Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drunks

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

William S. Burroughs Would've Been 100 Today

Posted by on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 4:50 PM

Slog tipper @boygobong reminded me that today is William S. Burroughs' 100th birthday. The Guardian posted a quiz to celebrate the day. I was introduced to Burroughs by friends in high school, but he was also pretty prevalent in popular culture in the 90s thanks to the album he cut with Kurt Cobain and his Nike commercial:

My favorite Burroughs books are the more traditional narratives: I like Junky, Queer, and, especially, Exterminator! The cut-up novels tend to lose me unless I'm staring, white-knuckled, at the page. And Burroughs is a challenging figure. You really shouldn't write about the man's legacy without bringing up the death of Joan Vollmer, which in a sick way has added to his outlaw mystique. And like Bukowski, it's hard to separate the man's work from the work of later generations who are "inspired" to write awful, nonsensical drivel about drugs and sex.

This is a shitty celebratory post, in part because there's a lot about Burroughs that I don't want to celebrate. What do you think?


Comments (14) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Dougsf 1
Don't forget his 1989 appearance in Drugstore Cowboy.
Posted by Dougsf on February 5, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
Burroughs founded a style and written world unmatched by any other voice in literary history. Warts, bodily fluids and all, he exposed the delights and discontents of sexuality, addiction and depravity. He found antiheroes in the dregs of society which he put on pillars to be fought over in court with groundbreaking obscenity cases. Men like that make it possible for you to read and see what other crazed souls like mine have to share with you. Inspired by his life, I illustrated a surreal portrait of the author today in commemoration of his Centennial at…
Posted by dregstudios on February 5, 2014 at 5:16 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 3
Great artist (the cut-up technique definitely affected music for the better) + murderer.
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 4
About fifteen years back I was going through a rough patch of life right around X-mas. And one day while driving in my truck I heard 'Junkie's Christmas' on the radio.

I won't say it was a lifesaver, but it was an anchor, a rock on which I was able to peg my life.

His gritty, aged voice, the matter-of-fact way he talked of the protagonist's life, poverty, and addictions, and the way it careened on, endlessly.

Like an 'Alice's Restaurant' from the underbelly of the world.

It helped put my life and my problems in perspective. I didn't know who Burroughs was before that. And the trajectory of my life was changed a little bit after that.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Burroughs is cool but that ad was surprisingly boring and conventional, I was really expecting something a lot crazier.
Posted by thearistaios on February 5, 2014 at 7:06 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 6
I hold him to the same standard as Woody Allen: appreciate his art, but he belonged in prison.
Posted by Dr. Z on February 5, 2014 at 8:20 PM · Report this
Most important American novelist of the 20th Century. The obscenity trials around Naked Lunch ended the last attempts at government censorship of literature based on words used (Fuck, etc) enabling later writers to write what people actually fucking say. Naked Lunch is also a great fucking novel on its own terms. But Burroughs is really up there with Twain in terms of what he enabled other writers to do.
Posted by Chicago Fan on February 5, 2014 at 8:42 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 8
At the next roundtable of books and movie talk, please make sure I'm sitting far away from Dr Z.
Posted by dnt trust me on February 5, 2014 at 8:44 PM · Report this
@6: belonged in prison for what? For killing Joan Vollmer? If so, it's worth noting that it was her suggestion that they play the game (while both ragingly drunk) and that he was wracked with guilt by it for the rest of his life. Not an excuse, but maybe a mitigating factor?
Posted by gnossos on February 5, 2014 at 9:06 PM · Report this
@9 I think he was busted for dealing heroin also and for brandishing guns at people when he was drunk. Shooting Joan Vollmer was probably the worst thing he ever did but it wasn't radically out of character either.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on February 5, 2014 at 9:49 PM · Report this
rob! 11
"This is a shitty celebratory post." S'awright, he won't mind. Lots of live people have shitty birthdays :)

A short interview, Matter of Lemurs, from 21•C Magazine. (You'll notice the math isn't right—if it was in fact done in 1991, he would have been 77, not 80.)
Posted by rob! on February 5, 2014 at 10:17 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 12
@8: It's your loss.
Posted by Dr. Z on February 6, 2014 at 5:05 PM · Report this
sheiler 13
In the book "When I Was Cool" Burroughs is reported to have yelled out in a vegetarian cafe in Boulder: "Eating sprouts is like going down on a robot." That's my favorite line of all time. I don't think I could ever get through anything by Burroughs. And going to Naropa - where all of his pals romped around - made me glean more from the folklore than his actual work.

Hell, Ken Kesey was completely washed up by the time I got there.
Posted by sheiler on February 7, 2014 at 2:54 AM · Report this
ReverendDeacon 14
I'm surprised no one has come out to defend some of Burroughs poetry and lesser known work with essential counter-culture entities such as the Fuck You Press. has a fairly good catalog of this work.

My personal favorite work by Burroughs is The Place of Dead Roads. It was just last night that I was shouting its praises for - among many other great attributes - containing what is, in my opinion, the most excellent character introduction I've encountered: that of Kim Carsons. I also find it worth mentioning that in Junk, Burroughs paints a picture of the corner (armpit/asshole) of America in which I was born/raised, the coastal swamps and marshes on the Texas/Louisiana border, which still rings true to this day.
Posted by ReverendDeacon on February 7, 2014 at 7:56 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy