By Edward Moran
New York, 15 May--All the seismic meanderings in Western culture of the past forty years collided in a single fault line along one upper Manhattan block last night, where it was a resounding "Howl" at one end and merely "yadda yadda" at the other. To put it another way, it was like night and day, depending on which end of West 112th Street you were on. At the Broadway end, here's your basic Amerika/Moloch, forested with microwave gantries protruding from television "news" vans, very eyewitness and very infotainment, focused on a neon "Tom's Restaurant" sign like it was the Sistine Chapel on election day. Here's your Planet News at the Amsterdam Avenue end, in a dim cathedral light unpierced by the glare of media lights (even "paparazzi" seems too classy a term to use here) but one that is absolutely incandescent with the likes of Philip Glass and Patti Smith and the Fugs and David Dellinger and Natalie Merchant and Anne Waldman and Sonia Sanchez and, everywhere, "visions of angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night."
On this night, different from all other nights, when most Americans found masterhood in petty domains of television and soup Nazism, mourning the last episode of "Seinfeld," a chanting-room-only crowd of thousands Ommed to a different soupster just a block away, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, to offer a resounding kaddish to Allen Ginsberg that was at once reverent and irreverent and queer and glam and holy and heart-felt. Ginsberg, of course, died some thirteen months ago, and by some amazing harmonic (or unharmonic) convergence, the memorial to this man who had a core-melting impact on the culture and poetics of an entire generation was scheduled the same night of the demise of a humorous but ultimately innocuous situation comedy whose timely vacuity is exceeded only by knee-jerk media frenzy. (This ode to you O Reporters and Orators to come, take your cameras and your fuzz-furred microphones of Moloch and smash them, smash them in the streets, take this inhalation of cathode-ray poison to your heart, breathe out this blessing from your breast on our creation.) The cathedral service was a celebration of transcendence that I haven't seen in New York since that day nearly twenty years ago when I stood with thousands of others in Central Park across from the Dakota, where John Lennon had been slain hours before.
It was a mind-bending reconciliation of opposites, here in this massive seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York (where my own "Hymn for Healing" had been sung in 1994 to mark the 25th anniversary of Stonewall riots that I had witnessed just weeks after arriving at New York in June of 1969.) Last night, the cathedral imploded in an infinity of sexes and genders and ages and colors, a true polymorphous perversity of life in all its raiment that made Tom's Restaurant look like a pale bucket of binary boredom. (Let us henceforth call our life forth not from the creaking of bedsprings and the promotion of proms and the decking of brides and the wrecking of grooms and the don't-ask-don't-tellity of either-or hellity but from the callipygous curves of balusters below and the sapphical nerves of lust all aglow. . .)
Allen Ginsberg, would have appreciated, would have transcended, would have sanctified the contrast, he being both master and student alike in a domain whose first "rule" is that things (and that includes media hype) are mere appearances. To this child of the sixties it is clear as mantric breath and bell that last night's authentic energy, the real, raw, stuff of candor and commitment and sexual , was to be found not in the idle crowds that gathered in the inert glow of Tom-neon, but in the dazzling Om-glow of the Hydrogen Jukebox (Philip Glass himself was there at the keyboard, accompanying Patti Smith's manic chant and planet-shaking woodwind riffs, with the Fugs covering a William Blake mantra, and with Natalie Merchant crooning in the wings--oh, what a time was had by all, like benzedrene and holy Bronx) The true music of the spheres converged in the sacred space of that cathedral, where not a single television camera could be spared--and glad we were for their dearth--from their relentless focus on a restaurant made famous not for its food or its service or even its interior but for the cosmically irrelevant fact that its marquee was co-opted by Moloch. As Patti Smith proclaimed after a soul-shivering chant of Ginsberg's "Meditations on the Cremation of His Teacher": "It's time to wake up again."
Om, glam, and yadda yadda.