Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Not Mistaken for Candy

I'd absolutely love to join you at the Firehouse on Tuesday evening for a $5 bongo thrumming soiree of pseudo-intellectual, empathetical thinking. When does the Beat generation begin? Do we have time for a nosh beforehand?

So it was that we began at Garnett's and ended with Gordon.

While it might not compare to Beat-era prices, twenty bucks for two glasses of wine and four small plates seemed positively square to the beat. Dates wrapped in bacon with Gorgonzola, crostini with mayhaw jelly and Gorgonzola, toasted tea sandwiches of ham and garlic aioli, and prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe neatly took care of our noshing needs.

At the Firehouse, we took primo seats in the front row, the better to get up close and personal with Gordon Ball.

Never heard of him? Me, either. Turns out he was the filmmaker who'd been hired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg back in the '60s to manage his farm in upstate New York.

Why did a Beat need a farm, you may wonder. Well, where else could his drug and alcohol-dependent friends and fellow poets go to escape the evils of NYC and dry out?

As we sat there waiting for the  talk to begin, I got a visit from a non-Beat poet, a friend who'd just returned from writing poetry in Vermont. As we caught up, a man walked up and stood in front of me.

"Hi," he said smiling shyly. "Are you Kathy?" I had to admit I wasn't, that the best I could do was Karen.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, beginning to return to his front row seat near us. Don't worry, I told him. I'm probably not half as interesting as Kathy is.

"I'm sure that's not true," he said.

Imagine my surprise when he was the one who walked onstage to do the reading. I'd been mistaken for Kathy by Gordon Ball.

He began by showing photographs from the farm taken from 1968-70. Everyone had that late sixties hippie look going - beards, long hair, lean bodies (no high fructose corn syrup in those days) - and the farm, which he described as "in the snow belt" looked remote beyond belief.

"So there's the line-up," he said at the end of the slide show, having introduced us to the cast of characters who regularly inhabited the bucolic Beat getaway.

We were then treated to him reading three chapters from his book, "East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg." I loved how he referred to his girlfriend of the time, Candy, as "shapely energy."

Now I wished he'd mistaken me for Candy instead of Kathy.

As he was reading about being hassled by the police, a siren screamed down Broad Street outside and he paused and grinned. Over the next  hour, we heard tales of under-appreciated Thanksgivings, black eyes and drunken poets beating their heads on flagstones.

He referred to the farm as a refuge for needy poets (there are other kinds?) but in the most affectionate way.

During the stage interview, host Liz referred to him repeatedly as Allen rather than Gordon. Considering Allen is dead, not to mention he was a heavy man with a dark beard and Gordon was still lean and light-haired, it was rather disconcerting.

The evening concluded with Gordon showing his film "Mexican Jail Footage," shot in 1968, he said, and made with "chewing gum and love" and not intended to be anything but a documentation of time spent illegally detained in a jail south of the border.

Frankly, it was fascinating to see how he and his friends had occupied themselves during their incarceration. Yoga, smoking pot (one handful acquired from the jailer), being taken to a Chinese restaurant by said jailer (and a whorehouse), being taken to a fancy hotel for dinner by a friend's mother and, obviously, shooting film footage.

Boy, they don't make jails like they used to, do they?

It wasn't all fun and games, though. They had to pay a local to go out and buy them food during their stay, meaning they quickly ran through their money. But it finished happily with a plane ticket to Texas (okay, relatively happily) and freedom.

The evening ended with me purchasing his book so I could get it signed by the man who'd known Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Burroughs. He opted to inscribe it to Karen rather than Kathy, saying I was much younger than she was.

Despite the absence of bongo thrumming, I know I'll never get closer to a Beat than I did tonight.

Kind of makes me want to howl.

No comments:

Post a Comment