The Joshua Tree Files: Allen Ginsberg, Rock Star*

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By Andy Smith, Editor
2007.11


While the deluxe edition of the Joshua Tree may be the first introduction for some U2 fans to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg (featured on the track “Drunk Chicken/America”), Bono has long been a fan of Ginsberg’s work, and Ginsberg has long been a friend of rock and roll.

Bono’s tributes to the late Beat poet, practicing Buddhist, and part-time punk rock rapper include an interview segment on a recent Ginsberg DVD and verbal props in his litany of great Americans listed in the Liberty Medal acceptance speech.

Tucked away at the backend of a rarities disc and clocking in at less than two minutes, “Drunk Chicken/America” begs more than the casual listen and deserves better than the reputation as a throwaway track of spoken word spewed over a studio prank.

That said, it’s not the stellar standout for either U2 or Ginsberg that we might have hoped for. U2 have better experimental tracks and many more powerful renditions of the poem “America” are in circulation. Even still, the sweet collaboration conveys the enigmatic spirit of what makes both artists enigmatic.

Before this, one of Ginsberg’s more impressive poetic offerings on a rock album arrived with the Clash’s Combat Rock. There, Ginsberg lends verse the track “Ghetto Defendant” where in one line he references the poet Arthur Rimbaud as “the ghetto prince of gutter poets.”

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U2 are not alone among rock stars who have worked with the counterculture bard or admired Ginsberg’s contribution to American culture. Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Phillip Glass, and Sonic Youth are among his admirers.

Born in June 1926 and with us until April 1997, Ginsberg lives on in his words. His repuration as a great American writer has only grown in the decade since his passing.

For more information about the legacy of Allen Ginsberg, visit the Allen Ginsberg trust at www.allenginsberg.org
 
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Ginsberg came to my college in 1995, and I feel privileged to have had the chance to hear him. Truly amazing. :rockon:
 

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