When William S. Burroughs died in August 1997 at age 82, he was the last of the seminal beat writers to go. Jack Kerouac died in 1969, and Allen Ginsberg in 1997. Some argue that Gregory Corso who died in 2001, should have enjoyed that status too. Despite Burroughs' known heroin use over many years, his hundredth birthday on February 5, the same week that Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared to have died of a drug related cocktail, made many ponder: how do some addicts maintain till old age? Yearlong celebrations, in Bloomington, Lawrence, Seattle and other American cities including New York will mark the occasion with parties and poetry in the expectation that the beat generation will endure in their efforts, and it does in spirit.
On the 5th, a program of music and poetry at the Bowery Electric, a few blocks north of the Bunker, Burroughs' New York home in the 1970's, featured Elliot Sharp accompanied by composer James Ilgenfritz, among others. Before reading her poems, Anne Waldman led the small group in a rousing "Happy Birthday" to William. The month of April, with events planned for every night, with participants to include Sharp, Nick Zedd, Steve Buscemi, Hal Willner, and others, is designated for a massive Burroughs celebration at a variety of New York venues.
But this birthday week, William is best remembered in the smaller things. The Morgan Library is having its first ever photography exhibition, "A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play," despite having collected them since the time J. P. Morgan and his family resided there. The whimsical presentation, under the direction of Joel Smith, features numerous pictures not organized by chronology but by a thematic and visual juxtaposition of art with art. For example, "pink" places two photos side by side, as does "rectangles within rectangles." One of the rectangles is pink luncheon meat on a pink Formica counter. On another wall, William Burroughs peeks out from behind a row of books in a photograph taken by Allen Ginsberg. Undated, this photo's subject is young and handsome, iconic as they come.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.