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September 28, 2017

Book Notes - Daniel Kane "'Do You Have a Band?'"

Do You Have a Band?

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Daniel Kane's "Do You Have a Band?" is a fascinating and compelling exploration of how the second generation of the New York School of poets influenced punk musicians (and vice versa).

Thurston Moore wrote of the book:

"Daniel Kane’s 'Do You Have a Band' illuminates the connection of Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith to Ted Berrigan, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, and beyond. The dialogue among poets hanging out at CBGB and punk rock pioneers reading at the Poetry Project in early-seventies NYC is where so many of us in the sonic-lit lineage enter, charmed into the future."

In his own words, here is Daniel Kane's Book Notes music playlist for his book "Do You Have a Band?": Poetry and Punk Rock in New York City:

Musicians such as Lou Reed, Richard Hell, and Patti Smith are often described as "poetic" in their approach to making music, writing lyrics, and developing a punk style. In my book Do You Have a Band? I discuss what "poetic" actually means in the context of proto-punk and punk rock in New York City. While it is widely known that punk musicians read French Symbolist and Beat poetry, I highlight how they were also influenced by the work of the New York School poets whom they shared downtown's streets, stages, and mimeograph and letterpress pages. These exchanges influenced punk style and sound in fascinating and complex ways.

Correspondingly, poets like Eileen Myles, John Giorno, and Dennis Cooper turned to punk to develop innovative ideas for their own poetics and performance styles. I hope my book inspires people to read a range of poets whose debts to punk music have proved consistently generative, and to hear and think about New York proto-punk and punk rock with fresh, poetry-inclined ears.

For this playlist, then, I've gathered together representative performances in an effort to illustrate the vibrant conversation that took place in downtown New York City between punk rock and poetry. Enjoy!

The Fugs – "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rot"

The Fugs' adaptation of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" is generally known as "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock," even though its given title on the jacket of the original E.S.P LP Virgin Fugs is "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rot." In the song, Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel (the founding members of The Holy Modal Rounders, another important proto-punk downtown band) apply exaggerated falsetto harmonies, adenoidal vocals, and skiffle rhythms to the performance. These sounds, circling around and at times overwhelming lead singer and Fugs cofounder Ed Sanders's own delivery, make Ginsberg's predominantly serious long poem feel somewhat silly. In doing so, the song questions the countercultural eminence "Howl" and Ginsberg had attained by the mid-1960s.

The Velvet Underground – "The Murder Mystery"

"The Murder Mystery" appeared initially as a song on The Velvet Underground (1969), the band's third full-length album. Poet and editor Tom Clark published the lyrics to "The Murder Mystery" in the fifty-third issue of the Paris Review (1972). This issue featured numerous poets affiliated with the New York School including John Ashbery, Larry Fagin, Ted Berrigan, and Alice Notley. Wrenching the song out of vinyl and onto the pages of the Paris Review, Clark proved that "The Murder Mystery," given the right literary context and framing, could fit alongside the formally ambitious texts of Lou Reed's poetic contemporaries. Transforming the song lyrics into a static poem for the purposes of publication in a poetry magazine, Reed simply placed two columns on each page to replicate the stereo effect achieved on the album. Using the space of the page imaginatively and challenging the notion of "lyric" as bound to a single voice, Reed's "Murder Mystery" resonated with the poems of Berrigan, Fagin, and others, who similarly employed fragmented, poly-vocal, and resolutely experimental approaches to composing their texts.

Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan – "Memorial Day"

Social links between musicians and poets throughout the East Village were formed casually. Apartment buzzers were pressed, visitors welcomed in to talk. According to the poet Lewis Warsh, for example, Lou Reed and fellow members of the Velvet Underground dropped in to his and Anne Waldman's apartment at 33 St. Mark's Place to listen to The Velvet Underground and Nico for the first time. The new sounds and words Reed and his contemporaries were composing found their way into the downtown poets' poems. This cross-fertilization of genres is revealed in Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman's collaboratively written "Memorial Day": lines from the Velvet Underground's song "I'm Beginning to See the Light" are folded into the poem, whose form owes as much to Black Mountain poet Charles Olson's characterization of the manuscript page as a "field" as it does to the joyful noise of Lou Reed and friends.

Aram Saroyan – Crickets"

Back in the late 1960s, Richard Hell read and loved Aram Saroyan's poetry. Maybe that's because Saroyan's minimal poems from the 1960s – some composed of no more than one oddly-spelled word such as "blod," "lobstee" or ""lighght" – are hilarious blasts against poetic authority and seriousness as they urge readers to figure out a way to voice the poems. "I was trying to make a poem as immediate as a record," Aram Saroyan explained to Newsweek magazine in 1969, adding: "Literature will soon cease to exist, except as an art form. The alphabet won't exist either except as an antique." The poem, in Saroyan's hands, eschews the burdens of duration and attention attendant to tracking an unfolding lyric or narrative. One gets it in a flash. Crickets, crickets, crickets.

Anne Waldman – "Musical Garden"

A 1976 recording of "Musical Garden" included in Waldman and John Giorno's LP John Giorno & Anne Waldman: A Kulchur Selection finds Waldman acting equal parts rhapsodic Allen Ginsberg and rock star. Increasing tempo and pitch with each line, Waldman is practically stentorian as she approaches the finale of the poem: "Can't give you up, solar energy, speech, more sunlight & more speech & more speech & more energy more sunlight more emergency can't give you up yet can't give it up won't do it can't give you up won't do it won't do it can't give it up won't give it up won't give you up yet can't give it up no I can't give it up." At the poem's conclusion, a single voice from the audience is heard saying "Yeah" appreciatively, followed immediately by whoops and applause. A three-minute rock ‘n' roll poem!

Patti Smith - "Birdland"

Anne Waldman and Patti Smith remain friends to this day. As many of Smith's devoted fans know already, Waldman introduced Smith at her very first performance in 1971 at the Poetry Project in New York's East Village. Waldman's "Musical Garden," with its exhortation "can't give it up," was written and performed around the same time Patti Smith recorded her song "Birdland," complete with its own declamations "I won't give up," "I'm going up," and so on. The connections – social, poetic, performative – between Smith and Waldman in the mid-1970s are striking. Both women's work during this period actively blurred the lines between poetry, performance, and rock ‘n' roll.

Richard Hell – "Blank Generation"

Richard Hell assiduously read second-generation New York School poetry by Bernadette Mayer, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, and their peers. These poets, whose home base was the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, published seemingly endless reams of collaborative, anonymous, or pseudonymous poetry that contested the idea of writing as self-expression and challenged conventional understandings of the author as stable, solitary subject. In light of this community-oriented literary culture, we should note that some of the phrases included in Hell's "Blank Generation" were published initially in Wanna Go Out?, a small-press poetry book written collaboratively with Tom Verlaine and published under the single pseudonym "Theresa Stern."

John Giono – "Pornographic Poem"

By the late 1960s John Giorno had made a name for himself by staging multimedia drug-fueled poetry readings and by setting up "Dial-a-Poem," a phone-service which users dialed in to hear anything from a Black Panther speech to a John Cage poem. Giorno was committed to challenging anything and anyone he deemed effete or overly "poetic." Released from the sophisticated and urbane chains held by first-generation New York School writers into the stink and noise of the downtown rock scene he so loved, Giorno positioned himself as a punk pied piper leading the formerly obedient second-generation New York School poets toward a wildly electric, outrageous future. By the mid-1980s, Giorno was fronting his own new wave band in clubs including CBGB. "[What's] turned out to be the best audience" for poetry, Giorno told an interviewer, "is the audience of, like rock 'n' roll clubs or new wave clubs or punk clubs or whatever you want to call them. An audience that's drunk and stoned and goes to a rock 'n' roll club or whatever, is very receptive to you, if you perform well."

Eileen Myles – reading on "Public Access Poetry," 1977

For Eileen Myles, pairing poetry and punk rock made intuitive sense. Recounting a poetry reading group in Boston that she attended in 1974 before she moved to New York, Myles describes a participant "dressed in all black with a medallion [who] said in this kind of ponderous way that her work was influenced by the New York rock poet Patti Smith. And I just—those words seen next to each other, I'd never heard of that but it sounded so perfect." Myles's first New York reading was in 1974 – at CBGB. According to Myles, CBGB "was a very funky place at the time…it was still kind of… it was a biker bar! There were big dogs walking around, and they had a reading scheduled before the band…The bands would go on late, the readings would go on earlier…my first feature was at CBGB." This reading features Myles in all her punky, playful, aggressive, and always charming glory. The writer and poet Alice Notley, who ran a poetry workshop at the Poetry Project that Myles attended, follows Myles with her own indelible reading.

Jim Carroll – "People Who Died"

Making it onto Billboard's Top 100 list in 1980, the Jim Carroll Band's hit single "People Who Died" had—and continues to have—multiple lives. The fifth track on the Jim Carroll Band's first album, Catholic Boy, "People Who Died" is heard, for example, in films as various as Steven Spielberg's ET: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Fritz Kierch's Tuff Turf (1985), Zack Snyder's remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (2004), and the filmic adaptation of Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diairies starring Leonardo DiCaprio (1995). Yet despite the way Carroll's "People Who Died" has resonated across the decades, few critics bother to mention that Carroll's song is inspired directly by Ted Berrigan's poem "People Who Died," first published in 1969. Carroll's stripped-down version of Berrigan's already stripped-down elegy was an attempt to free elegy from the burden of literariness by taking Berrigan's poem and translating it into punk rock. With Carroll's "People Who Died," the implications of Berrigan's populist poetics of sociability found a new, intoxicating form that played out on the radio, on TV, and on the streets. The New York School poem became the song the million punk kids sang together. This performance finds Carroll performing the song with Lou Reed, formerly of the Velvet Underground, and Robert Quine, formerly in Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Daniel Kane and "Do You Have a Band?": Poetry and Punk Rock in New York City links:

excerpt from the book

The Arts Fuse review

Vanishing New York interview with the author
Los Angeles Review of Books interview with the author
PBS Newshour profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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