ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL CELEBRATION
by
JONATHAN VOS POST

(c) 1997 by Emerald City Publishing
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.
Brought to you by: Magic Dragon Multimedia Altadena California Exclusive: 22 June 1997

"Check out the grouping of people," John Densmore of The Doors told Your Humble Webmaster, "here because of a baldheaded hipster of the 50s...." Table of Contents: Allen Ginsberg's America William Burroughs and Jack Nicholson Tom Robbins and Johnny Depp Ed Asner and Ronald Reagan Michael McClure and Jack Thompson Artie Shaw on the Moon John Perry Barlow and Exene Cervenka Mick Farren, George Herms, Michael Lally Conclusion

Allen Ginsberg's America

"Check out the grouping of people," John Densmore of The Doors told Your Humble Webmaster, "here because of a baldheaded hipster of the 50s." He shook his ponytail and waved at the scintillating backstage crowd at Veteran's Wadsworth Theatre in Brentwood California. "It's the theory of concentric circles. Allen Ginsberg threw a rock into the pond, and the ripples will keep spreading out for 200 years!" Allen Ginsberg died in April, 70 years old, yet his ripples spread through hundreds of festively mourning fans and dozens of celebrities. It was the evening of Saturday, 21 June 1997. Pardon me while I drop a few names... Dr. Oscar Janiger, co-organizer and long-time friend of America's great poet, and of the late Timothy Leary (whom several people told me was sorely missed at this Memorial) had read a touching eulogy, and the silver screen displayed a video of Allen Ginsberg amusing conservative broadcaster/author William Buckley and then chanting "OOOOOoooooohhhhhmmmmmmmmm..." outside the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention just before Mayor Daley's SWAT team began beating innocent bystanders. "They once called me a conservative," commented satirist Paul Krassner to me, "because I condemned The Government on TV." I told him how much I enjoyed his scathing magainze "The Realist" and recent books. I was there, my name scrawled on the Press List, my pockets stuffed with poetry and business cards, as I had been at so many Allen Ginsberg events in his lifetime, and as I had been reporting in print since 1978, while the full moon rose over the palm trees and the parking lot strewn with VW vans and stretch limosines, on the salt-air and smog-scented breeze of the first full day of Summer. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

William Burroughs and Jack Nicholson: No-Shows

William S. Burroughs and Jack Nicholson were promised to attend, but were notable no-shows. Political essayist Alexander Cockburn and Garth Hudson of The Band also were nowhere to be seen. Nicholson had some reshoots to do at a Hollywood soundstage, and William Burroughs was feeling under the weather, and reputedly had second thoughts about the incompetant freeloaders admixed with the sincere and more professional organizers of this star-studded Memorial Celebration. "They're building a pyramid on the remains of my friend," said one anonymous participant, these bozos to whom Allen wouldn't have given the time of day, except to be polite." The snotty so-called Press Liaison, Joan Sekler, in particular, was giving contradictory information to the Press all evening, while she boasted of her documentary about the CIA as a work-in-progress. "You can't come back in without a ticket," she said, and you can't have a ticket." She refused to give me a press kit, so the editor of that photocopied press kit, Lewis MacAdams, gave me his copy. Then Queen Joan cynically called for Federal Police to back up her putative authority -- more on that later. Ed Sanders of The Fugs read his eulogy, introduced a video of William Burroughs (loving and laconic), and then introduced the live, raspy, and riveting Tom Waits, who scraped a Jack Kerouac song through his gravel-lined throat. Bob Weide cued a video eulogy from best-selling novelist Kurt Vonnegut. John Densmore chatted with Peter Bergman of Firesign Theater, who shared his memories of the last time we'd been at the same event (Amherst, Massachusetts, around 1975), and swapped stories about Arthur Conan Doyle, Lenny Bruce, and the man who helped to convict Lenny -- the ex-Canter's Deli waiter Sherman Block, now Sheriff of Los Angeles County, the highest-paid elected official in America, who presides over decent professional cops, the brutal creeps who battered my neighbor Rodney King, and the sleaze-bags on the force who launder narcotics money for local gangs. "Everything's changed," said Peter, who was here as part of a 3/4 reunion of his surreal comedy team, "except that nothing's changed at all." Ed Sanders again took the stage, leaned out towards the seats (packed with $4 ticket-buyers, $200 donors, and hangers-on who kissed organizers' collective ass) and introduced poet Anne Waldman. Anne had once complemented me at a Lincroft, New Jersey reading for my swaying finger-snapping, and foot-tapping, when others sat still in bogus postures of respectability. Anne, who has taught at The Naropa Institute along with Ginsberg and William Burroughs, crooned and chanted a mantra/poem "Gospel Noble Truth." Steve Taylor of The Fugs launched into "The Cradle Song," then segued to Allen Ginsberg's niece Anne Brooks, who read a poem by her father, Allen's brother Eugene Brooks. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Tom Robbins and Johnny Depp

There were stars of the literary world as well as the world of Hollywood, while the stars of fusing hydrogen atoms began to shine through the twilight sky. I'd arrived an hour early, spent my last folding money on parking, and used my Press Pass to politely re-enter the small theatre and scout locations. The aforementioned Joan Sekler was giving a CBS-TV documentarian trouble about getting in to pull an audio feed from the mixing board. "But I'm doing a Special for CBS and HBO, hosted by Dennis Miller," he said, "and Jonathan here will be helping me with Internet promotion." We strolled in, with the approval of black-bow-tied bouncers. I watched his casette recorder while the sound engineer stripped and spliced the cable, and then I saw a nasty scene developing when Sickler didn't want to admit the CBS special's Producer. I left, to avoid bringing down the heat on these unquestionably legitimate broadcasters. In the lobby, I commiserated with a 1968 KPFK-FM radio show host. He and I had both been regulars on that Pacifica station before it began throwing commentators to the dogs for daring to exercise their First Amendment Rights. Tom Robbins strode by, with the magnificent air of a literary emperor, flanked by crew-cut assistants. "What would you like to say to 2,000,000 of my readers on the Internet from 102 countries, Mr. Robbins," I asked. The author of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and other astonishing novels raised his hitchhiker's thumb, smiled, and said "Stay Free!" His stretch limo moved aside to lot another limo through, from which emerged the handsome Johnny Depp, who has moved from triumph to triumph in films, among which I particularly enjoy "Edward Scissorhands." As the "Battle of the Skeletons" video of Allan Ginsberg, backed by Paul McCartney, rolled to a close, Tom Robbins introduced himself, gave a eulogy combined with a promotion for the films of Gus Van Sant, and then introduced Laura Huxley, who explained the connection between Allen Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, the imaginary drug "Soma" in Huxley's novel "Brave New World", and the Huxley phrase "the Doors of Perception" which was the basis of Jim Morrison and John Dunsmore's The Doors. By the way, Paul McCartney met John Lennon 40 years ago on 5 July 1957. John Lennon would have been the star of this memorial if he had not been murdered. The FBI, according to Freedom of Information documents, considered him the secret leader of America's anti-war movement. Get a clue, G-Men. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Ed Asner and Ronald Reagan

Ed Asner emerged from another limo. Star of stage and screen, including his role as the prickly producer with the heart of gold on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", it was hard to believe that he had held the same office as Ronald Reagan, said a cigarette-puffing musician leaning against the "Smoke Free Area" sign. Ed Asner had indeed been head of the Screen Actor's Guild. "I was proud to do your daughter's resume," I told Asner, "Kate is a very talented young lady." Ed smiled as only a proud father can. "Indeed she is!" At this point, as Ed Asner went on stage to introduce a video greeting from my former Brooklyn Heights neighbor Norman Mailer, three Federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police approached, their walkie-talkies crackling like burning sagebrush. "Are you Jonathan Vos Post?" asked the supervisor. "We've got a complaint that you're misreprenting yourself as a member of the Press." "Let's talk this over, officer," I said in a friendly way, and we walked away from the stage door. I showed Officer Michael C. Hutchins, badge number 2391, my credentials, copies of articles about Ginsberg events I'd had published in newspapers over two decades, and he made a few pointed observations. "The people running this show may be well-intentioned volunteers," he concluded, "but they don't seem to know what they're doing, and they are flat-out wrong about the juridiction of the fire department regarding theatre seating." He and I talked about the need for security, and pointed towards the Federal Building, looming tall at the Westwood border. "My cousin was at the Oklahoma City center," he said. "So far as a death sentance for Timothy McVeigh goes, he said with evident pain, "I don't see how they can execute him 169 times over, as he deserves." On our way back to the theatre, officer Hutchins powered-on his radio. "No problem with the Jonathan Vos Post thing," he said. "He can stay here. From now on, disregard whatever the Press Liaison tells the officers, until they get their act together." Then he smiled at me and added, "they're being real assholes to a lot of the Press. Don't take it personally." He shook my hand, and wandered over to talk to Johnny Depp. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Michael McClure and Jack Thompson

Johnny Depp, even more handsome in person than he is on screen, came back over to me and shook my hand. "I'm honored to know Mr. Ginsberg," he told me gravely. He was wearing black slacks, a black dinner jacket, and an unbuttoned white shirt. His hair was waved, meticulous and casual at once. "I was fortunate to know him. He was a hero; he's certainly a hero. He had a good time, and I believe that he's still having a good time." Jerome Rothenberg read two poems, and introduced performance artist Linda Albertano. Ed Sanders sang a William Blake song of Ginsberg's, introduced poet Caroline Kleefeld, Anne Waldman ushered in poet Wanda Coleman, who read two poems and intro'd a Pam/Bill Bothwell Buddhist Teaching video. Next came a 1958 video of Ginsberg reading his immortal "Howl", and a clip of a more recent reading of the "Moloch" sequence from "Howl." Beat poet Michael McClure read his eulogy, then introduced Bob Rosenthal, who in turn introduced Jack Thompson and Kevin Spacy's reading of "White Shroud." Jack Thompson emerged, beaming, and launched into a discussion with me about the friendship and performing relationship between Allan Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. At this point, a smartly dressed Ms. Smith was stopped at the stage door by an implacable security guard who didn't see her name on the guest list. "But I'm one of the women who organized this event!" she protested. One of the flunkies of Event Producer Sharon Levy and UCLA Event Coordinator John D. Henson countered "I'm one of the women who organized this event. Who are you?" "You'd better check with Dr. Janiger," said Ms. Smith. A minute later, Ms. Smith was handed a ticket, but denied one for her assistant. Half an hour later, Ms. Smith came around and gave me her ticket stub. "This will get you back in if they give you a hard time," she said. "I put thousands of hours into this, and they have no respect." I continued to hang around at the loading dock, talking with the performers before and after their presentations, and hearing their songs and poems from backstage. The show went on. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Artie Shaw on the Moon

One wonderful surprise at "Allen Ginsberg's America" was the appearance by Artie Shaw. Musicologists still debate which clarinet-playing Big Band leader of the 1930s and 1940s was the best, Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman. Benny Goodman had the edge on Classical music and the classical infleunce on pop music, but Artie Shaw had a livelier mix of the vernacular of Jazz, Blues, and Swing. Artie was also famous for marrying five of the most beautiful women in the world, including Eva Gardner. When folks ribbed him about this, he's say "at least I married them!" Here at the Wadsworth, Artie Shaw did not play music -- he has not done so in public for half a century. But he did delight the crowd with a hypertext-like interwoven involuted narrative about a particularly weird show he did once in Texas. It didn't directly connect to Ginsberg, and yet it was exactly in the Ginsbergian existential Kerouac-oid On-The-Road improvisational spirit. My father had negotiated with Artie, a "tall good-looking man with animated features," as my dad put it. My dad had been in book deals with Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr, and other show-biz legends, including no less than Judy Garland. I helped Artie down the stairs -- he walked with a cane -- and we talked about the Moon. I told Artie about a long lunar conversation I'd had with Allen Ginsberg and Nobel Laureate George Wald, who died a few weeks after Ginsberg. "I'd love to go to the Moon" beamed Artie. "I would love to walk on that pumice." "I wish Allen were here --" I said to Artie, but he interrupted. "Allan IS here! he said, grinning broadly. "He's kvelling." "What's that?" asked a bystander. "It's Yiddish," said Artie. "Allen is preening, gloating, swelling with pride. He's here tonight, and he's having a ball!" Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

John Perry Barlow and Exene Cervenka

The Tish Band played some lovely Klesmer-inspired ethnic jam, and then Paul Krassner introduced former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Reverend John Perry Barlow. At this point, Johnny Depp was supposed to introduce singing sensation Beck, who unique blend of rock, folk, new age, hip-hop, and who knows what else is galvanizing the teenage world. Beck, to the great disappointment of the musicians, was another no-show. Instead, Johnny Depp gave a powerful reading of a message from gonzo journalist S. Hunter Thompson. The time was right for the 75% reunion of Firesign Theater to give us their psychedelic equivalent of the Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?" routine. "Don't crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers," recited one backstage fan, and another replied "What Is Reality?" Edward Albert and his daughter did a beautiful lyric piece, Bob Rosenthal led to Bill Morgan and a video of "Pull My Daisy." Michael McClure brought in Bob Neuwirth who intro'd the golden-voiced Ronee Blakely. Ronee suddenly started choking, and rushed off stage. The crew ignored this emergency, but I jumped to get her a bottle of water, and stayed with her until her coughing/choking fit subsided. She'd never had this happen before, and was shaken by the experience. I stayed with her until she felt better, and she returned to her friends backstage. What a sweet voice she has, and what an equally sweet smile! Gordon Ball read a eulogy, George Condo spoke, ran a clip, introduced Hal Wilner for his eulogy, and then rocker/poet Exene Cerveka gave us an unclassifiable musical interlude. Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Mick Farren, George Herms, Michael Lally

By now, it was roughly 1 a.m., and the crowd had dwindled to about 20% of house capacity. Representatives of the Poetry Scholarship Fund of the Naropa Institute made a fund-raising speech, and picked this inopportune time to pass the hat, idiotic after 4/5 of the wallets had already left the scene. Producers and Stage Managers were running around frantically trying to decide when to end the show, and whom to cut from the remainder of the program. Musicians caught a whiff of the chaos, and began pressing for priority. They'd all been rehearsing for a week. One the other hand, the crew was beginning to pass out from exhaustion. British punk-poet, rock musician, and science fiction novelist Mick Farren vigorously performed a scatological poem of Ginsberg, George Herms had fun as a one-man-band with instruments improvised from junk, and Michael Lally closed the show with the poem "Homeboy for Ginsberg." The audience never knew that they'd been denied a reading of a Ferlingetti poem, a psychiatrically probing song from the remarkable Dark Bob (I'll review his latest CD on this web site later), Michael Simmons, Ellen Maybe, The Mighty Echoes, Rani Singh (who was at Ginsberg's deathbed), Jerry Aronson, or Michael Schumacher. The last music we had, with crowd sing-along, was "The Nurse's Song", performed by Steven Taylor, Ed Sanders, and a luminous string quartet. "And all the hills echo-ed, and all the hills echo-ed..." Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents

Conclusion

People drifted away at 1:30 a.m., as the crew struck the set and loaded equipment into trucks. Performers clutched their envelopes of driving directions to the secret noon-5 p.m. brunch. The ever-useless Joan Sekler could have apologized to me by inviting me to that closed event, but was too caught up in her New Left Pseudofeminist Activist schtick to even consider it. I've been in touch with the genuinely artistic crowd here for a long time, and will continue to be, while petty bureacrats and slaves to Moloch fall by the wayside. Hell, I had a wonderful time at this celebration of the poet who was to the 20th Century what Walt Whitman was to the 19th Century. Both retook poetry from the dusty halls of the Academy and brought it back to the streets and the people, from which spring Verlaine, Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the infinite interweaving cyborg brain-music of the Internet. One of the most electric and eclectic groups of people ever assembled on stage had Done Their Thing tonight, in loving memory of a great and controversial man, whose ripples are spreading into the interstellar future. Clouds hid the Moon, the crickets hushed their stridulations, and Allen Ginsberg smiled down on all of us from Heaven. He's still having a good time!
*** The End ***
Return to Allen Ginsberg table of contents
(c) 1997 by Emerald City Publishing

All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.
Brought to you by: Magic Dragon Multimedia