• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Michael McClure: Beat Poet and Playwright Helped Thaw Cold War American Culture

“I put mammalian consciousness into Beat literature. I expressed the biological aspect of humans. At the Six Gallery, I read about the slaughter of whales.”

– Michael McClure

Of the five American poets who performed their work at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955 only one of them—Gary Snyder—is still alive and he’s 90. Michael McClure, who was born in Kansas in 1932, died in Oakland, California on May 4, 2020. He was 87. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who attended the landmark cultural event at the Six, is still alive, at 100, but he didn’t read his work. While Ferlinghetti published the Beat Generation writers he wasn’t really a Beat, but a bohemian, an anarchist and in a way petty bourgeois, as the owner of City Lights Books.

McClure was genuinely Beat and part of the inner circle, though he also carved out his own style of poetry and theater. Henry David Thoreau’s quip “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer” certainly applies to McClure.

An environmentalist and an ecologist, he wrote The Beard, a raunchy play about Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid. One obit writer noted that the piece has “a scene of simulated cunnilingus,” though when I saw it performed the oral sex was for real. McClure would have approved.

For years he played music with Ray Manzarek of The Doors. I heard him perform at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Marin County, though he spent so much time rehearsing that when it came time for him to face the audience he was largely played out. The rehearsal, which went on for hours proved to be more entertaining than the performance itself, though it was very cool, indeed, to see him and hear him on stage with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir.

In many ways, McClure was a poet’s poet who never enjoyed the large global audience that Allen Ginsberg created and then nurtured for decades. McClure had a keen sense of politics, censorship and artistic freedom. Early on, he recognized the chilling effect of the Cold War and McCarthyism on American culture, creativity and moral values.

He helped to thaw the deep freeze that inhibited many, though not all writers, actors, publishers, moviemakers and more. McClure morphed from the Beat culture of the 1950s to the hippie culture of the 1960s. He kept going year after year, decade after decade. Like Ginsberg and Kerouac—who was in the audience at the Six Gallery, along with Neal Cassady and Natalie Jackson, the quintessential Beat woman—McClure was always experimenting with language and with form as one can see in his book, Ghost Tantras and elsewhere. Some of his admirers call him “an American Shelley.”

Married twice, to Joanna Kinnison and Amy Evans—both of them creative in their own right— he shared shyness with Kerouac. About Diane di Prima, the author of Loba and Memoirs of a Beatnik, he said, “She might be the greatest living American poet.”

When I interviewed McClure, I reminded him of the famous photo in which he appears along with Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. McClure said “Allen, Bob, and I hung out together in San Francisco, went to parties, and shared ideas. One day, Dylan said, ‘let’s take a picture of the three of us.’ Larry Kennan shot us behind City Lights; it’s Jack Kerouac Alley now.”

I also asked mcClure what he added to the Beat mix. He said “I put mammalian consciousness into Beat literature. I expressed the biological aspect of humans. At the 6 Gallery, I read about the slaughter of whales.”

McClure wrote the lyrics for “Mercedez Benz,” which Janis Joplin made famous. Before she performed the song she said, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not: “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import.”

One of the verses goes like this:  “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz/My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends/Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends/So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” To commemorate McClure’s death we might now listen to Janis sing the song.

More articles by:
June 01, 2020
Joshua Frank
It’s a Class War Now Too
Richard D. Wolff
Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
Henry Giroux
Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence
Ron Jacobs
The Second Longest War in the United States
Kanishka Chowdhury
The Return of the “Outside Agitator”
Lee Hall
“You Loot; We Shoot”
Dave Lindorff
Eruptions of Rage
Jake Johnston
An Impending Crisis: COVID-19 in Haiti, Ongoing Instability, and the Dangers of Continued U.S. Deportations
Nick Pemberton
What is Capitalism?
Linda G. Ford
“Do Not Resuscitate”: My Experience with Hospice, Inc.
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Who Are the Secret Puppet-Masters Behind Trump’s War on Iran?
Manuel García, Jr.
A Simple Model for Global Warming
Howard Lisnoff
Is the Pandemic Creating a Resurgence of Unionism? 
Frances Madeson
Federal Prisons Should Not be Death Chambers
Hayley Brown – Dean Baker
The Impact of Upward Redistribution on Social Security Solvency
Raúl Carrillo
We Need a Public Option for Banking
Kathy Kelly
Our Disaster: Why the United States Bears Responsibility for Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
An Open Letter to Joe Biden on Race
Scott Owen
On Sheep, Shepherds, Wolves and Other Political Creatures
John Kendall Hawkins
All Night Jazz All The Time
Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail