Studs Terkel 1959 Radio Interview – Part 4

Peter Orlovsky – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

courtesy the ever-extraordinary PennSound

Studs Terkel interview continues .

For earlier segments see here, here and here 

ST: Peter Orlovsky, what were you about to say?
Peter Orlovsky: The Howard Johnson’s..when we were going along the highway, we stopped at the Howard Johnson’s. And they had (have) these little cards, you know – What’s your waitresses number? Did you like the way she served you? What did she serve you? Was it enough? Was it too small? Was it too large? Do you have any comments about Howard Johnson’s? (the inside – how it look?)

So we filled out our cards in each Howard Johnson’s we stopped

GC: But the frightening thing was “What is your waitresses number?” And that scared us, you know
AG: So we kept answering that by saying  “This is a Gestapo question”
GC: It is you now
AG: It’s a real mean question
GC: Terrible question
AG: Incredible question
GC:  What is your waitresses number?
AG: Spying on the waitress
GC: As if we would do that,  squeal or something.
AG Like stool-pigeon questions
And they encourage you know, middle-class American families to come out and be stool-pigeons on theit waitresses.

GC: Yeah, nobody should be…
AG: So we filled it out. We filled it out. We participated in the world. We were the only ones that were participating in this particular project . Nobody else filled it…
GC:  We filled out the cards. Thousands of cards, we filled out, thousands of comments!
ST: I see, but you won’t participate in something you consider immoral. Is that the idea? – basically
AG: Well, no, I won’t participate in something that I don’t  like participating in. And I certainly don’t like participating in turning in the waitresses or something.. like that.. Would you?
ST: No, that sounds fair enough
AG: Would anyone? That’s inhuman.
ST: It’s inhuman
AG: What we did do is filled out cards criticizing their art because they had lousy art all over the walls..

ST: Yeah, yeah…
AG: Disgusting. Sort of big sexy English shepherdesses done in a style that never existed on land or sea but an imitation style..
GC:  Yeah, with sheeps – but you’re not supposed to say “sheeps” – “sheep”
AG: “Sheeps
GC: “Sheep” – not an “s” after it
AG: “Sheep”, that’s right, plural.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

ST: Lets forego Howard Johnsons for a moment if we may. There’s something that William Carlos Williams, a distinguished.. I know “distinguished” is a square term to use..
AG: He’s a great poet
ST: He’s a great poet
GC: No, “distinguished” is a great word
ST: You like the word?
GC: Yes, I think it’s lovely. Yes he is distinguished
AG: We’re all distinguished, in fact.
ST: We are.
GC: Even you.
ST: Even I..
GC: Well, they’re talking about the grey hair..
ST: Oh, outwardly..
AG: Just to see how profoundly nervous you are
ST: I see, that’s it.
GC: You are nervous, aren’t you?
ST: Nervous?
AG: Profoundly
ST: But I must admit…
GC: Do you love us. See, we automatically give you our love. We feel it right away
ST: I don’t know you well enough.
GC: You just can’t get into us.
AG: Well, he’s putting up with us.
GC: He’s putting up….
ST: I’m curious. Let’s put it that way – and curiosity is a sign of flattery, of interest…
William Carlos Wllliams, if I may for a moment..
AG: He’s talking about Williams

ST: ..wrote a preface to Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl and he said this – “It is a howl of defeat, not defeat at all because he’s gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience. Everyone in this life is defeated but a man if he be a man is not defeated” – Now, what does this mean to you, Allen?

GC:  It sounds like…
AG: Well it sounds to me like.. well, he’s a very old man, you know
ST: He’s paying you a tribute here
AG: Yeah, I know. But he’s a very old man. So he’s looking at it from the point of view of a man actually whose feet are washed, and (who) is about ready to go, looking back on life. I had written a long poem which is full of a lot of complaints (among other things!) – among other things, a poem full of complaints.
ST: It’s filled with complaints, but wait, coming back to William Carlos Williams. He wrote this as an undefeated man. He says, he says that you are not defeated is what he says.
AG: Well, he’s saying, like, everybody in life, is defeated, really. Everybody is defeated, in this sense. I mean, we all die. So, in that sense, if you want.. Until you get to a point where death is, like for (Walt) Whitman, a beautiful experience or, you know, a great gate, that you pass through, until you get to a point where you can accept death, everyone is..
ST: But don’t you feel that life, don’t you feel that life itself is a memorable experience.
You speak of death.
AG: Well, I don’t think I’ll remember it after I’m dead.
ST: I know but you are alive now.

AG: Yeah

Allen Ginsberg, 1959 – Photograph by Chester Kessler

ST: See, I was hoping, perhaps you aren’t, the three of you, very alive young poets, are you not? – Well, a lot of people would agree or disagree with you
AG:  Well, once and for all, the corny journalistic conception of the Beat Generation being (quote) “negative” (unquote), or putting down life, I think, is ridiculous. It simply reflects the shallowness of people who comment on our poetry and the lack of perception. Like, the end of my poem there’s a great big thing all about how “the eternal war is here”, hurrah for mercy, and everything. Angelic bombs dropping all over the place, it’s a big cry of “Hooray!

ST: You mean that sardonically?
AG: NO !!!!
ST: You say “angelic bombs”
AG Yes
ST: Did you mean angelic bombs?
AG: Yes, certainly.
ST: Why, you consider bombs angelic, that destroy?
AG: Oh no no no no. I’m  not speaking of…
GC: I do. I think of them angelically.
AG: At the end of the poem I..
ST: Then you’re anti-life. Is that it?
GC:  Oh, all life!
AG:  Oh, you’re just confusing the issue again, (with your lies!) (be alive!)
ST: Go ahead Allen, come back to Howl for a moment, come back to Howl
AG: He isn’t talking to me anyway. A  microphone-eater
ST:  You see…now I know the  audience may be a little confused…
GC: He’s yelling. at me!
AG: Shut up!
ST: Now, while this discussion goes on in the background…

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-four-and-a-half minutes in –

[2018 update – audio no longer available]

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