Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Destroy All Rational Thought: Celebrating the Century of William Burroughs Birth (5/2/14 -2/8/97)

William Seward Burroughs  born today in 1914, in St Louis, Missouri, the grandson of the inventor of the Burroughs adding machine.Young Burroughs  went to Harvard university, graduated in 1936 with a degree in English literature and a $150 a month trust.Drifting around Europe for a while, with enough monety to sustain him, came back to America,  diddled around for a spell, a brief  period in the Army just after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, but was soon discharged, influenced by other writers who advocated the complete derangement of the senses, like Genet, Rimbaud and Artoud, t was not long before he fell into drug use.
Nowadays recognised  as one of the most culturally  influential and innovative artists of our time. Outsider, misfit, junky,homosexual, writer, painter, messiah, prophet, satirist, punk godfather, world and inner space traveller extrordinaire. he has been all these things.Those  marking his century will have a thousand different versions  of Burroughs to choose from. His novels, once banned and condemned over the years earned him membership in the American Academy and Institute for Arts and Letters and the title Commandeur de l'Orde des Arts et des Lettres in France. I first came into contact  with his books about 1979/80, in my previous in my previous  incarceration as a heavy metal kid. His strange books, drawing me into his parallel world, a perfect accompianment for my emerging adolesence.Now my personal bookshelfs groan under the weight of his tomes, often I listen  to recordings of him reading from them, his distinctive voice, his rich elemental cadence  speaking to me about freedom, nothing short of complete liberation, this was his mission, unfortunately I am only human,  I have  not yet wrestled my way from Control, how they control  our bodies, our ideas, our imaginatuions, our spirits and our futures, but I try, and I remember that it was sweet William who first tempted me with new forms of thinking. His world was one that essentally contained no boundaries,  continents limitless with imagination. As Burroughs saw it history dissolves into a perpetual present, driven by need, control and the need to control. Throughout his life Burroughs continued to share his message, in his attempt at breaking down  the limiting structures that he saw, had been placed all around. His voice still lingers among us, with it's hypnotysing  magnetism, his almost deranged tones of prophesy and warning.
A true iconclast of the first order, his vision has provoked, outraged, and inspired countless numbers of people.

Alongside his friends, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Hunke, Gegory Corso and Jack Kerouac, Burroughs was part of the Beat Generation. Emerging out of the embers of the Second World War, this group of writers rejected social standards and celebrated narcotics, sexuality and Arcane religions in their witings. One of Burroughs first works Junky was  published in 1953, recently reprinted, exploring his intimate experiences with the world  of heroin, serving as a "memory excercise." He set himself  a daily schedule, helped   by injections of morphine. Originally published as a pulp paperback  under the pseudonym ' William Lee' with the lurid subtitle Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict.

 On  September 6, 1953, Burroughs accidentally killed his second wife Joan Vollmer after shooting her in the head, in a drunken  attempt to imitate William Tell's  feat of shooting an apple of his son's head. Burroughs  was charged with criminal impudence and eventually skipped bail, travelled to South America in search of a telepathy-inducing drug called Yage. These travels and his subsequent letters to Ginsberg  would serve as the basis of his 1963 book The Yage Letters.
He would later claim that he would never have become a writer, if  it was not for the guilt that he suffered after this unfortunate incident. The son that he had with Joan, Billy Jr was sent to live with his grandparents, Burroughs Sadly ever saw him, and Billy Jr, subsequently drank himself to death in 1981.
In 1956, Burroughs tried to cure his drug addiction with the help of a London Physician  named John Dent. It did not work, and he would spend the rest of his life reliant on methadone, but after living for a spell in Tangiers, where he had headed inspired by the works of the writer Paul Bowles, he wrote one of his most enduring works Naked Lunch.

A collage of disturbing, bizzarre and for some obscene images, of hallucinatory intensity, written whilst under the influence of various drugs. It  would become  his most famous and read book. It was here that he came  under the influence of the painter Brion Gysin, from whom he learnt the cut-up style, a technique  that would dominate his work for the rest of his life, with ideas and images repeating over and over again,  helping produce the works The Soft Machine (1961) The Ticket that Exploded (1962) and Nova Express(1963).

'All was enveloped in a flaming chromosphere..... Swirling within the incadescence of solar energy were sprays of blood.... Perception was heaving .....

WB - Nova Express

Gysin and Burroughs

'You were there for the beginning. You will not be there for the end. Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.' -WB  Naked Lunch. 

   '  The word is divided
  into unite which be
all in one piece and
  should be so taken,
  but the pieces can be
had in any order being
 tied up back and
 forth, in and out fore
and arft like an
      inneresting sex
arrangement. This book
spill of the page
   in all directions
 kaleidoscope of vistas,
medley of tunes and
street noises, farts
and riot yipes and the
slamming steel shutters
   of commerce, screams
 of pain and pathos and
 screams plain pathic,
copulating cats and outraged
squawk of the displaces
bull head, prophetic
  mutterings of brujo in
  nutmeg trances, snapping
   necks and screaming
       mandrakkes, sigh of
orgasm, heroin silent
as dawn in the thirsty
  cells, Radio Cairo
screamink like a
berserk tobacco auction,
 and flutes of Ramadam
fanning the sick junky
like a gentle lush worker
in the grey subway dawn
  feeling with delicate
 fingers for the green
 folding crackle. - Naked Lunch


He would travel extensively, moving to Paris to live at the famous Beat Hotel, where he joind a younger generation, which included the poet Gregory Corso,and a motly accumulation of misfits and outsiders, a feral crew of miscreants, living lives of excess, coming and going as they pleased, like the rats that scurried through it, a place that endeared itself to Burroughs,  perhaps because of its wildness and the fact that it's front doors were never locked at all. Whilst here  he undertook his most important work, his  second novel The Soft Machine  was assembled and written while he was at the hotel.
In the early 1960's Burroughs moved to London, where he would spend 6 years, supporting  himself and his continual addiction  by publishing extensively in  small literary presses and the burgenining underground scene, as  his avant garde reputation grew internationally, as the emerging hippy counterculture discovered his early work. Quietly going about his own business in St James, living at  Dalmery Court, 8 Duke Street, an unimposing place, near Picadilly, that I've visited once or twice as an act of homage. Not that much to see though. During his stay he took on the Church of Scientology, turning up outside their headquarters to take photographs, observe and simply annoy them. It worked they subsequently moved.
His  primal books releasing his anti-government ramblings, political  undercurrents coarsing through his work, libertarian, anarchistic, alternative models of thinking.Way beyond consensual reality.

In the 1970's he would move back to America,  first moving to New York, from where he would undertake extensive reading tours,becoming associated with other cultural players like Andy Warhol, John Giorno, Lou Reed and Patti Smith, Keith Karingand a galaxy of other famous names. He became this notorious literary celebrity, lovingly embraced by young new wavers and became a sort of Godfather  to the emerging Punk movement.
In 1981 he settled in Lawrence, Kansa, spending his time painting wonderful beautiful abstract picturesy, some used with the aid of shotguns, collaborating with  many from Bill Laswell, Michael Franti and his Disposable Heroes of Hipocricy and Ministry. Appearing in films, including a seminal appearance  in Guy Van Sants 1980 film the Drugstore cowboy.

William Burroughs shotgun paintings.

In 1990 he released the spoken word album Dead City Radio with musical back up from producers Hal Wilmer and Nelson Lyon and alternative rock band Sonic Youth. In 1992 he recorded with the Kurt Cobain, a piece called The Priest They Called him.
At the end of his life he was living in a two bedroom cottage, with his beloved feline companians,taking gentle stroolls around his garden, a lover of men and science fiction,  visited by admirers on his front porch. Despite his struggles with his addictions, his rage, with an 'ugly spirit' that he knew well, was able to quote Prspero, finding some kind of peace "But his rough magic, I here abjure."
For Burroughs the war on drugs were totally unachievable,  one that the world was incapable of winning, see the sad death of the fine actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week. Burroughs considered  opiates to be depressents. They work on the back of the brain, suppressing the emotional and social centres of thought. This was for him was part of the addiction. An addict does not need society, feels no love or hate, gripped by this illness, that cannot be escaped, hooked in junk time, their mind and body becomes regulated  by their sickness, their addiction. But for Burroughs addiction was a general conditin limited to drugs. Politics, religion, the family, love are all forms of addiction. In the post-Bomb society, all the mainstays of ther social order have lost their meaning, and bankrupt nation states are run by control addicts.
Burroughs finally died in 1997 from a heart attack, still reliant on a methadone maintenence programe, but had survived most of his peers.His work   continues to inspire, influence, writers, lyricists and artists  of all kinds across the globe. Leaving behind a  solid body of work, his legacy still evolving, regarded as one of the greatest writers of our time. His final written words were "Love? What is it? Most natural  painkiller what there is. LOVE."
So thanks Uncle Bill,  happy birthday to you and I am grateful for your genius. I hope you are listening, this agent's words are still shared, this El Hombre Invisible, is still visible for all.

William Burroughs - Words of Advice for young people

Finally  thought I'd share this video it features one of the last interviews with William S Burroughs and previously unseen vintage footage  of him during the 50's and early 60's - The great Beat generation experiments took  place in Tangier, the Morrocan city  were Burroughs, Gysin and the Moroccan painter Hamri taught Jack Kerouac., Timothy Leary, and Ginberg how to live outside the law.
Also featured are the Master Musicians  of Joujouka collaborating with avant gade Dublim musicians, vterans of the Tangier Beat scene, and cutting edge writers. In addition, there is music from Bill Laswell, The Baby Snakes, plus contributions from Ira Cohen, Hakim Bey, and many more.

Destroy All Rational Thought.

We are all born to Go.

'After one look at this planet, any visitor from outer space, would say ' I want to see the manager.' - William Burroughs

' My power's coming ... My power's coming ---- ... And I got millions and mullions and millions of images of Me, Me Me, meee. WB - Nova Express.


  1. well, a life of methadone and a private income, what's not to like, sure didn't hurt him too much..I wish we had some of this wild anarchy is so bland and forgettable these days

  2. cheers Pam, indeed....... Where are the true iconclasts and outlaws now.... Justin Bieber, you've got to be joking.

  3. thank you for pieces of puzzle & celebration :)

  4. cheers.... thanks for the appreciation....:)