On Mexico City Blues (30th Chorus)

Allen Ginsberg, in October 1981, at Naropa, sitting in for Gregory Corso‘s Visiting Poetics” class, going systematically through Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, continues from here

AG: Is this alright, going on like this?  Or do you want to skip around and run to ecstatic moments?  I don’t think anybody’s ever gone through this whole thing and explained it.
If you object.  If you do feel this is too slow for you, tell me.  I’ll probably go on anyway but it might alter my path.  I got to get it faster because we’re going to go on from (t)here to (Arthur) Rimbaud, (so I guess they have Rimbaud set out in the library, but you might start, once you get this under your belt, checking out Rimbaud – any of his works – his poems, ( Season in Hell, Illuminations), the biography, or whatever work you can get on him.

I did call Gregory’s secretary last night and he said that Gregory had the flu of the stomach and would be talking to him tonight and call me tomorrow (Editorial note – Allen has been sitting in on these classes for Gregory Corso]

“Tender is the Night/Tender is the Eve Star” – (Tender is the Night is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  But it also fits in nicely with Kerouac’s basic notion of compassion, tenderness and death – so “Tender is the Night”)

“Tender is the Night/Tender is the Eve Star/   F. Scott Fitzgerald the Alamoan/ Huckster Crockett Hero/Who burned his Wife Down/and tore up the 95 Devils/with crashes of laughter/and breaking of glass/in the monocled Ibyarritz/ the Little Grey Fox/ OF NEW HAVEN CONN/via Princeton  O Sure/  Tender is the marlin spike,/Tender is the sea,/ Tender the London Fog/That Befalls to Me/  Tender is the Cat’s Bath/Blue Meow/The Little Grey Fox/That nibbled at the grapes/Tender was his foreskin,/tender his Nape”

Later on. (in the 230th Chorus) he has a line, “Like kissing my kitten in the belly/The softness of our reward”, after the suffering of life. He was hung on cats.  There’s lots of little references to little Canuck-speaking or meowing cats.  He always had a cat around the house which his mother took care of, or he took care of.  And later, when he was alcoholic and his favorite cat of five years or ten died, he was really totally broken-up – he couldn’t go out and found it an excuse not to write letters for months and to drink.  Found it an excuse to drink. Because I think he just projected into the cats his own sense of solitude and suffering, and he saw the naked helplessness of cats – like the total tenderness and helplessness….

tape ends here and continues

AG:  … are all American basic archetypal heroes.  So F. Scott Fitzgerald, like many of the people of his generation, like (Ernest) Hemingway and like Thomas Wolfe, and later, like Kerouac, popular novelists, all of them had the secret ambition to write the great American novel.  In fact the phrase “the Great American Novel” even became the title of some minor novel a couple of years ago.  But the idea was to write the great American novel, like Dostoevsky had written the great Russian novel – The Brothers Karamazov, or (Leo) Tolstoy had written a great, the great Russian novel, War and Peace. So Kerouac wanted to write the great American novel (and F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to write the great American novel, and almost did).

Student:  (What’s) the story behind.. (Scott Fitzgerald..)…

Zelda Fitzgerald and Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

AG: (Well, there’s)  his wife…let’s see now.. Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, who was his companion in international high-life literary publishing, Plaza Hotel in New York, trips to Europe, living with Harry Crosby and Caresse Crosby, and meeting Ezra Pound and Hemingway in Paris of the Twenties – You know, the Gershwin (composition), “An American in Paris“? – You know, all that nostalgia? –  So they were the gilded youth of the ‘Twenties, as they were called, “gilded youth”, in the sense that he went to Princeton,
I think he had a house in New Haven, Connecticut.  He lived the major upper-class American archetypal successful rich young Princetonian graduate life.  He was a writer and he apparently made it big in his first books – Tender is the Night and This Side of (Paradise). (I’ve forgotten his first books), The Great Gatsby, among others, (which was the book which was supposed to be the novel of its generation, if not The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway), as Kerouac’s On The Road was the novel of his generation.

And Kerouac was quite aware that he had written the novel of his generation, although this was written several years before it was published, or accepted by anybody, or even considered possible to publish.  So he knew.  He’s talking about himself, (here) somewhat. So he was checking back on the fate of old F. Scott Fitzgerald who, to his generation, was something like Kerouac was to his.  And, even without being published, Kerouac was also already very famous among the poets.  He was the king of poets among poets already – like Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen and Philip Lamantia and myself and (William S.) Burroughs and (Carl) Solomon and Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley and any number of poets knew his work already – (Kenneth) Rexroth.  And his manuscripts were being circulated among the poets before they were published.  He had one thing published in ’53 in the New American Library anthology, something that had been in the Paris Review called “The Beat Generation” –  just a chapter. [Editorial note – Actually they published “Jazz of the Beat Generation,” an amalgam of passages from On The Road  and  Visions of Cody].  Under a pseudonym, even. He didn’t even use his name. [Editorial note – He used the name “Jean-Louis“]

Student: (impatient) (Come on..)

AG:  Okay, okay, I’m getting to it.  It’s details.  It’s details.  So Zelda Fitzgerald, who was a very famous flapper of the ‘Twenties – flappers were the hippies of the ‘Twenties, or the hot kids of the ‘Twenties, the punks of the ‘Twenties, that dressed strange, that did the Charleston and the Black Bottom dance as people never danced before, smoked cigarettes, believed in Free Love, drank champagne at the Ritz.  His wife had a nervous breakdown and most of his life was in the hospital.  After the first, I don’t know, five years of fame and delight and international society and running around “the Picassos and Macassos and Macayos” and what have yous.  So Fitzgerald burned his wife down.  She burnt out.

Student:  Oh, I see.

AG:  Burned-out case.  His wife was a burned-out case.  And he drank a lot and she drank a lot and they made lots of little scandals, like the famous scandal was after a big cocktail party when they were all dressed in evening clothes, they jumped into the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel along 59th Street in New York.  Anybody know that place?  Anybody ever seen the Plaza?

Plaza Hotel, NYC

Student:  Yeah .. sure.
Student (2) :  Yeah.
AG:  Well, or seen pictures of it.  The Plaza is the European hotel.
Peter Orlovsky:  It (The Pulitzer Fountain) spouts water …
AG:  Yeah.
Peter Orlovsky:  … three stories high.
AG:  Yeah.
Peter Orlovsky:  Lit up.
AG:  It’s the most European section of New York on 5th Avenue and 57th Street.  And there’s this big Plaza Hotel which has a mansard roof like the grand hotels of Europe and it behaves like a grand hotel, and the Beatles stay(ed) there, and the kings stay there when they come to New York.
Peter Orlovsky: The Karmapa stays there.
AG:  The Karmapa stays there.  And the Tibetan kings and the European kings all stay there.  And there’s a great square in front of it overlooking 5th Avenue and Central Park, and there’s a circular fountain which is about forty feet in diameter and some statues of naked nymphs like in a European square, and spouting water.  And there are horse carriages with footmen and drivers with top hats and tails and so it’s really like the cat’s meow – the Ritz.  It’s like if you came from Switzerland, that’s where you’d… Swiss elegance.  Or French Champs-Elysees elegance, or Berlin… I don’t what street in Berlin (it) would be other than… or Vienna, from Vienna, if you lived in Vienna and you had money, and you were travelling with your family, or you were coming to America like Arthur Rubinstein to give a big concert and people were sending you flowers at the stage door and reporters were waiting at your nod and beck to interview you for “the Times”, you’d stay at the Plaza.

And they stayed at the Plaza and had big Princeton banquets at the Plaza and after a drunken banquet they shocked everybody by going out into the spring air and, out of sheer exuberance, jumping in the fountain at the Plaza! –  So, “tore up the 95 Devils” – and broke (and) smashed champagne glasses, and laughter – laughed at everything, and had monocles, at Bairritz (Bairritz is  B-A-I-R-R-I-T-Z Bairritz was the wealthy watering place in the coast of Spain? or Southern France, near the Spanish border that was very popular in the ‘Twenties by literary people – maybe started by literary people and then the rich people like Nancy Cunard, who, I think, was of the Astor family who had millions of dollars and was a patron of arts and gave money to Fitzgerald and everybody).

There’s a whole group of very elegant distinguished moneyed aristocrats like Harry Crosby and Caresse Crosby who owned banks, who lived a literary life and wrote poems and were patrons and put out..published things in the ‘Twenties.  The Black Sun Press.  And they all had a great time – they were all young and they were brilliant.  Young and beautiful and no tragedy, but they were asking for it in a way, drinking – but everybody wound up suicidal alcoholic or having nervous breakdowns or died young.  Actually the mortality rate among the ‘Twenties authors was greater than the Beat ‘Fifties.  We wound up all relatively healthy, because most of those people drank unmercifully and didn’t realize that liquor was more dangerous than grass or acid.

to be continued.

Audio from the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-three minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.