It seems as though every crevice of Kurt Cobain‘s recordings has been thoroughly excavated.
Given how influential Nirvana is, it’s not surprising at how many demos, b-sides and covers there are in the world for fans to dig into. When something like the documentary Montage of Heck was released, it came with a “compilation” of Cobain tracks, mostly unfinished demos we can’t imagine he’d want in the world, given they weren’t finished.
But during his life, he worked on a very strange project, a collaboration with the poet William S. Burroughs.
“The “Priest” They Called Him” was released on July 1, 1993. It’s hard to understate Burroughs’ literary importance, responsible for some of the Beat Generation’s great works like Naked Lunch and Junkie.
Cobain was a huge fan of Burroughs in high school, and in 1992 reached out to him and wanted to meet. The two eventually did meet and collaborated to create the piece.
It’s definitely a strange piece. Burroughs narrates the story of a heroin addict’s Christmas Eve odyssey, while Cobain delivers a wall of guitar noise that underlines the poetry. All of Cobain’s music really sounds like the sonic representation of what Burroughs is saying and the character’s inner workings.
Carrie Borzillo recounts their meeting in Nirvana: The Day-By-Day Chronicle:
“Burroughs describes the meeting… “I waited and Kurt got out with another man. Cobain was very shy, very polite, and obviously enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t awestruck at meeting him. There was something about him, fragile and engagingly lost. He smoked cigarettes but didn’t drink. There were no drugs. I never showed him my gun collection.” The two exchanged presents — Burroughs gave him a painting, while Cobain gave him a Leadbelly biography that he had signed. Kurt and music video director Kevin Kerslake originally wanted Burroughs to appear in the video for “In Bloom.”
Hear the piece below: