December 8 is the anniversary of the infamous day when he got shot, but we thought we’d celebrate John Lennon on a more upbeat note, on the anniversary of his birth(day), and spotlight the Ginsberg-Lennon-Beatles connection. Wayne Mullins gives a pretty good account in this Beatdom article – Long John Silver and the Beats. He quotes in part (recalling their very first meeting) Marianne Faithfull‘s account – It’s London, 1965 – “Then Allen Ginsberg came in..He went over to the chair (Bob) Dylan was sitting in and plonked himself down on the armrest…John Lennon broke the silence snarling: “Why don’t you sit a bit closer then, dearie?”, The insinuation – that Allen had a crush on Dylan was intended to demolish (him), but since it wasn’t far from the truth anyway, Allen took it very lightly. The joke was on them, really. He burst out laughing, fell off the arm and onto Lennon’s lap. Allen looked up to him and said, “Have you ever read William Blake, young man?”… And Lennon in his Liverpudlian deadpan said, “Never heard of the man”. Cynthia (Lennon), who wasn’t going to let him get away with this even in jest, chided him; “Oh, John, stop lying.” That broke the ice.”
There’s also, that same year (on the occasion of that same UK visit, in fact), Allen’s notorious 39th birthday party (see here), attended (a surprise visit, late in the night) by John and Cynthia, George Harrison and Pattie Boyd, (and, fortunately for them, no cameras!). Confronted by an essentially naked Allen (naked, except for a “No Waiting” sign hung around his penis!), Lennon was, apparently, mortified, horrified – “You don’t do that in front of the birds” (the women – sic)”, he allegedly, declared.
Legendary meetings with his heros. In subsequent years, and specifically when John moved to New York City and was politically active in a number of causes, their friendship blossomed. Here’s Allen, from his 1972 PEN Club recommendation (on the occasion of Lennon’s visa-immigration problems), citing him as being, “in the line of descent of (Thomas) Campion, (Edmund) Waller and (John) Dowland fellow language-ayre minstrels celebrated in the great tree of British poesy”. And, again, in a note, written January the following year – “So Lennon’s particularly interesting in English minstrel’s tradition – remember Shakespeare wrote songs, “With a Hey and a Ho and a Hey nonny-o.. with Hey! with Hey! The thrush and the jay”.” “Dull minds observing Lennon transform himself into an angry bodhisattva of song for the masses, have mistaken his verse to be over-simplistic. On the contrary, it’s an ancient perfectly subtle, humble, artful simplicity, the condensation of common social language into hard strong human personal verse”.. “To sum up, Lennon/Ono (Lennon) is a conscious poet coherently adapting traditional poetic song devices to new consciousness, new technology electronic mass ear education; one brilliant development of modern poetry completely realized”.
Finally, this, from a letter (to Barry Miles, circa 1976) – “I was passing by (the) Dakota Apartments last month, phoned upstairs and visited John Lennon and Yoko Ono for an hour. Lennon said he was retired temporarily from the L.A. music scene, staying home with baby and extreme clean diet..Said he was lying sleepless one night listening to WBAI (radio on) earphones and heard someone reciting a long poem, he thought it was (Bob) Dylan till he heard the announcer say it was (Allen) Ginsberg reading “Howl”…said he’d never read it or understood it before, (he’d eye’d the page but, “I can’t read anything, I can’t get anything from print”), but once hearing it aloud, he suddenly understood, he said, why Dylan had often mentioned me to him, and suddenly realized what (it was) I was doing, and dug it…said he didn’t understand (hadn’t understood) at the time. He’d seen me as some strange interesting American supposed-to-be-a poet hanging around but didn’t understand exactly what my role was. Now he said he understood how close my style was to Dylan’s, and how it influenced Dylan and also dug my voice reciting, the energy…It sure was nice hearing Lennon close the gap, complete that circle and treat me as a fellow artist as he walked me to the door goodbye”. Happy Birthday, John Lennon