Monday, January 23, 2012

Reader's Diary #797- William S. Burroughs: The "Priest" They Called Him

Do you listen to music when reading? I used to, but as I now most often read in bed, it's not as easy to do so anymore. But, sometimes certain songs seem to complement stories wonderfully. I also used to create my own soundtracks to accompany my reviews. It was fun to try and come up with five songs that I thought would make a nice pairing. Not sure why I got out of doing that. I can see it making an interesting eReader experience. Turn to page 8, for instance, and Nina Simone starts singing "Pirate Jenny." Wouldn't that be cool?

William S. Burroughs' "The 'Priest' They Called Him" first appeared in a collection of his short stories called Exterminator in 1973. However it is perhaps best known now as a Kurt Cobain rarity, an unlikely collaboration recorded almost 20 years later-- Burroughs reads and Cobain provides the soundtrack.

At first I wasn't sure the music worked. The music begins as a noisy, grungy version of "Silent Night" (the story is set on Christmas Eve) and becomes more unrecognizable as it moves forward. I didn't have a sweet clue what Burroughs was saying over the distracting music. But then when I found the story (or lyrics) online and could follow along, the story made more sense and actually, so did the music.

"The 'Priest' They Called Him" is about a junky, known as "The Priest," trying to get his fix. He steals a suitcase, seems unfazed by its gruesome contents, and pawns it for drug money. It's a seedy tale, and the redemption at the end is the sad sort that only a fellow junky could find uplifting. To me it's a squalid, sad affair. It's well-written nonetheless. I quite enjoyed the parallel between the suitcase contents and a later moment in the story.

In that regard, Cobain's music fits and yet doesn't fit. The unpleasant dirtiness of the sound complements the story quite well. But the tempo and rhythm does not. Where the story dips and rises, the music does not follow suit. It's also odd that the one piece of music I recognized, a snippet from "Silent Night" is found near the beginning of the story, when I rather think it suits the ending better. It's almost as if Cobain's soundtrack works in the opposite direction from the story-- which makes me wonder if the discord wasn't intentional.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Teddy Rose said...

Hm, not sure if this one is for me but you do have me curious. I am guessing the "backwords" music was intenional, but that of course, is without reading the story.

I reviewed another classic:

JoAnn said...

If I listen to music while reading, it is usually instrumental. Lyrics sometimes distract me. I'm with Teddy Rose on this story - curious, but it's probably not for me.

I read Flannery O'Connor this week:

Julie @ Read Handed said...

An interesting idea - pairing the music with the short story. Often, music will tell a story - like with Peter and the Wolf - or a short story will have melodious writing, but I think the joining of the two is interesting. Though it sounds like this one could have been better executed, as you mentioned you couldn't hear the story over the music. The balance would have to be perfect. I read an interesting story about gender and marriage today - "Tom's Husband".