Feb 5, 2014
Today makers the 100th anniversary of William Seward Burroughs II, a unique figure in the annals of American Literary and Cultural History. Burroughs, who left a mark as a writer, painter, spoken word artist, actor, gadfly and drug abuser, is one of the major figures to come out of the Beat Movement of the 1950’s, and one of the true Post-Modern artists of the time.
The publication in 1959 of his novel Naked Lunch set off a firestorm in American publishing, with a series of states declaring the work obscene. In 1966, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared the work "not obscene" on the basis of criteria developed largely to defend the book. The case against Burroughs's novel still stands as the last obscenity trial against a work of literature prosecuted in the United States.
As for Burroughs and the Beat Movement’s connection with Jazz, I turn to Jed Birmingham:
Kerouac is usually thought as the bop writer with his theory of spontaneous composition and readings to jazz accompaniment. Many of Kerouac’s works show the influence of jazz, particularly his poetry, like Mexico City Blues which ends with several choruses dedicated to Charlie Parker. Kerouac’s novels also depict jazz sessions and talk about jazz music. Kerouac’s descriptions of clubs and musicians in On The Road and in various short stories are among the best in the history of modern literature.
The influence of jazz on Burroughs would appear to be first and foremost Burroughs’ adoption of the jazz lifestyle dominated by heroin and marijuana. Figures like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk blowing on 52nd Street played a part in Burroughs’ fascination with the drug underworld just as Herbert Huncke and Times Square scene did. But the influence of jazz goes deeper than that and permeates Burroughs’ mature works like Naked Lunch and the cut up novels.
Throughout his career, Burroughs rubbed elbows with the jazz world, most notably with Ornette Coleman. Both Coleman and Burroughs appeared in the 1966 freak-out Chappaqua directed by Conrad Rooks. Burroughs plays Opium Jones and Coleman appears as a Peyote Eater. Coleman was commissioned to provide the soundtrack but his Chappaqua Suite was ultimately not used.
Glen Hall became fascinated with Burroughs while in college. He wrote:
In 1973, while studying modern American literature, I was asked to produce "a response" to any novel I had been reading. I chose to do a tape collage about "The Market", a section of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. That same year, I finished my post-graduate work with my thesis on Burroughs' cut-up and fold-in techniques of composition.
As a talented jazz musician and composer, Hall melded his academic interest with his musical passion, and in 1999 released Hallucinations: Music and Words for William S. Burroughs to solid reviews. Hall has collaborated with Roswell Rudd and Gil Evans over the years, and is a leading figure in the Canadian jazz avant-garde.
Podcast 409 is my conversation about Burroughs with Mr. Hall,
who speaks eloquently about the recording of Hallucinations, his continued
inspiration by Burroughs’ life and legacy, and other projects and
collaborations on which he has been working. Musical selections including "Muddy Waters
(Little Walter / Lakeshore Theme / Willie D. / Otis / Whisper From
Theresa´s / Walkin´ Up Halsted)" from his collaboration with Gil
Evans, The Mother of the Book; and "Cut-Up" and
"Virus Powers (The Book Of The Word)" from the