Archives For punk

Review: This Ain’t No Holiday Inn

This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980-1995

By James Lough


New York’s Chelsea Hotel has a special place in American culture. It has surely been a home, or a home-away-from-home, to more influential artists than any other building in the nation. To list the famous names in American art and literature that have stayed there would require more words than can be devoted to one book review, and would serve as an encyclopedia of the last hundred plus years of U.S. history.

While these names have included veritable superstars, the hotel did tend to attract the more Bohemian elements of the culture. As such, it has played home to numerous characters associated with the Beat Generation and subsequent counterculture movements. Jack Kerouac is rumored to have written part of On the Road there, and Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs also stayed at the Chelsea when visiting Manhattan in the fifties.

The focus of Lough’s book is not a general overview of the hotel’s colorful history; consequently, he passes over many of the famous names in favor of those who resided there in its final decades, and avoids recounting stories – such as the death of Nancy Spungen  – which have been told countless times before. Instead, after many years of painstaking research, Lough has managed to piece together a wonderful picture of the lives of some of the hotel’s famous latter-day guests. Of particular interest to the Beatdom reader will be the stories involving Herbert Huncke and Gregory Corso, parts of which were excerpted in issue eight of Beatdom. (For issue twelve, Beatdom contributor and author, Spencer Kansa, conducted an interview with Huncke at the Chelsea.)This Ain't No Holiday Inn

Throughout the book, Lough provides some wonderful descriptions of the building itself, which has come to mean so much to so many people. He refers to it as a “monstrous red brick eco-system of creativity.” The stories of artists sharing ideas and work with one another attest to this poetic phrasing. In these rooms, the exchange of songs was common, as poets and musicians drank and took copious amounts of illegal substances in one another’s “houses” (the rooms, Lough informs us, were more commonly referred to as “houses” despite their diminutive size).

Lough’s attitude towards the Chelsea’s owners – the Bard family – is somewhat negative, despite their fostering of artistic talent. Seemingly showing a phenomenal awareness of future trends, Stanley Bard famously accepted artwork in lieu of rent, yet Lough is quick to observe that much of what Bard accepted was worthless; and the hotel’s famous art-decked lobby is home to some truly awful pieces of work. He calls the collection “Awkwardian.”

In 2011, the Chelsea finally succumbed to the gentrification of New York and closed its doors to artists, gangsters, and Bohemian types, instead charging extortionate rates to more sophisticated clientele. Lough is scathing of this and appears to tie its demise to that of American Bohemia, and to a wider decline in creativity and culture throughout the Western world.

Despite this lament for the death of art, and the end of an important and productive era, Lough’s writing belies a true passion for this “beautiful old whore” of a building. His research is clearly a labor of love, and the book, while informative, is incredibly readable, thanks to his wit and a liberal dose of amusing stories that have otherwise been lost to history.


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Big Punk

punk on 5th
“Punk: Chaos to Couture”
Costume Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
(The exhibit runs until August 14, 2013.)
“…I, Jackie Duluoz,…big punk…” Doctor Sax
Punk was anti-fashion, so the notion of punk couture is absurd. Punk was one of those labels such as “beatnik” that those from within didn’t like. (Yes, Legs McNeil the founder of Punk coined the term, but who went around referring to himself as a punk or member of the Punk Generation?) Nonetheless, the big “Punk: Chaos to Couture” exhibit is now at the MMA and a big best-selling book (arts and photography) is being sold with it. On display are some beautiful couture gowns by Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, and Versace—created years after “punk.”
However, punk (for lack of a better word—really it was downtown New York rock’n’roll, attitude, and a look) had a fashion sense and the leader of the pack, the best dressed of the downtown set was Johnny Thunders of the Heartbreakers. He spent time and money putting his look together. He didn’t wear ripped T-shirts with safety pins. He wore hip suit jackets, trousers, and leather shoes. His clothes were cutting edge without being outrageous and he didn’t look stupid. He traveled to the UK and abroad and got some of his clothes there and his Sicilian background played into his somewhat continental air, even though he was all New Yawk. Part of his look came from his sad Sicilian soul. He wasn’t tall, but it didn’t matter; he looked cool, kind of dangerous and gangsterish, in a beat, punk, Italian-New York street way, mixed up with lots of reckless rock’n’roll. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any trace of JT in the exhibit, only a few (two?) photos in the book.
Richard Hell was taller and thin and he looked good, too, but in a simple black jeans and T-shirt style, more American, with white city skin, pallor that never sees the sun.
Patti Smith fashioned herself in the Richard Hell style, simple and unadorned, androgynous.
Debbie Harry was the opposite: lots of makeup, bleached hair, trashy clothes, but her beautiful face made her stand out.
It was hard to ignore the Ramones. How could you ignore four young non-smiling urban guys in black leather jackets?
Then there were American bands that didn’t look cool or good. No names mentioned, but they wore spandex tights and dog collars and safety pins, not at all attractive on man or woman. A dog collar is for a dog, safety pins were once for diapers, and tights are for ballet.
British punks were a whole other thing, appropriate for the time and place, as British youth faced slight prospect of employment or opportunity, and that was their anarchistic political anti-everything protest, so, yes, bring on the rips, tears, safety pins, dog collars, the Doc Martens and all that, but it didn’t quite work on this side of this pond.
William Burroughs of 222 Bowery wore a suit. (“I am no punk and don’t know why anyone would consider me the godfather of punk.”) Good for him. He looked and spoke like the highly intelligent man that he was.
And Frank Sinatra, who was insultingly called a punk, and all those great jazz cats always dressed for the occasion. (Thelonious Monk wore a suit—even to lie in bed all day with the door closed not seeing anyone—good for him, too. The man had style … and hats.)
Even big punk—and there was no bigger punk—Sid Vicious donned a white dinner jacket to perform Sinatra’s “My Way.” Just for the record, Sid Vicious could have been a nice looking young man, but as Jack Kerouac said, “I’m not Frank Sinatra.”

Noise Poetry: An Interview with Thurston Moore

As an MFA fiction student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (one of the longest, most consistently-made-fun-of school names ever), I was fortunate enough to be brought face-to-face with some of the most legendary members of the American cultural underground of the past 50 years. Since the Kerouac School was founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in 1974, we have operated in a lineage outside the cultural mainstream, inasmuch as the Beat Generation was somewhat welcomed into the fray with Kerouac’s On The Road, but is still consistently debated and misunderstood.

So you could say that we are still misunderstood as a school – from the infamous tales of Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs teaching some of the first classes, to today, when MFA programs are booming and we are still rarely mentioned in those lists. Merits of my education there aside, one of the most remarkable aspects of the program was getting to attend two summers of Naropa’s famous four-week Summer Writing Program, which Ginsberg had taught at nearly every year until his death and continues to feature some of the most cutting-edge writers and artists performing and teaching today, including legends such as Amiri Baraka and Joanne Kyger visiting, and Anne Waldman continuing to host the program every year.

My first year at the Summer Writing Program in 2011 coincided with the arrival of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to our little campus in Boulder, Colorado. I became one of the lucky few to get into his coveted workshop in the last week of the program. As an editor of the Kerouac School’s literary journal Bombay Gin, I also decided to make it my mission to get an interview with him. I had been cautioned not to bother him or take up too much of his time, but he couldn’t have been more accommodating and down-to-earth, willing to brave the Boulder summer sunshine one morning and talk to me for three hours – large portions of which didn’t even fit into the interview below and will potentially be repurposed somewhere, someday.

The first day Thurston came in to teach our class, he looked like your (taller than) average punk rock kid – Converse sneakers, a backpack, and a guitar – not the 30-year veteran of the American underground, the legend who had “hung out” with everyone from Ginsberg and Burroughs to Kurt Cobain, Yoko Ono, and Patti Smith. He told the class stories and histories, of writers and rock stars – an inexhaustible library of knowledge on every poet, every small press, every punk band.

But Thurston was not there to be the famous guitarist and singer from Sonic Youth – although he did incorporate a few songs into his poetry reading, and worked with our class to create a sonic experiment of music, poetry, and screaming distortion. Thurston came to Boulder, a college town of relative anonymity, and he came to Naropa, where he could be taken seriously as a writer and member of not just the musical counterculture, but the literary underground as well. A place he has rightfully earned through his lyrics, poetry books, and collaborative associations.

Beyond the living archive that is Thurston’s memories and mind, his appreciation for the world of small presses and publishing led him to create what is one of the most interesting and important collections of underground (and sometimes above-ground) American literature from the second half of the twentieth century. He is a cousin of the Jack Kerouac School, related through the spirits of transgression and subversion that haunt our corridors, the same spirits that gave a tall redheaded kid growing up in suburban Connecticut a copy of Naked Lunch and the desire to run away to New York City to play guitar.

Thurston is the space between the words of poetry and the scream of a guitar, the punk rocker and the professor, the father and the rebellious teenager. His work as a writer and musician has explored the space where the subversive becomes the commercially successful, where success doesn’t mean selling out, where you can create your own world and get everyone else to live in it. Where poetry is noise – and noise is poetry.

The following interview originally appeared in the literary journal Bombay Gin (issue 38.1, Fall 2011), published by the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Initially only available in the limited-run print release of that issue, it is now exclusively available here on Beatdom in its original form.


Katie Ingegneri: How did you first hear about Naropa?

Thurston Moore: It was through my interest in the world of underground poetry publishing and small presses – something I became fascinated by around the early 90s, and before then my interest in literature was more about the writer and less about the book, as far as poetry was concerned. But artifact collecting and the idea of a singular vision and an imprint was always interesting to me. I started getting more into collecting first-edition, first-printing books by certain authors that I felt were significant to my own interest. And it was a shared interest with a few other people that I knew, in my scene of being in a rock band in New York City. I always saw playing music for myself to have equal value to writing.

So book collecting became as significant to me as record collecting and documenting certain more arcane musical genres, like free jazz and avant-garde jazz and underground experimental rock and 20th century composer music that was really on the margins…and progressive British folk music…[laughs] A lot of my fascination with getting into rock n roll was about fantasizing, ever since I was a kid, about being in a rock band, but at the same time it seemed out of reach. I didn’t really know how to play guitar, and I wasn’t that proficient a technician as far as music was concerned, so I had more of a feeling I was going to be a writer. There was a lot of literature in our house, but it wasn’t very focused on poetry so much – it was more focused on philosophy. What resonated with me in the 70s as a teenager was certainly music coming from these people who had some connection to serious poetry and literature. People like Patti Smith, and Tom Verlaine, from Television, and Richard Hell, who had a band called the Voidoids, and I really was enamored by what these people were doing, for a lot of reasons. It was at a time when rock writers were in the same milieu as the performers, and it was kind of one of the last periods of when that existed, because it was completely pre-Internet, and it was all about the physical interaction between people. There was no real interest from high media on this activity.

So it was underground, and it was owned by the people. You know, Patti Smith’s whole thing, “we created it, let’s take it over,” about rock n roll music. That was a very powerful statement and everybody understood that…and that’s what drew me in. I knew that was the culture I wanted to be a part of, and it had a lot to do with the lineage of poetry that was under the hubris “beat literature” or whatever. For me, you would take it upon yourself to find these books by writers who these musicians were claiming to be their inspiration and influence in writing. Certainly Dylan did that in the 60s, but he was a little more obtuse about that – he was Dylan, he’s such an enigma as far as that’s concerned. But having not lived so much in the 60s, I didn’t have the sophistication or wherewithal to glean any sort of history of poetry or writing.

So as a teenager in the 70s, I really started responding to this information, of writers who inspired people like Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and it would certainly be William S. Burroughs, and it would be Allen Ginsberg – those two specifically. They were like the dynamic duo, and they were extremely interesting, once you saw these names in connection with rock n roll. How can this thin graying man with a fedora and a suit and tie, and smoking a cigarette, and looking very all to the world like he could shut it down with one glance – like who the hell is that? And then you’d go buy the book, and you’re sixteen years old, and you’d buy The Wild Boys or Naked Lunch, and Naked Lunch was so important cause it had the transcript of the trial with Allen Ginsberg and it was amazing to read, for me. And so of course one thing leads to another if you allow it to and you’re interested in it.

I figured out what that world was, and I knew right away that moving to New York and investigating it and working within it is all I really wanted to do. My romance with writing was that I’m going to move to New York, I’m going to be a writer. So when Anne Waldman introduced Eileen Myles the other night [at Naropa’s 2011 Summer Writing Program], one of the first things she said was that she moved to New York to be a poet. And when I heard that, it was so simple, and so beautiful, and it was both serious and romantic, and it just implied everything that was important emotionally for myself, that I immediately said, “if I ever have to write a memoir, that’s the title of my memoir: She Moved to New York to Be a Poet”! That was sort of how I felt growing up in a small town in Connecticut, was that I wanted to move to New York and I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to hang out with Patti Smith and I wanted to hang out with Richard Hell, and nobody in my high school knew anything about this stuff.

So all during this period it was all about my intention was to move to New York and be a writer, and I didn’t really have any kind of support for it. I didn’t know anything about St. Mark’s Poetry project, but I did know that Patti Smith did a very significant reading there, and I had a bootleg album of it. Throughout ‘76, going into New York a lot, to CBGB and Max’s and a couple of other places, I would see the [St. Mark’s] Church and I figured out where Gotham Book Mart was, up in midtown. I would go there and I would buy whatever was associated with her, and buy the books by Burroughs and Ginsberg, maybe buy a Gregory Corso book or something. It was discovering things completely outside the academy, you know, cause I wasn’t in school and I wasn’t doing any lit courses or anything like that. So my information, I was just gleaning it from connective tissues, in a way.

If somebody would do an introduction to a book, I would go out and buy the person who introduced that book. I would find out more about that person, and one thing would lead to another, and I would let that progress and I would expound on it – not overly academic or seriously. I moved to New York in very early ‘77, and I lived right near St. Mark’s Church. I would see activity going on there, but I was playing music with some people, and my whole thing was that. I was friends with some poets in my tenement building, who would read at certain places and I would go see them, and I would share my poetry with them, because I was writing poetry since high school, and I remember giving a sheaf of poems to these guys, who were like 10 years older than I was, and they were poets. Then they all came back to me with such enthusiasm, like they loved what I wrote. I mean, they said they loved what I wrote. When I look back at what I wrote then, it’s pretty teenage. But that was so encouraging, and I have one retrospective regret – not cultivating my writing by going to a poetry workshop at St. Mark’s. But I didn’t have so much awareness of it. I knew something was going on, but it didn’t really draw me in.

Thurston Moore and Anne Waldman, presenting a panel

The activity I was involved in, playing music and getting gigs here and there, at CBGB or Tier 3, was very important, and just what was going on with the people in the No Wave movement, with Lydia Lunch, and James Chance and the Contortions. These were people who also had the same trajectory as I did. I mean Lydia Lunch, she was a writer, but she came from this scabrous background in upstate NY, and ran away to New York City as a 16-year-old girl. She had this very wild, wild existence in New York, as Lydia Lunch, and she was trying to get her poetry out to people, that’s how she started. And she would hand her poems to people like Lenny Kaye, the guitar player in Patti Smith’s band, like “I’m a poet, I’m a poet.” But she got a response when she put a guitar on, which she didn’t know how to play, and turned the amp up and started smashing on it, and then she started reciting her words. And that’s when people were like oh, who’s this. So that became the obvious standard, like put a guitar on, and turn the amp up, and THEN do your poetry, and that became the new poet, in a way – the electric guitar poet was like the new poet. So it was like that was what punk rock had as a real blueprint.

But I think a lot of people shared the same response I had, that the lyrics were so interesting and new and they had such a quality of poetry to them, but that’s just the basis for later on becoming interested in avant-garde music through record collecting. Which I could never do cause I never had any money – I mean, I was kind of doing it, but it was problematic. But as soon as Sonic Youth started having a little more income I really got seriously involved with collecting records that were from these genres that were really arcane and interesting to me. Especially coming out of punk rock where it was about establishing an independent means in the industry, that didn’t have to utilize the industry. So when I started seeing other record labels from the 60s that dealt with avant-garde jazz or whatever that were independent, I was like oh, we’re not the first ones, this isn’t something we created. Even though a lot of people who were joining punk rock were like we’re so cool, we created this kind of independent network, and it’s like no, there’s a history there. So I became really interested in that history, and when I found out that there was a lot – that it existed in the literary, publishing scene, I became really fascinated with that.

But when I started finding out about the communication between poets through self-published literature, that’s when I became really involved and interested in the history and all the people involved with it. And by the ability to tour across the United States with Sonic Youth, I could go to every college town, and go to the local bookstores – second-hand bookstores – and go into the dusty poetry section and go to the end of the alphabet where they would have the anthologies or whatever, and invariably there would be some boxes of stapled mimeos from the 60s. I began amassing this collection and finding out about the different imprints and different writers that were associated with them, and just seeing all this activity of writing and communication between poets from different regions of the United States.

I was really into learning through investigation, pure investigation. I knew a couple other people who were interested in this stuff, and we would powwow about it, but I didn’t know the writers. So I started going to the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s, when I could, even though I didn’t live in town anymore. And I missed everything – I missed all of Eileen Myles’ running the programs there, being the director there, I missed all of Bernadette Mayer’s era, it was like God, what a fool I was, for missing it. But I just really did not know any better – it’s just this nostalgia for something that I didn’t know existed. But I turned Bernadette Mayer, and Eileen Myles, and Clark Coolidge, and all these people – they became my rock n roll stars, in a way. And it was very private for me. [laughs] So I would go see these people, and I would go up to Clark Coolidge with some of his earlier stapled stuff and have him sign it or whatever, and they’d always look at me like – where’d you get this? Who are you? And I was like, this kid. And some would know who the band was, and they’re just like why is the guy from Sonic Youth asking me to sign this completely obscure publication.

When I came to the school this week, I brought a couple of documents, and one of them was the 1979 curriculum calendar of student/faculty events at Naropa. And I carried it around with me a little bit, and everybody’s just coming up to me like, can I hold that and look through it, and somebody made a copy of it, and it had such value as an object. I mean, you could talk about 1979 at Naropa, and everybody was like yeah that must’ve been so cool, but to actually see this piece that existed from then, and it exists in this kind of living state, in a way. You know, it’s kind of faded, it’s kind of sunburnt, it’s been handled a little bit, which gives it this sense of time, but it’s like there’s a certain sort of gleaning that comes from this actual document of paper, that comes from that period. So I found that really interesting, and I brought a production piece from the workshop here in 1974. It was a series of broadsides, one of which was Anne’s, in this die-cut folder that was stitched together, in an edition of 46 copies or something like that. All numbered, which I had found in some bookstore amongst a bunch of other papers, and it cost pennies. I brought that here too, and I showed it at the panel. But that’s all anybody wanted to talk about afterwards, like can I see that, can I hold it, can I touch it, can I see it. So for me, the importance of the life – devoting yourself to the life of being a poet, to me there is such an importance to the history of what that is, and with the actual production and documentation of work that existed…and I never knew what kind of value to put towards what I was doing as an archivist of this stuff.  So it’s kind of wonderful, in a way.


Thurston Moore reading his poetry at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, 2011

KI: Now that you have this archive, do you think that will serve a purpose for future generations?

TM: I think it serves a purpose if it’s made accessible in a way that makes sense. I do want it to exist as an accessible library of sorts. I don’t want to let it out of my sight so much because it means a lot to me, but I have talked to a couple of other people who have similar archives and possibly talking to some kind of institution that might establish a library of sorts. But the fact that a lot of the material is so ephemeral, it almost becomes a thing like – do people have to put on white gloves to look at this stuff? I have some stapled mimeo stuff where the edges are crumbling a bit and you really wanna be careful looking at it. So what do you do about that? And there’s some talk about digitizing it all, so it’s all available as digital information, which kind of bores me a little bit. I like the idea cause it makes the work available to read and you can actually see what these pieces look like, but the physicality of the pieces is, to me, very important. So I’m not quite sure how to present it. In a way I feel like all this investigation I’ve done, and the archiving, has come to a really good point because I think a lot of the culture of poetry has become really dependent on the archive as a very real sense of vibrational history. Cause there is all this information, and historical information that’s available, through the Internet, and we can all share this knowledge – but the documentation of it, the actual documentation of it, and what that was physically, and what that meant, has just recently become something of import for a lot of young writers.

In the spring of 2010 I had a show at White Columns gallery [in New York City] where I exhibited a lot of the archive in vitrines and I kind of fetishized a lot of what I liked about it, the visual stimulus of it, and so I made huge posters of about 40 of the covers. And the whole gallery was postered with all these images. There was lots under glass, and I had readings once a week during the show. I had started editing and publishing a poetry journal myself from the year 2000 onwards, called Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal, cause I had a record label called Ecstatic Peace, and so the show was like a new edition of the poetry journal. And Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal was certainly all about referencing and wanting to continue the lineage of the aesthetic of this kind of publishing. Which I enjoy doing, to this day. And the idea in my class this week is to actually create one of these journals.

But I don’t really know what to do at this point. I mean, I’m not too concerned about it. I think at some point we’ll figure it out. There’s certain institutions I think that have an awareness of my collection. I know that it’s sort of idiosyncratic, its focus is very personal, so that makes it something else than purely academic. Anne and I were talking about my archive the other night, and she looked at it like “From the Library of Thurston Moore,” that’s its focus, and I was like okay, I like that. I do have everything on file – I keep a FileMaker Pro document of all the poetry – I have to, cause I’ll go into places and find old poetry stuff, and I’ll see these pieces that look so amazing to have been found, and I’ll come home and I’ll look in my FileMaker Pro and see that I have like three other copies of it. [laughs] So I just really don’t know how I’ll utilize it beyond it just being in my house.

But to me it’s artwork, and it sits in my house to me as art, and I’ll figure it out someday. I was actually thinking about weeding it out a little bit and refining it to some degree, and selling off some of it. Which is what I do with records as well – just crystallizing my focus a little more. But I’m not there yet, with that. You know when I think of an archive like Naropa, which is a lot of paper, ephemeral writing, and there’s also this recorded audio, a lot of it on cassette, that needs to digitized or has been digitized. I had come here six years ago and played at a benefit for the school to raise money to allow that archiving to continue. You know, there’s been a lot of relevance attached to the concept of the archive, the archive becomes this really mystical concern or something – which is fine, but it really is just this sort of personalized library, and it brings in this sense of the political where it’s like you’re responsible for your own culture, and recognizing the value of that culture, and what it means in a humanitarian way, what it means in an educational way, what it means in a very emotional way too. So I am okay with it existing contemporaneously as this living archive, we’ll see where it goes.

KI: Even in the past 10 years, it’s been such a shift with the Internet. When I was growing up, I was really into music and I would go to record stores, I was always buying CDs and creating my own archive of albums and CD covers. But now all the music I listen to is all just in my iTunes, and I don’t know how the archive is going to exist as we go further and further into this digital age.

TM: Well I think it has to exist, digitally, because that makes it free, it makes it safe, but it’s also intangible. So I’ve been coming into this focus of distinction, what that relationship is between yourself and the artifact, and a lot of it has to do with the equality of value towards aspects of the artifact where content is just one aspect, so it does become very physical – what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like, what it tastes like, whatever, that all to me is like – there’s a certain shared value in all of that. And so the culture of the Internet allows one value, and that’s basically just content. I find it very limiting. But it certainly serves a certain purpose and one of those is just to be what I refer to as the “exploded library.” So I don’t know what to think about that, cause I do see a new culture of record stores and book stores that exist with really focused appreciation on objects and they’re smaller, more boutique, in a way, and that’s fine. I don’t think that sort of thing is ever going to disappear, disappear. But there’s something really political about it that I am interested in, the idea of working at something that you love as opposed to working for the sake of making money, and how it’s very rare that anybody can work at something they love and make enough money doing it. And then there’s this whole idea of this Protestant ethic of “you have to suffer” [laughs] and there’s a denigration towards people who work at things they love and are compensated for it. I don’t think anything’s going to disappear, to tell you the truth. I think there’s gonna be a certain exhaustion that comes with the formlessness of the Internet as a library, as a store, as whatever, and it’s going to create a more independent and factionalized world of commerce. We just opened up a little record store in Northampton, Massachusetts, with these two young people, and [rock writer] Byron Coley and I have been able to fill it with all these secondhand records we’ve collected over the last 30 years and go out and buy collections and stuff like that, and we have some performances in the back room of traveling independent experimental music people, and we’re able to pay the monthly rent, and we each get a check for a few hundred bucks once in a while, but that’s fine. It services the community, and you’re amidst the pleasure of what you really like, which is music, and film – we have lots of DVDs, but nobody’s getting rich off this stuff [laughs], that’s certainly not the idea.

KI: When you were starting out, did you start writing poetry before you became a musician?

TM: It was kinda concurrent – I mean, I had aspirations to play music but I had aspirations towards being a writer, and I couldn’t really articulate what that would entail. I guess my idea of writing, I equated it with journalism, like I was gonna be a journalist, or I was gonna go to journalism school. The one quarter of a semester that I went to college in fall of ‘76, which was at a state college in Connecticut, I remember signing up for whatever English classes they had, and journalism class, whatever that was, and that invariably had some connection to the school newspaper. I wrote about music in the college newspaper, and I wrote about the Ramones, I wrote about Patti Smith – I wrote about what I was interested in, and people started responding to it, like, man that was so cool what you wrote about but what the hell was it – like nobody knew about this stuff.

So I wrote about John Cale. I went to see John Cale play, and I filed it, and they printed it, and they took it upon themselves to correct what they thought was my misspelling of John Cage. They changed John Cale to John Cage. And so my John Cale piece became this review of a John Cage concert which never existed, as if it was John Cale, and I went up to the office and I was like why did you change John Cale to John Cage? And they were like it was about John Cage, wasn’t it, we just thought you spelled it wrong…at that moment I was just like – I hate school. I’d had it, and I moved to New York. I found a place to live and I started playing music with some people, and I was writing – I’d always sort of written poetry in my later teens, and continued to write some in New York – but my involvement with playing music became my primary interest. I always kept notebooks when I was playing music.

You know, lyric writing to me was predicated upon the art of the rhyme. I also knew that poetry, the way it appeared on the page as far as it being rhyming schemes had become so quaint, a fairly passé presentation of poetry. I didn’t really see anything wrong with that but as far as it being lyrical in song – rhyme still worked as something that was really permanent and substantive. I understood the relationship between the poem on the page and the poem as a sung lyric, where the art of the rhyme had a different nature. So that was kind of important to me, and a lot of times when I would write and I had ideas of writing, I would think about how it would exist as a song lyric, and I would write down lyrics that had certain intonation and a certain sense of rhyme, but I never really thought of presenting them as poems. I thought I wouldn’t want to have them read as poetry just because there was a certain kind of sing-songy aspect of it that, without the context of the music, it just read too quaint on the page. I understood that distinction.


The workshop taught by Thurston Moore at Naropa, 2011

But all through the 90s, I understood the correlation between writing and poetry and writing and songwriting, and I invariably would get lyrics either from notebooks, poetry writing, and I would sort of reshape them for the song, or I would go to a number of poems and take lines from different poems and create a unified piece that would work in a song. Sometimes I would do that, which was a semi-kind of cut-up method, or had some kind of correlation with cut-up, but I was kind of into wanting to have an identity as an poet that was separate from an identity as a musician, which I always found very difficult. I would actually do a book of writing or poetry, that I would do myself or somebody would publish, and whenever I would see it in a bookstore it would more than likely be in the music section, cause I was a musician making poetry, or something like that. Which really kind of bummed me out, because it inferred that poetry was a dalliance, and I didn’t want to be Jewel [laughs]. And Spin Magazine, when my first book Alabama Wildman came out, they actually did this page where it was these three books of writing that were out, and it was Dee Dee Ramone’s book, Jewel’s book, and my book, and they were like – Jewel’s was this flighty romantic poetry, and Dee Dee Ramone’s was like this memoir of madness of being in a punk rock band, but then “we can’t even decipher what Thurston Moore’s was about,” they didn’t know what was going on with this different poetic kind of thing, cause there was nothing in that book that was relative to anybody who thought poetry was basically what Jewel was writing. [laughs] So it was just like, I was weird – this is some fucking weird thing this guy did. Which I like. I was like great, at least I’m not the musician making the bad poetry book.

KI: We spoke a little bit about your association with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. I was in a class this past semester on the history of the Beat Generation and we watched the recent documentary on William S. Burroughs, “A Man Within,” a project that you were involved with. I understand you and Sonic Youth collaborated with him on his album “Dead City Radio.” I also recently read that Sonic Youth celebrated Allen’s 60th birthday with him. How did you first meet these legendary writers (and Naropa teachers), and how did you come to collaborate with them?

TM: When I lived on East 13th Street between Avenues A + B in NYC in the late 70s I’d see Allen and Peter Orlovsky walking hand in hand around the neighborhood (and sometimes even on the L – very bold!) Allen’s place was on East 12th Street, same building where Kerouac lived, and where Richard Hell still lives I believe. Allen would appear at CBGB once in a while and play Buddhist harmonium chants on stage opening for Patti Smith, Television and other denizens of that stage. So he was a neighborhood figure. I didn’t really meet him until much later when Sonic Youth garnered a more prestigious profile. I seem to remember Lee [Ranaldo] and I going to a book publication party at The Poetry Project and talking with Allen and he had asked about working together. He called me up and we discussed possibilities. I said I thought it might be hip for SY to improvise music with Allen reading. He replied that that’s what Dylan also requested. Ha! I would run into Allen here and there and it was always cool. He came to hang out at the NYC stop of Lollapalooza 1995 and I have some pictures of him and myself with my baby daughter Coco. While I talked to him, Coco would be grabbing at his beard and mouth and while most people would flinch at such messiness, Allen allowed her to stick her fingers into his mouth and he sucked and bit at them. I was very impressed. We never did get around to collaborating beyond him sending me a package with a nice letter and a sheaf of poems to peruse.

Burroughs lived on the Bowery in a place called The Bunker, same place as John Giorno I believe. I remember having to call Giorno, as we were submitting a track to one of his Giorno Poetry System records, and Burroughs answering the phone. I can still hear that gravel tenor in my ear. After he located finally to Lawrence, Kansas we were invited to come to his house by his assistant James Grauerholz, who was a SY fan. We went a couple of times, once by ourselves and once when we were touring that area opening for REM. The first time I recall sitting in his living room and he had a number of Guns and Ammo magazines laying about and he was only very interested in talking about shooting and knifing. Not exactly a subject dear to me but it was amazing hanging out. And we went into his backyard where he had an actual orgone box built from the specifications of Wilhelm Reich, which I sat in, even though it was rife with spiderwebs. The recordings we did on the “Dead City Radio” LP were organized by Hal Willner, who had a personal and professional relationship with both these men as well as with SY.

KI: I’ve noticed a few Sonic Youth songs are dedicated to Beat writers like Gregory Corso. Were the Beats a big influence on you as a writer and/or musician – in terms of style, subjects, and/or their challenge to traditional, mainstream American culture?

TM: The Beat writers, even to this day, are still on the margins of American letters. Even though they are universally recognized as a significant development in modern and post-modern literature, they are still considered off-the-grid. In a way it was relative and resonant to the structure of American society and its professed standards in that they need to be defined as troublemakers, which is where I wanted to be. In that lineage. And, in music history, it was concurrent, where you had experimental and punk rock music on the margins of “popular” and acceptable. I came to Beat writing through music where music writers like Lester Bangs, Patti Smith, Richard Meltzer and others would point to Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and others as compatriots of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Iggy & the Stooges and many others.

KI: How has working as a writer and editor impacted your musical career, or vice versa? Do you find you get different rewards from different creative practices?

TM: Writing and editing are a more singular passion for me, whereas music usually has a more collaborative practice. Lately I’ve been more interested in writing music alone and am seemingly becoming more focused thus.

KI:  One of my Bombay Gin co-editors, Jade Lascelles, who was also in our class, had a question: When you returned to “Daydream Nation” 20 years later to perform it in concert, you said you had to return to the same kind of bodily space you had inhabited when you were first creating that album. Do you ever find you undergo similar experiences when revisiting old writing?

TM: I do, without a doubt. With writing though I find I can take the work and update it, sometimes. I find the more I study the work and history of poetry as a spiritual as well as academic vocation, the writing I’ve put to paper decade(s) past is very innocent and, in a way, I feel it best to choose to not update the work and keep it as a reminder of who and where I was.

KI: Do you think that there’s hope for a renewal of non-corporate creativity, in all forms, in the mainstream? Or will it all be underground?

TM: Well, that’s pre-supposing the mainstream as the more valuable environment. The underground is where all the foxes are.

T. Moore, Naropa University 2011

Thurston Moore and MFA student Katie Ingegneri at Naropa

[All photos copyright Katie Ingegneri, 2012.]

Gabba Gabba Beat…Richie Ramone Talks to Beatdom!

Richie Ramone is Back: An Interview
with Michael Hendrick

(from Beatdom #11 – available on Amazon, Kindle, and at the Beatdom Bookstore)

In rock and roll there is a rarefied pantheon populated by a select number of bands who make us feel, who speak to Everyman, who splay the grizzled guts of the emotional, romantic, workaday routines of our lives into powerful melodies which touch and motivate us. Many bands exist in the industry of pop music but only a dozen or so speak to us directly, powerfully. These storytellers find themselves on a pedestal because they connect to our realities at the most basic, primordial level. The Coasters, the Crickets, the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and, of course, the Ramones come to mind first. There have been individuals, like Chuck Berry, Dion, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits who have done this, too. Bands like the aforementioned not only speak to us all but are known in the most seemingly remote parts of the world. Speaking for us all leads to deification and hero status. They influence younger musicians and, in so doing, influence our future, and light new recollections on the ends of the dying embers of old memories.

The Ramones may be the last of these supergroups to have emerged. Certainly, since the punk invasion that started in the 1970s Lower East Side of New York, many new groups have popped up, but few speak as well to our inner child. There have been more cerebral, more political, more ‘artsy’ bands, like REM, Nirvana, and the Patti Smith Group, to cite just a few. There are plenty of new faces in the melee of the indie music explosion, but not many of these are as recognizable or whose name alone can start a panic in countries where English is rarely spoken.

The Ramones had (and still have) this power. It is hard to imagine a world without the Ramones; just as difficult to imagine is the hard truth that their principal founders and faces – Joey and Dee Dee and Johnny – are dead and gone. Oddly, the drummers still survive. The pumping lifeblood of the trademark Ramones sound, part hard rock, part fifties tribute, part head-banging fun, drums drove the action. Other powerful groups of the era, like the Clash, the Dictators, the Damned – while all spurred to action by The Ramones – could not keep up the pace.

In a time when might was right and fast was class, the Ramones were hardest and fastest of them all. In the documentary film on the Ramones, “End of the Century,” the late Joe Strummer, of the all-powerful Clash, speaks of not being able to keep up with the boys from New York. Of all the Ramones drummers, Richard Reinhardt, aka Richie Ramone, was the fastest. This makes Richie Ramone the fastest drummer of all the original punk bands, which is no mean feat.

The Ramones were punks, not Beats. Their lyrics and lifestyles, however, were rife with Beat sensibilities and situations; the never-ending road, the need to express emotion through art and the Word, the ability to influence others to get up and move!
Recently, Beatdom caught up with Richie. As he came out of rock retirement and launched his new version of the Ramones 2012 Invasion, he has been very busy and we are happy to have him on the pages you hold.

Joey was your closest mate in the Ramones. He seemed to like other punk musicians who were on the intellectual side. A lot of them hung out with the Beat writers who lived on the Lower East Side, back then. Did you ever associate or see much of the Beat writers?

No, I never got to meet them or nothing. I don’t know that much about it. I’m not the biggest reader on the planet. I just never get around to it.

Why were you closest to Joey?
He was very supportive. Nobody else really wrote any songs before me, besides them…no other drummers really did anything like what Tommy co-wrote with the band. I was writing my own material but John didn’t like me to have more than one song because it picked his pocket. He would make less, the more songs I had, so that got frustrating…but Joey was always an encouragement to sing more. I was singing a lot of stuff live with him. It was really powerful, like in 1985-87. He was fully supportive of me. He didn’t feel like, “Oh, no, don’t take attention from me,” and that sort of thing. He even encouraged me to sing. That’s why I sing one of the songs on one of the records. He told me to sing it. I said, “What are you gonna do?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just sing it.” The song was mine…“Can’t Say Anything Nice.” I sang that song for the Ramones album.

“Can’t Say Anything Nice” is one of six songs written by Richie and released by the Ramones. The others are “Humankind,” “I Know Better Now,” “I’m Not Jesus,” “Smash You” and the ever-popular, oft-covered “Somebody Put Something In My Drink” – which got stuck in the interviewers head, incidentally, for five days after playing it on a car stereo.

When we were home, as far as Joey, he couldn’t really leave the house much without being mobbed but we would go places like bowling and do ‘normal’ stuff that he could never do on his own. We would do all that.

“End of the Century” shows you trekking all over the place at odd hours. On the road with the Ramones did not look like fun.

Traveling, when we went to Europe and stuff, we’d go for a month but other than that we’d do a lot of like… leave New York, go to Massachusetts, play, and then drive home. We would drive as far as Vermont, drive there whatever it takes, six or seven hours, do the show and then drive home and be back at six or seven in the morning. We did a lot of that with the group, as opposed to just sleeping there at night. You’d kind of sleep on the way home. You drive seven hours. Leave at noon. Get up there. Play…then just jump right back in. It’s about fourteen or fifteen hours on the road in one day. We would do that in winter with ice on the road and it was scary for the band. We always worried that we were gonna crash.

In “End of the Century,” it seemed a lot scarier in South America, where there is not much ice. We see that you are going back there this year.

In Brazil, the fans are crazy…a really good place to play.

You have been working the Gobshites, a Boston band, who mix rock and roll with traditional Celtic music. How has that worked out?

I never played live with them but we went to Ireland, to Dublin, and recorded the record there. The week we spent there was great. They are mixing and doing it up and that should be out in a few months or something like that. I played all the tracks. I’ll be doing some shows with them. I’m not a permanent band member but I will be doing some shows.

You also did some work with the Ramonas (an all-female Ramones tribute band from the UK).

I did one show with them. I went all the way to Ireland and London is only an hour’s flight away. I just said, “Ah, I’m gonna go do a show in London and I hooked up with them and did a show with them there so I could see fans in London. I hadn’t been in London for twenty years, so I did the recording, then went to London to do a show and flew home from there. I may do something else with them. They were a lot of fun and I may do a festival or two with them…you know, summer festivals in New York.

That sounds like fun! Tell us about the record you did with the Gobshites.

It’s great. It’s a mixed bag but there won’t be any electric guitar…there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, there is accordion, bass, fiddles, banjo…we actually cover “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”…a really cool version of that with lots of chanting vocals. I can’t wait to hear the final take on that. It is similar to the original, the same type of beat. They never really officially released that so I said, “Let’s cut this again,” and it came out really good. The rough tracks were really cool.

Another of the many projects you have going is an appearance on the second posthumous Joey Ramone solo album, “Ya Know?” (It is slated for release in May 2012.)
They found tracks of Joey’s…new stuff, so they just took the vocals and snipped the vocals out of it, really. Everything else was redone. It was done on four-track cassette machine and they processed the vocals and we put all our bits around it. I think there are fifteen or sixteen songs. I played on five of them. Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick played drums on two or three and some other people played on others.

In the Ramones, playing that kind of beat, with the third-sixteenth hi-hats [polyrhythmic hi-hat ostinato], it’s not half-time beat.

Yeah, no one had a right hand like I did on the hi-hat. People would just stop and stare at the hi-hats, how I could make that hand go so fast…haha…

So what do you think about being the fastest drummer of the original punk bands? Many say that the churn of drummers from the seventies into the eighties slowed the group down and you brought back the hard edge.

At that time [before joining the Ramones] I was in a band named 384. The scene was changing to groups like the Cro-Mags and speed-metal came out. All the new punks used speed metal and that’s why we started speeding things up more and more. That’s how our stuff got really fast. We just took our songs and played them faster.

The fans sure dug it but we understand the promoters didn’t?

The promoters would start to get upset because we would be short of an hour. That is how fast we were, we did 33 songs in less than an hour…haha…

What do you enjoy most, these days?

There are a lot of things going on with the Gobshites. We are doing an EP with a video and I am starting work on my own record. I rerecorded some of my songs and also some of my new material, my music.

What is it like?

I don’t stray too far away from what I do. Some of my stuff is a little but harder, a little more metal, a little more guitar soloing than the normal thing. My stuff is mainly a little darker than the Ramones. Not that fifties sound, as you can tell from the songs I wrote. There are a lot of things I will be doing this year. I will be on tour. I’ll be going to Australia…eventually. There is nothing set in stone but I was not around the scene for a while so that is what the whole ‘2012 Invasion’ is about. (Since taping this interview, gigs in South America have been booked, as well as appearances at a Johnny Thunders tribute concert and a benefit show to raise money for children with cancer.)

Before you decided to ‘invade’ and were out of the rock scene, what had you been doing?

I was doing orchestra stuff…I did “Suite for Drums and Orchestra” based on the theme from “West Side Story” with the Pasadena Pops. I orchestrated for the symphony…ten or eleven songs and made them an eighteen minute medley. It is all-around drumming and it is drum filled. It really glorified the ‘Drum God Era.’ It is a whole other side of drumming that people got to see and that they didn’t know I could do.

How was it received by the orchestra crowd?

Standing ovations! They jumped up…it was really crazy. You’re playing not so much to the punk crowd but playing to an older audience…and they loved it! It brought back the Buddy Rich/ Gene Krupa era. In the fifties, there were drum gods; in the eighties there were guitar gods. Now, all of that is gone. When they wheeled the kit on the riser wheels at the end of the show, people gasped. The funny thing about orchestra is that it is taboo to clap or anything until the piece is over. I remember the first time I did it…I wondered what was going on. They said they had never seen a response like that for the eight years that they were doing it. The people just jumped up and it was crazy.

I played a lot of outdoor events. I didn’t do many shows, only a handful of shows and the economy hit and you know orchestras are generally funded by donations so it slowed down. I am going to do it again. I am doing the rock and roll for now – but it would be a wonderful thing to do until I croak. You know what I’m saying? I really like it. It is really exciting! It’s you and your drums and they hand out the music and do one rehearsal and you go. You don’t have to deal with anything and you have ninety instruments behind you that you are driving and it is amazing. I really enjoyed that but I owe a lot to my fans right now and they are killing me to get back out on the road with my stuff. While I have the time I’m gonna do that first.

The main reason you gave for leaving the Ramones was that Johnny was being cheap and not giving a fair share of the tee shirt concession.

I have my own tee shirt line now. It has my name, not the Ramones. It says Richie Ramone.

We understand you are active in your community as an animal rights activist.

My dog passed away ten days ago. It was hard. I had to put him down. He had cancer but I still have two other min-pins, miniature pinschers. Every one was a rescue. One got stepped on so he has a limp. The other got hit by a car. The neck is a little tweaked. All rescues. That’s all I do. I spoke at City Hall (in Los Angeles) about what they do here, though…I like to get the dogs as puppies, when they are five weeks old, especially when you are dealing with mixes of pit bulls. Everything in LA has a mix of a pit bull in it. I don’t want them to be in someone else’s home for a year and they kick it around and the dog’s all fucked up, you know? Everybody…they take their kids and they go, “Let’s get a puppy!” They don’t understand the work involved…how to train the puppy. It starts shitting and pissing all over the house and they kick it and yell at it and then bring it back. The dog is psychotic by then. It’s a shame.

What did you speak about at City Hall?

Out here, what they have is…I used to go a place and you see the picture of the dog, ‘available this day.’ So I would go there. I remember once or twice, I would go there at six in the morning and they open at eight and I’m the first in line but it’s not ‘first come, first served.’ What happens is, if somebody else wants the same puppy, it goes to an auction and that’s the thing I was fighting. It’s really horrible.

So you have three or four families, people with children, and they start auctioning at $50, $60, $80…I have seen these mutts go for $300. The average family can’t pay that and the children go out crying, “Mommy, why can’t we get that dog?” It’s heartbreaking. I’m trying to get them to change this auction thing. Whoever has the most money in their pocket gets the dog. It’s bullshit. If you see a dog that’s available and you want it, pitch a tent, sit there all night and be the first one in line. Online it always said they keep the puppies for a week and it is available that day. Not many cities do this. It is usually like, “I’m the first one here. That’s the puppy I want.” You get it. It costs maybe fifty or sixty bucks for the shots. Auctioning them is heartbreaking. You see the families and they can only go to $100-150 and that’s it. It’s stupid. They go to auction in LA because they make more money. Half of these people that want the puppy won’t keep it because they have no idea of the work involved.

When I train my puppies, I am up every two hours through the night. It takes about a month with the box next to the bed. Then when you hear them walking, you get up and take them outside. It’s a lot of work for a few weeks. People don’t do that. They don’t know how to train a dog. They think it’s a toy. I don’t have children. That’s why I love dogs…because it IS a responsibility. You have to be there to take care of them. You have to feed them and all that stuff. Walk them and things like that. Without things like that in my life, I’d be totally lost…haha…The heartbreak is that they don’t last forever.

We hear you can have a cat cloned for $5000. Maybe they do it with dogs, too.

I think they can…I wouldn’t want that. Every time a dog goes, I always get another one but it always has something of the dog that passed in it…like the dog that passed before this never really ate. It wasn’t a good eater. Then I got this dog, who became the most fabulous eater and is still the same kind of dog…there’s always something in there. No, I would never clone. There are too many dogs in the shelter to begin with.

Elsewhere in this issue, Hank Williams III talks about how pit bulls have been demonized.

If you don’t own a house, you can’t even have a pit bull in LA. They won’t let you put it in an apartment. They won’t allow that breed in apartments. It really got a bad rap.

What shall we expect from you next, musically, that is?

There will be a lot on the future, the whole ‘Invasion’ is that you are gonna see a lot more of me on different records, and putting my album out…I just did something in the studio and am going to do a video with it. I’m just re-introducing myself to the world again. Then I’m gonna follow it up with a whole bunch of records because I am in this little bubble of being a Ramone and I don’t stray far from my rock and roll roots.

I write all kinds of different songs but I only perform the ones I like that are hard and stuff. I am looking to collaborate with other people and submit my other songs, which are really not for me. As an artist, I don’t only write one type of song. It could be a ballad. It could be a keyboard song…it could be for Alicia Keyes or whatever, so there is going to be more of that.

Are you working with anyone beside the Gobshites and Ramonas?
There’s a band out of Canada called the Rock and Roll Rats. I just did five songs on their EP. That should be out soon. It’s so cool. I never met them. They send me the files, then I record on them in my studio and I send them back. It gets them more attention. They can have Richie Ramone on their album and I can do it in my pajamas and sneakers…haha…It’s a wonderful, tool, Facebook…I’ve hooked up with a lot of people and gotten a lot of work from it. I make new friends every day. People can find me, you know?

You can find out more about Richie Ramone, the 2012 Invasion, and even buy one of his tee shirts at See him when he gets to your town, it is always fun to see a legend at work!

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 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.

Come Join Uncle Sam’s Band

by James D. Irwin

It’s about ten past four on a Sunday afternoon. I feel like I’ve been beaten up; there is pain… bruises… cuts… none of them I can explain with any certainty. I think I have whiplash. I feel dead and decaying on the inside and all I’ve eaten is an apples, washed down with a few cups of coffee— the diet Christian Bale undertook for his role in The Machinist.

I could be doing this in better, more appropriate conditions. At least the sun is shining through the narrow window of my bare, white-walled room that’s covered in dirty laundry— all my clothes— and patches of mould slowly fading back from where it rained a few nights ago. And so I’m in a hovel of a room feeling like death could come at any moment, and would be quite welcome. But today is the deadline. So I better turn my thoughts to the subject I promised I’d write something on…

More build up first: a few months ago I got into a discussion with a few American friends about the notion of the ‘Great American Rock Band.’ We kind of concluded that there was no such thing. No band could compare to the cultural importance and impact of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. America has produced a great many rock bands, but none have the same cache… the same monolithic significance as the British bands that became big in the Sixties and peaked in the mid-Seventies. We talked about how Creedence Clearwater Revival were called ‘The American Beatles,’ but their success doesn’t translate. KISS has the success, but theirs is a success comparable to McDonald’s— the vast sales of products aren’t a signifier of quality.

But then perhaps comparing American groups to British groups doesn’t stand up. Maybe our cultures are just too different. It’s certainly true when it comes to literature. We have different standards… expectations. For example the ‘Great American Novel’ exists, and doesn’t need to compare itself to the British literary canon; it is instead focused more on the truest expression of America. This would draw The Ramones into the mix, but then they’d have to be thrown out. For as much as they embody a lot of the ‘American Spirit’ their music, whilst great, is tied forever to the narrow confines of punk culture, whether it should be or not.

I think perhaps the best we could do is compare the ‘Great American Novel’ to the ‘Great American Band.’ I have a friend who refuses to read American literature, something which I find incredibly narrow minded and downright stupid. There is a perception among some, like my friend, that because ours is the older country, with longer literary tradition ours is just better. And that’s what I was doing with bands earlier on. Maybe CCR are on par with The Beatles.

American literature is slightly different to British literature. Even now ours tends to be in the stuffy, uptight mould of Dickens and the Victorians. It’s modernised, of course, but our literary tradition remains very traditional. That goes for our journalism too. We never had ‘New Journalism’ or ‘Gonzo Journalism’… some of the best writing in the Twentieth Century… Meanwhile I’m getting marked down on my Non-Fictions assignments for not writing ‘properly.’ My tutor writes for The London Times.

I referenced Hunter S. Thompson in an accompanying essay, which didn’t go down well. British writers stuck in the notion of prestigious papers don’t like writers like Thompson. Only poetry professors have any time for Kerouac and the Beats; meanwhile guys like Norman Mailer and George Plimpton don’t get a mention. Neither does Tom Wolfe. So you transformed journalism in the 1960s? Well, not in Britain you didn’t. We like our journalism dry and fact based, keep your opinions to yourself…

Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 introduced me to the band that would eventually become my All Time Favourite Band: the Grateful Dead. They are also the band I think come closest to being ‘The Great American Band’, at least by my measure of comparing them to the ‘Great American Novel.’ Of course for this to stand up I should lay my cards on the table and state what I consider to be the ‘Great American Novel.’ We can safely assume it’s not Spider-Man #1, otherwise I’d still be talking about KISS.

There are strong arguments for a couple of books. It’s not The Catcher in the Rye though— miserable, whiny and a contributing factor to the murder of John Lennon. Huckleberry Finn is basically the sequel to a children’s book— a very good book, but not the greatest. Not the Muhammad Ali of American literature. The Great Gatsby lacks scope and scale… For me it’s not just a case of the Great American Novel, but the greatest novel I have ever read: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Why? Because it has everything; it is epic in the scale of location, of human emotion… it has humour, sadness, is a timeless slice of history and, perhaps most importantly, has the Joad family chasing the same mythical American Dream Thompson failed to find in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

It’s not my favourite Steinbeck novel either. That would be Cannery Row, in which Steinbeck revisited the Depression with a more romantic, nostalgic eye. One band wrote a song inspired by a rundown building that features in Cannery Row. Unless you’re mentally retarded, or just plain stupid, you can probably guess it was the Grateful Dead— the song being ‘Brokedown Palace’ from 1970’s American Beauty.

Both Steinbeck and the Dead are uniquely American. Britain doesn’t have any writers or bands than can really compare in terms of cultural relevance and significance. And wasn’t that what we were looking for earlier? Both the writer and the band have always been more popular in their own country than they have been in Britain. However, both have also been outsiders in their own time and place too.

The Grapes of Wrath was banned for a long time in a lot of schools and libraries on publication. Similarly the Dead were always an underground, counter-culture band that only the liberals dug and enjoyed. And it’s not like the Dead have always been cool. Through the mid-70s and most of the ‘80s they weren’t counter-culture, but simply obscure and faded. They had a resurgence though, and in 1987 finally scored a number one with ‘Touch of Grey.’

It took a long time, but both Grapes and the Dead finally got the recognition they deserved. Steinbeck’s novel is now widely regarded as one of the best ever, whilst the band from San Francisco finally got a bit of mainstream attention and recognition.

Maybe it’s a bit of a flimsy comparison… It’s not, I don’t think, meant as direct as a comparison as perhaps I’ve been attempting. I don’t know, but as far as I’m concerned the Grateful Dead are as close to a ‘Great American Band’ as there is.

They played at the President’s inaugural ball: Great American Band or not, they are Uncles Sam’s Band…