Allen Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, San Francisco discussed on Reason Podcast
This is the reason podcasts. And I'm your house nNcholas Speight. Thanks for listening. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness. Starving hysterical naked dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. So of you might recognize those as the opening lines to Allen Ginsberg's mid nineteen fifties poem howl, which helped kickstart both a major cultural and legal transformation in America. When that made our country looser hip and one much more peace with all sorts of alternate lifestyles, libertine sexuality, and perhaps most importantly, speech was profane raucous inventive in unrestrained. What Ginsberg's fellow beat Jack heroic called spontaneous. Bob president. Immediately upon howls debut in print Ginsberg's publisher Lawrence Furlan Getty of city lights. Books was hauled into court on obscenity charges in San Francisco of all places the trial, which ended in a very surprising and unexpected not guilty verdict helped to usher in a new era free speech in America but is the euro free speech ending everywhere. We look at seems are more and more attempts to shut down things that are considered offensive or provocative speech. Sometimes in the name of protecting kids or protecting the sensibilities of marginalized ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities or protecting the political process from dark money in Russian influence. Sometimes we shut down free speech in the name of national security. But everywhere it seems the threats in the need to shut down speech is growing. My guest today is Ronald kale Collins. He's a lawyer and scholar at the Newseum first amendment Law Center and he's. The author of fantastic weekly blog called first amendment news. You can subscribe to that, at the website of the foundation for individual rights at education. Look for them online at the fire dot org. Collins is also the co author with David cover of the new book, the people vs Lawrence Furling, Getty, the fight to publish Allen Ginsberg's howl. It's a fast paced history of the obscenity trial that ended in a major victory for free expression in America. We're going to talk to him about his book, and the enduring relevance of the case, he describes to contemporary debates about free speech. Ron Collins thanks for talking to raise it. It's such a great opportunity to be here. And I really appreciate the conversation we're about to have Nick. All right. And you know, because this both is reason, and it's the twenty first century of American, the lights for free speech going at all over the place. I don't want to mandate that you curse a lot. But if you want to, you know let the expletives fly, but what's the elephant, member wrote a book on Lenny BRUCE'S, so I'm? That's. Which I reviewed favorably in Reza we, we'll get into that a little bit because I really don't think that Lenny, Bruce funny, but he is important. And he, he was a free speech, martyr. I mean, there's no question about it as is in a way Furling Getty, although Furlan Getty was able to get off the cross and live another. Dozens of years. I mean he's, he's still with us. Yeah. He's one hundred years old. But so I guess start off then who is learns? Furling gatty. Wow. Where do I begin? Well, Lawrence Farallon Getty first and foremost is the owner. And the original founder co founder of city lights books in San Francisco. He's a publisher he say, nationally or internationally, renowned poet, he's a bookseller and he's a guy with a lot of spunk. And a lot of backbone. And he knows what he wants and he doesn't let anything stand in the way in other words, he's an American maverick. That's how I begin the book with David scooper. He's a man of many stripes, socialist activists environmentalist first amendment advocate berry strong advocate. He's fat Trinh. Oh, yes. A veteran of the second World War. Yes. Yes. So PHD as well. And literature. I mean the guys just he's incredible. So, and you also for all of the tight Ed has he's best known as a poet himself for the collection. A Coney Island of the mind, which sold something like a million copies something. I mean it's one of the best selling poetry books of the postwar era, but you also at various points, just because I know some reason people be like is an environmentalists these socialists. These this is a pacifist after World War. Two are the dropping of the nuclear warriors and anti nuke guy. And I don't know that any reason, you know, listeners readers or anything are actually pro nuclear bombs being dropped. They may be I we can go all sorts of ways with. But you also refer to Furling Getty at various points as libertarian. What do you mean by that in that context because I think it's absolutely correct. Yeah. I mean like I said he wears many hats. I mean, we could be talking about another side of Lawrence felony Getty and talk to him. Talk about him as socialist socialist or what have you, but he's a man that is so committed and has. I've been so committed to free speech that he was willing to put up his business for it. He was pulling put up his career for it, who's willing to go to jail for it and all of this for a oppose that he didn't even ride. I mean he just did. This is a bookseller and book publisher, but we can get. And he loved the pope. He did. And so let's just go back in time a little bit this idea for this book really came many years ago. David, and I were to book on Lenny, Bruce, and, and the attorney for Lenny, Bruce, at least in San Francisco was kind of Albin dick who had worked with the ACLU, and he was Lenny BRUCE'S lawyer. And when we are done with Lenny, Bruce book, you said, you know if you ever want to do another book. There's this, I represented among some other ACLU lawyers Lawrence felon, get it in a obscenity case. And he had all of the trial transcripts. And everything may he had it all. And we thought, wow, this is just another book, popular culture, free speech. What have you? And so we had done a book called mania, and in mania. There was a chapter in their own Lawrence fail and Getty. But then when we saw that he was about to turn hundred. This was about a year ago. We said, you know, this is a book. This is something that just deserves a book in its own. Right. And so as our tribute to learn spelling. Keti. We put together this book and it all begins really. I mean it, it involves a Poet, Allen, Ginsberg, another poet alerts, parent Keti, who's also a bookseller and book publisher unin credible lineup of a lawyers and a most remarkable, but very unusual judge. And that's kind of the mix of it all. And all of this happens in nineteen fifty six and fifty seven and what's going on, at that time in America is culture collusion? A collision excuse me. I said that see were there. Yes, on everybody's mind. We'll say because it never happens. It never happens. It's never happened in the history of America, especially in the past couple of culture collision, and it's a it's a new generation. I mean the sixties really began in the late fifties with the beats and what have you Lenny, Bruce and Jack Carroll? Ac Allen Ginsberg Neal Cassidy and others. And, and this is an idea. This is people with different values people who are really willing to kind of fly libertarian flag to, to each his own to each, you know, the star and their own galaxy. Yeah. What is remarkable about an I think it's worth recovering from the beats, as well as other kind of nonconformist groups the individualism of it. I mean, they, they banded together, and they certainly created their communities and whatnot, but they were individualists in a way that sometimes libertarians get to I think hopped up on the idea of like our, you know you gotta support. Maximum second amendment rights or something as opposed to just the more basic, fundamental understanding that discussions about society and living good and proper light begin an aunt. They don't end with the individual, but they begin with it and uh so that these guys were not overtly political. I mean, none of I don't think any of them were, you know, big Eisenhower fans or Nixon fans, although you to Jack Kerouac probably voted Republican to the extent that he voted, you know, but they were also beyond politics like they weren't gonna waste a lot of their time, you know, ward healing for you know this or that district council mentors. Yeah. I mean they were so political that they were beyond politics. I mean really way beyond it. So what happens is in mid fifties. Allen Ginsberg is leaves an asylum in San Francisco. One of the things he was being treated, therefore, was his homosexuality. They thought that New York was a bad place for him to stay. So they let him leave only on the condition that he goes someplace safe, and so they pick San Francisco. So they so they picked they tell a hub of sexual who at that point. That's synonymous with being mentally ill. You gotta get out of New York, you gotta get a San Francisco to, to, to deal with your latent homosexuality. Yes. So good rely on these with, with a woman, and what have you, but soon enough, he goes back to his wild ways. And remember, homosexuality was crime, then. And so anyway, he comes into city lights bookstore, just opened and the Lawrence felon Getty became the owner was originally, coned. But and they get to the media other Alan pitches, some poems to him, at least the first set of poems, he pitched apparent Getty to pass. But then he started talking about how found getting was very interested in how from the beginning, he loved the fact that it was just so contraire so counterculture, so norm. Breaking so vibrant, so individualistic, so passionate, you know, and that the title, you know, how it was richly hall for call a Carl Solomon Carl. Solomon with somebody he was in the asylum within New York. And so one thing leads to another and found Getty says he's interested and Allen Ginsberg gives a very dramatic presentation of the poem and place called six gallery filled with all these counterculture types. Remember this is before the sixties is a nineteen fifty six other passing around. Big jug of red wine, a probably Gallo or Thunderbird and our. It's in the parlance of the day was dago red. It was a big jug of Santana cheap. Right. Right that karaoke, karaoke. Jack heroic. Was there and was collecting money yelling at him buying. That's absolutely true. And, and most of the poets that gave presentations that they were deadly dull, but Ginsburg he, he comes up. He's wearing a sport coat and a tie. And he's almost Rebekah CLE in the way he presents. I mean, it's just there's just a certain rhythm, there's a certain life. And as you heard him, you know, each stanza. Those who did this who did that who did this who did that. And you can just feel the momentum building and all of a sudden people start pounding their feet, and go and go go go, go. This is while he's reading the poem, and one person who's rather driving the way you describe it. And I'm sorry in bed. I wanna say one of the things that is fantastic about the book is, you know, the history and the legal argumentation in the archival research, and all of that, but I have to say, somebody who reads a lot about the beats and has consumed vast numbers of recollections and stuff..