On The Lower East Side:
It's a poly-global consciousness centered on trying to make a living. Poly-, because there are a lot of languages or many different cultural groups. Global, because they come from all over. Consciousness, because they are all aware of each other and aware of themselves as specific types with traditions. Even reflected on so simple and ordinary a level as a variety of restaurants here -- from Chinese, Japanese, Philippine, Italian, Ukrainian, Polish, Thai, Burmese, all up and down First Avenue. You can see them all. Maybe 15 different Polish restaurants, or Ukrainian, or Russian. As well as all-American brownie cafes where you get coffee and brownies, or old-fashioned vegetarian places, or odd Polish meat stores, or bakeries, Jewish bakeries. So it's a culinary consciousness -- stomach consciousness.
On New York As A Poem:
So the poem of New York will have many jump cuts like MTV or like music video. Jump cuts, cutups, juxtapositions, collages -- where you paste up one postcard of Venus De Milo next to a postcard of the Empire State Building, next to a postcard of the Statue of Liberty, next to a postcard of Jack Kerouac under the Brooklyn Bridge, next to a postcard of the Lower East Side as it looked in 1910, the way it looks right now, next to a postcard of Wall Street. What do you get out of that? You get Kerouac walking into Wall Street carrying the Statue of Liberty's flame.
Jazz is the greatest contribution that New York has given to world culture. "When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake" said Plato out of Pythagoras. He disapproved of changing the mode of music because it meant destabilization of the older society. But when people began moving to a different rhythm, that affects the whole body and thinking process and a new consciousness rises. So I think New York's ultimate contribution is an inquiry into the nature of human consciousness manifested with the different arts. It may be too much to claim that world consciousness was changed by jazz perception from New York, but New York was like a magnifying glass that focused all of these perceptions and inventions that originated in the Bateau Lavoir in Paris, or New Orleans, or in Mississippi, or in Liverpool, or elsewhere. It served as a magnifying glass where all of the rays could be focused and then spread out over the planet.
On The Birth Of The Beat Movement:
First of all, there was a realization of the ecological fix the planet was in. There was a spiritual liberation, we sort of suddenly woke up and found that the world was spaceless, endless, and eternal, not just New York City closed in by the buildings, that we were walking around in the middle of the universe, not in the middle of America -- America was in a universe. It wasn't just this closed-in claustrophobic America. We were all interested in the texture of consciousness itself and so were interested in Eastern thoughts, Buddhism, meditation. We were also interested in exploring consciousness with marijuana or LSD or mushrooms. I was gay and Burroughs was gay. We were living together on East 7th Street in 1953. And it seemed absurd that we would have to play a role of making believe that we were not gay and were likely to fall in love with women. We were not likely to fall in love with women, but with boys. And I took it for granted that was where I was and he was. Yet it seemed forbidden or censorable. So it was a question of candor -- of breaking through the media, and through censorship, and through public consciousness with a candid view of what people really were like, thought like, fantasized, loved, smoked, and amused themselves with. And it was actually very amusing. It wasn't a rebellion -- it was like the nation itself was rebelling against human nature. It was a group of people that were later called "Beat" that were just sort of proposing to live like human beings and to be candid and friendly and frank and open, to end the beclouding of consciousness with public hypocrisy.