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Allen Ginsberg: The Interview, ➡ 1972 ⬅ [Republished by unpopular demand]

Interviewed by Gerard Van der Leun

Allen Ginsberg: “Born June 3, 1926, the son of Naomi Ginsberg, Russian émigré, and Louis Ginsberg, lyric poet and school-teacher, in Paterson, New Jersey. High school in Paterson till 15, Columbia College, merchant marine, Texas and Denver, copyboy, Times Square, amigos in jail, dishwashing, book reviews, Mexico City, market research, Satori in Harlem, Yucatan and Chiapas 1954, West Coast Howl 1955, Arctic Sea Trip & then Tangier, Venice, New York Kaddish 1959, returned to SF & made record to leave behind and fade awhile in Orient.” —(Autobiographical statement in The New American Poetry)

After fading out into the Orient in 1959,
Allen Ginsberg reappeared on the steps of the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the fall of 1963, as a vocal participant in the anti-Madame Nhu Vietnam demonstrations.

The springboard that the Berkeley Free Speech movement was to give to political activism on a nationwide basis was still a year away. Vietnam was a distant police action involving American troops in an “advisory capacity,” and with no plans for “expanding our present operations and commitments in Southeast Asia.” A ‘revolutionary’ was someone who invented striped toothpaste, or smoked a cigar in Cuba and had a funny beard. If anyone in the United States of America dreamed of violent confrontations with the police and the National Guard, either on the campuses or, God forbid, in the streets, they kept it to themselves and read theory.

There were no conspiracies then. No one knew what one was or, if they did, had absolutely no idea what to conspire against. The cerebral fog of the fifties was only beginning to lift from the street corners of America and petitions for the redress of grievances, non-violent sit-ins, and quite negotiable, reasonable demands were the order of the day. The odor of the day was “Compromise.”

Before Allen Ginsberg faded away towards Satori in the Orient and India, his most well-known poem, “Howl,” had spoken eloquently if not bombastically of his perception of America in the fifties:

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery!
Moloch whose blood is running money!
Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!
Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!
Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Allen Ginsberg, sitting on the steps of the Sheraton Palace Hotel in 1963, seemed in his rightest of minds. On the large hand-lettered placard he carried were the words:

I am here saying seek mutual surrender tears
That there be no more hell in Vietnam
That I not be in hell here in the street
War is black magic

The sixties were a schizophrenic time for prophecy in America. In the center of the cultural arena, things were never groovier. Rock came into its own with the immaculate conception of the Beatles and proved itself able to captivate the bodies, change the heads, and empty the pockets of millions of young Americans. Marijuana and LSD began to share a place on the spice shelf and in the icebox alongside the buttermilk and the Wheaties. Everything everywhere seemed to be happening at once. Surely some Second Coming was at hand. Surely Bliss Consciousness was just around the corner. Five-hundred mikes and a set of stereo earphones attested to that. There was no getting away from it, Utopia was here now and here to stay.

‘With America gnawing at its own throat like a demented bat, prophecy was a hard row to hoe.’

While the culture rose higher and higher, the political horizon sunk lower and lower. From the time of the Madame Nhu demonstrations to the current buggering of the body politic by Milhous Nixon, the government’s unwavering policy of containment in Southeast Asia managed to get 40,000 young Americans in various stages of dead along with untold thousands or millions of their Vietnamese brothers. Repressive, racist attitudes and tactics on the part of the police and the silent majority had never been more twisted or more deadly.

With America gnawing at its own throat like a demented bat, prophecy was a hard row to hoe. Total immersion into both the cultural and political psyches of America does not recommend itself as a way to prolong life and attain peace of mind. “Sometimes you gotta take your ass in both hands and jump,” said the cowboy in the Cadillac. And jump is what Ginsberg did—down the rabbit hole for seven years.

Everywhere Ginsberg went some new cause or new happening seemed to need him to read, discuss, plan, organize, chant, evaluate, or simply be there. The United States Senate called him to testify before its various impotent committees on marijuana and acid rituals.

During a European reading tour, he visited Prague where the students immediately crowned him King of the May. Czech-Marxist police just as promptly beat him up and threw him out of the country. The Human Be-In in San Francisco in the Summer of 1967 was part of Ginsberg’s doing. He originated and developed some of the basic attitudes and tactics for street theatre during the Vietnam Day marches in Oakland in 1965. He was at the Pentagon Demonstration in the fall of 1967 and participated in the exorcism rites to levitate that chunk of Moloch through chanting. He helped plan, publicize, and participate in the demise of the Democratic Party in Chicago, even though it was a birth and not a death that he intended to celebrate.

And if all that weren’t quite enough, he managed to produce a monolithic body of poetic work that chronicles the myriad events of the sixties and the hopes, insights, visions, trips, illusions, and dreams that grew from and were manifested throughout the decade.

Over the years since his reemergence in 1963, Ginsberg has become more than a poet or “spokesman for his time.” He has become, through a complex interweaving of accident, design, and circumstance, one of the American Bards that Walt Whitman wrote of in the preface to Leaves of Grass, more than 115 years ago:

“In the make of the great masters the idea of political liberty is indispensable. Liberty takes the adherence of heroes wherever men and women exist…but never takes any adherence or welcome from the rest more than from poets. They are the voice and the exposition of liberty. They out of ages are worthy of the grand idea…to them it is confided and they must sustain it. Nothing has precedence of it and nothing can warp or degrade it. The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots.”

The room in which the following conversation takes place is rather small. Its single window looks out on the trees and the rooftops of North Beach. It is neat, furnished simply with a small pallet on the floor for sleeping, sitting, smoking, writing, meditating, et cetera. There is one comfortable armchair, some tables of various heights and styles, a couple of undistinguished lamps, and one bookcase that seems to hold every title ever published by City Lights. Under the window is a slab of blue-veined marble set eight inches above the floor on chimney bricks. On the slab rest a bronze Buddha, an incense holder, two ashtrays, several vases of flowers and greens, and a pack of Ginsberg’s ever-present Pall Malls.

Currently, there are three trials or other means of legal persecution being visited upon Tim Leary: an appeal of a Texas conviction for “transporting” a half-ounce of marijuana from the middle of the bridge across the Rio Grande to the Customs shed (a distance of less than 100 yards), a sentence which carries five to ten years in the slammer; conviction for possession of marijuana (two roaches, less than a gram of dope) in California, which also carries a sentence of five to ten years; and the pending trial in Poughkeepsie, New York, for the Millbrook busts of several years ago.

Allen Ginsberg: The Poughkeepsie trial will be a full-scaled constitutional, substantive test of all the laws. It’ll proceed on four different Bill of Rights grounds: rights of privacy, freedom of religion, self-incrimination… Ah, I don’t know what else. Probably something like pursuit of happiness, some way or other.

Van der Leun: Pursuit of ecstasy?

Allen Ginsberg: Yes, that too. Now the California bust is a one to ten-year sentence for the possession of two roaches. Inasmuch as the National Commission on Crime and Drugs have just proposed that marijuana offenses be reduced to misdemeanors, obviously a one to ten-year sentence is cruel and unusual punishment. Given the Supreme Court functioning legally in any way at all, Leary should win on that count.

The only problem is whether or not the hysteria in the country, the military tyranny, the police state, and the revolutionary fury will have so poisoned the bloodstream of the body politic that, by the time the case gets to the Supreme Court, it will have been packed with, well, jokers. So, who knows? Whatever happens to America will happen to Tim Leary.

Van der Leun: In terms of Leary’s situation, how does it relate to the Panthers and the Chicago Conspiracy trials? How does Leary fit in with Hoffman and Rubin and the others?

Allen Ginsberg: Well, of course they’re all friends. That is, they know each other, although they have different approaches. The Chicago people are less pacifist than Leary, except for Dellinger, who’s a total pacifist. Leary was originally going to participate in Chicago, but he didn’t, partly because he was under so much attack, and partly because the thing obviously was going to be such a bummer.

Van der Leun: What was your scenario for Chicago?

Allen Ginsberg: What was planned, basically, was Woodstockesque. What was originally in Leary’s mind, my mind, Jerry’s and Abbie’s, in Ed Sanders’s and Krassner’s and Phil Ochs’s and Arlo Guthrie’s and Judy Collins’s, and other people who gave the original press conferences proposing the thing in Chicago, was a Festival of Life, which would have involved teaching: political teaching, yoga teaching, spiritual teaching, music, poetry, rhythmic behavior, mantra chanting…

Van der Leun:
That sounds parallel to, or an extension of, your original plan for the second of the Vietnam Day Committee marches to the Oakland Army Terminal in the fall of 1965. As I remember, that plan was rejected by the committee at the time.

Allen Ginsberg: Well, it wasn’t really rejected. It was carried out sort of half-way at the time. There was a flower march, you know.

Van der Leun: Still, there wasn’t the outright celebration of joy and ecstasy that your proposal aimed toward.

Allen Ginsberg: There wasn’t the outright comedy theatre that I was proposing, no. There was some self-theatre, which was nice. It avoided violence that time. Jerry Rubin worked on that too, and was trying to avoid violence. He brought me in. Called me up and asked me to come down with him to San Jose and debate the Hell’s Angels. That’s why I trusted Jerry Rubin in the Chicago situation because he acted very honorably in Berkeley then.

Van der Leun: In relation to that, weren’t you a prime figure along with Ken Kesey, Jerry Rubin, and a couple of others in establishing what was referred to at the time as a truce between the Angels and the Movement and which later grew into a general acceptance of the Angels throughout the spectrum of the hip/radical community?

Allen Ginsberg: Kesey was the prime figure in that, not me. Very definitely. My name got used because it was so odd that a fairy like me would be dealing with the Angels in a friendly way. But Kesey was the one…

Van der Leun: So you don’t feel that you were responsible in any real way for bringing the Angels and the Movement together at that time?

Allen Ginsberg: Everybody worked on it. I mean, after all, Marlon Brando in the movies was an adorable image to a lot of people who were marching in Berkeley in those days. What was weird was that some of the revolutionary leftists of the time were so obtuse in relating to the Hell’s Angels as human beings, seeing them only as agents of imperialism and the police. But I think they are a little upset and resentful about the continuing plastering of my name on their scene. You know, they think it’s ridiculous, and rightly so.

Van der Leun: How do you relate your egalitarian attitude towards the Angels to what went down with them in Altamont? For that matter, how did you relate to Altamont generally?

Allen Ginsberg: I wasn’t there, so it’s hard to know except through the newspapers. Of the people that were there that I’ve talked to, some say it was a total bummer, some say it was an inevitable bummer, some say it was a necessary bummer. The main thing that I think should be borne in mind is that the Angels were given too much weight and responsibility at Altamont.

They were given a burden that they shouldn’t have had to carry, that nobody should have had to carry, which is to be policemen. That’s not fair to them or anybody. Then to get a panic situation where they think a guy’s got a gun and is out to get Jagger… And what if there had been police there and the guy had gotten Jagger? As far as I can tell from afar and not having seen the films or anything like that, it’s never necessary to kill anybody. So the Angels were probably hysterical like everybody else.

I think Jagger’s basic intentions were pretty honorable. I mean, he did want to put on a free concert, and he had in England. I know Jagger and I’ve talked with him. He wants to help. He’s been out on the street picketing the American Embassy in London before, which is a pretty dangerous odd front thing for him to do; actually put his body out there.

Van der Leun: Do you think we’re capable of coming together in large groups anymore? That is, without a small task force of tactical squads to control us?

Allen Ginsberg: Well, it’s been done! It’s been done a number of times. If the police hysteria is removed, if the opposition of the square community is removed, then there’s no question. If you get sensible pacifist policemen like the Hog Farm and the communes to organize things, it’s likely to be a better scene; and if you have time and preparation and cooperation. Obviously, given the massive overpopulation on the planet, things like Woodstock are an inevitable lemming-like development.

Van der Leun: You were talking about Jagger’s participating in antiwar demonstrations as an odd-front thing to do. There’s another figure of Jagger’s stature, Bob Dylan, who seems to put himself more and more into the background; seems to fade more and more into his own privacy. Between Jagger and Dylan you have the old dichotomy of public life versus private life.

Dylan seems to have withdrawn not only from public appearances, but from recording his own material as well. His next album will contain many selections that are not only not his own, but seem tangential to any kind of social or political awareness. Blue Moon, Ring of Fire, and Take a Message to Mary are to be some of the cuts on the forthcoming album. I’ve heard some tapes of these tunes and they’re not very good at all…

‘Dylan has almost singlehandedly brought language back into its original poetic form which is minstrelsy.’

Allen Ginsberg: Well, we’ll see. Remember, Dylan’s fading into a classical American background which is partly political, or psycho-political. If he can integrate himself into Southern, Country-Western, Folk, Automobile-Truck-Stop music and get himself very firmly grounded there, then whatever develops out of that will be on a really vast and universal basis. Whatever message or whatever communication he makes through that mode of music might be very beautiful. I would take it that he’s just practicing.

You see, when you have a really great poet like Rimbaud or Dylan, you simply have to trust them to go through their changes. They all have to go through changes because nobody stays the same. Sometimes someone like Dostoevsky, or Kerouac, or Pound can go through some really weird changes that seem reactionary or strange, but the fallout of their artwork is always revolutionary. You know, they may be preaching ‘Love the Czar’ like Dostoevsky; but the fallout of it is a spread of intelligence, a spread of insight, and a spread of perceptions that wakens all sorts of younger people and older people.

I think that Dylan has already given so much of himself and so altered the course of poetics in America that no matter what he does it’s just gravy at this point. Dylan has almost singlehandedly brought language back into its original poetic form which is minstrelsy.

The people who were carrying on the tradition for English poetry were actually just the blacks, through the great oral treasury of historical blues in America, which was neglected as poetry though it was the only great, original poetry on this continent, except for a few geniuses who knew that the voice was supposed to be connected with poetry and not just writing on the page.

Pound knew that through Whitman, but Dylan actually brought it back to the old tradition of Campion, Waller, and the minstrels, lutenists, songsters, and musicians of Shakespearean times. He also drew from black tradition and folk sources so that he built a great twentieth century art out of roots—out of ground roots, out of earth roots, out of folk roots—and made an electronic minstrelsy, which was a mighty achievement.

Now he’s going deeper into an exploration of white roots and ‘Amurrican’ roots, and I think that’s just interesting—particularly for one who’s been so far out in his surrealist fantasy before—for him to try and ground himself in a family body and sing out of that. If he succeeds in putting his soul into it, it should be a great unifying influence. If he succeeds.

Like everybody else I sort of wish that he were a little more crazy-magnanimous and open. But he’s already been so crazy-magnanimous and open, and spaced out, that to him it may have been a question of whether to live or not. He may have perished if he had not changed. He may have worn his body down, spaced his body out. So he’s like complaining that he wants to live instead of kicking the bucket immediately for the edification of the crazed masses. I think anything he does is all right. I have this feeling for him like you have if you’re married to someone or have a sweet uncle.

Van der Leun: What of your art? A couple of years ago you had a tape recorder which Dylan gave you and you were working with, that along with your long rambling journals in a spontaneous, top-of-the-head fashion, out of which things like “Wichita Vortex Sutra” originated. Where has that method gone?

Allen Ginsberg: I used the tape recorder for several years in composition. I still do from time to time, but for two years I used it extensively. “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is the centerpiece of a 200-page manuscript called Long Poem on These States, which is a Whitmanic title. A lot of fragments from it have been published all around.

Van der Leun: That’s from Whitman’s Preface to Leaves of Grass, isn’t it?

Allen Ginsberg: Yes, well, he uses that phrase all around, you know. He says, “The proper poet of these states will be a great bullshit artist, and so on…” Anyway, I’ve got this giant, long poem which is continuing throughout the war, sort of like a time capsule. I suppose that sooner or later I’ll terminate it. Either I’ll give up in despair that the war’s never going to end, or when the poem becomes obsolete because the war does end… perhaps.

‘There’s an old hermit up the road who’s got a television operated on golf cart batteries so we hear all the news. The electronic paranoia penetrates even to the deepest woods.’

Van der Leun: Has living in the country altered the character of your work or sensibility?

Allen Ginsberg: Not much. Although I’m in the country a lot of the time, I’ve got a telephone. And there’s an old hermit up the road who’s got a television operated on golf cart batteries so we hear all the news. The electronic paranoia penetrates even to the deepest woods.

I’m in the country on account of an acid trip I took in Wales a couple of years ago which I wanted to articulate, manifest, and bring into my everyday life. I had an ecological nature vision. So I decided I should act out in a firm and substantial basis the visionary perception I had of the integrated, Wordsworthian, nature life I imagined on the acid. There’s a poem in Planet News called “Wales Visitation” which is labeled “LSD, 1967.” I wanted to act it out and have begun to do just that.

I’ve learned to milk a cow and milk goats. I’ve seen goats born, and taken care of chickens and planted peas. I’ve worked on water system problems and independent power sources such as solar heating and wind chargers. As a consequence, I’m beginning to get a little more firmly grounded in the basic, practical necessities of community existence. I’m getting a better idea of what a vast undertaking a city is; the difficulties of seven million bathtubs running at once.

If you’re on a farm where you have to worry constantly about water and you suddenly imagine New York and everybody with their taps open, it’s insane! The waste! And the luxury! The realization that all those people are like a bunch of junkies hooked on gasoline, electricity, and water supplied to them from Jehovah above.

Van der Leun: Do you view the recent shift towards the country of those people who were originally into the cities and urban communes as a permanent withdrawal from the cities, or as a kind of general synthesis of urban and rural hip lifestyles?

Allen Ginsberg: It’s an inevitable historical development. There’s too many people on the planet, and the cities are overcrowded; eighty percent of the population is in the cities. It’s inevitable that people flow back into the country.

Van der Leun: How then do you relate to the fact that while many hip, white radicals can go quite freely to the country and live where they desire, most blacks and other members of the Third World are tied to the ghettoes, both culturally and economically? Can’t this withdrawal be viewed as simply a hip extension of the white suburban mentality further into the rural areas?

Allen Ginsberg: Yes, it’s partly that. On the other hand, there are just some problems that can’t be solved by keeping everybody in the city. The city cannot solve its problems on its own terms because the city is unnatural historically and ecologically. As more and more hip people get out into the country, you might be able to make some sort of breakthrough in the long run that blacks can take advantage of.

Van der Leun: Along what lines?

Allen Ginsberg: As the white population gets hipper about the country, there might be alterations of the whole welfare system so that people could get welfare out in the country. A federal welfare system instead of a city-oriented one or a state-controlled one so that blacks will be able to get welfare and go into the countryside in New York or elsewhere and still get minimum monies and subsidies for doing rural work on farms.

In all, I think a general move to the country is absolutely necessary for everybody. Oddly enough, that was even envisioned by the federal government. President Johnson made a statement on television saying that eighty percent of the population was in the cities and that it was unhealthy and that we should introduce legislation that would encourage people to live on small farms.

Van der Leun: How do you relate to revolution? Specifically, how do you relate to the upsurge of violence and bombings that have occurred of late and seem likely to occur more often in the future?

Allen Ginsberg: I’ve never bombed anybody.

Van der Leun: Well, okay. But what do you think of it?

Allen Ginsberg: I think the bombings precipitate a faster police state. I think they bring on a reaction just like Hitler screaming about law and order. They give more and more Hitlers more and more excuses to scream about law and order. Bombings terrify the middle class populace, which is already uncertain, and frightened, and terrified of planet doom. It just makes it easier to impose military tyranny in America.

I think the revolution is a head revolution, basically. It’s got to be. It has to be a spiritual revolution which will just slowly and organically manifest itself in society as it has been doing in the communes, in the steps backwards and forwards. If we have time, that is. If the ecological crisis doesn’t wipe us all out. If we survive, then any evolutionary progress that comes will have to come, I guess, through an alteration in people’s character. And that’s a tough job.

Van der Leun: Then you don’t think it’s a two to three-year flash acid self-discovery trip towards instant Utopia?

‘You can’t get the liberals and the left together. Sure, liberals are creepy, but the left is also creepy.’

Allen Ginsberg: I think it’s like what I was talking about. Getting a farm and working on it after having a flash ecstasy. You’ve got to manifest it and articulate it.

Van der Leun: What are you going to be doing from now on? Are you just going to keep on keeping on, or do you have a plan or a vision?

Allen Ginsberg: The vision I have is that everybody is the same person. I’m working politically along that line, assuming that the police are the same person as myself, and so I have to deal with them as I would deal with myself.

The other thing I think is that the flash revolution is made more difficult by the fact that the revolutionaries are themselves at each other’s throats, as has been historically true in the twentieth century. I don’t see how any government that could be formed out of the revolutionary elements as we know them would be supportable any more than Stalinism was supportable. It’s screwing up the whole scene. You can’t get the liberals and the left together. Sure, liberals are creepy, but the left is also creepy. The black groups can’t get together. They’re fighting with each other. And there’s just as much animosity coming in from the right.

Van der Leun: Do you think it smacks of a plot by the Reality Studios in Washington? Do you think the Left is being set up?

Allen Ginsberg: To some extent. I had one experience last year on a peace march in New York which had been organized by some old guard leftists. Halfway through the march, the crazies grabbed banners, got up in front of the peace march, shoving aside the Gay Liberation Front. Ultimately, they took over the bandstand and the bandshell in Central Park in New York and wouldn’t yield to any other group, declaring themselves the avant-garde of the revolution with clenched fists and pig-scream mantrums, Bring the War Home violence injunctions.

I remember what a bring-down that whole scene was. There were people from the peace march fighting in the bandshell over who would get the microphone. One of the guys that was organizing the takeover of the march turned out to be one of the same secret policemen who turned in the bombers associated with Rat newspaper. The whole bring-down-paranoia-nerve-vibration sabotage was a police plot as well as natural paranoia. The only way I can see getting away from police plots and natural paranoia is absolute peace-awareness. So in that sense I agree with John Lennon.

I’m not sure we’re going to be able to survive with that kind of program, but it’s my natural inclination and it is my vision, whether on acid or in natural epiphanous experiences, so I can’t deny the evidence of my senses. I mean, I get mad too. I get outraged and freaked out. I think that Marcuse has also made some statements to the effect that the current series of violences on the left is making it easier to bring on a police state.

Van der Leun: If that’s the case, how can we stop it either in the movement or in ourselves?

Allen Ginsberg: You can’t stop that any more than you can stop the capitalists from massacring money bodies. The same spiritual conditions that produce bombings in the cities produce bombings in Vietnam. They work together.

Van der Leun: What do you think of pornography?

Allen Ginsberg: Everybody wants it, so it seems to be something that’s natural. If it’s liberated and allowed to come upfront, it would certainly become more natural, and more beautiful. And also the amount of it would diminish, at least the ugly stuff.

It goes back and ties in with what we were discussing about poetry: an articulation of actual consciousness, of the actual contents of the head and body as distinct from a fake political or social consciousness such as might be found in Reader’s Digest. Given the definition of art as the reality of our thought and feelings, then, since the percentage of our thought and feeling is erotic, naturally, any representation or graph of our native mind will include erotic imagery, pictures, stories, and fantasies. It’s 100 percent natural. There’ll always be the manifestation of pornographic delight in any honest art.

Van der Leun: Then you don’t agree with certain factions in Women’s Liberation that want to suppress all pornography as being humiliating or debasing to the female form?

‘Well, see, you’re kind of cute. I mean, you’re no raving beauty, but…’

Allen Ginsberg: No, I say bring out pornography which is not humiliating or debasing to the female form. In other words, bring out beautiful pornography. I think the reason we get so much non-erotic pornography—and there’s an awful lot of it—is that really beautiful pornography is the first to be attacked by the state. When the erotic is made really pretty and interesting, it’s the first thing to come under attack; just as with Ralph Ginsberg’s Eros. The beautiful black and white couple embracing got him busted because it was so beautiful. It blew everybody’s mind because it was so beautiful.

Van der Leun: It blew their minds because he was black and she was white. They couldn’t handle that. The other way around would have been cool. As it was, it was too much.

Allen Ginsberg: Yes, that too. Still, the more beautiful the pornography, the more it’s going to be politically questionable by the CIA, who wants to keep everybody suppressed, repressed, and brought down and pessimistic and frightened and fearful and paranoid. I think the only answer to the problem of ugly pornography is beautiful pornography, and the only way to do that is to totally liberate pornography. In that case, good, beautiful pornography will overrun and bring down ugly pornography. The question is, how do you reconcile the beautiful pornography with being a great, big, ugly, pendulous belly shoe fetishist?

Van der Leun: There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming number of those around.

Allen Ginsberg: Oh, there are. Lots! Look at me. You know, sexual freedom does imply beautiful people. Not everyone is beautiful right off; though sexual freedom will make people more beautiful.

Van der Leun: I don’t think that naked bodies are particularly ugly.

Allen Ginsberg: When they’re free, they’re not ugly. For instance, ten years ago… Well, see, you’re kind of cute. I mean, you’re no raving beauty, but… Ten years ago, with short hair and an awkward social scene, you would have been a really repulsive specimen of American manhood, whereas now one could dig you erotically.

I think that’s happened to a lot of people. Like I’ve been digging cats erotically for a long time, and I notice that people I never would have thought of sexually before just because their faces weren’t as pretty as I would have wanted, or their bodies were hidden in square clothes… I mean that people that sometimes have great bodies don’t have such good faces, and the clothes are bringing out the body more lately. Then with the long hair there’s a sort of frame around the face which makes it more attractive.

The suppression of long hair was originally intended as the suppression of the body. The historical genesis of short hair was the Prussian military schools just before World War I; that’s when short hair came in. Short hair was always, first and foremost, a military maneuver. It had nothing to do with spiritual or moral questions.

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  • ThisIsNotNutella May 1, 2022, 7:15 PM

    From G-Man to Z-Man (Well, kinda, sorta. If captured the Agency will disavow) in 50 Years. That’s quite some trip.

    I never lived these times so it’s a foreign country to me. But what comes out of the interview is a kind of Sancta Simplicitas straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s uncanny hearing it direct from G rather than reading Kerouac saying it about other people’s natures.

    This was good.

    Note to Self: Shoot the Poets first! Errr scratch that… Gerard would you perchance be interested in a Cask of Amontillado?

    • Vanderleun May 1, 2022, 8:34 PM

      I would be but I hate caves and catacombs.

  • Mike Malone May 1, 2022, 8:23 PM

    Might I suggest that the “cerebral fog of the fifties” is a derogatory perspective from those who never had to fight a world war. My 97 years old mother, who riveted B-24 stabilizers said, “After growing up in the depression and living through World War II, when every day brought some horrible news, all we wanted was to live a quiet life and raise our families.”

    Their children (me), didn’t have to do that and don’t have their perspective (for the most part).

    • Vanderleun May 1, 2022, 8:33 PM

      One more time: Let me be clear since the obvious title has been ignored. This was written by a 26-year-old man in 1972. In San Francisco. Plenty of fog to go around.

      But I do agree with your mom.

      • Tom Hyland May 2, 2022, 5:32 AM

        I regret not striking up a conversation with Ginsberg. In 1980 I was 24 or 25 and I was intimidated by his intellect. I shoulda said to him, “Holy shit… where you’ve been” just to get the conversation rolling. It would have been okay, but I didn’t know where to begin. I spent a good half hour alone with Richard Brautigan at that time. That was easy because I had read every Brautigan book in print. Allen was just around the corner, living with Orlovsky, and also at several functions in Boulder where anyone could encounter him. At those gatherings he was always being interviewed and I didn’t interrupt. Like Chatty Cathy all you had to do was pull his string and watch him go. A very fine interview, Gerard. Good for you, good for us all.

        • gwbnyc May 2, 2022, 8:43 AM

          I spent a good half hour alone with Richard Brautigan

          in my 30s through 50s I notably resembled Brautigan. c.1983 a fellow remarked to me about it, we spoke a bit and that conversation put me at the the annual reunion of the Abe Lincoln Brigade for a number of years.

          people asked if I was him several times over the years. on the train one morning a man asked if I was related to Brautigan. he knew the family. that opened a conversation about him that provided description of personal experience. the man told me Brautigan was despondent leading up to his suicide due to feelings around his stalled career while contemporaries excelled- I believe he mentioned McMurtry and Wendell Berry in that mix.

          I resemble a famous circus freak, also, Eli Bowen. I look just like him (facially >:) and we have the same name. I exchanged mail some years ago with his grand or great-grand niece, Gabrielle (?)

          I’m driving-

          • Tom Hyland May 2, 2022, 10:35 AM

            It blew my mind when Brautigan killed himself. How did I never glue it together he was suicidal? Read every book, every poem, every everything and the entire body of work is fraught with despair, failure, cruelty, hopelessness… but FUNNY as can be! Make me laugh and I’ll follow you anywhere. A girl scolded me for telling Brautigan I’ve read everything he ever wrote… like that was a corny suck-up thing to say. He yelled at her… “WTF?? Are you kidding?? That’s the greatest thing anyone can ever say to me! Thank you my friend.” I read the massive Brautigan bio, “Jubilee Hitchhiker.” Richard was so unpleasant to be around that nobody went looking for him… for months… when his silence ensued. Imagine that freaking mess on the floor when he was finally discovered. Hey, I like the family photo, GWB.

  • bob sykes May 2, 2022, 5:22 AM

    I stumbled across Ginsberg’s work in a college bookstore in the 60’s. “Howl” was the first Beat poem or book I read. I’ve since read almost all of Ginsberg, Kerouac and some others. I have a small collection of City Lights books, the original pocket books. Ferlinghetti is my favorite. “Howl” is by far Ginsberg’s best work, and a classic of American literature.

    I’m not sure I fully, or even partially, agree with Ginsberg regarding the primacy of Black lyrics in American poetry, but he does have a point. I disagree with him regarding Dylan.

    For some time the Beats have been confused with the Hippies, but why I don’t know, other than that both were counter culture. The Beats, however, had genuine artistic ambitions, and were interested in social reform. The Hippies really didn’t.

  • PGT Beauregard May 2, 2022, 5:41 AM

    I started reading Kerouac in high school (early 80s) and became a fan of all the beats. Ginsburg was known to answer letters, so I wrote a few to him, and got a few back. I thought this was pretty cool.
    I have a vinyl album of him reciting Kaddish that he signed for me at a reading.
    He was a talented poet, and also a monstrous degenerate. Looking back, most of the things he championed have manifested, and are contributing to the rot that has destroyed this country.

  • KCK May 2, 2022, 7:38 AM

    I could shit on AG all day, and all through the night, but it wouldn’t enheap enough to cover up the factual evidence of his creativity with sets of words. Maybe I don’t trust or like the message, but I do respect the art. I like Picasso, after all.

    My hat’s off to your undeniable 60s cred, Mr. Vanderleun. You also string words together and make even a piss man look presentable. That’s a compliment. I do actually like to write in a stream of consciousness, myself, sometimes. It’s fun, and cathartic, and sometimes it employs a tension that one can feel. But, I also suck at it and leave the actual writing to experts.

    Just for fun, I’ll add that our waitress at a downtown Italian restaurant was telling us about her upcoming tickets for Paul McCartney and also for Bob Dylan. I joked: “will they come on stage in their walkers?” I can be an ass like that. She was a young 60s junky, and told how she was headed for the toilet backstage at a concert venue in NYC, and literally bumped into Bob Dylan – as in physically. He was courteous – she apologetic. She immediately called her dad to tell the story. I immediately asked if I could touch her arm.

    Full-on YES to writing freedom! Ironic how communism attracted, and I guess still does, those who want freedom.

    • Tom Hyland May 2, 2022, 9:16 AM

      Reminds me of a David Letterman monologue from the early 90’s. Dave told the audience of such an inspiring and warm-hearted moment of kindness when he witnessed a Boy Scout helping the Rolling Stones cross the street.

    • gwbnyc May 2, 2022, 11:05 AM

      A friend was a writer for the male counterpart of “Womens Wear Daily”- “Daily News Record” (?). Anyway he got comp tickets to the stage presentation of “A Bronx Tale” as a one man show up for three nights to sell it. So we go, and I sit next to Henny Youngman and his wife. At intermission we peed in adjacent urinals. When I got home I called the old man and got him out of bed to tell him about it.

      • Bunny May 2, 2022, 11:27 AM

        I met Kaye Ballard once at one of my husband’s company events (I mean one of his events, not one of my husbands, I’ve only ever had one). She said we looked like we were going to a wedding. It was only later that I realized I had been dissed. True story!

  • James ONeil May 2, 2022, 10:07 AM

    Good on yer, the young Vanderleun!

    Van der Leun: Do you think we’re capable of coming together in large groups anymore? That is, without a small task force of tactical squads to control us?

    O’Neil: Today? Even with tac squads such seems impossible. The powers that be divide us 24/7. Even here different are dismissed or denigrated, tribal purity trumps commonality of interest.

    Here particularly most are reasonable and rational, logical with laudable aims, to a point. Said points differ; some it’s skin color, some sexual proclivities, religious doctrine, red or dark hair, mode of transport, monetary support, haven of last resort.

    A tight, large group, in like Flynn, until such a point is hit, then outside looking in. Here, often such blows over, or appears to, but sores ignored fester.

    Tribal. It’s not that we don’t want them here, of course they prefer to be with their own people. America the melting pot, now the dozen, or more, many many more, dumpling pan.

    Understandable. The powers that be divide, been doing so for decades. Hear the lie often enough you accept it, consciously or subconsciously. Used to be no politics or religion at the dinner table for good reason. Commonality of interest, enjoy the meal.

    Back in the day we knew Uncle John, drunk, would surely dance, lamp shade topped at the Christmas party, but we’d still go and enjoy it anyway. Today we stay away, and miss the wisdom sober John would oft impart.

    Tribe’s far too small to counter them that be, but join with the other tribe and another tribe we could, perhaps, take the day.

    Alas, no way. They do things we don’t want to see. The different are dismissed or denigrated, tribal purity trumps commonality of interest.

  • Richard G. May 2, 2022, 12:18 PM

    I have a memory distant in time, as a young child, encountering Alan Ginsberg who was standing alone on the secluded beach at the mouth of ‘Raton’ canyon in Big Sur. He was facing the ocean engaged in a running narration, a glottal phonic translation of the ongoing monologue being spoken by the breaking waves as they dashed themselves upon the shore. It was punctuated with ‘HISS’ from the dying foam of each receding wave. Many spirited crashing and gargling words.

  • BroKen May 3, 2022, 7:06 AM

    For some reason this comes to mind:

    “I know a man whose brain is so small
    he doesn’t think nothin’ at all!
    Not the same as you and me.
    He doesn’t dig poetry.
    He’s so un-hip, when you say, “Dylan”
    he thinks you’re talkin’ about Dylan Thomas–
    whoever he was.
    The man ain’t got no CULTURE!
    But it’s all right, Ma,
    everybody must get stoned.”