Do you remember your first time? Maybe not, maybe you’ve carefully hidden it away from your conscious mind, to protect yourself from the gnawing shame, or the recriminations about your performance. Maybe there was alcohol involved? not in my case I hasten to add, I did it stone cold sober. Maybe violins spontaneously played in the background as you ascended to a spiritual plateau? sadly not, in my case. Did you bite off more than you could chew? Did you lose the respect of someone close to you over the whole thing? or maybe just your own self-respect. If you’d rather not talk about it, that’s fine with me babe.
So, yeah Material The Road To The Western Lands was my first ever purchase on eBay, arriving at 1537 Towers on 5 August 2003. Suddenly, I discovered you could buy used LPs online! Without being in the shop! I could buy anything I wanted – whenever I wanted!* I had never heard of Material before buying this and I have never heard Seven Souls, the 1989 LP that this 1998 album is a remix of … so this was a bit of a tenuous purchase.
BUT what I was then and still am was a raving Burroughs fan, something about his scabrously funny, narcotically-enabled, fractured narratives of viciously graphic sex, death, wild homoeroticism, fantastic drugs, giant centipedes and ancient mythologies that really resonated with this 31 year-old married, father of two, office jockey who likes a drink occasionally; clearly he and I led parallel lives. I have shelves and shelves of his novels, stories, collected letters, journals, art, biographies etc** and on 5 August 2003, thanks to this newly discovered eBay thing, an LP^.
Material, I now know, were the brain child of the astonishing Bill Laswell, whom I knew then more as a producer than as a musician in his own right – thanks to his work with Iggy Pop and Motörhead. The fact that he’d played bass for amongst others Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno & David Byrne, P.I.L, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel AND owned Celluloid Records, who put out Time Zone World Destruction, totally passed me by. Not a bad resume, I guess.
The remixes here are from a couple of folk I know and liked like Talvin Singh and Spring Heel Jack and some I did not, although the presence of Jah Wobble and DJ Spooky on one track was promising. The premise of the original LP was simple, Burroughs read excerpts from The Western Lands^^ while the musicians provided slinky subtextual settings around him. I have never heard it, it may be brilliant for all I know, or even just a big pile of pants^*. But anyway, bring forth the remixes!
Mostly the 7 tracks here vary in quality directly in relation to the amount of Burroughs’ dialogue left intact. By far the best track on The Road To The Western Lands is a remix by Laswell, ‘The Western Lands (A Dangerous Road Mix)’, where we are treated to some wonderful lines from Bill Burroughs including my favourite about the destruction and abandonment of Earth, ‘I don’t intend to be there when this shithouse goes up’ and an extended skit about Gibraltar at the end. The musical accompaniment here is excellent, driving the force of the words home sweetly rather than competing with them. It ends with the refrain, copped from T.S Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland‘, ‘Hurry up please, it’s time’ – the landlord calling time on … what? life? possibly*^.
None of the other mixes on The Road To The Western Lands come close to being as good, although Bill Laswell’s ‘Seven Souls (The Secret Name)’ comes close, although as it is built entirely on the same Burroughs samples as the one above it is great, keeping Ol’ Bill’s voice front and centre and adding some decidedly slinky atmospherics to buttress the track. On the other hand the DJ Olive remix called ‘Joan’s Haunted Hints At the Gate To The Western Lands’ is 6:37 of strangely slowed down aural excrescence of the lowest order which seems to last for at least an hour. The other mixes are all somewhere in between.
So there you go that was my first time. It was certainly not my best time and definitely not my last time. Good to get it over with, so thanks Bills Laswell and Burroughs.
Listening to this has got me on a mini Burroughs jag again, his writings are sadly very prescient for his homeland in our times the phrase that leaped out at me last night as I fell asleep reading The Western Lands last night was,
Anybody isn’t frightened now simply lacks imagination. Is there any escape? Of course. A miracle. Leave the details to Joe’ (pp.13)
*actually not quite accurate, as my bank would gently point out to me a little later. Oops.
**it’s almost as though I was a bit of an obsessive type, eh readers?
^for the sake of a smooth-flowing argument I’m ignoring the fact I owned a tape of the LP he did with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy Spare Ass Annie & Other Tales. Shhh.
^^the concluding part of the trilogy beginning with the books Cities of the Red Night and The Place of Dead Roads. Overall the book is a very deft meditation on death, his last real substantial work.
^*although one unremixed track ‘Seven Souls’ was used in the series intro for Season 6 of The Sopranos, who can forget the sight of a college age Meadow Soprano dancing seductively in her scanties to the sound of William Burroughs’ voice? not me.
*^Eliot’s ‘The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock’ gets referenced in The Western Lands (book) as ‘Just an old fuck with a cane and his trousers rolled’. That’s the reason I read Burroughs right there.