Stars come out for private Burroughs art reception

— The stars -- and a few protesters -- came out for a reception at a Los Angeles exhibit featuring non-literary works of Lawrence's William S. Burroughs.

A few hours before the private reception for "Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts," curator Robert Sobieszek, the entire press office of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and its security team were nervous.

It wasn't because of the high-profile gathering but because of a threatened protest from the Patriot Action League, a right-wing, California-based Christian group.

According to the 2 1/2-page letter from Cedric Wellington of PAL, the museum used $3,000 of National Endowment for the Arts funds to include Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville's light-tower construction, "Dream Machine," in the show. Drug users "enhance" their trips by staring at towers similar to the "Dream Machine."

Wellington claims the piece is included in the exhibition simply because former Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was experimenting with this "dangerous contraption" at the time of his suicide.

"It is very likely if it weren't for these degenerate scribblings (Burroughs' writing), Cobain would never had been introduced to heroin," Wellington said in the letter. "It is the ideal time to ... express disapproval of moral decay and spiritual deceit in the arts and media."

The protest was not well-organized, and the most damage PAL members did was hand out a few fliers that read "Sinners Repent." One young fan thought Burroughs would get a kick out of the flier and took it to him to autograph. The man was quickly escorted away by security and had to be rescued by Lawrence musician James Grauerholz, director of William S. Burroughs Communications.

The eclectic crowd, filled with both suits and slackers, kept its distance from Burroughs for the first half-hour of the reception but later swarmed his table with fits of star-gazing that simply aren't supposed to happen in Los Angeles.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio got his copy of Burroughs' "My Education" signed while he filmed Burroughs with a new Walkman-sized video camera. DiCaprio is star of the screen adaptation of Jim Carroll's "The Basketball Diaries" and rumored to be in line for one of the major roles in a much-delayed production of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

Gus Van Sant, director of "Drugstore Cowboy," which included Burroughs in its cast, chatted about his new HBO miniseries. Painter David Hockney, replete with a straw hat and torn khakis, talked with artist George Condo, a Burroughs collaborator.

Allen Ginsberg was getting food when an unkempt-looking man came up and said, "I have been a big fan of yours for a long time."

"What do you do?" Ginsberg asked.

"Well, not really anything, now," the young man said as Ginsberg graciously excused himself.

Jonathan Silverman, "The Single Guy," was looking much like his TV namesake as he flirted shamelessly with a press aide from the museum, who seemed quite taken with Silverman's Salmon-colored jacket and sandals.

People at the bar kept ordering "Burroughs" -- vodka and Coca-Cola, no ice -- and the bartenders would wince, not only puzzled by such a display of homage, but also thinking the potable was highly unusual.

After two hours of being hounded at his table, Burroughs went upstairs to walk through the show and was immediately followed by numerous folks wanting to see his reaction.

"My, doesn't the show look great," Burroughs said right before leaving.

Sobieszek said he was glad the protest didn't cause any problems and didn't mind that his party went an hour over its scheduled time.

"This whole thing has come off much better than I imagined," he said.

An animated John Giorno, poet and longtime friend of Burroughs', couldn't say enough good things about the few days he had spent in Los Angeles.

"This entire thing was brilliantly conceived," he said. "It has come together perfectly. From the walk through and dinner last night to the party tonight, it has been nothing but fun. I'm so happy for William."

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