Those lucky enough to have socialized with William Burroughs report the best situations had the smallest number of people, and the very best were often when Allen Ginsberg was present. As Steven Taylor, editor of this book, observes in his introduction, this is because of Burroughs’ “great shyness hiding behind a stern exterior and formal manners.”
In Don’t Hide the Madness, we have Burroughs thoroughly relaxed, incredibly vulnerable, astonishingly… (how else can I say it?) sweet–and not mad at all. Besides fascinating literary gossip (like details of Gregory Corso in rehab), we hear granny Burroughs scold one of his six cats: “Fletch! Get away from the dip. Get away from the dip! Mother of God….” Or make surprising declarations: “I like to shoot, but I could never kill an animal…and a deer, good heavens, never.” Which of course brings us to that wife-shooting business. Considered by most to be an accident, Burroughs also felt the controlling presence of an evil entity that Brion Gysin dubbed “The Ugly Spirit.” The exorcism of this Ugly Spirit by Native American sweat lodge shamanism is a major placeholder in the events of this book. I recall first reading an extremely truncated version of the transcript here in 1992 and not really knowing what to make of it. Here it becomes completely fascinating, convincing and obviously a major turning point in what remained of Burroughs’ life.