CL: Is this
in this Browen’s book?
I think so. Just Broan. It’s not Browen. Just Broan. That’s
an older Celtic way, probably, of spelling Brown. The catalog
she sells for ten dollars and it’s one of the favorite things
that I’ve done in my life. It’s hard to compare GNAOUA with
On Feet Of Gold with Kings With Straw Mats. They’re
all different things, but that catalog is really beautiful,
and it has like about 24 pictures in color, black & white.
I started saying, much earlier, about the Bibliotheque Nationale,
and when I showed the guy a lot of pictures I had in boxes.
It was…he was a very sweet man, and he was really interested.
I mean, unlike most people that you come to see on some professional
errand, trying to interest them in your work. Usually they’re
almost hostile to begin with. They’ve already had it up the
ass…(laughter) You know, they don’t get that interested, or
they just want it off the top of their head, and they say “Yeah,
that work is really good and nice.” I’m gonna finish two stories
now. Ivan Carp’s. So, the guy says “You should come back, Ivan
Carp will be here tomorrow,” so I came in and I saw – of course,
that first guy loved it, was just impressed – and then I came
and saw Ivan Carp. You know, he had an imaginary cigar in his
face, probably still dreaming of the last used car he sold at
a big profit, you know, before he took over as an art connoisseur,
and then he looked at my pictures and he said, “Well, you probably
won’t wanna hear what I have to say.”
CL: Oh yeah?
IC: That’s what I said, “Oh yeah?” Just the same way you said
it. I said, “I don’t know, try me out. I’m curious to know what
you have to say.” So he said, “Well, your work is too surreal,
too glamorous, too beautiful…”
CL: “Too colorful...”
IC: “Too dramatic,” you know, and whatever. He strung together
all these adjectives which are all things that I have no problem
with, except for the word “too.” If he’d said that the work
was THREE dramatic, and FIVE glamorous, you know what I mean?
Then I might think “Where’s he going with this? Five, Ten, do
I get a Seven? Is this an ice skating event?” Anyway, no, so
I said, “Well, I don’t find any of those things a problem, like
you say ‘too,’ so what’s your point?” And he said, “Well, your
technique is great.” I didn’t think I had any technique, but
I know how anything can be observed as technique. I mean, I
thought I was just fucking, I didn’t know that I had a technique,
you know what I mean? (laughter) But I accepted that, and then
he said, “You’ll never get anywhere with this, but if you would
instead take pictures of supermarkets, gas stations, and hubcaps,
you could.” You know.
CL: We’ll show your work.
IC: And then I said, “Well, maybe you could just tell me someplace
where they would not say ‘too glamorous, too surreal, too this,
too that’.” You know, “Too psychedelic.” I don’t know even
how many words like that he used. But you know, where they would
say, “Hey, this is great that this is so glamorous and so beautiful.”
So none of those things have ever been helpful to me in my work,
although I still struggle in those ways. So that was one story.
The next story was what? Now, see, I told that one…
CL: Well, I was kind of curious about the filming…
IC: No, I just wanted to finish – there were two stories, so
there was the Ivan Carp thing…
CL: Was there another gallery story?
IC: Yeah, or something there. Oh yeah, so Jimi, so at a certain
point I’m trying to arrange them, and I put Jimi out and I took
Noel Redding in, and Mitch Mitchell I put out, and I was interested
in Noel Redding in a way, and I got one picture, which I haven’t
seen for ten years. I’ve seen one or two close to it but not
the one that was the master one, which came out and he looked
like a wild-eyed infrared king of Ireland on a throne. You know,
‘cause the grey/black shades he was wearing turned into vivid
red. Anyway, nevertheless, suddenly somebody called and he said,
“Jimi just left!” I said, “What?” I had to run down two flights
of stairs and catch him before he hit the street, and then I
said, “Hey, you can’t do this to me, I mean, come on,” and I
just took him by the arm and I started pulling him back upstairs,
and he came back upstairs. And then I put him in there, and
that’s when I took those couple of pictures, and then after
that I took pictures of the three of them together that looked
like funhouse mirror pictures. that I never quite liked, but
I mean maybe… Actually, there’s still a couple of them – you
know, a lot of times with this stuff, you see after twenty years
that there’s another picture you had thought didn’t make it,
but actually it does make it. I just have to look at a certain
CL: Or maybe you’ll print it differently…
IC: No, it isn’t a question of that. There’s a lot of possibilities,
but the main thing I’m saying is that, if I’m trying to do something
which has beauty and harmony in it, I might not be thinking
that this ugly picture, which I see as a failure, actually,
if I’m looking at it as a possible Francis Bacon, it takes on
a whole other quality. You see what I’m saying? You know, if
you’re trying for…I mean, I was never trying for fashion elegance,
you know, like other…
CL: Like Jack was?
IC: Well, Jack did in a certain beautiful way, that he created—
CL: I think he wanted that, though.
IC: Yes, well he hated it. He always talked about dykes, he
didn’t want…but he’d go down there, and then of course he had
a big scene, a memorable scene, that they probably never forgot
him. In some way, of course, he did always want that too, but
in another way, he really didn’t either, so it’s a paradox.
I mean, Jack was very close to… I mean, I thought that Jack
was in a certain way almost a Christ-like…I mean, it shocked
me in the latter days that I saw him before he died, when I
saw certain things and I suddenly got this impression of this
other kind of spiritual thing. His hatred of capitalism was
also so touching because it was real.
CL: Yeah, the whole landlord—
IC: Do you know that book, The Hatred of Capitalism?
CL: Yeah. Well, a book, wait…
IC: It just came out recently. Sylvere Lotringer and Chris Kraus,
they put out a book. A Semiotexte book. And it has a piece in
there of Jack’s. And, you know, other things of other people’s.
CL: It’s called Hatred of Capitalism?
IC: Yeah, Hatred of Capitalism. And then, right in the
CL: Is his landlord stuff in there?
IC: Yeah, some landlord type stuff, and Jonas, and Uncle Fishhook…
CL: Uncle Fishmeat, yeah…
IC: Uncle Fishhook comes back, you know. But the title, you
know, appealed to me as soon as I heard it. And then, when you
open the book, on practically the first page, or right at the
beginning, there’s a letter from Jack to Sylvere Lotringer saying,
“When I got your magazine, I threw it in the trash. The title
of it, Semiotexte Reader, is so blah and boring.” And then he
says, “Ideas are good, you can carry them forth, people want
to know new ideas, but why don’t you call it something stunning,
like The Hatred of Capitalism?” And they print that whole
letter, and they do call this book The Hatred of Capitalism.
To me, that’s already the best thing in the whole book, is just
looking at the cover art, and then cutting to Jack’s letter.
CL: You know, it makes me want to cry when I hear that.
IC: Yeah, well, see. There’s a lot of things about Jack that
could make you wanna cry.
CL: I know.
IC: There’s a lot of things about everything beautiful you’ve
ever experienced in your life that could make you wanna cry,
you know? ‘Cause they’re beautiful. And especially when they’re
kind of gone, where you can only capture them by talking about
them, as we are.
CL: Well, you were just so lucky to be near him.
IC: Yeah, that’s why I can cry more than you. You can’t catch
up to me.
CL: I can’t catch up to you!
IC: No, I’m standing in it.
CL: You’re standing in the pool!
IC: Yeah, that’s right, I’m sitting with a bucket, you know.
It’s almost up to the top. I have to get off the phone. Otherwise
it’ll start overflowing and the people downstairs will complain.
Boy, Jack on the stairs…when Irving was gonna bring… I think
it was Irving, bringing Cecil…Charles Henri Ford, I guess, probably.
Maybe Irving was also in the picture, but bringing Cecil Beaton,
I’m sure it was Charles, because Charles knew Cecil Beaton.
Irving would never have known…
CL: I wonder what Smith thought of Beaton…
IC: No, but I’m saying that Charles wanted to bring Cecil Beaton
over and introduce him to this, you know, orchidaceous one,
Jack Smith. I always use that word, orchidaceous. I say Jack
Smith is the most orchidaceous person I ever met.
CL: That’s a great word. Beautiful word.
IC: Yeah. So anyway, and then, somehow or other, here again
you’d wonder, I mean…
CL: I think you’re all that’s left. That’s the thing.
IC: No, no, there’s more…
CL: Ira, I think it’s just you…is there anything else left?
IC: No, no, there’s a lot more that’s left, but other people
may not have the combination of qualities, of humor, and you
know, some other things involved. I don’t know, however. I can’t
know. But I’m sure there’s other people I could sit with that
were around there that would – I could talk to Peter Birnbaum
about it with a snap of the fingers, and he wrote a terrific
piece at my request about Meet Me at the Bottom of the Pool,
where he worked on some film that Jack did by that name, and
then there was a book of Jack’s writings that came out with
that name. I got Peter to write up, in a couple of pages, his
memory of the shooting session at this pool in the parks, you
know, the park department building, and how Jack was trying
to get Peter to submit to having Mario Montez shave his bodily
hair off because Polynesians couldn’t have… Is Mario dead? He
CL: I don’t know.
IC: Eric LaPrade just brought me – that’s l-a, capital p, r-a-d-e,
works with Charles Henri Ford, he’s a poet and a friend of mine,
and he found, when he was working there recently, a picture
Charles took of me and Mario Montez together in my loft years
ago. Actually, he took Mario out a few times as a date, or an
escort, and it was in that period of time, and it’s a really
nice picture way back then that he brought me. Charles even
signed it. [….] Charles is 93 and they tell me he’s gaga, so
I don’t want to give him a present which he’ll forget that I
gave it to him. No, I could, I’m just joking. That’s a joke.
CL: Tell me about the meeting with Cecil.
IC: The story is just hysterical, because Jack also doubled
as some kind of, you know, completely surreal super in that
building. I mean, he had an extra loft for being a super. Something
like that. He had a double loft, and the story of Angus sawing
out a good part of that loft, sitting on it.
CL: Angus sawed it out?
IC: Yeah, he was sawing it out while sitting on it, but he didn’t
fall. He figured it out. So that was how Jack was able to shoot,
from above, Mario Montez in the milk bath in Normal Love.
He could shoot from above, you know, and he also had racks of
clothing up there sometimes. And chests of other…what do they
call ‘em, gewgaws? Gewgaws? You know, that word?
IC: Yeah, gewgaws. That’s the way it’s spelled, anyway.
IC: Yeah, his jewelry collection.
CL: I wonder if Jack ever met Cornell. Joseph Cornell.
IC: Yeah, I think it’s possible. Because his name would be around
CL: I think that that was maybe an inspiration.
IC: Yeah, but I don’t know about the meeting. I mean, sometimes
you meet people and you don’t see them too often. I don’t recall
that they had a relationship. Charles, of course, knew Cornell,
but when he brought Cecil Beaton, there was some build-up to
the idea that Cecil Beaton was going to come over. I don’t remember
whether this happened when I was even in New York, but I just
remember hearing this story. So Jack was a kind of super, and
there was some problem, on the day, that occurred when Beaton
came over, where pipes exploded, and there was shit all over
on the landing, on the stairs, and Jack was cleaning it up when
Cecil Beaton came in. I don’t know the exact exchange and everything.
I don’t think he stayed too long.
CL: Because, you know, there’s a certain kind of parody that
Jack was doing of Beaton in some of those shots, like the smoke
things, that seemed like he was trying to do Funny Face
or something. Funny Girl or whatever.
IC: Yeah, Jack was terrific. He was clever, he was funny, and
he was very incredibly devoted and dedicated. So there you have
it. I know you would make Jack the main point of this whole
CL: I’m sorry.
IC: No, it’s okay! I don’t mind.
I think that you’re somehow maybe the flagbearer of this.
IC: Well, I guess one person around you – if you talk to Stanley
or to certain other people they would have other…
CL: Well, I don’t know, I get a vibe from your work and your
schtick and everything. It’s kind of falling into line, I guess.
You know, I admire your work and I think it makes sense to have
this kind of go the way it did.
IC: Well also, you know, Jack was the guy who drew fantastically
well. He did great photographs, he made great films, he did
performance art, and also as a writer he’s really quite unique.
I mean, he’s eccentric, but unique in anything that he wrote.
CL: Well, the collages and the things that he did to advertise
his own things…
IC: Yeah, right. So in other words, he was also an actor, and
a performer…he was a ping-pong player. He was a lot of things,
and I think that was part of the spirit of the time, and what
I have been trying for years – mostly people have laughed, but
now I’m so old, and younger people pick it up, and instead of
making it a joke, or not even mentioning it, they’ll say, “Well,
he likes to call it electronic multi-media shamanism.”
I like to call it that way, but nobody else in their right mind
would take it too seriously. They’d think “Have a big laugh.”
Some people can take it seriously, but I mean it very, very
seriously, because I feel that the Beat Generation was fine
and terrific and everything else, even if it’s been – you know,
refried beans are good but I don’t know, if you have to refry
refried beans, and how many times you need to do that and everything
else, and then you get clones of those people coming out, not
as great as they were. Also, jazz is like that, although it’s
different ‘cause jazz you can listen to and it always sounds
good, but I mean…with the energy of those earlier people in
a certain period that I grew up in, of Monk, and Bud Powell,
and Charlie Parker, you know, all of those – Mingus, all of
those people, Miles – they all had, and so many of them had,
that quality. And it was because it was really happening at
that time. It was a cornucopia of sounds. And now people have
learned all those licks.
CL: Oh, you know what else I wanted to bring into it was your
meeting with the MC5.
IC: Oh yeah.
CL: What was that about? Was that in a recording studio?
IC: But I was just trying to say something, I can’t remember
what it was…I was just saying that the energy – oh yeah, about
electronic multi-media shamanism. I’m not talking about the
Beat Generation, I’m just saying that it’s going on and on and
on and on, but nobody ever really talks about the period that
came in after the Beat scene with multimedia, films, you know,
and so forth and so on.
CL: Aren’t we talking about it?
IC: We are, but I mean – there might even be a book or two coming
out, but they haven’t even started to surface and nobody, or
very few people have become real heroes.
CL: Well, that’s why we have to talk about it. We have to document
IC: I know, so this is important. That’s why I want to say something
about it. Which is that someone like Harry Smith, who isn’t
a Beat, has managed with the help of the Smithsonian… You know,
like he’s been taken over in death by companies, so to speak.
Greil Marcus could be paid a lot of money to write about him.
Maybe he would’ve written about him anyway. He certainly probably
didn’t mind writing about him. So somehow someone like that
can get there. Jack put a blip on the screen for a little while,
and is known to a lot of people in a special way. But as they
said, when the show was on at PS whatever, 1, someone said to
me…You know, it wasn’t considered a cash cow. I’m sure would
Jack would be very happy.
CL: He’d be very happy to know that it wasn’t.
IC: Yes, that he was not called a cash cow.
CL: No, he would tear it up.
IC: Yes, we know what he would do. I’m just saying, what that
means, they couldn’t expect to ship that show to the Walker
Museum in Minneapolis, and to the, you know, whatever…
CL: The same thing happened to Ray Johnson.
IC: Yeah, okay. Alright, well just let me finish my point, you
know. Which is, I’m saying, that people like Jack – that’s the
era I grew up in – people like Angus, and even Julian Beck,
who seems so monolithic and the Living Theater, that you don’t
make it – but Julian was also a painter and a playwright and
an actor and, you know, everything. A stage designer and a poet.
That’s overlooked sometimes with certain people. Gysin was also
a guy who did everything, and somehow never got what he wanted
or felt he deserved. They would say as a writer he’s a good
painter, as a painter he was a good restauranteur. You know
what I mean? Blah blah?
CL: They say that about you too, Ira.
IC: Well, I don’t know what they say about me. They just say
I must be living on my grandfather’s money or I must dealing
dope or something. No, but the point is – how else could I be?
But almost everybody I know was somebody who was really working
in what you would call a renaissance way, and the easiest way,
without throwing renaissance into the soup and saying “a renaissance
multimedia electronic shaman,” a “renaissance vaudeville comedian
political activist and serial killer,” you know, whatever. I’m
just saying that it’s a different tradition from the Beat thing,
which you somehow say “Well yeah, the guy’s probably also a
wino.” Or at least the ones that were more far out.
CL: Or Ray Bremser.
IC: Yeah, with certain drugs or something, or winos…
CL: Did you know Ray?
IC: Yeah, I met him a number of times. I photographed him a
couple times. I liked his work. I published him in a magazine
once. But there’s a difference between knowing and really knowing.
I mean, I really knew Jack, and I really knew Julian. In some
way, though, I could’ve known ‘em more deeply.
CL: Maybe it was the difference between the influence of alcohol
and like hash or something.
IC: Well, that’s a very big factor. There’s no question about
the influence, it’s a gigantic factor. The interesting thing
is that, if a person is great, they can drink their way to fame
and also self-destruction. With heroin you can certainly self-destruct,
and you can be famous, and you can also do nothing. And also
you could have enough trouble just getting the vomit off your
pants-cuffs, you know, if you’re an alcoholic. With grass I
don’t see that you have too much trouble, but you might eat
too many oreo cookies.
CL: No, but you might also be hyper-imaginative and that turns
IC: No, of course, that goes without saying. Because people
are not that excited by vision. They would really like everything
to just – they don’t wanna know about the rabbit hole. Alice
in Wonderland. They don’t wanna have sex with the Mad Hatter.
You know, I don’t know, whatever it is that comes down to the
nitty gritty, it’s always a tougher push, and then if you make
it because you have the right PR person, then everybody wants
it. They’ll all dress like you and eat you alive and spit you
out. You go in the garbage can and the other people that have
that quality, they’ll also...
a great run-on sentence.
IC: Well hopefully there’s a bunch of them.
CL: There’s a bunch of them in this thing.
IC: Well, first you have to see what you’re gonna get out of
this whole rap, and have it make sense, and add in that poem
CL: Oh yes, I’d love to.
IC: And actually the poem for Angus and the poem for Brion.
CL: All three should be in there.
IC: Those are three I would suggest. I might be missing some
CL: Could I scan the photos out of the book? Would that be alright?
IC: Out of which book?
CL: Out of your poetry book.
IC: I guess, if they scan. If not, I can get some for you or
you establish a relationship with Cynthia. And you could even
call her at 633-6525, and I’m pretty sure that’s the correct
IC: Yeah. It’s not open on Sundays and Mondays. And it’s from
12 to 5 or 6. You could call her up and you could order one
or if you have a store--
CL: I’ve got a store.
IC: Yeah, so you could order half a dozen catalogs or ten or
something. They’re really great. They’ll all be collector’s
items. There’s very good text in there.
CL: I just bought 15 of your poetry books.
IC: Yeah, that’s why I’m saying it. I’m not one of these guys
that tries to always bring things to sell every time I give
a reading, and even when I do I sometimes sell a few, but it’s
so boring I might bring them and forget to even tell anybody.
But I’m telling you because I see you have the store and you
have the interest. I think you’re gonna love this catalog. She
sells it for ten. But when you’re doing that you’ll also tell
her you did a fabulous interview with me and you’re working
CL: You know I went to one of your sites and I saw Lakshmi’s…
IC: Yeah, that’s a sweet piece.
CL: It’s wonderful. really beautiful piece… just felt a very
IC: Well, if you want to write something, even three lines…
(addresses are exchanged)
stops, resumes during conversation about Thomas Chatterton)
(in mid-sentence) -- edition, or any copy ranging from the cheapest
tattered second-hand paperback that could still be found, here
or in England maybe, of the poems of Thomas Chatterton.
CL: Okay. Yeah, I think I might have something. I have a biography
IC: Anything! Like about the whole – I have a novel about Chatterton
by Peter Ackroyd, and I have some other book about Chatterton,
and I read Richard Holmes’ 50-page piece in Sidetracks about
Chatterton, where he talks about, they finally did a test on
the pages of his book – are you still recording?
CL: Yeah. I just turned it on about 40 seconds ago.
IC: Well, alright.
IC: Because it’s good to keep it on! I don’t know what I’m gonna
say. But I’m saying that in Richard Holmes’ biography—
CL: I cut it off while I was giving you my address.
IC: Yeah, okay. But the Shelley book was really a fantastic
book to read, and I’ve read some other books of his – Footsteps,
and some of Sidetracks. And in the Sidetracks book , it was
wonderful to read his 50-page piece on Chatterton and to find
out that they even finally saw that he was taking opium without
any question, because they found it in the pages of his notebook.
I mean, I spent seven years taking opium in Khatmandu, so I
can relate to that.
CL: I was gonna ask you what you thought of the All Tomorrow’s
Parties thing we went to.
IC: Okay. I forgot you said you were there. You played there.
CL: I played that with –
IC: Alright, I’ll tell you in a second. First I’m giving you
Paul Grillo’s …
Does he still write?
IC: He’s always working and he’s very reclusive, and he doesn’t
– I mean, for example, I started to tell you about this thing
– he also makes great collages. I mean you should interview
CL: That’s what I do.
IC: And ask him for collages. I mean, I’ve gotten him to send
things out. Some of his work is on Jack Magazine, which is,
I told you since I don’t have a computer… That, also – Michael
Rothenberg is linked up to that because he’s a contributor editor
to jackmagazine.com, I guess.
CL: He’s from Big…
IC: Big Bridge. So the thing about it, and his address, Paul
Grillo’s address, --- Hamilton, Philadelphia, P-A. I mean he’s
a terrific guy. He’s a terrific human being. He’s a little shy
and needs a – I can know how to kick him in the ass. Suggesting
you do it. He might not take too (unint., laughter).
CL: I’ll let him know about the piece. I would love to run it.
IC: No, tell him how much you loved it ‘cause actually, I don’t
know, did you see the Ian McBatten piece on Big Bridge? Well,
it’s 37 pages long, and parts of that are in the catalog. But
Paul’s, when he wrote it, it was 25 years or go or more, and
it was never printed, and I always loved that piece, and every
time I’d ask about it, he can put it off, and he says, “you
know,” and “whatever, it has to brought up to date.” I mean,
he was talking about much less than the 25 years that have elapsed.
So I said, “Okay, try to write just one paragraph saying you
can’t sum up the next 25 years,” but if you wanna know where
somebody, who is all of the things that he talked about in there,
you know, went on living a productive and active life, making
a film about the Khumba Mela
– have you seen that film?
CL: Yeah. Phenomenal film. I think I lifted – no I didn’t –
I lifted a piece of some shaman or guru cutting his tongue.
Is that your film, or no?
IC: I don’t think so.
CL: It’s some other Indian film, I think.
IC: Well anyway, there’s plenty of scenes in there. And at iracohen.org
he’s put up one short sequence.
CL: Thunderbolt Pagoda? Is that available?
IC: Well I have a couple copies here, and I’d left a master
copy – I might even have a master – you know. My place is so
crowded, I mean. I made that film so many years ago, and it’s
a rather botched job because I didn’t know what I was doing
as a filmmaker, and I still wouldn’t, but I had great footage,
and I left a lot of footage out, and I didn’t have a chance
to make a proper soundtrack, although I did use some great music
of Angus’s, and I tried fixing it in a certain way. So anyway,
it’s what it is. I mean, I don’t know, I could, if I had some
money and plenty of time, and somebody with your enthusiasm
and everything, and we were sitting there and we could go over
– take every one of these things to a certain level of perfection.
I mean, as you can tell from talking to me, I have a rather
volcanic imagination, and I have many ideas and things that
have been very precious to me that I can’t carry out. I mean,
if I have ideas for movies… I mean, you know what it takes to
make a fuckin’ movie.
CL: I did one with Leni Sinclair on the MC5. We just finished
IC: Oh yeah, then you wanted to ask about the MC5. So just to
say about it, when I was doing Paradise Now, in my great
association with the terrific, you know, nonpariel or however
you say that, parè…you know the word…Living Theater, which still
goes on and on, even though Julian is gone, in body but not
in spirit, and Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikoff I’ve invited
to read with me at the Pink Pony on the 29th of May
at 7:00. And I’ve done some other readings there when I feel
like it, and the right scene arrives. This time I’m pushing
it a little for myself, because it’s hard for me without a lot
of help, even with some decent help that I can count on, to
accomplish a bunch of things in a short time. They just arrived
in town and they’re already leaving. The 29th is
actually what, like a week from now. And to get out cards, and
I get together what I wanna do, and call people and tell them
and get the audience there, and all of this sort of thing, it’s
too much for me.
CL: Are you doing things with Penny Arcade?
IC: On occasion I’ve done things with Penny, but at the moment…Penny
is a whole career unto herself. Penny is great, and if she suddenly
has some desire to work me into some idea that she has, then
she calls me. I don’t try…
CL: I loved her piece, the thing she wrote about Jack’s last
IC: Well I was there in the room, so I might even have a slightly
different perspective, in fact.
CL: We should cover a little of that.
IC: Yeah, well, let’s go back to what we were talking about.
The MC5. Not everything has to be talked about anyway, because
CL: It’s already --
IC: No, it isn’t even a question, even if things are out there
and they’re wrong, I can’t take that kind of responsibility
for every fucking thing that I’ve ever seen, thought, heard,
and sniffed, and then try to get it corrected because somebody
else thought it was something else. Maybe it was shit on the
end of a stick, and someone else described it as the most ethereal
experience they ever had, and maybe that’s the way they react
to shit. I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you. You know, when
you say something to the person next to you, whisper it in his
ear, and then he whispers it into the next ear, and then it
comes all the way around and you said, “What was that again?
Will I take my pants off and show you my weenie? That’s so far
away from anything I was saying! I was saying that there was
a strange being that appeared on the edge of the universe. He
looks like an angel painted red with dragonfly wings. And that’s,
what, you want me to take my pants… What are you, crazy?” So,
we don’t have to run everything down. You’re getting enough
out of me, that’s my perspective. Some people – when I tell
people, especially, I don’t usually tell it to anybody because
it doesn’t come up with anybody, but I will say that my current
girlfirend, who comes to see me from Amsterdam a number of times,
and we’re very close, I say to her, “Of course you know that
I’m right, don’t you? I’m always right, and I’m the greatest
person that you ever met, aren’t I? I mean, you wanna tell me
again about the guy doing the teddy bear velcro book is a genius,
and expect me to clap my hands and say ‘goody goody’? I can’t!”
You know what I mean. I mean, just bear with me another minute
before we tackle the MC5.
CL: I’m with you…
IC: I feel that way. Maybe if we met and, after 20 conversations
like this, you could also lose a little interest in me, or say
to me – like I had a conversation with my dear friend Michael
Rothenberg and I started going off on a certain tirade, and
then he said, I said “Okay, forget everything I said. I’m not
trying to make trouble, just because I’m trying to clue you
in to a certain idea, and you have another reason that you have
another point of view. You met that person just through me three
months ago and I’ve known that person twenty-five years, and
I’m just…” I don’t know why I’m saying anything, I could just
be a yes-man, but sometimes I just have to go on with some pointless
rap, and the more you tell somebody something…
CL: I don’t think anything you said was pointless.
IC: No, look, I mean, for example, Piero Heliczer was such a
maniac, at his worst, that when somebody, some moron, you would
tell him, “Forget about Piero, because he’s not going to be
able to do what you think he’s gonna do,” you know what I mean?
“And it’s going to be a problem for you, and I’m just trying
to tell you.” But the more you tell a person that, the more
they want that thing to happen and then they get into a thing…
CL: Do you have some apple juice there?
IC: No. No.
CL: I want you to drink something.
IC: Well, I can drink something in a minute. But I just wanted
to say to you, I say again, because I’m still trying to remind
myself that we still wanna say something about the MC5, ‘cause
that was on your plate, and I want to keep you satisified.
CL: No, I’m worried about you.
IC: No, I went to a restaurant with a friend the other day,
and I made a point of saying, okay, and I made an order and
it was perfect and everything. And I said, “But, I woud like
to have one anchovy on a plate. Can you bring me that? Just
one anchovy.” And she looked at me like I’m a bit nuts, but
I have a thing going with her, ‘cause I’ve come there many times,
always with different people, and she’s a very lovely young
Polish woman that’s working in the restaurant. So, I always
come on to her a little bit, in some way. I was with another
lady, and I said “And then she also wants one anchovy, on her
plate.” She says, “Oh, you each want one anchovy? Okay, don’t
worry about it. That’s nothing.” The woman I was with said,
“How much will that cost?” She had invited me to this. Not that
she cared, but she was just curious. And I said, “There’s no
charge for those anchovies. I mean, I have a thing going there,
she brings two anchovies. This is not part of the business deal
here that’s goin’ on.” So, in the end, apparently, she told
the chef to do that. He didn’t take her seriously; we never
got the anchovies. And she said, “How was the meal?” And I said,
“Everything was really great except we never got those anchovies.”
“They didn’t give you those anchovies?” And I said, “No,” and
she said, “Okay, next time.” I say, “Okay, but then next time
the anchovy has to be alive, and I want you to bring me a glass
of chilled white wine and put the live anchovy into it. I wanna
see it swimming in there before it suddenly dies in the white
wine bath.” It probably can’t live in white wine. You know,
I don’t see fish being able to live in a bathtub filled with
wine, do you? Or vodka?
CL: Probably not.
IC: No, probably not. They get pickled, or something. So I say,
“Then they taste very good when that happens. If you eat them
CL: Ira, will you get some apple juice or something in your
system? I’ll hold on.
IC: Alright. Remember what I’m trying to tell ya.
CL: I’ll think about it.
IC: (returning after a few moments) I had some water.
CL: (not approving) Oh, well…
IC: Well, there’s nothing else in there. Skim milk and that’s
CL: I’ll send you a case of apple juice.
IC: Well, I can’t have things that are too sweet, you know.
Apples are usually what I buy.
CL: You need to bring up your blood sugar sometimes.
IC: Well, I could also go down and get something, but it’s dark
out there. I don’t like it. I used to like to go out at one
o’clock in the morning and walk in the streets, but I know
there’s fucking nothing out there except… I mean, there’s not
CL: Not even trouble?
IC: No, but there could be some guy lurching towards me, asking
for water… You know, there’s no place that’s open all night
anymore like there used to be. I mean, there are hardly any.
There’s a place three blocks from here that stays open most
of the night. I know which ones stay open. There’s a 24 hour
quick grocery store that has a lot of…
CL: Where’s 106th Street? Is that kind of…
IC: Ten blocks from Columbia University.
CL: Okay, that’s what I thought.
IC: There used to be all-night diners. They’re goin’ out of
style. They can’t even… another Starbucks might open, or a Duane
Reed. No, I wanted to say to you, because I can see that you’ll
be sympathetic to my song, or my plaint, which is that sometimes
when I look over…you know, I kind of roll around on the bed,
and I could have any books there, like about the hippocampus,
where the gates of memory, which I was talking about before,
the amygdala, that means ammon, that’s another part of the brain,
where the emotions are. I could be reading about how Venus
is a mirror covered with clouds, you know. “Oh, that’s exciting…”
I wrote a postcard to my daughter today, in which I was quoting
that line to her, not because I read it, but because I still
remember it from thirty years ago, you know. And I just kind
of composed a certain kind of funny jigsaw puzzle for her.
CL: For some reason I wanted to ask you about repressed memory,
IC: Repressed memory?
CL: Yeah, if you believed in that.
IC: What does that mean?
CL: You know, about how like people believe they were tortured
by their parents and they…
IC: And then they forgot about it?
CL: Yeah, they forget about it, or it’s just repressed, it’s
hidden, or UFO experiences, and how…
IC: Yeah, I guess I think you’re more likely to remember
some of those things. It’s so hard not to remember those things.
I think I was remembering, the other day, what the trees and
the sky looked like from lying on my back in the carriage. I
don’t know if that was a true memory…
CL: I have a memory like that also, of snow falling on me.
IC: Yeah, I don’t know, it just came to me the other day, walking
in the street, while I was thinking about the hippocampus (laughter).
So I thought maybe I created that memory, you know. I’m sure
that if they pressed certain things with electrodes in your
brain that they could stimulate memories that you might not
even have, or ones that you had, or cross-cut them and everything.
I would think that, more than bad experiences being repressed,
although that’s the general area of interest that they like
to deal with, that people, it’s much sadder that people have
a tendency to repress positive things. People could actually
see a vision, and then repress that, because it can’t be real.
You know what I mean?
CL: Well, I know exactly what you mean.
IC: That I find scarier, because most people, if you try to
tell them about something that seems more like a vision, even
if you’re not trying to say, “Hey, I’m not trying to say that
a little guy named Clarence came in my window with wings and
told me that I could have three wishes, I’m just saying that
I saw somebody, and somehow in my mind’s eye, I saw that that
person was really almost like a living angel.” Or death wearing
an upturned collar and with a shaved head, who I encountered
coming up an escalator in 1958. I mean, you have experiences
like that, that you perceive them in that way. They’re just
images, you know. I mean they’re more than images, really.
CL: Have you had many, like, actual…have you ever had a visionary
IC: I’ve had, man, I’ve had –
CL: I mean without –
IC: Yeah! Without anything! Yeah! I think I have them all the
time, but I don’t make such a big separation, or a big hoopla
about it. I mean, somebody else might have an experience like
an experience that I have, and then they wanna start a new religion
about it. I mean, I wrote a whole poem which you can see in
that book that you got, about how Leonardo came and talked to
CL: Yeah, I love that poem. I read that before I called you,
it was great. In the bathtub.
IC: Yeah, so you think they should be locking me up, because
I think Leonardo came and talked to me? That’s like saying,
“Hey, I’m Napolean! Mickey Mouse came over yesterday!”
CL: I love the imagery about the bathtub and the ocean.
IC: Well, also the idea of putting my head against his belly,
as if it were like a fag’s come-on to me, you know. (Laughter)
CL: It’s beautiful! I love it because…
IC: I thought that was kind of charming. I’m not trying to
be politically incorrect.
CL: That was one of my favorite things that I read in there.
Just briefly, I just kind of panned through different…
IC: But I was gonna say that sometimes, as I’m rolling around
over all my stuff, both literally and figuratively, and there’s
a lot of things within a hand’s reach that I could grab right
CL: You almost dropped a video camera in the tub?
IC: …like here’s the Veronish Notebooks of Mendelstom, then
there’s the Poems from the Akashic Record sitting right
here, and then there’s a notebook that’s completely filled but
I never typed out a lot of the things, though I typed out a
lot of the main things, then there’s magazines, there’s publications,
you know like a bizarre thing …
CL: Have you done some CDs of your poetry readings?
IC: Yeah, there’s one called, which is probably possible to
get, but it was sort of going out of print, and then there was
one guy in Seattle who had them. I forget the name of this store,
and I used to get them sometimes from him, then I think he was
running out. I have a few extra ones here, and I could clone
one. Cynthia has some also. You could ask her if she has one
for sale. She might be willing to do that.
CL: Do you know who put out the CD?
IC: Yeah, it was put out by Sub Rosa. They don’t have it. And
they treated me badly. I mean they never even told me it was
out. I think it’s one of the best spoken word records I’ve ever
heard. I don’t make a specialty of listening to them.
CL: Did you add some music to it?
IC: Yes! I did it with Cheb I Sabbah, who lives in San Francisco,
and that got him started in a certain way, even with his whole
recording thing, he did this Shri Durga CD, and now he’s
a slave to that CD, playing it all the time and going around.
But everyone has a different life. It’s a thing done with mostly
Pakistani musicians, but then he does certain things to it.
Manipulates it, whatever, to bring it more into something that
you could play in a club. It’s a good record. I haven’t listened
to it too often for some reason. I have a lot of CDs that I
don’t play too often in my apartment.
CL: I’ll send you some CDs I put out from our store here. I
did one with John Sinclair.
IC: Oh yeah, he was there that night, that I read.
CL: Oh yeah, right, that All Tomorrow’s Parties…
IC: I was not sitting in the audience, but I did catch some…
CL: What did you make of that whole thing? Did you think you
IC: Well, first of all, I didn’t feel that there was any center
or reality to it. It’s like, if somebody invites me to their
house, I expect them to be interested. We laugh together, you
know what I mean? We talk about something. If somebody wants
me to come somewhere, I expect that they want to spend some
time with me. Have a coffee.
CL: It’s like a two-way street.
IC: You know, whatever. I’m always shocked, not that I’ve done
it that many times, that if I read somewhere at a college, whoever’s
setting it up, even if the room is pretty full and I give the
thing, and it’s a good enough response, showing the video, but
there’s never anybody there that’s representing the faculty,
so to speak, that would want to connect with me on another personal
level, at a cocktail party, like it might be if it were Dylan
Thomas 30 years ago, you know what I mean? Or 40 years, 40 would
be more like it. Or 50? Try 50! When I was 16 I saw Dylan Thomas
read, that’s 50 years ago.
CL: Was that at Gotham?
IC: No, that was at Syracuse University. I drove up with some
friends from Ithaca because Dylan Thomas was going to be there.
It was very memorable, and then at the end of the reading, myself
and my two other friends said “Let’s go over to this bar nearby”
and blah-blah-blah, and we were going to that, but then faculty
members came out and grabbed him back to have some little question-and-answer
scene there…you know, they wanted to hold on to him. And people
were asking him brilliant questions like, “Why do you write
CL: Oh jeez.
IC: Or, “Is that because you’re Welsh that you can write those
CL: Maybe he felt the same thing that you did at All Tomorrow’s…
IC: Well I’m just saying there’s just these different events.
But it was very memorable to hear him there, and to see him,
and my memories of that, and how he was a little maybe drunk,
and a little bathetic, and it seemed sad.
CL: Did you ever hear Delmore Schwartz read?
IC: No. Lou Reed was a student of his, actually. He died in
the Dixie Hotel. That was the last place he lived on 42nd
Street, carrying around paper bags full of shit.
CL: Did you ever read that James Atlas biography (Delmore Schwartz:
The Life of an American Poet)? It’s incredible.
IC: What Atlas biography?
CL: James Atlas wrote a biography of Delmore.
IC: No. I think I’ve seen it. There’s also that novel of Bellow’s
CL: Yeah, Humboldt’s Gift.
IC: Well, he was obviously kind of a slender pencil of a good-looking
Jewish guy who they thought was going to be a real prince of
poetry, and it isn’t to say that he wasn’t, but he ended up
as a kind of middle-aged guy with shopping bags in a run-down
hotel, and never reaching, never getting, fulfilling the promise
that they thought he had, whatever that was.
CL: Kind of like Kerouac.
IC: But I feel lucky that I never had that kind of reality,
because I was smoking grass when I was 16…but I was going to
say before, about my plaint and everything, and I look around
and I see the accumulation, and I’m getting…you know, it’s not
like I’ll be 70 next year, but I’ll be 68 next year, and you
start to feel you’re getting old. You know, I watched Jack die,
and I watched Gregory Corso die, and other people have died,
and other people go away, and times die and things change, and
you’re always somehow reacted to as if you’re some kind of…well,
the best of it would be like an infamous character, but somewhere
there’s a lot of neglect and there’s no serious attention to
begin with. There’s still always that academic hurdle, and there’s
these other hurdles. I mean, the last thing I want to do is
go out and get the Sunday Times. I mean, they could have articles
about poets, like a Mendelstom or something, that could be worth
reading, but the whole con of it, and how anything you’ve ever
really loved, when it was really fresh and just out, it would
probably never be mentioned there. Especially in the world of
poetry that I’m thinking about. So it’s very exhausting, but
when I look at these things which you have a high regard for,
like On Feet of Gold, Poems from the Akashic Record,
my Majoun Traveller CD… which, as I say, again, if you
ask Cynthia Broan, she might have one she would be able to sell
you. I don’t where else you’d be able to get it. It’s not easy
to find it.
CL: No, I’m good at finding…
IC: Yeah, okay, I see that you are. You’re in the business.
I mean, I was in St. Louis and I walked into a little funny
record store and the guy knew my record, and he also had the
Angus CD there. I was surprised, I didn’t expect that. I mean,
I would be very surprised even to see a copy of any book of
poems I’ve ever done in a bookstore, but I did notice there
were three of them in a big Columbia bookstore near here one
day. So I took one, just to get my hands on it.
CL: You took it?!
IC: Yeah! Well, I have enough of them, I don’t need to do that,
but I just want to help them in case nobody else ever wants
CL: Oh, I see, so that would make them reorder it.
IC: Well, maybe, I don’t know. I figure I can just take one
there…I would take one from the publisher too if I was visiting
there, and I saw they had boxes of them, I would just take one
and stick it in my pocket, because I can give one away every
day if I want to. And I do give away a lot of them. I just mailed
one – do you know if that magazine The Temple still comes out?
CL: I’ve never heard of it.
IC: It comes out from Walla Walla, Washington. It’s a guy named
CL: It’s a journal?
IC: Yeah, it’s a lot of kind of Beat-connected people, certain
types of maverick writers.
Charlie Potts puts it out?
IC: Yeah. Annie Clausen, Janine Pommy Vega were in some issues.
Sharon Doubiago. Anyway, I don’t know, someone told me they
just stopped, which would be funny because I just came across
a copy and I decided to send them three poems and a twenty dollar
check, because they try to make you get a subscription in order
IC: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. I mean, twenty dollars
is not a lot of money, and if you think you can accomplish all
of those things at the same time…. I mean I could also send
them three poems, and then try to get them to send me ten copies.
[noise] I have a voracious appetite for material that I’m in,
‘cause I have so many friends and people I can mail them to,
that even – some of it is personal, a lot of it, but some of
it is even professional. I have a translator in Switzerland,
I try to send him things because he almost invariably, if I
– I could just send him a postcard, and then I might find that
postcard appearing in some small Swiss or German magazine, and
then also typeset in German and in English, and say “Well, that’s
a lot that he can do.” And he’s translated two books of mine
into German in the last – created two books in the last couple
of years, and that doesn’t just happen.
CL: Well let’s try to cover the MC5 thing.
IC: Alright. Anyway, I was just gonna say that when I’m looking
over a lot of these things which are, my life is surrounded
by all the stuff I’ve done and the other things I have here.
CL: Do you need help there?
IC: Well, I could use it. People always – helping usually turns
out to be more of a pain in the ass than if people would’ve
left me alone, because now a lot of my negatives are in Cynthia’s
gallery. I don’t know where they are anymore.
CL: Is your daughter close by?
IC: In Denver. Anyway, she wouldn’t be able to help me much.
Okay, let’s just go to the MC5. But just to finish up this other
thing I keep going on about, is that when I look at it myself
and I try to look at it reflectively and objectively, I’m amazed
at what I’ve been able to do. Because I’ve always tended to
be the other way, and not take myself so seriously, but I don’t
have much choice. Either I take myself seriously, or consider
that I wasted my whole fucking life, you know?
CL: Well, it seems like there’s been this new renewed interest
in all this shit, say in the past five years or so.
IC: Is there?
CL: Don’t you think? I don’t know.
IC: I don’t know. I think that actually my connection to Michael
Rothenberg, and that if he had just taken four poems of mine
and a photograph of Michael McClure, which he was quite – that’s
about really where it was at. But I talked to him like the way
I’m talking to you, every time. We had about 60 hours of this
kind of conversation. And after 30 hours I said –
Did you tape any of it?
IC: Well, I said to him, when I knew I was going into a zone
– a lot of times I was saying a lot of crap. Whining, complaining,
telling things would be better to be left under a stone.
CL: I think we got some of that covered too.
IC: Yeah, we do. But, you know, one from one is a very high
ratio. Say, filmmakers, they shoot 20, 30 to 1 to make a film.
CL: No, I think our first tape was perfect.
IC: Oh, you already have a tape?
CL: We have an hour, or 70 minutes on one tape, that’s perfect.
IC: And then there’s a lot of stuff on this tape too.
There’s a lot of stuff. I think we’re batting 50 percent.
IC: Hey, I’m also very tired.
CL: I know, I know. This isn’t really even fair for you, and
you know what I think? I should probably call you again.
IC: Alright, well anyway, I’m just saying that sometimes when
I’m looking at all these things I don’t want to feel as if I’m
almost the only person that’s in love with my work or takes
it that seriously but, I mean, even when I pick up a book of
a poet that I really love in that special way that an artist
cherishes other artists from other times because they did something
and that was always like a milestone in your soul, like an achievement
unparallelable or whatever and Jack, whatever you wanna talk
about, but I see with all the goddamn photographs I’ve taken
and the poems and everything else and even if I have a whole
incredible book of Shelley’s poetry I have to struggle to get
through a lot of it and as good, as great as Shelley is, I think
that percentage-wise that my work is on a much more interesting
level. But of course I also have enormous advantages of being
a smart guy in a time where we have stuff beaming at us from
televison sets, from --
CL: Well, that can be a disadvantage too.
IC: Yeah, it is, it can be, but if you’re using it at all successfully,
you have something that is multiplying a library that a person
could have just in 1815…
CL: But I think this is fine for you, for a person of your caliber,
but a lot of kids today, they see this shit, and it’s just overwhelming.
They don’t know how to sift it, and it’s all about filtering
IC: Well also, the more of it that there is, the more shit also
starts arriving. I mean, I know that when I was young, I mean
it was impossible to make a mistake. I mean, even when you just
went to see an ordinary movie, today that’s looked upon as a
noir classic. You know what I mean? Go to an ordinary movie
CL: What is it?
IC: What is it? You know. Okay, forget about me and myself and
my shadow and all that stuff. Ted Lewis get out your clarinet,
you know? But he did a great job on that song, right? I mean
that song goes through your head all the time. Anyway, me. (sings)
“And my shadow…”
CL: You know what’s interesting, we were talking about movies…no,
plays inside of plays.
IC: Oh, I love that idea.
CL: Like Midsummer’s…
IC: The play within the play.
CL: Like, A Man and a Woman. Do you know that film? There’s
a film going on inside the film…
IC: I don’t know that particular…
CL: I mean, there’s a lot of films…
IC: Woody Allen tried to do it self-consciously.
CL: Right. But sometimes that happens too. It’s a wonderful
IC: Well, it’s great, like in The Arabian Nights, that
out of all of those stories of Scheherazade she actually – there’s
one place where they tell the story which starts the whole thing
going that happened to the king that made him want to bring
these people up and then fuck them or kill them or have them
tell the story and then they all die except Scheherazade.
CL: Right. It’s like The Frame. It’s kind of like that Michael
Snow movie. Out of the picture, a little bit.
IC: Well, I love that idea. You know, it’s the Pillsbury box
with the woman holding the box, that kind of idea of the infinite
mirror was something that was very much in the air when I was
growing up. I guess at that time, the play within the play,
these ideas, I guess they’re still out there, and they still
mean things for people to take to another level…they don’t seem
sometimes as interesting or juicy but…
CL: Well, I pick that up when I see your poems too, because
they’re like reflections, notes on experiences that you’ve had
in the past, but also you bring it into the present, you bring
it into real life. Taking a bath, or something, can also be
IC: Yeah, well you see there’s so many things in those little
broken bits of… you know, if you take a, what is it again? Like
a hologram, right? This was an interesting thing, I thought
it was amazing when I understood that it would work that way,
but if you take a holographic plate, and you smash it, every
fragment contains the entire image...
of first interview)
of the Loren/Cohen conversations are being prepared for www.iracohen.org)