Monday, March 31, 2014

Barbara Rubin (1945-1980)

Taken in England 1964

[top image - Allen Ginsberg and Barbara Rubin together at the Albert Monument, outside the Royal Albert Hall, London, May 1965, on the occasion of the First International Poetry Incarnation - bottom image - Barbara Rubin filming in the streets of London - May 1965 - photo by Allen Ginsberg  c. The Estate of Allen Ginsberg]   

Last year's celebrations at the Anthology Film Archives and at Johan Kugelberg's New York City Boo-Hooray Gallery (specialists in the occluded and forgotten), suceeeded in shining a little light, perhaps, on the perennial "underground legend", Barbara Rubin, but not so very much. She seems to have retreated once again into her default mode - posthumous mystery and obscurity. 

There was a time (in the early 'Sixties) when she was a pivotal and important figure for Allen (not to mention, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, and a whole host more)

"Barbara was a great bringer-together of people, often for her own projects", Gordon Ball writes, in his recently-published memoir, East Hill Farm . One of the projects she was key instigator of, it should be pointed out, was convincing Allen, in 1967, that he should indeed buy that (Cherry Valley) farm.
Bill Morgan: "(She) (Barbara) was relentless in her determination...and used all her considerable powers of persuasion to convince him..In the end no one ever knew if Allen bought the farm of his own free will or (simply) to appease Barbara". 

In 1963, she was 17 when she made her ground-breaking "underground (sex) movie", Christmas on Earth (see below)

The deep early connection with Bob Dylan?

Perhaps you recall her as the short-haired girl in the striped t-shirt, massaging Dylan's curly locks, on the back-cover of Bringing It All Back Home?

(an image of Allen in a top hat is placed, significantly, next to them)

[Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Barbara Rubin, Bob Dylan, and Daniel Kramer, backstage 
at McCarter Theater, in Princeton, New Jersey, September 1964 Photograph c. Daniel Kramer]

(In 1965 she's with Allen, in London, in the front row, at the legendary Albert Hall Dylan concert. They go back-stage afterwards and that's where Allen first meets The Beatles.)  

Several weeks later, she's the primary instigator (not Allen, it turns out), of the great (likewise legendary) international poetry reading at that same venue - the Royal Albert Hall - the First International Poetry Incarnation Allen has confessed it: "(It was) all Barbara's idea"

Later in 1965, Barbara (through the intermediary of Gerard Malanga) introduces Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground (out of which was spawned...)

"When Barbara Rubin asked Gerard to help her make a movie about the Velvets playing at the Bizarre (sic). Gerard asked Paul Morrissey to help and Paul said why didn't I come along, and so we all went down there to see them." (Andy Warhol)

Andy:  She was "one of the first people to get multi-media going around New York"

Her subsequent utter renunciation of her art and retreat into a Hasidic community child-bearing ritual is a tale unto itself - enigma and erasure. 


"Barbara Rubin's 29-minute Christmas on Earth is the filmic record of an orgy staged in a New York City apartment in 1963. This double-projection of overlapping images of nude men and women clowning around and making love is one of the first sexually explicit works in the American postwar avant-garde...Many consider it to be an essential document of queer and feminist cinema.." (Daniel Belasco in Barbara Rubin - The Vanished Prodigy)

More scholarly observation and contextualization here:
"Embodying the Spectator - Barbara Rubin's Christmas on Earth and the Pornographic Avant-Garde

Ara Osterweil at McGill remains the pre-eminent authority, download (in two parts) her definitive article here

and here (so the art outlives the artists) is the film. 

and here, as an addenda (with rare footage of Allen and Barbara in it) is Jonas Mekas'  film portrait "To Barbara Rubin With Love"

and here Allen, 1965, naked with Barbara

[Allen Ginsberg and Barbara Rubin, June 3 1965, in London at Barry Miles apartment, on the occasion of Allen's 39th birthday. Photograph by John ("Hoppy") Hopkins]


  1. So glad I discovered this blog!

  2. Thanks for posting this! I'm doing a documentary on Barbara Rubin. If your reading this and you knew Barbara or have any photos or footage of her. Thanks for letting me know :)

    Chuck Smith

    1. Chuck, I've nothing to offer but my enthusiastic best wishes. Would be very interested in seeing that.

    2. I was her best friend in elementary school and through middle school. We shared a heart cut in two for many years. Her basement in Cambria Heights provided years of creativity, scientific inquiry, Halloween costume making, dirty dancing, fake phone calls, etc. I last saw Barbara when she lived in Far Rockaway. I was in a very dark period of life and after a lifetime of not seeing her, I called her for support and console.

    3. Hi Anonymous! I just saw this and would love to speak with you, hear more stories, and do an interview. Please send me an email at "" or call me anytime at 845-380-9175. Looking forward to hearing from you:) Best, Chuck

  3. Christmas On Earth is a really cruddy Gay Porn Short, with half assed attempts at trying to look like an art film.

  4. Wildly interesting! Slight correction. Warhol met the Velvets in December of '65.

  5. don't think the photo with Dylan and Ginsberg is from 1967 - he did play McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ in October 1965, which would seem more in keeping with the photo

    1. Good catch. The Princeton concert was September 1964, so of course that's when the backstage shots were done, same as the other two closeups that appeared on the back sleeve of Bringing it All Back home. Will fix pronto.

  6. Great post. Thanks especially for the link to the article by Charles Tuck. How fitting that the definitive article on a prodigy like Barbara Rubin would be written by an undergrad!

    1. Whoops, I see your "definitive" was referring to something else. Thanks though.