A Look Inside William S. Burroughs’ Bunker


When everyone had one or two vodkas and smoked a couple of joints, it was once all the time the time for the blowgun. —John Giorno

From 1974 to 1982, author William S. Burroughs lived in a former locker room of a 19th-century former-YMCA on New York City’s Lower East Side.

When he moved on, his stuff, together with his wiped out footwear, his gun mags, the typewriter on which he wrote Cities of the Red Night, and part of The Place of Dead Roads, a well-worn replica of The Medical Implications of Karate Blows, and a lamp constructed from a operating Civil war-era rifle, remained.

His pal, neighbor, tourmate, and low lover, poet John Giorno preserved “The Bunker” in large part as Burroughs had left it, and turns out to please in rehashing previous instances throughout a 2017 excursion for the Louisiana Channel, above.

It’s laborious to consider that Burroughs discovered Giorno to be “pathologically silent” within the early days in their acquaintance:

He simply wouldn’t say anything else. You may well be there with him the entire night time, he wouldn’t say a phrase. It was once now not the shyness of juvenile, it was once a lot more than that, it was once an overly deep loss of talent to keep in touch. Then he had most cancers and after the operation that was once utterly reversed and now he’s every now and then a compulsive talker, when he will get going there’s no preventing him.

According to Burroughs’ better half, editor and literary executor, James Grauerholz, throughout this era in Burroughs’ existence, “John was once the one that contributed maximum to William’s care and maintenance and friendship and cherished him.”

Giorno additionally ready Burroughs’ favourite dishbacon wrapped henand joined him for goal observe with the blowgun and a BB gun whose projectiles had been forceful sufficient to penetrate a phonebook.

Proximity intended Giorno was once effectively conversant in the schedules that ruled Burroughs’ existence, from waking and writing, to his day by day dose of methadone and primary vodka-and-Coke of the day.

He was once provide for lots of dinner events with well-known buddies together with Andy WarholLou ReedFrank ZappaAllen GinsbergDebbie HarryKeith HaringJean-Michel Basquiat, and Patti Smith, who recalled visiting the Bunker in her National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids:

It was once the road of winos and they’d regularly have 5 cylindrical trash cans to stay heat, to cook dinner, or gentle their cigarettes. You may glance down the Bowery and spot those fires sparkling proper to William’s door… he camped within the Bunker along with his typewriter, his shotgun and his overcoat.

All Giorno needed to do was once stroll upstairs to experience Burroughs’ corporate, however all different guests had been subjected to stringent security features, as described by way of Victor Bockris in With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker:

To get into the Bunker one needed to move thru 3 locked gates and a grey bulletproof steel door. To get in the course of the gates you needed to phone from a close-by telephone sales space, at which level any individual would come down and laboriously liberate, then relock 3 gates sooner than main you up the only flight of grey stone stairs to the ominous entrance door of William S. Burroughs’ headquarters.

Although Burroughs lived merely, he did make some adjustments to his $250/month apartment. He repainted the battleship grey flooring white to counteract the loss of herbal gentle. It’s lovely impregnable.

He additionally put in an Orgone Accumulator, the discovery of psychoanalyst William Reich, who believed that spending time within the cupboard would give a boost to the sitter’s psychological, bodily, and artistic wellbeing by way of exposing them to a mysterious common existence power he dubbed orgone power.

(“How may you rise up within the morning with a hangover and move take a seat in such a issues?” Giorno chuckles. “The hangover is sufficient!”)

Included within the excursion are excerpts of Giorno’s 1997 poem “The Death of William Burroughs.” Take it with a bit of of salt, or an openness to the speculation of astral body travel.

As consistent with biographer Barry Miles, Burroughs died within the Lawrence Memorial Hospital ICU in Kansas, an afternoon after struggling a middle assault. His simplest guests had been James Grauerholz, his assistant Tom Peschio, and Dean Ripa, a chum who’d been anticipated for dinner the evening he fell in poor health.

Poetic license apart, the poem supplies additional perception into the lads’s friendship, and Burroughs’ time within the Bunker:

The Death of William Burroughs

by way of John Giorno

William died on August 2, 1997, Saturday at 6:01 within the
afternoon from headaches from an enormous middle assault
he’d had the day sooner than. He was once 83 years previous. I used to be with
William Burroughs when he died, and it was once probably the most very best
instances I ever had with him.  

Doing Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist meditation practices, I
absorbed William’s awareness into my middle. It appeared as
a vivid white gentle, blinding however muted, empty. I used to be the
car, his awareness passing thru me. A mild
taking pictures superstar got here in my middle and up the central channel,
and out the highest of my head to a natural box of serious readability
and bliss. It was once very robust—William Burroughs resting
in nice equanimity, and the huge empty expanse of
primordial knowledge thoughts.

I used to be staying in William’s area, doing my meditation
practices for him, seeking to deal with excellent stipulations and
dissolve any hindrances that could be coming up for him at that
very second within the bardo. I used to be assured that William had
a prime stage of realization, however he was once now not an absolutely
enlightened being. Lazy, alcoholic, junkie William. I didn’t
permit doubt to get up in my thoughts, even for an fast,
as a result of it will permit doubt to get up in William’s thoughts.

Now, I needed to do it for him.

What went into William Burroughs’ coffin along with his lifeless frame:

About ten within the morning on Tuesday, August 6, 1997,
James Grauerholz and 
Ira Silverberg got here to William’s
area to pick the garments for the funeral director to position
on William’s corpse. His garments had been in a closet in my
room. And we picked the issues to enter William’s coffin
and grave, accompanying him on his adventure within the

His maximum favourite gun, a 38 particular snub-nose, absolutely loaded
with 5 pictures. He known as it, “The Snubby.” The gun was once my
concept. “This is essential!” William all the time mentioned you’ll
by no means be too effectively armed in any state of affairs. Of his greater than
80 world-class weapons, it was once his favourite. He regularly wore it on
his belt throughout the day, and slept with it, absolutely loaded, on
his proper facet, below the mattress sheet, each evening for fifteen

Grey fedora. He all the time wore a hat when he went out. We
sought after his awareness to really feel completely relaxed, lifeless.

His favourite cane, a sword cane fabricated from hickory with a
gentle rosewood end.

Sport jacket, black with a gloomy inexperienced tint. We rummaged
in the course of the closet and it was once the most efficient of his shabby garments,
and smelling candy of him.

Blue denims, the least worn ones had been the one ones blank.

Red bandana. He all the time saved one in his again pocket.

Jockey undies and socks.  

Black footwear. The ones he wore when he carried out. I
idea the previous brown ones, that he wore always,
as a result of they had been at ease. James Grauerholz insisted,
“There’s an previous CIA slang that claims getting a brand new
project is getting new footwear.”

White blouse. We had purchased it in a males’s store in Beverly
Hills in 1981 on The Red Night Tour. It was once his very best blouse,
all of the others had been a bit of ragged, and although it had
change into tight, he’d misplaced numerous weight, and we idea it
would are compatible.  James mentioned,” Don’t they slit it down the again

Necktie, blue, hand painted by way of William.

Moroccan vest, inexperienced velvet with gold brocade trim, given
him by way of 
Brion Gysin, twenty-five years sooner than.

In his lapel button hollow, the rosette of the French
govt’s Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, and the
rosette of the American Academy of Arts and Letters,
honors which William very a lot preferred.

A gold coin in his pants pocket. A gold 19th Century Indian
head 5 greenback piece, symbolizing all wealth. William
would manage to pay for to shop for his manner within the

His eyeglasses in his outdoor breast pocket.

A ball level pen, the type he all the time used. “He was once a
author!”, and infrequently wrote lengthy hand.

A joint of in reality excellent grass.

Heroin. Before the funeral provider, Grant Hart slipped a
small white paper packet into William’s pocket. “Nobody’s
going to bust him.” mentioned Grant. William, bejeweled with all
his adornments, was once touring within the underworld.

I kissed him. An early LP album folks in combination, 1975, was once
known as 
Biting Off The Tongue Of A Corpse. I kissed him on
the lips, however I didn’t do it .  .  . and I must have.

Related Content: 

Call Me Burroughs: Hear William S. Burroughs Read from Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine in His First Spoken Word Album (1965)

How William S. Burroughs Influenced Rock and Roll, from the 1960s to Today

William S. Burroughs’ Class on Writing Sources (1976) 

Ayun Halliday is an writer, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She maximum just lately gave the impression as a French Canadian undergo who travels to New York City looking for meals and that means in Greg Kotis’ brief movie, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday


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