Allen Ginsberg was a hustler. He was always on the make. But if Ginsberg was getting a piece of the pie then everyone was getting some pie—that was the kind of guy he was.
In 1953, Ginsberg was one of the young writers loosely identified as the Beat Generation. There was Jack Kerouac—nominally the Beat daddio who had his first book The Town and the City published in 1950. It was a coming of age novel that lacked the Beat prosody (“spontaneous prose”) that illuminated Kerouac’s later, better known work.
There was John Clellon Holmes who had written Go—a depiction of the hip counter culture world of parties, drugs, jazz and “the search for experience and for love.”
And then there was William S. Burroughs.
Ginsberg had encouraged Burroughs to write. He grooved over the letters he wrote—he dug his style. He told Burroughs to write a book about his experiences as an unrepentant drug addict. Nelson Algren had already written and had published his tale of heroin addiction The Man with the Golden Arm in 1949. The book received rave reviews and won Algren a National Book Award. Ginsberg figured Burroughs—an actual junkie—could deliver a better, more powerful book if only he would sit down and write it.
Burroughs grudgingly took the advice. He had already co-authored an as yet unpublished novel with Kerouac And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks in 1945 about the murder of friend and associate David Kammerer by one of the original Beat gang Lucien Carr. The book had been a literary experiment with Burroughs and Kerouac writing alternate chapters. Now he would give the facts of his life some color in the manner of Thomas De Quincey—writing the semi-autobiographical Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict.
Ginsberg helped edit the book. Then he brought it to Carl Solomon—a publisher contact he’d met at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey where both men received treatment. Solomon’s uncle was publisher A. A. Wyn—owner of the pulp paperback firm Ace Books. Through Ginsberg’s endeavors, Solomon convinced his uncle to publish Burroughs novel—written under the alias “William Lee”—as part of the Ace imprint.
Ginsberg as ‘seen by Burroughs’ on the rooftop of his Lower East apartment, New York, 1953.
Kerouac’s reply and Burroughs’ ‘Junkie,’ after the jump…
Ginsberg was known as a poet, a key figure in the Beat movement—alongside Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs—and for his collections Howl and other poems and KaddishThough then hitting middle age, Ginsberg had revolutionized poetry and was a countercultural icon to the generation that blossomed during the 1960s, as he spoke out against war, and in favor of drugs and free love.
During the Q&A with the Paris Review, Ginsberg was asked about his use of drugs, in particular hallucinogens. As a man who saw no bar on discussing any subject no matter how personal or intimate, Ginsberg said that on hallucinogens he had visions “of great scaly dragons in outer space they’re winding slowly and eating their own tails.”
Sometimes my skin and all the room seem sparkling with scales, and it’s all made out of serpent stuff. And as if the whole illusion of life were made of reptile dream.
Hallucinogenic experiences had been “states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic.” However, his tolerance to hallucinogens (“Lysergic acid, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, ayahuasca.”) was badly reduced and he no longer enjoyed them.
I can’t stand them anymore, because something happened to me with them very similar to the Blake visions. After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again.
So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.
When the interview was published in the Spring 1966 issue of Paris Review, Ginsberg wrote a letter to journal giving as footnote to the interview his regret over the “unedited ambivalence” to LSD and his endorsement for the drug.
June 2, 1966
To readers of Paris Review:
Re LSD, Psylocibin [sic], etc., Paris Review #37 p. 46: “So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on occasion, if I feel more reassurance.”
Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark June ’65 and publication May ’66 more reassurance came. I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur. No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations. Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustration for a canal in grassy Eden: huge Pacific watery shore, Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon. No harm. President Johnson that day went into the Valley of Shadow operating room because of his gall bladder & Berkley’s Vietnam Day Committee was preparing anxious manifestoes for our march toward Oakland police and Hell’s Angels. Realizing that more vile words from me would send out physical vibrations into the atmosphere that might curse poor Johnson’s flesh and further unbalance his soul, I knelt on the sand surrounded by masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings washed up by last night’s tempest, and prayed for the President’s tranquil health. Since there has been so much legislative mis-comprehension of the LSD boon I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.
Your obedient servant
Allen Ginsberg, aetat 40
The letter was thought long lost somewhere deep in the Paris Review archives, but when it was recently re-discovered, the journal published it along with the following erratum:
The Paris Review regrets the error. May the record hereafter reflect Allen Ginsberg’s unequivocal endorsement of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Below Ginsberg reads William Buckley a poem written under the influence of LSD.
The first three songs on Allen Ginsberg’s First Blues album come from a November 1971 session for a planned release on the Beatles’ Apple Records. Ginsberg asked Bob Dylan to lead the band, which included Ginsberg’s lover Peter Orlovsky, Greenwich Village folkies Happy and Artie Traum, composer David Amram, and guitarist Jon Sholle. Dylan himself played guitar, piano and organ.
“Vomit Express,” credited to Ginsberg and Dylan, might be the best-known product of the session, but the pair also co-wrote a song for the gay liberation movement, which was about five minutes old at the time: “Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag).” I believe Ginsberg is improvising the lyrics, which concern his efforts to get an eighteen-year-old newsboy in the sack. I’ve transcribed the lyrics (as I hear them, of course) below, so you can sing along with Allen and discourage any homophobic and heteronormative attitudes within earshot.
Dylan and Ginsberg at Kerouac’s grave, 1975
Who’s that Jimmy Berman? I heard you drop his name
What has he got to say? What papers is he sellin’?
I don’t know if he’s the guy I met or ain’t the same
Well, that Jimmy Berman was a boy that is worth tellin’
Jimmy Berman on the corner sold the New York Times
Jimmy Berman in New York he had a long, long climb
Started as a shoeshine boy, ended on Times Square
Jimmy Berman, what’s that rose you got settin’ in your hair?
Jimmy Berman what’s your sex, why you hang ‘round here all day?
Jimmy Berman what’s up next, oh what do you play?
Who you wanna sleep with night, Jimmy boy? Would you like come with me?
Jimmy Berman, O my love, O what misery
Jimmy Berman, do you feel the same as what I do?
Jimmy Berman, won’t you come home and make love with me too?
Jimmy Berman, I’ll take my clothes off, lay me down in bed
Jimmy Berman, drop your pants, I’ll give you some good head
Eighteen-year-old Jimmy, the boy is my delight
Eighteen-year-old Jimmy, I love him day and night
Now I know I’m getting kinda old to chase poor Jimmy’s tail
But I won’t tell you other, love, it’d be too long a tale
Jimmy Berman, please love me, I throw myself at your feet
Jimmy Berman, I’ll give you money, oh, won’t that be neat?
Jimmy Berman, just give me your heart and yeah! your soul
Jimmy Berman, please come home with me, I would be whole
Jimmy Berman on the street, waiting for his god
Jimmy Berman as I pass gives me a holy nod
Jimmy Berman he has watched and seen the strangers pass
Jimmy Berman he gave up, he wants no more, alas
Jimmy Berman does yoga, he smokes a little grass
Jimmy Berman’s back is straight, he knows what to bypass
Jimmy Berman don’t take junk, he don’t shoot speed in his eye
Jimmy Berman’s got a healthy mind and Jimmy Berman is ours
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, I will say goodbye
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, love you till I die
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, wave to me as well
Jimmy Berman, Jimmy Berman, please abolish Hell
A dedicated student of meditation throughout most of his adulthood, Allen Ginsberg fell into Buddhism fairly early on in life, well before the mysticism craze of the 1960s, to be fair. He was even instrumental in bringing Buddhist thinkers and writers into the mainstream—hardly a shallow New Age dilettante. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have super goobery white dude moments early on in his quest for spiritual education.
In this fantastic little 1963 item from The New York Times (cheekily titled “Buddhists Find a Beatnik ‘Spy’”), Ginsberg finds himself in the midst of a government/religious conflict that he clearly hadn’t anticipated.
SAIGON, Vietnam, June 5 - The Buddhists, who are in conflict with the South Vietnam Government, asserted today that they believed the Americans has sent a “spy to look at us.”
A Buddhist spokesman told this to newsmen. The newsmen, incredulous, asked if the spokesman would be good enough to describe the “spy.”
“Well, he was tall and had a very long beard and his hair was very long in back and curly,” the Buddhist said. “He said he was a poet and a little crazy and that he liked Buddhists. We didn’t know what else he was so we decided he was a spy.”
At this point his listeners burst out laughing and said the “spy” was the American poet Allen Ginsberg, a well-known beatnik. Mr. Ginsberg was here briefly for several days on his way to British Columbia after a long stay in India.
The Buddhist controversy with Government involves their resentment over Government curbs on their activities, including a ban on raising the Buddhist flag.
In 1977, Michael Rectenwald was a disenchanted pre-med student with a secret passion for poetry—Allen Ginsberg and his influences in particular. After a couple of years of covertly consuming, studying and writing poems, he found his interest in medical school had entirely evaporated, so he left school and dove further into writing, eventually sending a letter and some of his poems to Ginsberg himself. Not only did Ginsberg write back, he invited Rectenwald to apprentice him at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Describing his fellow classmates as “a hodgepodge of Buddhists, failed and former beatniks, wannabe poets, acid trippers, mushroom poppers, Carlos Castaneda aficionados who thought they could fly, and many stripes of New Ager,” Rectenwald was thrown into an erratic world of “creatives” head first. He thrived, developing both a meaningful relationship with his mentor and practicing his craft, despite the frequently turbulent environment.
For example, one of Rectenwald’s “tasks” was watching over Billy Burroughs, Jr., son of William S. Burroughs. Traumatized by an unstable childhood and the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Billy’s mental and physical health had deteriorated exacerbated by alcoholism and a speed addiction his father had encouraged him to cultivate—the senior Burroughs saw drugs as a creative muse. Eventually Billy fled to Florida and died of cirrhosis shortly thereafter, though not before leaving a suicide note, which Rectenwald still possesses.
Eventually Rectenwald went back home and returned to school, this time for a B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh. His experience with Ginsberg, while formative, had been disorienting. In 1994, Rectenwald and Ginsberg met again for an interview, which you can read below. This is the first time it has run in print, and the warmth and the familiarity of their interaction is apparent as they meander from politics to the drug war to Buddhism to William S Burroughs.
Michael Rectenwald has since gone on to publish his own poetry and fiction. He has also taught, and produced scholarly work on academic writing, and the history of science and secularism (guess pre-med really did end up coming in handy). He hopes to complete his next book—on his experience with Ginsberg—soon.
M: Hello Allen.
A: Hi, Hello.
M: How are you doing?
A: Well, I just came back from a Chinese restaurant with an old painter friend whom I haven’t seen in New York in thirty years. Robert Levin who was a court painter for all the Beat generation and San Francisco renaissance poets like Kerouac and Gary Snyder and John Wieners. So he just arrived in New York for the big Beat generation festival at NYU and him and I went out to summer tonight.
M: and you hadn’t seen him in how long?
A: Well we’d seen each other in Seattle where he was, but I hadn’t seen him in New York, I guess for I guess thirty years or so, since the 60s.
M: Wow, and the Beat generation and legacy and celebration is taking place, actually as this interview is airing. I’ve got the schedule here in front of me and it looks like it’s quite of an array… everything from academic presentations to…
A: Art shows, particularly. There will be a reading at town hall with Gregory Corso and Ann Waldman and myself, Dave [inaudible], Michael McClure…
M: Ferlinghetti with paintings?
A: Ferlinghetti is both poetry and paintings. Almost everybody. It’s a show of… it began in the school of education and art. It began as an art show to show paintings by Ferlinghetti and Burroughs and water colors by Gregory Corso and photographs by me and Albert Franken and others.
A: There is a new big book out by Chronicle Books that is [inaudible]. It is back on the stands now.
M: I myself have been an admirer of your musical works. You putting Blake to music and you have several musical scores that you have done.
A: We have a lot of albums out now. It’s basically a libretto that I did with Philip Glass, Hydrogen Jukebox that came out on [inaudible] Records a couple months ago. A couple years ago, I had on Island Records what was called The Lion For Real with spoken poems with jazz backgrounds by a lot of very interesting musicians, the same guys that play with Tom Waits and sometimes with Leonard Cohen, [inaudible], Mark Greenbo, Bill Frisell and others. So now I’m working on a fourth CD set of highlights of all my recorded stuff that has been put out over a thirty-year period.
M: That’s excellent
A: We have a lot of Blake, that you like, plus some things you haven’t heard.
A: That I recorded with Dylan.
M: Oh really?
A: It’s about a half hour of work with Dylan, my own songs with Blake or compositions we did together, improvisations. Then there is a live cut with The Clash. A piece of an opera I did with Philip Glass, a duet between me and Glass. There is a duet with…oh, let’s see, who is the drummer for “A Love Supreme”?
M: Oh, you mean from the Santana album?
A: Elvin Jones, the drummer.
M: Is the cut from Combat Rock is that The Clash or is that another?
A; Oh that is a live thing we did, it’s one of my songs. We had Combat Rock, actually with the album I sing on with their words, but this was my own. Someone did it at a club in New York, improvised, years ago when I first met him.
Most of Allen Ginsberg’s recorded music consists of the poet chanting to the accompaniment of his harmonium. While I enjoy the mantras, original folk songs (particularly “Father Death Blues”), and interpretations of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, my favorite Ginsberg tune is “Birdbrain,” a six-and-a-half minute punk novelty record made with a Denver band called The Gluons. As friends, relatives, lovers, neighbors, passengers and passersby will attest, I’ve been known to listen to this thing for hours on end.
“Birdbrain” fits Ezra Pound’s definition of literature as “news that STAYS news.” While some of the references to current events are now 33 years out of date, “Birdbrain” remains fresh if only because I don’t know of another song that treats the subject of human stupidity so sweetly. Of course we’re all one, the song says: we’re all the same drooling moron. In the same way “Birdbrain” balances its misanthropic theme with an attitude of compassionate loving-kindness, the record works as a hybrid of punk and poetry. I prefer it to “Ghetto Defendant,” Ginsberg’s 1982 collaboration with The Clash.
Recorded in Denver while Ginsberg was teaching at Naropa, “Birdbrain” was distributed by Denver’s Wax Trax! record store (a separate entity from the Chicago store and label). A dub version appears on the scarce 1983 LP Allen Ginsberg with Still Life, produced by Gluon Mike Chappelle. According to the Diamond Sutra, if you play this loud enough in your office cubicle, you will achieve Buddhahood.
“Birdbrain,” the single
I can’t find a clip of the B-side, the Gluons’ “Sue Your Parents,” but here’s a Lounge Lizards-y live version of “Birdbrain” from 1981:
Allen Ginsberg and the Job play “Birdbrain,” San Francisco, November 1981
This intimate 1959 footage of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucien Carr and his wife Francesca (with their three sons, Simon, Caleb and Ethan), and artist Mary Frank (and her children Pablo and Andrea) is fascinating for a couple of reasons. First of all, there’s just something captivating about seeing so many legends (especially the incredibly underrated Mary Frank) in such a domestic setting. You’d expect to see them drinking at the Harmony Bar in the East Village, you just don’t picture Kerouac with a kid on his lap while they do it. It’s hardly the louche atmosphere associated with the Beats.
Secondly, if I had to guess, I’d say this footage was probably taken by The Americans photographer Robert Frank—Mary Frank’s husband. I say this partially due to Mary’s presence, and partially because the crew’s amazing short film, Pull My Daisy was made the same year, directed by Robert Frank. You can a see similar stylistic approach in the filming, but unlike Pull My Daisy, the mood is totally organic, warm and endearing.
Along with being a poet, Beat writer, radical, teacher, diarist, singer, musician, photographer and Buddhist, Allen Ginsberg was also the pioneer of the selfie. Long before everyone was posting their self-portraits on social media, Ginsberg was out there taking snaps of himself in front of every hotel mirror. He snapped himself crossed-legged, naked, half-dressed, fully dressed, vulnerable, confident, unwashed, washed, smiling, squinting, happy-face, ugly-face, old-man-tired-and-going-to-bed-face: the Ginsberg selfie captured it all.
But above all that, Ginsberg was a brave man who challenged and changed (sometimes half-in-jest, most times seriously) our perceptions and unquestioning acceptance of the world as it’s presented to us. The documentary No More To Say And Nothing To Weep For - An Elegy for Allen Ginsberg examines the poet’s life and work, with archival interviews with Ginsberg (including his last) and his many friends, admirers and critics (including Paul McCartney. Peter Orlovsky and Patti Smith) and also includes footage of the poet’s death. It’s a beautiful film and one you’ll have to find a quiet hour in the day to watch.
The title of The Art of Tripping, a documentary about the visionary uses of narcotics that aired on Channel 4 in the UK in 1993, has a slippery double meaning. The surface notion is the idea of a guide to tripping well, of tripping with style, but that’s not what it refers to. More literally, the documentary addresses the artistic uses of drugs, art produced by tripping.
“Devised and directed” by Storm Thorgerson, well known as one of the members of the legendary Hipgnosis artistic team, The Art of Tripping is a satisfyingly intelligent narrative that brings the viewer through two centuries of the effects of mind-altering substances on highly creative minds. Hail Britannia: I’m trying to imagine CBS coming up with a program like this, without success. Even PBS wouldn’t likely go out of its way to praise the salutary uses of mescaline, although I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that point. The narrator is Bernard Hill, who does an excellent job of imitating a certain kind of louche academic type who might plausibly have created the documentary you’re watching (even though he didn’t).
The documentary takes you from the days of Coleridge more than 200 years ago up through De Quincey, Rimbaud, Modigliani, and Picasso before getting to the golden age of chemically enhanced literature and painting following World War II. Be warned: this is a high-minded documentary, and the focus is entirely on authors and painters. You won’t hear anything about Jimi Hendrix here. The doc has a highbrow bias but is no less witty for that: many interviews are digitally fucked-with in appropriate ways, including a Picasso expert whose bit is presented in a cubist style and a commentator on LSD whose outline is briefly replaced with footage of an underwater vista, and so forth. In the familiar effort to make sure everything stays amiably “visual,” there’s also a metaphor in which the narrator ascends a creaky elevator to the rooftop of a building—the resolution of that metaphor could not be more cheesy or perfunctory.
Most notable for the purposes of DM is its lengthy succession of prominent talking heads, from Allen Ginsberg and J.G. Ballard to Hubert Selby Jr. and Paul Bowles. Where such personages were unavailable for reasons of death, Hill “interviews” De Quincey, Edgar Allan Poe, Anaïs Nin, Andy Warhol, and a few others who are embodied by actors who quote diaries and other literary works in order to “answer” the questions.
All of the great druggie classics of the postwar era are explored. Allen Ginsberg reads some bits of “Laughing Gas” from Kaddish and Other Poems, while Paul Bowles discusses the practice of ingesting kif in Tangier and reads a druggy bit from his book Let It Come Down. J.G. Ballard calls Naked Lunch “a comic masterpiece … a kind of apocalyptic view of the postwar world.” Amusingly, Ballard later says that “taking LSD was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life.” Of course, a few years after this documentary aired, Ballard wrote Cocaine Nights, which would obviously have fit this show to a T.
The show is chronological, so if you’re looking for Aldous Huxley or Ken Kesey or Jay McInerney, it won’t be too hard to find. My favorite bit comes towards the very end, when Lawrence Sutin, author of Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick, describes Dick’s disturbingly high intake of amphetamines:
At his peak, in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, by his own testimony he was taking a thousand amphetamines a week. White crosses and whatever speed, street drugs he was taking. The testimony of the roommate who I interviewed was that he would go to the refrigerator, in which was a large jar of white crosses, and simpy dip his hand in, take a handful, and swallow them, so if you ask how he fared with all this, the answer was: badly.
This is a fine interview with Allen Ginsberg taken from the BBC series Face to Face, in which Ginsberg opens up about his family, loves, identity, drugs and even sings.
The series, Face to Face originally started in 1959, and was hosted by John Freeman, whose skill and forthright questioning cut through the usual mindless chatter of such interview shows. Freeman, a former editor of the New Statesman was often considered brusque and rude, but his style of questioning fitted the form of the program, which was more akin to an interview between psychiatrist and patient. The original series included, now legendary, interviews with Martin Luther King, Tony Hancock, Professor Carl Jung, Evelyn Waugh and Gilbert Harding.
In 1989, the BBC revived the series, this time with the excellent Jeremy Isaacs as questioner, who interviewed Allen Ginsberg for this program, first broadcast on 9th January 1995.
Watching this now, makes me wonder what has happened to poetry? Where are our revolutionary poets? Where are our poets who speak out, demonstrate, make the front page, and tell it like it is? And why are our bookstores cluttered with the greeting card verse of 100 Great Love Poems, 101 Even Greater Love Poems, and Honest to God, These Are the Greatest Fucking Love Poems, You’ll Ever Fucking Read. O, for a Ginsberg now.
The thing I enjoy most about reading published journals and diaries are those wee gems of anecdote and information that often fail to be included in biographies and memoirs.
Take for example this (possibly apocryphal) tale from the author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles, which is included in volume one of his Journals:
”...[A]n amusing story about Allen Ginsberg, one of the new American literary clique—the Beat Generation—who came to Oxford to lecture to the Jesus College Literary Society. Ginsberg started his lecture by saying that he had landed in Ireland before coming on to England.
‘Soon as I landed, I felt a kind of weight pressing on the top of my head. And I knew what it was. I knew what it was. It was the Church. And you know what I did? I went straight into the first church, and I went straight up the aisle of that church, and I stood before the altar. I stood right there in front of the altar. And you know what I did? I masturbated, right there. And that was good. That was real.’
The Literary Society, said Podge, rose to a man and hurled him gently out of the room.”
The “Podge” who told Fowles this story was Fred Porter, a university friend and later a respected Marxist and teacher at Magdalen College School, Oxford.
”...[Ginsberg] pushed on to Oxford University. There he gave a reading to a small group of about twenty enthusiastic students. Since he hadn’t read in quite a while he was a little hesitant, but once he began speaking it felt great to be in front of an audience again. He wept as he read Howl, and then recited some Creeley, Whalen, and Levertov poems to the students. Triumphant afterward, he walked along a quiet stream near the college towers and listened to the bells ringing peacefully as they had for hundreds of years.”
I prefer Podge’s version to Morgan’s, as it was possible that Ginsberg may have read his poetry before recounting his activities in Ireland, and then being ejected. Morgan’s version reads like the description to a closing scene from a cliched Hollywood biopic.
Anyway, for those who love Ginsberg, here he is talking about The Beats, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and censorship. Alas, he makes no reference to his onanistic protest against the Catholic Church.
Ah, Borscht—a soup of Ukranian origin that has been popular in many Eastern and Central European countries for centuries. This is Allen Ginsberg’s version of the recipe.
COLD SUMMER BORSCHT
Dozen beets cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips
Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce
All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup,
with beets now soft - boil an hour or more
Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid
sweet & sour like Lemonade
Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid -
Serve with (1) Sour Cream on table
(2) Boiled small or halved potato
on the side
i.e. so hot potatoes don’t heat the
cold soup prematurely
(3) Spring salad on table to put into
cold red liquid
1) Onions - sliced (spring onions)
2) Tomatoes - sliced bite-sized
3) Lettuce - ditto
4) Cucumbers - ditto
5) a few radishes
for Summer Dinner
The Burning Ghat is a strange, yet revealing short film that explores 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 three young writers to the “Beat Life”—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.
In 1964, The British Labour Party was elected into government with a slim majority of 4 seats. Such a small majority made governing the country difficult for canny Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Therefore, after 17 months in power, Wilson called a second election. In support of winning re-election, the Labour Party’s magazine, Tribune asked a selection of writers and artists who they would vote for in the 1966 General Election. In response, sensing Labour might not hold to their socialist ideals, poet Christopher Logue wrote the poem “I shall vote Labour.”
I shall vote Labour
I shall vote Labour because
God votes Labour.
I shall vote Labour to protect
the sacred institution of The Family.
I shall vote Labour because
I am a dog.
I shall vote Labour because
upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants.
I shall vote Labour because
I am on a diet.
I shall vote Labour because if I don’t
somebody else will:
I shall vote Labour because if one person
everybody will be wanting to do it.
I shall vote Labour because if I do not vote Labour
my balls will drop off.
I shall vote Labour because
there are too few cars on the road.
I shall vote Labour because I am
a hopeless drug addict.
I shall vote Labour because
I failed to be a dollar millionaire aged three.
I shall vote Labour because Labour will build
more maximum security prisons.
I shall vote Labour because I want to shop
in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow.
I shall vote Labour because
the Queen’s stamp collection is the best
in the world.
I shall vote Labour because
deep in my heart
I am a Conservative.
Christopher Logue was a poet, writer, journalist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor and performer. Born in Portsmouth, in 1926, Logue was an only child of middle-aged parents. After school, he served in the Black Watch regiment, from which he was given a court-martial for selling stolen pay books, and given a 16-months’ jail sentence.
‘It was so drab. There was nowhere to go. You couldn’t seem to meet any girls. If you went up to London in 1951, looking for the literary scene, what did you find? Dylan Thomas. I thought that if I came to the place where Pound flourished, I might too.’
In Paris, Logue met writer Alexander Trocchi (who saved Logue from an attempted suicide), and the pair set-up and edited the legendary literary magazine Merlin, which premiered work by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Chester Himes, as well as Logue and Trocchi. The pair also wrote pornographic novels for Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press, and briefly met William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso in the late 1950s.
George Whitman, propietor of Shakespeare and Co., described the pairing of Trocchi and Logue as:
‘True bohemians, Beats before Beats officially existed. Christopher was the scruffy poet, quite down and out most of the time. He definitely fancied himself as Baudelaire or somebody like that.’
In Paris, Logue toyed with Marxism, and was once famously put down by the author Richard Wright.
‘You’ve got nothing to fight for, boy—you’re looking for a fight. If you were a black, boy, you’re so cheeky you’d be dead.’
But Logue lost none of his mettle, or his socialist convictions and he continued to be a gadfly throughout his life. In the 1960s, he collaborated with Lindsay Anderson, giving poetry readings at the National Film Theater between features. He was a pacifist and a member of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, taking part with Bertrand Russell on the marches to Aldermarston.
He appeared at Peter Cook’s club The Establishment and wrote songs for jazz singer Annie Ross, and had one recorded by Joan Baez. He also appeared at the Isle of Wight Rock Festival, and contributed the wonderfully bizarre “True Stories” to Private Eye magazine. He acted for Ken Russell in The Devils, wrote the screenplay for Russell’s Savage Messiah, and acted in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky. Logue’s poetry was incredibly popular, even appearing in posters throughout the London Underground. His most famous works were Red Bird, a jazz colaboration with Tony Kinsey, and War Music, a stunning and critically praised adaption of Homer’s Illiad. He was awarded the 2005 Whitbread Poetry Prize for his collection Cold Calls.
Logue died in 2011, and Wilson won the 1966 election with a majority of 96 seats.
This is Christopher Logue reading “I shall vote Labour” in 2002, as filmed by Colin Still.
And of course there are those times when so much is happening—the emails to be read, the dog to be walked, the work to be done, the ‘toothpaste to be squeezed’—that a story occasionally slips by unnoticed, unacknowledged. So, it was with this piece from the Tampa Bay Times that was posted in March.
..visited several times with Jack Kerouac at Kerouac’s home on 10th Avenue N for this story, which was published Oct. 12, 1969. Kerouac died nine days later, on Oct. 21, at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
According to Kevin Hayes, author of the book Conversations With Jack Kerouac, McClintock’s interviews were Kerouac’s last.
Kerouac was unlike the imaginary Beat writer that millions venerated. He was a maudlin drunk, who clung to his childhood beliefs, spoiled by drink, a bitter Republican, who was dismissive of the hedonistic culture his work had inspired. It’s sometimes inevitable that the youthful firebrand will evolve into the tweedy curmudgeon. Often this phase of an artist’s life is dismissed or edited out (look how Allen Ginsberg tirelessly ignored or defended, as somehow ironic, his friend’s homophobia and anti-semitism). Still, I find such phases as interesting and as valid as the sunny, glory days—in the same way “fat Elvis” is as compelling a narrative as “Sun Records Elvis,” but for wholly different reasons.
McClintock went looking for Kerouac wanting to know what happened to the Beats in the “Age of Aquarius?” After a week of no-shows, McClintock at last saw a recognizable face with “grizzled jowls and red-rimmed eyes under spikey, dark tousled hair.”
Kerouac? The face said, “Yeah,” and then: “You want to come in?”
Although the sun was two hours from taking its evening dip into the gulf 10 miles to the west, the house was dim inside. A television set in the corner was on, soundless. The sound you heard was Handel’s Messiah blaring from speakers in the next room.
“I like to watch television like that,” Kerouac said.
“You ain’t going to take my photo are you? You better not try to take my photo or I’ll kick your ass.” A threatening leer, then a laugh.
“Stella. Hey! Turn the music up!” Stella went and turned the music up. Her feet were silent on the floor.
Kerouac dragged up a rocking chair for the reporter, then slumped into another one in the corner.
He was wearing unpressed brown pants, a yellow-and-brown striped sport shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. The shirt was unbuttoned and beneath it the T-shirt was inside out. He pointed to his belly, large and round.
“I got a goddam hernia, you know that? My goddam belly-button is popping out. That’s why I’m dressed like this … I got no place to go, anyway. You want a beer? Hah?” He picked up a pack of Camels in a green plastic case. “Some whiskey then?”
Kerouac has a hernia, his gut swollen over his pants, “My belly-button is popping out,” he said. McClintock wanted to know what Kerouac was working on:
“Well, I wrote that article,” he said, a trifle belligerently. His agent was busy selling a piece Kerouac had written, entitled “After Me, the Deluge,” his reflections on today’s world and what he might have contributed to it.
“Well, I’m going to write a novel about the last 10 years of my life …
The conversation moved onto the Beats, Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey (“I don’t like Ken Kesey…He ruined Cassady”) before Kerouac began his drunken ramblings about the Mafia, the Communists and “the Jew,” and talking about his experiences with drugs:
“I smoked more grass than anyone you ever knew in your life,” Kerouac snorts. “I came across the Mexican border one time with 2½ pounds of grass around my waist in a silk scarf. I had one of those wide Mexican belts around me over it. I had a big bottle of tequila and I went up to the border guard and offered him some, and he said, No, go on through, senor.”
Kerouac laughed, remembering how that was.
“It should be legalized and taxed. Taxed. Yeah, ‘Gimme a pack of marijuana!’ But this other stuff is poison; acid’s poison, speed is poison, STP is poison, it’s all poison. But grass is nothing.”
By the end of the interview, Kerouac revealed a spark of his old self, his essence, his enthusiasm for writing:
“Stories of the past,” said Jack Kerouac. “My story is endless. I put in a teletype roll, you know, you know what they are, you have them in newspapers, and run it through there and fix the margins and just go, go – just go, go, go.”
McClintock has written a powerful and memorable portrait and the whole article can be read here.