Thursday, June 14, 2012

Holy barbarians!

The memoir of the beat scene The Holy Barbarians is available for free at

The author, Lawrence Lipton, writes in a distinctive voice, a combination of un-self-aware affected ponciness and a heaping helping of beatnik lingo. Which makes sense when you realize that Lipton is the father of James Lipton. Small world.

I haven't read the whole thing, but there is this priceless section:
A PROPHET CAME TO TOWN.  RUMOR HAD PRECEDED HIM. HE WENT ABOUT in an aura of wine and marijuana with a retinue of disciples at his heels, all of them drunk or stoned out of their minds with poetry and pot. He spoke in esoteric riddles and obscene metaphors. Lord Byron had introduced the open collar, Walt Whitman the open road, this new prophet the open fly. Dylan Thomas had come amid Philistine rumors of "she-bears, witches on the mountain, exploding pit-heads, menstruat ing babies, hounds with red ears, Welsh revivalists throwing dynamite and semen in all directions," according to Kenneth Rexroth.21 This new poet-prophet had the Philistines spreading breathless tales of bearded hermaphrodites speaking in secret tongues, jazz Saturnalias, manholes erupting piss, pus and corruption, and bebop poets careening madly down the San Francisco streets naked on roller skates.
People I knew in the Bay city reported huge throngs of youngsters crowding into poetry readings, carrying on like Elvis Presley fans at a Rock and Roll binge, shouting, stamping, whistling, doing snake dances in the aisles. A mailed announcement from San Francisco advertising one of these readings went like this:
Either you go home bugged or completely enlightened. Allen Ginsberg blowing hot; Gary Snyder blowing cool; PhilipWhalen puffing the laconic tuba; Mike McClure his hip hight notes; Rexroth on the big bass drum.
Small collection for wines and postcards.
Abandon    Noise    Strange pictures on walls
Oriental music    Lurid poetry
Extremely serious TOWN HALL THEATRE
One and only final appearance of this Apocalypse Admission free
A visiting poet from the East Coast, Richard Eberhart, had written an account of these goings-on for the New York Times Book Review.
"Poetry here has become a tangible social force, moving and unifying its audience, releasing the energies of the audience through spoken, even shouted verse, in a way at present unique to this region."
He attributed this activity in part to the establishment three years before of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State College, but from what I could gather from other sources and from a visit to San Francisco, the Poetry Center there was not much different from the dry, droning poetry readings at New York's Poetry Center at the Y.M.H.A. or any similar place. The only time the San Francisco State College Poetry Center was really swinging was when the poets of the new Apocalypse took the stage and their disciples whooped it up. Then it was a real ball.
I was not unprepared for Allen Ginsberg's visit to Los Angeles, since he had written me from San Francisco, but when he got to town Nettie and I were so exhausted from all the poetry-reading parties we had been throwing for visiting poets that I was relieved when the editors of Coastlines, the L.A. quarterly, offered to sponsor the reading. I knew they had no use for the sort of thing Ginsberg was writing or what we were doing in Venice West (in fact, much of their magazine is devoted to attacking it), but now that it looked like it might be attracting wide public attention they wanted to get into the act. The reading was to be held in a big old-fashioned house that was occupied by two or three of the Coastline editors, living in a kind of Left Wing bohemian collective household, furnished    what there was of furniture, which wasn't much in atrociously bad taste, nothing like the imaginative and original decor of the beat generation pad, even the most poverty-stricken.
I consented at their request to conduct the reading, "chair the meeting" as these people are in the habit of saying. To them everything is a meeting. In this case they got more than they bargained for. Allen showed up high mostly on wine, to judge by the olfactory evidence and, after an introduction by me, in which I tried to spell out something of the background of this "renaissance," he launched into a vigorous rendition of Howl. Launched is the word for it. It was stormy, wild and liquid. In his excitement he tipped over an open bottle of wine he had brought with him, spilling it over himself, over me and over his friend Gregory Corso who was with him and was also scheduled to read.
Allen and Gregory had refused to start till Anais Nin arrived, and now that she was seated in the audience Allen addressed himself exclusively to her. He had never met Anais before and knew her only from Henry Miller's books. She had written the preface to Miller's The Tropic of Cancer in the Paris edition of the book. He was sure that Anais was one person who would be able to dig what he was putting down. For him there was no one else in the audience but "beautiful Anais Nin." That she had long ago come to the parting of the ways with Henry Miller and was making her own scene now, a very different scene from the one they had once made together on the Left Bank of Paris, made no difference to Allen. She was still, to him, the Anais Nin of the Henry Miller saga, a fabulous figure out of a still brightly shim mering past. Artistically, he felt, she was his nearest of kin, and Anais very graciously acted out the role he had cast her in that night.
The audience, except for Anais and the people we had brought with us from Venice West, was a square audience, the sort of an audience you would find at any liberal or "progressive" how that word lingers on even though the song is over fund-raising affair of the faithful who are still waiting for the Second Coming. Few of them had come knowing what to expect. They never read anything but the party and cryptoparty press. The avant-garde quarterlies are so much Greek to them. Most of them don't even know such magazines exist any more. They associate that sort of thing with the little magazines of the twenties which were swallowed up with the advent of the Movement, the real Movement (capital M), in the thirties and transformed into weapons in the class struggle. The few who had heard rumors of what was going on in San Francisco and Venice West were there as slummers might go to a Negro whorehouse in New Orleans, to be with, briefly, but not of. But even they were not prepared for Howl, or for the drunken, ecstatic, tortured, enraptured reading Allen was giving it that night. A very moving performance, for all his tangle-tongue bob bles and rambling digressions. He was reading from the book, which had just came out, but he changed words, improvised freely, and supplied verbally the obscenities that the printer had in a few cases deleted.
As it happened, Allen and Gregory were not the only ones in the place who had been drinking. There was one other in the audience. He was someone who had drifted in, having somewhere picked up one of the pluggers advertising the reading. At first he applauded Allen's reading at all the wrong places and too loudly. Then he took to cheering, the kind of cheers that are more like the jeers they are in tended to be. I watched him and it struck me that he looked and sounded like a brother Elk on the loose, or am American Legion patriot on a convention binge. When Allen got to the poem America, the drunken square was visibly aroused. He began to heckle. Allen ignored him and, at one point, interrupted the reading to ask the heckler, very gently, to hear him out and he would be glad to talk to him about it later and listen to any comments or criticism he cared to make. That, and disapproving scowls from some members of the audience who, being squares themselves and sober dislike anyone "making a scene," stopped him for a few minutes.
Gregory Corso now got up to read or, rather, sat down to read Gregory, unlike Allen, is the gentle, relaxed persuader rather than the shouter. At least he was that night. When the drunk started heckling him, too, he turned the face of an injured angel to him. When that failed he reversed himself and tried shock therapy.
"Listen, creep, I'm trying to get through to you with words, with magic, see? I'm trying to make you see, and understand - "
The square had an answer for that. "Then why don't you write so a person can understand you, instead of all that highfalutin crap?"
"You will understand," Gregory replied patiently, "if you open your self up to the images. Try to get with it, man."
"You think you're smart, don't you?" Gregory ignored the remark and went on with his reading. Nothing could have angered the drunk more. It brought out the righteous citizen in him.
"Think you know it all, don't you? I know your kind. It's punks like you that are to blame for all this - all this - " he sputtered, unable to make up his mind which of the crimes punks like this were to blame for were equal to the enormity of the occasion. He tried again, gave up, turned a beet red and, to cover his chagrin, launched into a tirade
of uninspired, stereotyped, barroom profanity, ending with, inevitably, an invitation to "step outside and settle this thing like a man!"
Gregory grinned. "Yeh, I know, you want to fight. Okay, let's fight. Right here. Not with fists, you cornball. That's baby stuff. Let's fight with a man's weapon with words. Images, metaphors, magic. Open your mouth, man, and spit out a locomotive, a red locomotive, belching obscene smoke and black magic. Then I'll say: Anafogasta. Rattle- boom. Gnu's milk. And you'll say: Fourth of July, Hydrogen bomb! Gasoline! See? Real obscenities..." The drunk was indignant. He was outraged. When he heard snick ering in the audience he started toward the front of the room, menacingly, repeating his challenge to step outside and settle this thing.
"You're yella, that's what. Like all you wise guys. You're yella."
Ginsberg got up and went forward to meet the drunk. "All right," he said, "all right You want to do something big, don't you? Something brave. Well, go on, do something really brave. Take off your clothes!"
That stopped the drunk dead in his tracks.
Ginsberg moved a step toward him. "Go on, let everybody see how brave you are. Take your clothes off!"
The drunk was stunned speechless. He fell back a step and Allen moved toward him, tearing off his own shirt and undershirt and fling ing them at the heckler's feet. "You're scared, aren't you?" he taunted him. "You're afraid." He unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and started kicking off his trousers. "Look," he cried. "I'm not afraid. Go on, take your clothes off. Let's see how brave you are," he challenged him. He flung his pants down at the champ's feet and then his shorts, shoes and socks, with a curious little hopping dance as he did so. He was stark naked now. The drunk had retired to the back of the room. Nobody laughed. Nobody said a word. The audience just sat there, mute, staring, fascinated, petrified, till Allen danced back to his seat, looking I couldn't help thinking at the moment with inward amusement like Marcel Marceau, the great French mime, doing his hopping little David and Goliath dance. Then the room was suddenly filled with an explosion of nervous applause, cheers, jeers, noisy argument Our hosts, the editors of Coastlines, had been having a huddle on the side lines. Now one of them, Mel Weisburd, dashed up front and stood over Allen menacingly.
"All right," he shouted, "put your clothes on and get out! You're not up in San Francisco now. This is a private house... you're in someone else's living room... You've violated our hospitality...  If this is what you call..."
He looked over at me as if to say, "You're chairman here, do something.
I rapped for order like a proper chairman and announced the next order of business. Gregory Corso would read another group of poems and then we would hear from Allen Ginsberg once more with his poems Sunflower Sutra and A Supermarket in California. Corso was all for leaving at once. "We'll go somewhere where we can get good and drunk and take Anais Nin with us." But Allen shook his head and quietly put his clothes on, one piece at a time, in slow motion, smiling to himself with half-closed eyes. A sly, mysterious, inner- directed Buddha smile.
The reading went on amid general approval and with closer, more respectful attention than before. The incident had sobered up the drunk. When the reading was over he approached Allen and said, loud enough for everybody to hear, that he was sorry he had made such an ass of himself and where could he buy a copy of Howl?
Through it all Anais Nin, faithful to the role in which the poets had cast her, sat imperiously still, only slightly disdainful of the hubbub, like a queen on a throne.
Stuart Perkoff, who was present, later made the incident the theme of a poem...
 This should certainly be made into a play... and since James Franco has already played Ginsburg, he can certainly play Ginsburg getting naked. Oh yes, that would work for me.