Dick McBride on Allen Ginsberg

“Lightning, thunder, tornadoes – clouds – Ginsberg, avenging destroyer – clouds bring also balm, surcease, Christ – clouds… Not to say he can be compared to the second coming, but people know him when they see him – recognize his Howl against the groaning gray of the 50s – Even so, shall they wail because of him? – or giggle at the funny fellow in the spotlight – lunatic – loony – loon’s laughter – midnight folly”

Allen Ginsberg – illustration by Eric Drooker

So begins Dick McBride‘s 1982 memoir, Cometh with Clouds (Memory: Allen Ginsberg)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, McBride’s one-time employer, from “back in the day’ writes:

“Dick McBride, long-time manager and friend of City Lights, has written a memoir of Allen Ginsberg which is a curious and intuitive perception of the poet. Dick knew Allen in and about City Lights during the early years after the publication of “Howl”. He liked Allen a great deal but nevertheless reserved his critical enthusiasm for Allen’s poetry. A struggling novelist himself, Dick wanted both more and less from Allen’s writing. The style and content were both so foreign to Dick, both as a person and a writer (it seemed to me). That is what makes this memoir so interesting and so out of the usual run of writing about the great poet.”

Dick McBride, Shig Murao and Jack Micheline, Trieste Cafe, March 1985. reflection through the entrance door – for Shig Murao –  Photo by Allen Ginsberg

Beat Scene editor, Kevin Ring observes:

“Cometh With Clouds is a deeply personal book. Likely you won’t read a more intimate book about Ginsberg. As well as stories of being with Allen in London bookstores, parties, Allen is to be found walking the streets of the little villages in Buckinghamshire where McBride had relocated from San Francisco to set up his book distribution service McBride & Broadley.”

Ring, himself a book-dealer, recalls meeting-up with McBride and being witness, a somewhat red-faced witness he confesses, to the arrival in England of the very first copies of the book:

“At one point McBride and Broadley had their books at an old Methodist chapel on the village green in, if I remember correctly, a village called..Deanshanger, which struck me at the time as apt. It was an experience to be in that chapel, picking out books. On a sunny morning in 1982, my diary tells me, I travelled down in my little mini 850 to visit Dick and buy some more books…With my little son Nathan in tow we got there early on a Saturday morning. It was good to get out of the city into the country lanes. Dick was friendly and I gave him a list of titles I was keen on, books that would go in the paper book catalogues I put out then. Calling myself Satori Books. It was an adventure, a welcome contrast to being a schoolteacher, my day job. The post came while we sat talking. It brought a small package with Dick’s first look at his Cometh With Clouds – Allen Ginsberg A Memory book. He smiled, gave it a quick look and put it down by the chair. Dick went out and made a hot drink for us – with orange juice for Nathan.
You can guess what happened. Nathan, playing with his toy cars by Dick’s chair, knocked the orange juice over Dick’s newly arrived book. I could have dug a hole. Putting his best face on Dick mopped up, through gritted teeth I can imagine. Glad it wasn’t me.  I think I bought a few extra books to soften the blow. I’m sure Dick got other copies later.”

Dick McBride (1928-2012)

From Cometh With Clouds

“I have occasion to look at books as presents, wrapped, waiting for Christmas morning – and often look at edition Empty Mirror, front cover – naked to spreading middle-age waist, Victorian clown’s bearded head raised in yodel – comic coyote, moon-singer to snapshot-like inset photo of younger Allen – college yearbook pose or passport photo – some sadness in shape and old profile, singing lullaby to younger self staring out rather loose-lipped, burning eyes, vain, defiantly frightened, disdainful, hesitant to step into nightmares waiting, look down young Allen at older Allen looking up, having gotten through the intervention of spook years somehow, do not hesitate to look down…Did he know the old man he was to become as older Allen recognizes the lostness, the youth – gone – now?)”

“I’ve looked at many photos of Allen over the years and think I can follow maturation and suffering, acquirement of wisdom?  Some pictures capture,  expose a definite Ginsberg superiority – a complex if not true complexion – sometimes even a cruelness, but a fearful cruelness of the hunted animal, a scarred scaredness hiding inferiority feelings with bluff and blustery if sly and nasty wit. There are pictures of Allen as young savior, hard desert avenger,  posed pointed towards skies under wizened sun, poisoned skin peeling from it as rotten skin from winter oranges. Weary Allen at Turret birthday-party, tired, patient, sweet – almost weeping eyes, pain? endurance – but overall, weariness. Photographs of Allen gentle – as he has appeared to me for some time (even if practiced gentleness), gentle and aware of foibles made feeble and feverish by frequent nightmares (shadow bruises beneath eyes) awareness that others have them, that we all scream in the night, searching for something…”

“Weary Allen at Turret birthday party” – McBride recounts a July 4th/Fall of America birthday event he co-hosted on July 4 1973, in London with Bernard Stone at Stone’s Turret Bookshop

recalling  traveling, back in the ’50’s, in San Francisco, with Allen, on a bus:

“Allen, Betty (sic) and I got on the same bus (possibly old number 30) in front of City Lights to ride together to Potrero Hill (or Pot Hill as it was affectionately called). I forget where we were going – to a new home possibly; we moved a lot in those days without leaving the city – but Allen was going to the Ferlinghetti’s (place on Wisconsin Avenue) again. Now the thing about this memory that stands out – apart from the three of us sitting on the St.Vitus Street bus, talking about unshared experience, rather hesitantly, not entirely easefully, and Allen’s Rasputin eyes  (in memory: something glittering, hard, hardness perhaps defense – I remember Allen just a little on his guard, as if expecting someone to put the bite on him, as a charity inevitably, eventually must feel – and even when he laughed – sadness, brown sadness) – is that when we all got off to change buses Allen went into the drugstore on the corner to buy a comb. Had to have one – I was the square and I wouldn’t have been that fastidiously aware of my appearance. I’ve thought about Allen and the comb many times since – wondering if the middle-class conventions of politeness and neatness will always remain with us – even if we recognize many times the hypocrisy for what it is. It’s so difficult to be truly yourself – defiance is too often a pampered self-indulgence; maybe we never forget potty-training…”

and then there’s this wonderful anecdote – about an impromptu organ recital Allen gave (to an audience of three!) in the Church of St James in Great Horwood (Buckinghamshire) – true story:

“Allen hooked up the organ and sat down and for about a half hour gave a concert of Hebraic sounding, prophetic organ hymns – possibly one of the most unusual guests, organist, prophet, ever to visit old St James – and no one knew it except the four of us (possibly at the time not even aware of it ourselves) and those friends I’ve blabbed to since, about the time Allen Ginsberg, world famous obscene holy Beat poet of generation worshiped in the Church of England, for it was worship, if worship means the expression of reverence, if reverence means feeling of awe and admiration, if awe and admiration mean love, if love means close contact with warmth and sensuality and strangely comfort and peace and touching sometimes something  thought not possible to touch…”

Dick was born in Washington, Indiana, in 1928, and spent his early years in the Mid-West, working in radio, before moving to San Francisco in the early ’50’s. A formative meeting with the writer Kenneth Patchen led him to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which led to him being offered a job at City Lights as the store manager. He worked there from 1954 until 1969, initially managing the poetry alcove and then moving to the publishing side of the business, developing the justly-famous City Lights Pocket Poets Series and working as editorial assistant. He would eventually graduate to running the entire publishing operation, along with his brother, Bob McBride, and Martin Broadley.

In 1964 he moved to London for six months to help “bohemianize” Tony Godwin’s legendary Better Books bookstore, returning to England in 1969, where he set-up and pursued his passion as an independent book distributor (McBride Bros. and Broadley)

In 1966, he published  his second novel, Memoirs of a Natural-Born Expatriate, (his first, Lonely the Autumn Bird with the companion piece, Tilt had been published some three years before)

Alan Swallow, the publisher, described it as  “the story of a man who (like the author) works at the famous City Lights Bookshop of San Francisco, knows the people from all over the nation who have come to this famous place as to a sanctuary, and goes home after work to a family of wife and two kids”. “Memoirs of a Natural-Born Expatriate”, he declares,“tells us that we have a new and fine comic writer in our midst.”

McBride remained in England throughout the ’70’s. During the ’80’s, he moved to Australia, returning to England in 1988.

He continued to write and perform, including, in his latter years, performing with the band, Celluloid

He died peacefully at his home in Colwall, Herefordshire, England on Tuesday August 28, 2012.

A more comprehensive and detailed biography may be found here 

An extensive bibliography of his writings may be found here

A third novel, The Astonished I (Memories & Wet Dreams) was published in 1995
The first chapter of that book recalls a conversation with Jack Kerouac, who had phoned City Lights to talk to Ferlinghetti about publishing Visions of Cody. The second chapter describes the first reading of “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (a lament for the death of Dylan Thomas) by Kenneth Rexroth at the Cellar in Green Street, San Francisco) –  San Francisco memories!

McBride’s first collection of poetry, Oranges, was published in 1960 by Wilder Bentley at the Bread and Wine Press

Ballads of Blood was published the following year

Samples of his poetry may be found here

Dick McBride happily surrounded by books – “Watching television makes you sterile”

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