One of my favorite rock/culture critics is Mikal Gilmore. He not only understands the artists and contexts he explores, he knows how to evoke a sense of "being there" for his readers, too. His reflection on the death of Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, helped me reconnect with a number of truths that I still honor from the whole Beat generation. He notes:
Just as Dylan would later change what popular songs could say and do (and btw as I write let's remember to wish brother Bob a happy birthday: May 24th). Ginsberg changed what poetry might accomplish, how it would speak, what it would articulate to and for... (because) Ginsberg was someone who once summoned the bravery to speak hidden truths about unspeakable things and some people took consolation and courage from his example... he overcame the legacy of neediness and uncertainty that his unstable mother bequeathed him (and) and gave his entire life to a process of opening himself up to possibilities... in doing so he helped set loose something wonderful, risky and unyielding in the psyche and dreams of our times.
Ginsberg celebrated life. In his beautiful but wounded way, he invited us to see the holy in the human - the marriage of heaven with earth - so that every moment was sacramental. For most of my conscious adult life, I, too, have been exploring this spirituality.
As a young musician I glimpsed the possibilities first through Dylan - who clearly got it through Ginsberg - and then George Harrison of the Beatles. I used to think I was a Lennon fan - there is a funny Myers-Briggs spoof that divides the world into Beatles with Lennon vs. McCartney as the major split - but as all things have passed I realize that it was always Harrison who spoke to me most profoundly. (NOTE: I still LOVE many of Lennon's tunes and understand that it was no accident, of course, that Lennon changed the spelling of the Beetles - his homage to both Brando and Buddy Holly - to the BEATLES as his debt to the Beats deepened.) Indeed, Gilmore once spoke of Harrison as a bluesman who had learned how to live alone in the world - not always happily - but with few illusions. And his song, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" continues to be at the core of my experience of God in the world.
But it has only been recently that I have come to realize that is was the Beat reworking of William Carlos Williams' conviction that poetry should be spoken in the honest language of real life that shaped and formed the music of both Dylan and the Beatles. Back in the day, I didn't know why I was bored with what became known as "art rock" - Emerson, Lake and Palmer et al and all their rococo friends - it seemed more like frosting on a a cake than real food. Now I understand why they became increasingly irrelevant to me while Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" or "Blood on the Tracks" increased in value.
So, one of the things I hope to do with my brother this coming week in San Francisco is to prowl around some of the old Beat haunts and photograph them. Less for nostalgia sake (I hope) but more as reckoning. Both Philip and I are getting older - his brush with mortality was another push towards trying to be real - and alive. And he knows this realm - and city - far better than I so I want to learn from him. And hear his poems and maybe know a little more of what's inside his heart.
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