Naropa is a beautiful place in many ways and taught me things that I haven’t even really processed yet, bringing me into contact with amazing people and ideas. But at the same time, it is just like any other school, full of petty people, plagued with bureaucratic problems, and suffering in some way or another. A truly Buddhist challenge.
My interview with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, conducted at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program in 2011 and originally published in the literary journal Bombay Gin, is now online exclusively at Beatdom. Thurston talks about his obsession with literary archiving of small presses and literary journals, and how writers like William S. Burroughs informed the work of his predecessors like Lou Reed and Patti Smith. Thurston is famous for being the guitarist and singer of avant-garde punk group Sonic Youth, but he is a poet as well, and his knowledge of the American literary underground of the past 50 years is unmatched.
Watched the sunrise up on Flagstaff this morning with S. and E. Was apprehensive about going up/coming down again after last experience was akin to landing helicopter in thunderstorm - booming down hairpin curves like there’s no tomorrow. But I know to trust S. driving, driving the same curves and turns like in West Virginia, like in Florida, like everywhere. All roads are one. I think of my father. I think of Neal Cassady.
Everything was visible in the pre-sun darkness - every building from here to Nebraska, or Kansas, or whatever flatlands lay beyond the Eastern horizon. We stand in a stone amphitheater and I wonder how they built it on the top of a mountain. The man-made lakes dot the landscape. Man and nature fuse here, out West. As the sun comes up the lakes turn to bright gold, a million reflecting lights. It’s hard to avoid staring at the sun and I start seeing fireworks of spots everywhere.
The wind turbines are like the lawn ornaments of a post-modern giant. They stand next to the high-rises of Denver, looking like a tiny doll town in the distance. A river of silver lights connects Denver to Boulder, the commuters pouring in and out. Denver is hazy. I think about Kerouac never coming to Boulder. I think he would have liked it. The specter of Kerouac and Cassady and eternal history hangs in the ether on this horizon. Ghosts in nature.
The view to our right from the amphitheater was a mountain of trees. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Kerouac to stay up on Desolation Peak for months by himself - although I have no problem picturing the scene in my head. Some of the trees were on our adjacent mountain were bare and I guessed they had been hit by lightning during those noisy summer thunderstorms.
The sun turns from orange to white. Everything becomes obscured in the now-blinding light. The sky is the color blue that is only seen in Massachusetts in September, but even though it’s September now in Colorado, it seems to be that color every day here.
I look up at the sky, my back to the sun, and it’s the American flag and Colorado flag flying on top of our mountain. It’s only since I’ve been in Colorado that I understand the magnitude of the space, of the American wilderness, and why it captured so many imaginations. At home everything is so immediate, so shortsighted and claustrophobic, never being able to see the forest for the ever-present trees in front of your face. Trees and rain forever, not open air and sunlight.
To the left the layered hills make it seem like we are in a place far more exotic - purple mountains sparse, some trees. We listen to the birds. So high up, the birds are the only sounds.
We drive down slowly in the sunlight. There are a handful of hot air balloons suspended nearby, hovering in the weightlessness of dawn while we are pulled down by gravity and obligations in the real world, the world below.
We have breakfast next to the elderly regulars of a restaurant in a strip mall. On the drive home afterward we see snow-capped mountains in the distance. I don’t know which mountain is ours, looking at them from back on the ground, but I’ll figure it out someday.
After seeing the picture of the Beats at Allen Ginsberg’s house in Boulder, I realized the address is literally 2 blocks away from where I live. Took a little pilgrimage up there - not nearly as quiet as I was hoping in this highly suburban area, all the surrounding yards were filled with people watering their lawns, kids running around…So I hung around like a creeper. His house is set back from the sidewalk, up a few sets of stairs, and as I approached I saw a plaque on the stone wall next to the sidewalk. Smiling to myself, I figured they had commemorated Ginsberg’s living there.
Was that the case? Nope. It was just commemorating a family. While I can appreciate multiple generations of one family who started a Boulder business living there, or whatever, surely there is also space on that wall to commemorate the fact that one of the most important American writers of the 20th century had also lived there.
I really wanted to go up the steps but I figure people probably do live there and I didn’t really want to be that weird Naropa student who trespasses on private property. Maybe I will do that at night if it looks like nobody’s home. :) I just want to pay homage! Pretty cool to be living near there, though. Hopefully someday I will also live near his long-time apartment in the Lower East Side. But I guess Boulder is pretty cool sometimes after all…
(I took the two current photos. Alas, was not alive to take the group one.)