“Come dance with me across my sparkling nerves”: Lenore Kandel and other Digger poets at the Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ (San Francisco, 1976)

Readings by:

Emmett Grogan

Sweet William (Fritsch)

Lenore Kandel

Michael McClure (see below)

Diane di Prima

Freewheelin Frank Reynolds [see below)

(Note: Poets Robert Duncan and Lawrence Ferlinghetti also read)

The Band’s Perfect Goodbye

A Behind-the-Scenes Report by Emmett Grogan

(Oui Magazine)


On December 6, 1969, I attended a concert at a race track in Livermore, near Altamont, California. Three hundred thousand people gathered on the grounds to see and hear rock performers on a crowded stage. Several cameramen were positioned at various angles to record the event as part of a documentary on The Rolling Stones’ concert tour of America. One of the cameramen got lucky. His lens was focused on the right place at the right time. The scene he recorded — the murder of an audience member by Hell’s Angels “security men” — became the dramatic highlight of the documentary Gimme Shelter. Like the photographing of this scene, the Altamont concert itself had happened by accident. And most of it went wrong. Nothing was planned. Everything was winged, improvised on the spot. Like life. Like death.

Six years passed before I went to another concert in the San Francisco Bay area, and this was an orchestrated event in which nothing was left to be played by ear, not even the music. The Band’s Last Waltz was as calculated as a pension. Every aspect of the production was carefully charted, as were the planets governing the stars. Nothing was overlooked or given space to simply happen. The planning was meticulous, the affair thoroughly cased, like a Willie Sutton bank job.

The Last Waltz was not only a hit, it was a major-league home run with the bases loaded. A grand slam. The Los Angeles Times called it “the most prestigious collection of rock stars ever assembled for a single show.” An elegant rambling moved Eric Clapton to remark, “Don’t think there will be anything like it ever again. Ever.” He’s right. There won’t be another gathering quite like it. In the year of Nadia Comăneci, the timing was perfect. According to a professional astrologist, the day was excessively rare. The sort of day you wait for years to happen. The kind of day that won’t happen for perhaps another decade.

Continue reading ““Come dance with me across my sparkling nerves”: Lenore Kandel and other Digger poets at the Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ (San Francisco, 1976)”

What EMMETT GROGAN said at the Dialectics of Liberation conference (London, July 22, 1967)

Emmett Grogan claims in Ringolevio that he gave a speech at the at the infamous Dialectics of Liberation conference that went over very well with the lefty intellectual/counterculture audience — and then reveals that the speech was actually a verbatim recital of an Adolf Hitler speech. Okay, Grogan makes his point about the dangers of charisma, gullibility, hierarchy, etc.

That may well have happened, but we don’t have any evidence for it outside of Grogan’s own account in Ringolevio, and Grogan is a known fabricator of poetic truths.

However, as Grogan also writes in Ringolevio, he had already made one other appearance at the conference on the previous day, in a panel discussion with Allen Ginsberg and Stokely Carmichael. What follows is a partial transcript of what one presumes was Grogan’s opening statement for that conversation. This transcript was supplied to me in 2010 by documentarian Peter Davis, who filmed the event for a BBC film. Unfortunately there is only a bit of footage for some Grogan’s statement, starting here at the 16:17 mark:

(Further footage of Grogan is available at the opening of this 13-minute video compilation of excerpts from the event. These remarks aren’t reflected in the transcript.)

Here’s the transcript text that Peter Davis sent to me.

Note the closing line.

Emmett Grogan – Dialectics of Liberation 22 July 1967

Black people all over the world are discovering their humanity through their blackness. Children all over the world who are not black skinned are discovering their humanity through their madness. The white world as it is structured, systemized and stands is an unnatural myth. The black people are revolting within themselves against this myth. The children who are not making themselves available for employment or degrees or publishers are also revolting against this myth. And each of these peoples is discovering a power—that power is autonomy. To stand on a street corner and wait for no one is powerful.

These children are evolving from every single suburb: liberal and fascist and Bircher and conservative and radical homes—and are leaving. The language in these homes has always been, will always be too functional, They cannot understand anything, nothing means anything. If the change we are all talking about in the dialectics were to come about most of the people in this room right now would not understand that change and would die. Concepts that have evolved with the evolution of this mad race of young people have been interpreted on every level imaginable—political. philosophical, psychological. There’s only one level, there’s no higher or lower level, there’s only one level, and that’s the level of each man’s natural humanity. A man is one to one with himself or he’s not one to one with anything else. And the black people are lucky because they’re black. They can recognize their brothers in the streets—a black man sees a black man, he’s a black man. A child cannot recognize another child because there’s no age limit on this thing. So they formed all these different appearances—long hair, colored clothes—but they treat them as they should be treated, as fads. They come and go, different styles every week. But the new reason and the new sense of brotherhood is coming closer to being understandable.

In America these children, for the first time in their lives, come out of these wounded homes and go out on the street. On the street they meet the people. Who lives on the street? Marxists and radical politicians call the street people the proletariat. On the street, like Stokely Carmichael calls them, black people. On the street, gypsies call them gypsies. On the street, hell’s angels call them hell’s angels. They’re all people. They’re all strange people, because they have nothing to do with whatever anybody says about them, except now. Now the black people are doing It. Now the children of the western world are doing It. And everybody’s trying to interpret It. It can’t be done. Only the people will do It and they will never tell anyone what it means. 

Spontaneity, autonomy, seem to be a new type of humanity that’s or coming about, and today is the first day in the rest of your lives.

“TEAR GAS” by Michael McClure

From the introduction by Floating Bear editor Diane di Prima to the 1973 cloth edition collection of Floating Bear: A Newsletter published by Laurence McGilvery, as reprinted in the Beat Down to Your Soul anthology (ed. Ann Charters):

“‘Tear Gas’ by Michael McClure in Number 37 [March-July 1969] came my way in a kind of interesting way. There was an issue of The Realist, Paul Krassner’s magazine out of New York, that was devoted completely to the Diggers [No. 81/August 1968], and distributed free in San Francisco. And then there was a lot of leftover material that didn’t get into it, most of it unsigned. This leftover stuff was sent to my house in San Francisco by Emmett Grogan, so that Ron Thelin could get hold of it. Ron was one of the editors of the Oracle, but the Oracle had folded by then, and Ron wasn’t doing anything with the manuscript, so he left it with me. I found the piece by Michael, and stuck it in the last Bear…

“I edited Number 37 in San Francisco and deliberately aimed for a West Coast feeling. A whole bunch of the last issue, Number 37. was stamped ‘free’ and left at the Third Eye bookstore on Haight Street because I thought the people of the City of San Francisco should have it. I also left a handful at Cody’s and Moe’s in Berkeley. It was definitely a West Coast issue. The whole free city thing was going strong then, the Diggers and so on, and we wanted to have plenty of copies for everyone.”

Here is “Tear Gas” by Michael McClure, via the Floating Bear archive: