Angelique Kidjo, Yo La Tengo, Bill Frisell, and Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart are among the artists featuring on a 50th-anniversary musical tribute to beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971.
Sonic Youth bandmates Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Andrew Bird, Devendra Banhart, Gavin Friday & Howie B, the Fugs’ Ed Sanders, and more also appear on the album, which boasts musical interpretations of poems from Ginsberg’s 1971 book; some tracks feature the late poet reciting his works accompanied by the new music.
“In 1965, Ginsberg began planning an ambitious project, a book of thematically connected poems, a collection that ‘discovered’ America in poetry similar to the way Kerouac’s On the Road had explored the country in prose,” Michael Schumacher writes in his introduction to The Fall of America Journals 1965-1971. “The Vietnam War would be a constant presence overhanging Ginsberg’s travel writings like a darkening shadow affecting daily life in the country. It would be a study of contrasts: natural beauty slammed up against an ugliness that rose out of the tensions of violence. The public’s polarized dialogue over Vietnam and, earlier in the decade, the civil rights movement, convinced Ginsberg that America was teetering on the precipice of a fall.”
All proceeds from the album’s release will benefit Headcount, which promotes voter registration and participation in democracy through the power of music. The collection — available to preorder now — is out digitally on February 5th, with a vinyl and CD release set for June 4th.
The Fall of America – A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute is dedicated to the late producer Hal Willner, who produced a similar Ginsberg project, 1989’s The Lion for Real. “We had hoped that he would offer us his guidance and with some musicians on board he might have been persuaded to join us as he had done with other projects over the years,” the Ginsberg estate said. “Sadly, fate intervened and Hal became one of the first casualties of this deadly pandemic. Although we cannot come close to the genius he would have brought to this project, he will forever be our guiding light, our guardian angel, and inspiration for this project.”
“While most people tend to reflect the brightness of the era, Ginsberg didn’t shy away from the darkness,” Hart — who contributes “Drones Du Jour (First Party at Ken Kesey’s With Hell’s Angels)” to the album — said in a statement. “He writes the scene in all its complexity, the busts of excitements and Dionysian excesses as well as darker images, such as the sculpture of the hanged man. He forces us to recognize the children sleeping in the bed and the police cars parked outside, red lights revolving in the trees.”
The announcement of The Fall of America tribute follows news that Ginsberg’s first recorded reading of Howl is also set for release.
The Fall of America – A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute Tracklist
1) Scanner – Elegy for Neal Cassidy
2) Handsome Family – Hiway Poesy Painted Desert into Albuquerque
3) Shintaro Sakamoto – Manhattan Thirties Flash
4) Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo – Hum Bom
5) Aliah Rosenthal – War Profit Litany
6) Ed Sanders (The Fugs) – Memory Gardens
7) Mickey Hart – Drones Du Jour (First Party at Ken Kesey’s With Hell’s Angels)
8) ethereal_interface – An Open Window on Chicago
9) Howie B with Gavin Friday – Death on All Fronts (America is Falling)
10) Disco Pusher – A Prophecy
11) Kaya Project – Wales Visitation
12) Angelique Kidjo – Uluru Song
13) Bill Frisell – Over Laramie
14) Andrew Bird – Easter Sunday
15) Devendra Banhart – Milarepa Taste
16) Yo La Tengo – Bayonne into NYC
17) The Good Ones (Rwanda) – Falling Asleep in America
18) Steven Taylor – Continuation of a Long Poem in These States
19) Lang Lee – Pain on All Fronts
20) Social Animals – Falling Asleep In America (Roses Smell Sweet)