Lee Harris's introduction of Allen Ginsberg at Heaven nightclub Thursday October 19th 1995
Introduction by Lee Harris
It was on the 11th June 1965, over thirty years ago, that I first heard Allen Ginsberg at the International Poetry Reading at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We turned up in our thousands to hear some of the best poets of the Beat Generation.
When Allen Ginsberg stood up to read his poems you could feel an electric charge in the air. There he was, like an old testament prophet, with his long dark hair and bushy beard, his voice reverberating with emotional intensity. Never before in that hallowed hall had such outrageous and colourful language been heard. Someone shouted out from behind me, ' Go back to the gas chambers.' I saw a couple scurrying out with their children. Hearing Allen that first time was a revelatory and illuminating experience.
That event and his presence in London that summer, helped kindle the spark that set the underground movement alight in the mid-sixties.
But it was ten years earlier, on the 13th of October 1955 in San Francisco at the first public reading of 'Howl' that Allen Ginsberg achieved fame and notoriety.
Michael McClure, one of the poets reading that night, later told Allen that ' Howl ' was his ' metamorphosis from a quiet brilliant burning bohemian scholar, trapped by his flames and repressions, to epic vocal bard.'
A decade earlier during his student days at Columbia University in New York, he formed life-long friendships with Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady. During those early days in New York the seeds were planted that would influence the literature and life-styles of young people for years to come.
I next saw Allen Ginsberg in London during the 'Summer of Love' in 1967, when the flower children were in full bloom, at two memorable events. The Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm and at the Legalise Pot Rally in Hyde Park, where a policeman stopped him chanting and playing his harmonium, as it broke park by-laws.
Earlier that year, in January 1967, Allen together with Timothy Leary chanted mantras at the Human Be-In at the Golden Gate Park in Fan Francisco where thirty thousand people assembled for a 'Gathering of the Tribes', with music supplied by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
Allen Ginsberg was accepted as an elder statesman of the Counter-Culture, one of the few older people the hippies felt they could trust.
It was purely by chance that I went along to hear Allen and his long-time lover Peter Orlovsky at the Roundhouse one cold November eve in 1979 and was touched by Allen's spiritual warmth and gentle serenity.
I came away with two books that would lead me on a great voyage of discovery. One of them was 'As Ever' the collected correspondence of Allen and Neal Cassady, dating from the forties to Neal's tragic death in the sixties. The other was 'Indian Journals', Allens notebook writings, dream fragments and night thoughts written during his trip to India with Peter in 1962/3.
As you can imagine, it is a great privilege for me to help bring Allen Ginsberg to megatripolis in Heaven and introduce him to a new younger audience, here in the heart of London, a short distance as the crow flies from the street where his beloved William Blake wrote 'Songs of Innocence' two hundred years ago.
I shall always remember Allen's rendering of 'Who Be Kind To' at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965. Let me quote a fragment of the poem:
'Tonite let's all make love in London
as if it were 2001 the years
of thrilling god- '
Bom Bom Mahadev! Welcome Allen Ginsberg.
c Copyright Lee Harris