James Dean’s Poetry + A Favorite Song

Today happens to be the birthday of three rebels without a pause: Actor Nick Nolte in 1934, iconic actor, James Dean in 1931, and iconic Beat Generation anti-hero, Neal Cassady in 1926.

Nick Nolte, by the way, played Neal Cassady in the 1980 film, Heartbeat.

Something that many folks may not know about James Dean is that he dabbled in poetry. There’s a collection of his poems available, Rebel with a Pen: The Poetry of James Dean. I don’t have it but I do have The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, which includes the following poem. Supposedly, it was written during the filming of Rebel Without A Cause, at a time when Dean was frustrated dealing with his estranged father. I suspect the story behind how Dean ended up in a Tijuana toilet is far more interesting than the poem itself. I don’t normally include language that some people may find offensive. But, considering that Cee Lo Green (Gnarls Barkley) is nominated for four Grammy awards for his song “F*** You”, I figure what the hell: 

Ode to a Tijuana Toilet
(or the famous Fuck You Prosaic Principle)

Portrait of Jim & naked ass
in the mirror (from backstage
it issaid: IT IS “MORBID!”
Is it MORIBUND it is asked,
Oh Great Crusty bowel of no end
Is it Sebastian
yanking arrows out of his butt
Or the brave matador’s shadow
the last moment in the/mirror
who cries it is the “MORBID SON”
Fuck dad, dear dead, fuck you.
The lonely man who can’t
get out from the back of the mirror
Great puppet of the Other
O breathing life
to the dead on the sand
Dried sea weed that speaks
singing Italian Songs
on Patchen Place
to the caged girl
The body in a tin can
empty of the soul
The crow is crowing
and two becomes one
The pen is set aside,
the moving finger wrote
and now he takes a shit.

© 1955 James Dean

It’s also the birthday of legendary American blues and jazz singer/guitarist and songwriter, Lonnie Johnson (1894). Do yourself a favor, while you are reading the birthday list, listen to Lonnie perform, “Tomorrow Night”. You can thank me later.



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