Hear a Great Radio Documentary on William S. Burroughs Narrated by Iggy Pop

wsb pop

Images via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

William S. Bur­roughs is one of the most mythol­o­gized Amer­i­can authors of the 20th cen­tu­ry. When you recall the details of his life, they read like the biog­ra­phy of a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter. He was an unabashed hero­in addict yet he dressed like a dap­per insur­ance sales­man. He was open­ly, mil­i­tant­ly gay at a time when homo­sex­u­al­i­ty wasn’t even men­tioned in polite soci­ety. He shot his wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mex­i­co City while play­ing an ill-con­ceived game of William Tell and then spent years in Tang­iers indulging in every pos­si­ble vice while writ­ing Naked Lunch, which hap­pened to be one of the most con­tro­ver­sial books of the cen­tu­ry. And his writ­ing influ­enced just about every­one you con­sid­er cool.

This week is the 101st birth­day of Bur­roughs. To mark the occa­sion, This Amer­i­can Life aired a BBC doc­u­men­tary on Burroughs’s life. The show is nar­rat­ed by Iggy Pop whose voice, in announc­er mode, bears an uncan­ny resem­blance to Sam Elliot. Pop relates how Bur­roughs influ­enced Kurt Cobain, punk rock and Bob Dylan, and how he him­self lift­ed lyrics from Bur­roughs for his most pop­u­lar song, and unlike­ly Car­ni­val Cruise jin­gle, “Lust for Life.”

As Ira Glass notes, the doc­u­men­tary paints a clear pic­ture of why he is such a revered fig­ure – going into detail about his writ­ing, his huge­ly influ­en­tial “Cut Up” method, his obses­sion with cats – while nev­er buy­ing into his mys­tique. In fact, one of the most inter­est­ing parts of the doc is a damn­ing appraisal of Burroughs’s cool junkie per­sona by author Will Self, who was him­self an addict for a cou­ple of decades. You can lis­ten to the whole episode above.

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Relat­ed Con­tent: 

William S. Bur­roughs Reads His First Nov­el, Junky

William S. Bur­roughs on the Art of Cut-up Writ­ing

William S. Bur­roughs Explains What Artists & Cre­ative Thinkers Do for Human­i­ty

550 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (8)
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  • K.C. Locke says:

    Enter­tain­ing, infor­ma­tive, but it skips like a flat stone across a lake much larg­er than it can rea­son­ably span. For some rea­son, Ira Glass’s com­men­tary is just excru­ci­at­ing­ly irri­tat­ing, and Will Self speaks with the kind of sneer­ing con­tempt and con­dem­na­tion that can only be sum­moned by the “recov­er­ing” addict for the junky who has failed to reform yet also failed to be mis­er­able. Iggy Pop does a splen­did job as our host.

  • peter Simonson says:

    What date is it on your web­site

  • peter Simonson says:

    What date

  • Steven C. C. says:

    Will self makes a good point regard­ing Joan “I would rather have the woman than the books” in regard to Joan’s death being the cat­a­lyst for William’s writ­ing. I agree with him. (Unless you believe art is more impor­tant than life?)
    The what, how and why Bur­roughs became the writer he was is as impor­tant as the what, how and why both Iggy and Will Self became the men that cre­at­ed their own work …it’s just besides the point, it’s about the work and if it is any good.
    The drug side of William Bur­roughs (as with all artists) is bor­ing and self indul­gent. Using it as a metaphor for con­trol at large in the work was inter­est­ing but it’s only a very small part of what makes the mans work so inter­est­ing after all this time and why it con­tin­ues to influ­ence new gen­er­a­tions.
    Bur­roughs was an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter and he worked with many oth­er great artists through­out his life. He under­stood the val­ue of col­lab­o­ra­tion and exper­i­men­ta­tion with others…breakthroughs take place…
    I read the Bar­ry Miles book on William “A Life” not so long ago and it was a good read, yes the drugs were men­tioned but it also high­light­ed the con­se­quences to William for using them. Out­side of that it was inter­est­ing to read about the shap­ing of William and who and what influ­enced him. I start­ed read­ing the pub­lished let­ters of William rec­om­mend by my friend and they pro­vide lots of insight into this unique man. But again it still goes back to the work and if it is any good and in my opin­ion yes, it is.

  • zoe wilding says:

    I was lead to believe that Steely Dan was Dan Steel’s name messed around with. Could­n’t get through Naked Lunch. The only thing that fas­ci­nat­ed me was the con­cept of the “Dream Machine”. I’d rather have Quentin Crisp, at least he had a sense of humour..

  • thewaymouth says:

    And even David Bowie briefly cuts in with his use of the “Cut Up” artis­tic method… The pro­gram fails to men­tion two of my favorite works of his: his record­ed read­ing of his poem, “A Thanks­giv­ing Prayer” (1986), as well as his won­der­ful per­for­mance in “Drug­store Cow­boy” (US film, 1989). Oth­er­wise this pro­gram is mag­nif­i­cent… Iggy Pop is over the freak­ing top bril­liant.

  • Mark Shulgasser says:

    You not sup­posed to ‘get through’ Naked Lunch, or any Bur­roughs book, you’re only sup­posed to dip into them and roll your eyes!

  • Rowie says:

    Nice pro­gram, despite the some­times neg­a­tive com­ments on drugs and drug-use it fun to lis­ten to.

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