Michael McClure, one of the famed Beat poets of San Francisco whose career played a key part in inspiring the world of poetry, has died aged 87. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that McClure died Tuesday in Oakland, California, after suffering a stroke last year.
Actor Dennis Hopper famously said about him: “Without the roar of McClure, there would have been no ’60s.”
An early poignant moment in McClure’s career happened in October 1955, when the 22-year-old writer helped organise the famous Six Gallery beat poetry reading and later read at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park that launched the Summer of Love in 1967 and at The Band’s historic Last Waltz’ concert at Winterland in 1976.
McClure wrote a number of collections of poetry, including 1956 effort The Passage, 1964’s Ghost Tantras, 1991’s Rebel Lions and 2011’s Of Indigo and Saffron.
His most controversial play ‘The Beard’ was first performed in December 1965 at the Actor’s Workshop Theater in San Francisco. However, after only it’s fifth public performance of the play, police raided The Committee, which was the theatre that had staged the play and arrested the actors Billie Dixon and Richard Bright.
Judge Joseph Karesh of the San Francisco Superior Court eventually ruled that while the play did contain material of a troublesome nature, it was not appropriate to prosecute such work under the law. All the charges were dropped and the subsequent appeal lost.
McClure’s impact transcended poetry, a shining example of this was a ditty which he would occasionally sing with friends, improvising new lyrics each time which then found its way to Janis Joplin. Joplin with the help of her friend Bob Neuwirth, she gave it her own tongue-in-cheek spin, called it ‘Mercedes Benz’ and recorded it a cappella on her album Pearl which was released posthumously in 1971.