Herbert E Huncke, “the original Beat”, “Elmer Hassel” of On The Road, who died August 1996 (despite a life of excess, he lived to the ripe old age of 81) would have been 96 today.
Sadly, Ben Schafer’s 1997 compendium The Herbert Huncke Reader is out of print (tho’ second-hand copies are still available and well worth tracking down). More immediately available are a series of recordings he made towards the end of his life, reading some of his deceptively simple first-person prose recollections, From Dream to Dream (available in its entirety on Ubuweb).
Among the pieces featured there are the title piece for an earlier collection, “The Evening Sun Turned Crimson”, the typically gentle, compassionate “Elsie”, and “New Orleans 1938” (a piece that can be heard in 1997, given a spirited reading by his friend Edgar Oliver). That, and, even more poignantly right now, Janine Pommy Vega reading his review of the autobiography of the legendary hobo, BoxCar Bertha (the only review Huncke ever wrote) come courtesy of our friend Laki Vazakas, who’s own full-length documentary Huncke and Louis, a distillation of many hours of footage is another gem definitely worth seeking out.
Huncke was the great impromptu story-teller, as can be seen in Laki’s short video from 1994 of him holding forth at Café Nico in Manhattan’s East Village. Similarly Manhattan-local is the footage of him (and another Beat legend, Gregory Corso) shot by Francois Bernardi for his film Original Beats and featuring footage of Huncke in his room at the Chelsea Hotel. A further section from that film (Huncke discoursing) is available here.
He can also be seen, some years earlier, 1983, on the Woodstock Public Access program, The Velvet Trigger, reading “Song of Self “ (the text is here), and, sitting with Allen and recalling Jack in “Whatever Happened to Kerouac” (see our link in our “streaming videos”). There’s also an interesting interview with Johnny Strike, conducted in 1982, on Reality Studio