I knew my friend Brian Hassett knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked him to get involved, and with his help we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club The Bitter End, in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept growing until I had assembled such an amazing group of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself. I spent much of the last few weeks running around the city like an idiot, trying to organize posters, hotel rooms, musicians ... in fact some friends report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway, Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was time to get on stage. Here's how the night went down:
Vermont writer Marie Countryman opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed by an excellent short story, 'The Shock of a Feather' by novelist David Alexander. Next, web writer Xander Mellish read the beginning of her short story 'Extraordinary' to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who read the introduction to her just-published Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.
The evening then started to veer towards the outer orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman, accompanied by legendary jazz composer David Amram on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I'd like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little more gentle when Briggs Nisbet read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed by two sublime haiku readings featuring, first, Beat scholar Walter Raubicheck and then Cor van den Heuvel, editor of the new 'Norton Haiku Anthology', both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.
Smug.com's talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story, 'Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall', about strip poker and skin types, and this was followed by what was possibly the evening's most unique moment: a spontaneous spoken-word performance by John Cassady, son of Beat legend Neal Cassady. John had never visited New York City before, so a lot of people had come down specifically to see how Neal's son had turned out and what he looked like, and not only the Village Voice but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut. John is a nice guy but also a "regular guy" like you or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what all he'd say when he stepped up to the mike. As the Mighty Manatees (a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite) kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later John was riffing left and right on an unpublished letter he'd found in his father's papers, and the "John Cassady Rap" was becoming legend before my eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang Chuck Berry's "Nadine" as a tribute to the Dad he'd been missing for the last thirty-one years.
The show went on -- Robert Burke Warren stepped up to the mike and ripped into "Rave On" by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then the David Amram Trio went onstage to sing "Pull My Daisy" and jam. I read a short story of my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster Mark Thomas, creator of Sorabji.com, who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop poet Charles Plymell who read an extremely affecting fable about John F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played behind him.
Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming screenplay, "Don't Be Denied", and after this began the main "I'm not worthy" part of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving independent writing/publishing scene of today. First was Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as a calming humming sound played on the PA, then Richard Hell a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent punk rock in the early 70's, and then having the talent to write the excellent novel ' Go Now ' in the 90's. Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us "I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway" (fair enough), and then recited his unique poem "Weather," which contains 12 different alterations of a single poem, each growing in its own unique direction. Hell was followed by Lower East Side poetry hero Bob Holman, who years ago helped start the spoken-word revolution with his friends at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in the East Village, and now helps to run the excellent About.poetry website (among many other things). Holman took the band with him on a bizarre "Peter and the Wolf"-style instrument-vocalization jam that had subtle moments and also occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming and yelling, Holman-style.
The show continued: Meg Wise-Lawrence delivered a smoky, snaky performance of her prose-poem 'Twelve Beginnings ... One End' accompanied by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead, who read his powerful "I Will Not Bow Down" among other things, and Icelandic web innovator Birgitta Jonsdottir Next up was a thoughtful language poem by Aaron Howard, a light-jazz-toned excerpt from Breathing Room by Christian Crumlish (the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and funny moments with John Grady (whose "New York Bagel" is one of my favorites), and a closing performance by avant-garde/surrealist Gregory Severance. With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees, David Amram and John Cassady stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a couple of Dead tunes, 'Bertha' and 'Going Down the Road Feeling Bad'.I know everybody who was there enjoyed it -- in fact there was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event that has made many of us, myself included, think back to that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and thanks to the Bitter End for letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn't stay out late enough to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night -- we learned a lot and will know better next time.
Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry, and this night proved it to me.
-- Levi Asher
-- July 28 1999
The Living End!
by Marie Countryman
Brian Hassett writes ...
The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
2. The not-very prolific Buddhist/beat poet Philip Whalen has a new book out: 'Overtime: Selected Poems'.
3. If you can make it to New York City on July 21, come to The Bitter End in Greenwich Village for a kick-ass poetry reading I'm putting together. The occasion is the 5th birthday, believe it or not, of this website. I'm putting this show together with my poet friend Brian Hassett, who arranged a couple of excellent shows I participated in earlier this year at the Living Room in the Lower East Side.
One thing that made these shows so good was the presence of David Amram, an extremely talented and very serious musician who was Jack Kerouac's own piano player, back when Jack used to read poetry on stage. David generously offered to improvise behind a few of us less-seasoned neo-Beats as we read our own poems, and the amazing thing about the way he accompanies live poets is that he actually listens and plays according to what he hears -- no matter how humble or unimportant the reader or the words. He also does some songs of his own, and I'm very glad that he'll be at this event. Other special guests will include John Cassady, Neal's son, who'll be playing guitar and telling a story or two, poets Richard Hell, Lee Ranaldo, Ron Whitehead, Bob Holman, Herschel Silverman, Breath Cox and haiku master Cor van den Heuvel. And on the newer edge, representing the other side of Literary Kicks, I've invited a bunch of my webby friends to get on stage and kick some shit around -- Mark Thomas of Sorabji, Leslie Harpold of Smug, Christian Crumlish and Briggs Nisbet of Enterzone, Xander Mellish, Meg Wise-Lawrence and Phil Zampino. It's going to be a wild night -- check out the program and I really hope you can make it.
2. If you're in New York: there'll be a big Burroughs tribute bash Saturday, Feb 5 at 1 pm at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, with folks like Steve Buscemi, Richard Hell, Barry Miles, Maggie Estep, James Graueurholz reading. Then on Wednesday, Feb 10 at 7:30, there'll be a big messy Kerouac bash at the Living Room on 84 Stanton St in Soho, with readings by folks like Ann Douglas, David Amram, David's daughter Adira Amram, Frank Messina, Brian Hassett and me.
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. Speaking of Kerouac: if he were alive today, he'd be celebrating his 75th birthday on Wednesday, March 12. (And can you imagine what a character he'd have turned into by now? Would he have ever stopped drinking? Would he have any friends left?). Anyway (getting back to reality), Stone Soup Poets of Boston will be sponsoring a celebration of Jack's birthday at the Old West Church in Boston's Beacon Hill at 8:00. The featured event will be a reading by the fascinating poet John Wieners and other writers and musicians. Tickets only five bucks (cheap!), write to Jim at email@example.com for more info.
Nearby in Lowell, the Kerouac contingent there will be gathering at the Dubliner on 197 Market Street to listen to jazz and poetry and, in their words, toast Kerouac's Irish Connections. Sounds like a crazy night in Massachusetts this March 12.
3. Water Row Books, one of the most authorative Beat-related bookstores around, has just released 'Beat Speak -- An Illustrated Beat Glossary circa 1956-1959' by Asleigh Talbot. The title might seem a little faddish but the book is actually very gritty and double-edged, with a strong emphasis on the hard drugs, lurid sex and police-paranoia that marked the Beat community in its prime. Definitely an interesting perspective.
4. Oh yeah ... did you ever read those excellent in-depth interviews with writers in the Paris Review? The latest issue's interview subject is Gary Snyder. Can't read it online though, so don't bother trying.
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.
It was the spring of 1964 and Gary Snyder had just come back from several years in Japan, and I thought it would be a good thing for him to have a public reading of his new poems. Up until then the poetry readings I had gone to had been chaotic and profitless (for the poets), and so the trick would be to set up the reading on a professional basis.
Some years earlier I had hosted a poetry reading in my basement in Portland, Oregon, with Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen reading, and it had been awful, all except for the poetry. It was too crowded, too hot, and when we passed the hat to pay for the wine we only got $1.75. A window got broken and somebody trampled my nasturtiums. But hell. This time, I resolved, there would be planning, care lavished on every detail, the audience would be comfortable and the poets would make a few bucks.
I asked Snyder and Whalen if they would like to read together again if I did all the work and they got all the money, and they agreed. But, it turned out, Donald Allen, the redoubtable editor and translator, who sprung the Beat Generation on the world with Evergreen Review Number Two, had it in mind to offer Snyder and Lew Welch in a joint reading. A meeting was called at my apartment on Jersey Street and it was quickly agreed that we should pool forces.
2. I saw a really wonderful show last week. Ralph Alphonso, longtime publisher of the beat poetry rag RALPH, did what I've always wanted to do: gathered together a few high-spirited pop/folk/jazz musicians and went on tour. They arrived in New York to play CBGB's Gallery last week (parenthetically, check out the new CBGB's website if you're interested in this legendary punk club), and put on a superb show. Ralph's style is kitschy on the outside but sincere within, and this is the way I like it (as opposed to the reverse: sincere on the outside but kitschy within, like, say, Sting's solo albums). I think the tour is already nearing an end, but please visit Ralph's website, where you can hear samples of his music, order his CD's or subscribe to his one-man zine.
3. A huge poetry/beat renaissance/spoken word festival in New Orleans starts this week. Here's the latest schedule.
2. The Goblin webzine has a lot of interesting beat-related material, like an interview with Ed Sanders and, in the latest issue, a Neal Cassady reminiscence by Charles Plymell. I also like the current cover story about the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, my fave underground comix when I was a kid.
3. Here's a reprint of an interview with Williams S. Burroughs conducted by Ron Whitehead, whose poem "Calling All Toads" also concludes the piece. One of the things they discuss is a huge New Orleans poetry fest Ron is putting together in August. Should be a blast -- I'd go if I had the money (dammit). See below for more info on this.
4. Thought I'd point you to a new site I like a lot. The Posi-Web is a constantly changing series of simple, quickly generated personal pages by a growing list of web people. Lots of interesting pictures and thoughts. Just for fun. There's no one starting point (each contributor maintains his or her own pages) but the above link goes to Jef'n'Gael's page -- they started this whole thing.
6. Hey! Literary Kicks is two years old today.
2. I recently heard from a friend of the important counter-culture journalist Al Aronowitz, who was a part of the Beat/hippie scene that flourished decades ago. Aronowitz has suffered health problems recently, but he's also put together his own web site, including several Beat-related articles: here it is.
3. If you haven't seen Timothy Leary's website yet, it's worth a look. Though Leary is not generally thought of as part of the Beat world, it was Allen Ginsberg's enthusiastic endorsement of Leary and his ideas about LSD that set him on the path to fame in the early 60's. Leary is now seriously ill with cancer, and has set out to explore the fact of his impending death in an optimistic and highly public way. I have mixed feelings about many of the things Leary has done and said in his life, but his approach towards death is proving to be one of his more authentic moments.