William Burroughs said about his book The Naked Lunch, "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” I think I know what he means, mostly.
I’ve tried to find out about Burroughs’s eating habits; with limited success. Victor Bockris’s “A Report From The Bunker With William Burroughs” contains many tape-recorded conversations made around dinners with Burroughs and various cronies, but there’s not much information on what they ate. Bockris describes one dinner at Burroughs’ loft, says they had fish, rice and broccoli, and tells us it was “delicious,” but that’s about it.
The most revealing moment in Bockris’s book comes when Debbie “Eat To The Beat” Harry asks Burroughs if he can cook. Burroughs says, “I cook tastily for as many as ten people.” This strikes me as amazing, if true.
I’ve been trying to find a picture of Burroughs eating, but so far I’ve failed. There are plenty of pictures of him drinking and smoking, pictures of sitting in restaurants with empty plates in from of him, and of course endless pictures of him waving guns around. But none of him eating.
So here’s the best I can do: William Burroughs shopping in a supermarket in Lawrence, Kansas. I wish it were a better picture so at least we could be absolutely sure what he was buying. I think it's cat food.
Junkies, we know, don’t care much about food: that’s how they stay so trim and attractive. But Burroughs seems to have been, in some ways, a picky eater. In “Electronic Revolution” he tells of his troubles in the early 70s at the Moka Bar in London’s Soho. He claimed to have been on the receiving end of “outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake.” And so he began a hate campaign against the owners.
Actually he regarded it as psychic warfare, an attempt to disrupt the “space time continuum” around the café. This involved taking a lot of photographs of the place, and making tape recordings and playing them back in situ. “Playback is a bitch,” he writes. This sounds like twaddle to me, but it worked apparently and the café duly went out of business. But this psychic terrorism also involved Burroughs doing a lot of hanging the café, and I’d have thought Burroughs’ sustained, cadaverous presence would be bad for anybody’s business.
Still, it’s easy enough to imagine Burroughs engaged in psychic warfare: much harder to imagine him enjoying a good cheesecake.
Below is a picture taken in the Moka Bar in 1954; a man saves time by using the cafe's electric razor while he drinks his morning coffee. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)