Al Aronowitz

“Al Aronowitz, Bearsville, New York, August 17, 1984, his bedroom” – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Allen Ginsberg Estate

Al Aronowitz (1928-2005) was a pretty remarkable figure – the man who introduced Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, the man who introduced Bob Dylan to the Beatles, the man responsible for getting the Velvet Underground their first gig in the auditorium of the high school in Summit, New Jersey, (and, for a brief time, a very brief time, functioning as their manager), former legendary music columnist for the New York Post, (and elsewhere),
reporter, participant, and, unabashed enthusiast, a ubiquitous presence throughout the “Sixties, acknowledged by many as “the godfather of rock journalism”.

His rise was followed by a pretty spectacular decline, (very much, as he would be the first
to acknowledge, through his own making). Long time a drug user – (it was he who famously “turned on” the Beatles) –  he became a freebase junkie, and, to use his own phrase, an “assaholic”, a pariah, understandably, shunned by both the publishing world and the rock establishment – the “blacklisted journalist”, as he subsequently took to naming himself.

“The Blacklisted Journalist” was the name that he gave in later years to his voluminous web-site, repository for his unpublished (and what he now felt, officially unpublishable) manuscripts.  This alternative archive was his on-going engagement during the early days of the internet. It remains accessible, and, (ego and paranoia and self-incrimination notwithstanding), truly, a remarkable and an essential trove.

“..I was on Allen’s shit list when he died…my romance with cocaine helped me alienate just about everyone I ever knew. Like too many other old friends, Allen had given up on me…”

“..but I always looked forward to what I believed would be our inevitable rapprochement. Allen had been too much a part of my life. He’d been like a member of my family. He was one of my elder, wiser brothers. We’d known each other for too many years to let any friction put callouses between us. I was proud to know him, proud that I had been so much part of his life, proud that he was so much a part of mine.,..”

His involvement with the Beat culture had come early on. In 1959, commissioned by the editor James Wechsler, he wrote his famous 12-part series on the Beats for the New York Post,  one of the first pieces of popular writing to consider the movement and its writers minus the facile sensationalism, seriously.

Aronowitz on Ginsberg –  “The Blacklisted Journalist” includes extensive detailed  observations and memories of Allen – We suggest you go searching through – notably here and here – and here.  (see also here and here)

For “Original Interviews with Beat Personalities’ – see here


Here’s an interview with Aronowitz himself, from 2001 (he died in 2005) about the Beats and his involvement with Beat culture:

Interviewer:  You’ve written about James Wechsler’s debate with Jack Kerouac at Hunter (College) in which Jack denounced the editor an another opponent as “Communist shits”. Shortly thereafter, Wechsler assigned you to write about the Beats.

AA:  There was more to it than that. Wechsler had a son who was very enamored with Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. Wechsler wanted to show his son that the Beat Generation was made up of “artistic nihilists” – which is what he called them.

Interviewer: Were you familiar with the Beats?

AA:  Not at all. I was a middle-class kid from New Jersey, what today they would call a “nerd”. The first thing I did was read On The Road. I realized that all of the characters were based on real people –  (Jack) Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady – I wanted to talk to all of them.  Neal, of course, was Dean Moriarty. Allen was called Carlo Marx. (I later found out that Kerouac chose the name in honor of Harpo, not Karl. Jack was a Marx Brothers fan). The Beats had a whimsical side which attracted me.

InterviewerYou visited Kerouac in Northport, Long Island where he was living with his mother, and Neal Cassady at San Quentin where he was doing a stretch for marijuana possession.

AAAllen Ginsberg told me that Neal got busted for handing a joint to a narc. But I talked to the cops, and they said he was selling it by the pound. Allen always futzed things. Whatever he fantasized that’s what he said.

Interviewer: What was Neal like?

AA: Tall. Slender. Good looking. He was very personable.

Interviewer: Did you ask Neal how he felt about being the hero of On the Road?

AANeal resented the fact that he was in jail while Kerouac was getting rich and famous.
He said that Kerouac could at least send him a typewriter.

Interviewer: You’ve written that Paul Sann, a Post editor, called the Beats a bunch of “pansies.”  Was it generally known that Ginsberg and Cassady were lovers?

AA: Carolyn Cassady told me that Neal slept with Allen. Carolyn and I drove down to Big Sur to visit Henry Miller.

Interviewer: You alluded to Cassady and Ginsberg’s relationship when you quoted Carolyn as saying that Ginsberg wanted to be in her shoes. You later got to know Ginsberg well. Why didn’t you write a biography of him?

AA: Allen wanted his biographer to be homosexual.

Interviewer: You have called Ginsberg a prophet and a genius, but you and he had a falling out.

AA: Ginsberg wanted me to remain an invisible journalist. I was trying not to be invisible. I was Allen’s disciple, but he treated me the way Lionel Trilling, his Columbia professor, treated him – like a pompous don.  In the end, Allen wrote me that he took Rimbaud with a grain of salt. Allen had a lot of conflicting opinions.

Interviewer: Norman Podhoretz was at Columbia with Ginsberg. He later put the Beats down in an essay called “The Know-Nothing Bohemians”. Why did Podhoretz dislike the Beats?

AA: My guess is that he wanted to be the star in the class of pre-pubescent neo-cons. Now, he’s just blah.

Interviewer: You asked Billie Holiday and Miles Davis what they thought of the Beats.

AAMiles told me that it was just “more synthetic white shit.”

Interviewer: Kenneth Rexroth helped organize the famous Six Gallery poetry session where Ginsberg read “Howl”  But he was always patronizing of the Beats. He once wrote that in his “small way” Kerouac was like Celine

AARexroth resented the Beats, so did Kenneth Patchen. I’ve found that poets are all such terrible backbiters.

Interviewer: Alan Kaufman, a San Francisco poet, has coined the term “the Beat Corporation” implying that the Beats are now part of the literary mainstream. In twenty years, will the Beats seem as musty as (Nathaniel) Hawthorne?

AASome of them do already.

To counterpoint the pointed snarkiness of this, a few miscellaneous encomiums for Allen  (briefly excerpted from “The Blacklisted Journalist”- this speech comes from remarks delivered in 1982 at the 25th Anniversary of On The Road celebrations at Boulder):

“If Jack Kerouac was the saint who inspired the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg was the prophet who organized it into a movement…It was Allen who went through America, looking under every rock to collect the madmen poets, artists, painters, writers, hiding like worms in their dark holes of alienation, not knowing there were others like themselves hiding, too, isolated beneath other rocks, waiting only for a prophet like Allen to dig the underground network that connected them, a prophet to lead them out into the sunlight where they could metamorphose like beautiful butterflies of thought, voices in the crusade to save the human spirit.  Allen was the talent scout, the recruiter, the proselytizer, the missionary, the clown and the straight man..Allen always knew what he was doing.  He always knew his power.  I remember back in 1959, when I was telling him how the editors of the New York Post really wanted me to write a hatchet job about the Beat Generation, Allen kept insisting I let him talk to them in person.  “I can be very persuasive,” he said.  But not persuasive enough for me to let him do it.”

You can measure the strength of Allen’s will by understanding how he deliberately and consciously set out from childhood to grab the ball from Walt Whitman and run with it like nobody else since.  Which history will judge is exactly what he did.  He changed the language and rhythms of American poetry with knee jerks.  Until Howl, people had to throw their copies of Tropic Of Cancer overboard before the boat docked in New York.  His influence would’ve changed my life even if I’d never met him because he changed the letters that are my life.  He has changed the lives of all of us.  Knowing Allen is one of the strongest drugs I’ve ever taken, one of the most consciousness-expanding experiences of my life.  No wonder he’s still illegal.”

Only those who don’t know him don’t love him.  He is the most tenderhearted heavyweight I’ve ever met, and Allen is a heavyweight among heavyweights, an actor who can play Moses to any Pharaoh, an intellect who can cross words with any wit, a charmer who can make the hair of the Medusa dance to the reason of his tune, a visionary who builds his web with the patience of a spider, a teacher who has forged a new link in the chain of knowledge, a Christ-type con-man camper who can make himself comfortable with any lowly Gypsy, a holy wanderer through eternity, an immortal.  I’m so proud I know him.”

For twenty-three years (sic), he’s been a main man to me, a guru, an oracle, a leader, a teacher, a master, a counsellor, a consoler, a benefactor and a loyal friend. Allen came to my 50th birthday party.  I went to the funeral of his gentle poet-father, Louis, buried in the same cemetery as my mother, my father and my wife.  There was a summer my children stayed at Allen’s farm in Cherry Valley.  Allen’s the most considerate friend you’d ever wished you had, the softest touch who ever couldn’t say no.  If he hadn’t taken a conscious vow of poverty way back when he was plotting to succeed Walt Whitman, he’d still be broke.  Allen’s a one-man welfare agency.  The only reason he earns any money at all is to give it away.  He’s probably the most beloved man I know..?”

Al Aronowitz, New York City, May 1995 -photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *