Not Obscene Honored by Fantasy Records
October 20, 2007
Source: conqueroo / Cary Baker
Allen Ginsberg wrote his epic poem "Howl" in mid-'50s San Francisco
and Berkeley, and the rest is literary history. The work, first read
in public in 1955 and published in 1956 before emerging victorious in
a 1957 court ruling that it was not obscene, has been hailed as one
of the most important poems of the 20th century, and it inspired a
wave of Beat poetry. Fantasy Records became the unofficial audio home
of the movement, documenting not only Ginsberg but several other
poets of the day.
October 3, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary is of the court's decision
finding that the work had "redeeming social importance." The ruling
has been the "guideline" for books and music since then. Al Bendich
(a partner in Fantasy Inc. and ACLU lawyer at the time) with Jake
Erlich won the case.
The Howl and Other Poems vinyl LP was first released in 1959,
repackaged for the burgeoning hippie generation in 1969, and remained
in print until 1985, when the company ran out of vinyl LPs. Knowing
that the compact disc would be the configuration of the future,
Ginsberg and Fantasy Records' Bill Belmont began discussions on how
to best preserve the recording. Their conversations continued through
November 1996, when the two laid out plans for the current CD
reissue. Ginsberg died in 1997, but by then plans were afoot to have
longtime friend Anne Waldman write a timely perspective on his work,
and to include a photo of the poet pointing to the building in which
"Howl" was written.
The 1998 reissue of Howl joined Fantasy's definitive collection of
Beat poetry, Howls, Raps & Roars: Recordings From the San Francisco
Poetry Renaissance, released in 1993. The four-disc collection
features not only Ginsberg's "Howl" but other poets and performers of
the day: Lenny Bruce, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Roxroth, Gregory
Corso, Peter Orlovski, John Wieners, Philip Lamantia, Lew Welch,
Philip Whalen, Michael McClure, David Meltzer and Kirby Doyle.
According to box set annotator Ann Charters, "Howl" "was conceived as
a poem [Ginsberg] would create for himself, for what he called his
'own soul's ear and a few other golden ears.' This would allow him
the freedom to write openly about his homosexuality. But when
Ginsberg first performed "Howl" in public on October 7, 1955 . . . he
found the audience so fervently sympathetic to the words that he
discovered his unrecognized talents as a performance artist as well."
Fantasy's Bill Belmont adds: "Ginsberg's performance artistry can be
gleaned through this wealth of recorded output, thanks to Fantasy
Records, which has kept both the single-volume CD and box set in
print to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1957 case which had been
brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti owner of City Lights Books
which he successfully won against the San Francisco Police and U.S.
Customs who had labeled the poem 'obscene'. It was by all accounts a
landmark 1st Amendment case. Fantasy has always been proud to have
and continue to be associated with Allen Ginsburg and the ongoing
American literary traditions of irreverence and spontaneity."