Francois Bernardi’s short film, Original Beats, is this weekend’s film-showing – featuring.. two of the most hard-core (Beats) – Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke – and a paean to a lost New York – Times Square and the Chelsea Hotel (no longer, the same Chelsea Hotel these days, nor the same Times Square, sad to report).
It opens with footage of Huncke in the back-seat of a taxi-cab – one rainy evening in Manhattan – fish-eye glimpses of the Chelsea (interiors and exteriors) – Huncke’s genial narrative. Gregory Corso first appears about two and a half minutes in:
GC: “The FBI caught Huncke and gave him some marijuana and said plant this in Ginsberg’s house and we won’t bother you any more. Huncke called up Allen and told (him) what the FBI said. I was there. Allen immediately called up Robert Kennedy (because Robert Kennedy had gotten in touch with Allen earlier on, getting the vote, lets say, with the people that Allen knew – and Allen knew a lot of people – and he (Kennedy) knew (that) he was an influence in New York. So Allen calls Robert Kennedy and says, “Look, get the FBI off my back! – they got this guy, Herbert Huncke, they wanna lay pot on him and plant it in my house, so I get busted”. And bam! – never again did it happen to Allen. Now that’s a fact of life.”
St Mark’s Poetry Project, Jan 10 1996 – Huncke (looking back on incarceration): “It could have been any time from, well say, roughly ’47 or ’45 might be that far back, to about ’54” – Gregory: “Yeah, I went there, 17 years old, I was 17. I left at 19”. Huncke: “I never saw you” – Gregory: You were ’54, man, you were fucking 1954. You know where I was (then)? – I was at Princeton. I was fucked out of Harvard..what are you talking about?…I don’t care about the age of people. If I can put my parents down so I can put (down) you. See, I know this system, it’s good. But these fuckers are heavy-weight too.”
Legendary book-seller, Roger Richards speaks on camera about Huncke – Huncke himself tells his story – Gregory again:
“..And that, I think, Chicago, put the Beats on the map. When we gave a poetry reading there, in 1958, it was in every newspaper.. that was the big one.. it was Chicago that did it.. they loved us..everything, Time magazine, all the papers there, and all that, we were on the biggest, famous shows there.. it was a breakthrough. And Ginsberg and I hit it off without even planning. What we did was, he read his “Howl” poem, which was heavy-weight serious, and I read my “Marriage” poem, which is heavy-weight-serious-funny. So.. And we both put each other down. Me and Ginsberg yelled at each other (so) that they couldn’t touch us. For instance, one of the people in the audience said (Gregory mimics prissy accent here) “Mr Ginsberg, Why is there so much homosexuality in your poetry?”, and Allen said, “Because I’m queer, madam!” – yuk, yuk,yuk, I mean there was no way they could touch us, no way..”
Huncke on queer friendships – more Roger Richards on Corso and Huncke (“(two) guys that never think of anything but the moment..I envy them..”) – Huncke reminiscing again – Roger Richards on hipster argot – and attitude – and authenticity. Corso reads from “The Whole Mess..Almost” – Roger Richards: (“Nobody writes like Gregory I swear, you wouldn’t even believe it, it just.. they come out whole..”) – Herbert on traveling and finding (a) home – footage of vintage 42nd Street – Roger Richards: (“I always assumed that he (Huncke) and Gregory had known each other a long time, but they didn’t really know each other, and, as they got to know each other, Gregory wound up with a terrific kind of respect for Herbert, you know, as this old guy who knows..”
“There was a guy who went through his garbage every day, looking for a bag of dope, empty bags of dope, not the police, him, so he could write about it and sell it to the newspapers” – “I was in the big prison that he ended up in before I went there, even tho’ he is older than me. Yes, let me tell you (about) that one, that’s a big one – of course – ok, he ended up, Mr Herbert Huncke, in Dannemora prison. He entered when I left and that’s a fact of life. I entered Dannemora prison, Clinton prison, at the Canadian border, in 1947, at the beginning of ’47 – I had to do two to three years. I entered the youngest (they told me) ever in that prison, and I left the youngest ever in that prison (I left at 19). When I got to talk to Herbert about his prison days, he had mentioned that he had ended up..in Dannemora, and I said, “oh, really? what year?” (turns to Bernardi: “do you have any idea?, did you ever ask him that? – (no?) well, why the fuck didn’t you ask him that?, these are important things about people’s lives – like I got a one-up-manship on that 76-year-old bastard and I’m 62, that’s a one-up-manship!”) (strains his ear)..he went in 79? – he is 79? – even more so, even more, he’s a 79-year-old fart and here I am a 62-year-old angel! Anyway.. being in Dannemora prison, the heaviest prison in New York State, ok.. –
Herbert Huncke, on prison: “It’s “the Tombs”..it’s a matter of adjustment..”..”don’t always be a victim” – Roger Richards historicizes again – Huncke, on “the Beats”: “I would never have known them unless I’d had a criminal record, in all probability. I think they came looking for excitement vicariously. Why would they have been interested in 42nd Street and what they thought was the underworld at that time? (I represented the underworld for them.) They thought they’d gotten real close to it, close to the real thing, to put it that way.So that’s how it affected them.” – Gregory, on Times Square: “I used to hang around there in 1942 and ’43, when the war was on, and I was a 12-year-old, 13-year-old who ran away from home, and I would get money and food from these old faggots who would come by and pick me up to take me out to eat – and then I’d run (I never had sex with the sonuvabitches!), but I’d eat first, I knew that game. In fact, that was where I was busted to go to Dannemora, (I)was living on 42nd Street (and that hotel is still there, 42nd and 9th Avenue), ok? ..(I was part of a? walky-talk gang?) and they popped us.
I never encountered in those days, when I hung around that area..which is the most deplorable area to hang around, I mean only the lowest of the low hang around there, if you got nothing to offer society or even themselves, (they) hang around there, to burn people, to steal from them, to hustle them, all of that kind of shit – and that’s where Herbert hung around? – there was nothing classy there..if he had hung around Greenwich Village, he might have had the ball-game (sic)” – Herbert replies: (“It wasn’t my place. I didn’t want to see the village. I told you why. I was kind of fed-up with the so-called “bohemian” scene”) – Roger Richards (what Huncke brought to the Beats) – “I think that I started them all moving, frankly. They certainly were a dead-beat bunch, other than verbalization, when I first met them, all of them” – Roger Richards (on his influence on Kerouac) – Huncke himself (recollecting Kerouac) – Gregory, the poet (reading (from) “Puma In Chapultepec Zoo”) – Roger Richards (on Huncke’s prose) – Huncke reading (“..time doing as we desired..”) – “You said it, that’s it, that’s it” – two “Original Beats” – Huncke and Gregory shake hands.