A.D. Winans on Treating Each Day As If It Were a Free Pass
A.D. Winans was born and grew up in San Francisco, but really grew up in the jungles of Panama, where he served in an elite military unit, seeing first-hand the government tyranny waged against the poor and oppressed. He returned to San Francisco in 1958 to become part of the North Beach Beat movement and participated in the post-Beat and Hippie era. He was a close friend of Charles Bukowski, Bob Kaufman, and Jack Micheline. He worked for five years at the San Francisco Art Commission and published Second Coming Press for seventeen years. In 2002, a song poem of his was performed at Alice Tully Hall in NYC. In 2006 he won a PEN Josephine Miles Award for excellence in Literature. In 2009 PEN Oakland presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014 he was a recipient of a Kathy Acker Award in poetry and publishing. He worked at a variety of jobs, retiring in 1995 as an Equal Opportunity Specialist, investigating discrimination against minorities, women and the disabled. His latest book, Dead Lions, published by Punk Hostage Press, is a memoir on his friendship with Bukowski, Kaufman, Micheline, and Alvah Bessie, one of the original Hollywood Ten who went to prison for refusing to cooperate with the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I generally smile and shrug my shoulders.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
I’ll be 80 years old next year, and whoever called these last years the “Golden Years” was panning for fool’s gold. I know it’s a cliché, but I just take it one day at a time. I treat each one as if it were a “free” pass.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I’d suggest they see a psychiatrist, if they are talking about writing for a living, especially poetry.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Define “success”? What is success for one person is not success to another person. In high school, I wanted to be a private eye. I worked as an investigator in Civil Rights for the Department of Education and did obtain a California Private Investigator License (that I never made use of). So in this sense I was successful. An added bonus was becoming a published poet, writer, and publisher. This was never a goal for me in high school.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what You Tube video makes you feel better?
I don’t watch a lot of YouTube. But anything by Leonard Cohen or B.B. King brightens my day.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
No, but my father played first violin in the Denver Symphony. I’m not much for going back in time, maybe if I knew one of my ancestors was a pirate and had left a coded treasure map.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I admired Ted Williams who played the outfield for the old Boston Red Sox. He was the greatest pure hitter of all time. I wanted to be a baseball player and as a young boy played a lot of pickup games at Golden Gate Park. I got as far as playing the outfield in the military for the Albrook Flyers before I tore up my right knee.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
You have to be kidding, not at my age. People would be running for the woods.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
I don’t check it regularly. I don’t pay many bills by check. I have enough for emergencies and a night or two or three on the town, but not enough for the trip to Europe I’d like to take.
What’s wrong with society today?
What isn’t wrong with it? The greedy One Percent who control the bulk of the wealth in the country, if not the world; greedy politicians who work for the corporations; a dumbed-down educational system; people who don’t vote and take pride in it; perverted religious zealots. And this is just off the tip of my tongue.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Yes. I’m on a low dosage thyroid hormone and a calcium channel blocker for high blood pressure, and take Ambien for chronic insomnia.
What is your fondest memory?
I have a few of them: Having a shot of whiskey with the blues legend John Lee Hooker, shooting pool with Janis Joplin at Gino and Carlo’s Bar, having a song poem of mine performed at Alice Tully Hall, and meeting and interviewing Alvah Bessie, one of the original Hollywood Ten who went to prison for defying the House Un American Activities Committee.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Well, I fall in and out of love with myself 24/7.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
See an end to wars, world peace, and to take politics out of poetry and the arts. I don’t think Vegas would lay odds on any of this happening.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
When I was younger and still playing the game there wasn’t much I didn’t do. Pain is my only taboo.
What are you working on right now?
I will soon begin what may be my last book of poetry. It will consist of poems I have written in the last two years. Poems with deeper imagery. Poems not published in previous books of mine.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: What kind of writing do you most admire?
I write poetry and some prose, and that’s what I like to do. There are too many people to name that I admire, but Kenneth Patchen and Pete Seeger are high on my list. I admire poets like Janice Mirikitani who has sacrificed poetry to a large degree to concentrate on her community work with the poor and disadvantaged at Glide Memorial Church.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Change is inevitable; you can’t go back to the past, where I lost so much of what I grew up with here in San Francisco. I would, however, like to see San Francisco become once again a city where ordinary people can live and buy a home and raise children. The “Techie” crowd has taken over SF. If not for rent control, I could not live in the city I was born in.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
At my age, it has come down to a drink before dinner, dinner at a great restaurant, a glass of wine, and maybe a cup of coffee at a café in North Beach. I mean this is OK, when I was younger, I had some of the wildest imaginable nights on the town. None of them wilder than the time I took a Yellow Cab for a joy ride and was arrested and charged with grand theft auto after being chased by the police through the streets of San Francisco. Sort of like a Clint Eastwood movie, although I didn’t come out the winner.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I’m not sure, but one that stands out in my mind is back in the Beat days, at Big Daddy Nord’s Pad, in North Beach, where mattresses were strung out on the roof, and couples openly fornicated in view of whoever was on the roof. I guess you could call it a voyeur’s paradise.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Roses, curry, homemade bread, a fresh cup of brewed coffee, salt air at Ocean Beach, just to name a few.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I’d like to visit every Major League ballpark in both leagues, and to view the games in the team owner’s reserved box seats, with all the free drinks and food I wanted, ending with me reading my poetry at Carnegie Hall. Free admission to the homeless.