TWILIGHT OF A DOPE FIEND
by Ben Pleasants, guest contributor.
[January 13, 2007]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Out there is the poetry establishment. They decide. I could
give you a fistful of names. Worms in a bottle, Bukowski called them. They live off grants. They write for the I'll Review Your Book,
You Review My Book Review. Each one has a chair on a committee
from some mediocre American university.
For Steve Richmond, they
were the poetry mafia, the grinning face of evil. They were clichés.
a rich, Jew boy, rent collector on the inside rail. Steve did begin
to cry. I can say that. I was there. It was sad. He was so alone on the westside of L.A., alone in his heroin poems and
LSD demons. I drove him to the UCLA Medical Center for thorazine. It helped.
was an explorer of inner space. Like Thelonious
woke up today!
was the sun again
in through the shades
me in the eye!
clock! Still alive!
rug was not on fire!
lawn! The trees! The gutter!
|Check out the cadences,
the left out space, the silences. It's like waking up from surgery
when you were not sure you were ever coming back. Or from bad drugs.
Richmond was an expert on bad LSD trips. He took his demons with
Grove Press missed all this? Wow. That's all I can say.
get down to method. Gagaku. Listen:
who will follow
no one comes
no one follows
no one hears
I am quite happily
I don't even
|The word that jumps out
at you is cadences. Richmond's Gagaku poems derived from Japanese Court Music. He'd put on these rare Japanese
court recordings. He got them from Kathy King at the UCLA Ethnomusicology
Library. Bought them from collectors. Borrowed them. Brought them to his little house by the sea.
money draining away on rare books and recordings and punching bags and
drums and colored chalk for his lovely charcoal nudes. And for his
expensive and exotic and illegal chemicals.
The Santa Monica cops were
always watching Richmond. They busted him over and over again. They
busted him for profanity when he published his antiwar magazine with huge
headlines: FUCK HATE.
"Smut Peddler Jailed" was
the headline in the Santa Monica daily.
But mostly Steve Richmond
was busted for drugs. His family gave up on him. Everyone did.
but Bukowski. They wrote to each other like lovers. Like
father and son. There are more than 150 letters between Richmond
and Bukowski, mostly written in the mid 1960s. You'll never read
them. They've been censored out of existence
by Bukowski Inc. The Richmond/Bukowski letters are bad for business. Bad for the Bukowski business. Bad for the rare books trade.
boys and girls who make the noise what really happened to Richmond/Bukowski
correspondence. Say the rare book & manuscript market in L.A. Maybe David Zeidberg of the Huntington knows. Or Victoria Steele
at UCLA. They once worked together, decades ago. Ask why they
never speak to each other. Why they dance around the rare book market
leaving Richmond's erotic demons on the shelf. It's possible they
don't even know. The king and queen of the rare book market in L.A.
recent tapes were recorded after the mid-May, Dan
Fante party at my house. A hundred people showed up for
a reading of Don
Giovanni, Dan Fante's great play about his old man and siblings
and a possible ex-wife. I wrote the intro.
David Garcia, said Steve was fading fast. He arranged a meeting. I hadn't seen Steve in twenty years. We travel in different circles. I
showed up at his motel room in East Santa Monica where he lives with a
Monk like souls. This is how it went (edited version):
Pleasants: .Let's start with your family.
My mother and father died. My brother and sister…I haven't seen them
for three or four years. They don't want to have anything to do with
me. I was using heroin. For thirty years. I stopped using
about a year ago.
I always thought you were the American Rimbaud. The most important
lyric poet writing in America since WWII. Especially the Gagaku poems. They're the most important things
you've ever written. Microscopic examinations of the self. They had a lot to do with the drugs you were taking at the time. The drugs were the microscope, I think. They allowed you to look
I read that 99% of all art is created when the artist is intoxicated. I
was exorcising my evil. It was therapy. LSD therapy.
I wrote thousands of Gagaku. It became an ego trip, going deeper and deeper into myself.
I said to Bukowski "it's
selfish." He said "So, be selfish. That's what art is. Be a man. Be selfish. Go deeper and deeper down into yourself."
Bukowski loved those Gagaku poems. You went so far down into yourself with heroin and LSD, it
was like looking into another universe. You paid the price for it.
Yeah. I did my work. Now I'm retired.
are inverted and pointed
like lime circles hardened but white
and are glistened
the eyes are black holes
encircled by matter torn like a rag
only their tongues are red
lower lips are turned to orange
green spattered on lower fringes
staining upward like spider web
hoods of white cloth pointed
and flap with cotton muff at tip
in groups they clap single fingered gloves
gloves white but turn to leather
the seam turns red, blue is soaked all
fingers scraping blue turned multicolor
from the barrier
their teeth puncture the glass barrier
the glass cracks.
But the poems are out there. Al Berlinski printed a solid number
Painted Roses. You've published about fifteen books.
I know. I go online about once every five years. Get all the
ego boost I need. Santa
Monica Poems. Al distributed that one.
You gave me your first book, Poems,
when we were at UCLA. 1964. You lived in Hollywood?
Steve: 1624 North Gardner Street. I went to Hollywood High. Played
on the basketball team.
How old were you when your first book came out? Poems.
Twenty-two. I had a marriage that broke up after three weeks. The girl, Ruby, could never come at all. Hours would go by. I was a kid. I didn't know what was happening. I was all fucked
up emotionally about that. Then Ruby took me to a reading at UCLA's
Janss's Steps. There were 400 people. 308 were women. About 200 were foxes. I couldn't believe it. The guy's a poet. All the girls are attracted to a poet. I'm gonna be a poet. That's when I wrote Poems.
You sent it to Bukowski and he wrote you right back.
Steve: Yeah. He kept writing me. When I met him, he was forty-four, but he looked
like he was eighty. He looked like he was gonna die.
You next book was Hitler
Painted Roses. Bukowski encouraged you to write it. Was he your mentor?
I don't like the word. He was a Leo and I'm an Aquarius. He
encouraged me, that's right.
He did write the introduction to Hitler
Painted Roses. Bukowski loved
the title. He
loved Hitler. As far as I know, Hitler never painted roses.
Steve: He painted duplexes. He also painted paintings. He was a painter
gone crazy. That was my point. A whole fucking civilization
on a lunatic.
Rose was your third book.
1974. It was my answer to Black Sparrow. They wouldn't publish
so I published it myself.
In the forward, Bukowski wrote the following about you and your work:
"I like writers who are as strong
as their work. That is the final test. I don't believe you
can separate the man and his work. I don't believe that if the work
is strong and the man is weak, that is all that matters. The strong
man with the strong work will endure. No publishers have come to
Richmond. The publishers are wrong. The
work will endure. The poems you read here
I wrote a line "let the fags have San Francisco." I think that finished
it for me with City Lights [Press]. I grew up in Hollywood. Where gays tried to blow me in the street. You know what I wrote
about Neeli in Spinning. Of Bukowski? He was down on
his knees with his tongue out. Berlinski took it out of the book. Maybe I am a homophobe? Maybe I'm a latent faggot. I don't
know. All I know is that I'm impotent now, and it's nice in a way.
Tell me about the Santa
I was hung up on Kathy King. Katherine King. She came into
the Candle Shop once and the sun was shining on her silhouette. She's
for the C.S. Lewis movies. Narnia. Her name was mentioned at the Academy Awards. She's an Aphrodite
figure. She was working at the Gagaku Department at UCLA. Ethnomusicology. I spent one night with her.
Maybe she knew Jim
She thought Morrison was a pig. I asked her about Morrison. He visited
me about six or seven times during the years. He wanted to talk about his
poems. The wizard shit. He was a serious poet. Just before he died he came over. A sycophant was driving him around. He was drinking Jack Daniels. I could see he was on the way out. Like me.
So you wrote a lot about Kathy King. She became your muse.
She didn't like it either. I lay drunk on her doorstep. I called
her a hundred times a minute. She lived on Stoner. A little
dive on Stoner.
When was that?
About 1975. She was the girlfriend of Sheldon Pearl. She worked
at Open City. How nice it is to be out of all that shit.
I love your work. I just thought you were going to end up in serious
this amazing Jim Morrison tribute
I did. Thirty years on heroin. Tracks here. I almost
died. I have a hump on my shoulder. [A benign tumor as large
as a grapefruit.] We're lucky to be walking around. I was in
Brockman Memorial Hospital for five or six days. In the Psych Ward
to get off the heroin. It helped. A friend got me in there. He told me to tell them I was going to kill myself. I pretty much
was. They got me clean. We're both happy men because we wrote. I stopped. I could write another ten thousand Gagaku but who needs it? I'm tired. I was ready to die a few years
ago. Met this girl. She comes and visits me once in a while.
Ben: You always like women. Bukowski had a love hate relationship with
Steve: There was a biography of Bukowski by a guy from England. Linda Bukowski didn't want me to talk to him. Sounes. She wanted
me exclusively for her movie. I tried to get a thousand dollars from
her not to talk with the guy. I was a drug addict. A power
hungry Leo. Anarchist.
it there. I didn't have the heart to talk about the million dollar house
lost in Santa Monica. The house on the hill where he lived with his
girl and his drug dealers. I wanted to remember the poet. The
greatest lyric poet in America since Hart
Crane. The poet and his demons. He's still out there in
sit by the seaside
all the lepers of insight
was the way I left him.
Copyright 2007 by Ben Pleasants.
Poetry copyright Steve Richmond.
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