On the Lives of the Beats
I recently finished reading Bill Morgan's 2007 biography of poet Allen Ginsberg I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg. It's a good read, and especially interesting because it focuses on material that became available only after Ginsberg's death in 1997, taken from his personal journals and archives.
It helps to already know something about Ginsberg's life and times before reading this biography, since it tends to skim over famous events from Ginsberg's life in order to put the emphasis on the new material never before released. The biography brings to light a number of aspects of Ginsberg such as:
- His basic insecurity. Ginsberg was always bold and socially uncompromising in public settings, often appearing to relish shocking people with his rude disregard for societal conventions. Yet his journals reveal that he was often filled with confusion and self-doubt in private.
- Ginsberg had a long term relationship with Peter Orlovsky (above left) that has often been cited as a role model of an enduring homosexual romance. However Ginsberg's journals reveal that their relationship was much rockier behind the scenes than the public ever saw, including incidents of violence.
- There are also details revealed that portray other figures of the beat generation in a different light. Jack Kerouac is shown as being much sharper in his final alcoholic phase than he is usually given credit for. Neal Cassady, previously thought to have had only a brief homosexual affair with Ginsberg, is revealed as having had a much more extensive sexual relationship, much of which was conducted in secret because Cassady was married at the time.
- Although Ginsberg was so famous that to this day he is the only modern poet that most Americans can recognize from a photograph, this book says Ginsberg was secretly jealous of the fame of rock stars and wished he could be one himself. He also apparently had a lot more private (non-sexual) interaction with Bob Dylan than was previously known.
Incidentally, when I told Springfield Republican columnist and Dylan obsessive Tom Shea (above) that I was reading this book, he told me a bit of local Ginsberg lore that I hadn't known. Apparently just after Ginsberg's death, Dylan played at Smith College in Northampton and dedicated the song "Don't Think Twice" to his old friend. Shea also reminded me that Ginsberg appeared onstage at the Springfield Civic Center in 1975 playing finger cymbals during the all-star encore for Dylan's "Rolling Thunder" tour. Here is a picture of Dylan and Ginsberg at the grave of Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts taken the day before the Springfield show.
So while I think I Celebrate Myself is a good read for the true beat generation fan in search of formerly unavailable details, the general reader would probably find this book lacking in overview and more in-depth than they would require.
Old Pine Point
Speaking of local history, here's some pictures of the Pine Point section of Springfield that people have sent me. Here is the late Yolly Nahorniak in 2008.
This is State Street just before you get to Saint Michael's Cemetery, where the road splits into Berkshire and Boston Road. A large and ancient pine tree once stood at that fork in the road, but not in the lifetime of anyone now living. The date of the photograph is unknown. I believe both of those structures shown in the picture are still standing, one is a gravestone seller (as it apparently was back then) and the other in recent years was a car lot. Dig the trolley tracks.
An undated photo of a cemetery worker in Saint Michael's.
Good advice from a St. Michael's resident.
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