Riffs 2015

Rare Air
Stempek Doc On Offer

Swingin’ Beloveds, though His Lordship’s electromagnetic presence can be charted scatter shot throughout the wild and frisky Cherryland, rarely does a strong, concentrated appeal make itself available topside-wise. Intrepid Buckley archivist Walt Stempek has been in the hip woodshed and recently emerged with a half dozen plus one episodes of a Lord Buckley radio documentary he wanged, danged and falooned together and titled “A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat”.

In the doc, Brother Stempek offers a delicious selection of The Lord’s routines, plus commentary and historical exposition. An added treat is a jive session with filmmaker Michael Monteleone which includes some pithy samples of interviews from the film documentary “Lord Buckley: Too Hip For the Room” which Monteleone and fellow Quixotic studs Roger Mexico and Doug Cruickshank are in the long process of bringing to the populance.

Heard over the actual airwaves solely on the little rock where he lives, Stempek’s Ode to the Mother Lode can be tuned in quite easily mainliner style by cooly browsing your way to the Voice of Vashon website. Check out the link to the left to make your way to another groovy date with The Lord. If you cannot pick up on it the first round freak not for it will be available via the VoV archive soon.

Here are the scheduled times for the show:

"A Most Immaculatley Hip Aristocrat" radio documentary on Lord Buckley

Voice of Vashon (at voiceofvashon.org)
Thursday at 7AM and 5PM
Saturdays at 5PM


Voice of Vashon



BOOM! Put it In The Book!
City Lights Republishes The Holy Tome

Life just got a little sweeter, beloveds. City Lights Books, that torch, nay, beacon of bright shining photons in the swingin'est city by the bay, has sent up a dazzling volley of whooperwills and canary bells, dipodops and flipadees by annnoucing the reissue of a gasser of a tome "Hiparama of the Classics" by Lord Richard Buckley.

Originally published in 1960 (the Year of the Big Swoop) it is the only book the Great Cat ever laid his moniker on. It consists of transcriptions of some of The Lord's most revered routines:

•The all-hip Mahatma
•The Naz
•Gettysburg Address
•Hipsters, flipsters and finger poppin' daddies
•The Religious History of Alvar Nunez Cabaza de Vaca
•The bad rapping of the Marquis de Sade

The coming 64 page edition features a new forward by long time Buckley aficonado California State Poet Laureate Al Young, an introduction by Joseph Jablonsky, pics by photographers Jim Marshal, Jerry Stoll and others.

For more info click the link on the left. Be sure to lay your peepers on Buckley biographer Oliver Trager's hip verbiage in praise of The Lord in the announcement.

Many thanks to Chris Carosi at City Lights for hipping us to this most welcome news.

Publisher: City Lights Publishers
Format: Paperback
Nb of pages: 64
ISBN-10 08728667218
ISBN-13 9780872866713


City Lights Hiparama Info [not an active link]



Willie the Shake in the Cherryland
"Shakespeare In America" hot off the presses

Though Willie the Shake knew of "the Indies" (a common contemporary reference for the New World) he never did make the liquid road trip across the big pond to dig the scene in the wilds of the soon to be jumpin, swingin', wailin' new nation. But he did mention the Cherryland in several of his plays including "The Comedy of Errors", "As You Like It", "The Tempest" and others.

Imagine if this great cat had made the scene in Jamestown or Manhattan, Niagara Falls or Yellowstone Park. The whole glorious riff would have stoked his wig to endless goof.

Fast forward to 2015 and we have a delightful new book that lays it all right and tight for the beautiful bard's influence on our home turf. "Shakespeare In America - An Anthology from the Revolution to Now" is a gorgeous 724 page tome authored by many, edited by James Shapiro and forwarded by former head Patrillo Bill Clinton. The book is published by Library of America.

And dig this, The Swingin' Lord Buckley made the cut with "Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger-Poppin' Daddies"

Lay your peepers on editor James Shapiro's swingin' intro

“The history of Shakespeare in America,” writes James Shapiro in his introduction to this groundbreaking anthology, “is also the history of America itself.” Shakespeare was a central, inescapable part of America’s literary inheritance, and a prism through which crucial American issues—revolution, slavery, war, social justice—were refracted and understood. In tracing the many surprising forms this influence took, Shapiro draws on many genres—poetry, fiction, essays, plays, memoirs, songs, speeches, letters, movie reviews, comedy routines—and on a remarkable range of American writers from Emerson, Melville, Lincoln, and Mark Twain to James Agee, John Berryman, Pauline Kael, and Cynthia Ozick. Americans of the revolutionary era ponder the question “to sign or not to sign;” Othello becomes the focal point of debates on race; the Astor Place riots, set off by a production of Macbeth, attest to the violent energies aroused by theatrical controversies; Jane Addams finds in King Lear a metaphor for American struggles between capital and labor. Orson Welles revolutionizes approaches to Shakespeare with his legendary productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar; American actors from Charlotte Cushman and Ira Aldridge to John Barrymore, Paul Robeson, and Marlon Brando reimagine Shakespeare for each new era. The rich and tangled story of how Americans made Shakespeare their own is a literary and historical revelation. As a special feature, the book includes a foreword by Bill Clinton, among the latest in a long line of American presidents, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln, who, as the collection demonstrates, have turned to Shakespeare’s plays for inspiration."


Amazon link

A Taste From the TOC



Trager Trager Burning Bright
"Dig Infinity" Greenlighted For Full Production at NY Fringe

Oliver Trager, Buckley biographer and playwright, has announced that his play about Our Sweet Groovy Lord, "Dig Infinity" is going to be given the full tilt treatment and presented at the New York Fringe Internataional Festival in August of 2015.

The regal Prince Trager has set up a crowd funding expedition at Indiegogo and made the appeal to get right and tight with the ledger book type contingencies that such a noble pursuit entails.

Besides scribing this opus hipus, Trager will take the lead part as Lord Buckley himself. He will be ably supported by a swingin' bereted thespian by the name of Russell Jordan.

Dig the link on the left to make your way to Indiegogo and check out the scene yourself. And may the love of The Lord inspire you to become one of the hipsters that makes it happen.





The Liberator
One Truly Waiin' Cat Takes His Leave of Us Mere Mortals

Ornette Coleman, a saxophonist who rewrote the rules of jazz has laid aside his big, bold instrument and, at age 85, swung way up and out of here. His Reedship blew the ballast on his ticker and swooped out of Gotham on the morning of June 11, 2015.

Reknown for his approach to music as a liberating force, he is generally considered the father of the Free Jazz movement. He tossed out the accepted notions of harmony and rhythm, tonality and structure. He is quoted as saying,"'We don't have to do it that way, we can take an improvisation that tells its own kind of story, that elapses according to the freedom of the song."

And this self taught cat cleaned up in the awards department. Dig the list:

• the Pulitzer Prize
• the Japanese Praemium Imperiale
• two Guggenheims
• a MacArthur grant
• honorary doctorates
• National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.

It was Ornette Coleman and Dizzy Gillespie that lead the large charge at His Lordship's Memorial Service in 1961. Can you imagine the beautiful aggitation of the air in that room that night!

Adios, Sweet Swingin' Ornette!



Digging The Big I
Oliver Trager conjures The Lord Footlights Style

Buckley Biographer Oliver Trager takes point as he brings forth the spirit of Richard "Lord" Buckley in the theatrical opus "Dig Infinity!", at the New York International Fringe Festival opening Thursday, August 20th at 4:45PM.

Not only does the goodly Prince T play Lord Buckley he also scribed and directed the riff like no tomorrow style. He is ably supported by composer John Kruth and a swingin' cast of hip thespians. Dig the roster:


Oliver Trager - Lord Buckley
Russell Jordan - Orpheus
Ridley Parson - God
John Kruth - Shadow
Boris Kinberg - Slick

"Dig Infinity!"
The New York International Fringe Festival
64E4 Mainstage / 64 E. 4th St NYC (bet. 2nd Ave. & Bowery)

Dates & Times
Thursday, August 20 - 4:45PM
Friday, August 21 - 9:30 PM
Sunday, August 23 - Noon
Tuesday, August 25 - 7 PM
Thursday, August 27 - 2 PM

And dig some of the prose that translates the above mentioned action movement into some jive semantic units:

"Dig Infinity!" is an immersive theatrical presentation celebrating and exploring the legacy of Lord Buckley.
"Dig Infinity!" received its first full productions at the 2014 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity and garnered three of the fest’s top honors: Outstanding Production of an Adaptation, Outstanding Lead Actor (Oliver Trager) and Outstanding Supporting Actor (Russell Jordan).
Lord Buckley (1906-1960) was a visionary American humorist, storyteller, porto-rapper and hipster saint best known for transforming Bible stories, Shakespeare soliloquies, myth, legend and history into one-of-a-kind beat monologues combining black street argot and the King’s English into a jazzy patois and worldview that anticipated psychedelia and rap by decades. “Jonah & The Whale,” “The Hip Gahn,” “Scrooge,” “Hipsters, Flipsters & Finger-Poppin’ Daddies,” and “The Nazz” are just a few of his hallmark monologues that are the stuff of bohemian fable.
In a surreal radio station on the midnight after his death, Lord Buckley spins out his life story to a DJ named Orpheus while demonstrating his unique stylized material. As the two talk—a dialogue interspersed with multiple flashbacks to various points in Lord Buckley’s life—the conversation shifts into a discussion about the importance of truth and art, a topic which includes a trip to Hades and a cameo by God himself as it becomes increasingly apparent that Lord Buckley is bargaining for his very soul.
Lord Buckley’s life and art remain so resonantly timely and why each new generation seems to rediscover and revere his legacy are the ways in which it confronts and comments on controversial components of contemporary American life: religion, language, art, sex, drugs, and, most saliently, race.
Yet despite being a secret subterranean hero to the likes of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Robin Williams, Bill T. Jones, Ken Kesey, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Taylor, Roseanne, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Julie Taymor and scores of others, Buckley’s achievement has remained tragically overlooked.
Lady Laurie Buckley of the Lord Buckley estate is giving her permission for the specific usage of his lordship's material for a one time non-exclusive stage performance of Oliver Trager's "Dig Infinity!" for the The New York International Fringe Festival August 20-27, 2015, US & Canada only. Video rights not included.


TICKETS [not an active link]

The New York International Fringe Festival [not an active link]

an article from “THe New Yorker” magazine



Whit Less
Whitman McGowan 1950 - 2015

Beloveds, Regals, and the entire Those of Thee who cherish the Word as prayer in all it's infinitely bifurcated and delicate diamond chisled varigations, I bear sad drag tidings for You this day. Word has come down from writer Doug Cruickshank that only a sunrise ago this venal, crude and sometimes charming dimension we call Life lost it's Whit. Whitman McGowan, Genuinely Unique Poet, Golfer, Gatherer and Declaimer of Obscure Vectors and Tangential Wisdoms, Imposing Blue Faced Wild White Man Rapper, Lord Buckley Aficionado, Husband, Son, and Towering Poker Faced Genius Word Bloke has tipped his english sports cap, grabbed up his clubs and scratch pad and headed out for territories unknown. Slowly felled by an ill tempered wig bug he made the best of it while he could.

Many years ago LBC curator Michael Monteleone did an interview with Whitman about Lord Buckley. Towards the end of the session McGowan related a story he had heard about The Lord:

Something about Lord Buckley that had nothing to do with his verbal skills. A friend of mine came into a bar where I was bartending in the mission here in San Francisco. And, I was just filling in for somebody there. And he told me this story about being in a coffee shop in Elko, Nevada where Lord Buckley was performing that night in the lounge. And one of the perks of his, his gig at this lounge in Elko, Nevada was that he got to eat in the coffee shop. So, he came in and he was already dressed for his show. He had his, his dinner jacket on and his, you know, his cummerbund and, you know, the whole nine yards. And he sat down to eat this roast chicken. And people had noticed him coming in as the dapper gentleman and maybe some of them knew he was performing there that night. But they were all sort of watching him. And he began to meticulously take apart this chicken with a knife and fork in a way that further entranced the other customers. And they watched him as he, as he very carefully cut up the chicken and, and put various mouthfuls in his mouth. Finally, at the end of this non-verbal performance of eating this chicken, where everyone was intermittently watching him, he got up, wiped his mouth, burped, farted, bowed and the whole room erupted in applause. And everybody actually stood on their feet and gave him a standing ovation as he left the room after eating this chicken without saying a word.

Doug Cruickshank wrote an article for the August 1990 IMAGE Magazine about Whitman and he kindly has let us reprint it here.

"Sexy, Scary, Funny: The World According to Whitman McGowan"

Doug Cruickshank

A comedian knows just what he is saying but he doesn’t mean it. A poet might not know what he is saying but he means every word.-- Whitman McGowan

Whitman McGowan is not going to put on his tuxedo and paint his face blue. He just made his way through the tie-dyed crowd and conga drummers to tell me so. “It’s too hot and the makeup takes too long to wash off. Besides, I’ve got a cold or something so I don’t even feel like performing. I feel like a dead seal.”

I’m in Big Sur, sitting next to Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the porch of painter Emil White’s house – now the Henry Miller Memorial Library. As we watch the goings-on, and because I know nothing about poetry, Ferlinghetti and I discuss the Hawaiian real estate market, a subject of interest to him and of which I have some special knowledge. The revelers on the big lawn before us eat and drink, shout poetry into a microphone attached to a scratchy sound system, dance wildly, reminisce, smooch, and play with children and bandanna-wearing dogs. It is such a perfect sampling of fringe culture one wonders if Tom Wolfe had something to do with drawing up the guest list. At center lawn, dancing with wanton abandon, we have the ‘60s throwback delegation. They’re draped in retina-stunning tie-dyed apparel – zap! pow! – their funky, furry bodies well basted with patchouli oil, and with beads, bells and feathers hanging from their hair, ears and noses. Then there’s the urban surf-punk hip-hop contingent, wearing high-top basketball shoes with untied laces, Oakley “Thermonuclear Protection” reflective shades, GOTCHA baggy knee-length fluorescent shorts, and, always, the Beastie Boys-style backward baseball cap. Off to one side is a coven of fey souls adorned with pale face makeup, scarlet lipstick, freshly dyed obsidian hair, and Dr. Marten’s clodhopper shoes, their pallbearer couture defining the Pennsylvania-Dutch-meets-the-Munsters look that has had a death grip on a certain disenchanted sector of youthful poseurs for the last few years. The crowd is rounded out by an ample proportion of graying, old-guard bohemians, split down the middle fashion-wise between the professorial, denim-shirted, chinos-with-desert-boots fraternity on one side and the ethnically decorated “I just got back from trekking in Nepal” tribe on the other.

It looks much like Big Sur gatherings of 25 years ago, I suppose, except there’s more food and everyone is wearing an expensive watch. We’re all gathered for the opening of the Miller Library, which is located a few hundred yards south of the famous Nepenthe restaurant on the coast highway. Miller settled in Big Sur in the 1940s, less than a decade after his brilliant, widely banned “Tropic of Cancer” revolutionized the art of the novel. White, Miller’s longtime pal and fellow Big Sur resident, died last September, specifying in his will that his small house and redwood-covered acreage be kept as a memorial to Miller and his works.

Whitman McGowan has journeyed to Big Sur by invitation and with the thought that he will perform some of his poetry, in particular one of his most recent pieces, “White Folks Was Wild Once, Too,” for which he usually wears a tuxedo and blue face makeup. McGowan has allowed me to tag along with the unspoken hope that I might learn something about poetry. “It’ll give your article a little more credibility if you know what you’re talking about,” he tells me with diplomatic subtlety.

After McGowan announces he’s not going to read, I look down at a sheaf of papers Ferlinghetti is holding. “Are you going to read today?” I ask.

“No, don’t think so,” he says, “I think I’ll leave it to these new beatniks.” My poetry education expedition is turning out nicely so far: McGowan’s not reading, Ferlinghetti’s not reading, and the sound system, coupled with the new beatniks’ tendency to shriek their verse, renders what poems are being read incomprehensible.

McGowan sniffs, rubs his eyes and nods his huge head toward a circle of nearby redwoods to indicate he’s going to go sit down.

“I’ll talk to you later, Lawrence,” I say as I rise to join McGowan. “Have a nice day.”

I’m standing with the sun behind me. Ferlinghetti looks up, squinting at me with his eyes the color of the waves at Garapata Beach. “See you later,” he says.

It’s appropriate that it is Whitman McGowan who has dragged me away from Ferlinghetti, for some feel that McGowan may be doing as much to breathe life into poetry in Northern California today as Ferlinghetti did 30 odd years ago with his publication of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” his own “A Coney Island of the Mind” and scores of other “beatnik” writings that are now classics. McGowan, however, is neither a publisher nor even exactly a poet. He’s a spoken word performer – a declaimer – whose influences range from Lord Buckley to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to the Wild Tchoupitoulas. At any given time he may be multi-channeling a blend of Dylan Thomas, Salvador Dalí, Brion Gysin, Yma Sumac, Bertolt Brecht, the Last Poets, and a thousand other exotic, seemingly unrelated personalities who have left their mark on him over the years. He sees costume, sound effects, props and physical movement as an integral part of his writing. He’s also the organizer of the monthly “Word Party” at Farley’s on Potrero Hill, the most likely place to catch his show.

On our way to sit down, we make a stop at the food tent. As we wait to fill our wine glasses we eat great mouthfuls of Doritos and guacamole, and I quiz the linebacker-size poet about his motives. “I write because I want to hear it, not because I want other poets to hear it. I deal primarily in comedic poetry.”

“Don’t you worry about not being taken seriously?”

“No, I don’t care about that. I hope I never am. On the other hand, I don’t think people take whimsy seriously enough. And that includes poets. Of course my stuff wouldn’t work if it didn’t also include tragedy. But the vast majority of poets think that a poem isn’t any good unless it is either a language experiment, a gut-wrenching manifesto or a diatribe against society. The poetry scene suffers from insular self-absorption; poets are afraid of popularization. And society at large tends to see poetry as either a boring academic exercise or as silliness, like nursery rhymes.”

“Then you don’t care about going down in history?”

“Being remembered is always nice, but I don’t really care what happens when I die. I want to have good fun while I’m alive. I’d like to see poetry on MTV. I’d jump at the opportunity to play a Las Vegas lounge or Harrah’s at Lake Tahoe. I want to be a legend in my own time, even if I have to write all the reviews of my books myself, like Walt Whitman did.”

A black man with a gray bird on his shoulder walks by. “What kind of bird is that?” McGowan asks me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s big though.”

“To me birds look too much like lizards, if you look at them closely. They give me the creeps.”

“Hmm,” I respond. The conversation is drifting into zoological obscurity.

“Now take someone like me,” I say. “I dropped out of high school, I don’t have much formal education, I have no background in English literature or poetry, I haven’t even read much of it. I can’t really tell between the good and the bad. I mean what’s the difference between what you’re doing and, say, Rod McKuen’s verse?”

“McKuen’s problem is he’s a sanitized sentimentalist. He’s not controversial, or funny – pithless poems. I suppose he’s a good craftsman but he doesn’t affect me. He’s painfully sincere, a quality I find hard to take for more than a few seconds. To me life is sexy, scary, funny. That’s what interests me. If writing doesn’t have those ingredients, I don’t care about it.”

We walk across the lawn and sit on one of several shaded benches surrounded by enormous redwoods. Sitting with us in the small circle is a film director from L.A. named Jerome and the man with the bird. His name is Richard. The bird is named Captain Hook.

“Is that a parrot or a cockatoo?” I ask.

“It’s a parrot,” Richard replies.

“I’ve never seen a gray parrot,” McGowan says.

“It’s a parrot for sure,” Richard says firmly.

“Why did you name it Captain Hook?”

“I dunno. I always liked Peter Pan when I was a kid. I guess that’s why.”

“What kind of films do you direct?” I ask Jerome.


“Name some,” I say.

“‘Pumping Iron.’”

“Really? The one with Arnold Schwarzenegger?”

“That’s the one,” Jerome says.

The movie talk grabs McGowan’s attention. “I used to work as an extra in Hollywood,” he says.

“What films were you in?” Jerome asks.

McGowan thinks for a moment. “Let’s see, I was in ‘10’ and ‘The Onion Field.’ I had a small speaking part in Joan Rivers’ ‘Rabbit Test,’ but it got cut. That was the highlight of my movie career. Esquire said it was the worst movie in 1978. I was in Sam Fuller’s ‘Big Red One’ and the remake of ‘King Kong.’ I almost bumped right into Jessica Lange. She said ‘Hi’ to me and I fell in love. And I was in ‘Raid on Entebbe.’ I played an Israeli soldier in a scene with Charles Bronson. I also was in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ and Chuck Norris’ ‘Good Guys Wear Black.’”

None of us knows what to reply to this litany so we sit and sip our wine and look at the dancing, celebrating crowd. Jerome gets up and heads toward the food tent. Valentine Miller, Henry’s daughter, walks by and nods to Richard.

“How’s it goin’, Val?” he says. She smiles at him and continues walking.

McGowan is big, about 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, with an unkempt pompadour of thick, wiry blond hair covering his head. His eyes are small, ethereal. There’s something reassuring about being next to him, like standing by a Sequoia.

Sometimes, even when fighting a cold, even when he’s already said he wouldn’t, the muse seizes Whitman McGowan and he begins reciting one of his poems. He does so now from within an antihistamine haze, while looking at the twirling, polychrome dancers, with the cacophony of congas, flutes, barking dogs and the over-modulated poetry of the new beatniks serving as accompaniment. At first, because his tone of voice doesn’t change, I think he’s just continuing the conversation.

Yeah, [he growls] white folks was wild once, too
We’d get a wild tattoo and paint our faces blue
If we smelled some game we knew just what to do
And someone always dug where the medicine grew
We had our kind of music and our rituals, too
Yeah, white folks was wild once too.

Richard the parrot man is listening intently. “I know whatcha mean,” he says to McGowan. “It’s sort of like the last remnants of a once-flourishing civilization, ain’t it? This kind of thing’s a cultural anachronism nowadays. It’s too bad, I think. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than going to a 10K marathon or one of those lame art and wine festivals with all the crappy raku pottery and redwood burl clocks.”

“Yeah,” McGowan says, “but what I’m trying to get at is, though it may come off as whimsical, what I’m trying to get at is, uh … this particular bit of whimsy comes from decades of feeling like I wasn’t a native. I mean, when the Mayans were building their temples, and the Chinese had very advanced observatories, and the Africans had great kingdoms with complex social structures, my people, you know, white people, who were natives once too, were still running around hitting each other with sticks and painting their faces blue. And now we’re supposed to be the point men for civilization. We were the last to be civilized. Just about anybody is more qualified for the job than we are.”

Captain Hook starts talking but I can’t understand him. “What’s he saying?” I ask.

Richard translates for the bird. “He’s saying ‘Let me out.’”

“What’s that mean?”

“That’s what he says when he wants out of his cage or he just wants to move. He’s bored.”

“How can a creature with a brain the size of a grape be bored?” I ask. “You’d think it would take every brain cell he’s got just to keep his heart pumping.”

Richard scowls. “Go on, Whitman,” he says, “do some more of that poem.”

I think McGowan’s in a trance. He also must be psychic, since he immediately looks at me and responds to my observation without my having said anything. “I know,” he says. “It’s the combination of the place, the company and the cold medicine.” He chants:

Forget about the Mau-Mau, forget about the Sioux
We was homesteaders back when the glaciers withdrew
And where our chiefs lay buried, everybody knew
We had a feel for nature, a sense of what was true
Yeah, white folks was wild once too
We put up lots of big rocks framing up the moon
‘N pointing at the sun and the other stars, too
We did a whole damn lot of scary hoodoo
‘N voodoo ‘n mojo ‘n sacrifices, too.
Yeah, white folks was wild once too.

Richard interrupts before McGowan can begin the next stanza. “How’d you get started doin’ this?” he asks him. A lady walks past with a large snake draped over her shoulders.

“What is this?” I say. “A party or a petting zoo?”

McGowan chortles. Captain Hook sees the snake and seems a little nervous, flaps his wings. Richard strokes the bird’s head.

“I started performing in public about 1982. I was getting burned out on the movie business and I’d begun working part-time at a coffee house in Pasadena. The place lost its entertainment license and wasn’t able to continue having live music. So we put poetry on the menu. It said ‘Poetry ... $1.’ I’d always make a point of coming to work with a couple of poems in my pocket. And somebody would say, ‘Hey, what’s this?’ And we’d say, ‘It’s fun, why don’t you try it.’ It became pretty popular. I finally raised the price to $2 per serving. That’s how I started.”

Little needle-teethed fire ants are biting my bare feet. “Damn,” I say, tucking my feet under me. “Quick, let’s hear the rest.” McGowan slips back into his trance, continues his chant:

We took strange powders to improve our view
Before the Wright Brothers, I’m telling you we flew
Getting right with the Goddess was the mission of our crew
We danced around a fire chanting woo-woo-woo
Yeah, white folks was wild once, too.

Captain Hook picks up on the phrase “woo-woo-woo,” and screeches it several times. McGowan pays no attention to the bird.

Wacky doo, wacky doo, wacky doo, wacky doo
We used to like to drink & fight, used to like to ooh!
For all that I know, we still just maybe do
And we were really ready for the world to start anew
Yeah, white folks was wild once, too.

We had baskets to weave and a bone to chew
We got real funky on some homemade brew
We had a helluva time at a bar-be-que
If you saw us today you’d put us in a zoo
Yeah, white folks was wild once too.

McGowan sneezes. “That’s it,” he says.

“Is that the whole thing?” Richard asks.

“Yep,” McGowan answers and then looks at me. “Let’s take off. I’m worn out. And it’s a long drive back.”

“Sure,” I agree, feeling like the trip hasn’t really done much to advance my understanding of poetry.

Richard stands up and extends his hand. He gives me one of those complicated multi-position handshakes that white men like me are never very good at. “Great to meet you two. Keep up the good work, Whitman.”

We stand to leave. Jerome is leaning against the doorway of Emil White’s house, a doorway Henry Miller must have walked through hundreds of times on his way to another evening of wine, talk and food. I wave goodbye to Jerome and he waves back. Ferlinghetti is in the chair on the porch in which he began the afternoon. The new beatniks are still assaulting the forest and the rest of us through their wretched sound system.

Whitman McGowan and I walk up the road to the parking lot at Nepenthe where our car’s parked.

“Let’s go in and have one of those great hot cider and brandy drinks they make here,” McGowan suggests.

A well-tanned young waiter seats us on the patio. Our view is of the coastline as it extends south in an intoxicating tangle of cerulean ocean, oaks, redwoods and steep hillsides tightly wrapped with yellow-gold grass. The visual effect is amplified by the wind’s constant massaging of the foliage. McGowan and I stare. The waiter delivers our drinks.

“I can’t come to this place,” I say, “without thinking about that dopey movie from the ‘60s that they filmed here.”

“Which dopey movie?” McGowan asks.

“Oh God, what was it? You know the one. Richard Burton played a priest or headmaster or something, and Elizabeth Taylor was a bohemian painter. And whatshisname from ‘Raid on Entebbe’ was in the scene they filmed here at Nepenthe.”

“Charles Bronson played a beatnik?”

“Yeah, he played a bongo drum.”

“He played a bongo drum?”

“No, I mean he played a bongo drum in the scene. He didn’t play the part of a bongo drum.”

“I knew what you meant,” McGowan says.

“As I recall, the film’s director relied heavily on the bulky-knit Mexican sweaters and bongos to evoke the pre-hippie Big Sur counterculture. What was that movie called? It’s right on the tip of my tongue.” McGowan has stopped listening to my brandy-induced blathering. He’s gazing straight up at a red-tail hawk as it performs like a champion figure skater high over our heads. He’s also worrying about the present, the future, his career and poetry in Northern California.

“‘The Sandpiper’! ‘The Sandpiper,’ that was it!”

McGowan’s head is still tipped back, watching the hawk. “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong idea back there when we were talking with Richard,” he says. “I mean, I guess if I really wanted to play Vegas, I’d be doing something about it. What I am doing is performing in coffeehouses and bars. I like to read in crowded, noisy bars and see if I can get everybody to stop throwing darts, and shooting pool, and drinking, and listen to me create a scene and have a laugh over modern life. Like I said before, I think the world right now is a sexy, scary place.” He lets out an explosive sneeze, startling the people at the table next to ours.

“And you’ve appointed yourself the job of finding what’s funny about it?” I ask.

“Well,” McGowan replies, clearing his throat, “I suppose you could say that’s part of my job.”