Studs Terkel Interviews Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass on WFMT, Chicago 1990 – part 2

Philip Glass – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg – Kiev Restaurant, NYC, 1993 – Photo  c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

continuing from yesterday

ST: Resuming with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass, poet (and) composer working together. We heard just a piece of the very haunting “Satyagraha – the Evening Song“, earlier, that opened the Lyric Opera season. It was a pip of an opening. Critics and audience both (raved). That was three years ago…
Liquid Days?  (Songs from) Liquid Days)  is what?

PG: Well, it’s a collection of songs I did. In a way, it’s kind of a problem to talk about because it was the first songs I did in English, and now, four or five years later, I’ve done a whole set of songs with Allen in English. And I wanted to do a set of songs using the English language,  because I’d done..Satyagraha was written with….
ST: Well, Satyagrahawas Sanskrit. That was quite a job for the performers.
PG: Yea, that’s right. And Akhenaten was done in Ancient Egyptian .
ST: The what was?
PG: The Akhenaten
ST: Akhenaten was done in Ancient Egyptian
PG: And Einstein.. used..more and more used numbers. One, two, three, four.
ST: In numbers?
PG: Yeah. So I wanted to do something in English and I asked friends of mine who were songwriters to.. if they had.. basically, I said, “Look, do you have any lyrics you’re not using, something that I could…?”  And I asked David Byrne for a set of lyrics (in fact, the song that we’re going to play is from him). Suzanne Vega gave me a set of words, Laurie Anderson did, and Paul Simon did. And, actually, the funny thing is, I asked at a time when Suzanne Vega hadn’t done her first record yet, and I wanted to pick an unknown writer or a songwriter (because I had Paul Simon and Laurie Anderson and David Byrne and I was feeling really self-conscious about all these, I wanted to pick someone that no one had ever heard of  – so I picked Suzanne Vega – and then she.. her record came out about the same time that our record did, and so she’s hardly an unknown songwriter anymore! – At any rate, this song..  They each gave me lyrics to write. The one that David (Byrne) gave me was written out on a number of pieces of paper, just two or three lines in different colored ink and he let me assemble it together, make my own set of lyrics out of it. And the Roche Sisters are singing this song, by the way
AG: Who are they?
PG: The Roche Sisters
ST; And, actually, Laurie Anderson also did something for it.
PG: She contributed lyrics for a song also.
ST: I call her Laurie-and-her-magic-violin.. No, there used to be, there used to be a radio star, years ago, named Rubinoff-and-his-magic-violin
AG:  Rubinoff.
ST: Yes, I speak of Laurie-and-her-magic-violin
AG:  And Jack Benny, wasn’t he..?
ST: That’s right. So, Laurie-and-her.. but this is David Byrne’s piece
PG: Yes, it’s David Byrne’s words and my music and The Roche Sisters are singing

[Beginning at approximately thirty-six-and-a-half minutes in (and continuing to approximately forty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in), Terkel plays “Liquid Days (Part 1)”  (vocals by The Roches) from Philip Glass’s album Songs from Liquid Days)]

ST: And so it ends – like that
AG: That’s very pretty
PG: Thank you.
ST: You’ve heard this before?
AG: Yeah, I wasn’t aware of it, but ,  I immediately, as it got on..
ST: What is it that happens ? (I’m just curious. It.. I imagine, technically, what happens there?, technically?)
PG: In which way?
ST: The sound, as we hear the sound..
PG: You mean how it ends?  or..?
ST: Yeah, I mean, just generally. I know the keyboards are electronic..
PG: Yeah..well, that’s a combination of electronic and acoustic.You heard a flute and there are strings, real strings, and a.. The way we recorded it? We reorded it in the studio. But we did do a tour. I got a little tour together, and I toured.. (it was a little mini-tour, we did Europe, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But on the record, I also had …Linda Ronstadt sang on the record and she came on tour, the Roche Sisters came on, Doug Perry, who was also on the record. So it was..
ST: The guy who played Ghandi in Satyagraha
PG: Yeah and we did a little mini-tour, and it turned out we can do it live
ST: I was thinking The Roche Sisters – they’re three sisters and they’re natural sisters
PG: Yeah.
ST: And I thought, here we go, World War II, the ‘Forties, the Andrews Sisters much has happened technologically  in so many ways. And the Andrews Sisters, the Roche Sisters you have the history of America of the past forty years.
AG: And changes..
ST: The changes.
AG: the psyche.
ST: “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me” – and David Byrne
PG: David Byrne’s from Baltimore, by the way. He grew up in Baltimore.
ST: You, David Byrne, Billie Holiday and H.L.Mencken
AG: And don’t forget Edgar Allan Poe‘s grave
ST: “And felt the strangeness of Baltimore again”
PG: Yes, that’s right

ST (to AG): Allen, as you were listening to..yourself.. You go back and forth during this concert, I gather
PG: Well, I play some solo piano, and Allen reads some poetry.

ST: Allen, your turn.
AG: Well, I thought there’s a.. there’s a piece from the opera, which is done with Australian aborigine songsticks, which I was using, so it was rhythm instruments performing that little “Dope Calypso”. But an Australian aborigine, as a songman, takes perhaps thirty years to learn his trade, because what the song is   is a,like, an encyclopedia of the nomadic cycle that he travels with his tribe when they.. It has to be all the information of where you can get wichetty grubs, where you can get food, where the stars will be at what portion of the year. So, they have little clap-sticks (AG displays them, sounding them out). And they repeat the verses, each verse, a number of times, and the village, the whole village repeats the verses with them. So this poem is modelled on that and it fits also with our notion of the transitoriness of nations  (Fall of America, or Hydrogen Jukebox)

[Beginning at approximately forty-four minutes in (and concluding at approximately forty-five-and-a-half minutes in),  Allen reads “Ayers Rock/Uluru Song”  (“When the red pond fills fish appear..”…  “When the raindrop dries, worlds come to their end”)]

ST: Yeah, That’s fantastic, Because I was thinking, as Allen was doing it.. I was thinking about what we talked about earlier – “It all begins with me”.  Coming back again to the person. Simple. In the real sense
AG: Well, the latest in scientific information is that when two molecules clank together, it takes an observer for that to become scientific data. So it all comes back to subject.
ST: Yeah
AG: Or, the universe is subjective
ST: Yeah, I was thinking the craziest thought. See if it makes any sense. As Allen was doing that, in that very... Suddenly it haunts you (just as (in) Philip Glass, the music haunt you),
I was thinking of the (RMS) Titanic, – Why do you think I was thinking of the Titanic?…   Because of the arrogance of Man. You know, “Nothing’s ever going to stop this!”, and that should have been at the right moment, (if you think of man’s humility). We haven’t learned, tho’
AG: So when’s Earth Day?
ST: Coming up
AG: April 22nd? 23rd?
ST: Twentieth anniversary
AG: yea, there’s going to be a big action on Wall Street, a whole bunch of people are going to sit in on Wall Street and get arrested. I think. And in Central Park, in New York, there going to have a giant music festival to celebrate Earth. And I think the tuna companies have declared finallythat they’ll stop catching tuna fish in nets that catch dolphins also. That’s.. (oh, while you were in Brazil (Philip), that came out, they finally..Heinz tuna-fish said that they’d no longer accept (or) buy tuna fish that involves the capture of dolphins

ST: Just to remind..  Not to interrupt but to remind listeners that Allen Ginsberg (who we’ve been hearing) and Philip Glass, together – that’s tomorrow-night, and you can see, it’ll be.. there’s a spontaneous air to this, and a refreshing one too. At the same time there’s a theme,  and the theme is the one we’ve been talking about really – it all begins with you (there in the audience). Center East –  because they’re.. under the auspicies of, or rather for the benefit of a Buddhist organization, Jewel Heart, and Center East is the place, Center East at 7701 Lincoln in Skokie. So that’s eight o’clock tonight.
One more round to go.

And so I was thinking this is the last round for now, until you guys, tomorrow-night on stage, Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg. And there’s another piece of music – [to PG] – You say you play solo piano
PG: Yeah, this is a piece that…
ST: Acoustic piano too . This is a piece that was identified with a movie called The Thin Blue Line. It’s a film about a man who was put into jail for a crime that he..apparently he hadn’t committed at all – a guy named Randall Dale Adams– and a filmmaker named Errol Morris stumbled across this case and began interviewing people and filming it and, as a result of the film, the guy was actually released, and the real killer confessed. During the..
ST: This is The Thin Blue Line you’re talking about? – Oh, that’s right
PG: So this music is thematically from that. Maybe if we have.. I would think that maybe we should just hear part of it, because the piece is a
ST: Let’s fade part of it and then we’ll hear Allen once more, to close with whatever it is of his choice. So this..”Metamorphosis
Any connection here with the (Franz) Kafka theme?
PG: Well, I also use some of this music for a staging of the Kafka play, and, in a way. I thought the whole thing that happened to Randall Dale Adams.. In the Kafka, there were a lot of  reverberations that seemed to me very authentic.
ST: You haven’t set Kafka yet, have you?
PG: No. no I haven’t, but I’ve done music for it,  plays that were based on him.
AG: Well, that would really be up your alley, in a funny way.
PG: You know I’ve finally worked with (Edgar Allan) Poe. I’ve set Poe, and I find….
AG: What Poe?
PG: The Fall of the House of Usher
AG: Uh-huh
ST: Oh, The Fall of the House of Usher”, you did “(The) Fall of The House of Usher, did you?
PG: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, and that.. maybe because I was from Baltimore, but that.. in a way, Poe was such a forerunner of much modernism, so I felt very at home with it.
ST: Here then, “Metamorphosis”

[Beginning at approximately forty-nine minutes in (and concluding at approximately fifty-one minutes in), Terkel plays a recording of Philip Glass playing his own composition, “Metamorphosis“]

ST: This is a slow reluctant playing, very reluctant, because you can see it building. And you’ll hear some of this tomorrow-night. There, Philip Glass at the piano, and that was certainly..  several of these pieces….

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-four- and-a-halfminutes in and continuing until approximately fifty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in] – 2018 update – the audio for this interview is currently no longer available

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