Allen Ginsberg in Ireland – (Allen filmed in Galway, when he was over for the Cúirt Literary Festival, in 1995). Local “character”, Mark Kennedy (of Streetcorner Productions) recently put up on You Tube a curious half-hour documentary (from 2007), perhaps more revealing of him than it is about Allen, but we thought, nonetheless, we would share.
“Getting To Ginsberg” is the title, focusing, as it does on the frisson – a tired and harrassed Allen is, at one point, quite explicitly, telling Kennedy “You’re being irritating”..”You taking advantage of me to talk about yourself on..camera, and then talk about me in stereotypes”. Kennedy’s, likewise explicitly-announced, hero-worship (“he was, to me, the embodiment of everything that was brave and free of careerism and self-interest. He took risks that very few men would take”, he says, regarding Allen’s participation in ‘Sixties activism – he was “the King of the Hippies”) is seriously countered by a bruised ego, spilling into vituperativeness and anger ( “how dare he correct me in that manner and accuse me of trying to fuck with his head”)
The first half (a full eleven-and-a-half minutes), prior to the Ginsberg-Kennedy encounter, consists of unedited footage of Allen at a book-signing, spotlighting Ginsberg’s on-the-road patience (he even compliments one of those seeking an autograph for his patience, at one point) though the fractious tone is immediately set – “I can’t agree with you because you’re not loud enough and you’re not enunciating either”..””..not unless you speak loud enough for me to hear, come on!”
One highlight (beginning approximately six minutes in), self-confessed “Bob Dylan fanatic”, George Moynahan
GM: Did you see the film Renaldo And Clara?
GM: It’s been withdrawn, I believe
AG: It was so badly received in America that Dylan withdrew it temporarily, until he..until it would be..
AG: .. a time..
GM: Personally, it’s one of my inspiring documentaries
AG: I thought it was pretty good
GM: Yeah, me too.
AG: I like it because I have a nice big role in it.
GM: You did, yeah. Your (part was) particularly memorable.
AG: The fourth-largest, I think. And he had a very nice intention, trying to present me to his audience..
AG: ..very consciously.
GM: Yeah he did..
Another notable encounter occurs (at approximately ten minutes in) when Allen is generously presented with a present of drug paraphernalia (“Well, you know, I don’t smoke very much”..”Who made all these?” (it was a set of pipes, hand-crafted, hand-made) – Noticing drug residue on one of the pipes, Allen politely refuses – “You have no idea, they’ve tried to get me any number of times” – “I thought they’d sort of leave you alone” – “No way. I’m much too paranoid to carry these things around”… “actually, I get strip-searched..” – “Still?” – “Not so often, but there’s the old (records)… from 1965 on..’
MK: I’ll tell you a little story. This building next to here, which is now redolent of the Galway new big wave of destruction..
AG: Which building?
MK: This building..here. The curbstone is still left, as you can see, and the path is rather low, wouldn’t you think? It used to be an asylum for gentle folk..
MK: ..when I was a child, I lived down here, and, as children, we used to come and stand outside to hear the screams and the travail of people in there. And now it’s left an indelible impression on me, you know, as a boy, I sort of became a voyeur, emotionally, in some way. How are you enjoying Galway?
AG: No, but what was the.. what happened to the building?
MK: Well, it became.. it fell into disuse because genteel people disappeared from Galway, as far as I know
AG: Well “genteel”, “mad” people. What happens to all the people now? Where do they go? What sort of problem do they have now?
MK: Oh well…Ballinasloe, which is on a par about with Bellevue Hospital in New York
AG: Bellevue is not so bad now
MK: Well I’m happy to hear that, Allen. Were you ever in there?
AG: Oh yes, many times..
MK: Were you? Were you really?
AG: ..with my mother, visiting, other people, visiting, Peter Orlovsky, visiting,
MK: How marvelous!
AG: …oh god, any number of people.
MK: But you were in there as a visitor, I hope?
AG: Yes. I spent eight months as an in-patient in another hospital, much earlier, 1948, yes..
MK: Did you?
AG: …but I had a good time
MK: Oh wonderful! But you’ve always been such a wonderful..
AG: I met interesting people, and, since I wasn’t really in a bad state, I was able to use it as a rest hotel and write a lot of poetry.
MK: Splendid, splendid.
AG: I met Carl Solomon there
MK: Yes, yes. Well, when I met you, in 1974, you were at the height of what I would call, if I may, your “rant” period.
AG: I don’t know if that’s correct.
MK: Is it?
AG: In 1974 I was writing.. No, I had done a lot of Buddhist meditation (by then).
MK: Yes, that’s true, and when I saw you at the Troubador.. (Los Angeles)
AG: I think you’re stereotyping me there.
MK: No I’m not Allen, I don’t mean to do that at all.
AG: At the Troubador I was singing “all the hills echo-ed“, I remember.
MK: Well what image do you think that young people have of you now?
AG: Well I hope a mixed self-image.. I don’t know what I am.. What am I supposed to do? One fixed image?
MK: Splendid, splendid. I was talking to the little receptionist in the hotel today.. Catherine..
AG: Young girl?
MK: Yes. And I asked her if she knew who you were..
AG: Oh, please!
MK: Do you know what I mean?
AG: Well you could spare me that now.
MK: Well give me a break, Allen
AG: You could really spare me that.
MK: You have a public persona
AG: You’re being irritating.
MK: Sorry, Allen.
AG: You’re being irritating, It’s like.. you know, when they say, “don’t point, it’s bad manners”!
MK: I’m afraid of you, that’s all.
AG: No, fuck you, you’re not afraid of me, you’re taking advantage of me.
MK: I’m sorry.
AG: You’re taking advantage of me to talk about yourself on the camera – and then talk about me in stereotypes on top of that.
MK: Yes, alright.
AG: Now, what is your actual social business?
MK: My actual social business?
AG:You’re clearly talking to me for your reasons, you have your reasons, but (the) appropriate reason was that you were doing some work documenting.. interviews or, documenting civil liberties.
MK: That’s right, that’s right
AG: So what sort of thing is that?
MK: Well, for instance, we have in this country the travellers, you’ve heard about them, have you?
AG:Yes, I know.
AG: I’ve been reading about them
AG: I’ve been reading about them
AG: It’s a very interesting aim.. compared to the gypsies, who, a few years ago, in this country.. more dignified..
MK: Yes, in any event, this [hands Allen a video-cassette] is a documentary which we made (Forced Land) and we, Niall Hughes and I,
AG: Niall is the one on the camera?
MK: Yes, sorry Niall. We are unemployed people (well, we are unwaged, but we are busily employed with this work).. Now, I don’t know what impression you’ve gotten of Galway?
AG: ..So far?MK: Yes. Well, I wonder if you have seen the Galway that we are struggling to alter
AG: No, I haven’t
MK: Well.. there’s
AG: What part of town is that?
MK: Well What area? what ethnic area? This area..this area is..Hillside, it’s called, where the traveler people live, four hundred families, four hundred persons, who have one faucet for cold water, Up to their ankles in mud, etcetera, etcetera, rats and what have you.
AG: Are they forced there by the state?
MK: Well no, they’re not actually forced there by the state. They are a separate cultural entity, they insist on their nomadic rights. What the authorities are saying is break up the clans, disperse them throughout settled neighborhoods…
MK: …which means break up the culture.
AG: Yes, I’ve seen some argument about that in the newspaper..as being an imposition of a ..society culture on the minority and the minority culture has long virtues, dating back centuries actually, of coherence and cohesiveness and community values
(NH): They actually tried to establish that they are a seperate ethnic culture
AG: Well they obviously are.
(NH) But they have to establish it in fact before they get any kind of recognition as a separate people. otherwise they’re not accorded any special status..
AG: I hereby accord them any special status I have power to accord them
MK: Thank you
(NH): Can we impose on you..
AG: .but.. I’m not very much of an empowered.. type.
MK: Well, we also need mention too, before you leave this country, that in July of last year , there was a public order act passed, which made it possible for any policeman who didn’t like the looks of you, or me, gathered here, having a conversation. We are four, the law states, that if the policeman, in his opinion, thinks that we’re engaged in conversation which might – repeat might – later lead to..later lead to a breach of public order, he can take all four of us down there
AG: Yeah they have a new law.. there are currently laws in America like that.
AG: But Britain has those kind of Constitutional Courts and we don’t..
AG: .. so that maybe there’s some prohibition, except that they.. The Supreme Court now is so right-wing that you never know what to think about this..
MK: I know, I know
AG: The only way out of that, so far as I know, is some kind of coherent, non-aggressive, cheerful, public..
AG: Resistance is (too close to) beaten
(NH): It’s already been done?
AG: No, no, it already implies defeat..There’s got to be more more energetic, more urgent..
(NH): Any gesture taken in anger..
AG: You wanna put words in my mouth? – great!
(NH): Excuse me, sorry, Allen.
AG: Any gesture taken in anxiety creates more anxiety. Any gesture taken in anger creates more anger. Any grand gesture taken agressively creates counter-aggression. Any gesture taken in calm and equanimity creates calm and equanimity. Lucidity creates lucidity. So what lucid form is there of appealing to others, except..poetry?..
(NH):..music, and film
AG: Film, I think, but you have to do it without..
AG: Rancor yes.. I want to go in and enjoy myself
(NH). Yes. Thanks for that statement/
MK: Allen, if I offended you, I’m glad because at least I got to you.
AG: No, no, I was jut talking.
MK: Thank you Allen.
Will you take “Forced Land” as a gift, it’s an American..American edition. Thank you Allen.
The door closes (at approximately twenty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and Allen is left to his privacy. Niall Hughes keeps the camera rolling, to allow Kennedy to deliver a coda
MK: We have Mr Allen Ginsberg at last, in the heat of the hunt. Now I don’t know what anybody else expected but I know I don’t know what I expected, but my memory of Ginsberg was that he was in a rant on that day – I don’t care what he says – and he was playing at the Troubador Hotel, not the hotel, but the nightclub, on Santa Monica Boulevard, in Los Angeles. (I strolled in there by accident one night and, just for you celebrity-lovers, it was the nightclub in Hollywood that had the distinction of barring John Lennon)., So I went in – I’d never seen Ginsberg before (I’d read a great deal about him, I’d read about his influence on the Berrigan Brothers, the two Jesuits who were active in the Catonsville Nine, and I don’t need to go through all that history) – but he, to me, was, to use a literary word, “seminal” (I mean, he was always talking about semen, anyway), and he was a man who greatly impressed me, because he was the polar opposite of myself. He was a burl.. well, at that time, was a burlesque-ing street- theatre lunatic hooked on the ecstasy of the ‘Sixties, and I don’t mean the pill, I mean the ecstacy of the awakening of that time. Now, whereas Ginsberg, who is a man of probably twelve years older than myself, he must be approaching seventy.
MK: Or whatever he is, whatever he is , he made me angry
(NH): He made you angry?
MK: ..and I might counter-attack him with a .. he’s a bit too fuckin’ cosy, for my liking, anyway – how dare he correct me in that manner and accuse me of trying to fuck with his head!.. anyway, that aside, he was, to me, the embodiment of everything that was brave and free of careerism and self-interest. He took risks that very few men would take, and any man who rushes into the Chicago police, who, at that time, were rioting, in 1967, at the Rubin trials (sic), and all that, anybody who rushes in with nothing to offer but his moral outrage and anger is a brave man, regardless of what he might be otherwise. Now what I’m trying to lead up to here is that I was living a completely different life to him. I was on a remote island, by myself, trying to live the Zen life -and I was.. around Buddhism too, if he puts me to it – but I won’t, I have to be nice! – Now my immediate reaction was, if he walks away from me and leaves me here, I’ll attack him in no uncertain terms on the business of his approval of homosexuality with minors. By the grace of god (and presumably Buddha!), he had the grace to take me by the arm and take me after him.
Now, the positive thing he did was that he forced me not to ask him cliched questions
(NH): This is tonight now, yeah?
MK: Now. When did I.?. ! – No, fuck it!. Now..
(NH): You started off talking about..
MK: Now.. The story that I was going to tell him, and I’m going to tell it here was this – that I went into that hotel today and the young girl that was inside the thing was a very sweet child, no more than sixteen, you know child-slave, like they have in these places, and I said to her, she.. she gave me another note that was for Allen Ginsberg, because she thought I was Allen Ginsberg. Now that was the first thing. The second thing was, I told her I’m not Allen Ginsberg, I want to leave a note for him, which I left, and, just as a matter of course, I said to her, “Do you know who he is?” – And she said, “No, no I don’t” – She was all misty for it – and I said, “Well, he’s a hippie, he’s the King of the hippies, you know, just like that. She said “Was he?”. I said, “Yeah, he was”. She said, “You mean, all that flower..” I said, “Yeah, that thing”. And she lit up like a Christmas tree, man, and she said “Gee, I don’t.. I didn’t know that”. Now, she knew about the enlightenment movement that went on in the ‘Sixties, she knew about the awakening of the ‘Sixties, and I wanted to know if she did (because she was only about fifteen) and, whether he likes it or not, Ginsberg is an iconic name.
The film is dedicated to the late camera-man, and co-producer, Niall “River” Hughes, who speaks on camera on a number of occasions. The film is also dedicated to Allen, whose name is, unfortunately, mis-spelt – Alan Ginsberg (sic).