Allen Ginsberg on David Letterman Show, 1982

Allen’s late-night American tv appearances – We’ve already featured a previous one (from May 10, 1994 on the Conan O’Brien tv show) –  here’s another appearance, the previous decade, (from “Late Night With David Letterman” – this program was broadcast on June 10, 1982, on NBC)

Memorable is Letterman’s shocking confession that he hadn’t actually read On The Road !  Also, we vividly recall Allen taking up sixty valuable seconds of network time, with a discomforting (for Letterman and for NBC) on-air meditation  (Letterman getting increasingly antsy) – it seems that segment is missing from this version. Perhaps someone could dig it up?

And didn’t he also snigger about the “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” (sic)?

Anyway, here’s the video as we currently have it,  and the following transcription:

DL (Intro):   Thank you … My thanks to the folks who just scurried in here and cleaned up    We have a fine show for you tonight. Allen Ginsberg is going to join us in a moment or two, also Bud Greenspan, and more do’s and don’t’s with Frank and Fred, oh, and, of course, the Birdlady from Queens (she actually has birds with her, as I guess you’d expect from a Birdlady, and she does tonight, we’ll look at her birds. So…

My first guest tonight is a great American poet who came to the attention of most Americans back in 1957, when the epic poem “Howl” was put on trial for obscenity in San Francisco. Twenty-five years later he’s still exploring words and sounds. His latest field of activity being rock music. Please welcome Allen Ginsberg…                                                          It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.  Take a seat.. So this.. rock ‘n roll music. Why don’t you tell me of your involvement with that, first of all, sir?.

AG: Well, I’ve been singing mantras for a long time. Probably the last time you saw me on television, I was going “OM”, or “AH”, and that extended itself to “MAMA MAMA MAMA”, and that extended itself to putting (William) Blake to music and doing some Tibetan-style mantra chanting..

DL : Now lets get back to the mantra (or muntra),, now what exactly are you dealing with there? What does that do for a person when you do this?

AG: A measure of the breath, actually, like  “AAAAAH” – [audience laughter]  So it’s focus on breath  despite  the amusement of the audience

DL” Yeah

AG ….or with the amusement of the audience..

DL:  Now….

AG: …for the amusement of the audience of your own mind, bringing your awareness back to something that’s going on all the time anyway – the breath

DL: So. so what that does is forces you to concentrate on a function of your body and therefore you don’t think of other things, is that the deal?

AG: Well, then your mind wanders, then you have the possibility of coming back to the place  where you are, here, in the television studio, with this space

DL: This is meditation is what we’re talking about

AG:  Yeah, right  So it’s a functon of meditation, an outward sign, let us say.

DL:  Okay, and then this application towards rock n’ roll music?  I interrupted you there, I’m sorry

AG: Well poetry’s always been on the breath anyway. Words are on the breath, music’s on the breath when you’re singing. Language and ideas come out on the breath. Though they are impalpable in the mind, nonetheless you can articulate them and make them rock n’roll, so to speak, make rock n’ roll of your philosophical thoughts

DL: And now are you actually doing this with other rock n’ roll groups, or are you just doing this in your living-room?

AG: Well I do in my living…  In the bathroom!

DL: In the bathroom

AG:It begins in the bathroom as all great genius ideas! – But then it moves out. I was working this.. earlier this year with The Clash (they have a new record out that I’m on a song of.. we mixed..we mixed some political verses with mantra, actually – gate gate para gate parasam gate bodhi svaha  (the Highest Perfect Wisdom mantra.  So Mick Jones and Joe Strummer said. “More Sanskrit!” – they wanted more of that, like Voice of God in the background, in a rock ‘n roll number

DL This is very mystical all of this, isn’t  it?

AG: No..more the actual voice.. so it’s actual – “AHH”- so it’s just real breath. – There was something that I did want to talk about….besides mantra

DL : Oh you did want to talk about

AG:  Here this, which we prepared [takes out poster]  – I don’t know if you folks can see this?

DL: Do you want me.. let me hold it for you, Allen

AG: Yes, sure – I work out in Boulder Colorado at Naropa Institute, which is a Buddhist-oriented meditation secular school, and this summer, March 23rd to.. July 23rd to August 1st, we’re going to have 25th anniversary celebration of publication of (Jack) Kerouac‘s On The Road,  a great novel, twenty-five-years ago published like a kind of literary bombshell in America. Did you ever read that?

DL: No,, I didn’t

AG: Ah!

DL: I was just a kid.

AG: Okay, well, the thing about it was that the sound was great (just like mantra). the sound that he heard in his ear was absolutely marvelous, so it was a line like “going to the Mexican border and coming up into the U.S, I saw a snowy-haired old bum on the roadside who had the prophetic word and that, if any, was “Woe!”..” –  So, it’s sort of, like ,one long sentence, with a sort of basically compassionate theme as its projection

DL:  Yeah. Now this was the beginning of an important time for America, right?

AG:  Well, I think it began that movement toward  recognition of an ecological fresh-planet consciousness that has led to what will be taking place this weekend in New York, the great UN disarmament conference [SSOD-11]

DL: Right

AG: And a huge mass assembly of people. I think that in a few days, from the day that we’re talking, they’ll be maybe half a million or a million people out on the streets of New York in an anti-nuclear manifestation which seems to be approved of now finally, even by the President.

DL; Now you’re going to also be doing something there, unlike what you were doing earlier with the mantra and so forth..

AG: Yeah, I think I’m going to find a group. There are a lot of Zen….

SL: Okay, let’s pause here,  and you’ll explain what you’re going to do, when we return with Allen Ginsberg

[commercial break].

Part of the crowd of anti-nuclear demonstrators in Central Park. June 12, 1982 – Upward of one million people gathered on the Great Lawn  [Allen among them] to rally against nuclear weapons, while the UN held a Special Session on Disarmament

DL: Thank you, welcome back. Allen Ginsberg is here. You’re going to sing for us. And what is this we’re going to hear here

AG: This is a song called “Capitol Air” which is about national politics, in a Blakean mode (Blake being an eighteenth-century poet-prophet) done in a sort of punk new-wave manner (a by-product of working with (Bob) Dylan and working with the Buddhists and working in meditation and, at the same time. reading the newspapersa nd having my own imagination)

DL: And you’re going to.. with the aid and assistance of…

AG: With Paul (Shaffer) and friends, yeah [Editorial note – friends include Steve Kahn and Neil Jason]

DL: Okay, terrific. So anything else we need to say about this, or is that the….

AG: Well, I hope you can hear the words.  (Bob) Dylan told me when you…  And so we should… the sound-man/lady should listen… (is) – “Always mix the consonants so you can hear the consonants clearly” – that’s Dylan’s advice – mix the voice above the music.

DL: Alright.

AG: ..(because a lot of punk musicians or rock musicians don’t understand, because they’re not so interested in the words). So he was interested in that.

DL:  So we’ll do that.

AG: Shall we do that?

DL: Yes, sir.  Allen Ginsberg

[At approximately six-and-three-quarter minutes in, Allen performs a version of Capitol Air]

We’ll be right back after this  –  [video-clip ends with a mock-commercial featuring Letterman’s side-kick, Larry “Bud” Melman]

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