|Poems and Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
Closed on Account of Rabies
Producer Hal Willner has long straddled the popular (Disney) and the willfully esoteric (Rota,
Weill) in choosing the subjects for his aural anthologies. So Poe would seem the perfect fit: a
writer much maligned by his contemporaries, namechecked by his spiritual descendents (Ginsberg:
"Everything leads to Poe"), and now popularized by everyone from Roger Corman to Homer Simpson. His
writing, if sometimes purple, is always dramatic, and nevermore so than here, recited by a roster
that transcends Willner's usual stable--the Knitting Factory crowd--to take in Hollywood, New
Orleans, and Vienna.
Diamanda Galas is downright listenable, even over 37 minutes, reading "The Black Cat." She's
checked her operatic outbursts in favor of an Eartha Kitt slowburn. Christopher Walken, with his
much-lampooned stops and starts, goes all echoey on "The Raven," with atmospheric caterwauling from
guitarist Wayne Kramer and uncredited bird. Other participants--Iggy Pop, Dr. John- embellish the
tales with trademark enthusiasms. Iggy's droll baritone grows wilder with the oncoming boom-boom of
"The Tell-Tale Heart." Dr. John, all sugary-Southern on "Berenice," is accompanied by Marc Ribot
and others conjuring the Gris-Gris voodoo noise that was the good doctor's specialty early on.
Marianne Faithfull is her usual smoky self on the poems, "Alone," and "Annabel Lee." And Jeff
Buckley got to recite "Ulalume" as coached by Allan Ginsberg, an irony that Willner gets misty about
in his liner notes, but, to me, suggests a postproduction curse. Take note, Debbie Harry!
There's lots to recommend this 2-CD package. Willner's notes on the project's development are
supplemented by a Baudelaire translation that humanizes and reclaims Poe from the mythmaking (re:
bad) critic Griswold. A reproduced NY Times article debunks the popular notion that Poe died drunk
in a gutter; rather, a University of Maryland pathologist makes a strong case for rabies. And the
cover artwork is by Ralph Steadman, long associated with Hunter Thompson and instantly recognizable.
My only complaint is that the project naturally lends itself to enhanced CD(ROM) treatment. Why
are record companies bankrolling home movies by the Cranberries when Poe, even Poe marginalia, is
infinitely more deserving of the interactive add-on?