Junkie (novel)  

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"It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all. And you don’t really know what junk sickness is until you have had several habits. It took me almost six months to get my first habit, and then the withdrawal symptoms were mild. I think it no exaggeration to say it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict." --preface to Junkie, William S. Burroughs

"It should be understood that the meaning of these words are subject to rapid changes, and that a word that has one hip meaning one year may have another meaning the next. The hip sensibility mutates… Not only do the words change meaning but meanings vary locally at the same time. A final glossary, therefore, cannot be made of words whose intentions are fugitive." --from the glossary of jive talk at the end of Junkie

'I could see those eyes in a shapeless, protoplasmic mass undulating over the dark sea floor. "Benzedrine is a good kick,” she said. “Three strips of the paper or about ten tablets. Or take two strips of benny and two goof balls. They get down there and have a fight. It’s a good drive."'

"I also stopped bathing. When you use junk the feel of water on the skin is unpleasant for some reason, and junkies are reluctant to take a bath."

"Doctors are so exclusively nurtured on exaggerated ideas of their position that, generally speaking, a factual approach is the worst possible. Even though they do not believe your story, nonetheless they want to hear one. It is like some Oriental face-saving ritual. One man plays the high-minded doctor who wouldn’t write an unethical script for a thousand dollars, the other does his best to act like a legitimate patient. If you say, “Look, Doc, I want an M.S. script and I’m willing to pay double price for it,” the croaker blows his top and throws you out of the office. You need a good bedside manner with doctors or you will get nowhere."

"Doolie sick was an unnerving sight. The envelope of personality was gone, dissolved by his junk-hungry cells. Viscera and cells, galvanized into a loathsome insect-like activity, seemed on the point of breaking through the surface. His face was blurred, unrecognizable, at the same time shrunken and tumescent."

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Junkie (also titled with the alternative spelling, Junky) is a semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs. First published in 1953, it was Burroughs' first published novel and has come to be considered a seminal text on the lifestyle of heroin addicts in the early 1950s. Burroughs' working title for the text was Junk. The book concludes with a glossary of "junk lingo" and "jive talk".



The novel was considered unpublishable more than it was controversial. Burroughs began it largely at the request and insistence of Allen Ginsberg, who was impressed by Burroughs’s letter writing skill. Burroughs took up the task with little enthusiasm. However, partly because he saw that becoming a publishable writer was possible (his friend Jack Kerouac had published his first novel The Town and the City in 1950), he began to compile his experiences as an addict, ‘lush roller’ and small-time Greenwich Village heroin pusher.

Ginsberg as editor and literary agent

Burroughs's work would not have been published but for Allen Ginsberg’s drive and determination. Apart from his own artistic output, Ginsberg can justly be remembered as a great teacher of writing. Throughout his life, he shepherded many artistic works to fruition. Junkie was probably the first. Besides encouraging Burroughs to write, he worked as editor and agent for the manuscript while the manuscript was written in Mexico City during Burroughs’ forced flight from pending drug charges in New Orleans. The companion piece to Junky, Queer, was written at the same time and parts of Queer were designed to be included in Junkie, since the first manuscript was dismissed as poorly written and lacking in interest and insight. After many rejection letters, Burroughs stopped writing.

Ginsberg miraculously found a publisher in a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey. He had admitted himself to a Hoboken hospital after getting kicked out of Columbia University. A. A. Wyn, who owned Ace Books, was pressured to consider the work upon the insistence of his nephew, Carl Solomon, who had been hospitalized in the same facility as Ginsberg. With this news, Ginsberg forced Burroughs to revisit the text. Ginsberg soothed Burroughs's indignation at the necessary edits, and was able to finally place the novel with the New York publishing house.

Publishing history and editions

Ace Books primarily catered to New York City subway riders, and competed in the same market as comic book, true crime and detective fiction publishers. Ace published no hardcover books, only cheap paperbacks, which sold for very little; Burroughs earned less than a cent royalty on each purchase.

Most libraries at the time did not buy Ace books, considering them trivial and without literary merit, and Ace paperbacks were never reviewed by literary critics. At the time of its publication, the novel (originally titled Junkie) was in a two-book ("dos-à-dos") omnibus edition (known as an "Ace Double") alongside a previously published 1941 novel called Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrant. Burroughs chose to use the pseudonym "William Lee", Lee being his mother's maiden name, for the writing credit. The subtitle of the work was Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. This edition is a highly desired collectible and even below-average-condition copies have been known to cost hundreds of dollars. The United States Library of Congress purchased a copy in 1992 for its Rare Book/Special Collections Reading Room.

Numerous reprints of the book appeared in the 1960s and 1970s once Burroughs achieved notability with Naked Lunch. Generally, American editions used the original Junkie spelling for the title, while UK editions usually changed this to Junky.

In 1977 a complete edition of the original text was finally published by Penguin Books with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg; sections of the manuscript referring to Burroughs’s homosexuality which had been edited out of earlier editions were included for the first time. In 2003, to mark the work's 50th anniversary, Penguin reissued the book as Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk." It included a new introduction by Oliver Harris, the British literary scholar, who integrated new material never before published; Harris had found edits of deleted material in the literary archives of Allen Ginsberg.

The text

The text is memorable for its content and style. The distant, dry, laconic tone of the narrator is balanced by the openness and honesty of the story. Burroughs shows courage in offering details about his narrator’s behavior. He speaks from the vantage point of an eyewitness, reporting back to ‘straights’ the feelings, thoughts, actions and characters he meets in the criminal fringe of New York, at the Lexington Federal Narcotics Hospital/Prison in Kentucky, and in New Orleans and Mexico City.

It is worth mentioning that Burroughs had briefly attended Harvard University in the late 1930s as a graduate student of anthropology. (He had already gotten an undergraduate degree from Harvard.) There is a definite ethnographic orientation to the story, especially in the beginning. One might argue that Burroughs was writing as a ‘scientist’ trying to accurately account for the language and lives of people most would consider degenerate. Dispelling stereotypes - even before the word was used to describe oversimplified opinions or beliefs - is one goal of the work. Yet Burroughs's narrator is free from any restriction to remain 'objective'. Insight and opinion, unsupported beyond the narrator's experience, is considered among the most memorable and interesting aspects of the text.

The story takes on a more personal tone when the narrator leaves New York. In subsequent sections the substantive facts are replaced by a more intimate, desperate search for meaning and escape from criminal sanction and permanent addiction. Throughout, there are flashes of Burroughs's fierce originality, acutely graphic description, and agonizingly candid confessions: traits that would mark his literature for the next forty years.

Recorded performances

At least three recordings have been issued featuring readings from this book. Some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Burroughs recorded an extensive passage from the book which was issued on a record album. Later, in the 1990s, two audio book editions were released, one read by actor David Carradine, and another read by Burroughs himself.

Popular culture

In the 1995 comedy film Clueless the character Christian (Justin Walker) can be seen reading the book (titled Junky) in class at high school.

Editions cited

  • Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. An Ace Original. William Lee. New York, NY: Ace Books, 1953. (No assigned ISBN. LC Control Number: 92183851)
  • Junky: Originally Published as Junkie Under the Pen Name of William Lee. William S. Burroughs with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg. 1st complete and unexpurgated edition. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin Books, 1977. ISBN 0-14-004351-9
  • Junky: 50th Anniversary Definitive Edition. William S. Burroughs ; edited and with an introduction by Oliver Harris. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. ISBN 0-14-200316-6

Glossary of jive talk


Jive talk” is used more in connection with marijuana than with junk. In the past few years, however, the use of junk has spread into “hip,” or “jive talking” circles, and junk lingo has, to some extent, merged with “jive talk.” For example, “Are you anywhere?” can mean “Do you have any junk or weed on your person?” Jive talk always refers to more than one level of fact. “Are you anywhere?” can also refer to your psychic condition: “Are you holding psychically?”

Are you anywhere? Are you holding? ... Do you have any junk or weed on you?

Beat ... To take someone’s money. For example, addict A says he will buy junk for addict B but keeps the money instead. Addict A has “beat” addict B for the money.

Benny . . . Benzedrine. It can also mean overcoat.

Bringdown, Drag ... The opposite of high. Depressing.

Brown Stuff, or Mud . . . Opium

Burn Down ... To overdo or run into the ground. Certain restaurants are used so much by junkies as meeting-places that the restaurant gets known to the police. Then the restaurant is “burned down.” Burning Down Habit, an Oil Burner Habit ... A heavy habit.

C, Coke, Charge, Charly . . . Cocaine.

Caps ... Capsules of heroin.

Cat ... A man.

Chick ... A woman.

Chucks ... Excessive hunger, often for sweets. This comes on an addict when he has kicked his habit far enough so that he starts to eat. When an addict is cut off the junk, he can’t eat for several days. I have seen addicts who did not eat for a month. Then he gets the “chucks” and eats everything in sight. Clean ... A user is clean if he does not have any junk on his person or premises in the event of a search by the law.

Cold Turkey ... To quit using suddenly and completely with no gradual reduction of the dose. Almost always involuntary.

Collar . . . Strip of paper wrapped around a dropper to make a tight fit with a needle.

Come on . . . The way someone acts, his general manner and way of approaching others.

Come up ... A lush waking up while he is being robbed.

Cook ... To dissolve junk in water heated in a spoon or other container.

Cop ... To pass a cap of junk to someone; to hold out a hand for a cap.

Copper Jitters . . . Exaggerated fear of cops. When you have the Copper Jitters, everybody looks like a cop.

Croaker ... A doctor.

Dig ... To size up, to understand, to like, or enjoy.

Fey ... White.

Five-Twenty-Nine ... Five months and twenty-nine days. This is the term in the workhouse that a lush- worker receives for “jostling.” If a detective sees a lush-worker approach or touch a lush, he places a “jostling” charge.

Flop . . . Drunk passed out on a subway station bench.

G . . . One grain. Morphine is the standard for junk measurement. One-half grain of morphine is one “fix.” A capsule of heroin should contain at least the equivalent of 1/2 grain of morphine. Heroin is seven times as strong as morphine.

Gold . . . Money.

H, Horse, Henry . . . Heroin.

Habit ... A junk habit. It takes at least a month of daily use to get a needle habit, two months for a smoking habit, four months for an eating habit.

Heavy . . . Junk, as opposed to marijuana.

Hep or Hip ... Someone who knows the score. Someone who understands “jive talk.” Someone who is “with it.” The expression is not subject to definition because, if you don’t “dig” what it means, no one can ever tell you.

High ... Feeling good, in a state of euphoria. You can be “high” on benny, weed, lush, nutmeg, ammonia (The Scrubwoman’s Kick). You can be high without any chemical boot, just feeling good. Hog . . . Anyone who uses more junk than you do. To use over five grains per day puts a user in the hog class.

Hook . . . Lush-workers usually work in pairs. One lush-worker covers his partner with a newspaper, while the other goes through the lush’s pockets. The one who covers the other is the “hook.”

Hooked ... To get a habit.

Hot, Uncool . . . Somebody liable to attract attention from the law. A place watched by the law.

Hot Shot . . . Poison, usually strychnine, passed to an addict as junk. The peddler sometimes slips a hot shot to an addict because the addict is giving information to the law.

The Hype, The Bill ... A short-change racket.

John . . . Someone who keeps a woman and spends money on her.

Joy Bang ... An occasional shot by someone who does not have a habit.

Kick ... A word with several meanings. It can mean the effect of a drug or a mood brought on by some place, or person. “This bar gives me bad kicks.” “This bar depresses me.” You can also be on “good kicks.” A kick is also a special way of looking at things so that the man who is “on kicks” sees things from a special angle.

Kick a Habit ... To quit using junk and get over a habit.

Lay on . . . Give.

Loaded, On the Nod . . . Full of junk.

Lush-worker ... A thief who specializes in robbing drunks on the subway.

M., M. S. ... Morphine, M. S. stands for Morphine Sulphate which is the morphine salt most commonly used in the U. S.

Main Line . . . Vein, a vein injection.

Making Cars . . . Breaking into parked cars and stealing the contents.

Mark . . . Someone easy to rob, like a drunk with a roll of money.

Meet ... An appointment, usually between peddler and customer.

Nembies, Goof Balls, Yellow Jackets ... Nembutal capsules. Nembutal is a barbiturate used by junkies “to take the edge off’ when they can’t get junk.

P. G. ... Paregoric. A weak, camphorated tincture of opium, two grains to the ounce. Two ounces will fix a sick addict. It can be bought without prescription in some states. P. G. can be injected intravenously after burning out the alcohol and straining out the camphor.

The People ... Narcotics agents. Another New Orleans expression.

Pickup ... To use. Generally refers to weed. But you can “pickup” on nembies, lush, or junk.

Piece . . . Gun.

Pigeon, Fink, Rat . . . Informer.

Plant, Stash ... To hide something, usually junk, or an “outfit.”

Poke . . . Wallet.

Pop, Bang, Shot, Fix ... Injection of junk. Pop Corn ... Someone with a legitimate job, as opposed to a “hustler” or thief. Pusher, Peddler, “The Man” . . . Junk seller. “The Man”

is a New Orleans expression, and can also refer to a Narcotics Agent. Put Down a Hype or Routine ... To give someone a story, to persuade, or con someone. Put Your Hand Out ... To go through a lush’s pockets. Score ... To buy weed or marijuana. Serve, Take Care Of ... To sell junk to a user. Shake, Rumble ... Search by the law. Skin ... Skin injection. Sick, Gaping, Yenning ... Sickness caused by lack of junk.

Smash ... Change, money, coins. Square ... The opposite of hip. Someone who does not understand the jive. Spade ... A Negro.

Speed Ball . . . Cocaine mixed with morphine or heroin. Spike . . . Needle.

Stuff, Junk . . . General terms for opium and all derivatives of opium: morphine, heroin, Dilaudid, pantopon, codeine, dionine. Take a Fall ... To get arrested. Tea head, Head, Viper ... User of marijuana. Tie-up . . . Tie, or handkerchief, used as a tourniquet for a vein shot. User, Hype, Junky, Junker, Shmecker . . . Junk addict.

Weed, Tea, Gage, Grass, Greefa, Muggles, Pot, Hash . . . Marijuana, hashish.

White stuff . . . Morphine, or heroin, as opposed to “brown stuff.”

Working the Hole . . . Lush-working.

Works, Outfit, Joint ... A user’s outfit for injecting junk. Consists of an eyedropper, hypodermic needle, strip of paper to fit the dropper tight into the needle, and a spoon or other container in which to dissolve the junk.

Write ... To write a narcotic prescription. To “make a Croaker for a Script” means to persuade a doctor to write a prescription for junk.

Wrong . . . Term used to describe an informer.

Yen Pox ... Ash of opium after the opium has been smoked. Yen Pox contains about the same morphine content as opium before smoking. It can be eaten with hot coffee, or dissolved in water and injected intravenously.

It should be understood that the meanings of these words are subject to rapid changes, and that a word that has one hip meaning one year may have another the next. The hip sensibility mutates. For example, “Fey” means not only white, but fated or demoniac. Not only do the words change meanings but meanings vary locally at the same time. A final glossary, therefore, cannot be made of words whose intentions are fugitive.

Full text[1]

Film adaptation

In 1977 and 1978 Terry Southern was embroiled in a lengthy and chaotic attempt to make a film version of William S. Burroughs' novel Junky, but the project collapsed due to the erratic behaviour of its principal backer, Jules Stein.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Junkie (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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