Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan

There is a book I have learned about titled William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Casey Rae.  It delves into Burroughs’ influence on a wide range of musical artists from David Bowie to Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, among others.  Burroughs’ works have not only influenced lyrical content, and how lyrics and music have been written and performed, but have given names to some noteworthy bands.  Grating against the mainstream as he did, it is easy to see why so many rockers flocked to him.  He wasn’t called the ‘godfather of punk’ for nothing.  Burroughs didn’t like that nickname, by the way.

I’ve not read Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll, yet, but it is definitely going on my reading list.  Literary Outlaw, by Ted Morgan, is one biography I have read.  Aside from being an interesting author, William S. Burroughs lived an interesting life that ran opposed to established mores as much as his art did.

Burroughs traveled the world and studied any and everything that caught his attention.  He was the grandson of a famous inventor, he was a Harvard graduate, he trained in medicine and anthropology and was a co-founder of the Beat movement with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.  Burroughs was also a heroin addict on and off for the majority of his life.

He fled the United States for Mexico when faced with prison time for drug charges.  Although he was gay, he forever mourned the death of his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer, whom he accidentally killed in a (drunken) game of William Tell while they were exiles south of the border.  It was her death which gave him the impetus to write.

Literary Outlaw presents all of Burroughs’ warts.  If you know anything of him, though, you know Burroughs never shied away from exposing them himself.  He spent his career confronting the ugly sides of humanity, especially his own, and in particular the malevolent forces within each person that work contrary to our good will.

Ted Morgan does a brilliant job of bringing Burroughs to life.  All of the infamous, legendary, facts and events are documented, but light is equally shed on Burroughs’ fractured relationship with his son who died of his own problems from the effects of substance abuse.

Literary Outlaw does not glorify the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, or the illicit and illegal activities of Burroughs’ life.  It presents the life and death of a great, groundbreaking author who was also a man.  A troubled, conflicted man, yes, but still a man.

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