poetry: Ginsberg – Howl and other poems (1956)

Some weeks ago Caleb and I spent four hours walking up and down and around the block, past the hospital, in and out of bars as each was either too noisy, or too empty, and eventually to the convenience store where I bought some milk and frosted flakes, and back to my refrigerator, and then back to the streets to walk around the block some more.

I felt conflicted by a recent turn of events in my life: for the first time ever, I’m being paid to compose music. I’m elated, but there’s still that starry-eyed teenager inside me whispering the old shit about refusing to sell out. The whisperings are cute, but I’ve been sick since July, and about once a month I go to a different doctor asking for charity to help fix me up for a few weeks. My cough came back today…and that’s what you don’t think about as a teenager.

Caleb brought up a point I’d forgotten: for all of history (history itself assuming a modicum of civilization and the confidence necessary to record its goings-on) until rather recently, art was created on commission, more or less exclusively. That’s good company. And then he suggested that the first time art was created for its own sake, or rather, as a vessel for its creator, was the romantic era.

Oof! You know how I feel about romanticism.

But it isn’t just that it was being created as vessels for their creators, but it was setting the new norms for art through its popularity. By the end of the romantic era an entire generation had grown up with their works as some of the most accessible reading material, like the Da Vinci Code for us. And here’s why this is relevant to us presently: because the trend increased continually, right up to our Facebook/Youtube lives, in which we’re all stars, constantly producing content (i.e., me, right now) to glorify ourselves.

BUT! there’s this little blip along the way, the GI Bill after WWII, the thing that sent a whole generation of white American men to college. And a great number of them took creative writing classes. And a great number of them began writing literature. And that’s where postmodernism came from, I guess.

People who don’t know much, writing books for people who know even less, to teach them about how they pass their days. Does everyone deserve a liberal arts education? No. And does everyone deserve to be subjected to a liberal arts education? No. But that’s what we spend some 17 years at least doing, going to get a liberal arts education so we can be somehow presentable, and yet still unable to function in any meaningful way to society. You know what I’d have rather done: go to school to become an auto mechanic; there are very few things in my life that I’ve found as fulfilling as fixing my car (which is super, since I drove into some guy’s gigantic tire when I was trying to parallel park, and tore half my bumper off). Whenever my brother offers to employ me at his highway-paving business I decline the offer because…you know…my delicate fingers.

To the point: I find Kerouac and Ferlinghetti unreadable, Burroughs oversold, and Ginsberg of sometime comic value. And that’s about all I can say about that.

Why this book was thrust into my hands when I was just 18 or 19, in college, as part of an American Diversity class I needed for my major, only god knows–but that’s what college is–teaching children about the world through books while simultaneously putting them in so much debt as to ensure they can never experience the world for themselves.

It’s better than plenty of things, of course. It’s better than all the things that lead to great art, for instance.

In the meantime I’d been wondering if I’d already reached my peak, if I was already on my way downhill and just nobody had told me. If I had to pinpoint my peak, it occurred somewhere during 2009. That’s a nice time to begin going downhill. And suddenly my music is on national television?!?!? This is definitely my peak, well, sometime yesterday, like, right before I cooked a lunch that made me kinda sick, that was my peak, when I found out about it. But, since time is pretty big place, that’s relatively recent, and so I hit my peak yesterday! I sure hope it’s not all downhill. I’m not ready for that yet.

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