Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Weekly Round-Up - 102


[John Wieners - Hyannisport, MA - February 21, 2002, John Wieners' Last Reading]

The Allen Ginsberg Project is a pretty hyper-rich hyper-link site (as I'm sure all those who've been following us would agree). So it's in the nature of the beast that links occasionally go dead (we try to keep on top of this, but, please (an appeal to our community) report and send in notice of any particularly frustrating broken links that you find  - yes, we know about "Good Morning, Mr Orwell" and "Renaldo and Clara"!). 
That said, the most egregious (and frustrating) "downed link" of late has been this one (initially provided by our good friend Derek Fenner at Bootstrap Press, in May of 2011), the extraordinary last reading by the phenomenal poète maudit  John Wieners. We were astonished to see it taken down - the ominous blank screen and the notice - "This video contains content from UMG who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds" - UMG? (Universal Music Group)? and John Wieners? - we couldn't quite see the connection. Turns out that there was 30 seconds, (literally, 30 seconds!), of Thelonious Monk  playing 'Round Midnight in the cafe, in the background, right at the beginning, sufficient for UMG, or more precisely, their lawyers, to sniff it out and shut it down.  
Happy to report it's now up again (sans the copyright-disputed 30 seconds) - and with a bonus vid, to boot (thank you, Derek). While we're on the subject of Wieners material, we've already reported on priceless video (on PennSound) of John reading, in San Francisco in 1990, (not to mention, vintage audio (on the same site) and recordings (recorded a decade later) available on-line from Harvard University's Woodberry Poetry Room).

Howard Brookner's 1983 movie, Burroughs (another focus of a previous Ginsberg Project post - and another one with, notably, some links down) is about to get a new lease of life, along with the rest of Brookner's oeuvre, courtesy his nephew, Aaron. A campaign to restore the film will officially be launched on Kickstarter on World Aid's Day, December 1st, and will run for 30 days. A rare screening of the film (pre-restoration) will take place at the October Gallery in London on December 11th at 7 o'clock (this will be in the context of a wider event, "William S Burroughs - All out of Time and into Space", opening on December 6th). More information about that exhibition (and some images from the exhibition) may be had here

"A party at Richard Howard's in the 'sixties, where I wore a flaming red chiffon dress that was much too dressy for the occasion, and Allen, literally, fell at my feet. Peter Orlovsky took off his cap and his hair fell down to his butt and he danced with Allen (which was a big deal in those days). I remember that Peter asked a stuffy Columbia professor named Eric Bentley if he was getting any.."
and, again - 
"Whenever we [Allen & I] got high at a party, we always sang "O Moon of Alabama" from Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" at the top of our lungs. Once we did this while lying down on the street waiting for a bus.. "

The two quotes above are from the redoubtable exuberant Helen Weaver on Michael Limnios' consistently-informative Blues and Greece site. (see here and here for earlier appearances of Helen on The Allen Ginsberg Project). 
For the rest of her lively interview (gossip about Kerouac and Corso and Lenny Bruce also) see here

Photographer Alec Soth (in conversation with curator, Leslie A Martin): "(Allen) Ginsberg saved the day for me. "A Supermarket In California" clearly illustrates (Walt) Whitman's profound influence on Ginsberg, but Ginsberg's voice rises above it. He sings with Whitmanesque bravado, but it's still Ginsberg's world..".
and then this, (speaking of the Paris Review interview)
"In this interview, Ginsberg talks about a vision he had after masturbating while reading Blake. I found this kind of exuberance refreshing. It helped me shake loose from some of the somber reverence I sometimes feel when engaging with (my particular hero) Robert Adams' world." 

Candor and irreverence - Marc Olmsted's serialized memoirs of Allen continue on the Rusty Truck site   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) - Helen Adam 3 (Edward & The Wife of Usher''s Well)



["Edward, Edward", Child Ballad 13 - sung and performed by Raymond Crooke]

HA: Oh here it is [looking through Norton Anthology]. Uh-huh. This one is eerie too - "The Wife of Usher's Well".

AG: Before you get to it, what do you mean by "eerie"?

HA: "Eerie" is uncanny

AG: Uh-huh

HA: It's always that Scots word, "eerie".

AG: Why are ballads uncanny? Is that a characteristic of ballads?

HA: Not all of them. No, some of them are very practical but they move in and out of the supernatural world all the time, and this I like because again it hints at more than the story is really saying.

AG: There's one other thing that you said the other day which was that the ballads had no conscience or mercy.

HA: No conscience. No, absolutely merciless. No, nobody is going to let anybody off, and, as for forgiving people's sins, Christian, they're absolutely pagan. Nobody ever turns the other cheek or anything like that. It's just swipe their heads off at one blow if they're your enemy.

AG: So they're definitely realistic that way. Totally empty of amy kind of attachment.

HA: Uh-huh, I have to find a nice savage one. Well, actually, there is this gorgeous "Edward, Edward" one, which sort of goes with "Lord Randal" - You know that one, of course?

AG: Yeah.

HA: Should I do "The Wife of Usher's Well" then..?

AG: Yeah, whatever. "Edward, Edward" is kind of long.

HA: Yes, well, perhaps..

AG: Give a stanza or two of "Edward", so we hear the..

HA: Well, I just..

AG: It's also a classic.

HA: Yes, it is a classic. It's almost the same thing as "Lord Randal", but it begins - "Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid./ Edward, Edward,/Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid/ And why sae sad gang yee. O?/ "O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,/ Mither, mither,/ O I hae killed my hauke sae guid/ And I had nae mair bot hee. O." - and then, the lovely line - "Your haukis bluid was never sae reid,/ Edward, Edward..."  Well, anyway, he goes on saying what he's killed, and he's really killed his father, because of the.. his mom.. the end is so terrific. When she, again, is doing this greedy Scotch trick of what he's going to give to the various members of his family, this seems to matter more, then she says -
"And what wul ye leive to your ain mither, deir,/ Edward, Edward?/And what wul ye leive to your ain mither, deir?,/ My deir son, now tell me O."/ The curse of hell frae me sall ye bear,/ Mither, mither,/ The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,/ Sic counseils ye gave to me O." - And so the mother has really been asking him to kill the father, you know..and he's not going to forgive her.

AG: So it's a totally intractable situation.

HA: It exactly is.   Now, well this (next) is "The Wife of Usher's Well"


["The Wife of Usher's Well " (Child Ballad, 79) - sung and performed by Steeleye Span (lead vocal - Maddy Prior)]

AG: That also was (Bob) Dylan's form too, that "Edward, Edward" (and) "Lord Randal"  - "What have you seen, my blue-eyed son?"

HA: Well Dylan is in the real ballad tradition, you know. He could have been a reincarnation of some of those old balladeers from the ancient world.  [Helen Adam, then, proceeds to sing all 12 verses of "The Wife of Usher's Well" - "There lived a wife at Usher's Well,/ And a wealthy wife was she/ She had three stout and stalwart sons/ And sent them o'er the sea..." - I love the thought. I can see the peat fire-place and the glow of the fire and the beautiful girl there and the three ghosts.
And now I'd like to read one of my own, Allen...

AG: Yeah (but) before we jump to that..

HA: Yeah uh-huh

AG: ...since I was assigning..

HA: I was just thinking...

AG: ..how about... what is the structure metrically?

HA: I really don't know, you know. I'm totally ignorant of metrical structure. I just do it by ear.

AG: Does anybody here know how to count by meter?, know how to make a ballad? In this case, it's generally, basically. Duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah.  "Duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah". So it's...

HA: Yeah

AG: ..a four-line..or four-beat, three beat, four beat, three beat - because four lines. Four-three, four-three (as far as the main accents). There's a lot of syncopation...

HA: Um-hum

AG: ...like, in the last poem you read ..where was that?

HA [looking through the Norton Anthology]: Where did that go?  Bear with me.. No I didn't.. I must have.. I don't think I have a mark or any...

AG: Because in the next-to-last stanza had a pretty good... where is that?...yeah, I've got it - "The cock doth craw,/ The day doth daw,/ The channerin' worm doth chide/ Gin we missed out o' our place/ A sair pain we...  How do you do it?

HA: "A sair pain we maun bide".

AG: "A sair pain we..." So the "pain" isn't accented.  "A sair pain we maun bide". So you can shift back and forth. So it's total syncopation, jazzed up.

HA: Uh-huh

AG: But it's, basically, your paradigm, or the structure, or the bones on which you can hang it, or the skeleton is..

HA: I love the thought of the worms getting impatient - "The channerin' worm doth chide".

AG: "the channerin'?

HA: "The channering - it's angry.

AG: [ consulting the Norton Anthology] - It's fretting, it says here.

HA: Yeah, it's fretting, it's gnashing its teeth, sort of. I mean, they all are.

AG: So does anybody have any question about the shape, or the rhythmic problem, the rhythmic scene, you can all handle that?

Student: Is it iambic, Allen?

AG: Well, duh-dah, duh-dah, that's iambic. But you can vary it. "Dah-duh-dah". It basically would be duh-dah, duh-dah. That's iambic.  Soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard - first line - soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard.

Student: How about the rhyme scheme?

AG: Well - "daw - chide - place - bide" -  so, actually, there;s only two rhymes there - "dear - lass". See, you only have to rhyme the second and fourth lines. This is the same meter That (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge used for..

HA: The Ancient Mariner

AG: The Ancient Mariner..Yeah. "All in a hot and copper sky..."duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah".

HA: Yeah

AG: "Furrow followed free"... or whatever..

HA: Uh-huh

AG: So does anybody have any problem with that particularly?  That form?  How many people here have written that kind of poetry before?

[Several students raise their hands]

HA: Oh quite a few

AG: How many have never tried to write a rhymed metrical form?.. How many have never written any poetry?...How many have never tried to rhyme metrical poetry? Please raise your hands. How many have tried to rhyme? [Another show of hands] So, the majority. Most everybody has experienced it.

HA: Uh- huh

AG: Terrific. Okay. No problem.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) - Helen Adam - 2 (Lyke-Wake Dirge))



[Lyke-wake Dirge - sung and performed by Pentangle (lead vocal: Jacqui McShee]

HA: Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my own ballad anthology which has my favorite ballads in it and this anthology doesn’t include “Thomas the Rhymer" or “Young Tam Lin”

AG: So what’s a good anthology?

HA: Oh well, there’s The Oxford Book of Ballads. It has all of them.

AG: Oxford Book of Ballads. What else?

HA: Well, the Willa Muir Living With Ballads is the best book about ballads and it quotes a lot of them and it’s extremely good.

AG: Willa Muir – W-I-L-L-A

HA: Yes and M-U-I-R-E, I guess, Edwin Muir’s wife

AG: M-U-I-R, I think

HA: Yes

AG: Edwin Muir is a famous Georgian, English..

HA: Yes. Scottish too. He came from the Orkney’s

AG: And his wife, Willa Muir made..  What’s it called?

AG: Did Muir write ballads too? Good ones?

HA: No, no, songs.. I don’t really think.. He wrote some very haunting strange ballad-songs but they weren’t really story poems

AG: What are the Child Ballads?

HA: Well, that’s all the old ones. You know, like “Chevy Chase”, and all the supernatural ones and the fighting ones. I don’t care…

AG: How do you spell Child

HA: C-H-I-L-D-

AG: Yeah. And who publishes that?

HA: Oh well, it’s one of the classic things you can always get. I don’t think it’s ever out-of-print. I never can remember exactly who publishes what.

AG: What century was that put together?

HA: It was just before (Walter) Scott’s time, I guess

AG: And Sir Walter Scott had a collection of Scottish Border Ballads also.

AG: Ah. Some of this we could get around here in the bookstores, or in the C(olorado) U(niversity) library for anybody’s that’s local, and this book, whence these’ll be sung, will be on the reserve shelf of the library.

HA: That’s the Norton Anthology..?

AG: Yeah.. That’s a pretty good book – The Norton Anthology..                                     
(So) now, what is a ballad?

HA: Well, it’s just a story-poem that was usually chanted, you know, by wandering minstrels who’d go from town to town, and often the audience would join in or add a verse of their own and that’s why there’s so many different versions of every ballad. This (in the Norton Anthology) is a different version of “Lord Randal” than I’ve known before.

AG: Uh-huh

HA: Yeah, it has a few more verses in it.

AG: The audience will add in its own?

HA: Very often improvised. The whole thing was almost a group thing. They knew the basic story (like Cinderella, or a fairy tale), they usually..they knew the basic stories of the ballads and then they changed (them). In this country, you find versions, oh, in the Smoky Mountains, of old Scottish ballads with different.. I usually have chosen my own favorite verses out of different ballads and put them together.                                        This is an eerie little one, which is really more of a psalm than a ballad, but it's a warning to the soul, just while it's dying (rather like the bardo thing) - "Lyke-Wake Dirge" 

AG: "Lyke-Wake" means to lie awake?

HA: No, it's the night-watch, when the person was dead. Everybody.. like, a "wake".

AG: Oh, the wake.

HA: It would come to a sort of watch, because the soul wasn't supposed to leave the body right away. It sort of hobbled.

AG: The note in the book (Norton Anthology) says ""lyke-wake dirge" - "lyke" is the corpse"

HA: Yeah - Um-hum - They're singing it while the corpse is lying there. [Helen Adam begins singing, (along with Allen, and, eventually, the students, on the alternate repeating lines -  "Every nighte and alle", and "And Christ receive thy soul") - "This ae nighte, this ae nighte,/ Every nighte and alle,/ Fire and fleet and candle-lighte/ And Christe receive thy saule"]

AG: That's terrific.  I never heard it done that way.

HA: Well..

AG: Is it supposed to be responsive?

HA: I don't know. It's just the way I've always done it.

AG: It sounds right that way. That's a terrific form.

HA: It's very weird, and then there's..  [Helen Adam flips through the Norton Anthology] ..where's the other that's rather like this? now where in this, I wonder..,now, they must have it..

AG: "This ae nighte" - This one night..



[Lyke-wake Dirge - sung and performed by Alasdair Roberts]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

(Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) - Helen Adam - 1 (Lord Randal)





AG (to Helen Adam): Do you want to sit up here with me? (No?)..okay let me get another (chair)..that’s too big of a… does that look good?

HA: Yes, yes, that’s fine. Could we get some water.

AG: Oh yes. Could we get some water. No, you stay there. Somebody (one of the students) will get it.

HA: I mean, there’s no hurry, but..

AG: Yeah

HA: Well, ballads, of course, are story poems..    Can you hear me?

Student (pointing to microphone):  That’s not a P.A.

HA: Oh

Student: That’s just a mike.

HA: Oh, I thought..

Student:  (No) it’s just a mike for the recording..

AG: You’ve got to talk just to them. That’s just for recording.

HA: Oh I see. Well just before I begin, I spent a glorious afternoon at the very top of Estes Park on the tundra and it was pure ballad country. The great fierce mountains, and then the beautiful little things, like the tiny little Alpine flowers and the adorably tame birds. There’s a lot of birds in ballads, (usually talking birds), and there was this fantastic girl who was standing on the very edge of a great drop, holding her arms like this, with peanuts in them, and those enchanting birds would come flying and somersaulting in the air and snatching the peanuts, and suddenly staying on the back of her hands, and (there was) this wonderful cold wind blowing. It was just absolutely gorgeous. And then on the way back in the car, Michael Castro, who gave me the ride, sang some of his songs to me, lovely ballad songs, and (there was) a marvelous line in one, that seemed to come straight out of the old ballads, about how when you were very happy, you could look up at the great sun, and…what was the line exactly, Michael?

Michael Castro: And hear it hum..?

HA: "And hear it hum, feel it hum on high”

Michael Castro; Yes

HA: That’s it – “And feel the song he hums about”. I think that’s a marvelous line about the sun, and it’s straight out of the old ballads, because the elemental nature was always so near – and it still is in Scotland. I was back there six years ago, and I love America and the gorgeous places I’ve seen in America, but none of them have this strange feeling of the supernatural. I once slept out alone in the High Sierras and it was just beautiful and lovely, but when I slept out alone in the Cuillins of Skye, it was absolutely unearthly. You felt at any moment.. It was blazing bright full moonlight, and there was terrific black mountains, and I had even gone up the wrong mountain (at least, I told my friends I’d be one mountain, I changed my mind, and went up another) so it was madness, because, if you broke a leg or anything, you’d be stuck. But the feeling of supernatural, unearthly, weird there was just overwhelming. But, anyway, this is a lovely old one (which you may know) called “Lord Randal”


HA: Oh did he? Oh then I’d better not take it.

AG: No, no, he copied it. That’s even better.

HA: I see

AG: What is the.. “Hard Rain”. What are the first lines of “ (A)Hard Rain('s Gonna Fall)”?

Student: “Tell me what did you see, my blue-eyed son”

AG (singing): “Tell me what did you see, my blue-eyed son”

HA: Oh yes, of course!  Why, it’s a steal! I never realized that!

AG: “Tell me what did you see, my blue-eyed son/ Tell me what did you see, my darling young one..”

HA: Ah, yes, of course. It’s permissable if he did it.

A portion of the page of Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” that reportedly sold at auction in August 2009 for 51,363.60.  Click for auction site.





















[A portion of the page of Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” that reportedly sold at auction in August 2009 for $51,363.60]

AG: So we can go back to “Lord Randal” obviously. Does anybody here know “Lord Randal”. How many here do?

HA: Oh, a lot of people must.

AG: How many have not heard of “Lord Randal”? [class presents a show of hands] – So, total education here. How many knew that Dylan took it (“Hard Rain”) from “Lord Randal”? Raise your hand if you really did, if you really really knew – Oh great.

HA: Oh great. Then some of you did..[Helen Adam then begins to sing accapella all ten verses of the traditional ballad, “Lord Randal” “O where ha’ you been, Lord Randal, my son?/ And where  ha’ you been my handsome young man?...”


AG: One thing I wanted to say, so..just as he’s got “Where ha’ you been, Lord Randal, my son”, it’s “Cincinnatta” - “Where ha’ you been – it’s dialect.

HA: Yeah.

AG: Just as this Scottish classic. So there’s the American classic too – though people don’t realize that it’s classic – but in a hundred years, it’ll sound classic, (Jack) Kerouac, or anything in that style, making use of a particular vernacular, like from Ann Arbor, or St Louis, or New Jersey. Brooklyn-ese is classic, and Bruce Springsteen is probably making Jersey-esque classic at this point. So it’s not really any different, it’s just the classic local particular dialect of our own tongues. Here it looks terrific, because you’re used to it. In America, it doesn’t yet look terrific to professors because they’re not used to it, but there’s no reason why it can’t be terrific, why your own tongue can’t be terrific, if you stick out your own tongue… 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) - 6































AG: First off, remember Jack Elliott was talking about Okie language and he had that in common with (Jack) Kerouac? (So) the first texts I want to pick up on (for) this term are a couple (of) short texts from Mexico City Blues using that kind of Okie talk. The “146th Chorus” of Mexico City Blues - Is anybody familiar with that? Who has read some of Kerouac’s poetry? And who has not? Okay. We have, in the library, a tape of Kerouac reading his own poetry. It’s a cassette. If you have a cassette machine or can borrow a cassette machine. Did you check that out?

Student: I went in there today and they didn’t have it available.

AG: Did they know about it?

Student: The fellow said he just didn’t know if it was there or not.

Student: It’s downstairs in the main Naropa library. He has it downstairs usually...

AG:  (Hmm) (That) Kerouac tape should be on hand for our class, yeah, I think. I don’t know why that got (it all) screwed up.. but anyway we’ll get it and (keep it) where it should be kept, actually. Should it be downstairs there?

Student: Well I figured it would be in the regular library

AG: We should put it here. 

Student: We’re keeping all the books here.

AG: Yeah, okay. So the point is, where is that tape of Kerouac?

Student: It used to be at the (front) desk..

AG: Okay. Then I don’t know how you’d (easily get to) listen to it. If anybody’s got a cassette, Yeah? – so, bring your cassette, or borrow a cassette and come to the library and listen to it. It’s worth hearing.
[AG proceeds next to read Jack Kerouac’s “146th Chorus” from Mexico City Blues  – “The Big Engines/ in the night -/ The Diesel on the Pass,/ the Airplane in the Pan/ American night -/Night/ The Blazing Silence in the Night,/ the Pan Canadian Night -/ The Eagle on the Pass,/ the Wire on the Rail,/ The High Hot Iron/ of my heart./ The blazing chickaball/ Whap-by/ Extry special Super/ High Job/ Ole 169 be/ floundering/ Down to Kill Roy”] – That’s the Southern Pacific. Gilroy is the terminus – Gilroy, California -  “The blazing chickaball/ Whap-by/ Extry special Super/ High Job/ Ole 169 be/ floundering/ Down to Kill Roy” – It was Okie talk for Kerouac. Actually, he defined that. He thought that accent was Okie – that rhythm too. He was interested in hard-hat truckers, what comes into a chic vogue now as CB truckers’ high-faggot style, or whatever you call it. And “180th Chorus” – [Allen reads Jack Kerouac’s “180th Chorus – “When you work on that railroad/ You gotta know what old boy’s/ sayin/ in that en-gyne/ When you head brakie/ just showin up for work/ on a cold mist dusk/ ready to roll/ to on down the line/ lettuce fields/ of Elkhoen/ & sea-marshes/ of the hobo highriding/ night, flash Salinas - /”Somebody asked me where/ I come from/ I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinnatta” -/ Poetry just doesn’t get there”] – “/”Somebody asked me where/ I come from/ I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinatta” -/ Poetry just doesn’t get there” – C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-T-A – Cincinnatta – “I tell them it’s none of their/ business,/ Cincinnatta” - It’s the sound that he’s listening to, American diction, the word – Cincinatta – that’s the diction. It’s not Cincinnati, it’s Cincinatta – it’s Okie diction, or whatever local diction it is and some kind of local rhythm. I’m not sure where it comes from but I think that the Western Okie sound seems to be a reflection of some kind of black talk, where the accent comes towards the end, with an extra-special “bop” at the end – “Cincinnat-TA!” – There’s a special accent, especially in blues, that comes at the end of the line – [Allen begins singing] – “I don’t know where I’m GOIN’” – [he continues} – “181st Chorus” – “The girls go for that long red/ tongue/ From the pimp with the long red/ car,/ They lay it in his hand/ The profits’ curfew/ He take it “The Yellow Kid”/ - He’s the Man – “ – I guess that’s the sound I was talking about – “He’s the Man” – Black talk – but it also seems to affect white Okie speech – “She goes home and hustles/ Remembering Caroline,/ The hills when little/ The raw log cabin/ rotting in the piney woods/ where the mule was mush/ and pup-dog howled/ for no owner/ all one owl-hoot night/ and watermelon flies/ on the porch/ But she loved that long red tongue/ And the Man/ is a Sucker/ “SOMEONE LOWER THAN SHE IS””] – So it’s like a lot of different voices there, actually. A Black voice, a South Carolina voice, a New York Nigger voice. I was just putting Kerouac’s accent next to Jack Elliott’s accent, since they were both friends and co-poets, in a way, or they influenced each other, or had some relationship, or some..some kind of American tongue. Which is, I guess, the basis of our study here.

Student: How old is Elliott now?

AG: Jack is, I think, younger than me, so he must be around..38?,,no, no, 45 maybe?. Forty-five. I’m 50, and he’s a couple of years younger, I think. Maybe ten?. I thought he was older than me, actually, originally. We were on the road together and I found out he was younger.   That’s what we have Elliott’s Okie-talk and Kerouac’s Okie-talk, but they’re all mixed. Elliott can do really elegant faggot-talk too, oddly enough. He’s a good pantomime. But the question I was asking Elliott was, where do these words come from? where do those forms come from? where do the ballads come from? where do the songs come from? There aren’t enough books in the library to get it out and to lay out the origins, but, fortunately, Helen Adam is still here. So I thought it would be interesting to ask Helen to lay the ballad on us, the history of the ballad, and what she knows - the classic ballads  (because she grew up in Scotland with Scottish Border Ballads)

AG (to Helen Adam): Are they Border Ballads?

Helen Adam:  Yes, Border Ballads.

AG: Who collected them? Sir Walter Scott?

Helen Adam: (Francis) Child

AG: Child did?

Helen Adam: Yes

AG: Ah, yes, the Child Ballads that I was talking about then. How many volumes is that?

Helen Adam: Scott collected them too – Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. But Child is the one who did it first.

AG: So I thought, maybe, let’s work with Helen and find out about ballads. Because I don’t know very much about the history of the ballad. I’m just getting it myself and learning about it, and producing some, so I’m interested in finding out  more background than I know, and it might be an interesting thing for a class scene for us to work on a little music this week and everybody write a ballad (which is something that most people aren’t, here, because…we’re all writing crazy beatnik free verse). I’m going to try and write a ballad this week. So the class-assignment for, I guess, Monday – we’ve got a weekend – is, write up a ballad. Anything – sex ballad, sex blues - blues or ballad (blues form is iambic pentameter, three-lined stanzas rhymed A-A-A, and you can repeat the (last) two lines – I mean, the second line can repeat the first) – but better still if we did a ballad, a formal ballad, like Helen is doing (because she’s going to lay out some samples).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ramblin' Jack Elliott Interview Concluded







AG: What I'm trying to figure (out) now is that [Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad"] something you heard later? much later?

JE: I heard that at the same time, when I first started listening to..Woody's music.

AG: Did you run into Guthrie (himself) at some point or other?

JE: I met Woody in Brooklyn. He was living in Coney Island.

AG: What year was that?

JE: Well, that was in '51

AG: So right straight off you went..

JE: Yeah

AG: ..to look him up, or what?

JE: Well, Tom Paley knew him. Did you know Tom? I don't know. Tom is a guitar player that used to play around Washington Square Park

Student: Can you speak up?

JE: Yeah, I keep thinking this (here) microphone is attatched to a P.A. system. That's why I can't take it seriously. I mean, it throws me off. Singing into the microphone, I'm whispering into the microphone, which is part of mike-style. It took me a long time to learn it. It's rock n roll mike-ing and it has to do with practically swallowing the microphone and then you don't even have to put out any energy and you hear it real good 'cause it's like a million dollars worth of electricity coming through.

AG: In a natural tone of voice.

JE: Yeah.

AG: Very neutral. A natural tone of voice so you don't have to shout.

JE: I'm sorry, Were you having a hard time hearing back there?

Student: Kind of.  

JE: Oh well. My apologies.Brooklyn

AG: Just when you were talking to eternity.

JE: Howdy eternity!

AG: Okay, we're back in Brooklyn.

JE: Oh, Woody was living there with his family.

AG: In what borough?

JE: He had been living on a street called Mermaid Avenue, which is a joke - I doubt if a mermaid ever was there! Last time I saw Mermaid Avenue I wandered ashore from the Sloop Clearwater into three solid blocks of broken glass, all over the streets! Woody moved out of his little teeny Mermaid Avenue apartment, which I never got to see. He moved into a larger and more commodious apartment at a place called Beach Haven Apartments, (or Bitch Heaven, as Woody called it!). And he had a larger, more comfortable place there, which was on the ground floor, easy access, and had a back yard.

AG: Was Arlo born by then?

JE: He was four years old then.

AG: Living there?

JE: They were living there and that's where I first met them in '51.

AG: How did you meet him? The first time

JE: I called him up on the phone. Tom has given me Woody's phone number and said he was a friendly guy and said "Just call him up", 'cause they were going to have a guitar session  over at Woody's house one night, but it was going to be too crowded. There were twelve people and there was just room for twelve people in the apartment. So I called up Woody the next day and said I'd heard his records and liked his music and I'd been playing the guitar myself for about three years and busking around in saloons and bars and truck-stops, and he said that I oughta come by some day. He didn't even say to call, he just said "drop around", you know, real Oklahoma kind of friendly - but he said, "don't come today 'cause I got a belly-ache". And, sure enough, next day, I called up again, and he was in the hospital with a ruptured appendix. So I couldn't see him for a few days and I talked to his wife and she said, "Don't go and see him now because he's all doped up", you know, from the operation. So about three or four days later I went by and visited him in the hospital and played him a couple of tunes on the guitar, but it was very hard to do and embarrassing and everything because there were all these sick people all around and you didn't want to make a lot of noise. 


AG: What did you play him?

JE: I don’t remember. In fact, I don’t think I actually played him a whole song all the way through. I just diddled on the guitar because I was too embarrassed by all of the commotion that was going on with all these patients getting wheeled in and out, and just played a few little half-assed chords on the guitar, and he sort of mumbled and moaned and he wasn’t in good shape at all. But he told me to go across the street (right across the street was his apartment, he was in the hospital right across the road from the apartment) and said (that) I can look out the window and see his kids playing in the back yard. Sure enough, I looked out the window, and there was little Arlo and Puffy and Jody playing in the back yard. So I went over and said hello to his wife and introduced myself, and she was very friendly and showed me some of the books and records and stuff and things that Woody made.

AG: Books? His writings?

JE: Well, some of his books that he wrote and some of just the bookshelf and books that he’d been reading.

AG: Did he have the Child Ballads ?

JE: No

AG: Did he have a collection of ancient stuff,or was he..

JE: No, he wasn’t into that. I don’t think he read much of that stuff

AG: So all his learning was oral

JE: He didn’t have any of those Child Ballads around, certainly. He had (Alan) Lomax’s book, “cause he knew Lomax and had done radio shows and interviews with Lomax and he had some of Lomax’s books

AG: Lomax had a show on station WNYC in the ‘40’s, I think, and I think he had Guthrie on.

JE: I heard some of those original radio programs

AG: I used to listen to them when I was in high school.

JE:..on 12-inch, 78 rpm discs that Woody had of those radio programs they did during the war. Lead Belly was on and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.. V discs..

AG: Lead Belly was living on East 10th Street..the next house to mine, where I was living over the last ten years..

JE: on East 10th, yeah..

AG: Just between…

JE: Yeah, 414 East 10th  

AG: And I lived at 408.

JE: I didn’t know that. I’ll be danged!

AG: There’s an old black guy...

JE: I knew someone else who lived there...

AG: …that hung around with him..that stayed with him there, that’s still around on East 10th Street

JE: Golly gee!.. I was doing a tv show in California one day, one hot day, I was there with (this friend), and we were in the cafeteria and it was practically empty and we noticed two plainclothesmen there and we say down and we were eating our food and this plainclothes policeman came over and said, “Is your name Elliott?”, and I said, “Yes”, and he says, “Jack?”, and I say, “Uh-huh”, and he takes out his wallet and flashes me his badge, and says, “Mike Quinn, LAPD, Jack, I’ve got all your records”. And I thought, “Golly dang!” – I just about had a heart-attack! He used to live next door to Lead Belly on East 10th Street.

AG: Quinn?

JE: Yeah. Did you know him? Mike Quinn. He was a cop in New York and he was with LAPD. This is about two years ago. And he was just getting married and going to Mendicino for his honeymoon. I wasn’t able to be there at the time.

AG: He knew about Lead Belly?

JE: Yeah, he was a big friend of Lead Belly’s. He was his next-door-neighbor and used to hang out at Lead Belly’s house. And he told me all these stories about Lead Belly.

AG: So what was the next encounter with Guthrie?

JE: Oh well, I visited him in the hospital three days in a row there but there wasn’t much communication at that time. He was in pretty bad shape from that sickness so I took off to the West Coast and I had one song of Woody’s that I (had) learned and memorized off a record. It was “Hard Travelin’ “ and I sang that in every bar on Route 40, going across country. And I’d bummed around the West Coast for about three months, visiting sailing ships and ranches and things, and got into working on that Marine Museum in San Francisco, and then I went back to New York, called up Woody again, about three months later.Now..

AG: Now when was this?

JE: “51.. around about March or April of ’51. He said he was playing at a house party at 120 University Place and why didn’t I come over and bring my guitar? So I did. I found Woody in the back room, rehearsing. And there were about three or four people hanging around and they would ask him for requests. And I remember some girl asked him if he would play “The Blue Tail Fly”, and he said, “That’s a Burl Ives song. I get fifteen cents extra for Burl Ives songs” – He had a running feud with Burl Ives for years and he used to have contests to see who could sing the most songs, you know, round-table drag-out all-night singing contests.

AG: Burl Ives was at that point an authentic folk singer, wasn’t he?

JE: He’d been singing for a long time and Burl had been making a big commercial success out of it because he would sing more of the pretty ones, whereas Woody would sing everything straight-out, natural, honest, and he had all his political stuff, which held him back a lot, as far as the networks were concerned. He was forbidden to sing a lot of his more outspoken songs on television, and they’d say, “Well, we’d like to have you on our show, Mr. Guthrie, but you’ve got to take these words out of this song and you’ve got to take that chorus out, and so forth, “cause it runs counter to our political views on this show”. 

AG: It’s their political views and he has no way of answering it, so you shouldn’t…

JE: Anyway, he refused it, to change his music, and so he’d just refuse to go on the show and it cut into his own pocket-book

AG: So who was his teacher?

JE: Well Uncle Jeff Guthrie taught him how to play the guitar. Jeff lives in Denver here. He used to be a square-dance fiddler and chief-of-police in a small town in New Mexico. Later became a highway-patrolman here in Colorado. Sweet old man. He’s about 90 years old, Very ill now.

AG:  Still alive?

JE: Last I heard he was still alive.

AG: In Denver?

JE: I visited Uncle Jeff when his wife was still alive and she was real sick at the time,,and passed away later.

AG: So he’s sort of (the) root guru of American folk music

JE: Well, he’s one of them, I guess. Also Jeff Guthrie is one of the finest fiddle players that ever lived in this country, and beat Eck Robertson in a fiddle contest. Eck Robinson, Woody told me, was the finest fiddler in America, ever.

AG: Where is he from?

JE: I think he’s from Oklahoma too, or Missouri, I can’t remember

AG: Now did Jeff Guthrie teach him words too as well as the instrument?

JE: I guess he taught him songs too. I don’t know about that. He taught him how to play the guitar. This took place to Pampa, Texas. Woody grew up in Oklahoma and he moved to Pampa, Texas, when he was an early teenager. (He) got dusted out of Oklahoma. Mother got sick and died in an insane asylum, with that Huntington’s (chorea), and then Woody took off from Texas and headed out to California, looking for a rich aunt that lived out there, and got to sleep under our best bridges, and travelled all up and down California. Never got to see the aunt but got to travelling around with a lot of migratory workers who were looking for work all up and down California, picking fruit and stuff, and doing odd jobs in the Great Dust Bowl and Depression of  1929-30-31-32-33.

AG: Did he, or you..or is there anybody that you know in the folk tradition.. have they ever gone back and looked up at the old English versions and traced the history of ballads? Where are the scholars?

JE: I went to England, personally, you know. Not in any great quest of knowledge, but I was just wanting to bum around and look over the world a little bit, and I was singing on street corners, and found that there were a lot of fans of Woody and Lead Belly in England, and the kids over there were really anxious to hear about..everything about Woody and Lead Belly, so I got a lot of jobs singing in nightclubs, and, well, they weren’t nightclubs, they were little pubs..

AG: ’61?

JE: No, that was 1955, I came back in ’61.

AG: You were over there from ’55 to ’61?

JE: Yeah. ‘55 to ’61.

AG: So when did we meet? ’58?

JE: I met you in ’53.

AG: No, in Europe, in Europe, I mean.

JE: I guess it was..

AG: ’57? ’58?

JE: I can’t remember what year exactly.

AG: (I think it was in Paris with) (William) Burroughs and Gregory (Corso)

JE: Yeah. And we did a reading in that Mistral Bookstore (Shakespeare  & Co). In fact, you were the one that put me up to it. I never would have had the nerve.

AG: You read and you played.

JE: Well I did both. It was sort of a combination. Remember? I had a cold and I was laying up in my hotel-room there with June, and she was kind of passing me the tea and the Vitamin C and I was sitting up there reading Jack Kerouac’s book, which had just come out, On The Road. And Jack had read me the whole book back in Bleecker Street about three years before that, and I was so excited to be reading this book and the words that I’d heard read personally, by the author himself, who himself, I think was influenced by Woody,, too (in style, certainly).

AG: He knew? didn’t know? Guthrie. That’s something I don’t know.

JE: I think he’d read Bound For Glory

AG: Yeah, I always wondered about that. The prose is a lot alike actually, the excitement of the prose.

JE: Yeah, and the style of the...

AG (to class): Have you ever read Guthrie's Bound For Glory?

JE: ...rough-shod style.

AG: Raise your hands if you have. It's a really interesting poetic prose, prose-poetry. Fantastic energy. If you like Kerouac's prose style, then Guthrie's is earlier, I guess, earlier than Kerouac's

JE: Yeah, Woody wrote that Bound For Glory in 1944, and I remember Jack - this is an actual quote, and one of the few things I can actually remember verbatim from Jack - saying, "I love the language of bums".

AG: Yeah, that was Okie talk. Okie bum talk under the bridges was his speciality.

JE: Yeah, he picked up on it and he wrote it down and that's what Woody was doing too. And that was what made Kerouac so beautiful, I think - his way of saying those words and telling those stories with that bum talk rhythm.

AG: How did you get him to read On The Road to you?

JE: Oh, he came by. I was sitting in bed reading it and everybody was coming by and visiting and I'd be reading.

AG: No, I mean, the original manuscript.

JE: Oh, Kerouac, he came by, you know, at 330-or-something Bleecker Street there..

AG: Where Helen...

JE: At Helen's place. And he used to come by and visit a lot, and one day he brought the whole manuscript with him and he just sat down on the floor and started reading it to us, and we sat on the floor too, and we'd be drinking wine, and...

AG: Was Helen there?

JE:  Well, yeah, Helen and me and the boys and I don't know who else. Not too many, just the family (and I think you might have been there too, but I don't know at that particular time). It was a three-day stint. Three straight days of reading that 500-page typewritten manuscript of On The Road, and then, three years later, I'm reading through Italy and Switzerland on a motor-scooter and I saw Kerouac's picture in a paper and it was a story about On The Road. It had come out. I thought."Wowie! this is fantastic! Look at that! I know him!". I got to Paris right after that, or within a month or so. We were riding on a Vespa. It must have taken us a month to get to Italy from Paris. I know we rode over the Alps in a blizzard going about fifteen-miles-an-hour.

AG: Back to Brooklyn. What I was interested in was the development of your song-mind history. Song-mind history. So '51...

JE: So there was Woody and he was living there in Brooklyn and I went by and I got together with him at that party where he was charging fifteen cents extra to sing Burl Ives tunes, rehearsing back stage. We got singing together in the thing and I sang "Hard Travellin'" with Woody, and I could remember the words better than he did, and, in fact, he couldn't remember hardly any of the words, (and) he kept fumbling around and stumbling around and I'd feed him the lines and we sang together, and I backed him up, and he liked the way I played the guitar, and even gave me a ride back out to Brooklyn.

AG (to class): Does anybody here know that song? Hard Travellin'?  How many here know it?  Hardly anybody. Hardly anybody's heard it.

JE: Would you like to hear it?

Students: Yeah

JE: It was a great song. It was my favorite song. (to Mike Burton) Do you..

Mike Burton: Well, you do it better than me.

JE: Yeah, I'm going on too long anyway, I think. It's almost time for Mike to do a little something. I don't want to run over time. But I'll tell you, just to make it a little short, because, I sang this song so many millions of times, that I'm really tired of it, and it is a great song, but I don't think I can do it justice anymore. I sang it with all my heart and soul about twelve million times, and then just burnt out on it. You dig? So I'll just sing the first verse and I'll recite the rest of it to you.. [Jack Elliott sings all seven verses of Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin''" - "I been doing some hard travelin'/ I thought you know'd.."]

AG: That's the whole thing?

JE: That' the whole thing.

AG: Thank you.

JE: Thank you.

AG: It's full of details, and full of perfect details.

JE: Wanna hear one more?

AG: Yeah

JE: Here's one that.. you don't have to sing it, it's a talkin' blues, but for detail and sheer salt-water..

AG: Yeah, I've been teaching detail

JE: Oh. Here's one for detail that I've always loved and never did get tired of. It was a song about Woody's experience in the Merchant Marine during World War II, shipping out in these Liberty ships and convoys carrying TNT across the ocean to places like Murmansk, Russia and Sicily. He had his buddy, Cisco Houston traveling with him and they got torpedoed a couple of times and sunk, and each time he managed to get the guitar, fiddle, harmonica and everything, bones, into the lifeboat, and they were playing music in the lifeboat while the ship was sinking. And he had a fiddle. (And) he wrote on the fiddle all kinds of remarks and things, and it said, "Woody Guthrie, S.S. William B Floyd, S.S. Sea Porpoise, 1944, drunk once, sunk twice" (which, in itself, is a poem, I guess).

AG: What time is it?

Students: 8.20

AG: I'd like to hear Mike (Burton) sing something too

JE: Please. I'll recommend that to you. If you ever get a chance to hear a record of it - "The Talkin' Sailor", a talkin' blues by Woody Guthrie...

AG: Do we have time for both?.

JE:.. and thank you very much.

AG: Do we have time for both? We've gotta get out of here..

JE: You do have, or are you asking me..

AG: ...8.30

JE:... or telling me. I don't know.

AG: Because I don't know how long the song...

JE: I've got time. I got all the time in the world, I guess.  

AG: Well, we got this 8.30 thing upstairs..

JE: Oh

AG: We're supposed to be there Mike? Where'd he go? to the bathroom?

Students: Yes

JE: Well, if you like, I'll just recite it real fast.

AG: Yeah, do it

JE: Quicker..."The Talkin' Sailor" [Jack Elliott recites Woody Guthrie's talkin' blues, accompanying himself on guitar - "In bed with my woman just singing the blues/ And I heard the radio a-telling the news..."]

AG: Is that Guthrie?  that Guthrie?

JE: That was Woody Guthrie

AG: Well, thank you, really terrific. We're gonna pack up (now) and go upstairs