Wednesday, October 16, 2019

UT Press at the 2019 Texas Book Festival

Next weekend, October 26 and 27, the University of Texas Press and many of our authors will enjoy the 24th annual Texas Book Festival on the Capitol grounds in downtown Austin and environs.

Read about the poster artist
We are also proud that the author of our new contemporary history of Texas is one of the featured authors at this year's First Edition Literary Gala! Stephen Harrigan (Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas), joins Sarah M. Broom (The Yellow House), Sharon Robinson (Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963), and Alexander McCall Smith (To the Land of Long Lost Friends) as honored Gala authors.

The First Edition Literary Gala is always a memorable evening packed with literary luminaries, dignitaries, and cultural arts supporters, helping the Texas Book Festival make an impact in communities across Texas. Proceeds from the Gala help keep the Festival Weekend free for everyone and fund the Festival's Reading Rock Stars and Real Reads programs, which provide author visits and book donations to students in low-income schools, and more programming across the state.

Visit our booth at the corner of Colorado and 11th (507-508). We’ll have tons of titles for sale at a great discount. There are a lot of wonderful authors in attendance this year! We’ve distilled our authors' appearances into a single UT Press schedule (browse the full schedule here):

Also, mark your calendar for University Press Week 2019—November 3 to November 9—a week in celebration of the many ways university presses move national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues. This year we encourage readers to explore research on topics that affect everyone and to reflect on what they read, in the hope that the work of university presses bringing scholarship to readers will stimulate positive conversations and actions in the world.


11:30 AM - 12:15 PM

Big, Wonderful Thing: A New History of Texas
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Author: Stephen Harrigan
Location: First United Methodist Church (1201 Lavaca Street)
Booksigning: 12:30-1:30 at Murcheson Chapel, next to First United Methodist Church

The Texas publishing event of the decade has arrived! Bestselling author and historian Stephen Harrigan, a living legend among Texas writers, has dedicated years to researching and writing this new, comprehensive history of Texas. Big Wonderful Thing invites us to walk in the footsteps of ancient as well as modern Texans, blending action and atmosphere with impeccable research to bring to life with novelistic immediacy the generations of driven men and women who shaped our state.

Follow Stephen Harrigan online: @stephenharrigan | Website

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12:15 PM - 1:00 PM

Author: Karen Tongson with Andrea Lawlor
LocationCapitol Extension Room E2.026 (1100 Congress Avenue)
Moderator: Jack Kaulfus
Booksigning: 4:30 PM Adult Signing Tent on Congress Avenue

From Donna Summer to Karen Carpenter, Madonna, Lady Gaga and beyond, pop music has provided anthems of queer identity for decades, giving people a safe and celebratory space to explore and affirm gender and sexuality. Novelist Andrea Lawlor (Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl), who drops references to pop songs and musicians throughout their hilarious and moving epic of gender exploration, talks with cultural critic Karen Tongson (Why Karen Carpenter Matters) about the unique role pop music plays in queer identity. 

Follow Karen Tongson online: @inlandemperor | Website 

1:00 PM - 1:45 PM
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Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.036 (1100 Congress Avenue)
Booksigning: 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Texas Monthly TBF Book Signing Tent, Congress Avenue

Earl Campbell was a force in American football, winning a state championship in high school, rushing his way to a Heisman trophy for the University of Texas, and earning MVP as he took the Houston Oilers to the brink of the Super Bowl. Austin American-Statesman writer Asher Price shares his exhilarating new look at Campbell, a timely story of hard-earned success and heart-wrenching sacrifice in an age when concussion revelations and player protests against racial injustice rock the NFL.

Follow Asher Price online: @asherprice

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1:15 PM - 2:00 PM

Authors: Keith Carter
Moderator: DJ Stout
Location: The Contemporary Austin-Jones Center (700 Congress Avenue)
Booksigning: 2:15 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. Texas Monthly TBF Book Signing Tent, Congress Avenue

Legendary Texas photographer Keith Carter shares a selection of 250 of his most compelling images, celebrating a lifetime of exploring humanity's landscape through an artistic lens. These photographs explore the mythos of time and terrain, the familiar and the magical, and the varied creatures that inhabit our earth and become a meditation on aging and loss, which have affected Carter profoundly in recent years, spurring him towards a sense of discovery, not despair.

Follow Keith Carter online: | Website 


12:15 PM - 1:00 PM
AuthorsStephen Harrigan, Elizabeth Crook, Steven Davis
Moderators: Bill Broyles, John Spong
Location: Capitol Auditorium E1.004 (1100 Congress Avenue)

Bill Wittliff is one of our greatest Texas writers and filmmakers. We were deeply saddened by his passing earlier this year and are grateful for the tremendous body of work he created in his lifetime. Today, his friends and colleagues come together to celebrate his work, including his new book of solar photography, Sunrise/Sunset.

Follow Stephen Harrigan online: @stephenharrigan | Website 

Related titles:

A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove
By John Spong
Photographs by Bill Wittliff

America's Most Alarming Writer
Essays on the Life and Work
of Charles Bowden

Edited by Bill Broyles
and Bruce J. Dinges

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12:30 PM - 1:15 PM

Author: Kathryn E. Holliday
Moderator: Christy Taylor
Location: Capitol Extension Room E1.014 (1100 Congress Avenue)
Booksigning: 1:30PM - 2:30PM. Texas Monthly TBF Signing Tent, Congress Avenue

In 1980, David Dillon launched his career as an architectural critic with a provocative article in the Dallas Morning News. Kathryn E. Holliday discusses how Dillon connected culture, commerce, history, and public life in ways that few columnists and reporters ever get the opportunity to do.Her new book gathers more than sixty key articles that helped establish Dillon’s national reputation as a witty and acerbic critic, showing readers why architecture matters and how it can enrich their lives.

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2:30 PM - 3:15 PM

Author: PJ Stoops and Benchalak Srimart Stoops
Moderator: Paula Forbes
Location: Central Market Cooking Tent (Congress and 11th Street)
Booksigning: 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Texas Monthly TBF Book Signing Tent

The Texas Gulf is home to more than two hundred species of fish and seafood. Join the Stoopses as they celebrate this regional bounty and showcase their experience as longtime fishmongers. Their new book, Texas Seafood, is a cookbook and comprehensive guide to wild-caught delicacies, including recipes for such delectable dishes as Steamed Curried Crab, Chicken-Fried Ribbonfish, Crispy White Shrimp, and more.

3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

The Essential J. Frank Dobie
AuthorStephen Harrigan and Sarah Bird
Moderator: Michael Barnes
LocationCapitol Extension Room E2.028 (State Capitol)
Booksigning: 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Texas Monthly TBF Book Signing Tent, Congress Avenue

Steven L. Davis, literary curator of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University and past president of the Texas Institute of Letters, has combed through the works of renowned Texas author J. Frank Dobie to gather together in one volume Dobie’s most vital writings. Join him, Sarah Bird, and Stephen Harrigan as they discuss the enduring legacy of Dobie’s work.

Related titles:

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Q&A with C.J. Alvarez on His History of Construction on the US-Mexico Divide

From the boundary surveys of the 1850s to the ever-expanding fences and highway networks of the twenty-first century, Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the US-Mexico Divide examines the history of the construction projects that have shaped the region where the United States and Mexico meet.

Tracing the accretion of ports of entry, boundary markers, transportation networks, fences
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and barriers, surveillance infrastructure, and dams and other river engineering projects, C. J. Alvarez advances a broad chronological narrative that captures the full life cycle of border building. He explains how initial groundbreaking in the nineteenth century transitioned to unbridled faith in the capacity to control the movement of people, goods, and water through the use of physical structures. By the 1960s, however, the built environment of the border began to display increasingly obvious systemic flaws. More often than not, Alvarez shows, federal agencies in both countries responded with more construction—“compensatory building” designed to mitigate unsustainable policies relating to immigration, black markets, and the natural world. 
Border Land, Border Water reframes our understanding of how the border has come to look and function as it does and is essential to current debates about the future of the US-Mexico divide.

Give us the elevator pitch for your research and the resulting book.

The US-Mexico border is at the center of an unprecedented national debate, yet very few people from either the United States or Mexico have ever been to the international divide. This book explains the complex history of construction projects on the border that have been underway for over 100 years.

How did you get interested in the subject of your book?

I thought this was an important subject to write about not because it has become especially controversial but because I grew up in the border region. To us border dwellers, the international divide and the various ecosystems through which it passes have always been relevant.

Why is it important to study the built environment on the US-Mexico border?

Government policies—whether we’re talking about the “drug wars” or immigration law—are often enacted through physical construction projects. Fences and walls are the most obvious examples of this, but it’s important to understand other, less-obvious kinds of building, such as border survey markers, roads and highways, surveillance infrastructure, bridges, and massive storage dams.

In what ways did engineering and police projects affect the geography, environment, and communities on both sides of the international divide?

One of the most surprising conclusions I came to through my archival research was that the Rio Grande border has undergone a far higher degree of environmental transformation than the land border. There is almost nothing “natural” about the Rio Grande watershed, and this has produced fascinatingly complex results in border communities. On one hand, some of these river modifications made it easier for immigration police to surveil the international divide, and on the other hand, an untold number of people have been saved from disastrous floods.

What context might be missing from contemporary debates about the ongoing “drug wars” of the border region and border enforcement policy?

Government and business interests in both the United States and Mexico have spent over a century painstakingly building connective tissue between our two countries. First it was the railroads of the 1880s, then, with the invention of automobiles and trucks in the early twentieth century, more complex road networks were introduced: after the 1950s, that meant the interstate highway system, and after the free trade agreements in the 1980s and 1990s, superhighways and port-of-entry expansions. These were all bilateral projects; you can’t build only half a port of entry. The US-Mexico border is designed to be open to commerce, which means you can’t cherry pick those who cross it, weeding out illicit business and the unauthorized movement of people, no matter how many fences you build.

C. J. Alvarez is an assistant professor of Mexican American and Latina/o studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Biographer Fred Goodman Remembers Lhasa de Sela

An artist in every sense of the word, Lhasa de Sela wowed audiences around the globe with her multilingual songs and spellbinding performances, mixing together everything from Gypsy music to Mexican rancheras, Americana and jazz, chanson française, and South American folk melodies. Tracing de Sela’s unconventional life and introducing her to a new generation, Fred Goodman's book Why Lhasa de Sela Matters is the first biography of this sophisticated creative icon.

Lhasa de Sela was born on September 27, 1972, and on the anniversary of her birth, biographer Fred Goodman pays tribute to her and her legacy, revealing the ways her unorthodox life shaped her creativity. Following Fred Goodman's tribute is his curated playlist that serves as a musical introduction to America's first world music chanteuse [ Spotify | YouTube ]. Why Lhasa de Sela Matters is the latest book in our Music Matters series and publishes November 11, 2019.

Remembering Lhasa de Sela

By Fred Goodman

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The singular, otherworldly American singer Lhasa de Sela—who wrote and recorded in Spanish, French, and English and performed songs in nearly a dozen other languages—would have turned forty-seven on September 27. A spiritual and artistic pilgrim, she possessed an insatiable hunger for knowledge and left behind a musical legacy culled from her unique affinity for the romantic, mystic, and cerebral.

Beginning with her first album in 1997, Lhasa’s multilingual songs and her spellbinding shows made the singer-songwriter a sensation in Montreal and Europe. But even today, nearly ten years after her death, her work and individuality have yet to register with listeners in her homeland. Contradictory and complex, Lhasa was both a naïf and a melancholic, a pixie with an enduring apprehension of life’s hardships as well as its magic. In the course of a heartbreakingly brief career of just thirteen years and three albums, she worked her own musical turf, part Edith Piaf, part Tinkerbell.

She came by her artistic and spiritual wanderlust honestly. Raised in a family of bohemian nomads, Lhasa was born in an unused Catskills Mountains ski chalet in Big Indian, New York, twenty-five miles northwest of Woodstock. The attending hippie doctor, shirtless and in overalls, focused most of his medical supervision on splitting a gallon of Gallo burgundy with the expectant mother. Beautiful and healthy, the as-yet unnamed baby was wrapped in a blanket; with no cradle to hand, she slept in a dresser drawer.

Her peripatetic life began just a few days later, when the family was kicked out of Big Indian and set off for Mexico. But it wasn’t until five months later that her parents finally found a name they felt suited their new daughter. Having read Timothy Leary’s popular handbook on LSD, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the couple then tackled the original Buddhist tome that had inspired Leary. Along with providing a spiritual guide to navigating bardo, the state in which a Buddhist’s consciousness sits suspended between death and rebirth, the book told of the holy city of Lhasa, built high on the Tibetan plateau. The name means “place of the gods,” and somehow, those rarified heights and aspirations felt like an appropriate christening and wish.

“They were incapable of having a middle-class life,” Lhasa de Sela would say years later when asked about her mother and father. “Their parents were well-off, but they were the black sheep of their families. They took a lot of hallucinogenic drugs and took incredible risks.”

Raised in a converted school bus crossing back and forth between Mexico and the United States, Lhasa and her three sisters were homeschooled and grew up without a telephone or television. And while their parents rejected the bulk of mainstream America’s material and social assumptions, they were fierce about instilling in their children an unquenchable curiosity, a deep devotion to spiritual and intellectual advancement, and the veneration of creativity.

“What was really passed to us in the way we were raised is that life is an interior search,” says her sister Miriam. “A lot of soul-searching and trying to be truthful to your intuition. And in a very vague way trying to trust something that’s invisible. I would have to say that was a huge part of Lhasa’s life: constant self-searching.” That spiritual and intellectual search would, in turn, illuminate her writings and performances.

An exhilarating childhood, it was also a life of uncertainty, isolated and lived without nets. The month that Lhasa turned eight, she was living in a broken-down bus behind an Exxon station in Elk Grove, California. Her father was picking melons by day and rebuilding a replacement engine salvaged from a junkyard by night; Lhasa and her sisters studied with their mother in the mornings and worked gathering tomatoes in the afternoons. On her birthday, there was a Raggedy Ann party in the bus; Lhasa’s mother made a doll, her sisters crafted a piñata, and friends provided a Raggedy Ann cake. As an adult, Lhasa would tag it her most memorable birthday.

Though lived close to the bone, that unorthodox upbringing proved a petri dish for nurturing a family of extraordinarily focused iconoclasts and autodidacts. Lhasa’s sisters would go on to careers as circus performers—a tightrope walker, a trapeze artist, and a gymnast—with Lhasa at one point taking a break from her own career to join their circus troupe in France. A loner at heart, Lhasa would always remain somewhat estranged from society at large; her unusual upbringing and the lessons imparted by her parents—particularly, that life is an adventure not to be missed—left her unable to fathom the lack of curiosity and discipline in so many of the people she met. “She kind of fit in everywhere but also nowhere,” says her half-brother, Mischa Karam.

At the age of twelve, Lhasa heard Billie Holiday for the first time and became obsessed with transforming herself into a singer. A move at nineteen to Montreal, with its thriving dual French and English music scenes, broadened her perspective. Lhasa’s unique ability to incorporate whatever came her way, forged in that unlikely, supercharged childhood, would lead her as a musician to make use of anything she deemed moving and meaningful, from Gypsy music to Mexican rancheras, Americana, jazz and fado, chanson française and South American folk melodies. She had an eye for the authentic, an unfailing ear for the heartfelt.

Though she was likely this country’s first world music chanteuse, Lhasa nonetheless remains virtually unknown in the United States. In recent years, reggaetón and Spanglish pop hits such as “Despacito” have worked their way into America’s pop lexicon, but that wasn’t the case twenty-odd years ago, when Lhasa released her first album, the all-Spanish La Llorona. A musical séance calling up ghosts from a long-lost world of legend and romance, the album became a bestseller in Canada and made her a star in France and much of Europe but never registered here. Her trilingual second album, The Living Road, was one of the United Kingdom’s most critically lauded albums of 2003, and critics there acclaimed Lhasa “a multilingual global diva.” Her continuing American anonymity feels inexplicable. “The language really did not make any difference,” observed the Canadian music journalist Nicholas Jennings. “What she was putting forth transcended language, she was such an intense performer. She had all the depth of emotion of an actress or an opera singer. You couldn’t take your eyes off her.”

As ambitious as she was artistic, Lhasa had set her eyes on conquering the United States. She didn’t imagine her time was running short. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Lhasa nonetheless continued to plot an American tour while writing and recording her only all-English album, 2009’s Lhasa. But for Lhasa, America would prove a dream that has yet to come to fruition: she died at her home in Montreal on New Year’s Day, 2010, at the age of thirty-seven.

About the author: Fred Goodman is a former editor at Rolling Stone whose work has appeared in the New York Times and many magazines. His previous books include the award-winning The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-on Collision of Rock and Commerce.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Meet Stephen Harrigan On Tour for ‘Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas'

The University of Texas Press is pleased to announce a fall book tour celebrating Stephen Harrigan's comprehensive, definitive history of Texas titled Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas. Join us in October and November in:

About the book

Big Wonderful Thing:
A History of Texas

Stephen Harrigan
$35.00 Hardcover

The story of Texas is the story of struggle and triumph in a land of extremes. It is a story of drought and flood, invasion and war, boom and bust, and of the myriad peoples who, over centuries of conflict, gave rise to a place that has helped shape the identity of the United States and the destiny of the world.

Harrigan’s book brings to life with novelistic immediacy the generations of driven men and women who shaped Texas, including Spanish explorers, American filibusters, Comanche warriors, wildcatters, Tejano activists, and spellbinding artists—all of them taking their part in the creation of a place that became not just a nation, not just a state, but an indelible idea.

Confirmed Tour Dates

October 1 — Austin, TX
Interview with Dan Rather

October 4-5 — Boerne, TX

October 8 — Dallas, TX
In Conversation with Skip Hollandsworth

October 15 — San Antonio, TX
In Conversation with Clay Smith

October 17  Waco, TX

October 26-27 — Austin, TX

October 29 — Tempe, AZ
In Conversation with Mark Athitakis (tentative)

November 3 — Albuquerque, NM
In Conversation with Paul Hutton (tentative)

November 5 — Tulsa, OK

November 6 — Oklahoma City, OK
In Conversation with Lou Berney

November 8 — Dallas, TX
Texas Monthly Live! with

November 13 — Houston, TX

November 18 — New York City, NY
In Conversation with Elise Jordan

November 19 — Washington, D.C.

November 20 — Austin, TX
In Conversation with Mimi Swartz

December 5 — Kerrville, TX

December 6 — Alpine, TX

December 14 — Dallas, TX

Praise for Big Wonderful Thing

"Exhilarating . . . As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados."

Kirkus, Starred Review

“Harrigan uses his stupendous storytelling skills to great effect [in Big Wonderful Thing]. He covers the state's major historical events from inventive angles, introduces newly discovered archaeological and archival research, and excels at puffing up many of Texas's larger-than-life personalities.”

Foreword Reviews

“Harrigan describes post-Columbian Texas in novelistic style in this eloquent homage to the Lone Star state...History lovers will enjoy this packed, fascinating account of a singular state.”

Publishers Weekly

“Stephen Harrigan has given us a wonderful new history of Texas. It tells us all we need to know and little that we don't need to know. A splendid effort.”

—Larry McMurtry

“History at its best—comprehensive, deeply informed, pleasurable, and filled with surprise and delight. It is at once a gift to the people of Texas and an unflinching explanation to the world at large of America’s most controversial state.”

—Lawrence Wright, author of God Save Texas

“No one tells the story of Texas better than Stephen Harrigan. He brings to Big Wonderful Thing contemporary and thoughtful analysis along with the most graceful writing anywhere. Harrigan pulls no punches but uses humor and pathos to examine the complexities and contradictions that have made us who we are. Finally, Texas has the rich and honest history it deserves.”

—Mimi Swartz

“Harrigan tacks brilliantly through the shifting winds of Texas history by telling a series of rip-snorting good tales.”

—S.C. Gwynne

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bill Wittliff (1940–2019)

Bill Wittliff was himself a publisher long before the University of Texas Press began working with him in 1996 on two series that drew from the Collections he founded at Texas State University. The Southwestern & Mexican Photography Series, for which he served as editor for two decades, included eighteen books, showcasing work from the likes of Keith Carter, Kate Breakey, Rocky Schenck, Graciela Iturbide, Mariana Yampolsky, and Mary Ellen Mark. Wittliff’s Southwestern Writers Collection, also housed at Texas State, was the foundation of a second series with the Press. Also founded in 1996, the series included twenty-nine books with such Texas writers as John Graves, Bud Shrake, Larry L. King, Prudence MacIntosh, and Steve Harrigan, among many others.

A prolific photographer, Wittliff authored or coauthored four books with his images for UT Press: Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy (2004); La Vida Brinca: A Book of Tragaluz Photographs (2006), A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove (2007), and A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove (2012). Late in his career, Wittliff began writing a memoir that evolved into a fictional series of books he called the Papa Stories: The Devil’s Backbone (2014), The Devil’s Sinkhole (2016), and The Devil’s Fork (2018) were inspired by stories he heard as a child growing up in Texas.

In all, Bill Wittliff and the University of Texas Press collaborated on more than fifty books. It is a measure of his contribution to Texas letters that, even if none of those titles had been published, Wittliff would still be an icon, renowned for his collection, his screenwriting, his photography, and his own Encino Press. The Press is deeply saddened by his passing, and forever grateful for the work we did together.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Annotated Playlist by Casey Rae for 'William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll'

The most transgressive of the Beat writers, William S. Burroughs was also something of a clandestine agent in the development of rock ’n’ roll—a spectral figure who haunted the cultural underground and helped usher it into the mainstream. Naked Lunch, Junkie, and The Wild Boys remain fixtures of bohemian bookshelves the world over. From the Beatles to punk to today’s remix scene, Burroughs helped accelerate an evolution in sound that continues to reverberate across genres and eras.
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Burroughs’ biography has become as legendary as even his most celebrated novels. Here was a homosexual drug addict, born in the Gilded Age, who killed his wife in a drunken game of William Tell and wrote infamous prose featuring orgasmic executions, shape-shifting aliens, and all manner of addicts, sadists, and creepy crawlies. But there exists a real person within the legend, a man who exhibited genuine kindness and hospitality to those who knew him, including many of the musicians appearing in William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll.

It’s not hard to see how Burroughs’ writing—exploding with disquieting, even ghastly, imagery—might serve as fodder for music genres like punk, heavy metal, and industrial. To be sure, it is within these subcultures that the majority of present-day Burroughs acolytes are found. But his anti-establishment attitude and unconventional personal habits also found favor with such artists as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, and countless other musical innovators. This playlist captures only a sliver of the artists who were directly influenced by Burroughs; the descriptions below are a sliver of that sliver. To get the whole story, you’ll want to grab a copy of the book.

Find the full playlist on Spotify | YouTube

“East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”Duke Ellington

William S. Burroughs was actually not much of a music aficionado. Well, that was his standard line, anyway—the reality is that he had many friendships with musicians and felt affinity for rock ’n’ roll’s anti-establishment attitude and shamanic potency. Nevertheless, his personal tastes were more in line with the songs he heard growing up, including this 1927 composition from Duke Ellington, which name-checks Burroughs’ childhood hometown. Ellington’s big band music is raucous and sly, with bold melodies and a streetwise swing. It’s not hard to picture Burroughs’ fictional stand-in, William Lee, skulking through urban streets as this tune blares from open tenement windows. “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” was covered by Steely Dan some four decades later, which is not their only connection to Burroughs—the band members were huge fans who took their name from a state-of-the-art dildo described in Naked Lunch.

“Tombstone Blues”
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Dylan became a Burroughs obsessive when he first got his hands on a copy of Naked Lunch as a young man. The author’s quicksilver abstractions opened up new creative possibilities for Dylan, whose work only became more abstract, caustic, and surreal. “Hey, you dig something like cut-ups? I mean, like William Burroughs?” Dylan asked interviewer Paul J. Robbins in a conversation published in the Los Angeles Free Press in 1965. D. A. Pennebaker’s early Dylan biopic Don’t Look Back shows the songwriter giving a how-to on cut-ups, which Dylan claimed he didn’t actually use for lyrics due to the need to rhyme. That’s debatable, but we do know that Dylan sought out Burroughs for a face-to-face encounter in a small café in Manhattan’s East Village in 1965—a meeting recounted in 
William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll. Not long after, Dylan aggravated the folk music cognoscenti with an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival. That same year saw the groundbreaking album Highway 61 Revisited, which contains the song “Tombstone Blues.” Another Burroughs fan, Iggy Pop, spotted what might be a reference to Burroughs: “I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill / I would set him in chains at the top of the hill / Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille / He could die happily ever after.

“Eleanor Rigby”The Beatles, Revolver

In 1966, Burroughs was 52 years old and living in Great Britain. It’s hard to picture this taciturn relic of the jazz age serving as inspiration to the psychedelic minstrels of the mid-sixties. And yet the fabbest of the fab, the Beatles, put Burroughs on the cover of their kaleidoscopic masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His wan visage appears alongside several dozen luminaries, including Mae West, Aleister Crowley, Lenny Bruce, Aldous Huxley, and Carl Jung, to name a few. Burroughs’ experiments with tape manipulation were inspiring to Paul McCartney, who set the author up with a makeshift studio in a flat owned by Ringo Starr. Burroughs and McCartney would chat about computers making the music of tomorrow, as the future Knight of the Realm listened to Burroughs’ sonic experiments such as the 20-minute “K-9 Was in Combat with the Alien Mind-Screens.” As McCartney told Q Magazine in 1986, “I used to sit in a basement at Montagu Square with William Burroughs and a couple of gay guys he knew from Morocco doing little tapes, crazy stuff with guitar and cello.” Burroughs even got to witness McCartney composing “Eleanor Rigby.” Of the Beatle, Burroughs later said, “I could see he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and prepossessing. Nice looking young man, fairly hardworking.”

“Casino Boogie”The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street

Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards—the latter of whom was persuaded by Burroughs to try the infamous “apomorphine cure” for heroin addiction—used the cut-up method on choice Stones lyrics, including “Casino Boogie” from the 1972 album Exile on Main Street. “It's in the style of William Burroughs,” Jagger explained to Uncut in 2010. “We just wrote phrases on bits of paper and cut them up. This is the conceit.” And reflecting on the 1983 single “Undercover of the Night,” Jagger said, “I'm not saying I nicked it, but this song was heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, a freewheeling novel about political and sexual repression.” Burroughs was hot and cold on the Stones, but he did attend the band’s tax exile farewell party in 1971. “I remember Keith Richards talking to me and I couldn’t understand one word he said,” Burroughs recalled. He did reserve some praise for Jagger, however. “I had admired his work, what I’d heard of it, and I also admired him because of the pressure he was under,” Burroughs said. “There’s something about Mick that arouses great antagonism in a certain kind of person, the cabdriver-hardhat-redneck strata throughout the world, and to be able to stand up to that and be able to maintain his equilibrium and cool, as he certainly has, is quite something.” At one point in the 1970s, Jagger was even considered for the lead in a film adaptation of Naked Lunch, but the project never got off the ground (the David Cronenberg-directed version arrived in 1991 with Paul Weller as Burroughs stand-in William Lee).

“Take Me With You, My Darling, Take Me With You”The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka

Burroughs was a longtime appreciator of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a group of Sufi musicians based in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Burroughs initially encountered the Master Musicians while living as an ex-pat in Tangier in the 1950s, and promoted their music for the rest of his life. In 1968, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones surreptitiously recorded the Master Musicians while on a trip to Morocco. Jones tinkered with the tapes in the studio right up to his death in 1969, experimenting with effects, splicing audio, and playing sections in reverse. Even though the Stones had already booted Jones out of the band, they released Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka on their own vanity label in 1971. Liner notes were provided by Burroughs, who described the record as “the primordial sounds of a 4,000-year-old rock 'n' roll band.” The music of the Master Musicians is intense and entrancing, with piercing tones from a reed instrument called the rhaita and the relentless thrum of hand drums. This is the sound of Burroughs’ fabled Interzone—a treacherously liminal locale from Naked Lunch.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide”David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Burroughs’ influence on David Bowie was profound and enduring—so much so that an entire chapter of 
William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll is devoted to the topic. Bowie was a dyed-in-the-wool Burroughs fan who embraced the author’s outré prose and creative methods. “That guy messed me up when I first started reading him in the late ’60s, and I've never gotten over it,” he recalled. Throughout his career, Bowie employed Burroughs’ cut-up method in his lyrical compositions. “It seems that it would predict things about the future, or tell me a lot about the past,” he remarked in 1974. “I suppose it’s a kind of Western tarot.” Bowie was particularly fascinated by Burroughs’ lifestyle. A drug user and homosexual at a time when society treated both activities with outright enmity, Burroughs spent much of his life dodging authorities and rankling the establishment on multiple continents. Bowie’s identikit aesthetic was informed by Naked Lunch, which boasts a coterie of characters who morph and evolve with little adherence to narrative logic. He looked to The Wild Boys for his Ziggy Stardust persona, which also borrowed from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. “They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs with their Bowie knives,” the singer said. Bowie was also interested in Burroughs’ occult outlook, where random chance is used to uncover and amplify subconscious intent. The two artists first met in 1975—their conversation becoming the basis of an article in Rolling Stone—and Bowie continued to revere the author until his own passing in 2016.

“Heroin”The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico

Burroughs was an essential part of Lou Reed’s creative makeup. A shrewdly insightful writer, Reed rendered potent truths about the human condition in terse, economical prose. Like Burroughs, Reed chronicled desperate characters and squalid situations while refraining from moral imposition. The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” captures the anxiety of the addict, and is a direct descendant of Burroughs’ Junkie. Even more obvious is “Heroin,” a micro-symphony of self-destruction: I have made the big decision / I'm gonna try to nullify my life / 'Cause when the blood begins to flow / When it shoots up the dropper's neck / When I'm closing in on death / You can’t help me now, Reed mumble-sings as drummer Maureen Tucker mimics an accelerating heartbeat. Reed said Burroughs was “the person who broke the door down . . . he alone had the energy to explore the interior psyche without a filter.” He claimed Burroughs “changed my vision of what you could write about, how you could write,” which makes perfect sense to anyone who has heard his work with the Velvets and solo. Burroughs and Reed had mutual friends but the two didn’t actually meet face-to-face until 1979. By then, Burroughs had become a fixture in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There, in his windowless, three-room apartment at 222 Bowery, he held court among the musicians, intellectuals, writers, and junkies littering the scene like discarded show posters strewn across the sidewalk of nearby nightclub CBGBs. The Reed-Burroughs confab—at turns hilarious and provocative—is covered in detail in 
William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll.

“Land: Horses”Patti Smith, Horses (Legacy Edition)

Patti Smith was not only influenced creatively by Burroughs, she was also part of his inner circle and remained a close friend until the author’s death in 1997. Though her music wasn’t precisely punk, Smith heralded the New York scene in the early-to-mid-1970s. Her fearless performances helped restore rock’s primal drive, which had been diluted by musicians more concerned with instrumental virtuosity than connecting with audiences. Smith, too, was obsessed with Burroughs. “He's a hard guy to get into bed, that's why I like him,” she said. She initially encountered Burroughs as a visitor to the infamous Chelsea Hotel, where the older writer would stay while in town. “Burroughs showed me a whole series of new tunnels to fall through,” she said. “He was so neat. He would walk around in this big black cashmere overcoat and this old hat. So of course, Patti gets an old black hat and coat, and we would walk around the Chelsea looking like that.” Smith would go on to sprinkle Burroughs references in her work, including “Land: Horses,” which features a character named Johnny on loan from The Wild Boys. Over the years, Smith and Burroughs developed an affectionate relationship. “I had the biggest crush on William,” she said. “Really, a big one. And I used to even daydream about, you know, he would fall in love with me and we'd get married.” Smith also keenly observed Burroughs’ stealth influence on music and culture. “He’s another Bible . . . so many things come from him,” she said.

“Six Six Sixties”Throbbing Gristle, 20 Jazz Funk Greats

Formed in 1975, Throbbing Gristle terrorized British society with an incendiary mix of abrasive sound and provocative theatrics. Members Genesis P-Orridge, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Chris Carter invented an entirely new genre—industrial music—and their modus operandi owed everything to Burroughs. Using tape recorders to play back abrasive noise alongside electric instruments in intensely jarring performances, the band blended the primal energy of punk with occult ideas. Throbbing Gristle borrowed imagery from humanity’s history of mass violence and donned paramilitary outfits embossed with a menacing symbol of their own invention. Burroughs took a shine to the group, going as far as to write a letter of support for a cultural grant and offering further assistance when P-Orridge faced charges for sending postcards that UK authorities deemed obscene. “He helped us when we got all the legal action against us, with a lot of recommendations and advice, of what to do and what not to do, and to be polite, and not try and turn it onto a big battle,” P-Orridge said. Few have done more to advance Burroughs’ magical mindset than P-Orridge, who maintains a worldview directly imparted by the author.

“The Priest They Called Him”Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs

“Heart-Shaped Box”
Nirvana, In Utero

“There's something wrong with that boy,” Burroughs said following a meeting with Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain in 1993. “He frowns for no good reason.” Cobain initially discovered Burroughs as a teenager, furtively reading dog-eared library copies of Naked Lunch and Junkie in between ditching class and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t just a lifestyle crush; he was also taken by Burroughs’ pioneering work with cut-ups. In an interview shortly after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” catapulted Nirvana into the mainstream, Cobain referred to Burroughs as his favorite author and called the cut-up approach “revolutionary.” On the 1991 European tour for Nevermind, Cobain’s sole piece of luggage was a small bag containing Naked Lunch, which he had recently rediscovered at a used bookshop in London. Cobain even released a record with the author in 1991. “The Priest They Called Him” features Cobain’s junk-sick guitar weaving webs of feedback around Burroughs’ laconic croak to arresting affect. Not long after, Cobain asked Burroughs to appear as a crucifixion victim in the video for “Heart-Shaped Box.” Burroughs declined the offer—he would not be depicted as dying on film—but he did give Cobain a standing invite to visit him at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. Nirvana tour manager Alex MacLeod recalled a visit that took place in 1993: “William made him feel at ease very quickly. There was definitely a connection on an artistic level. I think William saw a lot more in him than Kurt even realized.” Burroughs was fond enough of Cobain to send him original artwork on his birthday; sadly, this did not become tradition, as the younger artist killed himself in 1994.

Casey 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.