Ginsberg and the Meat of the Matter

Ginsberg and the Meat of the Matter

Third annual HOWL! Festival celebrates an earlier age of underground expression

… who wept at the romance of the streets with their

pushcarts full of onions and bad music,

who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the

bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts …


who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht

& tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,

who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg

who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot

for Eternity outside of Time …

— Allen Ginsberg, “HOWL!”

Phil Hartman remembers one memorable dinner he had with Allen Ginsberg––“in 1995 or so, at Two Boots, actually,” the restaurant Hartman founded and has been running since 1987 at Avenue A and Second Street.

“I was shocked, because Allen ordered a pizza with double andouille––Cajun sausage––double, mind you. Allen, the vegetarian. But that was typical of Allen, who had such gusto in everything.

“Everybody in the East Village feels like they knew Allen. Such a vivid presence; in addition to poet and artist he was a community activist. I felt a big void when [in 1997] Allen was gone,” said Hartman, the executive director of FEVA, the Federation of East Village Artists, who is also impresario of the Pioneer movie theater on East Third Street.

That void can’t be filled, but this third year of the FEVA-sponsored HOWL! Festival of East Village Arts, Sunday, August 21 through Sunday, August 28––a close-up exposure to the works, thoughts and ambiance of hundreds of downtown artists in more than 40 locales in the East Village and Lower East Side––is Ginsberg’s in more ways than one.

The main way will be a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his writing of “HOWL!”––through a three-hour series of readings, 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, August 26, free and outdoors in Tompkins Square Park, scene of many a tumultuous confrontation between The People and The System over the years.

The first hour will see young poets reading from their own works. The second hour, prominent but not necessarily young poets will do the same. The third hour is a reading of “HOWL!” in its entirety by balladeer Steve Van Zandt, poet Anne Waldman, and poet-playwright Michael McClure, whose “The Beard,” in 1965, caused almost as much uproar as “HOWL!” in 1955. Steven Taylor will accompany them with his original music to that poem.

And will Hartman read?

“No, no, but I’ll be rooting them on.”

The event represents a collaboration between the Bowery Poetry Club, the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, the Tribes Gallery, and the Allen Ginsberg Foundation, which is administered by Bob Rosenthal, Ginsberg’s assistant during Allen’s lifetime.

All the dozens of performers and artists taking part this year are, in effect, paying tribute to Ginsberg, a brilliant, decent, generous, civilized, very gutsy, pan-sexual freedom fighter who made a great many things possible that followed in his tracks.

Bearing on his life and works only inferentially is the marvelous 1960 Bert Stern film, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” shot two years before that at the Newport Jazz Festival. It’s a feature of this year’s HOWL! Festival in projections at Steve Cannon’s Tribes Gallery, 285 East Third Street between Avenues C and D.

Everybody who was anybody in jazz in those years is in this stunning, and stunningly evocative, movie––Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Thelonius Monk, Jerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, Mahalia Jackson, Jack Teagarden, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Giuffre, and on and on.

Everybody but Charlie Parker. Bird had died in 1955––the year of “HOWL!”

“I’m 70 years old,” said Steve Cannon, “and I first saw that movie when I was in England. Everybody was really blown away. I fell in love with it. Well, every year for 12 years now, we [at Tribes] have been celebrating Charlie Parker’s birthday. So now there are a lot of young people running around the Lower East Side who never heard of this movie, and I thought they ought to have a chance to see it. It’ll be on view continually during the whole festival. Admission price? Nah. Contributions… ”

The film will run continuously from noon until 10 p.m. every day of the festival.

Phil Hartman, for his part, is excited by two cinematic events at his Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street.

On Monday, August 22, 7 p.m., the feature will be Robert Downey, Sr.’s 1972 “Greaser’s Palace,” one of Hartman’s own favorites––“an amazing cult film that’s shown very rarely, but even more rarely now. It’s a psychedelic satire on religion, movies, everything. Bob Downey, Sr., began on the Lower East Side, you know.”

On Friday, August 26, 7 p.m., the Pioneer will, in tribute to Luis Guzman, “the Lower East Sider who became Hollywood’s favorite Latino,” run a montage of highlights from his career. Guzman will be in attendance.

Hartman, born 49 years ago in Brooklyn, reared in Long Island, started the first HOWL! Festival partly in defiance of the gentrification that was then, as he saw it, destroying the Lower East Side and East Village.

And now?

“It’s kind of unstoppable, but what we’re trying to do is at least shape how it evolves. To make sure some of the new buildings have space for the arts and for performing people. To see that existing institutions are protected. We’ll try hard to build a low-cost arts center with cheap studios for artists on Avenue D.”

Allen Ginsberg would howl okay to that.