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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.


“There's a brilliant idea behind Casey Rae's William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll, which is that if you simply follow Burroughs through the rock 'n' roll years you'll see him achieve a flickering ubiquity—lurking here, eavesdropping there, photobombing the whole parade. It becomes a kind of alternative history.”
New York Times

“Melding personal reflections with scholarly research and interviews with those close to Burroughs, Rae has unearthed a trove of information sure to shake the foundation of even the most die-hard Burroughs junkie or rock fanatic.”

“[Rae] writes with the passion of a teenager discovering new sounds, and the control and self-assuredness of a seasoned academic…William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll celebrates not only the gifted mind and bizarre life of a writer who changed literature forever with his magic and ideas; it also finally gives him the place he deserves in the pantheon of rock and roll.”

“Rae meticulously details the connections [between Burroughs and arty rockers]…The book is at its best when tracing the lyric and sonic collages of art rock and its offshoots to Burroughs's groundbreaking use of literary cut-ups--the snipping and resassembling of texts to form new texts.”
Washington Post

“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

“Casey Rae tells the whole story of a heroin addict who refused to hide his homosexuality during a time of saccharine conformity writ large across the American cultural landscape.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“I was consistently surprised and impressed by the wealth of information Rae had gathered for this book. William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll will no doubt enlighten and entertain its readers, even the ones who think that they know everything there is about El Hombre Invisible.”
American Book Review

“[Rae] discerns that some pop artists were looking 'to boost their own hipness' by seeking an association with Burroughs. But he also asks what it was about the dark, peculiar, and never popular author that made the likes of Deborah Harry, Ricahrd Hell, and Nick Cave want to tie their names to his.”
Washington Free Beacon

“Rae offers thoughtful, generous analysis. As Burroughs's own cut-ups might, Rae renders a portrait of Burroughs's influence akin to a reflection in a disco ball: fragmented, refracted, multiple and beautiful.”
Shelf Awareness

“Rae’s account is almost as fascinating as its subject, and reaches many points across a multi-dimensional reality from which Burroughs’ ideas came and where they led.”
Shepherd Express

“A fundamentally comprehensive look at Burroughs' influence on the songs and culture of rock music...Written by a fan of the music and the work of the writer, the text provides a critical and informed analysis of both in a style that is both interesting and intellectually engaging.”

“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