|Allen Ginsberg||The Last Word on First Blues|
Allen Ginsberg — The Last Word on First Blues (May 20, 2016)
Ξ The Last Word On First Blues is not only a definitive cultural artifact; it will destroy the best minds of those who hear it.
Review by Sean Jewell::
Ξ You may be more beat than me and already know about Allen Ginsberg‘s First Blues, his double LP of music originally issued in 1983. Even if you already know what I don’t, though, you’ll be glad to hear Omnivore Records is re~issuing the recordings. Featuring Bob Dylan (really), Arthur Russell, Happy Traum, David Amram, Peter Orlovsky, and Steven Taylor as a 3CD set, with a 28~page color booklet and rare photos. Our man in the skies doing God’s work (music historian, Ginsberg estate~trusted aficionado) Pat Thomas (Listen, Whitey / Light in the Attic) produced the set and wrote the liner notes. Thomas was given full access to the poet’s tape archive at Stanford University and spent several years poring over hundreds of hours of recordings.
Ξ Thomas followed the tale of the tapes from 1971 through 1984, and interviewed original participants David Amram –who played music for and with Jack Kerouac (check out the film “Pull my Daisy“) and Steven Taylor, who Pat tells us is a “totally unknown guy ~ except for freaks of Ginsberg’s music ~ like me ~ who know he played guitar live with Ginsberg for over 20 years !”Ξ Taylor, who Thomas jests is Ginsberg’s Keith Richards, credits Ginsberg for the melodies in the liner notes~talkin’ blues style compositions full of harmonium, bells, piano, and cello. Ginsberg’s impish prodding and way with words make for great songs. Ginsberg’s songs self~deprecatingly acknowledge using black music to make money with the blues, and he never misses a chance to address politics, gay rights, and sexual liberation. It’s for this reason he also acknowledges the songs weren’t published right away by a record company. The whole set opens with Bob Dylan’s “Going Down to San Diego,” in which Dylan announces he’ll meet Nixon at the Republican Convention of 1972 and call for him to “announce the end of war.” Ginsberg’s truths come across as both hilarious and historical in songs like “CIA Dope Calypso,” “Stay Away from the White House” and “Capitol Air,” and the collection is as brave as it is funny. Ginsberg includes his methods of smoking cessation including staying in bed for 24hrs and sucking cocks, not nicotine, in the psychedelic “Put Down Your Cigarette Rag,” and gets downright bluesy on several tracks.
Ξ After being inspired by Ginsberg’s less bluesy Tibetan mantra chants (from Holy Soul Jelly Roll), and hearing interpretations of William Blake poetry set to music (Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg) that didn’t quite fit the First Blues scope, Thomas made his way to Stanford to go through the archives to see what else existed, and dug up a whole third disc of previously unreleased material.
Ξ Over the years, in a roundabout way, Ginsberg assembled bands with Dylan, members of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Arthur Russell, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, The Clash, Bill Frisell, Peter Orlovsky, and many other less known, but equally talented, artists. From The Beats to The Punks, The Last Word on First Blues is proof that Ginsberg never stopped finding new ways to express himself.
Ξ On the weekend of June 3~5, during celebrations for what would have been Ginsberg’s 90th birthday, Thomas will host a round–table discussion about the First Blues recordings in Manhattan with the musicians who played on it, including Amram and Mansfield, to be followed by a one~off reunion of these musicians performing this material that evening. Ξ http://www.americanstandardtime.com/
Ξ Ginsberg was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995 for his book Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986~1992.Born: Irwin Allen Ginsberg, June 3, 1926, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Died: April 5, 1997, East Village, New York, U.S.
Occupation: Writer, poet
Genre: Folk, Singer~Songwriter
Album release: May 20, 2016
Record Label: Omnivore Recordings
01. Going Down to San Diego
02. Vomit Express
03. Jimmy Berman [Gay Lib Rag]
04. NY Youth Call Annunciation
05. CIA Dope Calypso
06. Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag
07. Sickness Blues
08. Broken Bone Blues
09. Stay Away From the White House
10. Hard~On Blues
11. Guru Blues
12. Everybody Sing
13. Gospel Nobel Truths
14. Bus Ride to Suva
15. Prayer Blues
16. Love Forgiven
17. Father Death Blues
18. Dope Fiend Blues
20. You Are My Dildo
21. Old Pond
22. No Reason
23. My Pretty Rose Tree
24. Capitol Air
Bonus Disc: More Rags, Ballands, and Blues 1971~1985
25. Nurses Song
26. Spring (Merrily Welcome)
27. September on Jessore Road
28. Lay Down Yr Mountain
29. Slack Key Guitar
30. Reef Mantra
31. NY Blues
32. Come Along Vietnam [Rehearsal]
33. Airplane Blues [Live at Folk City]
34. Feeding the Raspberries to Grow [Live at Folk City]
35. Do the Mediation RockDescription:
Ξ Internationally revered as a Beat Generation spokesman — Allen Ginsberg’s poetry is an iconic part of the counterculture spanning decades. His 1956 epic poem “Howl” inspired the songwriting of Bob Dylan (and others), as well as the 1960s hippies. Punk rock also claimed him as an influence — including recording with The Clash on Combat Rock. In 1971, Allen called on Bob Dylan to record a slew of songs: political, gay rights, and just plain wacky! Along for the ride was Jack Kerouac’s musical partner David Amram, Happy Traum, and a young avant~garde cellist; Arthur Russell. Allen was lyricist, composer, and lead vocalist! These 1971 recordings remained dormant until 1983 when they were released as First Blues — coupled with 1976 sessions produced by Columbia Records exec. John Hammond, and 1981 sessions. Along the way, Beat Generation legend Peter Orlovsky and Rolling Thunder Revue sideman David Mansfield joined the festivities too. First Blues has become a cult classic — Omnivore Recordings is proud to reissue that, plus much more, as The Last Word On First Blues — a deluxe package, this 3~CD set contains the original double LP, plus 11 previously unissued songs from 1971 and 1981 sessions, plus demos and live recordings including Dylan and/or Arthur Russell and even a cameo by Don Cherry on kazoo! There’s a full color 28~page booklet of rare photos, writings, and drawings from Ginsberg’s Archives, an essay from set producer Pat Thomas, featuring interviews with original participants. Mastering and restoration was handled by Grammy® winning engineer, Michael Graves. Upon the album’s 1983 release, John Hammond stated “I recorded Allen in 1976 but Columbia Records refused to issue the results, considering the songs obscene and disrespectful. I am thrilled to finally be able to present Allen . . . I will present “disrespectful” music like this as often as possible.” While today’s political right try to limit artistic expression, here is the pioneer of free speech — the mystic Beat poet doing what many forgot he ever did; singing with the most acclaimed songwriter of the rock era: Bob Dylan as well as mentor the work of the late Arthur Russell. The Last Word On First Blues is not only a definitive cultural artifact; it will destroy the best minds of those who hear it.Review
by Jesse Jarnow, MAY 27 2016 / Score: 7.9
Ξ Producer Pat Thomas’s loving Last Word on First Blues reissue reveals Allen Ginsberg as a missing link in the East Village’s musical pathways, a secret alt~folk hero hidden in relatively plain view.
Ξ Part from a few stray months in the ‘60s, it’s hard to imagine any period in which Allen Ginsberg’s First Blues might have found commercial success, the present one included. But in a somewhat more liberated world, Omnivore’s Last Word on First Blues box set makes more sense now than any time since the double LP’s 1983 release on John Hammond’s eponymous indie label. A radical in Ronald Reagan’s ‘80s as much in Dwight Eisenhower’s ‘50s, Allen Ginsberg’s open, gleeful, and articulate queerness bursts through here as clear as ever, a poet dancing with all the legal freedoms earned when a California State Superior Judge declared that Ginsberg’s groundbreaking 1956 poem “Howl” was of “redeeming social importance,” and therefore not obscene — reedoms Ginsberg had declared himself to possess long before. While the poet’s wobbling voice remains a hard sell in the 21st century (ditto, to some listeners, his sexploits), producer Pat Thomas’ loving Last Word on First Blues reissue reveals Ginsberg as a missing link in the East Village’s musical pathways, a secret alt~folk hero hidden in relatively plain view.
Ξ Recorded over three sessions in 1971, 1976, and 1981, the new First Blues comes with a third disc of supplementary material, including appearances by Bob Dylan on bass and jazz hero Don Cherry on kazoo. It opens with the Dylan~abetted sing~alongs “Going to San Diego” and “Vomit Express,” both sounding as if Ginsberg had visited Big Pink for a session in the Basement. Amid the surreal~hootenanny atmosphere, in which Dylan jams alongside Arthur Russell, Ginsberg’s voice finds a comfort zone. But, just as much as Dylan, First Blues carries forward the sloppy and joyous folk~rock of Ginsberg’s East Village neighbors in the Holy Modal Rounders and the over~the~top poetry of his friends in The Fugs, whose co~founder Ed Sanders appears in Last Word session photos from 1971. At the heart of the later recordings, too, is Steven Taylor, Ginsberg’s long~term musical partner, who fixes the poet’s anarchic spirit and wandering melodic tendencies amid a solid folk~rock sparkle — and who would go on to join the The Fugs when that band reunited in 1984. © The Last Gathering of Beats Poets and Artists, City Lights Books, North Beach, San Francisco, 1965
Ξ Though released as one album, First Blues also represents three separate slices of Ginsberg’s musical career: sex~positive folk romps like “Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag),” word~crammed investigative poetry anthems like “CIA Dope Calypso,” and less classifiable specimens of wise cosmic folk. The lines are blurry, but it is the latter category that is perhaps the most refreshing. Though Ginsberg isn’t a singer by most traditional measures, he is a surprising and capable songwriter, finding charming melodies he can only get across in the broadest way, as on “Vomit Express” (from 1971), aided by big gang vocals on the chorus, and the Rounders~like “Old Pond” (from ten years later).
Ξ For all his legendary lack of inhibition, Ginsberg’s singing is sometimes a bit (ahem) stiff, more a crooning poet than a singer~songwriter. The 1976 band is the most supportive, featuring David Mansfield on elegant pedal steel and Arthur Russell on cello, achieving an easy, swaying grace on “Gospel Novel Truths” and a cool existential swing on “Broken Bone Blues.” These songs and others seem primed for covering by a new generation of free weirdos, including the rambunctious “Guru Blues” (“I can’t find anyone to fuck me in the ass”), the solemn “Father Death Blues.” It is on the demos disc, too, that the bed bugs and speed freaks of “NY Blues” provide a through~line to the hyper~local topicality of contemporary East Side songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, fitting in comfortably next to “Scowling Crackhead Ian” and other characters of Lewis’ recent Manhattan.
Ξ Perhaps a more natural and capable freak~folker is Ginsberg’s hubby, the poet Peter Orlovsky, who punctuates his ode “You Are My Dildo” with a game jug~band falsetto, and (on the bonus disc) delivers his fellatio~lovin’ “Penny’s Farm” rewrite “Feeding Them Raspberries To Grow” in a convincingly olde~tyme warble. At their best, the players in the three different session bands featured here make a spot for Ginsberg and his voice to become one with the music, as on the 1976 outtake “Slack Key Guitar,” an anti~colonial nu~exotica lullaby that recalls a more chilled~out Van Dyke Parks.
Ξ For its numerous charms, Ginsberg’s sexual openness continues to make First Blues an eyebrow~raising experience three~and~a~half decades after its recording. Nor is it without its complications. “Everybody’s just a little bit homosexual whether they like it or not,” Ginsberg sings on the first line of the provocative and Fug~ly “Everybody Sing,” but “everybody” in the song’s cosmology doesn’t seem to include females. (Orlovsky is a bit more equal~opportunity.) As in his visionary poetry, all of Allen Ginsberg is on display during the the two~and~a~half hours of recordings, intentional and not, but always (and still) vital. As responsible for pop music’s turn to poetry as anyone, Allen Ginsberg had more than a few songs of his own.
|Allen Ginsberg||The Last Word on First Blues|