Check out our pictures from the event and follow the links for more eyewitness accounts...
Gallery Neptune Artist/Owner, Elyse Harrison
Caryn warms up the crowd and introduces the first act...
Andrew Lundwall then shares some great poetry against a surreal playground backdrop.
Jamelah recounts a childhood memory and entrances the audience with her cool intensity.
Elyse & Levi concentrating on poetry
John Lawson tells a clever tale of a literary mystery that spans all genres, ages and intersections.
firecracker looks on
WIREMAN, blasts out "Kid Stuff"
Levi shares his childhood literary secret... as well as a few moving poems.
The Audience, Amazed.
Star Jewel Smith and The Giving Tree
Doreen prepares to connect us with words.
Michael Boettcher shares a clever villanelle and reads a few of his pieces from "The Furnace"
Lightning Rod... lost in a literary fantasy.
Andrew & Star
Taking a break
Doreen, Wireman & Lenny
L-Rod offers a home remedy
Doreen & Lightning Rod perform their collaborative piece, "You Make"
A Happy Crowd
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst Coming out from behind the camera One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune See more pictures here
Read more about the evening here and here.
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst
Coming out from behind the camera
One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune
See more pictures here
I rarely play clubs anymore, but I was asked by four different people to play at the Bowery Poetry Club. On December 3, my trio will accompany poet Ray McNiece, former writer in residence of the Kerouac Writer's Residence in Orlando, which I helped get started. After playing music for Ray with my trio, I will play a set of my own. Ray is an outstanding poet, scholar, teacher and ambassador for Spoken Word at its finest. I was honored to be asked by him to do this, as a way of also honoring my work with Kerouac. There is a whole Kerouac connection to this evening, because Steve Allen, five weeks before he died, in his last public concert, performed with me in Orlando and we raised enough money to make the Kerouac Writers Residence in Orlando a reality. After three years of fundraising, under the guiding hand of Marty Cummins, we put the Residence in the black. Steve Allen and I were the ones who first played for Kerouac's public readings.
I started collaborating with Kerouac in 1956 until 1969 when Jack died, and Steve Allen first played with Jack in 1958 at the Village Vanguard. That fall Steve had Jack appear on his national TV show, and also recorded with him.
Ray McNiece was chosen as a Kerouac House writer a few months after Steve Allen and I performed our benefit concert for the Kerouac Writers residence in the Fall of 2000. When Ray recently asked me to play for him, as I did with Jack, for a New York/Florida connection, I was happy that I was free to do so. The Bowery Poetry Club is one and a half blocks from the old Five Spot, where I played in 1957 before On the Road was published, and Jack used to come to the Five spot to read with me. (Bob Holman has a poster with a photo of me playing there from Esquire magazine, in his office. He is supposed to have it framed for the club. This photo is in Time Warner History of the 20th Century and the cover of two books. There are black and white copies available, and the proximity of these two places, with the Bowery Poetry Club a few hundred feet from the old Five Spot, where it all started, should be of historic interest).
Playing at the Bowery Poetry Club completes a circle, started 45 years ago!!!!
On December 11th my trio will be playing with a bunch of musicians from the Vancouver Bongo Beat label, singer/songwriter Lauren Agnelli (she was with the trio "The Washington Squares" and is WONDERFUL) and a group of poets chosen by web author Levi Asher whose site LitKicks was the first one ever to deal with Kerouac, myself and others in an intelligent way. They want me to be the Guest of Honor and also celebrate my 72nd birthday (which is actually November 17) as well as have me play. Like Bob Holman, Levi Asher brings distinction, scholarship and a sense of joy to a fresh way of looking at our era of the 50's. Not Beat but rather beatific... open, inclusive, warm and multifaceted.
On January 5th I'll be performing at a reading with poet George Wallace, who has a book and CD (I did all the music for him) published in Italy and coming out soon in the USA. I'll be playing music with George and then doing a set with my trio. This will be from 4-7 p.m. and should be fun. In the past two years, I have helped George Wallace to contact surviving members of our group to participate in two major events which he conceived and administered himself. The first, where the town of Northport celebrated Kerouac's presence there, and the Big Sur four city marathon readings, were both substantial and critically praised events that concentrated on the cultural aspects of our era, rather than a rehash of negative stereotyping. Jack and many of us still surviving were honored as artists who contributed something of lasting value and inspiration to present day artists. George Wallace, in addition to being a prolific and highly gifted poet with a unique style of writing and reading of his work, has a radio show for poets past and present and has created a website, PoetryBay that is a major outlet for many great young poets, as well as established ones.
On January 18th I'll be performing with Jason Eisenberg, keeper of the Lord Buckley flame, who is coming from Boston Mass to recite Lord Buckley's incredible raps. Lord Buckley was a major influence for Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and was the first to combine the works Shakespeare, stories from the Old Testament, the Bible, the biographies of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln with 1940's hip talk, the poetry of the streets. Buckley died way too young in 1960, I played with him the night before he died, at an event given for him by George Plimpton, to help him gain wider recognition. Jason Eisenberg is phenomenal, the best I ever heard with the exception of Lord Buckley himself.
I will be playing a set with Kevin Twigg on drums and John Dewitt at each of these four events.
People might be interested to know why, at this stage of my life, I am doing this. I can tell them that, having performed at the beginning of The Five Spot, and with Cecil Taylor, initiating the club as a major jazz center in January of 1957, performing with Kerouac in New York City's FIRST jazz/Poetry readings in Oct of 1957, composing music for FIRST Joseph Papp New York Shakespeare Festivals FIRST summer in 1957, composing music for the Lincoln Center Theater's FIRST production (After the Fall by Arthur Miller) in 1964, being chosen by Leonard Bernstein as the New York Philharmonic's FIRST composer-in residence in 1966, traveling to Cuba with Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, the FIRST musicians to play in Cuba since the Revolution in 1977, and being the FIRST musician to perform at the Bowery Poetry Club in a Gregory Corso Tribute before the Club was even supposed to be open, in the winter of 2002, I know what is of REAL VALUE.
The Bowery Poetry Club is one New York City's major cultural innovations of the new Millennium. At a time when Arts organizations are in chaos, it leads the way. Bob Holman is an outstanding poet, a visionary and community minded, just as Joe Papp was. He will set the standard for a whole new way (and a very traditional one) of bringing the performing arts back to where they belong...accessible, for all ages, of many different artists from varied genres rubbing shoulders with one another and having direct contact with their audience, always communicative, reflecting the poly-cultural treasures that make New York City a great place to be.
I am grateful to be free to be at these events. I not only see old friends in their 70s and 80s who come. My own children 23, 21 and 18 also love going there and so do their friends.
"So you better get this party started"
P!nk at a poetry reading? You better believe it. As the evening kicked off with the words "I'm Comin' Up" blasting through the Bowery Poetry Club, there was no doubt that this would be a night of raw energy and talent. At just a few minutes past 7, the club was already filled with people and the performers were ready to roll. Levi Asher of our very own LitKicks and Janan Platt of AlienFlower took the stage to welcome everyone and gave a brief overview of what would be taking place. Janan and Levi immediately set the tone for the evening by reading their collaborative piece, "What You're Looking For", a steady stream of seemingly unconnected phrases and thoughts read together simultaneously. As the piece ended, Lorraine Dechter gave a short follow-up to the poem, explaining that the words and phrases were culled from internet search keywords used to find Alienflower. Lorraine also read an interesting cut-up piece based on her and Janan's observations of New York City.
Lorraine introduced the first of the LitKicks Action Poets, the ever-talented Jamelah. As each poet took the stage, they were handed a flower to add to a vase placed in front of the microphone. Jamelah read her very poignant piece, "September 11th Birthday Girl" and immediately had the crowd hooked. She then read two selections from her new chapbook "Sketches of a Return Journey". The first, "underneath the audio", was a slice of reality taken from a father-daughter relationship. The choice of words and descriptive language in this piece brought it to life for the audience and you felt as if you were there witnessing the scene. "the water was moving too fast" was a haunting narrative of an inevitable goodbye. Jamelah's writing is simply beautiful and her performance kicked off the Action Poets series with a lyrical intensity I've yet to see matched.
As Levi introduced Litnrod11, the LitKicks faction who had attended the previous night's rehearsal knew they were in for a treat, as they had already witnessed his cool delivery of the poems "The Last Time I Was in New York" and "Circus of Dreams" as well as his devilishly humorous, "The Perfect Taco". I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found myself repeating the unforgettable refrain "On to Chicago" taken from the first piece that he read. The crowd in the club was no less impressed with his performance and sat perfectly still as he read "The Poet's Dirty Socks". As he finished up with "The Ballad of Dori Danger", he then introduced her, our own Doreen Peri.
Doreen took the stage and read the reply to "The Poet's Dirty Socks", which was a perfect response, perfectly presented with her rich voice and fluid movements. Next was "Installation of a Deadbolt" a chilling and passionate piece that she read with a wide range of emotion. These emotions were further heightened by Litnrod's flute accompaniment. Doreen closed with "Guess Who I Slept With Last Night", the tale of a nighttime visitor that had the audience giggling with the realization that it was in fact "that damned mosquito".
Billectric was up next, and kept everyone laughing with his tale of "How I Found LitKicks". His wry delivery and honest smile added such a personality to this performance, there was no one in the place that could help but have a good time watching him. He clutched a bizarre looking flower as he read. It was truly reminiscent of a "Laugh-In" dream sequence. He followed up by performing his own arrangement of Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet, which he dedicated to Doreen and Litnrod. As Bill sang and strummed the guitar, we got to see what a truly versatile performer he really was. As Bill left the stage, an enthusiastic table of LitKicks poets, all amazed at what they had just seen, greeted him wide smiles.
It was then turn for me to get up on stage and close the "Action Poets" segment of the show. I took the stage and warned the audience that someday their random words and conversation bits may one day end up as a part of one of my twisted poetry series. To demonstrate, I read a few short poems including "edit me". To illustrate the Action Poetry-style of poetic collaboration, I then read the call-and answer-pair of "I Sold my Summer" (written by jota) and my subsequent response to that poem, "I Stole My Summer". I then had a mild panic attack set to words with "Frenzy", which I followed with a poem to my father, "Inheritance". I then called Levi onstage to accompany my final two pieces with quietly played guitar. "Floor" was a short descriptive piece that had recently started a lengthy Action Poetry thread. I then ended with a dual language poem, "Together". Backed by the faint strumming of guitar, I hope the feeling of unabashed love in this piece was apparent, no translation needed.
The California poets then took the show in a new direction as Lorraine Dechter read several inspiring and lyrical pieces. Her heartfelt delivery of these well-written lines showed the skill of a true performer. Her cut-up piece "The Beginning of a Childhood Fairy Tale" was a bittersweet account of a young child who loses his father and was read with the tenderness only a mother could give. Two selections, "Woman" and "Orion , were sung a capella and Lorraine held the attention of everyone with the strength of her voice.
Janan Platt, co-host of the evening and creator of AlienFlower, read a few of her pieces, including "Flowa" (the New York city pronunciation of "Flower", she explained) and "Woman with the Lawn Ornaments." Janan's subtle interpretation of these works allowed the words to speak for themselves, especially the fabulous wordplay of "Flowa" in which fantastic descriptions create an dream-like image.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Levi came back to the stage to read three excerpts from his novel The Summer of the Mets (which will be available in paperback later this year). Although I had read the novel last summer, hearing Levi's voice retell the story was like nothing else. As Levi read, Litnrod played gentle melodies on his flute and Lorraine provided accompaniment on guitar; the quiet music set the perfect backdrop for the many moods of the story. The first passage introduced the main character, Chris, and was told in an innocent and honest fashion. As he recounted the summer vacation boredom of a teenage boy, heads nodded in recognition. In the second excerpt, we got an even deeper sense of Chris's internal feelings as he finds his first love. Mr. Asher's description of the excitement and amazement of new love was instantly familiar. The dialogue in each section was superbly read and the mellow sound of Levi's voice only made the story more lifelike. As he finished with a vivid account of a single inning during the 1986 World Series, you could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone waited to hear which way the game would go -- even those who already knew the outcome. Each piece worked very well alone, but together they really made for a powerful presentation and I'm sure The Summer of the Mets already has quite a following.
John S. Hall then took the stage quietly and timidly ... but as is often the case, looks were deceiving. He read many hilarious and high-energy poems like "Nickels for Ned", and he shared an alternate take on the "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker. His stage presence and demeanor only heightened the humor of the writing. After getting the green light to read two more pieces, John read "The President" (formerly titled, "The Mayor") and "The Miracle of Childbirth", prefacing them by saying "These next two pieces are made up almost entirely of curses". These last two were impressive on shock value alone, however even beneath all of the profanity; the audience felt a sense of awe at his ability to express so much in the use of just a few repeated words. As John S. Hall left the stage, we all felt as if we'd just witnessed a hurricane and lived to tell about it.
We were all then treated to some music by Lauren Agnelli, a talented and accomplished musician. Lauren started the evening most respectfully with a tribute to Elvis (who had died on this date, August 16, 25 years earlier), "A Fool Such as I". Lauren also performed "Sand Castle Song," and the raucous "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad,". She then sang a beautiful selection, "She's Gonna Change", joined by her friend Ken Anderson on vocals and tambourine. She closed by sharing her short poem "Spring Girl with a Song", a piece from the voice of Persephone.
Tom Goodkind of the Washington Squares joined Lauren on the stage, along with Billy Ficca of the seminal 70's punk band Television, to cap off the night with a long awaited Washington Squares reunion. The Squares were an excellent closer for the show, singing "Charcoal", "Greenback Dollar", "You Can't Kill Me", and the Civil War themed ballad, "Two Brothers". The chemistry of this group was apparent and they played with such heartfelt intensity that no one could resist moving along to the music. They closed with "Goodnight Irene", inviting anyone from the audience to come onstage and be a part of the action.
Before we knew it, the show was over and the bouquet on stage was finally complete, just as it wouldn't have been the same without each individual flower, the show wouldn't have been the same without each individual performer who contributed. It was a great night filled with a wide variety of styles and voices, all coming together to make for an intriguing and entertaining display of talent.
Jamelah, Litnrod, Doreen and Billectric
Litnrod on stage
Firecracker and Jamelah
Firecracker and Levi on stage
Litnrod and Doreen
Billectric and Levi's Dad
See the Poster.
Read another review.
Pictures from the Rehearsal.
More Pictures from NY and Rehearsal.
Another highlight was the marathon reading itself. 'Big Sur' has enough chapters that most people were able to read their first choices, and I selected Chapter Nine. It was a wonderful honor to intone these great words into a mic as the David Amram Trio jammed behind -- a special perk for the New York corner of this four-city event.
I also learned something I didn't realize about LitKicks this weekend, when several people I hadn't seen in months said to me "Why the hell aren't you updating your Beat News page?" And "Why didn't you announce this reading in Beat News?"
The truth is, having introduced message boards on LitKicks in January, I felt it might be time to retire the Beat News section of the site. I introduced message boards so that anybody could post to the site at any time. Beat News is not "postable", and so it seemed old hat to me. I want the message boards at the center of the LitKicks experience, and I figured I could express anything I personally needed to express there instead of here.
But I was surprised to hear that several people don't accept this reasoning, and in fact think I'm just being lazy in neglecting this page. Which is probably true. So, I'm going to try to stop ignoring this page. Hey, at least I wrote something today.
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.
I knew my friend Brian Hassett knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked him to get involved, and with his help we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club The Bitter End, in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept growing until I had assembled such an amazing group of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself. I spent much of the last few weeks running around the city like an idiot, trying to organize posters, hotel rooms, musicians ... in fact some friends report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway, Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was time to get on stage. Here's how the night went down:
Vermont writer Marie Countryman opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed by an excellent short story, 'The Shock of a Feather' by novelist David Alexander. Next, web writer Xander Mellish read the beginning of her short story 'Extraordinary' to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who read the introduction to her just-published Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.
The evening then started to veer towards the outer orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman, accompanied by legendary jazz composer David Amram on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I'd like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little more gentle when Briggs Nisbet read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed by two sublime haiku readings featuring, first, Beat scholar Walter Raubicheck and then Cor van den Heuvel, editor of the new 'Norton Haiku Anthology', both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.
Smug.com's talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story, 'Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall', about strip poker and skin types, and this was followed by what was possibly the evening's most unique moment: a spontaneous spoken-word performance by John Cassady, son of Beat legend Neal Cassady. John had never visited New York City before, so a lot of people had come down specifically to see how Neal's son had turned out and what he looked like, and not only the Village Voice but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut. John is a nice guy but also a "regular guy" like you or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what all he'd say when he stepped up to the mike. As the Mighty Manatees (a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite) kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later John was riffing left and right on an unpublished letter he'd found in his father's papers, and the "John Cassady Rap" was becoming legend before my eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang Chuck Berry's "Nadine" as a tribute to the Dad he'd been missing for the last thirty-one years.
The show went on -- Robert Burke Warren stepped up to the mike and ripped into "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then the David Amram Trio went onstage to sing "Pull My Daisy" and jam. I read a short story of my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster Mark Thomas, creator of Sorabji.com, who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop poet Charles Plymell who read an extremely affecting fable about John F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played behind him.
Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming screenplay, "Don't Be Denied", and after this began the main "I'm not worthy" part of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving independent writing/publishing scene of today. First was Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as a calming humming sound played on the PA, then Richard Hell a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent punk rock in the early 70's, and then having the talent to write the excellent novel ' Go Now ' in the 90's. Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us "I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway" (fair enough), and then recited his unique poem "Weather," which contains 12 different alterations of a single poem, each growing in its own unique direction. Hell was followed by Lower East Side poetry hero Bob Holman, who years ago helped start the spoken-word revolution with his friends at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in the East Village, and now helps to run the excellent About.poetry website (among many other things). Holman took the band with him on a bizarre "Peter and the Wolf"-style instrument-vocalization jam that had subtle moments and also occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming and yelling, Holman-style.
The show continued: Meg Wise-Lawrence delivered a smoky, snaky performance of her prose-poem 'Twelve Beginnings ... One End' accompanied by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, who read his powerful "I Will Not Bow Down" among other things, and Icelandic web innovator Birgitta Jonsdottir Next up was a thoughtful language poem by Aaron Howard, a light-jazz-toned excerpt from Breathing Room by Christian Crumlish (the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and funny moments with John Grady (whose "New York Bagel" is one of my favorites), and a closing performance by avant-garde/surrealist Gregory Severance. With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees, David Amram and John Cassady stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a couple of Dead tunes, 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road Feeling Bad'.I know everybody who was there enjoyed it -- in fact there was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event that has made many of us, myself included, think back to that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and thanks to the Bitter End for letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn't stay out late enough to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night -- we learned a lot and will know better next time.
Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry, and this night proved it to me.
-- Levi Asher
-- July 28 1999
The Living End!
by Marie Countryman
Brian Hassett writes ...
The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
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.
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.
2. There's going to be a big Beat party at the site of a legendary hippie/beatnik commune in Cherry Valley this weekend. I'll be there, and I'm looking forward to meeting Charlie Plymell and a lot of other people. If you're there and you recognize me from my picture please say hello! The weekend is officially some kind of town Arts Festival but from what I hear it's going to be one big party.
3. The publishers of a new biography of Jack Kerouac, "Subterranean Kerouac" by Ellis Amburn, are indulging in a bit of sensationalism by trying to sell the book as a "tell-all" revealing Jack's alleged deep dark secret, which is that he was bisexual. I have a couple of points to make about this deep dark secret:
- Virtually every biography of Jack Kerouac, from Ann Charters' "Kerouac" in 1973 to Gerry Nicosia's "Memory Babe" and most of the others in between, mention that Jack had bisexual tendencies. So why all the publicity now? It's well documented, for instance, that a drunken Jack Kerouac once had a spontaneous fling with Gore Vidal (an openly gay writer) in a Manhattan hotel, and was later found in a crowded bar yelling "I blew Gore Vidal!". So a new book revealing the stunning secret that Kerouac was bisexual is about as necessary as a new book revealing the stunning secret that Bill Clinton fools around with White House interns.
- Here's what the evidence tells us about Kerouac's sexual inclination, if anybody cares. Unless he was lying to his readers, to the friends he wrote letters to, and even to himself in his journals, he mostly felt attracted to women. He fell in love with them often, married twice, and yearned for female companionship when he didn't have it. As he documents in autobiographical novels like Subterraneans and Big Sur, he wasn't the smoothest lover in the world, or the most secure. He seemed to have a hell of a lot of what my wife would call "issues", and especially seemed to resent the power women had over him because of his attraction to them. He also had at least some capacity for attraction to men, or at least an open-minded attitude about men as sexual partners. He hung out with a lot of literary and artistic types in Greenwich Village and San Francisco, and so was surrounded by gays and grew to feel comfortable experimenting with his own gay tendencies, whatever they were.
To twist these facts around and try to portray Kerouac as deeply repressed by a secret buried desire for men is disingenuous. Like I said, this is a man who once announced "I blew Gore Vidal!" in a crowded bar. Doesn't sound very repressed to me.
The worst thing about the depiction of Kerouac as tormented by a buried sexual desire is that it leads to a reinterpretation of his writing that trivializes some of his best work. I don't believe that On The Road was secretly about Sal Paradise's attraction to Dean Moriarty, and I also don't think this idea illuminates the book in any way. It's like the supposed "discovery", a few years ago, that Van Gogh used so much yellow in his paintings because he suffered from an obscure eye disease. I like to think Van Gogh used so much yellow because it meant something. If it was just an eye disease, then it's not art.
- There have been about sixty new books about Jack Kerouac in the last eight months, and I really, really just don't think the world needs any more new books about Jack Kerouac. Really. No, really.
I was in a skeptical mood, as usual, on April 18 when I dropped by the Knitting Factory, a fashionable downtown New York hangout, for an all-day reading to honor Jack Micheline. The room was packed, and I grouchily wondered if Micheline would have drawn such a large and adoring crowd if he were still alive and able to borrow money. But my defenses were broken immediately when Jack Micheline's son stepped up to make a speech. A clean-cut and polite adult who seemed to have suffered no scars from having an impoverished Beat poet for a father, he even cared enough to have created a new website, JackMicheline.com, in his father's honor. He held his young daughter in his arms and said she was what Jack Micheline had been proudest of at the end of his life. Okay, dammit, I was touched.
Then a young independent filmmaker named Laki Vazakas invited me to a screening of his new movie about the late Herbert Huncke's stormy relationship with a younger and more troubled companion, Louis Cartwright. Both Huncke and Louis were lifelong heroin addicts, occasionally switching to methadone maintanence or other substitutes, but in any case the routine of drug acquisition seemed to have ruled their lives completely. The film was shot with a handheld videocamera in their Chelsea Hotel apartment and other locales, without a plan or a script. Unlike the characters in MTV's "The Real World", though, Huncke and Louis were often too strung out and world-weary to play to the camera, and so the movie is filled with startlingly honest moments. Louis clowns happily in the early scenes, but then begins to slip into a drug burnout so devastating that even Huncke is forced to separate from him, and finally the camera catches Louis crying and alone, hiding in a dark apartment unwilling to face the beautiful weather outside. Finally he is murdered on a Lower East Side street, and we see the most startling image of all: a naked, aged, skeletal Huncke sobbing uncontrollably for his lost friend, groping for an understanding of what has happened. I hope "Huncke and Louis" finds its way to some kind of distribution deal; till then, if you're around New York City there'll be another screening on May 8 at the NYU Film Series, and hopefully more after that. Check the website about the film for more info.
The night of the "Huncke and Louis" screening, ironically, I wandered into an East Village bookshop and picked up the nastiest (and funniest) book ever written about the Beat Generation, "Crimes of the Beats," by the gang of lovably obnoxious New York City poets and storytellers who call themselves "The Unbearables." They've been published in book form before, and I've also written about their activities (such as their satirical protest against the 1995 NYU Beat Conference) earlier in these pages. Their new book is a collection of essays, poems and memoirs mercilessly trashing the legendary authors of the Beat Generation, as well as the hangers-on, wannabes and innocent wide-eyed believers they left in their wake. The pieces take turns savaging Allen Ginsberg for his marketing savvy, Neal Cassady and Herbert Huncke for their weak claims to mythical status, Gary Snyder (the "Buddhist budget advisor") for his placid personality, and even, surprisingly, Gregory Corso (a saint of the modern-day Lower East Side literary underworld as far as I can tell) for his blatant arrogance and nastiness. But this book is not a self-indulgent rant -- it's clever as hell, with each pointed barb carefully sharpened to hurt. The pieces are even short, a true rarity in these content-glutted days.
This book should be on the bookshelf of every Beat reader, and it can be ordered directly their publisher, Autonomedia. I have only one gripe, though: these Unbearables, whom I know to be mostly a bunch of poverty-stricken, zonked-out, sloppily-dressed writers who gather in the East Village to applaud each other at poorly-attended poetry readings, claim not to be Beat themselves. Yeah, right, and Leonardo DiCaprio isn't a teen idol, and my Aunt Melinda isn't an alcoholic. Sometimes the truth hurts.
If Herbert Huncke and Jack Micheline represent the thesis of Beat legend and hype, and if the Unbearables represent the antithesis, who represents the inevitable synthesis? I dunno, but I do like the Louisville, Kentucky-based poet Ron Whitehead a lot. His writings are powerful (like those of the original Beats), but he's also fresh and unpredictable and unpretentious (like the Unbearables). I haven't yet seen his new book of poetry, published by Tilt-A-Whirl Press, but the guy who designed Tilt-A-Whirl's web page wrote me about it, and I discovered that this guy had done some other excellent websites as well, including one for the excellent small publisher Soft Skull. He also had some fun web pages of his own (click on his hair).
Yeah, the Beat fad is tired; I can't stand the hype myself anymore. But somehow, if we get beyond that four letter word that once was useful but isn't any longer ... still, hiding in corners out there, from the San Francisco BART to the Chelsea Hotel, from Louisville, Kentucky to the Lower East Side and even out on the web itself, there is genius waiting to be found. So I'm not giving up hope just yet. Though I'm close.