Bono: I just bought Woody Guthrie‘s Bound For Glory. I’m just a beginner when it comes to America. I mean, it’s changed me. When you go to the US coming from this country, it’s more than a different continent…
Van Morrison: It’s shell-shock.
Bono: Yeah, coming from troubled Ireland, it’s the real shell-shock! I’m just getting acquainted with American music and literature. Do you still see Allen Ginsberg?
Bob Dylan: I run across Allen from time to time, yeah, Gregory Corso‘s back now, he’s doing some readings. I think he just published a new book.
Bono: I’ve just been reading this book Howl
Bob Dylan: Oh, that’s very powerful. That’s another book that changed me. Howl, On The Road, Dharma Bums..
Van Morrison (to Bono): Have you read On The Road?
Bono: Yes I have. I’m just starting that. You have a reference in one of your songs to John Donne, “Rave On John Donne”. Have you read his poetry?
Van Morrison: I was reading it at the time
Bob Dylan (to Bono): You heard the songs – Brendan Behan songs?
Bob Dylan: “Royal Canal”. You know the “Royal Canal”?
Van Morrison: His brother wrote it. His name is Dominic
Bob Dylan: Oh, Dominic wrote “Royal Canal”?
Bono: You know, Brendan’s son hangs around here in Dublin. He’s a good guy, I believe.
[Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan & Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, New York, September 28, 1960 – Photograph by Richard Avedon c.The Richard Avedon Foundation]
Fast forward 20 years later, June 15, 2004, Dublin
Bono on Allen (from his remarks on Jerry Aronson’s The Life And Times of Allen Ginsberg DVD set)
I fell in love with Allen Ginsberg’s poetry round about the time, I suppose that I fell in love with America, and, you know, it was such a new world for me – going to America and the band and U2, you know, we were, we were starting to have some success, you know, we were like twenty, twenty-one years old, and it seemed like this was just so different to Europe, and it made sense to me that, in the way that America needed a new music to describe it, like jazz, it also needed a new language to describe it, and I think Allen Ginsberg and the Beats created a necessary language to describe the place they lived in, not just the physical landscape but the sort of psychological one.
I started on a journey to discover America, not just he cities and the towns but the writers, and I started to read Whitman and I started to read Ginsberg, you know. I discovered Howl. I read Jack Kerouac, I read On The Road, you know, all the classic Beat stuff, but “Howl” was more where I lived, you know, in terms of my own pilgrimage, if you like. And then (The) Fall of America was a real influence on me as I was writing the lyrics for The Joshua Tree. Again, The Joshua Tree was our kind of portrait of America, as, you know, the promised land – and the broken promises. And, coming from Ireland, I just knew that.. I just recognized that – a voice that saw the possibilities of America and howled at watching them squandered.
I remember seeing a film of Bob Dylan (“Don’t Look Back“, I think it was called) and he starred in it for a minute, Allen Ginsberg, and, there was a lot of sneering in that film, and I felt he was kind of the hippie kind of guy in the middle of all of these punks, really, and I kind of related. I liked that about him. I mean he was.. he led Bob Dylan into that sort of dizzy, drunk, language of those, you know, incredible Bob Dylan songs from the ‘Sixties (with) the sort of fractured language, the sense of seeing around objects, that’s part of his, you know, getting inside the mind of the thought, as it’s being expressed. That’s got to have been influenced by (James) Joyce, not just Whitman (who always gets credit) and the jazz people who were, obvious, host to him and his talent. I think there is a Joycean aspect to Ginsberg’s view of the world
[James Joyce (1882-1941)]
I think he was also very aware of lineage, you know, and the people that had influenced him, and the people who he might influence, and I think he put himself out of his way to be a tutor, and.. I mean, I certainly needed one. I never went to college, and I never.. I was, you know, self-educated and I learned everything out of books and a lot out of his books. I think he kind of knew that, tho’ he never patronized me, and he encouraged me.
When he died, I remember Sotheby’s (I think it was Sotheby’s or Christie’s?) [editor’s note it was Sotheby’s] sold all his belongings. Some of his friends were appalled – “Oh my God, they’re selling everything belonging to Allen, they’re selling his pens, his ties, his suits!” – “how shocking!” – and I thought it wasn’t. I thought it made perfect sense, because, I’d been in his apartment before he died, and he put everything, packed everything, away, he was meticulous about recording, every photograph he’d taken, every shoe-lace!, every shoe was in a box, marked. So I think he would have been well up for being auctioned off in pieces. And I went through the catalog and I said, “Wow, I think I’d like this copy of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan. I thought I used to have a copy of that. I think I lost it somewhere. I’m going to get it back. Wouldn’t it be sweet if I could buy it out of his..out of his library, out of Ginsberg’s library. So I bid for it – and I got it! Thrilled to get it, it arrived in the post and I went ,“Wow! I got this back, from Allen Ginsberg”, and I opened it up, and written it in was “to Allen from Bono”. And I then realized that I had given him the book that I was then buying back! – I could hear him laughing at that.
[Allen reading “Miami” on the set of the U2 video shoot – from the MTV documentary U2- A Year In Pop – see here]
I think the last time I met Allen was in New York City. It was snowing. We were staying in a hotel (Soho Grand, down in the Village), and we were filming something or other, related to “Zoo TV”, and Allen started to..reading “Miami” (no, it was from the “Pop” album), a song called “Miami”, he started reading the lyrics. And then we said, “Do you want to be in the film?”. He said, “Yeah, of course I do, I’ll be in the film”..and (you know, he was such a ham!) and so he sat, he put himself, in one of the deck-chairs, outside on the balcony in the snow, got a blanket, like one of those old-age-pensioners that you’d see in Miami, and recited “Miami, my Mammy, Miami”, and turning these..turning these words into poetry, actually. This was a great gift to me.
What made America great in the twenty-first century was started in the twentieth century by risky people, risky lives, Beat Generation inspired, West Coast, lateral thinkers. At the very top of that tree has got to have been Allen Ginsberg. Allen gave me a way of seeing America, a language to describe America that felt as sexy as the place was, as dizzy as the place was, as high on itself as the place was, and he was to words what Charlie Parker was to music and the twentieth century needed those characters to describe itself.
Bono’s introduction to Allen in 1995 (at the Cuirt International Festival of Literature), more early-expressed enthusiasm, may be found here.