Back to top

William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll

William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll

The little-known history of William S. Burroughs's impact on some of the biggest names in music, from the Beatles to Bowie, and his role as a secret architect of the rock 'n' roll genre itself.

Sales restrictions: Not for sale in the Commonwealth (except we can sell in Canada and Rwanda), British Overseas Territories, and the Republic of Ireland
June 2019
Active (available)
312 pages | 6 x 9 |

William S. Burroughs's fiction and essays are legendary, but his influence on music's counterculture has been less well documented—until now. Examining how one of America's most controversial literary figures altered the destinies of many notable and varied musicians, William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll reveals the transformations in music history that can be traced to Burroughs.

A heroin addict and a gay man, Burroughs rose to notoriety outside the conventional literary world; his masterpiece, Naked Lunch, was banned on the grounds of obscenity, but its nonlinear structure was just as daring as its content. Casey Rae brings to life Burroughs's parallel rise to fame among daring musicians of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques for producing revolutionary lyrics (as the Beatles and Radiohead did). Whether they tell of him exploring the occult with David Bowie, providing Lou Reed with gritty depictions of street life, or counseling Patti Smith about coping with fame, the stories of Burroughs's backstage impact will transform the way you see America's cultural revolution—and the way you hear its music.

  • Introduction
  • Nirvana the Hard Way
  • Subterranean Homesick Burroughs
  • Here, There, and Everywhere
  • Watch That Man
  • Music and Other Dark Arts
  • Bunkers, Punkers, and Junkies
  • Here to Go
  • The Western Lands
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

Casey Rae
Washington, DC

Rae is the director of music licensing for SiriusXM and a longtime music critic whose work has been featured in a wide array of publications. His commentary on technology’s impact on creators has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Billboard, and other media outlets. An adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a course developer for Berklee Online, Rae is also a musician and played with several bands in the 1990s.


“Maybe more rock stars romanticized his life and addiction than actually read his books, and some tried "to boost their own hipness through association," but Rae builds a convincing case that Burroughs has been underacknowledged in rock history. [Rae's book] nudges a legendary legacy from the cultural margins toward the mainstream.”

“Casey Rae has uncovered a vast, vast number of links between Burroughs and the music world, and he has put together an extraordinary book…will inform and delight anyone interested in the Beat icon.”

“[Rae's] focus on Burroughs' inspiring connections to literary rock stars of exceptional talent and renown makes for a welcome addition to the Burroughs shelf.”

“A fluid, wide-ranging biography of influence…Essential reading for fans of Burroughs, Bowie, Reed, or Smith.”
Library Journal

“William S. Burroughs was as much a quiet rock star as he was an artist or a writer. His inroads into audio, spoken word, and music created paths that we still follow. Casey Rae's book is a labor of love that offers a map to understanding Burroughs's complex relationship to music and other art forms.”
Chris Stein, co-founder of Blondie