American poet Allen Ginsberg, a leading voice of the Beat Generation literary movement and an influence on popular culture figures from Bob Dylan to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, died of liver cancer in Manhattan on Saturday. He was 70.
Ginsberg, whose many awards include the American Book Award and the Robert Frost Medal, the National Book Award, first came to international acclaim in the early 1950s when the publication of his poem “Howl” caused a much-publicized censorship battle but was praised as a serious work of literature by the international academic and arts communities and became a landmark work of the post-war period.
His close personal and literary associations with other key Beats such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs sparked a creative movement that both his detractors and supporters credited with helping to set the stage for the tumultuous culture shifts of the ’60s.
In addition to his steady stream of publications, including several volumes of poetry, prose and correspondence, Ginsberg consistently released recordings of his work, beginning with “Howl,” in 1959 for Saul Zaentz’s Fantasy Records, and including the mid-’60s Atlantic Records release of “Kaddish,” the long narrative poem many call his masterwork.
His most recent recording effort was the 1996 Mercury Records album “The Ballad of the Skeletons,” featuring such notable musical accompanists as Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye and Paul McCartney. A video directed by Gus Van Sant accompanied the album’s release and received heavy rotation on MTV.
Ginsberg also figured prominently in the history of popular music. In the ’60s, Bob Dylan and John Lennon both cited him as a key influence. Dylan put Ginsberg’s photograph on the cover of his seminal “Bringing It All Back Home” album in 1965, and argued on that record’s liner notes that Ginsberg, not Robert Frost, should have been invited to read at the presidential inauguration.
A decade later, Ginsberg toured with Dylan’s famed Rolling Thunder Revue and continued to appear frequently to standing-room-only crowds at college and small club dates around the country.
Ginsberg was also the subject of documentarian Jerry Aronson’s “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg.”