Nonprofit Foundation and Record Label
"The use of modern mass media [by other artists in 1961] made me realize that poetry was 75 years behind painting and sculpture, dance and music"—John Giorno
Poetry was a dying artform in the early 1960s, or so many mavens of art and culture seemed to believe. John Giorno, one of the major voices in the beat poetry movement knew that something had to be done. To this end, he solicited advice and copped ideas from some of the leading lights of the art world at the time—Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns among others.
Giorno Poetry Systems (the other GPS) was formed in 1965 with the idea of creating new venues and inroads for poetry in the popular culture. Borrowing from the emerging rock 'n roll culture, GPS produced albums of poetry supported by clever marketing and large, rock festival-inspired poetry shows.
Technology to the Rescue: Dial-A-Poem
"At this point, with the war and the repression and everything, we thought this was a good way for the movement to reach people."—John Giorno
Giorno and company created the Dial-A-Poem service in 1968. This novel concept allowed art lovers to call a phone number and hear a poem written and read by one of the GPS stars. Dial-A-Poem was a groundbreaking idea, Giorno claims that it was "the first time the telephone was used for mass communication. Before, it was me calling you and you calling me and that was all." This novel use of the technology inspired all sorts of "Dial-A ..." services, such as Dial-A-Joke and Dial-A-Prayer, even They Might Be Giants' own Dial-A-Song was a descendent of this service.
Word spread quickly; the number got millions of calls and generated even more buzz about GPS—buzz which translated into ticket and album sales. Dial-A-Poem was even exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.
At the outset, Dial-A-Poem had fourteen poets, but success built upon success and the ranks rapidly swelled to boast over 200, including some of the greatest minds of 20th century poetry and performance. In the early days, much of the poetry on Dial-A-Poem was sexual in nature ('68 was the heart of the sexual revolution, after all). As the Vietnam War heated up and politics in the U.S. got even uglier, much of the material became more political.
As Giorno felt Dial-A-Poem had achieved its goal, the service willingly went into eclipse, replaced by numerous other services across the country: Poemfone in New York City, the Daily Word in Los Angeles, Boston Poetry Phone, Beatlicks Poetry Hotline in Nashville, the San Francisco Slammaster and many others. Always interested in using emerging technologies, Giorno began to create video collections in the late 1970s. The GPS Video Paks featured GPS poets performing at festivals and clubs, usually poetry or monologue, but some music as well.
Poet Rock Stars and Rock Star Poets
"...over thirty years, we performed at many festivals, MOMA, Pompidou Museum, Minneapolis, etc., big festivals with many performers. They all always had the same idea of putting John [Cage] and me before or after each other because I was loud and aggressive, and John quiet and peaceful. It happened almost every time. It was little corny, but I loved it, form is emptiness"—John Giorno
The GPS poets were the rock stars of poetry—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. In 1965, when GPS was starting out, it was largely made up of Giorno's pals and colleagues: William S. Burroughs, Allan Ginsberg, John Cage and a few others. As the phenomenon spread, poets, artists, and musicians joined up with GPS in droves.
The early 1970s saw the birth of a movement in U.S. rock music that paralleled the glitzy political anger of the glam rockers in Britain. The New York downtown scene with its grit and naturalism and its subtle blend of political/social rage and cynical humor was godfathered in part by the Giorno poets. Artists like Lou Reed, David Johansen, Nico and Patti Smith worked alongside Burroughs, Ginsberg, Giorno and Lydia Lunch, appearing on Dial-A-Poem and on many of GPS's albums. Several of the New York downtown rockers got involved in collaborative projects with GPS poets. Over the years, a lot of great rock musicians were involved in Giorno projects (just take a look at some of the names on the discography and videography below).
In 1979, Giorno hosted the three-day Nova Festival, a tribute to William S. Burroughs. The festival featured performances by Frank Zappa and Patti Smith, among others. Portions of the performances were made into an album and also were used in the GPS video collections.
Life After Nova
"...one of the reasons for Giorno Poetry Systems: if you don't do it yourself, nobody is going to do it for you."—John Giorno
The 1990s saw an explosion of spoken word art. The center of this boom was Montreal, Quebec, and (unsurprisingly enough) John Giorno was there, working with spoken word artists like Henry Rollins, Karen Finley and Lillian Allen, recording, collaborating and helping to organize events.
There was a lot of cross-pollination, just as there had always been in Giorno's projects. Poets, monologists, performance artists, musicians, rappers, dub poets, storytellers and even stand-up comics participated in the remarkable alchemy. Giorno brought some of his old buddies to the table and made a few new ones in the bargain.
John Giorno has stopped publishing CDs. These days, he is focusing on writing, performing, and discovering new talents. He and his remarkable stable of GPS talents have hosted many charitable benefits in recent years, particularly for AIDS research and treatment programs.
The Dial-A-Poem Poets (1972) Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Heathcote Williams, John Giorno, Jim Carroll, John Cage, Diana De Prima, and many more
The Dial-A-Poem Poets: Disconnected (1974) Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Gregory Coroso, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, and many more
Biting Off The Tongue Of A Corpse (is that not the most disturbing title ever?) (1975) John Giorno, William S. Burroughs, Helen Adam, Edwin Denby, Charles Stein, Frank O'Hara, John Cage, and many more
William S. Burroughs/John Giorno (1975)
The Dial-A-Poem Poets: Totally Corrupt (1976) Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, John Cage, William S. Burroughs, Imamu Amiri Baraka, John Giorno, Ed Sanders, and many more
John Giorno & Anne Waldman a KulchurSelection (1977)
Big Ego (1978) Claes Oldenburg, Helen Adam, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, John Giorno, Laurie Anderson, the Fugs, and many more
The Nova Convention (1979) Terry Southern, Patti Smith, William S. Burroughs, Frank Zappa, Peter Orlovsky, Laurie Anderson, Ed Sanders, and many more
The Dial-A-Poem Poets: Sugar, Alcohol & Meat (1980) Andrei Vosnesensky, William S. Burroughs, Robin Messing, Allen Ginsberg, Miguel Pinero, Kathy Acker, and many more
You’re The Guy I Want To Share My Money With (1981) a double LP, one side of Laurie Anderson, one of John Giorno, one of William S. Burroughs and the fourth face is a 'multi-grooved record.' Depending where the stylus is placed on the platter, the listener will wind up with a track of one of the three above artists.
Polyphonix 1 (1981)
Who You Staring At? (1982) John Giorno and Glenn Branca
The Dial-A-Poem Poets: Life Is A Killer (1982) William Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Brion Gysin, Amiri Baraka, Rose Lesniak, Ned Sublette, Jayne Cortez, and John Giorno
One World Poetry (1982) Lizzy Sara May, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Avant Squares, Jerry Garcia with Bob Weir, Elly de Waard, Ken Kesey, Ad Zuiderent, Jim Carroll, Leo van der Zalm, and many more
You’re A Hook—The 15th Anniversary of Dial-A-Poem (1983) John Giorno, William S. Burroughs, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, Frank Zappa, and Allen Ginsberg
Lenny Kaye Connection: I've Got A Right (1984)
The Dial-A-Poem Poets: Better An Old Demon Than A New God (1984) David Johansen, Richard Hell, Jim Carroll, Meredith Monk, Lydia Lunch, Anne Waldman, Psychic TV, Arto Lindsay, John Giorno, and William S. Burroughs
A Diamond Hidden In The Mouth Of A Corpse (1985) Diamanda Galás, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Coil, Michael Gira, David Johansen, William S. Burroughs, and more
Smack My Crack (1987) Butthole Surfers, Einsturzende Neubauten, Swans, Chad & Sudan, Chris Stein, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Caberet Voltaire, and many more
Like A Girl, I Want You To Keep Coming (1989) Debbie Harry, New Order, William S. Burroughs, David Byrne, Live Skull, PMS (Pre-Metal Syndrome), Karen Finley, John Giorno Band, and Henry Rollins Band
Cash Cow—The Best Of Giorno Poetry Systems (1993) Cabaret Voltaire, William S. Burroughs, Debbie Harry, Buster Poindexter, John Giorno, Husker Du, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Patti Smith, Coil, Diamanda Galás, Glenn Branca, and Frank Zappa
The Best Of William Burroughs (1998) This (and its abridged version, below) is the last CD that Giorno ever plans to put out—and what a high note to end on! This elaborate four-disc set stands as a terrific tribute to Mr. Burroughs' life and work, including an 80-page book illustrated with photographs.
Selections From The Best Of William Burroughs (1998)
Giorno Video Pak 1 features Lenny Kaye, William S. Burroughs and John Giorno
Burroughs (Giorno Video Pak 2) Directed by Howard Brookner. Features William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Patti Smith, Terry Southern, Lauren Hutton and more.
Poetry In Motion, a film by Ron Mann. Features Charles Bukowski, Tom Waits, Diane DiPrima, Ntozake Shange, Jim Carroll, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Waldman, and many others.
It's Clean, It Just Looks Dirty (Giorno Video Pak 3) Features Cabaret Voltaire, Husker Du, Diamanda Galás, Einsturzende Neubauten, David Johansen, John Waters, and more.
Gang of Souls (Giorno Video Pak 4), produced and directed by Maria Beatty. Features William S. Burroughs, Marianne Faithfull, Richard Hell, Jim Carroll, Henry Rollins, John Giorno, Lydia Lunch, and more.
Old Habits Die Hard (Giorno Video Pak 5) features Coil, Jim Jarmusch, Love and Rockets, Nick Zedd, Megadeath, Butthole Surfers and others.
Much of this writeup was from bits and pieces I had collected over the years. The most excellent framework, discography and videography were from the following sources:
The History of Giorno Poetry Systems: http://www.brainwashed.com/giorno/
Stanton, Victoria, “Reinventing the Word” (Conundrum Press) online at http://home.ican.net/~conpress/impurepref.html
About.com “Dialing for Poems: the poemfone phenomenon”
Guide to Contemporary Art in Italy: Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews John Giorno online at http://www.undo.net/cgi-bin/openframe.pl?x=/cgi-bin/undo/features/features.pl%3Fa%3Di%26cod%3D42