Let’s suppose Soda Stereo Y Patricio Rey and his Redonditos de Ricota they would have had other names. Would that have changed their careers? Did the talents of Cerati, on the one hand, and Solari-Beilinson, on the other, depend on the denomination to break through? Probably not: too many glorious songs make up his works and if with those unsightly nomenclatures they turned out to be what they are, no more questions, Your Honor.
Needless to speak, then, of The Beatles, the four from Liverpool who ever they knew how to call themselves The Beetles, until someone suggested a facelift. The person in charge, who never charged royalties for having renamed the most popular artistic brand of all time, transformed them from beetles into … well, a neologism that has already transcended all etymology.
To the person in question, English writer Royston EllisWe located him in Sri Lanka, where he settled his adventurous life. Unpublished in Spanish, it has a profuse work, as grandparents would say, ranging from pioneering books of beat literature in their country, seminal novels of rock culture and even tourism books. About his rich life, he spoke with Clarion.
-Where do you think beat literature is today? Can anyone be a beatnik in cyberspace?
-Today I have no idea where it may be. Your mention of cyberspace is insightful. I feel like it has killed literature of all kinds, not just the beat. Young people are addicted to their smartphones and instant communication, instead of discovering life through physical, not cybernetic experiences. Also, authors are published cybernetically in e-books, which is not conducive to literature (just careless and fast writing) as it does not require the relationship between the reader of a real book, reading and turning the pages slowly, interacting with the author.
From the creative angle, screenwriting does not allow an author to experience the pleasure of using a ballpoint pen to write on paper, or a typewriter with their talk and physical contact. That belongs to a period that is history now.
-Your book Myself for Fame he is also a pioneer of rock criticism in some way. I mean, you started to see that not everything was rosy within the business that it sparked.
-Myself For Fame, like the autobiography of a fictional rock star, it was more of a lifestyle comment than a criticism. Criticism (and condemnation) would have come from the parental generation. But it was a pioneering novel of rock culture at the time (1964). By the way, the book was reissued as Big Time in the USA in 2014.
-Were you a pioneer in accompanying poetry recitations with electric guitar?
-With an electric guitar, yes. I developed the idea of the poet Christopher Logue, who recited his poems with jazz accompaniment, which he called Jazzetry. Since I wanted my poems young people to be on the verge of discovering my poetry, I teamed up with Cliff Richard’s group The Shadows for some stage and television appearances (as they had become friends when I was writing about tours with Cliff Richard (Driftin’ con Cliff) later the biography of the group The Shadows By Themlves (1961).
nullAs I began to secure more contracts to perform Rocketry on television and on stage, I recruited Jimmy Page, whom I met in Soho, London, in 1959. I performed Rocketry several times with Jimmy performing his own compositions, our most popular performance being at the Mermaid Theater in London in 1961.
-How would you describe young Jimmy Page?
-When I met Jimmy and worked with him in 1959 he was charming, curious and easy to get along with. Fortunately, it has not changed. We keep in touch, and he actually wrote the foreword to my collection of poems Gone Man Squared (Kicks Books, 2013) and the new introduction to my 1961 book, The Big Beat Scene.
-Is it myth or reality that you convinced The Beetles that they changed an “e” for an “a”?
-Do you remember that moment?
-Yes. It was when I was staying a few days in a flat in Gambier Terrace, Liverpool, with John Lennon and some others. One night at the Jacaranda club in Liverpool, backed by John and Paul, George, Stuart Sutcliffe and a drummer, I recited a poem (Break Me in Easy). As a result, I asked John if he would bring the boys to London to support me in my programs. He accepted. So I asked him the name of his group and he told me, and when I asked him how he spelled it, he said, sounding surprised, BEETLE S. I said that since they liked the rhythms of the United States they played beat music and that I was a beat poet; Why not call themselves the Beatles? John may have thought of that before, but it was I who persuaded him to make the change.
-Does it bother you that you are always reminded of something like the highlight of your life?
-Not. It was just one of the many highlights of my life. When it comes to pop music, I am the only influential link (intellectual) featuring the musicians of three very different musical groups of the 1960s: The Shadows, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.
-You worked a lot with Cliff & the Shadows. The impact they had then may have been lost, but it is said that they were more popular than The Beatles at first, right?
-Right. The Shadows were the top group, the link between the smooth pop music of the 1950s and the strident rock music that followed.
-Anyway, Bob Dylan had more to do with the beatniks than with the Beatles themselves.
-What did you feel when it appeared?
-I liked singing his songs to the wind when he was riding a motorcycle.
-Continuing with the legends that surround you, do you feel proud or ashamed that it is said that you introduced the Beatles to Benzedrine?
-In fact, I introduced the Beatles a cheap way to get high chewing the strips inside a popular brand of nasal inhalers said to contain benzedrine (I had learned this from my association with the route manager of the Soho-based group Jimmy Page played on). I’m flattered that John Lennon gave me credit for that, as well as the other influences I had on him.
-What happened to you when you first heard The Beatles hit? Paperback Writer? Did you know it was about you?
-Not. But when I heard the opening line (“I want to be a paperback writer”), I remembered that’s what I said to John and Paul in Gambier’s terrace apartment. When they asked me: “What do you want to be?”, I replied: “I want to be a pocket writer”. Because at that time they only published me as a poet, and publishing it in pocket was a success: a popular writer that people read in pocket. The song is not really about me, but was inspired by my answer, as Paul remembers it.
By the way, I discovered the great memory that Paul has when I met him by chance in a bar of the Bristol hotel, in Paris around the year 2000, and he quoted me the first line of the poem that I interpreted in the Jacaranda more than 40 years before: Break Me in Easy.
-Many rock theorists said that Polythene Pam (Abbey Road, The Beatles, 1969) was the song that started glam rock. How much did you do to make that happen?
-I don’t know how it started. But I do know where it originated Polythene Pam, as John Lennon recounted in an interview with Playboy. The genesis was a night we spent together with a girl who was wearing a polyethylene garbage bag, since we did not have black leather.
-Have you ever lost faith in pop music?
-I lost contact with “pop music” when I lived in the Caribbean (1966-1979). But I sponsored / managed two groups, Black Roots and Joy Juice, that played Creole pop and reggae.
-I read that something very traumatic, a hurricane, caused you to leave the Caribbean in 1979. How did you settle in Sri Lanka, and why did you stay?
-I stopped in Sri Lanka on the way to Sarawak, where I was going to write a historical novel about the White Rajah. The landscape of green hills, forests and rivers in Sri Lanka reminded me of Dominica, but the real reason I came back and settled in was because it was an original country, without the influence of the United States that was infiltrating Dominica, modernizing and spoiling the lifestyle, culture and aspirations of the people.
-Do you know South America? Would you like to write about these lands?
-In 1999 I visited Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Valparaíso. Buenos Aires impressed me as an exciting city and I was also fascinated by Valparaíso. I spent days going up and down all the funiculars several times and wanted to put on a novel there, but when I left, although I had notes and photographs, the inspiration also flew away.
-You traveled all over the world. What are the most magical and poetic places you have ever known? And those who have let you down?
I do not seek magical or poetic places when I travel, but, like most travelers, new experiences and (pleasant) relationships. Valparaíso touched me, not only for being an exciting place but also for the hospitable people. I liked Mauricio for his lifestyle, food and music. I traveled all over India for two years researching for my guide India By RailBut the country disappointed me and I did not fall under its spell as many poets and musicians have.
-What kind of music do you listen to today?
-Now I hear the natural sea music crashing on the shore below my cabin, the wind rustling the coconut leaves, the rain splashing the roof, the kingfishers cackling and the monkeys howling. I don’t have radio, television, or any way to listen to music except YouTube. Music is not part of my life now.
-And what are you reading?
-Unfortunately my vision is no longer good, after a stroke I had last year, so I can’t read books comfortably. The air is pure and fresh here and I spend most of my time at home, so I’m not affected by the restrictions on socializing. I lead a simple life and I’m still a beatnik at heart. During the confinement, I have been collaborating by email with a girl living in England whom I met in 1948 and have not seen since. This has resulted in a collection of stories to read during the holidays, called Beach Shorts, released in the UK next year. So I took advantage of the pandemic restrictions and started writing something new. And I still do occasional verses, so after 65 years of writing, I have returned to my roots as a beat poet.