Before he died last year at 82, poet and performance artist John Giorno finished this memoir of his wild life amid New York's mid-century art scene, where he collaborated and had romantic entanglements with Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.
... essential, joyous reading as we follow his adventures meeting soon-to-be-famous artists, dancers, musicians, and writers of Sixties New York ... thanks to his diligence in documenting so many personal details—and floridly annotating so many behind-the-scenes affairs—he has a chance to be reconsidered and credited with being one of the great gay sex-positive pioneers of the late 20th century. The most marvelous thing about Great Demon Kings is that Giorno doesn’t shy away from writing about sex ... Reading the breezy, delicious accounts of so many art world and literary luminaries certainly focuses attention on them in a refreshing way. And despite all of Giorno’s own creative accomplishments, one can feel his frustration at never getting his time to shine fully ... Giorno wallows in all the messy details: the gossip, the jealousies, the star-fuckery, and the blatant grandiosity ... Giorno often goes for blunt details wrapped in cosmic language that’s not the type of thing that is easily applauded by snooty awards boards and literary aficionados (I’ll never forget the threesome between him and William Burroughs and Ginsberg for its quotidian imagery that ends with the oddly pompous addition that they were all 'very respectful of the sacred quality of the moment.')
... nothing short of Zelig-esque from the get-go ... we meet a who’s who of the generation that rewired literature and art in the second half of the 20th century, from Kerouac to Carolee Schneemann ... When he returns to New York in 1974, he reconnects with William Burroughs. These passages about their personal, sexual and creative collaboration are among the memoir’s most revealing, which is saying a lot for a memoir that’s already so revealing it’s borderline graphic ... Great Demon Kings captures the energy of those heady and seminal downtown years, when new art forms were born.
... a Pac-Man sized chunk of the pie chart [of the memoir]...is devoted to sex. It was Giorno’s animating force, his reason for being, his means of communication, and often the heart of his poetry practice ... It makes his memoir interesting, in the way sex pretty much always does when it’s revealing and surprising ... And it makes his memoir dull, in the way that reading about sex can be when there’s no particular direction or meaning to it ... Giorno’s spiritual awakening, even more than his sense of liberation as a gay poet, gives his memoir its brightest spark ... a memoir, most of all, about craving connection in all its forms—noble, ugly, and in-between.