"The most brilliant man I've ever met......another Neal Cassady" - Allen Ginsberg on Alexander Trocchi
Alexander Trocchi was a Glaswegian of Italian descent born in 1925. He went to the University of Glasgow and served in the Royal Navy in the last years of World War 2. Trocchi began writing and settled in post war Paris and by the early 1950s he was editor of Merlin and Paris Quarterly, magazines which published among others Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller and William S. Burroughs. He became part of the burgeoning beat movement and also joined the International Situationists. He also worked with Maurice Girodias at Olympia Press, where he produced a large amount of pornographic writing, many titles such as Helen and Desire and White Thighs are now available today, despite being banned in Britain and America at the time of their release.
Young Adam, his debut novel was published in 1954, by which time Trocchi was heavily involved with heroin and opium. Later he moved to New York where he worked on a garbage scow on the Hudson river. His next book, Cain's Book is a study of heroin addiction. Like Junky and the later Post Office, Cain's Book is written as a autobiography at arms reach, or if you prefer, a twentieth century equivalent of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Its descriptions of sex and drug use got the book banned in Britain, where it was the subject of an obscenity trial, however in America the reviews were favourable.
But Trocchi was deep in the thralls of heroin now, he failed to attend his own launch party, and his wife Lyn was prostitiuting herself on the streets of the Lower East Side. During a televised debate on drug abuse he shot up live on camera, despite being on bail at the time being charged with supplying heroin to a minor. A jail term seemed certain, so with the help of some friends (including Norman Mailer) Trocchi was smuggled over the Canadian border.
Despite being a well known member of the beat scene, Trocchi was still relatively unknown in his native Scotland. In 1963 when he attended a writers conferenece at the Edinburgh International Festival, where he told a gathering of Scottish nationalist writers, "of what is interesting in the last twenty years or so of Scottish writing, I myself have written it all". This denouncement so enraged the poet Hugh MacDiarmid that he attacked Trocchi and William S. Burroughs, who also attended, as "vermin who should never have been invited to the conference."
After Cain's Book, Trocchi turned himself to a wide variety of activities, he was an artist, sculptor, translator and essayist and wrote a non-fiction book Drugs of the Mind in 1970. After this though his addiction was taking its toll and Trocchi sunk into obscurity, now living in London he was working on a sequel to Cain's Book that was never completed. His heroin was now supplied by the National Health Service, and this revolutionary died of pneumonia in 1984. In the 1990s with the success of Scottish writers such as Irvine Welsh and James Kelman, interest in Trocchi was revitalised with the reissue of Young Adam by the Edinburgh publisher Rebel Inc., and a biography of Trocchi entitled The Making of the Monster has been written by the Dundonian writer Andrew Murray Scott. A film version of Young Adam is currently in production, with Ewan McGregor in the lead role.