Allen Ginsberg : THE LAST WORD ON FIRST BLUES

by Sean Jewell::

You may be more beat than me and already know about Allen Ginsberg‘s First Blues, his double LP of music originally issued in 1983. Even if you already know what I don’t, though, you’ll be glad to hear Omnivore Records is re-issuing the recordings. Featuring Bob Dylan (really), Arthur Russell, Happy Traum, David Amram, Peter Orlovsky, and Steven Taylor as a 3CD set, with a 28-page color booklet and rare photos. Our man in the skies doing God’s work (music historian, Ginsberg estate-trusted aficionado) Pat Thomas (Listen, Whitey / Light in the Attic) produced the set and wrote the liner notes. Thomas was given full access to the poet’s tape archive at Stanford University and spent several years poring over hundreds of hours of recordings.

Thomas followed the tale of the tapes from 1971 through 1984, and interviewed original participants David Amram –who played music for and with Jack Kerouac (check out the film “Pull my Daisy“) and Steven Taylor, who Pat tells us is atotally unknown guy – except for freaks of Ginsberg’s music – like me – who know he played guitar live with Ginsberg for over 20 years !”

Allen Ginsberg and Pat Thomas discussing The Clash, King Crimson, and the Dream Syndicate in 1984
Allen Ginsberg and Pat Thomas discussing The Clash, King Crimson, and the Dream Syndicate in 1984

 

Taylor, who Thomas jests is Ginsberg’s Keith Richards, credits Ginsberg for the melodies in the liner notes–talkin’ blues style compositions full of harmonium, bells, piano, and cello. Ginsberg’s impish prodding and way with words make for great songs. Ginsberg’s songs self-deprecatingly acknowledge using black music to make money with the blues, and he never misses a chance to address politics, gay rights, and sexual liberation. It’s for this reason he also acknowledges the songs weren’t published right away by a record company. The whole set opens with Bob Dylan‘s “Going Down to San Diego,” in which Dylan announces he’ll meet Nixon at the Republican Convention of 1972 and call for him to “announce the end of war.” Ginsberg’s truths come across as both hilarious and historical in songs like “CIA Dope Calypso,” “Stay Away from the White House” and “Capitol Air,” and the collection is as brave as it is funny. Ginsberg includes his methods of smoking cessation including staying in bed for 24hrs and sucking cocks, not nicotine, in the psychedelic “Put Down Your Cigarette Rag,” and gets downright bluesy on several tracks.

After being inspired by Ginsberg’s less bluesy Tibetan mantra chants (from Holy Soul Jelly Roll), and hearing interpretations of William Blake poetry set to music (Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg) that didn’t quite fit the First Blues scope, Thomas made his way to Stanford to go through the archives to see what else existed, and dug up a whole third disc of previously unreleased material.

Over the years, in a roundabout way, Ginsberg assembled bands with Dylan, members of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Arthur Russell, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, The Clash, Bill Frisell, Peter Orlovsky, and many other less known, but equally talented, artists. From The Beats to The Punks, The Last Word on First Blues is proof that Ginsberg never stopped finding new ways to express himself.

On the weekend of June 3-5, during celebrations for what would have been Ginsberg’s 90th birthday, Thomas will host a round-table discussion about the First Blues recordings in Manhattan with the musicians who played on it, including Amram and Mansfield, to be followed by a one-off reunion of these musicians performing this material that evening.

Track Listing:

cd880515-0d65-4128-ac46-b371f949ca27Disc 1:
1. GOING DOWN TO SAN DIEGO
2. VOMIT EXPRESS
3. JIMMY BERGMAN (GAY LIB RAG)
4. NY YOUTH CALL ANNUNCIATION
5. CIA DOPE CALYPSO
6. PUT DOWN YR CIGARETTE RAG
7. SICKNESS BLUES
8. BROKEN BONE BLUES
9. STAY AWAY FROM THE WHITE HOUSE
10. HARDON BLUES
11. GURU BLUES

Disc 2:
1. EVERYBODY SING
2. GOSPEL NOBEL TRUTHS
3. BUS RIDE TO SUVA
4. PRAYER BLUES
5. LOVE FORGIVEN
6. FATHER DEATH BLUES
7. DOPE FIEND BLUES
8. TYGER
8. YOU ARE MY DILDO
10. OLD POND
11. NO REASON
12. MY PRETTY ROSE TREE
13. CAPITOL AIR

Bonus Disc: More Rags, Ballands, and Blues 1971-1985
1. NURSES SONG
2. SPRING (MERRILY WELCOME)
3. SEPTEMBER ON JESSORE ROAD
4. LAY DOWN YR MOUNTAIN
5. SLACK KEY GUITAR
6. REEF MANTRA
7. NY BLUES
8. COME ALONG VIETNAM (Rehearsal)
9. AIRPLANE BLUES (Live at Folk City)
10. FEEDING THEM RASPBERRIES TO GROW (Live at Folk City)
11. DO THE MEDITATION ROCK