Nike footwear and celebrity athletes usually go hand-in-hand. When you think Nike, you think of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Mia Hamm. And let’s not forget the now troubled duo of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong too. Fit, lithe bodies generally sell sneakers, we know that.
But then there’s the bizarre, odd exception. Let’s rewind the videotape to 1994, when Nike enlisted William S. Burroughs to sell its Air Max shoes. That’s right a decrepit 79-year-old Beat writer, known for his heroin addiction, manslaughter conviction and cut up writing. William S. Burroughs is pretty much the anti-Mia Hamm. And yet the ad works in its own way. Just like the Gap could use Jack Kerouac to lend hipster cred to its stodgy khakis, so Burroughs could bring a mainstreamed counterculture cool to Nike shoes as his head, appearing in a TV set proclaims, “The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain, but to serve the body, to make life easier, to make anything possible. It’s the coming of the new technology.” That new technology being, I guess, the cutting edge cushions in Nike’s shoes?
William S. Burroughs on Saturday Night Live, 1981
How Spike Lee Got His First Big Break: From She’s Gotta Have It to That Iconic Air Jordan Ad
William S. Burroughs Reads His First Novel, Junky (find it also in our collection of Free Audio Books)
I’d have worn these styles, but was so messed up on bug powder my appendages wouldn’t fit in the shoes.