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.

Allen Ginsberg: Three!

AG: Peter Orlovsky

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 middle).

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?

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 Virgin

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 God.

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

AG: Naked?

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..

ST: 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 Kabibble 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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