Call Me Burroughs: A Life

Call Me Burroughs: A Life

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by Barry Miles
     
 

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Fifty years ago, Norman Mailer asserted, "William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius." Few since have taken such literary risks, developed such individual political or spiritual ideas, or spanned such a wide range of media. Burroughs wrote novels, memoirs, technical manuals, and poetry. He painted, made

Overview

Fifty years ago, Norman Mailer asserted, "William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius." Few since have taken such literary risks, developed such individual political or spiritual ideas, or spanned such a wide range of media. Burroughs wrote novels, memoirs, technical manuals, and poetry. He painted, made collages, took thousands of photographs, produced hundreds of hours of experimental recordings, acted in movies, and recorded more CDs than most rock bands. Burroughs was the original cult figure of the Beat Movement, and with the publication of his novel Naked Lunch, which was originally banned for obscenity, he became a guru to the 60s youth counterculture. In CALL ME BURROUGHS, biographer and Beat historian Barry Miles presents the first full-length biography of Burroughs to be published in a quarter century-and the first one to chronicle the last decade of Burroughs's life and examine his long-term cultural legacy.
Written with the full support of the Burroughs estate and drawing from countless interviews with figures like Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, and Burroughs himself, CALL ME BURROUGHS is a rigorously researched biography that finally gets to the heart of its notoriously mercurial subject.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Ann Douglas
In Call Me Burroughs, his authoritative new biography, Barry Miles avoids unduly romanticizing Burroughs's outlaw status…Nor, wisely, does Miles minimize the depth and tenacity of Burroughs's addictions…Miles's book is emphatically not, however, the familiar story of a gifted writer's substance-soaked decline, probably for the simple reason that Burroughs's genius for surreal black comedy tempered with hard, practical thought never deserted him…Although he occasionally simplifies Burroughs's story…[Miles's] access and wealth of detail will make this the go-to biography for many years to come.
Publishers Weekly
★ 12/09/2013
The pioneering American countercultural writer and artist William Burroughs emerges as his own greatest character in this raucous biography. Biographer and Burroughs editor Miles (Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats) pens a dense, detailed, yet wonderfully readable and entertaining narrative that illuminates, without sensationalizing, Burroughs’s manifold peculiarities: his avid sexual interest in teenaged boys; his use of hashish, hallucinogens, and heroin; his petty crimes and drug-dealing; his love of casual gunplay (he fatally shot his wife during a game of William Tell); his obsession with other-worldly phenomena, from Scientology, to UFO abductions, to his own theories of giant intergalactic insects that control everything; his hair-trigger psychodramas with intimates and complete strangers; his embrace of every experience, especially those that appalled and disgusted him; the fastidious manners and banker’s wardrobe that made his anti-social provocations seem even more subversive. Miles’s exhaustively researched account draws on the writer’s blunt, self-revealing private writings along with reminiscences from Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and other associates to flesh out Burroughs’s personality, surroundings, and equally colorful circle of acquaintances, who were forever doing interesting things like getting mauled by lions. Miles just puts it all on paper with aplomb and deadpan wit, showing how the gross-out surrealism of Burroughs’s fiction flowed from the lurid creativity of everyday life.Agent: James Macdonald Lockhart, the Antony Harwood Agency (U.K.). (Jan.)
William Gibson
"One long, strange, profoundly American literary life. Burroughs's work has had a profound if often oblique influence on the writing of his century and this one. I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to read Barry Miles's biography without being thoroughly familiar with the outline of the narrative. Truly, stranger than fiction."
Victor Bockris
"CALL ME BURROUGHS takes us deeply inside the magical life of the great writer. Miles's decision to tell the epic story through William Burroughs's search for his 'Ugly Spirit' makes for sensational reading. Brilliant, tragic, controversial, and inspiring, CALL ME BURROUGHS is a beautiful work."
Ira Silverberg
"CALL ME BURROUGHS is the most intimate portrait to date of one of the twentieth century's most complicated, troubled, and influential figures. Miles's deep knowledge of the man and the work also provides a cultural history of the scene in Tangiers in the 1950s, the Beat era, and the emerging Punk scene in New York in the 1980s. It is a compelling biography and social history unlike any other."
Bill Morgan
"CALL ME BURROUGHS is full of energy and surprise and is a delight to read. Barry Miles combines his intimate knowledge of Burroughs with the meticulous research of Burroughs's companion James Grauerholz, to produce an extremely accurate, readable, and entertaining biography of one of the most inventive writers of the twentieth century. Reading this extraordinary book is like hanging around with Burroughs himself and is impossible to forget."
Regina Weinreich
"By any standard Burroughs's was an unusual life, full of scandal, subversion, and sensitivity hidden behind a cold blue gaze. Miles enriches this 'life of an artist' with decades of dedicated immersion in the work both published and unpublished, digging deep into archival material and manuscripts, incorporating journals of friends and acquaintances. With great authority and verve, he brings up to date the legacy of a true American original who grows, even years after his death, in fascination."
From the Publisher
"The Burroughs of Miles's 600-plus pages is both ghastlier and more impressive than previous models, sliding through the world like a cross between Sam Spade and Flat Stanley."'—The Atlantic"

CALL ME BURROUGHS is riddled with... weird anecdotes laced with gallows humor, bizarre coincidences and profane punch lines. It's a massive undertaking made complicated by Burroughs' peripatetic lifestyle and rampant drug use. To say he was a difficult man to pin down is understatement, but Miles is up to the task."—LA Times"

Miles just puts it all on paper with aplomb and deadpan wit, showing how the gross-out surrealism of Burroughs's fiction flowed from the lurid creativity of everyday life."—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)"

One long, strange, profoundly American literary life. Burroughs's work has had a profound if often oblique influence on the writing of his century and this one. I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to read Barry Miles's biography without being thoroughly familiar with the outline of the narrative. Truly, stranger than fiction."—William Gibson"

CALL ME BURROUGHS takes us deeply inside the magical life of the great writer. Miles's decision to tell the epic story through William Burroughs's search for his 'Ugly Spirit' makes for sensational reading. Brilliant, tragic, controversial, and inspiring, CALL ME BURROUGHS is a beautiful work."—Victor Bockris, author of With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, Conversations with William Burroughs and Andy Warhol, and Burroughs in the Bunker"

CALL ME BURROUGHS is the most intimate portrait to date of one of the twentieth century's most complicated, troubled, and influential figures. Miles's deep knowledge of the man and the work also provides a cultural history of the scene in Tangiers in the 1950s, the Beat era, and the emerging Punk scene in New York in the 1980s. It is a compelling biography and social history unlike any other."—Ira Silverberg, co-editor of Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader"

CALL ME BURROUGHS is full of energy and surprise and is a delight to read. Barry Miles combines his intimate knowledge of Burroughs with the meticulous research of Burroughs's companion James Grauerholz, to produce an extremely accurate, readable, and entertaining biography of one of the most inventive writers of the twentieth century. Reading this extraordinary book is like hanging around with Burroughs himself and is impossible to forget."—Bill Morgan, author of I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg and The Typewriter Is Holy"

By any standard Burroughs's was an unusual life, full of scandal, subversion, and sensitivity hidden behind a cold blue gaze. Miles enriches this 'life of an artist' with decades of dedicated immersion in the work both published and unpublished, digging deep into archival material and manuscripts, incorporating journals of friends and acquaintances. With great authority and verve, he brings up to date the legacy of a true American original who grows, even years after his death, in fascination."—Regina Weinreich, author of Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics and editor of Kerouac's Book of Haikus

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-07
A ponderous revisiting of the strange and terrible life of the godfather of America's Beat movement. In this strange season for literary biographies, we've already worked through J. Michael Lennon's warm but thorough portrait of a combative Norman Mailer and the controversial and revelatory Salinger, by David Shields and filmmaker Shane Salerno. William Burroughs (1914–1997) is an equally bizarre figure whose hallucinatory and experimental works of art and unpredictable journey rained influence down the generations from Jack Kerouac to Kurt Cobain. This wedge of biographical examination is no less doorstop-worthy but hardly the definitive biography of the mad genius of Lawrence, Kan. First of all, Miles (In the Seventies: Adventures in the Counterculture, 2011, etc.) carries some fairly weighty credibility, having known Burroughs and his contemporaries from 1965 on. However, the author has already exhaustively covered the Beat movement in numerous biographies, not least in William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible (1993). Here, it's seldom that we hear that laconic drawl and snarling wit that Burroughs carried into old age, which is clearly missed. Instead, Miles goes down the well-worn path of meticulously tracking his subject through time and place instead of through attitude and output. Even the pivot point of the novelist's life--the 1951 misadventure in Mexico during which Burroughs shot and killed his wife--elicits little in the way of emotional insight into that furious whirlwind. Answers from a man the author knew and interviewed many times could have changed the way Burroughs is painted; pointing instead to a confessional sliver of text from the Tom Waits collaboration The Black Rider is avoidance. While segments about the writing of groundbreaking works like Naked Lunch and heroin-fueled binges in Tangiers and Paris are satisfyingly voyeuristic, the biography is ultimately neither sensational enough to court controversy nor keen enough to be useful to future scholars.
Library Journal
12/01/2013
In addition to writing extensive histories and biographies on the Beat movement, London underground culture, and 1960s music titans, Miles (Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now) was also friend and editor to William S. Burroughs (1914–97). This book's title comes from Burroughs's debut recording of the same name, which Miles had a hand in releasing. Drawing from thousands of conversations, interviews, writings, recordings, and other sources, this work all but resurrects Burroughs in print as it documents the roots and development of his mysterious creative techniques. His personality is a unique mix of "newscaster," monk, and junkie, and Miles explores the influence of cultures such as Tangiers and Mexico on the man, both personally and artistically. A meticulous description of each of his love and sex interests (the vast majority men and boys) is provided as is a thorough portrait of his place among various literary luminaries (e.g., Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac). This is a complete biography, and as such it is important to understand that since Burroughs had some repetition in his life, many parts of the book are repetitious as well. For this reason, a shorter biography of only part of his life, such as Jorge García-Robles's The Stray Bullet (reviewed above), may be more suitable. VERDICT Highly recommended for readers of Burroughs, Beat historians, and fans of Beat lit, biography, LGBT lit, and experimental artists.—Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455511952
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
01/28/2014
Pages:
736
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.30(d)

Meet the Author

Barry Miles is the author of many seminal books on popular culture, including the authorized biography of Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now; Ginsberg: A Biography; William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible; Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats; and The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963. He also co-edited the Revised Text Edition of Naked Lunch. Miles was born in Cirencester, England.

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Call Me Burroughs: A Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Burroughs would have loved Hector's Juice!