“I’m looking to see if there’s a guy who looks like Lew Welch in this audience,” says poet Gary Snyder at a San Francisco tribute to Welch, the complex Beat poet who was represented as the soulful, restless Dave Wain in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur.
It’s a cutting thought, because Gary Snyder was among the last to see Lew Welch alive before the troubled poet wandered into the forest surrounding Gary Snyder’s home to kill himself. Welch left a suicide note, but his body was never found.
City Lights has recently published Ring of Bone, the most comprehensive collection of Welch’s life’s work (we recently reviewed the book, and you can read more about it at HTMLGiant). Many notable old friends of Welch gathered last month to celebrate the book. Videos of short tributes by Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, Peter Coyote and others can be found at the City Lights blog.
The most unusual moment at this celebration was a rare appearance by 80s rocker Huey Lewis. Huey was Lew Welch’s stepson. His mother Magda Cregg was also in the audience. In what must be Huey’s first public expression about his enigmatic stepfather, the pop-soul belter credits Welch with inspiring him in his early teenage years. “He really was a star,” Huey Lewis says of his stepfather’s performance skills. Beat poets were like rock stars in those days, he goes on, describing Welch as a great teacher and “really a very musical cat”. Lewis goes on to sing a scatalogical song called “Graffiti” that he remembers Welch singing around the house. Enjoy!