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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writers and Their Bowie Knives

Beat-generation writer and junkie William S. Burroughs brandishes an impressive bowie knife, possibly the one given him by Chris Stein, lead guitarist of Blondie. A fascinating discussion of Burrough's obsession with weapons can be found at Reality Studio, a website devoted to Burroughs. I quote:
William’s knives ranged from switchblades to scimitars to huge Bowie knives, and he was liable to whip one out at any given moment for a variety of reasons. There were frequent instructional demonstrations, of course. And he loved getting packages in the mail because it gave him an excuse to slash open the box with some nasty knife. Even when he was engaged in peaceful activities like making tea or reading a book William’s body movements were jerky, erratic, and fast, let alone when he was gleefully hacking open cardboard boxes. It was a little bit nerve-wracking watching him. He’d already cut off one pinky, and nobody wanted to watch him to lose the other. 
More than once there weren’t enough steak knives to go around at dinner because he had hoarded them as weapons. I’d look in the silverware drawer, and there’d be only one steak knife. He had the rest of them stashed all over the house, in desk drawers, bookshelves, mixed in with the Main Knife Cache, all over.
Hunter Thompson, journalist, gun nut, and friend of William S. Burroughs, is said to have armed himself with a bowie knife when confronting trespassers on his Aspen property. According to Gene McGarr, who knew him, "He liked the idea of showing a big blade."

John Oates, of Hall & Oates, attended one of Thompson's notorious Monday Night Football parties. He recalled, “Hunter kept jabbing me with a bowie knife while shouting, ‘That’s top-notch! That’s top-notch!’”

Chris Parry, who visited Thompson at his home, noted "the line of about fifty bowie knives on the coffee table, all gifts from previous visitors."

James Jones, WW II veteran and author of From Here to Eternity and other best-sellers, rhapsodized about Randall custom knives in Some Came Running.
[Wally Dennis] began thinking about his knives. There was something a man could trust. And be proud of.  --And there was a real honest-to-god artist; that Randall. Wally wondered what kind of a person he must be, a man who made his living just making knives--and yet who could make them such beautiful objects as these knives were. They were lethal, he thought, absolutely lethal, with the beauty of the absolutely lethal. Like sharks. And they had lines like sharks. That same streamlined lethal shape. 
Wally (a stand-in for Jones) ordered four Randall knives as soon as he got his first large royalty check. He had intended to order only the # 1 "All-Purpose Fighting Knife," but ended up also ordering the # 5 "Camper and Yachtsman," # 7 "Fisherman-Hunter," and # 8 "Trout and Bird Knife." He rationalized the expenditure by telling himself it was a good investment. At $93.50 for all four, he was right about that--the No. 1 that cost him $28.50 would be worth close to $2,000 today.
He loved them all, of course--but of them all, he loved that #1 the best. When you held that balanced, tempered blade in your hand you were touching hands, in a direct line, with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and Sam Houston, and all the men who had fought the Indians on the plains, or the Japs on Guadalcanal. As soon as the knives had come in he had got out his book on knife fighting and started practicing. Horizontal cuts, and vertical cuts, and the in quartata thrust, head cuts and hand cuts, all of it.

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