Allen Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997)
“Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s.
His first published work, Howl and Other Poems (1956), sparked the San Francisco Renaissance and defined the generation of the ’50s with an authority and vision that had not occurred in the United States since T. S. Eliot captured the anxiety of the 1920s in The Waste Land.
Ginsberg’s bardic rage against material values, however, was in a voice very different from Eliot’s scholarly mourning for the loss of the spirit. In his second major work, Kaddish (1961), a poem on the anniversary of his mother’s death, Ginsberg described their anguished relationship. In the 1960s, while vigorously participating in the anti-Vietnam War movement, he published several poetic works, including Reality Sandwiches (1963) and Planet News (1969). The Fall of America received the National Book Award for 1974. Collected Poems, 1947-85 (1995) contains all of his important work; White Shroud (1987) includes poems from the 1980s. Ginsberg sees himself as a part of the prophetic tradition in poetry begun by William Blake and continued by Walt Whitman. He names his contemporary influences as William Carlos Williams and his friend Jack Kerouac.
He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression. Ginsberg is best known for his epic poem “Howl”, in which he celebrated his fellow “angel-headed hipsters” and harshly denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.
Αn tribute to one of World’s greatest poets. His quest for peace, freedom and compassion in all areas of life continues to inspire those who read his poetry.
I recorded him and helped promote several music club appearances at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in the ’80s. He was very grateful to be the yenta king in a folk and blues venue. One show he was backed by Don Was on bass. I would encourage him to do more singing and read from his diaries. Things he did all the time, but he took direction and also made up his set on the spot. The improv nature of his public work. He was also pleased I helped expose him to a new audience. There was no age limit and a lot of people in the 150 seat room never had seen him read before. Let alone first discovering some of his books.
I think I asked him a question about time management as well. The reality of decisions around the artistic life. He said something like, “If you have to make a choice of two things do them both.” I try and apply that concept once in a while.
I remember saying to AG after one show, “I think I’ll pretty much stick to the writing and the reporting and the documentation aspect of my journey with the emphasis on the music. I don’t think I can deliver on stage the way you do. Like, man, why even bother? You just blew everybody out of the room.” “Oh, come on. I’m just an old ham.” Even on his recordings he was never afraid of a microphone.
I wish he could have hung around the physical world a bit longer, for many reasons, but also to participate on uncensored satellite radio or free form Podcasts. His poems strike on the printed page but he was meant to be heard on tape. You can hear it in “Howl” or the radio broadcast of “Kaddish.”
I always get a kick when my pal DJ Little Steven on his SiriusXM Underground Garage channel plays a portion of “Howl” as a short bumper or brief segue into a song on his playlist. Allen would dig hearing himself after a Hollies record and before a Doors tune.
Do you remember anything funny or interesting from Allen’s interview?
Gregory Corso showed up for part of the interview conducted in Westwood, California in a conference room inside Rhino Records who had just released a Ginsberg box set “Holy Soul Jelly Roll.” He and Gregory then went over to a local radio station for an interview. A spontaneous beatific moment happened in front of me and it reinforced some things to me that someone like Allen could do work, have a schedule of performances and teaching gigs, but would always be available to also move on impulse. Or bring someone along with him for the trip or media exposure. He was also the king of collective promotion and served the community while chronicling the human condition.
I also bumped into Bob Dylan after the interview was first published in “HITS.” We had a brief chat about Allen and Phil Spector. And Dylan’s office called me to ask for additional copies of the magazine. That was cool.
Maybe because Allen’s work dealt with pain, perception, impact and improv. I recorded him in 1981 or ’82 at the Unitarian Church in Los Angeles and he did a mournful piece, “Father Death Blues.” As I heard it a blues tune was being revealed in front of me. It was chilling.
Who from THE BEATS had the most passion for the Blues & Jazz?
The more I talked with AG about poetry and blues and jazz he emerged as perhaps the most passionate beat about the two art forms. Primarily because not only did he know all the principals, he did some recording with a lot of them and really had an inherent understanding of how spoken word and music merged.
What is the “feel” you miss from Allen Ginsberg?
I miss his Great Energy, his Brilliant Mind which had so much poetry memorized, his determination to Do Good and to Resist the Military and Struggle against Violence, I miss his Sense of Dancing and Joy and Spontaneous Creativity! Wow! What a Genius!
A cranky uncle, I suppose. He always claimed I wanted to sleep with him. Oh, no way. My eyes were focused on young Achilles. A few times we had some delightful talks. He was certainly pleased whenever I had a lover, even if he did try to sleep with a couple of them. One day I called him “Rabbi Allen” and he squawked. But when one considers his “Kaddish,” it is not only an ode to his mother, but homage to the Hebrew hymn of mourning.
Allen spoke to me once of Vachel Lindsay, the Mid-Western American populist poet. Like me, he liked the rhyming chants “The Congo” and “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.” When Ginsie talked of such poets, “lost” to us now, he did so with passion. His love for the bohemian rebel the New York street outsider was real, an under-pining to his generosity of spirit. Get him going on the Manhattan cafeteria life of the 40s and 50s, whoa! He saw it as sweet terrain, and some of its unknown heroes as true precursors to the Beat Era.
Are there any memories from Allen Ginsberg, which you’d like to share with us?
I met Allen, Tuli and Ed Sanders from the Fugs, and the filmmaker/collector Harry Smith when I was a little punk rocker in the East Village. They were all very inspiring because they had remained so curious over the years. They loved the energy of the hardcore punk scene. They came to our shows and sometimes we backed up Allen as The Ginsburgers, playing his poetry/songs. He would yell “Louder! Faster!”
Harry Smith had an expensive Sony Walkman that the Smithsonian Museum had given him. He was quite elderly but he would stand in the moshpit with bodies flying by, recording the whole thing. And I would think, someday someone is going to find this in the Smithsonian archive and be totally baffled. I remember Allen climbing on top of his rickety kitchen table in his apartment to take pictures of the band and thinking he was going to fall and break his neck and it would be our fault for killing one of America’s greatest poets.
Knowing these men gave me permission to think about what I was doing and what I’d experienced in Milwaukee too–the Blues scene–to think about it in a cultural framework and in an intellectual way without feeling I was being pretentious. Ed Sanders would say “Write your history or someone will write it for you.”
I wish Allen, Tuli and Harry were still with us. Ed Sanders is a giant of a writer and poet.
Would you like to tell your best memory about Allen?
My best memory of Allen is watching the democratic convention w/ him. Estes kevaufer was a contender. I forget who actually won the democratic convention that year. We were at his father’s home in Paterson… Also when Allen recorded Mexico City blues by jack Kerouac late at night after he had arrived in Cambridge from a long trip. My nephew writer Matthew Power was with us. Allen probably started at midnight. We finished in the wee hours of the next day. Allen had the most inexhaustible energy. I wd drag myself around behind him. He just went on and on. He worked soooo hard.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from THE BEATS?
My most vivid memory of the Beats is of Ginsberg and Orlovsky trying to buy heroin in the Café de l’Odeon. One day I was with Peter Orlovsky and Ginsberg and a sick junkie desperate for a fix. They were given strict instructions on how to proceed to score in the Café de l’Odeon at midnight. The money was to be put between the pages of a book and they were told to look out for a Chinaman who would arrive at midnight and sit alone at a table. Ginsberg then had to go and sit down at the table and politely say, “Would you like to have a look at this book that I’ve been reading?” The Chinaman simply said, “No.” And that was the end of that. This may sound an absolutely trivial non-event but for me the absurdity of the situation was so ridiculous that it has always stuck in my mind to this day.
Are there any memories from your translation of Allen Ginsberg’s words, which you’d like to share with us?
I remember when I was completing the translation of Howl in Greek; it was an almost tremendous moment. As if the gates of time slammed beside my back and then proceeded to the vast plains of poetic eternity. That was really something; but it never happened again during, or after, the completing of a translation of his poems. Howl was a scar that right afterwards bloomed the flowers of a more conscious freedom.
How does the blues and jazz music come out of Allen’s words?
I don’t believe that the poetics of Ginsberg had too much to do with jazz, bebop etc. Only in a few poems, from the collection of Howl, Kaddish and Reality Sandwiches one can find an organic, a direct connection with the so called bop/prosody and jazz in general. In these few poems the role of jazz was really critical. But it was up to this point. Ginsberg’s poetry became all the more identified with the pop/culture of his times (I mean rock, phychedelia, left underground, politics…) and lost much of its value and vision.
In the 1940s, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs spoke of a new spirit. They got it in part from the European avant-garde of the late nineteenth-early 20th century. Humor, experimentation, a spiritual turn, radical freedom of expression, new visions, hallucinations. And they reacted against the hyper-industrialized, hyper-control-and-conform impulse of the post-World-War period. It was partly a nostalgia thing, an old romance, in some ways. The sixties was, in this sense, the end of the Romantic period, I would say. The sense coming out of the Romantic era and its revolutions that the individual is important, that the individual, one’s own sensations and experience are important. There is also an element of anarchism or at least a socialist politics in the sense of community organization, self-organization, small scale as important or more important than large scale. And a sense of compassion, which manifested for some of the Beats as Buddhism, and for the sixties in general in an interest in eastern religion and old pre-Christian European magic. Also it manifests in the idea that art can make a difference.
Which memory from Allen makes you smile?
All my memoires of Allen make me smile, because even difficult ones at this pinpoint are treasures.
What advice Allen Ginsberg given to you?
Allen’s advice to me was “You have to write your own history; no one will do it for you.” He said I was living history, and should write it down. That’s what the Beats did. They wrote about their lives. All of Kerouac is autobiographical. Ginsberg and Corso too. Allen said you have to have a product. You must have something that you have made and can hold in your hand, so you can say “I made this; this is my work.”
I was young at the time, and hadn’t made much of anything. So that was his advice.
Of course, he was famous at that point, maybe the most famous poet in the world. So everything he did, his diaries, his poems, his dream journals, would be of historical interest, but he would have done that whether he was famous or not. “You are living history; write it down.” It goes back to his realization as a young man that the voice of the poet is a time machine. 1948, he heard the voice of William Blake and realized that the voice of the poet lives down through time.
There’s a whole branch of America poetics that makes history live. Pound, Olson, Sanders. Particulrly Ed Sanders got it from his studies of ancient Greek language and literature — the idea of the poet as historian and moral philosopher. Poet as keeper of culture.
Why does Allen still attract a following? Because of the power of his desire. For thirty years he watched his mother go insane. Everything he did must have been shaped by that experience. It created a need in him of epic proportions, so his life had to become a great heroic epic. His life was saved by poetry and his writer companions and he created a movement in order to keep living, in order to not go mad, and pushed it and pushed it until half the world knew his name. He published a thousand pages of poetry, that was the record of his Odyssey. Well, it’s a theory.
He performed thousands of times. He was like a jazz musician who plays a tune on the road, in clubs, before he records it. Allen’s secretary, Bob Rosenthal, speaks of this. Allen would write some new poems, and before they were published, he would perform them many, many times, make a few changes, and perform them again, and finally publish them. He performed so much because that’s how he made his living, also like a musician. Poets and jazz artists don’t make money on books and records. They have to gig. SO part of the reason he’s popular is that thousands and thousands of people saw him perform, like a rock star. He was a good performer. That energy is still with us.
Is the “BEATS” a way of life & what does the BEAT generation mean to you?
Ginsberg promoted The Beat Generation so his friends would have a movement that allowed them to survive. Allen organized get-togethers now and then but a number of Beats barely knew each other. I belong to the generation that came between the Beats and the Hippies. I am tough. I recover from disappointment rapidly and I make an effort to steer well clear of compromise, and any form of ‘ism’.
How do you characterize Allen Ginsberg?
Without his energy, faith and organizational ability The Beats would not have existed as a group, that’s for sure.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Gregory Corso about Allen Ginsberg?
By creating a movement and always being a friend, he helped Gregory to survive for sure. On his deathbed Allen’s final word to Gregory was a jolly “Toodeloo!” In between laughing as he told me about this, Gregory asked me urgently what I thought toodeloo meant. “Maybe, it means see you soon!” I answered. “Yeah, I thought that too.” Gregory replied looking briefly worried. “I’m the next!”
Are there any memories from Allen Ginsberg, which you’d like to share with us?
We were lovers for 6 years. That says a lot right there. Not that either of us were exclusive. And I liked girls more than men. But he was a very sweet man. The sweetest, really.
How does the music come out of Allen’s words?
I think you must be referring to our version of “Birdbrain”, or rather my band The Job’s version. We made up a totally different tune, a collaboration. The original was kinda like the 1960s TV Batman theme, and my band hated that. So we did a wigged out version and my only real contribution was the purposely off-key Devo-esque backup refrain: “BIRDBRAIN!” Afterwards, Ginsberg said, “I don’t understand your aesthetic.” He went along with it, but he thought it should be some sort of pop song, easily digested. But in 1980 we were interested in deconstruction, or scrambling of codes and genres. Like Devo’s version of “Satisfaction,” though that was 1977 and by 1980 they were already going pop, like Blondie was going pop (or perhaps always was). But the Talking Heads were still experimenting, we liked the experiments. I liked the Industrial bands, though I didn’t really figure out how to do it until much later. “blind-worm cycle” is the name for my post-Job band (named from magician-artist Austin O. Spare’s text), and we did the “American Mutant” score. That was mostly Dion Olivier of the band Late Young. But I digress, as they say.
Any part from your Best Minds: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg, 1986 you particularly like that?
…this was done as part of a celebration of Ginsey’s 60th…Teenager 20 – nearly gave up writing after running into academy wall of college – same old story: your mind ain’t o.k. as is – met Allen Ginsberg who gave permission – sanctity of the ordinary-basic haiku moment, H. Miller’s matchstick in gutter, Howl’s holy bum and asshole refined through Buddhist practice – everything’s o.k. but we still need discipline – I was big confused pain early 20’s, later relaxed due mainly to that original permission, a meadow for me to see I didn’t have to be tortured, though took a good 10 years and will always be a mess, probably, still in better shape than that kid who first saw him lead drunken Trungpa Rinpoche to stage – Ginsberg’s contribution: beyond poetry, politics, to show the space of mind both exist in, where problems unravel, poetry rises and self lets go – a chance for us all to the last outbreath.
What first attracted you to Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation & how has the Beats changed your life?
Allen Ginsberg said, America, “Go Fuck Yourself With Your Atom Bomb.” At 15 years of age those were my sentiments. I would not have expressed them for fear of punishment. But when Ginsberg said those words in his poem “America” I was encourage to be fearless, and to think and to believe that we could overcome the bomb, not be intimidated by the bomb. So. I say, America, “Go Fuck yourself with all your bombs and all your drones.”
Why did you think that Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation continued to generate such a devoted following?
They were honest, they were funny and they were creative. They were authentic and genuine and that is rare in the artificial environment in which we live.
Are there any memories from Allen Ginsberg, which you’d like to share with us?
Eating soup with him at a Polish restaurant on Second Avenue in New York, with lots of old Polish men and women around us, and no one knew who he was, or that he was a poet, or who I was, or cared who we were, and we sat and talked about poetry and no one bothered us or asked for his or my autograph. It was perfect privacy in a public place and it’s probably not possible in that way anymore.
(For Naomi Ginsberg 1894 -1956)
UCLA Center For The Art Of Performance At UCLA ,
Royce Hall Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Allen Ginsberg “Kaddish”
essay and CD liner notes music text
2006 release on Water Records
The Adventures Of The Imagination by Harvey Kubernik
In a Paris café in November 1957, Allen Ginsberg began the initial notations for “Kaddish.”
In “Ginsberg A Biography,” by longtime friend and author Barry Miles, Miles explained how Ginsberg planned to “employ a poetic form that he was trying to attain in his own time. He wanted to write something that he would himself regard as ‘awesome.’ Weeping as he read Shelley’s ‘West Wind,’ he knew that he wrote best himself when he cried; he hadn’t wept over his typewriter in a year.”
In 1958 Ginsberg was exposed to the Ray Charles’ records “Georgia On My Mind” and “I Got A Woman” at poet Ray Bremser’s Hoboken, New Jersey apartment.
Later in ’58, one night Ginsberg had been listening to Ray Charles again with his friend Zev Putterman in his West Fourth Street pad where the duo chanted passages from Shelley’s “Adonais” and injected morphine and methamphetamine. Immediately, Ginsberg started discussing his relationship with his mother Naomi. Putterman then read a copy of the Hebrew “Kaddish” prayer for the dead. “Kaddish” in Judaism is a hymn in praise of God, recited as part of the daily service as a mourner’s prayer.
Ginsberg quickly returned home to his New York City East Village apartment where he lived with Peter Orlovsky on 170 East 2nd Street. In the apartment, which looked down on an all-night Jewish bakery, he started impulsively scrawling “Kaddish” at his desk.
In one nonstop, forty-hour marathon session fueled by a few Dexedrine tablets, a tiny hit of LSD 25, and many cups of coffee, Ginsberg wrote the initial draft in both blue and later red ballpoint pen while Peter brought Allen boiled eggs and kept watch at the bedroom door so he wouldn’t be disturbed. Ginsberg steered his long winding poem to an intersection of tradition and commerce. “Kaddish” is dedicated to both Peter Orlovsky and Naomi Ginsberg.
On February 5, 1959, Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso did a sell-out poetry reading at the McMillan Theatre on the campus of Columbia University. Allen debuted “Kaddish” for the throng and his father Louis was in attendance.
The following year Ginsberg edited the manuscript of “Kaddish” and revised the text. On September 15, 1960, Ginsberg finished “Kaddish” and sent it over to Lawrence Ferlinghetti for his book with City Lights Press. “Kaddish and Other Poems” became the 14th title in their City Lights Books Pocket Poet series on April 29, 1961.
Miles mentioned in his stellar Ginsberg book that Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” “used a new measure in the poem. Whereas he had previously followed Williams and looked for his measure in everyday American speech, he now observed the fixed rhythms of deeply emotional expression: wailing, crying, the moaning at a deathbed or in states of extreme stress, on which he thought he could build huge poetic structures, as he had tried and succeeded in ‘Howl,’ Part III. The only way he knew to build a mighty rhythm was through repetition and syntactical parallelisms, repeats and litanies, because these were all present in natural speech.”
In the second week of November 1964, Ginsberg, Orlovsky and Corso gave four readings in New England at Brandeis and Harvard Universities. Ginsberg’s
70-minute rendition of “Kaddish” in a crowded hall at Brandeis, a predominantly Jewish school in Waltham, Massachusetts, stunned the audience and drove some to tears.
Ginsberg knew this was a paean with Jewish themes and at Brandeis felt the poem would be understood. Allen had now created an immersive experience for these listeners, who were not just his readers. The defining Brandeis event was recorded for radio broadcast. On this compelling oxide tape offering, Allen dedicated “Kaddish” to Naomi.
In January 1965, Allen signed a record contract with Jerry Wexler of the famed Atlantic Records label to distribute his live performance of “Kaddish” on an album.
In December of 2005 I spoke with legendary record producer and author, Wexler, then a partner in Atlantic Records with Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun. Wexler, who by 1964 among other groundbreaking sonic activities, produced records by LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, The Clovers, Joe Turner, The Drifters, and Ray Charles for the culture-shaping Atlantic label. Previously as a writer for “Billboard” and “The Saturday Review of Literature” in 1949, Wexler coined the term “rhythm and blues.”
“For me it all began with ‘Howl,’ and then when I read ‘Kaddish,’ it stirred the dark Yiddish currents in my own blood. I experienced the joy and anguish, the exaltation that great poetry will bring on,” Wexler remembers.
“I don’t recall when or how I met Allen, but I telephoned him to see whether he’d be interested in recording ‘Kaddish’ for our record company. Better than that: he had taped a public reading at Brandeis, and it would remain only for us to do the manufacturing: the album design, the cover photo, the mastering. At the time Atlantic Records was probably the hottest selling indie, running wild with r&b and rock, and ‘Kaddish’ didn’t quite resonate with our commercial catalog, but we could justify its inclusion because it fit one of our sub-phylum: East Side supper club material and some spoken word such as ‘This Is My Beloved.’ We also had a highly evolved supper club line. Man, we made 20 albums on Mabel Mercer and albums on Bobby Short, so this was not out of our purview.
“Producing that record is hardly suitable rubric. Allen brought it to me from a live reading he did at Brandeis University. We pressed it up and put it out. A record like that is virtually unpromotable. When I put out ‘Kaddish’ no one objected because no one knew about it,” he laughs. “I knew Allen very well before that. We did have a friendship.”
Wexler later went on to produce (with Barry Beckett) Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved” albums, and saw a relationship between Ginsberg and Dylan. . “Absolutely. They both were geniuses. Top of the line. Allen Ginsberg may not have influenced the generation as such but he sure influenced a hell of a lot of writers. And Bob Dylan, of course, changed the culture. So there is a correspondence between the two guys,” Wexler reinforces.
In 1975-1976, Ginsberg toured with fellow Gemini Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and appears in Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” movie. The soundtrack of the film includes excerpts from Ginsberg reading “Kaddish.”
Dr. James Cushing, author of four poetry books teaches literature and creative writing in California at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and hosts “Miles Ahead” and “Bob Dylan’s Lunch,” weekly radio programs on KCPR-FM and has programmed the Ginsberg “Kaddish” recording on his two shifts. “His association with Wexler shows that Ginsberg was aware that there was a mind at Atlantic Records—the same record label that released albums by Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane.
“For instance, I see a connection between ‘Kaddish’ and ‘Desolation Row,’ even though they are not on the same subject matter at all. Both poem and song offer a catalog of disjunctions, and ruptures, and violent losses and the beautiful compensations for those ruptures and losses. And that’s what the ‘Kaddish’ is if I understand the prayer in the Jewish service,” Cushing states.
Allen Ginsberg had used the words “bop kabbalah” in his 1955 epic poem “Howl.” In 1961, Ginsberg visited Israel and met the prodigious historian of the Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem.
The Kabbalah Center’s Rabbi Yehuda Berg is the author of “The 72 Names Of God.” In late 2005 Berg provided an interpretation of “Kaddish” to me we might consider investing in when hearing this newly available Ginsberg oral document product again, and not absorbing the reading of “Kaddish” as just a visit to the big sad bummer tent.
“Kaddish is, perhaps, the most misunderstood prayer from the liturgy of the ancient Israelites. Traditionally known as The Mourner’s Prayer, Kaddish is quite the opposite, according to the great Kabbalistic sages of history. The Kabbalists who composed this prayer as well as all the prayers associated with the spiritual path of the Torah, never considered prayer to be an exercise of worship or an act of praise. Far from it. Kaddish was a technology, a powerful instrument designed specifically to ignite the spiritual forces of immortality and thus gradually bring about the death of death in this physical reality. Kaddish is recited, not to mourn, but rather to help elevate the soul into these higher realities so that the journey to our true home is made easier for our loved one,” volunteers Rabbi Berg.
In a 1994 “HITS” magazine interview I conducted with Ginsberg in Westwood, California, I asked him about writing, performance and poetry readings. “The method of my writing to begin with is that I’m not writing to write something, is that I catch myself thinking; I suddenly notice something I have thought of when I wasn’t thinking of writing, and then I write it down if it is vivid enough. And as far as the choice of what to write down or not, the slogan is vividness, is self-selecting. So in a sense, the method is impervious to influence by the audience because I’m just thinking to myself in the bathtub. So even if it’s the most private, it’s the most public. I like to stick to something that is grounded in anything I could say to somebody, that they wouldn’t notice I was really saying it as poetry. Intense fragments of spoken idiom, with all the different tones of the spoken idiom, which is more musical than most poetry.
“I like the idea of seeing the development of the mind, or of the voice, or of the thought, or of the poetic capacity, and I want to leave that trail behind for other poets so they could see where I was at one point, or where I was at another. My oration, my pronunciation or my singing, my vocalization differs, and it builds. We wrote, and we were in the tradition of William Carlos Williams’ spoken vernacular, comprehensible common language that anyone could understand, coming from Whitman through William Carlos Williams through be-bop. So, I think what happened is that we followed an older tradition, a lineage, of the modernists of the turn of the century and continued their work into idiomatic talk and musical cadences and returned poetry back to its original sources and actual communication between people. We were built for it. I can talk. I’m an old ham,” concluded Allen, who also mentioned at our noshfest that in 1967 he attended the Rolling Stones’ “We Love You” recording session in London.
John Feins is a poet and writer who worked with Ginsberg as his assistant at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado in the late ‘80s. In 1998, Feins organized a memorial, on the first anniversary of Ginsberg’s death, at Borders Books and Music in West Hollywood, California where sections of Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” and other works were read aloud by fellow poets including Holly Prado, Harry E. Northup, Aram Saroyan, and John Sinclair.
“A lot of poets can’t read their stuff. Allen didn’t have that problem. The ‘Kaddish’ recording is a younger Allen but he was starting to get some of that more sonorous baritone. There’s a certain thing that happens when you let it all out. This poem is definitely a result of letting it all out and that helps in the reading as well. Something different is created in a forty-hour period of writing, and those long lines really enable a speaker to get projected. This is projective verse, Allen projecting himself, one thing leading to another, and that allows full breath and inspiration,” says Feins.
Harry E. Northup, East Hollywood-based actor/poet, is a co-founder of Cahuenga Press, and has published nine books of poetry. “Allen was not afraid. He was honest and he expressed his private thoughts in public. ‘Kaddish,’ which speaks from and to the human heart, enlarged our sense of humanity. There is darkness, the insanity of his mom, Naomi, and all the detailed horrors she experienced. Death and grief are two most important themes in poetry.
“His rhythm, breath and memory are deep and precise and sing long into the American, biblical night of prophecy, death and love. He has the deepest central thrust of any poet of the last half of the 20th century. His poetry has a deep resonance that goes back through Whitman, Blake, to the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah. Back to death and mother-love. He’s the blackbird of death,” Northup suggests. “ Forty-seven years later, we are still discussing this poem. The actual pocket book of ‘Kaddish’ is the same size as a compact disc package. This century the work is going from vinyl LP to solo CD and now ‘Kaddish’ is resurrected.”
As of July 2004, Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” book was in its 31st printing.
When Allen Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997 in New York City at his East Village loft of liver cancer and Hepatitis at age 70, that evening Bob Dylan was playing a concert in the Midlands at the Moncton Coliseum in Moncton, New Brunswick, and dedicated “Desolation Row” to Allen Ginsberg. Dylan had not been including the song in recent gigs.
“The Los Angeles Times” requested that I write a tribute on Allen for the paper’s Calendar cover story on him that was published that same week in 1997. I had seen Ginsberg read live a dozen times, co-promoted some of his local Southern California play dates, and in 1982 produced a live recording of his Unitarian Church appearance in Los Angeles. In 1996, I interviewed Allen for “HITS” concerning the recording, “The Ballad of the Skeletons” and his own verbal legacy. “It’s my mind on parade. That’s what the mind is for, to show other people. So I was aware I was laying out treasures in heaven, basically.”
In 2006 we are alive to receive and dig the play-by-play duties and audio reissue tissue moments inherent in Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” gift of destination.
Harvey R. Kubernik, January 8, 2006, Los Angeles, California.
An acknowledgement to the people that informed my “Kaddish” liner notes: Mitch Myers, Pat Thomas, Paul McCartney, Barry Miles, Gerald Wexler, Roy Trakin, John Feins, Harry E. Northup, Dr. James Cushing, Danny Weizmann, Mick Vranich, Gary Stewart, John Hagelston, Rhino Records, Richard Cromelin, Oscar Garza, Chris Darrow, Robert Sherman, Billy Phillips, Rabbi Yehuda Berg, Michael Hacker, and Allen Ginsberg.