Friday, October 9, 2009

Naked Lunch at 50

While checking my facebook this morning I ran across this NPR story about the 50th anniversary edition of Naked Lunch being released by Grove Press next month.

I first encountered Naked Lunch and the wild eccentricities of the beat generation while I was in high school. I found some of the kids giggling over a book of poems by Allen Ginsberg (it was the red book of Collected Poems 1947-1980). Later on I found out they were giggling at the sexy poems, but unlike my peers I read through the rest of the book and it made me dizzy with ecstasy. The barrage of images, the flow of the language, the yearning and striving for more, more more... It was breathtaking, and I wanted to read more. My local library back in Ohio had a copy of Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. It too was filled with the awe and wonder of living and the stark beauty of the California coastline. I still wanted more. So I looked into the beats, and the people who were in the movement and I stumbled on Burroughs.

Naked Lunch was completely different from all the rest of them. It was surreal, like looking at the world through a drug induced haze and finding the world around you to be filled with aliens, prostitutes, junk and lies. It was the strangest thing I'd ever read. Around the time that I read the book a film adaptation had come out starring Peter Weller (of RoboCop fame) and Julian Sands (of Warlock infamy). Around 1992 it was on cable and I snuck into the living room and watched it late at night while my parents were sleeping (yeah, I was 16, and it was one of those late night Cinemax movies). Bizarre is not even the beginning of how to describe it.

After that Burroughs was embedded in my brain. I heard him singing "Star Me Kitten" with R.E.M. on the X-Files album. I found all the books he had written at the local library. I kept buying beat books looking for more.

It actually worked in my favor later on in high school as well. I was on the academic team (think quiz bowl) and we got served the following question in the third round and I have never forgotten it.

"What William S. Burroughs novel did the author describe as being about 'drugs and sex and sex and sex'?"

I rang that buzzer and leapt in there, "NAKED LUNCH!"

Everyone around on my team and the team we were playing against looked at me with shock. I don't know if it was the fact that I knew the answer, that I got it so quickly or that I was so full of glee for having heard that question at the quiz. I was literally vibrating with joy. I turned to everyone's looks of stupor and said, "That is my favorite book!"

And it remains one today.

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