The New Recruit

Lawrence, City of the Arts, Harvard on the Kaw, bastion of hippie liberalism, spark to the Civil War, and basketball empire, is said to be a great place to raise a family, but hasn't yet caught on as a destination for retiring stars of the literary and art worlds. Perhaps it's because we lack the scenic attractions of mountains and oceans, the grittiness and cultural wonders of big cities, or the comfort of a mild climate, all of which make the relocation of writer William Burroughs to Lawrence in 1981 that much more remarkable. For nearly sixteen years Lawrence was on the map as the place where "Burroughs lived." Although many couldn't understand how he could live in Lawrence, the devotional effect he had on his followers and popularity as a cultural icon drew many to make pilgrimages to the writers' new home. And during that time, it wasn't unusual to see his peers and protegees like Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, and Laurie Anderson pass through. It was cool to be from Lawrence, where William Burroughs lived.Burroughs died in 1997, but his spirit still roams downtown, reanimated by the memories of those who knew him well, those who know those who knew him well, and those who count a happenstance encounter with the writer as a fish story worthy of a thousand retellings. Today, you can still hear the slightest anecdotes about him traded like hipster currency in bars and coffee shops, with admirers referring to him as "Burroughs" and those who can claim a closer connection referring to him by the more familiar "William." I used to always see Burroughs at Dillons. I once had to drive William to the methadone clinic in Kansas City. Someone who did landscaping at his house told me that Burroughs' lawnmower was stored in my garage in North Lawrence after he died. I actually had sex in William's house during some sort of party, and remember what an incredible library he had. I lived two doors down from him, I think._Others would rather have us forget Burroughs, as was clear when the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association put forth the idea of renaming the [creek][1] near his house as a memorial. The creek eventually was renamed "Burroughs", and maybe someday his old house on Learnard will be preserved as a place for writers in residence, but what about the loose band of anti-establishment free thinkers who coalesced around and were motivated by his presence? This may have been the biggest effect Burroughs had on Lawrence, as local poet Jim McCrary has written, "By living in Lawrence, William kept alive an alternative community of libertarianism that always made room and stood aside for younger members." When William Burroughs checked out, this "alternative community" lost its number one anti-hero and sage.The only other Lawrencian, that comes to mind, who inspires a kind of devotional following is Bill James. Who? He's the [guru][2] baseball statistician whose anti-intuitive number crunching brought a World Series title to the Boston Red Sox after an eighty-six year drought. That's sports analysis though. It may be a worthy pursuit (and I wish the Cubs would hire him for a season), but it just doesn't have the same cache as renegade Beat writer. So, isn't there anyone else, any other edgy and brilliant writer or artist living among us, under the radar? Maybe. There are rumors.Nearly all of them name the same figure. An innovative art multitasker who, if he did live here, would go a long way toward putting Lawrence back on that map. Unconfirmed sightings of him began soon after Burrough's death. The story spread, and then someone I trust swore that this guy, this artist, writer, producer, and rock and roll hip-star was now confirmed as living in Lawrence. He'd hired a realtor to find a home while he stayed at the Eldridge, they said. Then, he'd bought a house on the southwest corner of 23rd and Massachusetts, and his number was in the phone book under D. Byrne. That was eight or nine years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of us really wanted this story to be true, so we ignored evidence to the contrary, like the fact that D. Byrne hasn't been seen here since his show in 1997, and clung to a fading memory of once hearing about someone who'd seen him [riding his bike][3] downtown. I cannot and would not want to try to prove that the front man for the Talking Heads never lived here. All I can say, is that if he did, he was one hell of a recluse, and it appears from checking area phone books that our city's charms weren't enough to hold him here, and he moved to Olathe. Olathe. So, it seems that we are without a captain once again, adrift and invisible on the map of cool. What to do? Will Lawrence ever again be home to a big fish who can rekindle our nonconformist spirit? If so, who, and why would they come _here? The way I see it, we can sit around hoping and manifesting, or we can get up off our asses and recruit. You know, the way we do for basketball players and CEO's. With this in mind, I've sketched out a short list of qualifications that I think will quickly narrow the field (feel free to add to or modify the list.)The candidate should ...1) be over 50 years old. 2) never have lived here in the past. 3) have achieved international recognition in their discipline. 4) inspire avid devotion including pilgrimages of more than 500 miles. 5) be commonly referred to by either a first or last name, but not both. 6) be the cause of consternation among some elected officials and chamber of commerce members, due to their 'alternative' lifestyle. 7) promise, when they arrive, to live east of Massachusetts Street or in North Lawrence.When I solicited friends for nominations, their eyes sparkled with possibilities. Noting the above prerequisites, they put forth, Lou Reed, Cindy Sheehan, Ralph Nader, Willie Nelson, Elvira, Kurt Vonnegut, Patti Smith, Noam Chomsky, and Christo among others. _Note: Bjork and Dave Eggers are too young, Bruce Springsteen is too nice and he already lives here (check the phone book), and Martha Stewart would never live on the east side, so they're not eligible._Okay, now down to business. Below is a first draft of the congratulatory letter we can send to the selected nominee. The names are used only as examples.Dear Christo or Mr. Christo, On behalf of the Lawrence Committee to Recruit a New Nonconformist Captain (LCRNNC), we are pleased to offer you and your very talented wife the opportunity to leave the oppressive hustle and bustle of New York and take up residence in the true City of the Arts, Lawrence, Kansas.Your selection by our expert panel comes after a long process in which the relative merits of many of the 20th century's most creative minds were weighed in relation to their compatibility with our fine city. In the end, it came down to three, Kurt Vonnegut, Elvira, and you! with your outstanding resume easily rising to the top. ![][4]We think you will find Lawrence a great place to settle. Lauded as one of the country's 100 Best Small Art Towns, Lawrence is often referred to as the 'Paris of Kansas', although French is not commonly heard on the streets. In addition Lawrence, is conveniently situated equidistant from the east and west coasts, boasts a full service downtown shopping district, and has the perfect wrappable structure for your next project. (see the enclosed photo of the downtown microwave tower.) Once again, we congratulate you on being selected and look forward to your reply. If there is anything we can do to make your relocation smoother, let us know.Sincerely, John Doe (another nominee) for the LCRNNC [1]: [2]: [3]: [4]:


Joel 10 years, 9 months ago

Lowenstein: You're too young, otherwise I'd nominate you as our gray artistic eminence.

But doesn't Roger Shimomura already fill these criteria?

leslie 10 years, 9 months ago

Surely when Christo & Jeanne-Claude wrapped the walkways in Loose Park in KC (late 70s, I think), they made some friends who could help you in this endeavor. Network it, Dave!

lori 10 years, 9 months ago

Paul Westerberg? He fits all the criteria, and he's well known as a talented, labile, self-destructive artist who has a small but intensely loyal following.

I dunno. I got nothing. I can't even take credit for Paulie, Stu thought of him.

Christo and his following seem to like alot of attention of the material sort. I somehow can't see them living in the hood. I might be wrong, just don't have a good feel on him.

Anne Tangeman 10 years, 9 months ago

Just for the record, I can confirm two David Byrne sitings during the day of his show here way back when - one riding his bike down Mass. St. (wearing a black English riding helmet) and one later that day at Dillon's on Mass. Resident-for-a-day perhaps. Christo's not my pick, but if he comes, I second the tower wrapping.

lori 10 years, 9 months ago

Was David Byrne wearing a "that's my Dillons" t-shirt by chance?

Dave Loewenstein 10 years, 9 months ago

I used Christo as an example. My choice Vonnegut. He might not last long, but he's still the got fire and spit.

lazz 10 years, 9 months ago

Speaking of fire and spit, didn't the "Get Your War On" cartoonist recently move to town?

boraider 10 years, 9 months ago

harvard on the kaw? jesus fuck, that is really pushing it, no?

Althea Schnacke 10 years, 9 months ago

How about someone who never talks to the media, like Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger?

Joel 10 years, 9 months ago

Althea: How do you know they're not here already?

Jill Ensley 10 years, 9 months ago

Even though I agree that "harvard on the kaw" is a bit overzealous, great blog Dave.

I don't think Vonnegut will leave NY....and I'm kind of glad he won't. Good lord I love that man.

Personally, I vote for Crumb...he fulfills all the requirements.

(p.s. I'm pretty sure David Rees (Get Your War On) lives in Brooklyn, yo)

brfts 10 years, 9 months ago

I really don't see how Lawrence would attract any beat people anymore. Over the years it's gotten less liberal-friendly and I just don't think someone from either coast would come here. Anybody agree with me on this?

Dave Loewenstein 10 years, 9 months ago

Jill and boraider, I didn't make up 'harvard on the kaw' I actually have heard that around. Salinger: Of course. Crumb: perfecto.

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