Dept. of Immortality:
Ginsberg's Last Soup
(by Steve Silberman, "Talk of the Town," The New Yorker, 3/19/2001
For the full article, click HERE)
"On March 19, 1997, Allen Ginsberg drew up a shopping list in his newly acquired loft, on East Thirteenth Street. He signed and dated the list--as he did with nearly every scrap of paper that passed through his hands, for the benefit of future scholars--and then gave it to a friend, who went out to buy the ingredients Ginsberg needed for a meal he had never prepared before. He was going to cook fish chowder."
So begins Mr. Silberman's fascinating story of Allen Ginsberg's last days...and his (potentially) enduring soup legacy.
"The next evening, Ginsberg served the soup to a handful of friends and stashed the leftovers in the freezer. A little more than two weeks later, on April 5th, he died, suddenly, of liver cancer. He had already sold his archives, in 1994, to Stanford University for a million dollars...the rest of his possessions were dispersed at an auction a year after his death. About the only trace of Ginsberg remaining on East Thirteenth Street was the leftover fish chowder."
Turns out Ginsberg's secretary, Bob Rosenthal, could not bring himself to throw out the two jars. In fact, he is currently on a crusade to establish a permanent exhibit in some museum entitled "The Last Soup of Allen Ginsberg." The Met turned the idea down (go figure)...and so did the Guggenheim. Now friend Jason Shinder thinks he has a winner: the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A., which exhibits anthropological exotica. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, what did Mr. Silberman learn about Ginsberg's soup habits? "By his friends accounts, Ginsberg...loved making soup so much that he had a special ledge installed outside his kitchen window, where he could cool his twelve-gallon stockpot. Ginsberg's inspiration for the fish chowder probably came from a dish of scrob prepared for him by Rosenthal's wife Rochelle Kraut. A note on the March 19th shopping list confirms this: 'Ask Shelley how she cooks fish & how extract fish heads. Her scrod the other day was delicious--which herbs?' So many things found their way into the pot--parsnips, cilantro, tofu, mussels in their shells--that Kraut, fielding frequent calls from Ginsberg, assumed he was brewing up several soups at once.
"An old friend of Ginsberg's, Raymond Foye, dropped by the loft that afternoon and had a taste. He recalls that it was 'delicious.' Another friend, Lucien Carr, who is the father of the novelist Caleb Carr, sampled the chowder but did not share Foye's assessment. 'It was awful,' he said."