2. Why are literary mailing lists on the internet so conducive to flame wars? Not long ago a virulent flare-up on the PYNCHON-L, involving a few list members who'd personally known Thomas Pynchon fighting against each other and the rest of the list, was actually collected and published as a book called 'Lineland'. A couple of weeks ago, an epic flame war on the BEAT-L mailing list, which I enjoyed being a part of for the past three years, caused listowner Bill Gargan to finally throw up his hands in disgust and close the list down for good. You can read more about the whole mess here. I was very sorry to see this excellent (if sometimes ridiculous) list go away, and I was happy when list survivors Diane Carter and Luke Kelly (proprietor of the William S. Burroughs-oriented website Big Table) managed to create a new replacement list, SUBTERRANEANS, in record time. If you're interested in reading about or joining this list, here's a FAQ that explains everything. The good news is that flame wars are banned on this list; the bad news is that in order to post to it it is necessary to know how to spell "subterraneans".
3. There's going to be a big memorial bash for Allen Ginsberg on June 12 and 13, arranged by the irrepressible scene-maker/muck-raker Al Aronowitz. The first event is on June 12 at the Central Park Bandshell in New York City, and is expected to feature Amiri Baraka, Richie Havens, David Amram, Anne Waldman, Rick Danko and Pete Seeger. The second event is at the Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey (where Ginsberg was born) on June 13. This has been in the planning stages for a long time, and until recently nobody was sure if Aronowitz was actually going to pull the event off. At this point it's starting to generate some real buzz, and may even turn out to be something special. Another Ginsberg memorial event at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in upper Manhattan on May 14 should also be good, and is guaranteed to bring out only the Beat faithful, since everybody else will be home watching the final episode of 'Seinfeld'.
Bardo in Kansas by Patricia Elliott
Patricia Elliott, a friend of William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, posted many heartfelt accounts of his last days and the days that followed his death to the BEAT-L, an internet mailing list where she is often a lively part of the conversation. (If you'd like to know how to join this list, visit this page).
I was tempted to include all of Patricia's posts here, but decided instead that this description of a Tibetan/Egyptian-inspired death ceremony had special power and was best left to stand alone. Burroughs was a writer who thrived on contradiction, and so I particularly liked the idea of a Buddhist death ceremony for a man whose strong skepticism and libertarianism did not make him a natural Buddhist in life. (Example: In a letter to Jack Kerouac, who was deeply involved with Eastern philosophy for most of his later life, Burroughs once wrote: "A man who uses Buddhism or any other instrument to remove love from his being in order to avoid, has committed, in my mind, a sacrilege comparable to castration.")
The energy and humor of clashing ideas has always been at the heart of Burroughs' art. In that spirit, here's a scene from the final act of his life story.
-- Levi AsherAll week long I didn't want to go. I felt swept with anxiety and decided about 7 times I wouldn't go. James [Grauerholz], who never calls me, called me around 1 PM and said he was just checking in to make sure I knew to come. Bob, John Myers, Lena and I drove out to Wayne Propst's farm for the bardo around six. Wayne was a close and dear friend to William and an old and dear friend to me. Wayne is a mad scientist, ingenious with all things mechanical. I made a pasta salad and John Myers took a six pack.
Wayne and his family live on lush riverfront land, lots of outbuildings, scene of hundreds of experiments and gatherings. William really never missed Wayne's parties. Lena heard at school from a friend, who was also going to the bardo, that Wayne might blow something up. The excitement builds when Wayne is involved. Wayne has an old farm house, many outbuildings, trees, giant warm barn. His property runs along the Kansas River (we call it the Kaw River). Beautiful kaw valley bottoms.
The bardo is staged to be in front of the barn, in a small pasture. The big barn doors open to the pasture, flooding light from one space into another. In the middle of the pasture there was a massive dome-shaped heavy wire cage with a wire doorway. Inside were lumber, fireworks, pictures, and pages and pages of things that people brought and were bringing. I guess there were a hundred and fifty people. I knew a hundred of them, wide varieties of different folks, overwhelming for me. Actually exchanged cards with some kid that does a Burrough's site. Perfect weather, light breeze, around 60 degrees.
Around dusk, standing in front of the barn, Wayne spoke (on a nice speaker system), then introduced James Grauerholz. Now it is getting dark. James reads a farewell to William's soul letter from David Ohle, first by lighter -- of course at one point you heard a little sound from James, when it got hot, and then someone brought up a kerosene lantern from the barn, and James then read a note from Giorno. Then James said a few things and explained some of the Egyptian and Tibetan Buddhistic relationships in the ceremony, tying in the significance of William's writings in his book "The Western Lands".
Wayne goes to the dome and lights the fire. It was glorious, it grew, it swirled, popped, pulsed, danced. The cage was a dome about 12 feet high and 20 feet across. Things like pictures, posters, objects d'art, and many many papers were laid on the lumber, but things and paper also hung suspended from the cage. Once the fire flowered came Williams voice, reading from "Western Lands". It was perfect, I swear the fire danced with his voice. The Cheshire cat had his smile but William's voice was the most evocative voice. I got up and went nearer the fire, strode around the fire, circled it three times. Most people sat in chairs and on benches in a large semi circle, music, flames, love. I stood up with James and Bill Hatke, the sparks flew wild. In the crowd was William's dentist, Charley Kincaid, (he had been one of the pallbearers at the Liberty Hall service), and he is the wildest, funniest man, with a wonderful good soul. That guy can distract you from a root canal with his wit. Fred Aldridge sat in one chair, He shot with William weekly for ten years or more. Fred is a tall skinny redhead. I've known him for 30 years. I introduced William to Fred. William was like a father to Fred's soul. Fred is a talented musician and artist, driven always to some elegant perfection. There were the New York suits standing in the barn. They seemed to be having a remarkably good time, the most relaxed I had ever seen the suits. In the crowd are such a variety of people that I am stunned but recognize that these were all people that William had built a relationship with over the 16 years he had made Lawrence his home. William loved persons rather than people, and he loved fun. It was a fun and a sober sight to see the embers chasing to the sky and think that's William's soul flying to the western lands.
I feel when William first died, his spirit was there in the room with his body. It was comforting. Then I felt his spirit whirling around the world, I almost know he went to Tangiers for a moment. I feel he is gone. We have lots to do now.
Two additional notes: Sue Brossau (David Ohles' wife) mentioned that the fire cage was one that Wayne and William had made for a bardo they'd held for Allen Ginsberg.
For a little illumination, here is, approximately, James Grauerholz's remarks at William's Bardo Burn, 9/20/97
Why are we here?
Each and every one of us has a different answer to that question, and we can meditate on those reasons while we take part in this event tonight.
It has something to do with our hosts, Wayne and Carol, and I know we all thank them for making this gathering possible.
It has something to do with Lawrence, our community - not the "metropolis" of Lawrence, frankly - but the community that we found when we came here, however many years ago we came here ... the community that we built here, over the years that we have been here ... the community that we share, now, while we are still here.
And it has something to do with William Burroughs. William lived here for sixteen years, longer than he lived in any other place in his life.
Every time William went out in the town, he always ran into friends; he had friends here, everywhere he went.
And every time he travelled far away, he always came home to Lawrence.
Lawrence was William's home, his final home. He lived here, he lived well here, and he died here.
And we all miss him very much.
Now, I don't know how many of us are Buddhists, and I'm pretty sure there are no more than one or two ancient Egyptians here tonight, but I'd like to say a few words about their belief systems concerning life, and death, and life after death.
The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls - as William's voice will be explaining for us, in a moment ... three of those souls split, at the moment of the death, the other four remain with the subject, to take their chances with him in the Land of the Dead. But first he or she must cross the Duad, the River of Shit, all the filth and hatred and despair of all human history -- then, on the other side, lay down the body, the Sekhu, the Remains, and journey through the Land of the Dead, encountering souls from your own life who have gone before - through a thousand challenges and trials, you try to make your way to the Western Lands ...
The Buddhist belief (I can't do this justice right now, but this is basically it) is that your soul, more or less, is reborn again and again, into new lives. Ideally, you would not be reborn, but escape the wheel and of death and rebirth, into nirvana; but the highest enlightened ones consciously vow to be reborn as many times as it takes for all sentient beings to become enlightened, they sacrifice their opening to nirvana - that is the boddhisattva vow.
The idea is that after physical death, the soul wanders through a spirit region known as the Bardo, re-living past experiences, facing images left over from other lives, other karma - and then, usually after about seven weeks, is re-born - attracted to a male and female coupling, and born again, to suffer again.
We are gathered here tonight to perform a ceremony that is ancient and universal - the burning of objects and images associated with the departed, to symbolize the dissolution of the physical body and its intermixture with all other elements - for example, Native Americans, it was pointed out to me tonight, burn the dead person's belongings immediately after death ...
Now if I haven't waited too late and I can still read this, I'm going to read you some short remarks sent here by David Ohle, and by John Giorno:
First, from David Ohle:
"Sendoff Message to the Soul of Bill
Well now, Bill. They say you've done your Bardo time, and now your SOUL is fixing to head off somewhere.
But look here, baby. We're gonna miss that creaky old soft machine you've been walking around in these eight score and three. We got used to it, you know. Those wise and witty things it said. And wrote. And it must have pumped fifteen tons of lead into the world.
I don't know about souls, my dear. But if you have one (and I know you believed you did), then let's give it the giddyup 'n' go. Shoo! Everybody say it, "Shoo! Giddyup! Git on, Bill's soul!"
And take care crossin' that River of Shit.
Sorry I ain't there today, my dear, but I figure when you're talking soul travel, what the fuck is a few thousand miles? I'm looking toward Kansas right now. I see something."
And this from John Giorno, and I'll try to approximate his delivery:
to fill the world,
you have accomplished
and great bliss,
and the vast empty
of Primordially pure
I mean, in the larger sense ... William had a very definite answer to that question:
We are Here to Go.
Okay, let's burn it.
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!
2. This is nowhere near as cool as the above announcement, but I've got more details about the Web Writers reading I'll be participating in on November 16th. It's called POISON: WRITERS ON THE WEB and it's at 3:30 pm at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library (66 Leroy Street, between 7th Ave. and Hudson). This is likely to be often repeated, but I hope some of you can come anyway.
- Women of the Beat Generation by Brenda Knight (Conari Press): an excellent, thorough anthology of stories, poems, autobiographical fragments and biographical pieces representing the often-forgotten women who participated in the Beat movement. Included are Anne Waldman, Carolyn Cassady, Jan Kerouac, Joan Vollmer Adams, Diane DiPrima (I need a page on her!), Jay DiFeo and many lesser known but interesting writers, artists and creative people.
- Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder (Counterpoint): This work seems to have some kind of epic importance to Snyder, and he's apparently been working on it for many years. I also heard from a few friends in California that he actually did a reading in public to celebrate the publication. Gary, will you ever come to New York and read here? I know there are no redwood trees or berry bushes or waterfalls. But we have great falafel and good record stores.
- Ballad of the Skeletons by Allen Ginsberg: Saw the video of this song on MTV last night. The music is pretty strong, not surprisingly as it features Paul McCartney, Philip Glass and the great Lenny Kaye on various guitars and keyboards. Lyrically I don't think this is Ginsberg's most sublime moment; it's more like a rant than like a poem, and goes in for a lot of simple jokey rhymes. It's okay, though. The video, directed by Gus Van Sant, is quite interesting. It features Ginsberg's skull-like face reciting in close-up as black-and-white images reflect the meanings. Other new Ginsberg stuff out there: a book of unusual color illustrations accompanying selected poems, by artist Eric Drooker ("Illuminated Poems," published by Four Walls Eight Windows) and a new entry in Allen's journal series, "Indian Journals."
- Beat Generation: Glory Days In Greenwich Village by Fred McDarrah and Gloria McDarrah (Schirmer Books): this is a fascinating book of photographs accompanied by text. Lots of shots I'd never seen before. Another photography book is Angels Anarchists and Gods by Christopher Felver (Louisiana State University) including portraits of almost all the surviving Beats, taken in the 80's and 90's, as well as many of their cultural allies in art, publishing and street politics.
3. I was recently invited to a showcase reading at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe of a screenplay based on William S. Burroughs' autobiographical novel "Queer." The screenplay was written by David Ohle, and it skillfully showed a human side of the prickly William S. Burroughs that we don't often get to see -- Burroughs as a lonely, confused man, using his twisted sense of humor to attract people only, perhaps, because he had no better lure. I think this would make an excellent movie, probably a far more down-to-earth one than David Cronenberg's expressionistic "Naked Lunch", and if you're a filmmaker who wants to make it, please write to the author.
5. I'll be part of a web-fiction reading on Saturday, November 16th, 3:30-4:30 PM, at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library (in the West Village). This is being arranged by David Alexander, and among the other readers will be my wife Meg, who is about to announce a great new webzine all her own -- here's a sneak preview. And I hope some of you can make it to the reading!
2. There are a LOT of beat festivals and happenings going on. Let's see ... the University of Kansas is hosting "A Festival: William S. Burroughs and the Arts" from late October through Jan 1 1997. There will be some interesting guests; here's the press release. The University of Texas at Austin is running a show called "Beat: The Hip Highways and Bebop Byways of Modern American Letters." A San Francisco/SOMA month-long festival called Re/BEAT looks like a lot of fun -- here's their calendar. The Whitney Museum exhibit "Beat Culture and the New America" is also coming to San Francisco on October 5th. It will be at the M. H. DeYoung Memorial Museum through December 29. Allen Ginsberg is doing October readings around the country, including San Francisco and New York. Finally, don't forget the annual Kerouac festival in Lowell, Massachusetts. Featured guests include Ed Sanders and musician Rob Buck, formerly of 10000 Maniacs.
3. Going out on a limb here: 90's writer Douglas Coupland is not a beat writer by any means. And I know about the gag impulse naturally caused by writers who try too hard to "capture a generation" (yuck). Still, I read Coupland's "Microserfs" and I liked it. I don't care whether it captures deep generational truths or not -- it's an enjoyable and poignant story, and the author does have some clue what the life of a software developer is like (believe me, I know). Anyway, the reason I mention all this is that Coupland now has his own website. It's worth a look.
Another somewhat Coupland-esque new site is Carl Steadman's enigmatic Placing, which looks affectionately at the packaged products that define our personal lives more than we often think. I hope Carl doesn't get mad at me for calling him Coupland-esque.
4. I heard there'll be a Kerouac tribute album coming out soon, with a lot of excellent participants including Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth. This is all on the level of rumour right now -- can anyone tell me more?
Lots of good new Beat stuff out there. Let's see ...
1. I recently stumbled across the new William S. Burroughs book, "Ghost of Chance" -- I don't know if it's any good, but it has a beautiful cover design. A very WIRED look, in fact. It goes well with Burroughs style.
2. Red Hot Organization, which did the Beat Generation CD-ROM I wrote about last month, also just released a tribute album, OffBeat, containing contributions from musicians like David Byrne and DJ Spooky. Red Hot Organization is a good cause (against AIDS) so if you're thinking of buying this CD: ahh, just go do it.
3. Still no news on the proposed "On The Road" movie. I recently found and read a bootleg copy of the screenplay, though. It could have been worse -- they stuck pretty close to the story, except they put the Mexican Girl scene at the end of the second trip instead of the first. WHAT ARE THEY -- INSANE???? You can't mess with this stuff. It's sacred. But the screenplay was fairly true to the book. Dean is by far the most prominent character in this treatment, and some aspects of the book seem to take a back-seat (so to speak) to the Dean Moriarty story. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, there's still no word that the movie will ever be made at all.
4. I'm sick of reading articles about the dumb fights between Jan Kerouac and the Sampas family over the Kerouac estate. Apparently Jan wanted to have his grave moved to New Hampshire from Lowell. A lot of people have written asking why I don't cover these issues in Literary Kicks -- I don't because I think legal battles are depressing and boring. I still think Jan Kerouac is a good writer.
5. New stuff here, mostly from contributors: a couple of personal memoirs (on John Montgomery and Allen Ginsberg), a Jack Micheline page, and some additions to my already ridiculously lengthy Beats in Rock Music) page. Coming soon: stuff on Ed Sanders, the Fugs, Harry Smith.
I'll try not to stay away so long next time.
On Valentine's Day, Meg Wise-Lawrence and I hosted a fiction/poetry reading of Web writers at Biblio's cafe/bookstore in downtown Manhattan.
The agenda was pretty loose -- we'd selected an eclectic group of thirteen readers from various places on the internet, and we'd given no instructions except to keep it to under ten minutes. It turned out to be a great night! First ...
Meg Wise-Lawrence (aka The oMEGa Female,
whose work has also appeared in
Enterzone and Literary Kicks)
kicked off the evening with a
short spoken-word performance. I then pulled
out my guitar and joined her for an homage to
Patti Smith which had been inspired by a passage
Meg had read one night in a physics textbook.
Ted Fristrom read a short story, Space,
which first appeared in
Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour
Peter Crumlish read a story, The Last to
Know, that recently appeared in Enterzone.
Clay Shirky, author of the book Voices of the
Web and frequent contributor to webzines like
Urban Desires and Word
performed an interesting hypertext piece,
Notes on Sinking, by mixing up a bunch
of index cards and reading them at random.
Maureen McClarnon, whose work has appeared in
the io section of Alt-X,
read a few short poems.
who runs the io section of Alt-X,
read a couple of pieces, assisted by
his friend Mary.
Galinsky, producer of
host of its "GO POETRY" venue,
is a real panic. He does energetic, warmly
humorous spoken-word bits about everyday life in New
York City, growing up, being a teacher in Brooklyn ...
if you ever get a chance to see him perform, don't
David Alexander read a short story, Shock of
a Feather, about a siamese twin. David's
stories have appeared in Enterzone.
Nicole Blackman, a Dorothy Parker for the 90's,
told us horrifying truths about Alanis Morissette
(published in Sonic Net) and read a piece about
traveling with an all-male rock band.
Jamie Fristrom (who runs Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour,
and who I hope will someday earn enough
money with his excellent writing that he won't have to
code video games in San Diego anymore) read a story
about a guy who codes video games in San Diego.
I closed the evening with my story, Snappers,
from my Queensboro Ballads web project.
(Thanks to Tony Leotta for taking the videos I used to get these pictures.)
- Me (Literary Kicks, Levity, Enterzone)
- Meg W. Stein (The oMEGa Female, Enterzone, Literary Kicks)
- Jamie Fristrom (Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour, Enterzone)
- Benjamin Cohen (Alt-X/io)
- Maureen McClarnon (Alt-X / io)
- Phil Zampino ("The Squid")
- Nicole Blackman (Sonic Net)
- Dave Kushner (Sonic Net, Alt-X)
- Galinsky (Pseudo Online Radio)
- David Alexander (Enterzone)
- Clay Shirky (Urban Desires, Word)
- Edward Fristrom (Jamie's Amateur Fiction Hour)
- Peter Crumlish (Enterzone)
2. Here are two brief excursions into the meaning of Allen Ginsberg in the universe. One is a fairly angry parody of 'Howl' written by Karney Hatch that expresses how many people (myself included, sometimes) feel when Beat poets try too hard to succeed in the world of mainstream literary academia and commercial publishing. The other link is a small positive note, a few wise words by Ginsberg that are a part of Deadhead-chronicler-extraordinaire (and HotWired editor) Steve Silberman's Digaland web page.
3. Voyager is releasing a new CD-Rom, "The Beat Experience." Unlike the informative, no-nonsense recent Kerouac CD-Rom (which I wrote about below), this is a totally experimental freeform production. It's laid out in the form of a "Beat Pad" where everything is clickable. The best news is that one of the contributing artists is Gary Panter, who was responsible for the excellent visuals on the horribly unappreciated "Pee Wee Herman Show" several years back. Yes, a direct connection now exists between Pee Wee Herman and the Beats -- I'd always felt there had to be one.
The project will benefit the Red Hot Organization, which has previously made several good compilation CD's (like NO ALTERNATIVE) to fund their AIDS relief work. However, I doubt they'll earn as much from this CD-ROM, since it sticks to the archaic practice of charging an unrealistic price -- $39.99 -- for a product that should cost no more than a music CD. Why do companies like Voyager make their products so expensive? I don't wanna hear any bullshit about "recouping huge multimedia costs" -- hey, playing with a Mac is fun, and it's not that hard. Until literary/artsy CD-Rom's are available at humane prices, they will remain what they are now -- not works for the people, but trinkets for the wealthy.
Enough editorializing. See you at Biblio's?
2. Please watch this space for info on a Valentine's Day reading of web-related authors I'm helping to put together somewhere in New York. We're not exactly sure yet what shape this thing is going to take, but if anybody out there is interested in performing or attending please drop me a note. More on this soon ...