William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll
From Greg Kot's 9-24-19 Chicago Tribune article entitled "William S. Burroughs: The Beat Author Who Became a Rock Star":
S. Burroughs was not a musician and spent his life largely indifferent
to contemporary music. But he was a rock star. The author — one of the
founding fathers of the Beat movement that revolutionized literature in
the 1950s — exerted a profound influence on the sound and attitude of
rock and hip-hop over the last half-century.
who died in 1997 at age 83, may have seemed an unlikely muse, with his
gravelly voice and dour, undertaker’s bearing. But his appeal was
multi-faceted. He was perceived as an outsider and an outlaw: A gay,
gun-wielding junkie who accidentally killed his wife in a drunken game
of William Tell in the ‘40s. The tragedy scarred Burroughs and he vowed
to “write his way out of it.” Over the next few decades he created a
mountain of work that cast institutional authority of all varieties –
governmental, religious, corporate – as corrupt and treacherous, an
attack on human freedom.
works such as “Junkie” (1953), “Naked Lunch” (1959) and “Nova Express”
(1964), he distilled modern-age paranoia and the pernicious impact of
technology. He also explicitly and unflinchingly described what had been
viewed by mainstream society as “deviant” behavior without judging his
cast of dope fiends and sexual libertines, even as he risked censure and
persecution (“Naked Lunch” was initially banned in Boston and Los
experiments with “cut-up” writing, in which he merged seemingly
unrelated sequences of words to create new, provocative shapes, exploded
through the works of artists such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Kurt
Cobain, among others. “Cut-up” also became the language of hip-hop, with
its mix-and-match appropriation and recontextualizing of sound and
text, and of the internet itself.
certainly wasn’t the only author to help reshape the direction that
rock and later hip-hop took [...].
few of these authors held sway over such a cross-section of artists and
musical generations as “Old Bull Lee” Burroughs. Though the author
wasn’t particularly a fan of much contemporary music, he loved its
subversive appeal, its ability to disrupt. His own writing merged the
high-art aspirations of literature and the vulgarity of the street, and
he saw much the same high-low mash-ups in counter-culture music, a
conspiracy of impulses against the gray, dull middle, the agents of
conformity and control.