Most of Allen Ginsberg’s recorded music consists of the poet chanting to the accompaniment of his harmonium. While I enjoy the mantras, original folk songs (particularly “Father Death Blues”), and interpretations of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, my favorite Ginsberg tune is “Birdbrain,” a six-and-a-half minute punk novelty record made with a Denver band called The Gluons. As friends, relatives, lovers, neighbors, passengers and passersby will attest, I’ve been known to listen to this thing for hours on end.
“Birdbrain” fits Ezra Pound’s definition of literature as “news that STAYS news.” While some of the references to current events are now 33 years out of date, “Birdbrain” remains fresh if only because I don’t know of another song that treats the subject of human stupidity so sweetly. Of course we’re all one, the song says: we’re all the same drooling moron. In the same way “Birdbrain” balances its misanthropic theme with an attitude of compassionate loving-kindness, the record works as a hybrid of punk and poetry. I prefer it to “Ghetto Defendant,” Ginsberg’s 1982 collaboration with The Clash.
Recorded in Denver while Ginsberg was teaching at Naropa, “Birdbrain” was distributed by Denver’s Wax Trax! record store (a separate entity from the Chicago store and label). A dub version appears on the scarce 1983 LP Allen Ginsberg with Still Life, produced by Gluon Mike Chappelle. According to the Diamond Sutra, if you play this loud enough in your office cubicle, you will achieve Buddhahood.
“Birdbrain,” the single
I can’t find a clip of the B-side, the Gluons’ “Sue Your Parents,” but here’s a Lounge Lizards-y live version from 1981:
Allen Ginsberg and the Job play “Birdbrain,” San Francisco, November 1981