William S. Burroughs & the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll begins with Burroughs' early days in St. Louis, Missouri, and follows him through the eight decades of his life, focusing on his relationships with and impact on such iconic musicians as Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and many more.
As a young man in the 1940s, Burroughs was a writer and heroin dealer living, using, and collaborating with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other writers of the beat generation in New York’s Greenwich Village. In the years following the tragic death of his wife, Joan Vollmer, who was killed by Burroughs in a drunken game of “William Tell” in Mexico City in 1951, Burroughs relegated himself to Tangier, Morocco and descended into a deep underworld of vices and debauchery. Burroughs spent the next five years in Tangier, where he grappled with his moral conscience, drowned himself in drugs, and wrote. When Burroughs reemerged he’d completed Naked Lunch, which was published in the U.S. by Grove Press in 1962.
Throughout the 1960s Burroughs’ life intersected with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, who sought out Burroughs to induce a creative catalyst. In the '70s he directly inspired David Bowie, became an aesthetic cornerstone to Lou Reed, and a paternal figure to Patti Smith. In the 1980s, and up until his death in August, 1997, Burroughs was a mentor and guru to the likes of Debbie Harry of Blondie, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and Kurt Cobain, with whom he recorded the musical collaboration, The Priest, They Called Him, in 1992.
Burroughs is well known as a pivotal writer of the beat generation, but his lasting and critical influence on rock music and its formative musicians is a story that hasn’t been told. Burroughs altered the destinies of an astounding array of musical acts in the latter half of the 20th century, and Casey Rae has outlined a compelling case for Burroughs’ critical influence on rock music, which will be supported by interviews, research, and original reporting.
Casey Rae is the Director of Music Licensing for SiriusXM, and previously enjoyed careers as a music critic and artist advocate in the federal policy arena. He has written op-eds for the L.A. Times, the New York Times, Billboard, and The Hill, among other publications, and has appeared on NPR, CNBC, Bloomberg News, and SiriusXM. He designed and teaches courses on the creative industries and technology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and Berklee College of Music in Boston. Casey is a highly sought after speaker who’s given talks at SXSW, Consumer Electronics Showcase, CMJ, Aspen Institute, and on the university circuit at Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Columbia University, NYU and NYU Law, University of California, Berkeley Law School, McGill University, and University of Toronto, among many other institutions.
William S. Burroughs & the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll will appeal to readers of Burrough’s classic Naked Lunch (250K copies sold in print via Bookscan since 2001) and would also capture the audience of music aficionados, and readers of books such as Peter Guralnick’s Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll (27K copies sold in hardcover via Bookscan), Kent Hartman’s The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret (25K copies sold in print via Bookscan), Michael Walker’s Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood (27K copies sold in print via Bookscan), and Patti Smith’s Just Kids (470K copies sold in print via Bookscan).