Guilty of Everything: Herbert Huncke in Amsterdam
Reading at Ins & Outs Press
review by Mark McCawley
“Hunke, whom you’ll see on Times Square, somnolent and alert, sadsweet, dark, beat, just out of jail, martyred, tortured by sidewalks, starved for sex and companionship, open to anything, ready to introduce new worlds with a shrug.”
~ Jack Kerouac, “Now it’s Jazz”, Desolation Angels, Chapter 77.
Hobo, narcotics addict, merchant marine, gay hustler, petty thief, convict, storyteller, writer — Herbert Huncke began living an underground life after dropping out of high school in his sophomore year in Chicago, drawn to the underbelly of city life, and quickly began learning how to support himself as a professional drifter and small time grifter.
An autodidact, and primarily anti-academic, Herbert Huncke, whose lifestyle and easy manner of speaking influenced so many, (eventually famous authors and poets, e.g. Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg) coined the term “beat” to name a generation.
Huncke, who led a life much in common with Jean Genet’s, had an original style which combined rather formal and colloquial elements reflecting both his middle-class Chicago background and his later days as a New York Bohemian. In addition to his direct, straight-ahead prose, Huncke often experimented with fragmented automatic-writing which was never more clearly illustrated than during his public readings when, at times, his prose achieved an almost trance-like quality in its depictions of underground life.
For Herbert writing was a visceral release. He liked the sensation of putting pen to paper. He wrote in small notebooks, or on paper bags garnered at Greyhound Bus rest stops en route to a detox hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.Herbert’s aim was to produce a ‘living document.’ To describe a scene as it happened, without adding his opinions. “It’s harder than you think,” he told me. He was aided by an excellent memory and a great eye for detail.~Jerome Poynton, Wheeling, West Virginia, Spring 2012 (Guilty of Everything, liner notes)
Huncke never wrote for the market-place. This did not mean that there was not a market for Huncke’s uniquely raw and unpretentious underground post-realist stories of urban decay and social disintegration.
Which brings me to Guilty of Everything: Herbert Huncke in Amsterdam, a Double CD of Huncke’s November 6th, 1987 live reading at Ins & Outs Press, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Co-production released by Unrequited Records, San Francisco 2012, and Eddie Woods‘ Ins & Outs Press.
Not many people can hold an audience’s attention for two solid hours, especially with prose. Herbert did just that. He was 72 at the time. And still on fire. This recording, the only one ever made of a Huncke reading in Europe, has waited 25 years to get released.~Eddie Woods, Amsterdam, 2012 (Guilty of Everything, liner notes)
Disc One consists of a brief introduction followed by three tracks: “Meeting Bill Burroughs”, “Biographical Sketch”, and “First Love Affair” outlining Huncke’s early formative years living, in his words, “in a household of frustrated women and an angry, confused, frustrated man…” (Biographical Sketch), “a first encounter with love” (First Love Affair), and how Huncke’s place within New York Times Square 1940s drug and sex subculture made him the hub of contact among a burgeoning beat movement:
Disc Two consists of two thirty-plus minute tracks: “Guilty of Everything” and “Whitey” which are the absolute gems of Huncke’s two hour Amsterdam reading, and I recommend anyone purchase the entire 2CD package to get them. “Whitey” originally appeared in the 1980 Cherry Valley Editions book, The Evening Sun Turned Crimson, and is the only audio available of Huncke reading this seminal story of junkies taking the methadone cure in a New York City hospital ward. “Guilty of Everything” covers Huncke’s younger years when he lived in Chicago learning to fix and score with his pal Johnny. One particularly rich scene describes Huncke’s introduction to heroin by the gorgeous and gigantic hermaphrodite Elsie, who supported herself by working the circus freak show — which is an expanded, extended, and sometimes hypnotic version (albeit earlier version) to the version of the story “Elsie” which appeared in the 1994 Neptune Music CD, From Dream to Dream:
With yet another reissue from Amsterdam’s Ins & Outs Press poetry readings, Unrequited Records captures Herbert Huncke in true story teller form in this excellent archival recording. One thing is certainly true — the old Times Square may only exist now in Huncke’s evocative stories and these wonderful recordings, but once you hear them, 42nd Street is not very far away.
Herbert Huncke was a writer and poet, and active participant in a number of emerging cultural, social and aesthetic movements of the 20th century in America. He was a member of the Beat Generation and is reputed to have coined the term. Born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in January 9, 1915, Huncke’s life was centered around living as a hobo, jumping trains across the vast expanse of the United States, bonding through a shared destitution and camaraderie with other vagrants. Huncke died on August 8, 1996, at the age of 81. He had been living for several years in a garden apartment on East 7th Street near Avenue D in New York City, supported financially by his friends David Sands, Jerome Poynton, Tim Moran, Gani Remorca, Raymond Foye and many others. In his last few years, he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where his rent came from financial support from Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, whom Huncke never met.
Download HH on iTunes
Another reading of Herbert's is available on ubuweb here. We'll mirror these recordings here soon. We're in the process of transcribing cassettes to digital - hours of readings, interviews & phone conversations with Herbert. Shitload of material to come. All good.