“… who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy …”
(From Howl (for Carl Solomon)‘ by Allen Ginsberg)
Yes, Carl Solomon really did throw potato salad during a City College of New York lecture on Dadaism. He and his friends were making an artistic statement by doing this, but years later when Solomon pleaded for a lobotomy to end his psychotic anguish he was not being artistic.
Solomon, born on March 30, 1928 in the Bronx, is mainly famous for having inspired the poem “Howl”, rather than for any achievements of his own. He and Allen Ginsberg met in a waiting room at a psychiatric hospital where Ginsberg was visiting his mother. Solomon was a regular there. Ginsberg and Solomon quickly bonded once they discovered a shared love of Russian literature. Despite Solomon’s mental problems, he had a hyperactive intelligence, and was able to instruct Ginsberg (not exactly a dummy himself) on many literary points, despite the fact that Ginsberg was two years older.
Carl Solomon’s uncle was A. A. Wyn, publisher of Ace paperback books. Carl worked intermittently for his uncle, and Ginsberg pleaded with Carl and his uncle to help publish his then-unpublishable friends William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ace Books finally published Burroughs’ first novel Junky as half of a pulp thriller “Two Books In One.” But they were among the many publishers who turned down Kerouac’s On The Road.
Solomon was never a writer himself, although readers of “Howl” often assumed he was. Later in life he gave in and fulfilled the expectation by writing two book of elliptical, erudite and quaintly psychotic short essays, “Mishap, Perhaps” in 1966 and “More Mishaps” in 1968. His “Emergency Messages,” more in the same vein, was published in 1989.
It’s interesting that Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg each traveled with a “doppelganger” — a mirror image sidekick with less literary training but more “authenticity”. Kerouac had the free-spirited charismatic Neal Cassady and Burroughs had the street smart true junkie Herbert Huncke. Ginsberg, who seemed to always aspire to the state of insanity, had Carl Solomon.