William S. Burroughs
Let Me Hang You
Khannibalism/Ernest Jenning Record Co.
William S. Burroughs was one of our greatest literary geniuses, and Naked Lunch his most famous work. Published in 1959, and subject to banning, court cases and scorn ever since, the accounts of Dr. Benway and Burroughs savage descriptions of drug addiction, lust and all manner of debauchery hasn’t lost its effect, 50 years on. So how do you heighten the experience even more? By having Burroughs read his work in his infamous deadpan style, giving passages such as “This you gotta hear” (about a father taking his teenage son to get his “first piece of ass”- literally) to creepy musical backing.
Burroughs recorded Naked Lunch for an audiobook near the end of his life, and now, 20 years on, Hal Willner, James Grauerholz and garage rock superstar A.A. “King” Khan have created an aural tribute to WSB, and it’s grotesque (in a good way), comic and chilling. Bill Frissell provides atmospheric guitar, along with Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, Eyvind Kang on violin, M. Lamar on one cut and the punk band The Frowning Clouds. The result is in keeping with Burroughs vision of the work, “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork”. The world of gay drug addicts, exterminators hooked on their poison and corrupt police abound, and the squalid state of affairs that Burroughs so artfully created doesn’t sound dated, and could have been written yesterday.
Let Me Hang You probably isn’t for the Burroughs novice. The book itself is a brutal, intentionally disgusting literary achievement that no other work can prepare you for, but fans of WSB will relish “The Afterbirth King”, “Islam Incorporated” and “This You Gotta Hear” come to life, and the marriage of Burroughs voice and Frisell’s spooky guitar is masterful. It’s a truly haunting experience.