Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment

John Giorno. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-16630-4
The creativity and debauchery of gay artists and writers blooms in this exuberant memoir of avant-garde New York from the 1950s through the 1990s. Giorno (Subduing Demons in America), a poet and artist who died last year, recounts his relationships with a countercultural pantheon including Allen Ginsburg, whom he considered a “living god” before meeting him and who proved to be a “disappointment”; Andy Warhol, who filmed Giorno sleeping in the six-hour film Sleep; artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, with whom he carried on tempestuous affairs; and Beat deity William S. Burroughs, with whom he had an intense, mainly platonic friendship for decades. Giorno also discusses his conversion to Tibetan Buddhism and his technology-driven poetry innovations, including tape-recorded poetry “sound poems,” multimedia readings, and a “Dial-a-Poem” service offering callers recorded poems. The narrative is a whirl of parties, art openings, colorful personalities, and lots of graphic sex, written in prose that twines earthiness with Buddhist austerity. (“Pale light from a streetlamp streamed through the window mixed with the humid air and gave William a rat-gray fungus-like complexion,” he writes of having sex with Burroughs. “Our minds mingled in one taste, in the vast, empty expanse of primordially pure, Wisdom Mind.”) The result is an engrossing, passionate ode to a revolution in art and sensuality. Photos. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 02/21/2020
Release date: 06/02/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-1-250-79875-6
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