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Allen Ginsberg: First Blues

Mark Corroto By

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As I listen to this two-CD recording by the late Allen Ginsberg, I cannot help thinking about Dick Cheney. The American vice president might just be the exact polar opposite of Allen Ginsberg, kind of a beat Dr. Evil. I suspect he's never heard Ginsberg read his unexpurgated Buddhist poetry or joined a sing-along with his harmonium. But then again, who knows what Cheney does in his bunker. He might be learning the lyrics to "Everybody Sing"—"everybody is just a little bit homosexual, whether they like it or not.

The famous poet was nearly beatified before his death in 1997. His recordings have included poetry readings, of course, but also song. His most easily accessible release would be The Lion For Real (Great Jones, 1989), a Hal Willner-produced session with jazz artists Marc Ribot, Arto Lindsay and Bill Frisell. He also recorded with Philip Glass, Paul McCartney and The Clash.

First Blues, a reissue of a long out-of-print LP, revives these sessions from 1971 (with Bob Dylan and Anne Waldman), 1976 (with famous producer John Hammond) and 1981. Ginsberg's naked voice is quite honest. Like his poetry, he can strip a lyric to plain meaning, whether he speaks about war, corporate greed or sex with young men. Like the late recordings of John Lennon, pretensions are dropped. How else can you sing about dildos and eternity?

File these sessions as Ginsberg unplugged, covering tunes he is famous for: "Father Death Blues, "Vomit Express (Going To Puerto Rico), and "CIA Dope Calypso. Raw, funny and beautiful, his life and his karma endures in this music. I don't know if we should miss him in these troubled times or we should be happy he doesn't have to endure them.

Track Listing

CD1: Going To San Diego; Vomit Express; Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag); NY Youth Call Annunciation; CIA Dope Calypso; Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag; Sickness Blues; Broken Bone Blues; Stay Away From White House; Hard-On Blues; Guru Blues. CD2: Everybody Sing; Gospel Nobel Truths; Bus Ride Ballad To Suva; Prayer Blues - 1972; Love Forgiven; Father Death Blues; Dope Fiend Blues Tyger; You Are My Dildo; Old Pond; No Reason; My Pretty Rode Tree; Capitol Air.

Personnel

Allen Ginsberg: vocals, harmonium, finger cymbals, song sticks; David Amram: French horn, flute, recorder, piano, hi-hat; Perry Robinson: clarinet, Bob Dylan: guitar; Happy Traum: banjo; Jon Sholle: guitar, bass, banjo, ukulele, harmonizer, maracas, drums; Surya: zither; Moruga: drums; Arthur Russell: cello, tambourine; David Mansfield: mandolin, bass guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin; Stephen Taylor: recorder, guitar, conga; Peter Orlovsky: vocals.

Additional information

Title: First Blues | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Water

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