This week’s pick is an American treasure seen through the eyes of the BBC. The year old podcast is a production from Radio 4 that was rebroadcast this week by This American Life, called Burroughs at 100 and Burroughs 101, respectively. The podcast tells the tale of the adult life of William Burroughs, famous American author best known for his controversial novel Naked Lunch. It’s an interesting documentary of the life of someone who was so abnormal and cutting edge that even for today it makes for an addictive hour of listening.
Burroughs’ life is not the only thing that makes the programme fascinating, it’s also the way in which it is told. The presenter is none other than Iggy Pop and, as This American Life’s Ira Glass points out in their version of the podcast, what makes it especially interesting is that Iggy Pop often vocally disagrees with the narration he is given. This creates a dialogue between who exactly William Burroughs was in the midst of telling his story through his troubled, heroin-ridden successes. Burroughs’ influence reaches far beyond the words he wrote. To quote from the description from Radio 4 “He’s in the lyrics to Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life and on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. The bands Steely Dan and The Soft Machine take their names from his books. He even coined the term ‘heavy metal’.” The piece goes through his life as a gay man, his drug addiction, his ability to grab anyone’s attention and to change powerful people’s world views. You hear stories of his open sexuality which was alarming to so many people several decades ago, you hear from academics and celebrities, such as John Waters, who discuss their friendships with Burroughs. Waters even says that he tried heroin just because of Burroughs and claims he was a “bad influence”, although this is meant endearingly.
For those of you who don’t get the William Burroughs fandom or don’t know anything about him at all, this story will change that. In celebration of his 101st birthday this month, give ‘Burroughs 101’ a go for a life story that is almost too dangerous and tantalising to believe.