A Conversation With Thurston Moore, Who Has Spent the Past Four Summers in Boulder

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Tom Murphy
Thurston Moore is best known for his role as one of the pioneering guitarists of the now-defunct experimental band Sonic Youth. But he's been spending his summers in Boulder for the past four years, teaching a course at Naropa University on William Burroughs's connection with and influence on music. "The title of the course is 'Machine Boys Are Electronic,'" says Moore with a wry smile. "I was being farcical and thinking about...a Burroughs-ian title for a rock album."

Founded in 1974 by Buddhist scholar Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa is an unconventional liberal-arts university that includes the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, which was started that same year by legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and writer Anne Waldman. With its focus on "contemplative education," the school has attracted Fulbright Scholars, well-known writers and, now, pioneering musicians to its faculty.

The Naropa campus is a setting that suits Moore. On a particularly beautiful, calm day in June, he finished teaching a three-hour morning class and went to lunch with his girlfriend, Eva Prinz. We caught up with them there and talked about Burroughs, Patti Smith and Waldman, who also founded the Summer Writing Program at Naropa and invited Moore to participate in it.

Tom Murphy: What do you feel is the connection between William Burroughs and music?

Thurston Moore: Burroughs is such an iconic figure in the music world. Starting from the '60s, bands named themselves after characters and titles of his books. Soft Machine, Steely Dan...

Burroughs was not specifically a music person. Unlike his friends Kerouac and Ginsberg, he never name-checked jazz musicians in his work. Kerouac would write at length about his fascination with jazz and how it informed his writing. Burroughs's writing was very much informed by Kerouac's writing. In that respect, it carries through how Burroughs has this bop prosody that Kerouac exhibited.

How did you become involved in teaching summer courses at Naropa University?

Anne Waldman came up and did a reading in western Massachusetts, where I was living. She saw my library, and I always remember her coming into my library for all of one second. I really wanted her to see it, and I thought, "Oh, she just kind of glanced." But I learned later she completely got it in one second, and then she asked me if I would become a teacher at Naropa, just knowing, "This person is on it."

I said, "No, I'm touring all the time." But I did come out to Boulder [in the] early 2000s to do a benefit for the [Naropa audio poetry] archives here, and I played at the Boulder Theater. They showed me around campus, and I thought it was a groovy zone. I never really supposed I would actually teach here, but four years ago I decided to do it.


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