William Burroughs never seemed especially at ease with the times he was born into, but perhaps his legacy of work settles into the current cultural construct even more uneasily than ever. Ironic, since his work effectively presaged an era of disjointed communication, ubiquitous meaninglessness, virulent madness and media dominance of the sort we are living through. Burroughs was awkwardly lumped in with the Beats during his lifetime, for the sake of having some category to slot him into—in my view, horribly unfairly; no Ginsberg or Kerouac could touch him in terms of inventiveness, and only fellow outlier Kenneth Patchen came close to mining similar visionary/paranoid psychic terrain.
Burroughs has emerged as a quasi-mythic figure over the years; like most mythic figures, his reputation is often enthusiastically advanced by people who mostly haven’t spent much time reading him. Pithy YouTube videos packed with black humor – think “Thanksgiving Prayer” – are only one aspect of this complex, difficult writer; most of the other aspects, it seems to me, are a good deal less appealing to the hipsterati.
Nothing Here Now is one of those other aspects. A selection of Burroughs’ late fifties to mid-sixties tape experiments curated by Throbbing Gristle alums in the early 1980s, Nothing is an amalgam of hissy, scratchy mumblings, rumblings, hallucinations and knowing fuckery – the uncomfortable sound of “cutting into the present (so that) the future leaks out.” This is the Burroughs of Soft Machine, remote, forbidding, chaotic and impenetrable. No funny little stories of Dr. Benway here.
We see the future through the binoculars of the people.
Oboe has the future. A fine vigorous pig.
Tell identity enforcements our identity and passports are middle names.
This is operational from the thrones and home. Even the cucumbers.
Air. This is operational. Even in the middle.
I am in short 22 and stolen horses.
In the hope that some of you will carry these experiments further and come up with something new. It is the great awakening.
If that makes sense to you, as it does to me, you’ll thoroughly dig this album. But I suspect that a lot of people walking around with ¼-read copies of Naked Lunch aren’t going to warm to this much. Genuine Burroughs aficionados will be in heaven, though; these bits and pieces of Burroughs’ fragmented, jagged output remain as razor-edged and unsettling as the day they were recorded, refreshing blasts of unmeaning blasting through the bullshit. Fans of Mark Stewart/Adrian Sherwood will likewise be pleased to hear the source material for “The Wrong Name And The Wrong Number”/”Pay It All Back” in its original, undiluted form, “Last Words of Hassan I Sabbah.”
Owners of Break Through In Grey Room, the other seminal slab of ’80s Burroughs vinyl, will recognize a few of these snippets as well as fragmentary Joujouka percussion. While that’s an excellent album in its own right, between the two, Nothing gets the nod for its full-strength hallucinatory properties.
Nothing is a release best heard in solitude, in the dark, probably while fatigued or under the influence. Venture into its grooves and the future leaks out, the bare lie shines through, and Burroughs’ ominous prescience is as powerful and compelling as ever. [Dais]
-David B. Livingstone
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