LitKicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter End

Wow. I can’t believe it’s finally over.


Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening

I wanted to do something special to
celebrate the 5th birthday of
the Literary Kicks website,
and I decided to put together a small poetry
reading that would showcase Beat writers and
web writers together on the same stage.
I invited a few readers, a few more signed on,
the focus began to broaden and take on new
dimensions, and the next thing I knew
my small birthday party was starting to look
like a huge poetry marathon.

I knew my friend
Brian Hassett
knew how to put on good poetry events, so I asked
him to get involved, and with his help
we secured a prime spot, the legendary folk-rock club
The Bitter End,
in downtown Manhattan. The setlist kept
growing until I had assembled such an
amazing group

of talented poets, web writers, jazz musicians, haiku
masters, spoken-word artists, punk rock legends and
Beat storytellers, I could barely believe it myself.
I spent much of the last few weeks running around the
city like an idiot, trying to organize
posters, hotel rooms, musicians … in fact some friends
report seeing me walk into a fire hydrant in a confused
daze, scribbling in a notebook and yelling into a cell
phone. I have no memory of this but I believe it. Anyway,
Wednesday night July 21 finally rolled around, and it was
time to get on stage. Here’s how the night went down:

Vermont writer
Marie Countryman
opened with some self-revelatory poems, followed
by an excellent short story,
The Shock of a Feather
by novelist
David Alexander.
Next, web writer
Xander Mellish
read the beginning of her short story
Extraordinary
to the tune of a Miles Davis recording. Xander
was followed by book editor Holly George-Warren, who
read the introduction to her just-published
Rolling Stone Book of the Beats.

The evening then started to veer towards the outer
orbits with an amazing microtonal bebop poetry performance
by Bayonne candy store poet Herschel Silverman,
accompanied by legendary jazz composer
David Amram
on piano and a vocalist named Jessica whose full name I’d
like to know if anybody can send it to me. Things got a little
more gentle when
Briggs Nisbet
read some of her California nature poems, and this was followed
by two sublime haiku readings
featuring, first, Beat scholar
Walter Raubicheck and then Cor
van den Heuvel, editor of the new
Norton Haiku Anthology‘,
both poets accompanied by Daniel Srebnick on sax.

Smug.com‘s
talented editor Leslie Harpold then read an excellent short story,
Princess Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall‘,
about strip poker and skin types, and this
was followed by what was
possibly the evening’s most unique moment: a spontaneous
spoken-word performance by

John Cassady,
son of Beat legend
Neal Cassady.
John had never visited New York City before, so a lot
of people had come down specifically to see how Neal’s
son had turned out and what he looked like,
and not only the Village Voice
but even the New Yorker had listed the fact of his upcoming stage debut.
John is a nice guy but also a “regular guy” like you
or me, and so I was in a bit of suspense wondering what
all he’d say when he stepped up to the mike.
As the
Mighty Manatees
(a great jam band from Delaware County, our house band for the nite)
kicked into a soft bluesy jazz riff behind him, John
started telling stories, and fifteen minutes later
John was riffing left and right on an unpublished
letter he’d found in his father’s papers, and
the “John Cassady Rap” was becoming legend before my
eyes. John then hooked up his guitar and sang
Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” as a tribute to the
Dad he’d been missing for the last thirty-one years.

The show went on — Robert Burke Warren
stepped up to the mike and ripped into “Rave On”
by Buddy Holly, then we all took a break, and then
the
David Amram Trio
went onstage to sing “Pull
My Daisy” and jam. I read a short story of
my own, and then I introduced the enigmatic webmaster
Mark Thomas, creator of
Sorabji.com,
who played a beautiful rendition of Philip Glass’s
Wichita Vortex Sutra
on piano, which was a great segue into a moment of
deep literary exploration with Wichita/Cherry Valley blues/bop
poet

Charles Plymell
who read an extremely affecting fable about John
F. Kennedy Jr. as the Manatees, John Cassady and others played
behind him.

Next was Brian Hassett with a piece from his upcoming
screenplay, “Don’t Be Denied”,
and after this began the main “I’m not worthy” part
of the evening for me, as I introduced three people in a row
whom I seriously respect for their seminal artistic
legacies, and for their moral contributions to the thriving
independent writing/publishing scene of today.
First was
Lee Ranaldo
of Sonic Youth,
who turned the lights low and read in a soft voice as
a calming humming sound played on the PA, then
Richard Hell
a personal hero of mine for having had the good sense to invent
punk rock in the early 70’s, and then having the talent to
write the excellent novel

Go Now

in the 90’s.
Hell kicked off with a few short verses, told us
“I never cared about that whole beatnik thing anyway”
(fair enough), and then recited his unique poem
“Weather,” which contains 12 different alterations of a
single poem, each growing in its own unique direction.
Hell was followed by Lower East Side
poetry hero
Bob Holman,
who years ago helped start the
spoken-word revolution
with his friends at the
Nuyorican Poetry Cafe
in the East Village,
and now helps to run the excellent

About.poetry
website (among many other things).
Holman took the band with him on a bizarre
“Peter and the Wolf”-style instrument-vocalization
jam that had subtle moments and also
occasionally blasted into some excellent kick-ass screaming
and yelling, Holman-style.

The show continued:
Meg Wise-Lawrence
delivered a smoky, snaky performance of
her prose-poem ‘Twelve Beginnings … One End’ accompanied
by avant-garde blues pianist Toby Kasavan, and this was followed by a
beautiful moment contrasting Kentucky poet
Ron Whitehead,
who read his powerful “I Will Not Bow Down” among other things,
and
Icelandic web innovator
Birgitta Jonsdottir
Next up was a
thoughtful language poem by
Aaron Howard,
a light-jazz-toned
excerpt from

Breathing Room
by
Christian Crumlish
(the only one besides Bob Holman to show up in a zoot suit), an
inspiring and lyrical reading by poet Breath Cox, some fresh and
funny moments with John Grady (whose “New York Bagel” is one
of my favorites), and a closing performance by
avant-garde/surrealist
Gregory Severance.
With no more poetry to read for the night, the Manatees,
David Amram and John Cassady
stayed onstage and closed out the night, appropriately enough, with a
couple of Dead tunes, ‘Bertha’ and ‘Going Down the Road Feeling
Bad’.

I know everybody who was there enjoyed it — in fact there
was a certain fascinating edge of insanity to the whole event
that has made many of us, myself included, think back to
that night and wonder exactly what was in the air that made
it all so unusual. Anyway, thanks to all the performers
and everybody who helped, especially Brian Hassett, and
thanks to the Bitter End for
letting us own the dive for the night. Biggest thanks and
apologies go to a few patient poets who couldn’t stay out late enough
to get their own time on stage, and who were gracious about missing
their moments at the mic. It was definitely crazy to think
we could fit 30 performers onstage in a single night — we learned a
lot and will know better next time.

Chaos reigned at many moments during the event, but
then I think chaos has always been a friend to poetry,
and this night proved it to me.

— Levi Asher

— July 28 1999


Richard Hell
Richard Hell


Briggs Nisbet and David Amram
Briggs Nisbet and David Amram


John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees
John Cassady with the Mighty Manatees


Birgitta Jonsdottir with Ron Whitehead
Ron Whitehead with Birgitta Jonsdottir


Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler
Levi Asher with John Cassady and Ted the Fiddler


Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson
Herschel Silverman with Jessica Richardson


Meg Wise-Lawrence
Meg Wise-Lawrence


Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady
Backstage: Brian Hassett and John Grady


Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo
Backstage: Bob Holman and Lee Ranaldo


Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard
Backstage: Mark Thomas and Aaron Howard


Xander Mellish
Xander Mellish


Charles Plymell
Charles Plymell


Marie Countryman
Marie Countryman


The Living End!
Litkicks Bitter End Blowout

by Marie Countryman

For over a week now, I have been struggling to capture on paper an event
that was so much larger than the sum of its parts, that it overwhelmed
me, staring at the computer monitor, fingers almost paralyzed on the
keys.

The joyous 5th anniversary of Levi Asher’s Litkicks’ web site,
organized and produced by Levi Asher and Brian Hassett was a marvel in
meticulous planning and organization that came to life as spontaneous
improvisation and collaboration between musicians and print and web
poets and writers, many meeting for the first time.

If I had to choose a few words to encapsulate the experience, I would
have to choose 1)continuation from the beats who broke the barriers of
self expression to the freewheeling web writers of today, and 2)mutual
appreciation and support. No egos knocking into one another, no one
slamming on the stage or competing aggressively with one another to top
the performance that just had finished. Fluidity and flexibility were
also key, particularly when Charlie Plymell, who had made no previous
plans for musical accompaniment, was so taken by Mark Thomas’s piano
rendition of Philip Glass’s ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ that he asked me to get
Thomas to stay on stage as a Wichita Kansas segue into his set (which
included a beautiful fable, ‘The Prince of Tides’ written on the event
of JFK Jr’s tragic plane crash). Also accompanying him was a woman only
known as Jesse, who came up and improvised her own unique blend of scat
and improv singing accompanient. Jesse had never worked with Charlie, in
fact, she had never even worked with Hersh Silverman, who she had come
to accompany for his reading. Among other pieces, Hersh read a new poem
– ‘The Literary Kicks Summer Happening’ in tribute to the event. Both were
flawless collaborations, among many sparkling and unexpected such
joinings.

Among the musicians were the David Amram Trio, and the Mighty Manatees,
along with “Ted the Fiddler”, another mysterious performer known only to
me still by his first name.

I was free to move about and my head was clear after being first at bat:
so intimidated was I at the onset, that I didn’t even want to ‘jinx’ my
reading with a sound check, so I read my first poem two feet away from a
microphone that was taller than my head. The audience got my attention
before I launched into an autobiographical piece titled ‘Shrinkwrapped’
– and some one jumped on stage and adjusted the mike for me. After that,
I had little problem finishing my set, ending with a poem dedicated to
Bebop Jackson, Charlie and Pam Plymell’s Labrador, with whom I had spent
a joyous morning prior to leaving with Charlie for the city.

Some of the easy supportive atmosphere was certainly laid down prior to
the 21st, when more than several of whom the Village Voice described as
the ‘arsenal of writers, poets and musicians’ gathered at John
Cassady’s Chelsea Hotel room the night of the 20th for a rowdy
rock&roll rehearsal party, with several of the Manatees present with
their guitars, and amplifier. Thank god for the Chelsea, whose
management and residents seemed to have no problem with our good natured
ruckus.

We actually picked up what John Cassady quickly named our ‘intern,’ (“My
dad said there was always a new guy, dubbed The Intern wherever the
Pranksters were happening”), who was staying in the room directly above
Cassady’s, and who came into the room from the fire escape window, drawn
by our party noise. He then appeared at the Bitter End for the show, the
after show chowdown at the diner across the street – and finally back to
John Cassady’s room once more, where he sat up with Brian, John, and me
until 7 am talking talking talking.. He told us we had changed his life, and got out 2 composition books full of his writing from 3 years ago. I do believe he has started writing
again, and with fervor.

I can’t begin to go into all the combinations and permutations of bands
and musicians, other than to rave about their ability to jam: rock
musicians with jazz, jazz with rock, with poets, with short story
writers, and for me the 2 highlights: David Amram pulling our daisy,
incorporating the lyrics Jack Kerouac wrote for the famous beat film as
well as improvising lyrics which celebrated the present gathering (and
following that with a tribute to international music), AND John Cassady
on guitar, playing ‘Nadine’ (to which Charlie Plymell and I danced with
abandon), and later, to my ever Grateful Dead loving heart, played Jerry
Garcia sweet licks and soaring melodies within melodies to ‘Bertha’ and
‘Going Down the Road’ – which finally caused me to lose ALL inhibitions
and jump on the stage to sing off key harmony and dance my soul free.

Haiku was another form that had many readers: Walter Raubicheck began
reading some of Kerouac’s haiku, then several of his own, including
wonderful baseball haiku, and Cor van den Heuvel followed, reading among
other pieces,more baseball haiku. John Grady later read haiku, and a piece
called ‘New York Bagel’, and then segued with the band into a rollicking
version of ‘Bertha’ which brought the house down.

Briggs Nisbet slowed the tempo and lowered the volume with a series of
beautiful California nature poems she had written recently. The audience
sat hushed by her lovely voice and images.

John Cassady took the stage after her, and with only a letter his
father Neal had written, previously unknown and not yet published,
showed us that he has his father’s talent for story telling, beginning
with a reminiscence of riding with Neal in the back of his ’39 Pontiac,
and then suddenly WE were the ‘kiddies’ in the back seat as John morphed
into Neal, telling story after story with great good humor, enthusiasm,
and shining smile. John, you’ve got the right stuff, all right!
Robert Burke Warren came on after John’s rendition of Chuck Berry’s
‘Nadine’ and in keeping with Cassady’s musical memories, sang two Buddy
Holly songs and then ‘Fever’ as the place went wild.

Aaron Howard proved that you don’t need to be anyone but yourself to be
truly beat – if you closed your eyes and listened to his moody and
rhythmic reading of ‘Language’ you could transport yourself back in time
to the glory days of beat poetry readings, his voice and words
transporting one from the abstract to the concrete and back again
several times, very very beat.

And speaking of beat, bebop and improv, Bob Holman brought down the
house with laughter and energetic good spirits as he used the band for
backing and bopped with vigor for his piece ‘Storyline’ – assigning
different instruments and their musicians riffs for different words.
Truly spontaneous and very wonderful.

Lee Ranaldo and Richard Hell seemed to drift into the club from the
dark of night, taking the stage, giving hypnotic readings (specially
Hell’s reading of his chap book ‘Weather’) and then drifting back out,
both very NYC and somewhat mysterious.

Christian Crumlish read a sweet piece titled ‘Rosalita Jump a Little
higher’ – and I must give great praise to Breath Cox and Gregory
Severance, our closing poets, who despite the thinning of the crowd by
the late hour, put their all into readings of their most excellent
pieces: Greg’s own brand of surrealist poetry and Breath’s paean to the
wonders of country life in Cherry Valley, which she read with a decided
city beat intonation.

All in all, I must say that I have never been so legally high in all my
life.

Many thanks to Levi Asher and Brian Hassett for all the time and effort
they put into making this event a magnificent 7 hour marathon triumph,
as well as Laki Vazakas and Danya Reich for their marathon 7 hour
filming of the event.

(Levi has declared he is going to edit all of the rehearsal and
performance footage to an 80 minute DVD/CDrom. What a daunting task!)

marie countryman
8/2/99


Daniel Srebnick, John Cassady, Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell
Dancing the night away: Daniel Srebnick (on sax), John Cassady (guitar), Marie Countryman, Charlie Plymell


Breath Cox
Breath Cox


Christian Crumlish
Christian Crumlish


Cor van den Heuvel
Cor van den Heuvel


Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck
Daniel Srebnick and Walter Raubicheck


Greg Severance
Greg Severance


David Alexander
David Alexander


Birgitta Jonsdottir
Birgitta Jonsdottir


Holly George-Warren
Holly George-Warren


Toby Kasavan
Toby Kasavan


Will Hodgson of the Manatees
Will Hodgson of the Manatees


Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady
Backstage: David Amram and John Cassady


Crowd Scene
Crowd Scene


Brian Hassett writes …

The Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening
July 21st, 1999
The Bitter End, New York City

It went really great. Sold out and all that.

John Cassady said afterwards, “I swear to God, it’s one of those nights
you’ll never forget. Like Hendrix in ’68.”

People were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the standing room area by
the bar, and one of the owners told me that was the first time he’d ever seen
that. It was sweet, impromptu, and very Beat.

In fact, the club actually called the next day to make sure everything went
alright, and after how many gigs do you think they do that?! They said we
could come back anytime and we probably will.

And speaking of Will, Hodgson was really one of the highlights.

My favorite mental picture of the night was the full band line-up — one side
being David Amram on grand piano, Daniel Srebnick on tenor sax, with Will’s
Mighty Manatees and the featured poet in the middle, then John Cassady on
electric guitar with Ted The Fiddler on the other side.

Bob Holman used that line-up to rattle the rafters and rock the room with a
“Peter and The Wolf” send-up, and all sorts of other musical variations
assumed themselves during the night.

The New Yorker wrote about it, we were the pick of the day in Time-Out New
York, one of the picks of the week in New York magazine, a highlighted show
in NY Press, and had a nice long listing in the Village Voice describing our
“arsenal of writers, poets and musicians.”

The show started about 7 PM and didn’t end till 2 AM, after which the 20-
person-late-night-core went across the street and had a big chow with Dave
Amram in a 24-hour diner just like that famous John Cohen diner photo that’s
now on the cover of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats, which we also
tied-in with that night. Then a bunch of us went back to Cassady’s room at
the Chelsea for a final roundup till 7 AM.

For the whole first set we had the audience in the palm of our hands with
about 200 people absolutely packed in and around every table.

John Cassady’s reading/talking/playing was an obvious highlight for everyone.
He’d read about a sentence of this letter from Neal which would then remind
him of some other story and off he’d go with some reminiscence of zooming
around with his dad, until finally he and the band broke into a rockin’
lead-filled version of Chuck Berry’s “Nadine.”

Herschel Silverman read his new poem called, “The Literary Kicks Summer
Poetry Happening” that played with the styles and works of many of the other
performers. Rolling Stone editor Holly George-Warren read in her sweet
southern accent from her just-released Book of the Beats, and her husband
Robert Burke Warren closed the first set as he and The Manatees had people
dancing to Rave On, Peggy Sue, and Fever.

Levi was doing most of the hosting, although we traded off all night. We
seem to make a pretty naturally symbiotic duo on and off the stage and you’ll
probably see us tootling the multitudes again.

The Amram Trio opened the second set with a special Lit Kicks / Bitter End
“Pull My Daisy,” and Lee Ranaldo did a couple of pieces to a taped background
with the lights dimmed. Richard Hell, looking every inch the rock star with
his black shades and loud red shirt, was funny and hypnotic reading an entire
poetry chapbook with each chorus
beginning, “The whole city seemed to optically snap,” then going off into
that verse’s development.

Ron Whitehead and his fiance Birgitta Jonsdottir gave a tender, heart-felt
dual performance — their first together in NYC — including a piece co-
written by the Dali Lama called “Never Give Up.” Breath Cox was in from
Cherry Valley reading, torquing the vibes, and looking regal in a long
evening dress, and Marie Countryman was down from Vermont being the best
audience shusher and performer pep coach you could hope for. Charlie Plymell
read his new and touching fable about JFK & and the Kennedy’s, then did
“Rapid Ronnie” with The Manatees’ rock ‘n’ roll back- up that so inspired him
he began free-form dancing on stage in between the multiple guitar players at
several points in the night.

I didn’t read anything — told a story instead — part of the screenplay. My
Mom was down from Toronto so I worked her into the tale, telling it in
first-person as a true-story so convincingly that afterwards people were
telling me they came from divorced parents, too.

The next day the woman from the new Beat documentary “The Source” said the
room was electric, and that’s about the simplest, most accurate word for it.
There’s been a flood of calls and emails since, so it really did seem to warm
and inspire some people — like a good book brought alive with music and
voices in a seven-hour spontaneous epic.

Keep ya toasted on the next one.

Brian
7/23/99


Check out the original web announcement


The Master: David Amram
The Master: David Amram

Thanks to John Grady and Bill Gargan for the photos!

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