Category Archives: Allen Ginsberg

Review: Jonah Raskin – Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation

Ry Cooder in Oklahoma

dust bowl blues again, Karen

turning back pages of Kerouac and

kissing along Snake River,

Rock’n’Roll woman.

                  – from ‘Karen & Ry Cooder’

The moment I encountered Jonah Raskin’s new poetry collection it took me back to Stephen Stills’ deliciously evocative ‘Rock & Roll Woman’, a song that graced the second Buffalo Springfield album in 1967. And Raskin, that most versatile of cultural historians whose American Scream is a key book on the myth of Allen Ginsberg and the rise of ‘Howl’, provides plenty more twinges to the musical memory in this slim but sharp volume.

Like me, this poet is a sucker for the ballsy beat of R&B or the potent pulse of raw rock and still eager, too, to imbibe the freewheeling spirit of the Beat writers, a clan he aspires to emulate – and admits as much – in his stand-up verse and stripped down stanzas.

If he’s on stage reading his stuff, he is often joined, a la Kerouac, by musical accompaniment; here, in his latest opus, he takes on the tropes of rock history and interweaves that thrillingly volatile narrative with the adventures of a gallery of women (friends? lovers? fictions? fantasies?) who have played out their own sparky lives with the radio on, the turntable spinning or the jagged edge of a Stratocaster sending its shockwaves across the shimmering sea of a live audience.

Are these fragments of the Raskin biography? Quite possibly. Yet it matters not that much, for the female gang who inhabit this world – one that stretches from Elvis’ curled quiff to Johnny Rotten’s rusting safety pin – are essentially autonomous, stand-alone types who live maverick existences to a highly-charged soundtrack and, perhaps in rock itself, see a means to escape the stultifying air of conformity.

The Beats didn’t let women carve out independent lives – they kept lovers, wives and muses suspended in a submissive domesticity. The women of whom Raskin writes, later daughters of the vinyl countdown, have broken out of that triangular trap of Kinder, Küche, Kirche and, amid moveable feasts of the heart, absorb the sounds of the Everlys and the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, Dylan, the Dead and the Floyd.

Perhaps though, this cycle of poems is less about girls digging the latest discs and more about singles and LPs and concerts providing the aspic of nostalgia for Raskin and, indeed, so very many of us. We probably recall the 45 as much as the kiss, the album as much as the sleepover, the gig as much as the furious row, the record sleeve as much as the eventual break-up.

Rock’n’Roll Women comprises a series of snapshots that set relationships against the pleasing perspective of the jukebox, even if all was not sweetness and light – even back then. The love affairs may have tarnished in time but the Beach Boys and Jimmy Cliff, Carole King and Otis Redding will eternally suggest the possibility of youthful optimism and Raskin distils something of that appealing spark in these brief cameos.

Note: Jonah Raskin’s Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation is published by McCaa Books of Santa Rosa, California

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Trail: Harry Potter and the Beat Generation of Death

Daniel Radcliffe, the titular star of one of the most profitable movie franchises in Harry Potter, has certainly been making a few determined moves to disentangle himself permanently from the tentacles of Voldemort now that the long-running wizard and potions saga has reached its cinematic conclusion.

After making some well-received stage appearances in 2007 in Peter Schaffer’s powerful, horse-blinding drama Equus, in both London and New York, including challenging nude scenes to boot, even before J.K. Rowling’s fantasy fest had ended its film cycle, Radcliffe has also featured in the recent screen chiller, The Woman in Black, to more luke-warm notices.

But it is his next project that will perhaps see the young Briton tested most – playing a gay American in a true-life murder mystery. No, it’s not CSI: Hogwarts with a gender twist, but an adaptation of the events outlined in the Jack Kerouac/William Burroughs collaboration And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a rare, two-scribe novel penned in the mid-1940s but one that did not see the general light of day until 2008.

For most Beat aficionados, however, the action in the story centres on those real-life events of 1944 when David Kammerer was stabbed and killed by Lucien Carr, in a bid, we have always been led to believe, to fend off the victim’s homosexual advances to the younger man. The fact that Kerouac would then become embroiled in the events that followed – he hid the murder weapon and was arrested as an accessory – has become a key part in the early Beat chronology.

In the movie, entitled Kill Your Darlings, Radcliffe dons the spectacles once more to portray Allen Ginsberg. Carr, who would serve two years in jail for what the press of the day dubbed ‘an honour slaying’, is played by Dane DeHaan, Kammerer is Michael C. Hall, Burroughs comes to life in the hands of Ben Foster, while Kerouac is reincarnated by Jack Huston. The film, currently in production on the Manhattan streets and directed by John Krokidas, is slated for a 2013 release.

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