Drawing this weekend from the remarkable Stanford archives. We begin with a tape from 1976, Allen and company in conversation with conservative talk-show host Barry Farber, a two-hour radio appearance (We’ll be featuring it in segments – In the first, today, the opening salvos, he has to defend himself against Farber’s avuncular but also barbed and somewhat patronizing knee-jerk anti-Communism)
BF: Broadcasters all like to do different things with Allen Ginsberg. I’m going to copy what Bill Buckley did with him one time on television I never enjoyed a television show more in my entire life. I’m gonna steal it..
AG: I’m here
BF: ..right here.. I’m gonna steal it. I wish I could steal every nuance of it. I loved it. Did you have a good time on that?
AG: Yeah, oddly enough it was one of the few times I was able to read a long poem on television.
BF: Do you remember which poem you read ?
AG: Yeah, A long poem called… that I’d written on LSD..
BF: Exactly! exactly!
BG: Lets see if Allen Ginsberg is as much of an Allen Ginsberg follower as I am. Question – Do you remember (and don’t announce it if you do, because I want the listeners to remember along) – Do you remember Bill Buckley’s comment after you having read that poem in its entirety? Don’t…don’t, don’t react now. There’ll be plenty of time.
I’m Barry Farber, my partners deployed around the broadcast table prove that American broadcasting is unplanned and unplannable. I mean, how in the hell… how many agents, how many phone-calls, not just to the Coast but how many coasts of how many countries would it take to coalesce Allen Ginsberg and “Bullets” Durgom, around the same panel. They’re here. In between them, a young poet, Jonathan Robbins. Peter Orlovsky, on my flank, at the microphone, on my opposite flank at the microphone, a student, one generation later than the first students to sit gasping in adoration around Allen Ginsberg’s bare feet or combat boots..
AG: Adoration? – that’s great
BF : Allen, the one headline I want to cover first is probably the one that concerns you least. I laugh at television routines. I laugh at live routines. Sometimes I laugh at a story in the newspaper but rarely. One story in the newspaper made me laugh was when you were King of the May in Prague. I remember it being chaotic, infuriating everybody, our State Department and the Czechoslavak Communist Party – almost everybody, except the students at Charles University,
AG: Well no, it was actually, half the population, well, no, actually, a tenth of the population of Prague,ecause I was elected in the Park of Culture and Rest on May Day 1965 by a hundred thousand people
BG: First free election in Czechoslavakia since before Word War II
AG: Well, it was the first election for the Sex King. Because the King of May is actually sort of like an old.. what do you call it? .a harvest….an old ritual for the planting, you know, for.. part of (a) fertility ritual, which had been dropped during the Nazis and dropped during the Communists and that was the first time they’d had it again. I was in Prague by accident and got mixed up in it by accident, not realizing that it was political.
BF: Oh, you mean, you didn’t mount a campaign with CIA help to win that post?
AG: No, a novelist Josef Škvorecký , who was sort of like a (Jack) Kerouac in Czechoslovakia, was sick that day and so the Polytechnic School couldn’t nominate him. So he called me and said did I want to go on?. So I said, “Sure, will I get into trouble?” And he said, “no. it’s just..”, you know, “..students, it’s fun” – And also the King of May is allowed to sleep with anybody in Prague that he wants to before the next day.
BF: Cut it out! cut it out!
AG: Sure, that’s the old May King. You know, May King? May Queen? – That’s the old fertility ritual.
So what happened actually was that.. two things,, (I want to talk about that, actually, because it’s curious now).. I wrote one poem… I was kicked out of Prague within a week, followed, arrested, detained in my room, cut off from speaking to anybody (so I’ve experienced Iron Curtain police state conditions directly on my body). And I wrote a poem on the airplane going back to London, four days later when they kicked me out of Czechoslovakia. Actually I’d like to read it
BF: Please do.
AG: Does that make sense, in this…?
BF: While you’re looking for it, let me tell you what a pleasure it is to hear a man who has lacerated American foibles as effectively as Allen Ginsberg talk about Iron Curtain police state repression
AG: Well, sure. I think it’s one mind, the bureaucracy in the Iron Curtain and the police bureaucracy here. The word they have for it behind the Iron Curtain is “police bureaucracy”, which is a very good term to describe what we’ve seen since Watergate
BF: Only difference is we can throw ours out after every four years, or in between now and now
AG’ Well, I’m not so sure we’ve thrown ours out at all! We haven’t even hardly gotten to the bottom of..
BF: If you were sure, you wouldn’t be Allen Ginsberg.
AG: If I were sure, that we’d thrown it, I wouldn’t have to come here. I could stay home and write poems.
BF: I’d want you anyhow. I’d want you anyway.
AG: Kral Majales – King of May – [Allen, at approximately five and a quarter minutes in reads “Kral Majales” in its entirety] – (“Thus I have written this poem on a jet seat in mid heaven”)
BF: Allen, that’s real good poetry. You may have noticed. I put a funny little artifact on my finger here, like a ring, while we were talking..
AG: You were pressed for time?
BF: No, no. no. This is something that I carry in my pocket, because when I can’t think right, when I am, for instance, sucked up the exhaust pipe and digested by a real good high enzyme poetry like that, I forget one thing that I want to ask and this helps me back to it, when we reconvene – I’ve got to know if you “exercised your right” ,under Czech tradition, of being King of May, before the Communist bureaucrats intervened? Incidentally, would I love to hear Allen Ginsberg write a poem, or hear the poem that Allen Ginsberg would write and then read, of what went on inside the headquarters of the Czechoslovak Communist secret police when they realized who it was that they had harrassed, when they realized that here was a man who should.. who, if he had left Czechoslovakia with a good impression of the Czechoslovak Communist regime, could have done that regime so much good. I can hear them saying, “Dummy! – don’t you realize that this man has spent all of his artistry up to now embarrassing the United States of America in the world. What in the world do you want to give him another target for..”
AG: Yes, I imagine it was a tactical mistake.
BF: Yeah, absolutely.
AG: But I had something to add about that, when we have time.
BF: When we reconvene. First.. [brief silence, as show pauses for commercial break]
BF: I’m Barry Farber and I don’t care how much history you’ve studied, I bet you’re not going to find more of a life-changer than Allen Ginsberg. Other people in other societies have been mavericks. I think Allen Ginsberg took a heftier turn from tradition in his lifestyle. And he stood the test. About ten years ago, Allen Ginsberg was here. I thought he was a media-freak, I accused him, rather frontally, of, you know, playing the media, (which in America, in a free society, you know, is a lot of good clean fun) – In other countries, being a revolutionary, in countries where Allen Ginsberg is very well-known.. (and Allen Ginsberg knows very well the consequences for rebellion are different (there) from what they are in America). In America, the consequences of rebellion make rebels a little bit less honored than in other countries. The consequences of rebellion, for example, against the Nazis, in Norway, was execution by firing squad, the consequences for being a rebel in the “enlightened’ Soviet Union today? – what? Siberia? psychiatric ward? death? who knows?
AG: Well, there’s Timothy Leary still in jail on a small pot bust, which was probably a set-up, kept in jail now for the last three years…
BF: I’m not talking about..
AG: So there are consequences to being a rebel here.
BF: Forgive me, Allen, Allen, forgive me, when I was talking rebellion, I was talking about intellectual insult against the self-image of a country. I was not talking about…
AG: That’s what Leary’s in for.
BF: No, he’s not. He’s in for the rupture of laws…
AG: No, no, no, no. He’s in.. A tiny pot bust is a misdemeanor, thing now, where, you know, no, like a ticket-fine, a traffic fine in many states ,and there’s talk of change in federal law, but Leary was sentenced to thirty years for taking the rap for his young daughter having a little bit of grass in her bosom when he went through the Mexican border. Now Leary was.. And the judge said, denying him bail, “because he is a menace to youngsters of tender and impressionable years”, because of his speeches and his advocacy of change in the law. So Leary is strictly a rebel that is in jail for his intellectual statements.
BF: I’ll look into that.
AG: No question of that. The PEN Club (Poets, Editors, Novelists, who were the ones that protested when (Alexander) Solzhenitsyn was messed up in Russia), also made a statement about Leary and validated his case as an intellectual who’s run afoul of the government and is being persecuted for his intellectual statements.
BF: Well, you seem like a man, not drowning, but certainly in very deep water, grateful to have, maybe not a straw but, a little bit of a log up there to lean on to , because lets agree that everything you say about Leary is true, forget the fact that there was a violation of the law, pretend that the State wanted it
AG: Listen Solzhenitsyn and those people were not going to jail because they violated some technical law in Russia, too. I was there! – Alex.. Alexi Ginzburg in Moscow, because he had a mimeographed magazine publishing Sonnets about Stalin by Boris Slutsky, who’s a Russian poet, who’s satirizing Stalin. Well, they couldn’t get that on him legally, so what they got him on was, they interviewed three hundred people that he knew and they found that he lent his cafeteria lunch card to a poor poet friend, which was against the law, so he went to Siberia for two years – for that! I mean he violated a law too. Like, Leary had, you know, a couple of joints on him.
BG: See, they have very little trouble getting you in, not just Russia but countries like Russia, dictatorships, one-party systems, police states. I’m very encouraged by the fact that at least in this case that you’re telling me about, the Russians felt the need the pretext when they wanted somebody.
AG: Well, the Americans had to look for a pretext to get Leary.
BF: Allen, the fact that you’re sitting here on a free American talk show
AG: I know it’s not very popular to defend Leary but Leary has now been in jail for three years..
BF: No, the point is this is the country where it can be very popular to defend Leary. I’m sure he’s a very praise-worthy man..
AG: He’s still in jail.
BF.. but the point is Allen, you’re going to attack everybody from the CIA clear down to the split-T formation and you’re not going to go to jail, you’re going to get invited on other radio and television (programs
AG: which reminds me…The King of May, getting back to the anecdote.. do we have time?
BF: Oh, alright..
AG: …got about a minute-and-a-half, ok?
AG: The Communist Youth newspaper in Prague, about a week later, after being silent, said that I was picked up and deported because I violated their hospitality and probably some of their laws, that I was an alcoholic, that I was a dope-fiend and that I was a homosexual, that I had behaved very badly and was going around and parents were complaining. But, basically, I was just a bad seed, sort of. When I asked for a change of the marijuana laws and began attacking the Narcotics Bureau for corruption, in the mid-‘Sixties (a corruption which is now universally known,, I assume), the.. I went to my Congressman, because I’d heard that the Narcotics Bureau was trying to set me up for a bust.
AG: Oh yeah, sure man, sure. Oh yeah. I had old junkie friends said that they’d (been) busted and they said “We’ve got a list of people, including…” (later, Ringo Starr (because he was the only un-busted Beatle!)
BF: They’ll stop at nothing, yeah
AG: So, I went to Congressman Farbstein from Paterson and complained and went to Robert Kennedy’s office and saw him and complained. So they put a little pressure on the Treasury Department, wrote them a letter and said, “What are you trying to do? Is this true? Allen Ginsberg’s complaining – he’s.. maybe he’s a nut, (but maybe not), but we’re going to check up”
So, I got my papers, and my files, from the Dope Department, under the Freedom of Information Act now – CIA, FBI, and all that, all my files there. And there’s an inter-office memo, in which they’re preparing a reply to Congressman Farbstein, warning him not to answer because I might publish his answer and embarrass him, and saying that I was a person of very bad character, and quoting, at great length, the Communist Party newspapers from Czechoslovakia what a creep I was!
BF: Look, your poetry might suffer…
AG: No, I was just thinking, the…
BF: No, I understand completely and believe me, my little…
AG: The bureaucracy is one mind. The police bureaucracy is one mind – from Russia to here, it’s the same person, same mind, same set of teeth..
BF: I wouldn’t want your poetry to suffer from any further disillusionment So promise me, Allen Ginsberg, you’re not going to try to go to Prague, and under some Freedom of Information Act, get the memos of the Czechoslovak secret police about you back in 1965.
AG: I sure would like to get them, because they got a notebook they stole from me!
BF: Did you use your right to sleep with anybody in the Czechoslovak nation?
AG: I used my right to sleep with anybody who would put up with me, sure,. In those days, in Czechoslovakia, incidentally, you could sleep with, legally, you could sleep with anybody over the age of seventeen. It was sort of.. At that point it was.. Poland at fifteen, oddly enough, interestingly enough
BF: Why would Czechoslovakia be that far behind South Carolina?
AG: Well, what’s South Carolina’s scene now? What’s the age of consent there now?
BF: I’m not sure, I’m not sure – Steve, put in a call..
AG: ..to South Carolina!
BF: No, put in a call, put in a call to the major newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina…
AG: ..what the age of consent..
BF: I’m sure there’s going to be somebody genial there on the desk, and say that Allen Ginsberg demands to know, right now!
AG: No, no, now wait, you’re the one who said.. I never demanded, I asked gently
BF: ..then say Allen Ginsberg is my guest, and I suspect he’d like to know what the age of consent is in..
AG: Probably eighteen? twenty?
BF: …. in South Carolina. Allen, before we do another thing, I wonder if it ever occurred to you that you may have been more important than you know in shaking the bottle of Czech freedom that turned out to be carbonated and led to the Prague Spring, (Alexander) Dubček, the eruption of freedom, a lot of people doing things like electing people “King of the May”, and not just for fun either, but overthrowing that repression that beat you up on the sidewalk there.
AG: Well, if it was so, the consequences in the long run were not very good, you know because they went from… actually, from what I hear from Škvorecký , that novelist, was that the sort of Liberals and Leftists and Bohemians had gotten so close to power that they were about to take over the secret police headquarters and given the files.And that would have compromised the Russian secret police. So that’s why the Russians moved in with tanks. In other words, it was that the whole police bureaucracy was going to be revealed. They were going to get all the spy secrets and the blackmail secrets and, like, the Czechoslovakian Watergate secrets, things about the Russians controlling the Czechoslovakian secret police. And that’s why the tanks finally moved in – to protect Russian bureaucracy.
So, if what I did in Prague was maybe too far-out probably , it didn’t have such a good karmic effect, actually. But I wasn’t intending, actually, to break any rules or do anything funny, I was just sort of carrying on normally like an old Bohemian and talking what I thought was correct, politely, basically, saying… of saying clearly what I thought frankly, exercising artistic free speech..I tried to behave there as I would behave here in the sense of just talking to fellow citizens. A lot harder. Of course it’s a much more heavy police-state, no doubt.
BF: I’d much rather… Okay, that’s all I wanted to hear, , that’s all I wanted to hear
AG: But I don’t think it’s any cause for complacency
BF: Say that again because I frequently quote Ginsberg and I don’t want to quote Allen Ginsberg incorrectly. That is a.. – ”Theirs is a much greater police state than ours, of course”
AG: No no. I would say there’s a heavier police-state scene there. But there’s one thing that (William) Burroughs has said very often which is that a really efficient police-state doesn’t need police, they have the people tied up mentally already, which you can say, in a sense, has happened here in America (or had happened here until Watergate broke it open)
BF: Except when we overthrow a President, they stay overthrown. Soviet tanks don’t come in and resurrect him.
AG: The power in America is maybe Standard Oil and Mobil and Gulf..and well, the twelve largest companies
BF: I’m sure that..
AG: Mobil, Gulf, Exxon….No, those are the twelve largest
BF: No, but I’m sure you think that that is the power in America.
AG: Well I think,, I think so too . And pretty much anybody who gets money from the Gulf, who’s in government, knows who’s in power. But I think that’s pretty well taken for granted at the… Most of the oil companies and auto companies who generally pick who’s going to be the Secretary of State and who’s going to be the Secretary of Defense (generally the Secretary of State (is) representative of the oil companies, the Secretary of Defense, usually, from (Robert) McNamara up to (Henry) Kissinger, usually is an employee of the Rockerfellers, or someone like that)
BF: Our mutual friend, William F Buckley, Jr once said that he would rather be ruled by the first five hundred people in the Boston telephone book than by the entire faculty at Yale (or maybe it was Harvard)…
AG: Well, he is being ruled..
BF: I would..
AG… even if not by the first five hundred in the…
BF: I would, personally, I would rather be ruled by the twelve top oil companies than any one Communist party.
BF: I might not
AG: If you had been living in South Vietnam before the War you might not feel that. I mean, if you were living in Persia (sic) now, you might not feel that.. If you were living, you know, all through the world, where the multi-nationals dictate our foreign policy, and keep people in a police state, you might not feel that, We have kind of a privileged position because we get the fruits of all that.
BF Why do they let us talk like this? They don’t in the Communist dictatorship
G: No they don’t. But you see you’re making it.. There’s no need to make that comparison because it just makes people more complacent about the dangers here and this is the point that I’m trying to make, because there is danger here, there always has been danger here, of a police state.
BF: On the other hand, not to hammer home the contrast between Communist slavery and American freedom is to make Americans too depressed about our condition
AG: I think you’re making too great …No, I don’t…I think you’re making too great a distinction on what is basically bad for the planet in the behavior of the powers-that-be, both in the Communist and the Capitalist world.
BF: I’m going to achieve detene with you…
AG: Sure, let’s get back to poetry
BF: ..even if I have to bite my tongue, because I want to introduce some poets to your right and to your left.
BF: I want to talk about the first minute in your life when you were conscious of having veered of the expected super-highway and taken the Ginsberg route. First [here follows second commercial break]
to be continued