Steven "Jesse" Bernstein - Prison

Written by Big Smile Staff

Posted Dec 20, 2007, by Richard .


Steven Jesse Bernstein was a drug addled mentally ill monster of a poet, channeling his rage and pain into word to feel okay in his day to day life. His poetry, though often very grim and vulgar, was Bernstein's way of confronting the reality of his situations in a way that showed others like him that there was someone else with feelings one may be too afraid to say in polite society. He described himself as "...a war correspondent, and sent his dispatches from Hell to shake up the souls of the over-comfortable", and that he was, as a gifted spokesman for the outcast and insane of the streets.
The details of his real life were a bit hazy. From what people have been able to understand, he was born in Los Angeles, was declared mentally insane and placed into state care at an asylum, and eventually made his way to Seattle. In the 80's and early 90's, he made his way to Seattle and established a life within the city’s art scene. This album was a small taste of his infamous live spoken word shows. Noted regulars of Steven "Jesse" Bernstein's spoken word/poetry shows included Kurt Cobain and director Oliver Stone. His live shows in Seattle were known to be wild occasions where Bernstein would read poetry like a mad man and throw anything from beer bottles to his own wallet at hecklers and admirers alike.
Originally meant to be performed live in front in a prison housing special offenders, it was instead turned into a studio recording with slight jazz and ambient music to punctuate mood due to the inability to record at the prison. During the music arrangement of the album Bernstein, filled with near constant pain due to a lifelong illness, coupled with his mental illnesses, took his life shortly before the album was released. The result is the only recording of Bernstein's poetry, which range from esoteric beat poetry to ultra descriptive ten minute long stories of how his hatred of his own face and identity caused him to go insane as a young boy. His use of flow and description are multifaceted, fast paced, and will leave a divisive split of those who cannot stand to hear him drone on, or those who are enamored with his at times frank, uncensored, darkly humored, and always all too real perspective.

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