Biography of American Writer Joe Gould Part 3

About the famous American writer Joe Gould, history and biography of Professor Sea Gull, professed author of the longest book ever written.


Joe Gould (1889-1957)

Certainly Joe Gould was a great talker. He would hop on tables at Village parties to deliver lectures with enormous titles like "Drunk as a Skunk, or How I Measured the Heads of Fifteen Hundred Indians in Zero Weather." He used to attend the meetings of the genteel Raven Poetry Circle, perhaps because they served wine, but his poetry proved too vulgar and vigorous for them. Asked for a religious poem, Joe Gould recited: "In winter I'm a Buddhist,/And in summer I'm a nudist." Asked for a nature poem, he recited "The Sea Gull," which consisted of leaping about the room, flapping his arms wildly, and screaming, "SCREE-EEK! SCREE-EEK!" The Ravens disapproved, but it is worth noting that many years later Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure were to base their reputations on the identical technique, howling and roaring as Joe Gould had screeched.

It is perhaps appropriate that Joe Gould, oral historian, should be preserved for us primarily in the oral tradition, in anecdote. It is tragic that his conversational brilliance was not preserved, but he may not have wanted to be preserved by an impersonal mechanical recording device. Raconteurs of his generation displayed this tendency; Oliver St. John Gogarty, the model for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's Ulysses, is said to have wept when one of his tales was drowned out by the blare of a jukebox. Joe Gould even balked at the typewriter: "William Shakespeare didn't sit around pecking on a dirty, damned, ninety-five-dollar doohickey, and Joe Gould doesn't, either."

The mysteries that surround Joe Gould resemble those that envelop figures from the folk tradition, though he was a urban a character as it is possible to be. Was he an undiscovered literary genius, or was he a charming con man, a put-on artist? One clue may be found in the poem written by his friend E.E. Cummings, number 27 from No Thank (1935), which concludes that it is fun to be fooled, and even more fun to be little Joe Gould. Poet and critic Horace Gregory called him the Pepys of the Bowery, and Max Gordon of the Village Vanguard nightclub called him a modern Don Quixote. He hated the automobile, the radio, money, contemporary writing, and contemporary reviewing. He loved sea gulls and claimed to have mastered their language; he used to translate the poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for them. He considered skyscrapers and steamships "needless bric-a-brac," and he considered the zipper a sign of the decay of civilization. Yankee blue blood and bohemian dropout, Joe Gould was a free spirit in an age of increasing conformity, if not the last perhaps the best of the bohemians.

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