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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.