By Robert Heide
In poet Allen Ginsberg’s seminal beat poem Howl, he makes the pronouncement that, as he saw it, the best minds of his generation had been destroyed by madness. The term ‘beatnik’ came into play in the late 1950s to describe a bohemian counter-culture bent on creating a love-peace revolution as an alternative to the more conservative materialistic way of life that the beats came to view as stifling and empty at the core.
As a teenager, whenever I could get away from the conformity of suburban family life, I would jump on a downtown bus from Irvington, New Jersey that dropped me at Penn Station in Newark. For a nickel I could then board a PATH train that deposited me on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Wandering about one night I found myself on MacDougal Street where I descended a flight of stairs into a dark cellar dive called The Gaslight; a group of scruffy-looking men were reading what I regarded at the time as ‘weirdo’ poetry.
As I sat on the floor of the tiny overcrowded space, I listened in puzzlement and awe to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ted Jones, Gregory Corso, Taylor Mead, and Jack Micheline. Later, when I moved to Christopher Street in the Village, I actually got to know and hang out with Allen and also became good friends with Micheline and Mead. Then, after meeting Edward Albee in Lenny’s Hideaway, a gay cellar bar on Tenth Street, we went to a couple of other gay bars on Eighth Street—Mary’s and The Old Colony. After Edward wrote The Zoo Story, a play about the disaster that takes place between an uptight mild-mannered Upper Eastside businessman and a wild Kerouac-like drifter, we would go to the San Remo Bar where Ginsberg and Kerouac would often show up for an evening of fun and drink. In tow with these two would be the famous old-time and notorious Village bohemian Maxwell Bodenheim who wrote a book called My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village.
Ginsberg and Albee are now both gone but their cry for a cultural change goes on. All of this Village lore and more including the important off and off-off theater movements of the 1960s and 1970s, from the Living Theater to Caffe Cino to La Mama and more, will be talked about by yours truly at Howl!—a splendid gallery and performance space at 6 East 1st Street in their Writer’s Block Monday night series to benefit the Actor’s Fund at 7pm on October 24th.
Ralph Lewis, a founding member of Peculiar Works Project which won an Obie a few years ago for staging an amazing site-specific theater event on the streets of the West Village (and later in the East Village), often right in front of theaters that are now closed, will be directing staged readings of three of my plays, East of the Sun, Zoe’s Letter, and Increased Occupancy which are to be published later this year by Fast Books in a collection of 25 Heide plays edited by former Village Voice critic Michael Smith.
Robert Heide will be talking, and three of his one-act plays will be seen in staged readings on October 24th at 7pm at The Writer’s Block Festival at the HOWL! cultural space at 6 East 1st Street (between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery). This series of Monday night staged readings and performances benefits the Actor’s Fund, a nationwide organization established in 1882, for writers, performers, and artists in need of emergency help. For details on the series go to: www.howlarts.org (917-475-1294).