The Burning Ghat is a strange, yet revealing short film that reveals something of the relationship between original Beat, Herbert Huncke, and his long-time companion and room-mate, Louis Cartwright.
Huncke was a petty crook and junkie, who hustled around Times Square in the 1940s, where he met William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It was Huncke who originally introduced these 3 young writers to the “Beat Life,” and became a major inspiration on their writing.
Who is Herbert Huncke? When I first knew him I saw him in what I considered the ‘glamorous’ light of a petty criminal and Times Square hustler who was experienced in the ways, thoughts, and activities of an underground culture which is enormously extensive. The attempt to dismiss him because of his social irresponsibility is something that I was never able to conceive as truthful or productive. I saw him as a self-damned soul—but a soul nonetheless, aware of itself and others in a strangely perceptive and essentially human way. He has great charm. I see that he suffers, more than myself, more than anyone I know of perhaps; suffers like a saint of old in the making; and also has cosmic or supersensory perceptions of an extraordinary depth and openness.
The Burning Ghat was directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton, and was filmed in Huncke’s apartment on Henry Street, New York.
Allen Ginsberg wrote of the film, “O Rare Herbert Huncke, live on film! The Burning Ghat features late-in-lifetime old partners Huncke & Louis playing characters beyond themselves with restrained solid self-awareness, their brief masquerade of soul climaxing in an inspired moment’s paradox bittersweet as an O’Henry’s tale’s last twist”.
Harry Smith said of the film, “It should have been longer”.
The Burning Ghat was featured at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and included in the Whitney Museum’s “Beat Culture and the New America” show of 1996. It won the Gold Plaque Award for Best Short Film at the 1990 Chicago International Film Festival.
Made the same year Huncke published his autobiography Guilty of Everything, this was to be his only on-screen, acting performance.
As someone who was born and raised in Wheeling, WV, I saw a bustling steel and coal town, where good jobs were once plentiful, turn into a pretty fucking bleak place in under a decade. Downtown Wheeling had several movie theaters, upscale department stores, one of the best international magazine stores that I’ve ever been in, and even some pretty good record stores. It was always difficult to find a parking space and I have memories of my parents driving around forever looking for a spot.
By the time I left—at the age of 17 in 1983—many residents were abandoning the town for better jobs elsewhere. The population today, I think, is about exactly half of what it was thirty years ago. The folks who stayed saw their $30 an hour plus benefits union-secured livelihoods disappear to be replaced by minimum wage positions as Wal-Mart associates and in fast food chains. Within a very short time most of the stores in Downtown Wheeling were closing and their windows were boarded up.
One Christmas I returned to my hometown to visit my family and a friend drove me around to show me just how much things had changed for the worse since I’d been gone (about five years at that point). He took me to (literally) Main Street and imagine if you will, a scene of happy middle-class families, busy stores, tinsel Christmas decorations on streetlights and a general small town America holiday shopping hubbub.
Well, that’s the way it used to be. That’s what I remembered. Now transpose that over some empty sidewalks, 2x4s nailed across broken windows and a guy we both went to high school with working as a prostitute in front of what was once the store were the rich people in the town shopped.
That’s a nasty picture, isn’t it? But Wheeling had it lucky compared to most of the state where clear-cutting, fracking and mountaintop removal mining have turned parts of West Virginia into lunar surfaces, polluted the drinking water and probably accomplished much worse. Who can blame the often dirt poor rural people who sold their land to the coal and gas barons to become instant Jed Clampetts, but seriously, this is like The Lorax in real life. When they’re done depleting the state of its precious natural resources, what’s left behind ain’t gonna be pretty.
Who knows how long it will take to extract every last penny of energy out of Appalachia, but one thing is quite certain: Once this has occurred, as it inevitably will, there will be virtually nothing left. No jobs, no mountains, no communities, no clean water, fuck all. When the capitalists have finished raping West Virginia, there’s going to be a big gaping hole there, plenty of devastation, and not a lot more.
Chances are you don’t know this and probably wouldn’t care much if you did. MTV’s Buckwild aside, light is virtually never shed on what is going on in West Virginia. That’s why Sean Dunne’s new documentary Oxyana, about the state’s so-called “Hillbilly Heroin” epidemic is so important.
Oceana, West Virginia, sits squarely in one of God’s blind spots. It’s one of the old coal mining communities that feeds the nation’s insatiable appetite for energy. Set in the middle of unbelievable natural beauty, a beauty that in the last number of years has been marred by the Appalachian scourge of Oxycontin. Life persists, but it’s a living that few Americans could explain or even believe - closer in kind to the world of a medieval plague. Men and women die epidemically. The addicts — who are the vast majority and all nice enough people — sell, scramble, and steal in an economy of nigh-endtimes desperation. Worn down and out by the pills, the mines or the indignity of both, everyone looks twice their own age and is unable to imagine an existence outside of coal, subsidies and prescription narcotics. Things could hardly get darker than in this place called Oceana. Nevertheless, there it is. A little village in the valley of Death, where children are born, groceries are still purchased and festivity is expressed through firearms and poor decision-making. But is this enough to live for? Is it enough to provide anyone with any hope or deliverance? OXYANA is an unflinchingly close focus on the anguish and horrors of a community that the rest of the country would just as soon forget, a nearly Biblical narrative of American forsakenness.
That last phrase there says it all, if you ask me, “a nearly Biblical narrative of American forsakenness.” Fuck.
In 2009, interviewing Julien Nitzberg, director of the (AMAZING, must-see) documentary The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (on Netflix), I asked him about a scene in his film where one of the protagonists is seen in a hospital—only moments after delivering a baby—grinding up an Oxycontin pill and snorting it with her friend while her newborn sleeps but a few feet away! I wondered if he felt, you know, bad or exploitative to have been there shooting that and he said no because that pill would have been crushed up and snorted regardless of whether or not his camera had been recording the deed. (During the film a young redneck guy looks into the camera and asks “Ever hear a Boone Country mating call?” and then he shakes a bottle of Oxycontin pills and laughs).
Oxyana received a Special Jury Mention at the recent 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Sean Dunne is also the director of the exellent American Juggalo short, which we featured on DM back in 2011.
This surreal lost Dragnet episode was made by Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theater and former Mr Show and Chris Rock Show writer Mike Upchurch as a presentation pilot for Adult Swim. They’ve digitally inserted popular alt-comedians into the 1967 cop show Dragnet, and turned it into a story about bad cops trying to eradicate a powerful strain of medical marijuana. It’s technically stunning, exceeding Forrest Gump and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid in both ambition and outcome, while being produced in a living room for only $200.00. (NSFW due to language.)
Like a hunk of meat dropped from a shopping bag onto the steaming summer streets of Washington Heights, the FDA and its supposed mission is rapidly turning rancid. Rapidly entering the territory where continued inaction can arguably be equated with criminal and maggoty negligence. Lemme explain just what the hell I’m talking about…
If you had, say, tuberculosis, you wouldn’t seriously consider going online and buying a “GUARANTEED CURE FOR TB!!!” from the same guy trying to sell you Cialis or Viagra, would you? You’d go to a doctor or, if you are poor and reside in the United States, to your local emergency room once you began to hack up blood, and you’d probably just assume that whatever antibiotics they were giving you had gone through, like, testing and shit beforehand, right? That’s the legacy of the FDA: Theoretically, it protects us regular folks from unscrupulous or fly-by-night “pharmaceutical” companies just trying to make a quick buck, right? In general, that’s a reputation we all probably (for the most part) trust in. FDA approval means something, right?
But all that comes to a screeching halt when we’re talking about psychoactive chemicals. I mean, do you really trust the FDA to issue statements or studies on bath salts or designer drugs? Of course not. Check out the recent New York magazine article on designer drugs (”Travels in the New Psychedelic Bazaar”). There are countless LEGAL drugs—albeit not the ones for sale in a Rite Aid, Walgreens or CVS store—entering the illicit market every month, and yet the FDA doesn’t feel like this is something they need to watch or study or bother with, aside from categorizing said psychoactive chemicals as “Schedule 1” under the analogue drug laws and making them illegal In other words, if the public, who they are supposed to protect, actually ENJOYS a drug, the FDA will provide exactly ZERO useful guidance on (eg) dosage or fatality rates or which producers are making their drugs in a harm-minimized fashion.
Am I suggesting that the FDA behave as if the organization were Erowid? Indeed I am!
Back in the late 70s we heard rumors in New York of this new (and at the time, perfectly legal) drug being produced at Harvard. or somewhere up in Boston, that provided this initial super-euphoric rush, followed by many hours of just plain outrageous grooviness. I was a teenager at the time, so it didn’t occur to me that, perhaps, this new drug (now known as Ecstasy) might be dangerous or untested. It came from Harvard! I just wanted to try some, what the fuck did I know?
Only a couple of years later, however, an exotic creature named Cindy Ecstasy (you may know her as a backing vocalist on Soft Cell records—she does the rap in “Memorabilia”—but I knew her in a different capacity) was shuttling back and forth between Boston and Brooklyn on weekends and distributing pretty inexpensive hits (about $13 at the time, as I remember) around clubland. It was only an accident that we were ingesting what would turn out to be one of the safest party drugs ever to hit the streets, though, a few years later, it was categorized as “Schedule 1” and made as illegal as heroin or crack. Back then it was pretty pure MDMA, although we did not know that. Who knows what is in it today?
So what we see, therefore, is that “Schedule 1” means that the FDA has basically backed out of any responsibility, despite the fact that millions of drugs are consumed by young people each year. Those consumers of bath salts, synthetic marijuana, designer drugs and other new-and-upcoming substances—critically, drugs that have often come out of nowhere and that have no real street history/folklore yet—know that the FDA has completely backed out of any real involvement, and so take on the risks themselves.
And that would be bad enough. But now, with fully legal recreational pot being sold in two states, and “medical” marijuana either sold or soon to be sold in many more, can the FDA still continue to ignore its responsibility to millions of partakers of psychoactive chemicals? I mean, the FDA regulates donuts, for fuck’s sake. Does it make any sense whatsoever that they continue to ignore the rapidly expanding area of legal MJ medical research? Sure, it’s illegal at the Federal level. Lots of things are. But if hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are consuming a substance, doesn’t the FDA have a responsibility to provide clear and nonpolitical guidance about consequences, usage dos and don’ts, potential contaminants and other dangers?
Put in another way, right now the FDA still has an OK-ish reputation for “big pharm” drugs that battle cancer and other sicknesses. But they’ve completely missed the boat on psychoactive and other chemicals that they are politically bound BY STUPID LOGIC to pretend don’t exist. And everyone knows this. In regards legal or illegal “fun drugs”, the FDA has ZERO reputation, they bring ZERO value, they are doing (what is in effect) NOTHING about substances that have an overall impact that completely outweighs any one pharmaceutical drug, even some of the ones that are the most prescribed! This is why a whole host of US states are currently going it alone, trying to determine how to monitor, license and inspect marijuana cultivation facilities in order to keep their residents safe and to minimize any harms along the way in the supply chain.
Look, alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs out there. It can cause damage or death if consumed without information and guidance, not to mention that you can strip varnish with it. There are consequences to consuming alcohol that we minimize by empowering the FDA and other governmental bodies that don’t do what’s really required, here, now, in 2013. So far, on pot or mushrooms or MDMA or LSD or anything else, the FDA provides pretty much zero in the way of useful guidance, and everybody knows it. In other words, GET OFF YOUR FAT ASSES FDA AND START PRODUCING APOLITICAL GUIDANCE ON PSYCHOACTIVE DRUGS.
The legality or illegality of those drugs is totally irrelevant at this point. Do your job, FDA.
Look who’s coming to dinner at John Boehner’s house… a foreigner! With waist-length dreads? SHOCK HORROR… he’s a pothead!
Lindsay Boehner, the 35-year-old daughter of the GOP Speaker of the House, is set to be married in May to Dominic Lakan, a 38-year-old Jamaican-born immigrant. Lakan was arrested in 2006 in Florida in possession of less than two grams of pot. Previously, Lakan was arrested for having an open beer in his vehicle.
Check out the, uh, considered reactions from the folks at Free America:
Deformed America, the new abnormal.
He looks like a total filthy uneducated bum who’s latching on to a rich white girl. Holy cow, I wouldn’t let that thing come within 50 yards of me! Let’s all chip in and buy her a case of Frontline as a wedding present…
Not only the fleas, but there’s a wife beater if ever there was one! I bet he’s mean, angry & violent when he’s on drugs or booze, as well as when he’s not high. Then he’s just surly mean! I also think he is hoping & praying to his voodoo witch doctor, that he will get some portion of inheritance from Boner!
Bet he’s an Obama voter!
She’s marrying a Rastafarian? She must REALLY hate her dad.
My Lord—If I saw something like that coming out from under the sink I’d step on it.
He looks Middle Eastern to me!
This daughter is seriously out to get her parents. The Jamaican clearly does not fit with the country club and/or congressional set. The halls of power are in need of cleaning? Or what?
he looks like death sucking a life saver…
You haven’t a ball nor a dick if you let that thing get NEAR your daughter. Dear GOD, America ... what kind of person (I CAN"T say man .. ) are we putting into positions of high power? It’s time to clean house.
One Freeper decided to look on the bright side:
Better a Rastarfarian than a muzzie. But seriously, what’s with the Dr. Seuss hat?
Surprisingly—or not so surprising—this story has thus far gotten very little play in the left-wing blogsphere, as if the information itself (HE’S JAMAICAN AND SMOKES POT!) is somehow “racist” instead of merely neutral.
I wish the couple the very best. I hope they’re laughing like hell about this. Fact is, this minor brouhaha has simply got nothing whatsoever to do with either Dominic Lakan or Lindsay Boehner and everything to do with her idiot father…
I cannot wait to see wedding photos. I wonder if the father of the bride will cry?
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.