How the drugged-up, cut-up ‘pope’ of rock transformed music

The Beatles, Bowie, Dylan and the Stones all fell under notorious Beat junkie William Burroughs’s spell

18 September 2020 - 00:00 By Casey Rae

William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys, was the most transgressive of the Beat writers. His biography has become as legendary as his most celebrated novels: born in the Jazz Age, the favoured son of a wealthy Midwestern industrialist, he became a homosexual drug addict, occult experimenter and petty criminal who killed his wife in a drunken game of William Tell and wrote infamous prose featuring orgasmic executions, shape-shifting aliens and all manner of addicts, sadists and creepy crawlies.

Yet he was also something of a clandestine agent in the development of rock ’n’ roll, a spectral figure who haunted the cultural underground and helped usher it into the mainstream. His direct impact on musical artists over a half-century is immense, but largely unknown...

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