Studs Terkel 1959 Radio Interview – Part 1

Studs Terkel with Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky,WFMT radio studio, Chicago, 1959
Studs Terkel: What did you say about Howard Johnson’s?
Gregory Corso: Well, you know, like, it’s almost a mental dictatorship, you know, because you can’t get off the highway. To go to another restaurant or something, you have to keep on the turnpike. And so they’re all similar. And it looks like a big bathroom as soon as you go in. And nothing is moving but the Coca-Cola machines and the cocoa machines, just turning, great symbols turning, great undersea silence.

Studs Terkel:  Dear listeners of WFMT. in case you may be a bit befuddled or confused this is the beginning of an interview/conversation with two, certainly very alive, young poets.

GC: Three!
ST: Three
GC: An angel is with us. We’ve brought an angel along.
ST: The voice you heard describing Howard Johnsons (is)
Gregory Corso. In the center sits Allen Ginsberg, the author of perhaps what
might be considered one of the militant anthems of Beat poetry, and… I beg
your pardon, I’m not up on Beat…
AG: No, his name is Peter Orlovsky,  (love in the middle, a love in the
GC: And Peter has two poems that I think are going to be the
two poems of the age – “First Poem” (“Frist Poem) and “Second Poem
ST: Peter Orlovsky, whose voice we haven’t heard yet. Peter,
do you mind just saying a bit, commenting, about the poetry (just a bit, to
identify the voice).
Peter Orlovsky: I call my silver dollar on a bed.
ST: Good. That’s Peter Orlovsky. So we have three Beat
Generation poets..
GC: No, no, it looks like a silver dollar on the bed.
AG:  That’s right… You get that line straight..
ST:and  they’re here in Chicago now
GC:  Oh no, I’m not Beat, I love (Percy Bysshe) Shelley
ST: You love Shelley?
GC: Yes. Shelley was never “Beat”.  No, no. It’s these people.. I’m just.. out of it..
ST: Shelley was never Beat?
AG: He keeps dissociating himself  from…
GC: I  just completely disassociate myself from all that.
ST: That’s Gregory Corso.
GC: Yes
ST:  Allen Ginsberg, perhaps you…
GC: I hate them. I can’t stand them.
ST: You can’t stand who?
GC:  I can’t stand all these people.. I don’t like them at all. They’re very powerful..
ST: You don’t like them?
GC: I’m very paranoid now. You’re making me paranoid.   I love
Shelley, I love  (John) Keats and  (William) Wordsworth and (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge. I don’t want any of this
ST: You don’t like them but you love them.
GC: Oh I love them…
ST: You love them but you don’t like then?
GC: No, no, I like them and love them. Both.
AG: Well, come on, make up your mind…
GC: I can’t make up my mind about it.. It’s the schizoid and this is the paranoia coming in, I’m sorry.
AG: …(or) shut up!
ST: Alright, let’s see if we can start, for a moment, let’s forgo schizophrenia for a moment, and see if we can just  pin down certain basic precepts (if
there are such things). What about the matter of… We hear the word “beat” so
much. It’s caricatured, ridiculed. Now, if we could just handle it, to begin
with, semantically. Does “beat” mean defeated?   Is “beat” connected to jazz?

PO: It means to cry a lot.

Fra Angelico (1395-1455) – detail of portrait of Christ on the crucifixion
PO: It comes from Fra Angelico, who cried a lot before he painted Christ, 
He used to cry for four hours at a time before he painted the

AG: ..before he painted the Virgin.

Fra Angelico (1395-1455) – Portrait of the Virgin Mary (detail)


ST: Allen, what about the philosophy of Beat, the outlook?
AG: Well, it’s nothing that organized. The only place where
it’s organized is in the mind of journalists who are trying to organize it.
ST: And what is it in your mind?
AG: It’s a casual remark that (Jack) Kerouac dropped one day (among many other casual remarks) which was picked up and written about and so became organized and less casual. As far as I know, the original scene was he and a writer named (John) Clellon Holmes were sitting around talking about the ‘twenties.
ST: (John) Clellon Holmes who wrote The Horn, the excellent jazzbook
John Clellon Holmes
AG: Yeah – was sitting around talking, (let us say, nine, ten, years ago), saying, if the other generation was a ”Lost Generation”, what would people be naming this generation? It was just, you know, like a goofy conversation. It wasn’t a big
serious formal, “Let us now give a formal name to a generation” – (as if there is
such a thing as a generation!)
ST: You won’t be cubby-holed, in other words. I mean, it’s just a label?
AG: Well, it’s a label that’s been picked up to… But it’s actually quite a beautiful label, in a way, that’s poetically interesting. The remark is interesting, Kerouac said, “Well, this generation will be a “Beat Generation”  then – Everybody’s
beat, everybody’s so worn down, to a point where they’ll be able to receive
ST: Well, let’s feel free in this…. Let’s make this a Round Table with Paul and Gregory and Allen…
AG: Peter!
GC: Peter!
ST: Peter, I beg your pardon. Peter Orlovsky.
GC: Peter Orlovsky. It’s a Russian angel in America
ST: Russian angel in America?
GC: Yes and he’s come to Chicago to save Chicago.
ST:   He’s going  to save Chicago?
GC: It is this evening. It’s going to be saved here ,
There’s a great tense city (here). We feel it.
ST: And you want to save Chicago?
[Editorial note – The remaining section, (down to the end of today’s segment), has previously appeared on The Allen Ginsberg Project – here
GC: No, no, no, I don’t want to save Chicago. I want
to see Al Capone’s old heritage. I really dig him see him, you know. I pay
hommage to him, I mean…
Al Capone (1899-1947)


Gypsy Smith (1860-1947)

ST: Once upon a time there was an evangelist here named Gypsy Smith who sought to save Chicago by parading down Chicago’s red light district years ago…

GC: Oh but nothing like that, nothing ostentatious like that, no.
ST: …who would parade down naked? No, but, on the subject of nakedness,
we’ll come to that as we go along – let’s dig further. Allen started, but let
Gregory.. and Peter..
GC: Ask me a question, see how I answer, don’t make me embarrassed, just ask me a question..
Alright, the question of what is your outlook, what is your philosophy?
– do you feel defeated?, coming to the matter of.. getting to the label
of.. “Beat” itself.
GC: Oh no, no, no, I so far have reached God, I think, and I’m going to go beyond
it now. So there’s no defeat in that. I stand like Alexander (or) Tamburlaine
ST: What’s there beyond God?
GC: Ah, that’s it! – and I’m gonna find it.
ST: You wanna find it?
GC: Yes. I’m gonna have it.
ST: but what, what..?
GC: ..and it’s “Hair”! – I just wrote the poem,
“Hair”.  You wanna hear “Hair”?
AG:Why don’t we hear poetry?
GC: Poetry, that’s the thing
ST: Alright. I know you’ve got some poems for the occasion. (So), Gregory Corso.
who wrote Gasoline and Other Poems, will now read “Hair”.
AG: In the cadence of his style!  [laughter]
Woman With Long Hair (1929) – Photograph by Man Ray


Hans Langseth – “King Whiskers”  (1846-1927)


[Gregory reads (in its entirety) his poem,  “Hair”] “My beautiful
hair is dead/ Now I am the rawhead…”…”Veronic Lake   Truman Capote  Ish
 Harpo Marx  Messiahs Pagininis/ Bohemians  Hawaiians
poodles” – ]

ST:I suppose you imagine that..Yul Brynner‘s a pretty fortunate man
GC: I  actually was gonna say “Yul Brynner’s Lament”, but I think
he’s ephemeral, short-lived..

ST: I see

Yul Brynner (1920-1985)
 GC:  …so I just called it “Hair”. Hair will always remain.
ST: What would you say then. You’d say then that the outlook of the poem is
“things are rough all over”.
GC:   No, I think that things are so beautiful and I do have lovely hair, I’m not
complaining (about any soul) because I’m not bald, right?
AG: He’s not bald
GC:  …and I do have nice hair, no no, in a sense, right..  no, so
therefore, this is the whole thing that you’re trying to get at, almost, with
“the Beat Generation”..
ST:This would not be the Dylan Thomas school of poetry..
GC: No!  Oh God…
AG: Actually, it’s more like Dylan Thomas than you think..
GC: What
AG: It’s more like Dylan Thomas than you would think.
ST: Well, go ahead Allen.
AG: Well think of all the mad images in that, that’s like Dylan Thomas – “I
see the angels washing their oceans of hair”  is something that Thomas
would have…smiled at.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)


ST: Yeah, but he might say it a bit differently, though.
GC:  No, but I see the connection with him about “Beat”, Allen –
getting as a subject – that this has nothing to do with social standings
at all, but a young person who was in the society,  talking about what?
hair? fried shoes? anything that is beautiful
and free.


to be continued

[Audio for the above (courtesy PennSound) can be heard here, beginning at the beginning and continuing to approximately ten minutes in – 2018 update – audio no longer available]

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