Trib to Al

Allen Ginsberg in Chicago '68

Trib To Al
by Terry Southern
Best Minds; A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg
edited by Bill Morgan and Bob Rosenthal
Lospecchio Press, 1986

One of my most memorable experiences with Allen--and one which also shows him to typical grand advantage-occurred during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Esquire mag had sent a tight-knit hard-hitting reportage team, comprised of William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet, and a certain yrs tly, to cover the event. Soon after arriving, we fell in with Allen and his lot--an assortment of Zen and/or sense-derangement oriented persons of varying age, sex, and divergent persuasions.

On the first afternoon, we all took part in a demonstration-march through the heart of the city. We were eight abreast-Allen about five rows ahead of me, Burroughs and Genet a couple of rows behind. In the row immediately ahead were two guys so conspicuously out of place as to catch the attention of several people almost at once. Both sported military/football pig-bristle haircuts and were wearing T-shirts a size too small for their monstro biceps: Macho City! Also, they appeared to be slightly drunk, and expressed Puritanical glee whenever anyone would drop out of the march to take a discrete leak by the side of the road. "Hey, look at 'em pissing'!" they would cackle, nudging each other and grinning idiotically.

Walking next to me was a perceptive and distinguished looking silverhaired woman of 65 or 70, who had also noticed the two odd-balls-not merely noticed them, but recognized them, from previous encounters, as plainclothes feds. She signalled one of the marshals, who were roaming up and down the formation, and pointed them out. "They're federal," she said, simply enough, and the marshal was quick to realize the truth of it; he gestured them out, and I was surprised at how swiftly, almost meekly, they split-in obvious acknowledgement that their cover was blown. I looked back at them as we passed, and saw quite clearly that one of the T-shirts was proudly (and rather naively) emblazoned "The University of Notre Dame."

That evening, at dusk, we were all in Lincoln Park-camp-fires flickering, folk-songs gently wafting through the summer night, hash-pipes softly aglow ... in short, a tranquil, indeed idyllic, scene, like a sort of updated Currier and Ives. Allen was seated in the midst of a group of 15 to 20, leading them in a pleasantly contemplative '0mmmm. . .', while Burroughs, Genet, and I-being perhaps of somewhat less spiritual bent-were on the periphery, drinking tequila, and having the occasional hit of Panama Red.

Then the prowl-cars of the Chicago Police began slowly entering the park, lights hooded, creeping like thieves, until they were among us ("en force majeure!" as Genet put it)--whereupon a highly amplified megaphone-voice. '-with the dialect of Mayor Daley, resounding grotesquely, like the consummate Pig of Pigs: "All persons will leave this park at once! This is an order from the Mayor of Chicago and from the Chicago Police!" While this was being repeated, with increasing forcefulness, a murmur of apprehension swept the area.

"Everybody stay cool," said Allen, momentarily interrupting his "Ommmm..."--and I saw his face for an instant, upraised and illuminated by the firelight: serene, beatific, and greatly reassuring.

But then, just as one of the prowl-cars eased into our immediate vicinity, less than 20 feet away, a guy stepped out from behind a nearby tree and threw a brick squarely against its windshield. The car stopped abruptly, its searchlight went on, and two cops jumped out, unhooking their riot-sticks as they came. They had obviously radioed the rest of the cars, because now, half over the park, the searchlights went on, the cops jumped out, riot-sticks in hand, and beat the shit out of everybody they could reach. That was not quite the case in Allen's domain , however.

When the first gargantuan harness-bull arrived at his circle, club raised for the kill, Allen gave him the kind of look that seemed to say: 'We are not of your kind, tiny man-do not fear.' And he actually murmured something that sounded like "Go in peace, brother." Whatever it was, the guy's mouth went slack and agape in dumb wonder; then he emitted a coarse animal grunt and lumbered on, muttering about 'crazy hippies.' A few minutes later, of course, the tear-gas came, and not even Allen's great power could cool out the rumble which ensued.

Another salient point of the story remains. The guy who stepped fro behind the tree and threw the brick, was-as I distinctly saw-the pigbristle agent wearing the Notre Dame T-shirt. I testified to this fact, of FBI provocation, at the 'Chicago Eight Trial,' but it was understandably

The final note, however, of this Allen G. reminiscence was that the next day I was telling him the provocateur story, in the presence of a mutual friend, a sort of Dangerous Dan Magrew type. "We oughtta ice the son of a bitch," said the latter, who, although a pacifist by nature and proclamation, is given to the occasional fit of expressed pique.

Allen chuckled and reassured him: "I know which guy you're talking about," he said, "and, believe it or not, I actually saw him this morning, having a hit of Panama Red with some of the guys."

Dangerous Dan was not appeased "The motherfucker is just trying to infiltrate," he said.

"Doesn't matter," said Allen, glowing again with serenity and beatitude , nobody can misbehave behind a good head of Red. Right, Ter?"

"Right again, Al, I said, "as per usual" and we let it go.


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