The 1996 National Security Archive Interview – part 2
[Allen Ginsberg, reading at The Knitting Factory, New York City, 1995]
Allen’s 1996 Interview for the National Security Archive at George Washington University continues from here
AG: So I found I was kicked out by the Prague police and the Havana police. Then, when I got back, I took part in various anti-war demonstrations. But I found that the day I arrived in Prague, I had been put on the dangerous security list of J.Edgar Hoover as a crazed, violent, or.. I don’t know what he thought I was! – And that he should talk, I must say! (laughs). Maybe he thought my homosexuality was a threat to America or something..
But, anyway, on April 26 1965, the day I arrived in Prague to be kicked out two weeks later, I was put on the dangerous security list here. Then I found that.. in (19)65-(19)66.. that the Narcotics Bureau was trying to set me up for a bust. partly for my anti-war activity, partly anti-war-on-drugs, anti-police-corruption activity, and so they tried to set me up for a bust, several different people busting people and threatening to the throw the book at them unless they went to my apartment and planted marijuana. So I complained to [Attorney General] Robert Kennedy and to my various Paterson, New Jersey Representatives in Congress, and in New York. And years later, when I got my papers from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act – because you can get your papers after fifteen to twenty years – I found that the FBI had translated a denunciation of me by the Prague youth newspaper, Mlada Fronta, saying that I was a corruptor of youth and alcoholic – which I’m not – and not to be trusted, and had sent it over to the Narcotics Bureau to send to my Representative, Congressman Joelson, warning him not to answer my questions and requests for protection and complaints about the set-ups, the entrapment procedures of the Narcotics Bureau, because I was irresponsible – as is proved by this Communist newspaper! (laughs), and that anything I said might be turned to embarrass him. So I realized that the Western police, and in certain areas, the Western police and the Communist police, by 1965, were one international mucous membrane network (laughs), [Editorial note – that phrase Allen credits to the German poet, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, as translated by Jerome Rothenberg], there was hardly any difference between them.
[Allen Ginsberg and Pavel Beran in Prague, May 1965 – Photograph by the Czech Secret Police]
Interviewer: Very good answer. Can we go back to the emergence of the counter-culture? Some of your writings hit a very popular vein and you became very, very popular?
Interviewer: Could you describe to me a little bit about why you think that happened, and what the elements of this ..what your philosophy was, if you like, that emerged from this period?
AG: Well, the main themes actually of a whole group of poets – that would be Gary Snyder, myself, Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia.. – of the Surrealists, the San Francisco group and the New York group, the Beat group, as well as, to some extent, the Black Mountain group. One – spontaneous mind and candor, telling the truth in the public forum, completely difficult during the time of censorship and party-line mass media moderation and… well, deceptiveness, deceptiveness in terms of the American violence abroad. And..
[tape ends here – and is resumed]
Interviewer: So we were talking about the…
AG: Yes, the counter-culture
Interviewer: The counter-culture and (the) new revolutionary (forces)…(and I was asking you…)
AG: What were the tenets or themes of the counter-culture, as I know them from the ‘Forties and the ‘Fifties, meaning the Beat group and some allied friends.
AG: First of all, open form in poetry rather than a closed form. It’s like when you split the atom, you get energy. So we were followimg Whitman and William Carlos Williams and the Imagists and Objectivists in technique rather than the academic folks who were having a metronomic beat. That happened in painting, poetry, music and all the arts. And that involved candor and spontaneity, spontaneous composition, a classic thing from Japan, Tibet, China, not recognized here [in the United States] as classic because people weren’t scholary enough, so they thought it was some home-made spontaneous prosody, but it was the great tradition of Milarepa, the Tibetan poet.
Candor arising out of that, meanng if you’re saying what’s really on your mind spontaneously, you might say things people would object to or censor. Thus Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, which couldn’t be printed in America until after many, many legal trials.
An interest in ecology and restoration of the planet, particularly on the part of (Jack) Kerouac who said, “the earth is an Indian thing”, or Gary Snyder, who’s a famous ecological poet, or Michael McClure whose specialty is in biology, or Philip Lamantia as a Surrealist, using Surrealist means to go back to the indigenous mind, so to speak.
Then there was also an interest in breaking the bonds of censorship, which we did, and being able to speak freely. There was an aexuberance in art rather than any sort of a wet blanket, some sense of exuberance that, as (William) Blake said, “Exuberance is beauty“, and even some visionary element. There was the introduction along with that of Eastern thought, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, from the early ‘Fifties on, through Kerouac, and specifically through Gary Snyder who was studying Chinese and Japanese in the early ‘Fifties, and then went to study in a Zen monastery in Kyoto, where I joined him on that trip from India through Saigon to Kyoto to Vancouver. So meditation practice and exploration of the texture of consciousness was central, meaning exploration of our own aggression, and some of the ways of relating to our own aggression, rather than letting it run wild over the world as the American diplomacy was allowing: American fear, aggression dominance, macho delusion, to destroy other cultures.
We had a real strong in African-American culture and in the arts of African-American culture, which have never been fully recognized as the great American contribution to world culture. So the entire program of (Jack) Kerouac’s writing is really related to the new sounds and new rhythms of bebop, with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and other musicians whom he visited and heard directly in Harlem during the late ‘Thirties, early ‘Forties.
[Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie]
So there was an interest in both Asiatic culture and African-American culture, The Tibetan Book of the Dead… so an expanding of the American horizon of what was canon, what was the canon, not merely the Judeo-Christian, but also the Deists, Buddhists, and, let us say, Animists, or indigenous worshippers of “sticks and stones”, as the Catholics would say, who came to America and burned all the Mayan goddesses, despising the pagan cultures. So we were actually checking out the pagan cultures, and finding a refinement, both artistic and intellectual, that we didn’t have in Western culture, a Western culture based on some kind of either logical Aristotelian… a thing is either A or not A, or there’s one single monotheist center, as distinct from the old hermetic tradition of Heraclitus through Blake and the Eastern tradition of no center, or emptiness, or [kung or] ku, or sunyata – that things are real but simultaneously (have) no inherent permanent nature. That’s a big intellectual distinction, and we were beginning to absorb that question through the Highest Perfect Wisdom Sutra, which is chanted every morning in Zen and Tibetan rooms.
So there was a complete change of mind and also a rediscovery of America itself and the indigenous land, people, folk tales, folk music, urban folk arts like bebop and “dozens”, rather than a looking to Europe for sophisticated models only. This is part of an old American tradition from (Walt) Whitman through (William Carlos) Williams, of trying to find things that were in the American grain – not a nationalism, but an attempt to use the local virtues, and use them artistically and enrich the ground, rather than reject our own ground, to use our own speech, our own speech rhythms, our own diction, rather than an inherited nineteenth-cenury English diction speech and so forth. And Williams’ argument with (T.S.) Eliot was that by going English, Eliot basically set American poetry back twenty-five years, which I think was quite true, because it took a long time to recover from the elegance and intelligence of Eliot, but to come back to native grounds. So there were books like On Native Grounds and The Bridge, that celebrated American style, and finally you get something as brilliant as Kerouac’s On The Road, (or) Visions of Cody, which actually celebrate American ground, American character, and go back to the tradition of Whitman.
Interviewer: Ths hit a hugely popular vein, though, didn’t it? By the time you came into the ‘Sixties, this was taken up..
AG: By the time you got to the… Oh, I forgot the sexual revolution, gay liberation, yeah, you’ve got to add that in! So if you have complete change in view of the function and texture of consciousness, complete change in sexual tolerance, complete opening of artistic form, complete acceptance of human nature as is, as the fit subject matter, including the chaos of human nature, as your ground, naturally any young generation finds that exciting ’cause they can reclaim their own bodies, they can use their own speech, they can use their own minds, as the basis for their art or for their love-making or for their business. Naturally it caught on, because the whole older thing was censored, stultified, secret, secretive. The whole point of the Cold War, of the nuclear matter, was that it was all done in secrecy. From whatever proclivities they had in bed, through whatever proclivities they had in the War Room in the White House or the Pentagon, through the creation of the single greatest political decision of the century: to make the Bomb and drop it, you’ve got to realize it was all done undemocratically and in secret. And people had to hide their emotions sexually, hide their personal feelings, disguise themselves as men of distinction, and create a world-ravaging Frankenstein, the nature of which they could never put back in the bottle, or.. to mix my metaphor, a genie that they couldn’t put back in the bottle, a Frankenstein that they couldn’t stop because we still don’t know what to do with the wastes, the nuclear wastes. So, boasting intelligence, they made a half-assed science that did not take into account its own results, and the complete equation was not resolved, yet they had the pride of billions and billions and billions and trillions of dollars of investment, trillions of dollars of war materials, secrecy, perquisites, pride, an incredible conspiracy of silence surrounding what was supposed to be a democratic nation. We were never consulted on the creation of the Bomb; and people are so blind to the horror of that situation, they don’t get it, that there was a dozen people in secret that took the decision that shakes the world, in what is supposed to be a democracy. This is Stalinism at its worst, or Hitler–ism at its worst. People are not used to thinking of America or the West in these terms, but you really have to realistically look and see how we’ve poisoned the world.
There is a further problem that, because of conspicuous consumption, we are maybe more responsible for the garbage on the planet than anyone else, and for setting models of garbage.. of disposable planets, so to speak.
Interviewer: So what was it like, in that case – come to 1967, for example, when you have this huge explosion, expression of personal freedoms, what was it like to be part of ..the “Be-In”?
AG: Well (first), I must say, one other question we haven’t covered, which was the introduction of the drugs which alter consciousness very slightly, like marijuana, which had a bad rep from the government, but actually, when one tried , one found that they were quite mild, like marijuana certainly. You know, I remember my first experience was that it made my vanilla-ice-cream-with-chocolate-chip-syrup sundae delightful to eat, like a totem I’d never…an icon I’d never experienced before. And this was supposed to be the drug that sent Alsation dogs frothing at the mouth, mad! (laughs). So that was one reason why the U(nited) S(tates) government lost it’s authority, all the way up to the levitation of the Pentagon in 1967 (laughs). It was simply that the authority of the “government” word was deconstructed, the authority of the Pentagon was deconstructed by one good-looking kid putting a flower in the barrel of the gun held by another good-looking kid in uniform. Everyone realized the Pentagon is an arbitrary authority. You know, it’s like in (William) Blake, old “Nobodaddy”. So.. much less LSD, of which Blake might say.”The eye altering, alters all”. – i.e. a change of consciousness that’s experienced for, say eight to ten hours and that actually gives some perspective to the entire structure of social consciousness, the social arrangement, that you begin to see…X-ray, a little X-ray view of that; and particularly during a wartime, the realization of… people would get high and I think that LSD was likely enough that psychedelics may have been a great catalyst to the anti-war movement.That was my guess at the time , and still is. So there’s another element.
Okay, so what did it feel like? It felt like we were walking around in a large mass hallucination, sustained by all the politicians, but particularly by Lyndon Johnson, and later by (Richard) Nixon, extremely, based on lies and secrecy, sustained by the media, who were not able to… or couldn’t conceive that the whole structure of the United States mentality could be so wrong and so disastrous and so Earth-destroying, because they participated in primping it up all the time. So in a sense it was a piece of cake. You know, (laughs), all these madmen walking around in a dream, and all you had to is make some common sense. You know, all I had to do is say..was say, “I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel” (laughs), or, you know, “I here declare the end of the war” – “I here declare the end of the war”. Lyndon Johnson never even declared it; he just send soldiers over. Okay, if he’s going to have that chutzpah, that brass, okay, I can un-declare it. And not only that: my word is going to outlast his (laughs). So it was sort of both a play, and at the same time a serious attempt to communicate to people, to transmit information that came from experience and self-knowledge, from wider travel, from maybe a deeper heart understanding, than was being displayed in the official media party line. And I’m using that word [those words] “party line” with the overshadow echo of the “Communist Party line”.We definitely had a “party line”. The (New York) Times had a “party line”, and they’ve still got it.
I remember doing a lot of research in 1971 on CIA involvement in opium trafficking in Indo-China, working with Alfred McCoy, who put out a very great scholarly and reliable book on it and the (New York) Times simply couldn’t accept it. I even debriefed Richard Helms, head of the CIA, and got that story in the newspapers, but the Times really wouldn’t (print)… it was too shocking; it would have unseated the reason of the country. And it was not until 1993 or (199)4 that the Times finally said in an editorial, “Yes, the CIA was involved in opium trafficking in Indo-China”, and that was one of the black marks against the CIA. At the time I was in correspondence with their editors and with C.L.Sulzberger, who was a foreign correspondent of the family…part of the family that owns the Times, and he thought I was just full of beans. But then I got a letter from him in 1977 or (19)78, when he was resigning, saying that in going over old dispatches, he owed me an apology, he felt, ’cause he thought I was full of beans at first, but he’d found out I was quite right. But you still can’t get the Times to really do an investigation (in 1996) of the Contra-cocaine connection. They make-believe they’re doing it, and, instead, they investigate the story, you know, the media-treatment of the story, as they did in the previous days.
So you had an establishment party line which, after all, is part of the power structure, and worse and worse from those days to this , as it gets more and more concentrated. But the beginning of that concentration of power into so few hands was back in the ‘Fifties, when the (tv) networks and the few newspapers of record – the (New York) Times, Washington Post – were in a state of what the Alcoholics Anonymous people would call “denial” of both scandal, error, and treason even
Interviewer: This was a tremendous period of explosion…
Interviewer: ..not just in poetry but music..
Interviewer: …so on and so forth. Could you describe for me a little bit about the music that was going on there, the work of Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, and so and so forth. A lot of it was anti-war orientated as well.
AG: Well, I think the major thing was that, first of all, there was this counter-culture in music from the late ‘Thirties, early ‘Forties, the black counter-culture, bebop, which was attaining a music that could not be imitated for white co-optation, it was too complex and exquisite and somewhat intellectual, but emotionally very powerful, as with Charlie Parker. And that influenced almost all American writing, through (Jack) Kerouac, as Kerouac influenced American writing, as I did also.
Then in painting there was a similar move from the ‘Thirties on. towards abstraction, or Abstract Expressionism, as they called it. And many of the poets and painters of that time were friends – and musicians – like Morty Feldman, who opened up.. or John Cage, who opened up music to many new forms; (Willem) De Kooning and (Franz) Kline and (Jackson) Pollock; or at the Cedar Bar, where I was, Amiri Baraka, the great black poet (then LeRoi Jones) or you could find John Wieners, who’s a great gay poet from Boston, or Robert Creeley, Frank O’Hara of the Museum of Modern Art and another great New York poet, mixing with John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. (Jack) Kerouac coming in from his mother’s house at weekends and getting drunk at the Cedar and talking to Pollock.
So there was an explosion in almost every direction, including social studies, a reconsideration of what was America’s past, relation to the Indians, relation to blacks, relation to women, relation to gays. So a reconsideration of the myths of history that had been established; even a reconsideration of the canon, with the beginning of, let us say, why, at Columbia University, a freshman humanities course, which begins with Herodotus, and goes up through Saint Thomas Aquinas.. why is there no I Ching, why is there no Mahabharata, why no Diamond Sutra, why no Ramayana, why no Gassire’s Lute from Africa. Why are we restricted to the white Protestant, or Catholic central macho canon, when actually I got to be more interested in Eastern thought, and more and more into African thought? And with the expansion of the arts, particularly since Picasso and others, African forms and African thought became more and more interesting, with the explosion of jazz which is after all an African-American original art form, the polyrhythms and the improvisations of the boasts and the toasts and the warrior’s lute, Gassire’s Lute, that (Ezra) Pound talked about also, the renunciation of power in favor of art. That had an enormous effect on Western thinking, and slowly on the general populace, so that now young kids are interested in meditation practice, let us say, or in African Shamanism’s or American Indian relation to the ground and the American Indian relation to the commons, let’s say – I forgot what the question was (laughs)
Interviewer: I was asking you as well about later on, about music of the people like (Bob) Dylan and (Joan) Baez and so on ?
AG: Oh, yes, yes. So.. in 1952, a very important time, there was an avant-garde ethnomusicologist, painter and cinema collagiste in Harry Smith who began to make films of animated collage, using Eastern and American Indian themes, and he collected a great archive of American folk music, which was issued in 1952 on Folkways Records, a three-box set: blues, folk, mountain music and what not. That influenced the entire development of folk music in Amerca and indigenous music. Like, I think in (Bob) Dylan’s first album, four of those songs are drawn from Harry Smith’s collection. Jerry Garcia said he learned blues from Harry Smith’s collection. All of the… Ralph Rinzler, who was in charge of folk music at the Smithsonian and formerly part of a folk music singing group in the ‘Fifties, credits Harry Smith with having instigated the entire folk revival of the ‘Fifties, through archival restoration of the music that had been lost commercially. That would mean Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton and all the great blues singers, and (Richard “Rabbit” Brown), Elizabeth Cotton, and so forth. Then there were groups like (the) New Lost City Ramblers in the ‘Fifties, or The Almanac Singers, or others, folk singers, that began carrying this message of indigenous folk music, that Dylan heard as well as, at the same time he was hearing (Jack) Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, and Dylan seemed to combine the folk radicalism with the literary sophistication of the Beat writers, because he always found that Kerouac was a great inspiration, and, as he said, the first poet that made him interested in poetry. I remember asking him why and he said, “It was the first poetry that spoke to me in my own American language”. So by 196o, when he came to New York, or (1961) when he came to the Gaslight Cafe , which his where the poets had been having poetry readings, because he thought of himself as a poet-singer, and immediately began singing at the Gaslight on MacDougal Street. The Gaslight had been a gay bar, the MacDougal Street Bar, then the Gaslight Coffee Shop, a poetry-folk-singer venue downstairs in the cellar on MacDougal in the middle of Greenwich Village. So Dylan came there, having read about readings that had been held by LeRoi Jones, myself, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Ray Bremser, and others, in the Gaslight; Kerouac reading around the Village too. Apparently that strain of poetic intelligence shot through Dylan into the entire folk music scene, combined with Harry Smith’s great research, and that influenced.. according to Paul McCartney, that influenced The Beatles also, as well as influencing all the British blues singers, (Mick) Jagger and everybody else. The revival of classic American blues is the lineage through which you have Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger and.. “I went down to the station…” – that’s Robert Johnson.
[Ralph Rinzler, Bob Dylan and John Herald at The Gaslight, New York City 1962 – Photo by John Cohen]
So there was this recovery, like in On The Road, a recovery of the indigenous American intelligence, folk wisdom, folk wisdom and folk energy and folk exuberance anf folk suffering, basically.
Interviewer: Now, I’ve seen film of you, with people. Joan Baez and Phil Ochs and so on, going down to the Oakland (California) draft center. Can you tell me in your (own words)(more about) protest?
AG: The first protests that I knew of were organized by The Living Theatre and The Catholic Worker back in the…probably late ‘Fifties, early ‘Sixties, against a Governor Rockefeller-decreed nuclear alert [in New York] in which everyone was supposed to go and get out of their houses and go down underground into the subways. And they chained themselves to the fence at Union Square and refused to go underground and be intimidated. You know, “to help prepare for a nuclear holocaust”? – they said, “No way!” (laughs).That’s the earliest , and then I remember the War Resister’s League invited me and Peter Orlovsky to do a circumambulation around New York, covering the whole area that would be devastated by a bomb, you know, circumambulate that whole area. Then, by 1963, when I got back to [sic – from] Saigon, the first big peace protest that I took part in was a visit by Madame Nhu, President Diem‘s wife, who, incidentally, was quite much involved with the opium trafficking – to the… I guess The Century Club, or something like that, to give a speech in San Francisco, and we picketed her hotel and I remember carrying a sign saying “Madame Nhu and Mao Tse Tung are in the same boat of meat” (laughs) . So it was a poetic way of getting at it, rather than anger.
[Allen Ginsberg at Madame Nhu Protest, San Francisco 1963 – Photo by John Doss]
By (19)65 there were big Berkeley war protests, organized by a group of people – I think Jerry Rubin, and many others. There was one specific guy whose name I forgot [Jack Weinberg] that was quite moving in Berkeley. So we organized large-scale mass parades which were supposed to go through the black sections of Oakland, and the police blocked our way. They didn’t want blacks rising up like that.And the Hell’s Angels were sort of, like, induced to attack the march by some right-wing (John) Birchers.
Around.. in the early years, I think Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others, including Abbie Hoffman, had gone down South to get the vote for blacks, (19)63,
Birmingham. I remember Hoffman said that he brought a copy of On The Road with him when he went down to Birmingham. So there was this direct action, originally for black voting rights.Then in (19)64, there was, like, a big caravan of folk that went down to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention for Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi black caucus, who were shot out of representation by the white Missouri, or Mississippi – I’ve forgotten.. I remember Peter Orlovsky, the poet, and myself going down and picketing there, as being one of the first actions.
[Civil Rights Activist, Fannie Lou Hamer]
Then there were a series of marches in California and New York. And there were two things that emerged; the idea of a march as a spectacle or theatre, rather than angry violence but a way of communicating ideas. After the Hell’s Angels attacked the march, we had to figure out a strategy. There were these old-line Marxists, perhaps some agent provocateurs among them, who said we should go down with bicycle chains and beat up the brownshirts [sic]. I made a manifesto [first published November 1965 in The Berkeley Barb] saying – the march is a spectacle and theatre, and we should have masses of flowers, grandmothers, troops of trained fairies to go and take down the Hell’s Angels pants and give them blow-jobs! (laughs), floats with Lyndon Johnson and Mao Tse Tung and President Diem and Zhou Enlai and..who was the first head of Vietnam? – I’ve forgotten.. the head of North Vietnam… [Ho Chi Minh]
[some talk about having very little time left has been edited out]
Interviewer: So shall I just start? We’re going to carry straight on here. If you could…
AG: One thing I would like to emphasize is that we had a series of very interesting theatrical marches. In New York, a Yellow Submarine March, after the Beatles song, instigated by the Vietnam Veterans Organization. And many of those marches, which were peaceful and intelligent, were infiltrated by counter double-agents, double-agens from the FBI under their counter-intelligence program. And the most loud-mouthed, violent, people screaming, “Bring the war home!” or waving Viet Cong flags, or creating chaotic conditions on the march, or provoking the police, or screaming “Pigs!” were very oftten double-agents planted by the police to disgrace those marches, and there are many, many, many files in the FBI cabinets which have been released to the public, outlining those specefic capers or projects or manipulations. I remember specifically one time; there’s a very famous photo of me in an American hat, an Uncle Sam hat, that was for a march [in New York] that began at Bryant Park, near the Public Library on Forty-Second Street and went all the way up to the Bandshell in Central Park. And although it had been organized by Women Strike For Peace and The War Resisters League and the Vietnam Veterans, it was invaded by a group of what looked to be extreme left radicals waving Viet Cong flags, getting up in front of the march, getting all the publicity, with all the newspapers collaborating, and then, when we got to the bandstand, taking over the microphone and not letting the originators and organizers of the march speak; until after a long, long while, an hour of arguing, the police intervened, or the marchers intervened. So the folks who don’t have that historical memory should remember that very important thing; the sabotage of the Government during the political conventions, during the large Be-Ins, during the anti-war marches, the deliberate sabotage of the left, which was more extensive than just on the street: it was like secret manipulations to discredit and make misinformation campaigns about them.
[Celebrations at the Human Be-In
, January 14, 1967 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park]
One of the interesting things was… you know, we had a sort of non-political Buddhist Be-In in San Francisco, in February, I think it was, 1967, organized by the poets, (Michael) McClure, myself, Gary Snyder. Snyder had conceived of the levitation of the Pentagon to begin with, (as a) just traditional Eastern-Western white magic; and we’d had a very successful group of about twenty to thirty thousand people meeting in the park in San Francisco. At the end we had asked for (kitchen yoga), that everybody clean up after them, and we chanted mantra – I think it was “om sri matre namah, om sri matre namah” [Salutations to the Divine Mother], as the sun sank and people cleaned up after themselves. And Suzuki Roshi, the great Zen master, who was sitting on the platform with us, with (Gary) Snyder and myself and (Michael) McClure, got up and folded his robes and went home, after being with us all afternoon silent. That very night there was a police sweep down in Haight Ashbury, and the police busted everybody taht had any psychedelics or any grass; and within two weeks, Haight Ashbury was flooded with amphetamines and heroin. That should be understood. It’s not very well known, but, you know, ask anybody that was around at the time or read the newspapers, you’ll find that kind of sabotage of the community that had been built, both in the anti-war movement and the Be-In (clears throat) and the whole pointof the Be-In was not to protest anything but just to be there (laughs). You know, a be-in, not a sit-in, which is a take off on the idea of the Southern sit-ins or anti-war protests later on, but just a be-in; everybody be together as a sign of -what? – equanimity.. meditation, equanimity and poetry, art.
Interviewer: Wonderful. I’m glad you said that. So why did the whole movement go to Chicago in (19)68, and what was your personal experience of being there?
[Police and Demonstrators Clash in Chicago on August 28, 1968, during the Democratic National Convention]
AG: Well, there was going to be this.. what Abbie Hoffman called the “Death Convention”; they were going to prolong the war, maybe. At that time, Madame Nhu.. no, let’s see , Madam Anna Chennault, a right-wing fundraiser for the Republicans ,was telephoning South Vietnam President Thieu to hang on, and if (Richard) Nixon got elected, he had a secret plan to end the war, but it wouldn’t involve compromise with the Viet Cong – we’d destroy the Viet Cong – so he shouldn’t accede to the importunities of (Lyndon) Johnson and (Hubert) Humphrey and the State Department of that time to allow (the) Viet Cong to come to the peace table and negotiate an end to the war, as Robert Kennedy had recommended in 1966, February. That fact, that she had made those phone-calls at Nixon’s behest, came out during Watergate, when, defending his own wire-tapping, Nixon said, “Well, President Johnson wire-tapped Madame Nhu”, so it was official . The secret plan to end the war, according to Daniel Ellsberg, who was working then for (Henry) Kissinger….was that Nixon was going to nuke North Vietnam; and it was only prevented by the fact that they thought it would tear America apart because of all the protests in the streets that had taken place till then. By 1968, February, the Gallup polls said 52% of the American people always thought the war had been a mistake, or 52% of the American people thoought that the war had always been a mistake. In 1968, February Gallup poll, We organized, I think Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin and myself, and most importantly, Ed Sanders of The Fugs, the rock group, intellectual rock group, and a poet, had organized a group of “Yippies” – “ay yippee!” – good feeling – to have a Festival of Life in Chicago during the Convention, have a lot of rock n’ roll people come and overwhelm the Democratic Convention which might support the war, with some kind of exuberance and anti-war glee that would affect the voting or the tone of America. There was a lot of sabotage of tha by double-agents, there was a lot of unconscious sabotage of that, I think, by some of the organizers, like Jerry Rubin, who did believe in violence but forswore it for that occasion, but it was unconscious, I think, in his mind. Later Ed Sanders said he would never again work with anybody who believed in any kind of violence, ’cause he found it was disastrous. My role was to introduce some Eastern thought, meditation practice, and to form groups of mantra-chanting innocents,if there were any problems with the police, to, you know, create areas of calm, little islands of calm – which worked, actually; ad also to be there, like with William Burroughs and Jean Genet and Terry Southern and some of the editors of Grove Press, like Richard Seaver, and David Dellinger and others, and to give moral support to the younger people. I remember I went… I was a little… I had a little trepidation, fear about it, and I went to an elder in San Francisco, the grandson of President Chester A Arthur – Gavin Arthur was one of the sort of elders of the mind in the Bay area – and asked him what he thought. And he said, “Well, if I were young..” because he was an elder, like sixty-five to seventy – “if I were a young man, I’d consider it my obligation to go and oppose this infernal war and protest”. So that sort of decided the matter – that makes sense; you know, that kind of old British honor, or something like the aristocratic honor, presidential honor. So I went, and that was my function. And the police were quite brutal and just angry…I don’t know.. you know..you know, and were loosed on the protestors, who were in a relatively orderly scene. The Mayor refused to give permission for camping in the park and for the speech-making that was necessary. The police.. I think it was.. The most vivid and dramatic moment to me was one evening – I was standing with Jean Genet and (William) Burroughs, and the police cars at night began bursting on to the scene and going through barriers and pushing people away. And all of (a sudden)… (tape interrupted – cut)
[Jean Genet, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg at the Chicago Democratic Convention, 1968]
[Interviewer: If you could start now.
AG sings (performance not transcribed)
Interviewer: Wonderful. Thank you very much]