Categories: Reviews

Drugstore Cowboy

Is this a punk flick? Maybe a beat-punk film? Celluloid where punk and beat meet? Characters are beat, get beaten, there’s a beat hotel, but a punk by any name is still a punk.

Drugstore Cowboy is a great little American movie set in 1971 with a soundtrack highlighting Desmond Dekker & The Aces “The Israelites,” jammin’ Jamaican beat. A perfect cast features a knockout cameo by William S. Burroughs playing a bony old junkie priest. Perhaps something about Burroughs the man can be gleaned from his film role. “That stuff’s for squares,” and coming from Bill, it’s brilliant and hilarious.

Bob (Matt Dillon), the dope fiend leader of his “crew” shoots straight when he says right at the start, “We played a game we couldn’t win,” but speaking of the prescription drugs he and his gang go to riskier and more and more dangerous lengths to steal “as long as it lasted, life was beautiful.”

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,
so that every mouth can be fed.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

And that’s what this family of junkie thieves does: their lives revolve about scoring dope, nothing else matters, get up, get dope, get high, get up, get dope, get high.

Shirt them a-tear up, trousers are gone.
I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

Aah, many are the darkly comic moments, particularly one with a beefy neighbor armed with a shotgun, and pearls from Bob’s mother and the drug counselor lady.

Crossroading, on the road, through tidy suburbs, sad cities, and the wide open spaces of the Pacific Northwest, Bob, his dissatisfied wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch), Rick (James Le Cros), his mild-mannered partner, and young Nadine (Heather Graham), a hapless wannabe druggie, scrap with cops as they rob pharmacies and a hospital. These adults posed as children, want to play, play, play, but it’s play with big time consequences. Things get out of control when they have a corpse on their hands, and that’s when Bob decides it’s time to clean up, and finally concludes that the boredom of a straight life is not so bad.

After a storm there must be a calm.
They catch me in the farm. You sound the alarm.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.

GK Stritch

GK Stritch is a contributor to Beatdom and the author of CBGB Was My High School. The book is available at the St. Mark's Bookshop, New York City, and and

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  • I agree that the William S. Burroughs cameo is worth the movie ticket alone. Matt Dillon promised so much with this eye-popping role. What happened to him? Yet Burroughs, where true life and fiction blur, keeps on keeping on.

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