Saturday, May 25, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: Allan Ginsberg - Howl: What’s an Angel-Headed Hipster?

by Cristina Owen, Chronicles of a Travel Addict:

Ginsberg & Cassady, 1955
I was watching “Howl” last night, the movie starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.

It is comprised of three main narratives: Allen being interviewed in his apartment, Lawrence Ferlinghetti being tried in court for publishing Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” - which was considered obscene - and a trippy animation vision of the poem, word by word.

There are also minor flashback scenes in which Allen is portrayed with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong partner.

While I think the animated part doesn’t transition well with the rest of the movie - in my opinion, it interrupts the flow with its psychedelic imagery, but it still adds to the movie in a way.

Eric Drooker’s drawing is pretty cool, and James Franco reads “Howl” in its entirety, familiarizing the viewer with Ginsberg’s poem. Overall, I think this movie has a lot of merit.

First of all, even though this wasn’t a Blockbuster movie (and thank god for that), it’s a good introduction to who Allen Ginsberg was and what he was all about.

I’m not sure how many people (who aren’t poetry aficionados) know who he was, but I think that people who are interested in literature, 20th century American History, homosexuality, and censorship of the press should definitely take a look at it.

For those of you who don’t know, Allen Ginsberg was a Jewish poet (amongst many other things) famously inspired by Walt Whitman. He grew up in Newark and became a notable part of the Beat Generation, both on the east and west coast.

Beginning in the late 1940s, after the Korean War, this group of writers explored a new type of writing in which traditional form was abandoned, stream-of-conciousness thought patterns were embraced, and “first thought, best thought” was adopted - self-editing was largely abandoned.

The Beats challenged the status quo, especially the prescribed notion of domesticity, and delved into a lifestyle filled with jazz, drugs & alcohol, travel, and lots of literature.

Among this group was William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Herman Huncke, Neal Casssady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Among these notions of domesticity that Ginsberg eventually fought against was the idea of mandatory heterosexuality. Being openly gay in the 1940s & 1950s and writing so frankly about it was something that, to me, makes him such an important figure in history.

In his younger years, the desire to appear “normal” (haunted by his mother’s intermittent stays in mental hospitals and eventual lobotomy, it would make sense for anyone in that situation to desire normalcy) led to him to conceal his feelings for other males.

It wasn’t until he was in his early twenties that he painfully struggled to put his shyness aside and express his male desire. One of the main people responsible for helping Allen accept his own sexuality was Neal Cassady.

While Cassady himself was straight, he helped Allen embrace his love and desire. This is a minor theme in the movie, and Cassady - the “cocksman”, and “Adonis of a thousand lays” - is a large part of the poem “Howl.”

Much clearer and graphic of an example of their love affair was Ginsberg’s “Many Loves,” which in my opinion is one of Ginsberg’s most tender poems.

It reads: “So gentle the man, so sweet the moment, so kind the thighs that nuzzled/ against me smooth-skinned powerful, warm by my legs/ That my body shudders and trembles with happiness, remembering …”.

Their love affair did not last long, as Cassady wanted to remain platonic friends and pursue his many women.

Another notable, and much more dominant, theme in the movie is that of censorship. As mentioned, a good third of the movie takes place in court with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his lawyer.

Many people considered literature experts are tried, and they are asked to explain the literary validity of the poem “Howl”. Because of the freedom of speech we enjoy today in the US, it is difficult to fathom that just sixty or so years ago, people were jailed because of what they said or wrote.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the Beat writers, created City Lights because it was near impossible for his friends to publish anything that they wrote due to the language they used.

The profanity, obscenity, and supposed lack of moral integrity banned Ginsberg and others from being published.

Once “Howl” was published under the City Lights Books label in 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested and tried for accounts of obscenity the poem contained. For more information on Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books, please see:

The questions that the literary experts are asked during trial are ridiculous. Do you know what this poem is trying to say? Do you think the words used in the poem are necessary to convey what the writer was trying to say? Do you think this poem will influence literature in fifty years? What’s an “angel-headed hipster”?

Of course, anyone who knows anything about poetry will know that all of these questions are completely stupid and bizarre.

In poetry, what the poet says is open to interpretation, each word is selected carefully and vital to the entire piece, and there is no way of knowing what literature will be relevant in the future. Duh.

The parts in the film depicting the court trial pissed me off, and I wanted to go back in time and yell at them. However, this portrayal of the court scenes is a vital part of “Howl”, and it is scary to think of what life could be like today if cases like this hadn’t won.

Scary not only to imagine what literature would be like today, but also to think of how much longer we would have remained repressed from freely expressing the world as we see it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

James Taylor, "Carolina In My Mind", and A 40 Year Old Mystery

Carolina in My Mind
Carolina in My Mind (Wikipedia)
by Garrett Sawyer

When songwriters name a specific person (and sometimes even when they don't) there's often widespread speculation about who they're talking about.

The most familiar example is the intense guessing game that erupted when Carly Simon released "You're so vain".

Well, her husband at the time, James Taylor, had ignited a guessing game of his own long before he married her when he wrote and released "Carolina in my mind".

Taylor wrote the song in multiple locations, starting in London at the flat of his producer Peter Asher. He continued working on it while taking an island holiday in the Mediterranean and finally finished it on another nearby island. Taylor poured into the song all of his homesickness for North Carolina.

He also tossed into the song his feelings of intimidation. The song was recorded at the very same studio where the Beatles were in the midst of recording the "White Album". This is what he meant when he referred to "... a holy host of others standing 'round me ... still I'm on the dark side of the moon".

But the mystery I'm referring to comes right in the very first verse: "Karen she's the silver sun, you best walk her way and watch it shine, watch her watch the morning come ...".

Karen? Who the heck is Karen? Was she a real person? Or maybe a nickname for his home state of Carolina? Or a slang reference to his heroin addiction?

There is an answer to the mystery but Taylor didn't reveal it until 2009, roughly forty years after he composed and recorded the song. Karen was a real person whom he had just met.

It seems that when he was on his Mediterranean island getaway he ran into her on the island of Ibiza, just off the Spanish coast near the city of Valencia. Whatever relationship they did or did not have at the time was brief; he never saw her again. But he remembered her vividly forever after.

He described her as Scandinavian, approximately twenty-four years old with shoulder length blonde hair. His memory of her was so powerful that decades later with the coming of the Internet Taylor decided to make a serious attempt to contact her.

He even contacted a police artist, whom he commissioned to compose a drawing of what she might look like after so many years. Taylor liked the sketch that resulted but subsequently was unable to stop thinking of her as a criminal!

I wish I could report to you that using the sketch and the Internet that Taylor was able to track her down. Regrettably, I can't. But at least he got a lovely song out of it.

Wherever she is right now, assuming that she's still alive, she might be lamenting that she didn't try to find a way to continue her relationship with the tall, lanky young American songwriter she ran into so long ago. I wonder how she feels whenever she hears James Taylor singing "Carolina in my mind"?

If you like James Taylor's "Carolina in my mind" then you'll like a song inspired by the story of a young soldier who returned from Iraq. For a limited time only you can download that song for FREE by clicking HERE.

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Article Source:,-Carolina-In-My-Mind,-and-A-40-Year-Old-Mystery&id=7712071

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bob Dylan's "Desire": The Story Of The "Hurricane", Part 1

Cover of "Desire"
Cover of Desire
by Garrett Sawyer

One day in 1975 Bob Dylan went to Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey to visit a prisoner.

But this was no ordinary prisoner. This was Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

Carter had once been ranked as the #3 contender for the middleweight title.

That was, however, before.

Before three people were murdered during a robbery at the Lafayette Grill in Carter's hometown of Patterson, New Jersey.

Before he and an acquaintance named John Artis were arrested for the crime. Before they were convicted. Before he was given two consecutive terms and one concurrent life term.

After visiting with Carter Dylan became convinced of Carter's innocence (something that Carter himself had always maintained). The result was "Hurricane", the leadoff song from Dylan's bestselling 1976 release "Desire".

Co-written with Jacques Levy, the song is a furious plea for Carter's exoneration for crimes Dylan claimed Carter never committed. Was the "Hurricane" really innocent of the felonies for which he was accused?

"Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night. Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall. She sees the bartender in a pool of blood, Cries out, "My God, they killed them all!"

Let's start with the crime itself. On June 17, 1966 at about 2:30 in the morning two men entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill and opened fire. Two men were killed immediately: the bartender, James Oliver, and a customer named Fred Nauyoks.

A third customer named Hazel Tanis sustained numerous injuries from multiple gunshots and initially survived but died a month afterward. A fourth patron named Willie Marins lived even though he had taken a bullet to the head which rendered him blind in one eye.

The police questioned both Tanis and Marins, who told them that the culprits were black males, but didn't identify Carter or Artis as the criminals.

Patty Valentine was a resident who lived on the second floor above the bar and was one of the first people on the scene after the shooting. She allegedly told police that she witnessed two black men get into a white car and drive away from the bar.

"... Three bodies lyin' there does Patty see. And another man named Bello, movin' around mysteriously ...".

Another person who was on the scene early was a criminal named Alfred Bello. He was in the neighborhood that night to commit a felony of his own, that of a burglary at a factory near the bar.

Initially Bello claimed that as he neared the Lafayette two black men rounded the corner and approached him, one carrying a pistol, the other a shotgun. Bello fled but also claimed to see the pair get into a white car that was double parked near the bar.

Valentine and Bello both described the car to the police. Both descriptions would change after Carter's first trial. Valentine also provided a description of the car's lights which didn't match Carter's car.

You'll soon see that the word of two felons would eventually be enough to send Carter to prison for life. Bello would change his story but Carter would stay in his prison cell.

If you like Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" then you'll like a song inspired by the story of a soldier who died after returning from Iraq. For a limited time only you can download that song for FREE by clicking HERE.

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Article Source:,-Part-1&id=7701899

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks", Part 3: The Scandalous Affairs of Poets

Bob Dylan performing at St. Lawrence Universit...
Dylan at St. Lawrence Uni (Wikipedia)
by Garrett Sawyer

When you think about it you'll realize very few lyricists are well read enough to make reference to other poets in their own lyrics and make it sound so natural, so appropriate.

Only Paul Simon immediately comes to mind when he wrote in "The Dangling Conversation", "And you read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost".

In one of his songs from "Blood on the Tracks", however, Bob Dylan equals Simon, poet for poet.

Let's keep going:

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

In complete contrast to the venom that was "Idiot Wind" this song is wistful and loving. It's as if Dylan is saying simply in his own inimitable way, "We should be together but you're leaving and I will be lonely when you do".

The most powerful image in the song is the reference to the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud (sample lyric: "Situations have ended sad. Relationships have all been bad. Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud. But there's no way I can compare all those scenes to this affair").

The soap opera referred to was a torrid, volatile relationship between Frenchman Paul Verlaine and the much younger Jean Rimbaud, whom Victor Hugo once described as "an infant Shakespeare".

The elder Verlaine was already married to a young wife who was pregnant when the two poets met. The two men began a scandalous affair, subsequently moving to London where they later broke up.

Verlaine returned to Paris but missed the younger man and eventually invited the younger Rimbaud to a Brussels Hotel. The reunion went poorly, marked by arguments and alcohol.

Finally Verlaine bought a revolver and ammunition and shot Rimbaud in a drunken rage, one shot missing, the other wounding a wrist (when Dylan sings in the very first verse "I've been shooting in the dark too long" he might have been referring to this incident). Verlaine was arrested and, despite the withdrawal of charges by Rimbaud, sentenced to two years in prison.

Dylan is comparing the previous loves of his life to the volcanic ill-fated passion that existed between the two men. Then he declares that his current love completely out-shadows all the previous ones. How much more lyrical power can you concentrate into so few words? That's why Dylan is Dylan.

Meet Me in the Morning

Standard twelve bar blues. In this simple but heartfelt tune Dylan and the subject of the song have been separated.

He has been morose since her departure (sample Lyric: "They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. But you wouldn't know it by me. Every day's been darkness since you been gone").

Now he is imploring his love to join him for a new morning, not only of the day but hopefully for their relationship.

The Gentleman from Stratford-on-Avon once wrote "Brevity is the soul of wit". It's still true 400 years later. And Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" is proof. Dylan can express in a few well-chosen lines what might take another artist or band an entire album to get around to saying.

If you like Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" then you'll like a song inspired by the story of a soldier who died after returning from Iraq. For a limited time only you can download this song for FREE by clicking HERE.

Download your free song at:

Article Source:,-Part-3:-The-Scandalous-Affairs-of-Poets&id=7680686

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