Posts Tagged With: Allen Ginsberg

Ryan Adams, Allen Ginsberg and the random interconnectedness of all things

GinsbergPostcardWhen I was interviewing Ryan Adams back during the Whiskeytown years, he often spoke of literary influences, especially the beat poets who had fired his imagination as a teenager (which is something he still mentions in interviews to this day). One time, I recall telling him that I had interviewed Allen Ginsberg at some length years earlier and that I still had it on-tape somewhere — to which Ryan responded that, dude, he had to come over and listen to that sometime.

Alas, that never happened; and I lost the tape long ago, in one of my household moves. But fast-forward to this past January, when I came into possession of an old box full of letters (ha) I’d received over the years. One item in it was the postcard above, which Ginsberg had written and sent in 1987. That was the year I interviewed him for a feature I wrote for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, which was my first job out of graduate school. Ginsberg used to be an annual summertime fixture around Boulder, where the “Howl” author would hold court with young aspiring poets around town when he wasn’t teaching at the Naropa Institute. I had dropped by his apartment with a tape recorder one evening and Ginsberg enjoyed our conversation enough to ask for a transcript. After I sent it to his New York address a few months later, this postcard was his thank-you note.

AGtranscriptI posted a picture of it on Facebook, noting that, “As posed-with-the-gods moments from one’s back pages go, not bad.” A few days later, I heard from a representative of the Allen Ginsberg Estate; having gotten wind of the postcard, he asked about the interview. And even though I no longer had the tape, I still have a printout of the interview transcript filed in the record jacket of my vinyl copy of Ginsberg’s 1989 album The Lion for Real. I dutifully scanned and sent that (page one, printed eons ago on my then-state-of-the-art dot matrix printer, is here on the right), and the first of two parts of the interview went online this week at The Allen Ginsberg Project blog. Part one is primarily about Ginsberg’s musical history, and you can see it here; part two should be up next week.

Call me a dork, but the thought that googling my name with “Allen Ginsberg” brings up something like this puts a smile on my face.

ADDENDUM (5/18/2015): Here’s part two.

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“Poseur” traces Ryan’s track marks in New York (and New Orleans)

SpitzPoseurWhile “Losering” recounts a wild time or two from back in the day, on the whole I’d say it’s pretty tame — certainly a lot tamer than it could have been, because I was more interested in Ryan’s music than the dirt. But those seeking the dirt will find a good bit of it in “Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the ’90s” (Da Capo Press). Written by playwright/critic Marc Spitz, “Poseur” recounts the author’s posed-with-the-gods moments in the city alongside Ryan and other celebrities including Joe Strummer, Chloe Sevigny, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Collette and Julian Casablancas (go here to see capsule summaries of the namedrops, plus a map showing where much of this happened).

But the book’s most vivid descriptions of Ryan come from New Orleans, where Spitz went in 2003 to report on sessions for what eventually emerged as the album Love Is Hell. That was a dark, grim time for Ryan, and Spitz writes about the experience in fairly harrowing detail. A sample:

Only two years earlier, he’d been the boyish kid playing his acoustic guitar in front of the Twin Towers four days before they were hit. But he’d gotten strung out on heroin and cocaine and gone semi-mad after the release of his first two solo albums, Heartbreaker and Gold…[H]e’d East Villaged up, recorded a version of [The Strokes’] Is This It on a Casio-type keyboard, picked fights with more successful and still-mainstream artists like John Mayer, and run wild all over Manhattan by night. Like all of us, Ryan had Strokes envy, and now he was sharing their manager – and I guess some of their drug habits…He was barely in control of his considerable talent, pretty, and flirting with death as a way to figure out who he truly was, but not interested in the answer at the expense of the drama…he had a beautiful and true voice when he let himself go there, but he got caught up in imitating either his heroes or those more firmly and comfortably entrenched in the zeitgeist…

 Down in New Orleans, putting up track orders and then changing them, taking lunch orders and then changing them, poor Ryan was a dervish of rock-and-roll ADHD. The guy could not sit still and was unable to unload his head fast enough…He was a low-life, as desired, but his brain was so teeming, he never slept or felt at peace and kept not dying. He was a mess.

There’s plenty more where that came from, most of it unbearably sad and depressing — all the moreso because the depravity rings very true. Here’s the story Spitz wrote about it at the time. A couple of years later, the New York Times would announce a story about Ryan sobering up with the headline,  “Ryan Adams Didn’t Die.”

ADDENDUM (2/4/2017): “Poseur” author Marc Spitz has died at age 47.

SECOND ADDENDUM (5/15/2017): Wow, a claim that Ryan got a member of The Strokes hooked on heroine.

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