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Call Me Burroughs: A Life Hardcover – January 28, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Born to wealth and respectability in St. Louis, William Seward Burroughs (1914–97) relied on his parents’ support until his fifties, while submerged in an underworld of drugs and crime. His risky misadventures in New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Texas, New Orleans, London, Paris, and Tangiers stoked his incendiary, innovative, and influential books, including Naked Lunch (1959) and Cities of the Red Night (1981). On the centennial of Burroughs’ birth, accomplished biographer Miles turns in a torrentially detailed, explicit, and dramatic chronicle of Burroughs’ wild life as outlaw, social critic, writer, performer, and artist. Guru to the Beats, the counterculture, punk rockers, and cyberpunk writers, Burroughs was a walking paradox, a radical who dressed like a bureaucrat, a fierce advocate of freedom chained to his addictions. Though homosexual, he married a German Jew while in Europe during Hitler’s ascent, saving her life, then later accidentally killed his second wife. Miles illuminates every facet of Burroughs’ life, from his passions for guns and the occult to his depthless hunger for drugs and boys, visual and audio art, and crucial friendships with Allen Ginsberg and artist Brion Gysin. Nomadic Burroughs finally settled down in Lawrence, Kansas, thanks to James Grauerholz, who managed Burroughs’ famed reading tours and exhibits and gathered much of the arresting material Miles uses so powerfully in this forthrightly definitive biography. --Donna Seaman

Review

"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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; First Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455511951
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455511952
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #616,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I met William Burroughs. I was working on Laurie Anderson’s concert film, Home of the Brave --- and someone had to drive the venerable Beat genius home after he completed his short stint as a performer in the movie. The segment was “Language is a Virus,” a song Anderson wrote specifically for Burroughs using his own words to express her strange and compelling thoughts about communication. So I drove a quiet, old and stoned William Burroughs back into the city from our set in Union City, New Jersey. I can say, without further ado, that there was a certain gravity in the atmosphere surrounding the writer.

But if you hadn’t known who he was before you met him, you never would’ve believed that the life recounted in CALL ME BURROUGHS by Barry Miles had been lived by this unassuming old man in the immeasurably old-fashioned suit, carrying a cane to steady his aging self. He earned that unsteadiness in adventures beyond those most of us will ever experience in our lifetimes. And Miles catches it all for you in his big, beautiful black and white tome.

There’s NAKED LUNCH. There’s the Beat poets. There’s Africa and Mexico and the time at Harvard. The end years in Lawrence, Kansas. The Cronenberg movie made from his most famous novel. There are the cut-ups and Joan and the arrow and relationships with Lucien Carr, Kerouac and Brion Gysin. CALL ME BURROUGHS gives such a blow-to-blow account of the many guises of Burroughs --- the writer, the provocateur, the gay icon, the poster boy of the Beats, the heir to the fortune that never was, the father of the writer, the inspiration of Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain --- that you would expect the book to weigh 400 pounds and have its own zip code.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Barry Miles has written a cultural biography of William Burroughs at an important moment. This clear-eyed, thoughtful book solidly rings out Burroughs' generation by placing him at the crossroads (and, sometimes, in the crosshairs) of the cultural moments he strides across. Here, also, is the ethos of post-war America that Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg helped create. Miles begins with the silent movie era of Burroughs' childhood in St. Louis amidst an ever-present and caring, but sometimes out-of-touch and emotionally distant, family group. Through these early relationships and, later, his restless wanderings among colleges which finally land him in New York City just before World War II, we are introduced to the way in which Burroughs builds up his writer's palette of images, but does not use them to further any sort of self-knowledge or significant prose for a number of years. The most engaging cultural moment to which Miles introduces us is New York City during the war. It's riveting, but it isn't pretty. Burroughs and his extended group of friends are not conventional in any way and it is their seeking after a "new vision," that leads, ultimately, to the language and culture of the Beats. This is a book lover's biography (not a literary biography, in the dry, academic sense) about a man in love with words, creatively drinking (and shooting up) and imagining his way through a maze of puritanical rules and mores, out the other side to something freer, less restrictive, dangerous in many ways. Burroughs and his Beat friends celebrated, denigrated, then tore down American society's twin gods -- wealth and prestige -- and replaced them, at least for themselves and those who came of age in the 1960s, with earthier elements.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
tons of information -- years of research by the estate -- but so much left out of it -- odd that certain living poets and publishers -- eg. Charley Plymell -- are not in the book at all. Gerard Malanga only in it once -- and none of his iconic photographs are used. Plymell and his CV Editions publishing worked with Burroughs on many projects, starting in 1964 or earlier. Not in the book at all. Certainly a must read, but again, no answers about why Miles or the estate left out certain people. Clearly a decision in a 700 page book which includes details such as William's dick length. (Short.) Since there will never be another biography on Burroughs, sad that it is seems purposely incomplete. Perhaps the estate had 'policies' ?
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Format: Audio CD
The title of this review is how I described this book to my husband after finishing it. At one point I did consider Burroughs somewhat of a "cool icon," but I am much older now. I have read several biographies of Burroughs and this is the best and most comprehensive. It is incredibly detailed, but what I appreciated most is the author passes no judgment either way on Burroughs--neither raving about him nor criticizing him--but simply presents the facts of his acts and interactions.

Unlike some biographies of writers, this book does not go into literary criticism of each work. The books are somewhat of a minor part of the work and the focus is more on how they were created, why and the mechanics of getting them published, etc. than on the literary merits. I found this refreshing.

This book made me feel both disgusted by and sorry for Burroughs, a tortured soul who never found the love he sought but was a selfish person who only took from his parents and didn't give, ignored his son and stepdaughter, and continually hooked up with loser criminal boyfriends who no one else could stand. Supposedly dedicating his life to overthrowing control systems, at the same time he repeatedly gave up control of his own mind to drug addiction. Supposedly a rebel, he was supported on an allowance by his bourgeois parents until age 50. I got really bothered by the use of 12-year-old male prostitutes and almost gave up the book at one point because it was getting hard to take, but kept reading to learn more about Burroughs' later life in New York and Lawrence, KS and did find those sections of particular interest.

I was also interested in how Burroughs' best work typically came about in collaboration with others, and learned a lot I didn't know about his involvement in painting and other visual arts. While the subject of the book may be a sad and pathetic individual, the book is a great accomplishment of scholarship.
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