Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
EBay is a fantastic place isn’t it, if place is the right word for it. For example, the vinyl fanatic or budding fanatic can supplement or create an entire collection of some note in just a click of the mouse. Just Kids Nostalgia is auctioning an incredible collection of pop culture vinyl containing over 1,000 records. (PDF) The collection features movie soundtracks, records by pop culture personalities of all shapes and sizes, picture discs, Disney, pin up art compilations, and sports related vinyl.
I mention the collection here because it also features a great number of Beat vinyl as well. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti. All the names one would expect are there. The three Kerouac albums on Hanover and Verve are included. Unfortunately, the Dot LP remains out of reach. The jazz poetry stylings of Ferlinghetti, Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen are also present. The collection possesses much of the Beat spoken word from the 1950s but there are records from through the 1980s as well. Call Me Burroughs from 1965/1966 (no mention if English Bookshop or ESP), the 2 X LP Nova Convention from 1978, and several Giorno Project LPs make sure that Burroughs is accounted for. Ginsberg also makes a strong showing. I will write about many of these records in more detail in later posts, but this collection with its photographs captures the Beats on vinyl in such a comprehensive way that I had to mention it.
Beat-Nova Convention-Frank Zappa-William Burroughs LP
Beat Poetry & Beat Erotica-Cafe Bizarre-Madness-LP
Beat Poetry-Allen Ginsberg at ICA-British Press-LP
Beat Poetry-Allen Ginsberg Howl LP-Black Vinyl
Beat Poetry-Allen Ginsberg Reads Howl-Red Vinyl-LP
Beat Poetry-Allen Ginsberg-First Blues-LP
Beat Poetry-Beatsville-Rod McKuen-LP
Beat Poetry-Blake Reed Beat Generation-Vol II – LP
Beat Poetry-Call Me William Burroughs-LP Naked Lunch
Beat Poetry-Grimm’s Hip Fairy Tales-Don Morrow-LP
Beat Poetry-Hip Fables-Art Roberts-LP
Beat Poetry-In Cellar Kenneth Rexroth Ferlinghetti-LP
Beat Poetry-Jack Kerouac Blues and Haikus-Zoot Sims LP
Beat Poetry-Jack Kerouac Steve Allen-Beat Generation LP
Beat Poetry-Jack Kerouac-Beat Generation-LP
Beat Poetry-John Giorno Dial A Poem-Ginsberg-LP Sealed
Beat Poetry-John Giorno Intravenus Mind-LP
Beat Poetry-Kenneth Patchen Chamber Jazz Sextet
Beat Poetry-Lawrence Ferlinghetti-Eisenhower-LP
Beat Poetry-Mother 9-Allen Ginsberg-Tom Clark-LP
Beat Poetry-Poetry/Jazz Kenneth Rexroth LP Red Vinyl
Beat Poetry-Rebellion-Jack Hammer-LP
Beat Poetry-Robet Baker-First LSD Trip-LP
Beat Poetry-San Fran Poets Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg LP
Beat Poetry-Smoke Dreams-Fred Engelberg-LP
Beat Poetry-William Burroughs-John Giorno-LP
Mixed in with the Beat are a few novelty Beatnik albums, like Grimm’s Hip Fairy Tales or Hip Fables. These Beatnik LPs are incredibly collectible as well. Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz series and Rod McKuen’s Beatnik Fly come to mind as particularly entertaining Beatnik records. The soundtracks to the Beat Exploitation films The Beat Generation and The Subterraneans are also great examples of Beatnik LPs.
The comparison of Beat and Beatnik vinyl in terms of packaging and content provide an interesting case study in the commodification and assimilation of the original Beat impulse by the mass media in Hollywood films and Madison Avenue advertising and publishing. The Kerouac and Ferlinghetti LPs for example are serious explorations into the combination of two marginalized art forms: jazz and modern poetry. The spoken albums of the Beats attempted to capture the magic of their readings performed in smoky clubs and coffee shops. The Beats redefined the poetry reading by making them more democratic in terms of audience and location. Poetry was no longer just for the upper class literary salon or the staid university lecture hall. The poetry reading became a poetry show and the poet returned to the oral tradition of Homer. The modern sound of rap, poetry jams, rock operas, and open mic nights everywhere echo off of these records.
On the other hand, Beatnik vinyl echoes in the mind like a catchy jingle on a commercial more likely to annoy after repeated listening than inspire. Beat records are artistic explorations and the Beatnik vinyl is largely exploitation. The Beats attempted to touch the heart, mind or soul through their art. The Beatnik craze was a mass market creation designed to touch the funny bone while reaching for the wallet. This is not to say that Beatnik LPs or films do not deserve serious attention. Just like the Beat records, Beatnik vinyl provides a unique insight into 1950’s popular culture. A detailed study of this seemingly disposable media reveals much about issues of race, sex, and class in 1950’s America. For example, studies of Beatnik film, like The Beat Generation, are just as fulfilling and fruitful as the study of Pull My Daisy. Books, such as Naked Lens Beat Cinema and Mad to be Saved: The Beats, the 50’s and Film, perform just this function. I am unaware of a similar study of Beat and Beatnik spoken word but I am certain that a dissertation on the relative merits of Beatnik Fly exists somewhere.
A similar process occurred in the 1960s with the emergence of the artistic and political counterculture that was packaged by the media to mainstream America through hippies and flower children. This record collection also reflects this phenomenon.
Hippie-Abbie Hoffman-Wake Up America-LP
Hippie-Acid Test-LSD-Ken Kesey-Grateful Dead-LP
Hippie-Dope Kings Last Stand-Frank Sinatra-Pat Boone-LP
Hippie-East Village Other-Fugs-Velvet Underground-LP
Hippie-How to Have A Freak Out Party-LSD-LP
Hippie-Hugh Romney-Third Stream Humor-LP-Wavy Gravy
Hippie-LSD-Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test-Jerry Garcia-LP
Hippie-LSD-Psychedelic Drug Crisis-LP-Sealed
Hippie-LSD-Psychedelic Drug Crisis-Promo LP-Dr. Cohen
Hippie-LSD-Psychedelic Experience-Timothy Leary-LP
Hippie-Overdose Board Game and LP-Get Stoned-Marijuana
Hippie-Soundtrack-Turn On Tune In-Timothy Leary-LSD-LP
Hippie-The Groupies-Documentary-LP Sealed
Hippie-Timothy Leary-This Time Around-LSD-LP
Hippie-Wilburn Burchette-Occult Concert-LP
The records above highlight several levels of the 1960s psychedelic culture from higher learning to drug hysteria to drug humor. Some individuals like Timothy Leary seemingly had their hands in all these levels and more.
All these records whatever there artistic or academic merits are great fun. Placing the needle on the record is like entering a time machine. The LP featuring The Grateful Dead and the Merry Pranksters is an incredibly rare artifact documenting a friendship and partnership that had musical, literary, political and cultural implications if you such divisions are possible. The East Village Other LP is just plain weird or just plain unlistenable depending on your mind set. The Kerouac Blues and Haikus album is just plain beautiful.
There are plenty of LPs here that deserve closer attention, but consider this an opportunity to see in one place, in one collection an introduction to several overlapping and distinct areas of counterculture spoken word vinyl collecting. Part of me is hoping that the seller gets his asking price so the collection stays in one piece, but the collector in me would love to have a shot at some of the individual LPs for sale here.