Michael McClure died last week. For three days I have been considering what I have to say about his Death Thing. Haven’t poets – said enough? McClure did the most important thing we can do – after being born. While in our mother’s wombs – we don’t have a clue what is about to happen! BANG!
Michael knew he was going to die. Did he wonder what other writers were going to write about him – now that the restraints are removed?
Yesterday I wrote a poem about Michael in the form of a question:
‘Did You Fuck Amber’.
Amber was my Lover. We lived together. I suspect one of her Johns paid her way to go to California College of Arts and Crafts that was founded on the ideas of my hero, William Morris. She was a high-class prostitute in San Francisco. She told me she saved money to go to college. She invited me to sit in on McClure’s poetry class held in this building. This crosswalk is famous in my book. This is the Mecca of the Hippie-Beat-Acid-Rock scene.
I was going to shit-can Michael until I read his poem about working in a produce market as a lumper. ‘The Breech’ goes with my memory of working as a lumper in the Oakland produce market. Then I found this video of the Living Theatre who are inspired by Antonin Artaud who wrote ‘The Theatre as the Plague’. These actors are taking themselves – real seriously. This is what we all did – back then! McClure is heading the Oaks Motel, as is Jim Morrison and the group – Love.
“We disliked each other enormously at first,” Mr. McClure told the Victoria (B.C.) Times Colonist in 2011. “We both had long hair to our shoulders and leather pants on. And then we started drinking Johnnie Walker and talking about poetry. We become very deep friends.”
Mr. McClure appeared in a film directed by novelist Norman Mailer, was friends with actors Dennis Hopper and Peter Coyote and drew praise for his poem “Peyote Poem” from Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA.
When I was a boy, I thought a thousand times I’d be a man
I’d sit inside a bottle and pretend that I was in a can
In my lonely room, I’d set my mind on an ice cream cone
You can throw me if you wanna ’cause I’m a bone and I’ll go
Boom, bang, bang, boom, bang, bang, yeah
If I don’t start cryin’, it’s because that I have got no eyes
My bum’s in the fireplace, my dog lies hypnotized
Through the crack of light, I was unable to find my way
Trapped inside a night but I’m a day and I go
Boom, bang, bang, boom, bang, bang, yeah
Kerouac based a character in his novel “Big Sur” on Mr. McClure — “the handsome young poet who’s just written the most fantastic poem in America, called ‘Dark Brown,’ which is every detail of his and his wife’s body described in ecstatic union and communion . . . and not only that he insists on reading it to us.”
Mr. McClure’s early poetry was often descriptive and drawn from everyday experience. One of the poems he read at the Six Gallery, “The Breech,” was drawn from his job unloading trucks at a produce market:
In anticipation of Michael McClure’s book, “Mysteriosos and Other Poems”, (published in April by New Directions), Steven Fama wrote a blog post called “17 Reasons Why…I Love the Work of Michael McClure!”.
Number one on the list was the October 7, 1955 reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was McClure’s first poetry reading, and the first time Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in public. Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen, and Gary Snyder also read that night, and Jack Kerouac brought the wine.
Organized by Kenneth Rexroth and billed as a “a remarkable collection of angels on one stage reading their poetry”, the Six Gallery reading was pivotal at a time when San Francisco poets were stirring up something new and exciting, and resurrecting the art of poetry from what McClure describes in Scratching the Beat Surface as “the gray, chill, militaristic silence”.
In his 1956 New York Times review of these new, radical West Coast poets, Richard Eberhart wrote: “They have exuberance and a young will to kick down the doors of older consciousness and established practice in favor of what they think is vital and new.” Half a century later, Jonah Raskin, author of American Scream, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that “All Americans might look back at the Six Gallery reading for inspiration.”
At a 2008 reading at UC Berkeley, McClure recalled the Six Gallery and read three of his poems from that night: “Mystery of the Hunt”, “For the Death of 100 Whales”, and “The Breech”.
When he wrote “The Breech”, McClure had a night job in a produce market. Working in the dark streets made him think of Rimbaud, he says, and inspired the poem:
—A barricade — a wall — a stronghold,
Sinister and joyous, of indigo and saffron —
To hurl myself against!
To crush or
To be a part of the wall…
Spattered brains or the imprint
of a violent foot —
To crumble loose some brilliant masonry
Or knock it down —
To send pieces flying
To be the chalice of the hunt,
Through a barrier of white trees!
At work — 3:00 in the morning — In the produce market
Moving crates of lettuce and cauliflower — Predawn
A vision — The rats become chinchillas — I stand
At the base of a cliff — sweating — flaming — in terror and joy
Surrounded in the mist — by whirling circles of dark
Chattering animals — a black lynx stares from the hole
In the cliff.
Rotten lettuce — perfume — The damp carroty street.
It is my head — These are my hands.
I don’t will it.
Out in the light — Noon — the City.
A Wall — a stronghold.
CCA was founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer in Berkeley as the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts during the height of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Arts and Crafts movement originated in Europe during the late 19th century as a response to the industrial aesthetics of the machine age. Followers of the movement advocated an integrated approach to art, design, and craft. Today, Frederick Meyer’s “practical art school” is an internationally known and respected institution, drawing students from around the world.
In 1908 the school was renamed California School of Arts and Crafts, and in 1936 it became the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC).
“WE WANT THE WORLD, AND WE WANT IT NOW”
In 1968, after years of self-imposed exile in Europe, the Living Theatre triumphantly returned to America with their theatrical breakthrough “Paradise Now.”
The sensational production, involving group nudity, marijuana smoking, advocacy of a non-violent anarchist revolution, continuous interaction with the audience and something just this side of a full-on public orgy, received attention from those far outside the normal theater-going public.
From The Living Theatre: Art, Exile, and Outrage by John Tytell (Grove Press, 1995):
Doors singer Jim Morrison and poet Michael McClure actively participated in performances of ‘Paradise Now’ at the [San Francisco Bay Area’s] Nourse Auditorium…. McClure brought Morrison to visit at [Beat poet/City Light Books founder Lawrence] Ferlinghetti’s office. Julian [Beck, of the Living Theatre} was on and off the telephone to New York, frantically worried about the money to get the troupe back to Europe where engagements has been scheduled. Quietly, Morrison offered to assist with money.
Morrison–who had read Artaud and Ginsberg in college–saw himself as a revolutionary figure. Agreeing that repression was the chief social evil in America and the cause of a general pathology, he was typical of the sectors of support The Living Theatre had received in America. [The Doors’] long improvisational song ‘When the Music’s Over’ proclaims, as in ‘Paradise Now,’ ‘We want the world, and we want it now.’ Morrison had seen every performance in Los Angeles and followed the company up to San Francisco.
“On the day after his visit with McClure, Jim Morrison gave Julian [Beck] $2,500 for the trip home…”
In 1967, I attended the first Human Be-in with my childhood friend, Nancy Van Brasch, who later became a Merry Prankster and good friend of the Kesey family. The Hell’s Angels guarded the sound equipment offstage.
The Beat Poet, Michael McClure, was a good friend of the famous Hell’s Angel, Freewheelin Frank, and did a biography about him.
Putin was the head of the KGB, Russia’s Top Cop. Putin busted and jailed a lot of folks who did not want to go along with the program. His Anti-Outlaw biker gang, the Night Wolves, are busting heads in the Crimea, they sent there to make non-conformists tow the line. These fake outlaws are cops, out to bust the counter-culture wherever they find it.
I would say every Angel in the Bay Area took LSD more than once. Putin is too chicken-shit to drop, as are his wolves.
What I recall about that day was the sun. For January it was warm and bright. Our collective good vibes was credited. We took a huge risk, tried something different than the Terrifying Cold War, that the Christniks have brought back, the Night Cops leading the way. Fuck the cops! The New Cold War is going to cost humanity trillions!
Michael McClure was a good friend of Jim Morrison. They would get fucked up on drugs and booze together. Putin and his Night Wolves are afraid to get fucked-up, but have no problems fucking-up millions of peoples lives with guns and tanks.
Ken Kesey was on a mission from the cosmos to turn the Hell’s Angels on to LSD.
“Turn on. Tune in. Drop out!”
FREEWHEELIN FRANK AT McCLURE’S PLACE
San Francisco 1966
Michael McClure introduced me to Freewheelin. They were doing a book together for Grove Press and needed a cover shot. Frank was the secretary of the San Francisco branch of the Hell’s Angels. He would dictate the book to McClure who would type the words. I liked Frank very much; he was always good to me. He gave me a Hell’s Angels protection card, just in case. He would invite me to parties, drive-in movies, etc., but I was too afraid to go.
San Francisco 1966
Freewheelin Frank and Michael McClure were writing a book together about Frank’s life as a Hell’s Angel. It is an ‘as told to’ book because although Frank was the secretary of the local chapter of the Angels, he was illiterate (but he had a steel-trap memory). I saw the unfinished manuscript on McClure’s bed and thought it was a good establishing photograph. Years later, I asked Michael why he did not use a computer in his work. He told me there would not be a hand written manuscript (typed with corrections/changes and drawings) for the archives and a diskette had no real value
The Rose of the World. The Metaphilosophy of History.) is the title of the main book by Russian mystic Daniil Andreev. It is also the name of the predicted new universal religion, to emerge and unite all people of the world before the advent of the Antichrist, described by Andreev in his book. This new interreligion, as he calls it, should unite the existing religions “like a flower unites its petals”,
GYPSY & CASSADY
Gypsy was a Hell’s Angel from Colorado, where he said he knew Dylan. Neal Cassady is lighting Gypsy’s cigarette from his, in this photograph. Both of them were talking in ‘con talk’ most of the time. Neal asks Gypsy “Hey, have you got any animals, man?” Gypsy replies that he doesn’t have any animals. Later, I asked Gypsy what Cassady asked him for and he said that Neal wanted some Camel cigarettes.
The ‘Human Be-In’ was later recalled by Allen Cohen (who assisted the artist Bowen in the organizational work,) as a necessary meld that brought together philosophically opposed factions of the current San Francisco-based counterculture: on one side, the Berkeley radicals, who were tending toward increased militancy in response to the U.S. government’s Vietnam war policies, and, on the other side, the rather non-political Haight-Ashbury hippies, who urged peaceful protest. Their means were drastically different, but they held many of the same goals.
The Human Be-In focused the key ideas of the 1960s counterculture: personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralization, communal living, ecological awareness, higher consciousness (with the aid of psychedelic drugs), acceptance of illicit drug use, and radical liberal political consciousness. The hippie movement developed out of disaffected student communities around San Francisco State, Stanford and Berkeley and in San Francisco’s beat generation poets and jazz hipsters, who also combined a search for intuitive spontaneity with a rejection of “middle-class morality”. Allen Ginsberg personified the transition between the beat and hippie generations.