Conrad Knickerbocker, Interview: William S. Burroughs, 35 The Paris Review (1965)

•           Interviewer:When and why did you start to write?
•           William S. Burroughs:I started to write in about 1950; I was thirty-five at the time; there didn't seem to be any strong motivation. I simply was endeavoring to put down in a more or less straightforward journalistic style something about my experiences with addiction and addicts.

•           Interviewer:Why did you start taking drugs?
•           William S. Burroughs:Well, I was just bored. I didn't seem to have much interest in becoming a successful advertising executive or whatever, or living the kind of life Harvard designs for you. After I became addicted in New York in 1944, things began to happen. I got in some trouble with the law, got married, moved to New Orleans, and then went to Mexico.

•           Interviewer:There seems to be a great deal of middle-class voyeurism in this country concerning addiction, and in the literary world, downright reverence for the addict. You apparently don't share these points of view.
•           William S. Burroughs:No, most of it is nonsense. I think drugs are interesting principally as chemical means of altering metabolism and thereby altering what we call reality, which I would define as a more or less constant scanning pattern.

•           Interviewer:What do you think of the hallucinogens and the new psychedelic drugs—LSD-25?
•           William S. Burroughs:I think they're extremely dangerous, much more dangerous than heroin. They can produce overwhelming anxiety states. I've seen people try to throw themselves out of windows; whereas the heroin addict is mainly interested in staring at his own toe. Other than deprivation of the drug, the main threat to him is an overdose. I've tried most of the hallucinogens without an anxiety reaction, fortunately. LSD-25 produced results for me similar to mescaline. Like all hallucinogens, LSD gave me an increased awareness, more a hallucinated viewpoint than any actual hallucination. You might look at a doorknob and it will appear to revolve, although you are conscious that this is the result of the drug. Also, van Goghish colors, with all those swirls, and the crackle of the universe.

•           Interviewer:Have you read Henri Michaux's book on mescaline?
•           William S. Burroughs:His idea was to go into his room and close the door and hold in the experiences. I had my most interesting experiences with mescaline when I got outdoors and walked around—colors, sunsets, gardens. It produces a terrible hangover, though, nasty stuff. It makes one ill and interferes with coordination. I've had all the interesting effects I need, and I don't want any repetition of those extremely unpleasant physical reactions.

•           Interviewer:The visions of drugs and the visions of art don't mix?
•           William S. Burroughs:Never. The hallucinogens produce visionary states, sort of, but morphine and its derivatives decrease awareness of inner processes, thoughts, and feelings. They are painkillers, pure and simple. They are absolutely contraindicated for creative work, and I include in the lot alcohol, morphine, barbiturates, tranquilizers—the whole spectrum of sedative drugs. As for visions and heroin, I had a hallucinatory period at the very beginning of addiction, for instance, a sense of moving at high speed through space. But as soon as addiction was established, I had no visions—vision—at all and very few dreams.

•           Interviewer:Why did you stop taking drugs?
•           William S. Burroughs:I was living in Tangier in 1957, and I had spent a month in a tiny room in the Casbah staring at the toe of my foot. The room had filled up with empty Eukodol cartons; I suddenly realized I was not doing anything. I was dying. I was just apt to be finished. So I flew to London and turned myself over to Dr. John Yerbury Dent for treatment. I'd heard of his success with the apomorphine treatment. Apomorphine is simply morphine boiled in hydrochloric acid; it's nonaddictive. What the apomorphine did was to regulate my metabolism. It's a metabolic regulator. It cured me physiologically. I'd already taken the cure once at Lexington, and although I was off drugs when I got out, there was a physiological residue. Apomorphine eliminated that. I've been trying to get people in this country interested in it, but without much luck. The vast majority—social workers, doctors—have the cop's mentality toward addiction. A probation officer in California wrote me recently to inquire about the apomorphine treatment. I'll answer him at length. I always answer letters like that.

•           Interviewer:Have you had any relapses?
•           William S. Burroughs:Yes, a couple. Short. Both were straightened out with apomorphine, and now heroin is no temptation for me. I'm just not interested. I've seen a lot of it around. I know people who are addicts. I don't have to use any willpower. Dr. Dent always said there is no such thing as willpower. You've got to reach a state of mind in which you don't want it or need it.

•           Interviewer:You regard addiction as an illness but also a central human fact, a drama?
•           William S. Burroughs:Both, absolutely. It's as simple as the way in which anyone happens to become an alcoholic. They start drinking, that's all. They like it, and they drink, and then they become alcoholic. I was exposed to heroin in New York—that is, I was going around with people who were using it; I took it; the effects were pleasant. I went on using it and became addicted. Remember that if it can be readily obtained, you will have any number of addicts. The idea that addiction is somehow a psychological illness is, I think, totally ridiculous. It's as psychological as malaria. It's a matter of exposure. People, generally speaking, will take any intoxicant or any drug that gives them a pleasant effect if it is available to them. In Iran, for instance, opium was sold in shops until quite recently, and they had three million addicts in a population of twenty million. There are also all forms of spiritual addiction. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, that is, if we have sufficient knowledge of the processes involved. Many policemen and narcotics agents are precisely addicted to power, to exercising a certain nasty kind of power over people who are helpless. The nasty sort of power-- white junk, I call it—rightness; they're right, right, right—and if they lost that power, they would suffer excruciating withdrawal symptoms. The picture we get of the whole Russian bureaucracy, people who are exclusively preoccupied with power and advantage, this must be an addiction. Suppose they lose it? Well, it's been their whole life.

•           Interviewer:Can you amplify your idea of junk as image?
•           William S. Burroughs:It's only a theory and, I feel, an inadequate one. I don't think anyone really understands what a narcotic is or how it works, how it kills pain. My idea is sort of a stab in the dark. As I see it, what has been damaged in pain is, of course, the image, and morphine must in some sense replace this. We know it blankets the cells and that addicts are practically immune to certain viruses, to influenza and respiratory complaints. This is simple because the influenza virus has to make a hole in the cell receptors. When those are covered, as they are in morphine addiction, the virus can't get in. As soon as morphine is withdrawn, addicts will immediately come down with colds and often with influenza.

•           Interviewer:Certain schizophrenics also resist respiratory disease.
•           William S. Burroughs:A long time ago I suggested there were similarities in terminal addiction and terminal schizophrenia. That was why I made the suggestion that they addict these people to heroin, then withdraw it and see if they could be motivated; in other words, find out whether they'd walk across the room and pick up a syringe. Needless to say, I didn't get very far, but I think it would be interesting.

•           Interviewer:Narcotics, then, disturb normal perception—
•           William S. Burroughs:And set up instead a random craving for images. If drugs weren't forbidden in America, they would be the perfect middle-class vice. Addicts would do their work and come home to consume the huge dose of images awaiting them in the mass media. Junkies love to look at television. Billie Holiday said she knew she was going off drugs when she didn't like to watch TV. Or they'll sit and read a newspaper or magazine, and by God, read it all. I knew this old junkie in New York, and he'd go out and get a lot of newspapers and magazines and some candy bars and several packages of cigarettes and then he'd sit in his room and he'd read those newspapers and magazines right straight through. Indiscriminately. Every word.

•           Interviewer:Marshall McLuhan said that you believed heroin was needed to turn the human body into an environment that includes the universe. But from what you've told me, you're not at all interested in turning the body into an environment.
•           William S. Burroughs:No, junk narrows consciousness. The only benefit to me as a writer (aside from putting me into contact with the whole carny world) came to me after I went off it. What I want to do is to learn to see more of what's out there, to look outside, to achieve as far as possible a complete awareness of surroundings. Beckett wants to go inward. First he was in a bottle and now he is in the mud. I am aimed in the other direction—outward.

•           Interviewer:Mary McCarthy has commented on the carnival origins of your characters in Naked Lunch. What are their other derivations?
•           William S. Burroughs:The carny world was the one I exactly intended to create—a kind of midwestern, small-town, cracker-barrel, pratfall type of folklore, very much my own background. That world was an integral part of America and existed nowhere else, at least not in the same form. My family was southern on my mother's side. My grandfather was a circuit-riding Methodist minister with thirteen children. Most of them went up to New York and became quite successful in advertising and public relations. One of them, an uncle, was a master image maker, Ivy Lee, Rockefeller's publicity manager.

•           Interviewer:Earlier you mentioned that if junk had done nothing else, it at least put you in contact with the carny world.
•           William S. Burroughs:Yes, the underworld, the old-time thieves, pickpockets, and people like that. They're a dying race; very few of those old-timers left. Yeah, well, they were show business.

•           Interviewer:What's the difference between the modern junkie versus the 1944 junkie?
•           William S. Burroughs:For one thing, all these young addicts; that was quite unknown in 1944. Most of the ones I knew were middle-aged men or old. I knew some of the old-time pickpockets and sneak thieves and shortchange artists. They had something called The Bill, a shortchange deal. I've never been able to figure out how it works. One man I knew beat all the cashiers in Grand Central with this thing. It starts with a twenty-dollar bill. You give them a twenty-dollar bill and then when you get the change you say, “Well, wait a minute, I must have been dreaming, I've got the change after all.” First thing you know, the cashier's short ten dollars. One day this shortchange artist went to Grand Central, even though he knew it was burned down, but he wanted to change twenty dollars. Well, a guy got on the buzzer and they arrested him. When they got up in court and tried to explain what had happened, none of them could do it. I keep stories like this in my files.

•           Interviewer:Do you think of the artist at all as being a con man?
•           William S. Burroughs:In a sense. You see, a real con man is a creator. He creates a set. No, a con man is more a movie director than a writer. The Yellow Kid created a whole set, a whole cast of characters, a whole brokerage house, a whole bank. It was just like a movie studio.

•           Interviewer:What about addicts?
•           William S. Burroughs:Well, there will be a lot of morphine addiction. Remember that there were a great many addicts at that time. Jesse James was an addict. He started using morphine for a wound in his lung, and I don't know whether he was permanently addicted, but he tried to kill himself. He took sixteen grains of morphine and it didn't kill him, which indicates a terrific tolerance. So he must have been fairly heavily addicted. A dumb, brutal hick; that's what he was, like Dillinger. And there were so many genteel old ladies who didn't feel right unless they had their Dr. Jones mixture every day.

•           Interviewer:What other character types interest you?
•           William S. Burroughs:Not the people in advertising and television, nor the American postman or middle-class housewife; not the young man setting forth. The whole world of high finance interests me, the men such as Rockefeller who were specialized types of organisms that could exist in a certain environment. He was really a moneymaking machine, but I doubt that he could have made a dime today because he required the old laissez-faire capitalism. He was a specialized monopolistic organism. My uncle Ivy created images for him. I fail to understand why people like J. Paul Getty have to come on with such a stuffy, uninteresting image. He decides to write his life history. I've never read anything so dull, so absolutely devoid of any spark. Well, after all, he was quite a playboy in his youth. There must have been something going on. None of it's in the book. Here he is, the only man of enormous wealth who operates alone, but there's nobody to present the image. Well, yes, I wouldn't mind doing that sort of job myself. I'd like to take somebody like Getty and try to find an image for him that would be of some interest. If Getty wants to build an image, why doesn't he hire a first-class writer to write his story? For that matter, advertising has a long way to go. I'd like to see a story by Norman Mailer or John O'Hara which just makes some mention of a product, say, Southern Comfort. I can see the O'Hara story. It would be about someone who went into a bar and asked for Southern Comfort; they didn't have it, and he gets into a long, stupid argument with the bartender. It shouldn't be obtrusive; the story must be interesting in itself so that people read this just as they read any story in Playboy, and Southern Comfort would be guaranteed that people will look at that advertisement for a certain number of minutes. You see what I mean? They'll read the story. Now, there are many other ideas; you could have serialized comic strips, serial stories. Well, all we have to do is have James Bond smoking a certain brand of cigarettes.

•           Interviewer:In some respects, Nova Express seems to be a prescription for social ailments. Do you see the need, for instance, of biologic courts in the future?
•           William S. Burroughs:Certainly. Science eventually will be forced to establish courts of biologic mediation, because life-forms are going to become more incompatible with the conditions of existence as man penetrates further into space. Mankind will have to undergo biologic alterations ultimately, if we are to survive at all. This will require biologic law to decide what changes to make. We will simply have to use our intelligence to plan mutations, rather than letting them occur at random. Because many such mutations—look at the saber-toothed tiger—are bound to be very poor engineering designs. The future, decidedly, yes. I think there are innumerable possibilities, literally innumerable. The hope lies in the development of nonbody experience and eventually getting away from the body itself, away from three-dimensional coordinates and concomitant animal reactions of fear and flight, which lead inevitably to tribal feuds and dissension.

•           Interviewer:You see hope for the human race, but at the same time you are alarmed as the instruments of control become more sophisticated.
•           William S. Burroughs:Well, whereas they become more sophisticated they also become more vulnerable. Time, Life, Fortune applies a more complex, effective control system than the Mayan calendar, but it also is much more vulnerable because it is so vast and mechanized. Not even Henry Luce understands what's going on in the system now. Well, a machine can be redirected. One technical sergeant can fuck up the whole works. Nobody can control the whole operation. It's too complex. The captain comes in and says, “All right, boys, we're moving up.” Now, who knows what buttons to push? Who knows how to get the cases of Spam up to where they're going, and how to fill out the forms? The sergeant does. The captain doesn't know. As long as there're sergeants around, the machine can be dismantled, and we may get out of all this alive yet.

•           Interviewer:Sex seems equated with death frequently in your work.
•           William S. Burroughs:That is an extension of the idea of sex as a biologic weapon. I feel that sex, like practically every other human manifestation, has been degraded for control purposes, or really for antihuman purposes. This whole Puritanism. How are we ever going to find out anything about sex scientifically, when a priori the subject cannot even be investigated? It can't even be thought about or written about. That was one of the interesting things about Reich. He was one of the few people who ever tried to investigate sex—sexual phenomena, from a scientific point of view. There's this prurience and this fear of sex. We know nothing about sex. What is it? Why is it pleasurable? What is pleasure? Relief from tension? Well, possibly.

•           Interviewer:Mary McCarthy has characterized you as a soured utopian. Is that accurate?
•           William S. Burroughs:I do definitely mean what I say to be taken literally, yes, to make people aware of the true criminality of our times, to wise up the marks. All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable. Like the advertising people we talked about, I'm concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image to create an action, not to go out and buy a Coca-Cola, but to create an alteration in the reader's consciousness. You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I'm creating an imaginary—it's always imaginary—world in which I would like to live.

#william s. burroughs

Eight things you didn’t know about the Beat Generation.

Eight things you didn’t know about the Beat Generation.
by Brady Barrow

When many people think of The Beat Generation,  they think of the same four things: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlighetti. The icons who passed the torch to the hippie movement in San Francisco have been honored in San Francisco's Beat Museum, founded by Jerry Cimino. He spoke in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library about everything you need to know about the legendary poets, writers and artists. Here are 8 things, according to Cimino, you likely didn’t know about the Beat Generation.

1.    In the original scroll of On the Road, the first line addresses the death of the father of the main character, Jack. The line was changed to “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up” probably it was edgier and would attract more readers. “Dean” is Kerouac’s real-life friend Neal Cassady.

2.     The original Beat Museum was located in Monterey, spawned from Cimino's wife’s  bookstore.

3.     The term “beat” came about after World War II. Kerouac reconfigured  the definition from tired or exhausted, to beatific, meaning blissfully happy.

4.     The first edition of “Howl”was printed in England by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a Big Sur resident, to avoid prosecution from the U.S. government. Later, he thought he might get arrested for "Howl" so he sent a pre-released copy to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). The publicity surrounding the Howl obscenity trial gave the Beat Generation massive attention.

5.     Many argue that  poet Charles Bukowski is not a Beat. That was confirmed by Beat Generation expert Cimino: Bukowski was officially not a Beat and was loathe to be identified as such, but at the same time Cimino says he was “the most Beat guy you would want to know.”

6.     Jack Kerouac didn’t speak English until he was six. His native language was French; he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts to French-Canadian parents.  

7.     Jack Kerouac was a sexual partner with Allen Ginsberg when Kerouac was drunk. Cimino said Kerouac never wrote about it.
8.     Beat figure Neal Cassady partly inspired the character R.P. McMurphy from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but questions surround that claim because the book was published before they met. Kesey revealed that the story is half true; he hadn’t met Neal when he wrote the book, but his McMurphy was inspired by Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road.

I swear I hate to brag and I’m not really, I’m sharing my joy and wonder with all of you.

No Time to Say Goodbye: A Memoir of a Life in Foster Care

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Beatnik Shindig to include session on William S. Burroughs


The upcoming Beatnik Shindig in San Francisco will include a session on William S. Burroughs, a prominent Beat writer whose family roots are in the Grantville area.
The Beatnik Shindig will be held June 26-28. Friends of the Beat Museum in San Francisco, which has exhibits related to Burroughs and other Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, is sponsoring the event.
The Shindig is set to be the “largest Beat Generation conference in over 20 years,” said Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum. There will be 36 sessions with 40-plus speakers at locations in North Beach and at Fort Mason Center.
The Beatnik Shindig “is designed to appeal to a broad audience – novices, experts, scholars and casual observers alike – to gather, network, interact, learn and have fun,” Cimino said. “Interest in the Beat Generation today is growing, especially with younger people, likely because the themes of the Beats are timeless – travel, exploration, a search for self, sexual identity and a spiritual quest.”
Cimino noted issues such as racial equality, gender equality, gay and lesbian rights and environmentalism were a focus for the Beat writers decades before they were addressed by the culture at large. “The Beats influenced everyone – starting with Bob Dylan and The Beatles and – along with the Hippies – were the first groups of non-conformists to come of age with electronic media – radio and television – so their message went around the world,” he said.
“The Beats were and still are considered to be the true hipsters,” Cimino said.
David Meltzer, a Beat writer and poet, and the children of Neal and Carolyn Cassady will be part of the events. Al Hinkle, who knew Burroughs, Cassady, Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg well, will also be a participant.
Poets, a jazz stage, “rare book vendors as well as a cafe and bar” and a car show sponsored by the Hudson Club of Northern California are planned, Cimino said.
V. Vale and Marian Wallace will be the panelists for “William S. Burroughs: ‘We Intend to Destroy All Dogmatic Verbal Systems’” on June 27. Vale, who knew Burroughs, is the founder of RE/Search Publications, publisher of books documenting modern primitives and other subcultures, cult music and films, pranks, punk rock, Burroughs and J.G. Ballard.
In 1977, while working at City Lights Bookstore, Vale began publishing “Search and Destroy,” which became a seminal zine documenting the San Francisco punk rock movement. Vale is host of a public-access television talk show, “Counter Culture Hour,” in San Francisco.
Wallace is a writer, producer and co-publisher of RE/Search Publications with Vale. She produces “The Counter Culture Hour.”
Burroughs (1914-1997) grew up in St. Louis, Mo. His mother, Laura Lee Burroughs, was the daughter of Dr. James Wideman Lee, a prominent Methodist minister.
Lee was born in Gwinnett County but came to live with relatives at Lone Oak in Meriwether County as a boy after his father died. He graduated from Grantville High School, then went to Emory University where he earned his degree in 1874. Lee pastored large churches in Atlanta and St. Louis and published several books during his lifetime.

Jerry Cimino, founder of the Beat Museum, on Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, et al.

by Walter Ryce

Last November, a letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac—a letter of 16,000 words across 18 single-spaced pages, a letter that was said to have inspired Kerouac's famed stream of consciousness style in On the Road—after having been lost for 60 years, was found.
It was buried among a trove of papers and documents from a defunct publishing company. The publishing company's owner entrusted those papers to a neighbor. When that neighbor later died, his daughter, rifling through the piles looking for insurance papers, found the letter.
It's called the "Joan Anderson letter."
"A guy by the name of Gerd Stern was blamed for losing it," Beat Museum founder Jerry Cimino tells the Weekly. "Can you imagine? Everyone thinking that you were responsible for losing one of the most important literary [artifacts] of the 20th century. For 60 years?"
Luckily, Stern lived to see the letter resurface. But it's a testament that the storied Beat culture from which it came was not so long ago that people who were there are still alive. The culture, itself, is still alive. Cimino is partly responsible for that.
He's one of the preeminent authorities (and, it becomes apparent, fans) of the Beat Generation. Those men of the Beat Generation (they were mostly men) who opened another course in contemporary literature (it was mostly literature) by rejecting conformity, embracing jazz and Eastern spirituality, being explicit, living carefree, doing drugs, seeking sexual gratification, drinking and smoking. And writing. It would have all been for naught if not for the incandescent, grimy, swinging writing.
They included people like Herbert Huncke and William S. Burroughs (who are credited with inspiring the whole lot of them), Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, who was considered the connective person between the Beats and the hippies. There are others. Many others.
Cimino will talk about them in two sessions at Henry Miller Library this Sunday as part of their new Under the Persimmon Tree lecture series.
He spoke to the Weekly first.

Weekly: Where did the Beat Museum begin?
Jerry Cimino: Before we built the Beat Museum, my wife and I lived in Monterey. She had a bookstore in the '90s: the Monterey Coffeehouse Bookshop, opened in 1991 on upper Alvarado, where Green's Camera was. The Beat Museum grew out of that book store. We held a lot events. I put together a Beat culture presentation and slide show and 150 people showed up. I was shocked. I realized, man this Beat stuff is more popular than you would expect.

How did the move to San Francisco happen?
We opened the Beat Museum in 2003 in Monterey, near Subway. We tried it out in a little extra space in my wife's business. I always knew that if it had a chance to be anything, it had to be in San Francisco, as close to City Lights Bookstore as possible. The next summer I bought a large RV, The Beat Museum on Wheels, and traveled the country with Neal Cassady's son, John, a friend. And we talked to high school kids about the Merry Pranksters. After our second year of doing that, I found an amazing location 100 feet away from City Lights. We've become a mainstay of North Beach since.

What is the Beat Museum like? Is it a museum or a store?
Friends of the Beat Museum is a nonprofit, 10 years old. It supports the Beat Museum, which is two stories—a museum on top and a gift shop, a store, below. It's not like the deYoung or MoMA. Most of our artifacts have been donated to us. It's a low-budget operation.
The day it opened on Franklin Street, a guy walks in the door and hands me a record album. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, red vinyl, first edition. I said 'This is worth $300. I don't have the cash.' He said 'I don't want cash, you gotta put it on your wall.' And that's how it plays out. Every week someone brings us something else. 'This belonged to Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac.' The director of On the Road gave us a car that was used in the making of the film, a '49 Hudson Commodore, what Neal would have driven. The race cars of their day. He liked speed.

What's in there?
Someone donated Allen Ginsberg's typewriter. That same gentleman brought us a shirt Bob Dylan gave to Allen Ginsberg on the Rolling Thunder tour. That's neat. We've got the famous Rawling referee shirt Neal wore in 1964 when he drove the bus. People come from all over to genuflect on that shirt. The Beats were always wearing these striped shirts. Ken Babbs and Ken Kesey would have worn them. Babbs gave this to John Cassady. Mountain Girl was there. They had a ceremony. We have paintings and manuscripts, correspondence. Photographs by Fred McDarrah. He worked for The Village Voice. He knew all the Beats from New York before they came out to the Bay Area.

What's been the influence of the Beats?
Most people think it's literary phenomenon. Every time a high school kid walks into the door and they haven't heard of the Beats, I tell them Johnny Depp has Jack tattooed on his arm. His character in The Pirates of the Caribbean is named Jack Sparrow because of Jack Kerouac. The Beatles changed the spelling of their name from the Silver Beetles to The Beatles because of the Beats. Dylan wanted to be Allen Ginsberg. Beyond that, the values, mores and themes that the Beats espoused morphed into the hippie era. Racial equality, gay and lesbian rights, environmentalism. They were the outliers, the nonconformists. Their influence went wide. They came of age in the era of radio and TV. That's why their message was so far reaching.
The museum is sponsoring a big event in San Francisco. What is it?
This year, we decided it was time to branch out and start something new. My parents are in their late 80s. Beats are that age. I wanted to get as many of them exposure. So the Beatnik Shindig was born [June 26-28, Fort Mason Center and North Beach.] David Amram is a headliner. He's a musician, a friend of Jack Kerouac. He was in the 1959 movie by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie called Pull My Daisy, starring Allen Ginsberg and Jack doing a spontaneous narration. A rap.
This will be the very first time we've done it. It's the largest Beat gathering since 1995 at NYU. I contacted many of the main Beats and asked if they would be up for this and they said yes. David Amaram, ruth weiss was a Beat Generation poet, around in the '50s. Herb Caen called her the "goddess of the Beat Generation." David Meltzer was a Beat poet. The Cassady family will be there. Another speaker will be Al Hinkle. He was Big Ed Dunkle in On the Road. He was best friends with Neal. I've known Al for 25 years. One of the neat speakers, Dr. Philip Hicks, was the psychiatrist working with Allen Ginsberg in 1955 when Allen said "I'm making a lot of money in advertising and dating lots of women. I think I'd rather write poetry and date men." Hicks said it's ok to be an authentic person, be real. Allen wrote "Howl" that same month. There will be dozens and dozens of poets, jazz musicians, record producers.

What are you going to talk about and read at Henry Miller Library?
I'll definitley be reading. I'm sure from Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Kerouac. I can't tell you which specific poems. Bits of "Howl" and "Coney Island" and On the Road. I take feedback from the audience. I love reading "Footnote to Howl," an amazing adjunct: "The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!" There was an obscenity trial where the judge said, "All he's saying is everything in the world is holy, including the human body, and he names it by parts: He's not trying to get a rise out of you. He's trying to get your attention."

Did Henry Miller figure into the Beat scene?
Henry Miller wrote a letter to Viking Publishing and said "I really like this new book you put out by this new guy, called Dharma Bums." They asked him to write the introduction to the next book, The Subterraneans. There's the Big Sur connection. Kerouac wrote a tragic book called Big Sur. The two never met. Ferlinghetti arranged for Jack to have dinner with Henry Miller. Jack got drunk in Vesuvio instead, next door to City Lights. All the Beats used to drink there.

Jerry Cimino will present "The Beat Generation in America" 4pm Sunday and "This is the Beat Generation" multimedia presentation 7:3pm Sunday at Henry Miller Library, 25 miles south of Carmel and 1/4 mile south of Nepenthe, Big Sur. Donation appreciated. 667-2574 to reserve. 

At 96, Poet And Beat Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti Isn't Done Yet

 Lawrence Ferlinghetti lives in a modest second-story walk-up in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. Hanging on his walls are his doctorate from the Sorbonne, an unframed Paul Gaugin print and posters of celebrated poetry readings dating back to the days when he personified a hip, literate and rebellious San Francisco. Not that he's nostalgic.
"Everything was better than it is when you're old," he says.
Sixty years ago, Ferlinghetti, now 96, was the principal publisher of an iconoclastic band of writers and poets known as the Beat Generation. Today, he's still co-owner of City Lights, one of the most celebrated independent book stores in America. These are quieter days for the internationally acclaimed poet and painter. His eyes are going, but his mind and humor are sharp. And while he may have slowed down some, he's still publishing three books this year.
Ferlinghetti is generous with his time, and he greets this reporter's visit with a surprise. "I see you've got those reporter's notebooks," he says. "I wrote a whole novel here in these reporter's notebooks — 78 of them there." (We'll get to back to his unfinished novel a bit later.)
From his desk window, Ferlinghetti surveys his North Beach neighborhood, which he says is changing just like the rest of San Francisco. Take for example his favorite neighborhood coffee shop, where he says no one talks to anyone else anymore because they're all staring at a screen. "Yesterday morning I was walking down there and a guy passed me. I said, 'Good morning;' he didn't even look at me. He just went right on past," he recalls with a laugh.
The guy probably didn't know he was ignoring the man who helped spark a literary revolution. Ferlinghetti was a young bookstore owner in 1956 when he first published Allen Ginsberg's iconic Beat-era poem, "Howl." It was a sexually explicit critique of American materialism, and its publication landed Ferlinghetti and an associate in hot water. They were busted for selling obscene literature and their trial drew international attention.
"And then Judge Horn rendered his decision that a book could not be considered obscene if it had the slightest redeeming social significance," Ferlinghetti says. It was a redeeming victory for the young bookseller.
Ferlinghetti's own ideas about freedom were forged as a Navy lieutenant commander in World War II. He saw action in Normandy, France, and the ruins of Nagasaki, Japan. "That made me an instant pacifist," he says.
The "Howl" trial also brought national attention to what would be called the Beat Generation, which included writers like William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ferlinghetti says he never considered himself a part of that movement because his poetry was less frenetic than the Beats. Take the poem "Constantly Risking Absurdity (No. 15)" from his first book of poetry, 1958's A Coney Island of the Mind:

A Coney Island of the Mind was translated into more than a dozen languages. It would sell more than a million copies, making Ferlinghetti arguably the best-selling American poet of the last century. Yet when you mention his name today, many San Franciscans will likely point to City Lights, his landmark book store in North Beach.
Paul Yamasaki has been working in the bookstore for 45 years, but he says, "The last five years have been the best five years in City Lights bookstore's economic history in terms of sales." He walks through the store's many nooks and crannies, crammed full of books from floor to ceiling, passing by City Lights' fiercely loyal customer base.
He says, "I think the essence of what Lawrence does is really looking at literature that represents both hope and resistance and the broader possibilities of a just world, you know, that also embraces literary excellence."
What the customers won't see is Ferlinghetti himself. At 96, he rarely visits the bookstore anymore, but he still lunches regularly with friends and keeps a brisk schedule with visitors. And 2015 is a busy year: He's publishing a 60th anniversary edition of the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, a collection of poetry packaged to fit into anyone's back pocket or purse; a book of selected correspondence between himself and Allen Ginsberg; and Writing Across the Landscape, a compilation of his travel journals dating back to 1944.

And then of course there's the novel he's working on — the one that's still in all those notebooks. "I'm writing a stream of consciousness novel," he says. "It's an endless novel and may never be finished. It could be called Portrait of the Artist as an Old Red." An Old Red the likes of which San Francisco may never see again.