Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues 1988 Celebration

Vincent Katz and Vivien Bittencourt are responsible for, and have made available, two remarkable poetry documentaries – the first, Hanuman Presents!, a 1989 reading at St. Mark’s Church in New York City of writers from Raymond Foye and Francesco Clemente‘s Hanuman Books series, including Allen, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Rene Ricard, John Wieners, Eileen Myles, and others, can be accessed here.  The second, we’re thrilled to be able to present to you today – Jack Kerouac’s “Mexico City Blues”– readings from this seminal text, recorded live at The Knitting Factory, New York, December 4, 1988, by Allen, Carl Solomon, Judith Malina, Bob Rosenthal, Steven Taylor, Simon Pettet, Richard Hell, and many many more, (with improvised live musical accompaniment provided by Mark Ettinger, Dennis Mitcheltree, Charlie Morrow, Samir Safwat and others) and with additional interview segments (recorded in 1991) from Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, filmed by Vivien Bittencourt and edited by Henry Hills and Oliver Katz.  Allen, a genial presence in the footage here, was instrumental in helping to organize the event, suggesting readers and sharing contacts.

Vincent Katz : What we’re doing here is not a re-enactment, we’re not pretending to be Beat poets. It’s also not a performance of a piece of literature that we know and love, because many of us don’t know it that well.  Mexico City Blues is a very strange entity. What we’re doing is more along the lines of a scientific archaeological experiment, an exploration. The tools that we’ll be using are musical instruments and many different voices, by which we may be able to play some of the different tonalities in Mexico City Blues. At the same time, you’ll be able to see some of the different paths that this tradition has taken in the faces of the different readers. Kerouac described Mexico City Blues as follows: “I want to be considered a jazz poet/blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam/session on Sunday. I take 242 choruses;/my ideas vary and sometimes roll from/chorus to chorus or from halfway through/a chorus to half way into the next.”

Allen Ginsberg reading from Mexico City Blues at the Knitting Factory, NYC, December 4, 1988

The film begins with Allen reading (from the 88th Chorus) – “”I wanted to marry a lovegirl,/ A-girl-only-interested-in-love girl”/ that would be the first sentence/ of this masterpiece/ Of golden literatur” – followed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti – “I can’t say that much for Mexico City Blues although it’s fun to read” – and Michael McClure – “Mexico City Blues is the great modern religious poem” –  Ferlinghetti again – “Mexico City Blues is like what came out of his mouth first” –  Simon Pettet (from the 63rd Chorus) – “…pureperfect gems/of lucid poetry/ Poetry being what it is today… – Ferlinghetti – “It was a refreshing concept in mid-1950s when poetry was a little the way it is today, lots of poetry about poetry and language about language.”

Charles Bernstein (from the 49th Chorus)  – “They got nothing on me/at the university/ Them clever poets /of immensity/ With charcoal suits/and charcoal hair/And green armpits/and heaven air/and cheques to balance/my account/In Rome benighted/ by White Russians/Without care who puke/ in windows/Everywhere./  They got nothing on me/ ‘Cause I’m dead..”

Michael McClure

Michael McClure – “He’s writing something that he understands to be like Pound’s Cantos but his own, and, in his complete misunderstanding, I think he creates a great masterpiece, a singing religious poem.”

Michael Scholnick – (reads the 202nd Chorus)  – “A white poem, a white pure/ spotless poem/A bright poem /A nothing poem/ A no-poem non poem/ nondream clean/silverdawn clear/silent of birds/pool-burble-bark/clear/the lark of trees/the needle pines/the rock the pool/the sandy shore/the cleanness of dogs/the/frogs/the/pure white/spotless/Honen/Honey Land/Blues”

Michael McClure ( from the 1st Chorus) –  “The same voice on the same ship/ The Supreme Vehicle/ SS Excalibur/Maynard/Mainline/Mountain/Merudvhaga/ Mersion of Missy”

Judith Malina (the 129th & 130th Chorus) –  “We’ve all been sent/ On a mission/ To conquer the desert/So that the Shrouded/Traveller/Behind us/Makes tracks in the dust/that don’t exist/ He’ll, or we’ll/All end in Hell/All end in Heaven/For sure – /unless my guess is wrong/ We are all in for it/ and our time/ is Life,/The penalty, /Death./The Reward/To the Victor/Then Goes/ The Victor is Not Self/      And the Victor is not Pride/And the Victor is not./ Thus spake Tathagata/  But I get tired/ Of waiting in pain/ In a situation/ Where I ain’t sure/  Where I’m not sure/ Where I am Wolfe, Sorrow/Whitman Free/Melville dark/Mark Twain Mark/Twain/where I am/ wild/ where I am Mild..”

Hanon Reznikof (the 132nd & 133rd Chorus)  – “Innumerable infinite songs/ Great suffering of the atomic/in verse/ Which may or may not be/ controlled/ by a consciousness/Of which you & the/ripples of the waves/are a part/That’s Buddhism/That’s Universal Mind/  Pan Cosmodicy/  Einstein believed/ In the God of Spinoza/ – (Two Jews/ – Two Frenchmen)/.             “Einstein probably put a lot/ of people in the bughouse by/ saying that/ All those pseudo intellectuals/went home and read Spinoza/then they dig in/to the subtleties/of Pantheism/ After ten years of research/They wrap it up/& sit down on a bench/& try to forget/ all about it/  Because Pantheism’s/ Too Much for Em/  They wind up trying to/find out Plato, Aristotle,/they end up in a/vicious Morphine circle”

Eileen Myles – I don’t really have an introduction for myself but I just want to tell a little story. I was watching Bonnie and Clyde last night on tv and there was that moment right towards the end when they sort of know their number’s up and Bonnie reads a poem, or writes a poem, about Bonnie & Clyde, and he just kind of looks at her and says, “Wow, that’s beautiful”, like Bonnie, you’ve really done something. And it was this great moment inside the film and I thought about it for a while, and what occurred to me was, what was so great about that poem, or her writing that poem, or that poem being inside that movie, the poem made them know they were inside of something, you know – yeah. You like that? – I mean that’s what I think is really great about poetry is that moment when the window flies open and you realize you’re inside of life, you know, like, rather than being outside.  Everything else, like video-tapes, makes me know I’m  outside of it, you know – (Eileen then reads the 146th Chorus) – “The Big Engines/ In the night -/ The diesel on the Pass/The Airplane in the Pan/American night- /Night/   The Blazing Silence in the Night, /The Pan Canadian Night-/ The Eagle on the Pass/The Wire on the Rail,/ The High Hot Iron/of my heart./  The blazing chickaball/ Whap-by/ Extry special Super/High Job/Ole 169 be/floundering/Down To Kill Roy” – (Eileen to Vincent Katz, “my job is over right?” ) –  Vincent explains the proceedings

Richard Hell  (from the 227th Chorus)  – (“..and I don’t even exist less sing,/ and I been paid/ for work I done/ when I was young/ and work was fun/ and I don’t know name from mercy,/  aint got no blues/ no shoes no eyes/ no shoetongues, lungs/ no happiness, no art,/ nothing to do, nothing to part/, no hairs to split/, sidewalks to spit/ words to make flit/ in the fun-of make-it/horror & makeshift poetry/ covering the fact I’m afraid/to work at a steady job…”

Barbara Barg  (from the 80th Chorus) – “You just don’t know.”/” What don’t I know?”/”How good this ham ‘n eggs/is/ “If you had any idea whatsoever/How good this is. Then you would stop/writing poetry/And dig in”/  “It’s been so long/since I been hungry/it’s like a miracle”/ Ah boy but them bacon/And them egg -/Where the hell/ is the scissor?”

Bob Rosenthal (from the 55th Chorus)  (“I’ll take you home again Kathleen”).

Lewis Warsh (from the 110th Chorus) –  “Transcendental Inner Mind/Where glorious radiant Howdahs/are being carried by elephants/through groves of flowing milk/past paradises of waterfall/into the valley of bright gems/be rubying an antique ocean/floor of undiscovered splendor/ in the heart of unhappiness”

Lita Hornick  (from 53rd Chorus) –  “Roll along, roll along,/  O’er the deep blue sea/ “Yes, life woulda a been/ a mistake without music”.

Charles Bernstein  (opening of  the 111th Chorus ) “I didn’t attain nothin‘/When I attained Highest/ Perfect/ Wisdom/ Known in Sanskrit as/ Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi/  I obtained absolutely nothing,/ Nothing came over me,/ nothing was realizable’

Carl Solomon

Carl Solomon  (from the 190th Chorus)  – “In perceiving the Dharma/ I achieved nothing -/ What worries me is not/ nothing/ But everything, the trouble is,/ number/But since everything is nothing/ then I am worried nil./ In seeking to attain the Dharma/I failed, attaining nothing/And so I succeeded the goal./Which was, pure happy/nothing./No matter how you cut it/ it’s empty delightful baloney”

Gerard Malanga – (113th Chorus) – “Got up and dressed up/and went out and got laid/Then died and got buried /in a coffin in the grave,/ Man -/ Yet everything is perfect ,/Because it is empty,/Because it is perfect /with emptiness,/Because it is not even happening./  Everything/ Is Ignorant of its own emptiness -/ Anger/ Doesn’t like to be reminded of fits – / You start with the Teaching / Inscrutable of the Diamond/ And end with it, your goal/ is your starting place,/ No race was run, no walk/ of prophetic toenails/Across Arabies of hot/ meaning – you just/numbly don’t get there.”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – “It’s graph of consciousness poetry. You write down whatever comes into your mind unedited and uncensored.”

Vicki Hudspith   (from the 74th Chorus)  – “Darling!”/ Red hot/ That kind of camping/I don’t object to..”

Michael McClure reads from the 235th Chorus –   “Dont camp/ you know very well/ What’ll  happen to you/ When you die/ and claim/ you dont know you’re dead/ when you die and you know/”I know dont know that I’m dead”
Carl Solomon reads the opening of the 27th Chorus –  “Krissake Wakeup/ Nuts like Carl Solomon/ A sharp Jew I know..”
Michael McClure (continuing from the 235th Chorus) “.. I know that I’m dead/  I wont camp. I’m dead now/ What am I waiting for to vanish?”

Bob Holman – (from the 156th Chorus) – ” I know we’re all straight/I knew from a tree/I leaned on a tree/And the tree told me/ Tree told me Haby/The Maybe is Abey/… / Trees don’t talk good/ No they don’t talk good/ This tree just told me/See Eternity…”

Rochelle Kraut – (from the 176th Chorus) –  “When sad sick women/ sing their sex blues/in yr ear, have no fear – /the moon is true, enough,/ but, but, but, but, but,/it keeps adding up” –

Maggie Dubris -“I’d rather die than be famous” – (opening line of the 64th Chorus)

Steven Taylor and Lee Ann Brown (begin reading the 89th Chorus)  (“Remembering my birth in infancy, the coughs,/ The swallows, the tear-trees growing/ From your eyeballs of shame: the gray/Immense morning I was conceived i’ the womb,/ And the red gory afternoon /delivered therefrom./ Wow.. ‘- [AG – Wow!] –   Steven & Lee Ann continue –  “I coulda sing you hounds/make you bell howl packs,/ Zounds, I’d-a lived & lived laughing/ as a child/ if somebody coulda told me/ it was unreal –  [AG -If somebody coulda told me/ it was unreal:/ I was scared] – (Steven Taylor & Lee Ann Brown  continue dual reading)  I was scared.The dark.was full of phantoms/Come from the other side of death/to claim the hearts/Of Sacrificial little children/laying up in the winter night/In cribs by howling windows/of the cold & forlorn –  [AG – Earth of Massachusetts February} -Massachusetts March,/Wild howl Lupine Cold the Moony /and Loony nights’

Allen reads (from the 90th Chorus) – “I thought I was a phantom,/ me, myself,/ Suffering. One night I saw/ my older brother Gerard/ Standing over my crib with wild/ hair, as if he had just/ pee-visited the  pail/in the hall of snores/ and headed back for his room/ was investigatin the Grail/ Nin & Ma’s bedroom/Who slept in the same bed/And in the crib alongside./Oily is the moment so/that phantom was my brother/ only in the sense that cotton/ is soft,/  Only in the sense that/ when you die/ you muffle/ in your sigh/ the thorny hard/ regret of rocks/of life-belief/. I knew, I hoped, to go be saved.”

Michael McClure – :” ..and they by their own drift turn to Jack’s memories of religious visions of his little brother Gerard, as Gerard was dying, Jack becomes enormously emotionally invested in this, this work of art” – [AG – “Pow!”]

Michael Scholnick (reads in its entirety the 181st Chorus ) – “The girls go for that long red/ tongue,/from the pimp with the long red/ car,/. They lay it in his hand /The profits’ curfew/He takes it “the Yellow Kid”/- He’s the Man- /  She goes home and hustles,/Remembering Caroline,/ The hills when little/The raw logcabin/rotting in the piney woods/where the mule was mush/ and pup-dog howled/ for no owner/all one owl-hoot night/and watermelon flies/on the porch/. But she love that long red tongue/  And the Man/is a Sucker/ “SOMEONE LOWER THAN SHE IS””

Charles Bernstein  (reads from 59th  Chorus) –  “Have to buy a couple needles/ tomorrow, feels like/ Shovin a nail in me/ Just like shoving a nail in me/ Goddamn – (Cough) -/  For the first time in my life/ I pinched the skin/And pushed the needle in/And the skin pinched together/And the needle stuck right out/And I shot in and out,/Goofed half my whole shot/On the floor -/ Took another one -/Nothin a junkey likes better/Than sittin quietly with a new shot/And knows tomorrow’s plenty more.”

Maggie Dubris  (from 103rd Chorus) – “‘S why they call Cheer,/  a bottle, a glass, a drink,/A Cup of Courage..” –

Nina Zivancevic  – (from the 143rd Chorus) –  (such a lower East Side sonnet!)    “Drug Addicts/ Are human beings/ Less dangerous/Than alcoholics/  And alcoholics arent so bad/ Look at the speed drivers/ Look at the sex fiends”

David Trinidad –  (from the 144th Chorus) “Look at the sex fiends/Speeding thru their suicide!/Nembutols!/ Guns and jumps in the river!/ Lilly saved the man’s life!/ Flying with legs out the window /to crash the locomotive at the X Crossing…”

Vicki Hudspith (from the 42nd Chorus)  – “…the Larceny Commission’ll/Hear of this, /fight the lawyers,/Upset the silly laws, anger/the//hare/brain/bird/of/wine/ In his railroad tam o shanter/Commemorative termagant/Able to dissect such tycoon/Burpers outa their B Movies’/Investment in Black./’Bop’/ Even on a sailboat/I end up writin bop”.

Elio Schneeman – (from the 52nd Chorus) –  “Every one of us Roman Circus sacrifices every one..” – Rochelle Kraut (from opening of the 175th Chorus) – “Cunalingus” – Nina Zivancevic reads her translation into Serbian of “And I am only an Apache/Smoking Hashi/In old Cabashy/By the lamp” (from the 149th Chorus) – Richard Hell (from the 214th Chorus)  – “And if you knew what I meant/ you would say/You disgust me -/ Alright, ring the devil free -/Bong – Ring the devil free/ Prong – ring the devil free,/Song, ring the devil free” (from the 12th Chorus) – Lita Hornick – “ONLY THE MOTHERS ARE HAPPY”

Tom Savage (reads the 31st Chorus in its entirety) – “Three Saints in Four Acts/by Gertrude Stein/A Great Prophet/is a Great Teacher/But he is also/a Great saint/And he is furthermore/a Great Man/And more than that/an incomparable listener/ to music and non-music everywhere/  And a Great Sitter Under Trees/And A man of Trees/And a Man of Sorrows,/And A lemon Light/of Angel Sounds/and Singer of Religion/wild singer of come-igion/wild lover of the origin/wild hater of hate his own/ Convulsive writer of Poems/ And dialog for Saints/Stomping their feet/On Pirandelloan stage.”

Simon Pettet (from the 65th Chorus) – There’s One Thousand/ Two hundred and fifty/ Men/ Sitting around a grove/ of trees/ Outsida town/right now/ With Buddha/Is their leader/Discoursing in the middle,/ Sitting lotus posture,/Hands to the sky/Explaining the Dharma/In a Sutra so high.”   – (and from 171st Chorus – (“O serenade/ in the blue/Oopli da da/Aow dee a dee-e-da-ha”)

Jerome Rothenberg ( reads the 163rd Chorus) – Left the Tombs to go/and look at the /Millions of cut glass-/ – a guy clocking them,/as you look you swallow,/you get so fat /you can’t leave the building,/ – stand straight,/dont tip over, breathe/in such a way yr fatness/deflates, go back to/the Tombs,/ ride the elevator -/he tips over again,/gazes on the Lights,/eats them, is clocked,/gets so fat/he can’t leave elevator,/has to stand straight/and breathe out the fat -/ – hurry back to the Tombs”

Hal Willner (from the  151st Chorus and 152nd Chorus )-  This is the Matisse Story/ Of a simple arrangement/ Of natural objects/ In a room on a Sunday/Afternoon -/ bits of dry dust/black ashes/  The edge of the tray/ is bright red- /The strawberries are crimson/dull painted/juicy dimensional/indefinable silver lights/on the knife and blade/brass dark death/and the tragic gloom/inside the lull/of the tumbled wax/Attican and Shapely..”

Michael McClure – “How fuckin’ Faustian can we be?  Must everything have meaning?

Allen reads from the 99th Chorus  – “Prap – prohock!” he’s coughing,/Busy, “Am,” bursting to part/the seams of his trousers with power/ of assembled intentions/ “B-rrack – Brap?”/  (as years later GJ would imitate him,/”your father, Zagg, he goes along,/ Bre-hack! Brop?” Raising/his leg, bursting his face/to rouge output huge mad eyes/of “big burper balloons/of the huge world”)

Vincent Katz reads the 228th Chorus in its entirety  – “Praised be man, he is existing in milk/ and living in lillies -/And his violin music takes place in milk/ and creamy emptiness -/ Praised be the unfolded inside petal/ flesh of tend’rest thought -/ (petrels on the follying/wave-valleys idly/sing themselves asleep) -/ Praised be delusion, the ripple -/ Praised the Holy Ocean of Eternity -/ Praised be I, writing, dead already &/ dead again -/Dipped in ancid inkl/the flame/ of T i m/ the Anglo Oglo Saxon Maneuvers/Of Old Poet-o’s -/Praised be wood, it is milk -/Praised be Honey at the Source -/ Praised be the embrace of soft sleep/ – the valor of angels in valleys/of hell on earth below-/ Praised be the Non ending -/Praised be the lights of earth-man -/Praised be the watchers – / Praised be my fellow man/For dwelling in milk.”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti quotes from the 242nd Chorus – “The sound in your mind/is the first sound/that you could sing/  If you were singing/ at a cash register/with nothing on yr mind”  – It’s a condemnation of poetry as well as the articulation of a formula of this particular type of poetry.”

Allen reads from the 242nd Chorus  – “The sound in your mind/is the first sound/that you could sing/  If you were singing/ at a cash register/with nothing on yr mind – / But when the grim reaper/comes to lay you/look out my lady/  He will steal all you got/while you dingle with the dangle/and having robbed you/ Vanish/Which will be your best reward…/ Stop the murder and the suicide!/  All’s well!/  I am the Guard.”

The film closes with the voice of Jack Kerouac himself on the soundtrack  (reading from the 239th and 241st Choruses) – (“Charley Parker, forgive me — / Forgive me for not answering your eyes — “)


  1. I am as grateful for Jack having written this book as for all self help books combined. Read. Digest. Discover.
    It should be read in high school or earlier before you stop believing you are aware of things perhaps you don’t yet comprehend.

  2. Amazing and Wonderful, Important, Necessary, Essential. I’m an old (not very, 64) wannabe Beat. Jack Kerouac was my hero. When I was young at least 3 people told me I look like Kerouac. We come to look like our heroes, I looked like Lou Reed for a while. Now I’m a Tibetan Buddhist dragon (someone who is trying to become a sage), a student and practitioner at Saraha Nyingma Buddhist Institute in Eugene, Oregon, in the Dudjom lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism, after Padmasambhava. Tashi Delek (Tibetan for “may All Be Auspicious”). lets all talk.

  3. Always 3 readings: 1 just look at the words and let them go to that place that defies intellect; 2 read out loud to catch the music; 3 read and let the images and emotions just rise…. gawd I miss SF from the dog’s pov… thank you so much for this digital space

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