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!
2. I insist that Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter is a beatnik in the truest and best sense of the word. Not just because Neal Cassady rapped onstage with the Dead (see above) but also because of the deep and raw beatness of the characters in many of Hunter's songs, from "Brown Eyed Woman" to "Jack Straw" to "Wharf Rat" to "Dire Wolf" to "Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo" and "Cumberland Blues." I bet Kerouac would have even liked "Workingman's Dead" (he died about two years too soon, so we'll never know). Anyway, the reason I mention this is that Robert Hunter is now on the web! His site is huge and highly personal, and he's doing all the techie work himself (using PageMill, I understand). A novel in progress, "Giant's Harp," is part of the site, along with journal entries, lyrics, e-mail and lots of other stuff. Check this place out!
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.
2. "Poetry in Motion" and "Poetry in Motion II", two new CD-Roms from Voyager, are pretty good. They feature spoken word and musical performances by poets and writers like Allen Ginsberg, Diane DiPrima, Jim Carroll, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, William S. Burroughs and Ed Sanders. The interface is clean and unpretentious, and the poetry readings are presented in short, pleasurable bursts, none longer than a few minutes. Diane DiPrima's "Light," accompanied by a hypnotic tingly piano and flashes of colored lights, is one of my favorite pieces. Overall rating: excellent Xmas present!
3. Check this out: a few months ago I received an e-mail from a Norweigan translator named Dag Heyerdahl Larsen who was working on the first Norwegian edition of Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." He needed help with some Americanisms (like"Shazam" and "Baskin-Robbins") and I had fun trying to answer his questions (though many of Tom Wolfe's references make no sense no matter how well you know the language). The book is now out in Norway, and it's called "Syreproven," which means "Acid Test" -- Dag explained to me that the best direct translation of the full title would have meant "The Acid Test Based On Electric Kool-Aid." I agreed with him that this just didn't have that 'ring.' He also told me that nobody in Norway knows what Kool-Aid is.
Dag mailed me a copy, and it was fun to see my name in the appendix, surrounded by all kinds of strange Norwegian text. I wonder what he said about me?
4. I've been wanting to write an update on the much-talked-about Francis Ford Coppola film of "On The Road," but unfortunately I have no hard information to present. I've heard many things -- it's on, it's off, it's on again but Coppola's son will direct ... I heard from one very good source that Woody Harrelson was actually signed to play Dean Moriarty, which is what I recommended in the very first Beat News entry. But now that I've thought about this, I don't even know if I agree with myself that this would be good, and anyway I heard from others that it's not even true.
Other Beat-related film projects are also in discussion stages, including some involving Jack Kerouac and/or Neal Cassady (the two real-life principals in "On The Road.") Nothing, I understand, is definite. At this point, I'd be just as happy to hear that none of these films will be made. There's too much Beat hype lately anyway, and we're all getting sick of it.
5. Speaking of Beat hype: when I started Literary Kicks in the summer of '94 almost nobody was talking about the Beats. What happened? Back then, I didn't even start a Beat News page for the first few months, because there was no Beat News. Now ... forget it. I knew it was getting out of hand when Literary Kicks got mentioned in a fairly brain-dead article about the Beat phenomenon in Vogue magazine. According to Vogue, the Beat Generation was all about clothing! Well well, I learn something new every day ...
Anyway, I used to try to capture every Beat-related URL on the Web somewhere in these pages, but this has recently become impossible. There's just too much stuff out there. I will continue to put stuff I consider particularly interesting in this page, but if anyone else wants to create and maintain a more comprehensive page of Beat listings and links, I will happily make it a part of Literary Kicks. I wish I had time myself, but I honestly don't. Any volunteers?
Coming soon: my e-mail interview with John Cassady, Neal's son.
Terry Southern, born on May 1, 1924 in Alvarado, Texas, was an integral part of the post-Beat literary scene of the 60's. A "new journalist" (so proclaimed by Tom Wolfe) and screenwriter as well as an author, he may be best remembered for writing two very successful films, "Dr. Strangelove" and "Easy Rider." These and other playfully anti-establishment films like "Candy," "Barbarella" and "The Magic Christian" particularly captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s.
Southern didn't often wander into the introspective literary territory of the Beats, though when he did (as in some of the stories in his 1967 collection "Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes") he did it well. This book is my favorite Southern work: it begins with the sacred (white kid and black guy lazing happily around a ramshackle country village) and ends with the profane (a speed-crazed magazine writer searching for more drugs, in a story William S. Burroughs called "one of the funniest stories I have read in a long time.")
In 1968 Southern participated in the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots against the Vietnam War along with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jean Genet. He wrote many books, articles and films in the 70s, 80s and 90s, though usually without attracting great notice.
There is an interesting degree of connectedness between Terry Southern and the Beatles. His picture is on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" along with many other celebrities of the time. He wrote both the source material and the screenplay for one of Ringo Starr's first solo film efforts, 'The Magic Christian'. More indirectly, the animated character of the chief Blue Meanie in "Yellow Submarine" is clearly based on the character of Dr. Strangelove as portrayed by Peter Sellers in the movie of the same name (just check out the voice and facial expressions of both).
In 1981 and 1982 Southern served as a writer for "Saturday Night Live," which is not a great honor as the show was going through one of its worst phases at the time. He died of respiratory failure on October 29, 1995 while on his way to Columbia University, where he taught a screenwriting course.