Title: Burroughs releases bizarre new album
By T. Carter Scholl
Lantern arts writer
There is something disturbing about an album by a 79-year-old man with a parental advisory label on the cover.
"Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" is the second collaboration between multi-media artist William S. Burroughs and producer Hal Willner.
For this album, Willner calls in Michael Franti and Rono Tse, better known as The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, to provide the music. It is a well-suited match, as both Burroughs and The Disposable Heroes have produced works of sarcastic social commentary.
Burroughs is best known as an author. In this medium, he was an early influence on Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, who became leading beat poets in the 1960s. Burroughs' writings include the 1953 "Junky" and "Naked Lunch," which was written in 1959 and made into a movie in 1991 by David Cronenberg; "Cities of The Red Night" written in 1981; and "The Cat Inside," his most recent work was written in 1992.
Burroughs, a 1936 graduate from Harvard, is also an acclaimed painter. "Seven Deadly Sins," which was published in 1992, is his newest book of prints.
In recent years, Burroughs has entered into the field of acting with appearances in the films "Heavy Petting," "Twister" and "Drugstore Cowboy."
While "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" is the product of Burroughs' writings, it is also Willner's baby.
"I was interested in making a record like the ones I listened to in the '60s, where one style flowed into the next, and one on which you'd hear every genre of music on the same disc," Willner said.
The most impressive characteristic of "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" is how well the music and Burroughs' stories fit together. While the hip-hop of The Disposable Heroes is the underlying musical theme throughout the album, many different periods in musical history are touched upon.
The album begins with one of four short interludes. While Burroughs warns of the danger of wrinkled earlobes, the background sounds like the engine room of the Starship Enterprise from the original "Star Trek." A sampled horn line takes you out of the engine room and prepares you for Burroughs' announcement. He then says "Spare Ass Annie" as if he were endorsing an underarm deodorant. Here, the hipping and the hopping begins.
Musically, the title track is like a subdued version of the song "California Uber Alles," a musical assault on California Gov. Pete Wilson, from the Disposable Heroes' 1992 Island release, "Hipocrasy Is The Greatest Luxury."
The voice of the guitar is a subtle tribute to Jimi Hendrix. The music is good - if you first hear it sitting down, your head is likely to start bobbing; if you stand, you might feel like moving some of your spare parts.
As the music pulses, Burroughs begins describing his characters. The narrator is the captain of a town of ugly and disgusting creatures. There is Annie, who has an extra sphincter in the middle of her forehead; a nameless suicidal scorpion creature who wallows in self-pity; and a centipede creature that makes sexual advances towards everyone. One wonders whether these are characters solely of Burroughs' imagination or whether they are observed human characteristics with parts of arachnids anatomy attached.
"Mildred Pierce Reporting" is an observation of the horrors of war read over the backdrop of clean and sweet-sounding music reminiscent of any given 1950s television situation comedy.
"Dr. Benway Operates" begins with a lullabye and breaks into a loose funk with Burroughs spinning the story of an old doctor devoid of compassion. Burroughs twists the old five miles walking in the snow cliche with "Did I ever tell you about the time I performed an appendectomy with a rusty sardine can?"
In "Warning to Young Couples," Burroughs, a cat lover, displays a pointed dislike for man's best friend. The song begins with a loose funk similar to "Dr. Benway Operates," but breaks into another sweet and joyful orchestral piece as Burroughs tells expecting parents to get rid of their dogs.
"Did I Ever Tell You About the Man Who Taught His Asshole to Talk?" is an excerpt from "Naked Lunch." Here, the character is a man with poor social etiquette whose hobby eventually leads to his bottom end taking over his body. The song opens with a Jamaican reggae beat. There are animal sounds throughout. But be warned: it is a funny story only if you can stomach it.
"The Junky's Christmas" is a long piece that tells the story of a drug addict who spends Christmas Day finding a fix. The junky winds up giving his hard-won pain killer to a man who is hurt and desperately needs the pain killer. It is a decadent story of giving, complete with sweet-sounding Christmas carols divided by a relaxed but funky groove.
The album closes with "Last Words With Michael Franti." Here Franti reads from Burroughs' 1964 book "Nova Express." The music is sinister and Franti's voice is menacing as he scolds the governments of the world for spoiling the future for the unborn.
Overall, "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" is an amazing collaboration. As a conceptual piece it fits together much better than the first Willner and Burroughs collaboration in 1990, "Dead City Radio."
On "Dead City Radio," Willner used different sources for the music such as John Cale, who has stood among the avant garde since his earlier days with the Velvet Underground, eighties feedback junkies Sonic Youth, and the early 1960's NBC Symphony Orchestra.
While "Dead City Radio" had the same concept as "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales" of melding the work of a great writer with great music, "Dead City Radio" was basically a mishmash of unrelated music with an old man reading over it.
By using The Disposable Heroes, a band that itself has had a lot to say about the state of society, to provide the musical backdrop throughout this entire album, Willner has created a work that while touching upon several different musical genres retains cohesion.
After its release today you can listen to this album in one of three ways it can be taken as a conceptual whole, a new form of art if you will; it can be listened to as a series of thought provoking stories; or it can be used as music upbeat enough for a party. Take your pick.
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