Each week the KEXP Documentary team brings you a musical subject in the time it takes to play just one song. This week we started a new 10-part series of radio stories called “Poets and Music,” exploring the interplay of the beat and the word with profiles on our favorite KEXP poets. We’ll bring you the works of Jack Kerouac, Saul Williams, Gil Scott-Heron, Patti Smith, Ken Nordine, Ursula Rucker and Tom Waits! This first episode is on the Godfather of The Beat Generation, William S. Burroughs.
Known as one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, Burroughs was also one of the first poets known to record with music. Born to a well-off family from St. Louis, Missouri, Bill Burroughs never fit in with his hometown culture. Neighbors described him as a “walking corpse” and “very strange.” Starting in his teen years, he experimented with drugs. Serious ones, like morphine, but he still managed to graduate from Harvard University in 1936. After school he moved to New York City and met other poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. And the three of them sparked a creative counterculture movement called “The Beat Generation.”
Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch was banned for obscenity in the early 60’s. And after a highly publicized trial was deemed “not obscene” due to its “redeeming cultural value.” This trial took Burroughs from literary obscurity to celebrity status. This episode explores Burroughs work with musicians: Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy among others. And in a vintage clip, Burroughs shares his opinion is that outrage is the standard cultural reaction to true artistic innovation.
A new film documentary on Burroughs just came out called The Man Within. For info on where to see it check out williamsburroughsthemovie.com.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.