Call Me Burroughs: Hear William S. Burroughs Read from Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine in His First Spoken Word Album (1965)


Image by Chris­ti­aan Ton­nis, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Where did you first hear the voice of William S. Bur­roughs? Weary yet vig­or­ous, flat yet pow­er­ful, wry yet haunt­ing, it has, to a good-sized seg­ment of sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions now, defined a cadence for the coun­ter­cul­ture. Many of those enthu­si­asts (most of whom would have come to know the grand old man of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion’s post­mod­ernist wing through his writ­ing, like the nov­els Naked Lunch and Junky) had their first gen­uine Bur­roughs lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence through the record album Call Me Bur­roughs, first released in 1965, and more recent­ly re-issued by Supe­ri­or Viaduct.

In these ses­sions, record­ed in the base­ment of The Eng­lish Book­shop in Paris, Bur­roughs reads from Naked Lunch as well as Nova Express, the third book in the “Nova Tril­o­gy” that the author con­sid­ered a “math­e­mat­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion” of his best-known work. Both emerged as the fruits of the “cut-up” tech­nique of lit­er­ary com­po­si­tion Bur­roughs devel­oped with artist Brion Gysin, cre­at­ing new texts out of decon­tex­tu­al­ized and reassem­bled pieces of exist­ing text found in the mass media.

“Bur­roughs believed that lan­guage and image were viral and that the mass-dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion was part of an arch-con­spir­a­cy that restrict­ed the full poten­tial of the human mind,” writes Glenn O’Bri­an at Elec­tron­ic Beats. “With cut-up, Bur­roughs found a means of escape; an anti­dote to the sick­ness of ‘con­trol’ mes­sages that mutat­ed their orig­i­nal con­tent. If mass media already func­tioned as an enor­mous bar­rage of cut-up mate­r­i­al, the cut-up method was a way for the artist to fight back using its same tac­tics.”

Call Me Bur­roughs, which at one point became a deep-out-of-print col­lec­tor’s item, has now come avail­able free on Spo­ti­fy. (You can down­load its free soft­ware here.) You can also stream it on Youtube. Coun­ter­cul­ture chron­i­cler Bar­ry Miles notes that the Bea­t­les all had copies (and Paul McCart­ney, par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed with it, went on to hire its pro­duc­er him­self), and “art deal­er Robert Fras­er bought ten copies to give to friends such as Bri­an Jones and Mick Jag­ger. Mar­i­anne Faith­ful and Kei­th Richards’ deal­er had copies, as did numer­ous painters and writ­ers.” So what­ev­er inspi­ra­tion you draw from this “tal­is­man of cool in Green­wich Vil­lage in the mid-1960s,” as Greil Mar­cus once called it, you’ll cer­tain­ly join a long line of dis­tin­guished lis­ten­ers.

Call Me Bur­roughs will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

via Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William S. Bur­roughs Reads & Sings His Exper­i­men­tal Prose in a Big, Free 7‑Hour Playlist

How William S. Bur­roughs Used the Cut-Up Tech­nique to Shut Down London’s First Espres­so Bar (1972)

William S. Bur­roughs Teach­es a Free Course on Cre­ative Read­ing and Writ­ing (1979)

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”

How David Bowie, Kurt Cobain & Thom Yorke Write Songs With William Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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