Paul Blackburn and Das Rhinegold

“I had my first Rheingold at the Mars Bar in New York City a few years ago when I was doing a tour of some Old School bars.  In the area around Houston, I walked into Milano’s, the 7B, and the Parkside Lounge.  Then I walked up past Cooper Square, where Floating Bear was mimeographed for time, and spent the good part of an afternoon at McSorley’s. Like Ballantine Ale, Rheingold makes me think of 1950s/1960s New York City, particularly of landmarks like the Parkside Lounge.  And the poet I most associate with that time and those places is not Frank O’Hara or Ted Berrigan, but Paul Blackburn.  He died in 1971 of throat cancer at the age of 44, a few years old than I am now.  I quit smoking a couple weeks ago on my doctor’s advice.  It has been much easier than I thought, but I am sure that the next time I am sitting alone in a place like McSorley’s or the Parkside surrounded by empty mugs of brown ale or bottles of Rhinegold I will feel the itch for a smoke and the conversation of a guy like Blackburn, who treated McSorley’s like a poetry workshop.  Such a McSorley’s and Parkside are nowadays merely utopias.  Even if I was smoking, it is tough to find a bar on the Eastern seaboard were you can have a smoke. Do poets still corrupt the youth in smoky bars?  Or does that all occur strictly during designated office hours in a non-smoking building?  … Paul Blackburn would hang out at Stanley’ and the Paddock.  These bars were the McSorley’s of Reading, and Suds and Dregs were their Joseph Mitchell.  And that is why Calvin Trillin wrote about them in the New Yorker, it was step back in time to Mitchell’s McSorley’s, which I would expect that Trillin himself felt he had missed out on back in the 1930s. Like with Olson, I am quite happy being a historian rather than an active participant.  The cheddar and crackers at McSorley’s really do not taste that good and the bartenders give you more foam than beer.  Blackburn would not want to talk to me anyhow.  I would gag on a sardine sandwich at the Paddock.  All this history is fake and repackaged anyway.  Rhinegold Brewing was shut down in 1976, and the company that revived it also produces Trump Vodka and Dr. Dre Cognac , for christ’s sake.  In any case, it is healthier that I am no longer smoking and it is better that bars have become clean, well-lighted places where both sexes can share a drink and a conversation.  Things have evolved; we are progressing. But I am a collector and a historian at heart.  And one that is easily and deliberately deceived at that. … Blackburn’s poems have this sentimental nostalgia washing through them as well.  It must be the steady stream of that sweet, brown McSorley’s ale. JB”
Analysis of Paul Blackburn’s Poems
W – Paul Blackburn
amazom: The Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn, Journals

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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