First Meeting With Allen – Jerry Aronson
The first word I heard Allen Ginsberg utter rescued me from disaster. It might very well be that the simple sound of this two-letter word saved my life. It certainly changed it. It was 1968, Chicago, during the now infamous Democratic Convention. I was in graduate school, and although I opposed the war in Vietnam, I was not a protestor. I was a photographer and a beginning filmmaker. I grabbed my Canon 35mm still camera and headed for the gathering in Grant Park. The moment I arrived I began to wonder just what I had gotten myself into. Tear gas made it almost impossible to see the riot around me. The police had taken off their badges so they couldn’t be identified. They wore helmets and carried large clubs, which they used indiscriminately on anyone under the age of 30. In the middle of the madness, my camera ran out of film. I bent down to change the roll of film. I felt the hairs on my neck stand up. Looking up, I saw a policeman with his club raised, about to come down on my head. Frozen with fear, time went into slow motion. That’s when I heard the sound that saved me: “Om” The sound of hundreds of voices repeating this mantra seemed to freeze the moment. Confused, the cop hesitated. I made a dash, running toward the sound of the om. The officer chased me but was tripped by a student. I just kept running until I came upon a group of 400 protestors gathered around a bearded fellow. I made my way slowly through the crowd and asked this stranger who he was. “Allen Ginsberg,” he said. The name meant nothing to me. “And who are you?” he asked. “Jerry Aronson.” “Nice to meet you,” he said. “Same here,” I replied. “And I really want to thank you for saving my head.” I smiled. He smiled and said, “See ya.” Walking away I thought about how cool this bearded guy was and how I would one day find a way to repay him for saving my life. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know anything about poetry, or politics or even filmmaking. I didn’t know much. I was 19. Flash forward four decades. I have spent a quarter century as Ginsberg’s documentary biographer, recording his legacy on film and sharing it with audiences around the world. I can honestly say that I have repaid him. Still, I am forever in his debt.