William S. Burroughs Drops a Posthumous Album, Setting Readings of Naked Lunch to Music (NSFW)


Image by Chris­ti­aan Ton­nis, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

William S. Bur­roughs may have died almost twen­ty years ago, but that does­n’t mean his fans have gone entire­ly with­out new mate­r­i­al since. This year, for instance, has seen the release of the Naked Lunch author’s new spo­ken word album Let Me Hang You, which you can lis­ten to free on Spo­ti­fy. (If you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.) Its con­tent, in fact, comes straight from that form- and taboo-break­ing 1959 nov­el, which Bur­roughs com­mit­ted to tape — along with a trio of accom­plished exper­i­men­tal musi­cians — not long before his pass­ing, and which thus got lost along the way to com­mer­cial release.

“But more than 20 years lat­er,” writes the New York Times’ Joe Coscarel­li, “those sur­re­al record­ings — which fea­tured music from the gui­tarist and com­pos­er Bill Frisell, along with the pianist Wayne Horvitz and the vio­list Eyvind Kang — are get­ting a sec­ond life as an album with an assist from the inde­pen­dent musi­cian King Khan, best known for his rau­cous live shows as an eccen­tric punk and soul front­man.” Fans of Bur­roughs’ rough­est-edged mate­r­i­al can rest assured that, in these ses­sions, the writer focused on speak­ing the “unspeak­able” parts of Naked Lunch: “think sex, drugs, and defe­ca­tion,” Coscarel­li says.

Hard as it may seem to believe that a nov­el writ­ten well over half a cen­tu­ry ago, let alone one writ­ten by an author born more than a cen­tu­ry ago, could retain its pow­er to shock, this new­ly pub­lished musi­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of Bur­rough’s sub­stance-inspired, ran­dom-access, “obscenity”-laden text fresh­ens its trans­gres­sive impact. “One par­tic­u­lar­ly jagged track on the record is ‘Clem Snide the Pri­vate Ass Hole,’ ” writes Rolling Stone’s Kory Grow. “As Bur­roughs stilt­ed­ly reads his own bizarre prose in which the tit­u­lar Snide recites every lurid, grit­ty detail he notices while watch­ing a junky ‘female hus­tler,’ Khan and his fel­low musi­cians play a brit­tle, upbeat groove and funky, bluesy gui­tar solos.” Final­ly, some­one has tak­en this work of the most off­beat of all the Beats and set it to a beat.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Naked Lunch, His Con­tro­ver­sial 1959 Nov­el

The “Priest” They Called Him: A Dark Col­lab­o­ra­tion Between Kurt Cobain & William S. Bur­roughs

How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Process with William S. Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

William S. Bur­roughs on the Art of Cut-up Writ­ing

William S. Bur­roughs Explains What Artists & Cre­ative Thinkers Do for Human­i­ty

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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