The Friday Morning Listen: Material – Hallucination Engine (1981)

OK, so I read a (somewhat long-winded) review of the William S. Burroughs bio “Call Me Burroughs: A Life,” and dammit, it’s looking like I’ve got to place it on top of my to-be-read pile. Do I really need to dive into over 700 pages on the mad genius? The man who wrote “Naked Lunch”? Who hung around with the Kerrouac cohort? Who shot his wife in the head? What’s need got to do with it?

Even though I’ve found much of his writing frustratingly opaque, the attraction is undeniable. Before getting around to tackling “Naked Lunch,” I eased myself in by reading “Junkie.” Wait, maybe it was “Queer.” In any event, I do remember standing there in Mr. Paperback, getting a sort of subversive thrill wondering if anybody might be offended at the title of the book in my hand. “Naked Lunch” was probably the first book I ever read (and enjoyed) while not really understand what the heck was going on. It’s sort of like “Finnegans Wake” in that way, except quite a bit more accessible. “Accessible,” such a strange word to apply to Burroughs.

Right after reading that review, I came upon another article talking about the Burroughs photograph exhibit going on over in London. While sitting there contemplating the weirdness he put to film, a memory plopped out of the Burroughs appearance on the Material album Hallucination Engine. Man, I hadn’t listened to that record in years! The lineup featured a crazy-great list of guest artists, including Zakir Hussein, Bootsy Collins, Triloc Gurtu, Jonas Hellborg, and the great Wayne Shorter. Burroughs appears on “Words of Advice,” a sort of sardonic advise column that floats over an insistent groove built on a sample from Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron.” It’s hypnotic, hilarious, and pure William S. Burroughs.

The rest of Hallucination Engine is filled with Laswell’s dark and ambient grooves. I’m gonna put that sucker on a loop to help me through the 700 pages of Burroughs. Should be a great ride.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.