Tag Archives: documentary

5 Quotes about Jack Kerouac’s Influence on Bob Dylan

19 Oct

portablebeatreaderbobdylan

So you may have heard that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.

For Literature.

At first, no one could get ahold of him. Then, when they did, he rejected it. The initial news, though, set the literary community ablaze. He’s a singer. A songwriter. Are lyricists worthy of literary awards?

Some said no. In The New York Times article “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel,” Anna North wrote:

Yes, Mr. Dylan is a brilliant lyricist. Yes, he has written a book of prose poetry and an autobiography. Yes, it is possible to analyze his lyrics as poetry. But Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music. He is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer.

 

Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate? It’s not so strange, really” was the headline from the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Times, which went on to say:

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awarded Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, compared him to Homer and Sappho, and it’s a fact that great literature has its roots in lyrics that were set to music and transmitted from town to town and from generation to generation by a succession of minstrels, troubadours, cantors and choirs. And then records, radio and streaming services.

For me, it wasn’t all that shocking for Bob Dylan of all songwriters to have won a literary prize. Growing up, I knew very little of Bob Dylan. I knew that he was from Minnesota, like Prince, and like my mother. I knew he was a folk singer with a unique voice who’d famously brewed a storm when he went electric. And, I knew him as someone featured in the very first Beat book I ever bought — Ann Charter’s The Portable Beat Reader.

The Portable Beat Reader had included four pieces of Dylan’s in its pages:

  1. “Blowin’ in the Wind”
  2. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
  3. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  4. Tarantula (excerpt)

Ray Bremser, Jack Micheline, Peter Orlovsky, and Anne Waldman only got one a-piece. If Ann Charters and the editors at Penguin were any indication, Bob Dylan was as much a poet as other recognized poets.

 

The poets and writers of the Beat Generation encouraged Bob Dylan tremendously. The documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder touches on this poignantly. Much has already been written extensively about Dylan’s literary influences, so here are just five quotes connecting Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac:

  1. “’I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s,’” said Bob Dylan via BobDylan.com
  2. “But it captures what Dylan cherishes in Jack Kerouac, who understood freedom in much the same way….” — Cass R. Sunstein wrote about Dylan’s “Desolation Row” in “Dylan soars past Whitman as the great American poet” in the Chicago Tribune 
  3. “’Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul in 1959,’ Dylan told him. ‘It blew my mind.’ It was the first poetry he’d read that spoke his own American language, Dylan said—or so Ginsberg said he said.” — Sean Wilentz wrote in “Bob Dylan, the Beat Generation, and Allen Ginsberg’s America” in The New Yorker 
  4. “Dave Van Ronk, in discussing both Dylan’s literary filiations and his well-known intolerance of the sixties rock revolution, noted that ‘Bobby is very much a product of the beat generation.… You are not going to see any more like him.’ Dylan likened his songs of this period to the cut-ups of William Burroughs, and there are notable similarities between these songs and the writings of Jack Kerouac, especially the Neal Cassady-inspired Visions of Cody and On the Road—not only in their phrasings but also in Dylan’s whole persona, which seemed almost to be modeled on Dean Moriarty, the ‘holy goof,’ the ‘burning shuddering frightful angel.’” — wrote Mark Polizzotti in “On Bob Dylan’s Literary Influences” via LitHub
  5. “In the East, some wended their way up to Lowell, becoming pilgrims at his grave, often leaving notes, mementos, or an empty wine bottle or half-pint of whiskey in salute. Then, in 1975, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, in Lowell on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour, made a trip to Kerouac’s grave, famously recorded in the film Renaldo and Clara. While Ginsberg rambles on about the famous graves he’s visited, Dylan is noticeably quiet as he ponders Kerouac’s brief dates and the ‘He honored life’ coda etched in the granite. ‘Is this what’s going to happen to you?’ asked Ginsberg, indicating Jack’s slab. ‘No,’ said Dylan, then just thirty-four. ‘I wanna be in an unmarked grave.’” — from John Suiter’s “Kerouac’s Lowell: A Life on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

You can watch the video of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Kerouac’s grave here.

For the connection between Homer and Jack Kerouac, go here.

 

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“The War Is Over! John Lennon Lost!”: Did the FBI Kill John Lennon?

1 Aug

uslennon

Yesterday I wrote about Allen Ginsberg’s connection to Timothy Leary and the CIA. I’ve already told you before that the Beat Generation influenced The Beatles, and today I’m here to tell you John Lennon had a connection to Timothy Leary and the FBI. Welcome back to Conspiracy Theory week!

Years ago, I went to the Angelica to see the film Jesus Camp, which I reviewed for Burnside Writers Collective. During the screening, a woman burst into the theatre and shouted:

The war is over! John Lennon lost!

Only in New York, right?! I think she was in the wrong room. The year was 2006, and another film was out at that time: The U.S. vs. John Lennon. That film pointed to evidence that the US government had tried to silence John Lennon, who had become increasingly counter-cultural as the years wore on and influential in his anti-war protests. From what I’ve read, it is alleged that, under Nixon, the government tried to deport Lennon, who was living in New York when he was fatally shot.

Most know the story of John Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota on December 8, 1980, as the lone act of Mark David Chapman, who plead guilty. He was examined at Bellevue Hospital—where Beat icons William S. Burroughs, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg spent time (read my book Burning Furiously Beautiful for more details!)—and believed to be psychotic. He had been carrying J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye at the time of his murder and said it “holds many answers.” However, Chapman eventually decided he wanted the insanity defense dropped, and he plead guilty. He’s been in jail ever since, denied parole at every appeal. In August of this year he’ll be up for his next parole hearing.

Conspiracy theorists hold that the US government killed John Lennon.

  • Steve Lightfoot wrote a booklet that suggests that Nixon, Reagan, and even Steven King are tied to John Lennon’s murder
  • Mae Brussell writes in “Conspiracy Planet” about a conspiracy chain revolving around Lennon’s murder

Plug in a search online for “John Lennon murder conspiracy,” and you’ll find dozens of websites devoted to allegations that the US government and FBI were involved in The Beatles’ death.

Of course some conspiracy theorists also say Paul is dead.

Review: Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

14 Mar

ferlinghetti_splash

I caught the documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (2009) at Anthology Film Archives this past weekend. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my favorite poets, for his use of language and whimsy. I’ve long appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and this documentary made me more aware of how he used his position as a poet and bookseller for activist purposes. Quirky fact: he uses the windows of his office at City Lights as a “blog,” writing his political thoughts for all who pass by to see.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is star-studded, including informative interviews and clips with everyone from Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, and George Whitman to Giada Diano, Bill Morgan, Dave Eggers, and Lorenzo Ferlinghetti. It impresses upon the viewer just how important Ferlinghetti is by indicating his support of Bob Dylan, his place in American poetry, awards given to him, and the naming of a street after him.

The biographical background information is fascinating, particularly when we hear about Ferlinghetti’s rearing in France, how his mother’s ineptitude at caring for him led to his being raised by the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, and his service in World War II (spoiler alert: he saw Nagasaki right after the bomb dropped). There’s even a scene in which Ferlinghetti searches for his roots in Italy, where he was arrested for trespassing when he tried to get a sneak peek at where his father grew up! This of course is all balanced with his founding of City Lights, the Howl trial, and the Human Be-In.

All of it is wonderful, but its broad scope and pacing left the film falling flat in terms of its aesthetics. As a biographer, I understand how director/producer Christopher Felver must have struggled with the editing process. How could he cut anything out when it’s all so important? No one wants to see significant and appealing research fall on the cutting room floor. As a viewer, though, I would have preferred a more limited scope or narrative approach. It would have been a stronger film if Felver, who worked on the documentary for ten years, ruthlessly edited his work to give it a story arc. This film is best suited for those interested in learning more about the free speech movement, poetry in America, the Beat Generation (though Ferlinghetti adamantly declares in one scene “Don’t call me a Beat! I never was a Beat!”), San Francisco, and the 1950s and ‘60s. I’d recommend Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for high-school English classes as well as for writers in general, as it motivates one to consider poetry as subversive action.

Road Trip Writing: On the Road and “Human Snowball”

26 Jul

Many summers ago, a couple of poets and I dragged some rickety chairs outside of the Bowery Poetry Club and sat in a circle, chatting about our writing, our day jobs, and life, as people passed by, sometimes stopping to talk to us. One of the girls in the group worked at a publishing house, like I did, and she offered to send us some of the books everyone in her office was buzzing about. About a week later, the package arrived, and I excitedly opened it. It’s been too many years to recall all that was in it, but I do remember it contained a book by Philipppa Gregory, which I in turn gave to another coworker because I have little patience for historical novels about the Tudor period—although I later saw her The Other Boleyn Girl on an airplane and enjoyed it—and Found.

Found started as a magazine that showcased notes, lists, drawings, and other miscellanea that readers found and sent in to the editors. In April 2004, they compiled the best of the best from the magazine and published the book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Having the book upped my coolness factor among the skinny hipster set I was hanging with at the time, and I began dating one of the guys. When Found’s founder, Davy Rothbart, published a short story collection called The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, in 2005, I gave it to the guy I was dating.

I never read the book myself, but recently I read one of Rothbart’s short stories in the summer 2012 issue of The Paris Review, and it made me wonder if Rothbart might be my generation’s Jack Kerouac. While Rothbart lacks Kerouac’s poetry, they share an ear for dialogue, a captivating retelling of riding in buses and cars, an obsession with music, and an awkwardness with girls. In the short nonfiction story “Human Snowball,” Rothbart takes a Greyhound from Detroit to Buffalo to see a girl who isn’t quite his girlfriend yet or maybe ever and ends up in a carful of eccentric characters, including an ancient black man and a Neal Cassady-esque car thief. It may not have the sensory details that On the Road has, but “Human Snowball” captures characters with such honest and real details and dialogue that you feel like you know them. They’re beat characters. A little rough-around-the-edges, but sensitive and full of life.

In a bit of a Kerouac connection, actor Steve Buscemi, who stars in the film adaptation of On the Road, optioned the rights for Rothbart’s The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. Rothbart himself is a chronic roadtripper. He’s traveled the country and toured with the punk rock band Rise Against, creating the documentary How We Survive for the dvd Generation Lost as well as the documetnary Another Station: Another Mile.

Happy 86th Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!

3 Jun


 

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line.

It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”

~Allen Ginsberg

 

Today would’ve been Allen Ginsberg’s 86th birthday.  In celebration, here are a couple of links:::

2012 Howl Festival

Howl (the film starring James Franco); clip of the section on how to write poetry

Allen Ginsberg reading part 1 of Howl

The flowering dogwood at St. Mark’s is blooming for Ginsberg’s birthday

“when did you forget you were a flower?” ~ Sunflower Sutra (one of my favorite poems — It’s beautiful. It’s true. It makes me tear up.)

Ginsberg’s Karma (documentary on Ginsberg’s time in India; produced by Ram Devineni and hosted by Bob Holman)

Ginsberg’s photography

Vomit Express (Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan)

Howl on the list of banned books

Ginsberg’s hometown of Paterson, NJ

The Beat Hotel

27 Mar

A couple of years ago, I was ravaging the shelves at the New York Public Library, when I came across Barry Miles’ The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963.  It was around Memorial Day, and I remember sitting by the fountain in the East Harlem section of Central Park, marveling at the ingenious writing methods of my favorite writers and their fascinating lives.  While Burroughs was making his cut-ups and Ginsberg was writing poetry at night and typing them up in the morning, Corso was off wooing girls into buying him dinner.

Here’s what the overview of the book says:

Called “a vivid picture of literary life along the Left Bank in the late 1950s and early 1960s … [and] fun reading” by Library Journal, The Beat Hotel is a delightful history of a remarkable moment in American literary history. From the Howl obscenity trial to the invention of the Cut-up technique, Barry Miles’s extraordinary narrative chronicles the feast of ideas that was Paris, where the Beats took awestruck audiences with Duchamp and Celine, and where some of their most important work came to fruition — Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” and “To Aunt Rose”; Corso’s The Happy Birthday of Death; and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Based on firsthand accounts from diaries, letters, and many original interviews, The Beat Hotel is an intimate look at a place that “gave the spirit of Dean Moriarty and the genius of Genet and Duchamp a place to dream together of new worlds over a glass of vin ordinaire” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Wikipedia gives a little background on the Beat Hotel:

The Beat Hotel was a small, run-down hotel of 42 rooms at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter of Paris, notable chiefly as a residence for members of the Beat poetry movement of the mid-20th century.

It was a “class 13” hotel, meaning bottom line, a place that was required by law to meet only minimum health and safety standards. It never had any proper name – “the Beat Hotel” was a nickname given by Gregory Corso, which stuck on [2][3]. The rooms had windows facing the interior stairwell and not much light. Hot water was available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The hotel offered the opportunity for a bath – in the only bathtub, situated on the ground floor – provided the guest reserved time in beforehand and paid the surcharge for hot water. Curtains and bedspreads were changed and washed every spring. The linen was (sometimes and in principle) changed every month.

The Beat Hotel was managed by a married couple, Monsieur and Madame Rachou, from 1933. After the death of Monsieur Rachou in a traffic accident in 1957, Madame was the sole manager until the early months of 1963, when the hotel was closed. Besides letting rooms, the establishment had a small bistro on the ground floor. Due to early experiences with working at an inn frequented by Monet and Pissarro, Madame Rachou would encourage artists and writers to stay at the hotel and even at times permit them to pay the rent with paintings or manuscripts. One unusual thing that appealed to a clientele of bohemian artists was the permission to paint and decorate the rooms rented in whichever way they wanted.

The Chelsea Hotel is kind of like New York’s answer to Paris’ Beat Hotel.  Patti Smith brings the Chelsea Hotel to life in Just Kids, where she also talks about meeting Burroughs, Corso, and Ginsberg and about the idea of improvising in writing.  But I digress….

If you follow me on Twitter, you may remember my recent post lamenting Barney Rosset’s death.  Rosset didn’t shy away from experimental work, publishing the revolutionary works of the Beats at Grove Press. Upon his death, Regina Weinreich wrote an article about his involvement with the Beat Hotel.

Alan Govenar is directing a new 82-minute documentary, with First Run Features and produced by Documentary Arts,  called The Beat Hotel.  Here’s the press release:

1957. The Latin Quarter, Paris. A cheap no-name hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur became a haven for a new breed of artists fleeing the conformity and censorship of America. The hotel soon turned into an epicenter of Beat writing that produced some of the most important works of the Beat generation. It came to be known as the Beat Hotel. Opening March 30 in New York City, to be followed by a rollout to other cities across the country, Alan Govenar’s feature documentary THE BEAT HOTEL explores this amazing place and time.

Fleeing the obscenity trials surrounding the publication of his seminal poem Howl, Allen Ginsberg, along with Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, happened upon the hotel on rue Git le Coeur and were soon joined by William Burroughs, Ian Somerville, and Brion Gysin. Run by the indefatigable Madame Rachou, the Beat Hotel was a hotbed of creativity and permissiveness, where Burroughs and Gysin developed the cut-up writing method; Burroughs finished his controversial book Naked Lunch; Ginsberg began his poem Kaddish; Somerville and Gysin invented the Dream Machine; Corso wrote some of his greatest poems; and Harold Norse, in his own cut-up experiments, wrote a novella, aptly called The Beat Hotel.

British photographer Harold Chapman‘s iconic photos and Scottish artist Elliot Rudie‘s animated drawings capturing Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Corso, Burroughs, Gysin, Somerville and Norse just as they were beginning to establish themselves on the international scene bring THE BEAT HOTEL to life on the screen. The memories of Chapman and Rudie interweave with the first-hand accounts of French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, British book dealer Cyclops Lester, and 95 year old George Whitman. Together with the insights of authors Barry Miles, Oliver Harris, Regina Weinreich, and Eddie Woods, among others, they evoke a time and place where Chapman, mentored by Cartier-Bresson, roamed around Paris photographing nuns, bums, and the idiosyncrasies of street life; Corso took scissors to Marcel Duchamp’s tie in a Dadaist statement while Ginsberg kissed his knees; and Burroughs, with the help of Somerville’s lighting, learned to disappear before an audience’s eyes.

Director Alan Govenar is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He is president of Documentary Arts and has a Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the author of 23 books, including Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, which won first place in the New York Book Festival (Children’s Non-Fiction), among other prizes. The off-Broadway premiere of his musical “Blind Lemon Blues,” co-created with Akin Babatunde, received rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety. Govenar’s film Stoney Knows How, based on his book by the same title about Old School tattoo artist Leonard St. Clair, was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and was selected as an Outstanding Film of the Year by the London Film Festival. Govenar also has produced and directed numerous films in association with NOVA, La Sept/ARTE, and PBS for broadcast and educational distribution, including The Voyage of Doom, Le Naufrage de la Belle, The Devil’s Swing, Texas Style, Everything But the Squeak, The Human Volcano, The Hard Ride, Dreams of Conquest, and Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar.

Judging from the trailer, The Beat Hotel looks like it will be a documentary not to be missed by any fans of the Beats.

On the Road with Bob Holman

24 Jan

As promised, here’s some more on the endangered languages documentary, called On the Road with Bob Holman:

What happens when a downtown New York poet of the hip hop and slam persuasion discovers that the roots of spoken word go back thousands of years and span the globe? If he’s Bob Holman, he goes On the Road to track them down! He trades stories, fun, recipes, insights, jokes, songs, and poems. Along the way, he gets passionately immersed in the Endangered Language crisis — over half the world’s 6500 languages will disappear before the end of this century. Holman guides us to the bottom-line question of survival of these systems of consciousness with respect, joy, and dedication to diversity. He throws himself into the life – shares the meals, participates in the ceremonies, dances and parties. His enthusiasm infects the series’ fast-paced style – Hip, but not hipper than thou. Serious fun! Ok everybody, get ready — let’s take the road not taken, with Bob Holman.

BOB HOLMAN is the founder of The Endangered Languages Poetry Project and the host of this documentary series.  He has been called a member of the “Poetry Pantheon” by the New York Times Magazine, and “Ringmaster of the Spoken Word” by New York Daily News and is the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. He won three Emmys for WNYC-TV’s Poetry Spots, received a Bessie Performance Award, and an International Public Television Awards for the PBS series The United States of Poetry. He teaches at NYU and Columbia, including “Poets Census,” where students locate poets from non-English speaking communities, and “Translating Endangered Languages.” He is currently working on “Listen UP! Endangered languages with Bob Holman,” a PBS documentary with Holman as host and David Grubin (The Buddha, The Brain, Bill Moyers) as Producer. In 2010, with linguists Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins, he founded the Endangered Language Alliance in New York.

CREDITS:
Producers: Ram Devineni & Beatriz Seigner. Avi Dabach (Israel)
Editor: Ram Devineni
Camera: Beatriz Seigner, Lamont B. Steptoe & Avi Dabach
Host: Bob Holman
Produced by Rattapallax in association with Bowery Arts and Science
Executive Producer: Steven Lawrence
Re-recording Mixer: Tom Paul
Audio Post Production: Gigantic Post
Sound Editor: Michael Feuser
Assistant Sound Editor: Perry Levy
Africa Episodes Music: Papa & Karamo Susso
Title Sequence: Cathy Cook
Title Music: Peter Gordon
Additional Editing: Renta Maria
Color Grading: David Barkan
Mahmoud Darwish’s poem translated by Samuel J. Liebhaber
Nepal episode was produced in association with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. The video and the tour was made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Special thanks to Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Alison Heller, Avi Dabach, Ariane Lopez-Huici, Alexander Batkin, Jackie Sheeler, Alain Kirili, David Wojciechowski, Papa Susso Compound, Toumani Diabati, Sandra Paugam, Sekou Dolo, MC Paul Barman, Breyten Breytenbach, Dagui Dolo, Laura Corsiglia, Banning Eyre, Oumou Sangare, Jayne Cortez, Sana Sibily, Balike Sissoko Compund, Natasa Durovicova, Christopher Merrill, American Embassy in Kathmandu, Kelly Bedeian, David Broza, Itay Meirson, Nadav, Hana Amichai, Claire Montgomery & Bill Goldston.

Launch Party and LINK TV Support Drive, Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker), New York City. February 29, 2012 at 7pm. Featuring Bob Holman and Papa Susso. Donate to LINK TV and get a DVD of the series.

Text via Rattapallax.

Gripster: Documentary Films, Dolphins & Pirates

11 Jul

Arion Riding a Dolphin, by Albrecht Dürer (ca. 1514; public domain)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Greek American photographer and film director Louie Psihoyos is the son of an immigrant from the Peloponnesus.  The Peloponnesus incidentally is where my immigrant family came from as well.  Whether it’s a coincidence or a matter of upbringing that Psihoyos was intrigued by dolphins, the Peloponnesus has a dolphin myth.

Arion, the poet who invented the song and dance (called the dithyramb) for the wine god Dionysus, was kidnapped by pirates while returning to Greece from Italy.  In an effort to save his life, Arion sang to the poetry god Apollo, before flinging himself off the ship.  His song attracted a pod of dolphins and one of them carried him to safety, bringing him to the sanctuary of the sea god Poseidon in Cape Tainaron.

A swashbuckling tale of pirates, wine, and poetry, you have to admit this is a pretty cool Greek dolphin myth!

It led me to study up on Cape Tainaron.  Also known as Cape Matapan, it is the southernmost part of mainland Greece.  It’s located in Mani, which reputedly has the world’s best extra-virgin olive oil, grown organically on mountain terraces, and is also known for its superior honey and syglino (pork with oregano, mint, and orange peel.)  There are also some stalactite and stalagmite caves, which are partly underwater, and can be visited by boat.

I’m putting Cape Tainaron on my to-do list for the next time I go to Greece.

For more on Poseidon, check out:::

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

Gripster: 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade & Greek Mermaid Myths