By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
part 2 of 2
Something has gone awry--
How many poets have hocked their books
for junk money, waiting on
Curse you Burroughs! for being an exception
to rules every junkie/artist'd liketa break
simultaneously reminding us just how ugly
the whole life gig can go down...
Don't haveta be a fag to know the nasties
to suck cock/kiss ass & strangle your arm
If I did nothing else but to push
my dope or my cock
I'd be ashamed to tread the same
dread footpath of countless captors
of a mediocre verse
In some ways, they thought the Beats were selling out. Even posthumously, Kerouac had been made into a cheesy commodity, with bomber jackets named after him at the Banana Republic for seventy bucks. And the Gap began running ads featuring the writer with the caption "Kerouac wore khakis."
In protest, the poets created a flier designed to look like a Gap ad, only this one read "Hitler wore khakis" and pictured the German dictator. Gleefully, they slipped hundreds of copies inside clothing stores around Chicago. They thought of it as performance art.
So proud were they of their prank that they mailed a copy off to Ginsberg. They were still waiting for his reply when another Gap ad announced "Ginsberg wore khakis." The ad noted that all of his fees went to Naropa.
There were times when the energy they created off each other seemed to work magic. Like the night down at the Bop Shop.
A jazz pianist was playing, accompanying the open-mike presentations of aspiring poets. The two friends hadn't really planned on participating that night. But daring each other, they stepped up to the mike during a lull.
They had a poem they had worked on together. Rather than simply read it, though, they used it as a working draft. Using a line here. Repeating another there. Drumming up something entirely spontaneous in between.
Somehow it worked. The pianist picked up on the rhythm and began weaving his patterns in and out as they spoke. The crowd was digging it. "Whooo!" they shouted. "Go, man, go!"
Arms around each other's shoulders, heroin coursing through their blood, they created something they would never be able to do again in a million tries. They bobbed their heads and snapped their fingers, laughed at each rapid-fire contribution. And still the crowd pumped them for more.
Finally, it ended. People slapped them on their backs and left. Chris and Bill stayed behind, singing old Sinatra tunes as the piano man played on. When they left, Chris stole the microphone. He hawked it the next day for ten dollars' worth of smack.
The days rolled by in one long, hazy high. In rare moments of sobriety, Bill knew that they were crazy. Doomed. But then Chris would help him find another vein, and heroin would make it all right. They were poets, man, and crazy and doomed were part of the job.
One afternoon they were standing on a downtown sidewalk. They'd been looking for odd jobs all day. Unsuccessful, they tried panhandling. They were badly in need of a fix and angry at a world that wouldn't give it to them.
Then it was five o'clock. Suddenly, the sidewalks were swarming with businessmen, a sea of gray suits. They were off to their comfortable homes in the suburbs where their comfortable wives and comfortable children lived. They were too comfortable, Chris decided. They needed to be shaken up.
Without warning, Chris jumped on Bill's back and began reciting Ginsberg's Howl at the top of his lungs.
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
"MOLOCH!" Chris shouted, just as Ginsberg had shouted the word almost forty years ago while Kerouac, a wine jug clutched in his hand, had urged him on: "Go. Go."
Moloch, the devourer of innocents.
Bill staggered beneath his friend, determined to hold him up as long as he could. He loved Chris.
When he finished, Chris slipped to the sidewalk, exhausted and mute. Few of the faces in the crowd had even turned to listen.
The two friends left downtown...starving hysterical naked dragging themselves back to Wicker Park, still looking for an angry fix.
Chris moved into Bill's flat when he got kicked out of his own. Bill came home one day to discover that Chris had sold some of his things and was happily high off the proceeds.
Bill told Chris to leave and got another roommate. They still saw each other frequently, but it was clear that the best days were behind them. Just like Kerouac and Cassady.
They hadn't seen each other for a few weeks when Chris called Bill on October 15, 1993, and told him to take a look at a story in that day's Chicago Sun-Times titled "The Beat Goes On: A New Generation Finds Voice in Poetry."
While Chris hung on the line, Bill read the opening lines: "It's the Beat Generation all over again. Reminiscent of those finger-snapping, goateed beatniks of the 1950s, a nocturnal army of soul-searchers is turning to poetry to answer life's burning questions."