“Every day is an experience. Every day is an adventure.”
“Pay attention to anybody and everybody, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.”
At the Burroughs 101 reading, Three Rooms Press announced that their next reading at Cornelia Street Cafe would be Women on Top, featuring “five feisty females”: Pam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman, and Beth Lisick, and hosted by Three Rooms Press’ Kat Georges. My friend and I decided on the spot, without even consulting our schedules, that we were going.
The main reason I knew I had to be at this reading was Hettie Jones. As a Beat scholar, I’ve long admired Hettie Jones for being a woman who was more than just a muse — she is a writer with her own voice and transcends categorization. I first heard her reading at the Women of the Beat Generation panel at the Bowery Poetry Club, which incidentally was the first time I ever ventured into Bob Holman‘s poetry venue, which became an important part of my own literary upbringing. Later, while studying creative writing at The New School, one of my instructors introduced me to Hettie because he knew I was interested in Beat literature. She was so down-to-earth and honest. She talked with me for a long time, and I greatly valued her insight into the role of women in the Beat Generation. The last time I heard her read was at 2013’s Downtown Literary Festival, where she read at McNally Jackson. Obviously, it had been way too long since I’d heard her read! I loved, loved, loved the poems she selected to read at Three Rooms Press’ Women on Top reading. She read about driving, about New York City, and about the 1940s. Jones didn’t self-analyze, but what I found particularly fascinating to think about was how driving was almost a feminist act at the time. It’s not that women didn’t know how to drive; it’s that the men usually took over the driving. Jack Kerouac, however, hated driving. Occasionally, he took the wheel, but oftentimes he rode Greyhound or let his buddy Neal Cassady do the driving. I don’t think it would be fair to make some sort of leap and question Kerouac’s masculinity because he wasn’t a man who liked driving, but I do think it’s fair to say Jones didn’t let culture dictate what she could or couldn’t do as a woman. She blazed her own path.
Driving appeared to be the theme of the night. Margot Olavarria, the original bass player for the punk band The Go-Go’s, told tales from life on the road. The world of rock’n’roll is so full of men’s stories that I appreciated hearing what it was like a woman’s experience of life out on tour.
Marci Blackman had a road connection too — the award-winning novelist is an avid cyclist. Check this out: “An avid cyclist and veteran of the Sister Spit Rambling Road Show, Blackman once spent six weeks in a van with 11 queer writers on a cross country spoken word tour and 12 weeks, alone on a bicycle, pedaling from San Francisco to the outer banks of North Carolina.”
Beth Lisick is one of those authors whose name is everywhere, so I was excited to hear her read. She did not disappoint. She is a true performer, an author who makes readings lively and entertaining. She read from her work-in-progress. Now I need to work my way through her other five books.
Pam Belluck is on the health and science staff of The New York Times, and even before that she covered a wide range of fascinating news topics. She regaled the audience with stories of what it was like being a pregnant woman covering major news events.
At Greenwich Village’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club on a cold Monday night in February, instruments are strewn across the stage. There’s nary a place to step, yet Brooklyn-based French musician Mino Cinelu intuitively finds each new instrument he needs amongst the pedals and wires, without missing a beat. He seamlessly switches from drums to egg shakers to water drum. He flicks a triangle like it’s hot to the touch. He stretches his hand across the stage and caresses a belly-dancing scarf, its gauzy fabric dripping with coins that stir in his fingers. His body itself becomes an instrument, as he claps his hands together and punctuates beats with forceful stomps that reverberate off the stage floor.
Mino Cinelu is a musician—and a performer. The jazz percussionist draws energy toward him and releases it back to the audience in a swell of notes and beats.
“He’s the most sought out percussionist,” Ra Araya whispers to me, speaking of Mino Cinelu with sincere authority. “Art Blakey literally picked him up and said, ‘Now you’re coming with me.’” Araya, the poet and poetry event organizer who set up the premier reading for Burning Furiously Beautiful, had invited me to the show, asking me to review it.* It is my first time ever hearing Cinelu live or otherwise, and I sit mesmerized by the way the jazz musician embodies his music.
Cinelu’s music is simultaneously out-of-body and corporeal. The tempo echoes the pulse of the earth and his vocal cord arrangements hum like the sounds of nature, building toward an ethereal plane. Pulling from various traditions, his world-fusion jazz unites through the exchange of ideas and sounds and cultures. It makes the listener think. It makes the listener feel. It makes the listener anticipate. His lips move to the beat of the drum as he slaps it. He scrunches his face and groans. The flesh of his cheeks tremble to the beat. Sweat drips from his temple as he whips his dreadlocks around. His muscles are taut, suggesting his years of making music have built his body.
Cinelu was born in Saint-Cloud, in the western suburbs of Paris. “From a very young age I had to take care of myself. Let’s just say that,” says the musician, who grew up in a violent home. He was born into a musical family, and as a child learned to play the guitar. By sixteen, he was already a professional musician with gigs in London and New York. In the 1980s, after moving to New York, he met Miles Davis and went on tour with him. Like others who played with Davis, Cinelu then went on to be part of Weather Report, one of the earliest jazz-fusion bands, though the band dismissed that label. The ever-changing roster of musicians in Weather Report played an amalgamation of free jazz, funk, rock, R&B, Latin jazz, and other ethnic music. In the ’90s Cinelu emerged as a solo artist, releasing his self-titled album in 2000. Cinelu has played with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Herbie Hancock, and from Sting to Lou Reed.
Cinelu continues to surround himself with an impressive array of talent, and the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble seems to grow in number as more and more musicians take to the stage as the evening progresses. The band includes Jamshied Sharifi (keys & flute), Mamadou Ba (bass), and Jose Davila (tuba & percussion). A graduate of MIT, Sharifi went on to study at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. He composed the soundtracks for Muppets from Space, Harriet the Spy, The Rugrats Movie, Clockstoppers, and The Thomas Crown Affair. Ba was the musical director for Harry Belafonte’s orchestra and was one of the founding members of African Blue Note Band. Davila has played with everyone from Ray Charles to Marc Anthony, and from Tito Puente to Nora Jones.
At the Blue Note, special guest Bria Skonberg (trumpet & flugelhorn) joins the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble on stage. She covers the mouth of the brass instrument with her shiny red nails, playing along with the music, til suddenly she tilts her head back and BLOWS! Face scrunched in exertion, much like Cinelu’s, Skonberg plays powerfully, masterfully. “We’ll keep her after the gig,” Cinelu jokes in appreciation of her talent.
By the end of the first set, Cinelu is standing on top of an amp. He thanks everyone, including the waitresses at the jazz club. Despite the snow still on the ground and despite the early day of the week, fans have poured into venue. Among them is actress Pauletta Washington, Denzel’s wife. “I stole some of her moves,” teases Cinelu.
Then, just as they arrived, one by one the musicians file off the stage into the aisles of The Blue Note, still playing their instruments. The music stays with us as they disappear in the dark.
*My ticket and minimum were comped, but these opinions are my own.
Today I’m continuing my discussion of Olivia Cole’s fascinating thesis that American media had a profound impact on post-World War II England, argued in her article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ.
Cole points to The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ “love/hate relationship with America,” referencing a Kerouac-like affair with the road.
A little background info that doesn’t appear in her article but might be helpful: The Kinks are the British rock band behind the songs “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” They were formed in North London in 1964 — also known as the year The Beatles landed in America and set off the British Invasion.
In reviewing Ray Davies’ new memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff, Cole explains how the British band leader’s youthful obsession with “the cowboy heroes of Fifties Westerns” and American comic books “got him daydreaming and writing songs.” Growing up the seventh out of eight children — the youngest being Dave Davies, his Kinks bandmate — Ray Davies had barely even traveled out of his hometown of Fortis Green and dreamed of America.
Cole reports that the freedom of the road was at first alluring to Davies. Using Amazon’s preview, I read in Davies’ chapter The Empty Room:
In recent years I had become a transient observer, never settling anywhere and, after a life on the road, never committing to a place or a person.
Davies’ romantic relationships could not be sustained on the road. Cole refers to his failed relationship with Chrissie Hynde, but following the dissolution of his first marriage he attempted suicide. Rockin’ Town town put it this way:
First, his wife of nine years, Rasa, split taking the kids. A week later, Davies was admitted to Highgate Hospital and treated for a drug overdose that looked suspiciously like a suicide attempt.
Cole reports that Davies felt the loneliness of the road. She writes that he:
wonders to what extent the rock-star/beatnik lifestyle lets anything meaningful stand a chance.
Ray Davies, born in 1944, would have been thirteen when On the Road was published in the US. It does not appear from Cole’s article that the Beat Generation’s influence on The Kinks was explicit. However, Davies discusses the same jazz musicians that captivated Kerouac, the adventure and disappointment of a life on the road, and Americana.
Here is Barnes & Noble’s overview of Ray Davies’ memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff:
As a boy in post-War England, legendary Kinks’ singer/songwriter Ray Davies fell in love with America—its movies and music, its culture of freedom, fed his imagination. Then, as part of the British Invasion, he toured the US with the Kinks during one of the most tumultuous eras in recent history—until the Kinks group was banned from performing there from 1965-69. Many tours and trips later, while living in New Orleans, he experienced a transformative event: the shooting (a result of a botched robbery) that nearly took his life. In Americana, Davies tries to make sense of his long love-hate relationship with the country that both inspired and frustrated him. From his quintessentially English perspective as a Kink, Davies—with candor, humor, and wit—takes us on a very personal road trip through his life and storied career as a rock star, and reveals what music, fame, and America really mean to him. Some of the most fascinating characters in recent pop culture make appearances, from the famous to the perhaps even-more-interesting behind-the-scenes players. The book also includes a photographic insert with images from Davies’s own collection from the band’s archive.
The book was published by Sterling Publishing on October 15, 2013.
Tune in tomorrow when I talk about Cole’s discussion of Iain Sinclair’s take on the Beat Generation in his forthcoming book American Smoke.
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Check out the turtlenecks on the cover of Meet the Beatles
Yesterday, inspired by Olivia Cole’s article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ, I kicked off a week-long series about the relationship between the Beat Generation and the British Invasion. I didn’t get too much into her article, but instead I wrote about the general history of each “group” (please take this term lightly; neither was an intended movement or formal group) and how and why they are connected. Today, I want to share a fun story with you about the two longest love affairs (Oh gosh, take that even lighter. People get so mad when I use hyperbole.) of my life: the Beatles and the Beats.
I was a HUGE Beatles fan back when I was in high school. I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles, but I know it’s not because of my parents. My dad didn’t listen to music. I was raised on smooth jazz, Prince, Lionel Ritchie, and Stevie Wonder, thanks to my mom. As I grew up and started discovering music on my own—Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men, Snow, Positive K, Arrested Development, REM (should I go on? Ah, nostalgia)—she was the cool mom that listened to whatever I listened to on the radio. My mom was actually too young to be into the Beatles. In the craze of my own private Beatlemania, I pestered her for information, and she said she remembered her older sister getting a letter from their cousin in Sweden talking about this new band The Beatles and how popular they were.
One of the first exposures I had to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation came through The Beatles. I owned a VHS — yes, I’m that old! — documentary about The Beatles. It was a pretty low-quality documentary that I think I picked up at the K-Mart at the Closter Plaza. I don’t remember the name of it, but I used to watch it over and over again after school. I remember it saying that John Lennon named The Beatles, in part, because he was influenced by the Beat Generation. I didn’t know what the Beat Generation was at the time, nor did I bother to look it up — again, I’m old, and this was before I’d ever even heard the word “Internet,” so looking things up required going to the Closter Public Library and rifling through the encyclopedias. Still, when you watch something on repeat enough times, it gets ingrained in your memory, and when you suddenly learn something new, the threads of your brain weave everything together.
Wayne Mullins explored this in his essay “Long John Silver and the Beats” for Beatdom:
Several name changes occurred in the early life of the Beatles before John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe decided to honour the memory of Buddy Holly by changing the band name to the Beetles (as a play on Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but as John Lennon was a fan of clever word play he decided to change the spelling of The Beetles to Beatles as a way to suggest “beat” or “beat music”. As John Lennon said in a 1964 interview, “It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”
Mullins goes on to prove the Beat–Beatles by discussion John Lennon’s art school education and the exposure he had to instructors who were fans of the Beats and the meeting of Lennon and Allen Ginsberg. He also makes notable claims about the parallel paths the Beats and the Beatles took toward enlightenment, coming from religious upbringings, looking toward the East, and returning (or at least considering) the religions of their youth. The article also points out that Jack Kerouac and Lennon both rejected the associations people made with them, preferring to remain autonomous.
Steve Turner’s book Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster also speaks to Kerouac’s influence on Lennon:
[John Lennon’s] fellow student Bill Harry specifically remembers Lennon reading “On the Road” and the short story “The Time of the Geek”, which was published in an anthology called ‘Protest’ in 1960. “He loved the ideas of open roads and travelling,” says Harry. “We were always talking about this Beat Generation thing.”
Mullins’ story about Lennon’s meeting Ginsberg was just one incident. The Allen Ginsberg Project post “Sunday 9th – John Lennon” recalls when Ginsberg invited The Beatles to his birthday party and Lennon and George Harrison showed up with their wives.
When the Nixon administration wanted to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono, Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote a letter, as did a whole lot of other famous people, according to John Weiner’s article “How Bob Dylan, Gregory Corso, Joyce Carol Oates and Others Helped Stop Nixon From Deporting John Lennon and Yoko Ono” in the Los Angeles Times.
The Beatles also had an affinity for William S. Burroughs, who appeared on the cover art of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Not only that, in the Dangerous Minds article “The William S. Burroughs/Beatles connection,” Richard Metzger writes:
Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:
Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.
He goes on to elucidate the obvious connection: Barry Miles, whom The Allen Ginsberg Project also points to. Miles deserves his own post, but in short the thing to know is that he owned a bookshop in London that was frequented by the Beats when they were there, and he wrote about The Beatles and 1960s London underground culture.
Tune in tomorrow when I finally get into the meat of Cole’s article by discussing her commentary on The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ new memoir.
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Friday night at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac we all headed over to the White Eagle Pub, a dive bar on Market Street.
The evening started off with a viewing of Brent Mason’s documentary Grave Matters. The thirty-minute film got off to a riotous start when one of the people in the crowd fell or fainted off their chair! The film had to be stopped, but after it was determined she was okay, the documentary started rolling again. Whew, what excitement. Canadian musician and filmmaker Brent Mason explores Jack Kerouac’s life and legend by documenting his visit to the author’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. Complete with interviews from people like Kerouac’s friend and eventual pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.
Billy was there in the audience and afterwards he introduced me to Brent–who was there with his teenaged son–and Jim Sampas. Jim played some recordings of Jack reciting his work.
David Amram led Jamming Jack and was magnificent as always. I’ve seen him play a few times now, and each time feels unique.
He also invited people up to read and perform in what turned out to be an inspiring evening.
Here Lowell’s very own actor and screenwriter Jerry Bisantz, of Image Theater, performs as Jack Kerouac.
Christopher Barry and his youngest brother Stephen Barry each performed their poetry. Stephen (pictured above) had flown all the way from California to be at the event. I’ve met Chris a few times, and it’s always a pleasure hearing him read. It was nice meeting his brother and seeing that talent obviously runs in the family.
Jazz-poet Steve Dalachinsky, whom I’d heard read at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac two years ago, was back to read more poetry! He is brilliant. His wife Yuko Otomo was in the audience, and I wish she’d read too.
Throughout the performances, David was playing the piano. He also selected some wonderful young musicians to accompany them. I believe the drummer and the guy on the tambourine were local students. The guy on the box-drum came from further away and was at LCK two years ago. If anyone has their names or contact info, please do pass it along. They were phenomenal.
Toward the end of the evening, David starts talking, says something about an author who wrote a new book, and that she doesn’t know he’s going to call her stage, and then calls out my name! The last time I read with David I was so nervous I could barely eat the entire day. I didn’t have time to get nervous this time around! I read one of Kerouac’s prose-poems. So beautiful! I don’t know that I did it justice, but it was such an honor to get to read Kerouac’s own words in his hometown and with so many phenomenal musicians and writers there.
The event made me kind of sad… It was so fun and inspiring, and I wish that Kerouac would’ve gotten to see that his literature continues to be appreciated to this day by people who are willing to come from far-flung locales of Canada and California and from people in their teens to people in their 80s.
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Jack Kerouac kept a dream journal. This log of nightly dreams was later published by City Lights Press in 1960 as Book of Dreams. Even before it was published, though, Kerouac encouraged others to pay attention to their dreams. He told Allen Ginsberg to infuse his poetry with his dream life.
When I was a high school student, my psychology teacher assigned us the task of keeping a dream journal. Isn’t that the most fantastic homework assignment you can think of?! According to psychology, we dream every night, but only some nights we remember our dreams. Keeping a dream journal was supposed to help us better remember our dreams. I know some people who hardly ever dream, but I have wild dreams—especially after eating pizza!
This past Friday night I had a doozy of a literary dream! I dreamt that I was writing a book entitled Travels with Charlie, which was a riff on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Steinbeck’s book is a chronicle (it was purported to be nonfiction but it’s since come out that portions of it were made up) of the American road trip he took with his standard-sized poodle. My book, however, was about Charles Darwin’s travels. Incidentally, in real, waking life I once edited a reissue of his travelogue The Voyage of the Beagle. I didn’t make the connection in the dream, but perhaps there was some connection between Steinbeck’s poodle and Darwin’s Beagle. In the dream, I was retracing Darwin’s footsteps for a book about his “road trip.” I kept referring to Charles Darwin as Chuck D. or Chuckie D.—like the rapper!
I definitely need to start a dream journal!
Do you keep a dream journal? What is the wildest dream that you’ve had lately?
Image via Housing Works
If you’ve never heard Allen Ginsberg read “Howl,” you can’t grasp its full intensity. Ginsberg has one of those voices you can’t shake out of your head, a voice you could hear once and then ten years later still recognize. It’s even but possessive, sucking you into the inner crevices of the poet’s mind and locking you in.
This evening at 7, Housing Works is hosting a musical soiree for the reissue of Ginsberg’s First Blues: Rags, Ballads, Harmonium Songs, Chanteys & Come-All-Ye’s. Ginsberg was a connector, a person who liked to introduce people and make things happen for them. As such, he had many friends and collaborators. Among those who will be celebrating this night of poetry and song include:
Here’s a bit about First Blues from Housing Works:
The work was originally released as a double LP back in 1983, and as a CD in 2006. Produced by legend John Hammond Sr., this record of songs is a collection of studio sessions from 1971, 1976, and 1981 and included the likes of Bob Dylan, Arthur Russell, David Mansfield, Happy Traum, David Amram, Steven Taylor and Peter Orlovksy. To commemorate this reissue, a limited run of 500 seven track vinyl that mimics the original style down to the newspaper insert will be available that night and online.
Housing Works puts on nerdilcious events. There was, for instance, the epic reading of Moby-Dick.
They’re also advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. They’re located at 126 Crosby Street in Manhattan.
The event is also hosted by Ginsberg Recordings (a collaboration of Ginsberg’s Estate and Esther Creative Group), VitaCoco, and Warby Parker (after all, it’s hard to picture Ginsberg without picturing glasses).
The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.
Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)
Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.
Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)
Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.
Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.
Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.
Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.
I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.
Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.
Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.