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.

Back in 2015, to com­mem­o­rate the 101st birth­day of Bur­roughs, 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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Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

When Iggy Pop Pub­lished an Essay, “Cae­sar Lives,” in an Aca­d­e­m­ic Jour­nal about His Love for Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)

Prof. Iggy Pop Deliv­ers the BBC’s 2014 John Peel Lec­ture on “Free Music in a Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety”

Famous Edgar Allan Poe Sto­ries Read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buck­ley, Christo­pher Walken, Mar­i­anne Faith­ful & More

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

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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