Listen to “Naked Lunch”, Set to Music

William S. Burroughs’s 1959 novel Naked Lunch is one of the most depraved books of fiction ever published. I’d prove it to you with a quote, but we don’t wish to scare you away so quickly, so you’ll have to take our word on this if you haven’t read it. The novel is so graphically boundary-pushing, it’s no wonder Burroughs is often called the literary godfather to punk music. It’s no surprise, then, that we have been gifted with Let Me Hang You, a new “psychedelic spoken word” album that sets an abridged reading of Naked Lunch to an experimental rock soundtrack.

Burroughs recorded his takes more than 20 years ago, just before his death in 1997 at the age of 83. It was one of his dreams to set his most decrepit book to music, and he even had musicians record their own strung-out atmospherics, but the project never saw the light of day. As fate would have it, the recordings resurfaced and one of the original producers thought the chance to revive this project too good to pass up. The updated music is performed by King Khan, an underground punk artist whose work was admired by Burroughs’ original porducer as well as Lou Reed, whose band The Velvet Underground is one of the closest associates of Burroughs’s book. After Reed’s death there was an even greater impetus to complete the project, and the producer asked Khan to “add his gris gris to this extremely perverted gumbo”.

Burroughs’s passages deliberately focus on the most disturbing, almost-unspeakable vignettes that chronicle an addict’s world-crossing trip through the immoral deep-end. Khan’s rusted-out, stinging ambience is equally avant-garde and tense, helping Burroughs’s words travel through you in his skull-rattling rasp.

The project, released over the weekend, can be purchased here and streamed below. The album is, as you might expect, hellishly explicit, so put the kids to bed before you take this wild ride.


Featured image courtesy of South China Morning Post.