[Allen Ginsberg and Joe Strummer, backstage at Bonds International Casino, Times Square, New York, June 10 1981 – photo c. Hank O’Neal.]
As Allen recounts it: ” (In 1981) I was listening to a lot of punk, and I’d heard about The Clash from Steven Taylor. I went backstage once at their 17-night gig at Bonds Club on Times Square and Joe Strummer said, “We’ve had somebody say a few words about Nicaragua and (El) Salvador and Central America [they were promoting their album Sandinista at the time], but the kids are throwing eggs and tomatoes at ‘im. Would you like to try?”. I said, “I don’t know about making a speech, but I’ve got a punk song about that.” Simple chords, we rehearsed it five minutes and got it together”.. “They led me onstage at the beginning of their second set, and we launched right into the guitar clang. It’s punk in ethos and rhythmic style for abrupt pogo-dancing, jumping up and down, but elegant in the sense of having specific political details. First stanza drags a little, but there’s one point where we all get together for two verses, an anthem-like punk song. Only one tape exists [not entirely true, actually] taken off the board. They gave me a copy and it’s been sitting around all these years like a little toy.”
– and again: “So, we rehearsed it for about five minutes during the intermission break and then they took me out on stage. “Allen Ginsberg is going to sing”. And so we improvised it. I gave them the chord changes.”..”It gets kind of Clash-like, good anthem-like music about the middle. but (then) they trail off again. The guy, who was my friend (Charlie Martin?) on the soundboard, mixed my voice real loud so the kids could hear, and so there was a nice reaction, because they could hear common sense being said in the song. You can hear the cheers on the record…”Capitol Air” was written (in 1980) coming back from Yugoslavia, oddly enough, from a tour of Eastern Europe, realizing that police bureaucracies in America and in Eastern Europe were the same, mirror images of each other finally. The climactic stanza – “No Hope Communism, No Hope Capitalism, Yeah. Everybody is lying on both sides..” We didn’t play the whole cut because we didn’t have enough time, but they built up a kind of crescendo, which was nice, when the whole band came in”.
Joe Strummer: “Yeah, we have something never before seen – and never likely to again either. May I welcome President Ginsberg, come on (out) Ginsberg!”
This recording appeared, a decade and more later, on the 1993 CD box-set, Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs 1949-1993, and can be listened to here.
The upshot of this Bonds gig was further involvement with The Clash. When the band came back through New York six months later, Allen visited them in the studio and was invited to tighten up the lyrics, and indeed to perform, on one of the tracks, Ghetto Defendant, (subsequently included on their fifth studio album, 1982’s Combat Rock).
Yes, listen carefully, at the end, that is Allen – gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha – voicing the Heart Sutra.