Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rants: Howling in the Desert



The cyber-sphere has struck me as sort of low-energy lately. The blogs I have frequented in recent years have been either sluggishly active, or have seemed thematically repetitive and unoriginal. Or both. Several have simply become defunct.

Looking for an antidote, I have in recent days experimented with both Facebook and Twitter. For Twitter, I’ve found no use at all; it seems largely to be a net for spam. Visiting Facebook, on the other hand, amounts to self-imposed cruel and inhuman punishment. Imagine entering a room to find dozens tone-deaf individuals, all singing Cielito Lindo off-key, but not in unison: I-I-I-I, mira me, amigo. Got the tune in your head, you gringo putz?

Maybe it’s me.

Along the same lines, as I write, I’m listening to the new Dylan CD, Together Through Life--a string of ten tunes almost all of which are about going alone through life. Go figure. These new tunes sound pretty much like the old tunes on his last CD, though not as good.

But, maybe it’s me.

I recently pulled off the shelf my dusty paperback copy of The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters. In her introduction, Charters writes of the seminal launching—the money shot—of “the Beat Generation” that was Allen Ginsberg’s reading of his poem “Howl” at the Six Gallery in San Francisco:

The “Six Poets at the Six Gallery” reading was the catalyst… Michael McClure later described the atmosphere he felt the night of the reading in 1955:

We were locked in the Cold War and the first Asian debacle—the Korean War… We hated the war and the inhumanity and the coldness. The country had the feeling of martial law. An undeclared military state had leapt out of Daddy Warbucks’ tanks and sprawled over the landscape. As artists we were oppressed and indeed the people of the nation were oppressed.
…We knew we were poets and we had to speak out as poets. We saw that the art of poetry was essentially dead—killed by war, by academies, by neglect, by lack of love, and by disinterest. …We wanted voice and we wanted vision…

Ginsberg’s “Howl” delivered the necessary “voice” and “vision” on October 7, 1955, with the now famous opening words, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…”

It seems to me this morning that America in the mid-1950s, as described by Michael McClure, is not that different from the America that I’m walking around in today. But where the fuck is our Allen Ginsberg? When is he coming?

I was just a bit too young, in 1955, to be aware of the cultural ripple-effect caused by “Howl” and augmented by the publication of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road two years later. But by the year Nineteen Fifty-Nine, when I was a kid attending middle-school in Middletown, U.S.A., I had become aware of the “beatniks.” Maynard G. Krebs had become my favorite TV character. I was a beatnik before I was ever a long-haired counter-cultural freak.

The questing elements of my father’s generation had their cultural-spiritual-artistic renaissance in the Beats; mine had its own high-energy reawakening in the ‘Sixties phenomena of political activism, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, LSD, the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, et al. If anybody sees anything comparable happening now, please turn me on to it.

The avant-garde artiste of today seems to be a bionic man; a hybrid of man and machine—his output computer-generated. What this means, if you boil it down to the stark essentials, is that the artist is the captive and the frigging tool of the (shudder!) corporation. I don’t see any good coming of that Faustian deal.

So, to sum up: the perpetual war rages on (this time in the Middle-East); we still have the political oppression, enduring which we sit hunkered-down on the hot sands of a spiritual desert, imperfectly shaded from its blazing sterility by an umbrella of compulsive consumerism, enhanced by an addictive dependence on “entertainments.”

And now I ask: how can an "artist" who is tethered to a corporate machine by a digital chain advance the cause of human freedom?
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Note: All of that said, in the background, from the soundtrack of my life, I can hear the Shirelles singing: Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, Baby, it's you...

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