Beat writer William S. Burroughs died in 1997, but he's putting out four new works in quick succession, one involving actor Steve Buscemi, another with a former local producer at the helm.
Hal Wilner, Lower Merion-born producer and longtime Saturday Night Live music coordinator, is behind Let Me Hang You, an album released in July of previously unheard tapes in which Burroughs reads the naughtier bits of his landmark novel Naked Lunch over skronky music from such artists as King Khan, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, and more.
"Once you worked with Burroughs, you became enamored," says Wilner, who is famed for his work with Lou Reed. (The RCA & Arista Album Collection, due next month, features Wilner's touch on 16 Reed classics of the 1970s and '80s).
The producer has worked with Burroughs' material before, helming 1990's Dead City Radio and 1993's Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
Along with Let Me Hang You, the Burroughs' album explosion includes Aug. 18's Curse Go Back, a vinyl release of unearthed tapes of the author experimenting with sound and word.
And next week, genius producer/bassist Bill Laswell will rerelease his arid, muscular collaboration with Burroughs, violinist L. Shankar, and drummer Sly Dunbar - 1998's The Road to the Western Lands - on Laswell's own M.O.D. Technologies imprint.
Then there's Buscemi's effort, Rub Out the World, a recording of the actor reading Burroughs' texts accompanied by music from avant-garde composer Elliot Sharp. The release party for that one is slated for Sept. 13 at Brooklyn's Issue Project Room.
Throughout all of these projects - even Buscemi's - the scorched-earth tone of Burroughs' voice shines through boldly and comically, to say nothing of his equally caustic interplanetary worldview.
"I discovered Burroughs in my late teens, growing up in Michigan, with universities in Ann Arbor and East Lansing having many great bookstores," says Laswell. "My first experience with his writing was more like being lost in a dream than reading words. It became clear that this was not a strictly literary force . . . hallucinogenic, darkly humorous, super-intelligent, and very possibly dangerous."
Laswell and his ensemble Material had collaborated with Burroughs on 1989's Seven Souls. But he separated out The Road to the Western Lands recorded document from that first work, wanting there to be "a document devoted solely to Burroughs, strictly for the heads," he said.
Like him, Wilner thought of his time with Burroughs as hilarious fun, but he wasn't acclimated to the Beats as early as Laswell. "I didn't get into him in high school," Wilner says. "Besides the memory of Allen Ginsberg mentioning him on his Atlantic label album Kaddish, Burroughs' stuff wasn't around - none of the Beats were really - until I moved to New York."
While working on Saturday Night Live, Wilner befriended the darkly humorous staff writers Michael O'Donoghue and Terry Southern, who put their pal Burroughs on SNL in 1981 for his first live television appearance. Wilner provided the patriotic backing music to the author's cynically witty screeds. "I was 25 and found him to be immediately engaging and enormously fascinating in a W.C. Fields way," Wilner says.
As for the lost Naked Lunch tapes that became the basis for Let Me Hang You, Wilner claims they were to be released as an audio book through Warner Bros. in the late 1990s but were shelved because of a squeamish company executive.