Tag Archives: 1959

Courtney Love, Amy Poehler Salute Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in L.A. Ginsberg Reads “Howl”


Courtney Love, Amy Poehler Salute Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in L.A.

Great minds come out for loose, ramshackle tribute to the iconic poem

By April 8, 2015

Courtney Love and Amy Poehler
Courtney Love and Amy Poehler saluted Allen Ginsberg’s epic, zeitgeist-channeling poem “Howl” in L.A. Future-Image/ZUMA Wire; Image Press/Splash News/Corbis

Nearly 60 years after its first public reading in October 1955, a concert was held in downtown Los Angeles to honor “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s epic, zeitgeist-channeling poem that wrestled with sexuality, creativity, drugs, capitalism and the contradictory forces that were shaping mid century America. Although not as consistently revelatory as the poem itself, A Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ could be as demanding, playful, funny, moving, defiant, overwhelming, exhausting and proudly idiosyncratic as its namesake.

“This isn’t highbrow,” host and Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew explained early in the evening, welcoming the crowd on a rainy Tuesday night to the Theatre at Ace Hotel. “A Celebration” — which was a benefit for the David Lynch Foundation, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker’s organization that provides scholarships to instructors of Transcendental Meditation — featured musicians, actors and comedians who drew from Ginsberg as inspiration for their performances, but not always in any obvious way. The man’s poetry and songs were covered throughout, but the assembled acts — everyone from Courtney Love to Van Dyke Parks to Amy Poehler — opted for a warm, relaxed vibe that left room for casual accidents. For proof, look no further than Lucinda Williams, who, after gingerly launching into a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” near the end of the three-hour-plus show, admitted to the crowd, “We’re winging it.”

That’s the vibe one expects from a star-studded concert curated by Hal Willner, the venerable music producer and frequent tribute-show organizer whose events tend to feature a varied list of performers and gigantic running times. (Audiences never leave a Willner show, such as his salutes to the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music compilations from 15 years ago, angry that they didn’t get their money’s worth.)

But if more than a few bleary-eyed audience members had already fled the theater by the time Nick Cave and Beth Orton came on to perform a sad-eyed piano-and-strings rendition of “The Ship Song” to cap off the night — and that’s not even factoring in the all-star sing-along to Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” encore — Willner and his acts’ generosity and loose-limbed performances paved the way for plenty of memorable moments.

Some of the night’s strongest sets attacked Ginsberg’s volatile, scabrous texts from fresh angles. Poehler and her former Saturday Night Live castmate Chris Parnell teamed up with laptop wizard Mocean Worker to transform the poet’s spoken-word-with-instrumentation “Ballad of the Skeletons” into a frenzied hip-hop track. Petra Haden dedicated Ginsberg’s organ-centric eulogy “Father Death Blues” to her own father, remaking the dirge as a lovely country ballad. And bracingly, Last Man on Earth star Will Forte joined electronic musician Peaches for a shout-y, dissonant take on Ginsberg’s punk-rock “Birdbrain” backed by Mocean Worker’s muscular beats and a wayward saxophonist following his own rhythm. Some in the crowd happily yelled out “Birdbrain!” at irregular intervals, adding to the song’s apoplectic sense of corrupt power run amok.

But “A Celebration” turned out to be more than a tribute to just Ginsberg. Parks honored Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the longtime proprietor of the Ginsberg haunt City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, by adorning one of his 1958 poems, the endlessly searching “I Am Waiting,” with a four-piece string quartet, adding extra layers of yearning to the writer’s hope for “a renaissance of wonder.” Meanwhile, actor Tim Robbins strapped on an acoustic guitar to play Warren Zevon’s 2000 song “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” a paean to people’s capacity to discover their best selves while they still have time.

In between, there was blues, rockabilly, classical, jazz, roots-rock, folk, even a little stand-up comedy. (At one point, John Mulaney came out to keep the crowd engaged while roadies quickly switched up instruments between acts. Identifying himself as a comedian, Mulaney joked that if his impromptu set bombed, “Then I’ll say I’m a poet.”) Devendra Banhart took a stab at Ginsberg’s folk-y “Vomit Express” (co-written by Bob Dylan) by turning it into a goofy sing-along, complete with backup vocals from those hanging around the stage, including someone wearing an oversized bull’s head mask. Love went full torch singer with her smoky, snarling rendition of Hole’s “Letter to God,” while Drew’s performance with pop oldie Andy Kim (with whom Drew has made an album, It’s Decided) was so freewheeling that Drew stopped the song at one point because he’d screwed up a transition: “Let’s take it from the whoooos,” he instructed the backup band before they dove right back into the tune.

True, “A Celebration” meandered and dawdled on occasion, but the evening’s clear highlight brought the focus back to the man (and the poem) of the hour. Willner came on stage with actress Chloe Webb a little more than halfway through the night to perform excerpts from “Howl.” (“Don’t worry, they’re not gonna do the whole thing,” Robbins said before Willner and Webb’s arrival, quickly adding, “although I know some of you would love that.”) Backed first by strings and upright bass before drums, pedal steel and guitar slowly entered the mix, Willner and Webb read Ginsberg’s infamous poem, letting the timeless power and mad swirl of his words create a panoply of dazzling mental images of a nation hurtling toward an exciting, uncertain future. By the time the two performers had gotten within spitting distance of the conclusion—”The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!”—there was a palpable energy in what was otherwise an often laidback, polite crowd. The marriage of music and words, even words that are 60 years old, made the room feel stirringly alive, random audience members letting out whoops of pleasure and approval throughout the reading.

Suddenly, “A Celebration” lived up to its name, honoring a community of artists profoundly altered by the work of Allen Ginsberg. In a different way, the moment was echoed by Williams, who invited musicians in the wings to join her band for the finale of “Pale Blue Eyes,” a loving sendoff to Lou Reed. One by one, string players, guitarists and drummers stepped on stage and started playing along. Williams looked very pleased. “That’s what it’s all about,” she said, approvingly.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/live-reviews/courtney-love-amy-poehler-salute-allen-ginsbergs-howl-in-l-a-20150408#ixzz3Wqb38YdU
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Published on Mar 21, 2013

In 1959, Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky accompanied Ginsberg to Chicago for a benefit reading for “Big Table” [named at Kerouac’s suggestion], a newly established literary publication born as a result of censorship of the student magazine the Chicago Review. The reading took place on 29 January, 1959.





Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1959 publication of William S. Burroughs’ Naked LunchHome • About • Contact • RSS • Updates • Press  

Naked Lunch @ 50

“I can feel the heat closing in . . .”

Welcome to nakedlunch.org, the resource for admirers and fans, scholars and students and afficianados ofNaked Lunch, and for all those who wish to find out more about Burroughs’ most influential work.

Special features on the history, reception, and influence of Naked Lunch, and testimonials and critiques will appear on this site as well as previously unseen photographs and artworks. We welcome critical and creative contributions, and questions and insights from readers of Naked Lunch, as part of the creation of an archive on the difficulties and delights of Burroughs’ mysterious and terrifying masterpiece — a book unlike any other.

“‘Disgusting,’ they said . . . ‘Pornographic’ . . . ‘Un-American trash’ . . . ‘Unpublishable’ . . . Well, it came out in 1959, and it found an audience . . . Town meetings . . . Book burnings . . . And an Inquiry by the State Supreme Court . . . That book made quite a little impression . . .” — William Burroughs

Anniversary Homage

Rue Git-le-coeur sign
Home of the Beat Hotel where Burroughs completed Naked Lunch.

2009 marks the 50th Anniversary of the first edition of Naked Lunch, which was published in Paris in July 1959 by Olympia Press. To celebrate, Southern Illinois University Press has just published Naked Lunch@50: Anniversary Essays, edited by Oliver Harris and Ian MacFadyen. The book, the first ever dedicated entirely to the study of Naked Lunch, includes contributions by over twenty writers, scholars, musicians and artists.

In addition to the publication of Naked Lunch@50: Anniversary Essays, a series of homages is being held in locations around the world. Participants in the events include: John GIORNO, Anne WALDMAN, Eric ANDERSEN, Barry MILES, Peter WELLER, Terry WILSON, Penny LANE, Michael MCCLURE, James GRAUERHOLZ, Thurston MOORE, Genesis P-ORRIDGE, Barney ROSSET, Hal WILLNER, Harold CHAPMAN, RADIO JOY, Davis SCHNEIDERMAN, RB MORRIS, Bradford MORROW, and many others.

For information on these festivities, you can refer to the Events page or jump directly to the city of your interest:

Nakedlunch.org will continue beyond the homage festivities, creating not a critical consensus or a litany of panegyrics, or an historical record for its own sake, but a presentation of the disparate ways in which the book is read and understood right now, in our own separate but connected spaces, through our own unique yet shared experiences of time, to bring together the fractured and intermittent possibilities of this magical and discomfiting text.

As a homage to Naked Lunch and its fifty-year history, the site features material about the text itself, the scenes of its writing in Tangier and Paris, the music which runs through the book, attempts to film the novel in the 1960s and 70s, as well as an open space for tributes and comments from readers.

Burroughs in Rothschild suitWilliam Burroughs, Paris, 1959. Burroughs is wearing what he called his “Rothschild suit”. One of a number of images taken of Burroughs by Brion Gysin in the streets of Paris. Gysin told writer Terry Wilson that the series was an ironic magical operation intended to procure Burroughs’ entry into the French Academy. Note the ripped, torn and detourned posters calling for a lasting peace agreement in Algiers, and the peeling upper walls in which the image of Africa serendipitously appears.

Naked Lunch On and Off Film — An essay on the attempts of William Burroughs, Tony Balch and Brion Gysin to realise their collective vision ofNaked Lunch through the medium of film. Based upon documents, letters and screenplay manuscripts from the collection of writer Terry Wilson, a close friend of Burroughs, Balch and Gysin, Ian MacFadyen’s detailed documentary essay corrects existing notions about the failure of the original Naked Lunch movie project and re-addresses the “doomed attempt” to “film the un-filmable” by looking in detail at Gysin’s different versions of the screenplay and by examining the historical context and the finance and operation of cinema during that time. Illustrated with previously unseen manuscript pages and images.

Naked Lunch Discography: A Musical Guide — Burroughs loved Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust (1927), and it was the music of the Jazz Age which touched him, and to which he was nostalgically attached. This was Burroughs’ true musical era — the era of sheet music, piano rolls, and the phonograph, vaudeville theatres and nightclubs, radio broadcasts, player pianos and song lyrics projected on cinema screens to piano, organ and orchestral accompaniment. Complementing Ian MacFadyen’s important chapter on this music in Naked Lunch@50: Anniversary Essays, nakedlunch.org will feature a series of pieces on the music actually referenced, detourned, mocked and ridiculed in Naked Lunch, with detailed historical and musicological information on those songs and tunes which constitute the book’s significant and omnipresent soundtrack.

Space-Time Travel: Tangier Posts — Oliver Harris goes in search of Tangier, one of the great historic cities transformed by Burroughs into the phantasmagoric Interzone. Through photographs, postcards, maps and texts, this is an attempt to explore the links between the documentary and the topographic and the territory that lies beyond the map.

Naked Lunch: A Bibliographic Reference And Guide — Naked Lunch is an extraordinarily referential text though Burroughs most often does not cite his sources in the text and was sometimes reluctant to admit his influences. This section of the site will create a reference guide with key textual annotations and will include both identifiable and felt connections. Works by Henry Miller, David Maurer, David Lindsay, Charles Hoy Fort, Herbert Asbury, Henri Michaux, Frazer, Eliot, Rimbaud, Celine, Fitzgerald, Bowles and many more will be featured, as well as film noir, pulp and magazine sources.

Guide Bleu : William Burrough Et Paris — This guide to the French capital and France in the 1950s and early 1960s gives a flavour and savour of a vanished milieu and moment in time. It includes archive photographs of Paris and the bohemian scene, and places Naked Lunch in its social-historical context. In French and English.