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Obituary: Michael McClure

Beat poet whose song 'Mercedes Benz' became a hit for Janis Joplin


Beat: McClure with Bob Dylan

Beat: McClure with Bob Dylan

Beat: McClure with Bob Dylan

Michael McClure, who has died aged 87, was a Beat poet whose work was once described by Allen Ginsberg as a "blob of protoplasmic energy", and the author of The Beard, a play which the US authorities tried to ban for obscenity.

McClure went on benders with Jim Morrison of The Doors; was buddies with Bob Dylan and Dennis Hopper; featured as characters in Jack Kerouac's novels The Dharma Bums and Big Sur; was directed by Norman Mailer in two films, and wrote the satirical song Mercedes Benz, which became a hit for Janis Joplin.

McClure gave his first poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955 when, to the accompaniment of Kerouac passing round jugs of wine and shouting "Go! Go! Go!", Ginsberg read his epic Howl - a performance McClure likened to "a human voice and body... hurled against the harsh wall of America and its supporting armies".

Michael McClure was born on October 20, 1932, in Marysville, Kansas, and educated at University of Arizona and San Francisco State College.

He met Allen Ginsberg in early 1955 at a party given in honour of WH Auden. "I guess Allen and I must have been invited for decor, because we were like wallflowers at this very academic gathering."

They started discussing the poetry of William Blake, about whom McClure had been having dreams: "One of my dreams, that I told Allen, was that I was William Blake, and that I was living on the second floor of a cuckoo clock."

His first book of poetry, Passage, was published in 1956. Other collections included Ghost Tantras (1964), Rebel Lions (1991) and Of Indigo and Saffron (2011).

During his days on the Beat scene, McClure read to a crowd of more than 20,000 at the Human Be-In in San Francisco in 1967, and even recited poems to the lions in San Francisco Zoo.

By the early 1970s, he had had enough of partying and stopped drinking a week before the death of Jim Morrison in 1971: "My last message to him was a postcard, saying, 'Hey Jim, time to quit drinking, I just did. It's time to quit'." It was too late.

In a documentary broadcast in 2006, McClure was asked if he felt nostalgic for the 1960s. "No," he replied. "I'm just glad I was there."

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McClure, who is survived by his wife Amy and by a daughter, died on May 4.


Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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