Monday, August 22, 2016

College Radio (1975) Allen Ginsberg/Piri Thomas

Allen Ginsberg
Piri Thomas

I have interviewed hundreds of poets and writers over the years—but I can remember my first subjects back in 1975—when I had a short-lived campus radio show “Idea Exchange.” I had a lot of fun working for the station. I remember being expelled from the office of a conservative Buffalo city councilman for challenging his proposed ban on nude magazines, by pointing out that there were a lot of nudes in the city’s Museum of Fine Arts. Then I met Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was on campus at the State University College at Buffalo—so I went to see him. There I saw him dressed in a white gown, with fringes of very long hair, and a balding crown. He and a group of others were banging on Hare Krishna drums—reciting  mantra- like phrases, “ If you want to make love, then make love,” “ If you want to die, then die,” etc… He for all the world looked like my Uncle Sy   (A walrus mustachioed --hipster—who lived in Greenwich Village for many years).  My radio station manager happened to be at the event and asked me to interview him. Being an apple-cheeked innocent, sporting a tweed jacket with patches and an Irish cap, I asked, “ Who is he?” The manager said:  “ A prophet!” Well I never interviewed a prophet before, so with great trepidation I made my way to Ginsberg and a group of his friends. For all I knew at the time-- his friends could have been fellow Beat poets—Corso, Ferlinghetti, or the like. They looked the part of bohemian, bearded bards, and they were looking at this fresh-faced boy with their  jaundiced eyes as I approached them with an overly-earnest and awkward gait. I looked at Ginsberg and said, “Mr. Ginsberg I wonder if you could be on my radio show?” His cohorts rolled their eyes and started to snicker, but Ginsberg was polite, saying: “I would love to, but I have a party I have to go to.”  Of course after that I discovered the Beat Generation of poets and writers, and realized Ginsberg’s major contribution to the promotion of this literary genre.

I did manage to secure the author Piri Thomas for my show. Thomas was the author of “Down These Mean Streets.” He wrote about his hardscrabble life in Spanish Harlem—the gangs, the drugs—the poverty—the violence. He’d punctuate almost every sentence with “Check it out.” For a suburban kid from Long Island he was a total exotic. His whole manner, his stories, his street sensibility, his outlaw literary bent, was totally different than anything I experienced in my sheltered 20 years. But these nascent experiences sparked my interest in interviewing and reporting that really didn’t reach full fruition until about 20 years ago.  I always feel that there is some latent passion in every person, and if it is activated someway… well he or she is very lucky person indeed.

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