Friday, November 29, 2013
I took a stroll down memory lane today – literally and figuratively.
The film – staring Harry Potter as Allen Ginsberg – was just too intriguing to miss, especially when it dealt with the early years I had been researching anyway.
The theater was on the lower east side, a part of the planet Hank and I wandered frequently in the late 1960s, and near where my daughter was born.
I spent time there later although it was not there that I met Allen Ginsberg for the first time. But since the theater was located on
E. Houston, it brought back each memory of him.
The film called “Kill your Darlings” (a news room term for getting rid of complicated sentences something I am sometimes guilty of in my column) the film deals with the meeting of the core Beats – Carr, Burrows, Kerouac and Ginsberg. While not completely accurate, the film was precise enough and dealt with the first of the three Beat deaths and perhaps the most troubling – Carr’s murder of his gay lover.
Harry Potter (I can think of him as no one else) was brilliant in his portrayal of the young Ginsburg and his coming out as gay – this being horribly shocking no doubt to Harry Potter fans, although in many ways, even the Potter character had those tendencies despite his getting married and having kids at the end.
I met the real Ginsberg in our home town of
Paterson on what I believe was his 50th
birthday. He had returned to Paterson for what was then called “The Great Falls
Festival” (later renamed in his honor) at which time he got himself in trouble
with the mayor of the city for admitting he had just smoke a joint prior to the
reading. The mayor issued an arrest warrant later based on Ginsberg claim.
The reading went well enough. People treated him like a returning hero, and after the event, even through him a birthday bash at a local café, and since I was one of the local poet/writers who had participated in the open reading, I was invited to attend. By the time I arrived, Ginsberg was drunk and in full glory as all the girls and boys grooved up to him. He was not your typical rock star type, but accepted their adoration with little arrogance. But he was horny, and seemed to be looking around for someone who might keep him company later, in private, at which time he noticed me.
At first I thought he was joking. And then when I realized he wasn’t, I told him to go away.
This seemed to often the host of the party more than it did Ginsberg, a slight that left me out of the poetic social club for several years – until the memory faded.
I saw him read a number of times later, and if he recalled me during those meetings, he never let on.
In the mid-1980s, my friend Michael and I barged into a lecture Ginsberg gave at
where we accused him of selling out. William
He had just abandoned City Lights publishers for a major publishing firm, and we saw this as something of an affront to those who admired the Beat movement and all it supposedly stood for. Ginsberg did not call the police, although the professor did ask us to sit down and be quiet or leave.
We sat down.
Years later, I saw Ginsberg several more times at the Dodge Poetry event (when it was still tolerable and held at Waterloo Village), one of the last events before Ginsberg’s death – after which I was invited back to Paterson to take part in his memorial service.
Over the years, I got to meet many of the other Beats – not Carr or Kerouac – but some of the others Ginsberg helped, some still residing in the same
Lower East Side I strolled through
today. All but one of them are gone now – the last few clinging to the old
traditions in Hudson County and Woodstock, New York – the poet remains alive in
me, especially when wandering streets to which I always connected with him even
before I actually met him. Hank and I as teens had scoured these very streets
for the remains of the Beat movement Ginsberg and others had started in the
late 1940s, and in some ways we never found it, or at least not until today
seeing it portrayed in the film and then walking out again into that same world
Ginsberg spent so many years living in, his feet strolling along these same
walks, seeing many of the same things I saw in the twilight.