Friday, December 5, 2008

Beats in the City: "Denver! Denver!"

Having never before lived anywhere that was relevant in any literary way (unless you count the Central Coast of California, whose biggest claim to fame is Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series, aka A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc), it is interesting to know that I am living in a city that made a very large impression on what was once my favorite group of writers: the Beats.

Rewind to Denver, 1947: Neal Cassady and Jack Keruoac (pictured right) along with one of my favorite poets, Allen Ginsberg, cavorted about downtown Denver. Their escapades were to be later remembered by Keruoac in On the Road, in which he based the character of Dean Moriarty on Neal Cassady, a car thief who could quote Schopenhauer.
In truth, Denver's impact on the Beats came from its impact on Cassady, who grew up in Curtis Park and whose boyhood took place in four square miles of downtown. Kerouac's romanticizing Denver was strictly due to his admiration for Cassady, as was Ginsberg's. In a way, it is an interesting circle: Cassady would never have been famous without Kerouac or Ginsberg, and Denver never would have had its mid-century impact on literature without Cassady.
If you're curious, here are several links to walking and driving tours of Denver that explore its Beat history:

To see what other important literature was written or based here, check out this site from the Westword:
And with that, I leave you with Allen Ginseberg's "The Green Automobile," which exactly captures the spirit of Denver that he felt here--an "authentic American" spirit that was wild, untamed, and fresh.

"The Green Automobile"
by Allen Ginsberg

If I had a Green Automobile
I'd go find my old companion
in his house on the Western ocean.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

I'd honk my horn at his manly gate,
inside his wife and three
children sprawl naked
on the living room floor.

He'd come running out
to my car full of heroic beer
and jump screaming at the wheel
for he is the greater driver.

We'd pilgrimage to the highest mount
of our earlier Rocky Mountain visions
laughing in each others arms,
delight surpassing the highest Rockies,

and after old agony, drunk with new years,
bounding toward the snowy horizon
blasting the dashboard with original bop
hot rod on the mountain

we'd batter up the cloudy highway
where angels of anxiety
careen through the trees
and scream out of the engine.

We'd burn all night on the jackpine peak
seen from Denver in the summer dark,
forestlike unnatural radiance
illuminating the mountaintop:

childhood youthtime age & eternity
would open like sweet trees
in the nights of another spring
and dumbfound us with love,

for we can see together
the beauty of souls
hidden like diamonds
in the clock of the world,

like Chinese magicians can
confound the immortals
with our intellectuality
hidden in the mist,

in the Green Automobile
which I have invented
imagined and visioned
on the roads of the world

more real than the engine
on a track in the desert
purer than Greyhound and
swifter than physical jetplane.

Denver! Denver! we'll return
roaring across the City & County Building lawn
which catches the pure emerald flame
streaming in the wake of our auto.

This time we'll buy up the city!
I cashed a great check in my skull bank
to found a miraculous college of the body
up on the bus terminal roof.

But first we'll drive the stations of downtown,
poolhall flophouse jazzjoint jail
whorehouse down Folsom
to the darkest alleys of Larimer

paying respects to Denver's father
lost on the railroad tracks,
stupor of wine and silence
hallowing the slum of his decades,

salute him and his saintly suitcase
of dark muscatel, drink
and smash the sweet bottles
on Diesels in allegiance.

Then we go driving drunk on boulevards
where armies march and still parade
staggering under the invisible
banner of Reality --

hurtling through the street
in the auto of our fate
we share an archangelic cigarette
and tell each others' fortunes:

fames of supernatural illumination,
bleak rainy gaps of time,
great art learned in desolation
and we beat apart after six decades. . . .

and on an asphalt crossroad,
deal with each other in princely
gentleness once more, recalling
famous dead talks of other cities.

The windshield's full of tears,
rain wets our naked breasts,
we kneel together in the shade
amid the traffic of night in paradise

and now renew the solitary vow
we made each other take
in Texas, once:
I can't inscribe here. . . .

. . . . . .

. . . . . .

How many Saturday nights will be
made drunken by this legend?
How will young Denver come to mourn
her forgotten sexual angel?

How many boys will strike the black piano
in imitation of the excess of a native saint?
Or girls fall wanton under his spectre in the high
schools of melancholy night?

While all the time in Eternity
in the wan light of this poem's radio
we'll sit behind forgotten shades
hearkening the lost jazz of all Saturdays.

Neal, we'll be real heroes now
in a war between our cocks and time:
let's be the angels of the world's desire
and take the world to bed with us before
we die.

Sleeping alone, or with companion,
girl or fairy sheep or dream,
I'll fail of lacklove, you, satiety:
all men fall, our fathers fell before,

but resurrecting that lost flesh
is but a moment's work of mind:
an ageless monument to love
in the imagination:

memorial built out of our own bodies
consumed by the invisible poem --
We'll shudder in Denver and endure
though blood and wrinkles blind our eyes.

So this Green Automobile:
I give you in flight
a present, a present
from my imagination.

We will go riding
over the Rockies,
we'll go on riding
all night long until dawn,

then back to your railroad, the SP
your house and your children
and broken leg destiny
you'll ride down the plains

in the morning: and back
to my visions, my office
and eastern apartment
I'll return to New York.

NY 1953

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