William S. Burroughs’ contribution to music is a subtle but highly significant one. His influential lyrical style and methodology had a lasting effect on David Bowie, making his ‘cut and paste’ method a permanent fixture. His graphic viewpoint forever marked the work of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana too, allowing the singer to provide some visceral rendering to his lines. But he also got behind the microphone every so often too.
The beat poet found some fame in the mid-nineties as those rock stars influenced by his work soon clamoured for his attention and held him up on a pedestal. The mercurial writer found a home on Tom Waits’ 1993 record The Black Rider and also worked with Kurt Cobain on a special collaboration called ‘Priest They Called Him’. Burroughs was once again in fashion.
The newfound fame also saw Burroughs join R.E.M. for a cover of their song ‘Star Me Kitten’ which featured on the classic album Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired By the X-Files. But Burroughs’ newly acquired spotlight wasn’t reserved for alternative rock bands of the nineties. He was happy to look backwards too.
Another figure of rock that the poet undoubtedly influenced was Jim Morrison. The writer’s swirling style was something that Morrison not only employed in his own poetry but took on to his musical work with The Doors. Becoming one of the most prominent lyricists of his time Morrison’s song gets the ultimate compliment as Burroughs joins the band to perform ‘Is Everybody In?’—an adaptation of Morrison’s poem ‘An American Prayer’.
The Naked Lunch writer’s rhythmic pattern offers up a bleak and bruising reflection on Morrison’s cherished words—straight-faced and tight-lipped Burroughs offers no superfluous flourish other than the glint in his eye. It makes for a salty refrain from the sweet polished caramel of the backing band and is only enhanced by the acid-jazz breakbeat production, further complemented by samples of The Lizard King himself.
The surviving members of the band got behind Burroughs with the kind of oaken skills that only come from a honed and practised rhythm section. The song features on a Doors tribute album titled Stoned Immaculate alongside acts Stone Temple Pilots, The Cult, Creed, Smash Mouth, John Lee Hooker, and Bo Diddley who all contributed covers. But it’s not you’re run of the mill rock production, far from it, on ‘Is Everybody In?’ and it lets Burroughs lead the way.
While the album is certainly hit or miss, Burroughs song acts as a shining beacon of the past that the other acts are trying to emulate. With its unusual style and soul music samples, the track not only pays homage to the past but offers a glimpse of the modern.
Truthfully, however, it is the deadpan delivery that allows us to fully appreciate Morrison’s words and the undoubted influence Burroughs had on him.