William Burroughs Meets Francis Bacon: See Never-Broadcast Footage (1982)

The writ­ing of William S. Bur­roughs and the paint­ings of Fran­cis Bacon take us into often trou­bling but nev­er­the­less com­pelling real­i­ties we could­n’t pos­si­bly glimpse any oth­er way. Some of that effect has to do with the inim­itable (if often unsuc­cess­ful­ly imi­tat­ed) styles they devel­oped for them­selves, and some with what was going on in their unusu­al lives as well as the even wilder realms of their minds. And though no schol­ars have yet turned up a Bur­roughs mono­graph on Bacon’s art, or Bacon-paint­ed illus­tra­tions for a Bur­roughs nov­el — just imag­ine Naked Lunch giv­en that treat­ment — those minds did meet now and again in life, start­ing in Moroc­co six decades ago.

“The two men first met in Tang­iers in the 1950s when Bur­roughs was tech­ni­cal­ly on the run for mur­der­ing his wife after a ‘shoot­ing acci­dent’ dur­ing a drunk­en game of William Tell,” writes Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Paul Gal­lagher. “Bacon was then in a bru­tal and near fatal rela­tion­ship with a vio­lent sadist called Peter Lacey who used to beat him with a leather stud­ded belt.” None oth­er than Allen Gins­berg made the intro­duc­tion between the two men, “as he thought Bacon paint­ed the way Bur­roughs wrote.” But Bur­roughs saw more dif­fer­ences than sim­i­lar­i­ties: “Bacon and I are at oppo­site ends of the spec­trum,” he once said. “He likes mid­dle-aged truck dri­vers and I like young boys. He sneers at immor­tal­i­ty and I think it’s the one thing of impor­tance. Of course we’re asso­ci­at­ed because of our mor­bid sub­ject mat­ter.”

Bacon and Bur­roughs rem­i­nisce about their first meet­ing — what they can remem­ber of it, any­way — in an encounter filmed by the BBC for a 1982 doc­u­men­tary on the writer. “Are­na fol­lowed him to the home and stu­dio of old friend Fran­cis Bacon, where he drops in for a cup of tea and a catch up,” says the BBC’s site. “This meet­ing has nev­er been broad­cast.” But you can see their con­ver­sa­tion pre­sent­ed in a ten-minute edit in the video above. Gal­lagher notes that the cam­era-shy Bur­roughs gets into the spir­it of things only when the talk turns to his favorite sub­jects at the time: “Jajou­ka” — a Moroc­can vil­lage with a dis­tinct musi­cal tra­di­tion — “Mayans, and immor­tal­i­ty.” Bacon, “waspish, bitchy, glee­ful like a naughty school­boy,” throws out barbs left and right about his fel­low artists and Bur­roughs’ fel­low writ­ers.

Bacon also recalls his and Bur­roughs’ “mutu­al friend­ship with Jane and Paul Bowles,” the famous­ly bohemi­an mar­ried cou­ple known for their writ­ing as well as their expat life in Moroc­co, “going on to dis­cuss Jane Bowles’ men­tal decline and the tragedy of her last years being tend­ed to by nuns, a sit­u­a­tion which Bacon thought ghast­ly. Iron­i­cal­ly, Bacon died just over a decade lat­er being tend­ed to by nuns after becom­ing ill in Spain (an asth­ma attack).” Even the most knowl­edgable fans of Bur­roughs, Bacon, and all the illus­tri­ous fig­ures in their world­wide cir­cles sure­ly don’t know the half of what hap­pened when they got togeth­er. And though this ten-minute chat adds lit­tle con­crete infor­ma­tion to the record, it still gets us imag­in­ing what all these artis­tic asso­ci­a­tions might have been like — fir­ing up our imag­i­na­tions being the strong suit of cre­ators like Bacon and Bur­roughs, even decades after they’ve left us to our own real­i­ty.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Visu­al Art of William S. Bur­roughs: Book Cov­ers, Por­traits, Col­lage, Shot­gun Art & More

Gun Nut William S. Bur­roughs & Gonzo Illus­tra­tor Ralph Stead­man Make Polaroid Por­traits Togeth­er

When William S. Bur­roughs Appeared on Sat­ur­day Night Live: His First TV Appear­ance (1981)

The Dis­ci­pline of D.E.: Gus Van Sant Adapts a Sto­ry by William S. Bur­roughs (1978)

Who Was Joan Vollmer, the Wife William Bur­roughs Alleged­ly Shot While Play­ing William Tell?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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