Category Archives: Allen Ginsberg

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” — Allen Ginsberg

IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD NATION

Writer John Cassidy posts ten reasons why America is crazy in the July 24th New Yorker blog.

Here are a few of his reasons:

  • Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected
  • God created America and gave it a special purpose
  • Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright

House Of Worship

These are things many, many citizens of this holy land accept as, well, gospel. “[T]he popular sentiment underlying these statements is so strong that politicians defy it at their peril,” he writes.

Crazy? You decide.

LOVE STORY

Only paramedics, firefighters, and cops reacted faster to the Aurora, Colorado, Shooting Rampage than the gun fanatics who shrieked and howled that even the slightest jigger to the nation’s firearms laws would be a dastardly infringement on their sacred rights.

We don’t even argue much anymore about whether or not NRA members and their fellow travelers have the god-given right to lull themselves to sleep at night holding their loved ones close — and I’m not referring to their spouses or lovers. The gun control debate was settled and signed-off ages ago.

The Winner!

Those folks who are sexually aroused by guns are staunch defenders of an absolutist read of the Second Amendment have pounded their chests for the last six days and declared the gun to be an honest citizen’s only possible defense against a tyrannical government.

I had an online exchange with one such soul last night:

Gun Rights Defender: “The reason I believe we should be able to have guns is simply because the armed services and the police have them and they work for the rulers not the people.”

Me: “The ‘rulers’ never fear guns in the hands of the citizenry because they (the ‘rulers’) will always be able to outgun them.”

The defender’s conceit holds that a bunch of old men in Lawrence County who own hunting rifles will stand as a robust defense against the jack-booted thugs who want to impose the unimaginable horror of health care reform on us.

I, on the other hand, happen to know the US Army issues to its soldiers, among other kill-toys, M16 rifles, M4 carbines, 7.62x51mm FN SCAR assault rifles, M203 grenade launchers, Mossberg 590 shotguns, M107 Long Range Sniper Rifles, and — as sidearms — 9mm M9 pistols. Oh, and the soldiers are trained to kill people with these things.

Groups of soldiers regularly practice firing M2 heavy machine guns, MK19 grenade machine guns, a variety of mortars (the smallest of which launches a 60mm shell), several types of towed howitzers, the FIM-92 Stinger shoulder-launched heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile, and the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank guided missile.

How well do you think your Uncle Wayne and his fishing buddies would fare in a showdown with a battalion of 18-24 year-olds lugging hardware like that around?

Oh Yeah, Uncle Wayne’ll Do Just Fine Against These Guys

History teaches us corrupt, despotic governments usually fall in a whimper. No shots were fired, for instance, to bring down the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union. Here’s another anecdotal example: The only regime still standing against the Arab Spring revolts is the one — Syria — that insurgents took up arms against.

The gun romeos need to come up with a better rationalization for their defense of the madness.

GHOUL JUSTICE

Actor Wm. Bullion points out that one of the survivors of the Aurora, Colorado, Shooting Rampage not only will sue the parent company of the movie theater in which the incident occurred but has hired a publicist.

Wm. (Billy) Bullion

One of my legal sources informs me it’s unlikely the theater would be found liable for the shootings but would probably settle for a tidy sum with any of the ghouls (my characterization) who’d throw court papers its way.

Bullion quotes Cassandra Williams of W.E.T. PR: “We’re going to make sure whoever is accountable is going to take responsibility for this tragedy.”

Bullion observes: “”Yes, the FAMILY’S PUBLICIST is holding the movie theater ACCOUNTABLE.” (His caps.)

The source story reveals that the survivor’s attorney is also considering suing Warner Brothers for releasing violent movies and any of James Holmes’ doctors for allowing the suspect to walk the streets.

You have to give this survivor credit: Apparently he can find the silver lining in any dark cloud.

Payout For a Bullet Hole

THERE’S A MAN WITH A GUN OVER THERE

A redux posting: Here’s Buffalo Springfield (with the shockingly young Stephen Stills and Neil Young) performing “For What It’s Worth” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

BTW: Tommy Smothers was one of the unheralded coolest guys of the ’60s. Check out David Bianculli’s book, “Dangerously Funny.”

Here’s how I waste my time. How about you? Share your fave sites with us via the comments section. Just type in the name of the site, not the url; we’ll find them. If we like them, we’ll include them — if not, we’ll ignore them.

I Love ChartsLife as seen through charts.

I Love Charts, From The Sunlight Foundation

XKCD — “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

SkepchickWomen scientists look at the world and the universe.

IndexedAll the answers in graph form, on index cards.

Present and Correct(New Listing) Fun, compelling, gorgeous and/or scary graphic designs and visual creations throughout the years and from all over the world.

Flip Flop Fly BallBaseball as seen through infographics, haikus, song lyrics, and other odd communications devices.

Mental FlossFacts.

Caps Off PleaseComics & fun.

SodaplayCreate your own models or play with other people’s models.

Eat Sleep DrawAn endless stream of artwork submitted by an endless stream of people.

Illustration By Maneco, From Eat Sleep Draw

Big ThinkTapping the brains of notable intellectuals for their opinions, predictions, and diagnoses.

The Daily PuppySo shoot me.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

◗ IU Auer HallSummer Arts Festival: Pipe organ faculty recital; 1pm

Bear’s PlaceThe Jeremy Allen Quartet; 5:30pmpm

Muddy Boots Cafe, Nashville — Laura Connallon; 6-8:30pm

◗ IU Ernie Pyle HallJournalism seminar on Public Access and Government Transparency; 6pm

Third Street ParkOutdoor concert, Jenn Christy Band; 6:30pm

◗ IU Wells-Metz TheatreMusical, “You Can’t Take It with You”; 7:30pm

The Player’s PubOpen mic hosted by Martina Samm; 7:30pm

Serendipity Martini BarTeam trivia; 8:30pm

The BluebirdThree Story Hill; 9pm

The BishopYoung Magic, Quilt, Floorboard; 9:30pm

Ongoing:

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • John D. Shearer, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%”; through July 30th
  • Claire Swallow, ‘Memoir”; through July 28th
  • Dale Gardner, “Time Machine”; through July 28th
  • Sarah Wain, “That Takes the Cake”; through July 28th
  • Jessica Lucas & Alex Straiker, “Life Under the Lens — The Art of Microscopy”; through July 28th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • Qiao Xiaoguang, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts” ; through August 12th
  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th
  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th
  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th
  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th
  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st
  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st
  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits: Bloomington Photography Club Annual Exhibition; July 27th through August 3rd

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World Cultures — Closed for semester break

Monroe County History Center Exhibits:

  • “What Is Your Quilting Story?”; through July 31st
  • Photo exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“That isn’t writing at all; it’s typing.” — Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac‘s work

ZOMBIE MORNING

A courtly hat-tip to the one of the demi-bosses over at Soma Coffee, Lindsay Taylor.

She turned me on last Sunday to the fabulous Zombies disc, “Odessey and Oracle” (sic). I immediately ordered it online and it came in the mail yesterday.

The Loved One and I listened to it in part on the way to my Sunday morning headquarters.

Do yourself a favor and get it. Trust me.

LOVE KILLS

I was re-reading a part of David Halberstam‘s indispensable history of the 1950s entitled, appropriately enough, “The Fifties.”

One of its chapters covers the Beats, natch. Halberstam tells the story of how Allen Ginsberg met a fellow named Lucien Carr in his dorm room at Columbia University. Ginsberg immediately fell in with other Columbia students and hangers-on like William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and the rest. Carr was acknowledged as the untitled leader of the gang, then referred to as the Libertine Circle, that eventually became the Beats.

Burroughs, Carr, & Ginsberg (1953)

A dramatic episode in Carr’s life brings to mind one of the biggest news stories in Bloomington in years — the stabbing death of IU English professor Don Belton.

The Belton story broke a mere three months after T-Lo and I arrived in Bloomington. He may or may not have had sex with some kid who was a former Marine and had served in Iraq. The kid went to Belton’s house one morning, stabbed him repeatedly with his hunting knife, and allowed him to bleed to death on his kitchen floor.

The kid was convicted of murder in short order, despite claiming that he was driven to a murderous rage only after Belton had made sexual overtures to him.

Don Belton & Michael Griffin

When Lucien Carr was a teen, he was involved in a similar manner with a man who was 14 years older than he was.

This fellow, David Kammerer, was the leader of a youth group that Carr had belonged to isn St. Louis, where he was raised. Apparently, Kammerer fell head over heels for the tender teen. Carr’ mother moved him to a number of private prep schools in New England to get him away from Kammerer but the man followed the youngster to each new locale.

After high school, Carr enrolled at the University of Chicago and Kammerer again moved to be nearer him.

Carr attempted suicide by sticking his head in an oven while at Chicago. He told school officials it was an act of “art.” He told his mother he wanted to kill himself because Kammerer was driving him batty. Carr was committed to the psych ward at Cook County Hospital for a few weeks after the incident.

Carr’s mother transferred him to Columbia in New York City. Kammerer followed.

Carr swore up and down to his new Columbia chums that he’d never had sex with Kammerer but some historians suspect otherwise.

Jack Kerouac And Lucien Carr

In any case, Kammerer became a fringe member of the Libertine Circle. He and Carr often hung around together but, just as often, Carr would freeze the man out.

Anyway, one night in August, 1944, Carr and Jack Kerouac got drunk together in the Libertines’ hangout, The West End. Kerouac left the place and ran into Kammerer on the street. Kammerer asked where he could find Carr and Kerouac directed him to The West End.

Kammerer and Carr went for a walk and wound up in a park near 115th Street and the Hudson River. The two lolled there for a while and, according to Carr later, Kammerer came on to him. A scuffle ensued, Carr pulled his Boy Scout knife, and stabbed Kammerer to death.

Carr bound Kammerer’s body, weighted it with rocks, and dumped the corpse into the river. He buried Kammerer’s glasses in the park.

Carr immediately went to William Burroughs’ apartment and told him what had happened. Carr even brought a blood-soaked pack of Kammerer’s cigarettes as proof. Burroughs disposed of the pack and advised Carr to go to the police. Carr didn’t care much for that idea.

Instead, Carr went to Kerouac’s place the next morning and told him about the killing. Kerouac and he went out and dumped Carr’s Boy Scout knife down a subway grating. Then the two went to the movies and the Museum of Modern Art.

Finally, Carr went home and told his mother about the slaying. She brought him to the New York DA to confess. The cops fished Kammerer’s body out of the river and found the dead man’s glasses. Carr was charged with second degree murder.

Newspaper coverage at first tended to be hostile to the wealthy college boy killer. Then, his story of fighting off the advances of the older homosexual before resorting to homicidal violence touched the sympathies of a homophobic public. One newspaper termed the incident an “honor” killing.

Carr eventually copped to a manslaughter plea and served a mere two years in the juvenile section of the Elmira state prison.

A Monroe County jury last spring hung a murder conviction on Michael Griffin for the killing of Don Belton. Griffin is now serving a 45 to 65-year sentence in state prison.

Things change — or do they?

Men still kill men for the “sin” of homosexuality but at least we’re putting those killers away for a good long time now.

SKY KING

Hey, don’t forget about today’s solar eclipse. We may be able to see the moon’s disc cover a small part of the sun’s from our vantage point in South Central Indiana, although our sky won’t be darkened to any appreciable extent as it will be in the southwestern United States.

But you can follow its progress on a number of websites.

Sky & Telescope Viewing Map For Today’s Eclipse

This particular eclipse is classified as annular, meaning because of the particular points in their orbits at the moment of totality, the moon’s disc is smaller than the sun’s. Ergo, a dramatic circle of the brilliant sun’s orb will surround the moon.

How cool.

An Annular Eclipse

Oh, and don’t forget, the planet Venus will transit the sun’s disc in two and a half weeks. It’s another rare sky spectacular. I’ll remind you about it as we get nearer the date.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Most artists work all the time. They do, actually, especially good artists. They work all the time. What else is there to do?” — David Hockney

FROM THE CHELSEA TO EAST PILSEN

Reading about the time Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel got me thinking about a few years that I spent living and working in a similar milieu.

The Chelsea was the storied Manhattan locus of artists, writers, actors, musicians, and many other ne’er-do-wells. Arthur C. Clarke lived and wrote there — he penned “2001: A Space Odyssey” in his cramped room. Dylan Thomas wrote and died there. Mark Twain spent time there. So did O. Henry, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Thomas Wolfe.

The Chelsea’s visual artists included Christo, Julian Schnabel, Frida Kahlo, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Willem De Kooning, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

More musicians than can reasonably listed here called the Chelsea home as well. People from Edith Piaf to Iggy Pop received their mail at the Chelsea.

The Chicago art scene at the turn of this century was centered around the East Pilsen neighborhood just southwest of the Loop. In 1998, I moved into a first floor apartment on 17th Place and, later, lived at Carpenter Avenue and 18th Street. I spent my days clacking my keyboard at the Hardware Cafe coffeehouse on Halsted, one of the neighborhood’s social centers.

The Chelsea mixed creative types with drag queens, hookers, and poet-wannabes. East Pilsen melded working artists with gang-bangers and people who claimed to be artists mainly because they couldn’t keep a day job.

One night I watched two neighborhood toughs stroll out of Pauly’s Tavern at 18th and Union, conversing and laughing, looking for all the world like the best of friends until one guy cold-cocked the other, dropping his pal to the ground like a sack of sugar. The puncher picked up the punchee, brushed him off, and the two resumed conversing and laughing as if nothing had happened.

The writers, actors, painters, sculptors, and other societal misfits of East Pilsen learned to steer clear of the thugs and hellions. But we found each other. We were not as celebrated as the Chelsea artists, but we worked as hard. Then again, none of us labored as diligently as our New York counterparts at becoming celebrated, so there is that.

Below, I present a reprint of a story I wrote for the Chicago Reader 12 years ago.

ON EXHIBIT: A SECRET SOCIETY SHOWS ITSELF

A year ago this month I was abducted by a tough-looking character with a filterless Camel dangling from his lips. He placed a callused hand on my shoulder and said, “Come with me.” I hesitated. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You won’t get hurt.”

He brought me to a nondescript storefront in East Pilsen, where I was forced to listen to a CD of some Deep South banjo picking. A group of people got up from a table full of steaming food, danced around me, and placed leis and chains around my neck. A cape was draped over my shoulders and a titanic sombrero balanced on my head. A fellow who looked to be the leader of this mob handed me a two-foot-long pipe brush. “This is your scepter,” he said.

“Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys,” this fellow — we’ll call him K — said. “You’ve been selected as our adjudicator. It is your duty to judge the art that’s been made over the last week by our members. Tonight you are all-powerful. You are a deity. Wield your power wisely.” He motioned for me to sit in a chair.

For the next two hours I watched and judged as some two dozen sculptures, drawings, paintings, poems, and musical pieces were paraded before me. All the artwork, I learned, was inspired by a single word: “bodacious.” The Lampreys fittingly are a bodacious bunch.

“A couple of years ago I was sitting around thinking, ‘All I ever do is make stuff for clients,'” says K, a tall guy with a Dixie accent and hair that changes colors as often as the wind changes directions. “I do architectural ironwork and ceramic and marble work. I enjoy making objects; it’s a good way to make money. But I like to make sculpture. I like to make useless objects. So I brainstormed with my buddy S, my roommate at the time.”

K and S had met when S crashed one of K’s parties. K throws parties at the drop of a hat. He’ll even celebrate the night before a party. His semiannual pig roasts are known far and wide, attracting hundreds of artists, musicians, old hippies, bikers, manic-depressives, bookies, and schoolteachers. K took an immediate shine to S, a sculptor from Australia, and hired him to work in his metal shop. A couple of weeks later, S and his girlfriend, L, moved into K’s spare bedroom.

“We were drawn together,” K says. “He had a similar problem.” S spent every waking hour making art for his portfolio. His only concern was the business of making art. K and S brooded over glasses of whiskey one night. They mooned over their idealistic days as aspiring artists. “It was a blast back then,” K says. “Then we started taking ourselves too seriously.

“So we decided to make an object once a week that’s not related to our portfolio, our clients, to anything. It would be absolutely non-marketable. L told us about this big Sunday brunch at her family’s house in Australia. Everyone had a standing invitation and would get fed well.”

K found it impossible to pass up yet another excuse for a party. He and S planned to make new pieces for a brunch the following Sunday. “That first week, there were the two of us,” K recalls. “L thought it was kind of cool, so the next time there were three of us. Someone heard about it, and the next week we had four.” Within months the revolving cast of artists and hangers-on numbered in the dozens. Soon the brunch became a ritual that had to be codified.

“We decided we would no longer own our pieces,” K says. “They would become property of the group. We also figured if we were going to present our pieces formally there should be some kind of ceremony with someone chosen to preside over the presentation.” Thus began the tradition of kidnapping some unsuspecting sap to be the adjudicator.

“The adjudicators are dressed awfully silly,” K acknowledges. “You cannot have a secret society that doesn’t have a set of absurd rules. With this comes a great deal of pomp and circumstance. We take it to the extreme by allowing the adjudicators to believe they are all-powerful. There was one adjudicator who demanded that we all get naked. We thought about it but then realized there were some members who didn’t want to. So there was a coup. We shouted, ‘The King is dead; long live the King!'”

The adjudicator bestows an array of fanciful awards. A scrap of polished wood is known as the False Gem of Hope. A well-worn wig is the Matted Hair of Revulsion. The Sardines of Delusion is a can of (what else?) sardines, while the Banana of Ill Repute is a two-year-old black, shriveled banana.

“This whole idea caught on,” K says. “Everyone we invited to the meeting started participating. We come from a lot of different backgrounds. We have trolley drivers and carpenters. There are some people who’ve never made art before. One guy, a computer programmer, joined us for the word ‘spicy’ and sewed 400 chili peppers to a pair of boxer shorts and wore them and nothing else, dancing into the room.” With so many making art, it became obvious a weekly theme was in order. So at the end of his or her term, the adjudicator has the task of choosing the next week’s word. “Our first word was ‘structure,'” K says. “Then we had ‘symmetry.’ We had ‘beef.’ Then there was ‘lagniappe,’ a little something extra. Then there was a made-up word from sci-fi, ‘grok.'”

Early on someone suggested the group needed a name. A lightbulb went off over K’s head. “Society has always viewed artists as lampreys, sucking on its soft, fleshy underbelly,” he says. “We decided to claim the name. We suck.”

These being artists, a late-morning starting time for the brunches was as welcome as a 3 AM alarm clock blast. The Lampreys began to gather later and later in the day. Now dinner is served at around 8:30 or 9 PM.

In November 1998 the Lampreys erected an altar to the memory of scientist Nikola Tesla for a Day of the Dead exhibit. “Tesla was a nut,” K says. “He was a Lamprey.” Someone described it to Chuck Thurow, director of the Hyde Park Art Center. Thurow dropped in on a Lamprey meeting and decided, almost on the spot, to offer the gallery to them for an exclusive show.

“3½ Months of Sundays” will open this Sunday, March 5. The group will erect altars to such overlooked geniuses as Sen No Rikyu, who several centuries ago elevated the simple Japanese afternoon tea to a formal ritual, and Philo Farnsworth, who invented the TV picture tube but had to sue RCA to earn royalties. The altars will surround a centerpiece containing 2,000 Lamprey pieces, displayed together for the first time.

“One of the problems with showing Lamprey work is it’s not very commodified,” K says. “It’s not something we can sell. We can’t be shown in a typical gallery because there’s no money to be made off us. It’s more about the process and the meeting each week. The object becomes de-emphasized and less precious. The collection becomes fascinating.”

I was fascinated that Sunday night a year ago. After I’d reviewed all the art and passed out the awards, K told me I had one final duty: choose the next week’s word. I pondered for ten minutes and then wrote on a big chalkboard the word “mortar.”

Immediately K stripped off my royal raiment. “Now you’re nothing,” K shouted gleefully. The tough-looking character with the filterless Camel dangling from his lips smirked. “You’re just like one of us,” he said. I couldn’t wait to come back the next Sunday.

The opening party for “3½ Months of Sundays” will be held from 4 to 6 PM this Sunday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. A closing party will be held from 5 to 9 PM on Saturday, April 15. Call 773-324-5520 for more information.

— M

(Originally published in the Chicago Reader, March 2, 2000)

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