Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
THE BEAT GOES ON
In the 1950s his epic Howl became the poetic anthem of the first rock-and-roll generation. In the 1960s he hung out with the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. In the 1980s he performed a punk-rock rap on an album by the Clash. Now 70, Allen Ginsberg is setting his poetry to rock's back beat once again. His new CD, The Ballad of the Skeletons (Mouth Almighty/Mercury), features such stellar collaborators as Paul McCartney on guitar, drums, organ and maracas, Patti Smith sideman Lenny Kaye on bass and avant-garde composer Philip Glass on keyboards. And this being the '90s, the poet, who lives in New York City's East Village with his companion of 41 years, Peter Orlovsky, is bound for MTV, performing his CD's title tune in a video directed by ultrahip filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy). Ginsberg spoke with reporter Lan Nguyen.
How are poetry and rock connected?
I'm a poet. So are a lot of pop stars. Paul McCartney is a poet. Lennon was a poet. Dylan is a supreme poet. Music and poetry have been together since the time of Homer. Black-blues spirituals by Ma Rainey, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith—that's poetry that has conquered the world.
Who turned you on to music and poetry?
My father was a poet. Poetry is a family business. My teacher of the three-chord blues was Bob Dylan. Musicians nowadays are very literate and intelligent, so it's fun to work with them.
How did you happen to work with Paul McCartney?
We had known each other for years. I was visiting his house in southern England. We had been looking at his poetry and discussing haiku. I had conceived of a riff, so I asked Paul if he could recommend a guitarist. He gave me some names, but he said, "If you're not fixed up with a guitarist, why don't you try me?" I said it was a date.