Return Of The Forgotten - Allen Ginsberg Live At The Royal Albert Hall • Monday, October 16, 1995

AppearanceBy Allen Ginsberg
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Country:
United Kingdom
City:
London
Location:
Royal Albert Hall

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About

I’ll conclude with a ballad, with an accompanist. Will the accompanist please come on stage – Paul McCartney

Allen Ginsberg

From openculture.com:

Allen Ginsberg was an unlikely MTV star. In late 1996 the Beat poet was 70 years old and in declining health. He had less than a year to live. But Ginsberg managed to stay culturally and politically relevant, right up to the end. His last major project was a collaboration with Paul McCartney and Philip Glass, among others, on a musical adaptation of his poem, “The Ballad of the Skeletons.

The poem was first published in 1995. The American political climate from which it arose bears a striking resemblance to the one we’re living in today. “I started it,” Ginsberg told Harvey Kubernik of The Los Angeles Times in 1996, “because [of] all that inflated bull about the family values, the ‘contract with America,’ Newt Gingrich and all the loudmouth stuff on talk radio, and Rush Limbaugh and all those other guys. It seemed obnoxious and stupid and kind of sub-contradictory, so I figured I’d write a poem to knock it out of the ring.” […]

In October of 1995, Ginsberg visited Paul McCartney and his family at their home in England. He recited “The Ballad of the Skeletons while one of McCartney’s daughters filmed it. As Ginsberg recalled to Silberman, he mentioned that he had to give a reading with Anne Waldman and other poets at the Royal Albert Hall, and was looking for a guitarist to accompany him. “Why don’t you try me,” McCartney said. “I love the poem.” Ginsberg continued the story:

“He showed up at 5 p.m. for the sound check, and he bought a box for his family. Got all his kids together, four of them, and his wife, and he sat through the whole evening of poetry, and we didn’t say who my accompanist was going to be. We introduced him at the end of the evening, and then the roar went up on the floor of the Albert Hall, and we knocked out the song. He said if I ever got around to recording it, let him know. So he volunteered, and we made a basic track, and sent it to him, on 24 tracks, and he added maracas and drums, which it needed. It gave it a skeleton, gave it a shape. And also organ, he was trying to get that effect of Al Kooper on the early Dylan. And guitar, so he put a lot of work in on that. And then we got it back just in time for Philip Glass to fill in his arpeggios on piano.”

The recording was produced by Lenny Kaye, guitarist for the Patti Smith Group, who had put together a group of musicians for a performance of the song at a Tibet House benefit in April of 1996. One member of the audience that night was Danny Goldberg, president of Mercury Records and a fan of Ginsberg. He invited the poet to record the song, and it all came together quickly. In a 1997 article in Tikkun, Goldberg remembered Ginsberg’s giddiness over the project: “He loved that Paul McCartney had overdubbed drums on ‘Skeletons.’ He said, ‘It’s the closest I’m going to ever come to being in the Beatles,’ and giggled like a teenager.”

The recording features Ginsberg on vocals, Glass on keyboards, McCartney on guitar, drums, Hammond organ and maracas, Kaye on bass, Marc Ribot on guitar and David Mansfield on Guitar. Mercury released the song as a CD single in two versions, including one with the language sanitized for radio and television. The “B side” was a recording of Ginsberg’s “New Stanzas for Amazing Grace“ that did not include McCartney or Glass. The next step was to create a video. […]

Allen Ginsberg: “I had a gig at Albert Hall in London [on Monday October 16, 1995]. A reading. I had been talking quite a bit to (Paul) McCartney, visiting him and bringing him poetry and haiku, and looking at Linda McCartney’s hotographs and giving him some photos I’d taken of them. So, McCartney liked it and filmed me doing “(The Ballad of The) Skeletons” in a little 8 millimeter home thing. And then I had this reading at (the) Albert Hall, and I asked (him) if he could recommend a young guitarist who was a quick study. So he gave me a few names but (then) he said, “If you’re not fixed up with a guitarist, why don’t you try me? I love the poem”. So I said, “It’s a date”.

Paul McCartney: “[Allen Ginsberg] came over to the house in Sussex to ask me if I knew anybody who would accompany him on guitar at a gig he was doing at the Albert Hall. So I suggested Dave Gilmour and Dave Stewart and a few others. Then when he’d gone it dawned on me that he wanted me to do it, so I rang him and said OK.”

Allen Ginsberg: “He showed up at 5 p.m. for the sound check. It was a benefit for literary things. There were 15 other poets (on the bill). We didn’t tell anybody that McCartney was going to play.”

Paul McCartney: “So we met up and I stuck a little Bo Diddley jinkity-jink behind his ‘Ballad of the Skeletons’, a really cool poem.”

Allen Ginsberg: “And we (had) developed that riff really nicely. In fact, Linda (had) made a little tape of our rehearsal. […] And he bought a box for his family. Got all his kids together, four of them, and his wife, and he sat
through the whole evening of poetry. We didn’t say who my accompanist was going to be. We introduced him at the end of the evening, and then the roar went up on the floor of the Albert Hall, and we knocked out the song. There’s a photo of us on the CD. It was a very lively and he was into it”

Paul McCartney: “He introduced me to the audience as his accompanist. He loved to be the Don, did Allen, the controller, and I loved to give him that.”

Allen Ginsberg: “He said if I ever got around to recording it, let him know.”

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Last updated on September 26, 2020

Royal Albert Hall

This was the 4th concert played at Royal Albert Hall.

A total of 11 concerts have been played there • 1963Apr 18thApr 18thSep 15th1995Oct 16th1997Sep 15thOct 14th1999Apr 10th2002Nov 29th2006Nov 3rd2009Nov 12th2012Mar 29th

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