In a smoky November studio session, beat poet and gay rights activist Allen Ginsberg was sat alongside the enigmatic Bob Dylan to record some new material. In total, three songs were planned, tracks that would go on to form part of the album Allen Ginsberg’s First Blues, an LP that was scheduled for a release on The Beatles’ label Apple Records. The songs, it would prove, were about to inflame a movement of gay liberation.
Dylan and Ginsberg had an unbreakable friendship, one that originated from the musician’s admiration of beat poetry. “I came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, Be Bop crowd, it was all pretty much connected,” Dylan said in 1985 when discussing his introduction to Ginsberg. “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti … I got in at the tail end of that and it was magic … it had just as big an impact on me as Elvis Presley,” he added according to The New Yorker.
After Ginsberg and Dylan met, the two hit it off instantly. They naturally became a dual face of a new underground New York City counterculture, a beat generation of the ’60s. “If Dylan was beginning to provide the soundtrack for the counter-culture, Ginsberg gave it both a face and the networks which were essential in sustaining its momentum,” it was noted.
“I first met Bob at a party at the Eighth Street Book Shop, and he invited me to go on tour with him,” Ginsberg recalled. “I ended up not going, but, boy, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have gone like a flash. He’d probably have put me onstage with him.” The beat poet refused Dylan’s invitation as it was probably a little too soon into their friendship to make that kind of commitment. He didn’t want to come across as Dylan’s sidekick.
Ginsberg added, “His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people … something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people’s hearts and heads actually were rather than where they ‘should be’ according to some ideological angry theory.”
After years of friendship, the two got into the recording studio in a bid to make a change. The band in the session included Ginsberg’s lover Peter Orlovsky, Greenwich Village folkies Happy and Artie Traum, composer David Amram, and guitarist Jon Sholle. Led, of course, by the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan as he held court with his guitar, piano, and organ in hand.
The most famous of these songs credited to the poet and Dylan was ‘Vomit Express’, but the real touchpaper to the flame was the song ‘Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag)’. Co-written by the pair the song, which had lyrics improvised by Ginsberg as the pair recorded, on Ginsberg trying to get an 18-year-old newsboy into bed.
Ginsberg was determined to engage with a society in a language and cadence they’d understand. He wanted to attack the heteronormative masculinity of those jocks and macho-men wanting to ‘sow their seed’ by subversing the target of their affection.
Stream the song, below.