1. I just saw the new movie version of "Hamlet," starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Michael Almereyda. Folks ... this movie is a masterpiece.
I am a bit of an authority on "Hamlet" -- I've read the original play about forty times, studied the medieval historical legends behind the play, and sat through numerous film and stage versions starring folks like Kevin Kline (bland but acceptable), Nicol Williamson (spirited but flawed) and Mel Gibson (don't even ask). This new version is as good as any I've ever seen, easily the equal of the great 1948 Laurence Olivier film, and actually more stunning and riveting than that one. This is an unusual "Hamlet," set in modern-day Manhattan, where Denmark is not a nation but a corporation. The actors wear casual clothing and most of the action takes place in office buildings or contemporary New York City apartments. Yet while the play's setting is radically updated, Shakespeare's language is left almost completely intact. Claudius is the head of the Denmark corporation (replacing Hamlet's murdered father), but he is spoken of not as CEO or President, but as King, and Hamlet as the Prince. The movie does not apologize for or even acknowledge this utter incongruity -- it is the audience's problem to deal with it. I love the nerviness of this approach, and I especially love how it allows the language to flow unaltered from the original text, even as the imagery often contradicts it.
What impresses me most about the movie, though, is the acting. Leading men often portray Hamlet as a soporific depressive, and I think this is wrong. Yes, the Prince is sad and torn by repressed inner conflicts, but he must also be angry, manic, rude and youthfully rebellious. Ethan Hawke -- an actor I've barely been aware of before this movie -- captures this perfectly, and I hope he wins an Oscar for his performance. Kyle MacLachlan is excellent as the slimy Claudius, Bill Murray is perfect as the aging yuppie Polonius, Julia Stiles is poignant and powerful as the lovestruck Ophelia (she plays her grand mad scene in the Guggenheim Museum) and Diane Venora is convincing as the guilty and corrupted Gertrude. I love the ultra-modern touches: Hamlet creates his "mousetrap" play as an indie video, and Rosencranz and Guildenstern are comical "Bill and Ted" lunkheads who can't help speaking in unison by accident. Perfect, perfect all around.
2. Now, the complaint. I keep seeing ads for the Ask Jeeves web search service and I'm getting sick of it. The search engine's mascot is the friendly butler "Jeeves," and it seems that Jeeves the Butler is becoming a common-use cultural icon, like Sherlock Holmes the Detective or Mickey the Mouse. This annoys me because it presents such a trivialized, brainless reflection of the brilliant comic writing of P. G. Wodehouse, one of the great originals of the 20th Century.
P. G. Wodehouse emerged from the same trans-continental jazz age milieu that produced George Gershwin, the Marx Brothers, Evelyn Waugh and Noel Coward, and is best known for his hilarious stories about an upper-class British layabout named Bertie Wooster. Wooster was a lover of easy living and heavy drinking, and he often needed to rely on Jeeves, his remarkable and discreet valet, to pry him out of complicated situations. These stories are light and fun to read, but they also hold up well to sophisticated literary analysis, and there is a particularly fascinating subtext behind the character of Bertie Wooster. Wooster narrates the stories himself, and makes a point of reminding us constantly that he is not very bright, a judgement most of his friends and relatives seem to agree with. This is part of the joke of these stories, and adds to the fun, but a close reading actually shows a deeper truth. Wooster as narrator has a stunning talent for language, an awesome ability to capture the essence of the people he sees in pithy and sparkling sentences (just off the top of my head, I'm remembering his description of a fat kid on the beach "meditatively smacking a jellyfish with a spade"). The narrator's felicitousness with both spoken and written language proves him to be quite intelligent; and the reader's conclusion is that the character is not actually dumb at all, but rather pretends to be dumb so as to avoid having to get a job or take on any responsibility in life.
Adding a Joycean textual twist is the fact that all but one of the Wooster/Jeeves stories are narrated by Wooster; a single story, "Bertie Changes His Mind," is narrated instead by Jeeves. This allows us a rare glimpse into the motivations of this inscrutably perfect butler. It turns out that Jeeves is fully aware of his subject's moral limitations, and is not so much a perfect butler as, to use contemporary language, some sort of morally dubious co-dependent or "enabler". Do what you will with all this literary psychoanalysis, but my main point is that it is offensive for the Ask Jeeves website to appropriate the Jeeves character and portray him as some namby-pamby kind of eager do-gooder with a smug smile and a deep urge to help me find the best price for car insurance. I don't care if they officially licensed the character from the Wodehouse estate or whatever -- they never licensed it from the public domain of my heart. So I am now officially boycotting the Ask Jeeves search engine -- even though I think the natural language processing it offers is pretty good.
So that's the LitKicks recommendation for the summer. Run, don't walk, to see this new movie version of Hamlet. If you want something to read pick up a copy of 'Carry On, Jeeves' or any other collection of the Wodehouse stories. And if you need to search the web, I recommend you visit Google.
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.
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.
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.
2. Speaking of Hunter S. Thompson, I wonder what's up with the movie version of his "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" which will supposedly star Johnny Depp as "Duke" himself? If anybody has any gossip on this, please pass it along ... No news, by the way, on the long-awaited Francis Ford Coppola film version of "On The Road". At this point nobody thinks this movie will ever get made.
3. RALPH -- that is Ralph Alphonso, creator of the excellent RALPH zine -- doesn't have David Amram's impressive credentials, but could also be described as a jazz musician and an ethnomusicologist (I love saying 'ethnomusicologist'). Ralph appears to be a humble, probably lonely adult male hipster living somewhere in Canada who creates an appealingly weird, beat-toned, retro-styled zine all by himself, using an old Gestetner mimeograph machine. He also tours with a band and creates music CD's of his poignant lounge songs, showing influences as diverse as Chet Baker, Ray Davies (yeah!) and the Peanuts comic strip (one of the bands he works with is called the Van Pelt Trio). I caught his live act in New York a while ago, and since then I've been a big RALPH fan. Water Row Books must like him too, because they just published a book collection of the zine's first 25 issues. They also sell his music CD's and other good stuff.
And while I'm on this subject: it always pissed me off that I never got picked to be Cool Site of the Day. Literary Kicks has been around a lot of days, over a thousand -- I think I was cool enough for one of them.
So the whole point of this aimless rant is ... thank you to the nice people at the Webby Awards who nominated me for for the Print/Zines award, and I'm looking forward to the ceremony on March 6.
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.
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 ...
2. I've been writing about the progress (or lack thereof) of the Francis Ford Coppola film of "On The Road" in these pages for two years now. There's still no word, as far as I know, about whether or not this film will ever get made (and in fact that's fine with me, since as I've said before I bet it would suck, despite Coppola's best intentions). Anyway, a different film involving the exploits of real-life "On The Road" character Neal Cassady has just debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The Last Time I Committed Suicide stars Keanu Reeves and is based on some famous letters Cassady wrote about his sexual misadventures. I'm not sure if Keanu plays Cassady or not. I hope I'll get to see this film soon -- if anyone else sees it, please send me a report.
- 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!