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Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation

John Holmes at Kerouac's Funeral

We recently passed a watershed moment in modern American literature, as November, 2012, marked sixty years since John Clellon Holmes introduced the term “Beat Generation” in the New York Times Magazine.

To many, this is the sum of all Holmes is known for.

His seminal Beat novel Go, also published sixty years ago (five years ahead of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road), still remains in the shadow of Kerouac’s first book about those times. As evidenced by one of the most popular social networking websites, the cult of celebrity embraces Kerouac. The various tribute pages devoted to Kerouac see traffic from over a quarter of a million people, while the single page dedicated to Holmes draws slightly more than three hundred followers.

Even people who knew him personally seem oblivious to the facts of his life.

In our last issue, Al Hinkle – who is portrayed as a character in both books – noted that Holmes’ version of the period “is probably the more accurate.” However, Hinkle goes on to speak of Holmes’ first wife, “Marian was the love of John’s life – he never remarried.” The fact is that after divorcing Marian, Holmes married Shirley Radulovich in September, 1953, and the couple remained together until 1988, dying within weeks of each other. Both were victims of cancers attributed to their heavy use of tobacco. These facts are found in the richly informative book Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation by Ann Charters and Samuel Charters, published in 2010 by the University Press of Mississippi.

Brother-Souls gives us a painstakingly accurate account of the intertwined lives of the two men. In so doing, it also unveils a myriad of previously-unknown facts about peripheral personalities like Hinkle, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, and many others.

If not for the frequently-noted dates and fastidious footnotes, this work of non-fiction would read like a novel – a novel deserving space on the same shelf between Go and On the Road. While On the Road has its hero in the central figure of Cassady as Dean Moriarty, Go looks at the same period with its focus on Ginsberg as David Stofsky. It is at Ginsberg’s party at his apartment in Spanish Harlem where he, Holmes, and Kerouac initially met in July 1948.

Also in our last issue, Ann Charters mentioned that she and husband Samuel worked on Brother-Souls to “redress that wrong” done to Holmes by Kerouac, when he portrayed the former as “a wimpy rival.” She told us that “It was a difficult book to write but one of its pleasures was the opportunity to give back Holmes his voice as a writer who was an enormous influence on Kerouac.”

It can be argued that the first piece of what would become known as Beat Literature appeared in early 1948 when Holmes published his jazz/slang-infused short story, “Tea for Two,” in Jay Landesman’s magazine, Neurotica. The little magazine founded by St. Louis, Missouri, native Landesman, Neurotica became, in style and spirit, the first Beat-themed literary journal even before the term “Beat” was coined.

A few months earlier, at age twenty-two, he broke into the publishing world with a book review printed in the March, 1948, issue of Poetry magazine. The following year, he sent the first chapters of his novel to Landesman. about the colorful characters in burgeoning Bohemian scene, which flourished around him in New York’s Greenwich Village.

At roughly the same time, he heard stories about another young writer he referred to as “Karawak” in his journal, who had written a novel, The Town and The City. As yet unpublished, the only copy was the fat manuscript typed by Kerouac, which was being passed around and talked about in the literary circles of New York City’s young intellectuals, to which Holmes was privy. Both men met at the party and, after sizing each other up in their perspective journals, soon became fast friends and confidants.

Before reaching this point in the book, the Charters’ not only detail the childhoods of both men but trace their family trees, as well – on one side back to the 1736 death of Maurice-Louis Alexandre Le Bris de Kerouack, and on the other back to 1594, when George Holmes was born in England. Interestingly, Holmes’ family tree included not only one-time presidential candidate John McClellan Holmes, Sr., the celebrated Union general of the Civil War, and the renowned essayist and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, but also a male ancestor who married a woman from the family in which Ralph Waldo Emerson was born.

Ironies and similarities such as their same birthdate of March 12, (Kerouac was five years older) are recounted, as are vivid shared memories of the Flood of 1936, which Kerouac witnessed from the banks of the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts. Eighty miles upstream, Holmes watched from the side of the Pemagawassett River, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, as it rose and flowed into the Merrimack, carrying the same waters and debris which neither of them would ever forget.

One early question left open is why they both decided to become writers. The closest thing to an answer may be the “On Spontaneous Prose” section of The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters and published by Viking Penguin in 1995. Significantly, in that volume, she conceived the idea of tracing Kerouac’s life through a collection of his writings. When she mentioned the project to Holmes, he told her that he had the same idea in 1965. Not long before his death, Holmes suggested that he and Charters collaborate on it but as his health deteriorated, he passed it back to her with his blessings and an offer of help if she needed it.

In Brother-Souls, we have two scribes writing about two other writers. This unique circumstance makes for more than just a diligent study of two convergent writers; it gives insight into their individual writing processes and an insider’s look at the business of writing and publishing in America at that time.

Aside from the usual suspects, we meet Landesman and Gershon Legman. Legman would become editor of Neurotica and his influence on Holmes is noted. Ginsberg had his first “professional” poem published in the sixth issue of Neurotica in 1950. A collaboration written with Kerouac, who took no credit, “Song: Fie My Fum” was met with derision by Legman, who voiced his first impression of the poem by asking, “Did it take two of them to write that piece of shit?” Ginsberg rankled at the fact that Landesman required him to get down on his knees before accepting one of his poems. The poem was four stanzas culled from the poem “Pull My Daisy,” to which some accounts credit shared authorship to Cassady, as well.

Carl Solomon, recently released from New York State Psychiatric Institute where he met Ginsberg, had rented an apartment, and as suggested by former institute-roomie Ginsberg, threw a New Year’s party to usher in 1950. Landesman showed up with Holmes and was initially attracted by Solomon’s “certifiable” state of insanity and his experience with electroshock treatments but, when approached, Solomon steered him towards Ginsberg and Kerouac as being better choices for writers. Just before this scene, we are treated to a look at the meeting of Ginsberg and Solomon, for whom “Howl” was dedicated.

The Charters’ follow Ginsberg to his meeting with William Carlos Williams who advises him to, drop rhyming metric poetry, in favor of the “variable breath-stop length for metric measurement” as well as looking to his own experiences for the subject matter in his poems.

We see Holmes quickly establish himself as an “accepted” poet by 1950, with submissions published in Partisan Review and Harper’s magazines. However, in order to satisfy himself as being a real writer, he felt the novel was the form that he needed to master. To this end, he kept copious journals of the events of his life and of those around him. These were the source material for the chapters of Go which he sent to Landesman in 1949. Always generous with his friends, Holmes tried to help Ginsberg by sending his poems to his editor at Partisan Review. He also spent his time offering encouragement to Kerouac, who was also trying to find his voice in his “road novel” while trying to find a publisher for The Town and the City. During 1950-51, while Holmes wrote Go, Kerouac visited his apartment daily, to drink, talk, and – most importantly – read the novel page by page as it issued from Holmes’ typewriter. It is very likely, On the Road, given these circumstances, may never have found a form were it not for the encouragement and example given by the younger Holmes.

While this review/essay is not written to “kneecap” Kerouac, we have to wonder if (after all the ballyhoo, Gap adverts, Facebook pages, and movie treatments) the progression and continued adulation of the Beat Generation as we know it would even have been possible without Holmes. While Ginsberg is typically seen as the gadfly of the collected group of writers, throwing parties and initiating meetings, it was Holmes who opened the doors to Neurotica for them. Any writer knows the magnitude of the importance of publishing their first piece of work outside of school, and in a professional publication. Few things are more encouraging than seeing your own name in print for the first time.

To a group of writers who unashamedly pushed the limits of sanity, to whom mental instability actually became a badge of honor, the steep precipice of self-doubt reached by the constant rejection of one’s work could be the hardest hurdle to clear. By coincidentally meeting Landesman, Legman, Kerouac, and Ginsberg all in that same July weekend, could Holmes have been the spark that was necessary to set off the Beat firecracker? Perhaps the truest irony of his depiction as “wimpy” is that he is the most obvious catalyst which brought them all exposure.

Neal Cassady is most often seen as the touchstone at the center of the group, although it has been said that they all would have followed Burroughs anywhere he went. The more we unravel Cassady, the less grand of a person he becomes. Holmes mentions the black and blue marks left by Cassady, on LuAnne Henderson. His capacity for mental cruelty and abandoning wives and friends at crucial times most likely stems from his own abandonment by his father in Denver, Colorado. Holmes stayed steady in his support of Kerouac’s work, even as the latter heralded Cassady as the superior writer in the group and referred to him in a letter as his “only true friend.” Cassady responded in kind, in his usual manner, by abandoning him in Mexico City, sick with fever and dysentery.

In his moodiness, Kerouac’s misanthropy also got the best of him. Shouting matches between he and Holmes kept to an intellectual level. In barrooms, he was severely beaten more than once, thanks to his mouth and temper but especially as his alcoholic deterioration worsened. Holmes became hesitant to tell him about advances he got from publishers, for fear of setting him off. One point that Kerouac dwelt on during his struggles with On the Road was that Holmes “had no right to write a book about everyone’s private lives.” Both men were doing the same thing, writing about the same people and situations from different angles. Reading Go as it was written page by page kept him from duplicating scenes already covered by Holmes – but working around another serious writer could be enervating for anyone.

In all fairness to Kerouac, artists who show genius, often do so to express what they cannot in normal life and interpersonal relationships. As artists, writers may plumb themselves to reach those recesses and depths of feeling which are too painful or impossible to relate in any other way. In his essay “Are Writers Born or Made?” he distinguished between talent and genius, observing that many may show “talent” but genius is the rarity. “Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber,” he noted, “but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through – originality.”

While we appreciate the work they leave behind, the inner torment they endure is not a pretty thing – consider Van Gogh disfiguring himself, Rimbaud cultivating head lice “to throw on passing clergymen,” or Artaud’s claim to having been “suicided by society.” Holmes may have sealed his own fate by being too well-mannered. After all, we learn that Holmes was the only one of Kerouac’s friends that his mother Memère did not dislike.

Nonetheless, about three weeks after Holmes finished the last pages of Go, Kerouac became inspired by a letter from Cassady which turned into a rabid series of letters between them. The excitement of these exchanges prompted him to pull all of his notes together and unleash the torrent within upon the now-famous scroll he fed through his typewriter. It seems safe to say that while Cassady sparked him to action, Holmes laid the foundation during those daily visits. The resulting three-week period of speed, coffee, and typing which resulted in On the Road has since snowballed into an oft-told tale, but Brother-Souls reminds the reader that this was not all spontaneous prose. Kerouac’s fastidious habit of keeping notebooks provided for a vast amount of his material.

Between the five years, from the writing to its publication in 1957, the details and struggles of both men’s lives and work come to life in print. Meanwhile, other key events fall into place: Ginsberg meets his life-long companion, Peter Orlovsky; there is the first reading of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl for Carl Solomon” at 6 Gallery; Kerouac writes and details the remaining six books of the “Legend of Duluoz” along with three other volumes; the first complete reading of “Howl” takes place (and is attended by Samuel Charters); and the Beat Movement goes mainstream. While most of the key players became victims of the fame, Ginsberg used it to his advantage.

When City Lights got charged with obscenity for distributing Howl and Other Poems, more fuel was added to the fire – especially when presiding Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled it to be not obscene. Curiously, Ginsberg slighted Holmes with the omission of his name from the dedication page. Kerouac, Burroughs, and Cassady got a nod from the poet, placing them forever in the highest order of Beats. Holmes had gone out of his way to get Ginsberg published, sending his work to New Directions after his editor at Partisan Review  passed on it, as well as paying the grand compliment of making him the central character in Go. The depiction of Ginsberg in the book posits a good theory as to why he was snubbed. Kerouac had called Holmes “savage” in his treatment of the people he wrote about. Ginsberg for his part, had been disappointed in the account of his Blakean vision but, at the same time admitted to the veracity of the portrayal of himself.

“You really haven’t caught the way it felt,” he told Holmes, “but you’ve caught something else. You’ve caught the solemn funny little kid I guess I must have been in those days.” It seems that no amount of speculation will ever get to the heart of it but the glaring fact of Holmes’ exclusion from the dedication and the hurtfulness of the action cannot be overlooked. The Charters’ attribute some of it to Holmes distancing himself by leaving New York to live in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, but Cassady and Burroughs were both much further removed geographically.

Six months after the appearance of On the Road, Kerouac published The Subterraneans (to be followed in another six months by The Dharma Bums), heightening his fame but not his luck. With money in his pocket for a change, he traveled out of the United States. As usual, he quickly returned to New York to stay close to his mother. One night, while trying to reach the proper degree of stupor in a local bar, he sustained a broken nose and arm from a beating by a homosexual professional boxer, who claimed he had slurred an insult at him. Later, the depiction of Cassady as pothead led to his arrest and imprisonment.

The whole Beat scene, which thrived in the underground, exploded across the media in 1958, meeting curiosity, admiration, and derision. The term “Beatnik” popped up – a poke in the eye, as it was spawned from the name “Sputnik,” the space craft launched by Russia. Nothing linked to Russia could be good in those days. To word irked both men, as they saw it as a symbol of the manipulation, commercialization, and degradation of their once-pure vision. Every critic, pundit, journalist, and magazine writer had something to say about the phenomenon, ranging from suspicions of dangerous revolutions and proliferation of juvenile delinquents to dismissals of idle young hipsters with nothing important to do in life. Holmes had left the United States with Shirley on December 12, 1957, to realize his dream of traveling in Europe for two months, funded by an advance he received for his “jazz” book, The Horn.

While working on Perfect Fools, his follow-up novel to Go, he published a short story which would become The Horn‘s first chapter in the August, 1953, issue of Discovery magazine. The second chapter appeared in Nugget, in October 1956. With the rejection Perfect Fools by Scribners’, his spirits sank. He put his energy into writing the “jazz novel,” writing the remainder between spring, 1956, and fall of 1957. Although relations between he and Kerouac were deteriorating, Kerouac kept a promise and wrote a letter praising the novel to Hiram Hayden at Random House two months after the release of On the Road.John Holmes 1947

Accepted immediately and published in July 1958, it sported a recommendation from Kerouac on the cover. Despite the ongoing “Beat frenzy,” sales were moderate, likely due to July traditionally being a slow month for sales or perhaps getting lost among the wave of second-rate, imitation Beat-themed books which flooded the market – potboilers written to cash in on the trend. Selling well enough to require a second printing, mainstream reviews failed to reach the depth of it but it was warmly embraced by the cognoscente, including Studs Terkel and Ralph Gleason. Landesman read it on radio in St. Louis for half an hour, showing how taken he was with it.

Perhaps the most ambitious and meticulously-constructed of all the Beat novels, The Horn fascinates, not just by intricacy, but in the marvel of a writer dreaming up such a concept. As for structure, it is the only “true novel” that either he or Kerouac ever produced, not being based on their real-life experiences. In fact, it cannot really be classified as “Beat.” As Holmes wrote, regarding the reviews, “The Beat Generation tag has been either ignored (it having nothing to do with the book), or mentioned only in passing, for which I am grateful.” Even attempting to describe it presents a daunting task, so here we rely on excerpts from Brother-Souls, first with this section from Holmes’ journals…


The real origin of the book…lay in my feeling that the jazz artist was the quintessential American artist – that is, that his work hang-ups, his personal neglect by his country, his continual struggle for money, the debasement of his vision by the mean streets, his oft times descent into drugs, liquor, and self-destructiveness – all this seemed to me to typify the experience of our great 19th Century American writers: Poe’s loneliness, drunkenness and obscurity; Melville’s half-of-life anonymity; Hawthorne’s hermit years; Emily Dickinson’s spinster-bedroom full of immortal poems; Mark Twain’s wastage of so much of his talent on get-rich-quick schemes; Whitman’s decision to stay with the trolley drivers and whores and good old boys from whom his work took so much sustenance. The novel as it evolved, then, was to be about the American-as-artist.


A month earlier, he explained in a letter:


“I was working on three levels at the same time. I wanted each of these characters to represent an American writer, which is the only reason why I put those two little epigraphs in front of each chapter. But I also wanted him to represent a particular kind of jazz musician, and I had to create a fictional character doing these things, so that Edgar Pool, for instance, is Edgar Allen Poe.”


Now we give part of the synopsis by Charters/Charters – but note that these are just mere snatches taken from the in-depth explanation they provide, much of what was missed by many initial reviews.


Holmes structured it:

As a kind of dual narrative, each of the narrative streams illustrating and complementing the other. Each of the major characters was introduced in chapters titled “Chorus,” and the choruses alternated with chapters titled “Riff,” which told the novel’s story…Holmes preceded each Chorus with a quotation from one of the nineteenth-century American writers who had given him the novel’s theme. With the quotations he was suggesting an identification in each chapter between the jazz musician and the individual writer, and he tied the substance of the quotation as closely as he could to the chapter itself…

The quotation for the first Chorus is from Thoreau, and the name of the musician is Walden Blue. “Walden” is an obvious allusion to Thoreau’s Walden and “Blue” as clearly identifies him as a musician…

The second Chorus introduces an alto saxophonist named Eddie Wingfield“Wings” Redburn. The quotation is taken from Melville, whose fourth novel was titled Redburn

A quotation from Hawthorne introduces the Chorus representing the pianist Junious Priest…the musician who was the model for Junius was the avant-garde jazz pianist Thelonious Monk…

The central woman figure…is a singer named “Geordie Dickson,” who is locked in a despairing, unending relationship with the novel’s main protagonist, the tenor saxophonist Edgar Pool…a combination of singer Billie Holiday and Emily Dickinson…

The name of the trumpeter Curny Finnley is derived from the archetypal figure “Huckelberry Finn,” and the Chorus introducing him opens with a quotation from Finn’s creator, Mark Twain…Curny Finnley…was in part modeled on trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie…

The Chorus introducing the tenor saxophonist Metro Myland opens with a quotation from Walt Whitman…”Myland” is an allusion to Whitman’s personal sense of his Americanism, of the nation as “My land”…Metro, for Holmes, was “just any great big yawping tenor sax player, but he’s also Walt Whitman”…

The final two Choruses portray Pool’s last hours…from the doomed, desperate Edgar Allen Poe. Holmes’ comment on the character of Pool was that his novelistic character was, of course, Lester Young, but also Poe…

As an aid to himself in clarifying the book’s structure, Holmes wrote the Choruses first, which described his principal figures. He then wrote the Riffs sections, creating the narrative around his fictitious characters…


Here, it is significant to note that tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Lester Young inspired Ginsberg’s creation of “Howl” when the poet wrote several verses in a vocal imitation of Young’s chorus-on-chorus jazz progression, the succession of verses building upon each other and raising the rhythmic energy to an ecstatic level. In a 1968 interview with Michael Aldrich, Ginsberg refers to one of the jazz man’s signature songs, “Lester Young was what I was thinking about… ‘Howl’ is all ‘Lester Leaps In.’”

The “jazz book” idea provided fodder for many of the vociferous conversations between Holmes and Kerouac. The recognition of its brilliance only grows with time, as will the brilliance of Brother-Souls.

In 1958, while Kerouac felt his first anxiety over waiting for royalties from the movie version of On the Road (a state of anxiety similarly affected Kerouac fans that waited impatiently until 2012 for its release), Holmes grew increasingly frustrated with the media attention and his realization that the movement they had created ultimately distanced the once close-knit pair. He also bristled at being used as a substitute spokesman for the Beat Generation and the perception of himself as a replacement for Kerouac when the latter could not be found. In spite of this they still kept in touch via letters, proving the true durability of their friendship.

Holmes The HornHolmes would face his own problems later that year, in the bleak state of his finances and the emotional turmoil that engulfed him when his father suffered a heart attack in October, forcing an end to years of estrangement. At their home in Old Saybrook, he and Shirley were just about to run out of firewood as the toughest part of the cruel New England winter fell upon them. Luckily, relief came when friends going on vacation asked them to sit their house.

In early February, Landesman sent a hundred dollars in a letter after hearing about their difficulties. These acts of kindness helped them through the winter, and in May, they were able to return to visit New York when Landesman staged the first and only Beat musical, The Nervous Set, and all performances sold-out. Kerouac showed up at the theater drunk and promptly fell asleep in his seat, vanishing during the intermission. The trip gave them some respite but in July a rush-hour accident on the New Jersey Turnpike put his father back in the hospital in Camden and one of his hands had to be amputated as a result. In the days that followed, a stroke paralyzed half of his father’s body.

Weeks spent keeping vigil at the bedside, trying to help nurse his father back to health led to exhaustion and near the end of August, John McClellan Holmes Sr., after weeks of suffering and staring at the stump of his hand, lost the will to live and passed away.

Although their relationship was frequently antagonistic, the event haunted the junior Holmes (who had taken “Clellon” as a pen-name to allay confusion with the well-known poet, John Holmes) for years. He wrote about the experience in the poem “Too-Late Words for My Father,” which he completed years later, in 1973. Old friend Alan Harrington, novelist and On the Road character, helped him with the hospital expenses. The chronic emotional devastation left him unable to write much outside of his journals and he slipped into one of the most unproductive periods of his life. Days spent drinking and arguing with Shirley exacerbated the situation. An unpaid electric bill for eight dollars forced him to hide upstairs when the electric company worker came to shut off his power in September of 1961 and the following month he was arrested for shoplifting a few dollars worth of groceries at a local market. The local press used the story to lampoon him with an embarrassing, supposedly-funny headline.

At this point something snapped inside him. A lesser man may have acted out against himself but in Holmes’ case, the situation forced him to pull himself together, deal with his creative block and begin writing again. As is often the case, a great man finds his true measure at the worst of times, not the best. It is also worth noting that through it all, Shirley stayed with him, working where she could to support them both. Holmes appears to have been one of the few of his peers to maintain a traditional “’til death do we part” relationship.

His turn back to the positive side spurred an equally positive reaction from magazines he submitted his work to, after braving it through a short period of rejected stories. Around the time he came to terms with the fact that his novels would never bring him as much fame as his poetry and non-fiction, he won Playboy magazine’s Best Non-Fiction award for 1964, with the essay, “Revolution Below the Belt.” This shows how deeply Legman had influenced him with his fixation on all things sexual years earlier.

His sister Liz, also a writer, made the acquaintance of Nelson Algren, author of the groundbreaking novels, A Walk on the Wild Side and The Man with the Golden Arm. During this period of regeneration, she introduced the pair. Once again, he enjoyed the luxury of intellectual stimulation that is peculiar to like-minded writers. For his part, Algren equally valued conversation with a mind sharp enough to write a book like The Horn.

Although he appeared the stronger of the two “brothers,” Kerouac never found his feet once he started balancing them on bottles. The sad facts of his self-immolation fill pages and support a variation on one of Legman’s favorite themes – that violence in modern society results directly from the repression of our sexuality. In his case, the violence turned inward and bespeaks the result of not being able to fully love a woman in a true manner. Sex is more than just a function of the genitalia. It is an outward expression of love and tenderness. He loved his mother, there is no doubting that, but his inability to correlate love and sex (the Cassadian logic of all people being apples and we just need to pick them and eat them as we will) may have been his undoing. This is not something Ann and Samuel Charters broach in the book but this writer’s attempt at explaining his trip from top of the heap to bottom of the glass.

Although we suggest that Holmes sparked the kindling that ignited the Beat fire, it is commonly accepted that Kerouac is responsible for the Beat Movement gaining the momentum to be a worldwide cultural revolution, these sixty years later. He is the primary visual symbol. He is the face of it today, not the angelic hipster Cassady, whose death from exposure in the Mexican night froze “blood on the tracks” after he bridged the generation gap between Beat and Hippie; not even Ginsberg who may have been the most prolific producer of the lot. His radicalism and homosexuality may have been off-putting to a straight society.

Kerouac – the older brother who died as the younger, the televised, the Adonis – he is the symbol who put a face on the new culture at the piano with Steve Allen speaking cool and hip and mellifluous.

The triumph of Holmes’ later years overshadows the misery of those when he was beaten-down Beat, in the truest sense of the word. The world of academia sought him out and he accepted residencies at several fine schools. Never giving up on the novel, he produced two more, Get Home Free in 1964 and Nothing More to Declare in 1967. More books appeared posthumously. He enjoyed the company of his old cronies when Ginsberg brought them together at Naropa Institute, for a celebration of Kerouac’s work on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication, of On the Road in 1982. His dedication to his craft supplied him with purpose and a way to communicate while fighting a recurrent cancer when it robbed his frantic gift of speech.

He survived nineteen years after Kerouac and twenty after Cassady. In March, 1988, he died at age sixty-two, his beloved wife Shirley with him as ever. In death, as in life, she followed him just two weeks later, a common fate of couples who share a true love. Earlier in the year, he learned that three of his novels would soon be reprinted on Thunder Mouth Press. So with his once-greatest fear of vanishing “without leaving some trace,” this surely gave him strength even as mortality fleeted.

To paraphrase Kerouac’s paraphrasing in “Are Writers Born or Made?” – It ain’t whatcha live, it’s the way atcha live it.

This reviewer hopes the reader bears in mind that this piece may seem full of facts but it is only a fraction, less than even a fiftieth, of pages presented in Brother-Souls. In the entire canon of Beat books, it is arguably the single, most comprehensive view of the scene as it unfolded – and absolutely the most authoritative work on Holmes and Kerouac. It is the only book which comes to mind where the footnote pages themselves are a treat to read.

We come away from reading it with the feeling of just completing a course in history, absorbing enough to get an A+ on the subject. If some obvious facts are missing here, it is simply because we chose to focus primarily on Holmes, then Kerouac and the others.

We first became aware of Ann Charters in 1973, when her biography on Kerouac (with Samuel Charters) became widely celebrated and instantly considered as the definitive book on him. While relishing the blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins since the 1970s and growing up with the music of Country Joe and the Fish even earlier on life’s soundtrack, we only recently discovered our ignorance of the fact that Samuel Charters had a hand in delivering these important sounds. A Grammy award winner, he produced five of the six Country Joe LPs. In 1959, with Ann in tow, he found Hopkins in Houston, Texas, and did field recordings of him. These were released on the Folkways label and led to a rediscovery by an appreciative new audience

At last count, eighteen books credit him as author. This is aside from collaborations listed in the thirty-book bibliography of Ann Charters, printed in our last issue. The count does not include Portents, the self-published small-press they ran in the 1960s. In literature and music the couple are a national treasure, both gifted individually and as a team. She is also an accomplished, recorded ragtime pianist. A recently-posted Youtube video (you can find it on shows them working together, reading poetry at a Beat event in England earlier this year.

Ann Charters and Samuel Charters did more than write a large part of Brother-Souls, they lived it and witnessed it first-hand.

Buy it!


This review/essay originally appeared in Beatdom #12. Find it on Amazon.



The First Fifty Years of City Lights

citylights 015

One of the many rewarding aspects of editing Beatdom is that of reading a fine new piece of writing or viewing a great new art submission. Sometimes readers send works which are not intended for publication but are wondrous and shared simply for the joy of creation and pride in one’s own fine efforts (a vanishing thrill in an increasingly capitalistic society).

The current buzz around Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of the famed City Lights Bookstore, brings to mind something we received at the end of last year and have been meaning to share(along with apologies for taking so long to post this).

Beatdom reader Donald A. Heneghan, Beat historian and literature-lover, contacted us in fall to order a copy of the latest issue. Taking up correspondence with Mr. Heneghan, we learned that his Beat book collection includes the complete output of Ferlinghetti’s distinctive Pocket Poets Series of books from 1955-2005. This includes each of the press’s fifty-seven volumes of poetry (actually fifty-six plus the only ‘out of series’ publication, Alain Jouffrey’s Declaration d’Independance, which bears an inscription from Jouffrey to Allen Ginsberg) as well as various translations, photographs and related ephemera.

As the cover shows, this is actually a exhibition catalogue. Heneghan showed his collection at NYC’s Grolier Club in Spring 2005. Inside, he provides more than just a convenient list of the volumes published by City Lights. “I tried to capture the story behind each book,” says Heneghan, “It was an extensive project but a lot of fun.”
Details of the books go beyond mere description and illustrate just how avid a collector he is. Most are first printings and many copies are inscribed by the authors. Some are inscribed by two, such as 1958’s Gasoline by Gregory Corso (Number Eight), which is signed by not only Corso, but also by Ginsberg, who wrote the Introduction.
Particularly poignant is the inscription in Book Number Fourteen, Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Other Poems. As Heneghan writes, ‘ This first edition copy is inscribed from William Burroughs for Allen Ginsberg. The significance is that Burroughs signed his copy to Ginsberg prior to Ginsberg’s death in 1997 as Burroughs’ Kaddish to Ginsberg. Ironically, Burroughs died four months after Ginsberg in 1997.’
In his curation of the collection, he fastidiously included additional volumes to note the differences from one printing to the next. Book Number Twenty-seven, Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters, for instance, appeared twice. ‘The copy displayed (sic) is inscribed on the title page with a drawing. The second copy displays the rear cover of this first printing,’ the catalogue notes. In the “Translations” section, we also find the first Dutch edition, Revolutionaire Brieven, translated by Simon Vinkenoog and published in 1979.
Other interesting inscriptions include one from Harold Norse to Gerard Malanga, along with Malanga’s inscription of ownership in Hotel Nirvana (Number Thirty-two). The following book in the series, Number Thirty-three, Anne Waldman’s Fast Speaking Woman, is inscribed to Amiri Baraka, and Number Thirty-Seven, Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs carries a note to Gotham Book Mart’s Mathew Monahan from it’s author, Peter Orlovsky.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, the 2013 theatrical release of the 2009 San Francisco Film Festival entry, Ferlinghetti: A City Light, has been getting a minor amount of press with it’s re-release about two weeks ago. It was directed by Christopher Felver

As the press release from First Run Features, the film’s distributor, notes: “Since its inception in 1953, Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore quickly became an iconic literary institution that embodied social change and literary freedom. Continuing to thrive for over five decades, it is a cornerstone of America’s modern literary and cultural history.” Poetry lovers around the world can easily spot a copy of one of his black and white Pocket Poets Series books across a crowded library. The mini-formatting of the books probably reached the level of ‘Iconic’ when the fourth of the series, Ginsberg’s Howl, hit shelves to be confiscated by police in 1956 and finally released for public consumption with the landmark 1957 U.S. Supreme Court decision by Judge Clayton W. Horn, who found the work to have artistic merit, thus setting in place the legal precedent that protects controversial works of literature which have ‘redeeming social importance.’

As you can see, Heneghan’s authentic replication of the Pocket Poets Series was an excellent choice for the catalogue’s format. The photo you see to the right of the cover is one side of the Exhibition Invitation. According to an blogged inteview we found with Paul Yamazaki of City Lights, “The photo of the store dates from the early 60s. If I remember correctly, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao are in the mezzanine window. Under the awning are Kirby Ferlinghetti, Bob McBride and a person who I cannot identify.”
To get a better idea of how much time and effort Donald Heneghan put into preserving these gems, you can find copies of the Grolier Club Publication and get your own copy on

We thank Mr. Heneghan for taking the time to share this great accomplishment with us!

citylights 002

Somebody Blew Up America: A Conversation with Amiri Baraka

This interview originally appeared in Beatdom #12 – the CRIME issue. You can purchase it on Amazon and Kindle.


Amiri Baraka is Beat.

He walked away from the scene in Greenwich Village, where he edited literary journals Yugen, Kulchur, and The Floating Bear from 1958-65. Working with Hettie Cohen, Michael John Fles, and Diane Di Prima, respectively, the journals brought new works by new names. Featured writers included Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Whalen, and Michael McClure. He co-founded Totem Press and was influential in the launching of Corinth Books. Yugen magazine was perhaps most significant as the platform for the “new” Beat writers, allowing their work to find a place in one of the first venues to give credulity to the movement.

A wise and controversially outspoken man, his views have kept him on the Outside, the Beat side. The U.S. Air Force discharged him after two years of service due to his belief in communism. In 1961 he was arrested for distributing obscenity after mailing copies of The Floating Bear, Issue Nine, to subscribers; and his presence at the 1967 riots in Newark, New Jersey, saw him arrested and severely beaten by police. It was also the year he changed his name from LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka. The charges against him were eventually dropped and much of his support came from the Beat community.

From Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, his first book of poems in 1961, to his upcoming play, The Most Dangerous Man in America, he has stayed the course, worked and fought for his beliefs of an equitable society.

With the death of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., (who visited Baraka’s Newark home a week before his murder), he left the mostly-white Bohemian literary scene and the environs of the East Village to take up a more radical stance towards Black Nationalism. But despite his distancing himself from the Beats in the mid-sixties, Baraka read poetry and attended panel discussions at Beat-haven Naropa Institute through the 1980-90s, and remained friends with Ginsberg until Allen’s death in 1997.

More recently his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” brought an end to his New Jersey “Poet Laureate” post when Governor Jim McGreevey took umbrage to the poem’s questioning of the events surrounding the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers. The “Who?’ of the exploding owl in the poem echoes the angst of Ginsberg’s voice in “Howl.” Having heard Ginsberg recite live from ten feet away, this writer finds both poems equally as exciting and important.

Baraka has been called “the triple-threat Beat.” His talent has brought him recognition and awards not just in poetry and prose but also in theater as an Obie Award winning playwright. A sampling of awards bestowed upon him include the PEN Open Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, and National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships. Maybe one of the most bittersweet titles placed on him is that of the Poet Laureate of Newark Public Schools, which he received after Gov. McGreevey’s actions against him

Additionally, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and regarded as a respected academic, having taught at the state universities of New York at Stony Brook and Buffalo, Columbia University, and other institutions. Amiri Baraka photo


We started by asking why he walked away from the Beat Movement, which gave him a vehicle to establish himself as writer/thinker/activist to a wider audience.


Well, that whole thing [the Beat Movement], was very explosive, but remember that the whole Civil Rights Movement was intensifying. I got out of the service in 1957. The Montgomery bus boycott had gone on a couple years before. After they had successfully made them integrate those buses, they blew up Doctor King’s house. At that point, it really began to be clear this was the kind of struggle that was going on particularly in the south, at least for me, having been in the service for two years.

That was the point that it became clear… until they blew up King’s house and he says… you know, the black people showed up at his house with their rifles and said, “What should we do, what should we do, Doctor King?” and he said, “If any blood be shed, let it be ours.” So my whole generation reacted negatively to that and said, “No, it won’t be like that. If people are going to be shooting, they are going to be shooting back and forth.”

Malcolm X appeared at that scene with his whole idea about, you know, “You treat people like they treat you. They treat you with respect, you treat them with respect. They put their hands on you, send them to the cemetery.”

So a whole generation of black youth responded to that positively as a sign that Doctor King was indeed a normal man instead of some kind of a saintly non-violent kind of perseverant. During that period, the next years of 1958-1960… In 1959, Fidel Castro led that revolution in Cuba so I went down there the next year, 1960, to Cuba and met Fidel, Ché Guevara, and all those people. I also met the black activist from North Carolina, Robert Williams, who was in exile in Cuba because he had really been practicing a kind of a self-defense in North Carolina, a thing that actually ended up with him stopping the [Ku Klux] Klan – removing their hoods… and then he found out it was the State Police! Then they framed him for kidnapping a white couple and he went to Cuba to escape that kind of injustice, so I met him.

Anyway, that was the point – 1960 – when, while I had this kind of awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, I actually became much more directly involved in it. So, about 1965, when Malcolm X was murdered, I felt the best thing to do would be to get out of the Village and move to Harlem. I found that, for a lot of black people, that event made us take stock of ourselves and move out of Greenwich Village into Harlem. That was actually the point. I began the Black Arts Repertory Theater Company in 1965 at 130th Street and Lenox Avenue.


Who else was involved in the theater?


Larry Neal, poet, and Askia Touré, poet, those were two of the leading figures. Many people came to Harlem who were not already in Harlem, because they were attracted to the Black Arts Repertory School that we opened. We would send out trucks into the neighborhood every day… four trucks, one had graphic arts, the other had poetry, the other had music and the other had drama. We did this every day throughout the summer of 1965 so that created a kind of militant venue for Black Arts. They found that was desirable rather than having to submit to the continued racism of Greenwich Village.


The perception is that the Village was not so racist.


At that particular point, a lot of young black people felt it was better to move to Harlem to take an active kind of fighting stance against it, rather than to be isolated in Greenwich Village.


Taking action was better than writing about it or publishing work about it?


Right, absolutely… it was not only about the publishing; it was about actually being an activist in that community and on the street and actually making Black Arts relevant to the movement rather than simply commenting on it.


Do you feel that we are losing ground and giving back too much of what was gained then?


Absolutely! It is like one step forward, two steps back. The whole Obama campaign, the victory… on one hand has brought a kind of very sharp reaction. It is like after the Civil War – once the slaves were so-called “emancipated,” that’s when you get the Ku Klux Klan and the black “coons” and all of that strict re-segregation. Rather than ending slavery you got the whole segregation of the south and the whole dividing of the south into black and white even though they were theoretically free from slavery… but slaves were plunged into sharecropping and many times they couldn’t go anywhere. The white people in the south wouldn’t let them go until years after slavery was over. They started going north and west. You can read about that in a book called The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. She charts that whole immigration out of the south by my people.


Amiri BarakaThe Obama Administration… since the first election, racism feels more prevalent.


It’s a stirring reaction to that election. Now we have the Tea Party. The Tea Party is correspondent to the Klan. They appear… the whole takeover of the Congress and the House of Representatives certainly existed because of these kinds of racist incidents – whether Trayvon Martin in the South [Martin was shot in February 2012] or shooting Amadou Diallo in the Bronx [police in February 1999] or the various kinds of murders out in California. It’s a sharp reaction and it shows the reaction is not just against black people but even young white people, like those taken up with the whole Occupy Movement across the country. There is just widespread dissatisfaction in society as it is.


How do you feel about the Occupy Movement?


I think it’s a good idea. It is uncertain and uneven but still a good idea and many times there are too many people completely lacking in the experience, in social struggle, or just anarchism, walking around who believe in no kind of government and no kind of organized response but certainly who are opposed to blacks in politics and it is a very ragged kind of result that comes out of that – but still the idea is a good idea and whatever kind of result you can get from that, even though it’s going to be much less than it would be if it were organized, you still have to support it.

Part of the reason is that it’s like the Sisyphus Syndrome. The only thing that’s happening now is that, between the Republican force pushing to the right, to restore the kind of Republican rule to go to back to Bush, which had been more extreme – what is underneath this is an attempt to erect a kind of corporate dictatorship. Coming out of all these Republicans’ mouths, especially the Tea Party, is the whole question that government is too big, that government is the enemy. The enemy is the lack of development. The fact that poverty still poxes this country and the development is, so far,  uneven without a gap between the little six-tenths of one percent of the wealthy and the rest of the people. This has grown bigger and, actually, since Roosevelt and the New Deal we were talking about closing that gap. We talked about creating a much more equitable society. Now even the middle class is feeling the kind of strains that the working class is feeling. So the only thing the republicans have done…I mean, look at the surplus that Clinton had, billions of dollars in surplus, George Bush got rid of it…in the couple of terms that Bush had, he got rid of it a couple of times. He got rid of it.

How? The war, certainly… 9/11 was, to me, just a door opening to exploit the Middle East.


Like the 2.9 trillion dollars that Rumsfeld announced was missing on the day before 9/11? He claimed they didn’t know what they did with it…


Right! They didn’t know what they did with it… the people who got it know what they did with it… (laughs).


Can any government be righteous?


I’m a communist. I’m a Marxist. I believe that, ultimately, people will become sophisticated enough to understand that they themselves must rule – not just some little, small elitist group of exploiters. That is what the struggle is for – to see if this society itself becomes equitable. It is going to be hard because we are going to have to go through this period of intensified corporate domination, this last ditch struggle and the fact that it is now a global economy. You see that the struggles on Wall Street have affected the whole world and the only way that they feel they can gain any kind of superiority is war. That’s when they can hire more workers. That’s when they can fill their coffers and that’s exactly what they want to do… war… and that’s the only way capitalism can remain balanced on two feet, so to speak, but it will never be secure. That’s the problem that the people of the world face, that they have to finally overthrow these governments. They have to overthrow the monopoly of capitalism. That’s the task that faces humanity if it is ever to be truly civilized. You can’t be civilized with capitalism. It is too elitist. Most people are up against it. Most people cannot ever get a real education. Most of us still live in slums. It is something that is destined to be destroyed that will be very difficult to destroy it in its last days.


Speaking of last days, what do you think of the FEMA camps and the things like the Georgia law that is in Congress to bring back the guillotine?Baraka book cover


Are you serious about the guillotine?


Yes, it is a bill in legislature. They say they are running out of the drug to kill people with. You also have the Social Security Administration buying thousands of rounds of ammunition lately and you have to wonder what they need that for.


That’s the penalty for moving towards a corporate dictatorship because these people, the republicans and the Tea Party and these people, they’re not talking about the government. They’re talking about the government. They are talking about straight-out rule by the rich. It may be a terrifying scenario but that is what is in the works unless the people can find the wherewithal, the understanding, and the organization to resist it.

Even in its ragged state, I would rather have the Occupiers than nothing at all. The problem is that, too often, the people in power are opposed to the Occupiers. That’s the problem, most of the people who are in these posts, these small bureaucratic posts, they are even acting against their own interests, not to mention the police and those who are charged with keeping the order – an order that does not even serve them! It’s a tragic situation. But I don’t know what Social Security would be doing with all those guns. I don’t know that.


“Somebody Blew Up America.” You were censored by the New Jersey governor for publishing and performing this poem. The media depicts others who have questioned the events of 9/11 as crazy.


I understand it, yeah. That’s it. You got it. All you have to do is open your mouth, like they say you’ve got freedom of speech – as long as you don’t say anything. The minute you open your mouth, then that’s the end of that. Then they attack you. It has certainly happened to me. It happens to all kinds of people… even somebody like Bruce Springsteen, when he first sang that song about “fighting the yellow man for the white man.” They silenced him for a few years but he managed to come back. It’s that way, if you talk to say anything. There is a long history of that, particularly (for) Afro-Americans, but everybody else, too.

Like that attack on the film industry in the fifties, to remove any taint of the Left from the film industry, the blacklisting of the whole film industry. The whole McCarthyism thing and the fact that, during World War Two, the United States’ closest allies were Russia and China, but after World War Two our closest allies were suddenly the same people we were fighting, Germany and Japan… figure that out! Then China and Russia became our worst enemies. Why is that? It’s because they wanted to cut loose any kind of sign of supporting socialism. Since China and Russia were socialist countries our struggle with these socialist countries, then, was to make sure they were opposed to that (socialism). Finally, Russia succumbed and China has been riddled with imperialist advance. Finally, this corporate America is what dominates and wants to make sure that monopoly capitalism and imperialism outlast anything.


Why do you think people do not pay more attention to this?


The people who could make the most noise about it are afraid they are going to lose their whatever, their positions, afraid they are going to lose what they have. The problem with the great majority of people is that they are not organized and sometimes they don’t have the facts so they don’t know what is going on. It happens too often, even if you elect good people… like in Newark back in 1970, the first black mayor, the second black mayor. We haven’t had a white mayor in Newark since 1970… but then we get somebody like Cory Booker, the present mayor, who actually is sent here by corporate ventures to turn the whole advance, the drive to some kind of equitable city government, around. Now we are struggling against that. Now we have a situation where the mayor is trying to sell our water to private interests. It’s unbelievable. He is trying to sell the water plus about two thousand acres of land where we have the water.


Water is getting more expensive, like oil.


That’s what they want to do – jack the prices up and so this is an ongoing struggle. The largest corporation in Newark, which is Prudential Insurance, the largest insurance company in the world, they haven’t paid any taxes since 1970. One of their buildings is worth 300 million dollars a year in taxes. They were given a tax abatement in 1970. That was the “white-mail” they put on the new black city government, “Either give us a tax abatement or we are leaving.” That is not supposed to be eternal. I mean, you could give them a thirty-year abatement and it still would be over by 2000. We still have twelve years of twelve times 300 million dollars a year, we wouldn’t have a deficit… but they refuse to pay their taxes. They built an arena. They have the NCAA [basketball]; they have the Devils hockey team, which is an interesting idea for Newark. When they have all kinds of big events, they say we owe them money. They utilize our water. They utilize our police for security. We have to pay the police overtime any time they have an event and they say owe money.


Funny how all the venues are named after financial institutions these days, as opposed to names of great people.


That’s right. That’s just an indication of where everything is going. Everything is named after a bank or some other kind of corporation… even baseball stadiums. That’s absurd. Here everything is named after Prudential. (laughs)


Which medium do you find most useful in reaching people and motivating them?


The problem, again, is the control by the organizations. In the sixties, for instance, the whole emergence of abstraction and the corporations first fought against abstraction. That is the problem with the arts… it is like “freedom of the press”. You can have freedom of the press if you own a press otherwise you have to deal with a mimeograph machines and small distribution. That’s the way it is with all of the arts. That is the theater of grants. Somebody has to bestow that support upon the artist. Unless you really qualify, philosophically, to be in those venues, you are not going to be there.

I produced a play back in the sixties when I was perhaps unclear what I wanted to say, though they could deal with that to a limited degree. Back then it made it very, very difficult for me to get anything onstage. I have a play coming out in the spring about [W.E.B.] Dubois, called The Most Dangerous Man in America. That’s what the FBI called him. It’ll be a month run at a small theater on the Lower East Side.


You are accomplished and awarded in so many art forms… if you were to be remembered by one piece of work, what would you choose it to be?


I think the book on black music, Blues People, that I wrote… people still quote that and cite that. I think that is the most important one. People came out in 1963 and is the book of mine that is the most constantly-referenced. I think it was the most popular. I have had other works which had a great deal of  (laughs) in the United States.

It’s about African-American music from Africa and how it developed in the United States. The seeds of that book came to me in a class I had with a man named Sterling Brown, a great poet who was my English teacher at Howard University. A friend of mine named A.B. Spellman who is also in the book, and who wrote a book called Four Lives in the Bebop Business, we had both finished class and he invited us to his house because we had some pretensions of knowing about the music. Once we were there, he showed us. He had this library with music, by genre, chronologically, by artist, and he told me, “That’s your history.”

In that kind of capsule statement what he was saying was that if you analyze the music, if you follow the music, you’ll also find out about the peoples’ history. So that’s what I did – tried to show how when the music changed it signified change in the status of the people and their condition. Everything about their lives has undergone some important change and the music is a result of the affect of the change. It goes to the earliest kind of music – the slave song, the early blues, the city blues, you know, the kinds of variations on that… like coming into the north and how it affected the music. It covers up to the 1960s.


You collaborated with The Roots about ten years ago… in hip-hop. Who are the most important artists or have been?


It changed a great deal from the early hip-hop of the 1970s, which was just a field called “rap.” Hip-hop is actually a kind of a category that includes different aspects of it all… the DJ, the rapping, graffiti, break dance. Rap, particularly, changed a great deal from the 1970s. The early rappers were much more conscious of making a social statement of protesting the kind of conditions they lived in and that black people lived in. It was really a kind of urban journal type thing, like Afrika Bambaataa from the South Bronx. Then, later on, people like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

RunDMC was a period of development of that was put together by the guy (named) Russell Simmons, who then became rap’s biggest entrepreneur.


Do you think people like Russell Simmons can be as well-accepted and still keep an edge?


People have to sort that out themselves and find out how those kinds of ties (either) support what they are doing or obstruct it. They might just change what they are doing or what they thought and come out with something that may not be as important as what they were doing before. It depends on how you deal with relationships with those institutions and organizations.


Can you tell more about your new play?


The play is about W.E.B. DuBois, when he was about 83 years old and was taking a very activist position against nuclear weapons and everything, including going to conferences in Europe to protest nuclear weapons. He was indicted as an “agent of foreign power,” being a “father” of books. He had just run for political office, he and a man named Vito Marcantonio, a lawyer who was really the last Italian communist in the U.S. Congress. Anyway, when DuBois was indicted because he was in a peace organization [he was chairman of the Peace Information Center, formed in 1950], they had the trial in Washington, DC, and Marcantonio defended him. He was the lawyer.

It was a drawn out trial but finally he won the case because it turned out that the chief witness against him was, in fact, the man who had invited DuBois to join the peace organization. So the thing was overthrown but DuBois was prescient enough to understand it. that he said, “Now the little children will no longer see my name.”

After that they took his passport and tried to keep him from traveling. Then in 1958, the Supreme Court overthrew that ruling and gave him back is passport so he was able to travel throughout the world… Europe, Russia, China. He had been invited to edit Encyclopedia Africana by Kwame Nkruman, who was the newly-elected Prime Minster of Ghana. He went there, declared his membership in the Communist Party and he died in Ghana on the day before the March on Washington, which was started by Reverend Martin Luther King, so it’s a real cycle.


That covers a lot of territory.


It is going to be mainly the drama of just before the indictment… and how they prepared for this trial. The main part of the play is the trial itself, and the rest focuses on his travels around the world, particularly Russia, China, and Ghana. That should be out in spring of next year.


Did you have a personal relationship with Malcolm X?


I met Malcolm one time, after he had his house in Long Island firebombed and he was moving around Manhattan. I saw him, actually, with a man named Mohamed Babu at the Waldorf Astoria, where Babu had a room. We met into the wee hours of the morning. That was the only time I actually talked to Malcolm.


You and Lenny Bruce were often mentioned in the same news stories and seem to have been crucified at the same time.


I didn’t know him. Like I said if you speak out and identify with any kind of activism you are going to get jumped. That’s it – and you can’t expect any other thing to happen.


Did you like his act? Were his racial routines funny to a black person?


Sure, at the time. What was relevant is that he was trying to be for real, to bring some reality to America and make a commentary on America and that was the point. Given the content, he was attacked for profanity and obscenity and all those things.

At that time, I was arrested for sending obscenity through the mail [for] publishing The Floating Bear. In one of them I had a play of mine in there or a short story… whatever, and an essay by William Burroughs. [The material deemed obscene consisted of “The Eighth Ditch” an excerpt from his novel, From the System of Dante’s Hell, and the Burroughs’ poem, “Roosevelt after Inauguration”].

This stuff that happened to Lenny Bruce was common, given that situation, because that is when that whole attack was common when you tried to do that – you were met with some kind of withering charges. I defended myself in court by reading the decision on [James] Joyce’s Ulysses and certainly that won the decision for me… (laughs).



The 1934 Supreme Court decision to lift the ban on Ulysses opened the doors for the publishing of many literary works besides those published by Baraka. Joyce’s book was used in the defense of novels Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Tropic of Cancer. The works of Amiri Baraka have, similarly, pushed open doors for new generations of creative minds to pass through.

Mr. Baraka was open and generous with his time. He still reads poetry in performance and we encourage you to see him if you ever have a chance. If you want Beat, he is more real than all the recent movies about the “usual suspects.” He is a living literary treasure and his work should be celebrated by all freedom-loving Americans and World Citizens.

Watch for his new play, The Most Dangerous Man in America, in spring and pick up a few of his books while you are waiting. He is the real deal and he speaks more sense than any other public figure that comes to mind.


Salute him and enjoy his work!

Dig This ~ Ann and Samuel Charters Read Beat Poetry

We found this while doing some research on the Charters’ Book, “Brother-Souls:John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. It has only had 79 views so far, so enjoy something new!!!

Read a review of their book and learn about John Clellon Holmes and Jack Kerouac in Beatdom 12!!!

It is published on the University Press of Mississippi. Buy a copy on Amazon or at the usual outlets. It is one of the best Beat reads you will ever find!

Dick in Dixie: Hank Williams III

interview by Michael Hendrick


They say that I’m ill-mannered,

that I’m gonna self-destruct,

But if you know what I’m thinkin’

you’ll know that pop country really sucks.
Well, we’re losing all the outlaws

that had to stand their ground
and they’re being replaced by these kids
from a manufactured town
And they don’t have no idea
about sorrow and woe
‘Cause they’re all just too damn busy
kissin’ ass on Music Row.

Published by Hank Williams III, 2005,  Bruc Records.


Doing good.

Well, I mean, you know, what I am doing to my voice. No other musician out there is doing what we deliver, as far as three and a half hours a night, four different genres, so it takes a toll on the vocal chords. It’s the never ending battle, fighting for my voice, trying to keep it. That’s the hardest part…the road…but that’s just one of those things.


What are you up to currently? In September, you released four new albums on the same day…you don’t see many artists do that.


We did a West Coast run and we just did an East Coast run. In my career, I have always toured just to tour. This is the first time I am touring around the releasing of the records but…that’s just my work ethic and that’s just what we do. The two year thing is…I wanting to get to a lot of places I never got to play before. Places like Italy, Romania, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia…            I’m wanting to start from scratch and get over there while I can. The last twenty years I’ve really just kept it in the United States and Canada. I’ve been to Japan and Europe just a couple of times but I’ve mostly kept it in the United States.


One thing you notice about a Hank3 show is how devoted the fans are; there is a lot of loyalty show to the artist.


I do talk to a lot of people from China on Facebook…all that shameless self-promotion on MySpace and Facebook…that’s a lot of the groundwork on my end, trying to put the word out over there in a different way. I’ve gotten a lot of work off of it. I meet a lot of creative people, artists giving me stuff or making trades…a lot of guitar techs…you meet a lot of people that if someone else was running it [his Facebook page], you would not have all those great opportunities of getting to connect with folks. You just wouldn’t have the opportunities to connect to all those people who are reaching out to you if you had somebody else scanning all your stuff. So, I’ve always been into trying to be as much ‘hands on’ as possible.


It seems to be working. We have been following you since around 2000, and it seems like more people know your name now than ever.


You got to keep in mind that I have toured this road for twenty years so I would hope that it is getting a little more common out there for at least some people to know who I am. I am sure outlaw country has helped out a good little bit on that since they support me and I would just say  all the roadwork, the word of mouth, shaking all those hands, has helped a lot in getting me out there a bit. It has changed a little but there are still a few that don’t have any idea but that’s part of the beauty of it.

Also, I always strive to be grassroots-oriented. I mean that’s the main thing…not to get too big. If I had a number one song tomorrow, I would only be playing a small bar for two days in a row and stuff like that. That’s just a little bit of my mentality on that stuff…


On the subject of country outlaws, Johnny Cash gave you some help on how to write songs?


It was his advice to me…I’m not being selfish to my fans, but…the best song is, like, always just write a song for yourself. You don’t need to be writing a song for no company or sitting down on music row with an office. That’s not real. That’s not heartfelt. That’s fake and I have always lived by that. I do try to write songs and identify with my fans and make them feel connected on songs like “Six Pack of Beer” and “Drinkin’ Ain’t Hard To Do”…with the bad economy and stuff like that.

All in all, I have never tried to make a ‘number one song’ on the radio. I just put out what I do. If you get it, you get it; and if you don’t, you don’t. You definitely see that in my shows. If I wanted to be a rock star, I could just do the country stuff and walk off the stage and have a room full of people…all the girls and sex, drugs, and rock and roll would be available to me…but what do I do? I go the extra mile and I run everybody out the door and I play until the select few are left there standing with us. That has always been my approach, for now, while I got the energy to do that and take it to the next level.

If Lemmy [of Motorhead and Hawkwind] is still kicking ass at his age, the way I look at the future is – as long as I can deliver a good show then I will keep doing what I do but if I’m not able to deliver a good show like I want to, I might have to slow down and not tour as much. All in all, I’ll be touring until I’m fifty. I know that…full throttle until I am fifty. That’s the goal. It’s hard to say, I just don’t know how life is going to treat me…or health…or all that stuff and you just never can tell.

Billy Gibbons [of ZZ Top] is doing great. Hank Junior’s still out there to do his thing…Lemmy, Slayer…there are a lot of older guys who are still able to bring it to the table but I want to go out with my head up. I have seen some of my heroes, like Johnny Paycheck, on that stage barely being able to breathe with oxygen tanks hooked up to him. I have seen Waylon [Jennings] when he was shaking so bad that he couldn’t even hold a guitar pick. Me and David Allan Coe are standing over on the side of the stage. David is basically in tears because it is so hard to see him in that condition. That’s when I told myself, I want to have my head held high if I ever retire. Who knows what will happen?

A lot of it might go back to…I’m not the greatest businessman and who knows how my health will be or…I don’t see any of that Hank Williams money and none of this Hank Williams estate so, heck, I might have to tour just to have an oxygen mask…who knows, but it will be interesting to see what the future might hold for me besides music.


For all the talk of poor health, the interviewer witnessed Hank plough through a four-hour set and have time to meet fans. It is unique for anybody to put out such a show of sustained energy, both vocally and instrumentally. When the interviewer clapped Hank on the shoulder in departing, it was hard not to notice how muscular and hard Hank’s arm is.

The conversation turned to his songwriting process:


Alright, it is always a little different. First of all, writing is hard for me because of my learning disabilities, my ADHD, my dyslexia…writing has always been a challenge. Even reading has been hard for me. Sometimes I do write on the road, very rarely, but I will try to sit down with a pen and write some lyrics every now and then. Usually the pen gets in the way!

When I’m writing a country song, I usually hit ‘record’ and sing off the top of my head on what I feel and then I go back with a pen and try to make it a little more of a story or make a little more sense out of it. That’s always how I’ve just kind of done it. On some songs like “Crazed Country Rebel,” which was written on the road with Superjoint Ritual, I had a lot of downtime and I was just able to sit there and write the whole song out, then go back and put music to it later. Ninety percent of the time, it’s me singing with my acoustic guitar and kind of channeling or singing off the top of my head. I’m just singing what I feel and it just depends…because of my rhythm…I’ll either do something slow or I’ll do something fast or I’ll do something a little strange. That’s how it happens.

The rock and roll writing process is always the guitarist first, then I do the drums, then the vocals are last – because to me, in rock, you really don’t have to tell as much of a story. In country music the lyrics are a lot more important. People identify a lot more with the roots-oriented music.

It’s always been on me because most of my band is scattered. Not all of it…I have my drummer, Sonic Williams, he lives in Nashville…but most of my guys are out of town and since I play everything and I hear the rhythms and hear what it’s supposed to be, I just do it all myself and then give it to the other guys. It’s been like that because I enjoy playing drums. I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy recording. It’s fun for me and it’s a thrill to hear the finished product and stuff like that. I never, in the country world or the rock world, have done that well trying to write with someone else…just because I am kind of shy and intimidated. In general, I am just kind of nervous around people so I just feel more at ease when writing by myself.


You get a lot of great guests, though, like Tom Waits on “Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown,” (one of the four released in September 2011 on Hank 3 Records).


I just sent him the songs after they were created. I sent him a few songs to see which one he felt more comfortable with, so he definitely felt more comfortable with “Fadin’ Moon” because of the pushbox accordion. On the song, “Ghost to a Ghost,” he is just singing the last line but I was just going out there a little bit. It is not a country song. It is just a different sounding song but I was just trying to…in “Ghost to a Ghost” [the LP] and “Guttertown,” there are only about five or six country songs, in my opinion. There’s a lot of new stuff that is not really country at all. I am just letting people know I‘m a diverse musician and who knows what else you might be getting in the future…a little bit of everything.


Speaking of Tom Waits, both he and Bob Dylan claim they made deals with the devil. You sing about Satan a lot…did you ever make a deal?


Well, not to my knowledge. I mean, what I always approached was, my grandfather sang about the Light so it seems natural for me to sing about the Dark. That’s my big thing. I’ve had Satanism people try to recruit me and I’ve had all kinds of different people want to recruit me to try and be on their team. I do sing about the devil and stuff like that but I’m just gonna keep doing my thing and I’d rather just be an outsider and a rebel and an independent kind of guy.

So that is really hard to say. My grandfather had the woes – the sinning and the suffering because of some of the topics he might of put out there throughout his music but I’ve definitely taken that to more of an extreme level.

I do have a lot of guilt in me. I do my best to try to even out my karma… That’s why I do my best to try to be good to anybody I meet. I’m always down to earth and nice to them and try to put out the best positive energy that I can but I also know a lot of really dark people who practice that stuff and are really heavy into it but…I just…you know, that’s what they do and to each their own. It’s not my job to judge anybody…it’s whatever anyone feels comfortable with. I do have days where it is a lot harder than other days. So, you know, if I was an atheist, it sure would make things a lot more easier. I’m not necessarily on any team but I do believe in good light and dark energy and I have seen both of them work.

It’s just like the other night, when I played in Flint, MI, and somebody just said, “Well, you finally made it to hell!” So…whatever that means…and I am feeling it in my mind and in my heart. Sometimes I have those overwhelming feelings. Sometimes it goes back to, well, if I’ve made it all the way to hell, maybe I gotta just keep on fighting to get back out of it or who knows, it’s just one of those things you don’t know but I do sing a lot about the darker topics and I have felt a lot more comfortable in that world because it’s just been a natural rebellious thing for me, being raised in the Bible Belt. My mother burned all my music. I was forced to go to church four times a week and that’s back when the Satan Seminars were really big and I’m just always torn on that topic. I just never know where I really stand. I wish I did, so I could be like, “Okay, it’s said and done and this is where I’m at…” but it’s a forever, never ending fight.


 “You find out after you die,” is what some say.


I know people who have and some say there is something and some say there is nothing…like my half-sister, Hillary, she basically got killed in a car wreck and got revived and she had a nice experience. Phil Anselmo, from Pantera, he’s been dead and he came back and he is one of those guys out there who says there’s nothing. We all don’t know until our time will come.


The ‘hellbilly’ sound…


Well, to me, I’m not tooting my own horn, but I think I am close to being the pioneer of that sound. I never heard the term until I started bringing it up. I don’t think. To me, hellbilly, back in the day, was playing rock and roll on country instruments. Back when I was doing the full-on hellbilly, roots-wise…the acoustic guitar was running through a distortion pedal, the steel guitar, the fiddle, the upright bass…that was the hillbilly sound. In my songs, I was always talking about…well, I always liked Webb Pierce and I’m working on a farm and I’m singing rock and roll in a country style and this is the hellbilly sound. For me, hellbilly was just like being the independent outlaw. If you look at some of the biker clubs, whether it the Outlaws or the Hells’ Angels, or whatever, it was my way of creating a little bit of an outsider, Reverend Horton Heat on steroids kind of sound. That’s just what it was and it goes back to doing something against the Bible Belt…trying to do something a little different.


You seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Grand Ole Opry.


I have always paid respect there. I never disrespected that stage. I never cussed on that stage. I’ve never smoked in their building or anything like that. They try to embrace certain outlaws and it is what it is. I am one of the last few outlaws doing it and, the Opry means it. If you look back in history, the Grand Ole Opry was always full of kids. It wasn’t full of old people when it was really thriving and I’m just…well, Johnny Cash was doing the same thing back in his day.


Looking back at your earlier appearance at the Opry, you almost seemed ‘clean cut’.


At first, I was doing a little bit of paying respects just to get into the game, just to get a little money to pay for all the back support I owed for my child and then I started standing on my own two feet, knowing my past and fighting for my fans, fighting to be different.

Hank Junior has done the same thing on that stage. Waylon, Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, there’s been a few on there that’s done what I’ve done. It’s just that it might not have been televised.

It’s a definite fact that Hank Williams was playing rock and roll before they knew what rock and roll was.

Your example is…[sings]:

“I came in last night, about half past ten,

that baby of mine, wouldn’t let me in,

move it on over…well…

Dada da da, Dada da da,  dada da da da da da da,

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight,

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock until broad daylight…”

It’s the same fucking thing!…Bill Haley and the Comets was not the first guy to play rock and roll. Hank Williams was – they just didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, he just wasn’t having an electric guitar in his hand. A couple times he did, but he held that acoustic guitar more and he was timeless and he was crossing over and doing everything, but all in all…that is why there is a picture of Hank Williams in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are the true people that know that he was the founder of rock before rock and roll really happened, in a low key way. If you look at the structure, Hank Williams was playing the structure of rock and roll.


Your grandfather did so much in the 29 years he was alive. You put out a lot of energy, too. Are there any nights when you think, “Oh, this is what he felt like?”


There is a lot of differences between me and him. He did so much in so little time that it is still mind-boggling when you look back at the amount of work that was captured but as life goes on…or say it feels like I might be having a heart attack on stage or feeling like it might be my last day on earth, there are certain feelings because Hank told a couple folks that he kind of knew his end was near. I feel like that sometime. I definitely hope it’s not like that but the spirit of the outlaw energy, I feel it in the rooms a good bit and me and him have a lot of similarities but then, again, there are a lot of differences there. He was always an easygoing, kind of funny guy to be around, where I, on the other hand, am really not that much fun to be around. I’m kind of a downer. It’s just hard for me to laugh. I don’t know why, it’s just always been like that. He was real deep and felt at ease in his storytelling and for me, I don’t know why, but there is just a difference. I am kind of uptight. I have this nervous energy.

Maybe once in a while when I am singing I may feel him a little bit. If I have a real nasally voice, I might feel the spirit of him. There is also definitely a lot of differences. He was a very cocky individual at times, he would fight and get drunk and he would mouth off but, in general, he was good and he knew it. He was really sharp. Me, on the other hand, I have never been like that. I might be sharp but it’s not just arrogance. I’ve been real intent on making sure that people know that the ego is not out of control. I never wanted to be like my father, as far as cussing out the audiences or telling Yankees to go fuck themselves or all that stuff.

I’ve had my country heros and my rock heros dick me off and be assholes to me and I never wanted to be that guy to my fans, or my crew.


You mention Kid Rock and call him a ‘Yank’ and say he’s ‘no son of Hank’ in “Not Everybody Likes Us.” What is up with that?


He stuck his nose in the family business. He came in and tried to tell me how to act to my father. When you are going to do that, what do you expect? I’m gonna definitely put someone like that down…and that is coming from a guy says, “Well, you know I’m the next Elvis!” That’s the first thing he ever told me when I met him. So, I’ve never been like that and a lot of my fans are proud that I am not like that. They know that I put on my pants just like anybody else, work hard for what I do…nothing was ever really handed to me. I had to fight for my way in every little thing. I could have took the easy way out but I always stuck to the hard road and people ‘get’ that.


Since this is our nature issue, let’s touch on that…


I don’t hunt that much and if I do hunt, I’m mainly taking my son out, really. If I do hunt, I go through the whole process and clean it and eat it. I am not out there just to kill. I have never really been like that. I am very into animal rights, especially the shame with all the pit bulls and all the stuff that has been happening against them, especially in the South. It’s really hard to see. If you look back, the pit bull was the “Little Rascal’s” main dog…


How about the dog from the RCA Victor signs?


Yeah, that was “Petey” and there was about four or five different ones and that was the American icon, back in the day. People have made pit bulls worse, not the breed itself. It just goes to show how the corrupt people have damaged the reputation of that breed. I have always worked with no-kill shelters and animals rights activists.

This guy was trying to get back at his girlfriend so he hooked up her horse to the back of his truck and drug it for over four miles and left it at her front door…and he got a citation?! Shit like that…I would think he should have gotten six months in jail.

Animals have been so good to me and I care a lot about them. They have helped me through my hard times. It is my way of giving back. I also do “Homes for the Troops,” for the guys over there in the war who lose their legs, their arms…I do benefit shows for them, where they have to build special houses for them with ramps and stuff like that and raise money, even though the government should be paying that for the rest of their lives.

Those are the two main things I will take time out and try to raise money for.


Aren’t you active in the campaign to get you grandfather reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry?


There is a petition out on and all people can do is sign it. I just got a call from Nashville today that they ran a big story on it in The Tennessean…so things are starting to happen with it, even if we are just talking about it, but it seems like it is getting close.

I always said that the person who put it into perspective the best is Tom Waits because he called out the big corporate people and the average folks and really got them to see where the loophole is and he’s calling them out on the loophole. The 200th Edition of Mojo Magazine, has a story that he wrote and he really did a lot of homework and got in touch with the right people to call them out and let it be known. That’s what I always tell everyone to read because it calls out the big guys, the corporate people. He [Waits] is saying, “Well, why is he listed on your website as a member but in reality, he is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry?”…and just little things like that but it is a very interesting read. Find it if you can. He edited that whole edition.


But the petition has been around for a few years. Wasn’t somebody already trying?


No, I did a lot for that guy [an unnamed individual] out of respect but then he just started drifting a different way and not getting it and I had to pull the plug and shut it all down. If you not going to work with us and you’re going to think this is about you, well, guess what? It’s not about you, this is about Hank Williams…so we shut that down.


Bob Dylan just did the album, “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.” You were great on the tribute album to your grandfather, “Timeless.” Why weren’t you doing a song on this project?


It doesn’t matter if it’s “Hank Junior’s Big 40th” or all that stuff – they never ask or invite me to do things like that. I don’t know what it is. All I can say is that I guess it is just those corporate people in Nashville that just don’t want much to do with someone like me.

I’m not putting Bob Dylan down, but he owns my grand-dad’s stuff but never once has he reached out or anything. I have known players who play with him and he has had plenty of opportunities to say stuff to me regarding my family history since he is so into it but he never has…There is a whole other aspect to whatever that is. I know it has to do with some lawyers and people like that.

It is what it is. An unfinished Hank Williams song, in my opinion, might be unfinished for a reason. So, who knows?


You have dubbed Nashville as “Trashville.” It seems like you fit in better with the country players from West Texas. Why there?


I basically used to hang out a lot with Wayne [The Train] Hancock. He was one of my best friends out there. He showed me a lot…and Dale Watson, too… So, I have spent a lot of time in Texas. I have never lived there and don’t think I ever will live there. I enjoy living in Tennessee and I am proud to be from Tennessee. Ray Price was good to me and I got to hang out with Ray a little bit. Ray Vincent has been good to me. Junior Brown…I have recorded him at my house before. He came in a couple months ago and we all recorded a song of his and two days later it was on the radio. I am not singing on it. I just pulled the session together and recorded it. I played drums on it; I called up Dave Roe, Johnny Cash’s old bass player and got him involved.

As Junior said, “Man, I really like the vibe of your studio and the way you did it is the way it should be done. You used one microphone to capture all the different sounds and I think that’s what Nashville has stopped a lot. He had a hell of a time and it was our first time actually being able to hang out. I gained a lot of respect from him. As far as outside of Texas, Waylon Jennings had always been good to me before he passed on. David Allan Coe is basically like my father. He is the only man out there who has ever said, “If you need advice, or anything, just call me. If you need anything, you call me.” Not many people, even in my own family have been like that. Kris Kristofferson has also been very embracive to me on my career, also, and for a little while George Jones was good. Little Jimmy Dickens was always respectful to me in all those things.

I have been so busy just having to fight for my own way that I haven’t been able to hang out with those people. I don’t ‘do lunch.’ I don’t make the rounds in Tennessee. I’m worried about getting my crew and band on the road and making it happen again. That is where a lot of my time goes.

All in all, David Allan Coe is the only man who stood with my through the years and he has become a very humble man in his older age. He has done it all – he has had the number one songs and been ripped off for every one of his hit songs, and he is the closest thing to a family member that I have, one of the living outlaw legends.

I’ll never sign another artist to my label because I would never want to do another musician wrong. It is hard enough just keeping up with what I do. I would never want to make a musician feel like he did not get the sound he deserved on a song or the press he deserved or any of that stuff. I’m not that much of a business guy.


You would make a good politician, the way you shake hands and work the crowd. Did we read a quote about you thinking of it?


I think that was a mis-quote. I don’t ever see myself in politics. Look at Ted Nugent. When he is not onstage, he is politically active and I have never been into politics, hardly ever. I take the David Lee Roth stance on it…there are some things in music that just don’t belong. We are here to make people forget about their problems, not make them feel worse. You see enough about politics on every news, radio, internet…it is shoved down your face 24/7 and I take the stance that I don’t really sing about it that much.

The only political thing I’ll say is, “Yeah, it’d be nice to see that war end.” When I see how many kids come and go and how many bodies get destroyed and how many minds are being ruined…I would say it is just about time for them to wrap it up. Or, if you look at the position that Hank Junior took not long ago, if you are a gun activist, or you care about your ammo or your shotgun, you will notice that the Rights to Bear Arms are being taken away more and more.

Kids are dying for our freedom while rights are being taken away more and more everyday over there and that is sad to see…but I stay away from politics because I don’t research it. I don’t follow it. My politics is my music. I play music. I hope my gun is my guitar and I’m out there trying to let people forget about their problems. I just have never been that involved in it, not until I have to and right now I am just touring the road and have never been that into politics.

Hank, er, Pop, made that comment (likening Obama to Hitler)…I say the only musician who should say anything about politics is Jello Biafra because when he’s not playing music, he is actively involved. He is doing the speeches. He is doing the research. He is doing all kinds of stuff to raise awareness on many different levels, whereas most punk rock bands are just saying, “Fuck the government, 1,2,3, fuck the police, blahblahbla”…and they are not really doing their homework. That is my stance on it because I don’t follow it. All I will say is that if people should vote, they should vote for the smaller people…the mayor, the governor…that is where the big change is gonna happen, in the smaller communities. Not the Big Kahuna…


The ‘occupy’ movement seems to have missed that logic.


I don’t even think that is the right one. That doesn’t seem like the right movement or the motivation. The only thing the occupy thing has really shown is how the police can get away with beating old people down. That’s about it. That’s about all that happened. They can shoot you with the rubber bullets, they can pepper-spray an 84-year-old man…do all these things…It is just not the right revolution. It just does not seem like the right one. Whenever the day comes when they try to take guns away from Americans, that will be the new Civil War and that is when the revolution will happen.

The scary thing for me is on the gun level…I hear it from the Vietnam vets. I hear it from the kids that are in the war right now and then someone like my father, so it is happening on all fronts.

He [father, Hank Junior] made massive headlines…he was saying basically that Obama was Hitler. See, that all goes back to the guns. The only reason he is saying that is that the Right to Bear Arms is being taken away… or the ban to ban a single barrel shotgun. As my father would say, one of his most prized possessions is an old single barrel shotgun that his great-grandfather used in World War I and he still has it and Obama wants to put a ban on it? As he would say, FUCK THAT!

That goes back to why the kids are fighting for freedom while the rights are being taken away more and more. Ted Nugent can go there and my dad is very dialed into that but since I live very day to day and by the skin of my teeth, in reality I’m not a very rich man so that probably has a lot to do with it. Most of these people that are really hardcore into politics, a lot of them have a good bit of money. I never have had that which is another reason why I am bliss to that world right now.

It might have been joking because Hank Junior said he was gonna run for governor and then Jello Biafra told me that, “You need to run against your father and I’ll be your political advisor and we’ll have a campaign and do that.” So I might have been joking on that. I would never see myself in that kind of a position.


Originally published in Beatdom #11.

Beatdom 12 ~ The Crime Issue ~ Coming Soon!!!

Yes, friends, Beatdom Issue Twelve is on it’s way and today we unveil the cover, featuring the lovely Zeena Schreck – who was kind enough to contribute this wonderful photo for the cover, as well as a short monologue (meant for stage) which she wrote at about the same time the photo was taken.

“I thought they’d compliment each other in a film-noirish type way, for a crime-theme. I hope you like it,” she says and we hope that you enjoy her work, too. Zeena and Nikolas Schreck have been great contributors since they joined us, and we are always delighted with what they have to share with us.

Issue Twelve will be another jam-packed issue, featuring interviews with Patti Smith, Amiri Baraka and Joyce Johnson and a close look at the first person to publish a piece of Beat Literature, John Clellon Holmes. He is featured in a review of the great biography/period non-fiction book on University of Missisippi Press, Brother-Souls by Ann Charters and Samuel Charters.

There are plenty of other great contributions pouring in but there is still time for you to send something, if you have a Beat-tinged piece on crime, or even a Beat-related bit of work. We are happy to look at your submissions. Deadline is in two weeks on November 1.

Beatdom 12 should roll off the presses in the first weeks of December, so save some cash in that holiday budget of yours to get a nice present for yourself!

Cover photo: Max Kobal/Copyright: Zeena Schreck.
Graphic Design: Waylon Bacon

Something New! Beatdom Book Club Discussion Group – “Brother-Souls”

When we interviewed Ann Charters in our current issue, Beatdom Eleven, she brought up the relationship between Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes and the importance of Holmes in the evolution of the seminal style, syntax and spirit of Beat Literature, as demonstrated by Kerouac’s daily digestion of each page as Holmes’ novel, Go.

Here is a slice of that interview…
Ann Charters – “I can understand (Alene) Lee’s anger at Kerouac after he appropriated her story in The Subterraneans (though at the request of Grove Press she signed a paper giving her consent). What he did to his friend John Clellon Holmes in that autobiographical novel was much worse: Kerouac portrayed Holmes as such a wimpy rival that the literary portrait trapped him for eternity as “the quiet Beat” just as a fly is trapped in amber. Sam and I tried to redress that wrong in our recent biography Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation. It was a difficult book to write, but one of its pleasures was the opportunity to give Holmes back his voice as a writer who was an enormous influence on Kerouac during the years 1948 to 1951, especially in Jack’s creation of the “scroll” version of On the Road.
I don’t think I should have written more about Alene Lee in my early biography (Kerouac, 1973), because she didn’t play a major role in Jack’s life. Much later when I found out from the English Beat scholar Oliver Harris that she had typed the manuscript of Burroughs and Ginsberg’s The Yage Letters, I included that information in Brother-Souls to give her credit.
But I wish I had known more about Holmes’ long friendship with Kerouac when I wrote the
biography, because Holmes was a major influence and he deserves much more credit for his role as a Beat novelist, poet, and historian. Certainly Holmes’ memoir Nothing More to Declare and his novel Go are major achievements in the Beat literary canon. Jack read every chapter of Go as it left John’s typewriter, and it helped break the emotional log-jam that prevented him from writing about his road trips with Neal Cassady.”

This caught our interest so we were very pleased at the arrival of Brother-Souls in the old Beat Mailbox. A full review of this terrific work will appear in the next issue of Beatdom…Issue Twelve, The Crime Issue.The thing is – the book is much more that what we expected, so we are reading slowly and savoring. Instead of a basic nuts-and-bolts account of the facts, this is a volume that reads with the excitement of any of the best Beat novels. Though more factually forward and to the point than the diamond-hard poetic styles of description which infused On The Road, Go, The Dharma Bums, etc., we still get the adventures, the substance of an era frozen in time, and all the usual suspects – and then some!
Before we even arrived at chapter one, the three page prologue dazzled us with an array of “Who’s Who In Hip”…we come across the names of the Velvet Underground, The Fugs, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Saunders, Diane di Prima, Andy Warhol, Charles Olson, Peter Orlovski, Anne Waldman, Timothy Leary…even W.H. Auden walks through to buy a newspaper…Will they all show up eventually? Perhaps not all of them but it certainly grabbed our interest immediately.
By force of habit, we opened the book to a random page to see what we found and, there on page 179, we have Neal Cassady sending Holmes, in the words of the former, “Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-EEEE! A real whiz of a letter” in his typical ebullience! What more can you look for in a quick introduction to the text?
If you are reading this post you are probably on this site for a reason – to learn about, celebrate or simply enjoy that which is Beat Culture and Literature. To that end, we suggest you go out to a store, click on, break out the Kindle – however you prefer to do it – get yourself a copy of Brother-Souls and read it. When we went to our local library to see if we could get a copy, we couldn’t. Utilizing the inter-library loan service, we were shocked to find that not a single public library in the State of Pennsylvania had a copy.
That is just pathetic.
So, if you are used to getting reading materials and books at the local branch and they do not have it, or are not aware of it here is all the information they need to order a copy…
Give them the information and don’t cut them any slack if they argue!

Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation
By Ann Charters and Samuel Charters
University Press of Mississippi
ISBN 978-1-60473-579-6, hardback, $35
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If they can afford multiple copies of that Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, let them know they can get something besides that sort of drivel for your tax dollar. This is literary history and it belongs in any and every self-respecting library!

Before Issue Twelve appears with the full review, we will post a short version of Brother-Souls on this site. We would love to open up a discussion and have you send us your comments. If you already read it, please post a comment and start a forum here. For the fun of it, please include the city and country you are writing from.
If you have to give the clerk at Barnes and Noble a hard time to get your copy, tell us about that, too! Let’s all read a great book together and have some fun doing it. If you like, we can have discussions on other books in the future.
What do you say?
Be there or be square!!!

A Few Words From Patti Smith On Writing and Beats

On May 15, Patti Smith told us about her new record, Banga, and some of the source for the title track’s inspiration, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. We have been listening to the new music a lot, enjoying it immensely, and looking forward to seeing Patti perform on tour with Neil Young this fall. On the recording, she does a very nice version of Young’s “After The Gold Rush.”

At interview time, we were told by Columbia/Sony Entertainment that Patti could only speak about the new release and we had come prepared to ask her some ‘Beat’ questions. As you can see in the following exchange, the second part of our interview with the poet/writer/entertainer, she was gracious and more than happy to stray from the subject of the new music, which we had not had time to fully digest at the time of the talk. This is the second section of the interview. In the third, Patti tells us what she has been reading lately, what she suggests for others’ reading lists and who she would meet if allowed to travel through time. The complete interview will be printed in Beatdom, Issue Twelve – The Crime Issue.

They told me I could only ask you about your new album.

You don’t have to do that…ask what you want.

Thanks! Well, speaking of the album, you wrote the song “Nine” for Johnny Depp and I read interviews where you tell how he helped you by recording the title track, “Banga.” He was close to Allen Ginsberg, so we wondered if you met him through Ginsberg?

No…I knew Allen since I was quite young. I met Johnny when he came to one of my concerts a few years ago. We talked and then started off on Allen. We both love books and we spent a lot of time talking about [Jack] Kerouac and Dylan Thomas. Johnny has letters of [Antonin] Artaud and Dylan Thomas. We spoke a lot about literature and music and became very good friends.
A lot of our friendship is book-based.

So, about your writing process…

I am always writing…always…and always have two or three projects going simultaneously because my mind is so active…like I’m writing poems and writing little songs and am working on my detective story and some other things. So, writing is part of my daily discipline, whether it’s for my website ( or anything else I do…it’s the one consistent discipline I’ve had since I was thirteen years old that I continue to exercise every day.

I write by hand in my notebooks and on the computer. I don’t write so much on the typewriter anymore. I always loved the typewriter, but it’s so complicated to get ribbons and things, so I switched over to transcribing on computer — but I initially write in my notebooks.

Do you have favorite pens?

I have a very nice pen collection. I have been given beautiful pens by my son and daughter…I have a very nice, small white Montblanc and I have very nice old fountain pens and sometime’s it’s just a Bic. There is always some pen in my pocket but I sometimes get sentimental towards certain pens. Sometimes I just use a little Uni-Ball. It depends what’s in my pocket but I have very nice pens at home. I like those little Montblanc Mozarts. I think they are called the “Mozart Series.” They’re small, they’re a ballpoint and they have a really nice weight and you can put them in your pocket. That’s sort of my upscale pen of choice. I write with whatever’s there, though, you know?

Sometimes…if I’m on computer…well, I like to write fast and then go back and edit. I don’t like to edit as I am writing and sometimes I can get in a groove at night. When I’m writing late at night sometimes I sit at my computer and, if I’m like writing more of a rap, like if I’m doing something for my website. I usually do my website right on the computer…a lot of times it’s just sort of like rappin’ and if I’m working on a poem or something like that, I always write by hand.

Listening to “Rock N Roll Nigger,” the structure seems reminiscent of “Howl.” Was that by design?

It’s just what we did. I always acknowledge the people who influence me or inspire me but I’m not really conscious of exactly how. I just know that I’ve learned from them but I don’t consciously do a piece of work to mirror another piece – if it does, it’s just because someone else will usually pick up on it, probably subconsciously.

We read that Allen had a lot of influence on you coming out of retirement some years ago…

Allen was more influential to me when I was younger. He was just so vocal. He was so successful at marshaling people, at gathering large troops of people to speak out against the government, to strike…so that was his major influence on me.

I often talk about Allen. When you do a hundred interviews, it all depends on how they are edited. I’ve talked about Allen many times – about how, of course, he was instrumental. He called me up; called my house and inspired me. He said that I should come and let the people help me with my grieving process and let my Loved One go on his journey. I’ve talked about that on the liner notes of my record…many, many times. I’m always doing something for Allen, reading his poems…paying tribute. There is only so much you can say in one little interview but I am always grateful to Allen.

How about the other Beats?

I was very attached to William [Burroughs]. I knew Gregory, Gregory Corso, very well…and Peter Orlovsky. I met Hubert Huncke.
I was very privileged to know these people and I had different relationships with them all. Gregory was very, very important to me in my learning process of how to deliver poems live…and in my reading list.

But William was the one I was most attached to. I just adored him. I had sort of a crush on him when I was younger and he was very good to me. He really liked my singing and encouraged me to sing. He used to come to CBGB to see us and, of course, his work inspired me. Horses, the opening of Horses, with Johnny’s confrontation in the locker room, was very inspired by William’s The Wild Boys. In The Wild Boys there is also a ‘Johnny.’ My ‘Johnny’ is a continuation of William’s ‘Johnny.’

William really taught me a lot about how to conduct myself as a human being, you know? Not to compromise and to do things my way. What William always said was, “The most precious thing you ever have is your name so don’t taint it. Build your name and everything else will come. Keep your name clean.” I learned a lot from William.

Listen to Patti’s newest album “Banga” on Columbia Records and for more fun, visit her website,!

The Nature of Beatdom Issue 11 (with lots of photos)

Dear Readers,
We certainly hope that you like to look at pictures – because this is about as many as we think we can squeeze into a single post.

The idea is to show that, while the ebook and kindle formats are handy, Beatdom is still fun to have your own personal copy of, like in the old days of the literary journal, when you stuck it in your pocket or bag and pulled it out to read while on the bus, at the doctor’s office or in a crowded movie theater while some delinquent threw JuJubes in your hair.

While we all know you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, anybody who is familiar with French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the poem, ‘After The Deluge,’ from his earth-shattering collection ‘Illuminations,’ will spot him right away, That is thanks to the keen handiwork of multi-faceted artist Waylon Bacon, who graced the front cover of this issue with his brilliant dexterity and use of color.

It is a treat to get to see him do something for us in deep rich tones, since he has had to restrain himself to using black and white ever since we changed the format to that of the classic, standard old-style 6×9-inch black and white format, used by most literary journals.

In the following story by Katy Gurin, ‘Grizzly Bear,’ you can see more of Waylon’s work, only in the b/w format. This is still another excellent short story by Katy, about what can happen when people commune a little too closely with nature. This tale showcases her usual splendid imagination and wonderful gift for detail. Stuck in between there, shown on the back cover, since most people look at the front and back before opening it, is the advertisement for the next fiction release from Beatdom Books, ‘Egypt Cemetery,’ a memoir by Editor Michael Hendrick, which will be available soon at the usual outlets.

It is also worth noting that Katy will be publishing a full volume of her short stories with Beatdom Books, later this year. That volume will be illustrated by Waylon, since the two of them make such a great team for two people who have never even met each other. As Katy’s story continues the partygoers dressed as bears start to act more like bears just for the drunken fun of it.

Waylon not only provided the fine images you see here – but also managed to include some of his favorite monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster, his Bride, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, and some weird looking what-cha-ma-callits, that only he sees when he closes his eyes at night.

Bears like to catch fish but fishtank owners are not always appreciative. As you can see, our half-drunk pseudo-bears wander out into the Halloween night and do all the things bears are wont to do, until they are confronted by a real bear. How Katy thinks this stuff up is a mystery to us but we have been lucky enough to have her writing such inventive stories with truly absorbing plots since she was kind enough to provide us with her very first and fabulous yarn, ‘Meat From Craigslist,’ back in Issue Number Nine.

Next we have a look at the life of William S. Burroughs during his days as a farmer, written by Editor David S. Wills. Burroughs didn’t do so well working the land but Mr. Wills has been farming up quite a bit of information on the pistol-happy author while lurking about the Burroughs Archives at the New York City Public Library lately. Watch for more!

Somehow, archaeologist, activist and Beatdom regular Robin Como managed to find time to write two more of her intoxicatingly exquisite poems for your pleasure and if she doesn’t run away, we hope to have her back with more in our next issue!

Michael Hendrick tracked down Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, on Thanksgiving Day morning last year, forcing him to hold a copy of Beatdom Issue Nine and interviewing him on topics ranging from going to Hell, to how his grandfather wrote one of the first recorded rock songs before rock’n’roll was invented, to the Right to Bear Arms.

Taking time out from his extensive studies, returning writer Rory Feehan penned this account of still another famous sharp-shooter, Hunter S. Thompson and his ventures and misadventures while living a not so quiet existence at perhaps California’s favorite Beat retreat, Big Sur.

While everybody was awaiting the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Mr. Wills tracked down the last remaining live male character depicted in the movie, Al Hinkle, who Kerouac called Ed Dunkel in the book. Mr. Hinkle is delighted to appear here.

Assistant Editor Kat Hollister, who labored intensively to help put this issue together marked her first appearance in Beatdom with the poem you see below; her efforts were rewarded by the dubious distinction of having it placed across from a poem by returning Beat literate Chuck Taylor, on the dodgy subject of his erection. Mr. Taylor dug up the old form of ‘doggerel’ to justify it, along with the fact that we are the only journal who would risk publishing it.

Where have you seen this face before? On the cover, it’s Arthur Rimbaud again, next to an essay by poet Larry Beckett, who takes apart the aforementioned poem, ‘After The Deluge.’ It is an insightful look at one of Rimbaud’s best know works, and also gives us a glimpse at the fantastic style of literary critique to be found in Mr. Beckett’s upcoming offering from Beatdom Books, ‘Beat Poetry.’

Matthew Levi Stevens is a new name to Beatdom readers and here he presents us with a review of the latest collection of letters written by William S. Burroughs when he was still living as an expatriate.

Kat Hollister, following the indignity of having her poem placed facing Mr. Taylor’s doggerel, was happy to find a spot next to this wonderful photograph, ‘wetlands in march no.2,’ by well-known nature photographer, g. thompson higgins.

Artist/Photographer/Musician and Writer, Zeena Schreck returned again this issue, with this touching and enlightening article. She writes of how she and multi-talented husband, Nikolas Schreck, stepped up and acted to save the lives of eighty wolves, diverting their carriage to safe habitat as they were being sent to an otherwise slow and cruel death.

Ann Charters, a name familiar to everybody in the world of Beat Literature and Literary History spoke with Mr. Hendrick, on working with Kerouac, the beginnings of Beat, her meeting with Alene Lee and the importance of John Clellon Holmes to the Beat Generation.

Internationally renowned poet Michael Shorb, a strong voice on environmental issues, was kind enough to grace our pages with this, his first appearance in Beatdom.

Reaching past Rimbaud to William Blake, Mr. Wills weighs in with a quick word on the literary influence of one of the most visionary of voices and his influence on the Beats.

When we think of Beat we think of the road and it is hard to think of a band who pounded the pavement harder than the Ramones. Richie Ramone, the fastest of the fast, spoke with Mr. Hendrick about life on the road, his forays into the Big Band sounds of the Drum Gods and his activism on behalf of pooches in peril in Los Angeles.

As usual, Waylon won’t go back into his cage until he gets one last bite on the hand the doesn’t feed him, so we leave you with him and his now traditional ‘last page, last word.’ This one, Waylon aptly titled ‘Sometimes Eye Gets Crazy!’

Tom Waits on Letterman

You don’t get much more Beat than Tom Waits.