William S. Burroughs

Real Name:
William Seward Burroughs II
Profile:
American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter and spoken word performer.
Born: 5th February 1914, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Died: 2nd August 1997, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Burroughs initially drew acclaim as a one of the leaders of the 50s Beat movement, alongside friends and peers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His acclaimed publications, notably 'The Naked Lunch', 'The Soft Machine', 'The Ticket That Exploded' and 'Nova Express', exhibited the "cut-up" technique first espoused by fellow-writer Bryon Gysin, in which passages and texts were cut and reassembled to create unconscious writing. The pair subsequently brought the same method to recording during their stay at the "Beat Hotel' in Paris. Burroughs' experimental nature and his espousal of drug use made him an attractive figure of the 60's counter-culture.

His phrase "heavy metal' became the term for a musical genre, while several acts - notably "Soft Machine" and "Steely Dan" - took their names from his trilogy of works. His first album, "Call Me Burroughs", was comprised of readings from 'The Naked Lunch' and 'Nova Express'. It was initially issued in France prior to appearing on the US avant garde label, ESP. "Ali's Smile", a one-side 12-inch released via Brighton's Unicorn Bookshop, was Burroughs' only other 60s release, although it can be heard on the film soundtrack Chappaqua, and his distinctive voice was sampled in 1971 for Dashiell Hedayat's Obselete.

Burroughs was lauded at the Entermedia Theater in 1978 with "The Nova Convention", a collective of publishers, writers, academics, artists, punk personalities and counterculture followers. The event was released as an eponymously titled album and included pieces by Sanders ['Fuck You' magazine & The Fugs], Patti Smith, Anderson, Glass, Cage, Ginsberg, Gysin, Leary and others. Zappa was called in to replace the drug-busted Keith Richards and, after discussion with the writer, did "The Talking Asshole", which Burroughs had derived from the ventriloquist scene in "The Dead Of Night".

In 1982 "Throbbing Gristle"'s Genesis P. Orridge issued "Nothing Here But The Recordings", a fascinating cross-section of 50s and 60s archive recordings. Ten Years later Sub-Rosa issued a similarly structured set, "Break Through In Grey Room". The avant garde maintained its links with Burroughs during the 80s; he surfaced on several releases by poet John Giorno, notably "You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With" (1981), "Old Man Bickford" (You're A Hook 1986) and "Like A Girl I Want To Keep Coming" (1989) and he enjoyed a cameo appearance on Laurie Anderson's "Mr. Heartbreak" (1984).

"Dead City Radio", Burroughs' first full-length album in over two decades, paired the writer with producer Hal Willner. John Cale, Donald Fagen and Sonic Youth were among the cast assembled on what was arguably his most accessible release. "Spare Ass Annie And Other Tales", a collaboration with the "Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy", was much less satisfying, compromising the contributors' individual strengths. Despite advancing years, Burroughs contributed to Tom Waits' "The Black Rider" and appeared on singles by Gus Van Sant ("The Elvis Of Letters") and Ministry ("Just One Fix"). In 1993 he recorded a version of "The 'Priest' They Called Him" with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

Like Ginsberg, Burroughs was openly bisexual. He was also an opiate addict, almost acting out a characterization of his first novel "Junky" and his second "Queer", whilst being a 'loose cannon' in both his writing and social confrontations. He managed to avoid a jail sentence when he killed his second wife after shooting her in a drunken stupor. When Burroughs died of a heart-attack in 1997 his passing was mourned with the Internet message: "William Burroughs has finally figured out how to leave the flesh behind and assimilate with it all".
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