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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.”

Peter Orlovsky Obituary

On May 30th, 2010, Peter Orlovsky died at the age of 76. He is best known as the long-time partner (and muse) of Allen Ginsberg, but he was also a great poet in his own right.

Biography

My biography was born July 1933

The first sentence of Orlovsky’s biography in New American Poetry 1945-1960

Born into poverty, Orlovsky dropped out of high school to support his family by working in a mental hospital, and was drafted to fight in the Korean War in 1953 at age 19. After telling his commanding officer that, “An army with guns is an army against love,” he was sent to work at an army hospital in San Francisco.

At 21 Orlovsky met Allen Ginsberg. It’s part of Beat legend that Ginsberg fell in love with a painting of Orlovsky (who was then working as a model) just before meeting the man himself in the San Francisco studio of painter Robert LaVigne in December 1954.

The couple moved into a North Beach apartment together and announced that they were “married.” They spoke openly of their relationship, and were listed as “married” in Ginsberg’s Who’s Who entry in the years following his rise to fame.

They travelled around the world together – spending two years in India, learning about Eastern philosophies. Both men took great interest in Buddhism during their travels.

Peter Orlovsky became an important part of the Beat Generation, although he only began writing poetry at the provocation of Ginsberg while the two were in Paris. He appears in Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams and Desolation Angels as Simon Darlovsky, and in The Dharma Bums as George.

Later, he taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. His course was called, “Poetry for Dumb Students.”

As well as working as a model, teacher and a poet, Orlovsky made several movie appearances. Along with Ginsberg, Kerouac and Gregory Corso, he appeared in Couch (1964), which was directed by Andy Warhol. Me and My Brother (1969), directed by Robert Frank, concerned Orlovsky’s relationship with his brother Julius, who was schizophrenic. He appeared (uncredited) in Bob Dylan’s 1979 Renaldo and Clara. In 1990 he appeared in Frank’s C’est Vrai.

Although their relationship was not always monogamous (with Orlovsky displaying heterosexual leanings) they were inseparable at times, and stayed together on-and-off until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

Poetry

Orlovsky’s poetry became known for its simple, earthy honesty. He spoke freely (and often enthusiastically) about bodily functions and most famously about assholes. He couldn’t spell, but through his misspellings and the unusual phrasings of his work comes a refreshing freedom and originality.

His “Frist Poem” was published in 1958 by Yugen literary journal. It begins:

A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified

Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills the air

Of his poetry, William Carlos Williams once exclaimed: “Nothing English about it – pure American.” That was something Williams hoped poetry would become – a natural, organic voice, free of rules and traditions. Orlovsky’s poetry celebrates that which is distinctly natural and does not attempt to grasp grandiose philosophies.

As Gregory Corso put it,

An agricultural romantic, the Shellean farmer astride his Pegasusian tractor re-poems the earth with trees of berry and roots of honey; whose dirtian hands scribe verses of soy, odes of harvest; whose hymns to redolent shovels of manure nourish the fields that so nourish us, both in body meal and the cosmetics of soul.

Perhaps he was best described by the poet Michael Horovitz (with whom he read on his trips to the United Kingdom) as “refreshingly unliterary.”

Bibliography:

Dear Allen: Ship Will Land Jan 23, 58 (1971)

Lepers Cry (1972),

Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs (1978)

Straight Hearts’ Delight Love Poems and Selected Letters, 1947-1980, co-authored with Ginsberg (1980)

Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan

Ginsberg and Dylan are frequently viewed as a Jewish father and son. Certainly, they were close, and Dylan has often cited Ginsberg as a massive influence on his life and work; however, they were only fifteen years apart by birth and five by seminal publication. Of course, this is merely an affront to the more literal connotations of the father-son description of their relationship, and does not take anything away from the momentous influence the Beat poet had on the legendary songwriter.

Dylan certainly viewed Ginsberg as a father figure, as evidenced in his film, Renaldo and Clara. Here, Ginsberg plays an advice-offering character known as The Father. He also appears, watching over Dylan, in the background of the singer’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

However, if we are to force metaphors upon their relationship, then perhaps a more accurate one would as brothers, as although Ginsberg played the role of mentor, they were closer than such a closed view would suggest. They found in each other a shared genius, and collaborated on a few projects, praising each other over a long friendship.

Dylan would say, “I didn’t start writing poetry until I was out of high school. I was eighteen or so when I first discovered Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Frank O’Hara and those guys.” So clearly in the beginning it was a one way relationship, with Dylan inspired to write by the Beat Generation.

However, Ginsberg found in Dylan’s songs the same kind of spirit with which he infused his own poetry. The protest and mysticism he described in Dylan’s art as “chains of flashing images” are evident in the majority of Ginsberg’s volume of work.

The Beginning

Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in 1961, following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, and Allen Ginsberg returned there in December 1963. Through Al Aronowitz, the journalist and their shared acquaintance, the two poets met.

“I first met Bob at a party at the Eighth Street Book Shop, and he invited me to go on tour with him. I ended up not going, but, boy, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have gone like a flash. He’d probably have put me onstage with him.” (New York, early 1960s)

“His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people … something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people’s hearts and heads actually were rather than where they ‘should be’ according to some ideological angry theory.” (San Francisco, 1965)

Both excerpts from Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995, A. Ginsberg (Harper Perennial: 2001)

Ginsberg praised Dylan’s work as returning poetry to the human body through the medium of music. As well as appearing in Renaldo and Clara and Subterranean Homesick Blues, he wrote three poems in praise of Dylan and wrote the sleevenotes of Desire: “Big discovery, these songs are the culmintation of Poetry-music as dreamt of in the 50s & early 60s.” And according to Mel Howard, “Allen saw Dylan rightly connected to the whole tradition of the Beat movement, and through that to earlier poets.”

And on the sleevenotes of Bringing it All Back Home, Dylan wrote, “why allen ginsberg was not chosen to read poetry at the inauguration boggles my mind.”

Burgeoning Friendship

In November 1971, Ginsberg and Dylan collaborated on songs intended for an as yet unreleased album called Holy Soul Jelly Roll. The songs exist in bootleg form online, and most are available through the PennSound project. (Edit: They were released as First Blues in 1983 and released this year, 2016, as Last Word on First Blues.)

The songs, or album, consist of the jointly written ‘Vomit Express’, ‘September on Jessore Road’ and ‘Jimmy Berman’, as well as William Blake poems set to music and several poems written by Ginsberg himself.

Throughout, Ginsberg takes lead vocals with Dylan on guitar, harmonica and backing vocals. The songs were recorded at the Record Plant in New York.

The pair also performed five songs, including ‘September on Jessore Road’ and William Blakes’ ‘Nurse’s Song’ and ‘A Dream’, on PBS-TV, New York. The songs were recorded in the PBS-TV studios in October, and featured Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso on vocals, alongside David Amran and Happy Traum.

Such joint collaborations further blur the image of Ginsberg as Dylan’s father, and throws light on their mutual respect for one another.

However, another perspective of their relationship is that of Ginsberg doing as Cassady and Burroughs did and bridging the gap between the generations and movements of the latter half of the twentieth century. Whereas Cassady joined forces with the Merry Pranksters and the Psychedelic Generation, and Burroughs entered into experimentations with music and artists of later periods, Ginsberg moved from the Beat 50s into the Protest 60s, influencing and working alongside the epitome of protest culture and social change, Bob Dylan.

Indeed, after meeting Dylan, Ginsberg enter into a period of unrivalled social and political activism, joining forces with Norman Mailer to defend Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, testifying in support of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, supporting the movement for the legalisation of cannabis, demonstrating for freedom of sexuality and against capitalism. As Graham Caveney said, “If Dylan was beginning to provide the soundtrack for the counter-culture, Ginsberg gave it both a face and the networks which were essential in sustaining its momentum.”

Rolling Thunder Revue

In 1975 Dylan set out upon his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, which he was to film and turn into Renaldo and Clara. The tour was one of small gigs, no more than three thousand people, blending theatre and music, and in between gigs the tour bus would see filming of scenes and actions that Dylan would later cut together. The whole film was intended to cut live concert footage with a story that was written by a scriptwriter, but diverged and took a life of its own. Originally it was a collection of images from Dylan’s life and dreams, told mystically and surrealistically, in the manor of his poetry.

According to organiser Lou Kemp, the original group of musicians “would go out at night and run into people, and we’d just invite them to come with us. We started out with a relatively small group of musicians and support people, and we ended up with a caravan.”

On stage, during the opening night, Ginsberg joined in singing ‘This Land is Your Land,’ and in subsequent shows he would act as both poet and harmonist. However, although Ginsberg accompanied the Rolling Thunder Revue for most of its run, many of his poetry readings were cut from the stage to keep the shows to reasonable lengths. One major exception was the performance in Clinton State Prison, where Rubin Carter, the boxer about whom ‘Hurricane’ was written, and whose defence case the tour was raising funds for, was incarcerated. During this show, Ginsberg’s poetry recitations were included.

Two of the film’s most well known scenes depict Ginsberg as mentor to Dylan – in Lowell, explaining the Catholic notion of the Stations of the Cross, and during their visit to Kerouac’s grave. These scenes explore Ginsberg’s religious views as a teacher, albeit a Catholic guide rather than as a Buddhist. And in other scenes Kerouac and Beat poetry are discussed, furthering the image of Ginsberg as a major influence upon Dylan.

So looking back upon the relationship between the two poets, it’s hard to stick to the conventional analysis of their relationship as that of a father-son, one-way influence. Rather they can be viewed as akin to brothers, or hell, why not just call them friends, as they in fact were? Sure, maybe Dylan learned more from Ginsberg, but they interacted and collaborated, and they respected one another. Dylan may have discovered the works of Ginsberg before Ginsberg discovered Dylan’s, but Beat poetry was far from his only influence, and Ginsberg learned much from Dylan, and together they helped bring the Beat spirit into the sixties and further a new generation of social activism and art.