The Scuzzy Sons-of-Bitches Who Light Up My Life Part V: Allen Ginsberg

Scuzzy Son-of-a-Bitch #5

Allen Ginsberg:

My First Fairy

(2004)

I was seventeen-years-old.  I was up late doing homework.  I was stressed out to the maximum.  Everything sucked.  I needed A’s, I needed to finish a gargantuan essay, and I needed sleep.  In my angst, I went to my bookshelf and grabbed the copy of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL I had boosted from my mom a few months earlier.  Actually, I hadn’t even boosted it — my mom had given it to me.

Those opening lines freaked me out in the best way possible.  I needed a good freak out.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
      madness, starving, hysterical, naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
      looking for an angry fix
 

When I was done reading, I knew that my tastes had changed just a bit more.  I was already into Jim Morrison and Lou Reed, so I was no stranger to heavy writing (nor was I unclear about what an “angry fix” was).  However, despite their darkness, neither of them sang explicitly about being, “fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists.”  Not even Lou.

Who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
      publishing obscene odes on the window of the
      skull
 

Deep inside, I wanted to be a trouble-maker.  As a seventeen-year-old kid who had spent the first 3/4 of her high school career doing everything right, the idea of being “expelled from the academies for crazy” sounded like a blast.  In fact, that was why I was so behind on my gargantuan essay — instead of going home after school to work on it, I had driven to Malibu with my friend, Nicole.  No one knew where we were.  We got frozen yogurt.  Oh, how dangerous we felt.

Who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear,
      burning their money in wastebaskets and listening
      to the Terror through the wall
 

I knew that America was falling apart.  We had been building elementary schools in Afghanistan since I was a freshman and we had been preaching Democracy in Iraq for a year.  The freaking President of my own country scared the daylights out of me.  I couldn’t stand the very sight of him when he came on television.  Even the five second clips Jon Stewart used to make fun of him on The Daily Show were almost too much.  An election was coming up in November and dear God, I was furious that I wasn’t old enough to vote.

I also knew that this kind of stuff — meaning “art” — especially stuff that included the word “Terror,” was just plain not allowed.  How can you put “terror” in a poem or a song or a screenplay and not expect government backlash?  You were just begging to have your stuff pulled from the stores.  Your concerts canceled.  Your books burned.

Your phones tapped.

I don’t remember if I got anything done that night.  I remember finishing the poem, and I remember crying.  Everything was different and I was terrified.

The next morning, while sitting in my English class pretending to listen to the substitute teacher drone on about the green light at the end of The Great Gatsby, I looked through the index of our American Poetry Anthology.  Holy Hell, Allen Ginsberg was in there.  I flipped to his section and read “A Supermarket in California.”  When I finished it, I tuned back in to the lecture just long enough to hear the substitute mention Walt Whitman.  How the Hell had she gone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Walt Whitman?  Did I miss a discussion about “O Captain! My Captain!”?

I took the Whitman tangeant as an opportunity to maintain the illusion that I was not only paying attention, but also brilliant.  I raised my hand.

“Have you heard of the poet Allen Ginsberg?” I asked.
The future English teacher shook her head.
“Oh.  Okay.  Because he has a poem called ‘A Supermarket in California,’ where he fantasizes about walking through a supermarket with Walt Whitman.  It’s actually in our book, on page 325…”

I analyzed the Hell outta that poem.  I talked about alienation and consumerism and The American Dream.  No one followed along with me — the idea of deviating from the curriculum was too scary, I guess.  Plus, this was AP English, where there was zero time for, ya know, thinking.

The substitute didn’t have much to say aside from, “Oh, neat.  Thank you.”

To say that I felt cool would be an understatement.  I went right back to reading poetry, and the substitute went right back to quoting from her teacher’s edition.

      Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close
in an hour.  Which way does your beard point tonight?
      (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
      Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both
be
lonely

(2007)

I was twenty-years-old.  I had been up all night doing homework.  I was stressed out to the maximum…

Everything rocked.  I had one hour to finish my final essay for my 19th Century American Poetry class.  All I needed to write was my closing statement, and then I would be done for the quarter.  I got to choose my own topic, so I chose to compare Walt Whitman to Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan.  Instead of sticking to the 8 – 10 pages, I somehow wrote 15.  My title?

The Body Electric, Copulations Ecstatic, and the Heart Attack Machine:
An Appreciation of the Twisted Minds of Whitman, Ginsberg, and Dylan

When I finished the damn thing, I felt like a genius.  I was Joe College to the max.  Of course, when I tried to re-read the thing the other night, I could hardly handle it.  It is definitely not my best work, and I will never understand why my TA gave me an A+.  I am not fishing for compliments here.  I really, truly don’t understand.  However, I do think my closing paragraph shows potential:

      Last summer I had a dream that I was in a tattoo parlor in San Francisco brainstorming what kind of tattoo I wanted to get.  As I walked down the aisles of posters with samples of symbols I could choose from, I suddenly decided that I wanted to have one of Dylan’s lyrics emblazoned on my skin instead.  Of course in the real world it would take a long time to choose which lyric I wanted, but in my dream I instantly decided I wanted the line “Jeez, I can’t find my knees” from “Visions of Johanna” on my upper-thigh.  Soon after, when I woke up and realized it had been a dream, I felt a bit disappointed that I did not actually get the tattoo.  When I told my mother about my dream, she thought I was a genius for thinking of that in my sleep.  While I am still flattered by her motherly support, I must clarify that I am not the one who is a genius.  Instead, my dream was the result of a long line of brilliance that has just as much resonance today as it did over a century ago.  Whitman’s “gray-beard” appeared in Ginsberg’s supermarket, Ginsberg’s Howl echoed in Dylan’s brain, and now Dylan’s lyrics ring out in the tattoo parlor of my mind.  These three men, with their powerful voices and powerful minds, accomplished so much in their time that it would be impossible for America to ever forget them.  They will never be silenced.

I like knowing that seventeen-year-old Stephanie and twenty-year-old Stephanie weren’t two completely different people.  If time-travel is like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I think that those former versions of myself would get along with each other if they ever wound up in front of the same Circle K.

I don’t think present day Stephanie would shun either of those girls, either.  There is a decent amount of serious dorkiness going on here…

Well, all right.  I guess it’s fair to say I haven’t changed at all.  I’m still up late writing about Allen Ginsberg and geeking out over the copy of Planet News I bought on my last trip to San Francisco.  America still scares me and I still want the war to end.  My favorite poems and songs don’t explicitly contain details about being, “fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,” but I do have a hard and fast “The Weirder The Better” policy when it comes to all forms of entertainment.

And while yes, my idea of “dangerous” has changed, I still get a kick out of driving to Malibu for frozen yogurt.

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One thought on “The Scuzzy Sons-of-Bitches Who Light Up My Life Part V: Allen Ginsberg

  1. Linda says:

    WOW. You amaze me!

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