The Beats Go On

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

The summer session ended too soon for Hale, especially after Ide left. His friend had helped him really begin to appreciate poetry and understand its relevance. Ide's poetry wasn't just about unrequited lust or past poets -- he wrote about growing up under the threat of nuclear war, about rampant commercialism, about art.

And now, when Hale finally heard "Howl" read aloud by Ginsberg, he understood it. The lengthy poem even reminded him of Ide:

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,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...

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.

That fall, Hale at last read Kerouac's On the Road -- at Ide's insistence. Hale was glad he'd waited. Not only did he now know the code names of the real-life models for the book's characters -- the Beats were famous for using each other in their writing -- he knew several of them personally. As it had so many young people before him, the book gave Hale the urge to travel and experience the full range of life.

But school was starting, and he turned his back on the road. For now.

July 1988, Boulder

Burroughs was ill and wouldn't be able to attend the summer session. So Naropa had flown Corso in from Rome to replace his Beat cohort. But now Corso was feeling poorly, too. His illness, however, was self-inflicted: He was trying to kick his heroin addiction on methadone but hadn't brought enough with him, and the withdrawal was making him miserable.

Corso, Hale and Ide were over at Ginsberg's apartment. "Don't worry," Ide volunteered. "I'll get ya something, Gregory."

Ginsberg approved of the plan. Although Ide had gained a sour reputation in San Francisco the previous fall, when he drank heavily and dabbled further with heroin, he'd gone back to his father's house in Michigan that winter and cleaned up his act, he told his worried mentor. As a reward, and because he genuinely thought Ide's poetry was something special, Ginsberg had invited his protegé to Naropa to teach a week's worth of classes.

Ide had a plan, all right, but it had nothing to do with helping Corso. He and Hale excused themselves and then, when they were out of earshot, Ide called Ginsberg's Boulder doctor, explaining that Corso was sick and suggesting a medicine he thought would help: a powerful, codeine-based cough medicine that Hale knew could be prescribed over the telephone. That done, they arranged for a ride to the pharmacy.

Instead of bringing the medicine back to Corso, the friends drank the whole bottle themselves.

The next morning, Hale went back to the apartment, feeling a little guilty but unwilling to confess. Corso was feeling worse, and Ginsberg now decided his own pain medication might help. The poet could be something of a hypochondriac, and the cabinet was usually well stocked with prescription drugs of every sort. But Ginsberg returned from a trip to the bathroom with empty pill bottles and a puzzled look on his face. "Who would have taken all of them?" he wondered. "Even Burroughs would have left one, in case someone else needed it."

But if Ide was on the wagon, Hale knew he was slipping back off. He was using heroin again, and he'd also been helping himself to Ginsberg's pain medication.

Practically the first thing Ide did when he entered someone's house was head for the bathroom to check out the medicine cabinet and help himself to anything worth taking, but Hale kept quiet.

Corso looked at Hale. "Maybe it was someone who you don't want to believe did it?" he asked the poet. They all knew Ginsberg turned a blind eye to his friends' foibles. He wanted to believe the best of people, but for someone whose relationships had been so adversely affected by drugs, Ginsberg could be more than a little naive about addicts. "Maybe it was Chris or Peter?"

Hale felt his face turning red as Corso persisted. "I mean, look who their role models are: Huncke, Burroughs, Kerouac," he said, ticking the names off on his fingers.

Ginsberg shook his head. Ide was "on the wagon," he said. Then he turned to Hale: "Was it you, Peter?"

The question stung. He'd already disappointed Ginsberg once that summer, when the poet had asked him to participate on a panel discussing Burroughs's work. Hale had worked hard on his presentation, but in public he began to ramble, and his formerly patient teacher had started heckling him. Now Ginsberg seemed willing to believe that Hale was a pill thief.

The next day, when Ginsberg decided to send Corso to his doctor, Hale realized the jig was up, and he and Ide finally confessed to the whole scheme. Ginsberg was angry, and he began lecturing Ide about "responsible drug use."

"You need to take a good long look at yourself," he shouted. "You're wasting your mind."

Hale was still thinking about Corso's remark of the previous day: Look who their role models are: Huncke, Burroughs, Kerouac...

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