More than twenty-five years in the making, Great Demon Kings is full of encounters with luminaries, anecdotes flattering to the author and often unflattering to his subjects. There are cameo appearances by Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Kennedy, the Dalai Lama, Bob Moog – inventor of the synthesizer – the singer Tiny Tim, even Uma Thurman as a fretful baby. Giorno’s boastfulness, disparagement and score-settling with his contemporaries are conspicuous throughout. Allen Ginsberg, for instance, starts out as a guru who steered him towards Buddhism, before turning into a “nemesis” who hated Giorno’s poetry and “destroyed love” through jealousy and possessiveness. Yet as a writer, Giorno gained from the influence of Warhol and other pop artists. He produced many silkscreen prints with ironic paradoxical slogans, sometimes adapting the texts for poetry. One early example was “In Memory of Fred Herko” (Herko was a dancer in the Warhol circle who killed himself in 1964), which made use of repeated phrases taken from an obituary in the Village Voice. This became an essential method throughout his career.
John Giorno, who died last year, was a natural acolyte: he needed a superior being to set him in motion. Part Beat, part hippy, part punk, he was a gay, sexually active poet who tells us that he loved to do it ‘endlessly’. He was therefore very popular among New York’s avant garde, many of whom were gay and passive: ‘I was young and beautiful and that got me what I wanted, and all I wanted was sex. I had all the money I needed; my parents gave me an allowance and paid my bills.’ Such boyish candour sets the tone of this memoir, which is a feast of exuberant emotion and indiscretion.