Bohemian Bongo Poetry
by Timothy Carl
Review by Steve Glines
Fear and Loathing in Greenwich Village
As soon as I read the title, “Bohemian Bongo Poetry” I started having flashbacks (I wonder if that bottle of Thorozine I had in 1973 is out of date? I wonder where I put it?) . When you get one of these flashbacks you just got to let it go and … it’s like having a migraine headache, nothing will stop it except time.
It was the summer of 1968 and I was emancipated, free and in Greenwich Village grooving to the hip things that were happening, happening right before my eyes. It was a movement, The Movement. It was The Movement and I was hip to it. (Have another hit.) The smoke was so think in Tompkins Sq. Park you could smell it a half dozen blocks and a couple of subway stations away. It was incense mostly, mostly incense so the stoned out cops wouldn’t know what was legal smoke and what was illegal smoke but it was smoke just the same. The same was true but less so in Washington Sq. But there, yes there, in a corner of the park was the poet’s corner and man it was the hippest thing in the known Universe. It was the rhythm; it was the song of The Movement. (Want another hit?)
Now I was cool and hip but some of these cats, man, they were so far out I couldn’t tell if they were the new vanguard of The Movement or just plain goofing on me. I mean you take Maynard G. Krebs put long hair on him, give him a set of bongos and couple of stoned out poems and you got something. Man, You got something. Yah!
The hip chick next to me started grooving and swaying back and forth to the beat and, man that halter top with nothing but skin underneath was sweet and when I got into the groove with her (Want a hit man?) …. I woke up in her apartment someplace in the Lower East Side with a couple of junkies in the corner shooting smack. I don’t think they saw me or cared. She made breakfast, rolled a joint and said she had to go to work. “My old man will be back here tonight,” she said very casually, “He’s a roadie with The Fish.” “Heavy,” I said nodding while trying to hold my breath. I stumbled and drifted back to the commuter train that took me to my safe and catatonic suburb.
I stopped going to New York City in the 1970’s. I’m not sure why, I guess I always had a love/hate relationship with the place. It wasn’t till after September 11th that I had the chance to spend anything but transit time in “The City.” It’s a different time and place. New Yorkers are actually friendly and helpful and not just because I’m a harmless middle-aged man now instead of an angry long haired hippy. I stayed in a hotel that bragged that it was in SOHO but actually it was a block from “The Bowery,” that once wino infested warehouse district that smelled as much of urine in 1968 as “The Village” smelled of pot. The Bowery is gone, squeezed between SOHO and the Lower East Side. I walked the five or six blocks from the hotel to Tompkins Square Park for old times sake. It smelled different. Gone were the incense and hashish, gone too were the “head shops” replaced with respectable French and Japanese bistros. I ate sushi. It was 9:00 P.M. In Boston you’d be heading home. I walked to Washington Square Park.
Where the poets and bongos used to grove there was a good retro street band collecting money from tourists and lost businessmen like me. It was fun and nostalgic, they played “Country Joe and The Fish.” I stood next to a woman about my age that was grooving to the music too but all I could do was smile at her and laugh at myself. I still like the poetry of the era. Lots of it survived as did some of the best minds of that generation who made it out of rehab alive and productive; but The Movement, if it ever existed, at all is gone, ephemera in a smoke filled memory safely compartmentalized and labeled “youthful indiscretions.”
Bummer. Those times were fun but over, way over. Timothy Carl’s little book of bongo poems brings those rhythms back, the feelings back, the fog back. Get those bongos going. Can you feel the rhythm?
02 20 20 05
No one is left alive
Who remembers the sixties,
Who fought in the eighties,
To help it stay alive,
Into the night we now drive,
The lantern is extinguished,
The fight relinquished,
Not a draw, but a win,
For the side, opposite him.
-Timothy Carl, 2007
That poem is on page 2. That might also be the title, the number 2. I’m not sure. But for sure what ever it was it’s over and we didn’t win. That poem sounds familiar though:
LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, --
A cry of defiance, and not of fear, --
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1860.
It was a different war, different tone, viewpoint and effect. We were “The generation” that was going to change the world. We didn’t and poems that trigger flashbacks that tear at the soul like a migraine headache aren’t a way into my heart. I’ve moved on, I look forward, there is still some fight left in me and I still hope my life is not in vain.
For those born in the 1970’s and beyond this book of retro beatnik poetry may be fun in a theme park sort of way. Picture yourselves listening to jazz (You do listen to Jazz don’t you? Coltrain beats Brittany Spears by a country mile), shades down, fingers snapping to the beat. The music stops and the bongo player begins and you hear:
Cars sit at a tollgate,
Can’t wait to go ninety-eight.
City streets fry an egg,
Bums can’t stand to beg.
Beaches packed with cattle,
Children learn to dogpaddle.
Air-conditioned apartment dweller,
Locked inside a root cellar.
Sits around to complain,
Listing causes to distain.
Moving up a tax bracket,
Hopelessly lost in the racket.
What’s next in this show,
Viking ships on the row?
-Timothy Carl, 2007
Throw in someone who chants rather than sings and you get Dylan Revisited. Welcome kiddies to the Happy Hippy theme park.
Get your “Ripple” here, “speed, smack, acid, Mescaline.”
Where’s my bottle of Thorozine.
Oh look I made a poem.