Friday, March 05, 2021

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI - The last of The Beats

 


Growing up in the San Francisco area in the post-60's era, one was almost certainly exposed to the stories and lore of Haight Ashbury, The Grateful Dead, The Black Panthers, and The Beat Generation. Many of my generation would rebel against these "local icons" (if you will). I, for one, was suspicious of those who bragged about living through the 50's and 60's experiences and claiming that "their generation" changed the world. I, as an 80's kid, thought "whatever!".....however, as I grew older, I would be lured to learn more about those things of my local heritage and come to some level of appreciation. 

The 1st "local icon" I would come to appreciate was The Beat Generation or The Beats. It was in mundane fashion, I suppose, where an artist of my generation, The Clash, collaborated with a key Beat figure, Allen Ginsberg  on the song "Ghetto Defendant" This collaboration validated, in my eyes, Allen Ginsberg, who I knew in name only, and gave me permission of sorts to explore Ginsberg's work.  This would be my gateway into a fascination and appreciation of his work and, by association, the entire Beat movement. 

I won't go into the detail about my discovery and exploration of all things Beat. My point of this posting is to pay homage to the passing of the last core figure of The Beat movement, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died February 22, 2021 at the age of 101 years old.

Ferlinghetti was a poet, painter, fiction writer, and activist. But his greatest legacy (IMO) will be as a publisher and, through his publishing, a great free speech advocate. He was the publisher of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" which would lead to the landmark "1957 Obscenity Trial". Below is a brief summary of the trial via Wikipedia:

Howl" contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. Claiming that the book was obscene, customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem on 25 March 1957, being imported from England.

On June 3 Shig Murao, the bookstore manager, was arrested and jailed for selling Howl and Other Poems to an undercover San Francisco police officer. City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was subsequently arrested for publishing the book. At the obscenity trial, nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf; Ferlinghetti, a published poet himself, is credited with breathing "publishing life" into Ginsberg's poetic career. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case when California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance".

Its hard to imagine in this day how subversive an act it was to publish such a work in the social climate of the late 1950's. The outcome of this trial is one pivotal point that can be credited (or blamed as some do) for our current standards of what is permissible material in the public forum. 

Through City Lights Bookstore which I frequently visited when I lived in The Bay Area (and still support via online), Ferlinghetti was the most tangible member of The Beats. I never met him but being able to walk into his store where so much history emanated from and look through the selection of books that reflected the owners worldview made Lawrence Ferlinghetti real, not a historical figure subjected to be hyperbolized and exaggerated. 

With the passing of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, all of the key participants of The Beat movement are gone. Gary Snyder is still around but it can be said that he became involved with the movement in a tangential manner. Ferlinghetti was an architect of the movement. And now he is gone. 

I'm very grateful to have overcome my initial bias against the aforementioned local icons.  In the case of The Beat Generation, I discovered a love of the works of those involved and that love has been shared with my eldest daughter who has gone through moments of obsession with the works of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who did, indeed, change the world). 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Random Thoughts

 Here's some random thoughts as I sit in my studio on this 2nd Sunday of Lent....which is the 2nd Lent of the COVID era....which means we are into another "year of fear"....

  • A comforting exercise for me is the deliberate counting of the blessings in my life. A gratitude list if you will. At this point in my life, it is all about the people in my life. I'm very aware of how blessed I've been to have the family and friends that I do. It is also comforting and liberating to be at a point in life where "the things" in life that I used to think so much of aren't that important anymore. 
  • In this past year of political and cultural strife in our country, I'm finding myself struggling between wanting to angrily lash out and completely withdrawing from interacting with anyone. Its not just fear that drives that oscillation but a recognition of the complexity of the issues and circumstances. This oscillation can be construed as "waffling" which I've been guilty of but, to be clear, there are positions I'm unequivocal about:
    • Racism is wrong and morally repugnant. Be it overt or subtle, anything or anybody that does something to suppress or harm someone on the basis of their race is morally wrong. FULL STOP!
    • Violence is evil. Killing is evil. Again....FULL STOP!
    • Authority is never above question. Leadership and wisdom are neither mutually exclusive nor inherently linked. Be it a police officer, elected official, clergy, whatever, I will judge first on conduct, not on title or status. History is proof that the most dangerous people have had titles of prestige. 
  • Music remains a pillar in my world. My taste continues to evolve but music remains a vital element in my life. 
  • I'm now convinced that the "weight" of loss never gets lighter or goes away. We either get stronger or we get crushed by it.  
  • I'm reading "Gandhi: The Man, His People, and The Empire" written by Rajmohan Gandhi (his grandson). This is one of the most comprehensive bios I've ever read. It is portraying Gandhi as a very complex and imperfect man who did incredible things. It is these imperfections and flaws that makes his life even more interesting. I've always admired Gandhi and have been guilty of seeing only the saintly portrayal of the man. Learning more about his flaws and errors doesn't make him any less admirable in my opinion. In fact, it makes his achievements more remarkable. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

"Growing Old Ain't for......"

 My late father would often repeat a quote attributed to Bette Davis: "Growing old ain't for sissies!"...except he wouldn't us the word "sissies" (he was a sailor. You can figure out what he really said). 

Its a cute way to describe the aches and pains that come with aging. As I can now say, by any measure, that I have more "yesterday's" than "tomorrow's" left in me, I appreciate the truth in the statement. I don't think my Dad or Ms. Davis meant it as just some sort of declaration of courage and nobility in enduring physical decay. I think they also meant it did require strength to endure change: Loss of loved ones, evolving relationships, societal changes, and so on. As we age, we of course develop a personal history of events that lengthens each day we live. The older we get, the more change we will have inevitably experienced. 

Different people deal with change differently. I have encountered people who accept change and welcome it as a means to learn and grow. More often than not, however, I've encountered people who, to varying degrees, feared change, responding with anger, and denial. Fear of change coupled with aging seems to make for angry old people.

I don't believe anyone is entirely fearless or fearful. People are dynamic creatures. But people do have dispositions, habits, and such. Chances are, if you were afraid of change in 20's or 30's, that would manifest in bitterness as life rolled on,,,,unless an epiphany or events intervened. 

In this moment in my 54th year, I can gratefully say that I have experienced an epiphany or two. I've walked through some very fearful moments of loss, pain, and despair. I've also failed miserably to do so elegantly and gracefully. I have had to evolve in my thinking on many things, including politics, religion, even music. I've had to let go of long-held assumptions that have been proven wrong or no longer relevant. I've had to accept that some things I thought so important in my younger days weren't. I've learned that my perceptions of certain people and institutions were flawed and had to acknowledge as such. Above anything, I'm continuing to realize, with varying degrees of humility or humiliation, how little control I have in the flow of life. Yes, there are things I can control (my conduct) but there are so many things I must accept as beyond my control. This is why The Serenity Prayer is such a guide for me:


I, by no means, practice acceptance perfectly. But, as the beard grows grayer, it remains my daily aspiration to do better today than yesterday....with the grace of God and a courageous heart. 

Dad was right...


Sunday, February 07, 2021

My Tribute to Neil Peart, Edward Van Halen, and Harold Budd

 

2020 will be remembered for COVID-19, political/societal upheaval, and (I believe) an inflection point in our global society.  For me, however, it will also be the year we lost THREE pivotal musicians that influenced me tremendously. 

·        Neil Peart

·        Edward Van Halen

·        Harold Budd

To be clear, I know that as I age, so do my heroes. And it seems in recent years, the losses are starting to mount. But in 2020, three persons that were huge in the formation of my own musical voice departed this world. As such, I’d like to pay tribute to them.