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Image begets word,
and word is virus.

—William Burroughs,
The Elvis of Letters

William Burroughs with Gus Van Sant
  • The Elvis of Letters
    "I got all the images any hick poet ever shit out," Burroughs drawls on track 3 of 4 on this slick black-packaged ep. And it's true, like Henry Miller, Burroughs never sat down to write "a poem," but his brand of psychic journalism is often poetic, as a variety of esteemed musicians who have set Burroughs' voice to music have heard. Here, Van Sant runs samples of Burroughs' powerful yet delicately inflected voice through the wringer, wedding aural cut-ups to elevator-smooth rhythms.

Allen Ginsberg
  • Howl
    Perhaps the most famous poem of the 20th century, Howl was inspired by fellow San Franciscan Kenneth Rexroth's "Thou Shalt Not Kill," a lament for poets such as Dylan Thomas and Hart Crane who were driven to self-destruction by our corrosive age; these are the "best minds of my generation destroyed by madness" of Howl's much-quoted opening line. This is a 1959 recording, when the poem was new and Ginsberg still had it in him to deliver the long lines in single powerful breaths. Other tracks include gems such as A Supermarket in California, America, Sunflower Sutra, and Part I of Kaddish, the lament for his deceased mother Naomi.

Timothy Leary
  • You Can Be Anyone this Time Around
    The Book of the Month Club billed this as "The musical equivalent of a full-blown LSD trip." That might be stretching it a bit, but then again, what exactly is an acid trip? This is Timothy Leary's elucidation of what was to be his 1968 CA gubernatorial campaign platform until then-guv Ronald Reagan had him imprisoned for marijuana possession, thereby nullifying Leary's eligibility for the candidacy. This record is what happens when one of the best minds of a generation gets together with Stephen Stills, Buddy Miles, and Jimi Hendrix (on bass!) for a little 21st century philosophy utilizing the cut and splice technology pioneered by the Beatles. The title track might just be the first example of wholesale sampling, incorporating bites of Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Indian cowmaid music and more. (Incidentally, I saw Leary speak in 1988. Armani suit and running shoes, he covered the whole stage, all wound up about the coming wave--that was my introduction to the Internet.)

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© 1999 robert zverina