Released just a few days ago, The Complete Songs Of Innocence And Experience by Allen Ginsberg is a multi-CD (or download, if you prefer) album featuring eight previously unissued songs.
‘Demiurgos scowled, and with that Plato awoke.
Or did he?’
The drug experience has often been perceived as a public and social issue. Yet, drug use and experience are unquestionably a matter of personal choice, as indeed are the consequences. Nevertheless, there is a persistent tension between the public and the private surrounding drug use. The criminalisation and condemnation of drug use in the mid-twentieth century developed entirely within the public sphere. The drug user essentially had no voice and their dependence subjected them to a criminality and demonization. Indeed, the reality of drug use was, and remains, often distorted and misrepresented to the public by politicians and policy makers. A particular case in point being the wide-spread, and persistent view that one drug, like marijuana, if it does not in itself destroy the user’s life, will eventually lead to harder drugs like heroin addiction and criminal activity. But while the public had its spokespersons and rhetoric, like Henry Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to denounce them, drug users and addicts were subjected to an imbalanced power dynamic with no one to speak for them. What we find in The Yage Letters of William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book are efforts to publicly privatise the drug experience. Or to put the matter another way: these works attempt to make the public aware of the user’s private experience. The aesthetic form of these books reflects the public performance of private life. Moreover, what these authors accomplish has unique parallels with Plato’s allegory of the cave in which an anonymous hero reveals ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ to his community. Continue Reading…
A few days ago, the Nobel Prize YouTube Channel posted Bob Dylan’s lecture, which was a requirement for any recipient of the award. In 2016, he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, to the surprise of many.
The speech is typical Dylan – intelligent and very funny in a rather subtle way. He begins by describing his own birth as a musician through his musical idols, and then moves into literature, talking about three books: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey. He describes each story and then relates their themes briefly to his own work. Finally, in a very Dylaneque conclusion, he announces that maybe everything is just nothing and we’re all reading into art to find what isn’t there.
There was, sadly, no mention of his Beat literary influences. Dylan was a friend of Allen Ginsberg‘s and said of Jack Kerouac, “I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s.”
Read more about Bob Dylan and the Beat Generation.
“From a certain point onward there is no turning back. This is the point that must be reached.”
The Six Gallery Reading
They came from the streets: from Fillmore and Broadway, from Columbus and East 7th, from Amsterdam and Morningside Drive. From Lower Burnside. Cross-country. Cross-town. There was talk of a renaissance.
On this first Friday of October, 1955, a waning gibbous moon was rising in the east. It had been hot that day, eighty-two and windless. The sun means nothing in San Francisco. It’s all about the wind. It would not be a cold night, the fog, mercifully, offshore, but it would be cool. It would be very cool. Continue Reading…
On 12th September, 1947, Allen Ginsberg shipped out as a utility man on a collier, the S.S. John Blair, for the Ponchelet Marine Corporation. He departed from Freeport, seventy-five miles south of Houston, going through Galveston, passing near Cuba and Haiti, whose mountains Allen watched pass by, and headed for Dakar, capital of the federation of French West Africa, in what is now known as Senegal. Dakar, on the western coast of Africa, had a long colonial history, although like most European colonial possessions, in 1947 this one was nearing the end of its subjugation. Once a major trading port for African slaves, Dakar had a strategic location that ensured its privileged position within the French Empire. The French West African territories were placed under the control of a single governor, who was located in Dakar, and so it had become a seat of power in the region. Indeed, by the early twentieth century, it had become a major city in the empire. As rights were slowly and inconsistently handed out to “French subjects” – ie the Africans whose homelands had been annexed by the French – the people born in Dakar were first to be given the right to vote, and it was from here that the first ever black African elected to the French government was born, Blaise Diagne. A year before Allen’s visit, the French Empire had rebranded itself the French Union to give the appearance of equality, and more limited rights were being rolled out; however, more substantial change was in the horizon, with independence just over a decade away. Continue Reading…
The Beat Generation are an often misunderstood group of souls. Even figuring out who and what they are is notoriously difficult. Yet there is no shortage of great books about the Beat writers and their fascinating lives and work. Below, I have collected what I consider the 12 essential books about the Beat Generation. (I have not included any works of actual Beat literature – ie On the Road, “Howl“, or Naked Lunch. Continue Reading…
This article first appeared in Beatdom #17.
A little over 10 years ago—February 20, 2005—“gonzo” journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, stuck the barrel of a Smith & Wesson in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Eight months later—October 1, 2005—Hunter’s long-time friend and lawyer, John G. Clancy, died in a rollover on a lonely highway in northern New Mexico.
In the summer of 2013, the written and recorded correspondence between Hunter S. Thompson and John G. Clancy was released to the public by Clancy’s widow. Some of these materials provide documentation for several interesting story lines, including evidence that Thompson’s relationship with Clancy may have influenced the development of Hunter’s own “gonzo” persona. Continue Reading…