Released just a few days ago, The Complete Songs Of Innocence And Experience by Allen Ginsberg is a multi-CD (or download, if you prefer) album featuring eight previously unissued songs.
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I heard recently that a friend of a friend, owner of a cassette recording of Allen Ginsberg reading from 1964, had converted the recording and uploaded it to YouTube. The recording is below, cut into four sections. It was recorded at Better Books in London. Included are the following poems, along with some fascinating/humorous commentary from Ginsberg. Continue Reading…
By Neil Reddy
Originally published in Beatdom #14
There are two questions that have to be asked about Beat movies. What do we want and why can’t they get it right?
If we’re looking for Beat movies as in expressions of the flow and rhythm of Beat poetry and Jazz Bebop, then you have to go to the source material: Pull My Daisy (1959), or The Flower Thief (1960), or Howl (2010). If you want to get derivative, try any college arts course or gifted YouTube contributor – if you can’t find them there, then get on your laptop and build your own. But, if you’re looking for fictional movies about the poets and the Beat Generation, then the latter question remains valid – why can’t they get it right?
It seemed to go wrong from the off with The Beat Generation (1959), which stole the title Kerouac had planned to use on Pull My Daisy. The Beat Generation is nothing more than a sleaze noir flick whose villain, a serial rapist no less, has Beat connections and “makes the scene” to find his victims. (It also includes a scuba diving chase scene which I’ve yet to discover any reference to in the Beat oeuvre.) The British contribution, Beat Girl (1960), was also sleaze-based, although more coffee bar centric and lacking any scuba scenes. It was just another moralistic tale, warning of the dangers of fast living and weird teenage kicks. Alas, the high pinnacle of these two masterpieces in bilge was not to be maintained. Since those heady days, the genre has repeatedly fallen flat on its face with badly scripted melodramas like Heart Beat (1980), or the incident led biopics Kill Your Darlings (2013) and Beat (2000), but, while being competent films, their Beat element is almost superfluous.
Some valiant efforts have been attempted. The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997), does well to catch the cultural context which many of the other films fail to do, and On the Road (2012), did well to get across the feel of its source material even though some of the alterations were difficult to understand – why is Sal mourning the death of his father when it’s the break-up of his marriage in the novel?
Naked Lunch (1991), like the novel, stands alone and must be respected for its sheer audacity to exist at all but, again, its focus is not in capturing the energy of the creative milieu that made the Beats what they were; and therein lies the problem and what should be the solution to the problem. The actual act of writing is not cinematic – although Henry & June (1990) and Quiet Days in Clichy (1990) prove there are always soft porn options. It’s the interactions between these young men and women that could be, must be, film-worthy. So why don’t they film that?
On the Road (2012) captures some of this spark but does a better job of portraying the grind of the road which unfortunately dissipates the energy, conflict, and humour that must have been evident when the Beats were gathered. The “far out” premise of Pull My Daisy (1959) shows this to be true.
The British comedy film The Rebel (America knows it as Call me a Genius (1961)) may be one of the best non-Beat, Beat films ever made, as it doesn’t take the subject too seriously and yet manages to mock the art establishment and satirise European intellectualism, whilst capturing the stifling status quo that the Beats were kicking against.
So what do we want from a Beat movie? We need the colour and tone of Bird (1988); the social bite of Up the Junction (1968); the grime of Barfly (1987); the wit of Factotum (2005); and the exuberance of… dare I say Animal House (1978)? Perhaps not but you can see the problem.
In the end, perhaps we are asking or expecting too much from a commercial film industry. Perhaps our best hopes do lie with the YouTube generation? Think about selling your Beat movie proposal: “We want you to give us money to make a movie about a bunch of kids in the late 1940s and 50s who live together and write poetry and books and the movie needs to be funny, energetic, sexy, character-centred, contemplative, introverted and dialogue rich whilst lacking explosions, machines guns, and ethno-centrically vague but identifiable terrorists.” Really, who are we trying to kid?
It’s said a movie is ruined three times: when you write it, when you talk about it, and when you make it… so let me give you the opening scene to my movie and you can ruin the rest for yourself.
Black screen – music Mingus – opening scene viewed from above – daylight, summer field – girl with long hair opens copy of On the Road – camera beads in on page – flash montage of cultural icons – Lady Gaga, Obama, Bowie, Dylan, Nixon, Chi Guevara, Lennon, Kennedy, Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, Brando, Miles Davis etc. – the montage moves faster and faster until it fades into a crowded room where the Beats are laughing, smoking and reading their poetry.
Here’s a cool video of Allen Ginsberg talking with Conan O’Brien from 1994. The quality is poor but he sings a great little song called “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag”.
In the late 1980s, William S. Burroughs and Tom Waits collaborated on a musical called The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets. In 1990 it was performed on Austrian TV, and here’s the rip that was recently released on YouTube…
The three giants of Beat poetry are Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac, all of whom I deeply respect, love and attempt to emulate. But in addition to these legends, I’d like to include Charles Bukowski (the man who pushed me to write) and Henry Miller, at least for the purpose of this article.
Below are a number of video links featuring the five authors I’ve mentioned. As I said, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac are obvious choices, but I included Bukowski because he reads with disgustingly raw emotion; emotion dominated by insecurity, drunken arrogance and most importantly, an absolute need to write. His unquestionable love for the printed word is always visible, and to me, that’s a large part of beat poetry; the necessary feeling of expression no matter how vulnerable it leaves you.
And then there’s Henry Miller. A man who fulfilled the same internal craving to write and relished in the opportunity to carve his name into stone with a pen. An abnormal choice for beat poetry, but a titanic force of imagination and another voice who refused to go unheard. The spirit to make a difference no matter how much work it takes is a quality that screams “beat” to me. Hopefully it does to you too.
Here’s a meaty, hour long black and white video of Buk reading at Bellevue in 1970. At this point he was 50 and had yet to write his first novel, Post Office, which would come out the following year. He had, however, written 14 collections of poetry, including the great The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills, which was released in 1969. The video is fairly low quality, but the audio is great and perfectly reflects his usual tone and pace.
At about 8:50, he begins talking about a skid row in Los Angeles and says, “Not a nice place to have a typewriter, and no place is really nice unless you have a typewriter. You can do without a woman, but you can’t do without a typewriter.” Not too many quotes sum up the beauty of Bukowski quite like that one.
Here’s a reading of “the laughing heart” by Tom Waits and “roll the dice” by Bono. I personally prefer Tom’s reading, but Bono does a decent job.
Two great poems in Buk’s familiar advice-heavy style. He may always be talking about himself, but he never forgets about his audience.
“What is your definition of love?”
Here, Buk discusses people. “Two inches is great, two miles is great, two thousands miles is beautiful.” A completely misanthropic statement, but like I said earlier, one probably stemming from insecurity. Words appeared to always be his best friend.
An amusing clip of Buk drunk on French television, one he was unable to finish.
William S. Burroughs
Here, Burroughs, and others, discuss the outrageously beautiful idea that is The Cut-Up. For any of you unaware of the method (which is very open for interpretation), I strongly encourage you to watch this, for it will squash writer’s block like nothing you’ve met before.
Here is an in-depth, almost 90 minute film on the life of Burroughs and his unforgettably raspy, monotone voice (oh yes, and maniacal style of writing/life).
Just a side note– the song which begins this film is “Another Green World” by Brian Eno, who may not be a beatnik, but is one hell of a genius.
A clip on Burroughs from a film on Allen Ginsberg entitled “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg”.
Here’s another short clip from “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg” featuring Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.
Ginsberg speaks upon offensive language on the TV show “Firing Line” hosted by William Buckley in 1968.
Another clip from “Firing Line” where Ginsberg reads a poem he wrote under the influence of LSD.
Ginsberg singing a beautifully sad piece (accompanied by a lap organ) called “Father Death Blues”, inspired by the death of his Father in 1978.
One last clip from “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg”, where he speaks inside the City Lights Bookstore in 1965.
You can purchase the movie here:
A clip of Kerouac reading an excerpt from “On the Road”, accompanied by light piano. Here he reads with calm confidence and honesty.
Drunken, loud Kerouac embarrassing himself on “Firing Line”.
Another television appearance featuring a belligerent and entertaining Kerouac.
Here’s a brief clip of Kerouac speaking over footage of him shooting pool.
“Now it’s jazz. The place is roaring. All beautiful girls in there. One mad brunette at the bar, drunk with her boys.”
A clip of Miller, later in his life, discussing death, life, dreams and the world with Anaïs Nin.
A clip on French television, featuring Miller speaking in French, discussing why he chose to leave America and what he thought about it upon return.
A nice, 7:30 clip of Miller reading from “The Tailor Shop”, a short story from the book Black Spring, published in 1936. Two years prior he wrote the genius Tropic of Cancer and three years later he’d write The Tropic of Capricorn.
14 minutes of Miller speaking in an interview, featuring candid footage.
More candid footage of Miller speaking over dinner and wine with friends. A long, casual half an hour clip unlike most other videos available.
I got around to reading Hunter S. Thompson’s volumes of letters after working my way through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 and Hell’s Angels.
My favourite volume is certainly The Proud Highway, as I feel it is edited better, and is more interesting to me as a young writer and editor. Thompson’s rise to fame is fascinating to follow.
Some of my favourite letters were the ones I was surprised to see included when I first read Fear and Loathing in America. I was amused by the series of angry tirades he shot off to businesses, complaining about what he perceived as a lack of quality or honesty in their services.
Perhaps the best ones relate to the TV scheduling that he thought was too low-brow. At Woody Creek Thompson was only able to receive one channel for many years, and that channel was run on a tight budget. He kept complaining that the news wasn’t shown during his (erratic) waking hours, and that certain TV shows were too stupid, and only shown because they were cheap.
I stumbled upon this recording today of Hunter S. Thompson complaining about the installation of a DVD player. It obviously lacks the eloquence of his angry letters, but not the force of vitriol.