Desire Will Set You Free 2

When Yony Leyser wrapped his first film, the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, Leyser indulged TNB with a round of 21 Questions. Now, Leyser’s back with his second film, Desire Will Set You Free, a feature film he describes as “venturing into docufiction.” Starring Leyser, Amber Benson, Peaches, Nina Hagen, and other faces familiar to the Berlin underground, Desire Will Set You Free tells the story of the relationship between an “American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent and a Russian aspiring artist working as a hustler, offering access to the city’s vibrant queer and underground scenes while examining the differences between expatriate and refugee life.” Leyser has completed shooting on the film and is now looking to Kickstarter to fund the rest as he’d successfully done with A Man Within. Leyser has blogged in-depth about the making of Desire Will Set You Free at Indiewire along the way, and as the Kickstarter nears its end I asked Leyser just a few questions about Desire Will Set You Free, a project based on his own experiences in Berlin.

One of the first things to get my attention as I held the slim chapbook Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City (Dark Sky Books) by Michael Bible in my hands was the blurb on the back from Barry Hannah. Why? Because it’s Barry Hannah, that’s why:

Charles Bukowski

Over the years, I’ve been proud to have my fiction appear alongside writers I greatly admire (William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Atwood). The first poems I ever published came out in an issue of The Hudson Review that contained James Wright’s last-from his wonderful final book, This Journey. It meant a lot to me.

I’ve recently been doing a big clean out…and in staggering down memory lane, one name keeps appearing with baffling frequency…LYN LIFSHIN. She is everywhere. And of course, my humble publication record doesn’t even give the slightest hint of just how truly ubiquitous she is.

If there’s ever been a journal that has published poetry, the Vegas odds are she’s been in it. It’s astounding. Over 120 books she’s published–I think. Thousands of mag publications. Literally.

I’m torn between admiring such prolific output…and wondering about all the postage. I imagine all the cover letters…the envelopes laid out in long hallways (like M.C. Escher winding stairs). What must the machine behind that enterprise look like? Simply to keep so much material out in the mail is a logistical feat.

And keeping track. Last week I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter from the Indiana Review–for work submitted three years ago! I’d forgotten I’d written the piece, let alone sent it. Maybe Lyn’s just really well organized.

I think too of the loneliness of some poor editor of what will end up being a two issue journal or webzine…and they don’t get a submission from Lyn. How would you feel? Lyn, we’re waiting…

I’ve occasionally considered the possibility that Lyn isn’t actually an individual, but a code name for a cooperative.

Then the truly disturbing notion occurred that perhaps she’s doing a Joyce Carol Oates on us (one of the funniest articles I’ve ever read was on Oates, in the Atlantic Monthly, called “Stop Me Before I Write Again”)…not only publishing endlessly under her own name, but under a range of pseudonyms. Lyn might be sitting back and thinking, “Hmm, I’ve got 200 poems I wrote yesterday, how am I going to get them all out?” Yes, a ticklish question arises for Lyn Lifshin scholars-just how much contemporary poetry is she responsible for?

Questions fill my mind in the case of writers like Lifshin and Oates. Do they lick all the stamps themselves? Have they ever lost a piece of writing? I just found a whole book I’d forgotten about and am resurrecting. A BOOK-not one poem or story. Admittedly, one of the reasons I’d forgotten about the book is that it was written in a period of deep alcoholic and narcotic confusion in Tonga, where it actually seemed like a reasonable proposition to shoot a speargun at a government official trying to protect himself with a giant tortoiseshell (I got the bastard, don’t you worry–right in the thigh-and then I got my passport back).

I watched 200 handwritten pages blow out the window of a twin engine Otter over Papua New Guinea and seriously considered going after them (I was skydiving then and figured the jungle canopy would be kind to me). Then I thought they looked rather lovely floating down. They reminded me of a great moment at an old Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference concerning the soon to die John Gardner–his angry ex-wife had hired a plane to drop leaflets all over sunny green Middlebury, exposing his cadlike behavior. My friend Stanley Elkin, who had to walk with a cane because of MS, insisted I scurry after some. Tim O’Brien and I laughed ourselves sick.

I wonder too if Lyn and Joyce are now diligent about backing up. They’d be good backers up. Press Save. Press Send. I only recently lost 150 pages in a computer crash. Bang. Gone. Imagine how Lyn and Joyce would feel.

I’m very suspicious of people who are well organized and save everything. Hunter S. Thompson (someone you’d think I’d be pretty supportive of) worried me with his neatly mimeographed letters.

As Miles Davis once said…and I happened to hear because I was the only one with him…he wasn’t exactly talking to me…”Not all music has to be heard to be listened to.” It was kind of a Bruce Lee insight.

Some writers are so prolific you wonder how they have time to even proofread their work, let alone actually read it back and consider. William T. Vollman is a good example. You can skip not just pages, but whole sections. Hell, you can skip books.

What’s my point? Well, I don’t apologize for that speargun incident one bit. That dill hole had it coming and I nailed him. I tracked him down and I hit the target. It happened in the lobby of the Dateline Hotel. I pressure packed him and reassured the guests who witnessed it. “Just a personal matter,” I said.

It’s easy to forget words-and let’s face it, most of them should be forgotten. I couldn’t quote a Lyn Lifshin poem to save my balls. You remember people you wound-and help.

The strategy of trying to put out as much as you can into the fossil record of culture is fair. Just as long as it has the thzing. That’s what the speargun sounded like.

Saknussemm on the Beach

It was beautiful. I took a pompous little civil servant down, on the run, at 10 feet, missing a major artery. I got my passport back and legal clearance to leave the country. I left behind the book I was writing then. Cost of doing business. It’s taken me a long time to learn just what business I’m in.

It’s called Thzing. Our mission statement is “Wounding and helping.” We choose our shots-and when to extend a hand. Let others crank shit out.

Dislodged from family and self-knowledge and knowledge of your origins you become free in the most sinister way. Some call it having a restless soul. That’s a phrase usually reserved for ghosts, which is pretty apt. I believe that my eyes filter out things that are true. For better or worse, for good or merciless, I can’t help but go through life with a selective view. My body does it without conscious thought or decision. It’s a problem only if you make it one.”—page 5

I have a confession to make.

I have become addicted to controversial TV. No, not to ‘Jerry Springer’ re-run marathons. Not to fly-on-the-wall crack den raids on Current TV. Not even to the thinly-veiled hard-body pornography of ‘A Shot of Love’ with Tila Tequila (of ‘I Fucked the DJ (He Fucked Me Till I Bleed)’ fame).

© Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com

William Burroughs enjoying cake and alcohol at...

JR: Tony came my way through the very cool Patrick DeWitt, and so far, I’m liking Tony’s new book, Sick City, which goes on sale now. It’s published by the very hip Harper Perennial, who lately seem to be right on the mark with their list. Check out Tony’s book…

WHEN I FELL IN LOVE by Tony O’Neill

I grew up in a small, northern English satellite town called Blackburn, which had nothing much going for it except crap weather, rampant racism, and a football team that never won.  I didn’t grow up in a particularly literary environment, and until I asked my parents to put one in my bedroom aged ten, there were no bookshelves in my house.  I read because I grew up in England, and there were only 4 TV channels.  I was an only child.  When faced with a Saturday afternoon either watching television coverage of darts matches, going to football matches, or playing in the grey rain that seemed to bathe the down most of the time, I became a reader by default.

The first books I read were things like Stephen King, page-turners.  I still have a soft spot for King.  Its hard not to respect a writer who did it by himself, got no respect from the establishment and still managed to sell a shit-load of books.  All this while being a raging alcoholic coke head, too.   Anyway, I always liked books that had some violence and sex in them.

The first book that really changed me, though, was William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.  I was thirteen years old when David Cronenberg‘s adaptation of Burroughs’ most famous book of hit cinemas.  Previous to that, I had seen things like Scanners and The Fly on late night television. When I heard that the book Naked Lunch was supposedly strange and controversial, I went to the one bookstore we had in town to find it.  They didn’t have it, so I had to order it.  I remember the old woman who worked behind the counter looking quite concerned.  “Naked Lunch?” she said.  The emphasis on Naked reddened my cheeks.  She obviously thought it was some kind of smutty sex novel, the kind that they used to sell in sex shops back then.  This was before the Internet was widely available in England, the days when people would still actually jerk off to smutty paperbacks with no images at all, apart from a garish illustration on the cover.  Which just goes to show you that the people who have benefited most from the digital revolution have definitely been the wankers.

Anyway, I checked in every weekend, until the book finally arrived.  It was a hideous edition, tied into the movie with a picture of Peter Weller and a Mugwump on the cover.  I still had no idea what Naked Lunch was even about.  I took it home and read it.  After I was done, I still had no idea what Naked Lunch was about.

What I did know was that it disturbed me.  It was a similar reaction to seeing the film Eraserhead for the first time.  These events both happened in the same year, the year I turned 13.  I rented Eraserhead because I was taken with the black and white image on the videocassette, not because I had any clue about who David Lynch was.  Eraserhead made no sense to me, but gave me strange hallucinatory dreams about steam erupting from pipes and screaming deformed babies for months afterward.

As for Naked Lunch, I had never before read a novel that did not have a storyline, or even a main character.  It took me a long time to strop trying to make sense of it as continuous narrative and accept it for what it was – a series of vignettes.  This was a totally new form for me.  I found sections of it erotic, others repulsive.  I found all of the talk of drugs confusing.  I knew next to nothing about heroin and it’s effects, apart from these wonderful ads the British government did in the 80s with the tag line “Heroin Screws You Up”.  The image under this slogan was of an emaciated young boy, sitting in the barren corner of some squat, who looked for all the world like a skinnier version of a Calvin Klein model.  He had prominent cheekbones, and bad skin.  I thought he looked really, really cool.  Evidently, so did other people.  Years later, when I was a heroin addict in London, many people my age would reminisce fondly that those ads had been their first exposure to the glamour of heroin.

I tucked Naked Lunch away for a long time.  Sometimes I would crack open the covers, and try to read it again.  When I saw the movie, I was disappointed.  I had to wait for it to come out on video, because it was an 18 cert (equivalent of an X in America) and anyway, our local cinema didn’t even show it.  But I realized that in trying to impose some kind of structure to the narrative, Cronenberg had actually done a massive disservice to the source text.  Whereas Burroughs book was weird and confusing, I was actually bored by the movie.  I got into music and moved away from home when I was 18 to join a band.  I toured around, and eventually crash landed in Los Angeles.

Years later, I would read my next Burroughs book:  Junky.  I was already a heroin user at the time.  A girl I used to get high with lent me her copy.  “You’ll like this one,” she said.  “It’s the best book ever about being a junkie.”

This girl had a lot of opinions about the best book / song / film about the life of an addict.  All junkies do.  Just for record, I’d say: “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground, and Drugstore Cowboy by Gus van Sant for song and movie.  I have to agree with about Junky.  It was amazing.  And much easier to follow than Naked Lunch.  I really sympathized with the lead character.  Reading Junky brought me back to Naked Lunch.  Thinking that it might make a bit more sense to me now, I picked up a copy at the LA public library, and read it again.  In the intervening years, it was like I had somehow managed to learn the cryptic language that Burroughs was speaking in.  Of course the drug talk and the drug slang – which was surprisingly not as out of date as you’d imagine – made perfect sense to me.  I knew what it felt like to hear the flutes of Ramadan in the junk sick morning, all right.  And away from England, that sly, deadpan humor suddenly made sense to me.  There was something profoundly American about Burroughs’s sense of humor, and suddenly what was once scary, incomprehensible and confusing, now seemed as funny as hell to me.

For me, reading Naked Lunch is a bit like what reading The Bible must be like for those religious types I see sitting on the subway reading that book.  I still pick it up sometimes, and read a section, or even just a paragraph, and I get something new from it every time.  Some people still think that it’s a confusing mess, and all I can do is feel bad for them.  They really are missing out on something special.

I wonder if the book would have had the same power if I didn’t have so many thrilling associations with it – guilt, the sense that I was reading something I shouldn’t, that I was transgressing somehow?  To me, back then, books still felt dangerous.  There was a rebelliousness about reading books like that, especially in a culture were reading wasn’t particularly encouraged.  None of my friends at school read for pleasure. At least not as far as I knew.  You kept stuff like that secret; otherwise you would be laughed at.  Owning books felt as illicit as having pornography, or illicit stashes of low-grade hash.

Yeah, it was love all right.  Years later I had the privilege to do some work inside The Bunker, Burroughs NYC hangout through the late 70s and early 80s, via the poet and performance artist John Giorno.  I sat at his table; my hands touched the scarred wood that Old Bull Lee’s hands must have touched at one point.  The books of Burroughs, along with Herbert Huncke, Dan Fante, Alexander Trocchi, Charles Bukowski, etc etc were instrumental in my decision to try to quit heroin and write instead.  That and a woman who loved me, and a daughter who was about to be born.  But in those quiet moments of desperation, when I was sick and hurting, and all I wanted to do was tear up what I was writing and go back to doing what it was that I had always done – fucking the needle, turning off the screaming in my head – it was those books which pointed towards a direction out.  And I’ve been moving steadily outwards, ever since.