Another classic piece of audio this week from the 1982 Jack Kerouac Conference.
We’ve been featuring a number of recordings from the Conference in the past few weeks. See, for example, here,here, and here, here and here.
and Ken Kesey speaks (presciently) of marijuana de-criminalization and reads an early draft of his classic “Now We Know How Many Holes It Takes To Fill The Albert Hall” (a piece originally written for Rolling Stone, later revised and collected in Demon Box)
and if that weren’t enough (and it should be!), Allen concludes the proceedings with a reading that includes his haunting poem for Kerouac, “Memory Gardens” ( “Well while I’m here I’ll do the work -/ and what’s the Work?/ To ease the pain of living./ Everything else, drunken/ dumbshow”), as well as “On Neal Cassady’s Ashes”, various other poems old and newand two concluding songs, “Airplane Blues” and “Do The Meditation Rock”
The whole evening can be heard (and what an evening) – here
The tape begins in media res with a little off-mic banter and miscellaneous announcements
(so that we can boogie..)
AG: At the end of the regular poetry reading, we’ll tell you, and then you can fold up the folding chairs and put then against the wall, the folding chairs on either side, then we can push most of the stationary chairs to the side and make room for dancing and the band will be Still Life [editorial note – not the late 1980’s Californian band, this Boulder gathering appeared some years earlier] (and I’ll be singing with the band)
Ken Babbs: And at that point, we’re going to have a seminar on announcements!
KB: That’s one of the main things we’re going to deal with next year at these conferences – we’re going to have endless announcements, no poetry!
AG: Bombay Gin, Naropa’a literary magazine with a bunch of letters from Kerouac is on sale outside for three bucks, limited edition.. So.. (are) we ready?
Ken Kesey: I’m ready
Ken Babbs: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Kenneth Babbs …(First off, I want to thank Allen) for the whole thing that’s been happening all week, and without him there would be no Jack Kerouac School of Poetics. It is odd that it fell in Naropa but not too odd in that Jack had his Buddhist leanings. So we find that the American culture now exemplified by the great master writer Kerouac meets East, and continues on. the..>now the American hard left hook falls with the akido self-defence(that’s Allen) (Ginsberg)
AG: Hum Hum Hum!
Ken Babbs: And next to him my friend and traveling compadre from Oregon, who has written two fine novels and is working on his next, takes time graciously out to travel and visit and sign books (and sell books!) – but, most of all,loves to drive and in the great tradition of the On The Road Kerouac-ian wacky-ian drive, forty-two hours straight from Eugene, Oregon to Boulder, Colorado, to arrive in time for the faculty party – Ken Kesey.
And next to him, one of the original giants in the Beat trade, a poet – remember Pictures of A Gone World? – I love that book, I still keep it by the toilet at home – Pictures From The Gone World, is that it? – [Pictures of The Gone World], founded City Lights bookstore, where you can buy books that you can’t find anywhere in the world, has his own publishing company, City Lights publishing. He has published Neal Cassady’s First Third (has a brand-new sparkling edition out with a whole prologue that had been missing for fifteen or twenty years and is now complete, Neal Cassady’s writing, he’s got that out. He’s a painter now, a man of real San Francisco North Beach renown who’s going to read first and it’s going to be a great thing, because he’s going to give you.. (to LF)..do you want to tell them this or do you want me to? ok, he’s going to give you some poems never before seen by Jack Kerouac – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
At approximately four-and-a-quarter minutes in, Lawrence Ferlinghetti begins speaking.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: I’d like to propose a second Beat encampment here in 1987 and one every five years thereafter! That’s (a) chautauqua,no less. This is an unpublished book of a hundred pages of Jack Kerouac poems called Poems All Sizes [Editorial note – Pomes (sic) All Sizes, was, finally, published by City Lights in 2001, as Book 48 in their classic “Pocket Poets” series] This [Ferlinghetti shows the audience] is his own hand-written title-page – “Pomes All Sizes – Other Old Poems Loose, Other Than Blues” We can’t seem to get to publish this book. Stella Kerouac, for some paranoid reason, won’t let City Lights publish it – and I got it in my greedy little fist just waiting for something to happen. But in the meantime, I’ll just read as well as I can some of his poems. (I can’t sound like Jack but I’ll give it a try).
At approximately five-and-a-quarter minutes in, Lawrence Ferlinghetti begins reading from Kerouac’s poems, starting with “Goofball Blues” “I’m just a human being with a lot of /shit on my heart”…“When I am old I’ll yawn/ in the Flannel Grave”), followed by “Mexican Loneliness” (“And I am an unhappy stranger/grooking in the streets of Mexico”…“ – If I do nothing/ nothing does”),“Beau Bebe “And the dreams of me and Lousy & GJ/ sitting on Moody St. looking up the/ bridge to P’Ville where vistas/ of sunny cloud boulevard/ Buddhalands open…”…”(Ah the Ecstasy) I/ stole over well remembered/ other-people roofs -“), “And You Sweet Allen” “Ah Allen! ah me!/you know about me, what I’d say/let it be/we know/ We’re old friends and never die”), “If I Were Jesus, God ” “O tender hearted sweet usurper of my/ vines, fox. do not crawl too near” …“Otherwise I’ll be in the Tree Grove/ resting up”), and “Poem” – (“Anyway, the time has come to explain/ the Golden Eternity/ and how the iridescent paraphernalia of radiating candles/ceases/when mentation ceases”… “he stood high on a hill/overlooking Mexico City/radiating messages/ out of a white Tiot”)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: The last word was T-I-O-T what’s that mean?
AG: Tiot..?…(that’s) just out of a white Tiot?
Audience Member: What does it mean?
AG: Probably it’s a twat..
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: He wouldn’t do that.
Audience Member: Yes he would..
Ken Babbs: Well if he did he wouldn’t make a mistake…
AG …or else it’s a tit, it’s a white tit.
[Editorial note – perhaps an acronym? – “this is our time”?]
LF: (and finally,) “Long Island Chinese Poem Rain” (1961) – (“The years are hurrying/Autumn rains fall on my awning…”“Nobody in the chair/ Nobody in the books/ Nobody in the rain”).
(Applause – Audience member (audible) – “Thank you for staying alive you guys!)”
Ken Kesey: (shuffling through papers, returning books to Allen): Oh that’s not what I want.I’ve decided I’m not gonna do that.
AG: Anything you want to do.
KK: Okay, you got.
AG (to Lawrence Ferlinghetti): You got some more? you got some more of those poems, Larry? while he’s looking for his papers..
KK: I’ll see what I’ve got here… I(‘ve) got one
AG: You got it?
KK: I got it. Ok, I wasn’t going to do this, but it’s so appropriate to what’s been going on, I think I’ll do it’
Kesey begins his presentation at approximately fourteen-and-a-half minutes in
Ken Kesey: I’ve spent the last few months in Oregon, campaigning had for the.. legalization of marijuana in the State. I got involved because these little guys came around and they said “Hey, come around and speak for us”, and I said, “Aw, I don’t want to do it”. And they kept hitting on me. And I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll do it if you start going around and getting us some facts, some economic facts”. So they went to the D.A’s [District Attorneys] and the D.A’s wouldn’t talk to them, so they went back and they cut their hair and they cut their beard and they got a little suit-coat and a briefcase and they went in there with the Freedom of Information Act and said, “We want to know how much money is being spent in each county in enforcing marijuana laws?”. God, they came up with huge amounts of money, and then they got the Oregon Business School into it and found that there was.. last year’s grass crop in Oregon was five-hundred-million dollars!! – it’s the leading industry now in Oregon. So, I’ve been on the dope thing long past wanting to smoke dope. I haven’t worried about smoking dope in twenty years. When I speak about legalization of marijuana I’m talking about crime, I’m not talking about freedom to smoke dope, I’m tired of criminals, I’m tired of smoking dope and worrying about cops, and worst than that, I’m scared of things that are beginning to happen with the dope laws like they are. So I travelled around with my great big ball of bailing twine that I gathered over a number of years, of real hemp twine, before you couldn’t get it anymore. And I talked to the people and said, “Look, I can take twenty-eight cents off every tax dollar that you’re paying, just by passing this law.” I mean, we’re not talking hippies, we’re talking money! This is a good damn product. This has always been one of the best fibres in the world, and I.. if we gave that thing up there to Oregon State so they could start working on this instead of growing the littlest ol’ runt plants that you can grow, to keep it out of people’s sight, grow a big ol’ tall plant. You know how many times you’re cutting it off like that, the thing’ll grow thirty feet high in two months! You can log the damn stuff, (my brother and I have laminated stems together like this, and, using their own resin, pressed them in a cheese press and they’ll take a nail just like a beam of wood. We can grow lumber in thiry-five days up there.We can feed the leaves to the cows. The whole dope thing will just drop out of sight. If there’s seventy acres of dope, in every direction, all of a sudden you won’t be paying two-hundred-and-seventy-five dollars for ratty home-grown dope ((that’s like, [Kesey puts on mock-stoner accent] – “Take this stuff, man, it’s great dope!”).
Also you’re going to get these people who are moving towards thinking that,”well, if it’s against the law to smoke dope, and it’s (not) ok to smoke dope, then it must be ok to rob 7-11 stores, or deal coke, or a lot of these other things. So we’ve created this kind of leak in which stuff is moving back and forth out of our sight. Under the table, there in Oregon, now, we know there’s five-hundred-million dollars, moving under the table, not being taxed, there’s no roads being built with this money, there’s no day-care centers being opened, the cops are being laid off (all the budgets have been voted down), the schools are being closed, man. We could pass this law, and the first state that does it will have about a two-year jump on the rest of the States. All of a sudden, the money that’s moving out of society, every.. – nobody’s flashed to it man! – It isn’t the oil, it’s the dope! We are smoking more dope than people can believe. They.. they..when they closed down the paraphernalia thing, they said it was four-billion-dollars-a-year market. If we’re spending four-billion-dollars-a-year for cocaine paraphrenalia, how much money are we spending for coke? And that money is not staying in the United States, it’s moving out, through San Diego, and through Alaska, and through a lot of ports.. (you can hear it – sssssss) – and this place here, man, (Boulder), this is the nostrils of the Rocky Mountains. Imagine now, if all of a sudden, all (of) the money that’s moving… (doesn’t make any difference whether you’re selling it, or whether you’re buying it, that money is moving under the table like that). All of a sudden, if there.. you lance that thing and let that energy flow back into the society, so that the thousand bucks I spend next year for smoking dope, I can spend seventy-five dollars and grow my own, and with that thousand bucks I can buy refrigerators, (Ford) pintos, and all those things that we haven’t been buying. It’s the answer to our economic problem, and we couldn’t get anyone in the legislature, this legislature, we couldn’t get Senator Hatfield to confront it. If it had been fish, five-hundred-million-dollars worth of fish, or wheat, or any of that stuff, they’d have done it in a hot second. So I travel around and we’ve got.. we have the initiative referendum there, and if we get a certain proportion of signatures on petitions it goes on the ballot. We had to get fifty-four-thousand-six hundred-and-thirty seven. We got fifty-four-thousand-six-hundred and.. thirty.. let’s see.. we were three-hundred signatures short of getting it on the ballot and lost out on it. And we were all worn out about it (they’re already starting to try to get me to do it again next year, because, as they’re saying, “Look, if we don’t do it soon, organized crime is going to move in.” – When you put five-hundred-million dollars under the table, if the mafia doesn’t begin to sniff that and move into the area, they’re not the mafia that I know and love. They’re going to be in Oregon up to their hip boots unless we can pass the law soon enough to keep the machine up). And.. the.. one of the reasons that I got back into doing this was because I decided to become involved again in this way, and one of the reasons I decided to do that is contained in this thing that I want to read.
(Starting at approximately twenty-and-a-half minutes in, Kesey gives a spirited reading of an early draft of the story) – (“In the waning days of 1968 for some reason never very specific and now nearly obscured by time, the Grateful Dead made arrangements with the Beatles to send over to London a sampling of psychedeloids…”…” ..(that) maybe it was time to get involved, to speak out again, cross-hairs, or no. Else how were we going to be able to look that little bespectacled Liverpudlian in the eye again when the Revolutionary Roll’s called Up Yonder?
Allen Ginsberg (coming in approximately sixty-and-a-half minutes in) concludes the evening
AG: “I’ll read a few pages of older poetry and then recent scribblings’
He begins with “On Neal Cassady’s Ashes” followed by his poem to Jack Kerouac, “Memory Gardens”. At approximately sixty-six minutes in, he reads “a short poem from April 1973”, “Returning to the Country for a Brief Visit“, (“with a tag-line from (a) Sung dynasty poem” – “In later days, remembering this I shall certainly go mad,”) – (“Reading Sung Poems, I think of my poems to Neal/dead few years now, Jack
underground/invisible…”…”When all these millions of people die, will they recognize the Great Father?”)This is followed by “recent poems” –“To Philip Lamania” – “Surrealist, Catholic, poet, Kerouac friend, a little hommage to Philip” – (“I take your God and reduce it to a shuddering morsel…” “like the sound of a wet apple core falling out of a waste-paper basket”), “The Black Man” (“In shiny leather cap and neat jacketholding up his injured finger…”… … “…walking underground to the Port Authority Bus Terminal” Next, he reads “Why I Meditate” -I sit because the Dadaists screamed on Mirror Street..”..”I sit for (world) revolution”) and“Heroic (or longer) Couplets” [later titled “Old Love Story“] – (“Some think the love of boys is wicked in the world, forlorn,/ Character corrupting, worthy mankind’s scorn…” – (Allen interrupts the poem – “However, one problem with this poem, as I hear it, is that there seems to be a feed-back echo spirit” – and then continues) -Yet think back to the time our epic world was new….”….”I want people to understand! They can! They can! They can!/ So open up your ear and hear the voice if the classical Band.”)
This is followed by“A Public Poetry”– (“The fact is the Russians are sissies/ And the Chinese are big yellow sissies too/ And Americans by their nature, sissies… “the muscle men at the Pentagon and the tough guys at the CIA’ll /beat up Congress and Supreme Court/and take over the whole Western Block”),“Maturity” – (‘When young, I drank beer and vomited green /older drank wine vomited blood red/Now I vomit air.”) and “”What You Up To?”– (“”Oh, just hanging around/ picking my nose…”/ I replied, embarrassed/ in the corridor/ as the Sanskrit professor saluted me…“ [this poem, including reference to his Bell’s Palsy “Himalaya of suffering gelatinous/slop my lifetime since 1976/when the right side of my face/drooped dead muscles/’cause an O.D, on Doctor’s Antibiotic /inflamed my seventh cranial nerve inside/its cheekbone”]…. “”No, I don’t want to stop I like it dirty/ like this.”)
[He concludes the reading] with “two poems written recently thinking of this conference. One improvised on a collage painting by Karel Appel at the Boulder Center For Visual Arts. Appel asked me to write a poem on Kerouac as he painted so this was a brief biography of Kerouac to go along with the painting.
“He was a blue-eyed baby by Merrimack River in Lowell, he said. He was football athlete, dreamt girls in black-lace panties, fell in spiritual love with Sebastian Sampas who read Shelley .”I weep for Adonais“, they cried in red-brick mill alleys, and young Sebastian died at Anzio Beachhead, World War II. In New York he heard Bird Harlem bop with his own ear and watched his father die, bitter urine bloating his belly. Thus wrote The Town and the City and thirteen books thereafter until in 1956 when this shadow was cast in a camera. Surrealist poet, Gregory Corso lent him this cross for the photo, Here you see the profound beauty of America in his dark tragic eyes. He’d already scribed a thousand dreams, a thousand pages of dharma, a million words that sounded like a million ears. His heart was tender. He’d already died and become recording angel. Ten years later, red-faced like his father, drunk, weeping beer, he wrote the Vanity of Kerouac.”
and “(There is) a rhythmic thing on Kerouac that I’ve been sort of trying to figure out for several years just for the rhythmic run..” – “Jack was the creator of a world of darkness, brooding in his attic on themidnight special. Jack made a world of light in his basement painting Cardinal Spellman compassionate. Jack invented his mother made of shit and bones to be Mary in heaven crazy immortal. Jack wrote nineteen novels out of sheer naiveté in Mexico City Ozone Park San Francisco, Northport, Orlando and Manhattan. Nay, not Jack o’ Darkness, Jack o’ Night but Jack o’ Jack o’ golden Jack o’ Light!”
At approximately eighty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in, Allen concludes with two songs
AG: Now, (I’ll) finish my set with a blues and a..one blues and..so, if Glenn Edwards is here? and the bass.. Robert Force..and I think we have something for that. We’ll do two brief songs and then the order will be (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti again and Ken Kesey [Editorial note – these two additional readings are unavailable]- Are we ready with that Glen Edwards and Robert Force? – and, I don’t know if the sound is ready but we’ll try it out …. (and) Still Life piano-player? (I’m sorry I forgot your name again – if you’re here for Still Life, can you come up for the farfisa?…
[Allen performs a version of “Airport Blues” ] – (“I drove out to the airport/ on a blue sunny day” …”Hearts full of hatred will outlast my old age”) -and, “next, in keeping with the company” – (to musicians) – “in A” – “Do The Meditation Rock” -(after an aborted start, Allen joins in with finger-clicking cymbals) – (“If you want to learn how to meditate/I’ll tell you now ’cause it’s never too late”…”Generosity, Generosity, Generosity, yeah, Generosity!”)