[Allen Ginsberg with Pat Thomas, Rochester, New York Interview, 1984]
Pat Thomas‘ interview with Allen, published in 1984, in a little magazine he edited himself called “the Notebook”, out of Rochester, New York, deserves an unearthing and a dissemination. Rock n roll Allen. The piece was headed “Allen Ginsberg Speaks on The Clash, King Crimson, Kerouac, The Grateful Dead”.
We’ll draw your attention also to three early posts on The Allen Ginsberg Project – “Allen Ginsberg Was A Punk Rocker” (parts 1 and 2) here and here, and “More Punk Notes (Hardcore)“ – Not forgetting, Simon Warner’s magisterial over-view, (500 plus pages!) “Text and Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll”.
Pat Thomas: How did you get together with The Clash?
AG: I went to hear The Clash at Bonds when they had that seventeen-night run, and the guy who used to be sound man at CBGB’s [Charlie Martin] was a friend of mine and was their sound man and got me in and invited me back stage and then Joe Strummer said, “Ah, Ginsberg, when are you going to run for President?”. I said, “Never. I don’t wanna go to diamond hell [vajra hell]”. And then he said, “You got a poem to read on-stage?. We had somebody talking lectures about Vietnam and about El Salvador, people threw eggs at him, tomatoes.” So I said, “No, (but) I got a song with three chords, you wanna try it here in the dressing room, and then we can do it?”. And he said, “Sure”.
PT: And that song was?
AG: “Capitol Air”, that I sung tonight. We went out and did it, an eleven-stanza version and we knocked that out right and the sound man turned my voice above the instruments, so it was the first thing that was heard that night with real words and so the crowd dug it, and so when they were at Electric Lady (studios) a year later, doing their Combat Rock (album), they invited me to come down, and then when I came in Strummer said, gave me the lyric to “Ghetto Defendant” and said, “You’re the greatest poet in America. Can you improve this?” I said, “Gregory Corso is the greatest but I can try”
PT: Did you improvise on Combat Rock?
AG: Yeah, they asked me to get on the mike and sing basso profundo (they wanted the voice of God), and then I started singing Sanskrit, and Mick Jones said, “More Sanskrit!, More Sanskrit! Then I ran into them again at Red Rocks (in Morrison, Colorado) and sang with them again at Pier 84 (in New York) and sang with them one night there. We’re supposed to make a single together, sooner or later, if they stick together [editorial note – this never took place]
PT: What do you think of their political views?
AG: They’re fine. They’re alert and active and they’re interested. And that’s why they were interested in that song.
PT: People have been accusing them of selling out.
AG: Well, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like an empty accusation. The wider spread they can get their message the better, I think.
PT: How does the new wave/punk movement relate to (Jack) Kerouac and the Beats ?
AG: We were a continuation of the old Bohemian movement – the ‘twenties and all that. I think the hippies and then punk and new wave and all that is just a continuation of the old Bohemian movement. Every generation is a little bit wrong, but it’s mostly right in trying to break out and start over again, and start at the ground and build something new and just not get smothered by the last generation’s solidification of a fresh idea. I think it’s great, that’s why I was happy to work with them (The Clash) – [Allen notices the recording-device] – What kind of a machine is that?
PT: It’s a recording Walkman, it’s about eighty-nine bucks, it’s got a really nice sound.
AG: It’s nice.
PT: It records in stereo
AG: Records in stereo?
PT: Yeah. Are you familiar with.. have you heard the King Crimson album, Beat.
AG: Yeah, I did. I didn’t think too much of the words,
PT: “Neal and Jack and Me”
AG: Yeah, I didn’t think the words were very inspired. I think The Clash’s words were. Strummer’s a better poet . I thought it was nice King Crimson cared, but on the other hand..who was it?
PT: Adrian Belew actually wrote the lyrics
AG: I didn’t think the lyrics were that accurate or inspired. Did you?
PT: I did. I think he’s genuinely into Kerouac.
AG: Yeah, but I don’t think he got the magical rhetoric. He didn’t get the Nazi milk of Kerouac. He didn’t get the outrageous purple hippopotamus or something
PT: I was really disappointed by Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band – “Kerouac”. Now to me that was really uninspired
AG: I know him (Willie Alexander) from Gloucester. Yeah, it’s a littler group. They didn’t have a big deal to do. I don’t know who did…well, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott has a song or two, and so does David Amram
PT: What do you think of the song “Cassady” by Bob Weir?
AG: It’s alright, they knew him. Actually, I never heard that until about a year ago. I went to a (Grateful) Dead concert and heard it. I hadn’t been to any of their concerts since (19)67, till 1982 or so.
PT: What do you think about the Grateful Dead, the “Deadhead” movement ?
AG: They obviously have a solid communal basis..[pause]..They(‘ve) last(ed) so long, like a good marriage. That takes stability and sensibility to do. The bands that I listen to at the moment, X, Dead Kennedys, I heard Black Flag
PT: Are you familiar with The Dream Syndicate?
AG: No, I haven’t heard of them.. A little band called Start in Lawrence, Kansas, I sang with. I recorded with a band called Still Life and (with) The Glu-ons
PT: And you worked with The Black Holes
AG: I worked with The Black Holes and The CD’s in Toronto. I worked with The Job in San Francisco, wherever I can I work with somebody. I did meet this guy tonight [his accompanist on acoustic guitar at his Rochester performance], he was great.
PT: He was excellent.
PT: Thank you.
AG: Yeah, okay.
PT: Thank you very much.
AG: Yeah, I got to get my coat…