For cultural critic, academic and musician Casey Rae the connections between Burroughs and the world of music aren't just appealing, they are personally defining. The “Burroughs gene” is not easily defined, but has been known to manifest in artistic individuals who share a fascination with semiotics, the science of influence, recorded sound, media hybridity, drug experimentation, occult investigation, sexual yoga, futurism, anti-authoritarianism, and cats. Casey checks most of these boxes.
With two decades of professional experience writing about popular and underground music for such publications as Dusted Magazine, Signal to Noise and Pitchfork, Casey ably illustrates Burroughs’ relationship to musicians and the art borne from those connections. Casey's role as a music industry professional and pundit allows him to chart a course through the lives and work of such notable artists as Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Laurie Anderson, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Debbie Harry and Christ Stein (Blondie), Richard Hell, Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle), Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), and more. Part literary biography, part sonic travelogue, THE PRIEST THEY CALLED HIM pulls back the veil on the enigmatic character of Burroughs to reveal why so many crucial musical artists were magnetized by him, and how Burroughs' influence echoes through today's digital universe of remix culture.
As an only child growing up in the isolated backwoods of New England, Casey found himself drawn to art and literature that helped connect him to something beyond the no-horse town where he lived. Says the author: "Popular culture in the 1980s was vacuous, and my immediate environment, despite a delightful atmosphere, was an intellectual wasteland. We didn’t even get MTV. Other than rifling through my uncle’s vinyl collection, my only source of inspiration came from the local library, a two-story brick shambles that for reasons that remain unfathomable contained a copy of Naked Lunch. I brought it to school one day and the book was immediately confiscated. I managed to get my hands on another copy and read it from start to finish while listening to a cassette copy Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on repeat. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was not the same kid after that."
In the intervening days, months and years, Casey devoured every Burroughs book he could get his hands on—no small feat in the pre-Internet era. He intuited a connection between Burroughs and the musicians he worshiped, but any concrete information was scant. Even today, there is no authoritative account of the impact Burroughs has had—and continues to have—on musicians and sound artists. New biographies and documentaries about Burroughs arrive with steady frequency, but none to date have examined in detail the depth of Burroughs’ impact on four decades of music creators and the the music that changed the world.
Many of the musicians in this book are autodidacts, as is the author himself. Burroughs, too was driven by intellectual curiosity, learning from the creative people he encountered. This lifestyle is familiar to Casey, who explored his own cultural vanguard as a performing and recording artist, music journalist, audio engineer, industry analyst, and music critic. In the process, he found his tribe. "I have found that an interest—or obsession—with William S. Burroughs is usually a good indicator that someone is worth getting to know," Casey says.
Currently residing in in Washington, DC, Casey spent a decade advancing the musician cause in the halls of power as the the CEO of the Future of Music Coalition. He now serves as Director of Music Licensing for SiriusXM—the satellite radio service with more than 30 million subscribers. He has testified before Congress, advised government agencies on cultural policy, published articles in leading law journals (cool trick for a non-lawyer); appeared on NPR, CNBC, Bloomberg News, SiriusXM, written op-eds for L.A. Times, New York Times, Billboard, The Hill and more and is regularly quoted in the aforementioned outlets. He authored and proctors a graduate school course on disruption and reinvention in the creative industries at Georgetown University, and is faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he authored a course on music policy. The former president and current board member of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, Casey advocates for creative communities across the country. A highly sought after speaker, Casey has given talks and lectures at SXSW, Consumer Electronics Showcase, CMJ, Aspen Institute, Harvard Law School, Columbia University, NYU and NYU Law, University of California, Berkeley Law School, McGill University, University of Toronto, and more.
He records and releases records under the moniker The Contrarian.