Q Magazine

Guest Column - What Is Love? Grant Hart on William S Burroughs

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Hüsker Dü co-founder and songwriter Grant Hart is gearing up to release his latest solo album The Argument later this month (22 July). The record is inspired by an unpublished William S. Burroughs manuscript for Lost Paradise, a science fiction story of fallen angels, distant planets and US president Harry S. Truman as God. Influenced by Tom Waits collaboration with Burroughs that turned German folk tale Die Freishutz into The Black Rider, though rarely quoting the work Hart has added music to the story. In a Guest Column for Q the singer-songwriter opted to ask What is love?, leading him back to think about his friend, his passing and the poet’s cats…

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“Love. What is it? it is the most powerful painkiller what there is.” These were the last written words of William Burroughs. As a friend I loved him, and I hope that by doing so I helped to kill some of his pain.

In other texts and interviews, William professed his abiding love of his cats. On the topic of nuclear devastation he stated his worst fear was that his cats would be caused to suffer, ie to be without his love. He feared a situation in which he was unable to provide for them because of his own death or the collapse of society. Some unknowable calamity disturbed him.

His only child, W.S.B. III, had died as a result of liver ailments years before, and his cat-friend and nemesis named Fletch had been found lying lifeless only days before William’s own death. His adopted son James and great friend John were there for William. His colleague Allen Ginsberg was a recent, hard loss. William was ready to pass through the Land Of The Dead to reach The Western Lands.

I was grateful that I had heard the news from someone I loved. My mother. She gave me a call early in the morning. His friend John had made sure that his body would be left alone for as long as possible, to allow his soul to get used to the idea of disembodiment. People worldwide had heard of his death long before his body began its journey to his birth city, St Louis.

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We were about ten miles from St. Louis when we stopped at a highway rest area to freshen-up before we got to the cemetery.

We were a motorcade. A white hearse and matching stretch and about five cars that did not match. As we pulled in and parked Ann Waldman spotted a group of five hitch-hiking 90s hippie kids and murmured “they are coming with us”. Sure enough, they had waited at that particular rest stop knowing that Bill was heading this way home from Lawrence, Ka. One of the youngsters was a shy, tie-dyed gamin who asked me quietly and respectfully “Is Old Bill in there?” while she gazed at the hearse. “Yes, he is on his way home.”

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At the gravesite many talented people paid tribute to the old man. A song or two were sung, poems read, jokes told. There was an awkward feeling amongst those gathered. It was the absence of Allen Ginsberg, the man that William loved dearly.

Grant Hart@GrantVHart

For more head to Granthart.com.


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