The Words of the Colvin Family

The Passing of Allen Ginsburg

Alex Colvin

Allen Ginsburg died last week. It is deserving of some note. It is hard to measure the effect that Allen Ginsburg had on a generation of Americans. In many ways he is the father of the hippie movement. He was in the right place at the right time. San Francisco in the late '50s and early '60's. Something was restless in the soul of American youth. Vietnam was brewing in the background. Ginsburg was a catalyst. He took the seeds of the counterculture that were brewing amongst the Beats hanging around City Lights Bookstore and became a voice crying in the wilderness. That voice struck a chord in the souls of young people around the country.

In 1968, I was in college in Seattle Washington. I recall receiving a letter from a friend of mine in Montana quoting "Howl." I went and bought a copy. I never actually read it all the way through. I liked the oft quoted first lines -- "I saw the best minds of my generation..." The poem lost me after that. I think that maybe I should go back and read it in its entirety. My friend loved Ginsburg and Jim Morrison. It was a quest for meaning. America seemed plastic and shallow. There had to be something more.

The summer before leaving Montana, I had read Jack Kerouac's On the Road. It appealed. I imagined myself hitting the road. Eventually, after a year and a half of college, I did. I hitchhiked back and forth across the country and up and down the West Coast.

Ginsburg, Kerouac, Burroughs they were crying out against the materialism of American culture. They were crying out for freedom. Their cry knew no limits. They embraced drugs, homosexuality, anti-war activism, and eastern religions. It was rebellion, but it was filled with idealism. There was also a lot of naivete and a tinge of resentment.

The counterculture followed the trails paved by the Beats. Ginsburg coined the term "flower power." He led the be-ins in Berkeley that were the precursors of the anti-war demonstrations. The seeds were formed in Greenwich Village and San Francisco. Ginsburg cast the seeds to the wind through his poems. Those seeds took root and bore fruit in the formation of a subculture. The anti-war movement, the gay liberation movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the new age movement -- in some respects, all of these owe something to the Beats and in particular to Allen Ginsburg. The Beats were hip. The hippies were their offspring.

American youth were on a quest in the sixties. Peace and Love were the catchwords. Some were seeking through drugs; some were seeking through spiritual paths. There was a sense of urgency. Crosby, Stills and Nash summed it up: "We've got to get back to the garden."

Woodstock was the ultimate be-in. Hundreds of thousands of young people wallowing in the mud trying to get back to the garden.

My search took me around the country, through a brush with the draft board, to Zen monasteries, yoga meetings, Salvation Army outposts. I finally ended up in Montana as a struggling musician believing in the guiding power of Absolute Love. I found that seeking for truth led me to God. And God led me through a series of spiritual experiences to the Unification Church, which I joined in Missoula Montana in 1973.

Shortly after I joined the UC, Allen Ginsberg came to Missoula to read some of is poetry and speak at the University of Montana. I attended. Allen Ginsburg was accompanied by a small coterie of Buddhist monks. He spoke of his visions. William Blake was a great inspiration to him. He recounted how Blake had visions, but his visions were often interrupted by demons. Ginsburg testified that he had the same experience. He would achieve a beatific state only to be attacked by demons. He was perplexed. He didn't know how to break the demonic barrier. I remember that at the time I felt that his predicament was caused by his brazen celebration of homosexuality.

A generation has passed since the publication of "Howl" and the birth of the counterculture. What are the fruits? Where did the quest for the garden lead us? Instead of Peace and Love we find drug abuse, homelessness, sexual abuse, AIDS, and rising rates of murder and teen pregnancy. Just like Ginsburg's visions, our quest for Eden was invaded by devils.

The answer seems pretty simple. Without God there is no garden. When Adam and Eve deserted God, they lost the garden. To get back to the Garden means to get back to God. Ginsburg, the Beats, and the hippies were crying out for freedom, but it was a freedom without principle. There is no freedom without principle. The ultimate freedom is the freedom to love. Love has its laws just like physics. To live by the laws of love, we need self control and good character, not license.

Fortunately for us, God wants us to get back to the garden too. His love is steadfast and unchanging. If were humble and sincere, God will guide us. We can repent and we can clean up the mess that we have made.

I don't think that Allen Ginsburg rests in peace. But I don't believe that he is eternally damned either. Many of the people inspired by him to break down the barriers of convention no doubt avoided the pitfalls of self destruction and benefited from their quest for truth.

I wish Allen Ginsburg well in the afterlife. I hope he can sort out what was good and what was bad in his life on earth. I hope that he can use his tremendous talent to inspire those of us who remain to correct some of his mistakes. I hope that in so doing can achieve the love, peace, and freedom he aspired to.

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