Essential New Music: Allen Ginsberg’s “First Blues”


First released in 1983, Beat Gen icon Allen Ginsberg’s two-LP epic culled 1971 sessions with Bob Dylan, 1976 recordings with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue band and producer John Hammond, and 1981 studio efforts with now-legendary cellist/composer Arthur Russell for one grand, creakily American poetry jam with the “Howl” king as its mouthpiece. Beat notables David Amram, Happy Traum, Anne Waldman and Peter Orlovsky appear while Ginsberg sings, chants, speaks, rings finger cymbals and plays harmonium, with the blues being the poet’s primary idiom in which to spout repetitive absurdist rants such as “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag” and silly, earnest love songs like “You Are My Dildo.” For all the wordy anti-everything readings (“Stay Away From White House” is a good one) and Ginsberg’s odd and slippery holy demeanor, there are genuine moments of loveliness found within this package, such as the graceful “Gospel Nobel Truths,” a stoic reading of William Blake’s “Tyger” and Ginsberg’s own achingly prosaic “Father Death Blues.”

—A.D. Amorosi