Burroughs at 97
February 6, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Happy belated birthday, William S. Burroughs! Here are 97 Things You [probably] Didn't Know About Him. (Via MeFi Projects)
posted by beagle (33 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
46. In 1951, Burroughs killed Joan after shooting her in the head while playing William Tell.

Does anyone not know this about William Burroughs? I mean, conveniently ignore, yes, but not know?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Birthdays always seemed to me as another way of annoying people with gifts that one can seldom use nor would purchase in the first place; it is consumerism in the guise of partyhats and elbow-rubbing. Ammunition on the other hand is a fine gift, a once a year resupply from reliable sources."
posted by clavdivs at 6:22 PM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

They also left out that William Burroughs, Jr. was the first long-term survivor of a liver transplant and that Allen Ginsberg once turned down romantic overtures from Burroughs by saying "I don't want your ugly old cock." Ginsberg later admitted that this was a trifle undiplomatic.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2011

Okay, this list is a bit of a stretch in the "things we know vs. don't know" department, but I gotta say, if the Internet is going to be deluged with endless silly lists, please let more of them be about William S. Burroughs.
posted by mykescipark at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2011

Hunh. Well, GenjiandProust, his son's liver transplant was mentioned, as well as his death, but I'm with you all the way about this list being a little baffling. "97 Things People Who Have [probably] Never Heard of William S. Burroughs [probably] Don't Know" might have made a better title.


Something about my lawn goes here, right?
posted by metasav at 6:47 PM on February 6, 2011

Is this something I would need an insectoid life form posing as a double-agent portable typewriter to understand?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, appeared in the 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy
posted by timsteil at 6:57 PM on February 6, 2011

All righty, if we're going to turn this into a Burroughs link-swamp, here's one of the most awesome pieces of found sound/recitation ever committed to magnetic tape. (Available, in full and for free, at Ubu.)
posted by mykescipark at 7:00 PM on February 6, 2011

Also did Voice acting in The Dark Eye.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:06 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Beginning of the dark eye, with Burroughs and claymation. Was a pretty cool Macromedia Director game based on Poe, very buggy so I gave up in frustration. Was worth it for Burroughs reading Poe.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:15 PM on February 6, 2011

Recorded an album with Laurie Anderson.
posted by trip and a half at 7:29 PM on February 6, 2011

As a big fan of his work, I have a great deal of his recordings, including lectures, various readings, and his spoken word with musical backing tracks.

I didn't get into his work until I got to college, but that all changed when I heard is voice, from a reading of Naked Lunch we received as a promo copy at the college radio station I worked at. I could easily imagine myself being frustrated with his writing style and phrasing, and not giving him much thought, had I not heard that disc. However, once I heard it, it was like all of the sudden, following his narrative pattern was incredibly clearer.

My favorite of what I have is when he does a reading from the then-unreleased Ah Pook is Here. It's called Ah Pook Is The Mayan God Of Death
I tried to find the clip online, but it is in this collection. It still sticks with me, as it is a parable about the folly that comes from misunderstanding and ignorance.

Although as a complete ambient/spoken word album, Spare Ass Annie (title track here)is my favorite as a whole album, this track, The Road to the Western Lands by Material is quite exceptional.
posted by chambers at 7:32 PM on February 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also recorded Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales with Michael Franti (of Disposable Heroes and Spearhead), which, to my ears at least, was a hell of a lot more interesting than The Priest They Called Him.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:33 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Grumble grumble preview grumble
posted by Ghidorah at 7:33 PM on February 6, 2011

a hell of a lot more interesting than The Priest They Called Him.

Agreed. That, along with Junky's Christmas, are tracks I kind of avoid, almost like sometimes avoiding the hit single on your band's favorite album. The Cobain deal is kind of groan-worthy, just feels like a business idea rather than a creative project idea, in kind of "oooh, let's get the angry rock star on heroin to play on it, it'll sell millions!" That probably was not the actual intent of the artists, surely for the producer/execs, but it's just seems too... easy to jump to. Maybe that's coming off sounding too irritating-hipster, but oh well, it's just a preference.
posted by chambers at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2011

Does anyone know where or in which neighborhood he lived during the 40's when he was an exterminator? I always wondered.
posted by chambers at 8:05 PM on February 6, 2011

I feel silly. I shouldn't have finally given up and asked, because lo and behold, when changing my search to find the extermination company he worked for, the first entry was this, with pictures and a search story.

4144 N. Kenmore, not more than 8 minutes from me. All these years living in Chicago and wondering, and now I know. Both the boarding house where he lived and the building the Extermination company was in on Michigan Ave have long been demolished, of course, but still interesting.
posted by chambers at 8:17 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

1906: The Ford Motor Company produces a business car equipped with a special rack large enough to carry an adding machine. The car is known as the "Burroughs Special".

addem. to chambers link
posted by clavdivs at 8:25 PM on February 6, 2011

I had both albums, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say it was purely business (supposedly Cobain idolized Burroughs), but it seemed like Cobain was doing his 'music as an attack on the listener' thing, since there was only so much repetitive screeching guitar I could take. Unsurprisingly, Franti was a lot more familiar with arranging for the spoken word, and although they are still stories, they sound like songs. I listened to The Priest... maybe once or twice, where Spare Ass Annie was on regular rotation for most of a summer for me.

It was kind of an odd summer.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:32 PM on February 6, 2011

When I opened this link I thought, "I'm going to be really disappointed if shooting his wife is on it." That's like the second most famous thing about him.

Snark aside, the list does contain quite a lot I didn't know about him.
posted by justkevin at 8:51 PM on February 6, 2011

So, next year, St. Louis meetup?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:06 PM on February 6, 2011

Does anyone not know this about William Burroughs? I mean, conveniently ignore, yes, but not know?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 PM on February 6 [2 favorites +] [!]

I just mentioned the Vodka and Coke one to a housemate and he asked whether it was "named after rabbit burrows or something." He'd never heard of the guy..

Anecdote I read/heard years ago but have never been able to confirm - Burroughs and Lou Reed mugging stockbrokers on Wall St sometime in the 60s. Anyone know whether this is true or not?
posted by Ahab at 9:20 PM on February 6, 2011

I grew up in the same St. Louis suburb: Ladue. My mother's parents were friends of Bill's parents. (I am pushing 60.) Reading his books, I see names of streets where I wandered as a child. My mother went to John Burroughs, as well, one of the three blue-blood private schools, the other two being same-sex schools at the time. Needless to say, my mother was not thrilled to hear that I had become a Burroughs fan. Having a cannabis/LSD user as a 60's teenager was bad enough. Those were polarizing times on all levels. You had to be there, I guess.
posted by kozad at 9:44 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well this post prompted a bunch of googling:

Burroughs' uncle, Ivy Lee's, "work in Nazi Germany on behalf of the controversial company IG Farben."

Chloral hydrate, the drug Burroughs was expelled from school for using had other interesting users.

Was amazed by the influence of Jack Black on Burroughs and on the foundation of the Beat group. His book, You Can't Win, which Burroughs said was his favorite book, is readable free online.

I knew nothing of the Lucien Carr story and the murder of stalked/erotomaniac, Kammerer.

Had never seen any of Burroughs' paintings or his Shotgun art.

What I can add to the unknown about Burroughs info is that my ex-momster met Brion Gysin, Burroughs' long time beloved of sorts, in Tangiers in the summer of 1964. She funded Gysin's trip to NYC (with money 'borrowed' from her eldest son) and convinced him she could promote his Dream Machine. She supplied Burroughs' lover, John Giorno, Gysin and Burroughs with amphetamines for years, in exchange for amyl nitrates. She connected Brion with Peter Matson, who then became his agent and then Burroughs' agent.

Brion lived in the apartment where I lived for almost a year. I was 11/12 years old.

When I met Burroughs during his years in London, he insisted on carrying a pocket knife to protect himself. He said Carlos Castaneda was nothing compared with Robert Monroe, whose book he highly recommended, Journeys Out of the Body.

Burroughs' had long time friends also living in London when he was there (who were also my neighbors), Claude Pelieu and Mary Beach.

He was friends in London with a marvelous American Literature professor/author, Eric Mottram.
posted by nickyskye at 12:05 AM on February 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

Just watched the film the mentioned in the article (A Man Within). If you like Uncle Bill, it's worth watching. I wouldn't call it a great film, and there is much they left out and some people I wished they had talked to more, but it is a good film and not a waste of time.

Something that struck me, was it seemed (from the film) that the only significant part of his life that he seemed happy, was when he moved away from the center of things and went to live in Kansas, with his cats, his shotguns and booze. People came to him, but his major time in the limelight began to fade and i think that was good.. for him.

I have been, and remain, pretty conflicted about Uncle Bill, I love a lot of what he wrote and recorded, and find him pretty fascinating, but he was a terrible father and had some serious character flaws. For all of that I am glad he existed, and I actually appreciated him more than, say, Hunter S Thompson.
posted by edgeways at 12:29 AM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

More trivia:

Bill wrote an interesting film script about 'The Last Words of Dutch Schultz' which was never produced.

Bill said that the best way to kick the habit was Dr. Dent's apomorphine therapy.

Bill attended Scientology seminars in London, but dropped out when he found them too "controlling".

Some of his classic monologues are on the LP "You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With" (1981), Giorno Poetry Systems / Dial-a-Poem Poets (listen here on ubuweb, of course).
posted by ovvl at 4:48 AM on February 7, 2011

Joan Vollmer had a daughter from a previous marriage. She was around when Burroughs shot her mother in the head. Said daughter is a friend of my parents.

Her opinion of Burroughs is low, as you might imagine.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:26 AM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

*and the murder of stalker/erotomaniac, Kammerer.

According to Brion Gysin, Burroughs and he did carbolic acid enemas together for reasons unknown but on googling perhaps for the treatment of hemorrhoids?
posted by nickyskye at 8:03 AM on February 7, 2011

chambers - AH POOK IS HERE
posted by jtron at 3:08 PM on February 7, 2011

chambers - AH POOK IS HERE

Alas, right story, wrong part. It has some elements of the recording I have, but the one I speak of concerns a western-trained archeologist type who decides to gain power by controlling death through an ancient Mayan ritual. He misunderstands the meaning and the necessity of death in the Mayan worldview, and because of the archeologist's own narrow-minded perspective that fears and wants to conquer death, rather than accept death as a part of the cirlce of life, he misses the point entirely and is destroyed.
posted by chambers at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Cannibal Galaxy at 1:07 AM on February 10, 2011

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