The Beats Go On

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

The Lower East Side is quiet, but much cleaner. The space where Allen Ginsberg once lived is now occupied by a young white couple. Meanwhile, his office next door continues to conduct Ginsberg's business.

There used to be more photographs on the walls -- Ginsberg was an avid and well-regarded photographer -- but Larry Rivers, the painter upstairs, kept flooding his loft, so most of the pictures were removed to prevent future water damage. Still, a number of black-and-white reminders testify to the life and times of Allen Ginsberg. The broken-nosed profile of a T-shirted Neal Cassady at the wheel of the Merry Pranksters bus. Another of Eileen Lee, the real-life alter ego for Mardou Fox, the diffident love interest of Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans. One of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, another of Grateful Dead bandmember Bob Weir. And a color photograph of Ginsberg standing nude, holding a staff, superimposed on a photograph of Ginsberg in a business suit.

Next to a lineup of books are more shelves holding row after row of neatly catalogued boxes containing Ginsberg's negatives and contact sheets dating from the pre-Beat '40s to his trips to India with the Beatles in the '60s to just two days before his death -- a photo shoot of producer Robert Frank with Peter Orlovsky. Against another wall are thousands of file folders -- collected newspaper and magazine clippings that Ginsberg found interesting, maddening or amusing -- as well as correspondence from everyone who ever wrote him over the years.

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.

Ginsberg collected everything. And now the work of maintaining, cataloguing and retrieving the archives falls to the handsome young man sitting at a table in front of two computers.

The phone rings, and Hale answers. It's a reporter with the Boston Globe who wants a quote about Ginsberg's controversial defense of the North American Man-Boy Love Association a dozen years before. The reporter says she's working on a story about age-of-consent laws. Declining to speak for Ginsberg, Hale suggests she check out the poet's book Deliberate Prose. "He's got an essay in there on NAMBLA," he says.

Not once did Ginsberg's lengthy obituary mention NAMBLA. In fact, the New York Times had published a fairly decent writeup on Ginsberg's death on Sunday, April 6, 1997. The writer had called Ginsberg the "poet laureate" of the Beat Generation, "whose 'Howl' became a manifesto for the sexual revolution and a cause célèbre for free speech in the 1950s, eventually earning its author a place in America's literary pantheon."

The piece quoted Burroughs as saying that Ginsberg's death was "a great loss to me and to everybody. We were friends for more than 50 years. Allen was a great person with worldwide influence. He was a pioneer of openness and a lifelong model of candor. He stood for freedom of expression and for coming out of all the closets before others did."

There had been a small, Jewel Heart funeral for close friends and family and then, a few days later, the big funeral Ginsberg had wanted. Maybe too big, since someone revealed the location on the radio and thousands of fans showed up, forming a line that was blocks long. Afterward, walking to catch a cab, Hale overheard Lou Reed and Kurt Vonnegut interviewed by the media. "There aren't many people like him in this world, and he's gonna leave a big hole," Vonnegut told a reporter.

Hale felt that hole in his own life, and it grew larger four months later, when Burroughs died on August 2, 1997.

Hale had always found it ironic that Grauerholz wanted to work for Ginsberg and ended up with Burroughs, while he wanted to meet Burroughs and had instead been befriended by Ginsberg. Still, he was glad that things had turned out as they did, for he was much more like his teacher than like the author of Naked Lunch. Burroughs had believed the world was an inherently evil place, but Ginsberg believed it was inherently good -- it just needed to be prodded every once in a while.

(It certainly needed to be prodded when the Beat Generation crashed into one of Colorado's biggest news stories. But this time there was no Allen Ginsberg to come to the rescue of Steve Miles, whose name and photo appeared on the cover of the October 21, 1997, National Enquirer, which touted an "exclusive interview" with the man the tabloid claimed John and Patsy Ramsey were accusing of killing their daughter, JonBenét. The story was ludicrous: Miles was never a suspect, nor was there any evidence that the Ramseys had accused him. But Miles had been in trouble with the law: He'd been arrested in 1989 after a failed drug bust and charged with sexual exploitation of a child -- because of his nude photograph of then seventeen-year-old Peter Hale. Ginsberg had hired a lawyer that time, and the exploitation charge was dropped. This time, Miles sued both John Ramsey and the Enquirer for libel, but the case was dismissed.)

After Ginsberg's death, Rosenthal had asked Hale to stay on and help organize Ginsberg's work. Along with Morgan, they decided to put together one last book of Ginsberg's poetry, called Death & Fame, that would include many of the pieces he'd written in those last few weeks. Ginsberg's previous book, Selected Poems 1947-1995, had been reviewed after his death. The gist, as usual, was that the poet had never written another "Howl." That made it all the more nerve-racking trying to decide what to include in this book (published by HarperPerennial in 1999, listing the three as editors): They didn't want a bad review to be Ginsberg's legacy.

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