The father of flower power, the icon of the beat generation, an early champion of gay rights - Allen Ginsberg was all these and yet never dated.
This, his final UK poetry reading in 1995, has nothing of the air of a retrospective. The sprightly energumen lives and breathes his words on the stage for 53 minutes. Given that death caught up with him two years later, this record of his performance has something of an added function as a memorial. If so, it's as funky a memorial as anyone could wish for, one that he himself would have enjoyed.
Ginsberg looks like the funky grandfather every child wants to have. Geared up onstage with a bevy of musical instruments, not all of which I could name, in his red suspenders and Mr Magoo spectacles, bristling with energy, he's a presence that the camera (mostly immobile) cannot help but capture. Much of the pleasure of the poetry is that of language taking a break, like T S Eliot's Sweeney crooning on his fifth cocktail, "what a bomb, got a bomb? Whose got a bomb? You wanna a bomb...?" The grand old man's effortless intimacy with his public makes you think he would have been the ideal barroom companion.
Looking oddly like a fun version of Stanley Kubrick, with effortless presence, he makes it hard for you to tell what is due to the power of the poetry and what to the man himself. Poems are interspersed with anecdotes, accompanied by music, sometimes sung or chanted. Pastiches of the Internationale and Buddhist chanting combine with the stuff of lonely hearts ads, ban the bomb protests, tales of casual sexual encounters, and more.
The quality of the recording is what it is; the microphone makes the speech occasionally difficult to follow, as does the odd Brit heckling from the audience (incomprehensible). There are no chapters, predictably enough, but neither are there any extras on the DVD for those unfamiliar with the man and his work. The good news is that it doesn't take much of an initiation. As Jesus Christ said in a very different context, those who have ears for understanding let them understand.