William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll

by Casey Rae (Author)
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A history of the writer’s impact on some of the biggest names in rock music from the Beatles to Bowie, and his role as a secret architect in the genre.

William S. Burroughs’s fiction and essays are legendary—but his influence on music’s counterculture has been less well documented―until now. Examining how one of America’s most controversial literary figures altered the destinies of many notable and varied musicians, William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll reveals the transformations in music history that can be traced to Burroughs.

A heroin addict and a gay man, Burroughs rose to notoriety outside the conventional literary world; his masterpiece, Naked Lunch, was banned on the grounds of obscenity, but its nonlinear structure was just as daring as its content. Casey Rae brings to life Burroughs’s parallel rise to fame among daring musicians of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques for producing revolutionary lyrics (as the Beatles and Radiohead did). Whether they tell of him exploring the occult with David Bowie, providing Lou Reed with gritty depictions of street life, or counseling Patti Smith about coping with fame—the stories of Burroughs’s backstage impact will transform the way you see America’s cultural revolution―and the way you hear its music.

“[Rae] writes with the passion of a teenager discovering new sounds, and the control and self-assuredness of a seasoned academic . . . William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll celebrates not only the gifted mind and bizarre life of a writer who changed literature forever with his magic and ideas; it also finally gives him the place he deserves in the pantheon of rock and roll.” —NPR 

“William S. Burroughs was as much a quiet rock star as he was an artist or a writer. His inroads into audio, spoken word, and music created paths that we still follow. Casey Rae’s book is a labor of love that offers a map to understanding Burroughs’s complex relationship to music and other art forms.” —Chris Stein, co-founder of Blondie 

“[A] fascinating new book . . . Rae is an engaging storyteller and often an enlightening one . . . I’m grateful for Rae’s study and recommend it highly, not only to those (still) interested in Burroughs and rock music, but to anyone curious about the possibilities for creative synergy between the arts.” —Journal of Popular Music Studies

Publication date
February 24, 2022
Page count
Paper ISBN

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