Review, "Gregory Corso: The Gold Standard"

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[Editor’s note: this is not a paid promotion. We just love Corso and poetry on vinyl.]

Sons and Daughters believes it is just as important to listen to poetry as it is to read poetry. That’s why we were very excited to hear that Unrequited Records was releasing a record of readings from one of our favorites, Gregory Corso. Rhythm driven poetry, like that of the Beats, is among the best arguments for the importance of listening to poetry.

Corso is a Beat hero, though he often sits in the shadow of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. It is gratifying to see his legacy preserved and furthered by such a quality product as Gregory Corso: The Gold Standard. Tate Swindell, who put the record together, made sure Corso got the presentation he deserves. Starting with the packaging, the record sleeve features an iconic close-up with the background blacked-out. All the focus is where it should be. The paintings found on the disc labels were hand painted by Corso, and they add a personal touch of the poet to the design of the product that really elevates this above just another poetry record.  The track list insert is of high quality and features liner notes from Corso’s friend—and the one who recorded the tracks found on the album—George Scrivani. The record itself is a gold colored disc and the playing quality is tremendous. Nothing about this product feels rushed or cheated. It is the high-quality product that Corso’s legacy deserves.

The record is filled with Beat and Corso-specific motifs. There is the irreverence, the wit, the political and social engagement, and jazz accompaniment. The record is peppered with, “commentaries, digressions, and asides that were a hallmark of Gregory Corso’s readings”, as the liner notes say. The record is truly bursting with Corsonian glory, which can quickly be seen in the records first track, “Star Wars”. Besides the tell-tale wit, irreverence, and pop-culture references, there lies deep love that Corso often displayed in his work. This time for this (at the time) 5-year-old son. There are multiple love poems throughout the collection, both to people, like his daughter and wife, and to places and times.

Two major themes that Corso often wrote about—pessimism toward human nature and The Beats—are ever present throughout the recording, the former first surfacing in “Ah Well”, where Corso proclaims, “people love only themselves, and not very well”. And though the following poem, “How Not to Die”, is mostly an irreverent laugh-getter, it does hit upon the same theme in its line, “who wants to die amongst people”.

One of the more engaging aspects of the record, especially for Beat fans, is the time Corso spends, both in lectures and poems, talking about the Beats. In the track, “Beats and Drugs”, Corso—as part of an impromptu lecture on the history of the Beats at the JFK Institute in Berlin—details the various Beat vices and documents a truly counter-cultural experience that includes Timothy Leary and mushrooms. These historical documentations culminate in a thrilling, albeit short, couplet of tracks where the listener finds Corso talking with Allen Ginsberg at a reading together in 1980, in San Francisco, their first in the city together since the 50’s.

Corso (Left) with Allen Ginsberg

Corso (Left) with Allen Ginsberg

Track 9 presents two untitled poems, the second of which is hauntingly relevant. Corso’s foresight is ever-present in this poem that talks of the dangers of capitalism, war, and genocide. He boils down the issue into something that most seemingly do not have the faculty to grasp, when he says, “the world of yesterday is always wrong for the world of today. Today’s world will be wrong for tomorrow”. Many would do well to learn from this prophetic view of time. Corso’s optimism of the future is shown in two other tracks: a short dialogue where Corso says he is “nostalgic for the future” and in the poem “Welcome 80’s!!!” where Corso presents the future of the 2000’s as a near utopia. It is in this trust of the future, despite his joyful retellings of Beat history, that he is at his most charming.

Side A closes with two tracks of pure Beatdom, in a tradition that Corso was keeping alive at the time of recording. Two long poems, the second a retelling of Beat history and Corso’s place in it, is read with jazz accompaniment provided by Phil Deal on Sax and Jaki Byard on piano. The interplay of Corso and the musicians recalls Kerouac at his finest.

Side B, finds Corso reading about many of the same themes as on side A. Again, his terrifying foresight comes in the poem “And Bombs”, which could have been written today, if some of the bomb material was reworked around mass shootings. Bombs are another subject Corso has returned to throughout his career and this disc is no different. Later on side B, Corso reads a shorter, less-reactive version of “And Bombs” in “Many Have Fallen”. Also found is more pessimism toward human nature, with the most striking line in this theme found in a monologue, where Corso says, “poets are people, and people are often unreliable”.

Overall, Gregory Corso: The Gold Standard is a fantastic presentation of Corso’s scrappiness, his personality, and his genius. The record spans a handful of years and displays the intimate and almost chaotic nature of his readings, while shedding more light on the often-overlooked Beat prince. You can purchase a copy HERE.

Unrequited Records, founded by Tate Swindell, is a San Francisco based record company that specializes in poetry on vinyl. They have a record of rare Bob Kaufman readings due in 2020.

Special thanks to Tate for his thoughtfulness and to Denise at Empty Mirror for inadvertently making me aware of the Corso record.

Ryan De Leon was born and raised in Southern California before moving to the UK and earning his BA in English Literature and Music and his MA in English Literature, both at Newcastle University. He is now back in California and is the founder of Sons and Daughters.

Ryan De LeonComment