Studs Terkel interviews Allen Ginsberg, 1976 – part two

Allen Ginsberg and Studs Terkel continuing from here

[At approximately half-way through their conversation, approximately thirty-two minutes in, Allen sings “Gospel Noble Truths” (“Born in this world, you’ve got to suffer..”) making several improvised additions –  (“no permanent soul!”,  “the dharma chakra”,  “Look what you’ve done – 1968” – “Let go, Studs!”)

AG: You looked like you didn’t want to “let go” of  “earth heaven and hell” there!.

ST: And as Ned Kelly, the bandit, said, before they hanged him, and they sprang the trap –  “That’s life! “. You said,  “Die when you die”. I was about to say, “That’s life!”

AG: I wasn’t sure. See, I was saying, “Let go”.  The terms are ..what we were talking about? – radicals, that want to make that heaven, and grabbing on to heaven -let it go.

ST Yes..  Let’s hold a moment, and come back to that song you sang, and what I felt when you sang that song,  after we pause. Because life is real, life is earnest, at this moment – the message.

So,  resuming the conversation with Allen Ginsberg. and the song you sang with the harmonium accompaniment [Gospel Noble Truths]  I suppose is Buddhist in feeling…

AG: I did it in a country ‘n western form.

ST: …and yet the tune.  and yet it was an American hymn, it was an American hymn, So you’re fusing two..cultures.

AG:   It’s actually called a Gospel,  it’s a Gospel song, Gospel?

ST: Yeah.

AG: “Noble Truths” in Buddhism, it’s the “Four Noble Truths“, as they’re called (which is Suffering – suffering’s caused by Ignorance, suffering’s caused by ignorant grabbing for an ego, continuing to try to defend territory, not willing to give up, not willing to let go, not willing to accept what’s in front of you, the space in front of you, really), And then there’s an end to Ignorance, if you get hip to the fact that your suffering is caused by your own grabbing, and then…

ST: I was wondering if one day.. I’m sorry…

AG: …There’s a thing called the Eightfold Path, which is, (once you understand non-ego, once you understand not defending territory) – Right Views, Right Aspiration (to get out of that), Right Speech, Right Activity, Right Labor (so you’re not polluting further), Right Energy out of that…


ST: You know, Allen, everything you’re saying is generous in spirit. And you speak of the need to throw off self-righteousness as unnecessary baggage. All this is..  there’s no argument, but there’s one…

AG: Except totally self-righteous, I’m sure!  (does this sound really self-righteous to you?)

ST: …but there’s one thing, there’s one thing, that disturbs me about this…

AG: This is (too)  thematic?

ST: ….and that is (the) looking into “self”, which is necessary, at the same time, so inward that there’s an ignoring of the world outside and predators are still at work, and so the air is polluted further, you know, nuclear reactive plants are increasing in number, and I just that…

AG: Okay, okay, okay.., I think that’s it. I think, because you are so worried, because there is so much anxiety, there is an element of, even, clinging to life, you know, in a way that trips you up, almost.

ST : I am clinging to life

AG:  Yes, and it’s a little heavy-handed, I would say.

ST: You mean lightly cling to life?

AG: I think you have to have,. allow a little more space, have enough space to recognize, you know, the universe is not going to last forever, that the universe really doesn’t need us on our planet, that it’s a much vaster scene than our notions of clinging, or not clinging

ST: But while we’re on it, while we’re on it…

AG: While we’re on it, if we dig the vastness of it, we’ll have a better chance of surviving.

ST: That’s true.

AG: Digging the vastness. By digging the vastness of the scene, that is, by encouraging a vaster consciousness.

ST: Can’t one dig the vastness, at the same time digging the place where you lay down the bucket, where you are.

AG:Well, they are both the same ultimately. I mean, laying down the bucket and vastness – sure. But I think, at this point, there’s a kind of claustrophobic feeling in the world, and in America, of, like, a fish caught in a shrinking pond and apocalypse, and I think that very claustrophobia is part of the problem. That’s why.. that’s why I keep saying, “open up a little more space” – Like, the traditions. ..of the Ancient Wisdom of the East..  let open a little more space, take a little larger perspective on it.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, wearing the sacred crown of Kagyu Buddhist lineage

I did keep wanting to say the reason I came here was this Dharma king, who opens up a lot of space in his head will be here,  January, January 30th, to have a ceremony which is a very traditional ancient ceremony of showing off this black hat made of the pubic hairs of sky goddesses! to all the worried people of Chicago (see, everybody in Chicago is worried about, you know, “Is the earth going to survive?”  So all these sky-goddesses have woven their pubic hair together to give a little poetic demonstration to people in Chicago to have a little better sense of humor..

ST: Oh yes. You’d have a sense of humor, of course, but…  he’s not..   I got to tell you….

AG: ..So the Gyalwa Karmarpa, His Holiness, will be at the Continental Plaza Hotel on January 30th in the afternoon.

ST: [aside]  I have to enlighten the audience.. that this is.. this is audio, not visual, see, as Allen was talking about the hairs of the goddesses and nothing’s going to help you (there’s) pollution’s spreading (and all that), he’s also smiling as he says it, so there’s… It’s not a put-on by Allen Ginsberg, he believes what he’s saying, (and, by the way, much of what he says, indeed. makes great sense.)

AG: I’m talking somewhat in symbolic language (but also practical language)

ST: In very symbolic language. At the same time, you’re also saying a sense of humor is needed.

AG: Yeah, and I’m also saying that this Tibetan Buddhist hero, who represents a huge tradition of meditation, is coming to Chicago, It’s going to be a very rare thing (like the appearance of the Beatniks in Chicago in 1959 was a historic occasion?)

ST: Well that was. That was the time when…

AG:  Well. I’d probably say that an even more historic occasion will be the appearance of this dharma, buddhist, king, representing, like this ancient lineage, several thousands years of meditation coming here to show off, to show off something.

ST: You know what occurs to me? As you’re saying this (because you’re actually throwing me as you’re talk(ing) ..a few things… you raise many points that I find real and true and necessary, particularly throwing off that baggage of self-righteousness. At the same time also, throwing me off-guard, I’m disturbed slightly by what you’re saying . Does this knock us out of the box too?, doesn’t all this, all this, inward-looking?

And now, back in 1959, we began the show with beginning parts of that poem you wrote after Russia’s “Sputnik”

AG: Sputnik. Yes

ST We’ll hear a piece from that tape..  anywhere on that tape..

AG: Just continue from where you..

ST: Yeah.. Are you..were you..and Gregory Orlovsky – [sic] –  were… not Gregory.. Gregory Corso!

AG: Gregory Corso was there and Peter Orlovsky.

ST: And Peter Orlovsky. Well then three of you came in . I remember.. then I remember then too that feeling. Suppose we play just a part of that..

Studs Terkel, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky in 1959

AG: Is what I’m saying now just a continuation of that

ST: It’s a continuation but also…

AG: ….except, we got some reinforcements from Tibet.

ST: Reinforcements

AG: That’s right, reinforcements from Tibet are coming!.

ST: Also seventeen years, eighteen years of events

AG: Yeah

ST: …that have one way or another added to our experience, if not our awareness, (your awareness, certainly, I’m not sure of mine). But I.. Perhaps, while we’re finding that piece of tape, a poem?

AG: Yeah

ST:  (to continue_  because you are, you are primarily a poet.

AG: Okay,  one small song.   My father died this year.[1976]

ST: Louis Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg and Louis Ginsberg

AG: Louis Ginsberg

ST: ..who was a poet

ST who was a poet, who I was very fond of, and who I spent a good deal of time with this last year, as he died, of cancer on July 8th. So I was teaching at the.. {Naropa Institute) in Boulder, with this Buddhist institute, and I flew home to go to the funeral. I’d been with him most of the Spring, and went off to do work with the other meditators, and then had to fly back , and over Lake Michigan,  wrote a poem, heard a song, wrote a poem. And so I’ll sing it

{Allen performs (with harmonium accompaniment) “Father Death Blues”

AG: Could you hear words alright there, over the harmonium? – Good –

ST: That’s a kaddish isn’t it?

AG: Yes. For my father. Ending, “Birth you gave was no thing ill”/”My heart is still, as time will tell”

ST: I’m thinking this is very moving and the “Kaddish” that you wrote..

AG: Yeah. I wrote a long poem called “Kaddish” for my mother in 1956

ST: For your mother

AG: So that was 1956

AG: The poem was 1959… My mother’s death was 1956

ST: 1959,  so, again, seventeen,  poems by the time…

AG: Yes

ST: Seventeen years later, this is another form, isn’t it. It’s also – ah – we come to something else here don’t we?  I thought of “Howl” and there was an indignation and a rage in “Howl”, is that gone?

AG: I think that is gone. what is… There’s elements of… no, I still have.. If we had a little time, I’d show you

ST: Is some of that necessary?  how could that be gone? I think this is the thread that I’m trying to latch onto here – how can a very essential human rage, it seems to me, be obliterated and erased?  Isn’t it necessary?

AG: Actually I had a funny poem that I wrote a couple of months ago.

ST: Allen I just asked you something..

AG: Yeah.. which is all about rage

ST: Yeah

comic by Jeff McComsey

AG: [begins reading] –  “Hadda Be Playin’ On The Jukebox/ Hadda be flashing on the Daily Double/hadda be playing on Tee Vee/hadda be loudmouthed over the Comedy Hour/Hadda be announced over Loud Speakers/CIA and Mafia are in Cahoots/.Hadda be said in old ladies’ language.. etcetera

There’s also..  But it’s a very funny poem and it’s a very right poem, talking about how the CIA and organized crime and the FBI have, all along, been sort of one set of criminal gangs, working in conjunction with each other.

AG: (observing the tape-recorder’s battery)  Well, it looks about five minutes there ..

ST:  Well try it,  with the battery, at least fragments from, or… just bits of it.

AG:  Sure –  “Hadda be said in old ladies’  language/ Hadda be said in American Headlines/ Kennedy stretched and smiled and got doublecrossed by low life goons & Agents/Rich bankers with Criminal Connections/Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba/working with Big Time syndicate Tampa Florida/Hadda be said with big mouth/Hadda be moaned over Factory foghorns/Hadda be chattered on Car Radio News Broadcast/Hadda be screamed in the kitchen/Hadda be yelled in the basement where uncles were fighting/Hadda be Howled on the streets by Newsboys to bus conductors/Hadda be foghorned in to N.Y. Harbor over Lake Michigam/Hadda echo under hard hats/Hadda turn up the Volume in University ballrooms/Hadda be written in library books, footnoted/Hadda be in headlines of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times/Hadda be barked over TV/Hadda be heard in side alleys thru bar room doors/ Hadda be played on Wire Services/Hadda be bells ringing, Comedians stopt dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas/ /Hadda be the Mafia and the CIA together/started War on Cuba Bay of Pigs & Poison assasination headlines/John Rosselli and Hohn Connor      assassinated before they got to the Congressional Committee hearings/Hadda be Dope Cops and the Mafia/sold all that Heroin in America/Hadda  be Syndicate and Central Intelligence shot Kennedy Dealey Plaza 63 Dallas/ Haddabe FBI and Organized Crime working together in Cahoots “against the Commies”/who let Lucky Luciano out of jail to take over Sicily Mediterranean drug traffic/Hadda be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover & Frank Costello Syndicate mouthpiece club lunching New York together weekends in Central Park reported posthumously Time magazine/Hadda be Corsican Office Strategic Services take over the docks in Marseilles and New York/Hadda be ringing in Multinational Cashregisters/world-wide laundry for organized Criminal money/Hadda be CIA & Mafia & FBI together/bigger than Nixon, bigger than War/Hadda be a gorged throat full of murder…”   and so forth..

ST: You know..”had to be said”.

AG: Had to be said.

ST: Now, Allen, there are two aspects of you. Here’s this…

AG: Well I haven’t finished the poem, but.

ST: No, I know there’s more to it…

AG: It gets good,  It’s twice as long. It’s about time something like that was said, certainly. Sure.

ST:  Now, that is said, and there is a rage and indignation. At the same time as there’s the Allen Ginsberg, the one you’re talking about..

AG: No, well at the same time there is.. There has to be also with that.. wait a minute, with that, there’s that assertion, At the same time, there also has to be the space of that  “Father Death” – “Guru Death, your words are true/Teacher Death I do thank you/For inspiring me to sing these Blues” – There’s got to be enough space so that there’s.. (so that) you don’t solidify that rage and become a demon.

ST: Right, right, so we are asking, then..  then there are.. then there is../

AG: …because when you become…

ST: Then there are the two aspects..

AG: Well, there’s a million aspects,  There’s eros, there’s eroticism too.

ST: No, I mean, I came.. I was coming back..  earlier,  you wondered about the protesters, perhaps it “had to” be said? . Now, were it not for those protesters, the particular feeling today would not be there either, looking into “self”.. How would it….so we’re coming back to.. there is something that “had to be said”.

AG: Yeah, sure – and, including one thing which has to be said, which is – “I don’t know what I’m talking about”.  See, it’s about time everybody said that. too, us..Hey, it would be very interesting if we said we don’t know what we’re talking about, on the air, once and for all, to empty the air, to empty the air forever.

ST: Right,  I don’t actually know whether you or I know what we’re talking about, but let’s…

AG: No, wait, wait, wait, wait. wait.. Let’s give this a minute, one minute of respect for the fact that we don’t know what we’re talking about, and people listening to us don’t know what they’re talking about, and nobody knows what he’s talking about. And the engineers don’t know what they’re listening to, and the new President doesn’t know what he’s doing, God doesn’t know what he’s doing, and, apparently, the only people that, say, that have any sense of that, are people who started out from that to begin with, they didn’t know what it was all about and just started at the bottom to start looking around out of that space, looking, taking, clearing that space, you know, and letting it stay there for a while, and looking at it, and beginning, maybe, to reconstruct some.. groundless awareness of what’s going on. Okay, now we can get back to fill up the space. We can fill up the space again.

ST: No, no, I hear what you’re saying. Now getting back to..   a great..  – well that’s pretty good, I liked that.

AG: Well that was the whole point. When I was talking about dakini  heirs and vajra crowns something to empty the head of Chicago?  that that was I was symbolically saying, I was.. talking symbolically..

ST: At the same time..

AG: No,, no, no.  what I’m saying is, January 30th 1977, a, guy with an empty head, a guy with an empty head, named Gyalwa Karmapa will go deliver a crown denoting empty head, emptiness, at the Continental Plaza Hotel, in the afternoon so that, if anybody in Chicago wants to empty his head, he is welcome to see that.

ST: Good. Fair enough. Accepted.

AG: In other words..  That’s the symbolic (that)  I was trying to.. Why am I  hung-up on trying to tell people this?  you know, Why am I hung up on this commercial announcement?  – That’s why!  Because it’s empty-headed for a change. So I say,  okay, now we can…

ST: Simply..simply .Our time has (run out)…  it’s not..

AG: Time ends and we don’t know what we’re talking about? –  great!

ST:  No, no,..except for... You want to end that way?

AG: It would be great!

ST: I was going to offer you a carrot, but I let it go.

AG: No, okay chew it up a little?

ST: No, we’ll leave the air.  The fact is that there is a knowedge, there are instances of awareness, and there are values, (and you believe in that.. I know you don’t believe in value-free science, you don’t believe in (a) value-free approach to life, that is, “nothing really matters in life, we know nothing”,. we do know something).

AG: I think awareness… I’m interested in awareness.

ST: And that is… no, the thing I fear . I agree with…

AG: Don’t worry!, don’t worry!

ST; Not a fear but I do I worry about, I do worry. In putting ourselves…

AG: Don’t worry. (I’ve got your foot there)

ST: You’ve got my foot to keep me company. You touched my toe and kept me calm!

It’s simply, in putting…  People have a tendency today, a great many, to put themselves down. that.. remember, the thing we’re overcoming is this worshipping of institutions -“that man there knows more than I do, else he wouldn’t be there”. “We know why we’re … We know why we’re in the war, but they don’t know, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.” That aspect worries me and, if we don’t know what we’re talking about, (all of us say that), well, somebody does, that’s why he’s the big-shot” -We’ve got to battle that.

AG: Well  I think we had our empty nobody-knows-what-they’re-talking-about and we extended (it) up to the White House, just now didn’t we?  – It was the whole world, It was the entire universe. I think that God didn’t know what he was doing even, Remember?  So don’t worry about that. We’re not imposing another authority.

ST: Ah, so it’s the egalitarianism of  nobody-knows-what-they’re-talking-about?

AG: The emptiness of nobody-knows-what-they’re-talking-about – We’ve emptied out the Universe

ST:We’ll let it go for now, That means that  we can start tomorrow fresh

AG: Yeah.

ST: Okay

AG: But we’re a little more aware, because we had that little space,

ST: Alright

AG: See? We woke from the dream for a minute , now I go back in the daydream.

ST: Okay . Allen Ginsberg. Thank you very much.

Could we go off with an AH! [mantra] ?

AG: AH! appeciates that vastness.

[ Allen & Studs chant AH, together alongside each other, (“yeah, keep it going!”) – AH! ]

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