The Immaculate Fix

‘Fight tuberculosis, folks.’  Christmas Eve an old junkie selling Christmas seals on North Clark Street, the ‘Priest’ they called him. ‘Fight tuberculosis, folks’

Thus begins today’s offering, William S. Burroughs / Kurt Cobain The ‘Priest’ They Called Him, a groovy 10″ record I picked up when it was released in May 1993, not so much because I was into Nirvana (which I was, of course) but because I was REALLY into William Burroughs.  Still am.

Burroughs Cobain Priest 04

There was something about Burroughs that just registered with me straight up, something about the whole art-as-life/life-as-art schtick and just the sheer huge flamboyance of his life.  I mean here we have a man who had, amongst a great deal of other things, cut off his left little finger to impress a man, shot his wife, was a regular user of opiates for roughly 55 years, trekked the Amazon looking for the legendary drug Yage and in between wrote some of my favourite books and stories.  All the while looking beautifully presented in suit and hat (mostly) – I do like a man who makes a sartorial effort.  The David Cronenberg film of Naked Lunch being Mrs 1537 and my first proper date.

Burroughs Cobain Priest 03

I could go on and on, I own shedloads of Burroughs and have strong opinions about it, the repulsive, the hilarious and the incredibly touching – I think Queer, is such an immaculately judged book about love and privation.  William Burroughs never gets the kudos he deserved as a writer and the best English language satirist since Jonathan Swift*, possibly because I think his life loomed large over his work and critics were suspicious of that sideshow**.

But you’re not here for my literary opinions are you?  Burroughs always meshed well with rock/pop musicians of all stripes, the Stones sought him out in the 60’s, he’s one of the cut-outs on the cover of Sgt Pepper, Lou Reed / Bowie / Laurie Anderson and the whole CBGBs set all beat a path to his door.  Whether it was Burroughsian cut-up techniques for lyric writing / injecting their works with creative chaos, or just seeking a little reflected outlaw glamour, they flocked around him.  On vinyl there’s a spoken word thing, or two, an excellent collaboration with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, another one with Bill Laswell / Material, Tom Waits Black Rider, Bomb The Bass Bug Powder Dust and best of all Ministry.  Steely Dan, Soft Machine and Nova Mob all owe their names to him too.

Burroughs Cobain Priest 05

Burroughs Cobain Priest 06

Starting with a jagged, screeching rendition of ‘Silent Night’ Cobain plays fine, noisy, impressionistic guitar throughout this track’s 9 minutes.  The contrast with Burroughs’, mostly, deadpan narration is acute.  It would have been interesting if Cobain had lived whether he would have pursued more arty projects like this one, I’d like to think so; although I can’t remember too much fuss about The ‘Priest’ They Called Him when it was released.

The story is a reworked version of the 1940’s story ‘The Junky’s Christmas’, which was shaped into ‘The ‘Priest’ They Called Him’ in 1967.  In the former a young junky called Danny the Car Wiper struggles through various schemes to get a fix on Christmas Day, he does eventually score from an unpleasant, corrupt doctor but gives his shot to a kid in the next room from him suffering from kidney stones, in return he receives ‘the immaculate fix’ and overcome by the ‘vegetable serenity’ of junk ends on the nod.  In the later version the old junky is known as the ‘Priest’ and he eventually gives his shot to a Mexican kid with leg cramps in the next room, he too receives ‘the immaculate fix’ for his sacrifice, however the wording is deliberately ambiguous leaving you unsure whether this has killed him^.

Text from 'The Priest ... in all its ambiguity
Text from ‘The Priest … in all its ambiguity

In both stories the protagonist finds a suitcase containing a pair of legs (female in the first version) and there is, I think, a deliberate play in the second version of the fix being used to heal the leg symptoms of the Mexican boy.  Like all Burroughs you are left grasping at whether this means anything, or everything at all, or even whether that matters in the slightest.  It’s one of the reasons I like it, you have to leave your cognitive compass at the door and just let yourself go; which is precisely why so  many people don’t like it.

There’s no B-side here, just etching’s of both parties’ signatures on the back^^.  What a missed opportunity! Burroughs and Cobain didn’t meet, their parts were recorded at separate times and places – surely they could have stuck them in the same studio and jammed through a couple of numbers for the flip side? Personally I’d love to have heard Burroughs’ sepulchral croak on a cover of UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’, or even a cover of VU’s ‘Heroin’? I know he’d have made a great job of ‘Walk On the Wild Side’.  Why was I not consulted?!

Burroughs Cobain Priest 02

A little piece of Nirvana trivia here folks, the tall junkie figure in classic Burroughs overcoat and Trilby on the cover? none other than Chris Novoselic.

413 Down.

Your Bonus Lego Of Dubious Morality

Time for our William Tell act
Time for our William Tell act!

*the image Burroughs peddled of the enduring gentleman junkie does, of course, miss out a lot of the truly horrendous aspects of addiction and compulsion, some of which the money from his grandfather’s legacy protected him from – but that’s the point, he was selling an image.  Please don’t think I’m oblivious to that, heroin kills, no matter how nice a hat you’re wearing.

**I’m a big fan of his essays and factual writings, only Gore Vidal, Joan Didion and (sporadically) Norman Mailer / Hunter S. Thompson did it as well in my opinion.

^I think it did.

^^whoever ‘Kurtis Donald Cohbaine’ is.



25 thoughts on “The Immaculate Fix

  1. Some really great pics here.

    I had the CD of this (or have the CD somewhere). I mind putting it on for a likeminded Nirvana pal back in the day and he looked at me like I’d ate his last Rolo. Not a loving glance, but one that said “oh that’s fucking great, that was for my girlfriend”.

  2. Four things (five if you include the fact that I really enjoyed discovering and reading this post):
    (1) I’ve carried Naked Lunch around for years but have never read it (which saddens me at this moment).
    (2) Closest item I’ve got to something like this is a CD of Richard Hell reading the first few chapters of Go Now while Robert Quine noodles around him; never actually managed to take time to actually listen to it (which saddens me at this moment).
    (3) There is an EXCELLENT documentary that I believe you would enjoy greatly called “The Best of Enemies” about the debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley televised in the run-up to the 1968 U.S. presidential election.
    (4) I am currently reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. The McGovern/Nixon contest generated my earliest personal political memory.

    1. Hiya! Thank you so much, I do get a thrill when someone pokes around in my back pages.

      In reverse order:
      4. That’s a wonderful book – I often think of the bit where he joins the veterans march on the Republican Convention, so well written.
      3. I love the idea of that. Vidal just awes me with the sheer obvious size of his brain, plus he is very very funny.
      2. I never know quite what to think of Mr Hell, I mean he was there at the outset but is he just cool, or really good? I can’t tell
      1. Remedy this! I find it wry and funny, my fave book of his is ‘Queer’ which is really achingly sad, which is the last thing you’d normally expect from him. I love Burroughs, my trick is just to pitch yourself in and not worry about any of it making sense – just to enjoy getting swept downstream.
      0. Back to the beginning again and thank you so much.

    1. I’m just clinging to the word ‘terrific’ in that, thank you!

      I am just happy at getting to make William Burroughs out of Lego! Now to try and find a William Faulkner LP …

      1. It’s all because I’m an evil yellow-headed genius.

        Really? My f-ing broadband is messing me around so badly right now, that I’m having 2 or 3 goes At writing each comment as it gives up mid way through. Who knows?

      2. Might need a new router?

        It’s happened a few times in the last year, that I thought I was doing something wrong, when it was actually the hardware that failed.

      3. When I first moved out and got the internet in my own place, I was so excited. I hadn’t had it before and it felt like such a treat.

        The following morning I couldn’t connect. All day, all night. I called the hotline, waited and waited, went though all the steps, they couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working.

        3 days later they sent out a technician. Some main box on the roadway had blown.

        And I was the only one to call in and complain I had no internet?!?

      4. At the moment it’s making me psychotic. I hate everything even kittens, butterflies and flowers.

        I hate your neighbours, for not saving you the hassle.

      5. To be fair, I’m not keen anyway, so that’s not too much of a jump for me.

        I don’t quite hate them, but I dislike trees in my current mood – leafy bastards!

    1. I know you just don’t see it around at all. Sadly this ain’t reflected in its price – I’d hoped I would be able to sell this when I was 50 and never have to work again. That’s a long way to make £12 stretch!

      1. I used to look at a lot of my items like that too. Then I realized, if you’re buying music as an investment, you’re buying it for the wrong reasons. I had a hard time explaining that to some of my more annoying customers.

  3. Bravo
    Words of advice for young people -“Absolutely love this!” Burroughs reciting Walk on the Wild Side? BRILLIANT
    Time for our William Tell act? My all-time FAVE of your Lego Art
    “paging Dr Benway, Paging Dr Benway”
    Whoops, gotta go write up my report.

    1. I thought this might be right up your mugwump, somehow. I could write about Burroughs for days … But restrained myself.

      Thank you – I was rather pleased with the Lego.

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