Archives For February 2014

The Brothers Karamazov and Me

“When I was in the hospital
I had a big fat nurse
Who kept looking over my shoulder
At the book I was reading,
‘The Brothers Karamazov,’
By Gambling Man Fyodor
Dostoevsky
Of Czarist Russia, a Saint . . .” i

I am married to a husband called Gregory
Saint Gregory of the Pines
We live in a dacha
under the conifers deep in the frozen forest
of suburban North Jersey
Every winter gentle Gregorius
gets an armload of Russian novels
Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky
and settles down in the chair
and reads
You see, Gregorivich is better than me
A disciplined monk (and a hunk)
and I have met my match
my white whale
I am the old man and the sea
and this marlin is drowning me
His name is Karamazov
Make that Karamazov three
and these brother are driving me mad
Driving me to profligate drink
and ruining my Zosima think
Alyosha, I’m ready to bail out
on page 415
with almost four hundred more pages to go
You see, I have work to do
and other books to read, that are piling up in piles of three
But the Ks are slowing me down
and making me frown
I have chickens to roast
Pignoli nuts to toast
Onions to rake and mushrooms to bake
Floors need birch broom sweepings
Samovars polishing and tea drinking
Icons to venerate
Martyrs to imitate
Incense to censer
Paintings to contemplate (by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy)
Devils to beat (“. . . behind the door, a real beefy one, a yard and a half tall or more, with a thick tail, brown, long . . . ” ii)
and deadlines to meet
And I can’t do anything
because I’m stuck on page 415

i Kerouac, Jack. Mexico City Blues, 55th Chorus. (New York: Grove Press, 1994). p. 55.
ii Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. (New York: Vintage Classics, 1991). p. 169.

Why Can’t They Get It?

By Neil Reddy

Originally published in Beatdom #14


 

There are two questions that have to be asked about Beat movies. What do we want and why can’t they get it right?

If we’re looking for Beat movies as in expressions of the flow and rhythm of Beat poetry and Jazz Bebop, then you have to go to the source material: Pull My Daisy (1959), or The Flower Thief (1960), or Howl (2010). If you want to get derivative, try any college arts course or gifted YouTube contributor – if you can’t find them there, then get on your laptop and build your own. But, if you’re looking for fictional movies about the poets and the Beat Generation, then the latter question remains valid – why can’t they get it right?

It seemed to go wrong from the off with The Beat Generation (1959), which stole the title Kerouac had planned to use on Pull My Daisy. The Beat Generation is nothing more than a sleaze noir flick whose villain, a serial rapist no less, has Beat connections and “makes the scene” to find his victims. (It also includes a scuba diving chase scene which I’ve yet to discover any reference to in the Beat oeuvre.) The British contribution, Beat Girl (1960), was also sleaze-based, although more coffee bar centric and lacking any scuba scenes. It was just another moralistic tale, warning of the dangers of fast living and weird teenage kicks. Alas, the high pinnacle of these two masterpieces in bilge was not to be maintained. Since those heady days, the genre has repeatedly fallen flat on its face with badly scripted melodramas like Heart Beat (1980), or the incident led biopics Kill Your Darlings (2013) and Beat (2000), but, while being competent films, their Beat element is almost superfluous.

Some valiant efforts have been attempted. The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997), does well to catch the cultural context which many of the other films fail to do, and On the Road (2012), did well to get across the feel of its source material even though some of the alterations were difficult to understand – why is Sal mourning the death of his father when it’s the break-up of his marriage in the novel?

Naked Lunch (1991), like the novel, stands alone and must be respected for its sheer audacity to exist at all but, again, its focus is not in capturing the energy of the creative milieu that made the Beats what they were; and therein lies the problem and what should be the solution to the problem. The actual act of writing is not cinematic – although Henry & June (1990) and Quiet Days in Clichy (1990) prove there are always soft porn options. It’s the interactions between these young men and women that could be, must be, film-worthy. So why don’t they film that?

On the Road (2012) captures some of this spark but does a better job of portraying the grind of the road which unfortunately dissipates the energy, conflict, and humour that must have been evident when the Beats were gathered. The “far out” premise of Pull My Daisy (1959) shows this to be true.

The British comedy film The Rebel (America knows it as Call me a Genius (1961)) may be one of the best non-Beat, Beat films ever made, as it doesn’t take the subject too seriously and yet manages to mock the art establishment and satirise European intellectualism, whilst capturing the stifling status quo that the Beats were kicking against.

So what do we want from a Beat movie? We need the colour and tone of Bird (1988); the social bite of Up the Junction (1968); the grime of Barfly (1987); the wit of Factotum (2005); and the exuberance of… dare I say Animal House (1978)? Perhaps not but you can see the problem.

In the end, perhaps we are asking or expecting too much from a commercial film industry. Perhaps our best hopes do lie with the YouTube generation? Think about selling your Beat movie proposal: “We want you to give us money to make a movie about a bunch of kids in the late 1940s and 50s who live together and write poetry and books  and the movie needs to be funny, energetic, sexy, character-centred, contemplative, introverted and dialogue rich whilst lacking explosions, machines guns, and ethno-centrically vague but identifiable terrorists.” Really, who are we trying to kid?

It’s said a movie is ruined three times: when you write it, when you talk about it, and when you make it… so let me give you the opening scene to my movie and you can ruin the rest for yourself.

Black screen – music Mingus – opening scene viewed from above – daylight, summer field – girl with long hair opens copy of On the Road – camera beads in on page – flash montage of cultural icons – Lady Gaga, Obama, Bowie, Dylan, Nixon, Chi Guevara, Lennon, Kennedy, Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, Brando, Miles Davis etc. – the montage moves faster and faster until it fades into a crowded room where the Beats are laughing, smoking and reading their poetry.

Scene I…

Preakness Springs Young Writer’s Dreams

Preakness springs young writer’s dreams
Castles soar in fresh bright air
Precious Underwood close at hand
And typewriter of thy heart . . . ‘tis furious poet’s tool
Notebooks filled with million words
American stories colored told
Baseball, football, scored by jazz
Seaman’s tales and merchant sails
Spontaneous flow of poetry prose
Languagey language i casual pen
Talent, energy, ambition swell
Leads to Manhattan lights and nights
And its clubs and rain streaked streets
Paves way sad gray Lowell leave
Away New England’s frozen freeze
Thoreau’s pond and pine tree breeze
Wolfe, Melville, Dostoevsky saint
London, Whitman, Shakespeare’s plaint
To his own voice be true
That rises above the mills
And smoke, knowing
There’s nothing like a cigar
For a clean young man from a clean home ii
With a credo
To write all day
And star-spangled night
Of course, there’s a sublime woman iii
A great woman
And a love to cling to

i Kerouac, Jack. Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings. Ed. Paul Marion. (New York: Viking, 1999). pp. 150-151.
ii Ibid., p. 165.
iii Ibid., p. 149.

Exiled on Beat Street

In 1957 Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were in the midst of the obscenity trials in the US surrounding the publication of Ginsberg’s poem Howl. After being shunned by the clean-cut conservative American public, (who despised homosexuality and Ginsberg’s outspoken nature in the radicalised work) the pair went left to seek refuge in more liberal and artistic France. Eventually the couple sought exile with fellow Beat poet Gregory Corso in their very own sanctuary of creativity which happened to be a no-name, beaten-up hotel at 9 Rue Gît-Le-Coeur in the Latin quarter of Paris. The cheap and tacky hotel was later to be christened the Beat hotel by Corso. Continue Reading…

Go… the Summer, Fall, and Winter of Discontent

The summer, the fall, and the winter of discontent, shovel after shovel of snow that turns to filthy slush, as in slush pile (publishers’ slush piles) . . . the discontent of youth, the discontent of marriage, the discontent of writers, the discontent of New Yorkers, and the discontent that turns to temporary joy at the nightclub The Go Hole. “Go! Go!” and “gone.” The discontent of life right from the beginning, as whimsically stated by William Blake:

“My mother groan’d! my father weapt.
Into the dangerous world I leapt” i

Go the 1952 novel by John Clellon Holmes is a must for any serious Beat reader. It has none of the poetry of Kerouac, but provides an authentic background and clear insight into character, especially chilling are portraits of Bill Cannastra and Neal Cassady. Holmes delivers compelling studies of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and some more minor characters, such as a sympathetic one of Luanne Henderson.
Go was published five years before On the Road, “your book was accepted and mine rejected,” ii in an ironic, fascinating bit of publishing history. “What do I do now? . . . It’s been nothing but a dream all along. How can I earn money? What job can I do?” All those years of writing, gathering material, writing, writing, writing, and then, nothing, rejection, humiliation, a “numb bewilderment of these hapless thoughts.” iii
When reading the Beats, keep in mind that before the Beat Generation, this was the World War II Generation, as explained in this passage about The Go Hole:

“The Go Hole was where all the high schools, the swing bands, and the roadhouses of their lives had led these young people; and above all it was the result of their vision of a wartime America as a monstrous danceland, extending from coast to coast . . . In this modern jazz, they heard something rebel and nameless that spoke for them . . . It was more than a music; it became an attitude toward life . . . and these introverted kids . . . who had never belonged anywhere before, now felt somewhere at last.” iv

So the go in Go comes from the muse, Neal Cassady , called Hart, who makes no attempt to hide his excitement for the music in his “enormous nervous energy” as he grins and mumbles his approval: “Go! Go!” As Hart shouts “go!” at the musicians, the audience is yelling “go!” at Hart. Holmes, called Hobbes, sees through Hart’s con man ways, but Jack, called Pasternak, and Allen, called Stofsky, adore him. v
The rest is history, Beat history, and once again, in the words of Blake, which Stofsky takes to heart:

“Seek love in the pity of other’s woe,
In the gentle relief of another’s care,
In the darkness of night & the winter’s snow
In the naked and outcast, seek love there!” vi

i Holmes, John Clellon. Go. (Mamaroneck, New York: Paul P. Appel, Publisher, 1977). p. 70.
ii Ibid., p. 254.
iii Ibid., p. 250.
iv Ibid., p. 161.
v Ibid., p. 115-116.
vi Ibid., p. 276.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Retold by Google Maps

There have been more than a few artists from across various media attempt to bring something new to Kerouac’s classic road novel. One element that particularly fascinates is the map . We are forever being shown new interpretations of his journeys, with each artist highlighting some different theme.

Gregor Weichbrodt has a very new take – he has attempted to turn Kerouac’s story into a set of directions as told by Google Maps. Weichbrodt has since turned these directions into a book which comes out to forty-something pages.

 

Letters: Allen and Louis

“There are many mansions in the house of poetry,” i writes Louis “Paterson’s principal poet” ii to Allen, many times.
Allen, maintain your posture when you meet Edith, sit well with Sitwell.
Don’t be maudlin when you chat with Auden . . . at Oxford.
Spring has sprung; the thaw has come to Robert Frost (at Paterson State Teachers’ College). iii
What’s a father to do? “I keep pounding my typewriter, not wishing to rust on my laurels, and now and then have poems punished in the papers and magazines.” iv
Louis, Father Polonius, “I can mend the hardening of my platitudes and prevent the shrinking of my latitudes.” v
And the bearded bard sayeth, “The only poetic tradition is the voice out of the Burning Bush.” vi
“Keep writing.”
“Keep writing.”
“Keep writing.”
“Keep writing.”
“Keep writing.” vii

i Ginsberg, Allen and Louis. Family Business: Selected Letters Between a Father and Son. Ed. Michael Schumacher. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2001), p. 53.
ii Ibid., p. xxiii.
iii Ibid., p. 108.
iv Ibid., p. 156.
v Ibid., p. 101.
vi Ibid., p. 155.
vii Ibid., p. 162.

A fundraiser for the WSB100 Festival

William Burroughs 100th Birthday Celebration

A fundraiser for the WSB100 Festival
with Aaron Dilloway, David Grubbs, Elliott Sharp, Talibam!, Lea Bertucci, Philip White & Many More!
Wednesday, Feb. 5th, 7PM at The Bowery Electric
WSB100 & The Bowery Electric Present:William Burroughs 100th Birthday Celebration – a fundraiser for the WSB100 Festival

Featuring:
10:20 Aaron Dilloway (Wolf Eyes)
9:40 David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol)
9:00 Elliott Sharp  / James Ilgenfritz / Joe Tomino 
8:20 Talibam!

7:40 Lea Bertucci / Leila Bordreuil

7:00 Philip White / Chris Pitsiokos / Dan Blake

 

Outsider/Abstract sound DJd by
Bob Bellerue!
Readings from Anne Waldman & Steve Dalachinsky 

On the 100th birthday of the true American original William S. Burroughs, Feb. 5th 2014, The Bowery Electric is proud to present an incredible night of experimental music, readings, and performance to honor the legendary author. The event will serve as a preview and kickoff to this April’s WSB100,  a centennial celebration of the man and his work, and proceeds from this evening will go directly to support the festival.

 

DOORS AT 6PM!
$20 advance, $25 day-of

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS

About WSB100:

In April of 2014, New York City will hold a month-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of William S. Burroughs, the iconic writer of Naked Lunch, Queer, Junky, and many other experimental works of great American literature. Events will take place at Anthology Film Archive, CUNY Graduate Center, Incubator Arts, Issue Project Room, The School for Visual Art, St Mark’s Church, The Stone, and Unnameable Books. The diverse array of events include musical performances, public readings, academic panels, art exhibitions, film screenings, multi-media, and performance art. Artists scheduled to appear include John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Lydia Lunch, Hal Willner, Paul D. Miller AKA DJ Spooky, Bill Laswell, Kenneth Goldsmith, JG Thirlwell, Thurston Moore, Anne Waldman, Steve Dalachinsky, Oliver Harris, Barry Miles, Steve Buscemi, and many more.

Barry Miles and John Tytell Discuss William S. Burroughs

Marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of William S. Burroughs, Barry Miles – a friend of the late, great American author – has put together the definitive biography of the man’s life. In this video John Tytell, author of Naked Angels, one of the first books about the Beats, talks to Miles.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7ql2VXIoWk