Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Performances mark 50th anniversary of "Naked Lunch"

Posted By on 08.11.09 at 03:44 PM

Actor Peter Weller, poets John Giorno and Anne Waldman, and performance artist Penny Arcade are among the notables scheduled to appear Friday, August 28, at Thinkart Salon to mark the 50th anniversary of William S. Burroughs's landmark novel Naked Lunch. Weller, who played Burroughs's alter ego William Lee in David Cronenberg's 1991 film version of the book, will headline "an evening of art, readings, happenings, and performances" to raise money for the new documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, directed by Yony Leyser. The event will feature a preview screening of the documentary's trailer as well as an exhibition of Burroughs' efforts at visual art. Also on hand will be 60s radical William Ayers and James Grauerholz, Burroughs's longtime secretary, sometime companion, editor, and estate executor. For more information, call 773-252-2294.

Naked Lunch, published in Paris in 1959 by Olympia Press and in the U.S. in 1962 by Grove Press (in a substantially different version), is Burroughs's hallucinatory yet autobiographical account of life in "Interzone"—his name for 1950s Tangiers, a city divided among several different political jurisdictions. The book—considered by many one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century—was shockingly candid for its time about drugs and homosexuality; today, its most powerful resonances come from Burroughs's prescient satire of political corruption and the lust for power, which Burroughs presented as an even more potent and evil addiction than drug addiction. (If you've ever spent time scratching your head trying to figure out just what is it with Dick Cheney, go back and read Naked Lunch—it explains everything.)

Prior to the book's formal publication, excerpts of it appeared in 1958 in the Chicago Review, a literary magazine published at the University of Chicago. Chicago Daily News columnist called the excerpts "one of the foulest collections of printed filth I've seen publicly circulated." The Reader covered the controversy in depth in a two-part 1995 article: "Naked Censorship, Part I: The University Goes Ballistic" and "Naked Censorship, Part II: The Beats Strike Back."

The August 28 event runs from 5:30 to 9:30 Friday, August 28, at Thinkart Salon, 1530 N. Paulina, Suite F. There will be live music by Maya Jensen, cuisine catered by Chef Daniel Mejia, and an open bar serving "Burroughs's special elixirs." Tickets are $60 in advance or $75 at the door; the price includes an after party with live music and an open bar starts at 9:30 PM at the Stop Smiling Storefront, 1371 N. Milwaukee Ave.

(Full disclosure: I had the extraordinary privilege of working with Burroughs in the 1970s, when Columbia College produced a stage version of Naked Lunch here and later off-Broadway. In 1981 I worked with him again, helping to publicize a reading he and John Giorno were giving at the now-defunct rock club Tuts. It was during this engagement that Burroughs learned his son, William Jr., had died at age 33 of alcoholism-related liver disease.)

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