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The Beats Go On

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

Maybe Ide wasn't consciously trying to emulate the Beats, but he certainly harbored romanticized images of them -- Burroughs living in lawless Morocco, Huncke scraping by day to day on the streets of New York City, but living to tell his stories. He copied some of their habits, drinking the cocktails favored by Kerouac; he admired Ginsberg's ability to limit drug use to experimentation and thought he could, too.

There were occasions when, high and romantic, Ide suggested that the Beat lifestyle, even the bad experiences, was necessary to his writing. Some of the Beats had romanticized self-destructive behavior. Kerouac himself had cut his fingers to write, he said, in "the blood of the Poet." Ginsberg's Columbia University roommate, Lucien Carr, an aspiring writer, had stabbed to death a man who made homosexual advances; Kerouac had based a character on Carr and used that incident in his first book, The Town and the City. Burroughs had shot his wife, Joan, to death in Mexico City during a drug-and-alcohol binge -- placing a glass on her head and attempting to shoot it off like William Tell. He later told an interviewer that he never would have become a writer if not for his wife's death, which, he said, "brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice but to write my way out."

The friends' days and nights were consumed by highs and poetry and music and fantasy. One night they laid in bed with Steven Taylor, a straight guy who'd been Ginsberg's guitar accompanist since the '70s, who kept them giggling until the early morning hours with stories about touring Europe with Ginsberg, Orlovsky and Corso.

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.

They loved the one about Corso's run-in with Dutch customs. He was ahead of the rest of the group when he was taken into a room for questioning and ordered to have a seat on a chair with wheels. The poet had thrown one of his legendary tantrums, and his language and behavior so upset a customs official that he shoved Corso, sending him and the chair rolling through a plate-glass window. Ginsberg, Orlovsky and Taylor had come around the corner just in time to see the glass shattering into the hall, along with a cursing, sputtering Corso. The poet was even more indignant when he was immediately deported and forced to fly back to San Francisco.

Knowing Corso, it was easy to picture his tirade - another wild but harmless Beat story. Not everything that summer was so harmless, though. Ide had screwed up his teaching job at Naropa from the first day, partying all night and well into the morning with Hale and then showing up late for class. Ginsberg couldn't understand it: Not only was Ide being paid for the teaching assignment, but it was valuable exposure to people involved in the poetry scene across the country. The old poet man threw up his hands in bafflement.

If Ginsberg couldn't understand Ide's inability to act responsibly, Hale thought he did. The drugs and alcohol were part of it, but he also thought the teaching job was too much of a burden for his friend. Most of the students were older, and some had published more work than Ide, best young poet in America or not. For all his devil-may-care wildness, Ide was insecure and took criticism to heart, especially when it came from Ginsberg. His voice had a soft roughness to it, and he sometimes had difficulty making himself heard at readings. Or, nervous, he would read too fast. And then, from the back of the room, Ginsberg would pipe up: "We can't hear you back here. Speak up!"

Ide would fret for days after such a performance, afraid that he'd disappointed his mentor again. He was truly miserable that he'd botched the teaching assignment, but he just didn't seem able to help it. He'd resolve to do better, then step over the edge again.

Toward the end of the session, Ide came up with yet another crazy plan, this time to score heroin, going in on the cost with Hale and Sebastian, a large German addict with a vile temper. The plan went bad from the beginning: Ide and Hale spent three hours at a Denny's in Denver waiting for a male prostitute to bring the dope, then returned to their rented house in Boulder much later than they'd intended. Hale's mistake, though, was believing Ide when he said that Sebastian had asked him to keep his share of the heroin until he could claim it.

Ide was gone when Sebastian showed up outside the house at 3 a.m. and began yelling to get in, that he wanted his dope. Hale opened the door and tried to explain that Ide had his share, but Sebastian went berserk. He pushed Hale aside and searched the house. When he couldn't find Ide, he tore the posters off the walls. He then moved on to Miles's house, looking for the thief. Ide wasn't at Miles's house, either, so Sebastian took his anger out on a young kid who was staying there, walloping him in the face and breaking his nose. Then he emptied a fire extinguisher throughout the house.

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