Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ginsberg, gone again

Something had to give. 2013 is the year for voluntarily scaling down and simplification. Whether this is because a major relocation is in my future (spoilers?), or just the sweet release of getting out from under the weight of all those books, I have to make it so. Only 5 major bookcases exist in my house, which means a lot of crates under the bed and in various closets. Am I getting all pro-Kindle? That's for another discussion…

I've had a rather sizable tumescence for what is nicely termed "The Beat Literary Experience". Pride or deride the proto-hippies if you must, I find mid-20th century American literature as interesting as the lives of those who participated in it. Art is usually always a reaction to the world the artist lives in; these post-WWII cats were just as broadsided by their civilization as we are with ours. But life was aesthetically simpler for the Beats and their groupies since the underground had not been commoditized: there was no Hot Topic or Junkman's Daughter to get the left-of-center to part with their money. Whether it was sex, drugs or revolutionary ideas that banded them together, they got their decade or so in the spotlight.

The three with the most literary merit (or output, if you're being kind. A prolific artist has his/her own brand of merit, I am certain) were close friends - at least in their early lives. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs occupied a lot of space on my bookshelves. Not so much their work (although I seem to have an old, almost original Grove Press edition of Naked Lunch gathering dust), but bios, autobios, letters, mantras, sutras and interviews. There are sidetrips to Tangiers, one-offs by lesser known colleagues and the ever present muse/sex object (usually both).

But I am afraid, in the great literary diaspora of 2013, someone had to go and I'm afraid it's Allen's turn.

It's not that he wasn't likable. Gawky kid with a crazy parent, hallucinogenic visions complete with famous poet cameo, Columbia, San Francisco, India, Beat Hotel in Paris, then the long-haired hippie godfather and underground elder statesman. I heard him speak once before he died, I think. It was the early '90s and I had pilgrimaged to Manhattan with a companion to pray at our forefathers at CBGB and the Chelsea Hotel. Ginsberg was speaking at St. John the Divine on the upper westside and we wound up sitting so far in the back that your mom could've been giving the presentation and we'd scarcely had known. No, that's not right, of course. Ginsberg's voice did nothing less than carry like a clarion call - cathedral or no cathedral.

So, why does he get the boot and not Bill or Jack? I admit Jack was a hot, sloppy mess - most of his biographers went out of their way to highlight just how much he could bring down a party with all of his pitiful, liquored-up grousing. His literary output, for the most part, tread the same streets, just another decade older and less sober (one of the reasons I stopped writing; I didn't want to fall into the Kerouac Syndrome, telling the same story ad nauseum). When I read about artists' lives (and I do read a lot of them), Kerouac's song of great-heights-to-crashing-lows is the one I hear over and over. Allen had his moments, sure, but for the most part, he rose above them - and what's exciting there?

And Bill - well, if you don't know about Bill, I can't help you here.

So, farewell, Allen. I certainly understood when you pined for both Jack and Neal; I can genuflect at your equal rights example by having such a long term relationship with Peter. I admire the ground breaking against censorship, the group 'om's and willingness to be an example, for leaving your middle class American comfort zone to go to India and dig the poverty, the maddening crowds, the burning ghats. Yours was a life we all need to know more about and hopefully Spielberg will give you the Lincoln treatment someday soon.


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