William S. Burroughs would have turned 100 today (or last night, February 5.) His influence on music runs through collaborations with everyone from U2 to Kurt Cobain to Laurie Anderson to R.E.M. to Tom Waits. The band names Steely Dan, The Soft Machine and Clem Snide all come from his novels, as does the term "heavy metal." He appears on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. While he's no one's idea of an easy read (Nick Cave once wonderfully quipped that Edgar Rice Burroughs was "the superior Burroughs,") William Burroughs' inventiveness with language is still unparalleled today. Like a lyrical Jackson Pollock, his works often appear messy and spontaneous, but have inimitable flair and imagination.
My favorite of Burroughs' musical endeavors is his appearance on Ministry's "Just One Fix." For Ministry's full transformation to industrial metal pioneers (hell, inventors,) they enlisted the scariest old man in the world for their single and music video. Al Jourgensen wasn't as poetic about his addiction as Burroughs would have been, but those harsh buzzsaw guitars nail the point as deeply as any passage in Junkie.
30 years earlier, Burroughs wrote about "Uranian Willy the heavy metal Kid" in The Soft Machine, later elaborating in Nova Express, "With their diseases and orgasm drugs and their sexless parasite life forms - Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes - And the Insect People of Minraud with metal music." On "Just One Fix," he lived up to that description.