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William S. Burroughs Died on This Date in 1997

August 2, 2017

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In 1969, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg bought Patti Smith a cheese sandwich when she was short of money. While also treating her to coffee and chatting about Walt Whitman with Smith, Ginsberg realized she was a girl. He laughed, “I took you for a pretty boy!” Burroughs does not look amused.
August 2, 2017

On this day in 1997 William S. Burroughs died in Lawrence, Kansas. No doubt there will be numerous notices of this occasion today on Twitter and other social media. Here is a very early profile of Burroughs well before he became well-known to any but Beat insiders of the 1950s. From Seymour Krim’s anthology The Beats.

Burroughs is a beat legend, played guru, or teacher, to Kerouac and Ginsberg, has played with drugs, pistols, human life, human consciousness, a quicksilver daredevil with an extra-high IQ. Says of his work: ‘ ‘I write about what is in front of my senses at the moment of writing. I do not presume to impose ‘story’ or ‘plot’ or ‘continuity.’ ’ His underground novel [Naked Lunch], from which we show two sections is a quick-shifting pinwheel of the modern scene; has mad biting humor and sections of technological horror that out-Orwell Orwell. For all his exoticism Burroughs is realer than oldfashioned realism, although his disinterest in a sustained story makes for tonal repetition over the long run of his book. Best in short takes, he dazzles because of the unforced grotesqueness he shows in our hallucinatory, beyond-Mars, cozy little modern world.”

Krim printed several excerpts from The Naked Lunch in The Beats.

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Paul Varner

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