COLUMN THIRTY-THREE, MAY 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
PART 10: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
CHAPTER TEN: THE BEAT CORPORATION
Date: Sat, 7 Mar 1998 17:24:36 EST
Subject: Submission & Hello!
I just got on-line so I can accomplish a few things here. A while back you sent me the first issue of Blacklisted Journalist (which I love, by the way!) and asking if it'd be O.K. to add my name to your committee list for Allen Ginsberg. My answer is: "Yes, please add my name."
Secondly, I've written up a little "blacklisted" report from the Jack Micheline Memorial Service in San Francisco that is going to run in a Los Angeles underground newspaper entitled NEXT but which no San Francisco print medium would touch with a ten-foot pole. It's controversial. However, the young poets adore it! Maybe Blacklisted Journalist would like to run it. I enclose it here at the end of this e-mail.
Lastly, do you review books? DAVKA as you may know has folded but before it did the company published my collected poems Who Are We?, a 96-page trade paperback volume. Let me know and I'll send you a copy.
That's about it. Hope you're well and that Blacklisted Journalist is thriving!
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BY ALAN KAUFMAN
As you enter this funky little church in Jack Micheline's beloved Mission District, his green monkey-grinder hat is prominently displayed. It is a night for characters in hats to pay tribute to the greatest character of them all: a San Francisco memorial service for the deceased Beat poet Jack Micheline. The sheer crush of colorful folks gathering has forced some of us to sit to the side of the scuffed old stage. Here is bearded old poet George Tsongas in a black Bart cowboy hat on my left and Beat chronicler and Bukowski biographer Neeli Cherkovski in a smart tam o' shanter on my right. And now here in a stingy brim fedora comes Alfonso Texidor, that dapper, down-at-the-heels cafe poet of frayed renown, limping up to pinch my cheek and park his skinny ass in the last available crack of space. We're all here, all the self-suiciding maniacs of the San Francisco poetry scene, with bitten off bits of each others ears still stuck between our wolfish teeth: Jack Hirschman, Gerry Nicosia, Herb Gold, Harold Norse, Q.R.Hand, Bruce Isaacson, just in from Nevada, and now, for crying out loud, Michael McClure, who wouldn't give Micheline the time of day when he was alive, has just walked in, humbly lowered himself to the floor and immediately sent several signals to Kush, tonight's organizer, to jump his name ahead of the peons on the sign-up list. In the downstairs reception area, growling videos of Jack wailing verse to a screeching sax entertains the moochers and hanger-ons who really don't give a shit about some croaked old Beat poet: they're here for a free nosh on bagels and wine.
Somehow, one feels that Jack would have liked these folks best. At least they're more real then the famous phonies showing up, folks who once walked right past him when he was alive, broke, hungry and hawking his three-buck chapbooks out in the rain under the marquee of the Roxie Cinema, around the corner on Sixteenth Street. By now, about three hundred people have filled the upstairs hall. Jack could have sold a lot of books tonight.
As cameras roll, Kush kicks off with a convocational chant that wrings the heart. The wind has Jack, it goes. A lot of eyes in the place tear up, mine included, for the poetry of death. Then Jack's old sax man mounts the stage, axe in hand. In the thirty years he'd played behind Micheline, he says, "Micheline would growl: 'Sax man, when my hand goes up you play.'" Says the sax man, "So lets imagine Jack's up here with me now and his hand is raised for me to blow this one last time for him". The grieving memories of his horn turn the room into all the little jazz spots and dives where Jack broke indifferent hearts with the truth burning in his guts.
Now Neeli jumps up and delivers generous poetic praise of Micheline's raw power with words. This is followed by a message from Ken Kesey (emailed from Oregon where he is laid up, ill with a minor stroke), in which he remembers all the word orgies they gigged together, the wild times. Then a balding Ferlinghetti eunuch emissary in a sweater vest reads the City Lights publisher's typical Imperial apology for his usual failure to appear for something as insignificant as the death of a poet, followed by a few brief words of begrudging admiration and ending with how much he'll miss running into Jack on his evening walks. Whereupon George Tsongas leans close to my ear and rasps: "When was the last time that piece of shit went out at night?" and I chuckle back, "You know, to run his Lexus over to City Hall for a Beat Corporation cocktail reception with Mayor Willie."
Now a procession of yawn-crafters have their turn, McClure chief Sandman among them. Soon it will be the turn of us lesser proles, who actually knew and performed with and published alongside Jack, to restore the dozing crowd. And it is Jack Hirschman, that uncompromising street activist/poet, who brings down the house with one of the most magnificent eulogies I have ever heard. Refusing the mike and detesting the camera, he steps to the edge of the stage, leans out into space and, in his overbearing Bronx accent, hurls a Molotov verse cocktail of elegiac raging love that brings the crowd cheering to its feet and at that moment I glance over at the famous phonies, to register their reactions to one of life's unfailing truths, something that Micheline knew and Bukoswski lived by: in the end, the American democratic mob, just like every other audience throughout time, doesn't give a fuck about your fame, your craft, your hypertheoretical deconstructionist French poodle theories. They want bloody truth and awful beauty. I looked at McClure and wondered: "Who's gonna care about your words when you're dust? I mean, really care?"
Just one more recollection of the fierce street poet Jack Micheline. A few years back, I had an invite to read for no pay in a few Chicago music clubs and so went working temp downtown in San Francisco for a soul-less lawyer, trying to earn scratch to catch that Greyhound bus and put up in some cheap Northside hotel. I was busting my ass for the right to perform, and I had those financial district blues cutting through greedy gray flannel crowds on an errand to buy the shyster prick hand lotion or some such crap when there's Jack old beat street poet Micheline rushing along with wine-stained scowl, but upon seeing me his face brightened like a little Bronx urchin boy weaned on Eddie Cantor and Legs Diamond, a pure poet three-sewer hitter Blakean mug of open road and tenement, and he said, "WOT THE FOCK YOU DOIN HERE?" And I stammered and laughed, ashamed, because his sea-blue eyes were so innocently pure, and he showed me a letter he'd just got from John Martin of Black Sparrow Press that read: "Dear Jack, Thanks for your work. But I have decided not to publish any of Bukowski's friends..." and other hurtful bullshit and as we both stood there riveted amidst the pyramids of our oppression, Micheline said with sadness, "I'm going back east for a while, getting out of California. They're killing me here." And so we were both leaving in the night on that poetry exodus bus, and Jack raised his arm as one who had been to the mountain top. He swept his cracked old hand over the heads of the minions of greed scurrying by and he shouted: YOU KNOW WOTS WRONG WIT MARTIN!" AND YOU KNOW WOTS WRONG WIT DESE PEOPLE DOWN HERE? DEY ARE AFRAID OF THE LIGHT! DEY FEAR! DEY ARE AFRAID OF DA FUCKING LIGHT!" And tears shot to my eyes, tears for one so completely right. And you have left Jack Micheline, gone before us, with poetry and honor, poverty, unleavened dreams, unafraid of your terror, with the chariots at your back and the sea before you, waiting to part. ##
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March 3, 1998 San Francisco
Date: Sun, 08 Mar 1998 09:39:36 -0500
From: Al Aronowitz
Subject: Re: Submission & Hello!
ALAN: Michael McClure is an old friend of mine. (He was one of the persons who gave me my first joint). In my opinion, he has reached an age of elder statesmanship in the Beat Community and has earned his right to be put ahead on the list of readers if he thinks he needs to be. I appreciate your response and your submission of the Jack Micheline Memorial report and would be happy to print it in my column even if put off by your use of it for a gratuitous attack on Michael. Jack Micheline was an undervalued street poet. He sounded in terrible shape when he spoke to me by phone about a month or so ago to join THE ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL COMMITTEE, which, by the way, is all-inclusive, meaning that it seeks to encompass even those who don't talk to each other and who attack one another. I know well enough what it's like to be cast aside and undervalued as Jack was. Only after death has Jack started to get the recognition he earned, such as an obit with a picture in the NY Times. Jack struggled to the very end for recognition, much the same as Michael had done, as you do and as I continue to do. Allen and I weren't on the best of terms when he died, either, but I recognize him as having been a giant who has had a great impact on world culture. What I need is a pix of you. . .
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Date: Sun, 8 Mar 1998 14:37:11 EST
Subject: Thanks & slight revision
. . . Since I'm not just a Jew but a Buddhist as well I feel your pain about my remarks on McClure and also see in action the objectivity, humanity and courage that makes you great. I took some time to reflect on your comments and realized that to you McClure and company are still the Beat Generation, the wondrous rebels of the Post-War era who turned American smugness on its head and liberated successions of youth to fashion a new identity. All this was good, wonderful, right. But to me, as a poet representative of a new generation of poets, they are the 'establishment'. This is something which I believe the Beats, in their desire to think differently about themselves, have ignored and denied to their own detriment and to the disappointment of the younger poets who adore them. Perhaps, too, Al, there is some necessary and healthy generational conflict here. The work they did forty years ago inspires us today, sure, but the work that they do today puts a good many of us to sleep. It is painful but true, Al. The younger poets do not admire what the Beats have become. They have become to us just one more boot to be lifted off our necks and we are lifting, hoisting, and gaining the wrestler's advantage.
Time is now on our side. However, let me qualify this by saying, too, that most of us loved Micheline. I mean, loved him passionately! You should see the universal response from among my colleagues. Why? Because to the end, he was one of us, he stood shoulder to shoulder with us, even though famous enough to earn an obituary in the New York Times, he performed with us, scraped and starved with us, wrote alive with us, performed to rain with us, published in no-name pitiful chapbooks with us, clenched his fist at the sky with us, and borrowed money to cover the rent. He died uncompromisingly and uncompromised.
That is what Hirschman expressed in his magnificent poetic eulogy. He said in the poem, I am paraphrasing, "Thank you for keeping pure the holy ark in your guts," something to that effect: Jewish reference to the Torah. Micheline's spirit was a Torah. As commanded in the 613th Torah, he wrote his own.
It was a quandary for me whether or not to permit myself, especially as a Buddhist, to state what was so plainly obvious to many in attendance: that some among the Beat generation have become to some extent the Beat Corporation. Michael's disdain for his fellows was all too plain, and his poetry was lifeless, though he was the most famed among us. And here are others like Hirschman and Micheline struggling in their late sixties, for crying out loud, who are twice the performer that McClure is, twice the poet, six times the poet!, yet they are---Times obituary or not---broke, unrecognized, rejected, and standing shoulder to shoulder with the younger generation, like old lions to whom we look up. Yes, look up! As maybe once Ginsberg looked up to Rexroth and Williams. But none of us, not a single one of us, looks up to McClure. I am sorry, but that is the truth of it as I see it. And I realized that it was my job to tell what I saw. So I wrote it down.
I expect to catch hell for it, too. It touches a nerve! It even touched a nerve in you! All the more honor then that you publish it! I might very well become the Blacklisted Poet, you know?
Anyway, I'm off to Kinkos now to e-mail you a photo. And once again, many thanks! You saw me read once at the Long Shot benefit in Manhattan at the Synagogue and came up to me and said kind words to the effect that I reminded you of Dylan or someone great and I never forgot you for your generous spirit (so rare even among us younger poets) and am so glad to see the Blacklisted Journalist taking off. . .
This is the month in which I was born and, with my 70th birthday fast approaching, I fear that I, too, might be mistaken as part of the Beat Corporation.
I am not a poet. I am a journalist and the Beat Generation was only one of the many subjects I've written about during my career as a journalist. Although I once billed myself
They thought I was
because I fell in love with marijuana
as an "outlaw journalist" (because, during my years of insanity, I became a dope dealer and a convicted felon) and although I now describe myself as a "blacklisted" journalist (because, from 1972 until 1995, I was denied access to the light of print and therefore access to readers), I never claimed to be a "Beat" journalist. Many of my former colleagues in journalism considered me to have become "Beat" after I wrote my New York Post series about the Beats and also because I fell in love with marijuana. But, as I walk with holes in my soles into my septuagenarian years, I am just as broke as Jack Micheline was, just as anti-establishment and just as desperate in my search for self-fulfillment.
As I approach 70, I know all too well the generational gap which eternally exists between the young and the old, between poets like Alan Kaufman and Michael McClure, for whom and for whose work I have everlasting respect and admiration. Yes, I continue to value Michael as a friend just as I am happy to value Alan as a friend. I pride myself that, through the years, I have tried to bridge the generational gap just as, say, William Carlos Williams did. I remember how shocked I was when that staid, dignified and ancient doctor/poet used the word "cocksucker" so liberally when I interviewed him almost 40 years ago. Every generation produces its own heroes. But that shouldn't obviate what their predecessors accomplished to pave the way for those new heroes. Even at my advanced age, I still pursue my youthful dreams. As a journalist, I find it impossible to write fiction. I believe that truth teaches better lessons than made-up stories. To me, secrets are the tools of tyranny. Knowledge, like air and sunlight, belongs to everyone. When Jack Micheline said, "DEY FEAR! DEY ARE AFRAID OF DA FUCKING LIGHT!" I think what he really meant to say was, "DEY ARE AFRAID OF DA FUCKING LIGHT BECAUSE DEY HAVE BEEN KEPT TOO DAMN LONG IN DA DARK. DEY HAVE BEEN KEPT TOO IGNORANT TO KNOW HOW BEAUTIFUL DA LIGHT IS.!"
I learned a long time ago that the only fountain of youth is youth itself and I have tried to stay young in my head by jumping into that fountain. Although I don't pretend to be a fiery revolutionary myself, I try to hang with young revolutionaries. Yes, I feel young in my head. And so, I, too, have seen the emergence of the Beat Corporation. And, in the tales I tell about then and now in my BEAT PAPERS, I will continue to describe this emergence.
Why was I ever blacklisted? One reason is that I went crazy. Why did I go crazy? One reason is that I was blacklisted. Now, at last, the arrival of the Internet has given me the opportunity to do an end run around the blacklist. I have readers! Since I introduced myself to the cyberspace community 33 BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST columns ago, I even appear to have developed the makings of a cult following. Starting from zero, my website now gets between 500 and 1,700 visits a week from readers. Like Jack Micheline, like Alan Kaufman, like Michael McClure, like William Carlos Williams and like anyone else who has ever written words, whether on paper or in cyberspace, all I ever wanted was readers.
Stay tuned, and I'll tell you more about Jack Micheline, about the Beat Generation and about the emergence of the Beat Corporation. ##
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[Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998 23:55:01 -0500
From: Al Aronowitz
Subject: SAX MAN
ALAN: Forgot. Gotta have first and last name of sax man.--Al
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 00:07:09 EST
Subject: Re: SAX MAN
Sorry...don't have that. I just don't have time to find that out.
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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 05:27:55 -0500
From: Al Aronowitz
Subject: Re: SAX MAN
ALAN: That's where poets always fail. They leave out important and essential details. A journalist will bust his balls to get such facts. Such as you leave me and the reader hanging. So who do I contact to find out the jazz man's name? --Al ##
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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 09:50:53 -0500
From: Al Aronowitz
Subject: Re: SAX MAN
ALAN: You must understand that you denigrate both Micheline and his sax man by not naming the sax man and dismissing the need for the sax man's name as unnecessary. -Al ##
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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 10:11:46 EST
Subject: Re: SAX MAN
With all due regard, I do appreciate your thoroughness however I don't have the slightest idea where he is to be found. I must say that we're having more correspondance over this one piece then I've had with the San Francisco Examiner alone, with whom I've been been regularly publishing articles for many years.
I really am swamped under numerous obligations and am going to have to move on here. I hope that you are well and look forward to seeing the piece in Blacklisted Journalist....
Take care my friend.
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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 10:46:41 -0500
From: Al Aronowitz
Subject: Re: SAX MAN
ALAN: I'm just as swamped as you or anyone else, but I do insist on thoroughness, which comes with being a journalist. There must be someone in SF who knows who the guy is. Just give me a hint or two where to start asking. How could you have been a Micheline fan not to know who to ask? The lack of his name stands out like a naked woman. --Al
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Date: Wed, 25 Mar 1998 18:02:51 EST
Subject: Al Aronowitz-
The discourteous language and tone of your last few e-mails have been, frankly, beneath you and I want to strongly recommend, not only for the sake of any future relations with me but others as well, that you desist from this very dubious path. I have the feeling that you burned many bridges in the course of your life and that things are now, perhaps, coming back together for you a little. But let me assure you, based upon my own experience, that you will quickly lose the good will if you choose to adopt such a tone with people. Not anything we do, I believe, is about anything other then our relations with each other. Perhaps you think that my article is too harsh on some people, and think that you can find in my writing some justification in behaving rudely towards me, but let me assure you that I have a history with these folks that more then subsantiates the little rap on the knuckles that they are getting here. Despite all the good fortune in the world, they have behaved disgracefully, and justice requires that this be said. And that is all there is to that.
You and I, however, have no such history. So perhaps you'd want to reconsider before you create a "history" with me.
Whether or not I agree with your assessment of the sax man business even in the least part is not the issue here. I have stated quite clearly and yet as diplomatically as possible that an inordinate amount of time has been spent with you on this little piece of writing and that I am no longer available for further effort of any kind. Please respect that. I am not in the least concerned about the status of the article but rather about our ability to sustain future relations. That will entirely depend on simple courtesy.
So, once again, please, no more e-mails! My end of things is done.
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