Ginsberg on CBC, 1968 – 1 (Music & Media Manipulation)

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Returning today to the Stanford University Ginsberg Archives. The recording today is from 1969 and is a recording broadcast on CBC  (the Canadian Broadcasting Company) for use in an English course (English 414) at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. We’ve split the recording up into two sections – the first, today, focusing on poetry and song (he sings/chants Hare Krishna, he sings Blake), followed by some clear-sighted and, in current days, timely remarks on the media.  Tomorrow, there will be equally-prescient comments and remarks (this was fifty years ago) on the planet’s impending ecological disaster.

The complete tape may be listened to here 

[Allen begins with the chanting of Hare Krishna] – That was mantra chanting, a mantra like a short magic formula prayer which is chanted or sung, which is an appeal to an aspect of the self (the practice is Hindu in this case, or Buddhist in other cases – there are Buddhist mantra(s) – and Sufi mantra(s) for Moslems – and there are also in the Jewish tradition rabbinical songs, rabbi songs, which are generally without words, which are used generally at the end of the year after the Jews read the torah through – on Simhat Torah, the day of celebration of torah – they go in the synagogue and drink a little wine the rabbi sets forth a little tune like [Allen begins to sing] –  “la la la la la la-la/ la la la la-la/ la la la la la la la la, la la la la la/ la la la la la la-la/ la la la la-la/ la la la la la la, la la la la la/ la la la la la la-la/ la la la la-la/ la la la la. la la la la, la la la la,  la la la”  – So all the scholars sing, dance jump around all night.

So this is like universal in ..(most) religions – American Indians, Africans, all that  basic body-rhythm chant, (which has been lost to a great extent in our own civilization, except for what we get out of The Beatles these days [Allen sings along]  “All we are saying/Give peace a chanceAll we are saying/Give peace a chance”)

Since there is so much fragmentation of my mind (and everybody else’s mind), I’m finding the body-vibration, projected or articulated by  soulful, yogic, devotional, tearful, chanting, to be a communication that sometimes surpasses argumentative language, especially in public political circumstances, like mass meetings, because that kind of chanting articulates the feeling (also?)  and feeling of unison and feeling of community-tenderness and hope that much of the angry political speech-making or the angry official police politician electronic yakking did not (catch on)

Anyway, I was trying to explain why I got concerned with music as an extension of body, of voice, as the body’s voice. And then I went from there.. actually, quite literally, after the Chicago Convention of last year (1968), when I returned home, I had about two weeks completely free in which I began setting (William) Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” to music, because they seemed the next thing to holy mantra or holy prayer, poetry, and also., (that I could find in my own consciousness). And also because it seemed that rock n roll (the (Rolling) Stones, Beatles, (Bob) Dylan, even Donovan, even The Byrds, The Band, The Grateful Dead, the Fugs. the Jefferson Airplane, all the lovely, beautiful bands that have been waking the conscience of the world really, were approaching high poetry and cosmic conscousness in their content. So I was interested in seeing if Blake’s highest poetry could be vocalized, tuned and sung in the context of  The Beatles “I Am The Walrus” or “A Day in the Life..(of)”, or in the context of also “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or “John Wesley Harding” by Dylan  (also Dylan said that he didn’t like Blake so I thought this would be an interesting way in, by kind of..)   So I got home from the Convention, I began tuning poems of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, finding out also in the process that Blake himself used to sing Songs of Innocence and Experience. He’d go to his friends houses and chant unaccompanied.

[Allen takes out his harmonium and begins singing/chanting] – (“Piping down the valleys wild/Piping songs of pleasant glee..”…”And I wrote my happy songs/Every child may joy to hear”) and    “How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot…

So those are the first two songs in Blake’s “(Songs of) Innocence and Experience”. Then I went on to learn chords (which turned out to be interesting –  So at the age of forty-three I learned how to make a major and minor chord – it’s so simple, you know, I mean. All you have to do is you start with a note (Allen plays) – and you count one-two-three – it goes up – and then you add one-two-three – and you have a major. And if you want to do a minor (what they call C- minor, you start with a C and count one-two-three – and then you count four more – and you have C-minor. It’s like seven notes, and you can cut them either way. You can cut them with the first four notes at the beginning – one-two-three-four – major – and then, a count of three notes, you’ve got a minor. I guess it’s so simple, it amazes me that it took me forty-four years to find that out!

So then I began.. I got most of Blake’s “…Innocence and Experience”  into music, and I made, I made an album of it, working with some black musicians, jazz musicians, and some rock musicians, and country n’ western musicians.  The nicest of the songs was when I began learning how to make chord changes (Allen turns again to his harmonium) appropriate particularly when friend-poet (Jack) Kerouac died and a song  kept running through my mind. [Allen then plays, with the harmonium, Blake’s “Nurses Song“] – (“When the voices of children are heard on the green..”…”

The electrical media, like radio and television, proposes (a) similar approach – One – to talk to the person that you’re talking to, actually, and explain everything you’ve got on your heart-mind. Second thing, is to realize that there are people listening now and present (or if it’s taped, in the future), so you have to, in a sense, close your eyes and project yourself out of your body and at the other end, watching the television set, or listening to the radio, and imagine what you would like to hear said – and then say it.  In other words, you’d then have to imagine (that) the ear of yourself, or your best friend, or your mama, or your teacher, your guru, or your lover, is listening to the program – and then talk to your lover. you know, say all the things that you and your lover have discussed for years. [Allen, then mimics his lover, Peter Orlovsky, berating] “They should say that over the radio, they should say that over television. Why doesn’t somebody open his mouth then and somebody say something funny!”

So, finally, the thing to do is to look into the eye of your own heart, or the heart of your companions and by-pass the machinery by talking directly to their hearts.  Or, if you are gesturing on television, look into the television camera and talk to the people on the other end of the screen.  So that the only thing between you is just this funny mechanical dot-screen but nonetheless, in spirit, you’re there. So.. It’s spirit transportation. That’s necessary. I think.. recognizing that the machine is a maya, is a samsaric, is an illusory funny-box that has no life of its own but can transmit the images that you put into the machine. Then the question is putting in those images which are most beautiful and most pleasurable to receive, or contain the most information or sincerity (since, a majority of time on the media, on the mass media, is chartered time, purchased time, and since it is purchased for a purpose – that purpose, to sell products, or to influence public opinion, basically in a commercial mode, to make people… to convince people that they have desires which they didn’t have before you talked to them, or to convince them to buy things that you’re selling them.  Because it means that..  that mechanical consciousness is used to hypnotize people into.. to control their minds, and control their bodies, and control their actions, (rather than liberate their minds and bodies),  (hypnotize them) into circumscribed people, and to make them follow robot orders and robot patterns and follow what is finally, basically, hypnotic suggestion.  So that you might even come to the conclusion that the very scientific machinery that we’ve set up (which is radio and television) had become instruments of a large-scale practice of black magic, in the sense of creating illusions in the minds of people (illusions about needs for deoderant in the United States, or needs to smoke – convincing people to smoke, or to drink beer, to take drugs (for commercial purposes), or to buy more and more automobiles, which might even be inimical to the planet air, or to indulge in wars, that might be inimical to their own bodies). So that, finally, when you look at it from an older  perspective, you see that the great toy is not in reputable and distinguished use, in the hands of impeccable distinguished gentlemen, but is actually in the hands of a great many huckstering black magicians.

The reason I’m describing this is to try to wake people up on the other end of this hot-line, the mind-line here, (to) what processes they are being subjected to when they’re being talked to on the radio, or what.. visions are being projected to them and arranged for them when they look at television. In other words, the constant.. It’s a conscious arrangement of visions and suggestions and verbal indications and hints and magic formula over radio and over television. These arrangements and visions and suggestions are done generally for commercial purposes to take advantage of people’s pockets and make them have desires that they might not necessarily have before. It is suggested to them that they have desires  – for cars, for frou-frou and gimmicks that aren’t natural, (like heavy lipsticks or fading creams, or razors, or automobiles that aren’t really practical and spew out too much gas, or police agencies that perform unnecessary functions like examining people’s manuscripts when they cross borders or searching through people’s persons for herbs, grass).

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

(The) conclusion is that there is a possibility of reversing the black magic and turning it to, say, white magical purposes, or to neutral purposes, and the possibility is by making people conscious of   – the effect on their brains and on their consciousness of the machinery,   wishing everybody uses it, as it were, as a teaching machine. This is what your fellow citizen, (sic) Marshall McLuhan,has been saying very objectively and very clearly for a long time – that we have surrounded ourselves with machines which are influencing the very nature of our consciousness and that we better become aware of that influence – that, you know, for every minute of speech that you have (someone who doesn’t smoke for instance) -for every minute of speech that a non-smoker has – (and wants to compare smoking cigarettes with smoking cannabis, smoking grass with smoking cigarettes) –  there is a thousand hours purchased for years by the cigarette companies who actually spent two-hundred-and-fifty-million dollars a year in the United States purchasing air in radio time.!  Can you imagine if  I – or David Dellinger, the peace group– or Michael Aldrich of LEMARthe rights-marijuana group, or Bobby Seale of the (Black) Panthers – had two-hundred-and-fifty-million dollars to purchase mass-media time to get their message across?  So here are these dope-pushers, the cigarette companies, trying to push their dope, spending two-hundred-and-fifty a year to push their dope by convincing people that they should be smoking or that their smoke is sexier than another smoke. It’s very difficult to compete with that massive purchase of  consciousness, that massive indulgence in black magic, an indulgence in black magic and dope pushing so massive that it’s like the air we breathe, nobody notices it any longer.

to be continued


  1. Wow is that really a big poster or photo Mcluhan has of Ginsberg, or is this an altered photo where Allen is cut in up there?

  2. An incredible article referencing one of my old heroes Allen Ginsberg- in who’s audience I was at SFU when he chanted Hare Krishna- who became one of the main persons to help A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada establish himself in America, viz. visas, donated harmonium ( by Allen) , and suggesting ‘avenues for promoting the Message of Caitanya -Vaishnavism et al. All glories! Namaste! Continue that sweet way with your ‘unveiling’ of some of my heroes!! ***
    *** plus ‘others;’ viz. Marshall McCluhan (Canadian of course) and one of my favourite poets, Blake, whose songs I sing myself (ha! ‘I sing myself ..’ invoking Whitman!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *