January 08, 2017

Well that didn’t last long did it? When Henry Luce, in a February 1941 Life editorial called for ‘an American Century’, saying the US should ‘exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit,’ he clearly expected American leadership, however unwillingly received by the rest of the world, to last until the middle of the 21st century. But with Trump, it has already gone. No-one will ever take the United States seriously again. American moral superiority was always a deeply suspect idea to begin with, but it’s over. It lasted about 75 years; a blink of the eye compared to, say, Egypt’s 3,000 years before the Romans, or the Romans’ own roughly 1,000 years. What, I wonder, will America be known for, if at all? My guess would be for the Moon landings and for Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the first – and I surely hope, the only – use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets.

To live in Trump’s America must be like living in German occupied France. Everyone who collaborates in any way with Trump or his administration faces future ostracism, particularly in the arts and music communities and probably within the better academic institutions as well. Good. There should never be any acceptance of his ideas as being in any way legitimate. My hope is that it will cause a groundswell of rebellion and dissent, similar to that of the sixties youth movement against the Vietnam war. In fact, as well as popular opposition, I fully expect a new generation of Weathermen to emerge. Interesting times are here again!

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December 10, 2016

More travels: a week after we got back from Cairo, I flew to Chicago where I was to give a talk at Harper College on November 17. I’d done one some years ago and they apparently liked it enough to invite me back. You leave London at midday and get there at about 3:30pm, but the six-hour time difference is becoming a real problem for me. I went a day early so that I had a full day recovery before the day of the event, which involved a talk to Kurt Hemmer’s Beat Generation class at lunchtime and a public on-stage interview at 5:00pm. It’s a community college, so the interview with Kurt was open to the public for free. Considering it started when most people are at work we had a good crowd. I talked a lot about the Zapple label, the Beatles’ experimental label, as the American edition of my book has just come out from Abrams. (Peter Owen in the UK) I was the label manager so I could tell what little there is to tell about this short-lived, idealistic project. The students asked good questions, as did the public later in the day.

The Zapple Diaries

The Zapple Diaries

Name In Lights

Name In Lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my recovery day I visited with Diana Ashdown, someone I had not seen in almost sixty years. We grew up on the same small country lane outside Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, our houses separated by fields. She was then Diana Ward and lived in the old watermill near the end of the lane. Her sons had somehow located me, maybe through LinkedIn though I hardly ever use it, and contacted me to see if I was the same person that their mother knew back in the fifties. She moved to the States in the early seventies but I lost touch with her much earlier on, before I went to art college in 1959. It was a strange experience to meet someone with whom you have so much in common – the water meadows, her parents’ old mill, the other children in the neighbourhood; lots of gossip about them – and yet who has had a whole life that you know nothing about. It was great to meet up with her again.

David Ashdown

David Ashdown

Kurt and Erin

Kurt and Erin

Kurt was in a state of shock at Trump’s victory, as virtually everyone I knew was. His only consolation was that Hillary had received more actual votes, but everyone I spoke with was deeply worried. I spent most of my free time with Kurt, a Beat Generation scholar, and his wife Erin and we did manage to talk about a few things other than Trump. But it was an odd time to be there.

After three nights it was on to Kansas City where local musician James Thomlison picked me up and drove me to Lawrence, about an hour from KC, stopping en route at the wine store. I was staying in Bill Burroughs’ old house, in his old bedroom in fact. The house was in better shape than when I was last there and Tom King, who lives there, has made remarkable progress with the garden. The task here was to complete my catalogue of the last part of the William Burroughs Archive. I did five weeks work on it back in 2014 but there were things not found, and things to add. It is a 12-minute walk from Bill’s old house to the ‘Burroughs Compound’ where the office used to be, and where James Grauerholz, executor of the Burroughs Estate, lives, along with various other associates in various other houses including Tom Peschio who helped me out with the archive boxes. The walk crosses Burroughs Creek, previously called something prosaic like Atchison & Topeka Railroad Creek number 3. After not inconsiderable struggle and opposition, the town of Lawrence dedicated a public footpath to their most famous resident to follow the small trickle of water across town. The part where it borders Burroughs’ old property is not in fact on the route of the path, but it is great to see, nonetheless

James and TP

James and TP

Burroughs Creek

Burroughs Creek

James G was better and healthier looking than I’ve seen him in years and we got a lot of work done, as well as a lot of gossiping and social talk. A lot of Bill Burroughs’ old friends came over for a Thanksgiving drink, including poet Jim McCrary and Susan Ashline who I always like to see when I’m out there. I like his new book of poems and stories, This Is Here, which includes amusing notes made during his time working at William Burroughs Communications. Most evenings ended with just me and Tom King nattering about music and travel over a bottle. The most social event of all, of course, was Thanksgiving. I assisted Tom (who used to be a restaurateur, and who is also a food journalist) who did everything except the turkey. The turkey was a 21 lb. bird that came with its own little pop-up red button to indicate when it was cooked. It took about 5 and half hours and we let it sit for an hour after that. I had a lot of fun and the next day, we had the same meal over again. I did one side dish. I thought I would introduce Americans to English bread sauce and I must report that it was much commented upon with requests for seconds.

21lb Turkey

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November 15, 2016

On 2nd of November Rosemary and I flew to Cairo to stay with Tom Hardwick, the son of old friends of ours from Bristol, who is an Egyptologist. Only the previous month he had been inspecting one of the Tutankhamen shrines with the team preparing a conservation programme for them. There are four, originally one inside the other, into which Tut’s sarcophaguses, also one inside the other, were originally placed. Of course they were never intended to be opened and the whole row of artifacts gives us a strange exploded view of his final coffer.

Tut's Shrine

Tut’s Shrine

Cairo is one of the intense cities I have ever been in: the noise is constant and horrendous; the pavements are so crowded with rubbish, parked cars, lumps of masonry or just exploded smashed paving stones, that everyone walks in the street, avoiding the traffic with a casual insouciance. It takes some getting used to and we never mastered the art of crossing main roads. There are very long sections with no traffic lights and people, including large family groups with toddlers, simply launch themselves into the traffic, taking it one lane at a time. It’s a bit like trusting that a space will appear when you join an LA Freeway. It goes against every urge for self-preservation. The vehicles themselves are decrepit, sand-blasted wrecks with bits missing and the evidence of side-on and full-frontal collisions everywhere. This is because if there is a space in the traffic, the Cairene driver will shoot into it, even if it means he is facing the wrong way at a junction. Arguments are frequent but real fights are rare. The traffic proceeds using a system of toots, bleeps, honks, and full-strength horn-playing, a secret language analogous to the clicks and peeps of bats, as it endlessly shifts position on a four-lane highway being treated as a five-line highway. People do make way for the terrifying Egyptian truck – the one thing they get out of the way of. In the midst of all this is the occasional horse or mule driven cart and, once you get out of the centre, human-pulled carts, camels and two-horse teams.

We were staying in Zamelec, the island in the Nile that is part of Giza rather than Cairo, and the home to many of the embassies. All along the street the pavements are further blocked by guard huts manned by machine-gun toting young conscripts, relaxing behind portable bulletproof shields on wheels. One person we met reported seeing a group of them at night, curled up together in their hut, asleep like a litter of kittens, still clutching their machine guns.

Tom kindly laid on a cocktail party for the night after we arrived and we heard all the gossip from the diplomatic corps and the archeological missions. We met members of the Russian mission almost every night we were there: there are a very limited number of restaurants and bars favoured by the ex-pat community.

We took the pyramid groups in chronological order, beginning with the Step-pyramid at Saqara, followed by the Bent-pyramid, the red pyramid and the Giza group. The first two sites are about an hour away in the desert and had virtually no tourists, just a dozen or so, and the “guides” and souvenir sellers have given up and found something else to do. Tourism is a disaster area.

Step Pyramid

Step Pyramid

Bent Pyramid

Bent Pyramid

Proper shape at last

Proper shape at last

Giza Group

Giza Group

Great Pyramid

Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid group is on the outskirts of Cairo, and has virtually been engulfed by the city. It is swarming with souvenir sellers and “guides” who pester you so much that despite the pyramids being such a magnificent spectacle, it is virtually impossible to stand and contemplate them because so many people are grabbing at you, trying to get your attention, and this includes the tourist police. Most tourists arrive in a couch with an official guide so with tourism down by about 90%, the few individual explorers that do manage to get there are sitting ducks. There is proper airport security to enter the site, but the local villagers have always had the privilege of fleecing the tourists and the authorities appear disinclined or incapable of keeping them out.

At the red pyramid we had our own armed guard, following us a discrete distance – there were no other tourists at all – then someone else arrived. It was a black guy from London who had clearly assessed the situation and immediately knew how to deal with it. He ran up to the guard and said, “Yo brother, I’ve come from London to see the pyramids!” The next time I turned around, he was taking a selfie of himself with the guard who was all smiles.

The Egyptian Museum is one of the great sights on Earth. The range of Pharonic antiquities is astonishing. I am used to using the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum as a short cut when ever I go to Museum Street or Holborn, and am familiar with their haul of booty, but the quality and quantity in Cairo is breathtaking. As it should be. The Tut material is the jewel in the brown, of course, with his chariots, his golden beds, his fans and pots, his childhood toys and children’s throne. The sheer quantity of gold objects is overwhelming: the ancient Egyptians liked a big of bling and so of it is over the top. There were tourists there but it was easy enough to wait a minute or two in order to be the only one contemplating some magnificent object from 3500 BC.

As an ex-art student myself, I particularly liked the galleries of art school sketches, drawn or painted on flat fragments of marble or rock (papyrus was too expensive for practice whereas rock is free). The work had a freshness and individuality to it that is often missing from the low-reliefs and painted panels except in the most important pieces where you can see the hand of an anonymous master, or masters.

Stone Sketchbook

Stone Sketchbook

Rough Sketch

Rough Sketch

Tom left us for a while to join his friends and colleagues inside one of the Tut shrines. Of course we saw the great gold mask from his mummy, and the funerary jewelry, but to me the actual sarcophagi were more extraordinary – they fit inside each other – and the throne, which opens the exhibition, which has the original leopard-skin seat reproduced in ebony and ivory so that it will last forever.

Throne

Throne

Then of course there is medieval and Islamic Cairo!

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October 14, 2016

Less than a week after Cheltenham, I attended the Manchester Literary Festival where Iain Sinclair and I were in conversation, chaired by Doug Field, on the subject of the origins of the London sixties counter-culture, with a particular focus on the work of Jeff Nuttall. It was held in the extraordinary Victorian Gothic cathedral-like John Rylands Library and had mounted an exhibition of manuscripts and publications of Jeff’s there, including a hilarious letter by Jeff to poet Harry Fainlight and a few issues of his My Own Mag, the first cut-up magazine to be, itself, damaged and cut-up [holes in the page, burned edges, and one issue cut into eight and stapled to a backing page so you could read all the pages in cut-up form. It was important because William Burroughs was a regular contributor and ran a three-column newspaper-style text in many of the issues. In the end, Iain and I sort of agreed that Jeff was more of a precursor of the underground scene than an actual member of it: for a start Jeff hated rock ‘n’ roll, couldn’t see the rebellious or revolutionary value in it. His music was the trad jazz of twenties New Orleans and he sometimes honked away on a battered cornet to prove it. He also was opposed to drugs. He liked to sup his pint in a public bar surrounded by drinkers in flat caps. As he put it, ‘I’m for physiodelics not psychedelics’ and he hated the advocates of LSD and marijuana. The conversation was stimulating, as it always is when talking to Iain and we had a full house. Next day I saw my sister Jen for lunch who took me to Canal Street, the wonderful gay neighbourhood that I had not previously visited.

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October 5, 2016

After not returning to Cheltenham for 50 years, where I was born and went to art college, I did an event there at the Literary Festival last year. It went well and they kindly invited me back again. This year I did three events: a panel on San Francisco, which included my old editor at Mojo, Barney Hoskyns, and a panel on New York where, in addition to participating, I was also the chair. That was interesting because the two panelists were both novelists whom, I must confess, I had not heard of. One was Megan Bradbury, whose Everyone is Watching explored New York through events in the lives of a number of important historical characters beginning with Walt Whitman. There was an interesting portrait of Robert Moses, who initially wanted to provide parks and recreation space for the city’s poor, but became a megalomaniac who displaced thousands in his grand building schemes and was only really stopped by Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities who stopped him from running a super highway straight through the Cast Iron District and the centre of Greenwich Village. I liked the book because one of the characters was Robert Mapplethorpe, who I used to know when I lived at the Hotel Chelsea in 1969 and 70, and who, though not a close friend, I saw on and off until his death. I told a short anecdote about Robert: I was walking down the West Street one day, when the trucks were still parked underneath the elevated highway. When I reached Christopher Street a row of rubber and leather clad figures were leaning against the west wall of the Ramrod or whichever gay bar it was on that corner, catching a few rays of the afternoon sun despite all wearing rubber bondage masks. It seemed hilarious to me. As I drew near, the one in the middle pulled out the stopper covering his mouth – pop – waved and called out, ‘Hi Miles!’ It was Robert. One of the things I always liked about him was that, although he was immensely ambitious, he also had a sense of humour about the heavy rubber and bondage scene that he was so involved in.

The other participant in the New York panel was Teju Cole, born in America of Nigerian parents, who in fact grew up in Nigeria. I would highly recommend his book, Open City about an alienated psychiatrist who takes long psychogeographical walks in Manhattan. He uses this device to slowly reveal different facets of both his protagonist’s character and the city itself. It reminded me of Nadja by Andre Breton, one of my favourite books. In walking from one part of the festival to another we passed a row of typical Cheltenham regency houses. He asked who they were built for and I explained that Cheltenham was very much the town where retired colonial administrators came to retire. He made a few wry comments. It gave me great pleasure to see a celebrated Nigerian novelist walking the streets and staying in the best hotel in town, something that would have been inconceivable when I was a child. Maybe things have actually improved, despite the terrible state the world appears to be in today.

I also did an event on Charles Bukowski with the poet Salina Godden, chaired by Lyndsey Fineran. I had not realised that there was such an energetic contemporary poetry scene in Britain; she had the power and delivery I have only previously seen with poets like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Her subject matter is similar to that of Bukowski – drinking, sex, drinking – whom she obviously adores. I had a thoroughly good time.

Saline Godden

Saline Godden

Once again I walked around those familiar streets but I am not sure that I would want to go there again. Here is a photograph of the famous statue of King Edward exposing himself to a little girl, or that’s how local legend always had it when I was at art college there.

King Edward

King Edward

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Wednesday 14 September, 2016

chatterjie-show tip-of-the-iceberg

 

I went round the Nimai Chjatterji Collection show at Tate Britain with Andrew Wilson who worked on the show with Adrian Glew. Adrian was responsible for acquiring the collection from Nimai, which has been a long time in cataloguing – maybe a decade, but given that there are 3,000 boxes of material in the collection, it is a miracle that it is now done. The show features highlights from the collection, including a full range of Fluxus objects, something Adrian is particularly keen on. Nimai bought a great deal of his collection from Indica Books, the bookshop I ran from 1965 until February 29, 1970. In the case of Fluxus objects, we usually received two copies: one I reserved for the counter-culture and avant garde collection of the German dentist Hanns Sohm in Markgröningen whose collection finished up in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. His brother, who lived in London, came in every month to collect all the objects I put aside for him, including all the underground newspapers and mimeo poetry magazines that had come in. He was very particular about condition and insisted that the papers be stored flat. Everyone dreaded the brother’s arrival because he was a Holocaust denier and kept trying to bring the subject up. His brother, who was buying the things, but only managed a couple of trips a year to London, seemed to be the exact opposite: Hanns was large and jolly, his brother thin and depressed. Maybe they were half-brothers or related by marriage.

The other copies of Fluxus usually went to Nimai, but he had often obtained a copy from the artist involved and so we had a few to sell to the general public. It was noticeable that no English institution was interested in collecting this sort of thing, nor any English collectors. (The Tate didn’t start an archive until 1970). I met Nimai again, decades later, at a Tate Turner Prize party. He immediately asked if Jeff Nuttall had produced any more copies of George. It was if we had seen each other only the week before and I was still behind the counter at Indica.

It was terrific to see all the wonderful objects that had once passed through my hands: obscure German language concrete poetry magazines; John Furrnival’s Openings/Unfoldings poetry cards – John was one of my teachers at art college – Bob Cobbing’s Writer’s Forum mimeo poetry chapbooks; a run of Situationist Internationale (including a first printing of the second issue!); the first edition of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit and so on. There is a letter from Guy Debord; manuscripts; photographs of Jean-Jacques Lebel’s happenings including the first ever conducted in Europe; wonderful documentation. I was particularly pleased to see a poster for the Domain Poetique, organised by Jean-Jacques Lebel at the American Centre in Paris, where William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville presented their mix-media performances. This one is from May 1963. Bill did much more cutting edge work when he was living in Europe. If you are in Tate Modern do go and see the show, it’s where the café used to be.

may-1963-paris

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Monday 5 September

Rosemary and I went to the “So You want a Revolution?” dinner at the V&A, to celebrate the opening the show in a couple of days time. We arrived early, but fortunately so did Jon Savage and Charles Saumarez-Smith who runs the RA, who was very jolly and we passed the time pleasantly until someone finally opened the doors. Had a chat with Bob Geldof who had an in depth knowledge of the period; something I had not expected as I associate him with the next generation; in fact he’s only eight years younger than me. He said how he had always hated the hippies, mostly for their passivity. I sort of agree with him as I always preferred the Velvet Underground to any of the San Francisco bands. He said it was the aggression of bands like the Who that he got off on back then and I can see that that the appreciation of psychedelic rock would not translate very well beyond the confines of the UFO Club and the Notting Hill hippie scene. The Who were, in fact, an interesting transitional band in that respect: Pete Townshend and Karen were regulars at the UFO Club, Pete in his Afghan coat and Karen in a tiny mini-skirt, danicing to the Pink Floyd and yet retaining a Who fan-base of short haired mods.

At the dinner I was sat next to broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, whom I hadn’t seen in several years. I knew him from the seventies when Omnibus Press published his Paul McCartney in His Own Words, in 1976 when I was working there as a free-lance editor with Pearce Marchbank. There is no question that Paul has been unfairly demonised by the BBC and the police, in their unfounded allegations that he was a sexual abuser; by the latter in order to encourage more victims of sexual abuse to come forward. I hope he wins the case that he is bringing against his tormentors.

paul-gambaccinijon-savage-miles

Two days later, at the morning press launch, I did some of the press interviews for the show along with Jim Haynes, Joe Boyd and others. Vicky Broackes and Geoff Marsh, the curators, naturally did the most. After the launch party that evening, where virtually everyone from the sixties that I knew, who is still alive, turned up, James Birch and Claire, Rosemary, Glen Matlock and another couple all went for a Polish meal where Vickie and Geoff joined us. The show had taken two years to put on and the initial responses were all favourable. Here they practice their John and Yoko double act with James.

james-birch-vickie-broackes-geoff-march

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2 August 2016

I have never felt that Britain was my country. When I was a child, growing up in the Cotswold countryside, everything was owned or run by Earl Bathurst, Colonel Bowley, whose family built the Bowley almshouses in Watermoor, where my primary school was located, or some other aristocratic family. Earl Bathurst, also called Lord Apsley, owned 15,500 acres of countryside surrounding Cirencester and the home park of the family seat, Cirencester House, cut a 90 degree slice from the town centre making it impossible to cross the west side of the town as the house was only one street from the central market place and its attached park was ten miles long. The Bathursts appeared to control everything; no-one I knew, my parents, my friends’ parents, had any say over how Cirencester was run. All my aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, had spent the early part of their lives in service, working as servants in the mansions and large country houses of the West of England. They knew whose country it was; and it wasn’t theirs. I felt no connection to it at all. It was nothing to do with me.

Things were not much different in London: back then, when old-Etonian Harold Macmillan was elected prime minister he famously filled 35 government posts with members of his own family, seven of them sitting in Cabinet (six of them Old Etonians). It was not until I first went to New York, in 1967, that I realised what was wrong. I felt that an enormous weight had been taken from my shoulders. My accent counted for nothing, I felt equal to everyone I met; no-one asked which school I had gone to. No-one commented “Ah, Gloucestershire. Jolly good hunting country,” which happened to me on more than one occasion in London. It was wonderful to feel free; free of the Daily Mail-reading middle-class who think they have the divine right to dictate how everyone should live; free of the brain-washed yobs who swallow the Sun’s lies whole; free of the Hooray Henrys, free of the toffs, free of Britain.

Nothing has changed in Britain. The class system will survive as long as Britain has a monarchy; by definition. The “Nasty Party” as Theresa May accurately called it back in 2002 still treats government as its own plaything, and the recent squabble between a bunch of privileged, right-wing, public school twerps has now accidentally, almost casually, destroyed the future for young people in Britain. I am not going to make the best if it, or try to deal with the situation. They fucked it up. It is their country, not mine. Let them fix it. Let them sail around the world in their nuclear submarines waving their stupid little flag which – I hope for the Scots’ sake – will no longer feature the cross of St. Andrew. I would like to see every talented young person abandon Britain, leaving it to sink into the mediocrity and obscurity it so richly deserves.

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Sunday 26 June 2016

Well, now the lunatics are fully in control of the asylum and there’s nothing much we can do about it except wait to see which gormless public school boy takes over next. The only positive thing about Sunday was the Pride In London march. As usual it was mostly young people, who, despite just having their futures destroyed by a squabble in the tory party, showed they have energy and enthusiasm, humour and good-will. Most appeared to head for Soho afterwards and I couldn’t get across Old Compton Street because it was so packed. The atmosphere there was fabulous, despite the scattered showers and drizzle.

The start of the march on Regents Street

The start of the march on Regents Street

I was at the original Stonewall back in 1969. I missed the first riot, which happened pretty late at night, but later that day, Allen Ginsberg received a phone call, telling him that there was a big gay demonstration in Christopher Street and he should come down. I was producing a record of Allen singing William Blake at Apostolic Studios on East 10th Street. We had just about finished that day’s work so we walked down to Christopher Street in the humid summer heat. The police had sealed off the Stonewall Bar with wooden crowd control barriers, but people could still pass through. A few hundred people, some in drag, stood outside heckling the cops, singing and chanting slogans, but there was no violence when we were there. Allen and I went inside but it was virtually empty. Allen danced with one of the customers ‘like a galleon in full sail’ as he later put it, while I stood at the bar and had a beer. The action was all outside. As soon as we appeared one of the policemen asked Allen for his autograph. This seemed to defuse some of the tension and Allen chatted amiably to the cop and several others came and joined in the discussion. Then some of the demonstrators joined in. The cops were defending themselves in the usual way: they were just upholding the law, they didn’t necessarily agree with it but it was their job to prevent same sex couples from dancing together (the reason for the frequent raids). I stayed for about an hour while the discussion continued, sometimes veering into heated argument, then being calmed by Allen in his usual peaceful way. I headed back to Hotel Chelsea and left him there. He apparently picked someone up so he was well pleased with the evening. Without looking it up, my memory is that it was the next day that the first gay march happened, with a parade down Christopher Street – the first of the gay parades that grow bigger each year, and have been taken up by other cities and are now held in other countries. We saw a huge one in Vienna a couple of years ago.

This year’s parade in London – its 43rd year – was spectacular – many of the people there mainly to show their support in the light of the Orlando massacre. Up to a million people were expected and I’m sure that was a correct estimate. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was there, several policemen proposed and were excepted, the rainbow flag flew from Westminster and the Red Arrows, of all things, flew past. There were representatives from virtually every trade, profession, or special interest group. I was rather hoping that the LGBT division of the feared London Mob would be there, carrying the freshly severed heads of Farage, Gove and Johnson on pikes, but it was not to be. Maybe next year.

Formation dancing

Formation dancing

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Friday 24 June 2016

Rosemary and I were in Paris for the opening of the The Beat Generation show at the Centre Pompidou on June 20th. I had initially hoped that, because of the show’s location in Paris, it would show the Beat Generation as an international movement, not the insular group as depicted by the terrible Whitney Museum show some years back. That one, by arranging its exhibits according to East Coast or West Coast, virtually left out William Burroughs who wrote all his books abroad in Mexico City, Tangier, London or Paris until the age of 60. I remember going round it with Allen Ginsberg who said he had never heard of half the West Coast painters whose work was heavily represented there. I’ve rarely seen him so angry, and he had even been consulted on the show.

The Pompidou show was ill conceived from the start as one of the curators – who pulled out early on – thought that the Beat Generation was a Los Angeles art movement centered around Bruce Conner, with an outpost in the Fillmore (not the North Beach) district of San Francisco (there were a few small galleries there.) This of course was the same mistake as the Whitney show had made, only more-so. The remaining curator, Philippe-Alain Michaud, brought in Jean-Jacques Lebel, who had known the Beats back in the late fifties at the Beat Hotel, and Rani Singh from the Getty, to try and salvage the show. A group of us are preparing unofficial reports at Jean-Jacques Lebel’s request and once they have been delivered and discussed I will put a detailed criticism of the show up online and on the Reality Studio website where more people will see it.

Jean-Jacques and Rosemary

Jean-Jacques and Rosemary

In brief, I think the show is a terrible missed opportunity and only really worth seeing if you know something about Beat Generation history already. In that case there are some fabulous things there, but there’s also a lot of irrelevant stuff, often displayed large, that is nothing to do with the Beats. The original manuscript of Howl is there, on public display for the first time, but most people missed it because it is hidden away in a corner with some irrelevant movie playing next to it. That’s worth seeing. The original scroll of On the Road is there, in Paris again. The scroll has been on the road more than Kerouac ever was. I’ve seen it before in both London and New York. Still it is great to see, particularly the end which was chewed off by Lucien Carr’s dog. Other beatnik items include Kerouac’s sneakers, Brion Gysin’s jumper, and a bunch of old typewriters who belonged to no-one in particular but are there to confuse you.

Lucien Carr's dog ate the end of On The Road

Lucien Carr’s dog ate the end of On The Road

Kerouac's sneakers

Kerouac’s sneakers

Jean-Jacques seemed exhausted by his efforts and so, no doubt were the others, as it is a very large show. I didn’t get to see Philippe-Alain, but Rani Singh was there and Yuri Zapancic who handles Bill Burroughs’ visual output for the William Burroughs Estate was there, representing James Grauerholz. Peter Hale, who runs the Allen Ginsberg Estate, flew in and out on a busy schedule looking as fresh and filled with energy as ever. Frank Rynne and Yvonne, Regina Weinreich, all the usual Beat Generation suspects were there. There is a big fat catalogue, in French, with some great illustrations. The show is travelling to Germany where there is a plan for ZKM to do a revised catalogue in English, so it might be better to wait for that if your French is non-existent like mine.

Peter Hale

Peter Hale

Yuri and Pauline

Yuri and Pauline

The saving grace of the show is the audio-visual side. There are some fine films and interviews there. Though, again, not well displayed – the best Ginsberg presentation in Paris is the in the Velvet Underground show [see below] – but there is an interview with Allen by Jean-Jacques Lebel that I liked.

Miles listening to Allen Ginsberg

Miles listening to Allen Ginsberg

Never mind, maybe a major US museum, or the British Library can be persuaded to do a proper overview history of the Beats in a few years time. At least there were two other great shows on in Paris. Apollinaire at the Musée de l’Orangerie (till July 18), and the Velvet Underground at La Villette out by the Peripherique. Apollinaire’s friendship with Picasso was illustrated with endless drawings, postcards and items of ephemera. The show contained much of Apollinaire’s art collection, a fabulous copy of his book Alcools with the cloth jacket painted by Sonia Delaunay, the marionettes Alfred Jarry made for use in Pere Ubu; a bust by Zadkine; wonderful early work by De Chirico, Braque and so on. The drawings and letters were the best part for me; I could have stayed there all afternoon.

As we were in the Orangerie, we saw one of the world’s greatest treasures, Monet’s Water Lilies: eight enormous panels in two rooms, one on each wall. It had been years since I’d seen them but they are breathtaking. The paint is so roughly applied that any five foot section of it would look like an abstract painting: a Philip Guston or Joan Mitchell. At a distance the paintings come together on the picture plane to recede in space, with the water lilies taking their place in perspective. He prefigures Rothko and Twombly and soars above them both. No contest.

Studying the waterlilies

Studying the waterlilies

The Velvet’s show (31 August) is big on context; perhaps too big. You walk in the door and are hit by a wall of videos all showing sixties icons: JFK, Castro, Monroe, familiar footage flipping by on scores of screens. After only three or four steps you are IN the sixties. The next room consolidates the effect: underground newspapers – including International Times and Oz – have been enlarged into banners and posters, vitrines are filled with underground papers and magazines, the walls covered with photographs of the period: McDarrah’s photographs of Beat Generation Greenwich Village, for instance; Allen Ginsberg smiling out and being interviewed. The presentation of Ginsberg is possibly better here than at the Pompidou where they have inexplicably buried him in a dark corner. Another video shows a concert by The Fugs with Ken Weaver taking one of the lead vocals and Ed Sanders another. There are art books, Fluxus documents, the full history of Piero Heliczer’s Dead Language Press, an overload of information about Andy Warhol and the Factory, until, at last in the next room you get your first glimpse of the Velvets.

Who would have known there was so much documentary evidence of their every move? Posters, flyers, interviews. Each phase of their career is dealt with chronologically, with headphone sockets everywhere and a listening/viewing pavilion where people lay back on mattresses and watch the band. Whereas the Beat show suffers from too little information and too few information panels, this show overdoes it. Every character – from Barbara Rubin to Taylor Mead – has its own information booth with a biography posted in the form of a newspaper with photographs. I can see how the design was inspired by Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable: a true sensory overload, but for a museum show it is a bit too much. However, it is possible to stand back from the context a bit and concentrate on the band, even if it means avoiding studying all the proof copies of album sleeve notes or out-takes of photo shoots. It is still a terrific show.

JB's pyramid instalation

JB’s pyramid instalation

How the photo should be

How the photo should be

We naturally went to see JR’s installation at the Louvre Pyramid. It was raining, but still fun though the rain made it less tempting to find the exact angle so that the pyramid fits exactly over the Louvre and disappears. Rosemary took a better one of me than me of her.

 

 

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