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Memories of Gregory Corso
By Gerald Nicosia
I knew Gregory Corso over a 24 year period, and have so many memories that sometimes I think I should write a book about him. In fact, Gregory was always mad that I had written Kerouacs biography and not his. He used to say in his Greenwich Village bad boys voice: I got one thing against you, man you went for the dead one, man. You didnt come for the living onemeaning himself.
Gregory often pretended to be mean; and sometimes, drunk on vodka, he could truly be one of the meanest people you ever met. If you had a big nose, he could (drunk on vodka) spend an hour finding 5,000 brilliant poetic ways to make fun of your big nose. I have seen many people, men and women, leave a room in tears because they could not bear Gregorys relentless, incisive jabbing at all their weak points. The more he saw you were hurting, the more hed keep after youtill he got a response, the response he wanted. If you simply came back and said, Aw Gregory, youre just full of shit, hed probably smile and leave you alone for the rest of the nightdepending on how much vodka hed drunk. There were some nights when he simply wouldnt quit, when a kind of animal anger in him just kept burning at white hot heat, and those nights it was better to leave him alone. The next morning hed be all smiles, ask you to have coffee with him, and by the way, could you lend him twenty dollars?
But there was a big, real heart inside Gregory Corso. In the things that mattered, he did not fool around. I will never forget that when Jan Kerouac was banned from speaking at NYU in 1995, at a conference about her own father (Jack Kerouac), because the Sampases had cut a deal with Helen Kelly, the NYU programs director, almost all the Beats turned their backs on her. It was simple: Sampas had (still has) a major connection with Viking Penguin, where most of the Beats were or wanted to get published. A petition went round for Jans right to speak at the conference, but most of the Beats wouldnt touch it, fearing to lose their upcoming Viking Penguin contract. Gregory Corso (along with Ed Sanders) was the only Beat who signed for her right to speak. Gregory said he didnt give a fuck what John Sampas, Viking Penguin, or anybody else thought of his supporting Jan Kerouac. She was his friends daughter, and he wished to help her. After hed signed the petition, he looked at me with an expression of sincere pain and said, I wish I had done more for my own kids. That was where I fucked up the most in my life.
Theres so much I could write, but I am just going to describe a night in November 1980, in San Francisco, when I had just turned 31 years old. I had only moved to the West Coast (from Chicago) a little over a year earlier, and I was still pretty much of a Midwestern greenhorn in the ways of the Beat world. One night in North Beach Gregory offered to educate me. He explained that the tuition was that I would have to pay for his food and drinks all night long (mercifully not for his drugs too, his favorite Thai stick, which he bought himself). When my money ran out, he warned, he would find new companionship. It sounded like a good deal. It was, and I got one of the fullest nights of education I will probably ever receive. Thankfully I was smart enough to go home afterward, stay up the rest of the night, and write down as much of it as I could remember in my journal.
Here are a few excerpts:
Gregory Corso in front of the Café Puccini, in his grey pants, red suspenders, black Oscar Wildes vest, brown khaki shirt, leather bomber jacket, which he says he got from his father, whos still alivehis face is peelinghes smoking a joint of Thai stickgiving puffs of it along with golden tequila to a Yorkshire terrier tethered to a parking meter, taking care of the dog, who was nervous, Gregory saysthen he finds out it belongs to a beautiful woman in the Puccini in a red coathe tries to make her, but her girl-friend comes in and interrupts (as he complains) and they go out together Gregory says he told her she was a bitch because nobody does that to me even if its a woman manners are important. Inside, he says he wrote poetry for a while but now hes stepped outside the role of the poet, hes just livinghes quoting all his poems to me, the new ones: star throw no ;tomorrow Ill close the doorlike an act of Jesus.
Gregory says the hardest thing for him to accept was the coming death of his childrenhe read some poem about having thrown out God, love, religion, all other grand concepts, but death was hiding under the sinkso he threw out death and the sink toohe said, My humor saved me.
On the way to the Caffe Sport, he wanted me to buy him a dinner. I say, I love you, Gregory! Him: Love nothing. Me, yelling, Come on, Gregory! You cant say that! Him: So feed me, then! What kind of love is this if you wont feed me?
The Caffe Sport was too expensive. I ended up buying him dinner at Little Joes on Broadway. The waitress got pissed off that he kept drinking out of his bottle of tequila there. What is that, Gregory? she asked petulantly when he pulled out the bottle again. He responded: Ichor, the blood of the gods.
On the street again he says, Most of these people are deadtheyll never wake up. Later he tells me hes getting tired of people turning away from himhes disappointed in human beings I open the door and they dont come in theyre gonna die Im alive, Im not gonna die theyre dead already.
I said I wasnt good enough to write one-line Blakean apocalyptic verses like him. He said, You been writing since you were eight, youll get therehed said he was all alone in his room and started writing at eightI told him Id done the same thing. Now youre waking up, but when I first met you, you were asleep, he said. No, just dozing, I replied. Dozings dangerous, he said. I dont doze you gotta be awake all the time you want to get married, raise a family, you gotta keep your eyes open all the time. People think Im a dumb drunk I take care my kids, I know whats goin on all the time I do everything delicato. He gestures with gentle turn of his wrist.
At the Puccini he shows me clippings from the New York Times about his participation in the poetry Olympics in Westminster Abbey. He says the article says he won. Later I get a close look at it, and it actually says they applauded enthusiastically. But it did give his picture, and he was the only poet they quoted it said he was leaning against a statue of Shakespeare and they asked him whether the Olympics were necessary to revive poetryhe said, I dont know whether we really need to help poetry, you see, poetrys been around for a long, long time. I ask, Did they know you were putting them on? You bet they did! They loved me!
He tells me that spirit is individualistic and thats why its beautiful. If you die thinking its all going to go on after you when youre gone, youre all wrong, you lose, but if you think that when you die everything else is gonna go too, and something entirely new is gonna be born, then you got it, then youll never die. He quotes: We dont bewail the dinosaurs, and thats no joke! He said he starts with the sunset and proceeds to the sunrisemost people make the mistake of starting with the sunrise and following it to the sunsetthats how they see life.
Gregory told the Italian bartender at Dantes that hed come back that night with a pistole, an Italian name brandI think it was a Rosco. They said, We got plenty of pistoli. He told me they were dumb, they thought he was talking about real guns and violence. He said he was talking about the pistol of my mind the hot lead inside me I dont believe in violence Im not gonna shed any blood I got a Rosco!
You get the idea. The magic of Gregory was always in the wild, inventive things he never stopped saying, and in the way he made what would otherwise have been ordinary dead time into an enchanted kingdom of marvels that only he could see, and that he would let you see too, if you were willing to pay the price of his always demanding company. It was worth it, every dollar, every hurt feeling, every bother he ever created. Like a few thousand other people, I miss him terribly.
Pax vobiscum, you lost child and fallen angel. You are now a shining star in the heavens, as we always suspected.