Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment
By John Giorno
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 4, 2020)
When he graduated from Columbia in 1958, John Giorno was handsome, charismatic, ambitious, and eager to soak up as much of Manhattan's art and culture as possible. Poetry didn't pay the bills, so he worked on Wall Street, spending his nights at the happenings, underground movie premiers, art shows, and poetry readings that brought the city to life. An intense romantic relationship with Andy Warhol―not yet the global superstar he would soon become―exposed Giorno to even more of the downtown scene, but after starring in Warhol's first movie, Sleep, they drifted apart. Giorno soon found himself involved with Robert Rauschenberg and later Jasper Johns, both relationships fueling his creativity. He quickly became a renowned poet in his own right, working at the intersection of literature and technology, freely crossing genres and mediums alongside the likes of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Twenty-five years in the making, and completed shortly before Giorno's death in 2019, Great Demon Kings is the memoir of a singular cultural pioneer: an openly gay man at a time when many artists remained closeted and shunned gay subject matter, and a devout Buddhist whose faith acted as a rudder during a life of tremendous animation, one full of fantastic highs and frightening lows. Studded with appearances by nearly every it-boy and girl of the downtown scene (including a moving portrait of a decades-long friendship with Burroughs), this book offers a joyous, life-affirming, and sensational look at New York City during its creative peak, narrated in the unforgettable voice of one of its most singular characters.