Barry Miles’ name seems to pop up everywhere when you look back on Beat history. He’s written books on Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, as well as a wonderful book on the Beat Hotel in Paris. But his work isn’t just confined to Beat history – it extends further into the wider counterculture of that era. He’s written books about the hippies, the seventies, figures like Frank Zappa and Paul McCartney, the British Invasion, and an entire history of the counterculture in London since WWII. It is simply extraordinary how often, when researching Beat or Beat-related history, Miles’ name comes up.
The reason for that is that he was simply there. He’s not merely a biographer of these people and their times, but Miles actually participated in their lives. He popped up everywhere. He befriended Ginsberg and Burroughs during their visits to London, helped with the famous 1965 Albert Hall reading at which Ginsberg, Corso, and Ferlinghetti read to 6,000 “hairy” and stoned poetry fans, operated both Indica Bookstore and International Times, and worked with the Beatles at their Zapple record label.
In the Sixties was published back in 2003 and has just been re-released. Miles notes in his new foreword that several changes have been made, including some corrections and a few extra stories, as well as having expanded some others. Having not read the original 2003 version, I can’t say which have been added and which originally appeared in his book. He does note, however, that a section on his time with the Beatles at Zapple was significantly reduced due to his publishing a whole book on the subject.
Miles’ memoir begins in the early sixties when he is a student at Gloucestershire College of Art, where he is introduced to the “beatnik” counterculture that had infiltrated British art schools, having worked its way across the Atlantic. He describes student life in terms that are in fact rather familiar today – cold flats, underground music, marijuana and other drugs, experimentation – and introduces us to a few names, such as Michael Horovitz, through whom he finds New Departures magazine, which printed work by Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs.
Miles’ own career in literature began with buying and selling copies of Henry Miller’s Sexus, getting them on consignment and selling them to local perverts and literary types. He frequented Better Books – a shop which worked closely with contemporaries in the US to share books by local authors – and it was here that he met Allen Ginsberg. Allen was in town after being kicked out of Cuba and Czechoslovakia, and from that point on made Better Books his London headquarters. Miles retells a funny story of Allen meeting the Beatles (for the second time) and offending them by getting naked at a party.
In 1965, Miles started his own bookstore, Indica, and later the publication, Long Hair, which printed the whole of Ginsberg’s Cambodian journals. Stories from Indica include attempting to import some of Burroughs’ books to the UK but having them confiscated and burned by the police, mirroring on a very small scale the events happening over in the US, where Naked Lunch had caused such a furor. The book is filled with countless stories about Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but rather than petty name-dropping, these are actually quite fascinating. In particular, a story about John Lennon dropping by Indica to purchase a book by Nietzsche, but not knowing how to pronounce his name and becoming very embarrassed. Such stories offer valuable insight and a rare perspective on such otherwise well-known figures.
In the Sixties is not just an interesting read, but also a beautiful book. It’s crammed with pictures that illustrate the period, including photos, posters, letters, literary journal pages, and so on. It is, therefore, an absolutely wonderful addition to the literature on this special period in history.
Find out more here: http://inthesixties.com/