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David Amram's Letter about "Beat Meets East" Conference

Dear Ron and Sarah,

Mark e-mailed me about what a great time you all had in LA together wish i could have been there. Missed you both in China but there will be many more times to come, and i gave out CDs of us all,+ told all about you, Sarah and what we are all trying to do and DOING AS WELL!!!!!

I am just back home at the farm for about 18 hours, from an incredible week in Chengdu China, before unpacking and repacking to fly to my next adventure with the Pittsburgh Symphony from Tuesday, June 8th till James Galway plays my flute concerto "Giants of the Night" with them in Pittsburgh on the 10th.

I have had such a great time in China with so much nonstop activity that I haven't had enough time to even get any jet lag, since I didn't have much time during the week I wasn't there to sleep, (and didn't want to go to bed, because I was afraid I would miss something if I did).

In Chengdu, I was a keynote speaker as well as the featured performer, doing the opening and closing events at the international conference called 'BEAT MEETS EAST', which celebrated spontaneity as one of the key elements and the driving force that influenced some of the best work in all the arts of the 50's.

This spirit was personified in Kerouac's writing, as well as in the work of many of the artists of the period....painters, poets, jazz musicians, innovators in the theater and film and my own work as a classical composer, where I brought new elements of World Music (decades before it was called that) into the symphonic arena and World instruments and styles in to my performances as an improviser, as well as my collaborations as a performer with Kerouac in the first-ever jazz poetry readings given in New York City in 1957-58, which opened up the door for Spoken Word and Rap many years later.

To my amazement, a small army of college aged kids knew about my life's work, as well as what Kerouac and I pioneered almost 50 years ago, and most important, the young people I met feel that what we did in the 50's and what the handful of us still alive are continuing to do today, gives their generation inspiration to spread their wings and find a way to pursue their dreams in their own fashion. Like Insomniacathon, Asian Style, but not as super funky yet, but will be when you get there!!!

There were no nouveau Beatniks or prematurely jaded post-Modern poseurs who attended. The visiting scholars from around the world and the students were there to learn and to share. It was a milestone event.

The young people who came were all open hearted, hard working and serious about what they wanted to do, and the same was true of the scholars from many parts of the World who attended. All of my friends who were honored at the conference, (most of whom are no longer with us), were honored as artists whose enduring work and devotion during their life's journey had set the stage for this new generation to dare to express themselves and to know that they never had to give up.

I only wish that so many whose memory we celebrated in Chengdu like Kerouac, Charlie Parker, painters Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell, composer Edgar Varese, poets Langston Hughes and Gregory Corso and so many others from our Era were still alive, to see how much their work means today to young people in Asia as well as to the rest of the world.

The whole marathon of events made me really proud of America, because it painted a picture of the beauty part of the shared humanity of our Era, reflected by all the outstanding work that had been created by our true artists, and was being honored.

The conference served as an antidote to counteract all the swill that we have dumped on the World with our corporate entertainment industry's merchandising of mediocre TV shows, films and soulless music. Instead, we were honoring the best of what America has to offer.

The work we celebrated nonstop at BEAT MEETS EAST seemed as fresh and communicative in 2004 in China as it appeared to be in America for the handful of us who were our own cheering section when we first created and shared it amongst our tiny group of friends a half a century ago. Everything still felt fresh and bursting with energy.

During the whole week I was there, young people attending the event in Chengdu told me over and over that what they are having jammed down their throats by much of our invasion of their culture is an additional form of pollution, but that they are all using the internet and web as an antidote to this poison, to find the treasures that America is not exporting, including a lot of American creative work which is not packaged and sent around the world but which they find infinitely superior.

They have told me that they feel most advertising directed towards them is brainwashing. And that they are also proud of their own myriad forms of cultural treasures over the past several thousand years, and want to create new art reflecting their own feelings in today's chaotic times that still comes from their own experiences and heritage, and not become enslaved by conforming to what our industrial approach to entertainment tells them they must become.

They told me that they felt our WORK , (not the stereotypical image of the moronic Beatnik) during the Era of the so-called Beat Generation, reflected that same spirit of wanting to reach out and create something personal and honest, and not become trapped into blindly following changing fashions, or being dictated to by trends the way a stock broker must watch the market reports everyday in order to survive.

In addition to all the things i was scheduled to do, I played with Chinese musicians, accompanied readings of Kerouac's "On the Road", read in English and Chinese, with readers from USA, Australia, Thailand, Turkey, and exhibited my caricatures of Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie, Ferlinghetti and Neal Cassady, played a concert of World music, had little informal jam sessions all over town, saw Chinese opera, visited the world's largest Giant Panda Preservation Center, and visited the site of the recently rediscovered lost empire of the Shu Dynasty during the Bronze Age (3600 B. C), with mind-blowing artifacts, including designs of ancient temples and restored masks which are EXACTLY like the ones which are in he Mayan culture of Mexican Indians of the past that we see today. These artifacts were all discovered in China a few years ago.

I also spent nonstop time with students and teachers and composers, and introduced some of the music of Charlie Parker, Monk and Gillespie, as well as sharing with them some of my own symphonic works, especially those that were based on my life's experiences, using folk rhythms or fragments of traditional melodies or chants which ended up becoming the basis of formal works, after I had performed them and lived with them for years.

I tried to present the positive, soulful humanistic part of America that we don't export...the art, music, poetry, painting and down to earth humaneness and generous life affirming spirit. All of which is the best America always has had to offer the World. You would have really dug it, and they would have really dug you and Sarah!!

I tried to share these most precious attributes of our culture, which are not shown around the world by our entertainment industry, an octopus which often portrays us as boorish Philistines, terminally Jerry Springerized and yearning to become decadent self indulgent, selfish and infantile-like mini-versions of Donald Trump i.e. Ugly Americans, when in fact almost every person I met here from many countries, some of whom were visiting China, as well as stranger I met on the street, all seemed to have a more positive image of America then we ourselves often do.

Almost everyone I met seemed to have a yearning to know more about artistic expression that a reflection of our true nature.

This was true among the Chinese of all ages, since they are emerging, since 1978, from repressive times and now becoming a more open society every day, celebrating their own return to some of their traditional humanistic values.

To see a young man riding a small bicycle with his girl friend, or his grandparent or male friend perched on the back, to see people young and old walking down the street holding hands, to witness people of all economic classes often smiling and laughing, seeing crowded streets where the sense of family and community is always present, is overwhelming, and is really moving and life affirming.

The appreciation of life, and the way everybody is always observing everything and everyone else in a quiet way is a guide for all of us of how to approach life.
Like the sprawling city of Chengdu, China is a country with enormous problems, in a time of change, in a society where all values would seemingly be ready to be thrown out the window, due to the globalization that is affecting everyone's life.

But I was told over and over that's not what is happening. Everyone is quietly determined to keep their humanity and identity, no matter how western things appear.

There is a spirit in China in 2004 that is so strong, that even when sleeping, you know you are somewhere that has a lot to teach us all about how to live our lives.

None of us who participated in BEAT MEETS EAST are dumb enough or self indulgent enough to glamorize, romanticize or try to form an opinion of a country of over a BILLION people, but Chengdu and all the people I met and interacted with nonstop since getting there on this sleepless marathon made me want to come back.

I felt as at home there as I do on our farm in Putnam Valley or when I visit my own personal meccas....... New Orleans, anywhere in Texas or Canada, Lowell Massachusetts, Louisville Kentucky, Orlando Florida, Cairo Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Sri Lanka, San Francisco and Venice Beach California.

In Chengdu China, I feel like I now have a new second home.

And in addition to all else, the extraordinary sense of good manners and respect to old people and affection for the young, is touching.

The conference also cleared the air of years of misrepresentation and degrading of true spiritualism, something which plagued the image of our group, since the Sixties, when Gurus with limos invaded America to franchise the Divine.

I told the co-chairman of the conference, Professor Wen Chu-an, the amazing and energy packed scholar and visionary, who has championed our Era (often called Beat) with his translation of "On the Road" into Chinese, that certainly Kerouac and myself, who were respectively Roman Catholic and Jewish, had an enormous respect for Bhuddism and Taoism, but never would dare to claim anything other than our admiration for these ancient philosophies and religions, which require a lifetime of study..

I made it clear that we admired Gary Snyder, the only one of us who really understood and could teach others about these concepts, because Gary has devoted his life to this, but that he is so modest and un-selfserving that he would never say this about himself.

And that neither Kerouac nor myself would never have endorsed today's hucksterism and Burger King-ization of sacred Eastern religions, or the Jimmy Swaggertization and New Age rip-off versions of the sacred teachings of the Kabbalah or Native American spirituality.

This view of mine was always received with laughter and appreciation with all the people I met in Chengdu, because the Chinese, who have lived and survived by practicing the principles of the Golden Rule for many millenniums, through every nightmare history can provide, know what is real and what is jive.

And they also value the work ethic, family, history and enjoying sitting down for a meal or hanging out and rapping, drinking, playing cards or sharing stories, jokes or quietly observing what is happening around them.

Professor Wen Chu-An and Stevens Point Wisconsin Professor William Lawlor's seemingly impossible dream came true, with the Beat Meets East conference, as a triumphant East/West celebration of cultural, spiritual, and humanistic enduring values.

It was a historic occasion, and will open up the doors for many more in years to come.

Professor Chu-an plans to translate my two books "Vibrations" and "Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac," into Chinese, and it looks like after waiting for 73 years to finally get there for the first time, I will be able to return to China with symphonic, jazz and World music presentations of my own and other composer's work I admire, as well, as doing more of what I did at the conference, and I can hardly wait to do so.

I realize that this is longer than a Haiku-length post card, but I wanted to write you my thoughts before crashing out and getting up in a few hours to get on a plane to join James Galway performing my flute concerto in Pittsburgh, and then off to a festival in Texas, the International Theater Festival in Bonn Germany and the Montreal Jazz Festival.

With cheers and big hugs to YOU, the Devine Ms. Sarah and the gang in Lu'Ville.


PS Lyrics/poem I just wrote in China 2 days ago,

My Bhudda Angel in Chengdu

It's 5 a.m. in Chengdu China
I can't sleep
a wink

Staring out the window
water drips on dishes
in the sink

A bike goes by
a young gal sits
side-saddle on the back

looks like Buddha's angel daughter
sent from heaven
dressed in black
She glances up
her dark eyes
make the morning come to life

Suddenly I realize
long ago this angel
was my wife

Wanted now to tell her
when we married
many years ago

That I never would have left
her if I knew then
what I now know

Waited for what seemed
1000 years to see
those eyes again

Hoping someday I could tell her
that our love
would never end

Never dared to tell her then
because of all the love
we shared

It was more than I could handle
even though
I really cared

Now it's many lifetimes later
here in Chengdu
5 a.m.

My favorite wife
from an earlier life
the sweetest one of all of them

Once she told me in our lifetime
our true love
would never die

And that even if I left her
Buddha's angel
still would fly

Now she tells me broken hearts
will all heal themselves
in time

And that all the pain I caused her
now is gone
except for mine

Now in Chengdu
through the window
she's come back to me again

Riding on the back seat
of a bike
side-saddle with her friend

Guess that since she passed me by
there's only one thing
I can do

Get myself a new gal
and a bicycle
that's built for two

When in this reincarnation
when I've found
a brand new bride

Maybe I'll find out
it's Buddha's angel
riding by my side

Telling me wherever
we have been
and through whichever life

Through all our reincarnations
she has always been
my wife

Now it's 7 in the morning
Chengdu streets
are filled with light

I'm still staring out the window
as the day
is growing bright

Waiting by the window
need to see
my true love's eyes again

when she rides by
on her bicycle side saddle with her friend

Then I'll tell her that I love her
this time I know
what to do

Waiting by the window
for my Buddha angel
in Chengdu

Copyright David Amram New chamber Music/BMI 2004 . David Amram


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