“HOWL” FOR CARL SOLOMON
Carl Solomon was born March 30, 1928 in the Bronx, New York. His father died in 1939, which depressed him deeply. He graduated high school at the age of fifteen, and enrolled at the City College of New York. In 1943 he dropped out to joined the US Maritime Service. As a seaman, he traveled all over the world, seeing many notable sights such as the surrealist exposition of Andre Breton, Jean Genet’s first play, and hearing Antonin Artaud read poetry. Solomon began reading a lot of Dadaist and Surrealist poetry. Then, after identifying himself with Kafka’s hero, K, Solomon decided that he was insane. Just after his twenty-first birthday, he voluntarily committed himself and recieved shock treatment at the Psychiatric Insitute of New York.
As Solomon was coming up from his shock treatment one day, he mumbled “I’m Kirilov [of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed].” Allen Ginsberg, sitting in the waiting room replied, “I’m Myshkin.” Indeed, Solomon said many interesting things after regaining post-shock consciousness, much of which Ginsberg put into his famous poem, “Howl,” which was dedicated to Solomon. Solomon at first thought he was a new patient, though Ginsberg was only visiting his mother.
Solomon and Ginsberg soon became friends, which was Solomon’s only real claim to fame. Despite his mental conditions, Solomon was very intelligent, and was able to teach ginsberg a lot about important writers and obscure geniuses.
Solomon’s uncle happened to be A.A. Wyn, the publisher of Ace books. When he wasn’t in the hospital, Solomon did work for his uncle. Ginsberg pleaded with him to try to publish his seemingly un-publishable friends William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ace books ended up signing Burroughs’ Junky as part of a pulp, two-in-one thriller, but they rejected Kerouac’s 120-foot long single page manuscript of On the Road.
Though Solomon was not a writer himself, pepole always thought he was. He did eventually live up to these expectations in 1996, when his first book, Mishaps, Perhaps was published. It was a collection of quaintly psychotic essays including “Pilgrim State Hospital,” and “Suggestions to improve the Public Image of the Beatnik.” Later, two more of his books were published: More Mishaps in 1968, and Emergency Messages in 1989.
By Levi Asher on Wednesday, August 24, 1994 08:46 am
“… who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy …”
(From ‘Howl (for Carl Solomon)’ by Allen Ginsberg)
Yes, Carl Solomon really did throw potato salad during a City College of New York lecture on Dadaism. He and his friends were making an artistic statement by doing this, but years later when Solomon pleaded for a lobotomy to end his psychotic anguish he was not being artistic.
Solomon, born on March 30, 1928 in the Bronx, is mainly famous for having inspired the poem “Howl”, rather than for any achievements of his own. He and Ginsberg met in a waiting room at a psychiatric hospital where Ginsberg was visiting his mother. Solomon was a regular there. Despite his mental problems he had a hyperactive intelligence, and was able to instruct Ginsberg (not exactly a dummy himself) on many literary points, despite the fact that Ginsberg was two years older.
Carl Solomon’s uncle was A. A. Wyn, publisher of Ace paperback books. Carl worked intermittently for his uncle, and Ginsberg pleaded with Carl and his uncle to help publish his then-unpublishable friends William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ace Books finally used Burroughs’ first novel, ‘Junky,’ as half of a pulp thriller “Two Books In One.” But they were among the many publishers who turned down Kerouac’s ‘On The Road.’
Solomon was never a writer himself, although readers of “Howl” often assumed he was. Later in life he gave in and fulfilled the expectation by writing two book of elliptical, erudite and quaintly psychotic short essays, “Mishap, Perhaps” in 1966 and “More Mishaps” in 1968. His “Emergency Messages,” more in the same vein, was published in 1989.
It’s interesting that Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg each traveled with a “doppelganger” — a mirror image sidekick with less literary training but more “authenticity”. Kerouac had the free-spirited charismatic Neal Cassady and Burroughs had the street smart true junkie Herbert Huncke. Ginsberg, who seemed to always inspire to the state of insanity, had Carl Solomon.