Summer Of Love
It's almost 2011, and the Beat Generation is as hot a topic as ever. Especially when it comes to new movies. Here's the rundown:
1. Way back in 1952, long before Howl, long before On The Road, the phrase "Beat Generation" appeared for the first time in a New York Times Magazine Article by an up-and-coming New York City writer, John Clellon Holmes. Holmes, a good friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and a founding member of the original Beat circle in New York City, also wrote several novels that were respectably reviewed. But he lacked the charisma and theatricality of the later Beat writers, and struggled for literary success even as his friends reached explosive levels of fame.
It's only because of these legendary friends, and not because of his own fiction, that John Clellon Holmes merits an extensive literary biography by Ann and Samuel Charters today. Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation is unusual among literary biographies because its hero never had a breakout success. Instead, he filled out his career with dead end manuscripts, odd magazine assignments and college teaching jobs. In this sense, Brother-Souls is actually a more accurate glimpse of how most writers live than any typical biography of a famous writer. Still, mostly due to Ann and Sam Charters' obvious affection for their subject (who was their close friend), a poignant and meaningful storyline emerges. The most surprising chapters take place during the 1960s, when Holmes and his wife Shirley attempt to find their own inroads into the swinging counterculture by experimenting earnestly (and at a very intellectual level) with free love and group sex. These experiments failed more often than not, sometimes leaving deep psychic wounds behind, and the chronicles of these failures (which Holmes himself later tried to publish a book about) provide a new angle -- an Updikeean angle, surprisingly enough -- on the famous legend of the Beats. Brother-Souls, though clearly a labor of love by the Charters team, is a nice addition to their body of work (Ann Charters wrote the first biography of Jack Kerouac, many decades ago).
(One of our many missions here at Litkicks is to call attention to a particularly neglected period in American literature: the experimental/postmodern fiction of the 1960s. Here's the debut appearance on this blog of April Rose Schneider of Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, California, Bangkok and New Mexico, telling us about a favorite novel by a writer who died too young. -- Levi)
An old adage says lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Don’t believe it. In the electric, eclectic atmosphere of post World War II academia, a series of refreshing lightning bolts sparked a new genre of American literature beginning in the early1950s. In the afterglow of the last Great American Renaissance [1950-1975] the fading light of those embers -- named Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Pynchon, Brautigan, Thompson, and Kesey -- still shine over the ragged, rutted-out roads of the American Dream.
Yet, one brilliant star of this latest explosion of new American writers burned out in a brilliant flash, barely noticed by the rest of the illuminati. This real-gone star’s name was Richard Farina, and he was as Beat as Beat would ever be. Farina’s only claim to fame, Been Down so Long It Looks Like Up to Me was in many ways the 60’s complement to the rollicking, wide open classic On the Road. If On the Road was a careening, pedal-to-the-metal sort of hopped-up, amphetamine driven travelogue through a burned out Freudian landscape, Been Down So Long was a stroll through a Jungian meadow where Farina’s archetypes asked deep, pot-inspired philosophical questions of life and love and raged against the machine.
1. Just Kids, Patti Smith's beguiling memoir of late 1960s New York, the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe and the early 1970s St. Mark's Church punk poetry scene, has won the National Book Award! Quite impressive. I totally called this back in February, you know. The winner's circle above includes Jaimy Gordon, Terrance Hayes, Kathryn Erskine.
2. Doonesbury turns 40! I grew up with this comic strip. I used to especially love the counterculture literary references: Uncle Duke was Hunter S. Thompson, and several characters lived at the Walden Puddle Commune. (This was probably a reference not only to Thoreau's Walden but also to B. F. Skinner's then-fashionable Walden Two.)
Before I found out Patti won the National Book Award I was going to illustrate today's blog post with a picture I found of Zonker scuba-diving in Walden Puddle. The image is too good to waste, so here it is:
3. Michael Orthofer of the Complete Review has written a book, The Complete Review: Eleven Years, 2500 Reviews, A Site History, about his experience creating and maintaining that website and the accompanying blog Literary Saloon. I've read it, and it's a charming, candid look at the kinds of questions, decisions and private struggles that animate the life of a serious independent blogger.
"Outside of society!" shouts Patti Smith in one of her best songs, Rock and Roll Nigger. The phrase expresses not a reality but rather only a dream for many of us. For a small few, it's an actual choice.
I've never lived off the grid, but I've always been drawn to the idea. The impulse to withdraw from modern suburbia and reinvent society in capsule form has a long intellectual history; it was a driving force of the French Enlightenment, New England Transcendentalism (Louisa May Alcott spent part of her childhood in her father's commune) and the 1960s hippie revolution. During that golden age, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters lived in a cabin in Palo Alto, Timothy Leary held court at Millbrook, New York, while Allen Ginsberg's poetic entourage gathered around Cherry Valley, New York. But Charlie Manson was also building his own society at Spahn Movie Ranch outside of Los Angeles during these years. Many of the most well-known off-the-grid communes since the end of the 1960s have similarly been disaster stories: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple in Guyana, David Koresh and the Branch Dravidians in Waco, the lonely Unabomber in his Lincoln, Montana cabin.
Some of the original hippie communes, though, did not fail, and managed to evolve. My older and younger sisters both experimented with communal societies at different points in their lives, and I once visited my younger sister for a weekend while she lived on the edge -- half in, half out -- of a rural commune in northwestern Vermont that sustained about 75 regulars and many more visitors. The informal commune -- people lived in separate shacks, but spent their days together -- had existed quietly and successfully for years. I hope it's still there.
1. After a whole lot of passionate (and incorrect) guessing, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (the dapper fellow above just announced it on a live webcast from Stockholm). I must admit that, while I once enjoyed hearing from this Peruvian novelist at a New York reading with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, I don't know much about his work as a whole. I'm looking forward to learning more. And, yeah, I do wish Ngugi wa Thiong'o had taken it. Maybe next year.
2. A Ted Hughes poem dealing directly with his wife Sylvia Plath's suicide has been revealed for the first time.
3. I like Julie Taymor and I really like William Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I'm pretty psyched about a new Julie Taymor film of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a female Prospero, along with the likes of Russell Brand and Alan Cumming in various roles.
"... Simon's a true Russian, wants the whole world to love, a descendant indeed of some of those insane sweet Ippolits and Kirilovs of Dostoevsky's 19th Century Czarist Russia -- And looks it too, as the time we'd all eaten peyotl (the musicians and I) and there we are banging out a big jam session at 5 P.M. in a basement apartment with trombone, two drums, Speed on piano and Simon sitting under the all-day-lit red lamp with ancient tassels, his rocky face all gaunt in the unnatural redness, suddenly then I saw: "Simon Darlovsky, the greatest man in San Francisco" and later that night for Irwin's and my amusement as we tromped the streets with my rucksack (yelling "The Great Truth Cloud!" at gangs of Chinese men coming out of card rooms) Simon'd put on a little original pantomime a la Charley Chaplin but peculiar to his own also Russian style which consisted of his running dancing up to a foyer filled with people in easy chairs watching TV and putting on an elaborate mime (astonishments, hands of horror to mouth, looking around, woops, tipping, humbling, sneaking off, as you might expect some of Jean Genet's boys goofing in Paris streets drunk) (elaborate masques with intelligence) -- The Mad Russian, Simon Darlovsky, who always reminds me of my Cousin Noel, as I keep telling him, my cousin of long ago in Massachusetts who had the same face and eyes and used to glide phantomy around the table in dim rooms and go "Muee hee hee ha, I am the Phantom of the Opera" (in French saying it, 'je suis le phantome de l'opera-a-a-a) -- And strange, too, that Simon's jobs have always been Whitman-like, nursin, he'd shaved old psychopaths in hostpitals, nursed the sick and dying, and now as an ambulance driver for a small hospital he was batting around San Fran all day picking up the insulted and injured in stretchers (horrible places where they were found, little back rooms), the blood and the sorrow, Simon not really the Mad Russian but Simon the Nurse -- Never could harm a hair of anybody's head if he tried --"
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels
Peter Orlovsky, Beat Generation poet and muse, died this weekend. A gentle and exuberant spirit, Orlovsky did not aim for literary fame but his reflection was caught in the work of his virtual spouse and best friend Allen Ginsberg, and in the writings of Jack Kerouac, who transformed him into a character named Simon Darlovsky who lit up the pages of the great late-period novel Desolation Angels just as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder) had lit up On The Road and Dharma Bums.
2. It's very weird that attempted Times Square terrorist Faisal Shahzad left a DVD of the anomie-striven movie Up In The Air to be found in his home. Novelist Walter Kirn, who we recently interviewed about the film of his book, wrote this on Twitter: "times sq. bomber leaving behind copy of 'up in the air' reminds me of chapman, lennon's killer, and catcher in the rye. icky feeling now."
1. Beat poet Michael McClure's new book of poetry is called Mysteriosos. In his long and exciting career McClure has collaborated with Janis Joplin and Ray Manzarek, written influential plays like The Beard, and appeared as a character (a voice of sanity, strangely enough) in Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur. He's also, in my opinion, a better nature poet than W. S. Merwin, and a whole lot more fun to read.
Mysteriosos is a wildly adventurous (typographically and otherwise) romp through existence and language. Characteristically for McClure's work, the consciousness of the poetic narrator is not restricted to the human species, and instead generally aims for a universal or animal awareness. Sometimes this is even achieved. Check out this good book (an earlier version of which was previewed temporarily on LitKicks during our 24 Hour Poetry Party in 2004).
1. Natalie Merchant has recorded a double album, Leave Your Sleep, containing her own musical settings of classic poems by Mervyn Peake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, e. e. cummings, Charles Causley, Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Edward Lear, Jack Prelutsky, Arthur Macy, Ogden Nash, Charles E. Carryl, Nathalia Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti. I haven't heard it yet but definitely want to. Natalie will be at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in New York City on April 14 for a talk with Katherine Lanpher.
1. What on earth are these little kids doing on this "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" 1967 TV show? Is it the Pony? The Frug, the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator? It's pretty cute and weird, whatever they're doing.
2. Friend of LitKicks (FOL) Tim Barrus at Electric Literature! What a combination.