Legendary beat poet Allen Ginsberg's The Lion For Real has been repressed and reissued as a Shimmy-Disc Double LP, complete with full remaster of the original release and eight new fully-orchestrated tapings from the original Lion recording sessions.
Originally produced by the late legendary producer, Hal Willner, The Lion For Real, Re-born brings a crisp new coat of paint to Ginsberg's groundbreaking work. The record features musical contributions from the likes of Mark Bingham, Bill Frisell, Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot, and brand new instrumentals instrumentals composed by Shimmy-Disc founder and long-time friend to Ginsberg, Kramer.
In addition to the rerelease, Shimmy-Disc has been releasing a steady flow of new visualizer music videos to accompany Ginsberg's narration, most recently of which was the visualizer for "Don't Grow Old.". Originally co-written by Kramer, Ginsberg spins the harsh realities and sweet fleeting moments of growing old, passing the torch onto the younger generation, passing along a warning with a smile, "don't ever grow old." Accompanying his dispirited tidings, photographs of Ginsberg are plastered across the screen, beginning the short with his later headshots and photos and moving backwards through time, with the closing mantra "don't ever grow old" relaying over Ginsberg's smiling childhood photographs.
Ginsberg's work was timely and on the bleeding pulse of his time and his future; even now his messages hold true, some closer to us than I think we care to realize. He was a political and racial activist, championing for racial equity and equality, as well as for gay liberation and human rights, ecology, and free speech. We can speculate and 'ooh' and 'ahh' all day about his impact and the importance fo re-releasing these recordings, but I believe it best to hear it from those who knew it best. Shimmy-Disc's own Kramer weighs in on Ginsberg's legacy and the magnitude of his writing down below.
RL: Allen Ginsberg's work was known for being "thinly veiled" commentary on the issues of the day, as well as for its controversial nature and shocking subject matter for the time. In today's narrative, would his work have been as controversial or have garnered the same attention?
Kramer: Although the greatest artists who ever lived are always products of their time, each generation seems to have one or two that stand out, thanks to the universal nature of their work, and the timelessness of their creations. Ginsberg is one such artist, and the reason we still review and revere him today will be identical to the reason people will be studying him hundreds of years from now. he did for the human voice what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar. Ginsberg almost single-handedly invented a new method of self-expression for poets. Granted, people like William Carlos Williams and Thomas Campion before him paved the road Allen traveled, no one walked the fine line that divides poetry and ecstasy like Allen. And as such, I have no doubt that he will always be a God-like figure of the spoken word. Whitman, Apollinaire, Rimbaud, Ginsberg. The lineage is crystal clear.
RL: It's my understanding that it is not an anniversary for this LP, why reissue it now? Why is it still relevant to today's meta?
K: The reasoning is twofold. We are issuing this 1989 LP as a double LP in 2023 because we located the original multi track tapes and found numerous songs that were not included on the original LP. So I was able to mix songs that were never even completed before. The parallel reason for releasing it now is that I am personally committed to making sure that new listeners will be aware of the work of Hal Willner, one of my dearest friends. Covid took him from us, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure that his work as a producer is never forgotten. Allen loved him. So did I. His work, along with Allen’s, defies the “why is this relevant today” question, and if someone thinks that’s a valid consideration when choosing what to listen to, or NOT listen to, I would politely suggest that Shimmy-Disc is not the label for them.
RL: How do you introduce The Lion For Real to the modern generation? How do you get them to not only listen, but how do you get them to glean the messages, especially if they're unfamiliar with the Beat Generation?
K: I suppose it’s not my responsibility to teach, or to inform, or to “help” the listener to glean messages from the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, or from any artist on Shimmy-Disc. I’m not a professor or a social historian, nor do I apply philosophy to the creative process. I’m just a record producer who loved Allen dearly, along with the production work of Hal Willner. I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. people will listen to it if they want to. And I’d certainly never have directed my decision-making process with the listener in mind. I simply do what I feel is best, as I believe both Allen and Hal would’ve wanted me to. It’s all about what I am feeling, which is indeed the definition of poetry, the visual arts, and dance. I follow my bloody heart and I hope the listener will follow, too, and dive in. Beyond hope, there’s nothing more I can do.
RL: How did you go about the decision process of adding the new recordings?
K: I didn’t choose which unreleased songs to add to this reissue. The whole idea of the project was to include everything that was recorded at the original sessions. So I simply mixed everything that was there on the tape, which came to 8 additional tracks, including the two that had no music added, for which I composed new music, as a kind of coda to the project. “Don’t Grow Old”, in my vision, functions here as Allen’s posthumous farewell. Perhaps this was a presumptuous choice, but again, I think Allen would’ve approved. His estate has offered their enthusiastic blessing, so I am confident of having done the right thing.
RL: Why do a video for "Don't Grow Old" as opposed to some of the LP's other recordings, such as the LP's title track? What went into the decision to visualize "Don't Grow Old?"
K: My decision to create a video for “Don’t Grow Old“ wasn’t so much a decision as a compulsion. When I heard the poem, I cried. I created the music for it in the hopes that the listener might feel what I felt when I first heard Allen reading it, and I created the ambient-cinema accompaniment for it with the same goal in mind.
RL: Contextualizing The Lion For Real with some of his more infamous work, such as "Howl," why is it so important that we revisit voices like Ginsberg's, especially in the modern day where history seems to repeat itself with every new headline?
K: It is always important to revisit the works of the world’s greatest artists. A scribe will devote his entire life to the study of a single work, or a single volume of works. I think it’s the responsibility of every living artist to show respect to those that came before them, by repeatedly revisiting the works that made them great. The study of great art makes us better artists, and if we become better artists as a result, one can reasonably presume that our work might be heard by more listeners. I am always kneeling before my heroes. Eno, Erik Satie, Morton Feldman, John Cage, LaMonte Young, Charles Olsen, Melville, and Allen Ginsberg, to name but a few. There are numerous gods in the arts, and we ignore them at our peril.
The Lion For Real, Re-born hits streaming everywhere Friday, November 3rd.
The Allen Ginsberg Project