Originally a musical radio play, these twelve tracks excavate and spotlight the life and work of original Beat poet Bob Kaufman; and with Kaufman the life and the work are genuinely inseparable. A mentor to Kerouac, and dubbed the Black American Rimbaud, Kaufman endured savage SFPD brutality, electroshock treatment, and incarceration, before his young and obscure death in abject poverty. Kaufman had purposefully stilled his own voice with a vow of silence stretching from the JFK assassination until the end of the Vietnam War, yet here it still resounds with the speed and spirit of surrealist jazz, forever “lost in a dream world, where time is told with a beat.”
The Plastik Beatniks, alias Andreas Ammer, Markus and Micha Acher of The Nowist, and Leo Hopfinger aka LeRoy) formed for that September 2020 radio play, “Thank God For Beatniks.” There is also a bit of Ginsberg and Patti Smith, but it’s the contributions from Angel Bat Dawid and Moor Mother which really breathe life into this project. Angel Bat Dawid has consistently exceeded the high expectations generated by her debut The Oracle, and her vocals and clarinet have a perfect air of improvisation, joy, and pain, especially on “West Coast Sound 1956.” Similarly, Moor Mother drives Kaufman’s "War Memoir" with empathy and passion to match the wild, slithering, Eastern-tinged guitar lines. There’s a note of defiant optimism, too, in the simple act of changing the final word of Kaufman’s “O-JazzO War Memorial: Jazz, Don’t Listen To It At Your Own Risk” from “die" to “live."
What tops it all off is the fact that we get to hear Bob Kaufman himself reciting brilliant pieces such as "Hollywood Beat,'' full of dazzlingly psychedelic imagery. It’s a kick to hear him: as if he’s chewing, trance like, on holy existential gum, spitting out near-Dadist lines exploring freedom and mocking the fashionable: “ugly Plymouths swapping exhaust with red convertible Buicks...teenage werewolves, sunset strippers, plastic beatniks… bisexual traffic lights ...disc jockeys with all night shows and all day habits… Hindu holy men with police records clear back to Alabama…hamburger broiled charcoal served in laminated fortune cookies... death-faced agents living on ten percent of nothing…unlit starlets seeking an unfulfilled galaxy..impatient Cadillacs trading in their owners for more successful models.. lanky calypso singers caught with their fads down”"
“Harwood Alley Song'' has a great loop of Kaufman saying a line—“Jazz never made it back down the river”—from the "$$ Abomunus Craxioms $$" section of his Abomunist Manifesto published in Beatitude magazine (1959, founded by Kaufman and William Margolis.) Bob Kaufman was born in New Orleans, the seventh of thirteen kids from a Caribbean mother and German/Jewish father. He journeyed as a seafaring merchant marine where he met Kerouac, dipped into New York, before relocating to San Francisco with Burroughs and Ginsberg. He created his poems despite being beaten nearly to death by the cops, plucked for electric shock treatment, de-carded by the coast guard and blackballed by the FBI for union activity. And after sparking the Beat scene, he surely felt swamped as it changed and diluted with the tide of too many hipsters. At any rate, he never made it back down the river to the Crescent City.
The aching horns which bleed like tragedy across the fabulous title track as Kaufman recites lines from the seventh of his “Jail Poems” written in Cell 3 of San Francisco City Prison are the kind of glorious adornment his words deserve. Words such as “My soul demands a cave of its own, like the Jain god: Yet I must make it go on, hard like jazz, glowing.” Words like “What of the answers I must find questions for? All these strange streets I must find cities for.” This great album is a much more fitting tribute than the city’s gormless naming of "Bob Kaufman Alley" for the spot where he died, destitute, on a borrowed mattress.