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The Warm Glow And The Dark Night

The Canopy of Lights helped revive community spirit for the heart of the city; others in town revel in the dark side of the season with a Burroughs classic.


Around the holidays, Bloomington, Indiana can look and feel like it belongs in a Frank Capra movie. But the town contains multitudes.

We begin our holiday celebration in a traditional way. Many people in Bloomington await an annual display that not only creates a warm glow for the holidays, but has been part of a larger movement to rekindle the spirit of downtown. We explore the history of the Canopy of Lights, which dazzles the downtown square every evening from the day after Thanksgiving through early January. The practice of lighting the square had been abandoned at mid-century, only to be revived in the 1980s as part of the city’s efforts to gin up support for historic preservation.

But another, admittedly smaller group in town anticipates a different holiday ritual.

Every year, the Bloomington-based arts organization known as The Burroughs Century toasts the season with a radio-theatre performance of The Junky’s Christmas by William S. Burroughs. A gritty tale of hard-bitten characters and rough situations, the short story was written in 1952, only to first appear in print 40 years later. It’s also part of the album Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales. And in 1993, it was made into a short claymation film. We’ll share this year’s live performance of the hardscrabble tale at the Bishop Bar, complete with musical accompaniment.

Adapted by Tony Brewer of The Burroughs Century, the performance features Ian Uriel Girdley in the role of Danny the Car Wiper, Arthur Cullipher as Joey from Brooklyn and P.H. Zunniga MD, and WFIU’s own Shayne Laughter as the Southern Man, Gimpy the Buyer, and the Kid. The music was performed by saxophonist Chris Rall, and trumpeter Kyle Quass, with live sound effects by Tony Brewer.

Happy Holidays, from Cafe Indiana.

Stories On This Episode

Bloomington Sparkles: The Downtown Holiday Canopy of Lights

canopy of lights over the bloomington courthouse square

The Canopy of Lights celebrates more than just the holidays; in many ways it’s a paean to Bloomington’s dynamic downtown.

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