Then the 80's began. Reagan became President, MTV was invented, the culture of money-style replaced the culture of art-style in New York City, and Richard Hell was gone from public view. I was in college during these years, and I wasn't listening to Hell much any more. I soon started forgetting to even remind myself to remember Richard Hell or the Voidoids, and then eventually like a stuffed animal left at home I came to forget them completely.
Then around the mid-90's Hell suddenly resurfaced -- still living in New York City, still looking drugged-out and underfed and tired and angry, in fact looking not much different than he'd looked before. Except now he was the author of a brilliant, sparklingly well-written first novel, 'Go Now', which had somehow been published not by some downtown indie zine shop (which is what anyone would have expected for Hell) but by an imprint of the refined mass-market publishing conglomerate Simon and Schuster. The novel, a semi-autobiography in a neo-Beat flavor, even got excellent reviews in respectable magazines and newspapers. I have no idea how Hell pulled this marketing coup off, except that the book was good enough to deserve every bit of attention it got. Maybe quality and artistic integrity really does still count for something in large-corporate publishing (though there aren't many other indications of this these days).
But will 'success' go to Richard Hell's head? No fucking way. He helps to run CUZ Editions, his own indie publishing shop, and he produces occasional strange, appealing literary experiments like a recent book of poetry in which every page is a slightly different version of the same single, simple poem. You can find out more about this and other stuff at the CUZ website. There's also an interesting recent interview with Hell in the music zine Perfect Sound Forever.
Not much to report here anyway. The music/poetry duo of former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Michael McClure is hitting the road again, and I'm looking forward to seeing them play the Bottom Line here in New York City next Tuesday, January 12. There's also a new website devoted to McClure, which he participated in creating.
Also, it looks like James Grauerholz did an awesome job in putting together the most comprehensive collected edition of writings by William S. Burroughs. The book is called 'Word Virus', and it's good stuff. I'm going into hiding again, be back soon ...
by Ray Bremser
. . .
we took the first road on our left,
pointed ourselfs to the gulf
& fled thru the falling valleys into
the tropic & lowland plains,
where the jaguar retches & Panfillo
Navarez got his copper-sheathed ass
nipped at, after the crocs & moccasined
Zipotecan active cannibals, who
tip their stings & darts w/curare,
found cause for concern with the
obsidian barbarians the whole
conquistadores were . . .
the truck makes a racous
clattering up rocky roads,
picking up gears
on into the rarified heights--
10 thousand feet up the mountain
which delayed Malinche
on his freaked-out march to
kill & capture the aztec empire,
destroy all the toltec art,
smach the olmec urns & statuary,
all in museums now / little bits and pieces
for man to contemplate their lost glory,
much like the dinosaurs --
up this very same road, under these very same stars,
when it was jungle below & a forest of
tropical fruits above.
& even then, a way, way up in the blue-black site,
hovering at the perigee, ten thousand warm young
kissed the conquerors fingers, old fingers
& i'll come back, born again . . .
i always have,
come back . . .
i'll come back from the dark.
i'll be different & new.
or the same & old,
but i'll be me.
born again always,
born again born again
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.
Jan Kerouac's two long out-of-print autobiographical novels, "Baby Driver" and "Trainsong," have just been republished in new paperback editions. These books are written very much in her father's style, and it's ironic that Jack Kerouac never got to enjoy hanging out with his only daughter, because they both obviously had similar ideas about how to live: like Roman candles, with big emphasis on the poignancy of the burn-out.
Diane DiPrima, on the other hand, has never been accused of poignancy. This poet sings out in a major key, brazen and proud as hell. Her autobiographical "Memoirs of a Beatnik", which has also just been republished in paperback, is not the wan, soft-toned, gently nostalgic memoir one would expect, but instead a ribald, sexually detailed accounting of her bedroom adventures with a series of Greenwich Village hipsters and Zen writers including, among them, the poignant Jack Kerouac. The book is great fun, even if it sometimes reads more like "Penthouse Forum" than like an autobiography.
It's more fun, anyway, than that inept attempt at soft-core porn known as "The Kenneth Starr Report". You know (if I may stray onto a different subject) I endorsed Bill Clinton for President in these pages back in 1996, not because I thought he was anything close to perfect, but mainly because I found him much more down-to-earth than the smarmy, patriarchal right-wing bores who preceded him. Remember George Bush, Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan? I went to college during the Reagan presidency, and I'll tell you, after eight years of Ron and Nancy on TV (followed by four of George and Barbara), Bill and Hillary Clinton arrived like a breath of fresh air. I liked it that they read books, and knew something about good music (not much, but something), and that Hillary seemed to have a brain of her own (like I said, I'd just spent four years watching George and Barbara on TV, and eight with Ron and Nancy. That shit was cornier than "Father Knows Best").
Now Bill and Hillary have run into rough times, and I just want to say from my humble little portal here that I support and respect them as much as ever. I refuse to pretend to be shocked at the discovery that Bill Clinton has a few human flaws. "She removed her blouse and he fondled her breasts." Yeah, yeah ... don't you Republicans have work to do?
I propose that Kenneth Starr, Henry Hyde and all their cronies be indicted for wasting ridiculous amounts of taxpayer's money composing bad porn. I mean, a cigar ... where do they get off publishing shit like this? Since when does America have Sex Police? And if we're all laying our cards on the table, I'd like to hear George Bush swear that he didn't have any extramarital affairs while he was President or Vice-President. Come on, George ... America is listening.
What you hear now is the sound of uncomfortable squirming from somewhere around Kennebunkport, Maine. End of editorial.
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.
Bringing a creative idea to completion is never easy. While I work myself to exhaustion finishing my little indie project, you can enjoy checking out Neal Amid, a wildly anarchic comic tribute to the Neal Cassady legend, created by Cat Simril, who actually *did* finish it and sent me a copy as proof. "Neal Amid" is a sound play on audiocassette, very much in the spirit of old Firesign Theatre or Monty Python comedy records, and the plot revolves around a 60's-era Neal figure whose spirit is somehow intersecting with that of the Grateful Dead during their 1978 visit to Egypt, where they played a series of concerts in front of the Pyramids. The cassette's wonderful cover photo illustrates the cosmic sense of this notion better than I can explain it. Order a copy -- you gotta love it.
And please come back August 4 ... see you then ...
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.
Moving out onto a limb, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Carolyn Cassady show up in bed together, or close to it, in 'Three In Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times,' a fascinating new book about notable three-way sexual encounters in Western history. Other intellectual notables who show up in this book include Nietzsche, Henry Miller and the Pre-Raphaelites. The three co-authors (a man and two women, hmm, I wonder ...) cover a lot of cultural territory in this book.
Moving further out into the realm of the thoroughly subjective, I've been corresponding via email with a Beat-inspired young poet from Singapore, Yong Shu Hoong. He sent me a copy of his first book of poetry, titled 'Isaac.' The truth is, I have lots of email friends who send me samples of their beat-inspired poetry, but too often when I read the poems they go in one ear and out the other -- the poems are probably excellent, I just don't understand them. But I browsed through 'Isaac' and it immediately clicked with me. I love imagining the Singapore poetry reading that must have inspired this poignant small poem, entitled: "THE BUTCHERING OF HOWL":
You must think that I was rude
but I have no disrespect for you,
knowing that you are a poet
more adept at toying with Chinese words.
But listening to you attempt a reading
of Allen Ginsberg's Howl
(and in thr process mispronounce
Arkansas) just weeks after his death,
I'm sorry I had to reach for the door.
I know you were doing it
out of the best intentions.
I know you were spurred on
by more than a little courage.
But I couldn't help feeling indignant
at the mutilation of
his words, his anger, his genius,
turning to leave before you could even
flip the first page. Heavy-hearted,
I was never so sorry for any dead poet.
2. I pledged in these pages, after poet Denise Levertov died at the end of last year, that there would be no more legendary Beat figures dying in 1998. Well, it's only February and God has already called my bluff. Jack Micheline, highly authentic American street poet who stayed untamed to the end, died on a San Francisco BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train on February 27. Jo Grant of Bookzen.com has prepared a beautiful tribute page.
3. Damn, I hate this sad stuff. John Cassady sent me and a few other people a really touching note on February 3rd, the 30th anniversary of the death of his father Neal. It got me thinking. Intrepid Trips (the really excellent new website by Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs and the rest of the Merry Pranksters up in Oregon, who also continue to run Key-Z.com) put the letter up as part of their growing Neal pages.
4. I used to always say official websites sucked, plain and simple. I still believe this in theory, but you'll notice I linked to two good official websites above (run by Ken Kesey and the Henry Miller Library.) I should mention one more: the really carefully-put-together and innovative BobDylan.com. The most amazing thing about the site is probably the RealAudio recordings of rare live songs, not little snippets of songs but full tracks previously available only on bootlegs. This is good stuff. My friend Dan Levy designed this site, and I helped with some technical parts myself, so I know how hard Dan worked to make this "official site" not suck. And it doesn't!
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.