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The Beat Goes On

Allen Ginsberg
Photo by Jim Mohs

A Brief Memorial

By Richard von Busack

Moloch was the Caananite god of fire. The word means "king" in Hebrew. Moloch was represented as an idol, a kiln in which children were burned alive. Fritz Lang's idea of what Moloch looked like can be seen in Metropolis. It's the symbol of that imaginary city, where humanity is bound and sacrificed: a flaming mouth underneath a portcullis of teeth four feet high.

Allen Ginsberg died April 5. In my favorite photo of him, he's pointing out a San Francisco version/vision of Moloch. It's 1956 or so. A gigantic neon head of Sir Francis Drake used to rotate atop of the skyscraper hotel of that name. The head is a glowing blur in the distance.

In the foreground, in close-up, Ginsberg points in triumphant contempt at the monstrosity. There's the enemy, men! "Moloch whose buildings are judgments," the poet wrote in the second section of his deathless poem "Howl." Never walk through a financial district again without thinking of that line.

Ginsberg was out of the closet before people knew there were such things as closets; he was a live wire of discontent before most people felt the current. In art, as he wrote in "Howl," he successfully tried "to converse about America and eternity, a hopeless task." In life, he proved that those who go off to fight demons don't necessarily become demons themselves.

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