CHARACTERS, PART 1: A music video about how I never slept with Allen Ginsberg


Allen Ginsberg with his squeezebox, in an undated photograph.

By Douglas John Imbrogno | Editor, WestVirginiaVille.com | november1.2021

It is one of my more notable, tiny claims to fame that I did, indeed, once release a song called “I Never Slept With Allen Ginsberg.” And therein lies a tale. And, finally and at last, a music video. For what you see below is a music video version of that 2004 tune. It is receiving its world premiere … well, right now. And while I chose not to sleep with Allen Ginsberg (or, rather, neither of us chose to go there), I did interview him and get stoned with him around a blazing bonfire back up in the West Virginia hills. Below is the backstory of how an oddball song came to be.


CLICK TO VIEW “I Never Slept With Allen Ginsberg” by Douglas John Imbrogno

I requested an interview with the famous poet after he was booked as the featured guest at the 1983 West Virginia Writer conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley WV. I was a cub reporter of three years at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in Huntington WV, still a greenhorn in West Virginia after arriving in its cascading hills as a transplant from Cincinnati and the pancake flats of the Ohio heartland.

I was certainly starstruck, meeting up with Ginsberg for a sit-down interview in a wood-hewn meeting room at the rural center. I was a lover of not just his poetry, but the work of godfather-to-the-BEAT movement Lawrence Ferlinghetti, plus the breathless avalanche of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which might as well have been a single run-on sentence, if a glorious one.



If you read his poetry collections, including “Mind Breaths” and “Plutonian Ode,” you learn Allen was wont to meet lovers at events showcasing his skills and lauding his talents — and then sometimes write often graphic poems about their after-hours meetups.

But when we met in Ripley, alone in that meeting room, no arched eyebrows and ‘See-you-later?’ glances passed between us during the course of our entertaining two hours together. (Here instead, is what we talked about.) Later that day, Allen went on to deliver his keynote address to the writers’ conference. But the day was not yet done with this “poet of his time.” Word went around that there would be a bonfire as the sun fell beyond the hills that ringed the center. And Allen would be there.

I was part of a posse of 20 or so folks who gravitated to the fire circle in a dell. Allen, looking bemused, took a seat as someone stoked the fire into a blaze. A joint began a circuit of the circle for those interested. I was. (Back then, although not anymore.)


Various phases of Allen Ginsberg.

The poet pulled out a small Indian squeezebox, which is what he called the small accordion he began to play. He began to tell stories. We tossed him questions. We ended the night with him leading us in the chorus to a sung version of William Blake’s ‘The Nurse’s Song of Innocence,’ set to the music of that squeezebox. We raised a raggedy chorus of voices into the cool mountain air:

‘And all the hills echo-ed… And all the hill echo-ed … “

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that a song finally percolated up from that memorable day and evening. Additional inspiration came from hearing Greg Brown’s song ‘Rexroth’s Daughter’ one night driving in my car: ‘Hey, I should try to write a cool narrative song like that …”

Below are two oddball facts about the tune’s creation, which was released as part of a 2004 CD titled “Saint Stephen’s Dream” by a musical collective of guests artists I dubbed ‘garagecow ensemble’ (Hear the whole recording on Spotify at this link).


“Saint Stephen’s Dream” by the garagecow ensemble | On Spotify.

ODDBALL FACT No. 1


As part of my CD-printing deal with CDBaby, they’d take one song from an artist’s project and promote it to a global network of DJs and radio music shows. You got to pick the tune. Back in those pre-Internet days, you had few chances to bust your work out of the pack. So, this was a golden opportunity to bring some attention to one of my songs.

If I had been a more rational human being (and maybe not spending so much time smoking weed with a Beat poet, then smoking a whole lot more once home), I’d have picked a more commercial — or slightly more ‘radio-friendly’ — tune for this shot at airplay glory.

What did I pick of all 10 tunes on garagecow ensemble’s “Saint Stephen’s Dream” release?

Yeah. “I Never Slept With Allen Ginsberg.”

Years later, after absolutely no fame and glory had descended on me and the song, and after the Internet had finally birthed into being, I web-searched the tune’s noteworthy title. I discovered it had indeed gotten radio airplay!

On a small public radio station out of Princeton, New Jersey.

On a program called: “Songs You’ll Never Hear on the Radio.”

True, that.

A more recent search turned up the song on an obscure website which describes it thusly:


“‘I Never Slept with Allen Ginsberg’ is a very happy song by garagecow ensemble with a tempo of 93 BPM. The track runs 3 minutes and 43 seconds long with a F♯/G♭key and a minor mode. It has average energy and is very danceable with a time signature of 4 beats per bar..”


Now, you know just about everything about my very happy, very danceable song with average energy.


ODDBALL FACT No. 2


My daughter was a toddler while I was concocting the song. When I had bathtub oversight duties as a parent, she would splash about with her bath toys as I sat on the commode with my guitar, working out the tune and its lyrics.

I learned a couple weeks later, my attentive daughter had been paying close attention. One day, as I belted out the chorus, she began happily singing along:

“… I never slept with Allen Ginsberg, but I miss him still
Yet I visit with him now and then. Guess I always will.

Marsha, the head of her day care and a dear friend of the family, reported later that Gracie had burst out singing the chorus at daycare, too. It is a wonder we didn’t have a knock on the front door from Child Protective Services.

Grace is now 27. She still loves the tune.


“I NEVER SLEPT WITH ALLEN GINSBERG”
words & music by Douglas John Imbrogno (copyright 20
21-22)


LEAD VOCALS & GUITAR:
Douglas Imbrogno
————————
BACKING VOCAL & BASS:
Gar Ragland 
————————
PERCUSSION:
Ammed Solomon 
————————
RECORDING/ ENGINEER/ MUSE:
Bob Webb
————————
VIDEO PRODUCER/ EDITOR/ SHOOTER:
Bobby Lee Messer
————————
FIRE CIRCLE:
Doug Minnerly
Members of Beyond the Vale Sustainability Collective, Hurricane WV
————————
POETRY READING CLIPS:
from “An Elegy for Allen Ginsberg” (2006 film)


LYRICS: “I Never Slept With Allen Ginsberg” by Douglas John Imbrogno


Allen plays the squeezebox while we pass a joint around. /
Singing poetry of William Blake while sitting on the ground. /
Talking of the Rockefellers, how they rule the roost, /
with their ancient dirty dollars and the power it produced … 

CHORUS:
I never slept with Allen Ginsberg, but I miss him still. /
Yet I visit with him now and then — guess I always will.

The campfire spits a dozen sparks, they glow like fireflies. /
Above our heads a thousand stars lie frozen in the skies. /
I have no place to sleep tonight, I didn’t get a room. /
I will lay my head beside this blaze as if it were a womb.

CHORUS:
I’m just a tourist in his world, a poet of his time … /
About all I can offer are these verses and these rhymes.

I ask about Jack Kerouac.” I loved him,” he replies. /
He gazes at me smartly with those drooping, knowing eyes. /
I tell him of a favorite line of poetry he wrote:
The million unutterable thoughts of frogs...’ /
“Jack gave me that,” he notes.

With just a single gesture I could maybe share his bed. /
But it’s not his body that I want, but what’s inside his head.

The campfire burns to ember, everybody goes to sleep. /
In a marijuana vision, I see things that seem so deep. /
Trees arround the conference ground, raise up their limbs in praise, /
For the everlasting holy moment of these holy days.

CHORUS:
I never slept with Allen Ginsberg, but I miss him still. /
Yet I visit with him now and then — guess I always will.

Twenty years beyond that night, I lay in reverie, /
With “Mind Breaths” and “Plutonian Ode’s” erotic poetry. /
I could have been a poem abd brought some comfort to the man. /
But I was just a timid boy, I was just a wide-eyed fan…

CHORUS:
I never slept with Allen Ginsberg, but I miss him still. /
Yet I visit with him now and then -— guess I always will. /
I never slept with Allen Ginsberg, but I miss him still. /
Yet I visit with him now and then — guess I always will.


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PARADIGM SHIFTING: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Life in the Trenches of Poetry: feb24.2021: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s storied life came to a close this Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, at the remarkable age of 101. I was blessed to interview him in 1995. What this “ageless radical and true bard” had to say — not to mention his poetry — remains timely and pertinent.


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