William S. Burroughs — Alternative Rock Star — Sings with Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, REM & More

William_S_Burroughs visual

Image via Chris­ti­aan Ton­nis

Like many of the best coun­ter­cul­tur­al icons, William S. Bur­roughs had at least two sep­a­rate peri­ods of under­ground fame. The first came in the late 1950s and 60s when he wrote such clas­sics-to-be of Beat lit­er­a­ture as JunkieNaked Lunch, and the “cut-up” tril­o­gy of The Soft MachineThe Tick­et That Explod­ed, and Nova Express. The sec­ond came in the 1980s and 90s, when a new wave of coun­ter­cul­tur­al icons, them­selves raised on Bur­roughs’ writ­ing, came of age and sought out their hero for col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“How a nov­el­ist with no musi­cal back­ground who began his career in the 1940s became so pop­u­lar an alter­na­tive music fig­ure that Kurt Cobain backed him up on one of Cobain’s last record­ings is one of the odd­er, more fas­ci­nat­ing foot­notes in this oth­er­wise heav­i­ly exam­ined musi­cal era,” says Music for Mani­acs.

Many rock­ers who looked up to Bur­roughs attend­ed his live read­ings, but for some, “it was­n’t enough to just lis­ten to Bur­roughs read his own works, with increas­ing­ly elab­o­rate musi­cal back­ings, but to hire him to per­form on record­ings. And that is what we have here: not Bur­roughs’ own releas­es, but his var­i­ous mis­cel­la­neous appear­ances on oth­er bands’ songs.”

Above, hear Bur­roughs with Tom Waits on jazz tune “T’Ain’t No Sin” and with Min­istry on “Quick Fix.” You can lis­ten to all of these record­ings, in which Bur­roughs records with or cov­ers the mate­r­i­al of REM, The Doors, Lau­rie Ander­son, Mar­lene Diet­rich, Kurt Cobain, and oth­ers, at Ubuweb. The playlist runs as fol­lows. Click to lis­ten:

  1. Fuck Me Kit­ten (with REM, from “Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by ‘the X‑Files’ ” — 1996)
  2. Is Every­body In? (with The Doors, recit­ing Jim Mor­ri­son poet­ry, from “Stoned Immac­u­late: The Music of the Doors”)
  3. Sharkey’s Night (with Lau­rie Ander­son, from “Mis­ter Heart­break” — 1983)
  4. What Keeps Mankind Alive (from Kurt Weill trib­ute album “Sep­tem­ber Songs”)
  5. ‘T ‘Aint No Sin (1920s jazz song, per­formed on Tom Waits’ “The Black Rid­er” — 1993)
  6. Quick Fix (w/Ministry, “Just One Fix” b‑side — 1992)
  7. Old Lady Sloan (w/The Eudo­ras, cov­er­ing a song by a Lawrence, Kansas punk band from “The Mor­tal Micronotz Trib­ute!” — 1995
  8. Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fub Auf Liebe Eingestellt (Falling In Love Again) — Mar­lene Deitrich cov­er, from “Dead City Radio” — 1988
  9. The “Priest” They Called Him — (w/Kurt Cobain, 1992)

Not only do per­form­ers like Bur­roughs rarely enjoy a two-act career like his, they hard­ly ever put out mate­r­i­al as odd in their last act as they did in their first. But noth­ing in the life of the “rock star to rock stars,” as Music for Mani­acs calls him, hap­pened in the tra­di­tion­al mat­ter. And once you get through his stint as an alter­na­tive rock star, do have a look at his stint as an alter­na­tive per­former on the sil­ver screen.

via Ubuweb

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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 Mak­ing of Drug­store Cow­boy, Gus Van Sant’s First Major Film (1989)

Gus Van Sant Adapts William S. Bur­roughs: An Ear­ly 16mm Short

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­maFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Jason says:

    Hell, he wrote the whole book for The Black Rid­er, a musi­cal direct­ed by Robert Wil­son with music by Tom Waits.

  • Kevin says:

    He also whored him­self out for a Nike com­mer­cial in the mid-1990s, when it was well known Nike was push­ing its shoes to kids in the US ghet­tos while tak­ing all the jobs away from low­er-income US fam­i­lies and send­ing them to sweat­shops over­seas.

  • Harlan says:

    Check out his work with Bill Laswell’s Mate­r­i­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ‘Sev­en Souls’ album, based large­ly on the ancient Egypt­ian con­cept of the human soul. Good stuff, I espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend the track “Soul Killer” where­in Bur­roughs sug­gests that human souls could not sur­vive a nuclear explosion…chilling, weath­er you belive in the soul or not.
    On Youtube:

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