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‘Call Me Burroughs’ pins down the extreme life of William Burroughs

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BOOK REVIEW

‘Call Me Burroughs’ pins down the extreme life of William Burroughs

Barry Miles’ William Burroughs biography ‘Call Me Burroughs’ is an extensive, fascinating biography of the ‘Naked Lunch’ author, including the William Tell shooting death of his wife and his life as countercultural spokesman.

February 05, 2014|By Jim Ruland
  • Cover of the book "Call Me Burroughs" by Barry Miles.
Cover of the book “Call Me Burroughs” by Barry Miles. (Twelve )

William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” stands with Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” as the seminal texts of the Beat Generation. With its harrowing scenes of junkie depravity, its view of postwar America was the most extreme of all the Beats. Yet few American literary figures have enjoyed more second acts than Burroughs. He was spokesman for the countercultural movement in the ’70s, begrudgingly bore the label Godfather of Punk in the ’80s, and was a spoken-word performer and visual artist until his death in 1997.

Barry Miles’ new biography, “Call Me Burroughs,” begins with the invention of the adding machine in 1888, which brought fortune to the Burroughs family and provided young master Bill a sizable allowance that he enjoyed until he was 50. Nice work if you can get it.

Wealthy or not, the 20th century childhood of a sensitive gay man was rarely easy, but Burroughs was fortunate to have received his awakening early. Alert to their son’s sensitivities, his parents sent him to an experimental school in northern New Mexico where the great outdoors was as much a part of the curriculum as French, Latin and Greek.

It was an all-boys school with an all-male staff that provided Bill with plenty of opportunities to confirm what he already knew about his sexual orientation. Getting caught resulted in immediate expulsion. Some semesters more teachers than students were sent home. The school was shut down when the government bought the land to build the Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atom bomb. “It seemed to me right, somehow,” Burroughs quipped

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