“Bill Burrough’s Recurring Dream,” David Wojnarowicz, 1978
I think it’s safe to say that many, many more people have heard William Burroughs’ 1990 Dead City Radio album than have ever picked up one of his books and read it from cover to cover. I don’t feel this way at all, but I’ve heard from a lot of people that they think it’s the best thing Burroughs ever did.
Ignoring that uniformed sentiment and moving on, for most people, seeing the “A Thanksgiving Prayer” video every year on bOING bOING is practically the only exposure to Burroughs they’ll ever get and so therefore Dead City Radio assumes an unwarranted, out-sized importance in his body of work. (Personally I don’t find it that satisfying. Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, a selection from Burroughs’ archive of his occult reel-to-reel tape-recorder experiments, is 100x more interesting, but would be of no use whatsoever to most people who might profess to like “weird” stuff and just sound like someone messing around. That’s the material they should’ve slapped the Sonic Youth music over.)
Ultimately what can be gleamed from this is that it’s more Burroughs’ “image” than anything else about him that has so much continuing—and even widespread—iconic currency in popular culture.
Timothy Leary? Abbie Hoffman? Younger people hardly have any idea of who they were or what they were all about. William S. Burroughs on the other hand? Well, do a search for his name on Tumblr and you’ll see.
He’s well on his way to becoming as iconic as Che Guevara, James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. Give it more time, he’s only been dead since 1997. In terms of ready-made rebellious iconography for the Facebook generation, William Burroughs is the ultimate semiotic symbol for a truly dangerous mind.