23 September 02. Updated: 28 April 2007. Hosted at WWW-Virtual Library @ www.vlib.us