Archives For beat generation

What the Beats can teach us about writing

The Beat Generation was not just important as a countercultural movement. We don’t just remember Jack Kerouac for sending kids on the road and accidentally birthing the hippies, or Allen Ginsberg for his peace & love messages. We remember them as literary innovators, and as such they have a lot to teach us about writing. Literature changed with the Beat Generation and it has never been the same since. Yet as time goes by, it is easy to forget what exactly they gave us. Let’s take the chance to look over some of the writing lessons handed down by the Beat writers. Continue Reading…

12 Essential Books About the Beat Generation

The Beat Generation are an often misunderstood group of souls. Even figuring out who and what they are is notoriously difficult. Yet there is no shortage of great books about the Beat writers and their fascinating lives and work. Below, I have collected what I consider the 12 essential books about the Beat Generation. (I have not included any works of actual Beat literature – ie On the Road, “Howl“, or Naked LunchContinue Reading…

Beat Family Values: The Typical American Family, and the Beats’ Roll in its Downfall

 

The Beat Movement scared the hell out of America. After all, the Beats were dirty, they were obscene, they were lefties, queers, trouble-makers; they were everything that post-war America did not want, and their work threatened the very fabric of society.

But what was that society made up of? What were the atoms at the core of American culture in the post-war era? ‘The Family’; the perfect, pristine embodiment of new American values, nestled away in suburbia with a bright white picket fence out front and smiles to match.  The Beat represented the antithesis of this, and so the Beats were trouble. Continue Reading…

Defining Beat: Era, Location, and the Importance of Considering Women

 

The Beat Generation, though small in numbers, had a profound effect on the American literary tradition. Coming into existence just after World War II, Beat writers sought to examine post-war capitalism and materialism, coupled with hints of Cold War anxiety. These writers were reacting to many of the high modernists, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, attempting to reclaim literature from academics that often sounded pretentious, detached, and largely inaccessible; the works of Beat authors tend to be closer to confessional, intimate, and, in general, more in touch with the self. Due to the nature of their surrounding social circumstances, many of the Beat authors tended to have similar themes in their works: drug use, restlessness, sexual freedom, and, ultimately, a rebellion against social norms; however, these characteristics do not make a generation—Beat implies time and place as well, largely New York City and San Francisco in the 1950s. Though the “big” Beat authors are male—Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—several female writers also existed in the Beat movement, including Diane di Prima and Joyce Johnson. In Johnson’s memoir Minor Characters, as well as di Prima’s collection of poetry, Pieces of a Song, and her memoir, Recollections of my Life as a Woman, Beat themes and locations are prevalent, similar to any of the other canonical Beat writers; therefore, di Prima and Johnson should be understood as Beat writers, offering female voices to a male-dominated movement. Continue Reading…

When was ‘Beat’ First Written?

On this blog, we’ve previously discussed the surprisingly difficult question of what the Beat Generation was, and later, what the difference is between Beats and Beatniks. Yet actually pinning down the meaning of the word “Beat,” an adjective used by the likes Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs in the forties and fifties, is not so difficult. Its etymology is well-documented – although, as with so much Beat lore, there are numerous errors in popular sources. It originated in “hepcat” speak, most likely passed from the underground world to the Columbia world through Herbert Huncke. Continue Reading…

Review: The Best Minds of My Generation

There are so many books about the Beat Generation that focus on the writers’ roles as rebels and “literary outlaws,” who break with convention and reject all the old ways. They are portrayed as angry young men and outsiders in life and literature. This view is not entirely incorrect, but in The Best Minds of My Generation, a collection of Allen Ginsberg lectures edited into a coherent book form by Bill Morgan, we are presented with a very different view of the Beats. Continue Reading…

Beats or Beatniks

In late 1969, reporter Jack McClintock interviewed beat author, Jack Kerouac, at his Florida home. In the interview they discussed a wide range of topics from Ginsberg to communism conspiracies to marijuana and ultimately ended with Kerouac making his famous declaration, “I’m a Catholic, not a beatnik!” [1]  The distinction between those completely separate ideologies are obvious, but the divisions between the labels “Beats” and “Beatnik” are not so clear to the non-fanatical.  Continue Reading…

East Coast Beats vs. West Coast Beats

The Beats as we know them are a New York City phenomena and walk hand in hand with Abstract Expressionism as one of the great defining moments of art in the second half of the 20th century. Just like Jackson Pollock and William DeKooning were all about reinterpreting what painting meant, so the Beats were trying to redefine linguistics in a way that made poetry and prose contemporary, or at least brought it up to date from the days of the Lost Generation, who expatriated to Paris after World War I.  The Beats were the fallout of the existential crisis brought on by the nuclear bomb, and a seminal Beat poem by Gregory Corso called “Bomb” appeared on the page in the form of a mushroom cloud. The Beats were interested in writing from their wits and believed the concept of “first thought was the best thought,” even though they may not have lived by this credo it was a defining trait of their aesthetic stance. It was similar to an Abstract Expressionist looking for a perfect stroke on the canvas that somehow said everything about an internally troubled excited knowable state, even if he/she worked on the painting for weeks, months, or years. The goal of both movements, along with Be-Bop, was to express a moment of feeling without being restricted in time, even if this took years of practice. It might seem a quaint idea from a 2015 perspective but art was very tied to rules when the Beats wrote to the rhythm of their breath, or to the sounds of Charlie Parker’s alto sax, and it was a revolutionary act that scared a lot of critics and aesthetes into thinking the Beats were turning back the clock on poetry and were like modern day Neanderthals rather than the greatest minds of their generation. Yet that’s an image they would’ve been proud of in their inner circle, just like the Abstract Expressionists wanted to get back to primal thinking. The Beats were audacious but demanded to be taken seriously, which is probably why they earned the moniker of angry young men.

Continue Reading…

The Burroughs Millions

In Search of the Origin of Burroughs’ Mythical Trust Fund

From Beatdom #16

William S. Burroughs was always quick to observe that, thanks to the novels of Jack Kerouac, he had been saddled with the reputation of being a rather wealthy man. He once explained to an audience:

I have never been able to divest myself of the trust fund that [Kerouac] foisted upon me. I mean there isn’t any trust fund. There never was a trust fund. When I was not able to support myself… I was supported by an allowance from my family… my hard working parents who ran a gift and art shop in Palm Beach, Florida, called Cobblestone …

But you see Kerouac thought a trust fund was more interesting and more romantic. Let’s face it there was a very strong Sunday supplement streak in his mind. And he also saddled me with a Russian countess. Well, she was a bit easier to get rid of than the trust fund. And he nurtured the myth of the Burroughs millions. There are no Burroughs millions except in the company. And the family got nothing out of it… Continue Reading…

The Beats and the Beatles: two sides of the same coin


“If two things are two sides of the same coin, they are very closely related although they seem different”
– The Cambridge Dictionary

Introduction

As one might guess, the name of the world’s most successful (Hotten) band in history – the Beatles – does not completely incidentally sound so similar to that of the influential group of writers that called themselves the Beat Generation. What one might not guess, however, is how manifold and deeply rooted their connections are.
It must be said from the outset that there are multiple stories surrounding the origin of the Beatles’ name. Stuart Sutcliffe, the so-called ‘fifth Beatle’, who was a study friend of John Lennon and only a part of the first beginnings of what would later become the Beatles, suggested they call themselves ‘the Beatals’ in January 1960, as a tribute to the then famous rock ‘n’ roll band Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In the months that followed this name changed to ‘the Silver Beetles’ (May), ‘the Silver Beatles’ (July), and eventually ‘the Beatles’ (August) (Lewisohn 18-22). John Lennon himself in 1961, before their enormous success came about, already rejected every notion of a ‘meaning’ behind the name:

Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’’. Thank you, Mister Man, they said, thanking him.
(qtd. in Coupe 131) Continue Reading…