Beat — The Latter Days of the Beat Generation, A First-Hand Account by Andy Clausen / Autonomedia / 17.95
Here’s what I wrote about Andy Clausen when asked to write a blurb for his book of poetry Home of the Brave:
ANDY CLAUSEN is an American lug of poetry, unsung worker, overlooked genius, hilarious true original voice toiling in relative obscurity to the shame of those in charge of the Big Poetry Contest. Don’t wait 50 years after he’s dead. Read him now.
The publisher took out the word “lug.” To paraphrase Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, “but he is, Blanche.”
Andy is a big bear of a blue collar worker, in fact made most of his living as a hod carrier (which is, youngsters, a tray or trough that has a pole handle and is shoulder-borne for carrying loads (like mortar or brick). Andy literally lugged shit around. He is now 75 years old. He is not gay and he could never have been called “pretty.” However, he was championed heavily by Allen Ginsberg, which may have hurt him as it seems to have hurt most if not all of the half-dozen Post-Beat poets that Allen especially called attention to. Andy remarks on this himself in his new memoir. It is probably due to the resentment such attention caused.
What’s interesting is that among those poets (all still alive), each has focused on particular areas of Ginsberg’s interests — Buddhism, politics, gay rights, ecology etc. — showing that Allen did indeed contain multitudes.
Clausen has a long, Whitmanic breath to his lines, and his subject is frequently America. From his worker roots he is probably closest to Kerouac in his affection for its common people. He “came of age” at the famous 1967 San Francisco Human Be-In, and this Woodstock sensibility of acid, dance, love and freedom never left. In contrast, I’m ten years his junior, and so my “coming of age” might be 1977 — the Sex Pistols, punk and New Wave. Both of us seem time-stamped.
Andy spent a lot of time around the aging Beats, which Naropa University certainly helped, and has many astonishing anecdotes that Beat fanboys and scholars alike will go apeshit over. I’m both and I can tell you — if such is of interest, you have to read this book! The Beat poets, other than Allen, that Clausen seems most drawn to tend to be close to the street. Gregory Corso, Ray Bremser, Q.R. Hand, and Jack Micheline are really Andy’s peeps, so much so that it speaks to Ginsberg’s equanimity that Clausen finds him so heroic and masterful in such near-derelict company. On the other hand, William S. Burroughs gets such a maddeningly short description, he might as well have been a face at a cocktail party. Andy was his chauffeur! But the alien reptile braniac and the Love Gen hod carrier did not interface well. That says quite a bit right there.
It takes a little time to adjust one’s vision to the weed haze of Clausen’s memory. There are not chapters and there is no index. In fact, there is not even a chronology. Memories are assembled with the randomness of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch routines. An anecdote is signaled by most of the first sentence being all in caps. Once you know this, you are free to open the book where ever you want. Fight this, and the book will be majorly frustrating, like a sidewalk slicked with ice. There is a vague effort at an introduction and a final sign-off.
Instead of photos, Andy uses the sketches of Michael Woyczuk and these, in a strange nod of order, are all notated in an opening table of contents. This is good, because there are no captions on the pages themselves, but getting used to Andy’s oral Kerouacian prose, I knew who I was looking at anyway. But not always, so that table of contents was helpful.
But truly amazing stories! Nowhere else are you going to read about Ginsberg coming down from a 1978 acid trip and arguing with Gregory Corso, standing up shakily and saying “I’m not afraid of you!” (Allen had dropped to re-evaluate LSD for a psychedelic conference).
Andy is very naked and self-deprecating in his accounts — wondering whether or not he blew it. Descriptions of his own once-drunken behavior are at once hilarious and painful.
The book goes by the uninspiring title Beat. Who talked Andy into that?! At the bottom it says The Latter Days of the Beat Generation, A First-Hand Account. Now that’s a grabber! Timothy Greenfield Sanders’ great black and white photo of Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke graces the cover — it is most certainly their latter days. It’s a good choice, but Huncke is hardly in the book, barely alive long enough for Andy to make one of his few bitingly cruel remarks about a self-styled acolyte holding forth later at Huncke’s funeral. The acolyte is an ambitious elder poet that Andy names (I won’t — you’ll need to read the book) who frankly has always gotten on my nerves as well.
Given the weed, there is a Rashomon element. I had heard another reliable account of the same poetry reading where a Hell’s Angel read, and it had a different ending than Andy’s. There were a lot of worthy people around that Andy neglects to mention, and he doesn’t always say anything at all about people he does. They were there, that’s it. This can ultimately be forgiven, because he writes about who made an impression on him — and the brief Burroughs anecdote alone shows what happens when they don’t. Andy writes from a very particular worldview. He tells Ginsberg why the intellectual Left and the working class don’t get each other. It makes amazing sense, and according to Andy, Allen weeps hearing it. Andy himself is a democratic socialist. His accounts of meetings with Tibetan Buddhist heavyweights are also maddenly brief and seem to involve their collective amusement at his wacky, egoic answers.
Regardless, the more I read, the more I enjoyed this book. It is, despite shortcomings, all that it claims to be. Once you take on Andy’s world, you won’t be disappointed by what is not included It’s a definite extension of his poetry and I appreciate its authenticity.