Underground Classics

Candy by Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg — NEL, 40p
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina — NEL 40p
Junkie by William S. Buroughs — NEL, 30p
Opium by Jean Cocteau – NEL, 30p
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac – NEL, 40p
Jail Notes by Timothy Leary – NEL, 50p

The Underground Classics series produced recently by New English Library is a re-publication of some famous and difficult to obtain books, including some works by members of the ‘beat’ and ‘underground’ generations. It is good that many of these are available again, for they allow people who did not read them in the past, or were too young, to read some of the most important ‘new’ writers to emerge in the last twenty or so years.

Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, often described as one of the greatest sexual satires of our time, is one of the titles. When it was originally published here a few years ago, only an edited version was available. But times have changed and the text of this new edition is complete. The book is a combination of black, black humour and sexual athletics, resulting in a very funny novel, sending up the role-playing and hypocrisy of the heterosexual world.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me is a novel written by the late Richard Farina, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident in California in 1966 — two days after the book’s publication. It is a sadly neglected work, being an important document describing the contemporary ‘hip’ scene in the States (which was later to cross over here) during the early sixties. The film that has been made of the book is hopefully to be released here soon.

Junkie was William S. Burrough’s first novel, and possibly, to many, his most accessible. Originally published under the pen name William Lee, the narrative tells of the author’s own history of escalating drug addiction, ending in his cure, apparently partly due to Burrough’s discovery of hallucinogens. A frightening but important book.

Opium by Jean Cocteau is another book concerned with drug addiction. This time it is the author’s account of his experiences whilst ‘hooked’ on opium, with details of his extraordinary life and thoughts, along with descriptions of the acute suffering he went through during the ‘weaning off’ treatment. It is a fascinating book, that still has much relevance today. The drawings that illustrate this edition are the same that appeared in the original version.

Jack Kerouac, the author of Big Sur, was the first and most important writer to emerge from the ‘beat generation’ of the fifties. The effect of his novel on a generation still cannot be measured. And the freedom he gave other writers because of his success, is something modern literature will always be in his debt for. After his death a short while ago, many of his works were re-issued, this being the latest. It is a lyrically told story of a searching for meaning in the complexes of America and a tale of spiritual yearning and final awareness. Big Sur was sadly underrated when it first appeared, despite the inclusion of one of Kerouac’s best poems at the end of the book, which also is included in this edition.

Jail Notes by (Dr) Timothy Leary is an account of the author’s prison experiences, after being sentenced to a possible ten-year term for possession of marihuana, and before his escape from jail in September, 1970. Leary is someone you either take seriously or you dismiss completely, there is no middle way. His views on homosexuality (in other works) leave a lot to be desired, but his explorations of the uncharted depths of the human mind have meant Leary has had to make many brave sacrifices.

Soon to be published is Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller, which has recently been made into a feature film, although at present it is without a certificate to be shown in this country.

The Wild Boys

03-197207XX-09THE WILD BOYS: A Book of the Dead. William S Burroughs (Calder & Boyars £2.50)

If you were in Marrakesh and heard about a gang of petrol-bomber boys, you too could start a fantasy of sexy teenage boys in the future. They wear only rainbow-coloured jockstraps and roam the bandit lands, a law unto themselves. You also want to be nostalgic about 1920 and a shy boy called Audrey who goes for a car ride with his mysterious schoolmate. You remember all those aloof youths in America and Mexico who seem to belong in another alien time-dimension and you transport them through the barriers. Then, if you are William Burroughs, you see it all like a movie, with all the rough-cuts and re-takes left in. and you get the marvellous kaleidoscope called The Wild Boys.

The plot only reveals itself two thirds through this short book, although all the ingredients are around from the beginning. In 1976 General Greenfield reads out a letter:

“Dear Mom and Dad:
I am going to join the wild boys. When you read this I will be far away.
Johnny.

Can we stand idly by while our youth, the very life-blood of our nation drains away into foreign sewers?” They couldn’t. Of the 20,000 soldiers who marched away, only 1,500 staggered back from the desert, the rest sent mad by a killer virus, and finished off by the boys with machine guns. That was the last Great American Crusade, a chapter which is a hilarious send-up of all the expeditionary forces that ever were.

Then in 1989, the story and civilisation is abandoned. Nobody is really alive. In Morocco the rich live in total luxury and cynically finance the saboteurs. The poor go to the wall and the CIA prowl knowledgeably but ineffectually around. But the wild boys are evolving by themselves. With the help of Mayan magic they have jerked through the barriers to gain the other time-dimension.

There are glider boys with laser guns, naked bow gun boys, shaman boys who ride the wind, and many more, including those who have control of beasts and bugs: “Five naked boys release cobras above a police post. As the snakes glide down, the boys move their heads from side to side. Phalluses sway and stiffen. The boys snap their heads forward mouth open and ejaculate. Strangled cries from the police box. Faces impassive the boys wait until their erections subside”. They can create offspring by pulling down mist to make flesh, forming from the anus outward on the prick of the entranced boy in the middle of the orgy ring. A great fantasy of penis power, but no practical ideas for GLF.

Many of the early scenes in the book are about innocent sex between ordinary boys, like the time when Johnny has crabs and Mark makes him undress. The same encounters take place again and again in successive paragraphs. like re-writes or an attempt to remember a long time ago. The action is always fast and ultra-graphic, but not really pornographic which would be the attempt to supply the reader with all the details for a substitute sex life. But for any male gay. this book is very very erotic.

Straight reviewers have carefully said that the sex nearly overwhelms the rest of the book; that it is of only academic interest to the heterosexual reader, and so forth. Let others write in praise of older women or nymphets (and without getting such censure). We can only rejoice at this celebration of one form of good sex. Read it once to enjoy the brilliant pictures passing by. Read it twice to judge for yourself if there is any significant theme other than Burroughs himself (probably not), and a third time for the writing of all the other sideshows. Read it once anyway.