The noon day sun shone through a skylight in the back room of the newly opened "Twice Told Coffee House" on Bardstown Road near a new clothes shop called "Grateful Threads." Two more of our city's recent tips of the hat to Bohemian culture.
A sunbeam bounced off walls covered with enlarged book covers of titles like "Dharma Bums," by Beat generation icon Jack Kerouac, and a drawing of William Burroughs, the author of "Naked Lunch." Then it landed directly on the bald, bespectacled head of Allen Ginsberg, the poet largely responsible for the literary movement that spawned those books and writers.
In Louisville for the first time, as the guest of U of L's "Thinker Review," the author of the revolutionary "Howl" and over 30 other books sat surrounded by about a dozen admirers, including his "Thinker" hosts, who invited him to teach and recite at the college.
It was part of a "literary explosion" that "Thinker' editors Ron Whitehead and Kent Fielding say is going on in the Louisville area.
As Ginsberg a vegetarian meal of beans and rice, a choice necessitated by his diabetes and recent heart failure, Ginsberg, a long time human rights activist, talked about censorship, politics and the state of the world.
"It seems like the fundamentalists and neo-conservatives are trying to reimpose some kind of Stalinist mind control," he said. "They use the same language in attacking what they call corrupt art or dirty art or individualistic art."
What motivates people like Helms?
"I think it's some kind of authoritarian impulse. They just want to be mind dictators. Jesse Helms is always talking about homosexuals. He's obsessed with the subject. He's always waving dirty pictures around. His relation to the gay scene is that he wants to be the dominator, the sadist...humiliating the passive partner. So he's the pervert."
What about the Republican party, Dan Quayle and their stance on family values?
"Quayle is a prig and a draft dodger. Phyllis Schlafly's son is gay. Ronald Reagan's son his gay. The Reagans hardly ever went to church unless it was politically obvious and expedient. When George Bush was head of he CIA, he payed off Noriega knowing full well he was a drug dealer. So the whole family values thing is just hype, a con, a scam."
If these politicians are so bad, why did the American people put them in office?
"Most everybody gets their information from television. And at this point, most public media is owned by 20 or 30 people. So it's like an oligarchy that's really determining what's emphasized in the news."
Do you think that people at the university level realize what's going on?
"Yeah, I think so. I think that everybody knows it. And there may be a reaction with Bill Clinton. But I don't think Clinton is going to be much of an improvement except on the culture front. Reagan and Bush have dug the United States into such an economic hole, I don't think we are ever going to get out of it. We're going to lose the planet in the next 100 or 200 years anyway."
Only a hundred years left?
"A couple hundred. I don't think there is going to be an explosion or an apocalypse. I think just a slow, sluggish gridlock. A Chernobyl here, a hurricane there, an ozone hole here or a weather change there."
Any advice for young people today?
"It depends on what field they are in. If they want to be scientists, I'd say try and help to find some clean energy substance. Besides over population, I think the use of fossil fuel is our biggest problem."
What about the liberal arts? Are people going to be reading anymore or writing books? Is poetry still going to be important?
"Yeah, sure. When they pull the electric plug there will still be books. And when the books rot or the libraries lose their lights, the only thing that will be left are singers like Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan. And they'll be considered the great poets because they will be stuck in memory."
So saying, Ginsberg scrawled a token of his appreciation, a symbolic sketch of a goddess figure surrounded by a circle representing the life cycle. At the bottom he drew a skull.
"Existence contains suffering," quoth a departing Ginsberg.
"So if you're not afraid of suffering, you can be happy. If you are afraid of suffering, then you are going to surround yourself with chemicals, TV sets, skyscrapers and atom bombs and make it worse."
by Danny O'Bryan
The Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) magazine