Writing for the Washington Post, writer Jeff Weiss has just done a moving and thorough job of tracking down five people in their 80s and 90s, all members of the Beat Generation who have lived to see 2017, several of whom are still living out their days in quiet corners of San Francisco and in the case of one, in the same apartment for the last 56 years.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is now 98, Michael McClure (84), Gary Snyder (87), and Diane di Prima (82) are names fairly familiar to English majors and lovers of American literature, and Snyder and McClure have the distinction of being part of the same reading on October 7, 1955 at Gallery Six in the Marina (now the location of Tacko, the Nantucket-themed taco and lobster roll place) where Allen Ginsberg read "Howl" for the first time. Weiss also tracks down 93-year-old "Beat-adjacent novelist" Herbert Gold, who doesn't count himself among this group but whose literary history in San Francisco is nonetheless intertwined with them and he finds him holed up in the same "rent-controlled garrison atop Russian Hill" that he's been in since 1961.
Ferlinghetti once said, “The Beat Generation was just Allen Ginsberg’s friends," and though it's now been 20 years since Ginsberg passed on within weeks of his good friend William Burroughs, who was also part of this gang some of this cohort is still kicking and making art.
Weiss finds DiPrima in an apartment in the Mission living with partner Sheppard Powell, and she says they consider Burroughs like their "invisible roommate" these days because the pair have lately been engaging in seance-like readings, aloud, of every word of Burroughs's published work.
McClure is living in the East Oakland hills, where he plays Weiss the record he made in 2013 with Doors keyboards Ray Mazarek, shortly before Manzarek's death, called "The Piano Poems: Live From San Francisco."
Talking about long ago drinking buddy Jim Morrison, McClure says, "I hated him at first. I thought, ‘Who is this guy with leather pants and long hair?’ But we eventually started talking about poetry and drinking. I don’t think there was a better poet in America at Jim’s age.”
The piece is well worth a read especially the tale of tracking down Snyder in the depths of the Sierra foothills.
Some other great quotes from the piece:
"I know that young people are striving for change, but it seems like they don’t know how to rebel or what to rebel against. The ones I know don’t have the fire in them that makes them dislike things. Everyone is amenable." - McClure
“My subconscious would tell my mind to catch where the poem had fallen down. You’re just receiving the poem, and there are inevitably going to be places where your attention breaks or you reach for a word and can hear the rhythm of it but it’s not there. Sometimes I’d write in a substitute, and fix it later." - DiPrima
“The great thing about writing is that you master your experience and are able to control it in some way." -Gold
"The main shift [as you age], and it comes about gradually, is realizing that you really will die. It’s not a joke. You really have to die. Even though you think you know it already, you don’t know it until you feel it around the corner.” - Snyder