Belatedly noting the passing (he died April 11, aged 86) of the noted free-speech lawyer, Edward De Grazia, “one of the country’s foremost advocates of the First Amendment, championing the causes of writers, publishers, film-makers and others who challenged legal and moral conventions” (as his Washington Post’s obituary-note succinctly puts it).
De Grazia was the author of the wonderfully-titled, (and wonderfully-comprehensive), Girls Lean Back Everywhere -The Laws of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius (the source of that title, by the way – a quote from Jane Heap, who, along with Margaret Anderson, her fellow-editor at The Little Review, was, in 1920, ignobly subjected to criminal prosecution for publishing episodes from James Joyce’s Ulysses) – “Mr Joyce was not teaching early Egyptian perversions, nor inventing new ones.”, she astutely observed. “Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings…men think thoughts and have emotions about these things everywhere – seldom as delicately and imaginatively as Mr (Leopold) Bloom – and no one is corrupted”.
“I met Allen Ginsberg in the fall of 1964 on the eve of the Boston trial of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch“, De Grazia writes. “Allen helped Burroughs write Naked Lunch and helped me to orchestrate the novel’s defence….After the trial we took a train back to New York together and became friends and allies..” (For more of De Grazia’s memories of Allen and his pivotal testimony in that ground-breaking Boston trial see here.) – Allen, De Grazia recalls, “talked virtually without interruption for nearly an hour about the structure of Burroughs’ novel and about the social and political importance of its images and ideas – It occurred to me (then) that Allen understood the novel even better than Burroughs did”
Another loss – legendary guitar-player and singer Richie Havens passed away this week. Don’t know how many of you out there know the Allen Ginsberg connection but, early in his career, before turning to music, Havens was a young, aspiring “Beatnik poet” in the coffee-houses of Greenwich Village. It was Allen, and Allen’s enthusiasm, that was instrumental in setting him up on the road to a life-time career of performing – “Yes, I used to come from Brooklyn, you know”, he told NPR’s Scott Simon, in a radio-interview back in 2008, “We’d sit in the Gaslight and all that and listen. And he [Allen] used to come over and look at our..books (that) we had on the table, and finally he says to us, “what’s in those books? And we said, “poetry”, you know. He says, “get up there”. So I ended up on stage in the Gaslight..” “We used to see them [the Beats] just about every night. (Jack) Kerouac was there and quite a few (of the) guys [sic]…”
Another ‘Sixties memory, buried in a more generalized article (about Kenneth Koch and Jorge Luis Borges!) comes from Bruce Cowin (recalling his student days at Columbia and college radio). Allen agreed to appear on his radio show, Cowin recalls, “on condition that we buy him dinner”. The interview lasted about an hour, but was, regrettably, never broadcast – “because “The Change” [the poem Allen had just written and chose to start with that night] began with the word “Shit” – and went on from there” [pedantic editorial note – the poem, at least in its published form, doesn’t actually contain the word “shit”, but there’s plenty in it that, from the first stanza on, (“sucking/his cock like a baby crying Fuck/me in my asshole”!) – that would certainly (and in those early days, 1963, 1964), nix it for the censors].
& Steven Berger reviews Hilary Holladay’s American Hipster – A Life of Herbert Huncke for Edge on-line here.