The author at home
It’s the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and you know what that means: it’s the 40th anniversary of the letter of support William S. Burroughs sent the band, along with his own all-purpose slogan and answer song, “Bugger the Queen.”
Victor Bockris writes that Burroughs’ piece predated the Sex Pistols’ single by three years, but even so, “God Save the Queen” was the occasion for its debut. As far as I can tell, Burroughs never mentioned “Bugger the Queen” without reference to the Sex Pistols. In October ‘77, writing from Naropa, Burroughs sent Brion Gysin a Rolling Stone feature on the Sex Pistols (presumably Charles M. Young’s contemporary cover story) along with the words to “Bugger the Queen,” which he referred to as a new song he might record with Patti Smith. Though the published letters haven’t yet caught up to the punk rock period, Ken Lopez Bookseller has made the typescript of this one available. Punctuation and spelling are WSB’s:
Enclose article from the Rolling Stone on the Sex Pistols and punk rock, in case you didnt see it. This explains the action in Paris. I guess we are classified with Mick Jaeger. I am writing some songs and may do a record with Patti Smith. Here’s one
My husband and I
The old school tie
Tired old games
It belongs in the bog
With the restofthe sog
Pull the chain onBuckingham
The drain calls you MAM.
BUGGER THE QUEEN
Whole skit goes withit illustratting everything I dont like about England.
“Bugger the Queen” was still on Burroughs’ mind one year later when he told a writer for the San Francisco punk zine Search & Destroy about his letter to the Sex Pistols (as quoted by Victor Bockris):
I am not a punk and I don’t know why anybody would consider me the Godfather of Punk. How do you define punk? The only definition of the word is that it might refer to a young person who is simply called a punk because he is young, or some kind of petty criminal. In this sense some of my characters may be considered punks, but the word simply did not exist in the fifties. I suppose you could say James Dean epitomized it in Rebel Without a Cause, but still, what is it? I think the so-called punk movement is indeed a media creation. I did however send a letter of support to the Sex Pistols when they released “God Save the Queen” in England because I’ve always said that the country doesn’t stand a chance until you have 20,000 people saying BUGGER THE QUEEN! And I support the Sex Pistols because this is constructive, necessary criticism of a country which is bankrupt.
The cover (cropped) of ‘Little Caesar’ #9, the first publication of ‘Bugger the Queen’ (via dennis-cooper.net)
The “skit” Burroughs mentions in the letter to Gysin, or a later version of it, is one of the entries in the essay collection The Adding Machine. Burroughs read it toward the end of 1978 at the Nova Convention celebrating his work. It was first published in the ninth issue of Dennis Cooper’s zine Little Caesar, whose previous number featured an interview with Johnny Rotten; International Times ran it too. The gist: chants of “Bugger the Queen” lead to a spontaneous uprising that forces Her Maj to abdicate. From the opening, a few words of inspiration, and the annotated lyrics:
I guess you read about the trouble the Sex Pistols had in England over their song “God Save the Queen (It’s a Fascist Regime).” Johnny Rotten got hit with an iron bar wielded by HER Loyal Subjects. It’s almost treason in England to say anything against what they call “OUR Queen.” I don’t think of Reagan as OUR President, do you? He’s just the one we happen to be stuck with at the moment. So in memory of the years I spent in England—and in this connection I am reminded of a silly old Dwight Fisk song: “Thank you a lot, Mrs. Lousberry Goodberry, for an infinite weekend with you . . . (five years that weekend lasted) . . . For your cocktails that were hot and your baths that were not . . .”—so in fond memory of those five years I have composed this lyric which I hope someday someone will sing in England. It’s entitled: Bugger the Queen.
My husband and I (The Queen always starts her spiel that way)
The old school tie
Tired old games
It belongs in the bog (Bog is punk for W.C.)
With the rest of the sog
Pull the chain on Buckingham
The drain calls you, MA’AM (Have to call the Queen “Ma’am” you know)
BUGGER THE QUEEN!
The audience takes up the refrain as they surge into the streets screaming “BUGGER THE QUEEN!”
Suddenly a retired major sticks his head out a window, showing his great yellow horse-teeth as he clips out: “Buggah the Queen!”
A vast dam has broken.
Alas, no one has stepped up to record “Bugger the Queen” during the intervening decades. I hold out hope Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye will set it to music. Below, for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in June 1977, the Pistols make themselves heard from a boat on the River Thames in what must surely be Sex Pistols Number 2.