Monday, June 21, 2010

William Burroughs, The Man Within

   Last night I saw a documentary about the life of William S. Burroughs who was famous for all the things one should not be famous for; he shot his wife, he was queer and he spent most of his life addicted to heroin.  He also wrote several books and along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac birthed the famed and subversive beat poet movement.
     William Burroughs was born in 1914.  He came from a wealthy family (his grandfather invented the adding machine) and spent most of his life living on a stipend.  Burroughs had a Harvard education and as John Waters said it is often the people with the most privileges who become the most subversive. 
    In 1951 after being busted a second time for narcotics he and his wife moved to Mexico City.  It was there that Burroughs, in a drunken game of William Tell, accidently shot and killed his wife.   Not one to express emotion Burroughs exiled himself to Morocco and spent till 1959 writing the book "Naked Lunch".  Filled with scenes of male prostitutes, strangulation during sex and ejaculating penises it was banned in the United States until it was heard by the Supreme Court in a famous first amendment trial in 1966.  After winning the trial the book was widely published and made William Burroughs an instant cult hero.  
    What made this documentary about Burroughs interesting to me is the film maker tried to get to what was inside of the man.  Though he was revered by Patti Smith and others as the godfather of punk music scene he never identified as such.  He was also revered by John Waters and others as the person who began the queer rights movement but again he never identified as queer.  Burroughs was ultimately a man unto himself and we are lead by the film maker to believe he suffered considerable remorse, not only for killing his wife but for the premature death of his only son who in order to be acknowledged by Burroughs emulated him (drinking too much and using drugs) and died of liver failure at the age of 32. 
   Many people will remember that one of Burroughs methods for writing was the use of cutting up segments and then re-forming them into poetry.  Later in life he developed another technique that wasn't so successful or known.   Out in his yard he would place a can of spray paint in front of a canvas then step back several feet and shoot a hole in the can releasing the paint onto the canvas.  Apparently Burroughs always had a great love of guns...
   Towards the end of the movie John Waters said 'for misfits Burroughs was almost a religious figure'.  Patti Smith said 'in his last year of life he became lovable', though earlier in the movie she professed to have always been madly in love with him.  William Burroughs died 6 months after Allen Ginsberg in 1997 and it was widely believed they were not only best of friends, cohorts with a lifelong shared past but soul mates. 
  In the final scene of the movie there is a note written by Burroughs simply saying "Love - the most natural painkiller there is". 
   Thanks for reading...  Yona C. Riel

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