Here’s another centennial that’s a little more under the radar:
William S. Burroughs, the transgressive, radical and visionary author known as the godfather of the Beat movement, lived out his last years in the quietude of Lawrence, Kan., where he died in 1997. And his adopted hometown will return the favor by celebrating the 100th year of his birth. (He was born in Feb. 5, 1914, in St. Louis, a scion of the Burroughs adding-machine family.)
An exhibition of his paintings and a series of related events will take place at the Lawrence Arts Center, beginning Jan. 17. That is part of a nexus of celebrations that extends to London, Paris and other important stops on the Burroughs trail.
Burroughs had little regard for mainstream America, and vice versa, but his influence among young creatives — and among those who adhere to the question-everything ethos — has been undeniable.
Sure, he fatally shot his wife during a drunken bout of William Tell and spent many of his years under the influence. But Burroughs, as a writer of dark prophesy and a mirror of myriad anxieties, paved the counter-cultural way for the likes of singer/songwriter Patti Smith and filmmakers David Cronenberg (he filmed the nearly impossible-to-film Burroughs classic “Naked Lunch”) and Jon Waters (he’s on the Lawrence schedule, an event already sold out).
His gravelly, hard-boiled, and mordantly humorous voice, as well as his nightmare landscapes of sex, drugs and authoritative systems are most definitely acquired tastes. He played with the conventions of such popular genres as old-time Westerns and science fiction, but he did so with an acid-edged pen. Enter at your own risk.