Neal Cassady is our focus this weekend (perhaps more accurately, the influence of Neal Cassady) and, via the incomparable WFMU (out of East Orange, New Jersey) and their audio archives, four-and-a-half hours of live radio! – the occasion, February 7, 1993, at the Fez under Time cafe in downtown Manhattan (on the corner of Lafayette and Great Jones) – Nicholas Hill‘s show, “The Music Faucet” – a live broadcast (one day before what would have been Cassady’s sixty-seventh birthday) of their Neal Cassady Memorial, hosted by the super-ebullient and irrepressible Merry Prankster, Ken Babbs.
A word of warning, this is a singularly chaotic evening (though Babbs does a fine job, well, a pretty fine job, of m-c-ing, holding it together. The chaos is significantly compounded by a more-than-manic Peter Orlovsky exhorting the crowd to “vote for David Dinkins” (“the best President of the United States outside of Peter Stuyvesant!” (sic) – Dinkins, the incumbent, lost to Rudy Guiliani, who he had previously narrowly defeated, in the New York City mayoral race later that year). Peter’s hyper-activity is notably contrasted (complimented?) by a typically more measured set from Allen (“the invocation” from Allen, and “the sermon” from Peter, is how Babbs reverentially, and diplomatically, describes it). Aside from Ginsberg-Orlovsky, contributions from Janine Pommy Vega, Maggie Estep, Richard Hell, Vincent Katz, Bob Holman, and a whole host of others, here.
The show opens to the sounds of Miles Davis (“So What“) and the voice of Ken Babbs rapping over it (“It spread out to the city, it was in a subterranean place just like this, and it spread out from there into the streets, the subways, all the carnage of World War II was left behind in the muck and the sludge and what came out of that was a bright shining star, and that star’s name was..Neal Cassady!”) – The first few minutes are introductory (Nicholas Hill introduces Cassady scholar (“oral historian and Beat..mendicant”) Kim Spurlock, and the evening’s back-up band, “The Angel-Headed Hipsters” (featuring, among others, Jeff Buckley) – At approximately five-and-a-half minutes in, Spurlock begins reading, from “the Gospel of Philip”, “a Beat from the 2nd Century”, and then follows this with “a long lost poem of Neal Cassady” (“He wasn’t known as a poet, he blew free verse most of the time..but this is one, he wrote down, 1951”) – “I’m on the wings of Tanger-ian swells..” – At approximately seven minutes in, Spurlock introduces Ken Babbs. Ken Babbs introduces Allen Ginsberg by way of an anecdote about him and Kesey attending a performance of Allen’s at Naropa and Kesey fiddling with a flash-light – “won’t someone turn that flashlight off before it gets to me.
At approximately ten-and-three-quarter minutes in, Allen begins – but, first, some friendly banter:
Ken Babbs continues with a little history (“Neal Cassady, I met him back in about (19)60, when I was running around in Stanford there with Kesey and the gang and we put the bus together and Neal had just got out of the penitentiary for doing two joints..”) and a little drug “performance”
KB:Do you smoke the noxious weed ?
PO: Louder louder! – (I) should’ve bought my banjo – I got a low-neck banjo, it’s worth eight thousand dollars, anybody wanna buy it ? – it’s a Gibson banjo – made in 1929 – I learned how to yodel from the radio, 1949. You can do it too – Song number two now, lets stop it – [Peter addresses the band] – this is gonna yodel, boys, get our instruments to yodel now – [Peter yodels] –”I learned how to yodel from the radio in 1949″
At approximately sixty-five-and-half minutes in, Marshall Efron is introduced – (Efron to Babbs – “We met in nineteen hundred and sixty-four in California..’) – Efron comments on the ‘Sixties and the search for a ‘higher high”, tells adventurous tales of drug days (buying peyote), catching Lenny Bruce on an amateur talent show, the first time he saw Neal Cassady –
ME: The first time I saw Neal Cassady was at the first Acid Test at Muir Beach. I came in late, most everybody was unconscious or semi-conscious and there in this large wooden brown reddish room I saw this guy and I’ll never forget him, December of (19)65. It was Neal Cassady, tho’ I didn’t know his name at that time.
KB: Is that right? the first time you ever saw Cassady?
ME: First time I ever saw Cassady and he was pushing a brown chair across the room.
KB: That was Owsley! , that was Owsley!
ME: Oh that was it ..Well, I didn’t know I thught it was him. Cassady (Owsley) had just found this washing machine, an old dish-washer back in the kitchen and he came out and he was playing the hoses and getting this dish-washer going on this big long cord, spouting water out all the time…Well I’m destroyed. All these years I thought that was Neal. You come out here and you get wiped out
KB: That’s what this is all about.We’re straightening the record.
ME: I’m just so glad I’m high right now
KB: Me too
Peter returns (this time, interviewed by Nicholas Hill) about 92 minutes in –
PH: “Peter Orlovsky the famous interational poet”, say it
KS: That’s right
NH: It’s good to have you here Peter.
PO: Thank you sweetheart
NH: Truly a welcome performance
PO: Thank you Mr Gem.
NH: I’m Nick
PO: Well Mr Diamond
KS: Ok, “call me Nick Diamond”
PO: Just let him have it, come on Kim, just let him have it.
NH: There’s a bleep in the air for you.
PO: More than that. Diamonds in the air for you. For you, I didn’t say for me.
NH: Peter, tonight you were talking you were talking politics..
NH: Do you reember a guy in the ‘Sixties Free Speech movement inBerkeley named Stew(art) Alpert?
PO: Well, of course.
NH: One of the things he said was, “After the Revolution, we can go back to being Beats”, what do you think about that?
PO: I think that Mayor Dinkins..
NH: Yes, Mayor Dinkens.
PO: ..is the best President the United States will ever have. The first one was Peter Stuyvesant. The second is Mayor Dinkens, and its very important for all the voters and the non-voters to vote for Mayor Dinkins, because he’s against the fascist Mussolini-Guiliani, you understand? It’s very important now that we have a good mayor in New York City, I’m not speaking like Jesse Jackson because Dinkins is better than Jesse Jackso by a million-fold . No comparison between Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins. Dinkins is our sweetheart, Jesse Jackson is a foreigner, so to speak, he’s a hot-headed…
NH: Peter, Dinkins is..
PO: I met Martin Luther King. I met Martin Luther King
NH: What was he like?
PO: We went.. We were at a party together with Eleanor Roosevelt. Me and Allen Ginsberg
NH: Right. She was cute! a wonderful woman.
PO: She was better than that
KS: Gregory (Corso) saw her on the subway once.
PO: She was like Hilary Clinton. Hilary Clinton is trying to imitate, to be like, Eleanor Roosevelt
NH:In her sexuality as well?
PO: No, no, no, Eleanor Roosevelt was above sexuality.
NH: That’s right, she was a virgin.
PO: She was above, she was above sexuality. She saw the suffering that America was going through. She saw the bloody wars that were going to come up in America
KS: Saint Eleanor.
PO: She was the first real heroine of America, You must not degrade Eleanor Roosevelt but remember her name and bring out everything good from her..because she is the hero of American politics.
NH: And you met her with..?
PO: I met her with Martin Luther King.
NH: What were they doing together?
PO: And I asked .. we were up in a very expensive party for Martin Luther King to raise money for his movement
PO: Up at Dorothy Norman’s house, on East 70th Street ..in the Museum of…Metropolitan of Art. After the party (and I saw Martin Luther King there)..
NH:What did you think of him?
PO:He was surrounded by his workers, secretaries, who were very.. astute. After he.. I saw him.. I looked.. he had Buddha-lips.
PO: Then we went to a Chinese restaurant amd had a big meal. I asked him, Martin, did you have a dream last night? Yes, he had a dream. The dream was that he was nailing the nails to his coffin. He was in the coffin and the nails were being nailed on the top of the coffin. He knew he was going to die..
NH: It turned out..
PO: He knew it.
PO: And I asked him – Did you have a dream last night? – because I’m a poet and when I was eighteen, I used to read Franz Kafka. Kafka used to write his dreams down and Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King..
KS: That’s a beautiful story, man.
NH: One second please.. [to Ken Babbs] – Hey Babbs, we’re talking to ya back here from the booth,
KB: And I’m on the stage.
PO: Hi Babby, it’s Peter Orlovsky here.
NH: Its “Peter Orlovsky world-famous poet”!
PO: “International world-famous poet”
NH: International world-famous poet!
PO: And I’d like to give you a new fresh poem since everyone is standing on their head – “Ice cream is blue/Blue cheese is green/Vote for Mayor Dinkins he’s the best President of the United States outside of Peter Stuyvesant!” (otherwise you’re gonna get the fascist-like Guiliani (like Mussolini) – have you ever heard of a fascist?
Babbs concludes the first half of the evening, introducing Richard Hell (“he lives a floor above Allen Ginsberg, and he’s promised to keep this down under four minutes”). Richard does – (“I gotta say that Neal Cassady didn’t really mean all that much to me. When I think of him I think of Jack Kerouac who wrote some books that moved me”) – he reads Ted Berrigan‘s short poem, “Telegram” – (“Bye-bye Jack/See You Soon”) – The final reader/performer of the first half is Emily XYZ, who (along with Myers Bartlett on drums) performs a version of Allen’s “Hum Bomb”.
Part two opens with Matthew Courtney (it’s his birthday – rambling, and not particularly funny, about gays in the military). At approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in, Janine Pommy Vega, takes the stage (“Is Peter still here?..Well, anyway, I’ve known them for a long time, Allen and Peter and I have to say that, in the ‘Fifties and the ‘Sixties, the women didn’t only be the Muse, and the women didn’t only wash the shirts – You know Diane di Prima? – She didn’t wash shirts..”) – Janine performs a set of three poems (two, with accompaniment – “Mushroom” and “Earl the Pearl”, and one unaccompanied – “Witchcraft”)
Matthew Courtney, at approximately nineteen-minutes in, introduces Jennifer Blowdryer, who is followed (again introduced by Courtney), at approximately twenty-seven minutes in, by Vincent Katz (noting that Neal Cassady was “more of a philosopher than anything else”, Katz reads from the third-century-BC Greek philosopher, Diogenes, followed by a section from Cassady’s autobiography, The First Third (the section where he describes the way he felt when his brother got trapped inside the family’s fold-away bed!). Next up is the poet Reg E Gaines who reads “Jamaica to Roslyn”, “the reigning champ at the improv slam at the Nuyorican“, Bahia Watson, who reads “As if somehow, being a poet, could deny..”, Tsaurah Litzky (“Hangnail Blues” – “In the ‘Sixties we women took off our bras, because we wanted to hang with each other..”, at approximately forty-nine minutes in, Maggie Estep (“I’m Not A Normal Girl” – “Panty Economics”), and following her, Seth King, David Huberman.. (and circa sixty-eight minutes in), Edwin Torres)
At approximately sixty-six-and-a-half minutes in (returning again at approximately seventy-five-and three-quarter minutes in, Nicholas Hill interviews Kim Spurlock
NH: I understand you spoke with Father Harley Schmitt. Who is Harley Schmitt?
KS: Well Father Harley Schmitt is Neal’s godfather. He baptized Neal at Camp Santa Maria
KS: When Neal was twelve, which must have been in 1938.
NH: He must be ancient.
KS: He’s seventy-eight years old. He’s in great shape.Mind sharp as a tack He said a special mass for Neal on the 4th, which was the day that Neal died, which was..what? Friday?
KS: This last Friday Just the fourth day of..
NH: ..or was it Thursday?
KS: Or one of those days, it was (on) the 4th of February…
NH: Kim, you got this tape from Father Schmitt that I want to hear
KS: Oh you do want to hear it?
NH: I do want to hear it at some point but I also want to talk about the general nature of radio, words..
KB: ..(and) The exact quotation on the stock-market this morning (well, we’ll be getting to that presently), but first, as Nick was saying..
NH: That’s right, “peace on earth and good will towards all men” – remember that. What we’re doing is celebrating many things. We’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of this radio programme, we’re selling.. we’re selling the Brooklyn Bridge, and we’re celebrating the general happiness brought on by the death, twenty-five years ago, of Neal Cassady
KB: That’s right. This is a super-good wake, wouldn’t you say, Kim?
KS: Absolutely, degredation leads to joy, in some instances.
NH:Yes, it does
KS: Neal kind of abides somehow, you know, and we’re kinda honoring his bones tonight.
KB: He came across the border, you know, for his thing, on the soul of a wet-back migrant worker, that you.. he was carrying this virus, it’s the Cassady virus, and it was spread through America, after his death down there.
KS: Yes that’s right. I believe it’s Father William Burroughs who speaks of the “language virus”
KB: He sure does.
NH: And Cassady, his virus –
KH: What exactly..
NH: And the virus is language.
KS: We’ll hear it too, it’s a letter to Neal Cassady, from Neal Cassady to his priest
Well what we got here tonight is..you know, Father Schmitt is still alive, he’s seventy-eight years old, and a Monsigneur in Denver and he said mass for Neal on the 4th.
KB: That’s terrific. This is the man Neal wrote to when he was in prison
KS: That’s right, that’s right. It’s a book, that’s being published in April (1993), called Grace Beats Karma – Prison Letters of Neal Cassady, (coming out from Blast Books).
KB: And I’ve read it and it’s super-good. It’s the best thing.. It fills in the years, (19)58 through (19)60 of Neal Cassady for you aficionados out there.
So for the next three minutes, we’re going to try to see if the roof can be raised up another three feet – the ambient air, right at this level, has started to solidify, so we want to get it up just a little bit more so would you mind pumping that thing over there for a minute, Kim [Babbs is referring to the tape-recorder here]
KS: I’m going to key up this thing right?
KB: Okay, there it goes, wham, see..
[At approximately 78 minutes in, Father Schmitt is heard on the line (pre-recorded), calling from Denver, Colorado – “Today, I believe is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Neal Cassady’s death, so I said a mass for him. Just wanted to let you know, I don’t know if you wanted to tell his wife Carolyn about it or not. I believe he died on February 4th 1968, which would be twenty-five years ago today! – hard to believe! – I just thought I’d share that with you – Bye-bye”]
NH: That was Father Schmitt who baptized Neal Cassady many years ago
KS: I called him back and I asked him a little bit about how you can pray for somebody when you’re dead and he explained it to me. Do you want to hear that part?
NH: I would.
KS: That’s a good part.
NH: You know.. I think.. let’s let this band..the band is Huge Voodoo and they’re about to do something on their own..and we’ll mix Father Schmitt in a little bit…(Huge Voodoo play “Nigger-town”, Nicholas Hill mixes in, at approximately eighty-two-and-a-half minutes in, Father Schmitt)
KS: How does it work exactly? Where’s Neal’s soul right now? Do you have any idea?
Father Schmitt: Where’s Neal’s soul?
Father Schmitt: That we do not know. That..that’s the purpose.. We hope he’s in Heaven, but there is.. do you know about Purgatory?
KS: Just a little bit
Father Schmitt: Purgatory is where thesouls go that are not bad enough to go to Hell
Father Schmitt: ..and yet not good enough yet to go to Heaven, and where we can help them by our prayers, and, especially by Holy Masses, saying these, helping them out, and I do not know, just what condition he was in condition he was in. Some souls do go straight to Heaven upon their death, others they have to linger in Purgatory a long time. I think in my own case, I’ll be lucky if I get to Purgatory!
KS: Half-liars are worst than full liars. At least the person who lies all the time, you know that they’re a liar, but a half-liar’s got your trust, so in a way they’re worst, so half-sinners?, you know, sin or get off the spot!
Fez live performance continues at approximately eighty-four-and-a-half minutes in, with performance poet, Tom Burnett
At approximately eighty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in, a recording is played of William Burroughs Jr (“I wrote “patience” four hundred times and then I said “damn it all”) – from 1979 – “For Neal Cassady” – “Older buddy, on the bridge..crossing the Denver tracks, you knocked me down so hard off the sidewalk onto the pavement..” – followed by Ken Babbs performing – (“Neal Cassady, Neal Cassady, say his name, say his name, Who was he?, Who was he?…”), Bob Holman, (“Neal Cassady”), Pedro Pietri (at approximately ninety-nine minutes in, reading “Reheating the Cold War”) and Matthew Benedict.