Monday, September 26, 2016
[Edvard Munch - The Scream (1893)- National Gallery, Oslo, Norway]
Allen and Philip Glass's 1990 interview with Studs Terkel (see here and here) concludes with Terkel offering Allen an open platform to "go off" on "anything of his choice". Allen takes full advantage, listing the dangerous turn to censorship and repression in contemporary America circa 1990 (his "cautionary footnote", as Terkel describes it, is a snapshot of a moment, but still reads chillingly, and regrettably, continuingly, pertinent in the light of present times.)
ST: Al, I thought we'd go off open-endedly, as they used to say in the old days, with Allen Ginsberg, anything of his choice (and to remind the audience, tomorrow-night at Center East, both will be there, the poet and the composer, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, at Center East, 7701 Lincoln in Skokie, eight o'clock, for the benefit of the Buddhist..
AG: Center, Meditation School,
ST: Jewel Heart
- Allen, the dice is yours.
AG: Well, I've got something I want to talk about of general importance. You know, we call the opera, "Hydrogen Jukebox", but the original conception was "The Fall of America". But then. some of the financial sponsors got a little worried about getting grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, so downer was the title (or they might think of it as a downer). So they actually asked us to change it. And I was willing because I like the sparky "Hydrogen Jukebox" more, but I was also interested in having, preserved-in-amber, a little sample of the fall-out effect on general cultural attitudes and possibilities of the Helms - (Senator Helms) and the neo-Conservative and religious right, and fundamentalist, attack on American culture.
And so I was recently considering the problem and the number of issues that have come up and a list of all of the attempts to stifle communication in America that I could think of that have come to my awareness.
First of all, there's heightened censorship of high-school and college student publications (within schools, like, more censorship than there was since the 'Sixties and 'Seventies). There's the FCC ban on "indecent language", twenty-four-hours-a-day. No regulations, with its chilling effects (which have actually put all of my poetry off the air, major poems that are in the Norton anthology). There's a National Endowment for the Arts anti-obscenity policy and its chilling effects. They're now sending out unobscenity loyalty oaths for grantees and applicants. There have been library-book bannings in high schools and public libraries, textbook censorship cases, as in Texas (you know, the fundamentalists wanting to write Creationism into..)
ST: Longview, Texas, a couple..
AG: And, you know, revision, muffling the recollection of the Vietnam war. There are new delays and restrictions in getting your information from the government on the secret police activities under the Freedom of Information Act. They are now record-labelling for so-called "obscene" or "indecent" lyrics, which are going to wind up with my records and. let us say, the Fugs or other interesting poetic things being tossed in a porn bin . Or maybe cops raiding a photograph or record shop for selling "obscene" stuff. There's the re-definition of a child, proposing to protect minors, in FCC and in child-porn photograph laws. So a child used to be twelve to fourteen or - "today I am a man" thirteen-year-old bar mitzvah, is now aged seventeen to eighteen, so they've, literally, done an Orwellian job in redefining the word "child", legally. There's adult book-shop video-shop isolation and zoning. There's the use of Rico conspiracy laws and First Amendment controversial adult bookshop cases. There's the lifetime contracts for review clearance requirements for a government bureaucratic ex-officials on their experience working for the government (you sign your soul to the devil once you start working for the government and you can't write about it for the public unless you show it to your ex-boss. In Guam, there's a prohibition of abortion counseling (which is a free-speech issue). There are new nuisance suits to shut up authors and publishers as in the case of The Spirit of Wounded Knee by Peter Matthiessen, in which the FBI made "nuisance suits" (FBI agents pushed the book off the market with suits that they could never win but it cost so much to defend that it simply got the book in trouble)
ST: That's Peter Matthiessen's Indian (book) about Leonard Peltier
AG: Yeah. The Spirit of Crazy Horse
ST: The Spirit of Crazy Horse, yes
AG: There are restrictions on activities by the military (as in Panama and Grenada). There's comtinued intimidation of Salman Rushdie. There are arbitrary national security classifications on university research, especially those imposed after the research was begun and contracts were signed. There's an FBI library surveillance.."library awareness program", they call it (FBI surveillance of book-borrowers by subject). There's an attack on adults talking to each other on the telephone (as if that would be illegal). New child pornography laws, an attempt to change the constitution to protect the constitution by making the flag amendment
ST: You know, as you're saying that, it's a cautionary tale to recognize what the challenges really are, what the American public is not too conscious of at the moment. A job has been done, and it seems to me, two artists, such as yourselves.. a while back Philip Glass was speaking about what is remembered - the men whose minds did.. and the women..whose minds did it and the culture, that will be remembered. And, in a sense, you two are doing that job now, and Allen's cautionary footnote here (epilogue, I should say) is what it's all about too. Thank you very much and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night - Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in and continuing until the end of the tape]
Sunday, September 25, 2016
[Philip Glass - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg - Kiev Restaurant, NYC, 1993 - Photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]
continuing from yesterday
ST: Resuming with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass, poet (and) composer working together. We heard just a piece of the very haunting "Satyagraha - the Evening Song", earlier, that opened the Lyric Opera season. It was a pip of an opening. Critics and audience both (raved). That was three years ago...
Liquid Days? (Songs from) Liquid Days) is what?
PG: Well, it's a collection of songs I did. In a way, it's kind of a problem to talk about because it was the first songs I did in English, and now, four or five years later, I've done a whole set of songs with Allen in English. And I wanted to do a set of songs using the English language, because I 'd done..Satyagraha was written with....
ST: Well, Satyagraha was Sanskrit. That was quite a job for the performers.
PG: Yea, that's right. And Akhenaten was done in Ancient Egyptian .
ST: The what was?
PG: The Akhenaten
ST: Akhenaten was done in Ancient Egyptian
PG: And Einstein.. used..more and more used numbers. One, two, three, four.
ST: In numbers?
PG: Yeah. So I wanted to do something in English and I asked friends of mine who were songwriters to.. if they had.. basically, I said, "Look, do you have any lyrics you're not using, something that I could...?" And I asked David Byrne for a set of lyrics (in fact, the song that we're going to play is from him). Suzanne Vega gave me a set of words, Laurie Anderson did, and Paul Simon did. And, actually, the funny thing is, I asked at a time when Suzanne Vega hadn't done her first record yet, and I wanted to pick an unknown writer or a songwriter (because I had Paul Simon and Laurie Anderson and David Byrne and I was feeling really self-conscious about all these, I wanted to pick someone that no one had ever heard of - so I picked Suzanne Vega - and then she.. her record came out about the same time that our record did, and so she's hardly an unknown songwriter anymore! - At any rate, this song.. They each gave me lyrics to write. The one that David (Byrne) gave me was written out on a number of pieces of paper, just two or three lines in different colored ink and he let me assemble it together, make my own set of lyrics out of it. And the Roche Sisters are singing this song, by the way
AG: Who are they?
PG: The Roche Sisters
ST; And, actually, Laurie Anderson also did something for it.
PG: She contributed lyrics for a song also.
ST: I call her Laurie-and-her-magic-violin.. No, there used to be, there used to be a radio star, years ago, named Rubinoff-and-his-magic-violin
ST: Yes, I speak of Laurie-and-her-magic-violin
AG: And Jack Benny, wasn't he..?
ST: That's right. So, Laurie-and-her.. but this is David Byrne's piece
PG: Yes, it's David Byrne's words and my music and The Roche Sisters are singing
[Beginning at approximately thirty-six-and-a-half minutes in (and continuing to approximately forty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in), Terkel plays"Liquid Days (Part 1)" (vocals by The Roches) from Philip Glass's album Songs from Liquid Days)]
ST: And so it ends - like that
AG: That's very pretty
PG: Thank you.
ST: You've heard this before?
AG: Yeah, I wasn't aware of it, but , I immediately, as it got on..
ST: What is it that happens ? (I'm just curious. It.. I imagine, technically, what happens there?, technically?)
PG: In which way?
ST: The sound, as we hear the sound..
PG: You mean how it ends? or..?
ST: Yeah, I mean, just generally. I know the keyboards are electronic..
PG: Yeah..well, that's a combination of electronic and acoustic.You heard a flute and there are strings, real strings, and a.. The way we recorded it? We reorded it in the studio. But we did do a tour. I got a little tour together, and I toured.. (it was a little mini-tour, we did Europe, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But on the record, I also had …Linda Ronstadt sang on the record and she came on tour, the Roche Sisters came on, Doug Perry, who was also on the record. So it was..
ST: The guy who played Ghandi in Satyagraha
PG: Yeah and we did a little mini-tour, and it turned out we can do it live
ST: I was thinking The Roche Sisters - they're three sisters and they're natural sisters
ST: And I thought, here we go, World War II, the 'Forties, the Andrews Sisters, much has happened technologically in so many ways. And the Andrews Sisters, the Roche Sisters you have the history of America of the past forty years.
AG: And changes..
ST: The changes.
AG: ..in the psyche.
ST: "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me" - and David Byrne
PG: David Byrne's from Baltimore, by the way. He grew up in Baltimore.
ST: You, David Byrne, Billie Holiday and H.L.Mencken
AG: And don't forget Edgar Allan Poe's grave
ST: "And felt the strangeness of Baltimore again"
PG: Yes, that's right
ST (to AG): Allen, as you were listening to..yourself.. You go back and forth during this concert, I gather
PG: Well, I play some solo piano, and Allen reads some poetry.
ST: Allen, your turn.
AG: Well, I thought there's a.. there's a piece from the opera, which is done with Australian aborigine songsticks, which I was using, so it was rhythm instruments performing that little "Dope Calypso". But an Australian aborigine, as a songman, takes perhaps thirty years to learn his trade, because what the song is is a,like, an encyclopedia of the nomadic cycle that he travels with his tribe when they.. It has to be all the information of where you can get wichetty grubs, where you can get food, where the stars will be at what portion of the year. So, they have little clap-sticks (AG displays them, sounding them out). And they repeat the verses, each verse, a number of times, and the village, the whole village repeats the verses with them. So this poem is modelled on that and it fits also with our notion of the transitoriness of nations (Fall of America, or Hydrogen Jukebox)
[Beginning at approximately forty-four minutes in (and comcluding at approximately forty-five-and-a-half minutes in), Allen reads "Ayers Rock/Uluru Song" ("When the red pond fills fish appear.."… "When the raindrop dries, worlds come to their end")]
ST: Yeah, That's fantastic, Because I was thinking, as Allen was doing it.. I was thinking about what we talked about earlier - "It all begins with me". Coming back again to the person. Simple. In the real sense
AG: Well, the latest in scientific information is that when two molecules clank together, it takes an observer for that to become scientific data. So it all comes back to subject.
AG: Or, the universe is subjective
ST: Yeah, I was thinking the craziest thought. See if it makes any sense. As Allen was doing that, in that very... Suddenly it haunts you (just as (in) Philip Glass, the music haunt you),
I was thinking of the (RMS) Titanic, - Why do you think I was thinking of the Titanic?… Because of the arrogance of Man. You know, "Nothing's ever going to stop this!", and that should have been at the right moment, (if you think of man's humility). We haven't learned, tho'
AG: So when's Earth Day?
ST: Coming up
AG: April 22nd? 23rd?
ST: Twentieth anniversary
AG: yea, there's going to be a big action on Wall Street, a whole bunch of people are going to sit in on Wall Street and get arrested. I think. And in Central Park, in New York, there going to have a giant music festival to celebrate Earth. And I think the tuna companies have declared finallythat they'll stop catching tuna fish in nets that catch dolphins also. That's.. (oh, while you were in Brazil (Philip), that came out, they finally..Heinz tuna-fish said that they'd no longer accept (or) buy tuna fish that involves the capture of dolphins
ST: Just to remind.. Not to interrupt but to remind listeners that Allen Ginsberg (who we've been hearing) and Philip Glass, together - that's tomorrow-night, and you can see, it'll be.. there's a spontaneous air to this, and a refreshing one too. At the same time there's a theme, and the theme is the one we've been talking about really - it all begins with you (there in the audience). Center East - because they're.. under the auspicies of, or rather for the benefit of a Buddhist organization, Jewel Heart, and Center East is the place, Center East at 7701 Lincoln in Skokie. So that's eight o'clock tonight.
One more round to go.
And so I was thinking this is the last round for now, until you guys, tomorrow-night on stage, Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg. And there's another piece of music - [to PG] - You say you play solo piano
PG: Yeah, this is a piece that…
ST: Acoustic piano too . This is a piece that was identified with a movie called The Thin Blue Line. It's a film about a man who was put into jail for a crime that he..apparently he hadn't committed at all - a guy named Randall Dale Adams - and a filmmaker named Errol Morris stumbled across this case and began interviewing people and filming it and, as a result of the film, the guy was actually released, and the real killer confessed. During the..
ST: This is The Thin Blue Line you're talking about? - Oh, that's right
PG: So this music is thematically from that. Maybe if we have.. I would think that maybe we should just hear part of it, because the piece is a
ST: Let's fade part of it and then we'll hear Allen once more, to close with whatever it is of his choice. So this.."Metamorphosis"
Any connection here with the (Franz) Kafka theme?
PG: Well, I also use some of this music for a staging of the Kafka play, and, in a way. I thought the whole thing that happened to Randall Dale Adams.. In the Kafka, there were a lot of reverberations that seemed to me very authentic.
ST: You haven't set Kafka yet, have you?
PG: No. no I haven't, but I've done music for it, plays that were based on him.
AG: Well, that would really be up your alley, in a funny way.
PG: You know I've finally worked with (Edgar Allan) Poe. I've set Poe, and I find….
AG: What Poe?
PG: The Fall of the House of Usher
ST: Oh, "The Fall of the House of Usher", you did "(The) Fall of The House of Usher, did you?
PG: Yes, that's right. Yeah, and that.. maybe because I was from Baltimore, but that.. in a way, Poe was such a forerunner of much modernism, so I felt very at home with it.
ST: Here then, "Metamorphosis"
[Beginning at approximately forty-nine minutes in (and concluding at approximately fifty-one minutes in), Terkel plays a recording of Philip Glass playing his own composition, "Metamorphosis"]
ST: This is a slow reluctant playing, very reluctant, because you can see it building. And you'll hear some of this tomorrow-night. There, Philip Glass at the piano, and that was certainly.. several of these pieces….
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-four- and-a-half minutes in and continuing until approximately fifty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in]
Saturday, September 24, 2016
[Jewel Heart Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Philip Glass, Gelek Rinpoche & Allen Ginsberg, November 17, 1989]
Studs Terkel Interviews Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass, 1990
We featured, a week or so back, Studs Terkel's hilarious 1959 radio interview with Allen, Gregory Corso, and a mostly-silent Peter Orlovsky. Here's another Terkel interview with Allen (alongside composer-collaborator, Philip Glass), this one recorded over three decades later. Ginsberg and Glass are in town (Chicago) for a benefit performance for Gelek Rinpoche's Jewel Heart organization (as Terkel periodically reminds his listeners), an event to take place the following day at the Centre East (part of the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts in Skokie).
ST: ….Philip Glass, certainly one of the most celebrated contemporary composers today and Allen Ginsberg, need we say more.They're performing tomorrow night at Centre East, that's in Skokie, 7071 Lincoln, and the place, you know, is going to be jammed, and you wonder what are the poet and the composer (that is Ginsberg and Glass) doing together. I say to myself this is not a performance (it's) an event, because they're forces of nature. You've worked together.. We know about Philip Glass' opera one of the most dramatic, exhilarating openings the Lyric Opera Company had in years, Satyagraha, his impression of Gandhi, and that was a great opening night, and it was a great run for that, as well as some of his other works we'll talk about.
Allen, you and Philip Glass, how does that combination come to be?
AG: Well, we meditate together..is what it boils down to. We're both practicing Buddhists, tho' he's probably a sharper practitioner than me, or more steady.
PG: Oh, I don't know
AG: But..how did we get together? You know somebody invited you...
PG: Well, I think the first times we got together was the Poetry Project, which is an instiution in the East Village of New York and has on New Years Day a benefit every year to raise money. And I 've....like a lot of performers, I've come to donate my services to that. And we've often been on that program together
AG: With John Cage and.. Lou Reed and..
PG: All kinds of people show up for those things. It happens every New Years in New York, and so… And we live in the same neighborhood, we live in the East Village of New York City, so…when did.. when we started actually working together was that we knew each other from these meetings. But I had been asked to do a piece for a Vietnam Veterans theater (company) called VETCo (Vietnam Veterans Ensemble Theatre Company). They asked me to do a performance-piece, and I ran into Allen in the St Marks Bookshop, and I said, "Allen, I've been asked to do this piece, would you do a piece with me. And he said.. and he reached up and picked up from his poetry off the shelf (that was convenient about.. the poetry was right there) and we picked a poem out which was a poem about the Vietnam War.
AG: Did they ask you for something about the war?
PG: Yes, they wanted that..
AG: And they mentioned that Wichita Vortex Sutra thing, specifically?
PG : Yes, and then you picked out a section of it, right at that moment, and then what I did is I wrote a piece of music to play as a kind of a musical support for Allen's reading, and that was the first piece we did together
AG: And then we did a lot of benefits for various Buddhist organizations or meditation centers, and so we began thinking in terms of , "Well, maybe we should have a more varied evening and have a couple of pieces to play". And so I said, "Let's do "Howl" ", which was like biting off a big chunk of meat. And then (Philip), I think you got an invitation to do a chamber opera..Spoleto..?
PG: YesI did. I was doing a chamber opera in Spoleto and I asked Allen if he would do the libretto. Now the libretto really is poems drawn from..oh, I guess the..
AG: Collected Poems
PG: Collected Poems and that goes back over about forty years
AG: I think our first piece was 1958 or something like that..
PG: Oh, okay, so it's...
AG: Dating from 1958 to 1988 or so…to (19)90, no, it's this year.
ST: So, out of it, out of it comes an opera that you're both working on.
PG: That's right.
PG: Well, it's been written. It's been written. It's in rehearsal right now and it will open at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina
AG: And they'll have a chamber version in Philadelphia..
PG: And they'll be a little orchestra
AG: ..on May 6th
PG: May 6th, yeah, they'll be ..(oh) shit, I think it starts around the 2oth..
ST: Now that's called what? - I'm trying to..
AG: Well, Hydrogen Jukebox, at the moment.
ST: Hydrogen Jukebox?
AG: Yes, it's a phrase from "Howl", combiniing rock n' roll "jukebox ", and the hydrogen bomb
ST: Oh, so this is out of "Howl"?
AG: No, that one phrase, the title is.
PG: But it kind of worked out well, because we ended up doing twenty.. what I call "Twenty-One Songs from Hydrogen Jukebox"
ST: Will some of that be heard tomorrow night?
PG: One of the pieces, the piece we talked about, the Wichita Sutra piece..
ST: You know what you should do? Set yourself up. I want to hear about Allen's adventures and his ventures, and certainly his missions (of which there are plenty), and some must be talked about too
But about the operas, and the way of Philip Glass.. hearing it.. when was that Satyagraha opening here? - oh..about three seasons ago?,
PG: Yes, that's right
ST: Suppose we hear.. what? You suggested, from that, the Evening Song.
PG: It's the very last thing we hear of Gandhi, just before the end of the opera. Here's Doug Perry singing the part of Gandhi. It's the very last, oh, five or six minutes of the opera
ST: And.. this was the.. the singer who did Gandhi
PG: Doug Perry
PG: Douglas Perry
ST: Douglas Perry/ It's his voice we hear
ST:, and we're going to talk about that, how that differs from Wilson on the Beach… not Wilson on the Beach, Einstein on the Beach and.. You worked with a guy named Wilson..
PG: Yeah, that's right
ST: ...who did the libretto, as Allen does the Hydrogen Jukebox
AG: Hydrogen Jukebox
[Beginning approximately five-and-a-quarter minutes in, and concluding at approximately nine-and-three-quarter minutes in, Terkel plays the recording of Douglas Perry singing the Evening Song from Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha]
ST: You've been hearing the Evening Song from Satyagraha. The repetitive, the repetitive theme is there. Now, when..now, I don't know the meaning of these words, they call you a "minimalist". What does that mean?
PG: Oh, I guess that.. Well, I guess it really means that I don't write the kind of complicated abstract music that dominate a lot of new music and was mostly European-based because I came after the Second World War, and my generation of composers decided that it had just gotten kind of out of hand. And we were interested in doing pieces, writing music, that people would listen to and that was still part of our time. So "minimalism" was a way of describing it..
ST: Now, it appears that, apparently, your generation (those who are most in the public..) are Americans, aren't they?
PG: It.. this was an American-based…
ST: (Terry) Riley, and the guys who wrote for the Quartet..
PG: The Kronos
ST: The Kronos
PG: Yes, this is really an America movement, a musical movement that began in America, And we, you know, sometimes think that the only real American music was jazz but that's not completely (true). We also have a great pop tradition, of pop music with people like (George) Gershwin and (Irving) Berlin
AG: So when did the minimalists rise? What was it? What was the beginning, the seeds of it?
PG:In the middle of the..
AG: Now what relation did that have to the introduction of the Indian raga
PG; It had a lot, because I was working with Ravi Shankar in 1965, I was his assistant.
ST: Now we come to something, Allen, it's interesting you raise that subject...
AG: Well, at the same time (that) Ravi Shankar (or, a little earlier) was working with The Beatles, with George Harrison..
PG: That's right.
AG: And at the same time, (Charlie) Mingus and (John) Coltrane were working on monochordal sequences. So this was going off the classical..
ST: See, what you guys are hitting right now - is something happening today? - back in the Sixties we're talking about..
AG: Yes. A scene.
ST: ..the connecting links here, aren't we? - The youth - well, who knows better than Allen, the various movements amongst students and others, internationally, and so culturally. You said Ravi Shankar. He is the Indian sitar master. At the same time you studied with (Nadia) Boulanger
[Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)]
[Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)]
PG: Yes, that's right. In fact, at the very time I was working with Ravi Shankar, I was studying with Boulanger. This was in Paris in 1965, yeah.
PG: In (19)65, yeah
ST (to AG): And you were around here
AG: I was around the United States chanting monochordal mantras
PG: And you were actually also in Paris too, because I ran across some of your work there.
AG: Well, I'd been there in (19)61
ST: Yeah, and as that happens, I have a picture in my mind - it is the Lincoln Park, in (19)68, the Democratic Convention, and here comes the tear gas and the cops and everybody is running to a place called the Lincoln Hotel, a sweet little lobby, the Lincoln Hotel. And there's the Esquire crew…Genet, Jean Genet…
AG: William Burroughs
ST: …and there's Allen Ginsberg - he's singing OM - and Allen is singing something obviously exotic and Asiatic in the middle of Chicago! - and the cops (are in) in this little gambler's hotel, and it's quite a remarkable scene…
AG: Well, actually, we were…
ST: The essence of everything crazy crazy and wonderful
AG: Well, it was, actually, it was out in the middle of the park, and everyone was panicking, and the cops were throwing tear-gas and we had a little group of about a hundred people sitting in a circle chanting OM (which is a minimalist mantra) and that was, like, a little pool of quiet in the middle of the chaos. So..nobody bothered us, actually.
ST: ..I was thinking of the combination of Glass and Ginsberg, the combination, the poet, Allen, more than the 'Sixties, (his) own growth and development, but breaking through, Glass, as composer, breaking through. And now you meet. What will this be like?
AG: Well, the idea, partly, generically, genre, was the idea of writing a kind of cultural history opera, and the original title was "The Fall of America"
ST: The Fall of America?
AG: The Fall of America, which was the title of a book I had.
PG: We wanted to… I wanted to use a title from one of Allen's books, and I liked "The Fall of America". I remember calling him up in the morning and saying, "Allen, what do you think of this as a title?" - (to AG) Do you remember (Allen) what you said?
AG: I didn't think of it that much..
PG: But, at the time you said "I don't know, hasn't it already fallen?" - something like that.
AG: Well, so, a lot of.. some of the subject is exhaustion of empire, relaxation of empire, and at the same time, a certain post-coitus triste, a little sadness at the death of empire
PG: There's also a lot of social revolution involved in it.
AG: Yeah - What we did is chose a number of themes like actual revolution, psychedelics..
PG: Anti-war movements
AG: Anti-war movements, meditation, Buddhism.. what other things did we have?
PG (to AG): The thing was we derived from your own life too. We allowed ourselves to be..
AG: Personal stuff..
PG: Biographical stuff about Allen
ST: I was thinking in Allen's writings (and I assume in your music too) as serious critical themes are discussed, there's always a whimsical air, there's an air of humor underneath. Do you.. Does your music…
PG: I think this is in this piece, the Hydrogen Jukebox piece. I think that it, actually, turns out to be very funny.
AG: I think the reason is we don't know what we're doing and so we have to accept chance. So chance provides us with lots of whimsy and seriousness
PG: But it's also in the poetry too and there are funny juxtapositions. That also part of (it).
ST: Now you two have been.. what you're doing tomorrow night at Center East, you two have done this before?
PG: Yes. We've done this concert. In fact, this..for Jewel Heart, who are the people we're doing it for.
ST: Jewel Heart, I take it, is what?, a branch of.. what, a sect? of the Buddhist…
PG: No, it's a study center, basically.
ST: A study center.
AG: And a meditation center.
PG: And a meditation center. And there is a main center in Ann Arbor and..
AG: The study center's here…in Chicago..
PG: ..and there's some in other parts of the world. And the head of the center is Gelek Rinpoche , and he.. I met him a couple of years ago and he asked me if we would.. if I would come and do something, and I asked Allen if he would join me, and we did our last concerts in last November..
ST: So, tomorrow night at Center East (that's in Skokie) , 7701 Lincoln, 8 o'clock.. I suggest.. You know it's going to be a sell-out..I suggest to get there early.
AG: And if anyone wants to find out any more about Jewel Heart, Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, there'll be some information, there..
ST: Oh, sure there will.
AG: ..where people can pick up and follow, take the, take the thread and follow it through.
ST: Let's pick this up with Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg after this pause.
ST: And so resuming.. By the way, it seems, on picking up, it seems like I was meditating. I merely closed my eyes to make sure I left enough time for the break, and.. call it meditation..
ST: …with Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg. And you will do… I know that Philip Glass is going to play..
AG: Solo piano
ST: The solo piano. We'll hear some of that in a moment. What (since you also), what would you be doing, Allen?
AG: And I'll be reading poems, what I can figure out to read on the spot, to keep Philip Glass, and Gelek Rinpoche, who'll be there, entertained, not repeat things that I've done before..
AG:..and then, at the end, we get together and do a duet.
PG: And we'll do that Wichita Sutra that we talked about, the piece that started this whole thing off, where I set up a musical kind of environment for a reading that Allen does of this poem, and we end the concert with that piece.
ST: Well, I'll ask Allen..Is that something you think of at the moment? Do you work wholly improvisationally then? There is an idea. No, you do know some things (that) you're going to do. Within that framework, you improvise?
AG: Who me?
AG: Well, no, it's just that I have nine hundred pages of poetry to choose from and it's a question of what is appropriate, what's interesting, at the moment, what's in the news, what's on my mind
ST: Oh, what's on your mind. There might have been an item in the papers that day...
ST: …or something you heard on radio..
AG: Like, the other day, the sort of fanatical head of the Lubavitcher Jewish sect sort of sabotaged the Labor Party government of (Shimon) Peres by telling his disciples to withdraw. So that I have a long poem called "Jahweh and Allah Battle", which is part of.. about the Middle East crisis..
PT: ..which is actually part of our opera..
AG: Part of our opera, so probably I'll read that, because it's on my mind what..
PG: And maybe I'll ask you to read a poem that I like (in fact, I often do!)
ST: I'm going to ask you about that and the opera but, what comes to your mind at this moment, say?
AG: Well, right at this moment, I'm really involve in battling with Senator Jesse Helms and putting on a show for the FCC, in Washington, this Wednesday (I'm going to be part of a big symposium of lawyers from the American Bar Association FCC section and we're going to have a symposium with some of the extreme neo-Conservative fundamentalists and some of the members of the FCC over the new Senator Helms regulation that bans all so-called - quote "indecent" - unquote - language off the air, twenty-four-hours-a-day). So, what I'll probably do… That reminded me of Helms and an "anti-smoking non-commercial" that I've done quite often, "Don't Smoke", so I'll probably do that tonight. In fact, I'll do it right now.
ST: Could you?
AG: Do a piece of it right now
ST: You are just.. I reckon... you're going to be part of this panel..
AG:Well, I make it up as I go along.
[Jesse Helms (1921-2008)]
[From approximately twenty-and-a-quarter minutes in to approximately twenty-and-three-quarter minutes in, Allen performs a brief excerpt of his "Don't Smoke" poem -
"Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag"]
I have a long poem (this) which rhymes, which goes on (like that), and I usually dedicate it to Helms because most of his money for his moral, moralistic, crusade comes from..cancer tobacco, heart-attack. So, that's on my mind at the moment.
ST: Yeah. So you might indeed do that tonight, tomorrow night
AG: Tomorrow-night I'll be doing that., yeah. That and a "CIA Dope Calypso",
which is also part of our opera.
ST: Now, what is that? ..by the way, I'm remember.. It's called the.. what Calypso?
AG: Well, I've changed it to "National Security Dope Calypso"
ST: Yeah, when I first heard it, it was "CIA Calypso"
AG: Well I've added a whole bunch of stanzas recently that covers..
ST: They've got that up here?
AG: Yes, and that's part of our opera, so I can, actually..
ST: Oh, that's fantastic.
AG: I can, actually..
PG: This'll be the non-operatic version..
ST: So now we have the..
AG: This is from the opera..
ST: Now we have the West Indian touch
AG: Well, Philip has done a much different job on it than my own sort of..
ST (to PG): Oh, with some of your music?
AG: I sing my own.
PG: I did a setting of this for the opera, Hydrogen Jukebox, which doesn't sound like his version of it
AG: Do you want to hear a piece of it?
ST: Of course.
[Beginning at approximately twenty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in (and concluding at approximately twenty-four minutes in) Allen begins reciting a version of "CIA Dope Calypso" - "Richard Secord and Oliver North hated Sandinistas whaever they were worth.."…"..and Bush is in the White House of the USA" ]
[Oliver North at the Iran-Contra ("Contragate") hearings, 1987]
ST: Too bad Allen Ginsberg didn't take part in the Contragate hearings.
AG: Well, don't worry, this'll be a part sooner or later..when they write the history books.
ST: So it's going to be everything. so...
AG: The Fall of America entire, yes..Hydrogen Jukebox somewhat
AG: So, tomorrow night, tomorrow night..
PG: You think you might do the "CIA Dope Calypso" song?
AG: Oh yeah - I sort of do it all the time these days.. So I hope so
PG: So this is the "CIA Dope Calypso"
ST: So you'll do that. And it figures in the opera?
PG: Well, first there's an operatic staging, Now, when we talk about the opera, there's..
AG: How was..how does it work in the opera? How do you do that?
PG: Well, I've written, I've written for six voices, an ensemble of six voices and a whole group of instruments (like my own ensemble). There are six instrumentalists and six voices (three women and three men) and they sing it together. I use a different rhythm, I use a seven-eight rhythm of.. one-two-three-four-five-six-seven, one-two-three-four.. [Glass demonstrates] so I'm using a slightly different standard calypso rhythm, and, it comes out…
AG; It fits. It fits great.
PG (to AG): And what I did, I took another of your poems, which I.. the one called "Violence", I think, or "Mugging"
PG: And I inter-cut it as a refrain that comes through it..
PG: Because my idea was.. I know there's a(nother) poem about mugging on the Lower East Side, and my idea was that, you know, everyday city violence is connected to dope. I mean the reasons our cities are so violent, a lot of it has to do with the drug business. So it seemed to me very appropriate that thr poem about violence should be part of the poem about dope and be very much connected.
AG: What has all this got to do with meditation? and peace of heart, equanimity saving America..?
ST: By the way, since you've raised that, I'm going to be provocative, mildly so.. Meditation, how does meditation, since you're both members of Jewel Heart Center
AG: Well, we're friends of Jewel Heart Center (and share their) meditation techniques.
ST; How do.. We have problems, I realize (I'm joking too), but you mention.. well, there's homelessness, there's poverty, drugs, there's all..nationalism in a horrendous sense, how does meditation..It helps the individual, is that it? - but can it help.. so it helps the individual means it helps the world.
AG: Well, the world is made up of individuals.
PG: You know Gandhi used to say.. (I was thinking about,when you were talking about that).. Gandhi always felt that it had to begin with a person, that each individual person had to.. I mean, we coouldn't talk about changing the world until we change ourselves.
Krishnamurti said the same thing. Shakyamuni said the same thing...Jesus Christ said the same thing. They all said… The idea is that imperfect people are not going to make a perfect world. I mean.. people who have a lot of problems create even more problems.
So this is kind of a big problem. So one of the things that, I think.. I personally think that the thing that brings people to a clear idea of, a sense of who they are, (being even more comfortable, being just simply, you know, being a little more comfortable with who they are), it, it has to affect everything.
ST: Well now, a Chinese poem (Allen may know it). There's no..I remember reading (it) in a book of young boys poetry. It's a classic. It's about father, son, and then the circle spreads and then its the family and then it's the neighbor…
AG: Oh, that's the old Confucian thing - If you want to make order, put your own heart in order, and, having put one's heart in order, one can regulate the family order, the family order then can regulate the….
ST: And the last line is that "it all begins with me".
ST: I think that's the last line, something like that.
AG: That's an American version! It's an American version of...
PG: Well, that's a good prescription for..for the kind of practice that we're talking about, sure. These are very practical. It's actually a very practical thing to do, probably one of the most practical
AG: So it's the opposite of most of the twentieth-century ideology, like Capitalism and Communism, which begin with order from the yop, you know, a trickle-down effect of order..
ST: And this is trickle-up, you're talking about
ST: Or flow-up
AG: Trickle-up rather than trickle-down. Instead of a command economy, or command from above from whoever (from the Pope, or from the President, or from the Commissar)
that everybody behave, rather than an awareness on the spot
ST: And, so.. the works both of you do (Philip Glass in music and Allen in words and poetry) really has the same base, don't you (think?) - almost everything you do has that as a sub-text, doesn't it Allen?
AG: I think we both have the same (motive)
ST The very thing we're talking about. And then in your case too (Philip)?
PG: I've made operas out of subjects that seem to be about that, you know, whether it's Satyagraha, or, in a way, a great scientist like (Albert) Einstein, or a religious performer like Akhenaten. But, yeah, I think social.. I think..I think we're both similar in a way that we..that social ssues are very much a part of the subject of what we do. It's been very.. always been easy for Allen and I to work together because..
AG: We're old-fashioned Jewish intellectuals (with an over-view.. veneer of Buddhism!)
PG:We think of all of the same things
ST: So, in fact, all of your operas, (there are differences, obviously) have this as a base. Einstein on The Beach, that you wrote with a guy named Wilson
PG: Robert Wilson
ST: Robert Wilson
AG: The director
ST: The director. Now, boy, that's a five-hour non-intermission.
PG: Yes, that's right.
AG: I saw that
ST: Did it hold you five-hours?
AG: Where was that? in New York? Paris?
PG: You could have seen it in Paris or New York
SY: You suggest people can wander in and out?
PG: Yeah, that was, you know, a very forgiving piece, in a way, and people did. In fact, I used to wander in and out. I remember someone told me once they had seen Einstein twice and I said "you saw it twice more than I did", because I, actually, don't think I actually saw it. I used to take an intermission too. But the idea that then… I picked three subjects, the idea of a scientist who changed the world (that would have been Einstein), Gandhi who changed the world as a politican, and Akhenaten who was a man of religion. I was always interested in portraits of people who had changed the world through the power of ideas.
AG: What did Akhenaten? do, I don't know.
[Head of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) (1351-1334 BC) - Photograph of bust in the Luxor Museum, Egypt]
PG: Oh, he was the first monotheist, he declared...
ST: He was a Pharaoh?
PG: Yes, that's right.
ST: And he was the first monotheist?
PG: Yes and he was.. (Sigmund) Freud, in his book, Moses and Monotheism, traces it (I don't know historically whether that's held up over time, but) he is the first monotheist that we talk about. But the idea was that I wanted to do portraits of people that had changed the world through the power of ideas. In other words, a real history is a history of culture, not a history of generals and politicans but things that we remember about Italy, about France , about America, will be our culture. It won't be.. it won't be the (Douglas) MacArthurs and it won't be the (Harry) Trumans
ST: That's a. you're.. that 's a trilogy then.
ST: Satyagraha - Gandhi - an idea of a passive..
AG: Non-violence, yes
AG: Active non-violence
ST: Active non-violence, I should say. And there are disciples of his - (Martin Luther) King, for one. And then you have the idea - science - the humanist scientist - Einstein. And a guy, revolutionary religion..
PG: That's right
ST: ..in Egypt - Akhenaten, Akhenaten. That connects. Everything is connected.
(By the way, everything you do with Allen is not unrelated either.)
PG: No. By the way that trilogy's going to be done in Stuttgart, that's a trilogy in June. They're doing all three, on three successive nights
AG: That's amazing. That'll be a Wagnerian cycle
PG: You know that thing about these people who change the world with their ideas. It came up in a funny way. One of my children asked me who Major Deegan was. Well, in New York there's an expressway called the Major Deegan Expressway
ST: Major Deacon?
PG: Major Deegan Expressway, and my son asked me, "Who was Major Deegan?" - and I didn't know. I found out he turned out to have run a munitions dump during the First World War. But that got me thinking "Why do we name our highways about… after people who we don't…
ST: Oh well, but Chicago's a great… Every corrupt politician in town has a street named after him.
PG: And then a generation later, your children are going to ask you who they are, and noone will know. Well, you know, I sort of…
AG: Akmatan highway
PG: We actually have now. We have an Edgar Allan Poe Plaza in New York. We actually have a..we have a Duke Ellington Avenue in New York, but, basically, you know, the Italians have a Leonardo da Vinci airport, but we.. we, I think have been slow to recognize, as Americans, our real history is a history of culture, it's not a history of violence.
ST: So we're talking to.. Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg, and that's tomorrow-night at the Center East. As you can see, it's performance, thinking out loud, talking out loud, playing out loud, and the audience, perhaps, you would react one way or another, you will, yourself at 7710 Lincoln, that's in Skokie.
AG: What time is it?
ST: Eight o'clock
PG: It's eight o'clock
ST: I left off that hour to get all the vital statistics in - and we'll hear some more…
AG: Today's the sixteenth or something? So it'll be the seventeenth..
ST: It's tomorrow-night
AG: It'll be the Tuesday-evening, the 17th, at eight p.m., in Skokie. And what's the name of the place?
AG: I'm not a.. I'm not a…
ST: Center East
AG: Center East.. I'm not a Chicago boy. (I have to) get it straight and clear.
ST: Allen Ginsberg. You would think he fools around and improvises but there he is, on the button , doing.. and so.. More of music (then)..
AG: Appropriate name - Center East
PG: Right, that's right.
to be continued tomorrow
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and continuing until approximately thirty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]