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“A Fish With Frog’s Eyes”: Bob Kaufman, George Romero and the Power of Radioactivity

 

By Kurt Kline

 

In the poetry of Bob Kaufman, the poet is the healer, journeying down into the underworld of the American psyche in order to heal the wounds of racism, capitalist exploitation, and war. If Kaufman is, as many critics have suggested, a shaman, it is perhaps most properly in the tradition of Hoodoo, which employs music as a mode of otherworldly transport or to facilitate trance states. If Kaufman recuperates the bizarre dreamscape and linguistic paradox of the ancient shaman’s song, however, these elements have now been transplanted to alien, perhaps even hostile, Western cultural climes. I examine George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead to demonstrate more clearly Kaufman’s position as mispositioned shaman-healer of the postmodern age.

Although there is no single moment when modernism ended and postmodernism began, the period around WWII can be seen as a time of great transformation. The European avant-garde movement dispersed not only bodily to the far corners of the globe, but spiritually, as a functional vehicle of liberation. But after the war another generation arose. Allen Ginsberg seems to bridge the gaping chasm torn by the war in the middle of twentieth century American and European literature when he gives Ezra Pound a ritual spanking at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. The Beats represented a new way of configuring self, art, and world. The postmodern artist was no longer a priest of culture, but an actual enemy of the state. Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Lenny Bruce were brought to trial on obscenity charges; Carl Solomon was locked in a madhouse; Bob Kaufman was repeatedly jailed. Beat writers were fighting on the side of the imagination in a war that threatened to strip America of her soul. “The war that matters is the war against the imagination,” Diane Di Prima declares in her poem “Rant”: “All other wars are subsumed by it.” The artist became not a high priest but a culture worker, working within the mythos of the American legend to undermine its insistence on collective conformity, on homogenization of spiritual experience.

The Beats accomplish this in their poetry through the juxtaposition of elements of American mainstream popular culture (its film stars and political figures, its movies, popular myths, and songs) with elements which threatened to revolutionize and perhaps fundamentally undermine it: jazz, blues, Eastern and Western mysticism, Zen, and psychedelic drugs. When Bob Kaufman used the word Beat to describe the poetics that he and his friends were engaged in inventing, it may well have been in reference to the beat of the shaman’s drum, which propels its listeners into the Otherworld. Certainly the Beat poetics seems to recapitulate, within the changing landscape of American popular culture after WWII, the liminal poetics originating from the shaman’s song. Ginsberg writes of the madness and schizophrenia of the artist and of his country. Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantra poems GRRRR and GRRRARH their way through a secret language of the animals, filling up the dadaspace of emptiness with new possibilities of meaning. In Bob Kaufman’s art, the poet is the healer, journeying down into the underworld of the American psyche in order to discover the source of and cure to the homicidal madness that Poe, the father of American culture, had intuited as somehow an inherent part of our national consciousness.

Jewish and Black, sane and insane, Kaufman inhabits liminal space in many ways.  In the eyes of mainstream 1950’s culture he is criminal, schizophrenic, the rebel, the outsider. But from the point of view of the poets, the musicians, the artists of North Beach and Paris, Kaufman is unbelievably inside, inside inside, showing the workings of the creative mind as it contorts to adapt itself to the restraints imposed by consensus consciousness. Taking into account the ancient poetics of the shaman’s song we are in an excellent position to understand the precise relationship between the poetry of this “screamer on lonely poet corners” and modern culture.

There is in the first place an inherent connection between the shaman’s song and jazz. Jazz grows out of a cultural aesthetic which places a different valuation on shamanic experience than does the European model. The African slaves brought to the new world were only recently and perhaps dubiously converted to Christianity. They preserved their old gods and shamanic customs in folktales, music and art, and, as blues musician and author, Julio Finn observes, “the Priest or Medicine Man was the chief surviving institution that the African slaves brought with them.” Elements of the Yoruba religion survived in Hoodoo and Voodoo on the bayou and elsewhere as the African witch doctor became the Root Doctor, Obi, Vodun, Wangaleur, the Hootchie-Cootchie Man or Woman. Although Kaufman did not, to the best of my knowledge, receive formal shamanic initiation at the crossroads, as perhaps was the case, as Finn demonstrates, with blues great Robert Johnson, the poet would nevertheless have been quite aware of the Hoodoo tradition, being raised in Louisiana and the environs of New Orleans. In the Hoodoo tradition, music is a key element of spirituality, and opens a channel of communication between man and loa.  Kaufman writes about, as I fancy, his younger days in New Orleans, and some of the music that he heard there in the following terms:

 

Orleans…  New Orleans…  the bend in the river cleaves to the sky…

…the flowers are still up there on that wall, stem, petal, all,

Their roots playing the silences, between

Babatunde’s drumbeats,

Feeding pongee petals to soft breezes, flying in darting wonder.

 

Olatunji Babatunde is the Nigerian drummer whose 1960 album Drums of Passion was so influential on John Coltrane. “Babatunde’s drumbeats” are in clear reference to the African tribal tradition in which rhythm is the soul of life, the source of all human and universal action. Kaufman’s poetry grows out of be-bop, which is integrally linked to this intuition as well as to the struggle of African-Americans for individual and political liberation and the recovery of authentic spiritual experience.  Kaufman’s improvisatory, spontaneous, oral poetics, like be-bop, is rooted in spiritual insights deriving from African tribal traditions.

 

…I DREAMED I DREAMED AN AFRICAN DREAM, MY HEAD WAS A

BONY GUITAR, STRUNG WITH TONGUES, & PLUCKED BY GOLD

FEATHERED WINGLESS MOONDRIPPED RITUALS UNDER A MIDNIGHT SUN, DRUMMING HUMAN BEATS FROM THE HEART OF AN EBONY GODDESS, HUMMING THE MELODIES OF BEING FROM STONE TO BONE AND FROM SAND ETERNAL…

 

Kaufman’s jazz rhythms set to words hurl the listener into the Otherworld even as does the shaman’s drum. His poetry is truly “Beat” in the sense that it is concerned with and expressive of the shaman’s primal rhythm.

In Kaufman’s poetry will be recognized features of the shaman’s song. The poet’s surrealistic juxtapositions of imagery call to mind the illogical, unnatural images of the shaman, expressive of the bizarre dreamscape of the shamanic Otherworld, a realm of impossible existences, of linguistic paradoxes. To express the liminal reality of the Otherworld the shaman employs a secret animal or nonsense language. Kaufman expresses the inexpressible through linguistic paradox and through the secret language of jazz. Kaufman’s poet moves across “AN UNIMAGINARY LANDSCAPE THAT EXISTS IN A REAL, UNREAL WORLD,” populated by strange “UNBEINGS.” The location of this liminal reality is somewhere, as Kaufman has written,

 

…BETWEEN BETWEEN, BEHIND BEHIND, IN FRONT OF FRONT, BELOW BELOW, ABOVE ABOVE, INSIDE INSIDE, OUTSIDE OUTSIDE, CLOSE TO CLOSE, FAR FROM FAR, MUCH FARTHER THAN FAR, MUCH CLOSER THAN CLOSE, ANOTHER SIDE OF AN OTHER SIDE…

 

The shaman’s otherworldly journey is recapitulated by Kaufman both in terms of the underworld descent in “THE POET” and a flight into “crackling blueness” in “Ancient Rain.” Such shamanic visitations are common in Kaufman’s oeuvre. “I have walked on my walls each night/Through strange landscapes inside my head,” he writes in “Would You Wear My Eyes?”  In “Slight Alterations” he writes:

 

I climb a red thread

To an unseen existence,

Broken free, somewhere,

Beyond the belts

 

The purpose of these otherworldly travels is always for Kaufman to redeem suffering through love. In “Plea” he enjoins the “Voyager, wanderer of the heart” to “Seek and find Hiroshima’s children/ Send them back, send them back.” The poet must retrieve the lost and mangled souls of the new atomic age. The poet is the shaman of the culture, who must remember the truth of the nearness of death to us all, and how interconnected our lives are with all the other beings on this planet.

Finally, Kaufman’s poetics conforms to that of the shaman’s song in situating itself as an instrument of healing. Kaufman sings the “song of the broken giraffe,” the “nail in the foot song,” to bring back as if from some quagmire of Hell America’s very soul, ripped from it by greed and warfare and held in thrall by a vast brainwashing apparatus. In “The Ancient Rain” Kaufman writes:

At the illusion world that has come into existence of world that exists secretly, as meanwhile the humorous Nazis on television will not be as laughable, but be replaced by silent and blank TV screens.

 

The poet exposes the hypocrisy around him and dispels the illusion that has been foisted on the populace, the false myth which asserts there is a single, unitary and unchanging truth. The Ancient Rain is coming to remind everyone of the necessity of change. “The Ancient Rain splits nations that have died in the Ancient Rain…so that they can see the culture of the living dead they have become.” But if everything falls apart it also comes back together again in the Ancient Rain. It falls like balm from the sky, and brings retribution.

 

The Ancient Rain wets my face and I am freed from hatreds of me that disguise themselves with racist bouquets. The Ancient Rain has moved me to another world, where the people stand still and the streets moved me to destination.  I look down on the earth and I see myself wandering in the Ancient Rain, ecstatic, aware that the death I see around me is in the hands of the Ancient Rain and those who plan death for me and dreams are known to the Ancient Rain…silent, humming raindrops of the Ancient Rain.

 

Kaufman is a visionary in the sense implied by Jonathan Swift when he writes, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” But if Kaufman has a faith in his vision’s veracity and sagacity that rivals Blake’s, he nevertheless experiences vision in every bit the problematic manner of tortured Sioux shaman Black Elk. There is a burden to seeing for Kaufman, even as there was for the Sioux visionary. “I see the death some cannot see, because I am a poet, spread-eagled on the bone of the world.” In “African Dream” he experiences as a sort of racial memory the pain of seeing the slave ships that ripped Africans from their homes. As he sees it, he lives through the horror of it: “Green screams enfold my night.” The source of the poet’s purity, his legacy, is his suffering. He sees more deeply because he has to. Suffering is transmuted through the magic of poetry into a medicine or sacred herb. In this, Kaufman closely follows Rimbaud’s seer in seeking alchemical refinement of the soul and distillation of a universal balm such as that sought by the Rosicrucians. Kaufman hails Rimbaud as “brilliant maniac,” and “desert turtle” – in an apparent reference to the hexagonal patterned tortoise backs upon which the I Ching is based – and describes the two writers – himself and the French seer-poet –as

 

Remnants of neo-classical witch doctors

hurling jagged missives of flame-sheeted bone,

affecting space cures, on curved people…

 

Implicit in seeing for Kaufman is a deeply rooted social conscience. The grim tattoo of the beat-walker’s nightstick on Kaufman’s body becomes a watchword for seekers of life’s mystery everywhere.

Perhaps the most comprehensive, touching and absurd rendering of Kaufman’s poetic is his “Abomunist Manifesto.” In his Abomunist writings, Kaufman launches a humorous but at the same time radical critique of the mainstream American culture. Distorted scenes of American life as filtered through the media weave through Kaufman’s “Abomnewscast…On the Hour…”

 

America collides with iceberg piloted by Lindbergh baby… Aimee Semple Macpherson, former dictator of California, discovered in voodoo nunnery disguised as Moby Dick… New hit sweeping the country, the Leopold & Loeb Cha-cha-cha…

 

This is the real news, “sponsored by your friendly neighborhood Abomunist,” a collaging of media items which reveals the absurdity and yet the morbidity of American life. “Remember your national emergency signal, when you see one small mushroom cloud and three large ones, it is not a drill, turn the TV set off and get under it,” Kaufman’s Abomnewscaster advises us, juxtaposing the traditional healing, transformative, shamanic symbol of the mushroom with the destructive mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb. Standing counter to the Puritan work ethic, the beatnik poet cultivates a Zen-inspired uselessness. “In times of national peril, Abomunists, as reality Americans, stand ready to drink themselves to death for their country,” Kaufman declares, only half-jokingly. In other words, the Abomunist opts out. “The only office Abomunists run for is the unemployment office.” They will have nothing to do with the system.  “Abomunists vote against everyone by not voting for anyone.” The Abomunist philosophy is essentially rejectionary. “Abomunists reject everything except snowmen,” Kaufman writes, meaning presumably that the Beats reject a puritanical mindset that subjugates everything to the degree to which it can be exploited. The Abomunist refuses to grow up, to conform to societal expectations, and privileges a child’s sense of play which is painfully at odds with the suffering he sees around him. The Abomunist is further linked by pun to the Abominable Snowman, a dubious creature inhabiting precisely the liminal region between known and unknown, between the possible and the impossible. The fusing of wonder and horror, miracle and sham, are perfectly captured in the monster Yeti. The Abomunist suggests the possibility of seeing the sham and stepping away from the brainwashing machine at the same time as staying attuned to the miraculous. But here is the difficulty. The poet has seen too much of the world’s suffering. “Long forgotten Indian tribes fight battles” on his chest. As reportedly did the Buddha when he attained enlightenment, the poet feels the cut earthworm’s pain as his own. Like the shaman, the poet has journeyed to the source of the pain in order to affect a cure. But will he make it back in one piece?

In “Still Further Notes Dis- & Re- Garding Abomunism” Kaufman presents us with a curious document, supposedly a translation of the Live Sea Scrolls, “one of the oldest Abomunist documents yet discovered.” Kaufman’s story of a beatnik Jesus is perhaps, as Damon suggests, inspired by the Lord Buckley routine “The Naz.” For all its humor, however, its characterization of Jesus seems analogous to the Jesus in Gnostic workings of the Jesus myth found in Nag Hammadi Library.  In “The Dialogue of the Savior,” for instance, Jesus says:

 

Already the time has come, brothers, for us to abandon our labor and stand at rest.  For whoever stands at rest will rest forever.  And I say to you be always above…time…

 

Like Kaufman’s Abomunist poet, Jesus is telling his disciples to opt out of the system.  The Gnostic Jesus is more rebellious and more paradoxical than the Jesus presented in the canonized gospels. He’s more the rogue and scoundrel of Bruno’s estimation. Kaufman’s Jesus reports:

 

Nazareth getting too hot, fuzz broke up two of my poetry readings last night.  Beat vagrancy charge by carrying my toolbox to court–carpenters O.K. Splitting to Jeru. as soon as I get wheels.

 

Kaufman’s satire of the last few days of Christ’s life imagines Christ as a poet at odds with the conventions of society. In identifying the poet with Christ, Kaufman demonstrates the shamanic impulse in the postmodern era. Christ is the archetypal symbol of the shaman, the healer of physical and spiritual pain, the mediator between worlds. Although Christ’s image is valorized, however, the actual point of his message is often lost, and many who claim to believe in him would still consider his philosophy and actions impractical. But the Abomunist is the very master of impracticality.  The drag of the thing is if one wants to be Jesus, one sooner or later must get crucified. And so our beatnik poet does – but it’s out of the pain of this crucifixion that a beatification of the poetry occurs.

Kaufman continues the lineage of shaman-Gnostic visionaries we have been tracing. Gnostic philosophy is embedded in his work. The poet is nailed to the bone of the world – imprisoned in matter. He “HIDES IN A JUNGLE OF WRECKED CLOCKS” and asks, “What time is it going to be?” He rejects time altogether and lives instead among “days and weeks/ That cannot be found on any calendar” and “hours and minutes unknown to the clock.” The Gnostic call for freedom from the Demiurge and his minions becomes in Kaufman’s oeuvre a call for liberation for all sentient beings from the retrogressive spiritual, mental and political forces that bind them.

A significant feature of postmodernism, as Marjorie Perloff has observed, is its pastiche of and commentary upon the mediated world – the texts and sounds and pictures that make up the mythological life of our culture. But although Kaufman joins the offices of poet/culture worker with that of entertainer à la Lord Buckley or Lenny Bruce, his attitude toward film has less the zaniness of John Ashbery’s “Daffy Duck in Hollywood,” or the celebratory irony of Frank O’Hara’s “To the Film Industry in Crisis,” but more of a problem that comes out of Kaufman’s understanding of the role of seeing for the poet.  Although many of his poems make mention of movie stars and filmic characters, ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Shirley Temple to the Wizard of Oz, Kaufman salutes Hollywood as the “artistic cancer of the universe” and holds the movie industry culpable for the brainwashing of America, to whom war is made a possibility and all record of genocide erased. On the other hand, he uses cinematic motifs and structures to re-write the brainwashing script, to reveal, by exaggerating the lie, the truth that lies behind it..

Kaufman’s filmic genre of preference seems to be the horror movie. He writes humorously of Dracula star Bela Lugosi and describes his Carl Chessman film script as “a horror movie to be shot with eyes.” That the horror movie has played such a pre-eminent role in defining the American cultural landscape says a lot about a tension that is held between us and the natural realm, especially as this is accessed through shamanic praxis. The lycanthropy and vampirism that are mainstays of horror cinema can be looked at as remnants – twisted recuperations – of the transformation into animals undergone by shamans in the séance setting. Dr. Frankenstein employs the theories of Mesmer –themselves thinly disguised recuperations of shamanic wisdom – to reanimate the dead. Poe invented American culture when he invented the horror story, the horror-madness of guilt over having gotten away with it. We got away with it. We slaughtered the American Indians. We enslaved Africans. We decimated Hiroshima. We conquered Afghanistan and Iraq. And we’ve wreaked evo-havoc on the Black Lagoon in which, in sunnier days, that strange amphibious creature used to play – before a seemingly oblivious John Agar poisoned him, set him on fire, shot at, speared, and caged him before blowing up his lagoon entirely. But now we have the dues to pay, and we’re afraid, very, very afraid. What is the horror movie if not this primal fear – the fear of some lurking remnant of ourselves, still unresolved, that might intrude itself in all its hideousness upon our pleasantly numbed state? The murdered dead don’t stay buried, but have a way of turning into zombies, or ghosts, or ghouls.

In “THE POET” Kaufman describes his underworld journey as a passage through “THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING/DEAD” – an ironic reference both to the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross, as Damon suggests, but also to the 1968 George Romero horror film in which a hapless band of humans battle a horde of flesh eating ghouls. Romero’s lampoon of racism and conventionality is quite an appropriate allusion for Kaufman to employ. The poet too, is holding out against hordes of mindless zombies, agents of lifelessness, shambling shades inhabiting this particular version of Hell.

In Romero’s film, the protagonist, Ben, is a young black man and this single fact ironically seems both his power and his curse. Like Kaufman, Ben comes from a culture more connected to tribal shamanic praxis than that of the white folks with whom he is unhappily marooned. Only he knows how to fight the ghouls, which he does, in fact, with the conventional tool of the shaman, fire. With fire he puts the ghouls to rout before taking a fortified position in a house, which now becomes a sort of shamanic tree, an axis between worlds, between the basement and attic, between the living and the dead. He prepares a safe retreat into the underworld of the cellar, but only withdraws there when there is absolutely no hope that any of his fellow humans will be able to extricate themselves.

In the final scene of the film, the zombies have been defeated by sheriff’s deputies armed with flame throwers and shotguns. Ben emerges cautiously from his subterranean retreat, and carefully climbs the stairs of the house, only to be shot in an upstairs window by a white deputy sheriff who mistakes him for one of the remaining walking dead. Who doesn’t see him. Who renders him invisible in order to kill him. Romero makes a sly comment here – reflected in the films stark black-and-white coloration – on the culture’s condemnation of shamanic praxis and its linkage to the blindness of racism.

Kaufman’s “THE POET” shows us the Hell that is imposed on us by our own symbology. The poem is “about” how this hell is created, and what role the poet plays in its creation. The poet is the master of the process of creation. He creates the poem, the world, life itself, albeit in a strangely mutated form. The poet and the poem are each described as “A FISH WITH FROG’S/ EYES.”  This forms a haunting refrain:

 

A FISH WITH FROG’S

EYES,

CREATION IS PERFECT.

 

The poet appears here as half-fish, half-amphibian. A frog is a more complex organism than a fish. It is a sort of super-fish able to do everything a fish does but much more. A fish can only see within its underwater domain, but an amphibian is master of water and surface realms. A fish sees what falls into the pond but no more. The fish has no communication with or effect upon the surface world. From its lily pad, the frog can observe and interact with what from the fish’s viewpoint are the sensible and super-sensible realms. A fish with frog’s eyes has a sort of super-vision that allows it to see what other fish would dismiss as beyond the spectrum of their finny experience.

Kaufman’s “FISH WITH FROG’S/EYES” is very much an image of the atomic age. Kaufman felt the Hiroshima bombing as a terrible psychic rift. This horrible power and the war machine which produced it were sanitized by the popular media, but Kaufman sees the glimmer of murder in the cold eye of conformity. He writes with fierce sarcasm:

 

Silence the drums, that we may hear the burning

Of Japanese in atomic colorcinemascope,

And remember the stereophonic screaming

 

He wants America to realize what it has done. But meanwhile the Hollywood propaganda machine tries to make a killing at the box office with heroic portraits of men in uniform and their plucky women waiting at home. Even radioactivity was valorized in a special way.

The possibilities of mutation due to exposure to radioactivity were romanticized in science-fiction movies and comic books of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. A strange radioactive mist causes the Incredible Shrinking Man (in the film of the same title) to shrink down into the very microcosm of the atom. In Romero’s Night of the Living Dead it’s a “mysterious high-level radiation” causing a mutation that reactivates the corpses’ brains. A fish with frog’s eyes, an atomic mutant, is the perfect symbol for the poet’s alchemical transformation of the stuff of the post-atomic world.

Kaufman’s poet must write what he sees. He must “WRITE THE TRUTH/EVEN IF HE IS/KILLED FOR IT,” and then he will be killed for it. The poem is that which cannot be denied and which cannot be explained. The poem is life. When death removes its cape from him, the poet understands what he has lived through, and he has no regrets. Although he has been “NAILED TO THE/BONE OF THE WORLD” the poet has at least lived. Like Rimbaud’s seer he will at least have seen. His poem, like Lorca’s, is “WOVEN INTO THE DEEPS/ OF LIFE.” Suffering is the poet’s legacy, but it is a suffering that has been transformed, redeemed. Meanwhile,

 

THE POET LIVES IN THE

MIDST OF DEATH

AND SEEKS THE MYSTERY OF

LIFE…

 

It is significant that the poet seeks not the answer to life’s mystery, but the mystery itself. The mystery is the enigma, the incertitude, the paradox, that is creation, that is the poem, that is “PERFECT.”

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

 

Damon, Maria. “‘Unmeaning Jargon’/Uncanonized Beatitude: Bob Kaufman, Poet.

An Anthology of New Poetics.  Ed.  Christopher Beach.  Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 1998. Print.

 

Di Prima, Diane.  Pieces of a Song.  San Francisco: City Lights, 1990. Print.

 

Finn, Julio.  The Bluesman.  London:  Quarter Books, 1986. Print.

 

Kaufman, Bob.   The Ancient Rain.  New York:  New Directions, 1981. Print.

Golden Sardine.  1967.  San Francisco:  City Lights, 1976. Print.

—Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness.  New York: New Directions, 1965. Print.

 

Romero, George, Dir.  Night of the Living Dead.  1968. DVD.

What Is There To See Inside Beatdom 10 ~ The Religion Issue?

Greetings, Dear Readers!

We know you have been waiting for the new issue of Beatdom to come out. Well,  it is here and it is available and a lot of you have ordered your copy already at the crazy low cost of only $9.99 . Here are a few photos of the innards of this portable literary salon!

You will first notice the excellent cover art (above), which is a likeness of Krishna painted by Ed Terrell of the A.C.O.R. Gallery in Reading, PA. It is part of his series of portraits on Indian deities.

Hinduism: A Different Beat by Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra

Here we have a very interesting essay to go with that wonderful cover. Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra tell us about Hinduism and how the roots of the Beat movement actually spring from Hindu texts…which trickled down and eventually became the basis for Buddhism. The Mishras explain and show us why particular trappings of traditional Hinduism, such as same-sex relationships and the smoking of ganja to honour the Divine Entities, would appeal to our Beloved Beats.

A Short History Of Buddhism In Berlin by Zeena Schreck

Then, while you still have your Buddha on, check out what dharma has to do with the death of a fly in a new story by one of our newest contributors, Zeena Schreck. Zeena also gives us a tale of Sethian Awakening in another short story, called Lost and Found. These are great stories and we are sure you will enjoy them! Zeena is spiritual leader of the Sethian Liberation Movement and you can learn more about that at www.zeena.eu

William S. Burroughs: My Confessional Letter to the Western Lands by Nikolas Schreck

Also onboard as a new contributor is Nikolas Schreck,  Zeena’s husband. The pair collaborated on the narration of the film Charles Manson Superstar. Here, Nikolas writes a letter to William S. Burrroughs, in which we learn, among other things, that David Bowie used Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ method of writing in his rocking LP Diamond Dogs, which was news to us! You can always learn something new in Beatdom!

Kitty Bruce on Lenny Bruce, Religion and Recovery, with Michael Hendrick

It seems like hardly an issue of Beatdom goes by that we do not mention Lenny Bruce, so this issue we are delighted to welcome his daughter, Kitty Bruce, to the pages of Beatdom. In this interview, she gives us the skinny on why Lenny had it in for religion, what it was like to grow up in a legendary showbiz household and what she is doing to preserve and celebrate the memory of her father.  Comedy would not be as near the cutting edge as it is today, if not for Lenny.

Forever Stung by Michael Hendrick

Something that runs through every issue of Beatdom is wonderful artwork. The sketch of Lenny Bruce, as well as the illustration for this story, were penned by the magnificently ghoulish Waylon Bacon. This story tells how one of our beloved editors was not always a worldwise, bigtime publisher…he was a kid who fell for one of the oldest tricks between the two covers of the Bible, the lure of the Christian cult. Fans of TV’s Seinfeld will note that he was a member of what became the ‘Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaners’.

Eating The Beat Menu by Nick Meador

Since we are mentioning Art, we find still another new contributor of artwork in Kaliptus, who joined us to illustrate this story on Jack Kerouac by returning contributor, Nick Meador. Nick looks at the Jungian implications of Buddhism and Catholicism and the effect they had on Kerouac as a writer, a person and a speck of the universe.

Tristessa: Heavengoing by Paul Arendt

In a similar vein, we present you with another scholarly study on Kerouac, and the schism in his life created by his divergent beliefs in both Buddhism and Catholicism.  In this essay,  Arendt uses a lesser-known work of Jack Kerouac, Tristessa, to make his point and to pull examples from. If you have not read Tristessa, this will make you want to. It will also enlighten you as to Kerouac’s state of mind when he wrote it.

One and Only By Gerald Nicosia reviewed by Michael Hendrick

In some issues, certain Beats seem to get all the attention and in this issue Kerouac is King, it would seem. The absence of  material on Ginsberg does not mean we forgot him.  Nicosia’s book is subtitled, ‘The True Story of ‘On The Road,’ and in interviews with Luanne Henderson, who memorably rode in the car with Jack and Neal Cassady as they criss-crossed America, we find out how Kerouac’s famous novel became his undoing and how Neal became trapped in the image of ‘heroic entertainer’.

The Weird Cult: How Scientology Shaped the Writing of William S. Burroughs by David S. Wills

Back to Burroughs, here, Beatdom’s Editor-In-Chief reports on how William S. Burroughs got pulled into the web of Scientology, how it affected his writing, how he eventually because disenchanted with the sect and how he went after the group’s founder and leader, L. Ron Hubbard in a very public way. Mr. Wills continues research on this topic and will release a book on his findings, probably next year by Beatdom Books. What follows is another photo from Mr. Wills’ essay…

Then just to show that not all is serious and based on fact, we have another short story by Velourdebeast, about what can happen to a person when they have no faith in anything at all and throw themselves at the mercy of the world. Velourdebeast is a mysterious contributor from points West, who was literally born on the pages of Beatdom!

Maggie Mae and the Band by Velourdebeast

There is much more to this issue than the photos above, but we can only put so much in one post. There is lots of poetry and art that we just do not have the time or space to explain here but, on that, we shall leave you, as Beatdom does, with this last-page illustration by Waylon Bacon! Just remember that this is a print journal. While many of you enjoy it on Kindle and other platforms, there is nothing like seeing it in print. We took these photos to show that, and while some of them may not be in the best lighting, etc, we trust you all get the idea.

Beatdom 10 is available now for $9.99 on www.amazon.com www.beatdom.com www.waylonbacon.com www.kindle.com and at the A.C.O.R Gallery in Reading, Pa, 610-898-7684

Why Bob Dylan Was Wrong About Lenny Bruce

“You are talking about a writer singing something that might rhyme,” says Kitty, “Bob Dylan has written wonderful songs but I sincerely don’t believe that my father didn’t want to live anymore.”

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Kitty Bruce Talks To Beatdom About Lenny Bruce and Religion

In November, Kitty Bruce, daughter and only survivor of  comedy icon/legend Lenny Bruce, was gracious enough to talk to Beatdom about her father’s distain for organized religion, as evidenced in a number of his comedy routines, life at home and Lenny’s House, the twelve step rehab for women in NorthEast Pennsylvania which she started in memory of her father.

Kitty tells us about her father’s, and her own, childhood in the new Beatdom Issue 10, The Religion Issue, on sale soon.

Was Lenny a Beat?

He was called that by police and press. Allen Ginsberg organized the “Emergency Committee Against the Harrassment of Lenny Bruce” during the 1964 Cafe Au Go Go trial in New York City.  Queried on the connection between Lenny and the Beats, Kitty said, “I’m very familiar with Allen, I knew Allen…if the question is,  did my father sit around coffee houses and snap his fingers?…probably not…haha..”

Many reached out to help Lenny when the law was out to kill him (Vincent Cuccia, one of the New York D.A.’s who prosecuted Bruce’s last obscenity case, said, “We drove him into poverty and bankruptcy and then murdered him. We all knew what we were doing. We used the law to kill him.”) and Kitty reaches back out to help women by providing a safe, sober and nurturing environment , providing support, education and other tools necessary to stay clean and sober. You can honor the memory of Lenny Bruce by donating to The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, PO Box 1089, Pittston, PA 18640.

Many of Lenny’s prized possessions and memorabilia are up for sale, for those who would like to help Lenny’s House and also own a priceless item such as the typewriter Lenny used or his famously-photographed trenchcoat! Send inquiries to the address above.

Beatdom Issue 10, The Religion Issue, is coming your way in a few days. Read what Kitty Bruce has to say, along with many other fascinating writers and great work by our excellent artists!!!

Beatdom is available at www.beatdom.com and www.amazon.com and www.kindle.com

At the Holiday Inn

Words by Michael Hendrick; Illustration by Waylon Bacon

When considering the implications of the affects of drug use on the writing process, it is important to bear in mind that both William S. Burroughs and Timothy Leary opined that there is no affect achieved by the use of drugs which cannot also be altered without the use of drugs, by the mind itself.

When considering the affect on the artistic and creative processes, we should examine the process without or before the introduction of mind-altering substances.  The intent is not to be tricky or clever, rather to evoke specific feelings.  Words describing color, texture, scent, mood and motion pinpoint emotional ‘cues’ in the reader.  Linguistic genomes, these cues exist in a code which is ingrained onto vocabulary by history of usage.  A writer reads this genome in much the same way a chemist looks at the Periodic Table.

Here we touch on the philosophy of Alchemy.  The medieval belief and meaning of the word had to do with the transformation of base metals into gold. Carl Jung took this as a simile referring to human psychology and the transformation of self into a being of awareness, the transmogrified persona being the gold in the equation.  The Philosopher’s Stone became the symbol for this power to transform.  It is a Holy Grail of sorts.  (Bob Dylan took on the role of Alchemist in the unreleased 1978 film Renaldo and Clara.  The inherent alchemy in the music of Dylan led to a number of generational changes, some obviously, others with much more subtlety.)  To possess the Philosopher’s Stone is to possess the power of Art and a portal into the Universal Mind.  This is where the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, as achived by Rimbaud and his ‘rational disordering of the senses’ through intoxicants.

If you buy the concept of writer/artist as alchemist, you can see that, in some cases, transferring emotions through images from one brain to another is the stuff of Art.  It is also the manipulation of the hypothalamus, the brain center through which words create an altered state, a personal and shared dimension.

This type of work divines the writer from the Poet, the scribbler from the Artist.  Some writers produce reams of words without a hint of emotional evocation.  Recounting events is an important function but is not a job which aims to touch the spirit.  They convey images but attempt no emotional connection.  There is always a place for good non-fiction.

With the organic capacity to create an altered state in place, the introduction of drugs to the process could be boon or bane depending on the drug.  Lenny Bruce famously shunned marijuana but used amphetamines extensively.  “The reason I don’t smoke pot is because it facilitates ideas and heightens sensations and I got enough shit flying through my head without smoking pot,” he once said.

We find it interesting to note that Ayn Rand shared Bruce’s proclivity for Dexedrine, which obviously helped her pump out such doorstopper-sized volumes as Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. As diverse as they were, the ideas and feeling of both Bruce and Rand still serve as touchstones in today’s world of politics and entertainment media.

Often, scribbled hallucinatory revelations turn out to be more hallucination than revelation and cryptic notes found the day after become nothing more than humorous puzzles for the writer to try to unscramble.  There is no doubt that different drugs achieve various results on creative output.  Then there is the distinction between work which results as a byproduct of a euphoric experience and the way it is interpreted by one who is not familiar with altered states.  If the result of the creative work cannot be appreciated to the same extent by all savvy readers, it is useless puffery.

From personal experience, we relate the following and leave any judgement of merit with the reader…

In the Winter of 1980-81, a particular variation of LSD, called Vitamin Ohm, made the rounds in the Northeast United States.  It was potent and cheap.  At the time, I found myself employed by Holiday Inn.  It doesn’t matter where the hotel existed, since they are all generic – or were at the time.  As groundskeeper, my job only became busy after storms so I often helped the ‘convention set up crew’ move tables and chairs around in meeting rooms.  The knowledge required for the task was simple.

There were three types of tables; the round tables came in one size, the long tables were either six or eight feet in length.  We would receive a plan showing how many of each size table was needed, how many folding chairs went to each table and how they should be placed.  The plans were given to us by a short, balding Italian man, obviously of retirement age, named ‘Ned’.  Ned had a quirk.  He started all conversations the same way.        “Hey,” he would say, unerringly, “How you doing? I want to tell you something. Now listen to me…”  This preface was never skipped.

Fetching tables and chairs, a mindless task, allowed a lot of space for the mind to roam.  Most frequently the mind roamed to how much longer until it was until I could go home.  The work was easy but the days were long.  Nobody ever asked me any questions or gave me orders, except old Ned.  Long before the Holiday Inn, the benefits of using LSD to make workdays pass more quickly were not unknown to me.  Small doses, not enough to cause hilarity or deep intoxication, could make a day fly by.  It usually only took a quarter of a dose to make this happen.

One late morning in January, facing an extra-long day, I took a bit more than my usual workaday dosage.  About 45 minutes after ingestion, the acid hit my stomach, sending me to the men’s room to evacuate my bowels.  Forcing out a stool while peaking on a hallucinogen is one of the purest ways to know the quality of a substance.  Staring at the closed door of the toilet, little specks of color burst like a carnival of flashbulbs while the dead sound of the tiled walls led to the awareness that my breathing became the only noise heard…until the distinct sound of the door opening forced me to attention.

From the toilet, the stall door still did it’s rainbow tricks.  Sitting with a wad of tissue in my hand, the solitude of my humming brain suddenly was encroached upon by the appearance of a bald, head with grey hair and male pattern baldness as it oddly poked through the eighteen-inch space between the privy floor and the door to my stall.

“Hey! How you doing? I want to tell you something. Now listen to me,” he said.  This had never occurred in my life before.  No person had ever visited me while on the public toilet, although a few perverts had tried in other public pissoirs.  “I want you to go to Room 205 and help Larry set up. Stay with him today. Do you hear me?”  How could I ignore him? Of course I heard him.  It was just another of his rhetorical questions. “Sure, Ned,” I managed, “You bet!”

And like that he was gone to the sound of the door opening and closing. ‘Christ,” I said to myself, “was that a trip in itself or what?”

Larry, a meth-head who worked there for a long time before I did, also liked Vitamin Ohm and we would often trade meth for acid.  He watched my back and, as the new guy, I appreciated it.

Finding him chatting up a waitress near the kitchen entrance, I told him Ned had sent me.  “Okay,” Larry told me, “We have an easy day.  Take a break and wait for me in 306. I’ll be there in a while.”  The good thing about hotel jobs is that there are always some empty rooms to hide in and you are given a pass key to all rooms, as an employee.  We could disappear for hours and not even go anywhere, so I went to 306, which was a small room, used only for meetings of twenty people or less.  It was empty, with the exception of a long leather sofa, a round table and two chairs.  On the table were some complimentary pens and sheets of Holiday Inn stationary.

Glad to have a break, I sat on the sofa while the walls undulated around me.

Suddenly words started forcing themselves into my head.  They were coming from within…a poem!  Looking around,  the paper and pens presented themselves on the table so, taking a folding chair,  I grabbed a pen and wrote this, in its entirety:

What is true as a razor?

Taut as a wire?

What born in the embers, endures in the fire?

What is painful as lightning?

Or the thunder that drums?

What is soft as a lullabye, barely hummed?

What beating, what driving, what pounding, what pushing?

What sleeping, what dying, what whispering, purring?

What trembles with fissures and threatens to quake?

What slips with the fog on the cool of the lake?

What is it the baby finds in its lungs?

What leaps in the heart of a deer as it runs?

What do I crave in the red of the night?

What burst from within at the moment I write?

Somewhat astounded that the words on the hotel letterhead were there, I reread them and smiled.  Larry knocked twice (our signal) and opened the door.  “I’ll be back down in a few minutes, just take a longer break, “he said.  That was fine with me.  Once he left, though, the feeling of the LSD still coursed through me, making my fingers tremble.  My body felt strange.  I could feel my pores. Most of all, I felt the drug in my stomach.  A cigarette smoker at the time, I coughed to clear some phlegm from my throat.  It was not a healthy feeling.  It felt like there was a lunger, or a tumor on my lung.  It gave me the creeps.  Along with the creeps, more words came to me. I grabbed another piece of paper and sat down at the table and the words spilled out again, just like before, with no thought involved. I  wrote…

It’s a very subtle sickness

That comes tugging at my sleeve.

It’s a whistle and a dry cough

In the wind.

It’s a cold chill with a twictch

It’s a gnawing from within.

It’s an echo in the evening

Which resounds from under eaves.

It’s a cool and frosty taste,

A lifetime born to waste.

It’s a nervous kind of feeling

And a sinking sort of grief.

It’s a red dog on my heels.

That’s exactly how it feels.

It’s a ghostly cloud of quiet and it offers me no peace.

This had never happened to me…not like this.  I had written poems and songs that came to me all in one shot, the songs with melody intact, as I rode the bus or did some other activity which left my mind open to outside images.  I had no explanation for it but this was the first time it had resulted in two distinctly different poems.  One next to the other on the top of the table, I stared at them and wondered if they were any good or not.

Again, the door opened – this time without a knock.  It took me by surprise but it was only Kenny, one of the Holiday Inn maintenance crew.  “Hey, Larry said to tell you to wait here. He is on the way,” he said.  Kenny was alright but he was a loser.  He was saddled with a bunch of kids and a half-toothless wife but he still managed to have an attitude which annoyed me.  He always wore clothes which carried the Harley Davidson emblem, even though he did not own a motorcycle.  He had a wallet which attached to a chain that hung from his belt, like real bikers wore.  I knew real bikers and they didn’t even wear as much Harley gear as Kenny did.

“Okay, Kenny,” I offered as he was pulling the door closed, “Thanks.”

Then, it rushed over me again.  The motorcycle gear had sort of pissed me off.

Another sheet of paper, and the Muse slapped me again…

I wish I could say something

For your leather jacket clique

For the vomit in your greasy hair

And dangling chains that ‘clink’.

For the precious blood you love to see and your children born to hate

For the ignorance you brandish and your lusts which cannot wait.

If individuality

Were yours upon a pole,

You’d pluck it down and smash it in

Your sweating, grinning hole!

This made me laugh.  Just the last lines about ‘individuality’ made me laugh out loud.  Good or bad, that line had to be a good one…or was it?  Personally, I still kind of like it, upon last reading it.  Larry appeared at the door and looked sheepish.  I think he was fooling around with a waitress in a vacant room.  It was time to set up the conference room, he told me.

I took my three sheets of stationary, put them one on top of the other, folded them and stuck them in the buttoned pocket of my brown Dickeys uniform shirt.  Larry watched me but did not ask about the papers.  He could tell my condition by the size of my pupils and had seen the writing on the three sheets.  I had the impression he was surprised that I was able to spell my own name with such wide pupils.  We stepped into the hallway and the door to Room 306 closed behind us.  The next thing I remember was hearing, ‘Hey! Larry! How you doing? Come here. I want to tell you something. Now listen to me.”

Patti Smith and the Beats

by Michael Hendrick

“A hipster goes into a diner.

‘What kind of pie do you have?’ he asks.

The waitress says, ‘The pie is gone.’

‘Cool,’ says the hipster. ‘In that case, I’ll have two slices.’”

–          Patti Smith, Philadelphia, 2003.

We are a Generation of Beats. This Generation has more longevity than any other generation to date. I am 53 years old. I know Beats who are 20-something and the beginning of the movement was 60 years ago. We are an ageless generation. Our heroes are infinite. They are both dead and alive. They are gone but still they teach us. A succession of anti-authoritarian voices have been raised (for this, our generation) since the 1950s.

It is said that Patti Smith bristles at a sobriquet which labels her as an ancestor, or an elder, of punk rock, and rightly so. While she was performing her art in a form that would be incorporated into the punk scene, she predated the rest of the ‘movement’ by a couple of years.

More Beat than Hippie or Punk, movements she feels are linked together by a “common anti-establishment mentality,” her dark, soulful voice, frantic, guttural rocking and shimmering poetics ala guitar rage put her at the head of the vanguard before the movement made it to vinyl. If she is progeny of the Great Spirit, which prevails in the existential and individualist work of hipsters, punks and hippies, then she is a cosmic Big Sister – cajoling, smiling, inciting caring, minding us to wash our socks and drink lots of water. She is, at once, big buddy and spiritual advisor.

A Patti Smith Group show is very much akin to psychedelic experience. It cannot be accurately described in full without losing feeling; if you are aware and paying attention, you learn a lot; you feel a strange energy bubbling up from the pit of your gut and climaxing cerebrally; you do not look at things in the same way the next day and everything looks sorts of different. A typical show is a hallucinogen comprised of  thoughts floating on musical notes and snatches of poetry, punctuated by a voice that comes from far away, from one lost in the wilderness, from one as close as a mother’s breath… and you can count on a couple of laughs thrown in for good measure.

Watch her smile. Feel the vibration of her voice course through your body and let the deep reediness consume you. Listen to her read from Ginsberg’s ‘Howl.’ Have a few laughs as she tells a joke or makes humorous observations. See her jump up and down in anger and frenzy while reading the Declaration of Independence. Dance to her voice as she struts Jagger-style from one side of the stage to the other. Cheer as she yells “Fuck You!” at an odd request from the audience. Sweat from the energy and dance, dance dance.

She deliberately keeps ticket prices low for her fans, so I imagine she may be one of the less expensive trips available these days.

The first time I saw Patti, I was hooked. It was just an album cover but the face, the figure (remember album art?) and the sound of her voice – deep, vibrant, rich, wild, unrestrained – were enough to put me on the path to songs that inebriated my sensibilities. ‘Horses’ (1975) was unlike anything before it or since. It has inspired countless young musicians to take the stage and opened pop music’s back door to sneak in poetry, literature and art. It is the same bottomless voice that belted out ‘You Light Up My Life’ on the kids TV show ‘Kids Are People, Too,’ in 1979. From the beginning, Patti was anything but definable.

With Patti, it seems to always be about “the people” – at least, when she is not holed up in a café writing in her journals or losing herself in the pages of the masters of art and literature. Her song, ‘People Have The Power,’ is an exaltation to all that we, all of us together, have the power to change life, ourselves and the world around us. We just have to know it. We need people like Patti to tell us.

The song was written when she was in the non-performance mode. In a recent Public TV interview, she recounts washing dishes in the kitchen when her husband, the late Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of the MC5 suggested the song to her. (Some older readers will remember the importance of the ‘Kicks Out the Jams (Motherfucker!)’ LP from the MC5 back in 1969. The MC5 were first to cross the hippie-punk border and put a hard edge on the flower-children.) Patti was leaning on the sink and Fred came into the kitchen, looked at her and said, “Patricia, People Have the Power…write it.” She did eventually write it and the message it carries is one of universal love, hope and encouragement. I post it on YouTube.com about once a month, just to feel like I am giving people some hope.

A few years after ‘Horses,’ the venerable Tom Snyder treated us to an interview with Patti, in 1978. It was an amazing show. In necktie and tweed, she was a gleaming presence as she praised Little Richard for his ability to “focus physical, anarchistic and spiritual energy into a form,” that form being rock and roll. She often sites Mick Jagger as her biggest rock idol, however, and in early videos you can see how much influence Jagger had on her moves, if nothing else.

Death, she told Snyder before losing husband, lover, brother and mother to it, is a really magical extension of being in love. Snyder asked about her feelings for the USA, perhaps hoping to catch a snippet of punk outrage but Patti remained ever-positive, noting that “we have a real wonderful country” but she did give a hint of her penchant for looking at the bigger picture:

I want to see us just care more. We have such a wonderful planet and (yet) we are so lackadaisical about it. I’m not against sin. I’m not against perversity… (we should) define our priorities.

In 2010, those priorities seem to have been defined by the hope for global survival but Patti was on the ball 30-odd years ago. I quote an old interview like this because it adds more gravity to her words and her prescience.

I do a lot of my work to inspire people… inspire them in all different ways – cerebrally, sexually, spiritually. I always hope people will have some kind of orgasms from my work, whether just a sense of relaxation, a sense of release…an illimunation! …and also a good laugh!

Isn’t this what the Beats were aspiring to since the beginning?

Burroughs pushed the envelope with Naked Lunch. It was the last book to be censored in the United States, following a 1966 Supreme Court ruling. Lenny Bruce pushed the language envelope, too, by exposing the treachery of racism in society by using the language of racism against itself.

‘Rock N Roll Nigger’ is a song that Patti usually saves for encores. A song that is shoulder-to-shoulder with all the best rock and roll songs, she often presents it after reading some poetry or giving the crowd a little advice. Her shouts of “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger NIGGER!!!” still shock and cause us to look around and see who is listening. Isn’t that what Lenny did? What Ginsberg did in ‘Howl’ and Burroughs in Naked Lunch? This is, in fact, the technique employed in ‘Howl’repetitive succession of chorus into orgasmic ecstasy. Ginsberg and Patti share an orgasmic vision as the goal of their art. The other multi-choruses of “…outside…” hung on the phrase “outside of society,” offer the most basic Beat tenet. (I digress, but it is hard not to give a tip of the beret to the Ramones for giving us the song Outsider, to add to the soundtrack of Beat lifestyle.)

The difference between Patti and, say, Mick Jagger is that Jagger does not read Ginsberg, Rimbaud, Tennyson to fans from the stage. He doesn’t sing about his “Blakean Year.” Patti does a service by teaching us, by giving us other voices to learn from. She reads Walt Whitman in honour of Ginsberg and takes the time to explain why Thomas Jefferson is important to us.

After reading a biography of Bob Dylan, I had no choice but to pick up the works of John Steinbeck and read every one. I read about Steinbeck and his love of the poetry of Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire and the prose of Rabelais. It seemed like pretty heavy stuff but when I saw Patti quoting Rimbaud and even dressing like him, I had no choice but to dive in. She is our teacher, our hallucinogenic big sister. She makes sure we don’t pay too much for tickets to see her. She wants us to be safe. She wants us to be smart. She wants us to have warm socks. She tells us in so many words. When seeing her deal with overly-rambunctious audience members, you remember she is mother to two boys (one of who is now a member of the group, Jackson Smith). She can put loudmouths back into their “terrible twos” with a few words and send them sulking… then tell a joke to diffuse any negativity.

As heavy as she may be, she delights in being the comedian. She was voted “Class Clown” in her final year of high school and her material does not depend on being literary. She will quote a popular television advert when things get quiet. She will be a holy goof when necessary.

During a recent live interview, she was asked a particularly deep question. Looking deadpan into the camera and audience, she quipped, “I guess none of us are gonna get home in time to see House tonight.”

Growing up in TV culture goes deep. When things get a bit dodgy onstage, as is apt to happen in any variety of live entertainment, she humbles herself and thinks, what would JC do? The JC she looks to is not the Holy Saviour of the Bleeding Heart… no, it’s good old Johnny Carson, former king of the tube. She ruminates that her failure to appear on Carson’s show is one of her great regrets. She tried very hard to get a booking and even promised to wear a dress. Her love of Johnny is no passing fancy. A long-time viewer, she would verbally spar with compatriots in the years when she was an opening act in order to prepare herself for the stage. She found that conducting herself  in Carson’s unflappably affable manner always put her comfortably in charge of any onstage mishap… barring physical ones.

She broke her neck after a fall from stage onto a concrete floor in 1977 and between recuperating, enduring therapy and raising a family, she stayed offstage for 17 years. In 1994, her husband Fred died. Shortly after that, her brother, Todd, died. It could not have been an easy time for her. Friends came to her and pulled her up. Allen Ginsberg and Michael Stipe (of REM) urged her to get back onstage when Bob Dylan asked her to join him for the eight-city ‘Paradise Lost Tour’ in December of 1995. Her duet with Dylan on his song ‘Dark Eyes’ was a highlight of the tour and is still a YouTube favorite, fifteen years later..

I managed to catch the fourth show in the tour. Bob Dylan fans are not easy to find sometimes, so I ended up with an extra ticket and an empty seat next to me, which was used by Stipe during part of the concert to take photos for a book he was doing about Patti and the tour. I didn’t know any of the background until afterwards. I didn’t know that a Father of the Beats had sent this Heavenly Sister back to us with her message. Allen died less than two years later but we are grateful for his gift of bringing Patti back to us. May Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs and all the others keep on rocking today, through the voice of She, a Most Sacred Sister.

Patti keeps touring, currently booking a lot of shows in Spain and Italy. She travels Beat. She writes regular journals which are available to her fans on her website.

In the 1970s, she made reference to her Vision and how she would realize it. Her lyric indicates that she has long since found that Vision…

I was dreaming in my dreaming
of an aspect bright and fair
and my sleeping it was broken
but my dream it lingered near
in the form of shining valleys
where the pure air recognized
and my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
that the people / have the power
to redeem / the work of fools
upon the meek / the graces shower
it’s decreed / the people rule…

(Lyrics to ‘People Have The Power’ by Patti Smith/Fred ’Sonic’ Smith)

In February, Patti published Just Kids, an autobiographical work centering on her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  Her other books include Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.

In 2005 the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur of Arts & Letters, the highest honor awarded to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.