Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INT: I was asking you as well about later on, about the music of people like Dylan and Baez and so on.
AG: (Overlap) Oh, yes, yes. So... in 1952, a very important time, there was an avant-garde ethno-musicologist, painter and cinema collagiste in Harry Smith, who began to make films of animated collage, using Eastern and American Indian themes, and he collected a great archive of American folk music, which was issued in 1952 on Folkways Records, a three-box set: blues, folk mountain music and what not. That influenced the entire development of folk music in America and indigenous music. Like, I think in Dylan's first album, four of those songs are drawn from Harry Smith's collection. Jerry Garcia said he learned blues from Harry Smith's collection. All of the... Ralph Rinsler, who was in charge of folk music at the Smithsonian and formerly a part of a folk music singing group in the Fifties, credits Harry Smith with having instigated the entire folk revival of the Fifties, through archival restoration of the music that had been lost commercially. That would mean Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton and all the great blues singers, and (unclear name), Elizabeth Cotton and so forth. Then there were groups like New Law City Ramblers in the Fifties, or the Almanac Singers or others, folk singers, that began carrying this message of indigenous folk music, that Dylan heard as well as, at the same time that he was hearing Kerouak's Mexico City Blues, and Dylan seemed to combine the folk radicalism with the literary sophistication of the beat writers, because he always found that Kerouak was a great inspiration, and as he said, the first poet that made him interested in poetry. I remember asking him why, and he said "It was the first poetry that spoke to me in my own American language." So, by 1960... when he came to New York, or '61, where he went was to the Gas Light Café, which is where the poets had been having poetry readings, because he thought of himself as a poet-singer, and immediately began singing at the Gas Light on McDibble Street. The Gas Light has been a gay bar, the McDibble Street Bar, then the Gas Light Coffee Shop, a poetry-folk-singer venue downstairs in the cellar on McDougal, in the middle of Greenwich Village. So Dylan came there, having read about readings that had been held by Leroy Jones, myself, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Ray Bremser and others in the Gas Light; Kerouak reading around the Village too. Apparently, that strain of poetic intelligence shot through Dylan into the entire folk music scene, combined with Harry Smith's great research, and that influenced... according to Paul McCartney, that influenced the Beatles also, as well as influencing all the British blues singers, Jagger and everybody else. The revival of classical American blues is the lineage through which you have Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger and... "I went down to the station..." - that's Robert Johnson.
So there was this recovery, like in On the Road, a recovery of the indigenous American intelligence, folk wisdom, folk wisdom and folk energy and folk exuberance and folk suffering, basically.
INT: Now I've seen film of you with people Joan Baez and Phil Oaks and so on, going down to the Oakland Draft Center. Can you tell me, in your (Overlap) protest...
AG: (Overlap) The first protests that I knew of were organized by the Living Theatre and the Catholic workers, back in the... probably late Fifties, early Sixties, against a Governor Rockefeller-decreed nuclear alert in which everybody was supposed to go and get of their houses and go down underground into the subways. And they chained themselves to the fence at Union Square and refused to go underground and be intimidated. You know, "To help prepare for a nuclear holocaust?" they said, "No way!" (Laughs) That's the earliest. Then I remember the War Resisters' League invited me and Peter Orlovsky to do a circumambulation around New York, covering the area that would be devastated by a bomb - you know, circumambulate that whole area. Then, by 1963, when I got back to [sic] Saigon, the first big peace protest that I took part in was a visit by Madam Nu, President Diem's wife - who, incidentally, was quite much involved with the opium trafficking - to the... I guess the Century Club or something like that, to give a speech in San Francisco, and we picketed her hotel, and I remember carrying a sign saying "Madam Nu and Mao Tse Tung are in the same boat of meat?" (Laughs) So it was a poetic way of getting at it, rather than anger.
By '65, there were big Berkeley war protests, organized by a group of people - I think Jerry Rubin, and many others... There was one specific guy, whose name I forgot, that was quite moving in Berkeley. So we organized large-scale mass parades which were supposed to go through the black sections of Oakland, and the police blocked our way. They didn't want blacks rising up like that. And the Hell's Angels were sort of like induced to attack the march by some right-wing Birchers.
Around... in the early year, I think Joan Baez, Dylan, Phil Oakes and others, including Abe Hoffman, had gone down South to get the vote for blacks, '63, Birmingham. I remember Hoffman said that he brought a copy of On the Road with him when he went down to Birmingham. So there was this direct action, originally for black voting rights. Then, in '64, there was like a big caravan of folk that went down to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention, for Fanny Lou Hammer and the Mississippi black caucus, who were shot out of representation by the white Missouri or Mississippi - I've forgotten. I remember Peter Orlovsky, the poet, and myself going down and picketing there, as being one of the first actions.
Then there were a series of marches in California and New York. And there were two things that emerged: the idea of a march as a spectacle or theatre, rather than angry violence, but as a way of communicating ideas. After the Hell's Angels attacked the march, we had to figure out a strategy. There were these old-line Marxists, perhaps some agents provocateurs among them, who said we should go down with bicycle chains and beat up the Brown Shirts. I made a manifesto saying: the march is a spectacle and theatre, and we should have masses of flowers, grandmothers, troops of (trained fairies?) to go and take down the Hell's Angels' pants and give them blow jobs (Laughs, floats with Lyndon Johnson and Mao Tse Tung and President Diem and Zhou Enlai and, who was the head of Vietnam? - I've forgotten...
AG: The head of North Vietnam...
(Talk about time left, etc. Cut.)
INT: So shall I just start? We're just going to carry straight on here. If you could...
AG: One thing I would like to emphasize is that we had a series of very interesting theatrical marches. In New York, a yellow submarine march, after the Beatles song, instigated by the Vietnam Veterans Organization. And many of those marches, which were peaceful and intelligent, were invaded by counter-double agents, double agents from the FBI under their counter-intelligence program. And the most loud-mouthed, violent people, screaming "Bring the war home!" or waving Viet Cong flags, or creating chaotic conditions on the march, or provoking the police, or screaming "Pigs!" were very often double agents planted by the police to disgrace those marches, and there are many, many, many files in the FBI cabinets which have been released to the public, outlining those specific capers or projects or manipulations. I remember specifically one time: there's a very famous photo of me in an American hat, an Uncle Sam hat; that was for a march that began on Bryant Park, near the Public Library in 42nd Street, and went all the way up to the Band Shell in Central Park. And although it had been organized by Women Strike for Peace and the War Resisters' League and the Vietnam Veterans, it was invaded by a group of what looked to be extreme left radicals waving Viet Cong flags, getting up in front of the march, getting all the publicity, with all the newspapers collaborating, and then, when we got to the bandstand, taking over the microphone and not letting the originators and organizers of the march speak; until after a long, long while, an hour of arguing, the police intervened, or the marchers intervened. So the folks who don't have that historical memory should remember that very important thing: the sabotage of the Government during the political conventions, during the large be-ins, during the anti-war marches, the deliberate sabotage of the left, which was more extensive than just on the street: it was like secret manipulations to discredit and make misinformation campaigns about them.
AG: One of the interesting things was... you know, we had a sort of non-political Buddhist be-in in San Francisco in February, I think it was, 1967, organized by the poets McLure, myself, Gary Snyder. Snyder had conceived of the levitation of the Pentagon to begin with, (as a) just traditional Eastern-Western white magic; and we'd had a very successful group of about 20-30,000 people meeting in the park in San Francisco. At the end, we had asked for (unclear), that everybody clean up after them, and we chanted mantras - I think it was (Chants) "Om shree maitre-ea, om shree maitre-ea," as the sun sank, and people cleaned up after themselves. And Suzuki Roshi, the great Zen master, who was sitting on the platform with us, with Snyder and myself and McLure got up and folded his robes and went home, after being with us all afternoon silent. That very night, there was a police sweep down Haight Ashbury, and the police busted everybody that had had any psychedelics or any grass; and within two weeks Haight Ashbury was flooded with amphetamine and heroin. That should be understood. It's not very well known, but you know, ask anybody that was around at the time, or read the newspapers, you'll find that kind of sabotage of the community that had been built, both in the anti-war movement and the be-in. (Clears throat) And the whole point of the be-in was not to protest anything, but just to be there. (Laughs) You know, a be-in, not a sit-in, which is a take-off on the idea of the southern sit-ins or anti-war protests later on, but just a be-in: everybody be together as a sign of - what? - equanimity ... meditation, equanimity and poetry, art.
INT: Wonderful. I'm glad you said that. So why did the whole movement go to Chicago in '68, and what was your personal experience of being there?
AG: Well, there was going to be this... what Abe Hoffman called the "Death Convention": they were going to prolong the war, maybe. At that time, Madam Nu... no, let's see... Madam Anna Shenault, a right-wing fundraiser for the Republicans, was telephoning South Vietnam President Thieu to hang on, and if Nixon got elected, he had a secret plan to end the war, but it wouldn't involve compromise with the Viet Cong - we'd destroy the Viet Cong - so he shouldn't accede to the importunities of Johnson and Humphrey and the State Department of that time, to allow Viet Cong to come to the peace table and negotiate an end to the war, as Robert Kennedy had recommended in 1966, February. That fact, that she had made those phone calls at Nixon's behest, came out during Watergate, when defending his own wire-tapping. Nixon said, "Well, President Johnson wire-tapped Madam Nu," so it was official. The secret plan to end the war, according to Daniel Ellsberg, who was working then for Kissinger... was that Nixon was going to nuke North Vietnam; and it was only prevented by the fact that they thought it would tear America apart because of all the protests in the streets that had taken place till then. By 1968, February, the Gallup polls said 52% of the American people always thought the war had been a mistake, or 52% of the American people thought the war had always been a mistake. 1968, February, Gallup poll. We organized... I think Abe Hoffman, Johnny Mitchell, David Dallenger, Jerry Rubin and myself and, most importantly, Ed Sanders of the Fugs, the rock group, intellectual rock group, and a poet, had organized a group of yippies - ay yippie! Good feeling - to have a festival of life in Chicago during the Convention, have a lot of rock 'n' roll people come and overwhelm the Democratic Convention which might support the war, with some kind of exuberance and anti-war glee that would affect the voting or the tone of America. There was a lot of sabotage of that by double agents, there was a lot of unconscious sabotage of that, I think, by some of the organizers, like Jerry Rubin, who did believe in violence but forswore it for that occasion, but it was unconscious, I think, in his mind. Later, Ed Sanders said he would never again work with anybody who believed in any kind of violence, 'cause he found it was disastrous. My role was to introduce some Eastern thought, meditation practice, and to form groups of mantra-chanting innocents, if there were any problems with the police, to, you know, create areas of calm, little islands of calm - which worked, actually; and also to be there, like with William Burroughs and Jean Genet and Terry Southern and some of the editors of Grove Press, like Richard Seeger, and David Dallinger and others, and to give moral support to the younger people. I remember I went... I was a little... I had a little trepidation, fear about it, and I went to an elder in San Francisco, the grandson of President Chester A. Arthur - Gavin Arthur was one of the sort of elders of (the mind?) in the Bay area - and asked him what he thought. And he said, "Well, if I were a young" - because he was an elder, like 65-70 - "if I were a young man, I'd consider it my obligation to go and oppose this infernal war and protest." So that sort of decided the matter - that makes sense: you know, that kind of old British honor, or something like the aristocratic honor, presidential honor. So I went, and that was my function. And the police were quite brutal and just angry... I don't know... you know, and were loosed on the protesters, who were in a relatively orderly scene. The Mayor refused to give permission for camping in the park and for the speech-making that was necessary. The police ... I think it was... The most vivid and dramatic moment to me was one evening: I was standing with Jean Genet and Burroughs, and the police cars at night began bursting on to the scene and going through barriers and pushing people away. And all of
(Interruption - Cut)
INT: So if you could start now.
(Ginsberg sings - not transcribed)
INT: Wonderful. Thank you very much.