546
January 30, 2015

Burroughs 101

This American Life host Ira Glass was never into William Burroughs. Didn't get why people love his writing so much. Then he heard this radio story that changed all that, partly because it wasn't very reverential about Burroughs. For Burroughs 101st birthday, we hear that story.

If you prefer, here's a bleeped version.

Prologue

Ira talks about the fact that he never much liked William Burroughs or his writing, just never got why Burroughs was this revered figure for some people. Then Ira heard a recent BBC documentary about Burroughs and finally understood. Ira says he's going to play the whole documentary on the show in honor of what would have been Burroughs 101st birthday this week. (2 minutes)

Burroughs, Part One

Iggy Pop, the documentary's narrator, begins by listing some of the artists and artistic movements influenced by Burroughs: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Steely Dan, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed; punk, heavy metal. We hear from director John Waters on the impact on him of Burroughs' open homosexuality and frankness about sex. Others talk about Burroughs' heroin addiction and obsession with guns and weapons. Burroughs shot his wife to death in what he said was a terrible accident. (35 minutes)

Burroughs, Part Two

Iggy Pop picks up the story of Burroughs by explaining "Cut Up" — Burroughs habit of randomly jumbling, repeating and re-assembling words and phrases in his writing. David Bowie and others picked it up. We hear about Burroughs' privileged childhood in St. Louis and his lifelong critique of exactly the world of power and money he grew up in. There's archival footage of Burroughs and others reading his sci-fi stories, and finally Burroughs appearing on Saturday Night Live. (19 minutes)

Song:

“Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop