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Many thanks to Bill Morgan, author and Allen Ginsberg bibliographer and archivist, and Grey Art Gallery, New York University, for the Saturday, April 6, 2013, 2:00 pm walking tour “Allen Ginsberg in the East Village.”
Gracious Bill Morgan led the tour and focused on the best known photographs of Allen Ginsberg, and the locations where the photos were taken. The group met at the northeast corner of Washington Square Park on a sunny, 50 degree spring day and headed east to always crowded and busy (especially on Saturday afternoons) St. Mark’s Place, where Carl Solomon lived and Gem Spa, the corner store where Allen purchased his daily The New York Times—the paper he loved to hate, and apparently, The Times reciprocated those feelings for many years.
Mr. Morgan provided ample anecdotes of Allen’s history of photography and his relationship with the photographer Robert Frank, who advised Allen that the best photos always show the subject’s hands. Allen was keenly interested in people and highly valued friendships, so his subjects were mainly of his friends. He liked photographing them in their natural urban settings, city streets, apartment interiors, and local all-night East Village eateries, such as the un-fancy Kiev.
Morgan brought with him copies of the famed photos that he passed along to the group: Jack Kerouac on the fire escape at 206 East 7th Street, howling Jack in front of the statue of Samuel S. Cox in Tompkins Square Park, Jack walking by St. Stanislaus Church, Vazak’s Bar,
and East Village apartments that Allen called home for most of his adult life. Allen lived at 437 East 12th Street for twenty years from 1975 until 1996, but was forced to move because of failing health. He could no longer climb stairs, and was taken to task for “selling out,” by buying an apartment—with funds obtained from archives sold to Stanford University—in an elevator building, his final residence at 405 13th Street. It was there that he took his last photo of Peter Orlovsky and Robert Frank, and that was about the end of the Beats in New York City.
Allen the bard enjoyed providing captions to the photos, and never used the same caption twice, even if there were thousands of photos of the same subject, such as the view from his window of the back courtyard on East 12th Street. It was a place where Allen had many visitors, world renowned poets and his cherished friend, Bob Dylan. There was no doorbell in the building, so visitors announced themselves by yelling up, and Allen responded by throwing a sock down that contained the key.
Before East Village gentrification, the neighborhoods were rough with high crime and a brisk drug trade. Allen was mugged and assaulted on East 10th Street. He was relieved of his money and watch, but his assailants left him with $10,000 worth of manuscripts intact. He was also able to sell the poem “Mugging” to The New York Times for $400 and was pleased with profits gained.
Bill Morgan was visibly moved when he spoke of the last days of Allen Ginsberg and his illness. Besides for all of Allen’s literary and artistic and worldly accomplishments, he is remembered for his generosity and kindness, an East Village saint, holy the neighbor.
View photos from the tour:
(All photographs courtesy of Robert Graham. Please visit Robert Graham [USA] to hear “Fragments of a Search” a song for Allen Ginsberg.)