Turns out, Steve Buscemi does a mean William S. Burroughs. Or so we discovered at Project Issue Room last night when the actor reenacted some of the author’s readings, lectures and interviews alongside avant-garde guitarist Elliott Sharp.
The centenary tribute kicked off with a passage from Interzone that Burroughs himself once put to music along with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. As Buscemi spoke of Spare Ass Annie and the “auxiliary asshole in the middle of her forehead, like a baneful bronze eye,” he adopted just the slightest hint of the Southern, nasal drone that could only belong to El Hombre Invisible.
Buscemi met Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, just weeks before the writer/provocateur’s death in 1997, to talk about directing an adaptation of his early book, Queer (you can see them hanging out together in these home videos and in this photo). We’re not sure what, if anything, is happening with that film now that Buscemi has his hands full with filming Boardwalk Empire, being the king of Mardis Gras, and making appearances with Anthony Weiner. But last night’s event was definitely enough to tide us over.
In the spirit of cut-up, Buscemi, reading from sheets of paper, jumped from one text to another, stringing together excerpts from a lecture that Burroughs delivered at the Naropa Institute in 1982 (“Someone asked Beckett what he thought of Burroughs’ work and he said rather grudgingly, ‘Well, he’s a writer’”); The Ticket That Exploded (“Smash the control machine — Burn the books — Kill the priests — Kill! Kill! Kill!”), a 1965 Paris Review interview (“All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable”); The Adding Machine: Personal Essays (“As a young child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit”); The Place of Dead Roads (“We have observed that most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has”); and so on.
Burroughs’s observation that “our national drug is alcohol; we tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror” wasn’t lost on those drinking tallboys in the stately McKim, Mead & White building that once housed the Board of Education.
But in the end, the biggest crowd-pleaser was a passage, from Naked Lunch, that both Burroughs and Frank Zappa have famously performed (Zappa read it at the Nova Convention that Thurston Moore and Anne Waldman discussed last week). Listen below as Buscemi asks, “Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard.”