Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Allen Ginsberg live via streamed audio

Philip Glass' Symphony No. 6 - Plutonian Ode was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Brucknerhaus Linz to celebrate the composer's 65th birthday. The work's libretto was written by his late friend, Allen Ginsberg, and Glass takes up the story: 'During the last ten years of Allen's life we had performed frequently together in poetry/music collaborations. Allen was a superb reader of his own work and I was often inspired to compose new piano music for these occasional collaborations. In the case of Hydrogen Jukebox, we developed an evening length opera which was designed by Jerome Sirlin and directed by Ann Carlson. We presented that work in over 30 cities as part of an international tour. It had been our plan to make a new, major collaboration based on his epic poem Plutonium Ode (1978). Before he died in 1997, Allen had made several recordings for me of the poem in preparation for the new work. At that time I had in mind simply an extended piano work to accompany Allen in live performance. I put aside the project in 1997, feeling that I wouldn't want to go ahead without Allen. '

But the opportunity then came to make the present recording as Philip Glass explains: 'A few years passed and the commission of a new symphony from Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz reawakened my interest in the project. I felt, then, that Plutonium Ode was unfinished business between Allen and myself and this would be the opportunity to complete it. By then, the piano music I had originally imagined had grown to a full orchestra and Allen's resonant speaking voice to a lyric soprano. The three movements of the symphony follow the three parts of the poem, and follow, also, the passage of the poem -- the first movement is a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second a turn towards healing, and the final movement an epiphany arrived at through personal transformation.'

The new world-premiere recording from Orange Mountain (photo below), performed by soprano Lauren Flanigan accompanied by the Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, brings this powerful work to life. The set includes a disc of Allen Ginsberg reading the original poem. Here to complement this excellent new release is Ginsberg's poem America (with parental warning on lyrics). But the words are only part of the story, for the full impact follow this link to hear Allen Ginsberg himself reciting the complete poem in nine minutes of streamed audio. Do listen to it, it is the most powerful performance you will hear for years. Just one of the free streamed recordings available on the wonderful new Poetry Archive web site which celebrates the music of words.

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and twentyfive thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations. That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.


America is published in Collected Poems 1947-1980 (Harper & Row, 1984), and the version here is taken from the web site Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) is a non-partisan international grouping of medical organisations dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. They work with the long-term victims of nuclear explosions and accidents from Hiroshima to Chernobyl, and their work has been recognised with the 1984 UNESCO Peace Prize, and 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. For the last 21 years IPPNW-Concerts has been working from its Berlin office with top musicians world-wide to raise funds for their work. The organisation is run by medical practitioner Dr Peter Hauber and his wife.

As well as being a fantastic cause there is some music well worth exploring available on IPPNW-Concerts' own CD label, and in co-productions with Swedish label BIS. These are all live recordings of concerts promoted by IPPNW over the years. There are forty-nine CDs in the catalogue with composers ranging from Monteverdi to Elliot Carter. Of particular relevance to this article is Wort und Musik - 60 Jahre nach Hiroshima. This is a live recording made at the March 2005 'Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project' which mixes readings in German from a range of authors including Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and Sadako Kurihara with relevent music including the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 and Schubert’s Quartettsatz. On 24th April IPPNW have a fund raising concert in the Philharmonie Berlin with the Grammy winning baritone Thomas Quasthoff singing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. All proceeds from this concert and the sale of their CDs benefit those in dire need as a result of war, industrial and natural catastrophe. Need I say more?

Text on Glass' Sixth Symphony and cover shot from
Orange Mountain. Image credits - Allen Ginsberg Trust. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post follow An Overgrown Path to The Winter's Tale * For unto us a child is born * Farewell to Stromness *
'Tis the gift to be free * The radiance of a thousand suns *

3 comments:

Pliable said...

I was pleased, but I must confess surprised, that news aggregator Topix.net didn't 'black' this article becasue of the mutiple use of the word 'fuck' in the Allen Ginsberg poem.

Nice to see the story has shown up on their Allen Ginsberg news feed.

Berend de Boer said...

That poem reads like a typical post on the DailyKos website.

Pliable said...

Here's a hot link for those wishing to explore the DailyKos blog mentioned by Berend.

And another overgrown path beckons - writing that reminds me of a wonderful holiday spent on the beautiful Greek island of Kos many years ago.