On Mexico City Blues (40th Chorus)

François Rabelais. (c.1488-1553)

Allen Ginsberg on Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues continues from here

AG:  – 40th Chorus  – Again, he was reading (Francois) Rabelais – (Can we share the ashtray, please?  We can probably get some more at this time) -This is one that I liked a lot and he (Kerouac) liked also.  Composed of fragments, but the subject is mostly the sound of the Renaissance babblers, like Shakespeare and Rabelais, who he was reading there.

“Did bespat and beshit himself Rabelais,/Roundelay, singing with a chocolate/mouth/  Did tangle in the gangles/of legs’ hair/And scream with the wine/in his glut./ “What do you think?”/  This cover is most excellent,/It’s shiny and red,/This car will do nicely/All over the bed./ Rabelais was a mad nut/And also a doctor/And wrote of priests’ jocks/ In 1492/ Wha’ hoppen in Oaxaca?..” – (“Wha’ hoppen in Oaxaca?”” – he just liked the sound of that.  And I still remember that)

“Wha’ hoppen in Oaxaca?/ – gluts rained glut/guts out of her/brimy bottard/and washed the old man’s/river underwear.”

He’s connecting that kind of Renaissance babble with James Joyces Finnegans Wake and “the old man’s/river underwear” is the Finnegan..  Does anybody know a little bit? – the sound?  – “riverrun away along alas along the riverrun past”  [Editorial note – Finnegans Wake. begins – “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s..][Allen continues quoting] , “..from swerve of shore to bend of bay, bring us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

It’s just sort of great language like a river flowing and the whole story is about the river of time coming round on itself like a circle.  And so the beginning and the end of  Finnegans Wake connect –  the last line of the last page and the first line of the first page of Finnegans Wake form a completed sentence. [Editorial note – well, connect anyway – the last words of Finnegans Wake read “The keys to.  Given!  A way a lone a last a loved a long the” – connecting up with “riverrun..” etc ]

So the “-gluts rained glut/guts out of her/brimy bottard/and washed the old man’s/river underwear” is Kerouac’s paraphrase of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which he did extensively, using this imagery of washing “the old man’s/river underwear” and grimy bottoms of underwear in a long piece of prose poetry babble, modelled after Finnegans Wake called “Old Angel Midnight, which I think he had written pieces of already, the first part of, a piece called “Old Angel Midnight.”  Anybody ever see that?  It’s a whole book by Kerouac reprinted nowhere  [Editorial note – This is 1981 – It has subsequently been published by Grey Fox Press and now Grey Fox/City Lights]), except we do have a copy of the complete composition in the library in a giant collection of Kerouac’s miscellaneous uncollected works.  Has anybody seen that?  We have that in the library if anybody’s interested in Kerouac.  The Phoenix Bookshop proprietors in 1960 xeroxed all of Kerouac’s magazine writing, writing from little magazines, from Yugen magazine, any letters that were around, interviews with him, haikus from the Berkeley Busay, a Berkeley Buddhist magazine from ’55, with (Gary) Snyder, and separate portions that have been published in different places, (Big Table and then later maybe some other place), of “Old Angel Midnight,” one of Kerouac’s finest books – a very short novel written in Joycean fashion with pure babble sounds, pure music.  All the sounds of the universe coming into the window of the ear.  Sort of like a continuous adlibbing, jamming.  It’s one of the most interesting things of his to read, and it’s one of his richest works in terms of just pure sound and suggestiveness.  And this little “ – gluts rained glut/guts out of her/brimy bottard/and washed the old man’s/ river underwear”

He also has a piece like this in the central section of Visions of Cody.  The characteristic imagery in it is the father figure, the dirty old father figure having been taken care of by the wife, or the dirty old Kerouacian figure having to be taken care of by a woman or his mother; so it’s a self-characterization.  The image he got out of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake,  or out of his own life, or interpreted in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake,  or that’s his interpretation of  Finnegans Wake –  the old lady washing “the old man’s/river underwear.”  – (“Ol’ Man River” is in they’re also, by the way).  Though in Finnegans Wake the Liffey River is the woman – actually, the river is a woman in Finnegans Wake. –  [Editorial note – The section of Finnegan’s Wake that this occurs in, a central section, although one of the first to be published, and also one of the two pieces recorded by Joyce himself, is in the part known as “Anna Livia Plurabelle.]

“Did tangle in the gangles/of legs’ hair/And scream with the wine/in his glut” – (He’s talking about Rabelais – he got drunk and wrote big funny poems about priest’s jocks in 1492, or whatever year it was.  It might have been 1492. [Editorial note. Allen is a little confused with his dates here – Rabelais’s lived from 1494 to 1553]

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-six minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in

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