Friday, September 28, 2007

Literature: William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)

Date Of Birth: February 5, 1914, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Date Of Death: August 2, 1997, Lawrence, Kansas, USA

William Seward Burroughs II was born 5 February 1914, in St. Louis, Missouri, into a world of relative wealth and comfort from the profits of the Burroughs Adding Machine Corporation.
His grandfather, after whom he was named, was the inventor of the adding machine.
At 8 years of age, uses his first gun, writes first story, "The Autobiography of a Wolf." Refuses editorial advice of parents to change autobiography to biography.

When Burroughs is 13, he discovers the autobiography of Jack Black, You Can't Win, and becomes enamored of the outlaw, underground lifestyle.
Black introduces him to the idea of the being a member of the Johnson Family. First published in the John Burroughs Review in 1929. A short essay entitled "Personal Magnetism".
He considers it an early attempt at debunking control systems.
Sent to Los Alamos Boys School in New Mexico. Later claims the only thing he learned there was a hatred of horses.
He is graduated from Harvard in 1936.
In New York, 1939, cuts off left little finger.
Shows it to his analyst at the time, who takes him to Bellevue.
Burroughs tells a psychiatrist there that he did as part of "an initiation ceremony into the Crow Indian tribe".

In the Summer of 1942, moves to Chicago, takes job with A. J. Cohen, Exterminators. "I go into an apartment and I know where all the roaches are," he later claims.
Moves to New York the next year. Befriends Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and David Kammerer around this time.
On 13 August 1944, Lucien Carr kills David Kammerer in self defense. Kerouac and Burroughs are arrested as material witnesses because they did not initially report the murder.
Later, they collaborate on a novel based on the events, And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks.
It was rejected by several publishers at the time and has never been published.
Burroughs meets Joan Vollmer. Along with Ginsberg and Kerouac, they begin experimenting with drugs and extreme behaviors.
Meets Herbert Huncke around this time. Kerouac introduces Joan to Benzedrine inhalers, to which she soon becomes addicted.
Sometime in 1946, Burroughs injects himself with a morphine Syrette. Discovers junk ecstasy, begins addiction.
In the midst of junk despair, Burroughs has a vision of a cocktail waitress bringing him a skull on a tray. "I don't want your fucking skull," he says. "Take it back!"
Moves in with Joan, they become lovers. Joan tells him that he "makes love like a pimp."

In April of 1946, Burroughs is arrested for obtaining narcotics through fraud. Joan is committed to Bellevue for acute amphetamine psychosis. Burroughs attempts to rescue her from New York. Convinces her to move to East Texas with him. Huncke eventually moves in with them.
All three live in a small house near New Waverly, growing marijuana and laying low.
On 21 July 1947, William Burroughs III is born.

Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady visit in August of 1947. The Burroughs' move to New Orleans in 1948. Kerouac and Cassady visit, as immortalized in On the Road.
Burroughs is arrested in New Orleans for possession of drugs, elects not to stand trial, moves family to Mexico City in 1949.

On Thursday the 6th of September, 1951, at a desultory party, Burroughs suggests that he and Joan do their William Tell act.
Joan balances a highball glass on her head, turns her head to one side, saying, "I can't watch this- you know I can't stand the sight of blood."
Burroughs shoots and hits Joan in the side of the head, killing her.
Later he states: "I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death."

Burroughs travels to Columbia in 1953 to find the entheogenic vine Yage, meets Richard Evans Schultes, who councils him about the plant. Writes to Ginsberg about his experiences, which are later published as The Yage Letters.
In 1954, Burroughs moves to Tangiers, Morocco. Introduced to Paul Bowles. Meets Brion Gysin, who becomes a pivotal catalyst for Burroughs.
Begins initial forays into unleashing his word hoard and deeper addictions to junk. Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky visit him in 1956. Kerouac helps Burroughs to organize the "routines" that would later become The Naked Lunch, the title from a suggestion of Kerouac's years before.

Early in 1958, sick of Tangiers, he leaves to stay with Ginsberg in Paris. Meets Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, who decides to publish The Naked Lunch in 1959.
Moves to London in 1960.
Back in Tangiers in August of 1961, with Ginsberg and others, meets Timothy Leary who gives them all mushrooms. Burroughs doesn't enjoy the experience, saying: "Urgent warning. I think I'll stay here in shriveling envelopes of larval flesh... One of the nastiest cases ever produced by this department." Writes prolifically and lives nomadically throughout 60's, returns to New York in 1974. He has not lived in the US for 24 years. Meets James Grauerholz, who becomes Burroughs' life manager, helping him to organize and publish his writings. Burroughs' son, Billy, dies in a ditch after a hard and lonely life on 3 March 1981.

Burroughs moves to Lawrence, Kansas with Grauerholz. In May of 1982, Burroughs is inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Died on 2 August 1997 of a heart attack in Lawrence, Kansas. He was 83 years old.



  • Junkie (1953)
  • Queer (Written 1951-3; Published 1985)
  • Naked Lunch (1959)
  • The Soft Machine (1961)
  • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • Dead Fingers Talk (1963)
  • Nova Express (1964)
  • The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz (1969)
  • The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead (1971)
  • Port Of Saints (1973)
  • Cities Of The Red Night (1981)
  • The Place Of Dead Roads (1983)
  • The Western Lands (1987)
  • My Education: A Book Of Dreams (1995)
(Stories And Novellas)
  • Valentine's Day Reading (1965)
  • Time (1965)
  • Apo-33 (1966)
  • So Who Owns Death Tv? (1967)
  • The Dead Star (1969)
  • Ali's Smile (1971)
  • Mayfair Academy Series More Or Less (1973)
  • White Subway (1973)
  • Exterminator! (1973)
  • The Book Of Breething ("Ah Pook Is Here") (1974)
  • Snack... (1975)
  • Cobble Stone Gardens (1976)
  • Blade Runner (A Movie) (1979)
  • Dr. Benway (1979)
  • Die Alten Filme (The Old Movies) (1979)
  • Streets Of Chance (1981)
  • Early Routines (1981)
  • Sinki's Sauna (1982)
  • Ruski (1984)
  • The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1984)
  • The Cat Inside (1986)
  • The Whole Tamale (C.1987-88)
  • Interzone (1987)
  • Tornado Alley (1989)
  • Ghost Of Chance (1991)
  • Seven Deadly Sins (1992)
  • Paper Cloud; Thick Pages (1992)
  • The Job (1969) (With Daniel Odier)
  • Jack Kerouac (1970) (With Claude Pelieu)
  • The Electronic Revolution (1971)
  • The Retreat Diaries (1976)
  • Letters To Allen Ginsberg 1953-1957 (1976)
  • Last Words: The Final Journals Of William S. Burroughs (2000)
  • Evil River (2007)
  • And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (1945 - Unpublished) (With Jack Kerouac)
  • Minutes To Go (1960) (With Sinclair Beilles, Gregory Corso And Brion Gysin)
  • The Exterminator (1960) (With Brion Gysin)
  • The Yage Letters (1963) (With Allen Ginsberg)
  • Brion Gysin Let The Mice In (1973) (With Brion Gysin)
  • Sidetripping (1975) (With Charles Gatewood)
  • Colloque De Tangier (1976) (With Brion Gysin)
  • The Third Mind (1977) (With Brion Gysin)
  • Colloque De Tangier Vol. 2 (1979) (With Brion Gysin And Gérard-Georges Lemaire)
  • Apocalypse (1988) (With Keith Haring)
(Film Collaborations/Cameos/Videos)
  • Burroughs - The Movie (VHS) (1985, Giorno Poetry Systems)
  • William S. Burroughs - Commissioner of Sewers (Dir: Klaus Maeck) (1986)
  • Kerouac (Dir: John Antonelli) (1987) (Cameo)
  • Towers Open Fire (VHS) (1989, Mystic Fire Video)
  • Drugstore Cowboy (Dir: Gus Van Sant) (1989) (Cameo)
  • The Naked Lunch (Dir: David Cronenberg) (1991)
  • My Own Private Idaho (Dir: Gus Van Sant) (1992) (Cameo)
  • The Final Academy Documents (2002)
  • Thee Films 1950's ~ 1960's (VHS) (Temple Records)
  • Call Me Burroughs (1965, The English Bookshop) (1995, Rhino Word Beat)
  • The Nova Convention (1979)
  • Nothing Here Now But The Recordings (1981, Industrial Records, Ir0016)
  • Abandoned Artifacts (1981, Fresh Sounds Inc)
  • You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With (1981) (With John Giorno And Laurie Anderson)
  • Laurie Anderson - Mister Heartbreak (1984) (Burroughs Speaks The Lyrics To The Song "Sharkey's Night")
  • Laurie Anderson - Home Of The Brave (1986) (A Sample Of Burroughs Intoning "Listen To My Heart Beat" Is Incorporated Into The Song "Late Show")
  • Break Through In Grey Room (1986, Sub Rosa)
  • The Doctor Is On The Market (1986, LTM Publishing (Les Temps Modernes))
  • Smack My Crack(1987)
  • Uncommon Quotes (1988, Caravan Of Dreams Productions)
  • John Giorno - Like A Girl I Want To Keep Coming (1989)
  • Material - Seven Souls (1989)
  • Dead City Radio (1990, Island Records)
  • Millions Of Images (1990, Singles Only Label) (With Gus Van Sant)
  • The Elvis Of Letters (1991, Tim/Kerr Records) (With Gus Van Sant)
  • Ministry - Just One Fix (1992) (Burroughs Speaks The Lyrics To The Song "Quick Fix" And Created The Cover Art)
  • The Black Rider (1992) (Musical Co-Authored With Tom Waits And Robert Wilson, Sings On "T'ain't No Sin")
  • Spare Ass Annie And Other Tales (1993, Island Records)
  • The "Priest" They Called Him (1993, Tim/Kerr Records)
  • Vaudeville Voices (1993, Grey Matter)
  • Words Of Advice For Young People (1993, Island Records)
  • 10%: File Under Burroughs (1996)
  • VV.AA. - Songs In The Key Of X (1996) / In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003 Bonus Disc (2003) (Burroughs Records His Vocal Over An Instrumental Version Of R.E.M.'S "Star Me Kitten")
  • La Révolution Electronique (Crash)
  • The Best Of William Burroughs From Giorno Poetry Systems (1998, Mercury)
  • Stoned Immaculate: The Music Of The Doors (2000) (Burroughs Reads Poetry By Jim Morrison Over Music Provided By The Doors On The Track "Is Everybody In?")
  • Real English Tea Made Here (2007, Audio Research Editions)

Call Me Burroughs (1965,1995)

Break Through In Grey Room (1986)

Uncommon Quotes (1988)

Dead City Radio (1990)

The Elvis Of Letters (1991)

Spare Ass Annie And Other Tales (1993)

The "Priest" They Called Him (1993)

Selections From The Best Of William Burroughs From Giorno Poetry Systems (1998)

The Best Of William Burroughs From Giorno Poetry Systems (1998)

Real English Tea Made Here (2007)

Three Allusive Tracks From Break Through In Grey Room (2009)



William Buys A Parrot (1963)
Bill And Tony (1972)
Antony Balch & William S. Burroughs - Towers Open Fire (1963)
Ghost At N°9 (Paris) (1963-72)
The Cut-Ups (1966)
Thanksgiving Prayer


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