Allen Ginsberg

First Blues

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Released on LP in 1983, First Blues is Allen Ginsberg's recorded opus; it was finally made available in the 21st century on compact disc courtesy of those wonderfully weird folks from Water Records in San Francisco. It contains studio-recorded performances of songs he'd written and performed and finally taped between 1971 and 1983. Ginsberg's charm as a songwriter is the same one he holds as a poet: he was a fearless queer dharma lion who was so utterly and completely honest. With the Heart Sutra as his creed, he spoke, read, sang, improvised, protested, and lived as one so in the moment and brutally honest with himself that he made one either want to join him in present fearless nearness or to flee from him as fast as one could travel. These songs of his are, in their way, beautiful. His ragged angel's singing voice, so flat and devoid of musicality, was musicality itself. Obviously others thought so, too, when looking at who appears on some of these cuts. The first three -- "Going to San Diego," "Vomit Express," and "Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag)" -- are played by David Amram, Bob Dylan, John Scholle, and Happy Traum to name a few (the beguiling his priestess of American poetry, Anne Waldman, appears as a vocalist as well). These first sessions, from 1971, were engineered by no less a studio persona than Jack Douglas. The next sessions were taped in 1976 and make up the remainder of disc one and the first two selections of disc two. These were produced by the legendary John Hammond, and featured David Mansfield, the late Arthur Russell, Stephen Taylor, Scholle, and Ginsberg. Some of these tracks -- "CIA Dope Calypso," "Everybody Sing," and "Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag" -- are the best known. The final ten tunes are from the ZBS Media session recorded in 1981 between Allen, Peter Orlovsky, and Taylor. Amram, Russell, and Scholle also participated later and were overdubbed onto the original tracks. Of these cuts, the most infamous were "Dope Fiend Blues" and "You Are My Dildo," but far more beautiful are Ginsberg's musical read of William Blake's "Tyger" and his own "Father Death Blues," perhaps the most well known song he recorded. He performed it on the harmonium at readings until the end of his life in 1997. Ginsberg's knowledge of the blues form as a historical and improvisational entity that tied it to the poetic voice was singular. He found in the blues a universal voice that lent itself to an expression that could always be shared by anyone willing to join the song. And for Ginsberg, it was always, always about song. One had only to hear him read once to know that he and song were one, and these recordings bear that out especially well.

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