Category Archives: Beat History

>Allen Ginsberg on Charlie Rose 1995


Lisa Phillips 1995 Beat Culture and the New America show at the Whitney Museum in New York has already been spotlighted here but it was an important show and a significant moment – “the scroll” (on display to the public for the first time), Jay Defeo’s “The Rose” (in all its immensity) – an important contextualizing of both a West Coast and an East Coast cultural explosion and avant-garde.

Allen was alive then and more than happy to participate in the publicity surrounding the event, guesting on Charlie Rose’s PBS talk show. His appearance is announced thus:
“(Tonight), a conversation with Allen Ginsberg, the poet who helped to shape The Beat Generation. He is joined by Steven Watson, author of “The Birth of The Beat Generation”, Nat Hentoff , a columnist at The Village Voice and George Herms, the California artist whose art exemplified the Beat aesthetic. The group reflects on the importance of the Beat Generation in American History.”

Unfortunately, this lively conversation has been sandwiched in between two absolutely unrelated segments – a (relatively) long opening segment on contemporaneous child welfare scandals in New York City and an interview with former NBC and PBS executive, Larry Grossman. Allen and company come in approximately 22 minutes in, if you’re willing to wait -or fast forward – and the discussion lasts for about twenty minutes.

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Beat Studies, Beats, Charlie Rose, George Herms, Jay Defeo, Lisa Phillips, Nat Hentoff, Steven Watson

>Beat Musings 1995

More video. This surprisingly-sympathetic mainstream-media CBS News, Sunday Morning segment (timed to coincide with the 1995 Lisa Phillips-curated “Beat Culture and the New America” show) has Richard Threllkald, CBS correspondent, interviewing Allen alongside Michael McClure. “Beat” is, retrospectively, defined as, “an overflowing of exuberance and good will”. Beat culture “wasn’t so much a rebellion as a proposition how to live”. Of contemporaneous times (1995): “They say the new generation is alienated, slacker, apathetic, deadened of feeling when actually there is an enormous amount of feeling underneath, which needs to be invoked, empowered and appreciated”.

McClure is shown making a pilgrimage to the site of the Six Gallery (“it’s still a gallery, (but) now it’s a gallery for tribal arts”) and to City Lights, and to the spot in San Francisco where he lived in the ‘60’s and where Jay DeFeo painted/constructed her remarkable work, The Rose.

Only the hawk-eyed will be able to pick out Gregory Corso in this footage (not to mention Ted Joans and Michael Rumaker), only momentary glimpses of them, confessedly, but, we assure you, they’re there.


Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Beat Memories, Beats, Jay Defeo, Lisa Phillips, Michael McClure

>Beat Atlas by Bill Morgan

Bill Morgan’s new book is just out from City Lights. Rick Dale of The Daily Beat, one of the earliest reviews, gives it an enthusiastic “thumbs-up” – “I absolutely love this book.It’s quirky, interesting, and practical..Beat Atlas has my highest recommendation”.

Nancy Peters, in her introduction, writes “Bill Morgan provides a comprehensive birds-eye view of the proto-Beat presence across America, and this alone illuminates an important area of literary history and geography. But even better, he also maps the complex, ever widening nexus of poets and visionaries who, for half a century, wrote to each other, performed together, supported one another’s work, and sustained a movement that was dissident, controversial, and, ultimately dominant”.

The author himself explains: “This is the third book in a series from City Lights. The first two cover the Beat Generation in New York and San Francisco, respectively, and were organized as walking tours to those cities. This volume mentions only a few locations in those two places, but, unlike those, this one is not designed to be followed in any predetermined sequence. It is organized first by region and then by state and town within each region. No attempt has been made to put the towns in any order other than alphabetical. Within each section, one location has been selected to highlight a notable place of interest. Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, introduces the book for no other reason than its importance as a Beat site. Other towns within that state follow in alphabetical order. By working with this guidebook in one hand and a trusted map in the other, you can plot your own tour around the country, just like Jack, Neal, and Allen did more than sixty years ago. Grab your rucksack and hit the road!”

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Filed under Beat Atlas, Beat History, Beat Studies, Beats, Bill Morgan, Nancy Peters

>Allen Parle En Francais

>Most people are aware of Jack Kerouac’s French-speaking background. In 1967, he appeared on the French service of the Canadian Broadcasting Service on the program Le Sel de la Semaine, interviewed by Fernand Seguin,

but perhaps less well-known is Allen’s more-than-serviceable French. Here in this rare clip from Jean Michel Humea’s 1965 movie Viva Dada, he can be heard discussing the relationship of poetry and drugs. The interview takes place in the American Library in Paris, standing alongside him is a surprisingly quiet Gregory Corso

Gregory’s delightful Italian may be sampled here

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Beats, Drugs, French, Gregory Corso, Italian, Jack Kerouac

>Jay Landesman (1920-2011)


Jay Landesman
Jay Landesman died this past week in London, aged 91. Here’s James Campbell, writing in The Boston Review about Landesman’s seminal (sic) magazine, Neurotica:

The closest there was to a beat magazine (thought it could only be seen that way in retrospect) in the late 1940s and early ’50s was a slim, eccentric journal whose contributors moved among the bases of art, sex, and neuroticism…..Ginsberg’s first contribution to a magazine with a nationwide circulation appeared in Neurotica 6 (Spring 1950), by which time the magazine had adopted a furtive beat identity. Ginsberg’s brief “Song: Fie My Fum” (an early working of “Pull My Daisy”) was not likely to advance by much the editor’s avowed cause of describing “a neurotic society from the inside”; nevertheless, it was the right kind of verse for the venue, with its playful sexual content: “Say my oops, Ope my shell, Roll my bones, Ring my bell …” The contributor’s note informed readers that “Allen Ginsberg recently recovered from a serious illness.” (sic)….The longest and most serious contribution to Neurotica 6 was “Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient” by Carl Goy, the pseudonym of Ginsberg’s new friend in the Columbia PI, Carl Solomon..

The full article can be read here. Here’s Landesman’s obituary as it appeared on Monday in the St Louis Beacon. The St Louis Post-Dispatch obit may be read here

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Beats, Carl Solomon, Jay Landesman, Neurotica

>Faulty Memory Syndrome – A Note on an Interview with Jacques Barzun

>Jacques Barzun, man of letters, fixer.

We were glancing over an old (more than 10-years-old) interview we stumbled upon with scholar/teacher/cultural historian Jacques Barzun, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. It appeared in October 2000 in the Austin Chronicle and can be read in its entirety here

In the course of the conversation, the subject turns to Allen

Interviewer: Since you were in Columbia in the Fifties, you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there.

Jacques Barzun: Allen Ginsberg was a student of Lionel (Trilling)’s
and of mine, not in our joint course (a seminal “great books” 
seminar), but separately. But we joined together to save him
from the penalties of the law, because he was involved in a very bad 
affair with an older man who seduced him sexually and used him to help
dispose of the corpse of a man that this fellow had killed. Poor Allen, aged 17 or 18, helped to dump this body into the Hudson River. 
Well, was he in trouble there! With the help of the dean of the college (Columbia)– who also knew Allen, the dean, Lionel, and 
I waited on the district attorney who fortunately was a Columbia 
graduate and we said, “This youth is really innocent, although he 
committed an awful blunder and he’s also very gifted in the English 
Department.” We didn’t say he was a poet or that might have queered 
his chances! And that it would be a catastrophe to turn him over to a criminal court and put him in jail. We had to go again to a judge in 
Brooklyn, I think, because Allen came from Brooklyn or something. 
Anyway, the district attorney wasn’t enough, so we went to a second hearing, which was much more sticky. But Allen was let off.

All sorts of bells went off when we read this, so we turned to our resident Ginsberg scholar, Bill Morgan, who provided this necessary, and interesting, corrective:

“This question about the Jacques Barzun comments is a good example of what any biographer has to be very careful about — memory. I have no doubt that Barzun was being completely honest in his answers to the questions about Allen, but his memory here fails him badly. It does make you wonder how often something is repeated that was incorrectly remembered by someone else. That’s why the voices of the last survivors becomes suspect in my mind. For example, why are the memories of Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson, David Amram, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and all, considered to be the “true stories.” There is no substitute for actual first-hand documents written at the time of events, and even those can be incorrect, misleading, or outright fabrications, as well. Oral histories are often entertaining, but I try not to put too much stock in them. The Barzun is a good example of the type, and, like I said, I am quite certain he wasn’t trying to invent stories or gild the lily.

First of all, the question asked is misleading:

“Since you were in Columbia in the Fifties, you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there”.

Barzun was Allen’s teacher during the ‘Forties, not the ‘fifties. By the ‘fifties, Allen had already graduated and moved on in his life. Saying Barzun was “in” Columbia makes it sound like he was a student, and saying “you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there” doesn’t seem accurate. I don’t think Barzun was at the center of the group and “all” the Beats certainly didn’t go there.

Then, as to Barzun’s reply

This is a case of having many memories blend together after the passage of 50 or 60 years. Allen was a student of both Trilling and Barzun. Allen said in 1949 that he had studied History with Barzun. We could find out the names of the course or courses through his college transcript. But from here on out, Barzun’s recollections are not accurate. I believe that he probably did, like Trilling, try to help whenever Allen was in trouble. Barzun saying that Allen was seduced by an older man (meaning, I assume, Lucien Carr) is not true. I think here he was thinking of the fact that Lucien was being pursued (and seduced?) by David Kammerer, who was considerably older than Lucien. At the time, Carr killed Kammerer, Allen was still a virgin and hadn’t had sex with anyone. Allen did not help dispose of the corpse, Lucien did all that himself. Kerouac helped dispose of the murder weapon, but Allen wasn’t involved in that, and in fact he was never charged as a material witness in the case, as both Kerouac and Burroughs were. The body did end up in the Hudson River, and Allen had just turned 18 at the time, so that part is correct. It really wasn’t Allen who was in trouble at that time, but Lucien, Jack, and William, although you could certainly say that Allen was upset and worried about the situation. So it might be that Barzun helped with the district attorney on Carr’s behalf, (and I recall hearing that the D.A. was a Columbia grad, but that might be my own poor memory). Barzun also seems to be mixing that 1944 story up with the later April 1949 case where Allen gets involved with Huncke, Little Jack Melody, and Vicki Russell and their burglaries. Those three were stealing and storing the stolen goods in Allen’s apartment when they were all arrested after a car chase and crash in Bayside, Queens. And so, although Allen didn’t “come from Brooklyn” it might have been that they had to appear in a court in Queens, or Brooklyn, on Allen’s behalf in that case. It was then that Trilling, Van Doren, and probably Barzun helped by getting Allen posted to the mental hospital instead of jail, and there Allen met Carl Solomon and the rest of the history takes place. Technically Allen wasn’t “let off” but instead spent much of the next year in the psychiatric hospital.

May we go on?

“You knew he was a poet even back then?”.

Allen was writing poetry in the mid-forties, but he wasn’t only interested in poetry at that time, so probably Barzun wouldn’t have thought of him as a poet that early.

Did he send you “Howl”?

No, I don’t think he did…?

I’d be surprised if Allen didn’t send a copy of Howl to Barzun. He sent copies to Van Doren, Trilling, Meyer Schapiro, who were all his teachers, too. Not to mention T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Pound, Eberhart, W.C. Williams, and Charlie Chaplin !

He sent me a letter from India, where I think he got a fellowship to spend a year or so…

Needless to say, Allen never got a “fellowship” to go to India, he just went on his own. I don’t think he ever got any type of fellowship in his life and certainly not to go to India. I’ve never seen the letter to Barzun that he mentions, but I’d like to. I certainly don’t believe that Allen would have written to him hoping to get a job for a “wonderful guru.” This was a decade before he became interested in Buddhist practice, etc., so it certainly didn’t have anything to do with Trungpa…

So, I’ve gone on much too long, but wanted to show how memory plays tricks on honest people. Don’t believe all you read in the papers (or online)!


Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Bill Morgan, Columbia University, Howl, Jacques Barzun, Lucien Carr

>Researching, Prepping…

[Tom Sturridge at the Beat Museum, San Francisco. photo courtesy Beat Museum]

Tom Sturridge, the young actor, on playing the part of Allen in the up-coming On The Road movie:

Yeah, it was one of the most.., I mean it was the most, challenging thing I’ve ever done, it was extraordinary, but fortunately he, unlike a lot of the rest of them (sic), had a lot of recently-published material, so, for example, there is the Book of Martyrdom (and Artifice), which is his childhood poetry and diaries, and his letters to Jack, and his letters to Neal, and so there is a kind of map, that you can follow through the book of On The Road, and, literally, work out where… that this was, (say), probably sometime in the middle of June, and then, literally, go to June 4, 1947, to see what he was thinking, and what he dreamt about the night before, and what..tea? he was drinking… and so, I was very fortunate to have at least that safety-net, or an access into it.

June 4 1947 ? We asked Ginsberg biographer, Bill Morgan, about that date, and he couldn’t come up with any tea or previous night’s dreams, but he did write us:

“Here’s what I know about June 4, 1947, (which might be a little bit of obscure Ginsberg trivia). Most people believe that Allen made one trip to New Waverly, Texas, to visit with Burroughs, Joan Adams, and Huncke on the unsuccessful marijuana farm. Everyone knows that Allen and Neal hitch-hiked there from Denver in late August 1947. But few people know that Allen actually stopped to visit Bill the first time on his way to Denver in June 1947. Now, I can’t swear that he was in Texas as early as June 4 (and in fact he probably wasn’t), but he might have been on his way there. It was then that he saw how run-down the farm was and realized that if he returned with Neal later in the summer, they would have no place to sleep. He commissioned Huncke to build a bed for them, and that was the reason he was angry with Huncke when they arrived in August and there was no bed”

Thanks Bill.

(and thanks, Tom, we’re glad you’re doing your homework!)

Bill, for reasons of humility, didn’t mention his own recently-published The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation, an essential book, tying it all together, if you’re thinking about that time-line. His latest book from City Lights, Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation, will be out in the Spring.

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Beats, Bill Morgan, On The Road, Tom Sturridge