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The Beats Go On

How a kid from Boulder became an eyewitness to the passing of an era.

He certainly didn't show up in Boulder. A few days before heading back to New York, Hale got a call from Ide. His voice still had that charming, rough softness that always made Hale smile. But he didn't warm up to his friend, particularly after Ide mentioned that he might want to come visit him in New York in a few weeks. Hale couldn't help but think about the easy availability of drugs, and while trying not to sound displeased with the idea, he didn't encourage Ide to make the trip.

One hot day in August, after a long day at Ginsberg's office, Hale arrived back at his own small apartment on the Lower East Side. He noticed a light blinking on his message machine and punched the button.

"Hi Peter, this is Ben." It was Ben Schafer, another young Ginsberg protegé who'd been in Boulder for the tribute. "I hate to be the one to tell you this," Schafer said, "but Chris Ide is dead."

Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.

Hale later learned that Ide had overdosed on heroin and alcohol in a fleabag hotel in Chicago, with a recording of Charlie "Bird" Parker, who himself had died of a drug overdose, playing over and over on the stereo. Harper had called Miles with the news. And Miles had called Ginsberg.

"Don't tell me, a drug overdose," the old poet said with a sigh. Ide had had a gift, and his death was a loss for everyone who loved poetry. Still, the boy should have known better, if for no other reason than he knew what had happened to Kerouac and Cassady, knew what drugs had done to Burroughs and Huncke and Corso. It seemed like there were always a few of the genius kids who got it wrong -- no one wrote poetry from the grave -- and then the stupid ones in the next generation would glorify them as martyrs to art, perpetuating the myth.

"Such a waste," Ginsberg said to Miles, and hung up. He asked Schafer to call Hale.

After he got the message, Hale walked around the room, crying. But once the shock wore off, Hale wondered why he'd been surprised by the news. He realized that he'd expected the call; he'd just expected it sooner.

April 1996, Paris

In the spring of 1996, Ginsberg went to Europe for the foreign-language publications of his book, Cosmopolitan Greetings, in Italy and France; he also had scheduled a reading in Prague with neo-classical musician Philip Glass. Ginsberg invited Hale to go along as both secretary and guitar accompanist, taking on Steven Taylor's musical role. Also in the entourage was Geoffrey Manaugh, a promising young poet who'd attended the Naropa sessions.

The trip's highlight was a party in Paris at the home of Christian Bourgois, an important publisher from an old arts family. Literary bigshots from all over Europe were in attendance -- a daunting guest list for the younger Americans, including Hale's lover, Joseph, who'd been studying in Holland. When the trio had a moment to themselves, Manaugh and Hale confessed that among all those brilliant minds, they feared they wouldn't live up to their roles as Ginsberg's bright young stars.

Although Manaugh was well regarded on the college circuit, he worried he wasn't good enough to begin his international career with this crowd. Hale was feeling rather small himself, recalling how accomplished Taylor was. He didn't admit it to the others, but he was also sensitive that some of these important people might think he was just "another one of Ginsberg's boys."

Ginsberg had never stopped noting his attraction to Hale, but it was more like teasing these days. Their relationship had changed considerably in ten years. The old poet was still Hale's teacher, but they were also friends.

Still, Hale realized he'd been a small part of his teacher's life, and at this Paris gathering, he was reminded again that he should have taken notes on some of the people he'd met through Ginsberg. In 1994, for instance, he'd been with the poet when he got together with Bob Dylan; as they parted company, Ginsberg had whispered in Hale's ear, "Write everything down." That time he had, and later he and Ginsberg had compared recollections of the conversation. Most of the time, though, Hale felt so unimportant that he thought no one would care about what he observed.

Now Ginsberg told him that wasn't true: Hale was a witness, a living historian. He'd met Corso and Huncke and Burroughs and Dylan and so many others -- including the author of "Howl" and other poems. People would be interested in his perceptions and recollections, both today and in later years. Ginsberg himself had considered it a duty to tell the world about his friend Jack Kerouac, to keep his work alive. Someday, Hale might be asked to recall what he'd seen and heard about Allen Ginsberg and the others he'd met. And so tonight, he certainly belonged here in this company, on stage by his friend's side.

The little talk didn't transform Hale into Taylor, who was a genius at making up for beats that Ginsberg might add or leave out. In fact, Hale thought his collaboration with Ginsberg was quite dreadful. But there were fun moments, which included listening to his frightened friend Manaugh squeak through his readings.

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