Steve Buscemi has managed to etch himself into popular culture through his appearances in films and television. His vulgar humor and sharp wit, paired with his unique voice, has helped to define his performances and make him iconic. Buscemi has become recognized for his features as Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs”, a horny hitman in “Fargo” or having the best cameo yet in a Snicker’s Super Bowl commercial.
Buscemi’s latest project combines elements of experimental theater and avant-garde music. Partnering with musician Elliott Sharp, the two have set to work staging poems of famed American Beat poet William S. Burroughs. They have titled the album “Rub Out The World.”
Known for his work which often contained lewd and and autobiographical text, Burroughs became a prominent figure in the Beat Generation. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1914, Burroughs’ first novel, “Junkie”, earned him much acclaim and controversy. Junkie follows his drug induced antics running around places like New York and Mexico City searching for a new “fix.” Burroughs’ second book “Naked Lunch”, was published in 1959 in France. This book was deemed almost unpublishable by most American publishers for its use of heroin and opioids, as well as excessive vulgarities. The book wouldn’t be published in the United States until 1962, and even then it was noticeably different from the 1959 edition, as it was from a different manuscript.
“Naked Lunch” is interesting for its use of the non-linear narrative. William Burroughs was known for his use of cut-ups, which is a literary technique where text is reorganized to create new text. This makes the plot of the book unclear, and places more of an emphasis on author’s syntax and choice of descriptors.
This avant-garde and somewhat random approach to writing is complimented by Buscemi as an actor. Himself having a background in experimental theater, the paranoid and frantic poem verses are similar to characters to Buscemi portrays in films.
Elliott Sharp, Buscemi’s collaborator, is has been contributing to the to the experimental music scene for over four decades. Originally a native of Ohio, Sharp relocated to New York in to study music in the 1970’s. Having dabbled in fields of jazz composition, ethnomusicology and physics, Sharp’s music has been performed by artists ranging from Hilary Hahn to Sonic Youth.
The music that accompanies Buscemi on this album admittedly isn’t going to leave you humming any tunes. There aren’t any catchy hooks or poppy choruses, but that’s probably what Burroughs would have wanted. Sharp crates bleak and droning soundscapes to pair with grotesque and guttural writings of Burroughs. A new shape or figure will emerge as Buscemi changes vocal inflection, or begins a new section. Overall the music serves it’s purpose as basically background filler to a performance of spoken oddities.
“Rub Out The World” definitely isn’t the first collaboration of it’s kind. Another notable Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, partnered with pianist and composer Philip Glass. Glass had composed music for Ginsburg’s 1966 poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, and a live recording was released in 2004.
Probably even more popular is Peter and the Wolf, by Sergei Prokofiev. Prokofiev originally wrote the piece in 1936, as a commission for the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow. As well as composing a specific theme for a each animal and assigning them their own instrument, there is also a narrator role who accompanies the orchestra. This was done most notably by horror movie actor Boris Karloff. Known today for his iconic role as Frankenstein, Karloff performed the piece in 1957 with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Today the piece still remains popular in the performance repertoire, and has seen people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Sting, Patrick Stewart and David Bowie grace the role of narrator.
Buscemi and Sharp’s combined effort is part of a celebration recognizing the 100th birthday of William S. Burroughs. Originally taking place during April of 2014, the album features excerpts from their performance. Infrequent Seams, their record label, has planned to have a formal release for “Rub Out The World” on September 2nd. Buscemi and Sharp have also organized a release party to take place in Brooklyn, New York on September 13th. There will be a performance of excerpts from the album and a showing of work from artists in residence at the ISSUE Project Room. It should be both a visually and orally stimulating event.