« Reading in bed: Why the iPad mini trumps physical books | Home | Hand T-Shirt — Talk to me »

June 12, 2013

Epic: Allen Ginsberg gets his first look at the Internet on December 16, 1996


Steve Silberman (with Ginsberg, above) showed him what it was all about.

Wrote Silberman, "Following our conversation, I showed Allen the World Wide Web for the first time. I'd been telling him about the self-publishing samizdat aspect of the Web, knowing that he'd made a point of donating his work to small, labor-of-love zines even after he was the best known poet in America. I took Allen immediately to the page on his work at Levi Asher's Literary Kicks site, clicking through Jack Kerouac's and Neal Cassady's names to demonstrate hypertext to him. Allen didn't say much, and then I took him to a search engine, where a search on the phrase "allen ginsberg" called out 2,000 hits — probably the maximum. He looked at all the pages built in his name. 'Thank God I don't know how to work this,' Allen sighed."

Silberman's in-depth interview for Wired revealed a whole lifetime's worth of future plans and projects the 70-year-old Ginsberg was involved in and looking forward to.

He died less than four months later, on April 5, 1997.

Below, excerpts from the hugely entertaining, wide-ranging interview.


Steve Silberman: Hello. I'm very, very happy to have Allen with us today. It's hard to imagine the last several decades of public life without Allen's work. The publication of "Howl" in the late fifties was a huge gesture towards honesty and openness and sincerity in public discourse, and his poetry has influenced many generations of artists and musicians. Welcome to HotWired, Allen.

Allen Ginsberg: Hi, Steve. As you know, or as you don't know — listeners, lookers — Steve Silberman and I are old friends, going back a decade or longer.

Steve Silberman: I was Allen's student when I was 19, and I'm now 39, so....

Allen Ginsberg: It was out at Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado — the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. It's still going on. I'll be there this summer.


Steve Silberman: Were you at the original recording session for "All You Need Is Love?"

Allen Ginsberg: No. That's the hotel room thing? I forgot.

Steve Silberman: No, I saw footage of the recording session for "All You Need Is Love," and I thought maybe you were there.

Allen Ginsberg: No. I was there for a very, very interesting one with Lennon and the guy from the Stones — Jagger. In the late '60s, "Butterfly Fly Away," at the Abbey Road studio — sitting in with Miles, who's a friend, and a friend of theirs.

Allen Ginsberg: Yeah, he's editing my correspondence now. But I hadn't seen too much of McCartney, until he came to New York a couple years ago for "Saturday Night Live" on his world tour, and he remembered very clearly, because we had spent a few evenings together, and greeted me like a long lost brother or friend. Invited me down to his place in England, and we got involved. I had written "The Ballad of the Skeletons," and I read it to him, and he had filmed me doing it, his daughter filmed me doing it, on a little 8 millimeter. And I had a concert with Anne Waldman and the British poet Tom Picard, and about 13 other poets, at the Royal Albert Hall a year ago. And I asked McCartney for advice for a young guitarist who's a quick pick-up — a quick study — and he gave me some names. They sounded like older guys, like Jeff Beck. And he said, "But as you're not fixed up with a guitarist, why don't you try me, I love the poem..." and I said, "Sure, it's a date."

So he showed up for the sound check. Actually, we rehearsed one night at his place. He showed up at 5 p.m. for the sound check, and he bought a box for his family. Got all his kids together, four of them, and his wife, and he sat through the whole evening of poetry, and we didn't say who my accompanist was going to be. We introduced him at the end of the evening, and then the roar went up on the floor of the Albert Hall, and we knocked out the song. He said if I ever got around to recording it, let him know. So he volunteered, and we made a basic track, and sent it to him, on 24 tracks, and he added maracas and drums, which it needed. It gave it a skeleton, gave it a shape. And also organ, he was trying to get that effect of Al Kooper on the early Dylan. And guitar, so he put a lot of work in on that. And then we got it back just in time for Philip Glass to fill in his arpeggios on piano.


Steve Silberman: And Gus Van Sant directed a video that's getting a lot of play on MTV.

Allen Ginsberg: Yeah, that was amazing. Van Sant and I had been down to Princeton in a limousine together, and when we got to our hotel he opened up the back of the car, and there was his guitar case, and I said, "Oh, do you play?" and he said, "Yeah, I have a band in Portland." And I said, "Well, I need an accompanist." So we ran through it in his room, and he was a little nervous about it, but pulled it off. He had his lecture on film, and I had a poetry reading, and I introduced him because he was staying over anyway, and he did a good performance. So he knew the thing inside out. Then when the MTV people requested a video, which was rare, Danny Goldberg and Mercury put out a little bit of money. I think 10 grand, which is nothing for videos. I don't know what Michael Jackson pays, or any normal band — U.S.$70,000, 60, 50. So we pulled it in, I think, for 14. And they liked it so much on MTV, they started playing it on Buzz Clips, and now it's going to be playing at that film festival in Utah....

Steve Silberman: Sundance?

Allen Ginsberg: The Sundance Festival. Yeah, I was invited. Because it's really good.


The [New York] Times — I brought the same story to them, '71, about heroin, and they were very lackadaisical. I had lunch with a guy named C. L. Sulzburger, who was their foreign correspondent, of the Sulzburger family who owned them, and he said that he thought I was full of beans. Then he retired in '78 or so, a few years later, and he sent me a strange letter, saying, "In going over my dispatches, I find that the information you gave me was accurate and real. I thought you were full of beans but I now apologize, and it was really true, the story you had about C.I.A. connections and opium trafficking." But the Times never did run a big story about it until, in an editorial about a year and a half ago, they mentioned that the C.I.A. had been nailed for dope trafficking in Indochina, but they've never had a story. It was a casual reference, maybe 25 years later. So I said "In the year 2000 A.D. read The New York Times," and get the story updated.


Allen Ginsberg: Burroughs says the whole drug thing is an excuse for surveillance, international surveillance.


Steve Silberman: The more that I live with Kerouac's work, I see the huge influence he had on your poems actually.

Allen Ginsberg: Oh, very much. I'm his student. The interesting thing is, I'm an imitator of Kerouac, really, turned on by him, as many are, like Dylan said Kerouac was his inspiration to be a poet, and I think you mentioned before in your conversations with Beck, Beck was very much taken with Kerouac's writing. He got Burroughs writing. That's a gigantic influence, as well as Dylan's influence on poetry. And yet although all those poets — including Creeley and Michael McClure, and other poets who have been slightly influenced or larger influenced, turned on — all those poets are in the standard academic anthologies, and Kerouac is nowhere to be found. 'Cause they haven't got it yet.


Steve Silberman: In the Cantos, Pound said, "What thou lov'st well remains, the rest is dross." What has remained for you, now at age 70?

Allen Ginsberg: Well, a big pile of books, a big pile of records, a big pile of photographs, a big pile of drawings, a big pile of memories, of friends, imprints of their spirit on my own, imprints of their breathing and of their minds, like Kerouac. You know, you get an imprint from your family. You know what I mean by imprint? You're conditioned by growing up with them, and looking through their eyes at yourself, and at other things. So I had the advantage, from the age of 16, of looking at myself through Burroughs' eyes, and Kerouac's, and soon after Gregory Corso, and soon after Peter Orlovsky, and soon after Gary Snyder, and Phillip Whalen — now a roshi here, a Zen master in San Francisco, at the Hartford Street Zen Center.

So I had the real intellectual and emotional pleasure of having an intimate life with a lot of great artists — and still do — like Phillip Glass or Francesco Clemente, the painter, or Robert Frank, the photographer. I even wound up on stage with Yehudi Menuhin the other day. Phillip had assigned me to read the "Sunflower Sutra" to music, to be conducted by Menuhin, and a string orchestra at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. It blew my mind, because I had remembered him as an unapproachable titan when I was young. Turned out to be a nice old Jewish guy, very sensitive and very elegant-handed, you know — his gestures. Very sharp and exquisitely gentle. And his manners were very beautiful. He's 80, and he's lost a lot of his hearing, and doesn't play anymore, but he conducted quite a bit.

I had a lot of good encounters with people like Tristan Tzara the Dadaist, Man Ray in Paris, Marcel Duchamp in Paris, Jean Genêt in America. Here in San Francisco, we went to Wooey Gooey Louie's restaurant, and in Chicago, I took him to the Chicago bus terminal to see where all the boys hung out, all the hustlers. And Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the great French novelist, went to visit with Burroughs in 1961 or '60. So, I've had a very good life, especially great luck with teachers — particularly Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and now Gelek Rinpoche. Both have great hearts. So there's a basic security to all that.

June 12, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Epic: Allen Ginsberg gets his first look at the Internet on December 16, 1996:


The comments to this entry are closed.