Captured and Recorded
After the resounding thud made by Burroughs' last novel, Cities of the Red Night, these transcriptions of table-talk serve some rehabilitative purpose, presenting a picture of an aging, conservative, serious man who, with his best work perhaps now behind him, admits himself that he may have come to sound "like some sort of great nineteenth-century crank who thought that brown sugar was the answer to everything and was practicing something he called brain breathing." It has to be said, in fairness, that the range of Burroughs' intellect seems hardly tested by his interlocutors here: editor Bockris ("Burroughs is similar to Muhammad All and Andy Warhol, two of the other stars [sic] I've written portraits of. All three are exactly what they appear to be"); rock starlets like Patti Smith and Deborah Harry; a particularly shrill Allen Ginsberg; an at-less-than-full-tilt Susan Sontag. We learn that Burroughs hates muggers (he would like to form a private vigilante group, "The Cane Brigade" or "Order of the Grey Gentlemen"); that he has some interesting ideas about succubi and incubi, despises the Iranian mullahs, and lives in a windowless downtown Manhattan apartment called "The Bunker." Only one tape is unequivocally wonderful: the hilarious Terry Southern sifting through, with Burroughs, a shopping-bag filled with various drug-samples a pharmacist-friend had given him ("'Pain!'--look for the word 'pain' . . . that's the key"). Otherwise, this is more a portrait of others' need for Burroughs to be an elder Great than of the more modest (and more engaging) actuality.