MacLaine introduced me to Al Aronowitz at a wedding in the Berkshires during the
summer of 1979. The morning of the wedding I flew in from DC to JFK, and then
took a taxi to Shirley's apartment at Manhattan's Beekman place. Journalist Pete
Hammill Shirley's beau at the time, was there. After some chit chat and coffee,
we all drove up to the Berkshires in Pete's car.
Pete Hammill's brother
Denis was getting married. It was a beautiful summer outdoor wedding. Surrounded
by oak trees and weeping willows the tables were decorated in pink and white linen.
Al Aronowitz, who was a friend of Hammill's was seated at our table when we arrived.
As Shirley introduced us I began to feel a bit of a tingle. It was the way Al
looked: beat, weathered, wearing a white cowboy hat and pink cowboy shirt and
a guilty grin. He apparently felt a connection with me too and soonafter asked
me to take a drive with him in his convertable sports car. He wore real cowboy
boots too. We smoked a joint, goofed and exchanged phone numbers.
at Shirelys that evening. She picked up on the attraction between Al and I, and
wasn't pleased about it. 'He does drugs', she said. 'What kind', I asked. 'Who
knows! His wife died a few years ago and he was recently fired from the NY Post
and can't cope with all the loss.' It was cold the way she said it and I felt
a chill in the room.
I still had no idea who Al Aronowitz was, only that
I was attracted to him, that he was intellectually stimulating and funny, and
a good 25 years older than myself. A few weeks after the wedding I fly to his
home in New Jersey to visit him for the weekend. When I walked into his house
I was blown away by the chaos and dissorder. I met his two sons, Joel and Miles
who lived with him. His daughter Brett lived their also with her boyfriend. They
were great kids, very creative and very smart.
Al began showing me numerous
newspaper clippings from his NY Post column. It was right there and then that
I learned of his friendships with Dylan, Ginsberg, Kerouac, the Beatles, Miles
Davis and so many more of that milieu. It was right there that he told me Dylan
had written "Mr. Tambourine Man' in his kitchen almost 20 years ago. Growing
up, I was influenced by all of them---they were all idols of mine. It was fascinating
for me to listen to Al's stories of all the people he had met over the years and
the introductions that he made. Would history have been written differently if
Al hadn't introduced Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg and to the Beatles or turned
the Beatles on to reeefer? We smoked a lot of pot that weekend, made love and
from then on Al referred to me as his Greek Olive.
Al was beaten down
by the death of his wife and being fired by the NY Post. It took a huge toll on
him and he was hurting bad. Like so many of us he found solace in drugs. Part
of me wanted to run away but his need for me was captivating, as was his wit,
rebelliousness and tenderness. I knew it would be a bumpy ride but I decided it
was worth it.
One evening, a few weeks later, I returned to my apartment
around midnight with my friend John Moran, who was an old friend of Shirley's.
John used to hang out with the Kennedys and we met while he was a consultant for
the Carter Campaign. My doorman told me that my brother was in my apartment waiting
for me. 'What brother', I asked, 'I don't have a brother'. So the three of us
took the elevator to my apartment and when I unlocked the door there was Al Aroniwtiz
sittinng on my couch with a big, guilty grin. I turned to the doorman and said
'it's fine'. Moran was taken aback and left. Al and I cracked up laughing. I was
so happy to see him, that it it was hard for me to be angry with him. Later on
of course I realized what a huge mistake it was for my doorman to let a strange
man into my apartment, just because he said he was my brother.
with me for the next two years. Every month or so he would drive to New Jersey
to visit his kids. Although they needed him on a full time basis Al believed that
a change in venue would do him good. I was making enough money for the both of
us which gave him the time and space he desperately needed to write. Al was very
disciplined when it came to writing and he would write everyday. When I got home
from work we would smoke pot, have dinner, make love and I would read whatever
he had written that day. Often times he was working and reworking the 'The
Beat Papers of Al Aronowitz' and the Bobby Darin book. Al truely become
for me one of my favorite contemporary writers. I loved the way he wrote--it was
so compelling and so blatantly honest, almost embarrassingly so. Al would say
and write things that other people thought but would never say. He sent out stories
to a variety of magazines, but no one would publish them.
him to my friends in Washington and we went to alot of parties. Al was fascinated
by the DC political landscape. There came a turning point, almost two years into
the relationship. One evening Al and I had a huge argument about his drug use.
I threatened to leave, if he didn't stop using cocaine. Instead he got into his
car and took off. I called my girlfriend Mary Margaret who worked for FEMA and
asked her to come pick me up so we could go out to dinner. I needed to unburden
myself. We went to Mr. Chow's on Dupont Circle, where Al and I would often go.
When we walked in Al was sitting at the bar. I couldn't believe it. As soon as
we finished dinner, I decided to teach him a lesson. I had the car keys with me
and it was pouring rain outside. I got into the car and drove home leaving Al
stranded at the restaurant. Mary Margart followed me and I parked the car in front
of my house and went back with her to her place. Feeling a bit frightened to return
home I called him first thing the next morning. He told me he took a cab home
the night before, but surprisingly his mood was extremely upbeat.
I walked into the house he said to me 'I just got off the phone with Bob'. There
was never a question of which Bob he was referring to. After trying to reach Dylan
for almost year, Al finally got through to him. God only knows what they talked
about but Bob agreed to send Al $5,000. Then he said, 'you've been so good to
me, I want to take you on a vacation. Let's drive cross country'.
This was my first cross country trip and it made perfect sense that it was
with Al Aronowitz. When we arrived at the Grand Canyon we were both pretty taken
aback by its power. It was too overwhelmingly beautiful-mystical and we were both
moved to tears. We drove on to Zion Park in Utah which was heavenly as well. We
didn't drive all the way to the west coast, and on the way back to DC we stopped
in Las Vegas for a few days. Al gambled and lost most of the money Bob had sent
him. I loathed Las Vegas. It screamed Americana, vulgarity and self-loathing.
A month after we returned I lost my job at the White House. President
Carter, the fiscal conservative, was cutting back on the White House staff. Now
that I was collecting unemployment, I told Al I could no longer support him or
his drug habit and that he had to contribute financially or get out. So he began
selling pot to some of the White House staff and to government workers. I began
taking yoga and meditation classes at a Sikh Ashram in the Dupont circle area.
Al was growing increasingly jealous of the time I spent at the ashram and accused
me of having an affair with the yoga teacher, Guru Jot Singh. It wasn't true,
of course. I was just so happy to be part of a spiritual community and felt really
content for the first time in my life. Al was in a bad way emotionally and mentally.
He needed help, but there was nothing more I could do for him. I had to save myself,
and so I moved out and got a small apartment near the ashram. Al & I remained
friends and six months later I moved to California and moved into the ashram there.
Throughout the years Al and I kept in touch and I saw him again at the Kerouac
Tribute in Boulder Colorado in the early 1982. Everyone was there. It was an incredible
celebration of Beatness and I met many of my heros and characters of interest.
Al introduced me to Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman
and William Burroughs. I made a lovely connection with Herbert Huncke, who introduced
me to David Amram when we got back to New York. Over the next few years I visited
Al in Bearsville where he was living, and renting a place from Al Grossman. Al
was spiraling out of control on coke and I eventually I dropped out of his life.
It wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I saw Al again at the
Bowery Poetry Club for the Ted Joans Tribute. We were both thrilled to see each
other and it was clear that he had gotten his act together and wasn't using drugs
anymore. Wearing his signature cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, boots and boyish grin,
he looked happy and healthy.
Al was pivotal and the 'Beat' progenitor
of 'hang out' journalism. Instead of some stodgy, tie wearing, pencil pushing
journalist, Al was at the scene. He paid a price for it, pissing off enough people
in the mainstream, Al was eventually booted from the NY Post. Losing one's wife
and one's job in the course of a few years would be unbearable for almost anyone.
Al always used to say 'everybody is full of shit'.......Al felt let down by a
lot of people, so-called comrades he had helped promote through his column; people
he had trusted and considered friends. He found it unthinkable that while he was
drowning, just about everyone abandoned him. It was a rude awakening for him to
comprehend that this is the way the world really worked.
I became an
avid reader of Al's website 'The
Blacklisted Journalist'. Al's ability to re-invent himself through 'Blacklisted'
demostrated his tenancity, insight and brilliance, in spite of the odds against
him. I loved to read everything and anything that Al wrote. He was one of the
most intelligent and relevant writers I knew. Al was a true romantic and a real
After we reconnected at the Bowery
Poetry Club we stayed in each via the telephone. When we had split up
I had left many of my things with him inlcuding all of my Dylan and Beatle Albums.
We were making arrangements for me to come out to New Jersey to pick them up,
but I never got around to it. Through his website he helped to promote my Greece
writing workshops. The last thing he said to me on the phone three months before
he died was "I really loved you, you know'. 'I know I said, me too'.
NY to Greece, Zoe Artemis creates writing workshops every summer on the Greek
island of Skiathos. She organized the first 'Ode
to the Sidewalks of New York' Jazz Poetry Reading
and in her spare time writes essays and dance reviews. She is the director of
XANTHI, a Tribal Near Eastern Dance Troupe in New York City. To learn more about
Zoe, visit her website, www.zoeartemis.com
Learn more about Zoe, visit her website at . . .