Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of The "King Of The Beats" Jack Kerouac- On The 60th Anniversary Of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" (1957) Beat Writers' Corner- John Clennon Holmes' Famous Article -"This Is The Beat Generation"
“Advertisements for Myself”-Introduction by Allan Jackson, a founding member of the American Left History publication back in 1974 when it was a hard copy journal and until 2017 site manager of the on-line edition.
[He’s back. Jack Kerouac, as described in the headline, “the king of the beats” and maybe the last true beat standing. That is the basis of this introduction by me as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of his untimely death at 47. But before we go down and dirty with the legendary writer I stand before you, the regular reader, and those who have not been around for a while to know that I was relieved of my site manage duties in 2017 in what amounted to a coup by the younger writers who resented the direction I was taking the publication in and replaced me with Greg Green who I had brought on board from American Film Gazette to run the day to day operations while I oversaw the whole operation and planned my retirement. Over the past year or so a million rumors have, had mostly now, swirled around this publication and the industry in general about what had happened and I will get to that in a minute before dealing with Jack Kerouac’s role in the whole mess.
What you need to know first, if you don’t know already is that Greg Green took me back to do the introductions to an encore presentation of a long-term history of rock and roll series that I edited and essentially created after an unnamed older writer who had not been part of the project balled it all up, got catch flat-footed talking bullshit and other assorted nonsense since he knew nada, nada nunca and, about the subject having been apparently asleep when the late Peter Markin “took us to school” that history. Since then Greg and I have had an “armed truce,” meaning I could contribute as here to introductions of some encore and some origin material as long as I didn’t go crazy, his term, for what he called so-called nostalgia stuff from the 1950s and 1960s and meaning as well that Greg will not go crazy, my term, and will refrain from his ill-advised attempt to reach a younger audience by “dumbing down” the publication with odd-ball comic book character reviews of films, graphic novels and strange musical interludes. Fair is fair.
What I need to mention, alluded to above, is those rumors that ran amok while I was on the ropes, when I had lost that decisive vote of no confidence by one sullen vote. People here, and my enemies in the industry as well, seeing a wounded Allan Jackson went for the kill, went for the jugular that the seedy always thrive on and began a raggedy-ass trail on noise you would not believe. In the interest of elementary hygiene, and to frankly clear the air, a little, since there will always be those who have evil, and worse in their hearts when “the mighty have fallen.” Kick when somebody is down their main interest in life.
I won’t go through the horrible rumors like I was panhandling down in Washington, D.C., I was homeless in Olde Saco, Maine (how could that be when old friend and writer here Josh Breslin lives there and would have provided alms to me so at least get an approximation of the facts before spinning the wild woolly tale), I had become a male prostitute in New York City (presumably after forces here and in that city hostile to me put in the fatal “hard to work with” tag on me ruining any chances on the East Coast of getting work, getting enough dough to keep the wolves from my door, my three ex-wives and that bevy of kids, nice kids, who nevertheless were sucking me dry with alimony and college tuitions), writing press releases under the name Leonard Bloom for a Madison Avenue ad agency. On a lesser scale of disbelief I had taken a job as a ticket-taker in a multi-plex in Nashua, New Hampshire, had been a line dishwasher at the Ritz in Philadelphia when they needed day labor for parties and convention banquets, had been kicking kids out of their newspaper routes and taking that task on myself, and to finish off although I have not given a complete rundown rummaging through trash barrels looking for bottles with deposits. Christ.
Needless to say, how does one actually answer such idiocies, and why. A couple of others stick out about me and some surfer girl out in Carlsbad in California who I was pimping while getting my sack time with her and this one hurt because it hurt a dear friend and former “hippie girl” lover of mine, Madame La Rue, back in the day that I was running a whorehouse with her in Luna Bay for rich Asian businessmen with a taste for kinky stuff. I did stop off there and Madame does run a high-end brothel in Luna Bay but I had nothing to do with it. The reason Madame was hurt was because I had lent her the money to buy the place when it was a rundown hotel and built it up from there with periodic additional funds from me so she could not understand why my act of kindness would create such degenerate noise from my enemies who were clueless about the relationship between us.
The biggest lie though is the one that had me as the M.C. in complete “drag” as Elsa Maxwell at the “notorious” KitKat Club in San Francisco which has been run for about the past thirty years or so by Miss Judy Garland, at one time and maybe still is in some quarters the “drag queen” Queen of that city. This will show you how ignorant, or blinded by hate, some people are. Miss Judy Garland is none other that one of our old corner boys from the Acre section of North Adamsville, Timmy Riley. Timmy who like the rest of us on the corner used to “fag bait” and beat up anybody, any guy who seemed effeminate, at what cost to Timmy’s real feelings we will never really know although he was always the leader in the gay-bashing orgy. Finally between his own feeling and Stonewall in New York in 1969 which did a great deal to make gays, with or with the drag queen orientation, a little less timid Timmy fled the Acre (and his hateful family and friends) to go to friendlier Frisco. He was in deep personal financial trouble before I was able to arrange some loans from myself and some of his other old corner boys (a few still hate Timmy for what he has become, his true self) to buy the El Lobo Club, his first drag queen club, and when that went under, the now thriving tourist trap KitKat Club. So yes, yes, indeed, I stayed with my old friend at his place and that was that. Nothing more than I had done many times before while I ran the publication.
But enough of this tiresome business because I want to introduce this series dedicated to the memory of Jack Kerouac who had a lot of influence on me for a long time, mostly after he died in 1969
So it is easy to see where except to ostracize, meaning harass, maybe beat up if that was our wont that day, we would have passed by the “beat” scene, passed by Jack Kerouac too without the good offices, not a term we would have used then, if not for nerdish, goof, wild and woolly in the idea world Markin (always called Scribe for obvious reasons but we will keep with Markin here). He was the guy who always looked for some secret meaning to the universe, that certain breezes, winds, metaphorical breezes and winds, were going to turn things around, were going to make the world a place where Markin could thrive. Markin was the one who first read Kerouac’s breakthrough travelogue of a different sort novel On The Road.
Our first run through of our experiences with Kerouac and through him the beat movement was therefore kind of marginal-even as Markin touted for a while that whole scene he agreed with us that jazz-be-bop jazz always associated with the beat-ness was not our music, was grating to our rock and roll-refined and defined ears. Here is where Markin was always on to something though, always had some idea percolating in his head. There was a point where he, we as well I think, got tired of rock and roll, a time when it had run out of steam for a while and along with his crazy home life which really was bad drove him to go to Harvard Square and check out what he had heard was a lot of stuff going on. Harvard Square was, is still to the extent that any have survived like Club Passim, the home of the coffeehouse. A place that kind of went with the times first as the extension of the beat generation hang-out where poetry and jazz would be read and played. But in Markin’s time, our time there was the beginnings of a switch because when he went to the old long gone Café Nana he heard folk music and not jazz, although some poetry was still being read. I remember Markin telling me how he figured the change when I think it was the late Dave Von Ronk performed at some club and mentioned that when he started out in the mid-1950s in the heat of beat time folk singers were hired at the coffeehouses in Greenwich Village to “clear the house” for the next set of poetry performers but that now folk-singing eclipsed poetry in the clubs. Markin loved it, loved the whole scene of which he was an early devotee. Me, well, strangely considering where I wound up and what I did as a career, I always, still do, hated the music. Thought it was too whinny and boring. Enough said though.
Let’s fast forward to see where Kerouac really affected us in a way that when Markin was spouting forth early on we could not appreciate. As Markin sensed in his own otherworldly way a new breeze was coming down the cultural highway, a breeze push forward by the beats I will confess, by the folk music scene, by the search for roots which the previous generation, our parents’ generation, spent their adulthoods attempting to banish and become part of the great American vanilla melt, and by a struggling desire to question everything that had come before, had been part of what we had had no say in creating, weren’t even asked about. Heady stuff and Markin before he made a very bad decision to quit college in his sophomore years and “find himself,” my expression not his, spent many of his waking hours figuring out how to make his world a place where he could thrive.
That is when one night, this is when we were well out of high school, some of us corner boys had gone our separate ways and those who remained in contact with the brethren spent less time hanging out at Tonio’s, Markin once again pulled out On The Road, pulled out Jack’s exotic travelogue. The difference is we were all ears then and some of us after that night brought our own copies or went to the Thomas Murphy Public Library and took out the book. This was the spring of the historic year 1967 when the first buds of the Summer of Love which wracked San Francisco and the Bay Area to its core and once Markin started working on us, started to make us see his vision of what he would later called, culling from Tennyson if I am not mistaken a “newer world.” Pulling us all in his train, even as with Bart Webber and if I recall Si Lannon a little, he had to pull out all the stops to have them, us, join him in the Summer of Love experience. Maybe the whole thing with Jack Kerouac was a pipe dream I remember reading about him in the Literary Gazette when he was down in Florida living with his ancient mother and he was seriously critical of the “hippies,” kind of banged on his own beat roots explaining that he was talking about something almost Catholic beatitude spiritual and not personal freedom, of the road or anything else. A lot of guys and not just writing junkies looking for some way to alleviate their inner pains have repudiated their pasts but all I know is that when Jack was king of the hill, when he spoke to us those were the days all roads to Kerouac were led by Markin. Got it. Allan Jackson
I culled this from a Google search. The "my commentary" is from the person who placed it on the website.
'This Is The Beat Generation' by John Clellon Holmes
This is the complete text of the article by John Clellon Holmes that ran in the New York Times Magazine on November 16, 1952. This article introduced the phrase 'beat generation' to the world, although the writers who would come to personify this generation would not be published for several years more. For more on the origin of the term 'beat', click here.
My commentary : There are some interesting points in this article, but I can't help feeling annoyed at the idea of categorizing an entire generation. I don't believe any true statement can be made about a million or more people, except statements that are so general they are true for all times. So, for the hipster and the Young Republican here, substitute the hippie and the straight of twenty years ago, or the slacker and the yuppie today. Newspapers and magazines love to get excited about how 'different' each new generation is, but each new generation is just going through the same crisis the one before it went through. It's called 'growing up.'
In saying this, I don't mean to 'flame' John Clellon Holmes, a good writer who recognized the inanity of labelling a generation and even alluded to it in this article. Furthermore, I'm sure the idea of defining a generation was nowhere near as played out in the early 50's as it is now.
This Is The Beat Generation
by John Clellon Holmes
The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1952
Several months ago, a national magazine ran a story under the heading 'Youth' and the subhead 'Mother Is Bugged At Me.' It concerned an eighteen-year-old California girl who had been picked up for smoking marijuana and wanted to talk about it. While a reporter took down her ideas in the uptempo language of 'tea,' someone snapped a picture. In view of her contention that she was part of a whole new culture where one out of every five people you meet is a user, it was an arresting photograph. In the pale, attentive face, with its soft eyes and intelligent mouth, there was no hint of corruption. It was a face which could only be deemed criminal through an enormous effort of reighteousness. Its only complaint seemed to be: 'Why don't people leave us alone?' It was the face of a beat generation.
That clean young face has been making the newspapers steadily since the war. Standing before a judge in a Bronx courthouse, being arraigned for stealing a car, it looked up into the camera with curious laughter and no guilt. The same face, with a more serious bent, stared from the pages of Life magazine, representing a graduating class of ex-GI's, and said that as it believed small business to be dead, it intended to become a comfortable cog in the largest corporation it could find. A little younger, a little more bewildered, it was this same face that the photographers caught in Illinois when the first non-virgin club was uncovered. The young copywriter, leaning down the bar on Third Avenue, quietly drinking himself into relaxation, and the energetic hotrod driver of Los Angeles, who plays Russian Roulette with a jalopy, are separated only by a continent and a few years. They are the extremes. In between them fall the secretaries wondering whether to sleep with their boyfriends now or wait; the mechanic berring up with the guys and driving off to Detroit on a whim; the models studiously name-dropping at a cocktail party. But the face is the same. Bright, level, realistic, challenging.
Any attempt to label an entire generation is unrewarding, and yet the generation which went through the last war, or at least could get a drink easily once it was over, seems to possess a uniform, general quality which demands an adjective ... The origins of the word 'beat' are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself. A man is beat whenever he goes for broke and wagers the sum of his resources on a single number; and the young generation has done that continually from early youth.
Its members have an instinctive individuality, needing no bohemianism or imposed eccentricity to express it. Brought up during the collective bad circumstances of a dreary depression, weaned during the collective uprooting of a global war, they distrust collectivity. But they have never been able to keep the world out of their dreams. The fancies of their childhood inhabited the half-light of Munich, the Nazi-Soviet pact, and the eventual blackout. Their adolescence was spent in a topsy-turvy world of war bonds, swing shifts, and troop movements. They grew to independent mind on beachheads, in gin mills and USO's, in past-midnight arrivals and pre-dawn departures. Their brothers, husbands, fathers or boy friends turned up dead one day at the other end of a telegram. At the four trembling corners of the world, or in the home town invaded by factories or lonely servicemen, they had intimate experience with the nadir and the zenith of human conduct, and little time for much that came between. The peace they inherited was only as secure as the next headline. It was a cold peace. Their own lust for freedon, and the ability to live at a pace that kills (to which the war had adjusted them), led to black markets, bebop, narcotics, sexual promiscuity, hucksterism, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The beatness set in later.
It is a postwar generation, and, in a world which seems to mark its cycles by its wars, it is already being compared to that other postwar generation, which dubbed itself 'lost'. The Roaring Twenties, and the generation that made them roar, are going through a sentimental revival, and the comparison is valuable. The Lost Generation was discovered in a roadster, laughing hysterically because nothing meant anything anymore. It migrated to Europe, unsure whether it was looking for the 'orgiastic future' or escaping from the 'puritanical past.' Its symbols were the flapper, the flask of bootleg whiskey, and an attitude of desparate frivolity best expressed by the line: 'Tennis, anyone?' It was caught up in the romance of disillusionment, until even that became an illusion. Every act in its drama of lostness was a tragic or ironic third act, and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land was more than the dead-end statement of a perceptive poet. The pervading atmosphere of that poem was an almost objectless sense of loss, through which the reader felt immediately that the cohesion of things had disappeared. It was, for an entire generation, an image which expressed, with dreadful accuracy, its own spiritual condition.
But the wild boys of today are not lost. Their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces elude the word, and it would sound phony to them. For this generation lacks that eloquent air of bereavement which made so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions. Furthermore, the repeatedinventory of shattered ideals, and the laments about the mud in moral currents, which so obsessed the Lost Generation, do not concern young people today. They take these things frighteningly for granted. They were brought up in these ruins and no longer notice them. They drink to 'come down' or to 'get high,' not to illustrate anything. Their excursions into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiousity, not disillusionment.
Only the most bitter among them would call their reality a nightmare and protest that they have indeed lost something, the future. For ever since they were old enough to imagine one, that has been in jeapordy anyway. The absence of personal and social values is to them, not a revelation shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why. And it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the hotrod driver meet and their identical beatness becomes significant, for, unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it. As such, it is a disturbing illustration of Voltaire's reliable old joke: 'If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.' Not content to bemoan his absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems for him on all sides.
For the giggling nihilist, eating up the highway at ninety miles an hour and steering with his feet, is no Harry Crosby, the poet of the Lost Generation who planned to fly his plane into the sun one day because he could no longer accept the modern world. On the contrary, the hotrod driver invites death only to outwit it. He is affirming the life within him in the only way he knows how, at the extreme. The eager-faced girl, picked up on a dope charge, is not one of those 'women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs from public places,' of whom Fitzgerald wrote. Instead, with persuasive seriousness, she describes the sense of community she has found in marijuana, which society never gave her. The copywriter, just as drunk by midnight as his Lost Generation counterpart, probably reads God and Man at Yale during his Sunday afternoon hangover. The difference is this almost exaggerated will to believe in something, if only in themselves. It is a will to believe, even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms. And that is bound to lead to excesses in one direction or another.
The shock that older people feel at the sight of this Beat Generation is, at its deepest level, not so much repugnance at the facts, as it is distress at the attitudes which move it. Though worried by this distress, they most often argue or legislate in terms of the facts rather than the attitudes. The newspaper reader, studying the eyes of young dope addicts, can only find an outlet for his horror and bewilderment in demands that passers be given the electric chair. Sociologists, with a more academic concern, are just as troubled by the legions of young men whose topmost ambition seems to be to find a secure birth in a monolithic corporation. Contemporary historians express mild surprise at the lack of organized movements, political, religous, or otherwise, among the young. The articles they write remind us that being one's own boss and being a natural joiner are two of our most cherished national traits. Everywhere people with tidy moralities shake their heads and wonder what is happening to the younger generation.
Perhaps they have not noticed that, behind the excess on the one hand, and the conformity on the other, lies that wait-and-see detachment that results from having to fall back for support more on one's capacity for human endurance than on one's philosophy of life. Not that the Beat Generation is immune to ideas; they fascinate it. Its wars, both past and future, were and will be wars of ideas. It knows, however, that in the final, private moment of conflict a man is really fighting another man, and not an idea. And that the same goes for love. So it is a generation with a greater facility for entertaining ideas than for believing in them. But it is also the first generation in several centuries for which the act of faith has been an obsessive problem, quite aside from the reasons for having a particular faith or not having it. It exhibits on every side, and in a bewildering number of facets, a perfect craving to believe.
Though it is certainly a generation of extremes, including both the hipster and the radical young Republican in its ranks, it renders unto Caesar (i.e, society) what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. For the wildest hipster, making a mystique of bop, drugs and the night life, there is no desire to shatter the 'square' society in which he lives, only to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a manifesto would seem to him absurd. Looking at the normal world, where most everything is a 'drag' for him, he nevertheless says: 'Well, that's the Forest of Arden after all. And even it jumps if you look at it right.' Equally, the young Republican, though often seeming to hold up Babbitt as his culture hero, is neither vulgar nor materialistic, as Babbitt was. He conforms because he believes it is socially practical, not necessarily virtuous. Both positions, however, are the result of more or less the same conviction -- namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.
For beneath the excess and the conformity, there is something other than detachment. There are the stirrings of a quest. What the hipster is looking for in his 'coolness' (withdrawal) or 'flipness' (ecstasy) is, after all, a feeling on somewhereness, not just another diversion. The young Republican feels that there is a point beyond which change becomes chaos, and what he wants is not simply privelege or wealth, but a stable position from which to operate. Both have had enough of homelessness, valuelessness, faithlessnes.
The variety and the extremity of their solutions are only a final indication that for today's young people there is not as yet a single external pivot around which they can, as a generation, group their observations and their aspirations. There is no single philosophy, no single party, no single attitude. The failure of most orthodox moral and social concepts to reflect fully the life they have known is probably the reason for this, but because of it each person becomes a walking, self-contained unit, compelled to meet, or at least endure, the problem of being young in a seemingly helpless world in his own way.
More than anything else, this is what is responsible for this generation's reluctance to name itself, its reluctance to discuss itself as a group, sometimes its reluctance to be itself. For invented gods invariably disappoint those who worship them. Only the need for them goes on, and it is this need, exhausting one object after another, which projects the Beat Generation forward into the future and will one day deprive it of its beatness.
Dostoyevski wrote in the early 1880's that 'Young Russia is talking of nothing but the eternal questions now.' With appropriate changes, something very like this is beginning to happen in America, in an American way; a re-evaluation of which the exploits and attitudes of this generation are only symptoms. No single comparison of one generation against another can accurately measure effects, but it seems obvious that a lost generation, occupied with disillusionment and trying to keep busy among the broken stones, is poetically moving, but not very dangerous. But a beat generation, driven by a desparate craving for belief and as yet unable to accept the moderations which are offered it, is quite another matter. Thirty years later, after all, the generation of which Dostoyevski wrote was meeting in cellars and making bombs.
This generation may make no bombs; it will probably be asked to drop some, and have some dropped on it, however, and this fact is never far from its mind. It is one of the pressures which created it and will play a large part in what will happen to it. There are those who believe that in generations such as this there is always the constant possibility of a great new moral idea, conceived in desparation, coming to life. Others note the self-indulgence, the waste, the apparent social irresponsibility, and disagree.
But its ability to keep its eyes open, and yet avoid cynicism; its ever-increasing conviction that the problem of modern life is essentially a spiritual problem; and that capacity for sudden wisdom which people who live hard and go far possess, are assets and bear watching. And, anyway, the clear, challenging faces are worth it.