The HOWL! Festival brings back the Beatniks
Annually arriving between the Fringe festival of bizarre off-Broadway theater and the New York Film Festival for well-heeled cineastes, the HOWL! Festival is a three-day arts extravaganza in the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park, dedicated to the memory of beat poet Allen Ginsberg and presented for nouveaux bohemians who get in free.
But it’s more than just a palate cleanser between fests. HOWL! is a simultaneous throwback and flash-forward that tosses cultural elements together into a giant, jivey be-in for high-def artsy-crafty appreciation. And it starts, aptly enough, with some longtime New York poets (like John Giorno and Anne Waldman) reading Ginsberg’s hallucinatory and historic “Howl” this Friday, September 10, when a whole new audience can decide for themselves if the poem is good-obscene, bad-obscene, or not obscene at all.
The festival goes on to feature an “earth circus,” spiritual events, and musical jams, and on Sunday at 5 PM, the Jackie Factory’s Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell present Low Life 4: Beat Girl, a variety show tribute to the ‘50s beatniks and East Village beats, with a nod to history, gender play, and wry wit.
Between rehearsals, Valenti gave me some exclusive insight into this year’s presentation. Said she: “The Low Life shows are meant to transport the audience back to eras of extreme depravity and creativity on the Bowery. Our inspiration for this whole body of work (born at our club Jackie 60) was the brilliant Luc Sante book Low Life.
“We assemble modern performers and ensembles in the East Village tradition and ask them to interpret the time period we are taking on that year.
“For every year that the Old Bowery/East Village vanishes, it becomes more important to celebrate what remains–both the ghosts of what was and the promise of what will be.
“Low Life 4: Beat Girl pays homage to the homegrown 1950’s beatnik culture at the very heart of the HOWL! Festival. We were particularly inspired by female Beats like Diane di Prima, a certain look and attitude (think High School Confidential), and the beatnik influence on 50’s Burlesque.
“The Jackie MCs (Paul Alexander of the Ones and myself) will be using the beatnik slang that we live for–even the nearly-lost Beat Gen language, Vout.”
Most crucial of all, says Valenti in English, is the dress code: “Beat girl glamour, beatnik clichés, Bettie Page boho, angelheaded hipster, black tights, abstract expressionist bodypaint, berets, beat burlesque (North Beach vs. Left Bank), “existential trannie,” Rivington Street refusenik, or Art School Effects. Oh, and carry sunflowers or BYOB (Bring Your Own Bongos).”
Got that, daddy-o? If you arrive in something from Bergdorf’s, you’ll look just beat.