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.

7 Responses

  1. yes, strangeSince Graham
    yes, strange

    Since Graham Seidman’s passing, I’ve been listening (and listening)to Father Death Blues with its harmonium croon.

    Interesting that there’s a new edition and I thank you, Levi, for pointing it out.

  2. that’s the problem . . .Iraq
    that’s the problem . . .

    Iraq is just like the United States was a long time ago. Fighting each other (our civil war) and putting their religion into their laws (our Salem witch trials, for one example). They are idiots. We are idiots.

    (That doesn’t mean we should fight with them)

  3. recall noticeI like what you
    recall notice

    I like what you said, but there seems to be a hint of Nietzsche’s nauseam of eternal recurrence. I think the only way to do it is to recall all the politicos who aren’t representing the people. Trouble is, it’s just too much trouble to do that, unless you could figure out a way for people to vote online, maybe with a personalized pin/password type thing. Then we could have a real democracy, and the elected officials would be forced to vote their conscience ’cause, hell, they could be gone in 60 seconds regardless. But let’s try it out – I’m hereby voting to recall Bush/Cheney, and let Denny Hastert give it a go, while looking over his shoulder.

  4. afterthoughtI forgot to say

    I forgot to say one good thing about the Howl book, though — I think it’s great that Farrar Straus Giroux decided to publish the book in two formats — $14 paperback, $30 hardcover — at the same time. A few weeks ago when we were discussing the problems with book pricing, a few of us agreed that this is the best model, in that it allows publishers to sell hardcovers to libraries and book clubs and collectors while also allowing readers who don’t want to pay $30 to get the book without waiting a year. Props to FSG for that, even though I’m not crazy about the book.

  5. I’m no birdbrainThe only
    I’m no birdbrain

    The only solution is to organize, and most folks are too busy now just trying to eke out a living. The status quo suits the elites.

  6. I guess, individually, a lot
    I guess, individually, a lot of people are not birdbrains, but as a whole nation, we are acting like birdbrains. I agree with you. Organize and educate. And that is hard to do in a climate of need and/or fear.


    Birdbrain speaks every language.
    Birdbrain’s words are meaningless.
    Birdbrain hatched only yesterday–
    rolled the other eggs out of the nest, watched ’em fall.
    Birdbrain pops pills, gobbles steroids.
    Birdbrain is a victim of canabalism.
    Birdbrain votes Republican; Birdbrain drinks Democrat; sleeps
    Birdbrain is an eternal fossil;
    life is the footprint of Birdbrain.
    Birdbrain bombed Iraq; Birdbrain bombed Elementary Math; Birdbrain doesn’t count the dead.
    Birdbrain is an awkward boy named
    Allen Ginsburg; Birdbrain is the sin-eater; Birdbrain devours you.
    Birdbrain can’t remember where he put his glasses; his mother says,
    “–don’t be a Birdbrain.”
    Birdbrain is a prophet; Birdbrain eats the profit, and shits it out.
    Birdbrain is migratory.
    Birdbrain brings the plauge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!