Wayne Ewing became a personal hero of mine when he made a fantastic trilogy of documentaries about the late, great Dr. Hunter S Thompson. When I discovered he was putting together a documentary about the eccentric publishers of Beatniks and Bukowski, I jumped at the chance to take Beatdom from the cold climes of Scotland to the surprisingly warm weather of Denver, Colorado, where The Outsiders of New Orleans: The Loujon Press was premiering…
“Where are you from?” the disembodied head called from a window above the heavily gated security door at the front of the Melbourne Hostel in Denver.
“Scotland,” I called back.
“Where are you from?”
And thus ended my chase through the streets of angry negroes after dark, in a strange city and entering a strange world of respirator-clad old people with heading problems and a penchant for over-warm rooms… But I guess that’s a sidestory. I was staying in a dank little hostel on 22nd and Welton, not exactly the best of places, but far from being the worst. Nonetheless, it was a tough place to find after a forty-hour train ride across the American West, into a dark new city full of angry blacks and ‘whores with hearts of cheap gold.’
I decided there and then I was not going back out onto the streets that night to traverse the city and find the party that Wayne had suggested I attend. I settled down in my room full of snoring dudes and went to sleep for the night.
The next morning I took advantage of the daylight and explored the city a little, before heading to the university area and the Tivoli, where the 30th Annual Starz Denver Film Festival was being held, an event at which Wayne Ewing has become a regular guest director.
I’m no stranger to university campuses either side of the Atlantic, but I liked this one. The student union was not only home to beer and debauchery, but like so many buildings in Denver, it once was a brewery. Of course, now like so many buildings in any American city there were McDonalds and various other cheap ‘n’ nasty eateries inside.
The atmosphere was the healthy film fest blend of young and old, artists and critics, students and masters… A few hardcore types wandered about with grapefruits and Bloody Marys, a tribute to the late Doc, started during the premieres of Ewing’s documentaries in years gone by… Popcorn, beer and Coca-Cola sated the masses; the promise of photo exhibitions and movie debuts got the rest worked up…
I grabbed a second row seat in the theatre, next to a decent looking chap in Hunter get-up, kitted out with the apparently traditional drink-and-fruit combo. From the way the organisers and personnel spoke with the crowd, I could tell Ewing’s documentaries were a regular and popular festival feature, with a group of familiar fans. This hardly surprised me, having spent time perusing his websites and forums, and seeing the die-hards that hang out and discuss the scenes and ideas throughout Ewing’s work.
It’s not hard to see why. We know from (and I will continue to dwell on the Hunter S Thompson references for the simple reason that I try and crowbar his name into every aspect of my life…) Breakfast With Hunter et al that Ewing can perfectly present an intimate portrait of an eccentric character and a masterful telling of a fantastic literary legacy, and The Outsiders of New Orleans does the same for the Webbs and their Loujon Press.
Gypsy Lou is no normal woman. She’s wonderful and unique, and Ewing allows us to get up close and personal with her, letting her largely narrate the story of her life, that of the Loujon Press, and of the Old New Orleans, telling all in her inimitable style.
It is surely testament to both Ewing’s endearing personality and skill as a filmmaker that we come to see Lou on such a personal level, in a time where the documentary film genre is running rampant with contrasting propaganda and bullshit sensationalist facts.
It was a pleasure, too, watching the crowd watching the picture. Gypsy Lou drew laughs at every turn, telling even the tragic tales from her past with her deliciously warped sense of humour, bring her fearlessness, optimism and warmth into the hearts of a crowd that included her niece and a Beat Book seller with an impressive Loujon Collection.
The film ended with a Q&A for Ewing, Curtis Robinson and Edwin Blair. The crowd seemed unanimously to have been engrossed in the film, and while the documentary left little to question, Blair, who had become well acquainted with Lou, was peppered with questions about the wonderful woman, and about his personal generosity in helping her through elderly years made more difficult by Hurricane Katrina.
Upon leaving the Tivoli, I arranged with Wayne to attend the Late Night Lounge and tour the legendary Woody Creek. I took a walk up Larimar, digging Neal Cassady’s old stomping ground, and visiting the Capitol and the City and County Building, where Kerouac watched bats circle and Ginsberg contemplated madness…
A few stubborn staffers and some fruitless research resulted in my non-entry to the Late Night Lounge and the decision to ditch Woody Creek for a cross-country train ride.
So Denver was soon history. I’d caught a damn fine movie, continued my American Beatnik tour by walking vaguely in the footsteps of Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg, and met in person a great filmmaker of our times. I met some interesting people (an Iranian-US govt official who “fucking hate(s) the USA!”) and saw some great sights (breweries as far as the eye can see, friend…) I’d also come within a few hours drive of the home of Hunter S Thompson… But a few hours drive is only that when one has a car… Oh well, Farewell Denver, Farewell Colorado… And it’s off into the sunset on another fucking Amtrak…
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…