Do You Know Any Nice Young Poets?

by Neil Watson


In 1963 Allen Ginsberg was introduced to the music of Bob Dylan by Charley Plymell, a poet from Wichita. The “Freewheelin'” Bob Dylan album had been released that February and on a visit to Bolinas, Plymell played it for him. Ginsberg listened to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and wept. He remembers, ‘I thought, “oh, we got a second generation of  prophets, it’s gonna be great!”’ Later that year Ginsberg roomed with the poet Peter Orlovsky at a friend's house, publisher Ted Wilentz, who had published work of Jack Kerouac among others.

One of their first visitors at the house was journalist Al Aronowitz, who showed up one day with his friend Bob Dylan. Dylan was familiar with Ginsberg's work and that of the other Beat writers, and Allen in turn, was interested to meet the author of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Masters Of War". They talked about poetry and got along very well. Dylan was about to play a concert in Chicago and invited Allen to fly out with him, but apparently Ginsberg was too busy looking for an apartment and getting back to New York, and also too proud!

“I thought he was just a folksinger, and I was also afraid I might become his slave or something – his mascot!” The meeting with Bob Dylan had a curious outcome. For some strange reason Dylan owned the manuscript of a group of Allen’s rhymed poems from 1948 to 1952 which Allen had assumed were lost forever. He had neglected to make copies of many of the poems before he let the folder out of his hands. He had been unable to get the book published in New York, so when a friend left for London, Ginsberg gave her the manuscript on the off chance that she might meet someone who would be interested in publishing it there. The manuscript passed from hand to hand, and when Dylan was in London, someone gave it to him, knowing his interest in Ginsberg and  the Beat Generation. He returned it when Allen went to visit him in Woodstock. Shortly after they met, Ginsberg went with Dylan to a concert in Princeton. Photographs taken backstage appeared on the sleeve of Dylan’s album “Bringing It All Back Home”. Allen was shown clean-shaven and wearing a smart top hat. Film-maker Barbara Rubin was in one of the pictures, ruffling Dylan’s hair.

This was to be the beginning of a great adventure for Dylan and Ginsberg. One day we’ll tour together in a traveling circus proclaimed Dylan. And they would. One day I’ll be hung as a thief, and he’s still waiting for the judge. These two great writers would experience some times together, like on the 9th May 1965 when meeting The Beatles in Dylan’s hotel room at the Savoy in London. Allen found himself in Dylan’s suite along with Joan Baez, Albert Grossman and Don Pennebaker. Ginsberg was detailed by Dylan to escort Marianne Faithfull to the concert at the Royal Albert Hall that evening. Afterwards a large party gathered in Grossman’s suite at the hotel. Dylan was in his own suite, entertaining The Beatles and everyone else was forbidden to go in. Then Allen received a summons to be present. The Beatles and their wives were all there.

The story goes that the room was completely silent. ‘Just totally frozen, not knowing what to talk about’. Allen sat down on the arm of Dylan’s chair, even though there was not really enough room. ‘Why don’t you sit a little closer,’ mocked Lennon. Ginsberg responded by falling forward into Lennon’s lap. Looking up into his face, laughing, Allen asked, ‘Have you ever read William Blake?’ ‘No, never heard of him,’ snapped Lennon. ‘Oh John, stop lying,’ said Cynthia, and everyone laughed. Ginsberg asked if they were aware of the relationship between ‘The Beatles’ and ‘The Beats’ and if they knew what the Beat Generation was. He told them about Kerouac, Neal Cassady and the others.

Dylan had had a friendly meeting with The Beatles the previous year in America, when he had turned them on to pot for the first time. But now he was on their territory. Ginsberg remembered the evening well: ‘Dylan wasn’t giving anything and they weren’t giving anything. Dylan was laconic with them too, they were all uptight.’ Dylan must have realized that Allen was the only person capable of breaking the ice.

The next day, Allen went to visit with Dylan when Pennebaker was filming the credits for ‘Don’t Look Back’  in an ally at the rear of the Savoy. As Dylan stood flipping the lyric cards, Ginsberg pottered about in the background. The same ploy was used by the monks in Neil Young’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps!’

Ginsberg and Dylan would remain great friends for the rest of his life. They had often discussed the idea of doing something together. Dylan producing a record of Allen’s mantras or appearing in a movie or TV show. This goes back to when Dylan was a guest on the Les Crane talk show in 1965. 

          Les Crane: ‘Have you  ever given any thought to acting; think you might enjoy acting?’

        Bob Dylan: ‘Well, I’m gonna try to make a movie this summer, which Allen Ginsberg is writing. I’m rewriting.’

This ‘movie’ never materialised at the time of course, but the idea remained. Many years later Ginsberg was invited to join the ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ by Dylan. He featured  prominently on the tour, and also in the movie ‘Renaldo And Clara’. Shortly before Allen’s untimely death, he had been asked by MTV to record an ‘Unplugged’ show. Dylan had agreed to take part along with many other invited guests. Unfortunately Allen became too ill to record the show.

Allen Ginsberg was one of the few people who had been invited to visit Dylan up in Woodstock when he was recovering from the motorbike accident in 1966. Allen went to spend an afternoon with him, taking a pile of poetry for him to read. Rimbaud, Blake, Shelley and Emily Dickinson. And Bob was writing ‘John Wesley Harding.’

Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan playing mantras!

     Way over yonder in the minor key…
     Ain’t nobody
who can sing like me
     Ain’t nobody who can sing like me.

     Way over yonder in the minor key,
     way over yonder in the minor key.

     Ain’t nobody who can sing like me,
     no there ain’t nobody who can sing like me.

     Nobody can sing like me.