Frank Zappa Reads NSFW Passage From William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1978)

You may struggle to find two more iconoclastic countercultural figures than William S. Burroughs and Frank Zappa. The well-known names conceal often less well-known and at times inaccessible or downright infuriating work and personalities. Despite their sometimes too-easy association with the movements they helped birth, neither Burroughs nor Zappa fits comfortably with free-wheeling Beat sensibilities or flowery California hippie culture. They were both simply too contrary, cultivated or, at times, too weird and antisocial for that.

But these confounding tendencies make both artists perennially interesting. Despite their differences---in medium, age, and background---both share at least two significant traits: a wry, blasphemous sense of humor and descent from families integral to U.S. technocratic supremacy: Burroughs the grandson of the inventor of the adding machine and Zappa the son of a chemist and mathematician who helped make chemical weapons. Maybe it’s historical irony that the Burroughs and Zappa families produced such errant offspring, maybe it’s a dialectical inevitability. But it’s certainly fitting that the two come together in the audio above, where Zappa reads a particularly funny and profane passage from Burroughs’ most famous novel Naked Lunch.

The occasion of this reading was the Nova Convention in 1978, three days and nights of readings, panel discussions, film screenings, and performances that, The New York Times wrote at the time, “sought to grapple with some of the implications of the writing” of Burroughs. In addition to Burroughs and Zappa, the convention featured such notable countercultural names as Terry Southern, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Brion Gysin, John Cage, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson. A good bit of the happening (including the audio above) was recorded for posterity and released as a double-LP by Giorno Poetry Systems.

Related Content:

Beat Writer William S. Burroughs Spreads Counterculture Cool on Nike Sneakers, 1994

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Frank Zappa Debates Censorship on CNN’s Crossfire (1986)

Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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  • Wow. I mean, this is challenging to the mainstream, sure. But you’ve got to wonder whether this kind of stuff is helping anyone to think anything positive or constructive in a healthy way. You’ve really gotta question.

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