Allen Ginsberg is a cultural icon – will forever be so. Paul McCartney lives in that same space although I personally don’t care too much for him. All of that aside here are two wonderful videos; the first is a live recording of Ginsberg and McCartney performing a live musical adaption of his poem, ‘The Ballad Of The Skeletons’ as part of a project they were working on along with the likes of Philip Glass and others. The second is the video made for that very same musical adaption by the amazing director Gus Van Sant.
The poem was first published in 1995. Ginsberg explained the background to the poem like this:
I started it, because [of] all that inflated bull about the family values, the ‘contract with America,’ Newt Gingrich and all the loudmouth stuff on talk radio, and Rush Limbaugh and all those other guys. It seemed obnoxious and stupid and kind of sub-contradictory, so I figured I’d write a poem to knock it out of the ring.
The skeletal imagery was inspired by the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, and takes a playful poke at the vanity of human desires. As Ginsberg said about it:
It’s an old trick,to dress up archetypal characters as skeletons: the bishop, the Pope, the President, the police chief. There’s a Mexican painter–Posada–who does exactly that.
Like all of these things the project started off as an accident with McCartney offering to accompany Ginsberg on guitar at a reading he was giving at the Royal Albert Hall. From there it turned into a full blown collaboration with Ginsberg on vocals, Philip Glass on keyboards, McCartney on guitar, drums, Hammond organ and maracas, Lenny Kaye (from the Patti Smith Group) on bass, Marc Ribot (from The Lounge Lizards) on guitar and David Mansfield (played with just about everyone) on guitar. Gus Van Sant then made a video of the song.
Such exalted company! Imagine it…