Remembering Gregory Nunzio Corso

17 Jan


I have a special place in my heart for Gregory Corso. I’ve always appreciated his Romantic notions and the levity he brought to the so-called Beat Generation canon.

Unlike a lot of the other people he associated with, who were brought up in middle-class families and took an interest in the seedy underbelly of New York City as adults, Corso was abandoned by his mother at a Catholic charity and his father had him put in the foster care system. At thirteen, he landed in jail, where he discovered poetry. It was only many years later, after he became famous, that filmmaker Gustave Reininger found Corso’s mother and reunited them in what turned out to be a happy ending. His mother actually outlived him, though, as he soon found out he had cancer. During that time, his daughter Sheri Langerman, a nurse, took care of him.

Corso passed away in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, on January 17, 2001. His ashes were buried at the Protestant Cemetery, Cimitero acattolico, in Rome, across from the poet that inspired him, Percy Bysshe Shelley.


3 Responses to “Remembering Gregory Nunzio Corso”

  1. David Amram January 18, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    Dear Stephanie
    Thank you for your fine salute to Gregory Corso.
    It is great to see him now getting the recognition for his
    great work which has survived the albatross around our collective necks of being “Beat” artists (i.e.nearly sub-human stoned out morons of limited abilities)

    We don’t use sterotypical names any more to define someone by their race, ethnicity, nationality, physiognomy or sexual preference.

    In the view of today’s generation, like Kerouac, the young people who read Gregory no longer see him as a member of the Board of Directors of the “Beat Generation” imprisoned by a label deeming him part of a non-existent “movement.”

    The famous photo by John Cohen which is used all the time showing Gregory, Kerouac, Ginsberg Larry Rivers and myself hanging out ion a diner in 1959 when we were making the film “Pull my Daisy”shows us all smiling and having fun.
    None of us us were dressed like Beatniks, because those of us who served in the military only wore uniforms when we were obliged to.
    The one thing that distinguished us all and was the basis of our collective friendships and collaborations was that we weren’t “joiners” of anything or exclusive members of any group of select people, but rather fellow citizens the human race!!
    So long live Gregory and the beautiful poems he left us. His light heartedness and lyricism is a welcome relief from the slew of morbid films and books about all of us in the 1950s in all of the arts….jazz, classical compositions, theater, folk music, poetry, painting and literature.
    Gregory’s poetry, like the writings of Jack and the works of all the other artist of this era provide us with some vitamins for the soul.

    As Gregory’s main man Keats said in his classic poem Endymion “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”

    David Amram

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos January 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm #


      Thank you so much for this note! I don’t think I ever realized that photo in the diner—which is one of my all-time favorites!—was taken by John Cohen. He was a musician and artist too, right? Did you all hang out together a lot? I read that he was a neighbor of Robert Frank’s and took the still photos during the filming of “Pull My Daisy.”

      I know this is the photo you’re talking about:

      I also happened to find this one which I haven’t seen as often:
      You can actually see him in the mirror! …And you can see Gregory’s face in this.

      Sometimes I am grateful for my own ignorance. I came to the “Beats” with no prior knowledge of them as a so-called “movement” and with no preconceived notions of “beatniks.” I had seen the bongo-playing, black-turtleneck-wearing, goatee-growing stereotype maybe in cartoons as a kid or in films, but had no idea that was supposed to have anything to do with Beat literature … because it doesn’t! As I read Gregory’s work, or Jack Kerouac’s, or your excellent biographies—each of you writing in your own style and voice—those images never even remotely came to mind. And now even knowing the stereotype, I still don’t get the correlation. It’s just too far of a disconnect from the literature and even the fashion sense!

      What you said about smiling and having fun in the diner and that idea of community—not some exclusive club—is the spirit that I took away from the literature. These are books and poems that made me want to LIVE, made me want to be a BETTER person, made me want to seek TRUTH and BEAUTY, made me want to create ART. I found more HOPE and more HUMANITY in these works than in so many other “moral” works.

      I also found yours and Gregory’s and Jack’s works to have more literary substance to them. There’s true INTELLECT that went into them. I read so many “popular” books today that perhaps have entertainment value, but have no lasting substance. In contrast, the more I study so-called Beat literature and the more I listen to your music, the more I see all the ways it’s connected to other historic and cultural works. I was a fan of Keats before I’d ever heard of Corso, and it’s so interesting to think that today we revere Keats but at that time he was derided as being part of the so-called “Cockney School,” for his working-class speech and bad rhymes—much like so-called “Beat Generation” literature was dismissed for embracing colloquialisms. Sometimes time has a way of rectifying history.



  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die” | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - April 10, 2014

    […] more than Keats, though, Corso professed an admiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley. Corso is actually buried across from Shelley. While Allen Ginsberg (read last week’s post on Ginsberg’s Blake vision here)  is […]

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