>Allen’s Spiritual Jukebox (Notes on Music Notes 2)

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[The Heart Sutra – Chinese (6th Century)]

Regarding Allen Ginsberg Music Notes At Auction

Allen’s notes were written pre-his serious engagement with Tibetan Buddhism, (the date of these music notes, February 10 1971). He nonetheless recommends (and this selection begins with) the classic chanted teachings, the Prajnaparamita Sutra – or more specifically, the shortened version, the Prajnaparamita Hrdaya (the Heart Sutra). As he notes “so chanted in Sino-Japanese presently in USA by S(an) F(rancisco) Soto Zen Temple – by Roshi Suzuki & Disciples“. Roshi Shunryu Suzuki is well-revered and well-remembered. His earliest transcribed lectures on the Prajnaparamita can be found here. A recording of Allen (accompanied by Ed Sanders) chanting the sutra (on the occasion of the passing of his friend, Carl Solomon, can be found here. You Tube, of course, has several orchestrated (and illustrated) versions (Ani Tsering Wagmo’s Tibetan manifestation, among them. Others can be found here and here).

Turning to the “Hare Khrishna” (sic) Mantra (“Hare Krishna”, Allen corrects himself in the second spelling), and the “Fugs record on which I sang” – that would be the 1968 studio album, Tenderness Junction – “track 5: Hare Krishna” – (not only Allen, but Gregory Corso, appears on this track, alongside The Fugs; sitar is played (giving it the necessary “Indian” feel) by Jake Jacobs).

The ubiquitousness of the mantra barely needs remarking on, but, to follow some of Allen’s leads, here’s George Harrison and friends devotional rendition. And here’s Indian musician Jagit Singh & Chorus. Rare audio of ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada chanting it may be found here. And lets not forget Allen’s own renditions (most famously on the William Buckley tv show, Firing Line, but also, less frequently-viewed, as the hero of, and soundtrack to, Jonas Mekas’ 1966 film, Hare Krishna. George Harrison’s re-working of it (in “My Sweet Lord”) may perhaps best be sampled here (in performance at the famous 1971 “Concert for Bangladesh”). Beatles minutae and trivia – they play around with it (lovingly?) here. “Swami Bhaktivedanta” is, of course, another name for Prabhupada.

Scott Joplin and “Maple Leaf Rag” – here‘s a vintage piece of audio, a recording of the piece, on a pianola roll, played by Joplin himself – and here‘s a brief selection from a recent (2008) production of Treemonisha

Blues singer Ma Rainey‘s 1925 version of “See See Rider Blues” (“C.C.Rider” – “Easy C.C.Rider Blues”, Allen refers to it) can be listened to here. The lines that he quotes (“See, See what you’ve done” and “I’m gonna buy me a pistol..” are both from that rendition.

Turning to Bessie Smith, You Tube can provide us with “Empty Bed Blues” (sic), “Young Woman’s Blues“, “Give Me A Pigsfoot..” and, even, “At The Christmas Ball” (with a backdrop of Christmas decorations!)

And here’s the Leadbelly selection (incidentally, if you haven’t seen the 1935 March of Time newsreel featuring John Lomax and Leadbelly, it’s well worth a viewing), “Irene” (“Goodnight Irene“, “Irene Goodnight“), “Boll Weevil“, and, the variously named “Black Girl” (aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” aka “In The Pines“) – Regarding the latter, we wanted to slip in a plug for Alice Notley‘s book-length meditation around the song – and not forgetting Kurt Cobain!

“Ray Charles version of “Feel Alright” – not quite sure what Allen is referring to here? Might it perhaps be this, “It’s Alright”, a 1957 cut from Atlantic Records. Possibly not?. We all know “(I) Got A Woman“, right?

Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young, usher us, delightfully, into the realm of jazz, “Classic American Music”, as Allen declares it. Here’s an Allen jazz jukebox – Billie (Lady Day)’s “Strange Fruit“, “Fine and Mellow“, “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues” and “Easy Living“; Monk’s “Mysterioso” and “Round About Midnight” (there are another couple of versions of it here and here); “Bird”‘s “Ornithology“; and Lester Young’s 1939 recording, “Lester Leaps (In)“.

“Opera. Bertol(t) Brecht/Kurt Weil(l) Mahagony Greatest of xx Century Operas. Perform as much of it as possible” – this is surely Harry Smith‘s influence. The incomparable Lotte Lenya singing “Alabama Song”, (one of the opera’s most famous songs) – “show me the way to the next whiskey bar” – can be accessed here and here (and another performance, with a scholarly introduction by Aaron Copland, can be found here).


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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat Studies, Buddhism, Harry Smith, Music

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