Unboxing ‘Let Me Hang You’

Unboxing William S. Burroughs’ posthumous album Let Me Hang You

Back in about 1996, I scored one of the limited edition copies of The “Priest” They Called Him collaboration between Burroughs and Kurt Cobain. That thing was pretty wild, and I listened to it a few times before it got stolen in 1997 or so, along with some other rather rare vinyl, a computer, some boxed CD sets and other ephemera. Of all the things that were stolen that day, I missed that record the most, and I can still hear Burroughs’s voice warble through that nightmare story, so when I read about this thing, I had to have it.

After all these years, after all my fascination with and admiration for the Beat poets, I still haven’t read Naked Lunch all the way through, nor have I seen the movie. I had a copy of the book for a few years, and picked it up with some intent a few times, but never got beyond the first few pages (if I remember correctly: that was all during a period of rather heavy… well, we’re not supposed to talk about our sinful pasts, so I’ll just say it was a time of excess). I might have to source a copy and give it a read… who am I kidding: I barely make the time to read any Quran; what makes me think I’ll read that?

Still…

If the snippets Burroughs read for this record are any indication, Naked Lunch is every bit the wild ride that it’s purported to be. The Pitchfork review isn’t kind and calls out specifically some of the editorial decisions Burroughs made as he read. Given that I haven’t read the book, I’ll trust the Pitchfork reviewer: the snippets on Let Me Hang You are mostly lurid descriptions of debased sex acts and general degradation born out of drug abuse and social decay, and if that’s all Naked Lunch is, it wouldn’t be the cultural milestone that it is. Given my Muslim faith, it’s probably not the best thing to be listening to, and may Allah forgive me for wasting my time and His sustenance on such filth.

But at least there’s little chance of this one getting stolen.

The music is… well, I’m not a music reviewer, but without the reading, I expect the music would be mostly fine garage/experimental type stuff that would have some local fans, but largely slip by unnoticed to perhaps be called up in 15 or 20 years by some music critic to show his or her deep-cut bona fides.

The first recordings for Let Me Hang You took place in the 1990s, with music by Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang, and Wayne Horvitz. It was shelved by record executives, likely for some obvious reasons. Then, a couple of years ago, producer Hal Willner got King Kahn and M. Lamar and Frowning Clouds to add some bits to it and, now we have a new Burroughs record.

I’d be interested to hear the original recordings, as I’m not sure where Bill Frisell ends and King Kahn begins. The liner notes list the authors, and those are mostly reproduced at Discogs I think, so I guess I could go back and pay a bit more attention, but there are much better things I could be listening to—recitation of Quran, seerah lectures, khutbahs, even some music, like The Ship or Cheetah would be better—so I’ll likely shelve this for awhile, and maybe pull it out in some number of years to show my bona fides, though I doubt I’ll have much reason to…

I can’t really recommend it, unless you, like me, have some fascination with the Beat generation generally or William Burroughs, specifically, and even then, only if you’re a sort of completionist. My next purchase might be a copy of Naked Lunch, as it’s probably a far better read than this record is a listen, but only God knows (and I probably need to lay off the book buying: I have a big pile of photobooks currently gathering dust, with unboxing videos shot, just waiting for some time to read/look through them and write up some comments).

I really need to come up with some text-based and obvious star rating thing… or maybe find a plugin…

Concept
Content
Design

Woo! A shiny new rating system! Take it with as many grains of salt as you wish… Here’s a brief rundown to explain my thoughts on this:

  • Concept: William Burroughs reading sections of Naked Lunch, accompanied by some experimental musics? Good.
  • Content: putrid, disturbing stuff of some historical import
  • Design: gatefold with some drug-addled colors and illustration; plain sleeve; great clear/green/white/red spattered vinyl

I might go back and add some ratings to previous reviews, and God willing, I’ll do it going forward for books and any vinyl that shows up too.

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