Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Beat News

Beat News: November 5 1999

by Levi Asher on Friday, November 5, 1999 12:06 pm


I've written a lot here about David Amram's appearances at poetry readings and events recently, but now a more serious event has occurred. The farmhouse where David lives with his family, in Peekskill Valley just north of New York City, has burnt down. The house was not insured, the family is seeking shelter with friends, and a fund has been set up for those who want to help the situation with a small (or large) contribution. The mailing address is:

David Amram
c/o Toshi and Pete Seeger
Box 431
Beacon NY 12508
(checks made out to David Amram and marked "gift" are tax-deductible)

I don't make a practice of mentioning fund-raising efforts in these pages, but David is one of the most generous and good-hearted people I've ever met, and I know there are people out there who have gotten a lot out of his music and would like the chance to give something back now that it is needed. If you'd like to know about a benefit performance that will take place somewhere early next year, write to Brian Hassett at karmacoupe@aol.com. And, if you've never seen David sing or play piano (or french horn, or guitar, or his collection of Native American flutes, etc.) you can buy his excellent new CD, 'Southern Stories' and hear what everybody's been raving about.






Beat News: October 8 1999

by Levi Asher on Friday, October 8, 1999 12:01 pm


1. I'd always wanted to see a production of Beat poet Michael McClure's controversial hippie-era-vintage play "The Beard", which was the subject of a famous Los Angeles censorship battle back when Ronald Reagan was governor of California (other famous censorship targets in that era included "The Love Book" by Lenore Kandel). The play has just been revived in a thoughtful new production by the venerable La Mama Etc. theater in the East Village in New York, so I got my wish.

I was curious to see, thirty years after the Los Angeles police attempted in vain to shut the play down, just what the fuss had been about. I was expecting something wildly offensive, and was surprised to find a quiet, subtly shaded and intelligent dialogue play about the different ways men and women approach sex. There were only two characters: an archetypal male played by an actor who looked slighly like Kid Rock wearing a cowboy outfit, and an archetypal woman who resembled Courtney Love in platinum-blonde mode. This man and woman spend the entire play -- literally, the entire play -- philosophically debating whether or not they should have sex. This might sound somewhat tedious (actually, it sounds like a lot of my dates when I was in college), but the concept is relevant enough to make it add up to a memorable statement, and an enlightening evening.

In fact the primal battle between men and women is a familiar theme -- the play reminded me especially of the cartoons of male and female armies engaged in civil war that James Thurber used to draw, and also of similar "symbolic" treatments of the sexual dialectic like "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre (in which a triangle of three characters illustrate the theme) or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" by Edward Albee (which gives us two matched pairs, a total of four). McClure keeps the concentration on the primal two. His approach to drama is cool and diagrammatic, with none of the emotional build-up and release of a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller play -- just the endless Escher-like curving-back-upon-itself of the "big question", as the man and woman discuss it over and over and over (yeah, the more I think about it, this was a lot like one of my college dates).

I'm happy to report that the iconic characters do have sex in the end, symbolically at least. In the final moment before the curtain drops (actually there is no curtain, but whatever) the blonde woman acheives a blissful sonic orgasm. I admit to being slightly disappointed that she never took any of her clothes off (what's up with that?) and maybe some women in the audience were disappointed that Kid-Rock-Boy didn't either. Pretty incredible to think that, back in the sixties, they shut down a theatre for presenting ideas about sex. I think (I hope) we've come a long way since then.

If you can't come to New York City to see this play in person, check out the fragment of the script on McClure's own excellent web page, which also presents some of his interesting poetry.

2. Holy Shit! There's an amazing site of free literary MP3's at MP3Lit.com. Everybody from Sylvia Plath to Nicole Blackman, Henry Rollins to Noam Chomsky to Mumia Abu-Jamal to Tom Wolfe. A great selection, and a great public service. The site is fairly new and should grow quickly, but I hope the interface remains as simple as it is now. I'm looking forward to the upcoming "Loudmouth" section where unknowns can present their own fiction and poetry -- should be some interesting results there. Do not miss checking this place out.

3. The New York Mets are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1988 -- a very good sign for the coming millennium. Literary Kicks says "Let's go Mets!"






Beat News: August 21 1999

by Levi Asher on Saturday, August 21, 1999 11:54 am


1. The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter End in New York City turned out to be an amazing night -- read all about it and check out some pictures here.

Also, Bob Holman was nice enough to remember the event by putting up the words spoken by Charles Plymell here.

2. Speaking of the Bitter End event (no, I can't seem to stop speaking of it), one of the reasons I'd thought to invite Lee Ranaldo to participate in it was that he's been working with Jim Sampas and Rykodisc to collect some of Jack Kerouac's best unreleased recordings onto a CD. The CD is a revelatory collection that anybody who is interested in understanding Kerouac will want to hear. While Kerouac's existing poetry albums are sometimes hard to listen to (I always found them somewhat stiff and difficult to enjoy compared to his written work), these newfound recordings of Jack's are charming, musically adventurous and surprisingly satisfying. Highlights include a plaintive version of the pop standard 'Rain or Shine', some complex verbal blues choruses set to music by David Amram, a 28-minute prose reading from 'On The Road' and, to top it all off, a rocker by Tom Waits with Primus (yeah!). This CD will be released in early September.

3. 'The Source', a well-researched and intelligent new documentary full-length film about the origins of the Beat Generation and its main players, is coming out in a couple of weeks. Directed by Chuck Workman (who also directed a movie about the Andy Warhol scene, 'Superstar'), the film focuses heavily on Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, and tries hard to fairly represent many other writers. It adds up to an informative and breezily entertaining introduction to this literary movement. Among the good points: the facts are accurate (though the chronology gets confused), and there are no boring talking-head shots of men in sweaters sitting in front of bookcases (thank God). At the same time I didn't find the film completely different enough -- much of the footage was familiar, and the summary style was pretty much the same as that of all those $35 coffeetable books about the Beat Generation that keep popping up in bookstores, whereas I wished to be taken somewhere new, to see some challenging connections made, either politically, spiritually, aesthetically or in any other way. A captivating filmed scene of actor John Turturro screaming the hell out of the great poem 'Howl' in an urban schoolyard is probably as "out there" as the movie ever gets, and this was for me the most memorable moment in the film. But even if 'The Source' sticks basically to the middle of the road, the movie is well worth watching, and nobody will regret the time spent soaking in the familiar footage of our lovable literary stooges, one more time.

4. And one lovable literary stooge who never played it safe was underground poet d. a. levy. I was happy to walk into Barnes and Noble recently and see, next to all those coffeetable books, the first trade edition collection of his works: ' The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail: The Art and Poetry of d. a. levy,' edited by Mike Golden. This guy was weird and a true original -- check this shit out.






Beat News: June 20 1999

by Levi Asher on Sunday, June 20, 1999 11:50 am


1. The late satirist/writer Terry Southern is the subject of a new website, terrysouthern.com, composed by his son Nile Southern. It's good to be able to enjoy these great nuggets of late-period hipster culture (Southern wrote the screenplay for 'Easy Rider', among many other films and books). It's also nice to see a new trend growing: adult children of beat writers putting together websites as personal tributes to their parents (cf. jackmicheline.com and Zane Kesey's key-z.com). Today is Father's Day -- so check out these links.

2. The not-very prolific Buddhist/beat poet Philip Whalen has a new book out: 'Overtime: Selected Poems'.

3. If you can make it to New York City on July 21, come to The Bitter End in Greenwich Village for a kick-ass poetry reading I'm putting together. The occasion is the 5th birthday, believe it or not, of this website. I'm putting this show together with my poet friend Brian Hassett, who arranged a couple of excellent shows I participated in earlier this year at the Living Room in the Lower East Side.

One thing that made these shows so good was the presence of David Amram, an extremely talented and very serious musician who was Jack Kerouac's own piano player, back when Jack used to read poetry on stage. David generously offered to improvise behind a few of us less-seasoned neo-Beats as we read our own poems, and the amazing thing about the way he accompanies live poets is that he actually listens and plays according to what he hears -- no matter how humble or unimportant the reader or the words. He also does some songs of his own, and I'm very glad that he'll be at this event. Other special guests will include John Cassady, Neal's son, who'll be playing guitar and telling a story or two, poets Richard Hell, Lee Ranaldo, Ron Whitehead, Bob Holman, Herschel Silverman, Breath Cox and haiku master Cor van den Heuvel. And on the newer edge, representing the other side of Literary Kicks, I've invited a bunch of my webby friends to get on stage and kick some shit around -- Mark Thomas of Sorabji, Leslie Harpold of Smug, Christian Crumlish and Briggs Nisbet of Enterzone, Xander Mellish, Meg Wise-Lawrence and Phil Zampino. It's going to be a wild night -- check out the program and I really hope you can make it.






Beat News: April 4 1999

by Levi Asher on Sunday, April 4, 1999 11:47 am


There's nothing like a good, well-managed and highly bizarre personal web content site. The following are some of my recent favorite sites, all of them run by individuals who embody Ralph Waldo Emerson's ideal of the 'self-reliant' artist. They create their web works for no reason other than to express the uniqueness of their own personalities. And none of them seem to care much if anybody likes what they do. The creative web is alive ...

Let's start on the purely visual end of the spectrum, with the psychologically psychedelic art musings of Jef Morlan, a master of Macromedia Flash whose works are inspired by the Flemish artists of the Dutch Renaissance. Jef lives somewhere inside Snarg.net, the site he has been building and rebuilding for the last several years.

Not much less weird is Mark Napier's PotatoLand.org. Where Jef Morlan uses Flash and digital video, Mark Napier's basic tool is the Java programming language, which he uses mainly to shred and disassemble the components of our familiar media world in as many ways as he can.

Now let's leave the chilly realms of these two abstract visual artists and move towards the warmer, more internally introspective side of the spectrum. Drop by Sorabji.com to see what astute thoughts are currently engaging the cluttered mind of web innovator Mark Thomas, who seems to enjoy arranging odd interactions between people by listing pay telephone numbers, creating an infinite stream of querelous chat boards, and sneaking digital photographs of strangers on the street. His site gets a lot of message board traffic from readers, and he often keeps quiet for long stretches of time and lets them do all the talking, to good effect.

Then, for a final dose of attitude, check out Leslie Harpold's Smug.com.






Beat News: February 28 1999

by Levi Asher on Sunday, February 28, 1999 11:21 am


I go a long way back as a Richard Hell fan. I was lucky enough to have been a Long Island high school kid during the great punk era of late 70's New York City, and every time I could scrape ten bucks together I'd jump on the Long Island Railroad to Manhattan, walk down to the Village and sneak into bars like CBGB's and Max's Kansas City and Irving Plaza where I could catch bands like the Ramones, the Mumps, the B-52's and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Richard Hell was one of my favorites, a tormented poet bristling with a romantic punk anger that seemed somehow rooted in a dark European mood of absinthe and Symbolism, who yelled bleary angry lyrics to a hypercharged angular minimalist pogo beat, catchy and violent and loud, even good fun power pop within all the obvious anger. These were amazing nights; I caught about ten Voidoids shows during these years, and when their album 'Blank Generation' came out I played it constantly and loved it. But they never really crossed-over and became a big hit like the Ramones or Blondie or Talking Heads.

Then the 80's began. Reagan became President, MTV was invented, the culture of money-style replaced the culture of art-style in New York City, and Richard Hell was gone from public view. I was in college during these years, and I wasn't listening to Hell much any more. I soon started forgetting to even remind myself to remember Richard Hell or the Voidoids, and then eventually like a stuffed animal left at home I came to forget them completely.

Then around the mid-90's Hell suddenly resurfaced -- still living in New York City, still looking drugged-out and underfed and tired and angry, in fact looking not much different than he'd looked before. Except now he was the author of a brilliant, sparklingly well-written first novel, 'Go Now', which had somehow been published not by some downtown indie zine shop (which is what anyone would have expected for Hell) but by an imprint of the refined mass-market publishing conglomerate Simon and Schuster. The novel, a semi-autobiography in a neo-Beat flavor, even got excellent reviews in respectable magazines and newspapers. I have no idea how Hell pulled this marketing coup off, except that the book was good enough to deserve every bit of attention it got. Maybe quality and artistic integrity really does still count for something in large-corporate publishing (though there aren't many other indications of this these days).

But will 'success' go to Richard Hell's head? No fucking way. He helps to run CUZ Editions, his own indie publishing shop, and he produces occasional strange, appealing literary experiments like a recent book of poetry in which every page is a slightly different version of the same single, simple poem. You can find out more about this and other stuff at the CUZ website. There's also an interesting recent interview with Hell in the music zine Perfect Sound Forever.






Beat News: February 2 1999

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, February 2, 1999 11:19 am


1. Lots of people have heard about the excellent Kurt Vonnegut graduation speech that got sent all over the internet last year before everybody figured out that Vonnegut never gave the speech. But here, and also pretty good, is something Kurt Vonnegut actually did say.

2. If you're in New York: there'll be a big Burroughs tribute bash Saturday, Feb 5 at 1 pm at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, with folks like Steve Buscemi, Richard Hell, Barry Miles, Maggie Estep, James Graueurholz reading. Then on Wednesday, Feb 10 at 7:30, there'll be a big messy Kerouac bash at the Living Room on 84 Stanton St in Soho, with readings by folks like Ann Douglas, David Amram, David's daughter Adira Amram, Frank Messina, Brian Hassett and me.






Beat News: January 8 1999

by Levi Asher on Friday, January 8, 1999 11:08 am


Sorry I've been away so long. I've been taking a break, but I promise soon I'll be my old chatty self again.

Not much to report here anyway. The music/poetry duo of former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Michael McClure is hitting the road again, and I'm looking forward to seeing them play the Bottom Line here in New York City next Tuesday, January 12. There's also a new website devoted to McClure, which he participated in creating.

Also, it looks like James Grauerholz did an awesome job in putting together the most comprehensive collected edition of writings by William S. Burroughs. The book is called 'Word Virus', and it's good stuff. I'm going into hiding again, be back soon ...






Beat News: November 4 1998

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, November 4, 1998 11:04 am


The poet Ray Bremser has died. Mike Buchenroth posted this poem to the 'subterraneans' mailing list in tribute:

BORN AGAIN!

by Ray Bremser

. . .
we took the first road on our left,
pointed ourselfs to the gulf
& fled thru the falling valleys into
the tropic & lowland plains,
where the jaguar retches & Panfillo
Navarez got his copper-sheathed ass
nipped at, after the crocs & moccasined
Zipotecan active cannibals, who
tip their stings & darts w/curare,
found cause for concern with the
obsidian barbarians the whole
conquistadores were . . .
=====
the truck makes a racous
clattering up rocky roads,
picking up gears
on into the rarified heights--
10 thousand feet up the mountain
which delayed Malinche
on his freaked-out march to
kill & capture the aztec empire,
destroy all the toltec art,
smach the olmec urns & statuary,
all in museums now / little bits and pieces
for man to contemplate their lost glory,
much like the dinosaurs --

up this very same road, under these very same stars,
when it was jungle below & a forest of
tropical fruits above.

& even then, a way, way up in the blue-black site,
hovering at the perigee, ten thousand warm young
tropical breezes,
kissed the conquerors fingers, old fingers
=====
& i'll come back, born again . . .
i always have,
come back . . .

i'll come back from the dark.
i'll be different & new.
or the same & old,
but i'll be me.

born again always,
always me
born again born again
born again!

(Copyright 1998 Ray Bremser. Reprinted with permission of Water Row Press)






Beat News: October 29 1998

by Levi Asher on Thursday, October 29, 1998 10:56 am


1. A lot of Beat history happened at the Evergreen Review, a long-running indie literary journal created to represent the underground literary scene of the late 50's (heavy on Sartre and Beckett as well as Kerouac and Genet). They now have a website worthy of their legacy. I especially like surfing around the cleanly designed, unpretentious archive section.

2. Historian/writer Douglas Brinkley, author of the Cassady/Kesey-inspired travel book "The Majic Bus" and editor of Hunter S. Thompson's recent book of letters, seems to be doing a pretty good job as the estate-appointed compiler of the Kerouac papers. He leaked a few selections from the Kerouac archive to the Atlantic Monthly, which even put Jack on the cover of the current issue (NOTE: this never would have happened when Jack was alive -- that's what the Evergreen Review was for). Anyway, Brinkley selected some good stuff. Here's Jack complaining to the editor of his novel "Subterraneans" about revisions to his manuscript:

"I can't possibly go on as a responsible prose artist and also a believer in the impulses of my own heart and in the beauty of pure spontaneous language if I let editors take my sentences, which are my phrases that I separate by dashes when "I draw a breath," each of which pours out to the tune of the whole story its own rythmic yawp of expostulation, & riddle them with commas, cut them in half, in three, in fours, ruining the swing, making what was reasonably wordy prose even more wordy and unnaturally awkward (because castrated). In fact the manuscript of Subterraneans, I see by the photostats, is so (already) riddled and buckshot with commas and marks I can't see how you can restore the original out of it. The act of composition is wiser by far than the act of after-arrangement, "changes to help the reader" is a fallacious idea prejudging the lack of instinctual communication between avid scribbling narrator and avid reading reader, it is also a typically American business idea like removing the vitamins out of rice to make it white (popular)."

Yeah! Jack, you tell them.

3. I get a lot of e-mail from lots of countries, but I get a special kick out of it when, for instance, somebody translates Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Kerouac into Turkish.

4. Lots and lots of Beat movies are "in development", as they say in Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola's proposed film of 'On The Road' is still being discussed, and, yes, they are considering casting Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (from "Good Will Hunting") as Sal and Dean. I assume Matt would play Dean and Ben would play Sal. I just hope Robin Williams stays the hell out of it.

Anyway, the Damon/Affleck thing is far from a done deal, just something being bandied about. A new screenplay for 'Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' is also in the idea stage. I think this could be an amazing movie if done well. I vote for Woody Harrelson to play Neal Cassady, but I can't think of anybody who'd be right to play Ken Kesey -- yeah, I know, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (whoever doesn't get to play Kesey can be Babbs). I'm just not sure about it.

In all seriousness, though, I hope this film gets made, but it probably doesn't portend well that Hunter S. Thompson's 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', a book about the same era, with a similar sensibility, bombed at the box office. This may scare off some of the bean-counters out there on the 'Digital Coast'.

There are also still machinations behind the proposed Steve Buscemi film based on William S. Burroughs' two novels 'Queer' and 'Junky', and I really hope this one happens. I saw an early version of this screenplay and it was excellent. I also hear that a movie about the early days of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Lucien Carr and company is being proposed. The tentative title is 'Beat' -- real original, guys. Then again, it's a better title than 'Last Time I Committed Suicide'.

Forget all this Hollywood/Sundance bullshit for a minute, though, and let's just take a minute to think about an obscure 64-minute movie made by a certain poor aspiring filmmaker somewhere in the outer buroughs of New York City, a failed actor who had to work as a software engineer to support his lifelong dream that he could make a movie of his very own. This young man had no agent, no budget, no equipment -- just a Macintosh, some expensive software of dubious license-status, and a bunch of friends willing to be videotaped doing stupid things in public. And this pathetic, lonely would-be auteur slaved away two hard years making this movie, all the while also slaving away maintaining his website (fixing spelling errors, etc., which is hard work) and now, finally, after all this work, the movie has been released on CD-Rom and is on sale for only $12.00. Let's talk about this for a minute.

Because, in case you haven't guessed yet, that filmmaker is me. My modern-dress version of 'Notes From Underground' has been out for a couple of months now, and I've gotten really excellent feedback on it. I've just finished switching credit card vendors so that people who tried to buy it online and couldn't get through earlier this month should no longer have any trouble. So what the hell are you waiting for? Get your ass over there and buy a copy. It's Dostoevsky. It's good for you.






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