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The Dialectics of Liberation: The Revolution will be re-enacted?


 
When I “get into” a certain topic or musical genre or filmmaker or author or TV show, I’m one of those people who has to devour all of it. The whole thing. I don’t stop until I’m done and burping it up.

Recently it’s been the not-so twin topics of the “Laurel Canyon” rock sound of the late 1960s/early 1970s and plowing through the major works of The Frankfurt School, that have occupied a lot of my spare time. I’m especially enjoying re-reading the work of the Freudo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, books I first read, well, thirty-some years ago. Although some of the groundbreaking ideas of Marcuse and the Frankfurt School seem rather more obvious today than they would have in the 1960s at the height of their influence, there are many useful concepts to be re-discovered there that are more relevant today than they have ever been. Marcuse’s work is ripe for a new generation—specifically this very restless up and coming generation—to pick up on, perhaps via the intermediary of someone who could popularize his admittedly somewhat difficult to read philosophy.

Although his name, sadly, rings few bells in 2012, Professor Herbert Marcuse was the “father of the New Left” with his influential books like Eros and Civilization, One Dimensional Man, and Counterrevolution and Revolt. For an elderly professor with a thick German accent, Marcuse was an intellectual rockstar in the 60s and early 70s. Back then, his work was discussed with the same seriousness as Marx’s or Sartre’s or Carlos Castaneda’s. He was denounced by right-wingers like Governor Ronald Reagan who was incensed that Marcuse’s salary was paid for by California’s taxpayers.

I discovered Marcuse in a fairly roundabout way. As I’ve written about before elsewhere, I was a huge Ayn Rand head when I was a kid. Ironically, it was via an article published in her magazine The Objectivist (“Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of the New Left” by George Walsh) that I first came across the ideas of the New Left. Not all that long afterwards, I became much more interested in the types of philosophers that Rand and her disciples decried as academic barbarians, dangerous irrationalists and mutilators of student’s minds, than I was in Rand herself.

Not only did I find that the ideas of the New Left resonated more with my own innately experienced view of the world around me, it also seemed clear that if the ideas of Marcuse and the Frankfurt School terrified the Ayn Rand brigade as much as they obviously did, then they must also be more authentic ideas, too.

But the problem with some middle-aged infomaniac like yours truly recommending that you seek out the work of Herbert Marcuse is that few people actually reading this far will even bother to visit his Wikipedia page let alone buy one of his books. Books seem to have a lifespan of about fifteen years (with some major exceptions, of course) and no one wants to read an old book. Especially not these days, so how would it be that these ideas could spread in the culture again and flourish the way they once did? That’s tough. As a former book publisher, I can tell you for sure: it’s worse than tough, it’s nearly impossible.

That’s why I was so pleasantly taken aback by a very cool-sounding theatrical experience that I read about recently that aims to breathe new life into some old ideas, when some actors recreated an historically important counterculture gathering called “The Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation (for the Demystification of Violence).”
 

 
This event originally took place at the Roundhouse in London, between the 15th and 30th July, 1967. Aside from the grandfatherly Marcuse, the well-respected éminence grise of the assembled, the participants included anarchist prankster Emmett Grogan of the Diggers (who fucked with the heads of the attendees by delivering a translated speech of Hitler’s and passing it off as his own), performance artist Carolee Schneeman, Julian Beck of The Living Theatre, Paul Goodman, Gregory Bateson, poet Allen Ginsberg, R.D. Laing, Francis Huxley, “Auto-Destructive art” movement and “Art Strike” founder Gustav Metzger and Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael.

The Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation  was organized by the American “anti-psychiatrist” Joe Berke and others from the Institute of Phenomenological Studies. The idea was to spontaneously create a “free university” to revolutionize the masses, a notion inspired by Alexander Trocchi.

The event drew together the bohemian culture of New York’s Lower East Side with Europe’s own rebel groups in art, literature, politics and psychiatry, producing what has been justly described as the ‘numero uno seminal event of [London] 67’, a sometimes joyous but often angry anti-coalition of ‘politicos’ and ‘culture wizards.’

‘All men are in chains’, runs a flyer for the congress. ‘There is the bondage of poverty and starvation: the bondage of lust for power, status, possessions. A reign of terror is now perpetrated and perpetuated on a global scale. In the affluent societies, it is masked. There, children are conditioned by violence called love to assume their position as the would-be inheritors of the fruits of the earth. But, in the process, they are reduced to little more than hypothetical points on a dehumanized co-ordinate system. …We shall meet in London on the basis of a wide range of expert knowledge. The dialectics of liberation begin with the clarification of our present condition.’

The congress opened on the morning of the 15th with a lecture by the anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing and closed on the 30th with a lecture by the Digger Emmett Grogan, following an happening by Carolee Schneemann and a performance by the British pop group The Social Deviants the previous evening. Gregory Bateson, Stokely Carmichael, Paul Goodman and the German philosopher, Herbert Marcuse were amongst other public figures who spoke. There were seminars in the afternoons and films and poetry readings in the evenings. ‘The Provos were there from Amsterdam. There were students from West Berlin, political activists from Norway and Sweden as well as a large contingent from the New Experimental College, Thy, Denmark. There were representatives from the West Indies, Africa, France, Canada, America, Holland, India, Nigeria and Cuba,’ and remarks by the poet Susan Sherman, one of Berke’s friends, who covered the congress for Ikon magazine.

The congress radicalised many black (and white) people in the audience and acted as an (ironic) influence on the Women’s Liberation movement. It also led to the foundation of the anti-university of London in Shoreditch in 1968, a further important experiment in radical education.

On February 12th in London, the Dialectics of Liberation conference was reenacted with the original organizers, and actors playing the roles of leading speakers. It’s difficult for me to say much more about a theatrical performance I haven’t seen, but this is an interesting idea to get certain ideas back into currency again. Apparently there were also earlier performances at Occupy London and a twenty-first century version of the Congress, called the Dialektikon, is planned for later this year in London. You can read more about it on their website.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Buddha made me cut my hair: The teachings of my imperfect Master

trungpa
Ginsberg and Trungpa.
 
When I arrived in Boulder, Colorado in 1971 it was a small town with a big campus filled with privileged white kids. It was also home to thousands of hippies. I’d left Berkeley for Boulder drawn not by the institute of higher learning but by a desire just to get higher…literally.  Convinced that a massive earthquake was imminent, I fled the Bay Area and headed for the higher ground of the Rocky Mountains. I had also been told by people I trusted that Boulder was my kind of town: Berkeley without the angst. Tibet of the West. And as a child I had lived in Boulder while my father attended the University (on the G.I. Bill) and I had distant memories of something magic about the place.

Boulder in the 70s was an easy mix of stoned and moneyed youth and rough-edged mountain Bohemia. On the fringes of the University, was a thriving arts and intellectual scene. Professors, hipsters, local poets, divinely intoxicated recalcitrant drunks and various combinations of all of the above would hang out at a downtown watering hole called Tom’s Tavern. Tom’s sold cheap beer, had a pool table and a jukebox stuffed with vintage rock, old standards and hillbilly music. It was the center of off-campus intellectual life in Boulder. Within the smoke stained and booze infused walls of Tom’s I found my University, a joint where Jean Paul Sartre could drink Hank Williams under the existential table while Arthur Rimbaud shimmied to “Mickey’s Monkey.”

I had always considered alcohol the drug of choice for straight people. It was my parent’s drug. Alcohol was for squares. But at Tom’s you drank. And that’s what I did. I started drinking. I also started getting serious about being a poet.

In 1971, Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa landed in Boulder and the mix of academia, back to naturists, spiritual seekers, old beatniks and young hippies was given an energizing and discombobulating dose of high-octane Crazy Wisdom.

Trungpa had developed a style of teaching meditation and Buddhist philosophy that was user-friendly for Westerners. Raised in the classic Tibetan monastic tradition as a child and later as a student at Oxford, Trungpa had the experience of ancient wisdom coupled with a modern education that allowed him to fluidly adapt to contemporary expectations and to challenge them. Unlike the kind of gurus most of us were accustomed to, Trungpa wore tailored suits, smoked menthol cigarettes, was a heavy drinker and known to have experimented with psychoactive drugs. He upended every holy man stereotype in the book. In his own sly way, Trungpa was shedding light on how superficial our ideas about “spirituality” are. As Catholics and Christians, many of us were substituting Bibles, crosses, crucifixes and rosaries for prayer beads and the Tibetan Book Of The Dead. Trungpa let it be known from the get-go that spirituality was more than just changing your costume.

Trungpa’s fresh approach to Buddhist instruction and initiation included methods that were controversial and his drinking and womanizing created a lot of scandal among the more conservative and traditional Buddhists, both in America and back home in Tibet. Sometimes his methods were as radical as the old Zen master who broke his student’s finger in order to bring the student into the moment. I experienced Trungpa’s teachings first hand and the results were mind-altering and soul-shaking.

I was celebrating Trungpa’s birthday (his 35th?) with a bunch of his students and friends at a home in the foothills above Boulder. Everybody was roaring drunk, including Trungpa. At one point, he grabbed the kitchen sink water hose and starting spraying everyone until we were all soaking wet. He then began hurling handfuls of birthday cake in all directions, landing a direct hit on my face. I grabbed some cake and threw it at him. With the speed and ferocity of a lion, Trungpa lunged forward and dragged me down to my knees by my hair, which was very long at the time. He yanked at my hair until tears flowed from eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, he let go of me and laughed. I was mortified.

Later that night I cut off all my hair. It was the first haircut I’d had in seven years. When I was 15 I had been expelled from school for being a longhair. I never went back to school and hadn’t cut my hair since. Looking in the mirror, I was appalled by how I looked. My identity had been so linked to my “freak flag” that I barely recognized the nerdish fellow staring back at me. My beautiful hair was gone and so was an important symbol of my freedom…a symbol that I had relied on for years to declare my independence, my spirituality and general grooviness. I had grown so attached to my hair and what I thought it stood for that I had become lazy in developing other ways of being truly free. At least that’s the conclusion I came to based on what I felt was a lesson from Trungpa.

I was certain that Trungpa’s hair-pulling rage was a mystical transmission of a profound teaching, a bit of the old Crazy Wisdom. I was absolutely convinced that Trungpa’s actions were much more than just a drunken reaction to my tossing cake at him. I was the recipient of something ancient and precious. This is the kind of thing that happens in a guru/student relationship. The student reads and projects a lot into whatever the guru does, whether there’s anything there or not. But it doesn’t matter whether or not the teacher is teaching. All that mattered to me is that I was compelled to question my identity, my ego, my reliance on exterior symbols as substitutes for real wisdom and real freedom. I was also reminded of one of the main reasons I had grown my hair long in the first place: I have big ears.

I felt so naked and uncool with short hair that I went into a self-imposed exile until it started growing back. I went so far as to stop seeing my girlfriend Mimi. So in addition to being a recluse, I was also a celibate.

The “hair teaching” was yielding all kinds of unexpected results. I was hurled into the life monastic. I was Thomas Merton with Alfred E. Neuman’s ears. “What me worry?” Yes, I was worried all the time. Worried that by the time my hair grew back Mimi would find someone else. And she did. She left me for one of the biggest pot dealers in Colorado. This betrayal escalated my self-pity into self-loathing on a grand scale.

At 22 years old, I had entered my dark night of the soul over a fucking haircut. A blow to my ego and vanity exposed just how firmly strapped to the Wheel Of Samsara (illusion) I really was and the whole fucking game was blown wide open by a drunk Tibetan guy covered in birthday cake.

My hair grew back and a few years later I cut it again. This time I wore it as a Mohawk that I dyed silver. The freak flag was still flying but with a whole lot less at stake. Hair comes and goes, but the ego is forever…until it isn’t.

I could write a book on what it was like being around Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche during those wild days in Boulder. He started a school (Naropa) which drew my literary and counter-culture heroes to our Colorado town. The collective energy surrounding him was madly magnificent. Poets and prophets everywhere: Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, Jack Collom, Timothy Leary, Amiri Baraka…the list was long and impressive. They were all coming to Boulder to study with, observe or challenge this young Tibetan sage.  They would eventually pull it all together in a branch of Naropa called “The Jack Kerouac School Of Disembodied Poetics.”

As the scene continued to gather momentum, I ended up managing a beautiful old hotel in Boulder where Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and other poets and artists took up residence for a while. I sat at Ginsberg’s feet and read him my poems. He was patient. But I was a pretty boy and he enjoyed my company. I drank with Corso and listened to his high-pitched rants. Burroughs was the mystery man up on the top floor guarded by his mellow and diligent assistant James Grauerholz. I organized impromptu poetry readings in the lobby of the hotel and people would be hanging from the rafters as some of America’s greatest bards proclaimed, sang and shouted at the heavens.

When I write the book, I’ll recall the night my punk band performed at a Boulder nightclub with Allen Ginsberg and his mighty harmonium as our opening act. He sang from Blake’s “Songs Of Innocence And Experience” and I stood offstage and watched him and realized how fucking lucky I was to be so close to someone who literally changed my life when I first heard him read “Kaddish” on a vinyl record that Carla Bombere (my beatnik girlfriend) gave me to listen to when I was 15 years old. And not far from where I was standing was another young guy taking it all in, a teenager named Eric who helped my band carry our equipment. A few short years later he’d change his name to Jello Biafra and begin his own unique bardic journey.

Chogyam Trungpa’s arrival had a seismic affect on this lovely town at the foot of the Rockies. Whatever magic exists in Boulder wasn’t created by Trungpa, but he was certainly a big part of activating it. And the Naropa Institute continues to sustain that magic. The last time I was there a few years ago, I noticed that Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth was walking the grounds and soaking it all in.

There are those who think of Trungpa as some kind of charlatan, an exotically charming scam artist who beguiled a bunch of gullible people into buying into a bastardized form of Buddhism. I hear it all the time. But take it from someone who was there, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the real deal. In asking us to look past spiritual materialism, he included himself. Look past the teacher into that formless void from which all things of the ego arise. The great teachers offer us a glimpse into nothingness and Trungpa was a great teacher. His willingness to get down in the trenches with his students is often mistaken as a weakness in his own character. Aren’t gurus supposed to be above it all? Trungpa didn’t give a shit about the games gurus play. Trungpa worked from the ground up, taking energy from wherever he got it and using it to set a fire under his students that would eventually burn away some of the bullshit and illuminate the illuminated. Was he a perfect teacher? Probably not. But that’s what made him special. It was his humanity and accessibility that made him such an effective teacher. There’s nothing remote or exotic about Buddhism. It’s really rather plain and ordinary. Kind of like the nose on your face. Or in my case, the ears.

In the raw documentary Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds , director Costanzo Allione captures some of the communal craziness and excitement that was flowing through Boulder while Trungpa was living and teaching there. It was an exhilarating time and important period in the evolution of America’s Buddha nature.
 

 
Watch another fine documentary, “Crazy Wisdom,” on the Naropa scene after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Growing Up In America’: Documentary on Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and more


 
In Growing Up In America, Morley Markson revisits his 1969 documentary on counter culture icons, Breathing Together:Revolution Of The Electric Family, with the original subjects of the film to get the perspective of age and hindsight.

Reflecting the past through the present, forming a kind of Möbius strip of history, we watch as they watch: Jerry Rubin’s transformation from firebrand radical to Capitalist cliche, the evolution and assassination of Fred Hampton (through the eyes of his mother) and the unwavering integrity and self-realization of Abbie Hoffman, William Kunstler, Timothy Leary, former Black Panther Field Marshall/expatriate Don Cox, Allen Ginsberg, and MC5 manager and White Panther founder John Sinclair. This is a fascinating glimpse at lives that mattered and still do.

It’s hard to believe that with the exception of John Sinclair and director Markson all of these men are dead. Are these the last of a dying breed?

While Growing Up In America is a vital and significant document, its failure to include some women in the mix is a glaring oversight. Bernardine Dohrn, Angela Davis, Shulamith Firestone and Diane di Prima are just a few of the women who were actively involved with cultural and political upheaval of the Sixties and any one of them would have provided a much needed woman’s point of view to the film. Once again, we’re confronted with the notion that the Sixties counter-culture was a boy’s club.

This fine documentary is out-of-print on video and has yet to be released on DVD.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Teenage beatnik: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan portrayed by a young girl


 
The Mad Ones: A Brief History Of The Beat Generation

This well-executed, smart, no-budget, D.I.Y. video was a school project created by Krystal Cannon who lives in Ithaca, New York. She portrays all of the characters in the film.

I particularly dig Cannon’s Bob Dylan and her Allen Ginsberg is a hoot.

Krystal, if you see this, how about posting a comment on the making of The Mad Ones.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Harry Smith: American Magus
10.21.2011
09:26 am

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
Aleister Crowley
Allen Ginsberg
Harry Smith

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Artist, alchemical filmmaker, musical archeologist and avant garde shaman, Harry Smith’s obsessive interests made him an influential, yet not widely known, figure of 20th century Beat culture and beyond. If Smith was only responsible for preserving the folk and blues musical traditions of early America in his Anthology of American Folk Music set from 1952, we would have him to thank for providing a way forward for a young Bob Dylan and the whole of the 60s/70s folk scene.

But Smith was far more than that, he was a filmmaker of astonishing originality, making stop motion animations influenced by 19th advertising art and the elaborate Middle Ages alchemical paintings of Robert Fludd. When I first saw VHS dubs of Smith’s films in the 1980s, I was impressed of course, but as I later learned, in actual fact what I had seen was only a part of what Smith had intended. He made his films as magic lanterns, with several projectors running at once and spinning lamps complementing the central image. When I saw his restored masterpiece No. 18: Mahagonny at the Getty Center in Los Angeles a few years back, it struck me how difficult it must have been to sync up four projectors at once (and the musical accompaniment, a recording of Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny opera).

The restored version of Smith’s celluloid tetraptych was a marvel to behold, with all of the four images now perfectly in time to one another, and looking like a great psychedelic kaleidoscope of imagery taken around New York City, in particular the Chelsea Hotel and its bohemian denizens. Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg and the Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin all make cameo appearances. Seen, digitally restored and as Smith had intended, it was simply breath taking.


Apparently Smith never met a drug he didn’t like and would take any pill, drink any drink, smoke any joint, or snort any powder offered him and he was not at all averse to huffing gasoline, it’s been said, when that’s all that was around. For long periods of time he lived off the kindness of others and borrowed lots of money he had no intention of ever repaying. Yet Smith himself was said to be generous to a fault. Strange anecdotes about Harry Smith abound, many of them collected in two books about him American Magus: Harry Smith (edited by Paola Igliori) and Think of the Self Speaking (edited by Rani Singh, who is Smith’s archivist). My favorite story about Smith is how, if he’d find a pair of glasses, try them on and could see out of them better than the ones he was wearing, he’d toss the old pair in the garbage. Smith also claimed that Aleister Crowley was his father. All in all, you could say he was a colorful guy.


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I am reminded of Harry Smith every day. I have one of the original Tree of Life prints that Smith made in the 1950s and gave as a gift to Allen Ginsberg. It’s still in the original brass frame that Ginsberg put it in. His handwriting is on the back in pencil along with a sticker from the Whitney. It’s in our dining room now.

In the last couple of years, New York-based artist M Henry Jones, who worked with Smith and continues to project Smith’s work as it was intended to be seen (click here for a short interview with Jones and some footage of one of his special Smith screenings. It’s really interesting to see, trust me) has put up a few fascinating videos of Smith being interviewed:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
44th anniversary of the the exorcism of The Pentagon


Handbill written by Ed Sanders with instructions for Pentagon exorcism.
 
Next Friday, October 21, will be the 44th anniversary of the march on Washington, D.C. when 70,000 peaceful and very enthusiastic demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the D.C. Mall to protest the war in Vietnam. Later that day, 50,000 marched across Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon. Among the demonstrators were Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and The Fugs. In addition to protesting the war, the poets, pranksters and musicians had come to the Pentagon to levitate it. Fug member, wordslinger and alchemist Ed Sanders had prepared a magical incantation that would exorcise (exorgasm) the Pentagon and then lift it high into the air.

In the name of the amulets of touching, seeing, groping, hearing and loving, we call upon the powers of the cosmos to protect our ceremonies in the name of Zeus, in the name of Anubis, god of the dead, in the name of all those killed because they do not comprehend, in the name of the lives of the soldiers in Vietnam who were killed because of a bad karma, in the name of sea-born Aphrodite, in the name of Magna Mater, in the name of Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the unnamable, the quintessent finality of the Zoroastrian fire, in the name of Hermes, in the name of the Beak of Sok, in the name of scarab, in the name, in the name, in the name of the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, in the name of Rah, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, in the name of the flowing living universe, in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit to raise the Pentagon from its destiny and preserve it.

Norman Mailer who attended the march summarized the exorcism ritual thusly:

Now, here, after several years of the blandest reports from the religious explorers of LSD, vague Tibetan lama goody-goodness auras of religiosity being the only publicly announced or even rumored fruit from all trips back from the buried Atlantis of LSD, now suddenly an entire generation of acid-heads seemed to have said goodbye to easy visions of heaven, no, now the witches were here, and rites of exorcism, and black terrors of the night – hippies being murdered. Yes, the hippies had gone from Tibet to Christ to the Middle Ages, now they were Revolutionary Alchemists.”

The Pentagon did not levitate, though some of us who were there may have seen it shudder a bit. As to whether the exorcism worked or not, I think it may have for the 50,000 ecstatic people in attendance - the vibes around the Pentagon would never ever be as sublime as on that afternoon.

In this rarely seen footage, Edward Folger shot some 16mm film during the march and created what he describes as an “impressionistic immersion in the experience of the march.”
 

 
Thanks to Reality Studio.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Writers’ Bloc: Places where writers and artists have lived together

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Home is where the art is for four different groups of writers, who lived and worked together under one roof, experiencing a cultural time-share that produced diverse and original works of literature, art, and popular entertainment.
 
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The February House

Between 1940 and 1942, “an entire generation of Western culture” lived at 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn. The poet W. H. Auden was house mother, who collected rents and doled out toilet paper, at 2 sheets for each of his fellow tenants, advising them to use “both sides”. These tenants included legendary stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, novelist Carson McCullers and a host of other irregular visitors - composer Benjamin Britten, singer Peter Pears, writers Jane and Paul Bowles and Erika and Klaus Mann, Salvador Dali, a selection of stevedores, sailors, circus acts and a chimpanzee.

Auden wrote his brilliant poem New Year Letter here and fell obsessively in love with Chester Kallman, and attempted to strangle him one hot, summer night - an event that taught Auden the universal potential for evil. On the top floor, Carson McCullers escaped from her psychotic husband, and wrote Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, while slowly drinking herself to an early death.

On the first floor, Gypsy Rose Lee created her legend as the world’s most famous stripper, wrote her thriller The G-String Murders, offered a shoulder to cry on, and told outrageous tales of her burlesque life.

Known as the “February House”, because of the number of birthdays shared during that month, 7 Middagh St. was a place of comfort and hope in the desperate months at the start of the Second World War.
 
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The Fun Factory

The scripts that came out of 9 Orme Court in London, changed world comedy. And if Spike Milligan hadn’t gone mad and attempted to murder Peter Sellers with a potato peeler, it may never have all happened.

Milligan was the comic genius behind The Goons, and the stress of writing a new script every week, led to his breakdown. The need for a place to work, away from the demands of family, home and fame, brought Milligan to share an office with highly successful radio scriptwriter, Eric Sykes. 

The first Fun Factory was above a greengrocer on the Uxbridge Road. Here Sykes, Milligan, comedian Frankie Howerd and agent Scruffy Dale, formed the Writers’ Bloc Associated London Scripts. The idea was to bring together the best and newest comedy writers under one umbrella. Milligan saw ALS as an artists’ commune that would lead to political and cultural change. Sykes saw ALS as a business opportunity to produce great comedy. Frankie Howerd saw it as a source of finding new material.

When Milligan asked two young writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to come on board, the central core of ALS was formed.

This merry band of writers expanded in the coming years to include: Johnny Speight (Till Death Us Do Part); Barry Took and Marty Feldman (The Army Game and Round the Horne); Terry Nation (Dr Who and the Daleks); John Antrobus (The Bed-Sitting Room); and with a move to the more suitable offices of 9 Orme Court, ALS was established as the home of legendary British comedy.

Milligan continued successfully with The Goons, before devising the groundbreaking Q series for television. Sykes began his long and successful career with his own TV show. While Galton and Simpson created the first British TV sitcom, Hancock’s Half-Hour, and then the massively influential Steptoe and Son.

9 Orme Court was once described, as though Plato, Aristotle, Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci were all living in the same artist’s garret.
 
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The Beat Hotel

A run-down hotel in the back streets of Paris was unlikely setting for a Cultural Revolution, but the Sixties were seeded when poet, Allen Ginsberg William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Bryon Gysin moved into the Beat Hotel, at 9 Git le Coeur, in the late 1950s.

The literary revolution that started with Ginsberg’s Howl in America was formalised and expanded in the cramped, leaky, piss-smelling hotel rooms at 9 Git le Couer.

Ginsberg wrote part of Kaddish here, as he came to terms with the madness and death of his Mother. First to arrive, Ginsberg was also be first to check out, travelling in search of enlightenment to India. 

The wild and romantic Corso produced his best books of poems “Gasoline” and “Bomb”, whilst living the life of an American abroad.

But it was Burroughs who gained most from his four-year on-and-off stay in Git le Coeur.  Here he completed Naked Lunch, and wrote the novels The Soft Machine, The Nova Express, The Ticket that Exploded, and together with Bryon Gysin devised the cut-up form of writing, indulged in seances, Black Magic and tried out Scientology.

Like Middagh Street, the Beat Hotel was a cultural and social experiment that sought to inspire art through shared experiences. 
 
Passport from Pimlico

It started with a bet. Three young writers sitting watching Mick Jagger on Top of the Pops, in a flat in Pimlico during the 1960s. The bet was simple, which of the 3 would make the big time first?

It was the kind of idle chat once made soon forgotten, but not for these 3 young talents, Tom Stoppard, Derek Marlowe and Piers Paul Read.

Read and Marlowe believed Stoppard would hit the big time first, but they were wrong, it was Marlowe in 1966 with his cool and brilliant spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic, made into a film with Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow, Tom Courtney and Peter Cook.

Stoppard was next in 1967, with his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Then Read with Alive the story of Andes plane crash in 1974.

All 3 were outsiders, set apart from their contemporaries by their romanticized sense of Englishness, which came from their backgrounds. Read was a brilliant Catholic author, favorably compared to Graham Greene; Stoppard, a Czech-émigré, and Marlowe, a second generation Greek, who was for “heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes” who appeared “out of the mould of the time.” All three writers were to become the biggest British talents of the 1970s and 1980s.
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

A Dandy in Aspic: A letter from Derek Marlowe


 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
First public reading of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ took place 56 years ago today
10.07.2011
09:06 am

Topics:
Heroes
History
Literature
Queer

Tags:
Allen Ginsberg
'Howl'


 
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”

Over at the indispensable On This Deity blog, Dorian Cope writes that today is the fifty-six anniversary of the first public reading of “Howl” by a then twenty-nine-year-old Allen Ginsberg. It was a revolutionary moment, in poetry, in literature, and the opening salvo in the counter culture battles of the 1960s:

As the hitherto forbidden content (drugs, mental illness, religion, homosexuality) emerged, Kerouac – two years prior to On the Road – was the first to realise the magnitude of what was happening. Sitting on the side of the low stage, he began to punctuate Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque-meets-jazz rhythms by banging his empty wine jug and, at the end of each long line, shouting “GO!” Soon, the entire audience joined in … their encouraging chants of “GO! GO! GO!” driving Ginsberg to a shamanic momentum and creating a tribal unity between audience and poet. By the time he finished, Ginsberg was in tears. So was Rexroth. Everyone in the room knew they’d witnessed a rare moment of duende – that mysterious higher state brought on by a burst of genuine inspiration – and henceforth nothing would be the same again.

Michael McClure would later recall: “We had gone beyond a point of no return, and we were ready for it. None of us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the intellective void – to the land without poetry – to the spiritual drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the process of it as we went into it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision.”

The next day, Lawrence Ferlignhetti, who’d been in the audience, sent Ginsberg a telegram. And with a nod to the past but his eye fixed firmly on the future, he borrowed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s legendary words to Walt Whitman in 1855: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” The fledgling publisher then added:  “When do I get the manuscript?” The publication of “Howl” is another story… but, on October 7th 1955 and on the occasion of its first reading, a battle cry was sounded and the Beat Generation was born.

Read the entire post at On This Deity

Ginsberg reading “Howl”:
 

 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Allen Ginsberg bobblehead beatnik doll
09.02.2011
01:13 pm

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bobblehead


 
Forget about your dashboard Jesus, get yerself a bobblehead bard.

Awesome six inch tall figurine of the king poet of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Comes with Uncle Sam top hat, glasses, beaded necklace, a groovy coat plus a CD of Allen live at the Knitting Factory in 1995! The CD includes five previously unreleased spoken word pieces. The perfect addition to your shrine to the awesomeness that is the Beats! Figure designed by Archer Prewitt of The Cocktails and The Sea and Cake!

From the fine folks at Aggronautix

 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Poetry of the Western World Read by Celebrities

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Poetry of the Western World Read By Celebrities and Collected by Clare Ann Matz is a fab selection of poems read by Ralf Zotigh, Wim Wenders, Dave Stewart, Billy Preston, Ian Astbury, Dario Fò, Robbie Robertson, Allen Ginsberg and Solveigh Domartain.

The video starts with Ralf Zotigh reading the Ancient Native American fable - “Today is a Good Day”:

This is followed by Wenders reading from Walt Whitman’s Inscriptions (“To A Certain Cantatrice”). Dave Stewart, erstwhile of the Eurhythmics, reads William Blake’s “Sick Rose”, then, the late Billy Preston (first silently, then with soundtrack) reads Dylan Thomas. Ian Astbury, of The Cult (and clearly no fan of Dylan Thomas!) also reads, from the same poem, “Should Lanterns Shine”. Dario Fo, Nobel-prize-winning playwright and theater-director, reads (in Italian) Andre Breton’s “Fata Morgana”. Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan’s confrere, comes in next, reading a selection from Allen’s “Song”” (“Allen wrote this. huh?”), and has some difficulty following the syntax (“an the soul comes..”? “and the soul comes..”?). Allen himself follows (with the aforementioned reading of “Father Death Blues”). Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire “angel”, actress Solveigh Domartain, concludes the tape, returning once more to Allen’s poem - “the weight of the world is…love”.

 

 
Elsewhere on DM

Face to Face with Allen Ginsberg


 
Bonus interview with Ginsberg form 1972, after the jump…
 
Via the Allen Ginsberg Project
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Nodzilla: Dreaming out loud with William Burroughs


 
William Burroughs ponders the atom bomb, UFOs, dreams, psychedelics, astral projection, space travel, Brion Gysin and the cut-up technique in this lecture held at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado on August 11, 1980. Allen Ginsberg takes part toward the end.

In an experiment based on the cut-up technique, video of apocalyptic scenes from various Japanese monster films were randomly juxtaposed with Burroughs lecture. There are moments of synchronicity that are both humorous and bizarre and at times genuinely resonant. I think the Burroughs video mashup illustrates how randomness is often not as random as it seems and accidents often reveal hidden truths that are not accidental.

In light of recent developments in Japan, Burroughs comments on nuclear energy and the atomic bomb are particularly on point and prophetic.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The Plot to Turn on the World: The Leary/Ginsberg Acid Conspiracy

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Over at his essential NeuroTribes blog, Steve Silberman—who knew poet Allen Ginsberg well for twenty years, and was his teaching assistant at the Naropa Institute in Colorado—interviews author Peter Conners about his new book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, recently published by City Lights Books.

In November of 1966, the poet Allen Ginsberg made a modest proposal to a room full of Unitarian ministers in Boston. “Everybody who hears my voice try the chemical LSD at least once,” he intoned. “Then I prophecy we will all have seen some ray of glory or vastness beyond our conditioned social selves, beyond our government, beyond America even, that will unite us into a peaceful community.”

The poet had been experimenting with drugs since the 1940s as a way of achieving what his Beat Generation friends named the “New Vision,” methodically keeping lists of the ones he tried — morphine with William Burroughs, marijuana with fellow be-bop fans in jazz clubs, and eventually the psychedelic vine called ayahuasca with a curandero in Peru.

For Ginsberg, drugs were not merely an indulgence or form of intoxication; they were tools for investigating the nature of mind, to be employed in tandem with writing, an approach he called “the old yoga of poesy.” In 1959, he volunteered to become an experimental subject at Stanford University, where two psychologists who were secretly working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs gave him LSD; listening to recordings of Wagner and Gertrude Stein in the lab, he decided that acid was “a very safe drug,” and decided that even his suburban poet father Louis might like to try it.

By the time he addressed the Unitarian ministers in Boston, Ginsberg had become convinced that psychedelics held promise as agents of transformative mystical experience that were available to anyone, particularly when combined with music and other art forms. In place of stiff, hollow religious observances in churches and synagogues, the poet proposed “naked bacchantes” in national parks, along with sacramental orgies at rock concerts, to call forth a new, locally-grown American spirituality that could unify a generation of Adamic longhairs and earth mothers alienated by war and turned off by the pious hypocrisy of their elders.

Ginsberg’s potent ally in this campaign was a psychology professor at Harvard named Timothy Leary, who would eventually become the most prominent public advocate for mass consumption of LSD, coining a meme that became the ubiquitous rallying cry of the nascent 20th-century religious movement as it proliferated on t-shirts, black-light posters, and neon buttons from the Day-Glo Haight-Ashbury to swinging London: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.

Among those who took up the cause was the Beatles. John Lennon turned Leary’s woo-tastic mashups of The Tibetan Book of the Dead into one of the most profoundly strange, terrifying, and exhilarating tracks ever recorded: “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver, which swooped in on a heart-stopping Ringo stutter-beat chased by clouds of infernal firebirds courtesy of backwards guitar and a tape loop of Paul McCartney laughing.

As the public faces of the psychedelic revolution, Ginsberg and Leary made a dynamic duo. The charming, boyish, Irish Harvard professor and the ecstatic, boldly gay, Hebraically-bearded Jersey bard became the de facto gurus of the movement they’d helped create — father figures for a generation of lysergic pilgrims who temporarily jettisoned their own fathers in their quest for renewable revelation.

By the close of the ’60s — which ominous stormclouds on the horizon in the form of violent debacles like Altamont, a Haight-Ashbury that had been taken over by speed freaks and the Mob, and Charles Manson’s crew of acid-addled zombie assassins — Ginsberg was already looking for more grounding and lasting forms of enlightenment, particularly in the form of Buddhist meditation.

The poet retained his counterculture cred until his death of liver cancer in 1997, but Leary didn’t fare as well. Subjected to obsessive persecution by government spooks like Watergate plumber G. Gordon Liddy, Leary launched a series of psychedelic communes that collapsed under the weight of their own ego-trips. Years of arrests, jail terms, spectacular escapes from prison aided by the Black Panthers, disturbing betrayals, and bizarre self-reinventions followed the brief season when the psych labs of Harvard seemed to give new birth to a new breed of American Transcendentalism that was as democratic as a test tube.

Read the interview at NeuroTribes.

Below, an early interview with Leary, before he started wearing the guru drag…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats

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I was a teenager, browsing the shelves of Better Books in Edinburgh, where amongst the imported copies of Grove plays, Pinter, Beckett, Behan, Arden, Delaney, and the City Lights’ volumes of Ginsberg and Corso, there was a small collection of Kerouac books. I picked up The Subterraneans and started reading:

Once I was young and had so much orientation and could talk with nervous intelligence about everything and with clarity and without as much literary preambling as this; in other words this is the story of an unselfconfident man, at the same time of an egomaniac, naturally, facetious won’t do - just start at the beginning and let the truth seep out, that’s what I’ll do -. It began on a warm summer night…

I was filled with “nervous intelligence”, yet still “unselfconfident” I was hooked. And this is why Kerouac appeals best to the young, whose lives are starting out, giddy with living, filled with self-belief and self-doubt, in need of someone to say, “it’s all right.” And here was Kerouac saying just that.

John Antonelli’s 1984 film Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats, tells Kerouac’s story through dramatized sequences, archive footage and interviews with the regular cast of players - William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg. At times, it skates across, and avoids those cracks that’d reveal troubled depths, but it is still a reminder as to how and why Kerouac very much matters.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
When poets were rock stars: 1965’s literary Woodstock ‘Wholly Communion’

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British film maker Peter Whitehead chronicled London’s sixties counterculture scene in Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London and the seminal rock and roll of the decade in videos and documentaries for The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. What Whitehead did for pop culture, he did for poetry in the combustible Wholly Communion.

On 11 June 1965, the Royal Albert Hall played host to a slew of American and European beat poets for an extraordinary impromptu event - the International Poetry Incarnation - that arguably marked the birth of London’s gestating counterculture. Cast in the role of historian, as a man-on-the-scene, and massively elevating his limited resources, Whitehead constructed the extraordinary Wholly Communion from the unfolding circus. As Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Harry Fainlight, Alexander Trocchi and others took to the stage, Whitehead confidently wandered with his borrowed camera, creating a participatory and anarchic film that is as much a landmark as the event itself, and launched his career.

 
When poets were rock stars. Enjoy Wholly Communion in all of its delightful chaos.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Lee Harris - Foot Soldier for Counter Culture

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Lee Harris is a playwright, poet, publisher and “foot soldier” of the UK’s counter culture. Born in Johannesburg in 1936, Harris was one of the few whites on the African National Congress, opposing segregation during the time of Apartheid, and was involved with the Congress of the People rally in Soweto in 1955.

Harris arrived in the UK in 1956, to study drama, after college, he had a small part in Orson Welles’ film Chimes at Midnight and later worked in theater. 

A major turning point for Harris came on the 11 June 1965, when he first heard Allen Ginsberg at the decade defining International Poetry Reading at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

We turned up in our thousands to hear some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. When Allen Ginsberg stood up to read his poems you could feel an electric charge in the air. There he was, like an Old Testament prophet, with his long dark hair and bushy beard, his voice reverberating with emotional intensity. Never before in that hallowed hall had such outrageous and colorful language been heard…..Hearing Allen that first time was a revelatory and illuminating experience.

That event and his presence in London that summer, helped kindle the spark that set the underground movement alight in the mid-sixties.

Harris began to write plays with Buzz Buzz and then wrote the critically acclaimed Love Play, which was performed at the Arts Lab in 1967 - a highly important venue for alternative arts, founded by Jim Haynes, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibited and David Bowie performed. It was during this time Harris became acquainted with William Burroughs, Frank Zappa, Ken Kesey and toured with The Fugs.

Harris wrote for the International Times and in 1972 established the first “head shop” Alchemy in London on the Portobello Road, where he sold “paraphenalia” brought back from India and counter culture books.

“I’d started off in the West End before as an anarchist trader selling psychedelic posters in the late sixties you see because I did not know how to make a living. I ended up in the Portobello Road, making chokers, selling chillums, first because that was the in thing with beads.

I had traded at many festivals so it was natural for me and I started to be a sort of medicine head, with Tiger Balm, Herbs and I believed in cannabis as the ‘healing herb’.

It was here that Harris was famously prosecuted for selling cigarette papers. The shop was a focus for alternative culture, and it was here Harris began publishing underground ‘zines, including Jim Haynes, infamous drug-smuggler Howard Marks, and artist, journalist and activist Caroline Coon.
 

 
Part two of ‘Life and Works of Lee Harris’ plus bonus Lee Harris and the Beat Hotel, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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