William S. Burroughs: A Man Within Premieres on PBS, February 22
What is it about writers and guns? Hemingway began his love affair with arms when he was a very young boy, Thompson’s heavy drinking didn’t separate him from his private arsenal, and Burroughs was so confident of his marksmanship that he had his wife place a shot glass on her head so he could play William Tell. Unfortunately, he was drunk and she got dead.
Like Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) had a small arsenal and carried a pistol at all times. In fact, one of Burroughs’ weapons was a gift from Thompson. I know I’m not as serious a writer as these gentlemen, because I don’t have a serious gun (mine is a pink AK-47). I also don’t drink enough of Bob’s Pirate Punch to qualify for that elite group.
In the arrogance of youth, I paid little heed to William S. Burroughs—after all, he was an old drug addict, end of story. Of course, that’s no more the end of the story than it is the beginning. On Tuesday, February 22, Independent Lens (PBS) will premiere William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (10:00 p.m. E/P, check local listings), a documentary that gives a much more detailed profile than I would have all those years ago.
Burroughs was born heir to the Burroughs adding machine fortune, and was introduced to opium by his family’s housekeeper. Thus began a life of experimentation and addiction. Despite his fondness for vodka and Coke and use of every drug imaginable (or so it seems), Burroughs was able to channel his demons into brilliant—and controversial—works of literature. His Naked Lunch has the distinction of being the last book “banned in Boston,”Continued on the next page