Kaddish in Canada
We Are Continually Exposed To The Flashbulb Of Death
The Allen Ginsberg Photo Exhibit
University of Toronto Art Centre
Sept. 2nd – Dec. 6th, 2014
So, here’s a weird trip!
I’ve been going to Beat gatherings for 30 years — and even at the very first one — the Kerouac SuperSummit in Boulder in ’82 — I actually knew a couple of people — the beatific publishers Arthur & Kit Knight who I’d hung with at an NYU book fair the year before. I’ve been to about 50 billion of these things since, both mega-huge conferences and tiny club readings — but never once where I didn’t know a single person! It’s always an “old home week” of hugs n howdies at these things … but here I was for the first time walking into this nearly naked gallery all alone … no schmooze, no booze, no wailing music from a bandstand in the corner, no cluster of smokers out front. No one.
But tons of Allen!
The show’s on the University of Toronto campus, which is a trippy other-world to begin with — one of those massive, sprawling, tree-filled labyrinthian fantasylands of old stone castles and planetariums and co-ed touch football games in the rustling leafs with Marshall McLuhan’s ghost breezing around. I finally found the show in the very back of a dark cluster of galleries in some wing of one of the hundred buildings, and the whole hour + I was there, there was all of one couple and two other lone women who wandered around for a few minutes … once again reminding me, “I’m not in Manhattan anymore.”
The wall inside the front door.
A funny thing — they’re playing, fairly loudly over some crystalline speakers mounted in the ceiling corners of each of the five big rooms, Allen reading Howl and Kaddish from 1959, and Father Death and some other meditations with the harmonium. Somehow in clean and proper Canada, his shocking candid candor sounds as jarring here as it probably sounded in middle America in the 1950s. Ya just don’t get a lot of “fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists” round these parts.
About 200 photos are on display of the nearly 8,000 that came with the massive archival bequeath. For old beatniks, there’s not a lot new here, but … there were a lot of shots that included ol’ Allen’s peepee. Those pics you’ve seen of him nekked but covering up also had other shots on the same roll … and for just a moment it did feel like I was back in New York again.
(Taking photographs was strictly prohibited, you understand. 😉 )
It’s a collection of all Allen’s greatest hit snapshots — Jack on the fire escape with his brakeman’s manual in pocket; on the beach in Tangiers; Burroughs & Jack play-fighting on the couch — and most of them printed on large 18″ x 12″ paper with Allen’s chickenscratch captions nearly big enough to be readable! . 🙂
My favorite might have been the bearded Lucien Carr portrait sitting at a dining room table in 1986. Besides the touching capture of a quiet touch of grey moment between two brothers, photos of him post-1950s are so rare period. And a crazy thing — in discussions about Lucien on one of the Beat message boards a few months ago, something hit me — I bet in some weird ironic way, Lucien may have been the most widely read Beat of them all, with all his years writing wire copy for the U.P. that went into countless newspapers all over the world. I thought this was some pretty new thinking — I’d certainly never seen anyone suggest it before — because we all want Allen, Jack or Bill to be The Beat Supreme … Well, imagine my surprise when I squint at Allen’s chickenscratch under the Lucien portrait and he’s written, “More eyes read his anonymous wire-service prose than Jack K’s & mine all these years, I’ll bet.” !! . 😮
There was one flat glasstop display table in the middle of each room with various smaller snapshot prints and other ephemera, and the whole museumy nature of the space brought flashbacks of that historic Whitney show in ’95.
It’s great that Allen’s photos have been preserved, and that exhibitions are rightfully devoted to him, but even with his peepee hangin out, Beat shows just don’t feel right in these pristine, fancy, sanitized, sterilized showrooms. As much as everyone in the Beat world strove for that imprimatur of respectability — me and Allen included — once there, it just doesn’t feel like home — and only made me long to be sitting on some wobbly chair in a small crowded club listening to barely published poets howling out their lives.
For the first-meeting-Allen story at that Jack summit in ’82 check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or for another tale from that crazy Boulder adventure soon to be a major motion picture check out this Allen, Edie & Henri Cru riff.
Or for, say, a Carolyn & John Cassady adventure there’s always that classic Northport Report.
Or here’s a tribute to my late great friend Carolyn Cassady.
Or here’s the account of being at the auction when the On The Road scroll sold for a world record amount.
Or here’s a piece on that historic Whitney Museum Beat show referenced above.
Or here’s a poetic riff on the Beat poetry-&-music shows in the Village that I pined for in this sterile art gallery.
Or here’s the On The Road movie premiere in London adventure story that began at Carolyn’s cabin in the woods.
Or here’s me tellin some tales of all this stuff on YouTube.
Or here’s where you can buy a bunch of different Beat photo prints nearly as good as these — taken at the Jack Summit in ’82, including some seen in my book — from the Lance Gurwell Collection.
Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com