I’m not too impressed by Jason Shinder’s new book of essays about the importance of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Howl is a poem I will always love, but I don’t need a book of worshipful rote praise for the poem, not even if the contributors include Eliot Katz, Rick Moody, Luc Sante and Andrei Codrescu. Tribute albums make boring CD’s, and tribute books make boring books. A Howl newbie would learn much more by reading a biography of the poet’s fascinating life.
I’m more impressed by the remastering and rerelease of Ginsberg’s 80’s-era double record album First Blues. Ginsberg took music seriously and experimented with numerous styles (often in collaboration with his lover and fellow poet Peter Orlovsky). His voice is croaky, his sensibility is just slightly past Yoko Ono on the weirdness spectrum, and it all somehow adds up to a powerful lyrical statement. Recorded during Ginsberg’s final creative peak in the 70’s and 80’s, the album’s standout pieces include “Father Death Blues” and “Gospel Noble Truths”.
I spent some time pondering recent global events today, and a different Allen Ginsberg song kept coming to my mind. This was his great attempted rock single “Birdbrain”, which he wrote in Yugoslavia in 1980 and recorded a year later with a little-known Denver punk band called the Gluons. The pounding lyrics skewer the world’s militants, war-mongers, businessmen, phony do-gooders and even beat poets as hopelessly responsible for destroying our world. “I … AM … BIRDBRAIN”, Ginsberg thunders at one point as the guitars screech, and one can only conclude that he’s channeling Ozzy Osbourne as he howls against the culture of popularized war.
The lyrics appeal to me today, as my world contorts itself in a hopeless cosmic spin-cycle of escalating nationalism and hatred. I usually try to avoid placing blame in any one place. I do believe the president of my country is a birdbrain of epic proportions, but I feel little confidence that the next birdbrain to take his place will be much better. Then there are the birdbrains in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in Europe.
Maybe we’re the birdbrains, all of us, if we can’t figure out a way to take our world back from the politicians, the propagandists and the phony preachers who plague us from the left, the right, up and down and all around. I think we must be the birdbrains.
Anyway, this is a good song. I played it for my 15 year old son, who knows about good music, and he immediately understood what it meant (and asked for the MP3). It’s not on First Blues, but you can find it on Holy Soul Jelly Roll, Allen Ginsberg’s boxed set, and a digital download shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s a great listen when you’re in an angry mood.