Ken & Allen & Ken


The first time I saw Allen Ginsberg, he was at a party, standing over by the fireplace, and nobody was talking to him. This was after "Howl" but before his big pinnacle. And this woman went over to him and said, "I can't talk to you; you're a legend." And he said, "Yeah, but I'm a friendly legend." He was able to make peace in a way that no one else could, except John Lennon, who had the quality of bringing peace wherever he went. I have three memories of Ginsberg really using these powers.

Back in '66 or '67, we took the bus up to Berkeley for Vietnam Day. The day before the big rally, the Hell's Angels said they were going to protest Vietnam Day by pounding the shit out of the protesters, and they were serious. Since we kind of knew the Angels, we went over to Oakland, to Sonny Barger's house. Ginsberg went with us, right into the lion's mouth with his little cymbals. Ching, ching, ching. And he just kept talking and being his usual absorbing self. Finally they said, "OK, OK. We're not going to beat up the protesters." When he left, one of the Angels, Terry the Tramp, says, "That queer little kike ought to ride a bike." From then on, he had a pass around the Angels. They had let all the other Angels know, "He's a dude worth helping out." They were absolutely impressed by him and his courage.

About 15 years ago, we had a poetry festival at the University of Oregon which we held on on their basketball court. We invited big names to be the headliners during the evening and auditioned other people during the day. Anyway, as the day went on, people began to drift in. At the end of the day, we had about 3,000 people on the court, and no one had bought a ticket. Ginsberg, he said, "Let me get them." And he took his little harmonium. And he om'd, and pretty soon everybody was going "om, om, om." At the height of the om, he just gestured for the door, and all 3,000 people stood up and walked out so we could charge them five bucks to walk back through the door. Power.

And the third thing was a time when were driving around. Ginsberg and some others were in the back [of the bus] on a mattress, and we got pulled over by a cop for a taillight or something. The cop looked in the back, and there was Ginsberg on top of this, well, boy, really. And the cop looked in back, said, "What's going on?" "Sir," Allen said, "he is having an epileptic seizure. I have to hold him down." That was it. Phew. Three examples of his courage and his humor.

As all of this stuff comes up, I get all of these images of Ginsberg. I remember there was this picture of him in the newspaper, he'd been at a peace rally, and the cops beat him up. They were carrying him out on a stretcher all pummeled, and he began flashing the V sign for the reporters taking pictures. Pretty soon, he had everyone laughing, even the cops. But he wasn't trying to inflame people. There was a time when if you weren't trying to inflame people, you were almost subversive. I can't help but feel privileged to have really known Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia. Those are three heavies, and as time goes by and all this hysteria about drugs wears off, these guys will be re-evaluated in terms of their work and their effect on society. All three were real revolutionary leaders - like Benjamin Franklin or Jefferson - and it's the same revolution, the revolution of consciousness, without which the nation will not survive. We've got to be mature enough to incorporate everyone into this revolution. Its basis is mercy and justice and mercy before justice.

~Ken Kesey


I owe Allen Ginsberg a lot. He set me free. When I was a hick kid of 15 and read his "Howl," I found in it permission, even encouragement, to live an Outsider's life.

He described me to myself. I realized that I was not alone as one of those "angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night," and that I could now consider such aspirations a virtue rather than a sin. And so, with Allen Ginsberg's distant midwifery, I became who I am.

~John Perry Barlow


Allen Ginsberg Dying
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 4/1/97

Allen Ginsberg is dying
It's all in the papers
It's on the evening news
A great poet is dying
But his voice
                   won't die
His voice is on the land
In Lower Manhattan
in his own bed
he is dying
There is nothing
to do about it
He is dying the death that everyone dies
He is dying the death of the poet
He has a telephone in his hand
and he calls everyone
from his bed in Lower Manhattan
All around the world
late at night
the telephone is ringing
"This is Allen"
                 the voice says
"Allen Ginsberg calling"
How many times have they heard it
over the long great years
He doesn't have to say Ginsberg
All around the world
in the world of poets
there is only one Allen
"I wanted to tell you" he says
He tells them what's happening
what's coming down
on him
His voice goes by satellite
over the land
over the Sea of Japan
where he once stood naked
trident in hand
like a young Neptune
a young man with black beard
standing on a stone beach
It is high tide and the seabirds cry
The waves break over him now
and the seabirds cry
on the San Francisco waterfront
There is a high wind
There are great whitecaps
lashing the Embarcadero
I am reading Greek poetry
Horses weep in it
The horses of Achilles
weep in it
here by the sea
in San Francisco
where the waves weep
They make a sibilant sound
a sibylline sound
     they whisper



"Late one Saturday evening..I was talking to Allen and his long term companion Peter Orlovsky on the corner of Second Avenue and 8th Street when a very nasty scene began. A man was shouting and yanking very hard on the arm of his girl friend who was lying on the sidewalk, probably the result of bad drugs. She meanwhile ws reaching with her free hand towards a large dog and saying in a voice filled with menace 'come here doggie, come here'. She sounded as if she wanted to kill the dog, while its owner was trying to pull it away.

Without missing a beat Allen turned to the man and said: 'You don't want to do that'. Before the man could slug Allen, he offered the woman a fig, which she accepted, looking confused. Allen then turned back to the man. 'I'm sorry, I don't think we've been introduced', he said, and introduced us.

The scene changed and faded. The man with the dog got away. The woman stumbled to her feet and was led away. There was a childlike courage in Allen's action. It was one of the many moments of him being who and what he was. What relation all this has to radicalism, revolution and changing society is both obvious and obscure. Or as the late pacifist AJ Muste used to say: 'there is no way to peace, peace is the way'.

Stay in the light.

~David McReynolds

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