Ginsberg sang and recited poetry for a little over an hour at the back of the tiny store. His set commenced with a selection of better known pieces from his catalogue (including 'Father Death Blues'), moving onto readings from his then current book, 'Cosmopolitan Greetings', before finishing with a brace of unpublished works. It was an informal event and at the end there was an unruly scramble to have books and other memorabilia signed. The place was packed to the rafters and it was all moving very slowly. I had a ticket for a gig later that evening, so I had to leave.
The following evening Ginsberg carried out a very much more formal book-signing session at the gigantic Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner of 22nd & 6th, a couple of blocks from my cousin's apartment. There was no performance this time, just a very long queue that snaked around the shop floor. As we neared the desk where he sat, head down, signing endless copies of 'Cosmopolitan Greetings', I was asked my name by a member of staff, who scribbled it down on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the front of my copy. As I edged nearer, a burly security guard stepped forward to address this portion of the queue. He told us in no uncertain terms that Mr Ginsberg would sign our copies of 'Cosmopolitan Greetings' ONLY and nothing else. Furthermore we were not to attempt to speak to Mr Ginsberg or distract him in any way and to move on immediately our book was signed. The piece of paper with my name written on it was so that Ginsberg could write a dedication above his signature without becoming embroiled in unnecessary conversation and thus holding up proceedings. The whole event was something of a military operation, the exact opposite of the previous evening.
Finally, I reached the desk and silently placed the book in front of Allen Ginsberg, open to the title page as instructed. He squinted at the scrap of paper on which the staff member had written my name, but clearly couldn't decipher the scribble. I hesitantly spoke my name to help him out. He looked up. 'You're not from New York', he said. I felt the eyes of security, staff and waiting punters burning into the back of my neck. '......err, no..' I replied, 'I'm from the UK, visiting relatives in the city.' Pause. 'I enjoyed your performance in Soho yesterday'. To my amazement and everyone else's annoyance he continued chatting as he signed and dated my book plus a postcard of him I'd picked up earlier, before handing them back and saying, '...enjoy the rest of your stay.' I told him that I was actually going home the following day, absent mindedly adding that I was bloody terrified of flying. Ginsberg reached out and asked me to give him the book back, he opened it and added a couple of extra marks to the title page, on either side of his signature. I asked him what he'd drawn. 'Wings,' he said, 'for a safe flight home.'
In 1996 Allen Ginsberg released a great single, 'Ballad of the Skeletons', featuring musical accompaniment by Lenny Kaye, Marc Ribot, Philip Glass and Paul McCartney. Not a bad band. Here's the full studio take (there's a little swearing in this one, just so's you know) plus a clip of a Beat and a Beatle performing an early stripped down version of the song live at The Royal Albert Hall in 1995.