The Beauty of the Beast

loureed

Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris

A Review by Tobe Damit
A Review by Tobe Damit

Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing  moments,  a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.

Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974
Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974

Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punk caterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.

Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ''insect'' look drawn by John Holmstrom. Consacrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather.
Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ”insect” look drawn by John Holmström. Consecrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather. Click image for more.

The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.

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”I’m an artist and that means I can be as egotistical as I want to be”

Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”

Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema,King's Cross,London on 15th of July 1972.
Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema, King’s Cross,London on 15th of July 1972. Bowie co-produced Reed’s first solo album Transformer very shortly after. 

Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one  but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heat was the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.

The original formation on the Velvet Underground produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 © Gerard Malanga
The original formation of the Velvet Underground and Nico produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 ©Photo credit: Gerard Malanga

Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.

Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga)
Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga). Click on image for more about Lou’s ladies.

Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him  as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymes and he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition of Transformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.

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Lou Reed and Nico ©Mick Rock 1975

Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ - "Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995"
Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995©Photo by Annie Leibovitz

By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’s Rock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!

Badass
”When I’m talking, listen, goddamn it. When I’m talking to you, you look me in the eyes, goddamn it, or I’ll fucking smash you in the face, and I’m serious, I’m deadly serious’‘- Lou Reed to Robert Quine at CBGB’s, 1977 (extract from V. Bockris’ Transformer)

 

Interview with author Victor Bockris HERE!

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Donna Santisi

LA Punk Scene in the 70’s

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Debbie Harry kicking ass!

Donna Santisi was one of the very few and lucky photographers who were able to capture the new punk rock craze and scene that had spread from New York to Los Angeles. On any given night Donna would be at The Whisky A Go Go, The Starwood, or any number of clubs with camera in hand to capture on film what would soon be  the hardcore punk scene. I don’t think anybody was ready for this explosion, especially The parents of the newly found punk rockers that their children turned out to be. Ask the Angels!

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Kristian Hoffman & Lance Loud (Mumps),Tomata de Plenty & K.K. (Screamers)
Tom Verlaine from Television
Tom Verlaine from Television ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Tommy Gear and Tomata du Plenty from The Screamers
Tommy Gear and Tomata de Plenty from The Screamers ©Photo by Donna Santisi
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Iggy Pop ©Photo by Donna Santisi
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John Cale (Velvet Underground)
Sex Pistol Drummer Paul Cok and Genny Body from Bacjstage Pass
Drummer Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) and Genny Body (Backstage Pass) ©Donna Santisi 
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Danielle Faye (Zippers) wirh Vicki Blue (Runaways)
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Joan Jett and Debbie Harry ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Lita Ford from The Runaways
Lita Ford from The Runaways
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Vicki Blue from The Runaways
The Zeros
The Zeros ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Lita Ford (Runaways)
Lita Ford (Runaways)©Photo by Donna Santisi
ATA Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)
ATA Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)
Missy, Maggie and Mercy of The Heaters!
Missy, Maggie and Mercy of The Heaters!
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Patti Smith
Joey Ramone (Ramones!)
Joey Ramone (Ramones!
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Leather! Joan Jett and a helping BFF! ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Joan Jett, Tropicana Motel 1979 ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Joan Jett, Tropicana Motel 1979 
Bowie '90 Sound and Vision Tour
Bowie ’90 Sound and Vision Tour
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Debbie and Joan Jett © Photo by Donna Santisi
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Joan Jett with Chrissy Hynde (The Pretenders)
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Siouxie Sioux
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Patti Smith
Alice Bag, lead singer for The Bags
Alice Bag, lead singer for LA Punk band The Bags
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All Pictures in this article by © Donna Santisi

All copyrights on all images © Donna Santisi

50th Anniversary 1967-2017

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John Cale to Perform Album in Full in Liverpool and New York

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Sterling Morrison, John CaleLou Reed, Moe Tucker and Nico, 1966 – photo by Billy Name.

Following a recent concert at the Philharmonie de Paris, our favourite viola-scraper has announced details of a major open-air gig in Liverpool, the city the Welsh musician sailed from on his journey to America more than 50 years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico. The show at Liverpool Docklands on 26 May 2017 is the only European date for Cale’s celebration of the Velvet Underground’s iconic debut LP, with the album to be played in full alongside a specially assembled band at a purpose-built stage facing towards the Atlantic Ocean.  Widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in history, the epochal album will only be played again in full at one further show in New York.

“I’m often reluctant to spend too much time on things past, then a time marker shows up – The Velvet Underground & Nico turns 50! As so many bands can attest to, it is the fulfilment of the ultimate dream to record your first album. We were an unfriendly brand, dabbling in a world of challenging lyrics and weird sonics that didn’t fit into anyone’s playlist at the time,” said Cale, quoted in The Quietus .

“Remaining ferociously true to our viewpoints, Lou and I never doubted for a moment we could create something to give a voice to things not regularly explored in rock music at the time. That bizarre combination of four distinctly disparate musicians and a reluctant beauty queen perfectly summed up what it meant to be The Velvet Underground.”

The 1967 album, which was backed by Andy Warhol and featured the voice of budding singer and model Nico, remains an ur-text of avant-rock after five decades, with its influence reaching from Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 to most of the punk, jangle-pop, shoegaze and noise underground.

The first show will take place on May 26 at a bespoke open-air stage facing out to the Atlantic in Liverpool’s historic docklands. Cale will be joined by a number of “high-profile collaborators” to perform the album – their identities will be revealed in the run-up to the show. This year’s Paris concert featured The Libertines, Animal Collective and Mark Lanegan.

Tickets for the Liverpool gig go on sale at 9am on Friday, October 28, from all the usual outlets. Further details on the New York show will be announced later.  For a taste of what to expect, here are a few of clips from the Paris show last spring, including Saul Williams guesting on “Heroin,” Mark Lanegan singing “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and Lou Doillon singing “Femme Fatale.” Hopefully that all happens again at the New York show.

A movie about the final year of Nico’s life is also coming in 2017, with Danish actress Trine Dyrholm in the lead role.

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Velvet Underground, Warhol and Nico

Previous Interviews & Articles about the V.U.:

 

John Cale

John Cale
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”I could never figure out whether John Cale wanted to be Elvis Presley, The Frankenstein monster, or young Chopin” -Nat Finkelstein, Up-Tight  

”He’d get paranoid craziness. I thought he was really special because of that, that craziness to me was incredibly interesting. He was really the kind that would be afraid to go into the street -from paranoia or whatever makes you that way. ” –Betsey Johnson, Up-Tight

John Cale has brought an avant-garde ear to rock & roll ever since he founded the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in 1966.

Born in Garnant, Wales, in 1942, John Davies Cale played piano and violin from an early age. As a promising student at London University, he often chafed at the limitations of the classical hierarchy , and was drawn to the work of such avant garde composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. When Cale moved to New York in 1963, he fell in with each of these influences in turn, eventually playing viola in Young’s Theater of Eternal Music (a.k.a. The Dream Syndicate).

His work shows a fascination with opposites: lyricism and noise, subtlety and bluntness, hypnotic repetition and sudden change. Even as a student of classical music, he was an extremist: During a recital at the Guildhall School of Music, London, where he was studying theory and composition, he demolished a piano. Cale studied in Britain with composer Humphrey Searle, came to America in 1963 to work with Iannis Xenakis and Aaron Copland under the auspices of a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship, then settled in New York with such radical composers as John Cage and La Monte Young. That year Cale was one of a group of pianists to perform Erik Satie’s nearly 19-hour-long “Vexations.” Through his association with the Lower Manhattan art community, Cale met Reed, who directed him toward electric instruments and rock & roll and helped conceive the Velvet Underground, for whom Cale played keyboards, bass, and electric viola. The rock and roll milieu gave Cale a chance to unleash the fierce improvisational skills that classical music had no use for. “Velvets shows were pretty riotous. When we went to the West Coast, we’d end up playing in big clubs with a lot of the acidhead bands, and we found we could fit in there by improvising a little harder than what the acidhead bands were doing.”

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The Velvets by Billy Name 

“When John left, it was really sad. I felt really bad. And of course, this was gonna really influence the music, ’cause, John’s a lunatic. I think we became a little more normal, which was fine, it was good music, good songs, it was never the same though. It was good stuff, a lot of good songs, but, just, the lunacy factor was… gone.”-Moe Tucker

After two Velvets albums (The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat), Cale left in 1968 for a solo career.  Cale worked in production (Nico’s The Marble Index, The Stooges) for a few years before returning with some subdued but elegant solo albums. His 1973 classic Paris 1919 established his penchant for writing allusive, emotionally compelling songs linked to historical and political concerns—a concern that reached its culmination in his harrowing 1982 album Music For A New Society. “Emotional concerns are very political, in the end,” he points out.

The mid-’70s found Cale back in the UK, fronting a series of rock bands that assaulted audiences with a stage presentation that drew as much from Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty as from Phil Spector. His three albums from this period— Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy—capture the dark and manic energy that colored his live shows, and prefigured the punk explosion that lurked right around the corner.

In the early ’70s he worked as an A&R man for Warner Bros. and Elektra, and as a consultant for Columbia, remixing albums by Barbra Streisand and Paul Revere and the Raiders in quadraphonic sound. On his solo albums of the decade, he used elegant pop (Paris 1919, with Little Feat’s Lowell George), hard rock (Fear), Phil Spector/Brian Wilson gloss (Slow Dazzle), minimalism (Church of Anthrax, with fellow La Monte Young pupil Terry Riley), full orchestra (The Academy in Peril), and punk (Sabotage). Lyrically, he displayed equal daring; delivered in a strong baritone, his work ranged from musings about terrorism, espionage, and states of psychological extremity to love songs. His ’70s tours, generally featuring guitarist Chris Spedding, were often acts of disturbing theater (recorded at New York’s CBGB, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues captured the punk ambience of the period); at one point Cale chopped up a chicken onstage, causing his band members to walk out.

By the next decade Cale had established himself as a producer/collaborator on some 80 albums, ranging from the debut efforts of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers, and Squeeze to four albums by former Velvets singer Nico; he also had worked with Brian Eno, Kevin Ayers, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Drake, and Mike Heron and scored soundtracks for Andy Warhol‘s Heat and Roger Corman’s Caged Heat. While commercial success continued to elude him, he was lauded as one of punk’s godfathers, a status he contended against with characteristic irony: His primary interest remained classical music. As the ’80s waned he continued producing (Happy Mondays), scoring (the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild with Laurie Anderson and David Byrne), and releasing solo work as various as the almost-pop of Wrong Way Up to “The Falklands Suite,” an orchestration of Dylan Thomas poetry that highlighted Words for the Dying.

By 1993 Cale had come full circle: Having, two years earlier, collaborated with Lou Reed on Songs for Drella, a tribute to Velvet Underground mentor Andy Warhol, he teamed with the Velvets on a reunion tour.

On his own, he continued to innovate, releasing in 1996, with help from David Byrne and Velvets drummer Maureen Tucker, Walking on Locusts, featuring a moving tribute to Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison, and, in 1998, Nico, an elegy for Velvets chanteuse Nico.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

 

Interview

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VU 1972 Reunion at Le Bataclan

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico on French TV

velvet-underground550 JUST CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL FILM VERSION. 

In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the POP2 TV program at Le Bataclan (yes that very place where those terrorists killed 89 people on November 15th 2015), a well-known and very intimate, Paris venue . It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Lou Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.

Both the videotape and the audio from this show have been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming (if there were any) would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson might have (There is an audio only recording of the rehearsals attributed to Robinson’s tapes already making the rounds on bootleg torrent trackers.)

One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.

Nico Interview 1972

Reed and Bowie performing “I’m Waiting For The Man”:

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William S. Burroughs Radio

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Click and tune in to Slacker (free Internet) Radio for more WSB and other Beat artists audio tracks/music albums/spoken words

Burroughs’ Connection to Modern Music

The elder statesman of literature’s Beat Generation — and, by extension, of the American underground culture — few figures outside of the musical sphere exerted a greater influence over rock & roll than novelist William S. Burroughs. A provocative, controversial figure famed for his unique cut-up prose aesthetic, Burroughs lived the rock lifestyle years before the music itself was even created; the ultimate outsider, he existed on the dark fringes of society in a haze of drugs, guns, and violence, remaining a patron saint of hipsterdom until his dying day. Ultimately, Burroughs’ hold on the popular culture was extraordinary: few artists failed to credit him as an inspiration, and while bands like Steely Dan and the Soft Machine adopted their names from his turns-of-phrase, younger artists like Kurt Cobain and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy lined up to offer musical support for his occasional excursions into spoken word performing.

William Seward Burroughs was born February 5, 1914 in St. Louis, MO, the grandson of the founder of the Burroughs Adding Machine company. A homosexual bookworm with a fascination for guns and crime, he attended Harvard University, but largely rejected all the restraints of mainstream society, opting instead to pursue a life in New York City’s underworld of organized crime. Upon becoming a heroin addict, Burroughs fell in with junkie drifter Herbert Huncke, leading to his introduction to other future Beat paragons like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lucien Carr; he also met Joan Vollmer, who became his common-law life. While older than the others, Burroughs had yet to begin writing as Kerouac and Ginsberg had; at first indifferent to literature, he finally completed 1953’s Junky, an autobiographical tale of addiction published in pulp novel format by Ace Books. Queer, a similarly upfront examination of homosexuality, was rejected by the publisher and did not surface for several decades.

By the mid-’50s Burroughs, Vollmer, and their children had relocated to East Texas to live on a farm; as his descent into heroin addiction worsened, he found himself hounded by authorities, and eventually the family fled to Mexico. The marriage became the stuff of tabloid headlines when, attempting to impress friends with his shooting skills, Burroughs enlisted Vollmer to participate in a William Tell-like target demonstration; a faulty shot left Vollmer dead and sent Burroughs wandering the globe, finally drifting to Tangier. Following the success of their respective On the Road and Howl, both Kerouac and Ginsberg had become media sensations, with the Beat Generation emerging in full force; they tracked Burroughs down in Africa, finding him hopelessly addicted to heroin yet somehow able to write brilliant and wildly experimental fragments of prose. Kerouac began typing up the material and even gave it a title, Naked Lunch.

Upon its 1959 publication, Burroughs became a celebrity; the novel was the subject of a high-profile obscenity trial, and even today it remains his best-known and most influential book. Beginning with 1961’s The Soft Machine, he began experimenting with a “cut-up” method of writing, literally cutting and pasting together various random fragments of text for maximum reader disorientation; in 1965, Burroughs began expanding into other forms of media, recording the LP Call Me Burroughs, a collection of spoken word readings of material culled from Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine. While remaining a prolific literary voice on the strength of work like 1971’s The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead and 1973’s Exterminator!, aside from compilation appearances he did not issue another major recording prior to 1975’s William S. Burroughs/John Giorno; Nothing Here Now But the Recordings, compiled by Psychic TV’ s Genesis P. Orridge, followed in 1981, as did another collaboration with Giorno, You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With.

Always a major cult figure, by the late ’80s Burroughs had become something of a pop culture icon, a symbol of decadence and ominous genius; a supporting role in Gus Van Saint’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy brought him his widest mainstream exposure to date, and virtually every hipster worth his salt name-checked him as an influence. After 1987’s Break Through in Grey Room, Burroughs recorded 1990’s Dead City Radio, a collection of performances backed by Sonic Youth, John Cale, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and others. In 1992, he guested on Ministry’s “Just One Fix” single, and the following year recorded ‘The Priest, They Called Him’ with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. In 1993, Burroughs recorded his final LP, Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, with the members of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his sampled voice was also heard on recordings from diverse acts including the Jesus and Mary Chain, Laurie Anderson, and Material. With Tom Waits, he also co-wrote The Black Rider. The last major surviving figure of the Beat Generation, Burroughs died of a heart attack on August 2, 1997 in Lawrence, KS. 

THE WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS/BEATLES CONNECTION

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Click image for original post on Dangerous Minds

We all know that writer, William S. Burroughs is one of the “people we like” on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album cover, but did you know that Burroughs was around when Paul McCartney composed “Eleanor Rigby”? Apparently so. Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:

”Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.”-Burroughs

The connection here was, no doubt, author Barry Miles. Miles started the Indica Bookshop in London with McCartney’s financial backing. Miles states in his book In the Sixties that Burroughs was a frequent visitor to the shop. When the Beatles started their experimental label Zapple, with Barry Miles at the helm, the idea was to release more avant garde fare, such as readings by American poets Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Richard Brautugan and comedian Lenny Bruce. McCartney set up a small studio that was run by Burroughs’ ex-boyfriend, Ian Sommerville, who also lived there, and this is why Burroughs would have been around.

It’s always thought that John Lennon was the far-out Beatle, but it was Macca who was obsessed by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Morton Subotnick, not Lennon (he got there later via Yoko).

The story is also confirmed in Barry Miles’ own Biography on Burroughs called ”Please Call Me Burroughs”. The studio was in fact Ringo Star’s apartment, converted in a studio since it was inhabited most of the time. 

BBC Documentary Burroughs Narrated by Iggy Pop

Click for Burroughs' Dead City Radio
Click for Burroughs’ Dead City Radio