Allen Ginsberg – Face to Face

BBC Face To Face Interview, 1994

“Ah Sunflower weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin covered in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go”

Ah! Sunflower
William Blake – 1757-1827


Face To Face was a legendary BBC television series in the early days of British television, a series of half-hour interviews conducted by the broadcaster John Freeman, which aired between 1959 and 1962. The template proved a hugely influential one. Freeman never appeared on camera throughout the shows, only his questions could be heard. His guests were filmed in tight close-ups under stark lighting conditions, as if under interrogation. The format was revived by Jeremy Isaacs in 1990 and ran again through to 1998. The interview with Allen (for the video – see above) took place in 1994 and was broadcast on the 9th of January 1995.

Jeremy Isaacs: Allen Ginsberg, you are America’s best-known poet, you were a key figure of “the Beat Generation” with Kerouac and Burroughs, now beard and the hair are trim, you wear a suit and a collar and a tie, just brought out a new volume, Cosmopolitan Greetings, but is the real Allen Ginsberg still in there? Allen Ginsberg: Well I’m a Buddhist and I think the Buddhists would say there is no real permanent self in any case but there are many appearances of self, so I’m certainly a Beat poet, and I’m certainly Jewish, and I’m certainly gay, and I’m certainly an American, and I’m certainly a practicing meditator, and, I suppose, a part of the counter-culture in America, which is now under attack by the neo-conservative theo-political televangelists who are denouncing the “McGovernik counter-culture”, threatening war on it, so, I don’t know if there is a real Allen Ginsberg any more than there might be a real Jeremy Isaacs
JI: You’re a member, you say, of the counter-culture. In the bohemian New York, of New York in the mid 50’s, you lived, you almost grew up in, an atmosphere, of drink, and drugs and gay sex and some violence. Was there..? Well not too much violence. After all (we were) anti-war, and I’ve not been so involved in violence as in pacifist activity, but certainly drink, some friends drank, I never did — drugs, I’ve tried almost everything, but I’m more of a workaholic, so I never was addicted to anything except the killer drug — nicotine, which I quit many years ago because I have high blood pressure, among other reasons, but I’ve had friends who’ve been in trouble. And friends who… there were deaths among your friends, and violent deaths among your friends

AG: Yes… some… but I think we have an actuarial average above-normal, after all, William Burroughs is 80 years old, and very productive, Herbert Huncke, who was, let’s say, was the original Beat personage, is approaching 80, or is 80 already, and is still writing, and has just been in England, I believe. Gary Snyder is thriving, a 60-year-old, like myself. Philip Whalen is now the Abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco so… Peter Orlovsky is well..

Continue reading >>>