Poet/songwriter klipschutz talks about San Francisco, Dylan, Chuck Prophet, Jazz & Blues, and Elvis

"The Blues can cut so deep, and Jazz has that magic mixture of chaos and harmony. The Beats tried to emulate Jazz in their poems."

klipschutz: Satire & Skepticism

klipschutz (pen name of Kurt Lipschutz) is an American poet, songwriter and occasional journalist whose underground reputation continues to spread. Born in Indio, California, he left high school early and traveled widely in the U.S., by thumb. In 1981 he migrated north to San Francisco, where he took door-to-door Gallup polls, was a shipping clerk for a clothing manufacturer, then put in a fifteen-year stint as a “scrivener” in a criminal defense law office.

In Spring 2013, Anvil Press issued his first collection in ten years, This Drawn & Quartered Moon. His previous books are The Erection of Scaffolding for the Re-Painting of Heaven by the Lowest Bidder (1985), The Good Neighbor Policy (1989), and Twilight of the Male Ego (2002), issued by legendary counterculture poet and publisher Charles Potts under his Tsunami Inc. imprint.

klipschutz has co-penned over a hundred songs, chiefly with Chuck Prophet, including the entirety of the internationally acclaimed 2012 release Temple Beautiful.  His published journalism includes a monograph on Bill Knott, an extensive interview with Objectivist master Carl Rakosi and the essay, “Cure for a Beatnik Hangover.”

In 2006 he turned publisher to produce the one-off collectible ALL ROADS. . .But This One (Luddite Kingdom Press). He lives in the Tendernob, on the cusp of the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, where he shares an apartment with his wife Colette Jappy and two cats. Beyond high school, he is an autodidact.

Inteview by Michael Limnios

How can literature, music and art confront the “prison” of the spirit and mind?

Nothing like an easy question to start with! Hey, there are so many pitfalls, so many ways NOT to be free, that literature, music and art are among the few avenues to even seek the liberation of spirit and mind—and, maybe, when the gods are genuinely with you, to momentarily transcend your own ego and feel like part of the human race or ...if only for a few seconds, feel right with the world. The path can get narrow, not to mention ill-lit.

There are other avenues, of course. Theology, extreme outdoor exertion, public service, mind-altering substances and sex come to mind. I mean, who knows what goes through a mountain climber’s head, even if he or she has not read a single poem since leaving school?

What experiences in life make a good poet? What are the triggers for creation?

Love, hate, disappointment, fulfillment, starvation, gluttony—any and all experiences can make a poet. Beyond that, maybe it’s genetic, or luck, where you’re born, to which parents, in what time zone. It’s impossible to pin down, for me at least. Experience is what you make of it, how receptive you are. Being alive is interactive, a two-way street.

The triggers for creation: overhearing a certain word, or mishearing one, the way someone walks. You never know. Once the trigger comes, I’m like a drug addict—I’m in it for high from the next poem. Maybe one day I’ll get hold of some real pure inspiration stuff, and get so high that neither of us, me or the reader, will ever come down...

"Love, hate, disappointment, fulfillment, starvation, gluttony—any and all experiences can make a poet." Photo: klipschutz in New Orleans 1986

Which was the most interesting period in your life? What experiences made you a good poet and writer?

The most interesting period, recently, was in 2011, being on a treatment for hepatitis C, six months that felt like sixty years. I felt what it must feel like to be 90 years old. I could barely make it across the street on foot before the light changed.

As for me being a good poet, that isn’t for me to say. I’m not even sure I WANT to be good, per se. Given the choice, I’d rather be compelling, be able to keep the reader’s attention, so that she or he wants to read the poem or listen to the song again. And maybe even once more after that. Which isn’t the same as being “good.” If I am, in fact, any good, I would say the many reversals I’ve had are the culprits. Heartache, joblessness, the dull ache of having a job, loss of loved ones, the death of pets—it all makes you more human; the trick is to not become a monster. There are more monsters in our own species than in all the science fiction books put together.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I don’t really have a career. I am a nobody. Just ask my family! Lately, though, I’ve been on kind of a roll. My new book, This Drawn & Quartered Moon, a beautiful volume physically, and my first in 10 years, just came out, and I’m about to go out on tour, 12 readings in the Pacific Northwest. Some of them I’m even getting compensated for!  And like I said, I recently kicked hep C—Western medicine came through big-time for this skeptic; thank you Dr. Verhille—and wrote Temple Beautiful with Chuck Prophet. So things are looking up.

The worst moment? Man, there’s a lot of competition for that. Maybe back in 1992 when six magazines in a row accepted poems of mine then folded pre-publication. I already had a persecution complex, but I hit the persecution complex jackpot that month.

What is the relation between music, literature, poetry and art?

They are all creative processes? I’m answering a question with a question, because I’m not sure what it means.  Everything is connected, and borders are illusions, though admittedly sometimes well-protected illusions, with walls and dogs.

"Love is the answer. Love is the question. The right answer to the wrong question."

What do you learn about yourself from the literature and music?

I’ve learned how little I know about myself, and that it would take more than this lifetime to find out. Bearing in mind that there are plenty of things I don’t WANT to know. The right poem or piece of music, at the right time, can lift the top of my head off. 

What characterizes the philosophy of "klipschutz"? How do you describe your poetry?

Philosophy is kind of a loaded term. I’m not sure I have one, but I probably do, though I’ll be damned if I know what it is. My poetry is the pursuit of the beautiful and the authentic, through the portals of satire and skepticism.

How important has music been in your life? How does the music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has been tremendously important. It can change my mood in a heartbeat. I’m a child of the sixties, thanks to my older brothers. Dylan meant everything to me. He was my Shakespeare. Later, I discovered Shakespeare, who gave Dylan a run for his money. There’s all kinds of obscure bands like, just to name one, Pearls Before Swine, that influenced me more than, oh I don’t know, John Dryden ever did.

Are there any memories from Chuck Prophet and Jim Dickinson which you’d like to share with us?

Jim Dickinson I only know as a fan—but it was a thrill to have him record Hungry Town, one of Chuck’s and my songs, on Free Beer Tomorrow. He actually changed some words! I didn’t know you could do that. But, hell, he’s Jim Dickinson (or was - R.I.P.): he played on Dylan albums, and played piano on “Wild Horses,” so who’s gonna tell him he can’t?

As for Chuck? Memories? Yesterday, I posted my first tweet, ever, and Chuck “favorited” it. Every once in a while he does something unexpected like that. Working with him—and just knowing him—has been one of the peak experiences, and one of the roughest, of my life, depending on the day. You ought to see Chuck look at a lunch menu. He really bears down on it. I remember when he didn’t like vegetables, wouldn’t eat anything green. Now he’s pretty much a ‘foodie’. He asks multiple questions while he orders. On a serious note, the day we wrote “Emperor Norton in the Last Year of His Life” was a good day. We should have videotaped ourselves, so maybe we’d know to do it again.

"Dylan meant everything to me. He was my Shakespeare. Later, I discovered Shakespeare, who gave Dylan a run for his money." Photo: klipschutz with his father

You have come to know great personalities. Which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

I met Elvis, my dad was his doctor. There is a poem about it in my new book that took twenty years to write, to get every breath, pause, consonant and vowel to behave—and if I looked at it again tonight, I’d probably start making edits right in the book itself. At the time, meeting Elvis meant little to me, but over the years...I’m still trying to figure out what it DID mean. Did it change my life? How can I know for sure?

What are your hopes and fears on the future? What made you laugh lately and what emotionally touched you?

The future scares the hell out of me, six ways from Sunday. My hope for myself is that I don’t die in the gutter. For the world I hope the good guys catch a little luck and the forces of evil self-destruct.

Lots of things make me laugh.  A poem by Clem Starck did, just the other day.  And...I was emotionally touched by my sister-in-law’s birthday party, a gorgeous, full day, big hugs all around and no gunplay.

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?

My ancestors in Lithuania. They’re all lost in the fog of time from the pruning of our family tree by the Holocaust.

What is your favorite motto? Peace of Mind is….. Happiness is……

Love is the answer. Love is the question. The right answer to the wrong question.

Peace of Mind is....elusive. Happiness is watching Breaking Bad with Colette, my wife, in bed.

"Music has been tremendously important. It can change my mood in a heartbeat." Photo: klipschutz with his wife Colette, Shortlands, Kent 2012 

What do you miss most nowadays from the Beat bohemian San Francisco era of 50s - 60s?

Miss? Well, I didn’t arrive in San Francisco till 1980, and didn’t arrive on the planet till the late 1950s, so....technically, I kind of missed the whole thing.  About the 60s, from what I remember of it, I miss the generosity.  People opened their doors, their couches, their kitchens, their hearts.  Not until the early 70s, but the spirit was still intact, I hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada several times, with a friend, and alone.  Families gave me rides!  We’ve truly gone through the looking glass since then.

Do you know why San Francisco is connected to the avant-garde culture?

Yes. And so do a lot of other people, people much more qualified to answer that question. Briefly, though for a place on the edge of a continent, all roads seem to pass through here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was discovered that Jesus spent the night in the Mission once. The subject is an interview unto itself. One digression:  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Jack London, his lesser known works—John Barleycorn, The People of Abyss, The Road (which influenced Kerouac). He was Bay Area born and bred and while not thought of as part of any avant-garde, he was as strange as Lord Buckley. One San Francisco thread leads to another. It’s endless...

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues and Jazz music with the Beats and the poetry culture?

A sense of doomed romanticism, an antidote to politics, mood swings, the pursuit of the ecstatic. On the physical level, the breath, the line, the way sound occupies space cut into time, the musical phrase.

Some music styles can be fads but the Blues and Jazz are always with us. Why do you think that is?

On the pure musical end, I’m not qualified to say. Conceptually, I’d say both are excellent vehicles to express direct emotion, and there’s too little emotion in the adult world, too much faux-logic. The Blues can cut so deep, and Jazz has that magic mixture of chaos and harmony. The Beats tried to emulate Jazz in their poems. To me, Jazz, be-bop anyway, conjures more of a Jackson Pollock kind of response, but on second thought there’s a lot of overlap between action painting and dithyrambs.

"Everything is connected, and borders are illusions, though admittedly sometimes well-protected illusions, with walls and dogs."

What from your memorabilia and things (books, records, photos, etc.) would you put in a "time capsule"?

Some Kenneth Patchen books—Red Wine and Yellow Hair, Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer—the cover of Magical Mystery Tour, the photograph of Barry Hannah on the cover of the Oxford American that I keep above my desk.  I’ll stop there and leave room for someone else to put some stuff in.

Do you think being an autodidact gives you the ability to write with freedom and not in marked paths?

There are gaps in my education you could drive a truck through, an eighteen wheeler. Which I’m not proud of. Ignorance is nothing to be proud of. I’m an enthusiast, the polar opposite of a scholar. But I did come to Paradise Lost on my own, and The Cantos, without anyone forcing me, or without trying to impress a teacher. It’s been lonely at times, though worth it. Probably my favorite part about being an autodidact is the way the word itself sounds. Sometimes when I say it, I get the impression certain people, with advanced degrees, don’t even know what it means.

Below a short poem from his new book This Drawn & Quartered Moon (Anvil Press, Vancouver, B.C. 2013)

WILD WILD WAYS

Don’t mention the old days.

You’re talking to yourself again.

 

Somewhere between the bar and the café

you got lost at sea and drowned

in your tears on the sunken dance floor

in the spinning light the storm-watch night,

as the band went overboard, over a face

that is the absolute harbor of desire,

featureless, irresistible,

end of song.

 

You’re talking to the girl you used to be.

Saying what you needed to hear.

by © klipschutz

 

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