The William S. Burroughs centenary continued last night with what might’ve been its marquee event — a marathon reading at St. Mark’s Poetry Project. And the reading’s finest moment? When Genesis Breyer P-Orridge — an old friend of Burroughs — read the talking asshole routine that Steve Buscemi did earlier this week.
Before that happened, Anne Waldman, who talked WSB with Thurston Moore last week, made a return to the scene. And Bob Holman, last seen lamenting the postponement of Howl! Festival, also took the stage. Both Steve Dalachinsky, the quintessential downtown jazz poet, and Penny Arcade, the quintessential Lower East Side performance artist, did cut-ups of Burroughs quotes — Dalachinsky with a French drone guitarist whom he had just met that night.
Nick Zedd — whose underground films will be screened tonight at Incubator Arts Project and tomorrow at Brooklyn Fireproof, which is also exhibiting his paintings — read the “Invocation” from Burroughs’s 1981 novel Cities of the Red Night, which begins “This book is dedicated to the Ancient Ones, to the Lord of Abominations, Humwawa, whose face is a mass of entrails, whose breath is the stench of dung and the perfume of death,” and which ends “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” (So: exactly what you’d expect the man behind the Cinema of Transgression to read.) Here’s the video courtesy of B+B contributor Logan K. Young.
It was a rare New York appearance for Zedd, who recently called his former hometown a “dead zone overpopulated with tourists, conformists, yuppies, middle class students and other vermin,” and wrote, “the best place to be if you value your sanity is to get out of a place like NYC” (very Burroughsian proclamations). Whatever he’s doing in Mexico City is working wonders for his skin and hair: he didn’t look a day older than when he was making no-budget movies with Rev. Jen.
JG Thirlwell of Foetus also read, but perhaps the most well received appearance of the night came from Thirlwell’s fellow industrial-music pioneer, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The gender-bending artist and musician from Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle did Burroughs’s “talking asshole” routine in a sort of bedtime-story voice befitting the hour (by then it was almost midnight). The passage about a carnival worker whose anus takes on a life of its own seemed eerily appropriate for the man who underwent multiple surgeries in order to look like his wife.
Genesis was close friends with Burroughs (s/he recently told us that h/er kids called him “Granddad William”). Before the reading, s/he shared a memory, using the customary second person plural: “We remember a phone call from William from Naropa in Colorado and [his son] Billy, Jr. had just died. And it was the first time we heard William crying, and we thought, thank goodness: he’s been trying so hard for so long to suppress emotions, to be the grey man, the invisible man, the untouchable brain.”
Watch the beginning of the reading above. It continues (with a slight gap, sorry — camera ran out of memory) in the audio clip below.