WILLIAM BURROUGHS AND THE WILD BOYS: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD
“I am not a person and I am not an animal. There is something I am here for something I must do before I can go”⠀
Like morphine, William S. Burroughs runs deep in the veins of music and counterculture. A defiant rebel, avid collaborator, occultist, outlaw and outsider: his legacy has soaked much of the music and art you love whether you know it or not. His 1971 novel ‘The Wild Boys: Book of the Dead’ is just one of many ripped and raw pieces of literature that fused the counter to the culture.⠀
‘The Wild Boys’ is certainly a teensy bit easier to read than some his of his previous work like the ‘Naked Lunch’. A famed member of the Beat Generation in the 50’s and 60’s alongside Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouc- Burroughs had pioneered a technique similar to collaging in his writing. He would cut up printed text and randomly splice them back together, in an effort to bend the boundaries of conformity. To try and break free from linear reality… but of course it impacts its clarity. He soon regarded the outcome of which in an divinatory sense, saying that “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.” Though he had moved on significantly from this toolkit for ‘The Wild Boys’, it remains a gruesomely staccatto storyline that glares unblinkingly at the carnal, primal depravity of humans. Yet somehow, like speaking in tongues, you can dive deep enough to uncover spiritual, soothesaying waters under all the noise of rampant anarchy. ⠀
In some ways a Sci-Fi story, in others a Homoerotic tale, the novel is set in a Post-Apocalyptic world where a guerilla gang of sexually charged young boys run wild in a police state. Unlike the establishment, they are spontaneous, instinctual and think like a pack. Uptopia/Dystopia. It’s gory but honest. It spoke volumes on the context of it’s time, the time before and the time after. ⠀
⠀Bowie even took the image penned by Burroughs and used that to inspire the aesthetic for Ziggy Stardust. Saying: “It was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burroughs’s Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.” Ian Curtis said it was his favourite book; Duran Duran named an album after it. The Wild Boys comments on the idea of sexuality, individualism and breaking free from the establishment. The perfect, fertile catalyst for young artists to develop their ideas in.Burroughs spent much of his life attempting to break free from the shakles of the establishment. Through drug use, transiency and his writing- he was an original outlaw. Which is why- not just ‘The Wild Boys’- but Burroughs himself was so glamourous to many musicians and artists. He was looked up to and collaborated with Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Pyshcic TV, Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer… the list goes on. He was the original envoy of the carnivalesque and the counterculture. The Godfather of Punk.