Sunday, May 27, 2007

Allen Ginsberg / guitar picks

Eric, who’s vowed that he won’t let Say Something Wonderful die, has posted a lovely little video of Allen Ginsberg singing “Father Death Blues,” a bit of tape which brought me pretty close to tears. It’s Ginsberg’s elegy for his father Louis, so it made me think of Eric’s father & my own father, who passed away within a few years of each half a decade or so ago. As Eric says, it’s a “sweet, sweet” poem – and it’s also a pretty darned good poem, & more than that, an excellent piece of folk-pop songwriting.
It’s made me consider rethinking my rather knee-jerk alt-poetry Ginsberg line, which goes something like this: AG works hard at it, busts out of bad formal verse & by dint of lots of trial & error & a great deal of labor writes two magnificent poems (“Howl” of course and “Kaddish”) & and handful of very good ones; then sometime in the 1960s he starts taking the “first thought best thought” business seriously & his work goes straight into the dumper, so that you can safely ignore everything he wrote after (arbitrarily) 1965 or so. (Which didn’t keep me from going to see him read at SUNY Cortland in 1988 or so, & enjoying it immensely.
My one conversation with Allen Ginsberg:
Me (from urinal on right): I’ve admired your work forever. I’m really looking forward to your reading.
AG (from urinal on left): Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy it.)

But hearing Ginsberg deliver “Father Death Blues,” & seeing that it really does stand up on the page as well – not as a dense, wildly iconoclastic piece of alt-poetry, but as a fully-achieved, modest, angular elegy – makes me want to go back & explore the post-“Kaddish” Ginsberg in the detail I haven’t allowed myself before.

(“Father Death Blues,” by the way, sounds really boss on the Irish bouzouki, where you can get a wonderful drony-thing going on the lower strings during the A chord.)
On a not entirely unrelated note: I’d been wondering what critter had been eating guitar picks around the house lately. I was sure I’d had at least a half-dozen lying around or threaded thru the strings of various stringed instruments, but when I picked up the acoustic to thrash thru the AG song, there was nary a plectrum to be found. Until I shook the guitar, & heard at least two of the little devils rattling around inside. Daphne, apparently, has decided that the proper storage facility for Daddy’s little bits of plastic is – admittedly rather logically – inside the stringed instruments he uses them to play. The final count: 2 inside the Washburn acoustic, 2 inside the bouzouki, 2 inside the gold-flake Sorrento, and 1 inside the ES-295 – at least one pick inside every instrument with a soundhole to receive it.


Amy said...

How is it that a simple urinal can add such gravitas to even the simplest conversation?

I envy your position in space, time, and in front of the porceline convenience. ;-)

We missed you guys last night!

Robert said...

My one conversation with Allen Ginsberg (circa 1977):
Me: [handing latte across counter to AG, taking his money]
AG: [Sips] That's a good caffe latte.

Peter O'Leary said...

Hey Mark/

Once, when talking about Ginsberg with Ron Johnson, he said to me about "Wales Visitation," "I think, in a pinch, you'd be able to reconstruct Western Civilization from that poem." For a fine late poem, try "Sphincter," whose title says it all. Even in the later poetry, he's always generous & much funnier than most comedians, to say nothing of most dullard poets.

I haven't seen an actual guitar pick in my house in five years. I think my boys actually eat them.