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Metropolis / Fixations

For True 'Junky' Junkies

In the Desert, an Ode to Burroughs and the Beat

August 01, 2004|MARK EHRMAN

Steven Lowe never needed to comb the swap meets or EBay to put together his treasure trove of William S. Burroughs-abilia. During the course of his on-and-off assistant/collaborator-ship with the "Naked Lunch" author, artist and notorious opiate addict from 1974 to Burroughs' death in 1997, Lowe acquired hundreds of artifacts that would make any "Junky" junkie jealous. These include many signed first editions, the original third draft of Burroughs' novel "The Western Lands," plus paintings, photographs and other artwork of and by the eminence grise of the chaotic Beats.

"I didn't even realize I had amassed such an extensive collection until I opened this hotel," says the 55-year-old Lowe, who six months ago launched the Beat Hotel in Desert Hot Springs, which not only serves as a kickback resort for weary travelers, but as a veritable museum that features Burroughs' work as well as that of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others. "Before that, it was just stuff I had here and there in boxes," he says.

His library wall is dominated by the giant toothpaste-like sqiggles of "Exterminator!"--a detail of which serves as the cover illustration of the Penguin Books edition of the novel of the same name. The red, white and blue signed serigraph of "X-Ray Man" is recognizable because it appears on the Sonic Youth CD "NYC Ghosts & Flowers." Many of the neckties Burroughs used to paint and wear are here, as well as the manila file folders that he would turn into miniature canvases before slipping his manuscripts in them. And shackled to a director's chair is a rubber mugwump from David Cronenberg's 1991 "Naked Lunch" film, loosely adapted from the book. The latter was loaned to him by Ira Silverberg, a literary agent and publicist for the Burroughs estate. "He had purchased it at a Burroughs auction at Sotheby's," Lowe says. "And when he saw this hotel, he said, 'This has to be here.' "

Having been raised "Six Feet Under"-style in a funeral home in Miami, Lowe has "always been interested in creating environments." An early interest in flower arrangement brought him into contact with books on the subject written by Laura Lee Burroughs--William's mother--in the 1940s, which he also keeps on display. "Burroughs had never seen them until I showed them to him," he recalls. Lowe's father also handled the 1981 funeral of William's son Billy.

Lowe claims to have spent time in a holding pen with Allen Ginsberg during the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami--and he would later work for him, transcribing the journals the poet and his partner, Peter Orlovsky, kept on a trip to India. Many of the photos of Burroughs on display were taken by Ginsberg. Indeed, collections aside, Lowe himself is a walking library of fantastic and synchronistic stories of the greatest minds of that generation. Any one of which would beggar belief. That is, if he didn't have the artifacts to prove it.

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