Beat goes on for Burroughs associates

Robert Sobieszek, Richard Held and Allen Ginsberg are still going strong.

Piling out of VW vans as well as vintage corvettes, William Burroughs venerators and votaries along with plain ol' hardcore denizens of the art world came in droves Saturday to hear Robert Sobieszek, Kathy Acker, Richard Hell, Legs McNeil, and Allen Ginsberg speak at the "William S. Burroughs and the Arts" symposium in Woodruff Auditorium on the Kansas University campus.

During breaks in the symposium a few of the speakers had a minute to articulate their current and upcoming projects.

Curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Ports of Entry" Burroughs exhibit that has been loaned to the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art at KU, Robert Sobieszek was still enjoying the realization of his last five plus years of work organizing the Burroughs exhibit, but said this event at KU would most likely be his last Burroughs work. So for Sobiezsek, the natural question was: Is there life after the hugely successful Burroughs project?


"It will be something with science fiction and the visual arts, or Anselm Kiefer, or (last possibility) more work on the '60s," he remarked in between cigarette puffs.

Richard Held, former member of trailblazing punk and New Wave music outfits Television and the Voivoids, wowed the crowd with a brotherly tone and one-liners like "Burroughs doesn't want to be human, and I totally sympathize." The 48-year-old Held has just finished his first novel, "Go Now" (Scribners) and is sprouting ideas about a non-fiction book on Vietnam.

Not surprisingly, the 70-year-old poet Allen Ginsberg was a hit at the symposium, reciting Shakespeare in sparkling impromptu form and vivaciously narrating his reverence for Burroughs as a writer and friend. At a pre-lunch interview, Ginsberg elaborated some of his recent projects.

Ginsberg, like his beloved confidant Burroughs, continues to expand his creative corpus into the audio domain. He has a part spoken-word poetry part rock 'n' roll songs CD titled "The Ballad of the Skeletons" just out on Mercury Records, with musical accompaniment by Phillip Glass (piano), Lenny Kaye (guitar) and Paul McCartney (drums, guitar and organ), among other notables. There has been a music video by filmmaker Gus Van Sant for one of its songs, currently an MTV buzz clip.

"The video is very much in the style of the Burroughs cut-up (art concept)," he said. "Van Sant has of course worked with Burroughs before."

Ginsberg added that the lyrical content of the album addresses such contemporary issues as censorship and the poor and homeless.

"It goes after those who contradict the Bible by persecuting the poor, which is not what Christ did at all, and by spreading hatred and fear rather than compassion," Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg said he continues to write poetry, when, of course, the muse is willing.

"Paul (McCartney) is writing a lot of poetry," he said in response to a question about his acquaintance with the Fab Four fave. "So he and I are talking a lot about Haiku (poetry)."


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