Cover Photos & Artwork
Marcia Ward, TW Gaddy, Steve Wilson
Angelo diBenedetto, Rasta 68, Ed Ward
Michael Bergt & Jack Livingston
as always, for Marcia
Over the course of the last five years I’ve been tasked with the job of shedding light on the Bohemians of Denver, those, a mile high and underground, who have lived the life of artists. In 2010, I wrote an essay on the literary legacy of the Denver Beats for the Colorado Historical Society, lent my personal collection of Beat art and ephemera for an exhibition at The Byers-Evans House, and produced a show here at The Mercury Café, a celebration of all things underground entitled a Bohemian Extravaganza. In 2012 my story, Billy Burroughs Prediction’, was published in London’s, if not the world’s, premiere beat magazine, The Beat Scene. Earlier this year I was interviewed on the Medical Mary Jane Cable Network about my relationships to some of Denver’s most famous and sometimes most notorious Beat artists like James Ryan Morris, Angelo diBenedetto, Stan Brakhage, Larry Lake and others. I contributed info for a chapter on the Denver Beats for History Press’ THE DENVER BEAT SCENE by Zack Kopp. At the Neal Cassady Birthday Bash last February I got to entertain Cassady fans from near and far blowing my tale, No Going Back, a Cassady-esque tale of a wild blow job once received (a blow job being the fulcrum around which Neal’s famous 1950 23,000 word letter to Kerouac swung, a letter that prompted Jack to declare in a letter to Ed White (who designed the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at The Denver Botanic Gardens) that Denver’s own Neal Cassady was the greatest living writer in Europe and America, a mid-century correspondence that turned Jack on to a new way of writing. One result of appearing at the Cassady Birthday Bash upstairs at The Merc was that I was tapped to design a Beatnik Tour of Denver for an aspiring tour company. Late last spring, I gave a presentation on the Denver Beats to interested students at Colorado Academy (some of the suburban students were so enthralled they actually attended STORIES STORIES in the evening). Currently I am being filmed as the subject of a Gwylym Cano documentary wherein I narrate stories of poets and painters I have known. I mention all this to you not to brag but to justify my assertion that I am, these days, the delegated go-to-guy when the legacy of Denver Beats is the subject.
The somewhat ironic story that follows is the tale of how all-things-beatnik first infiltrated my Jesuit-Prep School-educated soul.
When I was nine years old, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road made the scene in bookstores all across the nation and gave birth to a cultural revolution. What it meant to be hip was newly defined. The year was 1957. On The Road didn’t find me, however, until 1965, and I must admit, I was not all that impressed when it was required reading in my senior year of high school. So, you might say that in 1957 Bohemians became Beatniks. Bores became squares. Espresso became Expresso because my good friend and mentor, Tony Scibella, spelled it that way when he painted the signage on the window of Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West Café in 1959, a scene that was central to Larry Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians, a tome that examined what it meant to be beat in Los Angeles. I met Tony Scibella almost twenty years after he painted EXPRESSO and eventually published his masterpiece THE KID IN AMERICA in 2000. 1959 also saw the arrival of Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver on the black and white TV screens of North America playing the roles of Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in the syndicated show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I watched the show in real time as it was broadcast and laughed my pre-adolescent ass off at the antics of the beatnik that was Maynard; I never forgot the way Maynard screeched “Work.” He was cooler than a pack of Kools or a micronite (aka asbestos) filter on a Kent cigarette. Speaking of Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, here’s a Hollywood Screen Actor’s Guild tidbit I learned from S.A. Griffin (an actor/poet friend of mine in LA – we met when SA came to Denver as the guest star bad guy on a Perry Mason movie of the week): no matter where one is in the world making a movie: if you’re looking to score some weed, just ask local cast members and crew if anyone belongs to Bob Denver Fan Club and soon you’ll be connected. Bob Denver obviously had an impact that went well beyond the four-year run of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Hell, filmed in China, SA once played General Matthew Ridgway for a CCTV (Chinese) TV series, and despite the repression and danger there, the on location Bob Denver Fan Club made sure that SA was not left wanting. In the late 90s, born of an egg my son Zenith Star won in a biology class raffle at East High, I even owned a pet duck, who lived four years in my backyard, named Doobie. Ok, that’s with two o’s instead of one; nonetheless, the allusion to Mr. Gillis is apparent! I mention these beat firsts and bohemian references in my life because in some ways the cultural revolution triggered by Kerouac’s On The Road incited one of the greatest shifts in American thinking ever, a shape-shift which reflected my own from Philly street tough to Colorado artist. Without the Beats there might never have been the peace movement that ensued, and we might still be watching the War in Vietnam on the six o’clock news, but I digress.
When I arrived in Denver in the mid-70s, a poet making the rounds of hipster hangouts, it was the Beatniks who remained who embraced me as a brother. Not the hippies, not the street poets, not the new technocrats, not the world of academia. It was the Beatniks: Larry Lake, Jimmy Ryan Morris, Tony Scibella, Gypsy (himself a minor character in On The Road), Lucy McGrath, and others. This family of like-minded hipsters took me in, adopted me as it were, despite the fact that I was beardless, had never thumped a bongo (or any musical instrument for that matter), did not know that Bird was Charlie Parker’s nickname, did not know the character of Dean Moriarty in On The Road was based on Denver’s own car thief, Neal Cassady, knew little of the artistic merit and history of the Beat movement in Denver or America, and found Kerouac wanting in comparison to my go-to hero, Bob Dylan. In fact my first introduction to things one might call Beat, has little to do with poetry and novels and abstract expressionism, and more to do with WWII, Nazi machine guns, two of my mother’s older brothers (she was one of thirteen siblings), American spies (both domestic and on foreign shores), and two of my older sisters, Carol and Ginny.
One evening in 1959 I was watching The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis when the phone rang. In those days people (especially a child like myself) actually answered a ringing phone. The caller was one of my many cousins on my mother’s side of the family, Jack Daly, the twenty-two year old son of a deceased uncle who died before I was born. Jack was calling from somewhere in Delaware and apparently Jack would be passing through Philadelphia, because he was, as it were, “On The Road,” with two friends and they were hoping to connect with my sisters, Carol and Ginny: maybe for drinks at a bar, a dance or skate at the local Roller rink, or coffee at The Gilded Cage, a Rittenhouse Square coffeehouse whose backroom stage served as the pulpit for all things beat and folk and left of center in Philadelphia. When Jack arrived with his pals an hour or so later, he sported the first goatee of my life. His pals, similarly unshaven, immediately took up flirting with my sisters, both of whom I like to say “were more beautiful than religion.” The three guys’ attempts to impress Carol and Ginny included humming some bee-bop jazz, showing off their fashion (turtlenecks and blue jeans) and their speech was peppered with phrases such as “Daddio,” “Dig it,” and “Craaazy!” Even square-ass Jack had the jive down pat and he had masked his slight Southern accent with his faux Beat linguistics. Faux, as you’ll come to understand, is the operative word here. Recently trained in the art of deception, these gentlemen from Alexandria Virginia had facial hair that was beatnik, they spoke like beatniks, they dressed like beatniks; but I knew better. For I knew Jack to be a highly trained member of the CIA, his professional family, as well as a member of my Irish Catholic one.
As I said my mother had many siblings, many brothers. Two, Jimmy and Vincent, had been in Army Intelligence during World War II. Vincent and Jimmy had parachuted behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, an act which cost Jimmy his life (one bullet through the heart while parachuting) and Vincent his appearance (strafed with machine gun fire he lived, but his body thereafter, its appearance was a horror of scar tissue). Luckily and with much stealth, the wounded Vincent escaped capture by the Nazis and recovered enough to fight along side of and become best of friends with a resistance fighter by the name of Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Yugoslavia Partisans. As you might recall, Tito eventually went on to rule Yugoslavia as a soft line communist (benevolent dictator, if you will) while keeping the Russian hard-line communists at bay for thirty years. Bosnians and Serbs went to war only after Tito died. Sometimes it takes a charismatic dictator to keep fundamentalist religious racists from slaughtering each other in fits of ethnic cleansing. Fact is: the only Americans Tito ever trusted or spoke with were my uncle Vincent and his nephew, my cousin Jack, who Vincent had later introduced to Tito. Trusted frenemies they were. After World War II, Vincent was a first round draft pick – if you will – for America’s newest three-letter team, the CIA. Both his children and his deceased brother’s children – a slew of my cousins (after all we are Irish) – all joined that same team because the original CIA was indeed a family affair. Posing as a Southern bumpkin with his wife, whose cover was being a trailer trash talking Virginia hillbilly redneck, my uncle Vincent traveled the world as a spy with gadgets James Bond and Hollywood never imagined. He’d wow us at thanksgiving dinners, demonstrating the sneaky uses of assorted spyware. My cousin Jack eventually traveled the world as an assistant to Assistant Ambassadors in numerous European capitols. His children living in so many European nations spoke a dizzying array of languages, great training for their CIA careers that followed. In fact when Tito (who was never allowed on American soil because of his communist politics) gave a speech in Toronto, it was my once fake beatnik cousin Jack standing next to him at the podium, making sure the Canadian translators got Tito’s speech right. All this, of course, came after Jack had served his time on the road as a clandestine operative spying on American civilians, which, to put it mildly, was well outside the scope of the CIA charter. Jack attended college for over a dozen years, wearing his hipster attitude, all the while spying and informing on his college contemporaries, fingering anyone wearing red or black or psychedelic colors. Chances were, if anyone at a student meeting or a peace rally or union drive was eating anything other than apple pie, Jack was taking their picture with one of those neat little gismos issued by the CIA. He’d click as he scratched his Vandyke goatee with his miniaturized camera that looked like a fountain pen. By the time Jack moved on to CIA roles in foreign embassies, the FBI, to keep us safe from ourselves, had taken over the reigns of illegally spying on American citizens for political reasons. Now we have newer letter teams spying on us: like NSA and TSA and others whose names we’ll never know.
All this just goes to prove how prophetic and insightful it was, what the king of LA Beat poets, Stuart Z Perkoff wrote in a poem he read on Denver Public Radio back in the early 70s, Stuart was actually on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE as a beatnik poet and endeared himself to Groucho and America when he quipped in answer to Grouch’s assertion that Groucho’s notes claimed that Stuart was a writer: “Groucho, I write home for money every week.” Stuart’s voice was also captured on an early FBI’s reel-to-reel tape-recording of a drug deal, a deal that netted Stuart hard time in a California prison. Stuart’s words:
our times are fast
mirrors are broken
i.d. cards torn
faces are stolen
disguises are worn
no order! all chaos!
all turmoil! no peace!
but we can rely on the secret police!