June 3, 1926 April 5, 1997
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats
floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
I went to high school in Dayton, Ohio from 1958 through 1962. There was a period during this time, I think it was my Sophomore year that several of us discovered the book “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac and the poetry and writings of Fernlinghetti, Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Diane DiPrima, William Borroughs, etal.
I forget which one of our group of pegged levis, duck ass hair cut, teenage angst ridden, James Dean cigarette hanging from arrogance without a cause mouth children discovered the Beat Generation first but a dozen of us took to the anger and alienation and not so subtle sexual references that we read in those works like ducks to water.
For months we carried in our insolent hip pockets a paper back copy of an anthology titled “The Beats” which held some of the writings of that post WW2 period, a story about saxophonist Gerry Mulligan which led me to a life long love of Jazz and a bibliography which led all of us to the library looking for more.
We collectively and publicly referred to the book as our “Bible,” which in those days, in Dayton, in Ohio was seditious, blasphemous and instantly branded us as “juvenile delinquents” which was a distinction we had only dreamed of gaining up to that point.
I remember skipping school to go to the library to check out a copy of “Howl,” by Ginsberg which due to it’s involvment in an obscenity trial was on the “restricted list” as I was informed by a disapproving librarian down her nose through frightening black horn rims.
Her respect for all literature, I suppose, even the obscene variety allowed her to put me on the list and when a few weeks later I was able to procure this magnum opus I was completely smitten.
What I read in that small anthology, the entire genre, and especially “Howl,” most especially the prolonged rant against “Moloch” in Part two, somehow codified in my young mind a stance that I had consciously felt developing between myself and the world of adults and authority and my abused teenage desire for personal freedom.
Ginsberg and most of the others of the genre, although members of my parents generation spoke directly to “me.” I felt their anger and alienation from the world of the A bomb, the insecurity of the Cold War, and their disgust and horror at the carnage of the wars in Europe and the Pacific and the more recent debacle in Korea.
There are few things that I read in those early years that had such a profound affect on me and although I haven’t thought about the poem in a long time, this morning when I read that today was Ginsberg’s birthday, I looked it up and read it again.
It was like revisiting a lover from a distant past, the familiar angry staccato rhythms of Part two were the rediscovery of a courageous old friend.
Over the years I have from time to time written to thank authors and writers who moved me, or of whom I was jealous because they had penned something that I wished I had written, but for some reason I never wrote to thank Ginsberg.
Maybe it’s because I’m still somewhat afraid of what I discovered in him and what he led me to discover in myself, I don’t know.
I do know that Howl became a sort of anthem for me and I suspect for others of my generation as we faced the postwar development of the madness of modern technological market driven society with its greed for profits, its cold calculating dispassionate lust for territory and resources, and its evil thirst for the bodies of our children to feed to its wars.
Ginsberg died just over ten years ago. Moloch lives on and thrives.
Ginsberg’s words live on as well:
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi- nation?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unob tainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose
buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun- ned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!
Moloch whose breast is a canni- bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac- tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the
specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!