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William Burroughs knows

Christiaan Tonnis ~ William S. Burroughs / Video / Laserprint / 2006

Until a couple of days ago, I was pretty psyched about the place where I currently live. Luminaries like Ike Turner and Angela Davis have called the Normandie Hotel home. The lobby’s beautiful, the rent’s reasonable (for L.A. standards), and the vibe is pretty hip. But what is decidedly unhip is the fact that there has been no water in the hotel for 6 days now. That means: no bathing, no hand-washing, no using the toilet. Thank god for my gym membership.

I’m not too sure what’s going on with the place. Apparently, one of the new owners moved back to San Francisco to be close to his boyfriends, and the other manager doesn’t seem to know too much about running a hotel. I’m starting to wonder whether the place is going to close down soon. So once again I’m having fantasies about owning my own home.

Coincidentally, yesterday I received a link from Bruce Germinsky, a realtor on the Jersey Shore. It looks like they’ve got some great properties all over New Jersey; and if I had any desire to live in that state, I’d probably get in touch with them.

But America’s getting me down right now. I keep thinking about this quote by William Burroughs:

“America is not so much a nightmare as a non-dream. The American non-dream is precisely a move to wipe the dream out of existence. The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system set up by the non-dreamers.”

I’m a dreamer. I think I need to blow out of the States for a while, to keep my soul alive. Any suggestions as to a destination? Email me at

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The End of Heroes

Before moving on from the subject of heroes, I thought I’d mention more people who’ve inspired me. Of course, the list could be much longer, but a few standouts are: Brad Will, Michelle Obama, Igor Stravinsky, and Albert Camus. And the Buddha, of course. I guess I admire these folks for being not just rebels, but revolutionaries. I’m reminded of a Machiavelli quote that goes something like: “There is no more difficult or dangerous undertaking than to change the existing order of things.” I’m interested in rebellion that profoundly challenges the status quo, and that’s what the names I mentioned have in common. Not to slam Courtney Love, but when someone like her is one of our biggest cultural “rebels,” then something is seriously wrong.

The Buddha

… because he’s the Buddha. I dare you to read the Dhammapada and let it change your world.

Albert Camus

… is my hero because he wrote The Plague — a novel that reveals his (and our) incredible capacity for compassion.

Michelle Obama

OK, I know the Obamas are trying to downplay the race issue, because people don’t want them to be “too black” (!) But I really have to say something here about Michelle Obama and race because, in my experience, being a gifted black female is extremely dangerous. Over the centuries, people have grown used to seeing black women in positions of servitude to everyone else; the stereotypes all rely on a presumption of your inherent inferiority. I’ve found over and over again that, when you don’t fit into degrading molds, the mob gets hostile. In fact, the more gifted you are, the more of a liability it becomes, because people take your very existence as a threat to their (often unconscious) worldview in which they are superior. As a result, many will go to insane lengths to destroy you, while accusing you of being aggressive (and insane). Though they usually fabricate nonsensical rationalizations for this, the truth is that many people literally want to kill you, simply to keep you from shaking their worlds.

I know all too well that our First Lady must have been under lifelong pressure, even coercion, to be less gifted than she is. The reason I admire her is that she nonetheless went right on being bright, educated, attractive, powerful, successful, and stylish. I think this is a big deal for everyone, whether you are white, black, male, female, or anything else.

Because human degradation extends WAY beyond the hardships of just one demographic. Capitalism is built on a conflict between ownership and servitude, and even white male wage slaves suffer under this system. Nowadays, I see people from all backgrounds clinging to mediocrity, just because they are afraid of what would be done to them if they stood out from the crowd. Michelle Obama (along with her husband) stands as a reminder that, contrary to the messages that we receive every day, it’s possible for you to be true to yourself, become successful, and change the world, all at the same time.

Igor Stravinsky

Reportedly, the inspiration for Stravinsky’s most famous work came when the composer unexpectedly received a vision. I don’t know if it was opium-induced, like the demon-ridden icehouse that drove Coleridge. But whether he was sober or not, in his mind’s eye Stravinsky witnessed an ancient pagan ritual that culminated in the sacrifice of a young virgin who danced herself to death. Stravinsky then wrote a soundtrack for this infernal vision. The result was The Rite of Spring.

Staged as a ballet (choreographed by Nijinsky), Stravinsky’s masterpiece was so revolutionary that it started a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere. Now that, my friends, is true rock and roll. In fact, I’d call it heavy metal, scored for orchestra. Except nothing like that has ever come close to happening at even the best or heaviest rock concerts I’ve been to. Not even Megadeth! Stravinsky’s masterwork has been so influential that someone once called all 20th-century music the “Re-write of Spring.” After 20 years of obsessing over this piece, I’m still dumbfounded at how its creator invoked primal chaos so deliberately and intellectually, resulting in an unparalleled work of jarring dissonance and transcendent beauty.

On a side note, though, I’m not too jazzed anymore about Stravinsky’s storyline, which I think reveals the composer’s Old World mentality. I think romanticizing a young girl’s death as some exciting and glorious event is an archaic and dangerous point of view. I started thinking this way after having a conversation years ago with culture critic Mark Dery. We were discussing Beat and post-Beat writers that I liked, when Mark said that he thought a lot of those guys (and they were mostly guys) were misogynists who saw redemption in killing women. William Burroughs, for instance, claimed that, had he not killed his wife, Joan, he couldn’t have become a writer. I agree with Mark that preying on vulnerable women isn’t cool. I also agree with Carl Jung that glorifying violence against what is feminine and maternal constitutes a war against life itself and has created a massive, collective psychic imbalance. I think it’s a holdover from caveman days, and has caused some of humanity’s direst problems, from war to global pollution. I’m not a militant feminist; I just believe in love and life. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and merely say that I love The Rite of Spring, despite its flaws. Here are Youtube pages where you can watch a recreation of its original staging; it’s pretty trippy:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III: