1990 – Matters of General Importance
Allen and Philip Glass‘s 1990 interview with Studs Terkel (see here and here) concludes with Terkel offering Allen an open platform to “go off” on “anything of his choice”. Allen takes full advantage, listing the dangerous turn to censorship and repression in contemporary America circa 1990 (his “cautionary footnote”, as Terkel describes it, is a snapshot of a moment, but still reads chillingly, and regrettably, continuingly, pertinent in the light of present times.)
ST: Al, I thought we’d go off open-endedly, as they used to say in the old days, with Allen Ginsberg, anything of his choice (and to remind the audience, tomorrow-night at Center East, both will be there, the poet and the composer, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, at Center East, 7701 Lincoln in Skokie, eight o’clock, for the benefit of the Buddhist..
AG: Center, Meditation School,
ST: Jewel Heart
– Allen, the dice is yours.
AG: Well, I’ve got something I want to talk about of general importance. You know, we call the opera, “Hydrogen Jukebox”, but the original conception was “The Fall of America”. But then. some of the financial sponsors got a little worried about getting grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, so downer was the title (or they might think of it as a downer). So they actually asked us to change it. And I was willing because I like the sparky “Hydrogen Jukebox” more, but I was also interested in having, preserved-in-amber, a little sample of the fall-out effect on general cultural attitudes and possibilities of the Helms – (Senator Helms) and the neo-Conservative and religious right, and fundamentalist, attack on American culture.
And so I was recently considering the problem and the number of issues that have come up and a list of all of the attempts to stifle communication in America that I could think of that have come to my awareness.
First of all, there’s heightened censorship of high-school and college student publications (within schools, like, more censorship than there was since the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies). There’s the FCC ban on “indecent language”, twenty-four-hours-a-day. No regulations, with its chilling effects (which have actually put all of my poetry off the air, major poems that are in the Norton anthology). There’s a National Endowment for the Arts anti-obscenity policy and its chilling effects. They’re now sending out unobscenity loyalty oaths for grantees and applicants. There have been library-book bannings in high schools and public libraries, textbook censorship cases, as in Texas (you know, the fundamentalists wanting to write Creationism into..)
ST: Longview, Texas, a couple..
AG: And, you know, revision, muffling the recollection of the Vietnam war. There are new delays and restrictions in getting your information from the government on the secret police activities under the Freedom of Information Act. They are now record-labelling for so-called “obscene” or “indecent” lyrics, which are going to wind up with my records and. let us say, the Fugs or other interesting poetic things being tossed in a porn bin . Or maybe cops raiding a photograph or record shop for selling “obscene” stuff. There’s the re-definition of a child, proposing to protect minors, in FCC and in child-porn photograph laws. So a child used to be twelve to fourteen or – “today I am a man” thirteen-year-old bar mitzvah, is now aged seventeen to eighteen, so they’ve, literally, done an Orwellian job in redefining the word “child”, legally. There’s adult book-shop video-shop isolation and zoning. There’s the use of Rico conspiracy laws and First Amendment controversial adult bookshop cases. There’s the lifetime contracts for review clearance requirements for a government bureaucratic ex-officials on their experience working for the government (you sign your soul to the devil once you start working for the government and you can’t write about it for the public unless you show it to your ex-boss. In Guam, there’s a prohibition of abortion counseling (which is a free-speech issue). There are new nuisance suits to shut up authors and publishers as in the case of The Spirit of Wounded Knee by Peter Matthiessen, in which the FBI made “nuisance suits” (FBI agents pushed the book off the market with suits that they could never win but it cost so much to defend that it simply got the book in trouble)
ST: That’s Peter Matthiessen’s Indian (book) about Leonard Peltier
AG: Yeah. The Spirit of Crazy Horse
ST: The Spirit of Crazy Horse, yes
AG: There are restrictions on activities by the military (as in Panama and Grenada). There’s comtinued intimidation of Salman Rushdie. There are arbitrary national security classifications on university research, especially those imposed after the research was begun and contracts were signed. There’s an FBI library surveillance..“library awareness program”, they call it (FBI surveillance of book-borrowers by subject). There’s an attack on adults talking to each other on the telephone (as if that would be illegal). New child pornography laws, an attempt to change the constitution to protect the constitution by making the flag amendment
ST: You know, as you’re saying that, it’s a cautionary tale to recognize what the challenges really are, what the American public is not too conscious of at the moment. A job has been done, and it seems to me, two artists, such as yourselves.. a while back Philip Glass was speaking about what is remembered – the men whose minds did.. and the women..whose minds did it and the culture, that will be remembered. And, in a sense, you two are doing that job now, and Allen’s cautionary footnote here (epilogue, I should say) is what it’s all about too. Thank you very much and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night – Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in and continuing until the end of the tape]