It started out slowly. PG saw a tweet. It was a promotion for a blog post, featuring William Seward Burroughs reading The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe. WSB has a great voice. The wealthy Missouri background, filtered through years of high class schooling, and low class abuse, comes through whenever WSB spoke. In the helpful links, there was an opportunity to hear an audiobook of WSB reading Junky. As with other addictions, you begin slowly, and do not realize you have a problem until you are helpless to deal with it.
Junky is the first book that WSB published, using the pseudonym William Lee. It is reputed to be semi autobiographical. In Junky, WSB wallows in the gutters of New York, New Orleans, and Mexico City. For this armchair degenerate, whose severest vice is peanut butter sandwiches, Junky is a glimpse into a picturesque alternate reality. With the aid of copy friendly peedeeoueff edition, we can enjoy samples of the nightmare.
Perhaps the best review of Junky is this Amazon One Star comment. Dissapointing Tanya N. Miller March 22, 2014 “This is a book that goes nowhere. It ends up right where it started. Every line in the book is about getting drugs and doing drugs then getting off drugs and back on drugs again with some sex thrown in. The only reason why I finished this book is because of my compulsion to finish books that I start and the only reason why I picked it up in the first place is because I wanted to know just who William S. Borroughs was and what he wrote. What a dissapointment and what a total waste of talent.” The spell check suggestions for junky:hunky, junk, gunky, funky.
The story begins with a semi normal childhood. It gets interesting in New York, during the war. A person named Norton (“a hard-working thief … did not feel right unless he stole something every day from the shipyard where he worked) has a tommy gun he wants Bill to sell. When Norton arrives, he has “a flat yellow box with five one-half grain syrettes of morphine tartrate.”
The story mozies on. Bill tries one of the syrettes, then another, then another. Then there is an episode which is in the book, but not the video. “Ronnie’s was a spot near 52nd and Sixth where musicians came for fried chicken and coffee after one p.m. We sat down in a booth and ordered coffee. Mary cracked a benzedrine tube expertly, extracting the folded paper, and handed me three strips. “Roll it up into a pill and wash it down with coffee.” The paper gave off a sickening odor of menthol. Several people sitting nearby sniffed and smiled. I nearly gagged on the wad of paper…. Mary selected some gone numbers and beat on the table with the expression of a masturbating idiot.”
The video picks up with Bill trying to sell marijuana. “Pushing weed looks good on paper, like fur fanning or raising frogs.” Tea heads turn out to be too much trouble. Bill swears to never sell pot again, but not before ranting about the drug laws.
Bill has a habit now, working mostly with prescribed medication. Doctors are known as croakers. Soon the croakers quit writing scripts, and Bill gets busted. Some technicality about giving the wrong address. The case drew a four month suspended sentence. After a few weird scenes involving robbing drunks on the subway. Bill starts to sell junk. His partner is a piece of work. “One of Bill’s most distasteful conversation routines consisted of detailed bulletins on the state of his bowels. “Sometimes it gets so I have to reach my fingers in and pull it out. Hard as porcelain, you understand. The pain is terrible.” This might be a by product of opiate consumption.
Before long, Bill thinks he is about to get busted, and leaves for Texas. By the time he gets near Lexington, he has junk sickness. He checks into an institution to receive the cure. We learn a new word… shmecker is a user of heroin. Bill leaves the Lexington facility without completing the cure. The next stop is New Orleans .
“New Orleans was a strange town to me and I had no way of making a junk connection. Walking around the city, I spotted several junk neighborhoods: St. Charles and Poydras, the area around and above Lee Circle, Canal and Exchange Place. I don’t spot junk neighborhoods by the way they look, but by the feel, somewhat the same process by which a dowser locates hidden water. I am walking along and suddenly the junk in my cells moves and twitches like the dowser’s wand: “Junk here!”
WSB co wrote a musical, “The Black Rider.” The performer is Tom Waits, whose voice sounds like WSB. There is a song, Crossroads. This is probably not about Robert Johnson. In this song, we learn about a gun with magic bullets. In the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser’s wand. The bullet goes where the bullet wants to go. Some say the magic bullet is a stand in for junk. When Junky was written, junk was not used as slang for peckers.
It has been noted that WSB is as queer as a crochet bathtub. This circumstance is not noted in Junky. But then, WSB does not speak well of drug addicts either.
“In the French Quarter there are several queer bars so full every night the fags spill out on to the sidewalk. A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago. But something moved in when the original tenant moved out. Fags are ventriloquists’ dummies who have moved in and taken over the ventriloquist. The dummy sits in a queer bar nursing his beer, and uncontrollably yapping out of a rigid doll face. Occasionally, you find intact personalities in a queer bar, but fags set the tone of these joints, and it always brings me down to go into a queer bar. The bring-down piles up. After my first week in a new town I have had about all I can take of these joints, so my bar business goes somewhere else, generally to a bar in or near Skid Row.”
Before long, Bill goes into a queer bar, and gets in trouble. It seems to be a way of life, for someone who says that junk is a way of life. Maybe the magic bullet was aimed at him all along. At this point, we are roughly half way through Junky. The attention span of both reader, and writing, is maxxing out. In case we get druggie withdrawal, a podcast with Keith Richards is freshly downloaded. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. These pictures are Union soldiers from The War Between The States. Much of the action in Junky takes place in wartime.