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The Beats Go On

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

The next morning, Glass and Corso showed up at the apartment. Then Carr buzzed to be let in. Momentarily forgetting the circumstances, Orlovsky playfully attacked Carr before he could get off the elevator. "How's my Lucien baby?" he shrieked. "Come here and give me a kiss."

Carr fended off Orlovsky with his usual dry-as-a-bone humor, walked into the loft and asked for Ginsberg. Carr was famous for his imperturbable stoicism; he could crack a joke that would have the others rolling on the ground while his face didn't even show a hint of a smile. Hale would never forget Carr's reaction -- a momentary welling of tears when he heard that Ginsberg had slipped into a coma and was dying, then a quick recovery as he picked on Corso, who was standing with a bottle of whiskey in his hand.

Morgan, Rosenthal and Hale found a few moments to discuss who should be invited over for Ginsberg's final hours, and who might be offended if they weren't invited. After they'd made their list, they began calling, and soon the loft was buzzing with the voices of poets and painters -- Roy Lichtenstein, Philip Taaffe, Larry Rivers and Francesco Clemente -- and musicians like Patti Smith and neighborhood friends such as Rose and Simon Pettet. Ginsberg's family was represented by his stepmother, brother and cousin, whom he'd asked to be the attending physician at his death.

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.

It was the party that Ginsberg had always wanted to throw in his new loft. They told old stories and laughed and wept (out of earshot), smoked pot, drank, listened to music and sent out for food.

About 4 p.m., Gelek Rinpoche showed up with three of his senior students. Several senior students of Trungpa Rinpoche, who had been in town on their way to Vermont for the tenth anniversary of their teacher's death, had also arrived. Before long, the loft was reverberating with Buddhist chants.

All that day and into the night, Ginsberg held on as if determined to enjoy the gathering. He was given morphine, not for pain but to ease his breathing. By midnight, most everyone had gone home to get some sleep. Corso weaved out of the apartment with explicit instructions that he be called when the time arrived. Gelek and his students also left, but before he did, the Buddhist teacher took Hale aside.

Hale was much stronger in his Buddhist beliefs than when he tried to first "take refuge" so many years before. He was sober and, with the help of Ginsberg, believed in the path. Now, Gelek had a very important task for him. Ginsberg's soul was going to need one last bit of food for its travels, he said. He'd ground up a small brown pill and placed it in a silver spoon. "Give this to him after the last breath has left his body," the holy man said.

Hale looked at the contents in the spoon. "What's in it, yak dung?" he asked no one in particular. Irreverent or not, it was a very grounding thing to say in the midst of so much he couldn't comprehend...the sort of thing a young monk might joke about before an important ceremony. Gelek chuckled and headed out the door.

At last, it was almost over. Gaidemak hovered at the left of Ginsberg's bedside, checking his cousin's heartbeat every few minutes. Standing in a semicircle around the bed were Gaidemak and a hospice nurse, then Morgan, then the Pettets, then Patti Smith and her friend Oliver, then a young friend, David Greenberg, then Rosenthal, and finally, across from Gaidemak, Hale with his spoon.

"His heart's still strong," Gaidemak said, though it was clear that the poet's breathing was growing increasingly erratic. Each breath drawn and released was more quiet than the last. Then there was one last tiny gasp and nothing. Gaidemak placed his stethoscope on the thin quiet chest, listened for a moment, then stood and asked those gathered in the room to check their watches to authenticate the time of death: 2:23 p.m., April 5, 1997.

Allen Ginsberg aka Leon Levinsky aka Irwin Garden, Carlo Marx, Adam Moorad, Alvah Goldbook...queer poet...defender of unusual people...gadfly...teacher...was gone, exactly ten years to the day from the death of Trungpa Rinpoche. He left the Earth, as his protegé Christopher Ide once wrote, madly spinning and took that final spontaneous leap to where Jack Kerouac lies, done with the jazz/blues of the earth...But his soul didn't leave hungry.

Hale had held his silver spoon near Ginsberg's lips, hoping he wouldn't react too late and doom his teacher to a bad reincarnation. He couldn't think of a single moment in his life when he'd been more present in a room. He'd known Ginsberg all of his adult life, a dozen years. The poet had fed his mind and soul and now, a moment after 2:23 a.m., he tipped the spoon and repaid the favor.

September 2000, New York City

The New York of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and Gregory Corso is no longer quite so Beat. Herbert Huncke may be rolling over in his grave at what they've done to Times Square. The once-seedy domain of one-legged junkies, the deranged homeless, aggressive prostitutes and panhandlers has been scrubbed, polished and repopulated in an explosion of urban renewal. Truth be told, there are more panhandlers on the streets of Denver.

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