Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Terry Richard Bazes

July 2, 1996 -- missing intro. This came out after publication of "Goldsmith's Return"

This is a very funny book.
Thanks. Nothing is quite as funny as someone else stubbing his toe.

But you feel guilty for laughing—because there’s also a lot of horror here—and it’s very personalized horror. The truck not only runs over a character’s foot, it runs over the foot that hurts. I think one of your characters said something like “hell is tailor-made.”
Morrie Schickler says that. He also says that “Your own demon is the only one in your whole life who will give you truly personal service. He finds out where it hurts and that’s where he kicks.”

You get the sense that somebody down there hates Goldsmith, that Goldsmith is living under a curse. But ain’t we all?
Yes, Goldsmith is under a curse — as we all are, more or less. Part of what makes his story universal is this inescapable fatality into which each individual is born. After all, we don’t choose our families or our genes or the dreams that visit us every night: the freedom we have is restricted to how we play the cards that life has dealt. That’s what makes card games so fascinating — the fatality of the deal, the freak accident of getting a King or a Joker, and the deadly serious business of betting, bluffing and playing our hands.

What does all the twisted crap from the past stand for?
Could you give me some examples?

Well, your book is full of people holding onto crappy, dead junk from the past. There’s that depraved Southern guy living in a cross between “Gone With the Wind” and Night of the Living Dead.” There’s the amusement park...
OK. In one sense all that dead stuff stands for persistent neuroses—a good example is the survival of the amusement park. It’s crumbling but it’s still there. The giant effigy of Feldman is there . . . .

He no longer blows smoke...
He no longer blows smoke but he remains as a torment.

(laughs) That’s a hilarious image—but, again, what we’re talking about is Goldsmith’s tailormade Disneyworld from hell of personal humiliation. So it’s a joke, but a very dark one.
Darkness has a lot to do with the way I work.

What’s odd is, even though the book is magical and arcane it’s true to life, the way some dreams can be true to life. You have these weird, powerful images that stick in your head...the giant effigy at the amusement park, the green Hudson, the two-headed baby.
That has a great deal to do with the way I work—which is in terms of voice. I start from a situation or observation which releases that voice—the two headed baby, for example. I was reading a Stephen Jay Gould essay in which he talks about examples of two headed babies—and I knew I’d hit on something.

How do you deal with the grotesque without turning the book into a heartless, literary freak show?
By keeping my heart open, by remembering that my characters are real people. I suppose that what Coleridge said about the suspension of disbelief was true: if you want to create good fiction you have to believe that your characters are real.

You can’t think “it’s only a story.”—even if the effect you’re going for is a kind of black comedy.
No—because life is both real and grotesque. And in a way it would’ve been easier to create a simply malicious book —but I was careful not to. Dagmar is a good example—she’s grotesque, but she has depth and feeling. Goldsmith may be living in a freak show, but he is also a lover — a cursed lover. In one form or another he loves the people he encounters—even Dagmar.

And you believe in them all.
I believe in them all.

What would you say to unkind PC critics who might accuse you of misogyny?
That I am an equal-opportunity misanthrope. I treat the men at least as badly as I treat the women. But in all seriousness, I don’t think that’s fair. On the Kabbalistic level of the narrative, Thessaly is a stand-in for the Shekhinah — the feminine manifestation of the sacred. Thessaly marries the penniless Goldsmith because she is attracted to real artistic value. When she does leave him, he has richly earned abandonment.

And you could just as easily say the book is anti-men. Goldsmith is a loser—which makes the implied yin to his yang the great American winner. In your book most of the winners seem to be men—the real men who face the real world. The big joke is—these realmen, realworld realists are BS artists. They make a very good living selling phony dreams to the rubes.
You get my point very well. Through the book, Goldsmith and his family are haunted by demons and by a creepy secret society of mirror-worshippers. These people worship illusion...

But they’re also selling it.
Yes. And as false artists — BS artists — they are the demonic parody of real artists like Goldsmith. The triumph of cheap illusion and the demise of value have a lot to do with what I see happening out there in the big, bad world.

When does Goldsmith first run into these people?
Goldsmith meets them when he first goes to the amusement park. “We believe in image,” they say, “we believe in illusion.”

I love that image of the crappy funhouse, by the way. It reminds me of an earlier incarnation of Disney World—ever been there?
Too many times.

The feeling I get always get is: “this is not fun.”
No, it’s not fun at all. But you make like you’re having fun because you’re supposed to be having fun, you paid for it—so you participate in the lie. You never really make it through the mirror into wonderland, but you think you do.

But if people enjoy it, what’s the harm?’s a fool’s paradise, a tawdry fake. And that goes back to the whole idea of the Black Holers, the mirror- worshippers.  Their religion is a combination of cheap illusion on the one hand and of narcissism on the other. Goldsmith’s evil half-brother Roger even worships his own mirror image.

It also makes for a nice conspiracy theory. A secret cult of mirror-worshipping hucksters are making a lot of money selling easy dreams—it’s a reasonable explanation of the Reagan Bush era.
So this has a lot to do with Reaganism, a lot to do with Hollywood, and, ultimately it comes down to commercialism. This meretricious delusional system permeates politics, television, conversation, relationships. And all of this crap parodies the vocation of the true artist.

Bad faith and bad art—that seems to be the subject of your book. It’s about the life of an artist—the life of a painter—but you keep the “artist’s struggle” very much in the background. Which is another thing I liked. He’s not the usual Christ-figure with a paint brush.
Exactly. It’s not really about the nuts and bolts of making paintings. It’s about the artistic vocation, which is a totally different matter. It’s really about the soul of the artist.

Psychomachia, warfare of the soul?
Yes indeed, that’s what it’s about: the struggle of an artist to claim his soul—which is where Thessaly comes in. For Thessaly is an image of his soul. So, on that level, Thessaly is very serious and deeply beautiful.

So our commercial culture sucks, the hucksters who parody real artists are getting rich and we’re now living on the third mall from the sun.
Yes, but there’s also a wonderful, hideous vitality in all the kitsch. Nabokov calls it “gloating enthusiastic disgust.” The kitsch and banality themselves become food for inspiration. In this way my book feeds on TV culture and there’s a gorging delight in feeding on that stuff. For example, there’s the kiddy show host Uncle Wiggly. And there’s my Confederate peeping Tom, J. Edgar Hooudnik. They have the vitality of insects. They represent a pernicious illusion that replaces and subverts true value— and eats like a cancer into American life.

J. Edgar is a wonderful comic villain.
Thanks. J Edgar is the offspring of incestuous generations —and incest is another way of looking at the mirror problem. Instead of being able to reach out of one’s self in order to multiply, in incest one is attempting to mate with oneself. So in J. Edgar I suggest not only a parody of true art but also a parody of healthy relationship.

And bad art is incestuous. It doesn’t take you out of yourself—it pushes your buttons, tells you what you want to hear—and sells you stuff.
And there’s no real vision. It’s secondhand. It might be a politically-correct Bohemian Rhapsody, it might be a fifth- generation knockoff of Gone with the Wind for sentimental Southerners.

But how do you know the difference between the real dreams and the fakes?
Because—I know when I’m telling the truth or not. For example, I know if the dialogue feels real or not.

It’s a question of intention?
Yes. A question of intention and of conscience.

But what if the demons came to you, dangled a big wad of money in front of your face, and said “sell out....sell out.”
Well, so far they haven’t done that. But I’d rather be the person who scribbles the truth on the bathroom wall. I get a lot of energy out of being subversive.

Aha—so there’s an autobiographical element.
Well it’s not that autobiographical—but I was the first kid to get kicked out of class in elementary school.

Yeah, I know your kind — portrait of the artist saying rude things during the Encyclopedia Britannica film. Is any of the mystical stuff autobiographical?
In what sense?

In the sense that some of the mystical stuff here seems a little too believable. It makes me wonder if you’ve ever had any mystical experiences...deja Vu, ESP, emanations, childhood visions...
Goldsmith’s childhood was nothing like my own, and so I’m afraid I have disappointingly little to report about conversing with angels, ESP or the reappearance of dead relatives—God forbid.

No mystical experiences?
Well...yes, I have (so to speak) stubbed my toe on the infinite—which is why I studied Blake for years. And I’ve wrestled with demons long enough to know that they are real. Incidentally, Goldsmith’s name (in addition to the alchemical allusion) really came into being when I was first thinking about him as an artisan like Vulcan — whose wife ran off with his aggressive brother Ares.

So are the mystical references serious, or is it a gag?
That’s very either/or—and my answer would have to be that it is a serious gag.

So THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, as they say on the “X-Files”...or the people of the lie at any rate. Which is anothe rone of your dark jokes—you end inconclusively, J. Edgar and Roger and some other creeps are still on the loose...
Yes, they’re all still out there. There is a promise of something being resolved, but that may be disappointed.

Hope is a spiderweb on the ceiling. It’s there—and that may just make things even more painful. That’s life.
Yes. And if I had wrapped it all up neatly it would’ve been false. But it’s not just a question of being true to life. On the one hand, it’s a realistic comic world; but on the other hand, there is an allegorical, Biblical level to the book. The book is divided into three different section—Egypt, Sinai and the Promised land. On an allegorical level, it follows the wanderings of the Israelites. Goldsmith is in Egypt at the beginning. In the middle, at Groyton Academy, he is seduced by fleshpots of Egypt. At the end, like Moses, he is left looking toward the Promised Land. For he is looking toward the possibility of getting back to Thessaly. It’s all left open ended — it’s uncertain whether or not his salvation is assured. Of course, I have my own feelings on that score.

My guess is you’re rooting for the character.
Yes, I’m rooting for Goldsmith. I do think that to a certain extent he’s vanquished his demons.

But the rabbi does get through the mirror?
Yes, after 97 years, Rabbi Schwartzman does finally pass into the mirror of art.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

John Chamberlain

He burst onto the art scene 35 years ago with his outrageous metal sculptures made from crushed auto bodies. The public thought he was crazy but the art world knew something was happening. Something big.

You seem to deal with chaos and fragmentation in your sculpture. Is what you're doing with the WideLux camera an extension of that?
No. It's what's happening in my mind.The art object is usually an extension of how one sees things in the mind, what you perceive, your choices.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Allen Ginsberg Unedited

Behold, Kevin Dean’s unedited interview of Allen Ginsberg for the Sarasota Arts Review. I didn't write it, but I transcribed it and edited it. (You can occasionally hear me in the background with my cassette recorder.) In body of interview, bold italic = Kevin Dean. Unbold=Ginsberg. The raw transcript is 3,004 words -- "Mmm-hmms" and "Uhs" included. And here it is ...

(verbatim transcript)

Phone ringing on speaker.

Kevin Dean: (to me) … I’m not sure where his house was, I’ve never been by it. Did you look at the Nicosia biography?

Marty Fugate: Uh-uh, well, uh…

Somebody picks up.


Hello. Is …
Yes, this is Allen Ginsberg, apparently. Kevin Dean, right?

Yes, it’s … And I want to thank you very much for …
Please jump into it.

Sure. How long do you have for this?
Well, not too long. I have another call coming.

OK, uh … I had an idea. I’m trying to decide if this is something worth trying...
Why don’t you just do it?

Well, uh, what I was going to say is something like patterns in childhood and thinking, if you could just respond to it with a couple of lines, with a couple of images ... it’s hard, almost impossible, probably
I’m not sure I’m understanding what you...

Marty: (shouting out) Free association!

You say a phrase and I respond — like a free association kind of thing.
Oh. OK.

The old library, huge pillars in Doctor Doolittle books, Dostoevsky’s Idiot, spillway behind red brick factories on the Passaic River where boys skinny dipped.

I’ve always been so interested in the way you answered questions. That’s what I’m trying to evoke here.
That’s true. Free association is now a hit.

The 1948 William Blake vision.
I was just telling it to some young fellow in bed last night. I’d say it was a hallucination and nothing more and the best advice is: If you see something horrible, don’t cling to it; if you see something beautiful, don’t cling to it. That’s advice from an old Tibetan lama — Rimpoche.

Uh, America in the 1950s.
Well, comfortable, rich place. The beginning of the American Imperium with the overthrow of the elected government in Guatemala and the overthrow of Mosaddegh in Persia, which has caused us so much trouble ever since. We were getting an oil burner habit as Burroughs would say. The beginning of the wreckage of the sky or, as Blake said, the beggars’ rags fluttering in the air; thus to rags; the heavens tear.

The first time I saw people out on the street, homeless was in the 50s — there’s a photo I took of one of them. But it was the beginning of a kind of desensitization of people — we’ve been torn apart from the heavens with the hole in the ozone layer. That started in 1950.

That was the year I was born.

My oldest memories are from ’53, but they’re strictly small town, always with father and mother type of thing.

Uh ... the “Beat Generation.” I’ve got “Beat Generation” in quotes.
Well, a bunch of individuals were doing, mmm ... some kind of project, looking for a new vision or some new consciousness, but uh ... Friends but not a gang — not a literary gang, but we didn’t have that name, that was a latter phrase from the media.

Mmm-hmm. Six poets at the Six Gallery, Oct 13, 1955.
Well, one of them was Philip Whalen, who is now Roshi Whalen, zen master. One of them was Gary Snyder who’d just finished a project poem melted suburbs without end; one of them was Allen Ginsberg, who’s turned 70 and just put together selected poems, selected photographs, selected drawings, selected music, trying to get it all in order before he kicks the bucket; one was Philip Rampapia [sp?] who won the [???] award; Andre Breton, the surrealist was one of them; Kenneth Rexroth, Among the Skeletons was his work — in defense of nature, the skeletons of nature; Michael Maclear, who’s now a great lyric poet, he learned a lot from Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues poetry.

City Lights Bookstore.
It’s bigger than ever. We just put out a 40th edition of Howl and there’s a huge list of very interesting books published there. It’s, uh, an interesting chameleon, sort of. All the workers collaborate on the order of the books, taking care of different sections of the store. They’ve moved some things upstairs, some things down to the basement.

Do you find going down to the basement is like going down into a deep museum?
No. It’s got this great collection of books — if you want to read. Science fiction is down in the basement; for poetry you’ve got to go upstairs.

The Ferlingheti “Howl” trial.
It’s getting repeated now, over radio and television, and Senator Helms, who must be some sort of closet pervert, has put in a law thing that all indecent matter must be banned by the FCC on radio and television and the Supreme Court refused to overthrow it, although they’ve limited it to from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. So they’ve driven the serious material off the airwaves with this censorship; so now we have censorship on radio and television just as we used to have for books; so now the main marketplace of ideas is no longer a free market — so you can’t, you would not be able to read classic poems by Catullus or prose by Petronius or Burroughs or my own nature poems that are in high school textbooks — public high schools, in order to protect the ears of high school kids — you can’t read ’em on the air; so we’ve got censorship now just as bad as before, maybe worse because television has become the main marketplace of ideas at this point rather than print. The marketplace of ideas is no longer a free market — there’s literal censorship. It’s about time more people consider that.

The death of Naomi.
Well that’s a long time ago and a much wept-over character. The poem Kaddish, I think, satisfactorily presents the emotions — the narration gives that feel.

Do you think that’s your finest piece?
It’s the most complete, though there are later things I like a lot. September on Jessore Road, 1972, and Father Death Blues from 1978 — about my father. A song which had the same depth as the song Kaddish, and then Wichita Vortex Sutra, from February ’66, which was done as an important opera by, uh, Philip Glass — Wichita Vortex Sutra declared the war to be over on my part. And uh, The Ballad of the Skeletons

The Ballad of the Skeletons attracted attention and interest. It’s a great poem.

Yeah. Uh, India...?
I haven’t been there for 22 years. I’m getting old — I don’t know if I can take it anymore, these arduous trips, but I have my own teacher here, Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Lama of the Dalai Lama lineage.

The King of May?
I got back to Prague in 1990 and got my crown back and passed it on after a 25 year hiatus — the May King ceremony had been forbidden — the Mayor of Prague had been forbidden until that time.

We did a show of his speech, his acceptance speech at the — I forget the title of the award — but it was something he was supposed to accept in Berlin, but he was under house arrest and he couldn’t go, and it was printed out on large-scale papers with collage work reproduced beside it. It was an interesting. . .

[Trails off, regroups with next question.]

Here’s a blast from the past Flower Power.
Flower Power is nothing less than ecology — the substrate of our culture which is, after all, grass, trees air, green bushes, clean water, clean minds. Flower Power is a clear, clear, perception, clear mind, clear awareness of what you’re doing to the environment.

Does it still exist?
Well, ecology is a major matter — it’s Earth’s housekeeping.

That certainly does exist.

Has it evolved?
I don’t think you’ve heard what I said then.

I’m not talking about hippies wearing flowers in their hair. I said Flower Power represented the force of nature ...

... the power of nature

... and ecological sanity.

Yeah, yeah. I realized it was a stupid question as soon as I asked it.

Pause. Kevin regroups again.

Um, Chicago, August 1968.
I hear they’re going to have psychocorfancommeet [??] — they invited me out at the end of the month to go to Chicago for a celebration of what is it — 30 years?

Yeah. Just about...
David Dellinger is going and Abbie Hoffman’s children are going, and Jerry Rubin’s kid, other people. I’ll be working in New York working on a benefit so I can’t go out there.

Sounds great, though.
Yeah — this time it’s going to be a real festival of life. One of the reasons we planned — we had wanted to do a festival of life originally, back in the 60s, we had talked about that when we were out on a Buddhist retreat in Ann Arbor. Dellinger wanted to do that.

That was a powerful time
Well, I have mixed feelings about it — can you hold on a second?


Yeah. I’ve got another interview going, so I told him to call in ten minutes.

OK. So we’ll try to wrap this up uh — the Naropa poetry wars?
Well, that seems to have settled down to a peaceful coexistence now.

Naropa is now accredited it — it’s a regular college, it can exchange credits with other schools, you can get a BA or MA in freshman poetry. We’ve had a lot of great poets come out of there over the years, a lot of painters now: Clemente — Francesco Clemente, David Hockney, others have been there. George Condo just retired this year as co-director assistant to devote himself to teaching, so the wars were never all that important. Teaching was more important.

I have “Father Death Blues” down — we’ve already mentioned that.
That was a distinct voice in the poem I heard back then ... back 23 years ago.

One of the questions I was going to ask you: You were writing that in the plane over Chicago — the way I read the story. Do you recall who was sitting next to you at the time?
No — when?

When you were on the plane.
Which plane?

The plane you were riding back on when you were writing “Father Death Blues.”
Oh no, I don’t. There weren’t that many people on the plane. I had my harmonium on my lap, picking out the tune in time with the words. I’ve only done that with one other poem where the melody and the words were identical, a long poem called September on Jessore Road.

I had seen some refugee camps in Cambodia where millions of people were marooned in the rain.

It was just a kind of compelling image of you writing that for such personal reasons on a plane. Its such a public place.
Well, in a plane you’re pretty much by yourself — people are reading magazines, or working on their computers nowadays. I was doing the same thing, very quietly, with my harmonium on my lap.

When you get on a plane do a lot of people recognize you?
No. I have exactly the right modicum of fame. The people who recognize me are very literate, they’re polite.

You can still walk down the street.
Very literate and are polite, generally respectable. One of the advantages, one of the disadvantages. Remember, Dylan once told me fame was a curse with no redeeming characteristics.

Yeah. He went through a very rough period there when he was trying to live in New York. 
I just celebrated my birthday in New York. Or experienced might be the better word.

That last one was your 70th birthday?
Well, I hope to I get to be 83, like William Burroughs. Or 82, like Humbert Huncke.

Well, we hope you get older than that.
Or my stepmother. My stepmother’s 90 — she just had a double bypass.

That’s hard
She had to have the valves replaced.

They replaced one with a pig valve and she said, well I’m not kosher anymore.

(laughs) I looked at the video “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg.”
Ah yes, she was in that. She was very charming and, at times, bossy.

It seems to me there was one other thing that uh — lemme look at my notes here.

[Discussion of arrangements, etc. Ginsberg says something to the effect that he’ll be reading both old and new poems.]

Yeah. I was at a Joan Baez concert and she was singing new material and the people kept shouting, “Do ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’” or some other early stuff and she said …
I don’t have that problem too much. I try to establish a familiarity with one or two earlier poems — the Sunflower Sutra, something from my prime, Father Death Blues which was something of the ’60s something of the ’70s, but most of the time, Father Death Blues, new work, I find people’s attention remains clear and friendly.

She got very annoyed and said you people have to get into the ’90s here
I don’t know. That seems to be too extreme a reaction to tell people what to do. I’m just here to present what my mind is, to present my mind, and people begin to understand it.

Besides which, I notice my audiences are filled with young people who are not familiar with the older poetry anyway. They don’t look at me as some kind of icon — so if I read a poem from now, they're just as blasted out as if read something from before. Nowadays, a quarter of the audience is under 18. Many of them are 14 -15 -16 years olds — high school kids

There seems to be a strong resurgence of interest in the young in your generation of writers. Does that surprise you any?
No. Because we stuck to our guns, we stuck to our subject matter — which was basically the expansion of consciousness and the quality of consciousness through meditation practice and, uh, drugs to the extent that they were useful and educational.

You’re not denying that there were some positive benefits. Despite today’s war on drugs...
The drug war is a phony war anyway — but nobody in the mainstream press is getting around to saying so. But the politicians are lying through their teeth, Gingrich smoked pot — but, apparently, the drug wars are an excuse to create a Police Surveillance State and keep the blacks in misery — so it’s about time we blew the cover off that bullshit. And, as far as early distrust of politicians — more and more we’re finding out that they’re getting more control. There’s literal censorship, which most people don’t know about because of the censorship — and what they don’t know is: the mass media are artificially controlled by the giant combines; Westinghouse, General Electricwhich makes the individual voice becomes more and more important.

I found it so strange when all the stories came out about the CIA smuggling in cocaine to pay for the secret war in Nicaragua — nobody seems to get upset about it.
I beg your pardon?

Nobody seemed to get upset about it.
Well I think it’s the problem of the media — they bury it on page 3. But that’s an old policy of intelligence agencies — French intelligence used the proceeds from Indochinese drug traffic to maintain their war there. And the Western powers introduced opium into Indochina, after all — it’s an old business: opium wars, drug wars. The West tried to force China to take their opium in exchange for silk in the 19th century. It’s an old, old, old story, very old —

It’s a kind of business mentality. Drugs, the ultimate cash crop ...
And right now we’re doing it with tobacco. Senator Helms, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is threatening to withdraw favored nation trade status from Southeast Asian countries unless they accept the American addiction to cigarettes. Tobacco, narcotics. I don’t see any difference.

Yeah, it’s just a...
Now it’s cocaine wars. It’s really astounding that the CIAs never been busted for the traffic in Southeast Asia, the Contras ...

Well, when I was involved with the American anti-war movement...
It’s really astounding that the CIA has never been busted.

I went through five years with the anti-war movement and some civil rights things — just to see it all seemingly melt away, it’s very disturbing.
Well, it comes back — there’s no need to be things get the distaff.

You sound like you’re hopeful for the future that uh...
No, I don’t think it’s hope or fear. You do what’s in front of you. Whatever you can do to relieve the mass of human suffering any suffering — that’s a good compass for direction.

Was Barry Miles’ book fairly accurate on you? How’d you feel about that?
Well he changed his mind about Buddhism. Originally he was really very anti-Buddhist in his view, but he’s coming around, changing his mind.

That’s interesting.
The other book — there’s a book called Down the Line it’s much more sympathetic but Miles, you see, was somewhat at that the time, somewhat a Maoist, so from a political point of view he’s thinking meditation practices are an opiate for the masses, but now that he has a child, he’s more gentle now. Much less fiery; he sees the need for calm, for tranquility.

We’re about running out of time — the last question I had on my list of this list of I was hoping to talk about while you were here.

Why did Kabir say “fantastic” …?
Pardon me?

Why did Kabir say “fantastic” …?

Said “fantastic” …?

I don’t believe you. I’ve never read him use that word — was that the Robert Bly translation?

That’s the Robert Bly translation.
That’s the least, no — the other translations are a little more… OK, that’s the other one coming through.

OK — see you.

So we’ll see you later.
Yep. Goodbye.