ok.There might be many Ginsberg stories lurking here, but i'll tell it
anyway. I'd been writing a weekly listings column on 'literary events' for
The Times (1991). How i got into that is another story and not cogent here.
They wanted me to sumbit longer pieces (there was a caption photo piece on
Allen Fisher) and i'd heard 'The Lion For Real' CD (working for the
Recommended label and distribution networks) and liked it a lot. Said I'd
heard he was coming into town to promote it and how about it. They ummd and
ahhhd. Turns out they had to have a longer than usual editorial meet about
it. Apparently Ginsberg was sort of blacklisted at The Times. He'd been
considered person non grata since the late 1960s. So Pete's take has a kink
in it. His life and work were associated with all that went chair-shaped in
British poetry in the mid-70s etc, he was one who symbolically took the
backlash against hippidom that wreaked revenge under Thatcher. Plus he was
an upstart United States citizen, and he was gay.
My program was to turn the Beats into an institution, so that i could build
a platform for work that interested me from that base. Despite their
arguably 'undergrad' lifestyle affiliations the mixture of experimentation,
formal range, social engagements, issue-based positioning, ludic syntax,
cross artform collaboration and energetic networking still appeals to me,
still strikes me as a useful model for emergent practice.
Anyway, the upshot, they agreed I could write something, if it was about
the CD release. I met up with him at Island Records. I was on a couch in
the lobby and he came in, sat down next to me. Seemed stupid to wait to be
introduced, so I introduced myself, mentioned that i was an old associate
of Eric Mottram's and the deal was clinched. His eyes lit up. He cleared
the next two hours of Woman's Hour and so on interviews and we went off to
find a quiet place in the building where we could talk.
I hadn't know what to expect, something frosty, something haughty, someone
trying to make up to me - all those gory stories. I found him, energetic,
courteous, full of humility and simply keen to deliver information. I've
got about 60 minutes of actual tape. Probably nothing out of the ordinary,
excepting a push for more detail about the compositional process of
'Wichita Vortex Sutra' (past the tape transcription stage) which
particularly interested me.
Mostly we talked about censorship and what I mentioned yesterday. About the
list of 'chilled' works, including 'Huckleberry Finn' - 'Catcher in the
Rye' and so on. About how his own work and his own battles were being
aggressively rolled back under the carpet.
The Times got a piece about encroaching right wing censorship, didn't like
it much, bit the bullet and printed it (they'd reserved a space for it the
next day and couldn't back out). The Times and I parted company under
acrimonious fire about a month later, ostensibly about something I'd
written mentioning 'cultural hegemony' (they asked what it meant and i told
them to look it up, that they were a substantial example blah blah).
I only met him again once. That was the Albert Hall Reunion 'Return of the
Reforgotten' concert in 1994. Sianed and I were asked to be part of the
bill. Sorley MacLean looked incredibly frail, reading from the darkness way
at the back of the stage with that extraordinary Gallic sea in his mouth,
booming and breaking. Knew it was likely to be the last time i met him and
heard him 'live'.
Ginsberg gave a mixed moving and vaudeville performance, duetting with Paul
McCartney (in sneakers and jeans, playing through a little guitar amp,
looking somewhat taken aback when after having strummed out a plunking rock
guitar 4 bar chord sequence loked up to see Allen waving his hand in the
air and yelling at him "one - more - time!". Ginsberg said to me later "you
know i've worked with a lot of guitarists over the years and he can play").
We shook warmly at Filthy McNasty's about 2 o'clock that night. He'd opened
the top button ofd his shirt, his royal blue tie was somewhat askew and his
hair flying away. He was extremely generous, that remains my main
impression. We agreed to meet up again in the year 2000. Going down into
ablaze of sentimentality that he knew how to milk for gall. Like this post.
I knew we wouldn't meet again. It seemed as if he was on an extended tour
of goodbyes, at the same time as striking up new friendships.
Accounts of his death, posted to this list, are lodged in the archive. One,
the first and only writing from a friend who was massaging his feet when he
died is wonderfully gritty. Maybe I never sent that one.
love and love