William S. Burroughs “Sings” R.E.M. and The Doors, Backed by the Original Bands

The nineties saw a lot of alternative bands not only wear their influences on their sleeves, but also bring them up on stage and into the studio. William S. Burroughs was one such luminary, appearing on Tom Waits’ 1993 The Black Rider, a collaboration with Kurt Cobain titled “Priest They Called Him,” and September Songs, a 1997 Kurt Weill tribute album featuring the likes of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed. In 1996, Burroughs got together with R.E.M. for a cover of their “Star Me Kitten” from ‘92’s Automatic for the People. In the track above, hear Burroughs recite Michael Stipe’s lyrics over the band’s instrumentation. The recording comes from an album called Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired By the X-Files, which included Frank Black, Soul Coughing, Foo Fighters, and PM Dawn. Burroughs introduces his rendition by citing a much more classical source for his cabaret approach to the song: Marlene Dietrich. “Not one of my favorite people,” he mumbles, dourly. See perhaps why.

Burroughs didn’t only work musically with contemporary alt bands in the ’90s, and he had a long, illustrious recording career several decades prior. In a mash-up that brings together a band closer to Burroughs’ prime, hear the beat writer’s rhythmic deadpan of Jim Morrison’s “Is Everybody In?,” backed by the surviving Doors. Despite the original players, it’s still a very ‘90s production (though released in 2000). From a Doors tribute album called Stoned Immaculate, the song sits, somewhat uncomfortably, next to covers and interpretations by Stone Temple Pilots, The Cult, Creed, Smash Mouth, Days of the New, and Train, and a bit cozier next to stalwarts like John Lee Hooker, Exene Cervenka, and Bo Diddley. Burroughs’ is the stand-out track among many that also feature the Doors as a backing band, although in an acid-jazz production–with samples of soul music and Morrison himself–that may sound a bit dated. But Burroughs is as dry as ever, underlining the sheer creepiness of Morrison’s poetry in a tribute that also highlights the debt Morrison owed him.

Related Content:

William S. Burroughs Explains What Artists & Creative Thinkers Do for Humanity: From Galileo to Cézanne and James Joyce

Patti Smith Shares William S. Burroughs’ Advice for Writers and Artists

“The Lost Paris Tapes” Preserves Jim Morrison’s Final Poetry Recordings from 1971

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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  • garethdm says:

    Thatis cool. Fans should also know that he worked with Bill Laswell’s Material project in the late 80s — a great album called Seven Souls (since reissued in an expanded version on Triloka Records). Burroughs intones apocalyptic visions over Laswell’s dark, Arabesque psychedelic jams. Here’s a tasty sample: nnhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQc3T45pRWY

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