Friday, November 26, 2010

A Beatnik's Favorite Comic Strip

Walt Kelly's comic strip "Pogo" had to be without doubt a precursor to the beatniks. Pogo the Possum symbolized The Beat Generation every bit as much as James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause or Marlon Brando's "The Wild One". Pogo had that touch of "je ne sais quoi" the others lacked. Perhaps it was a lot like "Your Moment of Zen".

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Sampler of "Beat" Heroes

What more can I write? Only in America ... only in America!

Makes you wonder about the name "The Beatles". Was there an influence perhaps?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Did Beatniks Resemble Fidel Castro and Cuban Revolutionaries?

Ok, maybe Fidel didn't wear turtlenecks in the Caribbean climate. Maybe he and his troops got to wear combat boots instead of sandals.

The rest of the look - berets, sunglasses, and beards is 'spot on', as the Brits say. Fidel and his troops liked their strong coffee, regardless of what name it was given. They like to smoke. And they liked their music. Bongo music was not foreign to the Cubanos, and Conga drumming was familiar to Beats. I'm sure both groups used marijuana and played guitars.

Was their a possible connection between the two? Were The Beats as much related to Marx as they were to Thoreau or Kerouac? Or was it all just one big coincidence?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beats and the Backlash of The Squares

This site could just as well be called "Beatnik 101". It's a real good introduction to beatniks of both stripes, the real "Beats" and the stereotyped weekend wannabes. Here's an excerpt for your perusal:

"The Beatniks we know and love, with their requisite bongos, berets and turtlenecks, made their big screen debuts in Hollywood films like FUNNY FACE and BELL BOOK AND CANDLE in the late 1950s. They weren't called beatniks yet, but they were black-clad, modern-dancing, angst-ridden Existentialists—a trĂ©s chic French export. These early beatnik stereotypes—goateed, bongo-beating espresso drinkers—were then portrayed as quaint and harmless, if somewhat silly.

But in American urban centers like New York and San Francisco, a youth culture that defined themselves as "beat" was forming. These were members of a generation whose spirits were beaten down by World War II and the new fear of atomic weaponry, and responded to the angst by rejecting the materialistic, straight-laced values of the 1950s mainstream. They listened to jazz. They experimented with drugs. They wrote stream-of-consciousness poetry. They danced to the beat of a different bongo, and went pretty much unnoticed. It was only after the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road in 1957 that the mainstream caught on."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beatniks and "Beat" Poets - There's A Difference

"Beatnik" was a more superficial and aesthetic spinoff of the beat movement. The word was coined by Herb Caen, a San Francisco columnist, in 1958, playing off of the recent launch of the Russian sputnik.[ ... ]

Were there ever any beatniks? Probably, but they were as phony, or phonier, than the hipsters of today. Instead of being a vital social or artistic movement, this was a way for ordinary people to feel "bohemian" without actually taking any risks, or producing anything of value.

Jack Kerouac, who coined the phrase "beat generation," hated the term. (Wouldn't you?) Allen Ginsberg famously said that "If beatniks and not illuminated Beat poets overrun this country, they will have been created not by Kerouac but by industries of mass communication which continue to brainwash man."

This appropriation of beat culture mirrored the later co-opting of the term "hippie," which grew into a grotesque parody of itself by the late 1960s. In point of fact, the word "hippie" grew out of the word "hipster," which was used to describe various bohemian types who lived in NYC's Greenwich Vilage, and Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. Like modern-day hipsters, 1950s and 60s counterparts shunned work in favor of artistic expression; or, at least, pretending to be artists.

The word is still in use today, though its negative connotations have largely faded. A Haruki Murakami book, Sputnik Sweetheart, gets its name from a catachresis by the narrator's love object, who says "sputnik" instead of "beatnik." Film director John Waters once cited Maynard G. Krebs as an inspiration growing up. Unfortunately, it's the cliched image, of sunglasses, turtlenecks and bongos, which lives on...not the reality of the beat generation.