Online Interviews With Allen Ginsberg Essay, Research Paper
Peter Barry Chowka
Peter Barry Chowka: Allen, since we’re in this automobile setting, I want to ask
you: much of your poetry, especially in The Fall of America, was composed in cars
on your various travels. In so many of the poems which came out of automobiles in the
sixties you really captured the essence of the times, the Vietnam war reports on the
radio, the lyrics of the rock music happening then. I wonder if, lately, you’re writing
poetry while on the road in automobiles?
Allen Ginsberg: Not so much. Occasionally, I still write travel poems in
airplanes, but not as often. It might be that the times have changed. Also, we were doing
a lot of cross country traveling in cars in the early and mid-sixties. More than now.
PBC: A lot of your most recent poetry, especially some that you read last night
(Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.) contains very spiritual, and specifically Buddhist,
AG: Not so spiritual; it’s more practical observations during the course of
meditation or after.
PBC: "Down-to-earth" spiritual, then. You don’t like the word
AG: Yeah, I’m not even sure if the word is helpful because it gets people all
distracted with the idea of voices and ghosts and visions. I used to get distracted that
PBC: How do you select which poems you’re going to present at a reading? Do you
consider what type of audience you feel will be there?
AG: Well, I read there years before with my father in a celebrated moment, for a
Washington society lady who invited us. I met Richard Helms, the head of the CIA, at the
last reading . . .
PBC: Helms was at the last reading?
AG: Yes. And so this time I was all hyped up, ’cause [William] Burroughs was
coming along, too: Burroughs, who’s the great destroyer of the CIA, with his prose.
PBC: Were you able to sense any reaction from the audience last night to the
kinds of things that were being read?
AG: I don’t think there were any CIA people there this time, (laughs) I was a
little disappointed: there were only secret agents — no big fish. I prepared poems that I
hadn’t read in Washington before, or poems that were extremely solid; I wanted a solid,
good reading of high-quality poems rather than just sort-of random poems, daily journal
poems. So I picked "pieces" that were complete in themselves. For me the high
point was a long, ranting, aggressive, wild poem ("Hadda be Playing on the Juke
Box") linking the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI and the NKVD and the KGB and the
multinational cash registers.
PBC: One line I especially liked was "Poetry useful if it leaves its own
skeleton hanging in the air like Buddha, Shakespeare and Rimbaud." Would it be
correct to say, from this line and from some of the other poetry you read, that your
sadhana now is the spreading of the dharma through poetry?
AG: Well, I’ve been working in that direction with Chogyam Trungpa, especially
influenced by staying all summer at Naropa Institute at the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics, which is ideationally modeled on Kerouac’s practice of spontaneous
utterance and Milarepa’s similar, or original, practice.
PBC: It was Kerouac who originally turned you on to Buddhism, wasn’t it?
AG: Yeah, he was the first one I heard chanting the "Three Refuges" in
Sanskrit, with a voice like Frank Sinatra.
PBC: And he wrote that as-yet unpublished volume Some of the Dharma,
which, I think, consisted of letters he wrote to you about Buddhism?
AG: Yeah, and he also, in the mid-fifties, wrote Mexico City Blues, which
is a great exposition of Mind — according to Trungpa. I read aloud to Trungpa halfway
through Mexico City Blues on a four-hour trip from Karme-Choling, Vermont, down to New
York, and he laughed all the way. And I said, "What do you think of it?" And he
answered, "It’s a perfect exposition of Mind."
PBC: Trungpa is a recognized poet in his own right. Do you think you’ve become
so close to Trungpa because you’re both poets?
AG: Oh, yeah, that’s a big influence. He encouraged me originally to abandon
dependence on a manuscript and to practice improvisational poetry. He said, "Why
don’t you do like the great poets do, like Milarepa; trust your own mind."
PBC: Compose it and then forget it; not necessarily write it down?
AG: It’s unforgettable in the sense that it gets on tape. The best thing I ever
did was a long "Dharma/Chakra Blues" in Chicago last year, but the tape is
completely incomprehensible and I can’t transcribe it. That is an old tradition, like Li
Po writing poems and leaving them on trees, or Milarepa singing to the wind with his right
hand at his ear to listen to the sound, shabd.
PBC: How long have you known Trungpa now? He seems to have become a great
influence in your life.
AG: An enormous influence. We first met on the street in 1971, in front of Town
Hall (New York City). I stole his taxicab; my father was ill and I wanted to get my father
off the street.
PBC: It was purely an accidental encounter?
AG: Yeah. I said "Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum" and
gave him a "Namaste" when he was introduced. I asked him years later what
he thought of my pronouncing the Padma Sambhava mantra to salute him, and he said,
"Oh, I wondered if you knew what you were talking about." (laughs) He’s been
pushing me to improvise, to divest myself of ego eventually, kidding me about
"Ginsberg resentment" as a national hippie characteristic, and warning me to
prepare for death, as I registered in a poem called "What Would You Do If You Lost
It?" published by the Lama Foundation.
PBC: As far as the "resentment" aspect, has he influenced you in that
direction? For example, many of the poems you read last night seemed more contemplative,
AG: He has provided a situation in which I do sit, like at the Naropa seminaries
or at the intensive sitting meditations where Peter [Orlovsky] and I have gone and sat for
a week at a time in retreat cabins in the Rocky Mountains, or where I’ve sat weeks alone,
and he’s suggested that I not write during those weeks when I’m in retreat — which has
resulted in a lot of post-sitting, meditative, haiku-like writings. He’s also made me more
aware of the elements of resentment, aggression, and dead-end anger in my earlier poetry
and behavior, which is useful to know and be mindful of. It doesn’t necessarily curb it,
but I’m able at least to handle it with more grace, maybe, as last night, where I read a
whole series of meditative poems and then this outrageous attack on the CIA-Mafia-FBI
connection. But it was put in a context where it was like the normal explosion of, maybe
even, vajra-resentment, so that it doesn’t become a dominant paranoia but is seen within
the greater space — the flow of Mind Consciousness while sitting — of continuing
mindfulness over the years. Trungpa’s basic attitude toward that kind of political outrage
is that things like gay liberation, women’s liberation, peace mobilization, have an
element — a seed — of value in them; but it depends on the attitude of mind of the
participant as to whether it’s a negative feedback and a karmic drug or a clear, healthy,
PBC: Often those political movements can become so mutually exclusive that they
serve to isolate one from a lot of the potential . . .
AG: Or so filled with resentment that they become dead-ends. More and more, by
hindsight, I think all of our activity in the late sixties may have prolonged the Vietnam
war. As Jerry Rubin remarked after ‘68, he was so gleeful he had torpedoed the Democrats.
Yet it may have been the refusal of the Left to vote for Humphrey that gave us Nixon.
Humphrey and Johnson were trying to end the war to win the election, while Nixon was
sending emissaries (Mme. Claire Chennault) to Thieu saying, "Hang on until I get
elected and we’ll continue the war." Though I voted for Humphrey in ‘68 I think a lot
of people refused to vote, and Nixon squeaked in by just a couple of hundred thousand
PBC: And now, eight years later, we might get Humphrey again anyway.
AG: So that might be the karma of the Left, because of their anger, their
excessive hatred of their fathers and the liberals, their pride, their vanity
. . .ourvanity, our pride, our excessive hatred. It may be
that we have on our karma the continuation of the Vietnam war in its worst form with more
killing than before. We may have to endure Humphrey so that we can take the ennui or
boredom of examining what we’ve wrought when we got "exciting" Nixon. In a way
it all balanced out; maybe it was better that Nixon got in because then we had Watergate
and the destruction of the mythology of authority of a hypocrite government.
PBC: Since this is 1976, a year of inevitable increase in political discussion,
I’d like to ask the following question. Your Buddhist practice seems not to have
interfered with the acute politic concern, for the CIA and other issues, which you
continue to display in recent poems like "Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox." How,
if at all, has your work with Trungpa — your extensive meditation practice — changed
your outlook on North American or world politics?
AG: It has changed it somewhat from a negative fix on the "fall of
America" as a dead-end issue — the creation of my resentment — into an appreciation
of the fatal karmic flaws in myself and the nation. Also with an attempt to make use of
those flaws or work with them — be aware of them — without animosity or guilt: and find
some basis for reconstruction of a humanly useful society, based mainly on a less
attached, less apocalyptic view. In other words, I have to retract or swallow my
PBC: That’s a lot to swallow. Do you have any specific thoughts on the American
political scene in this Presidential election year?
AG: Governor Jerry Brown.
PBC: Is the condition of the Left refusing to support Humphrey in ‘68 the main
thing that comes to mind in talking of the mistakes of the sixties, or are there other
things that you’ve realized, as well?
AG: Well, that’s sort of a basic mistake you can refer to that everybody can
remember in context, I think, so it’s a good, solid thing. What was the point of the Left?
It was saying, "End the war." What was the action of the Left? It refused to
support Humphrey because he wasn’t "pure" enough (laughs), so there was an
apocalyptic purity desire which maybe was impractical, or "unskillful means."
PBC: Which seems to go along with what I know about Trungpa and his teachings,
in general: that it should be a very down-to-earth, practical sadhana, which doesn’t
include requirements of stringent vegetarianism or giving up cigarette smoking.
AG: And which is mindful of that quality of resentment which he characterizes as
"Ginsberg resentment" or "America Ha-Ha." I was resentful, at first,
when he came on with that kind of line. Actually, I voted for Humphrey, so I wasn’t
dominated that much by resentment, but it seems to be a stereotype, maybe ’cause Trungpa
reads too much Time magazine. He’s entitled to his opinion, and I’m surely
profiting psychologically from him because there’s enough insight in that to make me halt
in my tracks and think twice, thrice.
PBC: Do you see his movement in contemporary Buddhism as the most vital one in
America at this point?
AG: Shakespeare has a very interesting line: "Comparisons are odious."
So to say "the most vital" — well, everybody’s doing a different kind of work
– some quiet, some more flashy. I seem to be able to relate to Trungpa best, although I
must say that it may be that the looseness and heartiness and charm of his approach is not
necessarily the deepest for my case. I notice I’m very slow in getting into my
prostration: of 100,000 prostrations, I’ve done only 10,000 and I’m way behind, maybe the
last in the class. But I guess he’s gotten a lot of people more deeply into foundation
practices, perhaps on more of a mass scale than any other Tibetan lama, if that’s any good
count. I suppose it’s the quality of the student that counts. Trungpa’s movement is a very
rational and classical approach to Buddhism, in his real serious attention to sitting:
"Go sit, weeks and weeks and weeks, ten hours a day."
PBC: It’s primarily silent meditation?
AG: His basic approach is to begin with shamatha, a Sanskrit word meaning
peaceful mindedness, creating tranquillity of mind. It consists of paying attention to the
breath coming out of the nostrils and dissolving in space, the outbreath only, and is a
variety of vipassana practice, which begins with concentration on the breath passing in
and out just at the tip of the nose, or Zen practice which involves following the breath
to the bottom of the belly.
PBC: What is it about the Tibetan style of Buddhism that first attracted you?
AG: Originally it was the iconography: the mandalas, the Wheel of Life,
and the Evans-Wentz books, some of which were recommended by Raymond Weaver, who was a
professor of English at Columbia University in the ’40s. Weaver gave Kerouac a list of
books to read after he read an unpublished early novel of Kerouac’s titled The Sea Is
My Brother — a list which included the early gnostic writers, The Egyptian Book of
the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Herukas — the
many-armed, fierce guardian deities — reminded me of visions I’d had in 1948 relating to
William Blake’s poem, "The Sick Rose"; visions of terror — of the universe
devouring me, being conquered and eaten by the universe. I used The Tibetan Book of the
Dead while ingesting ayahuasca in New York City in 1960-61. Later on, some
contact with Dudjom Rinpoche in India reinforced this interest in Tibetan Buddhism.
PBC: How has your study of Tibetan Buddhism, and your work with Trungpa
Rinpoche, altered or expanded your own awareness?
AG: The shamatha meditation which I’ve practiced for a number of years
under Trungpa Rinpoche’s auspices leads first to a calming of the mind, to a quieting of
the mechanical production of fantasy and thought forms; it leads to sharpened awareness of
them and to taking an inventory of them. It also leads to an appreciation of the empty
space around into which you breathe, which is associated with dharmakaya. In the
tradition of the vipassana practice, this leads to insight into detail in the space
around you, which is exemplified in William Carlos Williams’ brief poems noting detail in
the space around him. I’ll paraphrase his poem "Thursday" — "I’ve had my
dreams, like other men, but it has come to nothing. So that now I stand here feeling the
weight of my coat on my shoulders, the weight of my body in my shoes, the breath pushing
in and out at my nose — and resolve to dream no more." In terms of external
manifestation rather than just subjective awareness, an observer could see in me some
results of that "widening of the area of consciousness," which is a term that I
used at the end of Kaddish. For example, since 1971, I’ve come to improvise poetry
or song on the stage, trusting my own mind rather than a manuscript. Also, I do a lot of
sitting, which is, in itself, a self-sufficient activity.
PBC: Before you began to study with Trungpa, you’d never associated yourself
with a spiritual master?
AG: I had worked with Swami Muktananda — "Kundalini Swami," as
Gary Snyder calls him, and sat for a year and a half with a mantra that he had
PBC: You knew Swami Bhaktivedanta (leader of the International Society of
Krishna Consciousness) as well.
AG: Since ‘66 I had known Swami Bhaktivedanta and was somewhat guided by him,
although not formally — spiritual friend. I practiced the hare krishna chant,
practiced it with him, sometimes in mass auditoriums and parks in the Lower East Side of
PBC: You really did a lot to popularize that chant. Probably the first place I
heard it was when I saw you read in ‘68.
AG: Actually, I’d been chanting it since ‘63, after coming back from India. I
began chanting it, in Vancouver at a great poetry conference, for the first time in ‘63,
with Duncan and Olson and everybody around, and then continued. When Bhaktivedanta arrived
on the Lower East Side in ‘66 it was reinforcement for me, like "the reinforcements
had arrived" from India.
PBC: You mentioned your trip to India in the early sixties. Do you consider that
to be very significant in your orientation afterwards toward your present spiritual goals?
AG: My trip wasn’t very spiritual, as anybody can see if they read Indian
Journals. Most of it was spent horsing around, sightseeing and trying the local drugs.
But I did visit all of the holy men I could find and I did encounter some teachers who
gave me little teachings then that were useful then and now. Some of the contacts were
prophetic of what I arrived at later here in America, because I met the head of the Kagyu
order, Gyalwa Karmapa there, and saw the black crown ceremony in Sikkim in ‘62 or ‘63. He
subsequently visited the U.S. with Trungpa as host. I went to see Dudjom Rinpoche, the
head of the Nyingma sect and got one very beautiful suggestion from him about the
bum LSD trips I was having at the time, which I’ll quote again: "If you see something
horrible, don’t cling to it; and if you see something beautiful, don’t cling to it."
PBC: Has LSD been less of a factor in your life lately?
AG: Less, though it was a strong influence and I think basically a good
influence. I went through a lot of horror scenes with it. Finally, through poetic and
meditation practice I found the key to see through the horror and come to a quiet place
PBC: Do you ever find it possible to do serious meditation while under the
influence of drugs, or do you find the two exclusive?
AG: I haven’t tried since I’ve been more deeply involved in meditation. The last
time I took acid, I went up into the Teton Mountains, to the top of Rendezvous Mountain,
and made a little sitting place on the rocks, near the snow. Just sat there all day,
unmoved, unmoving, watching my breath, while white clouds pushed casting shadows on the
stillness of the white snow. It was like sitting up in the corner of a great mandala of
the god-worlds thinking of the hells — bombing Cambodia — going on down the other side
of the mandala, the other side of the round earth; and then breathing, and the thought
dissolving, and the physical presence of the place where I was resuming, sitting in a
white snowy place in the middle of the whole "empty" vast full universe.
PBC: The reason I asked is that most teachers I’ve heard of have counseled
against using drugs or have said they’re an impediment on the path, although many people
have reported experiencing profound mystical meditative states while under the influence
of certain drugs, and that drugs have opened them to a more expansive consciousness.
AG: I think that even those teachers who disapprove of the use of drugs by their
students do credit the LSD wave with opening up people’s awareness to the possibility of
alternative modes of consciousness, or at least a search for some stable place, or perhaps
leaving their imaginations open to understand some of the imagery, such as the wheels of
life. Trungpa’s position is that "psychedelics" are too trippy, whereas people
need to be grounded; everything is uncertain enough as it is. The world, societies, mind
are uncertain. What’s needed is some non-apocalyptic, non-ambitious, non-spiritually
materialistic, grounded sanity, for which he proposes shamatha meditation and
discourages grass and acid, which is logically sensible. I think he may have some more
ample ideas about that for specific situations.
Peter Barry Chowka: I want to talk a little about the concept of
"egolessness," which is something a lot of us have trouble defining and
practicing. Last night you mentioned the three marks of existence are "change,
suffering and egolessness."
Allen Ginsberg: Trungpa lectured on that at Naropa last year, very beautifully,
and I turned it into a stanza:
Born in this world
you got to suffer
you got no soul
representing suffering, change/transiency, and anatma or no permanent essential
identity, meaning, in a sense, non-theism, or nonselfism. It’s a description of the nature
of things, by their very nature. It might knock out Krishna and Joya and God and some
notions of Christ and some notions of Buddha. It may not necessarily knock out devotion or
the quality of devotion, though.
PBC: How long ago was your poem "Ego Confession" written? I’m curious,
because the line in it that I picked up on was the first one: "I want to be known as
the most brilliant man in America."
AG: Yeah, it’s obviously a great burlesque, a take-off on myself, shameful,
shocking. (laughs) I wrote it in October ‘74, listening to Cecil Taylor play in a
nightclub in San Francisco, sitting next to Anne Waldman, who is the co-director of the
Kerouac School of Poetics at Naropa. And I was so ashamed of what I wrote down that I
wouldn’t let her see it, I hid my notebook from her with my hand. Within a month I
realized that the poem was funny.
PBC: Do you have any new poems in your notebook that you’d care to read for us
while we’re on this trip to Baltimore?
AG: I think the text of the "Gospel of Noble Truths" hasn’t been
printed anywhere. It’s a gospel style song, for blues chord changes one/four/one/five/ and
next stanza return to one. There’s another reflection of that theme in a poem I wrote
along on the Rolling Thunder Review.
Lay down Lay down yr Mountain Lay down God
Lay down Lay down yr music Love Lay down
Lay down Lay down yr hatred Lay yrself down
Lay down Lay down yr Nation Lay yr foot on the Rock
Lay down yr whole Creation Lay yr Mind down
Lay down Lay down yr Magic Hey Alchemist Lay it down Clear
Lay down yr Practice precisely Lay down yr Wisdom dear
Lay down Lay down yr Camera Lay down yr Image right
Yea Lay down yr Image Lay down Light.
Nov. 1, 1975
PBC: Is Dylan the "Alchemist" in those lines?
AG: Yeah, the poem is directed to him, because we were considering the nature of
the movie we were making, which will be a nice thing, a sort of "dharma
movie," hopefully, depending on how it’s edited. The movie made along the Rolling
Thunder tour (120 hours of film which will have to be reduced to three) has many "dharma"
scenes. It was like a Buddhist conspiracy on the part of some of the directors and film
cameramen; the director Mel Howard was out at Naropa last year. In every scene that I
played I used the Milarepa mantra "Ah" and kept trying to lay it on Dylan
or the audience or the film men.
PBC: Much of Dylan’s music, even from the middle, electric period of his career,
has impressed me as being very Zen-like in a lot of its imagery. Knowing him well as you
do, do you think he has been influenced by Zen or Buddhism?
AG: I don’t know him because I don’t think there is any him, I
don’t think he’s got a self!
PBC: He’s ever-changing.
AG: Yeah. He’s said some very beautiful, Buddha-like things. One thing, very
important, was I asked him whether he was having pleasure on the tour, and he said,
"Pleasure, Pleasure, what’s that? I never touch the stuff." And then he went on
to explain that at one time he had had a lot of pain and sought a lot of pleasure, but
found that there was a subtle relationship between pleasure and pain. His words were,
"They’re in the same framework." So now, as in the Bhagavad Gita, he does
what it is necessary to do without consideration of "pleasure," not being a
pleasure junkie, which is good advice for anyone coming from the top-most
pleasure-possible man in the world. He also said he believed in God. That’s why I wrote
"Lay down yr Mountain Lay down God." Dylan said that where he was, "on top
of the Mountain," he had a choice whether to stay or to come down. He said, God told
him, "All right, you’ve been on the Mountain, I’m busy, go down, you’re on your own.
Check in later." (laughs) And then Dylan said, "Anybody that’s busy making
elephants and putting camels through needles’ eyes is too busy to answer my questions, so
I came down the Mountain."
PBC: Several of his albums have shown his interest in God, especially New
AG: "Father of Night," yeah. I think that is, in a sense, a
penultimate stage. It’s not his final stage of awareness. I was kidding him on the tour, I
said, "I used to believe in God." So he said, "Well, I used to believe in
God, too." (laughs) And then he said, "You’d write better poetry if you believed
PBC: You’ve been fairly close to Dylan for a number of years now . . .
AG: No, I didn’t see him for four years. He just called me up at 4 a.m. and said
"What are you writing, sing it to me on the telephone." And then said,
"O.K., let’s go out on the road."
PBC: He was encouraged by a letter you’d written him about your appreciation of
his song "Idiot Wind?"
AG: Denise Mercedes, a guitarist whom Dylan admires, was talking to Dylan, and
he mentioned to her that he was tickled. I had written a long letter to him demanding
$200,000 for Naropa Institute, to sustain the whole Trungpa scene, just a big long kidding
letter, hoping that he’d respond. He liked the letter, he just skipped over the part about
money. (He doesn’t read anything like that, I knew, anyway.) But then I also explained
what was going on at Naropa with all the poets. I said also that I had dug the great line
in the song "Idiot Wind," which I thought was one of Dylan’s great great
prophetic national songs, with one rhyme that took in the whole nation, I said it was a
Blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Dylan told Denise that nobody else had noticed it or mentioned it to him; that the line
had knocked him out, too. He thought it was an interesting creation, however he had
arrived at it. And I thought it was absolutely a height of Hart Crane-type poetics. I was
talking earlier about resentment. "Idiot Wind" is like Dylan acknowledging the
vast resentments, angers and ill-temper on the Left and the Right all through America
during the sixties, calling it an "idiot wind" and saying "it’s a wonder we
can even breathe" or "it’s a wonder we can even eat!"
PBC: Right, and directing it at himself, as well.
AG: Yeah, talking about it within himself, but also declaring his independence
from it. There’s a great line in which he says, "I’ve been double-crossed now for the
very last time, and now I’m finally free," recognizing and exorcising the monster
"on the borderline between you and me."
PBC: You’ve obviously been impressed by Dylan and his music during the last
AG: He’s a great poet.
PBC: Is it possible for you to verbalize what kinds of influence he’s had on
your own style of poetry?
AG: I’ve done that at great length in the preface to a new book, First Blues,
which has just been published in only 1,500 copies, so it’s relatively rare. I wrote a
long preface tracing all the musical influences I’ve had, including Dylan’s, because I
dedicated the book to him. He taught me three chords so I got down to blues. Right after
Trungpa suggested I begin improvising, I began improvising and Dylan heard it, and
encouraged it even more. We went into a studio in ‘71 and improvised a whole album.
PBC: Which has never been released. Do you think it ever will be?
AG: Oh, on Folkways, or something.
PBC: Back to the Rolling Thunder Tour. Perhaps you can place it in the context
of the Beat movement of the fifties and the consciousness expansion of the sixties.
Something you said while on the tour indicated that you saw it as being perhaps that
important; you said that "the Rolling Thunder Revue will be one of the signal
gestures characterizing the working cultural community that will make the seventies."
AG: Wishful thinking, probably, but at the same time wishful thinking is also
prophesy. It seemed to me like the first bud of spring. I thought that the gesture toward
communalism — almost like a traveling rock-family-commune that Dylan organized, with
poets and musicians all traveling together, with the musicians all calling each other
"poet" — "sing me a song, poet" — was a good sign. The fact that he
brought his mother along — the "mysterious" Dylan had a chicken-soup, Yiddish
Mama, who even got on stage at one point . . .
PBC: Not to mention bringing his wife Sara and Joan Baez.
AG: Sara came, and his children came. And Sara met Joan Baez and they all acted
in the movie together, and Joan Baez brought her mother and her children, and Ramblin’
Jack Elliot had his daughter. So there was a lot of jumping family.
PBC: Sounds like Dylan tying up a lot of loose karmic ends.
AG: Right. As he says in the jacket notes to the Desire album,
"We’ve got a lot of karma to burn." To deal with or get rid of, I think he
PBC: It was really a unique tour, bringing you primarily to small towns and
colleges in New England . . .
AG: The Beat moment was arriving at Jack Kerouac’s natal place, Lowell,
Massachusetts, and going to Kerouac’s grave.
PBC: Was Dylan moved during that experience?
AG: He was very open and very tender, he gave a lot of himself there. We stood
at Kerouac’s grave and read a little section on the nature of self-selflessness, from Mexico
City Blues. Then we sat down on the grave and Dylan took up my harmonium and made up a
little tune. Then he picked up his guitar and started a slow blues, so I improvised into a
sort of exalted style, images about Kerouac’s empty skull looking down at us over the
trees and clouds while we sat there, empty-mouthed, chanting the blues. Suddenly, Dylan
interrupted the guitar while I continued singing the verses (making them up as I went
along so it was like the triumph of the Milarepa style) and he picked up a Kerouac-ian
October-brown autumn leaf from the grass above his grave and stuck it in his breast pocket
and then picked up the guitar again and came down at the beat just as I did, too, and we
continued for another couple of verses before ending. So it was very detached and
surrendered; it didn’t even make a difference if he played the guitar or not. It was like
the old blues guitarists who sing a cappella for a couple of bars.
PBC: Has Dylan ever acknowledged to you that Kerouac was an influence on him or
that he’s familiar with his work?
AG: Yes, oddly! I asked him if he had ever read any Kerouac. He answered,
"Yeah, when I was young in Minneapolis." Someone had given him Kerouac’s Mexico
City Blues. He said, "I didn’t understand the words then, I understand it better
now, but it blew my mind." So apparently Kerouac was more of an influence on him than
I had realized. I think it was a nice influence on him.
PBC: Which poem was he reading from Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues?
AG: It’s one toward the end of the book, which he picked out at random. I had
picked out something for him to read and, typical Dylan, he turned the page and read the
other one on the opposite side of the page. (laughs)
PBC: Which one did you pick out for him to read?
AG: "The wheel of the quivering meat conception turns in the void,"
the one that, I think, ends, "Poor! I wish I were out of this slaving meat wheel and
safe in heaven, dead." There was another one I picked which lists all the sufferings
of existence and ends, "like kissing my kitten in the belly, the softness of our
PBC: Was it your suggestion that Rolling Thunder include Lowell on the tour?
AG: No, Dylan had chosen it himself. We did a lot of beautiful filming in Lowell
– one of the scenes described by Kerouac is a grotto near an orphanage in the center of
red brick Catholic Lowell near the Merrimac River. So we went there and spent part of the
afternoon. There’s a giant statue of Christ described by Kerouac. Dylan got up near where
the Christ statue was on top of an artificial hill-mound, and all of a sudden he got into
this funny monologue, asking the man on the cross, "How does it feel to be up
there?" There’s a possibility . . . everyone sees Dylan as a Christ-figure,
too, but he doesn’t want to get crucified. He’s too smart, in a way. Talking to "the
star" who made it up and then got crucified Dylan was almost mocking, like a good Jew
might be to someone who insisted on being the messiah, against the wisdom of the rabbis,
and getting himself nailed up for it. He turned to me and said, "What can you do for
somebody in that situation?" I think he quoted Christ, "suffer the little
children," and I quoted "and always do for others and let others do for
you," which is Dylan’s hip, American-ese paraphrase of Christ’s "Do unto others
. . .," in "Forever Young."
So there was this brilliant, funny situation of Dylan talking to Christ, addressing
this life-size statue of Christ, and allowing himself to be photographed with Christ. It
was like Dylan humorously playing with the dreadful potential of his own mythological
imagery, unafraid and confronting it, trying to deal with it in a sensible way. That
seemed to be the characteristic of the tour: that Dylan was willing to shoulder the burden
of the myth laid on him, or that he himself created, or the composite creation of himself
and the nation, and use it as a workable situation; as Trungpa would say,
We had another funny little scene — I don’t know if these will ever be shown in the
film, that’s why I’m describing them — with Dylan playing the Alchemist and me playing
the Emperor, filmed in a diner outside of Falmouth, Massachusetts. I enter the diner and
say, "I’m the emperor, I just woke up this morning and found out I inherited an
empire, and it’s bankrupt. I hear from the apothecary across the street that you’re an
alchemist. I need some help to straighten out karmic problems with my empire
. . . I just sent for a shipload of tears from Indo-China but it didn’t seem to
do any good. Can you help, do you have any magic formulae for alchemizing the
situation?" Dylan kept denying that he was an alchemist. "I can’t help, what’re
you asking me for? I don’t know anything about it." I said, "You’ve got to,
you’ve got to be a bodhisattva, you’ve got to take on the responsibility, you’re the
alchemist, you know the secrets.” So he asked the counterman, who was a regular
counterman at a regular diner, to bring him some graham crackers and some Ritz crackers,
ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar, milk, coffee, yogurt, and apple pie. He dumped them all in a
big aluminum pot. Earlier, I had come in and lay down my calling card, which was an autumn
leaf, just like the one Dylan pocketed in the graveyard — the leaf which runs through
many of the scenes in the movie, representing, like in Kerouac’s work, transiency,
poignancy, regret, acknowledgement of change, death. So I threw my calling card leaf in
the pot and Dylan threw in a piece of cardboard, and then he fished out the leaf, all
muddy, and slapped it down on the counter on top of my notebook, where I was taking down
all the magical ingredients of his alchemical mixture. Then I said, "Oh, I see the
secret of your alchemy: ordinary objects." "Yes," he said, "ordinary
mind." So that was the point of that. Next I said, "Come on, look at my
kingdom," and he said, "No, I don’t want anything to do with it" and he
rushed out of the diner. I followed him out, like in a Groucho Marx movie, and stopped:
turned to the camera, lifted my finger, and said, "I’ll find out the secret."
Then we redid the scene and, coyote magician that he is, with no consistency, he suggested
towards the end of the scene, "Well, why don’t we go look at your kingdom?" So
he led the way out and we went to see the "empire." He was completely
unpredictable in the way he would improvise scenes. All the scenes were improvised.
PBC: During the Rolling Thunder tour some of the participants expressed the hope
that it might continue as some sort of functioning community. Are there any indications
now, several months later, that that may come to pass, either through the film or another
tour of the Midwest?
AG: I don’t think it was intended to be a continuously functioning community in
any formal way, like people living together. I don’t think the energy would depend on that
group of people continuing any more than, say, all the San Francisco poets living
together. I think it might be necessary for those people to disperse and de-centralize,
and also for Dylan to try something new — not do just one thing, but continue
PBC: With (by now) ten years added perspective to your heralding a "new
age" in The Fall of America, what are your present views on what the artist
and the poet can do to hasten the advent of that "new age?"
AG: To paraphrase the poem: "make laughing Blessing." That particular
quotation (which begins this interview), is probably the happiest and most optimistic, and
at the same time the most egotistically righteous, lyric in The Fall of America. It
invokes the spirit of both Hart Crane, who committed suicide, and Whitman, who didn’t
commit suicide, in building an American bridge to the future. I don’t know, though. I
don’t have any simple answer to what the poet can do or should do.
PBC: Theodore Roszak’s chapter on your work, in The Making of a Counter
Culture, quotes Wordsworth:
We poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof in the end come despondency and madness.
As you approach your 50th birthday, your life outwardly seems to be the opposite of
Wordsworth’s dictum. Would you credit your Buddhist viewpoint and practice with having
made the difference?
AG: My own common sense, and my experience of my mother’s madness as a kind of
preventive antitoxin, as well as the ripening of my own awareness and peaceableness
through shamatha meditation.
PBC: Prior to your vision of Blake in 1948, had you ever gone through an
agnostic, or questioning, period concerning religion, spirituality, God . . .
and, if so, did that vision bring you back to the realization of the imminent
transcendence of God within everyday reality?
AG: I had absolutely no interest in religion, God or spirituality before the
vision, although Kerouac and I had concocted a search for a "New Vision" back in
PBC: An aspiritual "New Vision?"
AG: Yes. We didn’t have any idea what we were looking for.
PBC: Your experience seems to parallel what many young people underwent in the
sixties and seventies. First, de-programming themselves from heavy religious conditioning
they had undergone as children, and then coming back to a spiritual sensibility, either
through drugs or . . .
AG: I never had any religious conditioning and I never came back to any.
PBC: You’re fortunate in that case.
AG: Yeah, thank God!
from New Age Journal, April 1976. Copyright ? by Peter Barry Chowka. Online Source
Interview with Ginsberg (8/11/96)
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you personally
experienced the restrictive Cold War atmosphere that came through the Fifties?
ALLEN GINSBERG: Well, part of that atmosphere was the sort of anti-Communist hysteria
of McCarthyism, but culminating in ‘53 or so, with the execution of the Rosenbergs. It was
a little harsh. Whatever they did, it wasn’t worth killing people, you know, killing them.
I remember sending a wire to Eisenhower and saying: "No, that’s the wrong
thing." Drawing blood like that is the wrong thing, because it’s ambiguous; and
especially, there was one commentator on the air, called Fulton Lewis, who said that they
smelt bad, and therefore should die. There was an element of anti-Semitism in it. But I
remember very clearly on the radio, this guy Fulton Lewis saying they smelt bad. He was a
friend of J. Edgar Hoover, who was this homosexual in the closet, who was blackmailing
But that year, ‘53, I was living with William Burroughs in New York, and he was
conceiving the first routines of Naked Lunch, which were parodies of Cold War
bureaucracy mentality and police state mentality. And I remember that year very vividly,
that Mosaddeq was overthrown in Iran, in Persia, because it was suspected that he might be
neutral, or left, though he wasn’t, but he really wanted to nationalize the oilfields,
which the Shah later did anyway. And I remember the CIA overthrew Mosaddeq, and he wept in
court; and we’ve had karmic troubles and war troubles with Iran ever since. That was the
seed of all the Middle Eastern catastrophe we’re facing now.
[At the] same time, in 1953, the Arbenz government in Guatemala was overthrown, and I
was much aware of that, despite the neutrality of the American papers and the lack of real
reporting. The actual event was that Allen Dulles was running the CIA, I believe; John
Foster Dulles was Eisenhower’s Secretary of State; they both had relations to the… I
think it was the Sullivan and Cromwell law firm. The Sullivan and Cromwell law firm were
representing United Fruit, and so, for the United Fruit’s interests we overthrew a
democratically elected leader … Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. And that was followed by…
well, what is it?… 30 years or 40 years of persecution of the Guatemalan indigenous
peoples, with the death of 200,000 of them – at least so the New York Times says -
particularly under the later leadership of General R?os Montt, who turns out also to have
been a disciple of Pat Robertson, the right-wing moralist, Bible-thumping Christ
announcer, assuming for himself the morality and ethics of Jesus.
So many, many seeds of karmic horror: mass death, mass murder, were planted in those
years, including, very consciously for me – I was quite aware of it – the refusal of John
Foster Dulles to shake Zhou Enlai’s hand at the Geneva Conference which ended the French
war in Indochina, or was supposed to end it. Now the Americans had been sending France $40
million a year to pursue that war, and then the Americans cut off the funds, so the French
didn’t have funds. But as Bernard Fall points out, and many others, General Salan and
others maintained the war through the proceeds of the opium sales in Chelon, the Chinese
section of Saigon, and the war was funded for a while by them. Then, when the Americans
finally took over, with a puppet president, Diem who had been cultivated in the Merinal
Academy in the East Coast by Cardinal Spellman… another flaming faggot, who in disguise
was a sort of a war dragon and one of the instigators of the Vietnam War… so Diem was a
Catholic, and we had installed him as the puppet in a Buddhist country. So, when I arrived
in Saigon in 1963, coming after several years in India, I was astounded to find that this
Buddhist country was being run by a Catholic American puppet. And, in sitting down with
David Halperstam and I think Charles Morer and Peter Arnett and others, who were reporting
for the American newspapers, I got a completely different idea in the early Sixties, ‘63,
May 30th ‘63 to… oh, June 10th or so… completely different idea of what was going on
in the war than I’d had reading the papers abroad or in America. They all said that the
war could not be won; there was no light at the end of the tunnel; and Ambassador Lodge’s
reports to the President were false, or hyper-optimistic and misleading; and that they
were getting flak and criticism for reporting what they saw on the spot there. But to go
back to the Fifties, what was … it felt like in the Fifties – given all these karmic
violent errors that the CIA was making in Iran, in Latin America, the real problem was
that none of this was clearly reported in the press. It was reported with apologies or
with rationalizations or with the accusation that Arbenz was a communist, or that Mosaddeq
was a communist. Mosaddeq was mocked, especially when he wept in court, with tears that
were tears, and very tragic, both for America and Iran. And he was considered … you
know, in Time magazine, which was sort of the standard party line, like the
Stalinist party line, he was considered the… you know, some kind of jerk.
Of course, in those days Walt Whitman was considered a jerk, and William Carlos
Williams was considered a jerk, and any sign of natural man was considered a jerk. The
ideal, as you could find it in advertising in the loose organizations, was the man of
distinction: actually, a sort of British-looking guy with a brush moustache and a tweed
coat, in a club library, drinking – naturally – the favorite drug, the drug of choice of
the Establishment. And this was considered and broadcast as… advertised as the
American century. Well, you know, Burroughs and I and Kerouak had already been reading
Oswald Spengler on the decline in the West and the cycles of civilizations, and found this
proclamation of the American century a sort of faint echo of Hitler’s insistence on his
empire lasting 1,000 years, or the Roman Empire’s neglect of the central cities. And we
were thinking in terms of the fall of America, and a new vision and a new religiousness,
really, a second religiousness, which Kerouak spoke of in the Fifties, and exemplified,
say, with his introduction to Eastern thought into the American scene, from the beginning
of the 1950s through his book Mexico City Blues, poems which were
Buddhist-flavored, through his open portrait of Gary Snyder in The Dharma Bum(s),
the book The Dharma Bums – a long-haired rucksack revolution, a rebellion within
the cities against the prevailing war culture, and a cultivation of the countryside and
the beginning of ecological considerations and ecological reconstruction.
So you had McCarthyism, you had a completely false set of values being presented in
terms of morality, ethics and success: the man of distinction. You had to put down the
most tender parts of American conscience, Whitman and Williams. You had the aggression of
the closet queen J. Edgar Hoover and the alcoholic, intemperate Senator McCarthy working
together. You had a stupid Post Master General, Arthur Somerfield, who presented the
President, Eisenhower, with Lady Chatterley’s Lover on his desk, with dirty words
underlined; and it was reported, I think in Time or in Newsweek, that
Eisenhower said, "Terrible – we can’t have this!" And so there was censorship,
particularly censorship of literature towards…it was not… like, unconsciously or
inadvertently, the things that were censored were the anti-war, anti-macho,
anti-imperial texts, whether the beginnings of Burroughs’s Naked Lunch in the
Fifties, Kerouak’s Visions of Cody, which could not be printed in those days, Lady
Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller. So we had D.H. Lawrence banned, Catullus banned; the
Satyricon and Petronius’ Arbiter couldn’t be printed completely in English,
it had to be printed in Latin in the Modern Library editions.
So we had electoral censorship, literary censorship. You had a large-scale electoral
censorship on a much more subtle, vast wave, with the CIA, bankrolling the Congress for
Cultural Freedom and a number of literary magazines, like Encounter, Truth,
(We Won in?) Africa, Demonat, and others. Stephen Spender, I
remember, used to complain to me that he’d bring in articles critical of the American
imperium in Latin America, and somehow Laskey, or whoever was working with him, or Arnold
Beichman, I don’t know – somehow, when he left their office, they would… it was rejected
and nothing but anti-Communist, anti-Russian screeds were there. Very good reporting in
that aspect, very good, but on the other hand there was no balance in reporting the
horrors of American imperial invasion and overthrow and CIA subversion – all over the
world, actually – much less CIA invasion of the intellectual body politic, with the
funding of the National Student Association, Congress for Cultural Freedom, all those
magazines; even the Pen Club was tainted with that for a while. So there was this invasion
of subsidy for a somewhat middle-right-wing party line. And the interesting thing is, most
of those people that were working in the CIA, that worked that out, were ex-commies; they
had the same Stalinist mentality: they just transferred it over to the right wing, and it
prevails to this very day. But it was… ex-radicals, or even Marxists, who, disillusioned
by the show trials of 1937 and the anti-Semitism of Stalin, went all the way over to the
to the extreme right and began suppressing their understanding of the trouble with the
American capitalism and imperialism, and didn’t strike a good balance, as did a few
intellectuals, like Irving Howe, an American who had explored the World of Our Fathers,
Ian McGuint… the first-generation of Slavic, Russian and Jewish geniuses that rose out
of the American soil after the great immigrations of 1895, which is part of my family too,
because my mother came over from Russia in 1895.
So, to summarize: in the Fifties you had invasion of the intellectual world, subtly and
secretly, by the CIA. You had invasion of political worlds in the Middle East, in Central
America and Africa, I presume, and in Asia, again with secret police. I believe it was
Wesley Fischel, the professor at East Lansing, Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin, who
trained President Diem’s secret police and brought them over intact to Saigon, under the
auspices of the CIA, back in the early Fifties, when Diem was installed, ‘56 or so. You
had a subversion of student activity and a blanketing of student protest. That’s why you
had the extreme rise of SDS, and later (Prairie Fire?) in the early Sixties, because
normal student investigation and rebellion against the status quo had been suppressed by
CIA funding of the National Student Association, with the presidents of the Student
Association quite witting.
You had a literary atmosphere where there was censorship, where there was very little
vigor, where an Eliotic conservative attitude was dominant in the academies, which
excluded then Whitman as canon or Williams as canon or Minna Loy, or Louis Nightecker, or
Cobracussi or Charles (unclear), or the whole imagist/objectivists’ lineage which came
into prominence in America in the Fifties and transformed American poetry to open form. So
you had a closed form in poetry, and a closed form of mind, is what it boils down to.
INT: So how did it feel for you as an individual, with
writing in a very different way about very different subject matters, to be coming through
AG: Well, it was fun. (Laughs) First of all, I was gay,
and once I came out of the closet in 1948, all during the Fifties I was astounded at the
cowardice or silliness or fear of the rest of the gay literary contingent, although I
think one or two writers had been up front, like Andr? Gide or Jean Genet, of course, and
Gore Vidal in America, who broke some ice.
But between Burroughs and myself, we were (Laughs) completely out of the closet, and
thought it was all funny or, you know, absurd, the repression and the persecution of gays
in those days. I remember I got kicked out of Columbia for… I had hosted Kerouac
overnight – he slept in my bed, and I was a virgin at the time, and this is back in the
Forties, ‘46 or so… and quite chaste; we slept together because it was too late to go
home to his mother on the subway – and somebody found out about that he was staying over,
and when I came downstairs there was a note: "The Dean will want to see you."
And I went to see Dean Nicholas McKnight of Columbia College, and he looked at me and
said, "Mr. Ginsberg, I hope you realize the enormity of what you’ve done."
(Laughs) And I took a look and I realized I was surrounded by madmen (Laughs) – they were
completely nuts, you know, and, you know, thinking something horrible was happening.
So that was the atmosphere late Forties, early Fifties, actually. And then I think
probably by ‘55-’56 in the… I’d sort of given up on New York ’cause it was too
restricted and too much in the closet, and too academic; there was no way of getting
anything as wild as Kerouac’s writing or Burrough’s routines or Burroughs’s novel Queer,
which we put together in ‘53, or In Search of Yahe, 1953, though we had managed to
publish his book Junkie, which is a realistic account of the stupidity of the war
on drugs, and the troubles of drug(s) too.
But the literature we were producing just for ourselves, without any intention of
publishing, just for the pleasure of writing and amusing ourselves and extending our
imaginations, and each others’ imaginations, you know, I think in the dedication of (.?.)
in 1956, I mentioned Kerouac’s 13 novels and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Neal
Cassady’s First Third, and saying "All these books are published in
heaven." I didn’t think they’d be published in our lifetime; things seemed so closed.
And it’s that closed mind, I think, that was responsible for the ineptness of the Cold
War. Certainly, a cold war of some kind was necessary, but I think probably rock’n’ roll,
blues, blue jeans, the counter-culture, did as much, if not more, to undermine the
authority of the Marxist bureaucracy, certainly in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland -
probably in Russia, too, and the internal corruption within Russia did as much to
undermine it as all the trillions of dollars that we went into debt for military hardware
which was never used, or rarely used.
INT: What was your assessment of the Russians during
AG: Well, very mixed, you know. My mother was a communist
and my father was socialist, so I grew up with knowing the fight. And I never was a
communist – I was more apolitical in a sense, until I went to Saigon in ‘63, and saw
the… But that wasn’t it, because I did make mockery of some of the McCarthyite Cold War
straightness. I think my poem America says: "Them Russians, them Russians and
them Russians, and them Chinese and them Russians, they’re after us, they want to take our
cars from out of our garages." And I said, "OK, America, I’ll fight them – I’ll
put my queer shoulder to the wheel." They still don’t let gays in the military in
I was sort of neutral in the Cold War, since it seemed to me a balance of aggression on
both sides; a preponderance of heavy, heavy police state in Russia, and not so heavy in
America at all, though a police state for junkies, certainly, and it has grown and grown
and grown, where we do have a generic police state for people who are committing the
political crime of smoking grass, or the illness … or involving the illness of
addiction. We have more people in jail now than anywhere else. But in those days, the
Government was also spreading all sorts of mythological nonsense about marijuana, despite
the Guardi report giving it a clean bill of health.
So there was a little element of police state here, and certainly in areas that I was
familiar with. There was an enormous element of the American police state in Latin America
and in Iran and so forth. So, Americans did not take that in account. It’s almost as W.E.
Dubois, the great black philosopher, said, that the problem was not merely race, but that
people who were prosperous were willing to enjoy their prosperity at the expense of the
pain, suffering and labor of other people. Like, I understand that we withdraw, from
Africa hundreds of billion of dollars of raw materials every year, and then complain when
they want some foreign aid. (Laughs) Or that, as of those days to these very days, we’ll
lend them money to expand their coffee plantations, but not to make their own coffee
factories and sell it abroad. So we’ve been sucking the blood out of our client and
undeveloped nations like vampires, and that’s why America has this prosperity; and people
are not willing to recognize that – not only America, but Western Europe. I mean, I was
quite aware of that and thinking in… thinking in those terms in the late Forties, early
But by ‘65, I’d had several very interesting incidents. I went down to Cuba and,
complaining about Castro’s treatment of homosexuals, found myself after a month under
arrest and expelled from the country, to Prague. In Prague, I found I had quite a bit of
money from royalties, and so took a tour of Russia and saw what was going on there in
terms of police state and bureaucracy; came back to Prague, was elected the King of May by
the students, and immediately expelled by the Minister of Education and the Minister of
Culture, as an American homosexual narcotic hippie – a poor role model for Czechoslovakian
youth. At that time, I think it was May nineteen-ninety… And in ‘65 I ran into Havel as
a student, an acquaintance which we renewed when he became President, and he reminded me
that we’d met. If you ask Havel, or see his interviews with various jazz figures who
influenced him, you’ll find that the inspiration for the rebellion in Eastern Europe was
very much the American counter culture, and the English counter-culture: the Beatles,
Dylan, Kerouac, Burroughs, Soft Machine, the Fugs: a very important rock group singing
‘Police State Blues’ and ‘River of Shit’ (Laughs) in the early Sixties in America.
So I found I was kicked out by the Prague police and the Havana police. Then, when I
got back, I took part in various anti-war manifestations. But I found that the day I’d
arrived in Prague, I had been put on the dangerous security list of J. Edgar Hoover, as a
crazed, violent, or … I don’t know what he thought I was. And that he should talk, I
must say… (Laughs) Maybe he thought my homosexuality was a threat to America or
But anyway, on April 26, 1965, the day I arrived in Prague, to be kicked out two weeks
later, I was put on the dangerous security list here. Then I found that… in ‘65-’66,
that the Narcotics Bureau was trying to set me up for a bust, partly for my anti-war
activity, partly anti-war on drugs, anti-police corruption activity, and so they tried to
set me up for a bust, several different people busting people and threatening to throw the
book at them unless they went to my apartment and planted marijuana. So I complained to
Robert Kennedy and to my various Patterson, New Jersey representatives in Congress, and
New York. And years later, when I got my papers from the FBI under the Freedom of
Information Act – because you can get your papers after 15-20 years – I found that the FBI
had translated a denunciation of me by the Prague youth newspaper (Lada Fronta?),
saying that I was a corrupter of youth and alcoholic – which I’m not – and not to be
trusted, and had sent it over the Narcotics Bureau to send to my representative,
Congressman Jolson, wanting him not to answer my questions and request for protection and
complaints about the set-ups, the entrapment procedures of the Narcotics Bureau, because I
was irresponsible, as is proved by this communist newspaper (Laughs), and that anything I
said might be turned to embarrass him. So I realized that the Western police and in
certain areas, the Western police and the communist police, by 1965, were one
international mucous membrane network (Laughs) – there was hardly any difference between
INT: Very good answer. Can we go back to the emergence
of the counter-culture? Some of your writings hit a very popular vein and you became very,
INT: Could you describe to me a little bit about why
you think that happened, what they were and why that happened, and what the elements of
this… what your philosophy was, if you like, that emerged from this period?
AG: Well, the main themes, actually, of a whole group of poets – that would be Gary
Snyder, myself, Philip Wayland, Jack Kerouak, William Burroughs, Michael McLure, Philip
Lamonti of the surrealists, the San Francisco group, and the New York group, the beat
group, as well as to some extent the Black Mountain group – one: spontaneous mind and
candor, telling the truth in the public forum, completely difficult during the time of
censorship and party-line mass media, moderation and… well, deceptiveness, deceptiveness
in terms of the American violence abroad. And…
(Interruption – change tape)
INT: So, we were talking about…
AG: Yes, the counter-culture.
INT: … the counter-culture and new revolutionary
AG: (Overlap) What were the tenets or themes of the counter-culture, as I know them
from the Forties and Fifties, meaning the beat group and some allied friends.