Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gerd Stern 3 (Gerd Stern Remembers Harry Smith)

[Harry Smith with his mural, "Jimbo's Bop City", San Francisco, 1950 - Photograph by Hy Hirsch]

Gerd Stern: "It was a great success. The auditorium was always full; everybody paid except Harry Smith. Harry Smith was someone who was a spectacular creative being who died recently [1991]. I first met Harry--I think the first time I came to San Francisco he was working as a photographer for the Examiner, and he was living in a black hotel--he was pale white--in the Fillmore. He had done these way-ahead-of-their-time murals at Jimbo's Bop City--which was just like it sounded--in the Fillmore in return for food. I think it was Philip Lamantia who introduced me to Harry, and we sat there eating Harry's favorite food which was casaba melons--on the house; they kept them there just for him. Then he took us to see some of his visuals at his hotel. But when we reached the lobby we had to take our shoes off, and we had to not say a word between the time we got in and the time we left. We then crept up the stairs, and he whispered that there was a whore living in the next room, and she was in the pay of the FBI or some government agency to keep an eye on him. It was a paranoid, delusional complex that he had going. He took us into his room, and it was totally dark. He turned on a flashlight which had a cardboard tube attached to it. He put these works on the floor, and he illuminated them slowly so that we could see them, and in total silence we crept out holding our shoes and went down the steps and put our shoes on. That was Harry Smith."
"Harry came to one of the "Psychedelic Theater" pieces, and he started screaming about how he was whatever he was, that he wasn't about to pay, these were all old friends of his. Timothy (Leary) and Richard (Alpert) [Ram Dass] had said there were nothing but spongers and people who didn't have any money in this world of ours, and they all wanted to get in free, and they all were friends of ours. We had set a definite policy: No one was going to get in free. Well, Harry got in free because I told Timothy that if Harry didn't get in free, there wasn't going to be a show and there'd be a riot."
"I keep talking about alcoholics, but there happened to have been a lot of them, and there are still a lot of them. Harry was one. Most of these people in this world mixed the alcohol with drugs, so there were episodes of total insanity."

["Harry Smith, painter, archivist, anthropologist, film-maker & hermetic alchemist, his last week 
at Breslin Hotel Manhattan, January 12, 1985, transforming milk into milk." - (Ginsberg caption) -Photograph by Allen Ginsberg - photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

For more Harry Smith on the Allen Ginsberg Project - see here (and also hereherehere and here )

And here's a couple more Harry postings -  here - and - here

[Harry Smith, Second Avenue and Twelfth Street (NYC), 1987 - Photograph by Brian Graham]

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy Birthday Philip Whalen and Michael McClure

What would have been Philip Whalen's ninety-first birthday (grand old sensei, venerable master) - celebrated today.
We await with eagerness David Schneider's long-in-the-making definitive biography (from the University of California) due out next year (tho' the cover may already be glimpsed - see above - and some advance selections from the book may be read here)

Check out also our earlier posts on Philip on The Allen Ginsberg Project here, here - and also (Philip reading) here

It also happens that Phil shares a birthday with another friend of ours (and friend of his) still happily very much with us - Michael McClure.
For Michael McClure birthday celebrations on The Allen Ginsberg Project see here and here - also here and here

Michael McClure
[Michael McClure - Photograph Peg Skorpinski]

Happy Birthday, Michael! 

Gerd Stern - 2

Gerd Stern
[Gerd Stern]

Gerd Stern's vivid memories - from  From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978. The complete text is available on-line from the University of California  

"So I came and saw him [my father], and he dragged me to my uncle the doctor. My uncle supposedly discovered I had some kind of a problem with my kidneys. They put me into 
the hospital. After the hospital, they made me go see a psychiatrist who was a friend of 
my uncle. The psychiatrist says to me, "Look, I can't help you because your father can't afford to pay me, and besides, I think what's wrong with you is that you're malnourished, you don't have a place to live, you're wearing dirty clothes, etcetera. I've got an idea; listen to me carefully, and I never told you this. There's a place called the Psychiatric Institute at the Presbyterian Hospital. You call them up; here's the number. You tell them that you are a young poet and that you just tried to commit suicide and that you need help. They're looking for interesting people."

"So I do it. I get an appointment, and they ask me, "What happened?" So I said I'm driving my burnt-out Willys down the Henry Hudson Parkway, and I have this terrible impulse to drive over the railing and into the Hudson River--which was totally untrue. They accept me; now I'm in this ward with a bunch of really funny people. Nobody violent, but interesting. And I'm getting fed three times a day, and I have a doctor who sees me twice a week--a Doctor Hambidge, one smart guy, and, over time, he listened to me, and finally told me, "Look. This is not difficult at all; this is very simple. You've gotta decide whether you're going to live your life or you're going to live the life that your father wants you to live. You can't manage both of them; they are not compatible. You're not going to make your father happy if you decide to do what you want to do, and I don't know if you can be happy doing what your father wants you to do. I can't help you any further than that." It was amazing. At the time I think it would not have been seen as a psychiatric solution; I mean, that was still [the late 1940's] a very Freudian period.

Anyway, at the same time, one day there walks into the ward a guy dressed in a dark blue shirt and dark blue trousers and blue suede shoes with huge stacks of books under both arms. He looks around kind of dazed, he's got this wild hair, and he's got a big face and big glasses. So I walk up to him, being a new patient, you know, and I say, "Hello, my name is Gerd Stern." And he drops all his books on the floor, and he sticks out his hand, and he says, "Define your terms!" That was Carl Solomon.

["Carl Solomon in his Prince Street apartment several years after residence with me on sixth floor ward, New York State Psychiatric Institute, afterwards working mid-town at his uncle's Ace books publishers where he edited Wm. S. Burroughs Junkie paperback first edition, New York, 1953" - Ginsberg caption - c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]
Carl had gotten into the Psychiatric Institute because, at a lecture by a proto-anarchist named Wallace Markfield at NYU [New York University], he had gotten up and thrown potato salad into Markfield's face. [chuckle] Carl was bizarre. He and I had a great time for a while. He had just come back as a merchant seaman from Paris. There he had acquired a lot of really fascinating books. He had Jean Genêt, whom I had never heard of. I had read (Marcel) Proust, (André) Gide, and I was fascinated by Gide's Journals particularly, because, in a sense, they persuaded me that it was possible to be self-conscious, and that was like a positive practice, and somehow I think I had grown up thinking that was a negative practice being self-conscious. But Genêt and (Louis Ferdinand) Celine were something else entirely.
Carl and I were there together for some time, then one day Allen Ginsberg showed up. Now there we were, three weirdos out of the literary world. Carl had Christopher Smart--that was a great little library that he had brought with him--and Céline. The problem was that at P.I. they thought Carl was really, totally crazy, insane; they gave him first insulin shock and then electric shock, which took him pretty far out of it.
Allen came because he had been acting weird at Columbia. Mark Van Doren and (Lionel) Trilling and all those people decided - there was some kind of problem - I can't remember what happened. I think there was a trial of some sort involved, too. Anyway, we wound up at P.I. together and we had a number of adventures. We drove one of the aides crazy. One of the aides had to be taken away in a straightjacket!
Carl was very mischievous. We used to play ping-pong with this aide, and if he was losing, we always changed the score to where he was winning. When he was winning, we changed it so that he was losing. He wasn't very balanced; I mean, we were patients, you know? He should have understood, but he never did. [chuckle] What finally drove him over the brink   - it was Easter, and they had put these papier-mâché bunnies up on the tables where we ate. Carl went into the bathroom and masturbated into the inside of this rabbit, and then put it back on the table and it drooled out this little pool of cum. The aide came and said, "What is that?"
Carl said, "I jerked off into it." The guy went mad, and they took him away.
 Later on, I was at the San Remo with Carl, and a blind man came in and asked the way to the men's room. Carl took him, and when he came back to the bar, I said, "Carl, that was really unlike you." He said, "No, it wasn't; I took him to the ladies' room." [laughter]

So there we were. We misbehaved badly and consciously. We were in an asylum, and we acted out, and of course they think we were crazy. Anyway, eventually, I got out for the weekends because nobody thought that I was dangerous. But Carl and Allen couldn't get out for the weekends because they were under observation. Carl was having shock and Allen supposedly had violent episodes. So they asked me if I would bring some grass in when I came back. I did, and then they turned me in to the authorities. They were acting out -(Jean) Genêt did that with his confederates - and they felt that was something they wanted to experience. Of course, both Allen and Carl were gay, and I was not. Anyway, I was ready to leave by that time."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gerd Stern - 1

Gerd Stern - Here's an interview with the truly extraordinary Gerd Stern - Gerd Stern, who, allegedly lost that legendary Neal Cassady manuscript, Gerd Stern, artist, poet and multi-media visionary, at eighty-six years old - what remarkable stories he has to tell!  - his oral history, From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978  was  published, and is available on line from University of California, Berkeley. We'll be quoting, tomorrow, salient paragraphs from it - But first, this.

(Those with an interest in modern music should, also, on no account, miss this - Stern's vivid first-hand memories of the composer Harry Partch

So, Harold Channer, it has to be said, if sincere and well-meaning, is not the most telegenic of interviewers - but it doesn't matter, since Stern, as you'll see, is very much the raconteur.

The conversation was recorded in August of last year.

Coming in at, approximately, eight-and-a-half minutes in:

Gerd Stern:  (New York), that was after San Francisco and Sausalito where I went in the late (19)40’s..San Francisco and Big Sur, I couldn’t believe it. And, again, I met poets when 
I was in San Francisco. The first night that I was in San Francisco there was a reading at the old San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art, which at that time was in the Civic Center. It was Brother Antoninus (except that was before he was that, he was Bill (Bill Everson)) - and Philip Lamantia, Robert Duncan, and I felt, like, part of it immediately.

Harold Channer:  What year or so would you have gone there? That was destined to be the site of Mario Savio and the Free Speech, the Movement of Love, and all that kind of stuff

Gerd Stern: Yeah but that was all later.

Harold Channer: That was later, but you were somewhat involved with that and with the people who were destined to build this period up to… You were at the heart of it all, it seems to me.

Gerd Stern: True. I mean, Summer of Love [1967] I was there again. But, in the 'Forties it was a very very different place than in the 'Sixties.

Harold Channer: Yeah , sure.

Gerd Stern: I mean, in 1947 I was back in New York and I was at the Psychiatric Institute at the time that Carl Solomon and Allen Ginsberg wound up there. So that’s where I met them.

Harold Channer:  Met them there, right, that’s where you met, right! - Meet your friends at the (Psychiatric) Institute!, right

Gerd Stern: We were three patients (we weren’t very patient, but..)

Harold Channer: Where did you…   When did he (Allen) write "Howl"?

Gerd Stern: Oh, quite a bit later in San Francisco, and I was at that first reading at the Six Gallery, where Allen read "Howl", yes. I didn’t go to hear Allen, I mean, I knew Allen, but I went because Philip Lamantia was reading [editorial note - Philip Lamantia, famously, did not read his own poems on this occasion] - and Kenneth Rexroth [Kenneth Rexroth was the m-c].. but Allen -  that was quite an experience hearing "Howl" for the first time. It was a little devastating to me, because.. kind of the main character in that poem, that he says (what turned out to be) perjorative things about, was Carl Solomon, a mutual friend - and he says that Carl Solomon had sex with his mother (although he uses a four-letter word to (describe it)) - and that was not true. It may, actually, have been something mischievous that Carl had said, but Allen knew it wasn’t true and it caused tremendous bad vibes in the family. I knew Carl’s mother, and his uncle was the head of Ace Books, and that was.., I don’t know if you remember them, they were like pocket-books but they were two-sided (in other words, they had two books(-in-one))..Carl worked for his uncle, and I was his West Coast agent, and the only book that he accepted from (us), (there were a lot of books that Allen had given me manuscripts of), was Bill Burroughs’ Junkie  (which was one of those back-to-back books) . But when "Howl" came out (which was about that same time), his uncle fired Carl, and his mother was devastated, you know, and Carl wound up back in the hospital. So I was pretty unhappy about Allen…"

More scandalous recollections about Allen - and Carl Solomon - tomorrow on The Allen Ginsberg Project