Call Me Burroughs: A Life by Barry Miles new biography is a blistering catalogue of self-destructive impulses, violence and risky business, with perfectly acceptable displays of good manners and politeness between his crazed adventures.
The American writer, painter and spoken word performer William Burroughs was born 100 years ago on February 5, 1914 in St Louis, Missouri.
He began firing guns at the age of eight, and carried pistols and semi-automatics. The young dandy even owned a cane with a concealed sword, while another of his canes fired cartridges.
He played a game with his wife Joan at a party In 1951, in which she balanced a glass on her head so he could shoot at it. Tragically, the bullet entered her temple and she died.
Miles argues that the killing of his wife made the Beat hell-raiser into the writer, with a daring, original voice, even if his books were apparently not about remorse. His autobiographical novels, Naked Lunch and Junky are still cult classics today, widely read across campuses in the USA.
Burroughs died in 1997, aged 83, but he is still celebrated as an anti-hero of the disaffected. In the recent movie, Kill Your Darlings, actor Ben Foster as Burroughs looked and sounded just like him, and had that world-weary, nicotine-sanded voice down pat.
Junky was published 60 years ago this year, yet its author didn't rate it as being much more than an escape valve of sorts. "I didn't feel compelled, “ he told The Paris Review. “ I had nothing else to do. Writing gave me something to do every day. I don't feel the results were at all spectacular. Junky is not much of a book, actually. I knew very little about writing at that time."