Tuesday, July 09, 2019
On The Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love 1967-Riverdale Blues-For Allen Ginsburg On The 60th Anniversary Of “Howl” (1956)
On The Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love 1967-Riverdale Blues-For Allen Ginsburg On The 60th Anniversary Of “Howl” (1956)
By Lance Lawrence
A sad-eyed dope hung around the back of the old-fashioned framed schoolhouse lazily drawing the summer breeze (he lied since the school had only recently been constructed in the big post World II baby boom and he had gone to school here since the place opened-he lied for the sake of lying, lying to himself mostly especially about his sexual longing just then as he hoped to get some chick who was hanging out by the bushes to give him a hand job, give him one like Lucinda had given him that time at the movies when sitting up in the balcony she had unzipped his pants and let her hand move so fast he jerked off after about a minute he was so excited and she only twelve imagine what she will be like when she gives it all up but fat chance he would have to grab that piece since his quick spurt, his sperm, his cum, had gotten all over her dress and she was pissed off at him when it dried and got all crusty on the way home so some other guy would grab her cherry-that was only a matter of time), wished he could get “washed clean,” washed clean real clean which is what the guys around school called it when their Lucindas moved their hands fast, get his sperm count down, his hot flash temperature, whatever that was.
Cock sore, cock was what the guys called their hanging things, their pulsating penises, so he followed although he got flushed when some guy maybe Billy, Billy Bradley the guy who always seemed to be the first guy with the sex knowledge, first said the word and he had asked what that was-damn. Cock and cocksuckers, waiting on his corner boy, waiting on Billy, waiting on his secret comrade in arms the hazy night as he looked around over heaven’s nightshade (and the guy who would probably be the first to get into Lucinda’s panties since she had already given him her fast hand action and according to Billy something more although Billy wouldn’t specify but at least that action which is why he had, on Billy’s solemn advise taken Lucinda to the movies in the first place, had asked if she wanted to go to the balcony and when she said yes he knew he was going to get his clock cleaned-he just wished he hadn’t gotten off so fast with Lucinda since Billy’s older brother, Max, had given them a vivid description of what was what when you got a girl all wet and then stuck your stick in her and listened to her moan, moan like humankind had been doing for a million years, and he sure could have put his stick wherever she wanted it-probably laugh at him if he got off too fast-again).
Billy at first nowhere to be found, nowhere to be found that is if he did not want to be found and then the next thing you knew Billy, secret comrade in arms, came sauntering, his style just then before puberty would turn his feet around and he would thereafter walk like some Western movie cowboy would now sing his life-song, what did the poet, the old Solomonic poet call to the high heaven’s, oh yes, plainsong for a candid world, a world before massive bombings, massive unacknowledged deaths for shady ladies and other figment s of his imagination. Come sauntering in the bejesus night looking both ways to see some straggling ungainly girls, some young Lucinda who knew the score, knew if they had hung around that back of the school just then that they had heard about Lucinda, had maybe asked their older sisters or brothers what a hand job was and how to do that. They were eager if they were hanging in the shadows and the dope was hoping that some innocent would get moved by the Billy plainsong (he would learn later that plainsong was more religious that any old rock song even big bop doo wop song but by then rock and roll was his religion anyway) hovering around the fence waiting for something, anything to happen and then a word, a sullen word came off his tongue and the night’s work had begun, maybe a generation was on its way to immortality, was ready to break out of the quiet of the 1950s night without shame and without confession.
Tripping over “she’s so fine, so fine, wish she were mine doo lang doo lang” or the corner boys, the male version of He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, the big bopping song of 1956, the guys, including the dope, backing Billy up in the doo wop frenzy that had swept tween and teen just then and the scent of the jasmine coming from the girl-shadows by the harbor, the marsh’s fetid mephitic smell giving way to the night’s splendor, maybe stolen perfumes from mother’s dresser or some girlish bath-soap all fresh and dewy. Doo lang, doo lang along with Eddie, Jason, Frank and beloved Peter Paul slapping time and those wanderlust girls along the fences came drifting to the scent of Old Spice that the boys had splashed on father’s bureau, father’s time, father’s sweat but not to be thought of in the hazy summer night. And as the moon hovered against the sun the girls got closer and closer, one Lucinda’s younger sister, Laura, all the sisters in that family playing off mother Lottie having “L” –encrusted first letter names, aimed his way and he waved her over to head toward old dead sailors’ graveyard down the far corner of the school lot (oh what those sailors could have told those young bucks from their rotted graves and pock-marked burial stones about hand jobs and blow jobs too when the ante was up about what a girl had to come across with-and if out to sea some young sailor boy plaything but that latter knowledge would not click until later). A few minutes later the dope came back out of the sailor shadows looking like the king of the hill and Laura wiping her hand with a handkerchief with a faint smile (they had already agreed to meet that next night down at that sailors’ last rest, down among the mortal stone forsaking the last ship out and by-past the foreplay plainsong-the young learn fast so maybe those sailors would have been stating the obvious when the poured forth in their dank, damp waterfront taverns about blow jobs and hand jobs).
But hell all that was coming of age, coming of age in a time when things were moving too fast even for quick learners and the corner boys got further and further along in their primitive sex lessons and no more stupid thoughts of red scares, Uncle Joe’s scourge in Moscow town, and Cold War down in the basement hide your ass under some oaken desk and somebody said that was real, that was okay but that scent lingered against the jimson in the jeans from Satan’s tower, look homeward, look homeward angels. Ecstasy-pure ecstasy in the hazy night of some youthful dream.
Billy would declare (and the dope would secretly agree and write every word down to be passed around later like some latter day glad tiding-like some Mount Sinai-filched grainy stone tablet) that they were in a spin, the world was changing and although he had no empirical evidence, when did the king of the hill need hard-boiled evidence going back to Adam’s time, facts, he had heard from his oldest brother who already had graduated from high school that not only was the music changing, not only were people, and not just kids, starting to laugh at the idea that going down some rat hole of a basement and hiding under some rotten oaken desk when the big one came [the bomb] would do anybody any good. Started to challenge everything from the whole idea of the red scare night, the whole idea that everybody needed to live their ticky-tacky lives in dread of the reds, having a big ass finned gas-eating car and not “keeping up with the Jones.” Especially day to day the latter.
Billy didn’t get most of what that oldest brother said (and neither did the dope who dutifully wrote it all down anyway which he had “contracted” with his secret comrade Billy to do, to act as scribe which became his nickname at first resented as part of the price of Billy letting a dope hang around with him and his boys and through that circumstance to get to the girls already mentioned above) but he did get that the way things were couldn’t be the future, couldn’t be the way they would have to operate in the world. Couldn’t be the down at the heel existence that he, his family and all the poor bedraggled families that resided in the Five Points “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood. His oldest brother, Jack to give him a name, the guy telling him all this stuff with the idea of making him wise to the world he was about to face in the not too distant future, had been something of the family rebel.
Jack was always heading to Harvard Square even in high school which was no mean task by bus and later by car when he came of age for a driver’s license, since that place was about forty miles from Riverdale to soak up whatever rebellion was going down (that family rebel designation would fall on Billy later in a very different way when it came his turn to figure out the freaking world and after a short attempt at a break-out rock and roll musical career turned to armed robberies and such eventually getting killed in a shoot- out with cops down in North Carolina trying to all doped up rob a White Hen convenience store). Jack was always talking about “beat” this, “beat” that, some kind of fraternity of rebels who wanted to turn the world upside down (and it was mostly a fraternity the women were mainly around for decoration and whatever sex they wanted to provide). Or maybe better resign from the “square” world and find a little breathing space to do their thing-to write, drink, travel, do dope, have sex but mostly to write for a candid world, a world where the rules didn’t make sense-no way.
One night when Jack was home for minute during summer semester break from college-he went on a scholarship, how else would the family get the money to send the first in the family to go to college, to Boston University, Class of 1959- he decided to tell Billy and his boys in an excited manner his latest tale “what was what,” the expression all the guys used then to signify, well, they had an idea of what was what. Tell them what it was to be a “beat daddy” (not literally a daddy okay but Jack had had to make the distinction because you never knew when somebody in the neighborhood might be a daddy having knocked up some older Lucinda and had to head out of town or get hitched under the sign of the paternal shotgun). Said it was all summed up, everything that was pushing the world forward in a poem, a “beat” poem not like those rhyming simon poems Mister Riley, the old-time Jazz Age English teacher at Riverdale High a would spout forth from some old Englishman’s pen, Alfred Lord Tennyson or Byron or Browning, guys like that, a guy named Ginsburg, Allen Ginsburg, a smart Jewish guy who was the chief propagandist for the beat-ness thing in a poem, Howl, that was making the rounds in Harvard Square and would have its fair share of legal problems but that was later. (Jack was not exactly right about who had been the “real” max daddy of the beats-influence wise it was probably Jack Kerouac when he boiled the 1950s youth nation with his wild men travelogue On The Road, the immediate post-war whirlwind adventures of him and his buddy, Adonis personified Neal Cassady with Ginsburg playing a bit role in that one. But Ginsburg was right in the mix with that fucking long mad monk poem-Brother Jack’s exact words remembered by the Scribe-written down).
Jack said that Ginsburg had had it right-had seen in the great American blue-pink western night stuff that would drive a guy crazy with what was happening to the world as the machine was getting the upper-hand. Ginsburg had had some kind of vision, one of the guys who hung around the Hayes-Bickford in Harvard claiming that it was dope, marijuana favored by the down-trodden cold fields braceros from old Mexico, or peyote buttons, the stuff favored by the Hopis and the “ghost dancers” out where the states are square that fueled the visions. Visions of an unkempt, unruly world where the philosopher-king was a guy named Carlo Solomon who had the whole thing down cold. Knew the West had been saturated, that there was nowhere else to go but the China seas and so he hammered home the idea that out in the Coast was where humankind had to make a last stand against the Molochs, against the fucking night-takers who have been with us forever. Only the righteous warrior-poets would enter the garden. That Hayes-Bickford clarion calling claimed Ginsburg was talking about the Garden of Eden before the Fall.
The madness, the sheer madness making everybody from the hunger days of the 1930s and the rat rationing days of World War II hustle to the sound of steel and iron and not the freaking sound of waves slashing timidly to shore. Started ripping up words a minute not all complete phrases and without some kind of formal pacing sense, although if you heard the thing out loud it would have its own jazz-like cadence somebody who was at the recital in Frisco town had been quoted in a newspaper as saying, jazz cadence and stoned on dope or liquor was all you needed that same source ventured. Ginsburg was not hung up on form, like those old fart Englishman who were totally hung up on form almost as bad as those sonnet bastards Riley made the class memorize but talking about post-war modern minds beaten down by the sound of industry humming away talking about a meltdown, talking crazy stuff about angel hipsters (portraying a sentence of 1940s pre-beat daddies hanging around Times Square hustling and conning an unsuspecting world), talking about Negro streets which they all knew as “n----r streets” over in the Acre section of Boston, a place to stay away from, talking about taking on the monster in the mist Moloch mano y mano, talking about the new heroes of the American night all-American swordsman Jack and secret love that dare not speak its name crush on Adonis of the New Western night courtesy of Laramie Street in mile-high Denver Neal Cassady to be exact the new model of the last cowboy standing. Neal some amazing cocksman to be envied and emulated screwing every honey who was not tied down to a chastity belt on farms, in the restrooms of diners and out in the back alley if the restroom was occupied. Damn.
Ginsburg had actually been in the nut house in New York someplace, had dedicated the poem to some fellow inmate who was crazier that he was or dedicated to all the crazies, the looney bin Jack had called the place like the place all the guys in Riverdale did when they talked about where screwballs and goofs, even Kerouac’s holy goofs learned about later, should have landed, so he knew what deal was going down, knew that America had turned into a cesspool even if nobody else saw the drain coming. Jack had made Billy and the dope laugh when he told them the reason Ginsburg was in the looney bin was he had been sent there by some judge after he got into legal trouble, committed or was present at some unknown crime, an event which made the pair respect this Ginsburg more since cons in the old Riverdale neighborhood were looked up to with respect and admiration, to try to get rid of his faggot-ness, his homosexuality, his liking boys and not girls. (They laughed not because they knew that Jack hated fags and queers which he did and had put paid to that idea having gone down to Provincetown where all the fags and queers hung out all dressed up and all leering at anybody who came off the Provincetown boat from Boston with his own boys and raised hell with them-more than once. Beat a couple up who were eyeing him too closely and one in drag whom he thought was a girl until he got close enough to see some slight stubble on “her” face. Seems that Jack was giving Ginsburg a pass on his sexual preference just because he was a beat guy-Billy and the dope wouldn’t have given the fucker the time of day even if the guy was a prophet if he hadn’t been a con when they talked about it later since they shared Jack’s hatred of fags-and dykes like every red-blooded guy did then.)
Jack knew what the unholy kid goofs were laughing about, about his seeing literary merit even if the guy was a faggot. The minute he said “faggot” he knew they would goof but he thought they should know what else the guy had to say. He told them a lot of good writers and poets were “light on their feet” and that was something you had to deal with if you wanted to read anything worth reading and let the faggot stuff slide, you don’t have to meet them in person anyway. So he told Billy and the dope to forget the stuff he said about Ginsburg’s queer as a three dollar bill situation and “dig” (that was the word Jack used) what he had to say to the world, to the young really. The stuff about machines devouring humankind and making the world crazier than it already was. That maybe the guys in mental hospitals like the ones who were his comrades at the time were the sane ones-that what they knew was too powerful to let them stay out on the mean streets for long. That the Molochs were in charge (“what the fuck is a Moloch,” Billy asked, interrupting, not comprehending what Jack was talking about as he droned on about stuff that seemed weird). Tried to tell the kids that this thing was Ginsburg plainsong, his way of putting in raw language his spiritual trip, his karma on the world. (the dope would run into Ginsburg later at an anti-war rally in New York City in his later incantation as a Buddhist so karma was the right word even though they were clueless about what it really meant in Buddhist traditions).
After about fifteen minutes Jack could see his audience’s eyes glazing over and so he stopped, stopped and told them that when they got his age they would be thinking about all the stuff Ginsburg laid out in that not-fit-for-public-school-classrooms poem. They laughed, snickered really and wondered what Lucinda and Laura were up to just then. The hell with Jack and his fucking homo poem.