This will be a quick review of two great biographies, recently published and read by yours truly.
Call Me Burroughs: To say that William S. Burroughs lived an interesting life is an understatement in itself. From a middle-class St. Louis background to Harvard, tours of Europe, key cog in the Beat Generation and beyond, William Seward Burroughs was a monumental figure of letters, and a pioneer in avant-garde literature, film, spoken word, and the Godfather of the Punk music scene of the '80s. This is one of the best full-fledged biographies, because it incorporates so much from letters to novel excerpts to diary entries, and paints a complete but haunting picture of a man dealing with his "Ugly Spirit." One thing that a biography, especially one centered on a writer, is follow the writer's process, and document it, and figure out the intertwined sections where the writer and his/her life, and there is plenty to sift through: from his times writing Junky, to exploring for Yage in South America to Naked Lunch, Cut-Ups and Cities of the Red Night, it is a fascinating journey to read about.
I Celebrate Myself: Allen Ginsberg did not start off as the Rimbaudian poet-ambassador that he is most famous for being. In effect, he was a mild-mannered Jewish kid from Paterson, New Jersey, trying his best to deal with his mother, Naomi Ginsberg, and her insanity and paranoid delusions. To read about how, from the moment he entered Columbia University at 17, to the moment he started writing Howl in California years later, and all of his political-activist work in dealing with the Vietnam War to the hippies and resurrecting his friends' work(remythologizing Jack Kerouac's work, and keeping him in print, and his importance with Ginsberg and Burroughs as the Trinity of the Beat Generation.) Allen Ginsberg's search for his true poesy was invariably influenced by Kerouac's Spontaneous Prose Method, and Howl/Kaddish and a hundred other poems soon turned about. The true successor to Walt Whitman's American Bard of yesteryear, Ginsberg left a whole legacy to ponder over, no doubt.
These two men were not perfect, but remain monstrously important for their battles/victories against censorship, their open approach to poetry and literature, their long-lasting influences on music, politics, and film (cut-ups are used all the time now, as a matter of fact, thanks to Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Harold Norse, and Ian Sommerville), these two books are two extraordinarily detailed records of artists who wanted to shape their world via their art.