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Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

This recollection is from a bit later in life rather than in childhood.  I was in graduate school at The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and I am guessing that this happened around 1983, give or take a year of so.  The former Mrs. Translator had not yet had our first child, so the time sounds about right.

At the time The University of Arkansas was pretty much a run of the mill public university with a couple of notable exceptions:  the Chemistry Department and the English Department.  Those were recognized at outstanding at a national level and I am honored to have been part of the Chemistry Department.  Both of these departments were part of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Whitehead was the chair of the English Department at the time and he pulled a lot of weight.  He was able to get major people of letters to come and give readings, and for students as well as members of the general community there was no charge to attend.  Another notable author that I saw give a reading was Ken Kesey of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest fame, although I thought Sometimes a Great Notion was a superior work.

In any event, Allen Ginsberg was scheduled to give a reading and the former Mrs. Translator and I were eager to attend since we were both fans of his works (although I think that I was the bigger fan).  We arrived at the Science and Engineering Auditorium, the largest lecture hall on campus, a bit early and that was a good thing because it was packed.  According to a friend of mine who is a planner for the campus, it held 350 seated and I estimate that there were another 100 or more standing in the aisles and in the vestibule.

It turns out that the English Department was giving ten points added to the bottom line of students taking Freshman English for attending!  Personally, I think that such rewards are a bad practice, but nevertheless that is what happened.  In addition, there was quite a bit of publicity about a famous poet coming to lecture, so there were lots of old folks there as well.  We were able to find two seats so we could sit together.

There were sign in sheets for the Freshman English students, but they were not made available until intermission so they stayed until then, after which many of them left.  But what happened at the beginning of the reading was the funny part.

After Dr. Whitehead introduced him (and his partner, the poet Peter Orlovsky, so we got even more than we had bargained for), he began to read.  His first words were at a scream, "Oh, f--- me in the a--!".

You should have seen the audience!  Any of you who have hunted quail know that when a covey of quail become alarmed and take wing it is a flurry of activity that occurs in a very short time.  Most of the older people in the audience, thinking that they were going to see some sort of distinguished Robert Frost type of character displayed expressions of horror and rushed for the exits!

Actually, it was sort of nice.  Enough space opened up near the stage for us to get much better seats, like the second or third row near the aisle.  Both of us were laughing our lungs out at the spectacle, but having our CB receptors fully populated might have had something to do with that.  So we watched the rest of the reading from an excellent vantage point.

Ginsberg read parts of "Howl" and lots of other pieces, and he and Orolovsky sang some songs accompanied by a squeezebox.  I remember one had something to do with a group of friends having breakfast with them one morning and that there was, "...LSD in the jam, in the jam.".

At intermission most of the freshmen left and I took my opportunity to get in the queue to meet him.  Since we were sitting so close I was near the front (actually the second or third person out of only five or six) and got to see him right away.  I took my copy of the Second Edition of my The Norton Introduction to Literature with me, because "Howl" was reproduced in it beginning on page 608.  I asked him to sign it and he joked, "Who is plagiarizing me now?", but was happy to oblige and autographed it without hesitation.

We chatted for a while about his life experiences, and he was interested in my field of study, organic chemistry.  He said things to the effect that some of his favorite people were organic chemists, like Dr. Hofmann and Owsley Stanley.  I knew the connexion that he was making.  Dr. Albert Hofmann was the first to synthesize LSD in 1938 (although he did not discover its unique properties until 1943).  By the way, Hofmann lived to be 102 years old and claimed to have taken the material at least 100 times.  Stanley is famous for mass producing the material in the 1960s in California.  He died at 76 years, the victim of an automobile crash.

We chatted for a while and I noticed some sort of shadow under his tuxedo shirt.  I asked him what was on his shirt, meaning his undershirt, and he said, "Did I spill something on it?".  I told him that I meant his undershirt, and he unbuttoned his tux shirt and opened it, pointing to a group picture.  "That's Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review.  Here I am!"  I looked online to see if I could find an image of it, but to no avail.

I ran out of things to say to him, and there were a couple of people behind me so I thanked him for his time and autograph, shook his hand, and left.  He was very gracious and seemed to be genuine.  I wish that I had taken my camera at the time, but did not.  In those days 35 mm ruled, and we had a pretty good Pentax but I did not think to bring it.

In lieu of pictures that I personally took, here is one of him (and the squeezebox) taken just a couple of years after I saw him.

Photobucket

And the autograph?  Here it is, because I still have that book!

Photobucket

You can compare it with the one on Wikipedia.

Photobucket

Outside of academic circles this is the most famous person that I ever met personally, unless you count the magician Mark Wilson that I got to meet when I was five.  I still remember that, too.  When Kesey came to read the queue was huge and I did not bother to try and fight the crowd.  I remember this episode fondly, though, because it is not often that one can meet a person of letters of his stature.

I would like to thank TheMomCat from The Stars Hollow Gazette and Docudharma for the idea to write about this.  It turns out that Ginsberg first read "Howl" on 19551007 and she pointed that out in her excellent On This Day in History series Sunday.

Ginsberg died on 19970405 of complications from liver cancer caused by hepatitis, likely either Type B or Type C.  His lifestyle was conducive to contracting either of those because of his lifestyle.  He was only 70 years old.

That does it for tonight.  Once again, please feel add your recollections of earlier times in your life in the comments.  I enjoy reading them, and I know that others do as well.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette

Docudharma, and

firefly-dreaming

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and recs for (14+ / 0-)

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 05:43:33 PM PDT

  •  My Father's Long Journey For His PhD (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, katrinka, KenBee

    went through the University of Arkansas. Just one semester before heading to LSU and T. Harry Williams as his major professor. I've met a few famous people in my life, but if I could have met and chatted with Alan for a few minutes that would have been a highlight!

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:13:30 PM PDT

    •  Fayetteville is a magical place, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      webranding, katrinka, KenBee

      and for Arkansas almost unrecognizable.   It was really a joy to meet him, and he was very gracious and generous with his time.  He NEVER seemed like I was bothering him.  I think that he really liked people.

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:15:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In My Experience Large College Towns (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, KenBee

        are often like that. It is a long story, but my family has been spending about a week in Louisiana every year since like the 50s. My dad would get his PhD there. I'd get my MA there. Heck I was born there. I often think if there was anyplace in the US I could retire to, it would be Baton Rouge. Just a flat out wonderful town. The college is nice. The food. My gosh the music. Just a "small" town feel in a town that is like 250,000.

        When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

        by webranding on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:28:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I have spent some time in (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          webranding, KenBee

          Baton Rouge, and I agree.  It is a wonderful place.  My maths mentor, Dr. Kessee, got his Ph.D. there and salvaged my scientific career by helping me understand the calculus.

          Warmest regards,

          Doc

          I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

          by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:32:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Just As An Aside (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, bluedust

    I hate acid. Maybe "clean" stuff is good but more of a mushroom person. You know things that grow on their own and not made in a lab. I've only gotten high like a handful of times in the last decade, but at another time in my life, well I used a lot of drugs.

    I had a few "bad" times on acid. Never once on mushrooms. Well OK once, but then again I shouldn't have eaten that many of them :).

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:18:03 PM PDT

    •  Well, even natural things (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      webranding, bluedust

      are not always good.  Botulinum toxin, a natural product, is the most toxic nonradiological substance known.  One pint, evenly distributed, would kill every human on the planet.

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:22:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here Is A Story, Earlier Times (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator

    My grandfather went to college when he was 14. University of IL. My great grandmother moved with him to Urbana. The day he finished his medical internship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis he proposed to my grandmother, who was a nurse. He enlisted. Was sent to Shepard's Field in TX for training as a flight surgeon.

    On a few weekends he'd head to New Orleans to blow off steam he'd stay at the Place d'Armes hotel. When they found out he was serving, they gave him pretty much everything for free.

    That is where we started going there ....

    Honestly I know that hotel almost as much as I know my own house I have spent so much time in it. The doorman, which I think was there when I an infant, addresses me and my dad as Mr. Young when we come to stay.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:42:00 PM PDT

  •  The squeezebox (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, Translator

    Looks like a portable harmonium.

  •  Brings back great memories (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, Translator

    In 1988 Ginsburg (and others) came to Lowell MA to take part in the dedication of a memorial park for Jack Kerouac.  My wife and I owned a Bed And Breakfast in Lowell at the time and were asked to Host Alan Ginsberg and a couple of others.  

    By chance Margaret Nyman Byers, an old friend of my wife - in fact her mentor - was visiting.  Margaret had been a friend of Mann Ray and also Henry Miller and had introduced the two of them.  She later was Henry Miller's secretary in Los Angeles and at Big Sur.  

    Ginsberg was fascinated as he had never met Henry Miller.  We all sat on the big front porch on a warm summer evening and listened to tales of more than a few literary giants.

    .

    •  That is a great memory! (0+ / 0-)

      Now do you understand why I write this series?

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 10:00:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ginsberg in Maine (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator

    Met Ginsberg in Waldoboro ME when he played a show at the Waldo Theater there in the early 1980s.  I attended the rehearsal and the show where he performed with a trumpet player as well as his harmonium.  Got a chance to ask him about AIDS, which was ravaging the gay population at the time, and what he might be writing about it.  He responded, "Oh, you mean how it's a CIA plot?"  That didn't sit well with me.  He also said he didn't worry about AIDS because he seduced only straights.

    Years later, I read his last poems and saw how thoughtful he was about facing death and my estimation of him grew.  I also heard Gary Snyder speak about Ginsberg's efforts to say goodbye to all his friends at the end of his life, clearing up all the old business.  

    He broke through a lot of barriers and practiced his dying very well.  He left a lot of good poems and deepened the tradition.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 10:19:49 PM PDT

    •  I truly hope, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gmoke

      in around another 60 years or so, to clean up the transgressions that I have done.

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 10:29:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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