Gerd Stern – Here’s an interview with the truly extraordinary Gerd Stern – Gerd Stern, who, allegedly lost that legendary Neal Cassady manuscript, Gerd Stern, artist, poet and multi-media visionary, at eighty-six years old – what remarkable stories he has to tell! – his oral history, From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978 was published, and is available on line from University of California, Berkeley. We’ll be quoting,tomorrow, salient paragraphs from it – But first, this.
So, Harold Channer, it has to be said, if sincere and well-meaning, is not the most telegenic of interviewers – but it doesn’t matter, since Stern, as you’ll see, is very much the raconteur.
The conversation was recorded in August of last year.
Coming in at, approximately, eight-and-a-half minutes in:
Gerd Stern: (New York), that was after San Francisco and Sausalito where I went in the late (19)40’s..San Francisco and Big Sur, I couldn’t believe it. And, again, I met poets when
I was in San Francisco. The first night that I was in San Francisco there was a reading at the old San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art, which at that time was in the Civic Center. It was Brother Antoninus (except that was before he was that, he was Bill (Bill Everson)) – and Philip Lamantia, Robert Duncan, and I felt, like, part of it immediately.
Gerd Stern: Yeah but that was all later.
Harold Channer: That was later, but you were somewhat involved with that and with the people who were destined to build this period up to… You were at the heart of it all, it seems to me.
Gerd Stern: True. I mean, Summer of Love  I was there again. But, in the ‘Forties it was a very very different place than in the ‘Sixties.
Harold Channer: Yeah , sure.
Gerd Stern: I mean, in 1947 I was back in New York and I was at the Psychiatric Institute at the time that Carl Solomon and Allen Ginsberg wound up there. So that’s where I met them.
Harold Channer: Met them there, right, that’s where you met, right! – Meet your friends at the (Psychiatric) Institute!, right.
Gerd Stern: We were three patients (we weren’t very patient, but..)
Harold Channer: Where did you… When did he (Allen) write “Howl”?
Gerd Stern: Oh, quite a bit later in San Francisco, and I was at that first reading at the Six Gallery, where Allen read “Howl”, yes. I didn’t go to hear Allen, I mean, I knew Allen, but I went because Philip Lamantia was reading [Editorial note – Philip Lamantia, famously, did not read his own poems on this occasion] – and Kenneth Rexroth [Kenneth Rexroth was the m-c].. but Allen – that was quite an experience hearing “Howl” for the first time. It was a little devastating to me, because.. kind of the main character in that poem, that he says (what turned out to be) perjorative things about, was Carl Solomon, a mutual friend – and he says that Carl Solomon had sex with his mother (although he uses a four-letter word to (describe it)) – and that was not true. It may, actually, have been something mischievous that Carl had said, but Allen knew it wasn’t true and it caused tremendous bad vibes in the family. I knew Carl’s mother, and his uncle was the head of Ace Books, and that was.., I don’t know if you remember them, they were like pocket-books but they were two-sided (in other words, they had two books(-in-one)).. Carl worked for his uncle, and I was his West Coast agent, and the only book that he accepted from (us), (there were a lot of books that Allen had given me manuscripts of), was Bill Burroughs’ Junkie (which was one of those back-to-back books) . But when “Howl” came out (which was about that same time), his uncle fired Carl, and his mother was devastated, you know, and Carl wound up back in the hospital. So I was pretty unhappy about Allen…”
More scandalous recollections about Allen – and Carl Solomon – tomorrow on The Allen Ginsberg Project