Archives For June 2014

From Tumbleweeds to Tumblr

Dear Reader,

(Shut up, Kim Jong-il, I’m not talking to you.)

You may have noticed a few tumbleweeds blowing around these parts recently. I’d like to offer a brief explanation/excuse: Beatdom is a pretty large company, but very short staffed. The magazine is edited by David S. Wills and Katharine Hollister, but the website and publishing arm are run entirely by David. It’s a lot of work for one person – particularly when that person also has other full-time jobs.

When it comes to a particularly busy time of year, the website is usually the first to suffer. It is more important to keep the magazine printed and keep the books on the shelves than to keep the website online. It’s also less time-consuming and ultimately more important to maintain the various social media presences.

This June and July we have been especially busy with compiling Beatdom #15 and The Beat Interviews. This has been the cause of our recent lack of posting on this website. Normal posting will resume after the publication of Beatdom #15, and in the meantime I’ll do my best to keep this  site updated… but for those of you actively following Beatdom, it would be wiser to visit our Facebook and Tumblr pages, which are more easily updated.

So I hope this provides you with some passable explanation for why it’s so quiet here from time to time, and so busy at other junctures.


Your Humble Editor

David S. Wills

The Greatest Road Movie Never Made


Brando should have played Dean; Jack’s 1957 letter to Marlon asking him to buy the film rights to On the Road is a cry in the dark night of his tormented soul. Marlon would have been stellar. Think of the young Marlon Brando as Stanley, Johnny, Terry, or even Sky – a guy straight out of the Omaha, Nebraska, heartland – wild, unorthodox, intelligent, rebellious, athletic, and the Zeus of Adonises. Team him with movie-star handsome Jack and what a sensation. Audiences would have been salivating.

Passionate Kerouac starts off, “I’m praying that you’ll buy ON THE ROAD…”and then explains Dean as, “no dopey hot-rodder but a real intelligent (in fact, Jesuit) Irishman.” Come on, Mar, how can you resist? And Jack’s funny: “I’ll show you how Dean acts in real life.” Jack is going to show America’s best ever actor how to act, and he extends an invitation to visit Neal and the wife and kiddies. Far out, Jack, I wanna be there, too. And a bit of a PR man plugging The Subterraneans, his latest novel, which he notes can easily be turned into a play. And ambitious: “What I wanta do is re-do the theatre and the cinema in America.” Write on, Jack, give it “spontaneous dash.” He mentions Frank Sinatra and French cinema and all Jack’s ideas are dazzling, terrific, glorious ideas.

Jack—I love him forever for this—challenges the great Brando, the ex-boxer, “I coulda been a contender” Malloy. “Come on, Marlon, put up your dukes and write!” And what does Marlon do? Nothing. He never answers Jack’s letter.

Oh, MARLON, you coulda done it, you broke our hearts. Jack, we’re still feeling your pain.

Only one other person could have played Dean, and that would have been the wild, unorthodox, intelligent, rebellious, athletic, “frantic cat,” and Adonis of Denver, Neal Cassady. Art imitating life and life imitating art, and Neal just being Dean being Neal, an American original, as American as hot apple pie left on the windowsill to cool and snatched by a wayward cowboy.

One tiny be-it-too-late suggestion, Jack – you shoulda followed your letter with another letter from that public relations wiz, Master Ginsberg. Or better yet, sent Ambassador Ginsberg on a mission. How could Brando refuse?

On the set of the movie Heart Beat, the story of Carolyn Cassady’s relationship with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs dwelled on the thought of Jack’s obsession with writing: “Who had killed Neal Cassady?” Dean Moriarty killed Neal Cassady. “He had died of exposure. And who had killed Jack Kerouac? A spy in his body known as Jack Kerouac the writer.” Life and art.

*Image by Isaac Bonan

Big Bill Bio

My brow furrows
As I check out big, big book on Burroughs
This bio is certainly thorough
Old wild American Bill Lee Burroughs

Miles and miles
Pages and pages
It will take ages and ages

Bill a mad gray hombre of interest
Put life to the testiest test
An individual
Who jumped through no hoops
But walked a strange path of his own

In an age of political tyranny
Enslavement to government
Regulations, restrictions, interference, taxes, and axes
Admiration for a man
Who sought personal freedom

The hour is late
The night is stark
Won’t be long
Before your freedom is farked

Pay back expensive student loans
(without jobs)
And note the tax on your lattes
Coffee Party members of the world
It’s time to brew

Big Brother and Big Sister
Are linkedin to you
And expect you to play as the team players do

Beatdom #15: The Cover

Beatdom 15 cover

We are delighted to share with you the cover of the next issue of Beatdom – the WAR issue. Designed by the wickedly wonderful Waylon Bacon, we feel it illustrates the horrors of war across the ages. In the magazine we will explore war in all forms, from Burroughs’ intergalactic wars, to the brutal realities of WWII and Vietnam, as viewed through the not-so-rose-tinted glasses of our Beat icons.

Storming the Reality Studio with Uncle Bill: Some Thoughts on William S. Burroughs and the Movies

From Beatdom #14


By Matthew Levi Stevens

Art by Philip Willey

Until really quite recently, of the “big names” that one thinks of in association with the Beat Generation, it was always William S. Burroughs that was easiest or most likely to think of in connection with film – for a variety of reasons, some fairly obvious and others not so. It is something of a cliché that of the Big Three, each had a decade of which they were very much a figurehead and representative: Jack Kerouac, with his cross-country driving marathons and hitch-hiking, and denims and lumberjack shirts, was clearly the Action Man of the Fifties; Allen Ginsberg, with his free love, long hair, beads, and trips to India, was clearly everybody’s favourite Gay Auntie for the Sixties; and William S. Burroughs – uptight and undercover, with his anonymous suit and hat and coat, and his sardonic, knowing manner – was A Man Within for the Seventies… or was it the Eighties, or Nineties, or…? Despite the best efforts of Robert Frank’s Pull My Daisy, Ginsberg’s appearance in all manner of cinéma vérité, and documentaries from the Swinging Sixties, it is Burroughs whose presence is now everywhere.

What imaginary world of adventure is complete these days without a depiction of some incredibly louche bar where strange beings meet to slake even stranger thirsts, ply dubious but usually fantastic trades, and indulge unknown appetites? Black ops and conspiracies, arranging deception and double-cross on a monstrous scale? Emerging supernatural, mutant, or alien-beings contending with humanity, for better or worse? Increasing polymorphous perversity, as the parameters of desire expand in an attempt to accommodate the possibilities presented by these beings – and, consequently, blurring of the boundaries between gender and species… Or, in the case of those who take androids or cyborgs as lovers, even between the organic and inorganic? From the “Casablanca-in-Space” template of the cantina in Star Wars – where all the riff-raff, flotsam and jetsam of who knows how many galaxies all go to get off, hook up, and lie low, and the “followers of obsolete unthinkable trades . . . black marketeers of World War III” of Naked Lunch, would hardly be out of place – to the latest Fantasy and Sci-Fi extravaganzas, it’s all there.

The serious literary types might have taken their time over Burroughs, but the really forward-looking Sci-Fi writers of the 1960s onward were there pretty much from the get-go: Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard (remember when he wrote Sci-Fi ?), Samuel Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock… and, later, William Gibson, then Richard Calder. Burroughs is like The Velvet Underground of Science Fiction: he may not be famous in mainstream Sci-Fi, but all the people he did influence are the really cool, smart people who went on to influence everybody else. He got an acknowledgement in the credits for Blade Runner – even though it was based on a Philip K. Dick story. Some people would argue that Alien is H. P. Lovecraft updated for the Space Age, via Burroughs. And, of course, his later playmate, David Cronenberg, built a whole career and mythos around Body Horror . . . Cyberpunk, Steampunk, you name it.

Along with Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy are some of the fastest growing, most exciting and innovative areas in contemporary film and TV, reaching bigger and bigger audiences all the time. Increasingly, even mainstream audiences are becoming more familiar with and accepting of themes and tropes that were previously only really the subject matter of more speculative Science Fiction: virtual reality, time travel paradoxes and non-linearity, parallel universes, nanotechnology, mind control and mental powers – the whole lot more often than not helped along by strange new designer drugs… Or, in the case of HBO’s hugely successful True Blood, a drop or two of euphoria-inducing, habit-forming, mind-expanding vampire blood (you heard me.)

Savvy commentators such as Emma Doeve and Camille Paglia have observed that the Fine Arts, increasingly orphaned by Conceptualism, have sought refuge in the movies. It has also been pointed out that, increasingly, the best contemporary draughtsmanship and innovative design is to be found in the comic books now come-of-age and known as “graphic novels” – the best of which frequently have the epic storytelling and mythic resonance of powerful motion pictures, and with their frame-by-frame form, often resemble high quality storyboards for imaginary movies. With so many of today’s more exciting and innovative films often having their origin in comics and graphic novels, the relationship is a close one.

“Graphic novel” is a marketing term that was introduced sometime in the 1980s. It was considered a more “grown up” description for a medium that had been evolving ever since the hippy doper underground comics of the 60s, with better artwork, better writing, and, frequently, more adult themes; also it was found that high street bookshops were more likely to stock something if it was called a “novel.” One of the more commercially successful stepping-stones was a long-running, high-quality French comic magazine, Métal Hurlant, featuring far-out (and often erotically explicit) work from leading artists and writers. When an American version was launched in 1977, it was renamed Heavy Metal, after the phrase that William Burroughs had originated in The Soft Machine.

Coincidentally, the long-running collaboration between Burroughs and the young British graphic artist Malcolm McNeill, Ah Pook Was Here – which they conceived of as a totally new form of book, with some pages of text, some pages of just artwork, and many pages of art and text interwoven and juxtaposed, commenting on and illustrating each other – would be incredibly prescient of the graphic novel form that would emerge over a decade later. Although only a small fraction of the combined art-and-text appeared in the British Underground Press – and, tragically, after seven long years the project was abandoned – it’s innovative example was considered hugely significant by those in the know, and it is perhaps not surprising that three of the biggest names which emerged from the world of British comics to lead the way for graphic novels – Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison – have all spoken of their admiration for Burroughs, and the liberation of the imagination they see in his work.

In contrast, it is hugely ironic that such “transgressive lit” poster-boys as Dennis Cooper,  Will Self or Irvine Welsh, chose to sneer that Burroughs was passé – once they had made their names and reputations, taking for granted their freedom to now safely follow trails that he (and other pioneers like him) had blazed while they were still in short trousers. When being queer, or a junkie, a criminal, or boy-lover might still have had real-life consequences, and wasn’t just something to add colour to the C.V. of a “bad boy” writer…

One of the ways in which El Hombre Invisible has been almost a little too successful, perhaps, is that his ideas and influence are often absorbed indirectly, in keeping with his role as éminence grise. The most obvious example of this is, of course, his iconic status with generations of rock stars, experimental musicians, DJs, and their fans – even if most of them had hardly read a word of his actual writings. Like surrealism, which is now everywhere, from advertising to comedy to fashion, Burroughs is almost too much part of the DNA of post-modern culture for a lot of his contribution to be recognised…

But take away the queer sex and hard drugs, and the creations of the fantastic, imaginative realms of William S. Burroughs’ Magical Universe can be seen all around us. Are the worlds of Avatar, The Matrix, X-Men – even Pirates of the Caribbean and the equally swashbuckling romp of that other Burroughs, Edgar Rice’s John Carter of Mars – really that far away?

His influence seems to have passed, almost by some kind of weird occult osmosis – or perhaps by the post-modern agent of viral replication known as the meme – going about their business like an undercover agent, unnoticed and undisturbed, almost invisible, subtly altering, infecting, and mutating.

Word begets image and image is virus.

The seeds of our Future were sewn Once Upon A Time in the Interzone of his imagination, and he is still with us.


Bloomsday Thoughts: Kerouac & Joyce

“In those days I was writing a Joyce-like novel in which I was the Dedalus; and called myself Duluoz. Let’s do that now. Duluoz the Ladysman!”

– Jack Kerouac

The fiction of Jack Kerouac is heavily inspired by the work of James Joyce. He liked to compare himself and his work to Joyce, and his hero, Neal Cassady, was sometimes compared to Joyce in Kerouac’s letters. Indeed, Kerouac even took inspiration for his own literary persona from the name of Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, as indicated in the above quote.

Kerouac aspired to write a Joyce-like novel, to learn Italian like Joyce, and to do for Lowell what Joyce did for Dublin. He claimed that his stream-of-consciousness style, for which he ultimately became famous, was taken from Joyce, and that his early writing was simply “imitating Ulysses.” When he joined the Merchant Marine and travelled to the UK, he saw Ireland and was primarily amazed that he was laying his eyes upon Joyce’s homeland – something, he claims, that brought tears to his eyes.

Today is Bloomsday, 16th June, the day on which the novel Ulysses is set. Kerouac greatly admired this novel, and claims that it not only inspired his own classic, On the Road, but that his book was so similar it deserved the same sort of respect: “On the Road is inspired in its entirely…. I can tell now as I look back on the flood of language. It is like Ulysses and should be treated with the same gravity.”

Evidently, Joyce was of influence to the creation of the Beat ethos, which was initially established in 1944 with the “libertine circle” philosophy of the New Vision. Kerouac equated it to the work of James Joyce: “I prefer the new vision in terms of art–I believe, I smugly cling to the belief, that art is the potential ultimate. Out of the humankind materials of art, I tell myself, the new vision springs. Look at Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses and The Magic Mountain.”

Lawrence and Me

Clearing out the garage
Going through mountains of books
Nooks and nooks of books
Old English lit books
New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers 1897
Gibbon, Goldsmith, Bentley, Dryden, Coleridge, De Quincey, Wordsworth . . .
Bonobos, Silverjones, Rolls, Wetcave, Oilvalley, U Adams, Numbersunworthy . . .
And what to my wondering eyes should I find
But old friend Lawrence paperback Ferlinghetti-o
I say old friend because I kept a rejection letter from Lawrence
On City Lights stationery 2007
Booksellers & Publishers
He writes, “I read most of your manuscript, and I’m sorry that we cannot publish it”
Well “Starting from San Francisco”
Fourth printing
New Directions
I guess you Kant
And I’m sorry, too
Disappointments of life
For a sad New Jersey housewife
You wrote the poem “Underwear”
And that set you up over there
Much obliged for handwriting that nice note
But if you had written “Captain Underpants”
The little kids would laugh
Thank you for the poem
And just the other day I realized
Mozart is never ever boring
And always brilliant

Gangsters in the Cadillac

Big beautiful black
47 Cadillac limo to Chicago i
Dreamboat in the fast American night
Ball the jack all the whitewall way
Zooming steady 110
Car thief 500
Speedometer breaks
Coyote Nowhere
Angel of Terror
Fender cracked . . . bender
Rods gone
“I can’t stand it any more, I can’t look.”
Down on the floor of racing horrors
Fears of crash
Hid in backseat
Muddy heap
Broken boat
Time to get out — fast

i Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: The Original Scroll. (New York: Viking 2007),. p. 322-340.

Howl (2010) – How to Adapt a Beat Classic

Howl movie poster

By Michelle Rudolf

From Beatdom #14



The 2010 movie, Howl, an adaptation of Allen Ginsberg’s classic Beat poem, by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein was largely successful because it involved approaches to adapting an artistic work that are uncommon in filmmaking. The directors had studied Ginsberg’s life, the process of writing the poem, and what happened in the aftermath of its publication, and ultimately succeeded in creating a unique and satisfying adaptation based upon a hybridization of the above elements, rather than a straight cinematic telling of the poem’s story or message. Additionally, heavy research resulted in an accuracy that made this Beat movie a more faithful representation than others. As a result, their interpretation has been better received than adaptations of the work of Ginsberg’s peers, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

It began about nine years ago, when Ginsberg’s estate called the two filmmakers to ask them if they could do a documentary about the poem, because the fiftieth anniversary of its publication was approaching. The estate deliberately chose the pair because of their reputation as in-depth documentary producers who had received many awards for their sensitive and intelligent approaches to the subject matter of their movies. Moreover, in this case their own homosexuality allowed them to understand the social pressures Ginsberg had to suffer. Friedman and Epstein are famous for their lifetime’s work, which includes films about homosexual characters, including Epstein’s groundbreaking documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk.

Howl is centered on the poem both representationally and factually. In different sequences the viewer is presented with both historical context and biographical details about Ginsberg’s life at the time of the poem’s composition. Throughout, James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in a role that features the poet as an adventurer of the counterculture and chronicler of the Beat Generation. Franco had always been a huge fan of Ginsberg, and even though he knew certain things about the counterculture and Ginsberg, he renewed his interest and embarked upon a period of private research in order to find out about Ginsberg’s gestures, his mannerism, and his rhythm of speech at the time of the publication of Howl. Though some argue that Franco does not look like Ginsberg, in the movie he talks and moves and delivers the content just like Ginsberg did.

Right at the start of the project their plan was to do only a documentary on Ginsberg, but after they recorded several interviews with the poet’s friends and lovers, they realized that everyone talked about Ginsberg as he was in his 40s and 50s. It seemed to them as if no one remembered who he really was at the time he wrote Howl. That is why they changed their plan and deliberately fused the documentary style of filmmaking together with a reenactment of the past events in Ginsberg’s life, including animated sequences. The result was a film that was practically its own new genre.

The film consists of five different sections. One section is the trial of the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was indicted for distributing and publishing obscene work. The trial sequences of the film are based on the actual transcript of the trial, and so, although the scene is played out with actors, it retains its historical accuracy. For this section, they took the actual words spoken in court and, although it was edited and rearranged somewhat, the trial is faithfully depicted. Another section of the film produces a nostalgic image showing Ginsberg writing the poem on his old black typewriter, writing with his confessional, leave-nothing-out style, recounting his road trips and love affairs in search of liberation. The third section of the film is animated by Eric Drooker and Russell Barnes. Drooker’s work was collected by Ginsberg for over a decade, and so the producers thought Ginsberg would approve of Drooker’s animation style.

This animated section, which was both daring and effective in capturing the spirit of Ginsberg’s generation-defining cry, was included as there was a lack of footage of Ginsberg during that period. To a great degree, the animation lives in the film as a kind of modernized retelling of the poem, as it is the interpretation of the poem through imagery. The animation department did not want to literally illustrate what Ginsberg was talking about in the poem, even though it is obvious at times. According to John Hays, the head of animation, they tried to replicate the feeling of the fifties and what musicians, painters, sculptures, and writers were trying to do at that time.

In the fourth section of the film, Ginsberg is shown at his first public reading of the poem. Of course, this is the famous Six Gallery Reading, which turned Ginsberg into a celebrity overnight. His reading of Howl caused a sensation and earned its place in literary history. A modern audience had never before reacted so passionately. The filmmakers created this sequence as truthfully as they could by using the information they gathered from interviews they conducted with eyewitnesses, and also from the works of people like Jack Kerouac, who were in attendance and had previously described the evening. For this section, accurate research was imperative. James Franco wears the same kind of clothes in it as Ginsberg did and the people in the audience drink out of the same kind of bottle as the audience had done.

The final section of the film is a kind of flashback, an interview about Howl and the monologue Ginsberg gave to answer the question, “What makes good poetry?” In fact, this interview, which they used as the basis of the frame, is a fabled Time magazine interview. Time magazine had once flown Ginsberg from Tangiers to Rome, where a reporter recorded the interview in a hotel room. The interview was never published and so it proved the perfect device to drive the film. Friedman and Epstein let Ginsberg speak for himself to the audience out of the past, as they put together their favorite excerpts from this and other interviews from that period of time into a long defense of him, his generation, and his work.

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers, as documentarians, were concerned with accurately telling Ginsberg’s story, and so despite their unique blend of devices as described above for each section of the movie, Epstein and Friedman made sure that they didn’t just tell the story of Howl, but that they passed along its feeling and message, and took the audience back to the 1950s. The production designer, Thérèse DePrez, decorated Ginsberg’s room in the film with pictures of his close friends, and with furniture pieces of the thirties and forties that he owned. She even used the same desk lamp he owned, and wallpaper that matched with the photographs she found of his old apartment. In the courtroom sequence DePrez used the same light bulbs used back then.

Howl had its world premiere at the opening night of the Sundance film festival after the producers had gone through the struggle of making a film that would create something worthy of Ginsberg’s almost magical work. As with the recent release of On the Road, fans largely waited for a disastrous end product. They were, however, shocked to encounter a genuinely entertaining and informative movie. Through the right combination of filmmakers, and a delicate and unique balance of approaches, the movie version of Howl has become its own masterpiece – capturing the spirit and factual tidbits surrounding the poem that inspired it, yet at the same time decidedly different.







Bengan, John.

Date accessed: 10.10.2011

Epstein, Rob and Friedman, Jeffrey. Howl film. Making of Featurette. Soda Pictures Ltd. Artwork 2011

Fish, Stanley. ‘‘Literary Criticism Comes to the Movies’’. The New York Times (October 4, 2010)

Ginsberg, Allen. ‘’This is the Abomination’’. Columbia Review vol. 26 (May 1946), p. 162.

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl And Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1956. Date accessed: 10.10.2011

Kramer, Jane. Allen Ginsberg in America. New York, Random House, 1970.

Sandhu, Sukhdev. ‘‘Howl, review’’. The Daily Telegraph (February 24, 2011).

Simpson, Louis. Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. London, Macmillan, 1978.

Ritch, Ruby. ‘‘Ginsberg’s Howl resounds on film’’. The Guardian (January 19, 2010).

The Holy Ghost Scroll

“Giroux insisted that the manuscript would have to be cut up [cut ups] and edited. Kerouac . . .  refused . . . telling Giroux that the “Holy Ghost” had dictated the novel.” i

“There’ll be no editing on this manuscript . . . “This manuscript has been dictated by the Holy Ghost.” ii

The Holy Ghost is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: The Holy Ghost is a Person distinct  from the Father and the Son. He is God of the same essence with the Father and the Son.  iii

There is a legend that Saint Augustine was walking on the beach contemplating the Holy Trinity  and saw a boy going back and forth from the sea with a spoon carrying water. He asked the boy  what he was doing. The boy said emptying the sea. Augustine said impossible. The boy replied  it is easier to empty the sea with a spoon than for you to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The boy vanished. Augustine had spoken to an angel.

Holy Ghost
Holy Spirit
De Spiritu Sancto
Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnifus diebus, usque ad consummationem saeculi.
And behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the
world. iv

So, your editor (the person who is going to publish your unpublishable book), tells you to fix it,  and you reply, “No, way. This work has been decreed by the Holy Ghost.” lol
i Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: The Original Scroll. (New York: Viking. 2007),. p.32.
ii Interview in the documentary On the Road to Desolation (David Steward, dir., BBC/NVC Arts Co-production,  1997).
iii Forget, Jacques. Holy Ghost. In the Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Co.)
iv Matthew 28:20