Thank You, Mr. Burroughs

Thank You Mr. Burroughs

Thanks for the last and

greatest betrayal of the last

and greatest of human


So ends “A Thanksgiving Prayer” by William S. Burroughs. For those who don’t know, Burroughs was a major player in the “Beat” literary movement, the author of Junkie, Queer, and his masterpiece, Naked Lunch, among others. He developed the “cut-up” style of writing, in which normal paragraphs of text are cut into strips and rearranged into new and frequently more interesting patterns. He performed with artists such as Kurt Cobain, Laurie Anderson, and David Bowie, his gravel voice and dirty-street realism cutting through this hypocritical world like a rusty razor.

In his Thanksgiving prayer, Burroughs used poetry to express his distaste with a nation that had long disgusted him. He saw America as a nation of spoiled, bitter people selfishly taking and taking until nothing was left to steal — and then complaining about it. He felt surrounded by “finks” who couldn’t keep to themselves.

Thanks for a country where

nobody’s allowed to mind his

own business.

Think about that stanza. How much of the human bandwidth that we wade through each day is concerned with this very topic? From males marching at parenthood clinics to “October Surprises” that unleash the unholy terror of the strongest nation on earth upon some backwater country of marginal international interest, America can’t mind its own damn business. From a drug war that does nothing but fatten state coffers by housing “criminals” to mindless rants for and against gays in the military, we are a nation of people with a warped sense of what is important. Burroughs saw this — in fact, it’s the central theme of his work.

Somewhere in this great nation, someone is doing something that makes them feel good. And somewhere else, another person is hating them for it. Instead of ignoring the feelings of jealousy that drive them (since they don’t have the nerve to do it themselves), they try to make damn sure that everyone lives a life governed by a set of rules that attempt to make sure that each person on this green earth is as miserable as they are. You don’t want to smoke pot? Then don’t. You don’t want to own a handgun, or drive a motorcycle without a helmet? Then by all means purchase an alarm for your house and a Volvo for your driveway. But please, keep your damn mouth shut, and your hands off the voting levers about what I can do. I promise to not question your subscription to Guideposts if you won’t search my house based on my having a copy of High Times and a grow-light. Fair enough?

America was a wonderful dream, once. Manifest Destiny was to spread freedom from “sea to shining sea.” People would rise in the morning eager to work like dogs, and then come home at night too exhausted to wonder and worry about what their neighbors might be doing. What do we have now? A nation gutted by self-interests, a Constitution that is thought of only as a historical relic instead of the law of the land. A nation that jails its children for eating LSD at a Phish concert, that cares more about the lyrics of Eminem than the words in the Bill Of Rights.

Thanks for the last and

greatest betrayal of the last

and greatest of human


As I sit and look at my paycheck being cut in half to pay taxes to fund farmers to grow tobacco, sugar, and, in some cases, nothing at all, I say thanks. When I watch a meaningless Presidential race between money puppets drag on and on while real candidates are denied entry into the debate, I say thanks. When I can’t a buy a drink on Election Day or a book at a Wal-Mart in South Carolina before one on Sunday due to “blue laws,” I say thanks. Thanks for minding my business. Thanks for not trusting me with freedom. Thanks for taking my money at the point of a gun, thanks for shooting innocent mothers at Ruby Ridge, thanks for drug-sniffing dogs and the death of probable cause.

But finally, I do give thanks to a nation that birthed and allowed to run rampant such dangerously free people such as Burroughs, Lou Reed, Lester Bangs, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Henry Miller, and the faceless thousands of us with a typewriter and a sense of justice. I’m sure it’s just an oversight.

If you would like to read “A Thanksgiving Prayer” by William Burroughs, go to

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