Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Beat News

Beat News: November 21 1997

by Levi Asher on Friday, November 21, 1997 07:05 pm

1. Proving once again that I am the single slowest web designer who ever lived, I have just now finally finished my memorial tribute to William S. Burroughs. It's called Sliced Bardo, and it includes spliced-in material from Lee Ranaldo, Robert Creeley and Carolyn Cassady, as well as a touching description of a Buddhist-inspired after-death ceremony held in Burroughs' honor, written by Patricia Elliott.

2. "The Beat Generation In New York" is a really enjoyable and well-researched historical sweep through New York City in search of Beat relics and places. The book is by Bill Morgan, who worked very closely with Allen Ginsberg in recent years, and as Morgan was preparing this book I had the pleasure of following him on one of the walking tours documented in this book. He speaks with authority, and this book captures it well. It was published by City Lights, and you can find it on their list of recent releases. Janine Pommy Vega's captivating new book "Tracking The Serpent," a beat-informed geographical memoir chronicling her journeys to faraway places, can also be found on this page.

3. Al Aronowitz is in the house. Calling himself "The Blacklisted Journalist", this feisty counterculture-oriented former New York Post reporter has fallen out of favor with one establishment after another, and is now bypassing them all and trying to reach the world directly through his ever-growing website. His beat legacy is awesome -- apparently he is the person who introduced Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and the Beatles to each other. His observations on Ginsberg, Kerouac, Cassady, Joyce Johnson, etc. are raw and densely woven with personal rivalries ("I was on Allen's shit list when he died ...") but they're good reading, and that's what counts.

4. A star-studded crowd of Kerouac readers, including Willem Defoe, Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman, Maggie Estep, Lee Ranaldo, Doug Brinkley, Todd Colby, Ann Douglas, David Amram and many others, will be pondering the recently released "Some of the Dharma" (see below) at St. Mark's Church Poetry Project on Dec 3rd. Should be good. But please don't forsake your friendly neighborhood internet hacks for these admittedly more impressive lineups -- the night before, on Dec 2nd, I'll be participating in a reading of web writers to celebrate my own recently published anthology Coffeehouse: Writings From The Web. It's at the Manhattan Internet Lounge at 678 Broadway near 4th Street, and if you can make it I promise you a unique evening. Hope to see some of you at both events!

Beat News: September 29 1997

by Levi Asher on Monday, September 29, 1997 06:56 pm

1. I think I've been to too many Beat events in large lecture halls and sterile auditoriums lately. Take, for instance, the case of jazz musician David Amram, who back in the old days used to jam with Jack Kerouac at poetry readings. I'd seen Amram perform at various tributes and memorials, but he never clicked with me; I didn't like it that he dressed like an orthodontist (albeit with a variety of unusual-looking musical instruments around his neck), and I never liked his hammy, pull-out-the-stops performance of the title song (which he wrote) for the film 'Pull My Daisy.'

But then I caught his act at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe, sharing a bill with Ron Whitehead, Brian Hassett and others, on a night that happened to be the night William S. Burroughs died (though nobody knew this at the time). He didn't sing "Pull My Daisy" and I ended up loving every minute of his performance. I think the problem has been the bright lights, the uncomfortable chairs and the academic atmosphere of some of these earlier events. In a small dark smoky club way past midnight a vintage hip-cat like David Amram can finally show us who he is, and this night at the Nuyorican I understood for the first time why Jack Kerouac wanted him onstage while he read his poems. Amram's passionate belief in the power of music is infectious. At one point he had the entire crowd going in a two-part syncopated handclap -- one half of the room providing one beat, the other half complementing it -- that was, I realized, probably the most complicated musical arrangement I will personally ever participate in.

David Amram also has his own web page now, so I figure it's about time I write about him in Literary Kicks.

2. This must be my month for coming to terms with people I didn't appreciate before. A few weeks ago a young editor at William Morrow named Benjamin G. Schafer challenged me to read a book he'd just put together: the Herbert Huncke Reader, published by Morrow this month. I've always found Huncke an intriguing personality -- a more street-wise original-junkie friend of the core New York beat writers in the 1940's, he shows up as a colorful character in 'Junky','On The Road', 'Howl' and many other Beat classics. He's written books, (for Hanuman, Cherry Valley Editions, etc.), but I'd personally never read any of them, and I sort of casually dissed him as a writer in my Herbert Huncke biographical page here at LitKicks. Benjamin Schafer, who worked hard putting this book together, asked me to put aside my preconceptions and give Huncke a fair reading for the first time. He pointed out a few pieces for me to read, and I began with 'The Magician,' a haunting, honest tale of heroin addiction that reads like a Buddhist parable. I also tried, at his recommendation, 'Beware of Fallen Angels', 'Faery Tale' and 'Easter', and the long autobiographical novella 'The Evening Sky Turned Crimson.' And, okay, I admit it: Huncke is a talented writer, and obviously took the craft seriously. His picturesque slice-of-life tales express with honesty and humor the state of mind of the City Hobo: junk-sick, impoverished, stripped completely naked of his own morals. This theme reverberates in the writings of William S. Burroughs, as well as movies like 'Midnight Cowboy' and the songs of Glen Campbell (just kidding about the Glen Campbell part).

If you are interested in the roots of the Beat Generation -- it was Huncke, by the way, who introduced Kerouac to the term 'Beat' -- you don't want to miss this book.

3. Speaking of Kerouac -- he's all over the place lately. This month is the 40th Anniversary of the publication of 'On The Road,' and a 40th anniversary edition of the book has been published, along with some other fanfare. More interestingly, Viking Penguin has finally published an unseen Kerouac work of major importance: 'Some Of The Dharma.' It's a thick hardcover volume of Kerouac's notes and musings about Buddhism, and stylistically it's somewhere between a Joycean literary experiment and a personal journal about the tragicomic spiritual condition of mankind. It has no plot, almost no characters or dialogue, and the sentences are laid out like free verse. This book is not for everybody, but I've been skimming several of its hidden surfaces for a few weeks now, and I haven't run out of interesting discoveries yet. Among other things, we know now the origin of the phrase "God Is Pooh Bear" from the last paragraph of 'On The Road': Cathy Cassady, the daughter of Neal and Carolyn Cassady, said it when she was a few years old.

Other Kerouac web news: there's now an online version of Paul Maher's Lowell-based Kerouac Quarterly, and there's a new permanent web page to describe the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival which takes place this weekend. Still no news of the Francis Ford Coppola film of 'On The Road', and I'm figuring this film will never get made. One film that will get made, though, and which I'm really looking forward to, is a Burroughs-related project, partly based on the novels 'Queer' and 'Junky,' that will be directed by Steve Buscemi (I wrote about this in a previous Beat News entry, below, and have since gotten word that the project is still on and gathering steam).

4. Other new books: 'A Far Rockaway of the Heart' by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (whose City Lights bookstore finally has a web site!). 'A Different Beat: Writings By Women of the Beat Generation' is another spin on the theme begun by last year's excellent "Women Of The Beat Generation" anthology published by Conari Press. This book is written by Richard Peabody and published by High Risk Books; I just bought it so I don't know if it's good or not, but it has writers like Carolyn Cassady, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones, Lenore Kandel, Jan Kerouac, Janine Pommy Vega and Anne Waldman, so I'm pretty damn sure I'll like it.

Finally, my wife and I have both become incredibly fascinated by the new edition of the Folkways' Records 'Anthology of American Folk Music', originally compiled by Beat outer-orbit personality, experimental filmmaker and all around strange-guy Harry Smith in 1952. This thing is wild. We see folk music in it's rawest form: authentic jug bands, porchlight crooners, church choruses, and numerous other characters from the deep country, both white and black (you often can't tell which), singing and talking in a mega-hick vernacular as compelling as it is strange. Many of these singers were the country-hobo equivalents of the city-hoboes presented by writers like Herbert Huncke (above). When these guys sing the blues, they sing the blues.

This record was one of the first collections of folk music available in public libraries, and as such played an important role in the developing sensibilities of future folk-rockers like Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia. You can read more about this historic re-release in Wired News and Furious Green Thoughts/Perfect Sound Forever.

5. Farewell -- one last time -- to Mother Teresa, Princess Diana and William S. Burroughs.

Beat News: August 3 1997

by Levi Asher on Sunday, August 3, 1997 06:38 pm

I just heard the news that Burroughs has died. More on this here.


Beat News: July 2 1997

by Levi Asher on Wednesday, July 2, 1997 06:31 pm

1. I like almost any movie with Steve Buscemi in it. He was Mr. Pink in 'Reservoir Dogs' (remember this line? "It's the world's smallest violin, playing just for the waitresses"). I'd first noticed him a couple of years earlier, playing the guy who gets shot in the foot in Jim Jarmusch's 'Mystery Train' (Joe Strummer of the Clash is in those scenes too). Anyway, the point of all this is that I've just gotten a scoop, from a very reliable source, that Steve Buscemi has met with William S. Burroughs to discuss the possibility of creating a major film on Burroughs' life, based on the novels 'Queer' and 'Junky.'

2. I hear the new book of letters by Hunter S. Thompson is very good. There seem to be a lot of good websites about Hunter too, like this one. Further along on the trail of 60's post-Beat legends, you may want to check out the new edition of Perfect Sound Forever, a musical outgrowth of the zine Furious Green Thoughts, for a great double interview with Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders of the Fugs.

3. Am I allowed to plug my own book here? It's called "Coffeehouse: Writings From The Web," and it contains 47 pieces of fiction and poetry my co-author (Christian Crumlish of Enterzone) and I selected from literary sites all over the web. Christian and I worked really hard putting this book together, and we think we've come up with something very good. And our publisher is taking a big chance in working with us on this totally unproven concept, and we'd like to prove to him that we knew what we were doing all along by making sure we sell a lot of copies! So, if you know anybody who's interested in the topic of hypertext fiction or the zine scene or any other aspect of the whole growing, thriving, multi-faceted world of the literary web, please tell them about this book, and tell your bookstore to order lots of copies! The book should be out by late July. Okay, I'm done plugging ...

Beat News: May 20 1997

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, May 20, 1997 06:25 pm

Sorry I've been away for a while. Took a much-needed "sanity break" away from cyberspace.

1. I haven't reminded you recently to check out Ken Kesey's site. You really should, because Kesey is a vibrant and original thinker with a great sense of humor, and he's also got a good official site, run by his son Zane Kesey. And you especially should visit now, because Ken and Zane and Neal Cassady's son John Cassady and a bunch of others just drove "the bus" (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) to Cleveland for a ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. John and his girlfriend Pat and her brother Dan tell me they had an amazing time, and I'm really jealous because I should've gone but I just stayed at home. Oh well ... we can all enjoy it vicariously.

2. Check out Mouth Almighty, an experimental record company, created in conjunction with Mercury Records, and dedicated to the art of spoken word poetry. This is partly the work of Bob Holman, who may be downtown New York's most important poetry cheerleader now that Allen Ginsberg is dead. But the poetry spirit is still alive like crazy around New York -- there's the Nuyoricans and Tribes and the St. Mark's Poetry Project, and over in Brooklyn is McLean Greaves' gorgeous Cafe Los Negroes. Speaking of Brooklyn (and speaking of Ginsberg), I was at Brooklyn College last week for a memorial to Ginsberg, who was a professor there until the time of his death. Here's what I read.

3. I've recently exchanged a few emails with a fascinating survivor of the Beat and post-Beat 1960's and 70's, Charles Plymell. His 1971 book "The Last of the Mocassins" has just been republished, and you can also experience his honest and fresh voice at the site above, along with many photos and interesting asides.

4. The New Yorker wrote a really nice review of the Literary Kicks Neal's Denver section in the May 19th issue. But do they publish my short stories? Fuck no. Speaking of short stories ... some of my more somber friends consider this beneath contempt, but I've been listening to Phish a lot lately. A real lot. What this has to do with short stories is that their bassist Mike Gordon just published a book of his own stories, which he'd been writing for the Phish zine Doniac Schvice. And the stories are excellent! Just to give you an idea what Mike Gordon's strange prose sounds like, here's the first paragraph of the first story in the book: "As far as tykes go, Johnald was a wee bit irregular. For one thing, he had an amrope coming out of his head. You may be wondering, 'What is an amrope?' I won't piss on you for wondering that. Actually it's like an antenna, but it's got some mold on it. It's not something you buy at a store; maybe you do buy it in a store."

Weird. Kind of like ... like Richard Brautigan meets Tickle-me-Elmo. It works for me.

5. I've been putting together a book with Christian Crumlish of Enterzone, and it's coming out soon! Till then, I'm going back on my sanity break -- see y'all when the doctors say it's all right ...

Beat News: April 11 1997

by Levi Asher on Friday, April 11, 1997 06:19 pm

This has been a frustrating week for me, because my many life responsibilities -- mainly my job, my family, and also an anthology of web fiction I've been working on that's way past deadline -- made it impossible for me to devote as much time as I wished I could to coordinating Allen Ginsberg memorial information, creating my tribute page and updating its list of URL's, and, mainly, answering the hundreds and hundreds of touching and fascinating emails I received (which I'm still sorting through, and will be, I think, for a while).

Fortunately other web people were able to fill this gap. This includes all the people whose URL's are on my tribute page, but I'm particularly thinking of Critter and Mongo Bearwolf whose page is particularly important as he is helping to coordinate a National Day of Remembrance. Check out this page and see if there is an event near you! Really ... for those of you who don't go to a lot of poetry-related events ... GET OFF YR ASS AND GO!!! It may change your life. You never know. Myself, I'll be at the big New York tribute at St. Mark's Church tomorrow, which should be a zoo, but will hopefully be good anyway.

To all who shed tears -- and there were many, many, many who shed tears -- love to you all, and remember to find ways to honor those you admire with your own personal greatness.

Beat News: April 5 1997

by Levi Asher on Saturday, April 5, 1997 06:45 pm

Ginsberg died this morning. Go here for more on this.


Beat News: April 4 1997

by Levi Asher on Friday, April 4, 1997 06:43 pm

The latest word is that Allen Ginsberg had a stroke or some other serious complication, following the news yesterday that he is dying of cancer.

Before this, I'd heard that he was back at home but having a rough time ... and writing poems, meditating and meeting with friends. A guy named Sean wrote to me with a URL for an Allen Ginsberg Prayer Page. At this point it's just a few words in black text on a dark orange background -- which is as good a prayer as any other -- and he says he'll update it with news if and when there is more.

Life goes on.

Beat News: April 3 1997

by Levi Asher on Thursday, April 3, 1997 06:41 pm

I just heard some sad news: Allen Ginsberg has been diagnosed with an inoperable case of liver cancer. Doctors expect the disease will be fatal within four to twelve months. More detailed information is available at Wired News.

Beat News: February 28 1997

by Levi Asher on Friday, February 28, 1997 06:36 pm

1. There's an excellent article in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun (a Buddhist journal emanating from somewhere near Naropa in Boulder, Colorado) about the mountain cabin where Jack Kerouac was a fire lookout during the mid 1950s. He wrote about these spiritual retreats in the novels 'Dharma Bums' (which ends with him ascending Desolation Peak) and 'Desolation Angels' (which begins with him descending it). It's fascinating to see pictures of the cabin and the mountain peaks, and to read an objective account of this severely isolated spot. As the author of the article writes, "Thoreau at Walden was never thrown back on himself to the degree Kerouac was here." The article, sans photographs, can be found in the Archives section of the Shambhala Sun web site.

2. Speaking of Kerouac: if he were alive today, he'd be celebrating his 75th birthday on Wednesday, March 12. (And can you imagine what a character he'd have turned into by now? Would he have ever stopped drinking? Would he have any friends left?). Anyway (getting back to reality), Stone Soup Poets of Boston will be sponsoring a celebration of Jack's birthday at the Old West Church in Boston's Beacon Hill at 8:00. The featured event will be a reading by the fascinating poet John Wieners and other writers and musicians. Tickets only five bucks (cheap!), write to Jim at for more info.

Nearby in Lowell, the Kerouac contingent there will be gathering at the Dubliner on 197 Market Street to listen to jazz and poetry and, in their words, toast Kerouac's Irish Connections. Sounds like a crazy night in Massachusetts this March 12.

3. Water Row Books, one of the most authorative Beat-related bookstores around, has just released 'Beat Speak -- An Illustrated Beat Glossary circa 1956-1959' by Asleigh Talbot. The title might seem a little faddish but the book is actually very gritty and double-edged, with a strong emphasis on the hard drugs, lurid sex and police-paranoia that marked the Beat community in its prime. Definitely an interesting perspective.

4. Oh yeah ... did you ever read those excellent in-depth interviews with writers in the Paris Review? The latest issue's interview subject is Gary Snyder. Can't read it online though, so don't bother trying.


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