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Drinking from the Beat Menu

 Jack Kerouac

Gin, whiskey, beer, cognac, and wine

 

According to his biographer, Michael Dittman, as a young construction worker (working on the Pentagon), Jack Kerouac would bring a pint of “gin or whiskey” to work every day. His early years appear mostly dominated by beer, which he would continue to drink – often as a chaser – for the rest of his life. However, through most of Beat history – from the early “libertine circle” days in New York, through the publication of the most important Beat texts and the subsequent “beatnik” fad – Kerouac’s drink of choice was red wine, and it is this with which he is most often associated. It was, after all, wine that he drank during the famous 6 Gallery reading, while travelling America, and hiking in the wilderness. However, in the late fifties or early sixties, Kerouac switched from wine back to whiskey, according to Paul Maher Jnr, because “the excessive intake of wine had turned his tongue white.” Maher adds that Kerouac was also drinking rum at this point, but whiskey was to remain his drink of choice (and that of his mother) for the rest of his life. In Tristessa, he had said that he was drinking “Juarez Bourbon whiskey” and that he mixed it with Canadian Dry, while most biographers and friends have recounted his fondness for Johnny Walker Red. During a trip to France, Kerouac began drinking Cognac, and once told Philip Whalen that “Cognac [is] the only drink in the world, with soda and ice, that won’t actually kill you.”

Allen Ginsberg

Red wine

 

Not being a big drinker, Ginsberg didn’t have many preferred drinks. He mostly drank wine, which was often on offer at poetry readings and other art events.

William S. Burroughs

Tequila, vodka and coke

 

Due to his time in Mexico and Texas, Burroughs was known to have consumed a lot of tequila. His wife, Joan, when she was not busy drinking Benzedrine coffee, was a heavy tequila drinker in those years, too. In his later days, though, Burroughs preferred vodka. When it struck six o’clock, he would begin mixing vodka with Coke. Shortly before his death, Burroughs spoke with the Absolut Vodka company about the possibility of doing an advert featuring his artwork, called “Absolut Burroughs.”

Gregory Corso

Wine, beer, whiskey

 

While Corso was a wild drunk, he appears to have had no real preference for any one kind of drink. His letters are full of references to blurry nights on the town, mentioning wine, whiskey, and beer in equal measure. In her memoir, Huerfano, Roberta Price observes – as many have – that Corso was usually drunk when reading his poetry in public. She says: “he drank a lot of wine and whatever hard liquor was offered,” and usually shouted insults at the audience. Corso seems to imply, however, that in each case it was the influence of other people – and sometimes of boredom – that made him drink.

 

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This article is from the forthcoming Beatdom#13.

Coming Soon

Beatdom 13
This is the cover for Beatdom #13: the DRINKING issue. It features legendary booze-hound, Charles Bukowski, as drawn by the talented Waylon Bacon.

 

What Can Be Learned from Charles Bukowski

On the peripheral edge of the Beat Movement sits Charles Bukowski. Lauded as all manner of things from the “laureate of American lowlife” to a “pulp fiction professional”, Bukowski’s style and indeed, volume of work makes him appealing. With thousands of poems, hundreds of stories and six novels under his belt, there’s definitely a lot to be learnt from Bukowski’s methods, however harebrained they may seem in hindsight. Of course, drinking yourself into oblivion and sleeping with anything that moves is not the answer to becoming the darling of the fiction writing but Bukowski’s appeal is in the believable, genuine and portrays a sect of society that is rarely considered honestly in literature. Here’s a few things that a reader or even a budding writer can learn from one of America’s greatest novelists, whether applying them to your literary life or otherwise.

The first thing that can be learnt from Bukowski and his writings is persistence. His first novel wasn’t published until he was nearly 50. Previous to this, he had had a couple of stories published in his mid-twenties but then found his work rejected every time. It looked like he’d basically given up but in the fifties he started up again and began submitting hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems to different publications. Despite this, it still took years to find success but nothing stopped his commitment to writing. Bear in mind, Bukowski’s personal life was far from rosy, as he passed through tens of jobs, sunk deeper into his alcoholism and three feisty wives. Bukowski’s poem ‘so you wanna be a writer’ is a testament to the reasons behind his commitment.

The next thing is honesty. Bukowski is a candid and at times, painfully honest writer whose first four novels are almost direct parallels with his own personal life, using his literary double Henry Chinaski. The attitudes he gives to his protagonist are basically mirrors of his own and as he discusses in depth his neglectful parents, his apathetic approach to work and his love of prostitutes and lack of respect for women, the real man behind the words is created. In his poetry there are many direct references to particular individuals or groups he hates and by being honest, Bukowski’s narratives are believable and entertaining. Fiction is naturally about creating myths and making stuff up but Bukowski uses the stuff he knows to good effect, creating a wholly different an enjoyable form of literature.

Everyone can also learn from Bukowski’s discipline. Every day he would write, his first novel Post Office (1971) catalogues the endless ten to twelve hour shifts which were then followed by several packs of beer and quarts of whiskey and then, the writing began. This was his routine of sorts throughout the whole of his working life and the discipline allowed him to get to the published state that he did. Before turning to writing he used this discipline to discover and explore his love for literature. Hours spent in the library getting to know the greats and forming his opinions on them. Through this time he was able to shape and find his own voice and it’s the first tip for all writers that to be able to be successful, you must first read voraciously.  Bukowski was never one to sit back and relax in his reading recliner, he worked endlessly to achieve the results he ended up with.

The final area in which Bukowski can be learnt from is by studying what you could call his ‘literary map’. This simply means seeing exactly how Bukowski drew upon influences of others and in turn became an influence, continuing the evolving development of literature. Throughout his work, Bukowski is explicit in his descriptions of his personal influences namely Norwegian Knut Hamsun, of Hunger fame, French author Céline and John Fante, the Italo-American author of Ask the Dust. Fante is probably most influential to Bukowski’s work as he too works in a semi-autobiographical way talking about the same LA areas. The scores of authors since Bukowski whose work shows elements of his style are numerous and although some may have done little more than offend him personally, all are a testament to his literary map.

Charles Bukowski was never integral to the Beat Movement and was very much on its edge but he moved in many of the same circles and knew those involved personally. Despite his many foibles (if that isn’t too weak a word) Bukowski produced a catalogue of work to be admired and an attitude which all can learn from.

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