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Paul Frederick Bowles
Paul Bowles
November 18, 1999
Age 88
 
Heart Failure 
 
OBITUARY 
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OBITUARY 
        
 
 

         Existentialist author Paul Bowles dies 

             Paul Bowles: friend of Copland, Stein and Cocteau  

             The American author and composer Paul Bowles, best 
             known for The Sheltering Sky, has died in Morocco aged 
             88.  

             He died of a heart attack on Thursday in the port of 
             Tangiers, where he had lived for most of his life. He had 
             been in hospital with cardiac problems since 7 
             November.  

             He was the last survivor of a whole generation of 
             American writers which included William S Burroughs 
             and Jack Kerouac.  

             Although not a 'beat' himself, Bowles was heavily 
             influenced by the introspection which marked their 
             works.  

             His existentialist masterpiece, The Sheltering Sky, the 
             film version of which was directed by Bernardo 
             Bertolucci, details the destruction of an American couple 
             in the soporific decadence of 1930s Morocco, drawing 
             upon his own experiences as a long-term American 
             expatriate in Tangiers.  

             Paul Frederick Bowles was born in New York City in 
             1910 into a wealthy New England family.  

             During his early years an aunt and uncle introduced him 
             to the esoterica of yoga, theosophy and 
             transcendentalism, themes which he would explore 
             further in later life.  
 

                                 His grandparents' 
                                 agnosticism was also to play 
                                 a central role in his outlook.  

                                 After graduating from high 
                                 school, Paul Bowles enrolled 
                                 at the University of Virginia, 
                                 but soon ran away to the 
                                 intellectual hothouse of Paris 
                                 where he worked for a while 
                                 as a switchboard operator at 
                                 the International Herald 
                                 Tribune.  

             Returning to the United States and a reconciliation with 
             his parents, he became friends with the composer Aaron 
             Copland, who taught him composition.  

             With Copland, Bowles travelled extensively in Europe, 
             meeting Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein and 
             her lover, Alice B Toklas.  

             His surrealist poetry and nihilistic outlook irritated Stein 
             who advised him and Copland to travel to Tangiers.  

             It was a journey which would change his life.  

             "As a result of this arbitrary action," he wrote later, "my 
             life was permanently altered.  

             "If Morocco had been then as it is now, I should have 
             spent the summer and gone away, probably not to 
             return. But Morocco in 1931 provided an inexhaustible 
             succession of fantastic spectacles."  

             Entranced by what he perceived to be the transcendental 
             nature of North African life as well as by a society 
             tolerant of homosexuality, Paul Bowles produced his first 
             musical compositions.  
 

                                 Although these were often 
                                 arcane pieces, including 
                                 settings of Cocteau's poetry, 
                                 Bowles was to gain himself a 
                                 glowing reputation as a 
                                 composer of incidental and 
                                 other music for theatrical 
                                 productions on Broadway.  

                                 Among his credits are such 
                                 works as Love's Old Sweet 
                                 Song, The Glass Menagerie 
                                 and Sweet Bird of Youth.  

             A radical Marxist, Paul Bowles co-founded the 
             Committee on Republican Spain, which raised money for 
             the anti-Franco campaign during the Spanish Civil War.  

             In 1938 he married the woman considered to be his 
             muse, the writer Jane Auer, author of the acclaimed 
             play, In The Summer House. It was a loving marriage of 
             opposites, even though both were homosexual.  

             In 1947 Bowles and his wife returned to Morocco and he 
             wrote his first, and most celebrated, novel.  

             He described The Sheltering Sky as, "an adventure story 
             in which the actual adventures take place on two planes 
             simultaneously: in the actual desert and in the inner 
             desert of the spirit."  

             The novel was on the New York Times best-seller list for 
             ten weeks following its publication in 1949. The initial 
             critical response to the novel was mixed: it was called 
             'gripping', 'puzzling' and 'strange'.  

             But, as the years went by, the novel gained the 
             reputation of a cult classic.  
 

                                 His other novels defied any 
                                 conventional pigeon-holing. 
                                 Let It Come Down tells of an 
                                 American bank clerk's 
                                 descent into the seedy 
                                 underworld of a Tangier
                                 dope fiend.  

                                 The Spider's House looks at 
                                 the effects of Morocco's 
                                 anti-colonial struggle through 
                                 the eyes of an American 
                                 expatriate and a young Arab 
                                 boy.  

             Bowles denied that his works were autobiographical but 
             was resigned to the fact that no-one else agreed with 
             him. Indeed, the idea of resignation to fate was central to 
             much of Bowles' work.  

             Though he travelled widely, Paul Bowles always returned 
             to his beloved Tangiers. Following his wife's death in 
             1973, he became increasingly reclusive.  

             In his book The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux paints 
             a poignant picture of an aged and ill Paul Bowles: an 
             American in an Arab city, still enjoying the illicit 
             pleasures of kif and hashish jam but with one eye firmly 
             on the past.  

             "His world had shrunk to these walls," writes Theroux, 
             "But that was merely the way it seemed. It was an 
             illusion. His world was within his mind, and his 
             imagination was vast." ~ BBC 
 

 
NY TIMES
        
 Writer Paul Bowles Dies at 88
 
              By MEL GUSSOW

                   Paul Bowles, the novelist, composer, poet and quintessential
                   outsider of American literature, died of a heart attack Thursday in
              a hospital in Tangier, Morocco. 

              He was 88, and throughout his life, he remained an artist whose name
              evoked an atmosphere of dark, lonely Moroccan streets and endless
              scorching deserts, a haze of hashish and drug-induced visions. 

              Bowles was taken to the hospital on Nov. 7 from his home in Tangier,
              where he had lived since 1947. 

              He was most famous for his stories and his
              novels, especially "The Sheltering Sky." He
              was also known for his songs, concertos,
              incidental music and operas; for his marriage
              to Jane Bowles a novelist and playwright who
              died in 1973, and, simply, for being Paul
              Bowles. 

              He became an icon of individualism. Although
              he remained elusive to his biographers as well
              as his critics, his life as an expatriate was as
              fascinating as his own experiments in art. 

              One of the last of his cultural generation, what
              might be called the post-Lost Generation, he
              knew and occasionally collaborated with
              many of the major artistic figures of his time,
              among them Orson Welles, Tennessee
              Williams and Gertrude Stein. He put a stamp of sui generis on whatever
              he chose to do, or not to do. In many ways, his career was one of
              avoidance. 

              In an interview with The New York Times in 1995, the last time he
              visited New York, he said that a typical Bowles fictional character "slips
              through life, if possible without touching anything, without touching other
              people." Asked if that was how he lived his own life, he admitted: "I've
              tried. It's hard. If you discover you're affecting other people, you have to
              stop doing whatever you're doing." 

              Bowles's fiction deals with civilization overcome by savagery, a world in
              which innocence is corrupted and delirium thrives. At the core is a feeling
              of isolation, self-contained compartments in which people live alone and
              are fearful of communication. As he said in an interview in The Paris
              Review in 1981, "Everyone is isolated from everyone else." A Place Of
              Wisdom, Ecstasy, Even Death 

              Although Bowles's 1972 autobiography was titled "Without Stopping,"
              his career was filled with stops and restarts. At various points he turned
              away from music and took up fiction, gave up writing novels, retreated to
              Tangier and became a collector of Arabian stories and songs, and moved
              farther away from the worlds of publishing and society toward an
              unknown destination. 

              As he said in his autobiography, "Like any Romantic, I had always been
              vaguely certain that sometime during my life I should come into a magic
              place which, in disclosing its secrets, would give me wisdom and ecstasy
              -- perhaps even death." In contrast to other writers who chose to keep
              their names in the public spotlight, Bowles steadfastly preferred not to,
              avoiding commitments and rejecting offers.  "I'm not ambitious," he said.
              "If I had been, I'd have stayed in New York." 

              Bowles became a magnet for those envisioning the artist's life away from
              the mainstream. It is not surprising that he was idolized by writers of the
              Beat Generation, many of whom visited him in Tangier. 

              Allen Ginsberg called him "a caviar writer." Sweet Songs, Light in
              Texture 

              There were two sides to Bowles's art, as Ned Rorem explained in his
              memoir "Knowing When to Stop." Rorem said that Bowles's stories
              were "icy, cruel, objective" and his music was "warm, wistful, witty." 

              It was his feeling that of his 50 stories only two were marked by violence.
              In one of the most brutal -- and most admired -- stories, "A Distant
              Thunder," a professor is captured by nomads who cut out his tongue and
              treat him as their slave. 

              Virgil Thomson said about Bowles's work as a composer: "Paul Bowles's
              songs are enchanting for their sweetness of mood, their lightness of
              texture, for in general their way of being wholly alive and right. . . . The
              texts fit their tunes like a peach in its skin." 

              One of the oddities of Bowles's
              life is that this international
              traveler, who was marked by his
              rootlessness and who was
              seemingly a wanderer in the
              desert of his own choice, was
              born into a middle-class
              environment in Jamaica, Queens.
              During his childhood, Jamaica
              was still a bucolic environment
              with sheep grazing on the main
              street. 

              In one family legend, Claude
              Bowles, who was a dentist, tried
              to kill his son, Paul, in infancy by
              stripping off the baby's clothes
              and placing him in a basket on a
              windowsill during a snowstorm.
              According to the story, he was
              rescued by his grandmother. In
              his biography of Bowles, "An
              Invisible Spectator," Christopher
              Sawyer-Lauçanno said that the
              incident might not have happened
              "but Bowles has always believed
              it to be true," and it haunted him. 

              He could read by the time he
              was 3 and within the year was
              writing stories. Soon, he wrote
              surrealistic poetry and music.
              When he was 16, he published
              poetry in Transition magazine. 

              Until he was 18, he followed a
              rigidly formalized life. Then, in his
              first semester at the University of
              Virginia, he suddenly quit school.
              He left the United States without
              telling his parents, expecting
              never to see them again. For the
              first of several times, he changed
              his life. 

              In characteristic Bowles fashion,
              he fled to Paris. He once said
              that he was not running away but
              was "running toward something,
              although I didn't know what at
              the time." A year later, he
              returned to the United States ,
              where he met Aaron Copland
              and began to study composition
              with him. For four months he
              lived in Berlin, where one of his
              friends was Christopher
              Isherwood, who was gathering
              material for what would later become the book "Goodbye to Berlin."
              Isherwood named his leading character Sally Bowles after Paul Bowles. 

              In 1931, at the suggestion of Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Bowles went to
              Morocco, where he and Copland shared a house in Tangier. 

              Instant Rapport and Countless Affairs 

              By the mid-1930's, he was back in New York. He wrote musical scores
              for Orson Welles and later for works by William Saroyan, Tennessee
              Williams and others. In 1937 he met Jane Auer. She was a lesbian, and
              he was bisexual; there was an immediate rapport and an intimacy. Within
              a year they were married. 

              Through countless affairs on both sides, they remained married and
              permanently attached to each other. Looking back on their marriage,
              Bowles said: "We played everything by ear. Each one did what he
              pleased." 

              At first, he focused on his music while she began writing a novel. When
              she gave him a draft of him in Mexico in 1945, he read it carefully and,
              acting as editor, suggested changes. The book, "Two Serious Ladies,"
              received mixed reviews, but it was the beginning of Jane Bowles's literary
              reputation, and it acted as an inspiration to her husband. "It was the
              excitement of participating in that that got me interested in writing," he
              said to Millicent Dillon, author of biographies of both Bowleses. 

              In New York, the Bowleses were immersed in a literary world. In the
              early 1940's they lived with other artists in a house on Middagh Street in
              Brooklyn Heights. The residents included W. H. Auden, Benjamin
              Britten and Oliver Smith, the scenic designer. For two years in the late
              1940's the couple lived on West 10th Street in Manhattan. Smith rented
              three floors of a brownstone. Bowles lived on the top floor, Smith was
              on the floor below, and another flight down lived Jane Bowles and her
              friend Helvetia Perkins. The four shared a cook and lived communally.
              For a time, the first two floors in the house were occupied by Dashiell
              Hammett. 

              During this period, Bowles wrote scores for seven plays (including "The
              Glass Menagerie") and collaborated with Tennessee Williams on the song
              fragments "Blue Mountain Ballads." He also returned to writing short
              stories and translated Jean-Paul Sartre's play "Huis Clos," retitling it "No
              Exit." Identifying with the credo of the play, he said that mankind could
              be saved not through faith "but only by ourselves -- by looking straight at
              our own weaknesses so that we know them through and through." 

              One night in 1947 Bowles had a dream about "the magic city" of Tangier,
              one of his homes during the 1930's, and he decided to return there.
              Before departing, he had an idea for a novel that would take place in the
              Sahara, and he thought of a title, "The Sheltering Sky," borrowing it from
              the popular song, "Down Among the Sheltering Palms." Later his wife
              joined him in Tangier. Published in 1949, "The Sheltering Sky" quickly
              became the foundation of his estimable career as an author. He described
              the book as "an adventure story in which the adventures take place on
              two planes simultaneously: in the actual desert and in the inner desert of
              the spirit." 

              The central characters are Port and Kit Moresby, a married couple who
              are generally considered to be surrogates for Paul and Jane Bowles. But
              in his Paris Review interview, Bowles denied that possibility: "The tale is
              entirely imaginary. Kit is not Jane, although I used some of Jane's
              characteristics in determining Kit's reactions to such a voyage. Obviously
              I thought of Port as a fictional extension of myself. But Port is certainly
              not Paul Bowles, any more than Kit is Jane." 

              The story leads ineluctably to Port's death, which the reader sees from
              the character's point of view: "It was in the silence of the room that he
              now located all those hostile forces: the very fact that the room's inert
              watchfulness was on all sides made him distrust it. Outside himself, it was
              all there was. He looked at the line made by the joining of the wall and
              the floor, endeavored to fix it in his mind, that he might have something to
              hang on to when his eyes should shut." 

              A Best Sellerand a Film 

              Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, Tennessee
              Williams proclaimed the author as "a talent of true maturity and
              sophistication." Williams said it was one of the few books by an
              American writer "to bear the spiritual imprint of recent history in the
              Western world." 

              In a review in The Times of a subsequent Bowles novel, Conrad
              Knickerbocker ranked "The Sheltering Sky" "with the dozen or so most
              important American novels published since World War II." The book
              became a best seller and was sold to the movies, but it was to be 40
              years before it was filmed. In 1990 Bernardo Bertolucci's lavish movie,
              starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger and with Bowles himself
              playing a cameo role, received mixed reviews. The author was
              disappointed. His one-word criticism of the film: "Awful." 

              The novel was followed, in 1952, by "Let It Come Down," about an
              American bank clerk who journeys to Tangier and is caught up in a
              world of intrigue and corruption. 

              "The Spider's House" (1955) deals with an American novelist living in
              Fez during a Nationalist revolt. It was 11 years before Bowles published
              his next novel, "Up Above the World." At the center of that book are an
              American doctor and his wife, adrift in Central America and held captive
              by a charming man of mystery. Neither novel measured up to Bowles's
              first success. 

              In Morocco he began translating the stories of Arab writers, particularly
              Mohammed Mrabet. Because Bowles seldom traveled, friends (and
              journalists and potential biographers) came to see him as if on a
              pilgrimage. Eventually his dream city of Tangier was invaded by tourists
              and became something of a nightmare. Still he stayed on. 

              He lived alone in a modern apartment building in Tangier. For many
              years, he limited his contacts with the outside world by refusing to have a
              telephone, but recently had installed both a phone and fax. 

              There are no survivors. 

              Cherie Nutting's "Yesterday's Perfume," a photographic diary of
              Bowles's last years, with text by the author, is scheduled to be published
              in the fall of 2000. 

              "I live in the present," Bowles said, and added about the past: "I
              remember it as one remembers a landscape, an unchanging landscape.
              That which has happened is finished. I suppose you could say that a man
              can learn how to avoid making the same actions which he's discovered
              were errors. I would recommend not thinking about it." 

              For Bowles, the point of life is to have fun, "if there is any point at all."
              Enjoyment, he said firmly, "is what life should provide." 

              When it was suggested to him that others might say that life should
              provide a greater moral purpose, he said: "What is moral purpose? The
              word 'moral' sets nothing ringing in my head. Who decides what's moral
              and what isn't? Right behavior, is that moral? Well, what's right
              behavior?" 
      

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
All-Music Guide
 
Born: 1910, New York City
Died: 18 November 1999, Tangiers, Morocco
     Bowles studied with Copland, Thomson and Boulanger during the 1920s and early '30s, while living 
     in Europe and North Africa. For the next three decades he wrote music for the New York theatre. 
     In 1941 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to compose the opera The Wind Remains. He 
     returned to Tangier in 1948 to write his second opera, Yerma, for blues singer Libby Holman. He 
     conducted ethno-musicological research in Tangier under a Rockefeller grant during the 1960s. 
     Most of his compositions were written before 1949. In that year his novel about travellers, The 
     Sheltering Sky, was published. As a composer, Bowles wrote in short forms. Even his operas are 
     constructions of suites of songs. They draw heavily upon American jazz, Moroccan rhythm and 
     Mexican dance for inspiration. His fiction is generally dark in character and centers around insights of 
     psychological perception. -- Lynn Vought, All-Music Guide
 
 
  
 
 

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