Farewell to Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti died yesterday, leaving a legacy of literacy and poetry and, of course, San Francisco’s pioneering City Lights bookstore.

Aged 101, he loomed large in the city he loved, and his light shone like a beacon of hope across the land for searching souls. From 1958’s A Coney Island of the Mind to 2019’s Little Boy, he kept writing and publishing and pontificating.

But this blog post isn’t really about Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Read his stuff instead of anything anyone writes about him first. Then, go read an obituary or memorial written by someone more familiar with the man, his life, and his work. This is simply my thoughts about the Ferlinghetti in my mind.

See, I must confess I really never read most of his writing. I have always enjoyed that which I have read, and now I intend to seek out more. The one time I was in San Francisco with some time on my hands and in the City Lights neighborhood, I stopped in instead at Vesuvio Cafe, just across Jack Kerouac Alley from City Lights, to raise a couple of beers to my then-sister-in-law Joanie‘s stories from hanging out there years before. Never did wander into City Lights.

I do recall reading a column he wrote sometime in the mid-70s when I was briefly staying in the Bay Area. He listed several suggestions to improve San Francisco. I’ve forgotten most of them. The one I clearly remember was brilliant in its simplicity: paint the Golden Gate Bridge golden. He pointed out that every year, thousands of people arrive at the iconic landmark, shocked to discover that it is not golden. Explaining that “Golden Gate” refers to the sea passage into the bay does not soothe their bitter disappointment. Actually painting the Golden Gate Bridge golden would.

My closest personal acquaintance with Ferlinghetti’s work was adapting a short play of his called “The Nose of Sisyphus,” (contained in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963) for my TV Production class at UT. For our final project for the semester, the content could be anything of our own choosing. The instructor promised it would be graded on the technical aspects of the video production and that content would not be a factor in grading.

Gotcha…let’s cut to the chase — or in this instance, the video.

The instructor acknowledged that the technical aspects of our production certainly deserved an A. Then, he refused to give us an A. Despite his prior assurances that content would not factor into his grading. He even acknowledged that he had promised not to downgrade any project based on the content. And told us the best he’d give us was a B.

“I just don’t see why anyone would ever produce something like that for television. I can’t in good conscience give that an A.” His mind was made up. Arguing the legitimacy of a TV show rooted in the well-established “theater of the absurd” tradition turned into an exercise in absurdity itself, so we gave up.

So, thank you, Mr. Ferlinghetti, for everything you did — including that time back then, proving once again to me the absurdity you wrote so beautifully about.

Now, I’ve got to go — got some reading to catch up on…

Bonus: Rewind the YouTube video to the beginning for another clip from that TV production class: my brother, Scott Whitebird (still Scott Buller at the time), singing an original song, “Jason,” along with the talented (but wofeully underlit) David Rodowick.






About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in books, creativity, poetry, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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