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Call Me Burroughs

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Friday Apr 11, 2014
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Author Barry Miles has established himself as a respected biographer, specializing in the focal points of the Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. His latest work, "Call Me Burroughs: A Life," is an extensively researched and highly detailed book about the man who survived the longest of those three cultural icons.

William Seward Burroughs was born in 1914, and Miles’ book is out in time to coincide with the Burroughs Centenary Conference, running the month of April in New York. Miles is an intelligent and thorough writer, and this latest work leaves no stone unturned in articulating the unconventional and provocative life of Burroughs. From his youthful days in St. Louis, to his college years at Harvard, where he helped to lay the foundation for the counter-culture movement that would become the Beats; on to the New York city scene of the 1940s and 1950s; detailing his travels around the world from Tangier and London (where Miles owned the Indica Bookshop in 1966, and would meet not only Burroughs, but all the noted figures of the British Invasion in music, art and film, including the Beatles), to the Beat Hotel in Paris, his time in Mexico City, which would include the "William Tell" style killing of his wife, Joan Vollmer, and finally back to the states, where Burroughs would spend the last twenty years of his life in Lawrence, Kansas, surrounded by friends and admirers.

Miles interviewed dozens of Burroughs’ confidants, including many of his male lovers, and especially cites the importance of Burroughs’ companion, James Grauerholz, in providing insight into the last score of Burroughs’ eighty-two years.

No book on Burroughs is complete without stating the importance of his lifelong drug abuse, and it is clearly spelled out by Miles, as it pertains both to their impact on his philosophies and to emphasize Burroughs’ amazing ability to articulate the characters he incorporates into his writing while under the influence of those substances, particularly opiates and "junk" (heroin).

The resources Miles cites are, in itself, a veritable library of the Beat Generation, and should be enjoyed after reading the book. Occasionally, Miles’ work tends to bog down with all the minute details, but overall, this is a must-read for any devotee of either William Burroughs or the Beat Movement.

"Call Me Burroughs: A Life"
Barry Miles
Hardcover and eBook
Twelve

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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