William S. Burroughs – more rock’n’roll than most rock’n’rollers?


It’s funny, but my love of rock music over the last twenty years has also had an impact on films I watch and books I read. I knew I had to see and read A Clockwork Orange, so many bands referenced it. I fell in love with the Cure’s music at fourteen, and eventually read Albert Camus’ The Outsider (and maybe there was the hope that having read these books might make me seem a little artier -and maybe that might make me cooler. Some hope – but there was a time when NME was much more book and film orientated than it is now.) People like David Bowie not only convinced me that maybe I should persevere with Philip Glass’ music, but also referenced William Burroughs. Who of course collaborated with Kurt Cobain from Nirvana (who led to me discovering the Raincoats and the Vaselines -culture is not born in a vacuum).

I’m not an authority on William Burroughs -the only book of his I’ve read is The Naked Lunch (at university I read this back-to back with American Psycho and The Bell Jar; no wonder I thought I was going mad). A certain device in that book gave Steely Dan their name. Patti Smith name-checked him – just how cool was this guy?

So, fired up by a Primer of his recorded works in issue #300 of The Wire, I humbly present three Burroughs-related recordings from the 1990s.

First up, Kurt Cobain played noise guitar for this short story about a junky on Christmas Eve (listen carefully; the guitar references ‘Silent Night’ that most indie of Christmas Carols.’ It’s called the Priest They Called Him’ AKA ‘Quiet Waters.’

William S Burroughs and Kurt Cobain -‘Quiet Waters.’ mp3

He also collaborated with a band called Material, who I know next to nothing about, I’m afraid; this track comes from a free CD given away with Vox magazine fifteen (!) years ago:

Material with William S Burroughs -‘Words Of Advice.’ mp3

Finally, this song ‘Star Me Kitten’ was originally recorded for REM’s Automatic For The People album in 1992. This version with Burroughs appeared on the X-Files soundtrack in 1996 (the soundtrack to the TV series, not the soundtrack for the film in 1998):

REM feat William S Burroughs -‘Star Me Kitten.’ mp3

Burroughs’ last rock’n’ roll engagement, shortly before he died, was being in the video for U2’s single ‘The last Night On Earth’ which can be seen here with Sophie Dahl.

Should you want to hear more William S Burroughs’ work try here at the mighty UbuWeb.