Guilty of everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke

Guilty of everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke
by Herbert Huncke
   Unlike his previous works, Guilty of Everything is not taken from herbert huncke’s notebooks; instead, it is a transcription of a series of interviews that was supplemented by excerpts from his previous writings to create a continuous, chronological flow. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering Huncke’s fame as an oral storyteller, Huncke’s written style and his style of speaking are almost indistinguishable. The manuscript knocked around in various forms beginning in the late 1960s. The book covers Huncke’s life from childhood in 1920s Chicago to the late 1960s. Because this book, unlike his previous ones, is chronologically arranged, it is in many ways the best single source of his life and times. The book begins when Huncke is 12 and runs away from home, taking the trains out of Chicago to the end of the line. He wants to go to Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he was born, and on to New York City. He makes it as far as Geneva, New York, but is picked up by the police, who think he is a hardened case and put him in jail. His father takes him back home, but Huncke is not the same, having gotten a “taste of the outside world, and I knew they couldn’t trap me much longer in any one place.” Around this time, he reads The Little White Hag, a book about Chinese heroin addicts, and using a kind of Huck Finn logic, he believes that even though everyone at the end of the book went to hell, “It sounded like a pretty interesting way to go to hell to me.”
   The book proved to be prophetic: As a teenager, Huncke overdoses on heroin, and while his dispassionate friends wait for a doctor to arrive, they take his clothes off and put women’s underwear on him. After Huncke has recovered, his father comes to the hospital to pick him up. He stands, his pants drop, and there he is in panties. His father cannot believe it, takes him home to his mother, and tells her, “I’m through, I’ve had my fill. He’s beyond me.” His father’s hatred of Huncke’s homosexuality would create a permanent rift between them. When a friend from grade school is killed by undercover Treasury men during a dope deal, Huncke, still in his early teens, confesses to his mother that he is a “dope fiend.” He asks her to help him taper off to quit; she is shocked but agrees. Huncke’s relationship with his mother becomes closer to that of brother and sister. From 1934 to 1939 Huncke “didn’t do anything but float around the country.” Sometimes he could find heroin; other times he could not. He visits New York, where he feels most at home, and moves there permanently in 1939. His hangout becomes Times Square. He learns to steal from a 42nd street hustler named Roy. They break car windows and steal luggage but are caught. Huncke goes to jail for the first time. “When I came out of my first experience [in prison], I was a whole new dude. You don’t have the same enthusiasm. You no longer believe in people quite the same way.” Huncke had always had the ambition to be a writer and had in fact excused his underworld excursions as “gathering material” for a book. When he reached the conclusion that he himself could not write, he determined that he “would encourage others that I would meet who could write.” This was a key decision that ultimately led to his friendship with the Beat writers.
   The book provides an account of his first meeting with the Beats, such as William S. Burroughs, jack kerouac, and allen ginsberg. Burroughs, Huncke says, “was so methodical about everything that I felt his approach came from a purely scientific standpoint. . . . He became a drug addict principally as a result of research.” “Kerouac,” he recalls, “was a typical clean-cut American type. He looked to me like the Arrow-collar man.” He meets Ginsberg through Burroughs. Ginsberg was only 20 years old and “wasn’t sure what he was to become.” Huncke met the rest of the early Beat characters at Joan Adams’s (the future Joan Burroughs) apartment. Huncke recalls the “clique” as featuring “Oscar Wilde types who were very effete and very witty,” and he was often intimidated into silence by them. He immediately liked Joan; in fact, for many years, he was much closer to her than to Burroughs. As is true of his portrayal of the women of the Beat Generation in his other books, Huncke shows a unique awareness of these women.
   In 1946, while sitting in Chase’s cafeteria, Huncke is asked by a girl if he would like to meet Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who was conducting his famous sex survey. He meets the doctor and agrees to talk with him if he will pay him for his time, the first of many occasions throughout the rest of his life when Huncke would be paid to tell his stories. Huncke says that Kinsey was “a very intriguing man, a man that I learned respect.” He finds himself able to tell Kinsey stories that he has never told anyone else, including one about a 20-year-old man who masturbated in front of him while staring at pictures of a little girl. Huncke adds that the man wanted to sodomize him, but Huncke refused (he was nine years old), and that the experience had the effect on him years later that when he would masturbate in that he would envision this man’s huge penis. Such discussions with Kinsey were apparently therapeutic for Huncke. He ended up introducing Burroughs and Ginsberg to Kinsey and says, “I pretty much made his Times Square study.” Huncke first came to realize what “an extraordinary person” Burroughs was as he listened to Burroughs and Kinsey talk and debate. Sessions between Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kinsey—arranged by Huncke—no doubt freed these writers to discuss sex openly and explicitly in their works. In early 1947 Ginsberg told Huncke that Burroughs and Joan had sent him a letter inviting Huncke to come down to Texas and visit them on their farm near New Waverly. Huncke accepted the invitation and made the trip by bus. Huncke, Burroughs, and Joan lived there from January to October of 1947. Burroughs wanted to grow marijuana and opium, but he had no marijuana seeds, the opium flowers would not grow, and the experiment was mostly a bust. Huncke spent a lot of time talking to Joan. During their stay, William S. Burroughs, Jr., was born. Huncke was never quite sure at the beginning if the child was Burroughs’s because he never saw the two “intimate” together. In describing this year in East Texas, Huncke also tells the story of Ginsberg and neal cassady’s visit to the farm. Cassady joined Huncke and Burroughs in their trip back to New York in a jeep that Burroughs had bought. Cassady drove, of course, and talked. He admitted to Huncke that he was “terrified of becoming a queen or a homosexual.” Huncke told him it was silly to worry about such things. He calls Cassady a “gentle” man. Guilty of Everything also contains Huncke’s most detailed description of the “bust” involving himself, Ginsberg, Little Jack Melody, and Vickie Russell. According to Huncke, the day before they were all busted, he and Melody had broken into an apartment and stolen some goods, which they then hid in Ginsberg’s apartment. That night they celebrated Kerouac’s contract for The town and tHe city at john clellon holmes’s apartment. Huncke got “smashed” and does not remember how he came to wake up in the Clinton Hotel the next morning. Returning to Ginsberg’s apartment, he finds no one at home and sensed trouble. Ginsberg and Russell arrived minutes later, frightened and disheveled, and told the story of Melody trying to outrun a “cruiser” that spotted them for making an illegal U-turn. They crashed, and Melody was apprehended. Ginsberg had left his notebooks in the car, though; soon the cops were at his door, and all three were arrested—Huncke for possession of drugs and stolen goods. At the station, they connected Huncke to 52 burglaries, but he boasts that he and his accomplice Johnnie must have committed at least 100. Only Huncke went to prison for the affair.
   This was his first “extended bit,” and he was in prison until 1953. When he returned to New York, the “bebop” scene was in force and heroin was once again easily procured. When he met Ginsberg again, Ginsberg told him that his psychiatrist had warned him to have “nothing to do” with him. And he didn’t. During this period, he meets gregory corso for the first time, and although he admires Corso’s poetry, he never forgives him for leaving him sick and without heroin on one occasion—an act he repaid a few years later when Corso was in the midst of withdrawal symptoms himself, and Huncke held out on him.
   From 1954 to 1959 Huncke was in prison for breaking into an apartment. Huncke read about the Beats in a Life magazine article, and because photos of Ginsberg in the article were taken at the Gaslight coffee shop, Huncke goes there to find him after he is released. Instead, he meets ray and Bonnie bremser (later brenda frazer), who have heard Ginsberg tell stories about him. They direct Huncke to the now-famous poet. As opposed to their reunion in 1953, this time Ginsberg opens his arms and is very helpful to Huncke. Reunited with Ginsberg, Huncke became part of the world surrounding Ginsberg and Orlovsky’s apartment. He lived near Ginsberg in an apartment with Janine Pommy Vega, Bill Heine, and Elise Cowen, and Ginsberg advised Huncke to use methamphetamine (the New York drug of choice in the early 1960s) as a substitute for heroin. At the time, Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi was at the center of the Avenue C meth and art scene, and he and Bill Heine were close associates. Huncke says that he did his best writing on meth and that much of it has survived and is presumably in his previous books. Several factors broke apart the scene: Ginsberg and Orlovsky went to India; Trocchi left; Heine abused Vega, and Huncke had to hide her out. Most importantly, the pushers caused a shortage and raised the prices, setting off a crime wave. In late 1964 Burroughs returned to New York, famous and surrounded by adulators. Huncke had read naked luncH but found “his satire a little too biting, a little too cold. . . . [H]e’s forgotten the human element somehow.” Burroughs sees Huncke at a party and calls him a “damn fool” for continuing to use drugs. Later, in an aside to Huncke, he confesses how boring he finds the commotion over him. Huncke, however, is able to trade on his friendship with Burroughs. He earns a hundred dollars from the hostess of a reception for Burroughs by telling her a story about him—and lying that Burroughs called her a “charming lady.” In the closing section of the book, which takes place in 1968, Huncke finds himself more and more in the public eye. He appears on The David Susskind Show as a specimen drug user, and instead of warning people away from drugs, he says that he has shot up methamphetamine and heroin and has smoked a joint before the show. Susskind evidently liked him, for he helped Huncke place his first story in a national magazine (“Alvarez,” in Playboy.) Subsequently, his old friend and roommate, poet john wieners, invited Huncke to read on a program with Ginsberg and himself at Buffalo University. Although he found the faculty stuffy, he said the “younger people, the students, are fantastic.” In his later life, Huncke found himself increasingly drawn into public life, as a writer, performer, and as a source of information on his Beat friends. More than a historical curiosity for Beat enthusiasts, Guilty of Everything is an artifact that shows precisely how exceptional Huncke was as a storyteller and allows us a better understanding of the influence he had on friends such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs.
   Rob Johnson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Herbert Huncke — Herbert Edwin Huncke (9 janvier 1915 – 8 août 1996) est une icône de la sous culture de la beat generation. Écrivain, pionnier des droits homosexuels (il a participé à étudier la communauté gay avec Alfred Kinsey), drogué, criminel, Huncke a… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Herbert Huncke — (* 9. Januar 1915 in Greenfield, Massachusetts; † 8. August 1996 in New York City) war eine Ikone der Subkultur, Beatnik, Autor und Pionier der Schwulenbewegung. Leben Obwohl einziges Kind einer Mittelklassefamilie, erhielt Huncke nie die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Huncke — Herbert Huncke (* 9. Januar 1915 in Greenfield, Massachusetts; † 8. August 1996 in New York City) war eine Ikone der Subkultur, Beatnik, Autor und Pionier der Schwulenbewegung. Leben Obwohl einziges Kind einer Mittelklassefamilie, erhielt Huncke… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Herbert Huncke — (January 9, 1915 ndash; August 8, 1996) was a sub culture icon, writer, homosexual pioneer (he participated in Alfred Kinsey s studies), drug addict, criminal, and participant in various American social movements of the 20th century. He was a… …   Wikipedia

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