William S. Burroughs Narrates a Claymation of His Grim Holiday Story “The Junky’s Christmas”

Let’s face it, the hol­i­days are a mis­er­able time of year for many peo­ple. Writ­ers have mined this fact for pathos and much dark humor in sto­ries fea­tur­ing low-rent mall San­tas, squab­bling fam­i­ly din­ners, inept home invaders, and King of the Hill’s res­i­dent sad sack, Bill Dau­terive. Most nar­ra­tives of unhap­py hol­i­days end with some kind of redemption—someone dis­cov­ers a Christ­mas mir­a­cle, the real San­ta shows up, the Grinch’s heart grows to near­ly burst­ing from his chest, Ebenez­er Scrooge repents….

What if the redemp­tion is one down-and-out junky shar­ing his only fix with a man suf­fer­ing from kid­ney stones—that is, after the junky spends the day try­ing to steal enough to buy hero­in, finds a suit­case con­tain­ing two sev­ered human legs, and final­ly scores a lit­tle mor­phine by gold­brick­ing at a crooked doctor’s house? That’s the plot of William S. Bur­roughs’ sto­ry “The Junky’s Christ­mas,” which appeared in the 1989 col­lec­tion Inter­zone and there­after achieved some noto­ri­ety in two adap­ta­tions from 1993.

The first (above)—produced by Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la and direct­ed by Nick Donkin and Melodie McDaniel—-animates a read­ing by Bur­roughs in Clay­ma­tion, with appear­ances from the man him­self at the begin­ning and end. The sto­ry ends with a Christ­mas mir­a­cle of sorts, the “immac­u­late fix” the main char­ac­ter Dan­ny receives as if from heav­en after his unselfish act. It ain’t Frank Capra, but it’s a lot clos­er to some people’s real lives than It’s a Won­der­ful Life’s angel­ic vis­i­ta­tion.

Also in 1993, Bur­roughs col­lab­o­rat­ed with anoth­er artist plagued by addic­tion, enter­ing a stu­dio in Lawrence, Kansas with Kurt Cobain to read an ear­li­er ver­sion of “The Junky’s Christ­mas” titled “The ‘Priest’ They Called Him.” (Hear it in the fan-made video above.) This ver­sion of the sto­ry also has the suit­case full of sev­ered legs, but this time the recip­i­ent of the junky’s char­i­ty is a dis­abled Mex­i­can fel­low addict suf­fer­ing from with­draw­al. Under­neath Bur­roughs’ dead­pan, Cobain plays bars of “Silent Night” on a gui­tar that sounds like it’s being stran­gled to death. You can read Bur­roughs’ ear­li­er unhap­py Christ­mas sto­ry in full here. And if you’re still not bummed out enough, check out Nerve’s “Ten Most Depress­ing Christ­mas Songs Ever Record­ed.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Naked Lunch, His Con­tro­ver­sial 1959 Nov­el

Watch William S. Bur­roughs’ Ah Pook is Here as an Ani­mat­ed Film, with Music By John Cale

William S. Bur­roughs’ “The Thanks­giv­ing Prayer,” Shot by Gus Van Sant

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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