Allen Ginsberg-Nina Zivancevic 1995 Interview – Poetry & Music -2

Steven Taylor, Allen Ginsberg & Nina Zivancevic, Zagreb, 1986 – photo: courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Nina Zivancevic’s 1998 interview with Allen continues from here

NZ: First thought best thought.  “First freedom, best freedom”.

AG: Yeah. As Dylan said (to me) early, sometimes he’d sing words into the microphone and then rush into the studio to write down what he’d sung and then go out and do it better, write it down, improve it…
NZ: Right there.
AG:  ..using the sudio as a place to compose. That’s why we went in together in 1971

NZ:  So how do you see his influence on pop culture?,  American pop culture, in the world?
AG: Well.
NZ: I mean..
AG:  So, making people examine themselves, think about words, urging  people to actually appreciate and examine language (If there’s) anything mysterious but intelligent, crazy – like “To live outside the law you must be honest”
NZ: That’s right I heard that

AG: Because I asked him in 19..  oh, I don’t know, it must have been ’69, what he thought his best first line was. I expected something pictorial but it was this general axiom, people living outside the law must be honest, was what he cited. I remember with Robert Creeley going over his lyrics and finding one line of genius out of every four. That is to say, four lines of rhyme, perhaps filler, and then one surprising turn, one surprising metaphor, one verse of genius (which is better than most poets!)
NZ: Also he made people listen to poetry, right?
AG: To the words, yeah.

NZ: What was your experience, (now to leave Bob Dylan for a second), what was your experience with your own words-and-music. Do you feel that when you combine words with music that you make people listen better to the words, or not?  or is that, like, that kind of experience, audible?

AG: Well..  reading out loud, to begin with, delivers the poem with more conscious awareness, both of the dimension of sound, and, by verbal emphasis and tone, the meaning or the significance of the sounds, the interpretation of the words, as part of vernacular. So that people take note of what’s being said because you can vary your tone.

NZ: Right. It’s almost like.. I don’t mean to be vulgar but, you [referring to the meal they’re having]… eat this rice better.. I mean (you feel) the shape.. better, with.. it’s, like, smoother, so..  I have this feeling when I listen to music also with words – although…
AG: For me that’s not the point. For me the point is that the tones of singing, or vocal… vocalization without music, or with music, gives you a chance to emphasize the direction, the intention and the significance of the words.

NZ:  When did you start working with music and musicians?
AG: There was already a tradition which I didn’t take part with.. at the end of the ’50s… there was some but I was too shy for that.
NZ: You were too shy?
AG: Yes. To get up with the band.  I mean, I didn’t know what I would say. I was afraid I’d have to improvise, but then Chogyam Trungpa interrupted that fear
NZ: He liberated you!
AG: I had already begun singing mantra, quite a lot as part of my poetry-readings. and improvising a little – and singing Blake

NZ: I remember that with Steven Taylor or maybe some people before. Well, later, what was your experience with The Clash?
AG: Oh that was much later.  Then I did, let’s see in the ’60s, I did some work with the Fugs, with Ed Sanders and The Fugs. And at the end of the ’60s I began..began setting Blake to music.
NZ: By the end of the ’70’s?
AG By the end of the ’60’s (I) began setting Blake, an album of Blake and that led to trying to write folk songs and that led to Dylan giving me a lesson in the three-chord blues pattern and that led to the recording sessions.
And that led to paying attention to folk music and blues and understanding the blues form – the twelve-bar blues structure  and that led to improvising in that form.

NZ: And then you started accompanying yourself on an Indian accordian ? [harmonium – sic]

AG: I had been doing that since the mid ’60s with mantra, and on Blake since 68, you know, and on my own songs since about ’69.

NZ: So you started doing very simple forms accompanying yourself and then made it int o this huge orchestral thing like you did today [sic] with Philip Glass, right? – but then in the meantime…
AG: However…
NZ: …when it was done…
AG: At a certain point, I stopped composing my own music and served as a vocalist and a lyricist and worked with Steven Taylor as a musician – and in the ’70s he began writing music to some of my longer poems like “White Shroud” and then…

[a brief pause, with more table conversation/ ambient sound/distraction.. sharing food at the table – AG:”Want some of that?” – Waiter: Maybe it’s too strong?]

NZ:  So, I’m sorry, you were saying.. First you started working with Steven. Where did this experience..
AG: Then Steven began…
NZ:  …with punk and The Clash. When did that happen?
AG:  I worked with Steven on all kinds of music, including classical as well as blues, as well as rock ‘n roll. Then Steven began..started making classical settings for longer poems, (a string quartet for “..Jessore Road”…)

[more table distraction  AG – re the waiters – “I’ll leave the tip, it’s alright”]

AG: So,  then, that led, with Steven, to letting go with composing the music sometimes and that led to working, also, at the same time… I don’t know what year,  ’82 or ‘(8)3? –  working with The Clash, whom I’d met at CBGBs,  (or I’d met some friends of The Clash) – just coming in and working on their words, correcting their words, their lyrics, trying to work with that, and then singing a little bit on their cuts, “Ghetto Defendant” cut.  That was their music and they told me to make up my own words – “Enlighten the Metropolis Teach the Megalopolis”, or whatever it is. [Editorial note – the first stanza actually runs = “Starved in metropolis/Hooked on necropolis/Addict of metropolis/Do the worm on the acropolis/Slam dance cosmopolis/Enlighten the populace]  And then I sang with a lot of small garage bands, the all-woman band The Stimulators,  (Peter Orlovsky’s girlfriend), Denise Mercedes (Feliu)
NZ : Oh…
AG The Job in San Francisco that a poet Marc Olmsted ran
NZ: The Gluons were…
AG: The Gluons, right.
NZ: …Denver
AG: Denver..that’s the.. what?  late 70s?
NZ: That’s right, yeah, early 80s
AG: The Blackholes in Milwaukee, a band called Start  (from Palo Alto – sic) in Lawrence, Kansas, The False Prophets
NZ: I know them they’re from New York…
AG: The Fugs .

NZ: So what was your experience with them….?
AG: But see,  then,  earlier, (in ’76, ’75), I toured with the Rolling Thunder tour, occasionally reading poetry, (rarely reading poetry with permission,) but also playing finger-cymbals in the climax with the percussion section.

NZ: So how did you like it ? What’s your experience with these bands?
AG: it was fun.  I learned something. Not enough
NZ: Did you ever get a feeling that musicians were trying to upstage your words/ No?
AG: Sometimes.
NZ: That’s a big problem.
AG: But, on the other hand, you know, how to..   Dylan was always encouraging.
NZ: He was?
AG: Again, I was too shy and didn’t know how to present…  I thought I had to rhyme poetry and sing it rather than just recite it – but the few times that he tried to get me to recite to. a musical background. I…  I did it, but I didn’t realize that that was a very good area until I began working with Hal Willner  on this record of a few years ago, two years, last year – The Lion For Real, an album that just came out from Island Records.
NZ: The Lion..?
AG: The Lion For Real, an album that just came out on Island Records. You know that at all?
NZ: No I don’t.
AG: Well, there was all the material that came out on John Giorno (Systems) and then there was a Blake album I think, and there was a spoken-word album (too), Howl and Kaddish  (most all of them now out of print) {Editorial note – now much of the material back in print], and the there was First Blues, a double album with John Hammond, and then, last year, an ensemble jazz-poetry album, where I’m reciting and a lot of musicians are playing behind me (and they’re musicians from the Knitting Factory,  Tom Waits‘ band Marianne Faithfull’s band,  produced by Hal Willner, who also produced an album of (William) Burroughs spoken-words music and sound called Dead City Radio. Mine is called  The Lion For Real – The Lion For Real – and that’s got a lot of, well, excellent jazz musicians on it.

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