Peter Orlovsky, Beat Muse (and Dennis Hopper)

“… Simon’s a true Russian, wants the whole world to love, a descendant indeed of some of those insane sweet Ippolits and Kirilovs of Dostoevsky’s 19th Century Czarist Russia — And looks it too, as the time we’d all eaten peyotl (the musicians and I) and there we are banging out a big jam session at 5 P.M. in a basement apartment with trombone, two drums, Speed on piano and Simon sitting under the all-day-lit red lamp with ancient tassels, his rocky face all gaunt in the unnatural redness, suddenly then I saw: “Simon Darlovsky, the greatest man in San Francisco” and later that night for Irwin’s and my amusement as we tromped the streets with my rucksack (yelling “The Great Truth Cloud!” at gangs of Chinese men coming out of card rooms) Simon’d put on a little original pantomime a la Charley Chaplin but peculiar to his own also Russian style which consisted of his running dancing up to a foyer filled with people in easy chairs watching TV and putting on an elaborate mime (astonishments, hands of horror to mouth, looking around, woops, tipping, humbling, sneaking off, as you might expect some of Jean Genet’s boys goofing in Paris streets drunk) (elaborate masques with intelligence) — The Mad Russian, Simon Darlovsky, who always reminds me of my Cousin Noel, as I keep telling him, my cousin of long ago in Massachusetts who had the same face and eyes and used to glide phantomy around the table in dim rooms and go “Muee hee hee ha, I am the Phantom of the Opera” (in French saying it, ‘je suis le phantome de l’opera-a-a-a) — And strange, too, that Simon’s jobs have always been Whitman-like, nursin, he’d shaved old psychopaths in hostpitals, nursed the sick and dying, and now as an ambulance driver for a small hospital he was batting around San Fran all day picking up the insulted and injured in stretchers (horrible places where they were found, little back rooms), the blood and the sorrow, Simon not really the Mad Russian but Simon the Nurse — Never could harm a hair of anybody’s head if he tried –“
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels

Peter Orlovsky, Beat Generation poet and muse, died this weekend. A gentle and exuberant spirit, Orlovsky did not aim for literary fame but his reflection was caught in the work of his virtual spouse and best friend Allen Ginsberg, and in the writings of Jack Kerouac, who transformed him into a character named Simon Darlovsky who lit up the pages of the great late-period novel Desolation Angels just as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) had lit up On The Road and Dharma Bums.

Here are some remembrances and tributes (I’ll add more if they arrive). The image of Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg on this page is by Elsa Dorfman.

Peter Orlovsky appeared in Bob Dylan’s much-misunderstood film Renaldo and Clara. His book Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs was published by City Lights as Pocket Poets #37 in 1978.

* * * * *

This will get more coverage elsewhere, but another one-time star of the Beat Generation, the great method actor and auteur Dennis Hopper has died. Hopper leaves behind a blessed body of work: Rebel Without A Cause in the 50s, Easy Rider in the 60s, Apocalypse Now in the 70s, Blue Velvet in the 80s. That’s some track record. I don’t know if I could pick my favorite Dennis Hopper movie line: I suppose it’s a tie between “Pabst Blue Ribbon!” and “fucking fuckers fuck …

Farewell, on this memorial day, to two beloved and generous Beatnik troubadours, Peter Orlovsky and Dennis Hopper.

UPDATE: here’s a Shambhala Sun piece about Peter by Steve Silberman, and I’d also like to call attention to the note from David Amram in the comments below …

6 Responses

  1. That is one great picture of
    That is one great picture of AG & PO above — I think it’s even sweeter than the famous naked picture.

    I never met Peter. I happened to go see Allen Ginsberg’s photo exhibit at DC’s National Gallery right after I heard the news of Orlovsky’s passing. The exhibit reinforced my belief that Ginzy (as Corso often called him) was the greatest literary/cultural promoter ever. Somehow, however, Orlovsky never fell into the role that I imagine Allen (I don’t really know) might have wanted for him. Orlovsky was a spirit and muse but he was not a great poet or writer. We probably need good organic farmers more than great writers. I always thought Allen exemplified New York, New York. In his special way, Peter exemplified a less busy place, Vermont.

  2. In a group of hyperactive
    In a group of hyperactive young individualists, Peter was the most energetic of all of us.

    When it was Peter’s turn to perform at a concert we did together for George McGovern’s presidential campaign at Times Square in 1972, the sound system blew out.

    It didn’t phase Peter for a moment.

    He came up to the podium and sang with such gusto that his baritone voice soared above the traffic and din of Broadway and 42nd St. and kept an audience of passerbys enthralled, especially after he ended the song and gave a crazy spontaneous ten minute rap, which in the opinion of many, was the most original, as well as entertaining speech ever delivered during the entire campaign.

    His free spirit made everything he did always lighten up the proceedings wherever he was.

    In the 1959 film “Pull My Daisy” we will always be able to see Peter as a young radiant free spirit, lighting up the screen in his own special way.

    He was also an accomplished artist and a poet, and for over the fifty years that I knew him, he was someone who could always make you smile whenever you were with him.

    Now he is in that spirit world with Allen, Jack, Neal, Gregory, Lucien, Dodi Muller, Dizzy, Monk, Charlie Parker and all those on the other side whose spirit and work continue to light up the sky.

    Now that Peter is in new surroundings, Bhudda will be smiling more often than ever.

    And every time we think of Peter, so will we.

    David Amram
    Memorial Day
    May 31, 2010
    Putnam Valley, NY

  3. Thursday is Ginz’ b’day. He
    Thursday is Ginz’ b’day. He would have been 84. Peter was his One True Love. They always lit up around each other, got halos or something. It’s true, Peter was the quieter one, but he was every inch the poet. I remember his guitar, not all the strings always in tune but the tune always played by the phrase, not by the tiktok.

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