Summer Of Love
On hand to give her firsthand account of the bust that led to that conviction was Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia. Other readers and performers included Kesey's longtime friend and co-conspirator Ken Babbs, along with his wife Eileen and their daughter Lizzie; Spit in the Ocean editor Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and other famous books; Jail Journal editor David Stanford, formerly of Viking Press, known for his work on Jack Kerouac's Collected Letters and Some of the Dharma; Kesey's son, Zane, proprietor of Key-Z Productions; inveterate clown and do-gooder Wavy Gravy; tour documentor Freddy "AreWeReally" Hahne; graphic artist John Lackey; computer whiz Pat "Chef Juke" Mackey; and longtime Prankster, Neal Cassady's backup driver, George Walker.
The event took place in the roomy Sebastopol Community Center. The psychedelic bus, Further II, was parked just outside, open for tours and inspections. With most of this crew on board, Walker had driven the bus down from Oregon for a series of California performances. The evening was built around a series of six skits, or sketches -- in Through the Looking Glass-fashion they had by now become "skitches" -- that Ken Babbs wrote for the book tour. In each skitch Walker played the part of a reporter asking questions of Kesey. The other performers -- Babbs, Mackey, Stanford, Hahne, and Zane Kesey -- fronted by a variety of Kesey masks, would then answer the questions. A number of musical instruments were also played, sometimes on key. Songs were sung, jokes and stories told, and portions of each book read. It was all rather fast-paced and informal, educational and fun -- a literary entertainment, a gathering of old friends and making of new ones. After the final skitch and a sing-along of "Goodnight Irene" there was ample time for conversation and book purchases and signings.
Kesey's flesh envelope is now interred on his Oregon farm, but his friends and colleagues provide evidence that his spirit is still vibrant. As Wavy Gravy put it in his "Haiku for Kesey":
They say Kesey's dead-
but never trust a prankster
even under ground
For the complete SpitFurther Tour diary and lots of photos check intrepidtrips.com or skypilotclub.com.
Whitman wrote and published Leaves of Grass around a time of war as well. In 1855, the country was already on the verge of a great catastrophe. Whitman composed "Song of Myself" during the first hints that there was a Civil War looming which could tear America apart. The Beats wrote after the dropping of a bomb that all too clearly could tear the entire world apart. And so, in the midst of these questions about prosperity and warfare, it becomes almost necessary to ask those questions which have been pored over by great thinkers for ages: What is important? What is truth? What is real? In answering these questions for themselves, Whitman and the Beats came to nearly identical answers. Searching for truth in societies that seemed to teeter on the edge of a total lack of it, both found meaning in the world around them and in themselves.
Perhaps most importantly, both Whitman and the Beat writers focused on spirituality, which in their times of economic prosperity seemed unnecessary. After all, for the most part people only pray to God when they want something. However, Whitman was displeased with this dependence on the tangible. He expressed this in "Song of Myself":
I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals...they are so placid and self-contained,Here Whitman is writing about the obsession with prosperity and materialism and the religious ignorance that alarmed him in America. The "mania of owning things" he refers to as a form of dementia, as if it is a sickness. This is interesting in that it means he did not consider it innate to mankind, but something which had overtaken them and from which they could be cured. This follows Whitman's overall sense of hope for the people and overall feeling that the human being was to be celebrated, not condemned. Notice also that he looked down upon mankind "[weeping] for their sins." Although in these lines Whitman is referring to animals as those whom he admires for not falling prey to this trap, he could have as accurately been admiring the Beat generation. They too can be described by the same aversion to "[weeping] for their sins," and they were not at all demented by the "mania of owning things." In fact, very few of the Beat writers found substantial success, either financially or personally, during their lifetimes, much like Whitman himself. Whitman's sentiment about those who are guilty for their actions and "lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins," is shared by those who lived during the Beat generation, as can be seen from this excerpt from the article that first coined the term "Beat Generation."
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied....not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
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.With the established truths of morality and prosperity denied, where did Whitman and the Beats find truth? The answer lies in mysticism. Both found God, but they found God in less conventional terms. When Whitman spoke of God, he expressed his thoughts as such, "I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not in the least." ("Song of Myself"; line 1274) To some this would seem absurd. However, to the Beats it was pure gospel. To let oneself find holiness in every moment of life was true religion. Whitman's line can be compared to the writing of Kerouac about another Beat, Neal Cassady:
("This is the Beat Generation" by John Clellon Holmes, The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1952)
And he stood swaying in the middle of the room, eating his cake and looking at everyone with awe. He turned and looked around behind him. Everything amazed him, everything he saw....he wanted to see from all possible levels and angles...He was finally an Angel, as I always knew he would become...Kerouac's use of the word "Angel" is the real key to this passage. He uses this motif of attaining spirituality and nirvana, of becoming an "Angel," throughout the book. This displays his belief in attaining the sublime through the ordinary, through the everyday occurrence. In everything, there can be the potential for enlightenment. This was the foundation of this particular method of personal mysticism that Whitman began and the Beats continued. More on this can be found in Kerouac's poetry:
(On the Road; p. 263)
And when you showed me Brooklyn BridgeWhitman set this sort of precedent with his exhortations on the question of "what is grass?" in "Song of Myself". While some would have overlooked the young boy's question as simply youthful curiosity, Whitman realized divine potential which it contained. He wrote, "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars." ("Song of Myself"; line 662) All this in grass, which can be found everywhere! In fact, he even went so far along these lines as to say, "And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer's girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking shortcake." ("Song of Myself"; line 669) He worships everything, in his own way. Whitman's writings on this subject culminated in total mystic ecstasy over the overlooked towards the end of "Song of Myself":
in the morning,
And the people slipping on the ice in the street,
...That's when you taught me tears, Ah
God, in the morning.
("HYMN"; ll. 1-5, ll. 15-16)
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?The emphasis on intense joy and pain in every experience, making the whole world seem overwhelmingly spiritual, is inherent in nearly all the writing of Whitman and the Beats. Whitman worships a blade of grass and a tea-kettle. Kerouac calls out to God over what most would call the minutiae of everyday life. Both feel that, "All truths wait in all things." ("Song of Myself"; l. 646) This was the sort of faith both Whitman and Kerouac felt was missing in the American culture of the time. This fascination, adoration, and devotion to the parts of life, the spiritual moments, that are most overlooked is what sets both Whitman and the Beats apart.
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name,
("Song of Myself"; ll. 1276-1279)
Whitman has often been called the democratic poet, in that he speaks for all people, not just the intellectual elite. Whitman is the writer of the downtrodden, the democratic, the "beat." This too is comparative to the writers of the Beat generation. Even though highly intellectual themselves, they did not limit their society to the university-bred of the time. Similar to Whitman, they accepted what was taboo to accept. Whitman sought out all humanity:
This is the meal pleasantly set....this is the meat and drink for natural hunger,And the Beats were friends with junkies and deviants:
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous....I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The keptwoman and sponger and thief are hereby invited....the heavy-lipped slave is invited....the venerealee is invited,
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.
("Song of Myself"; ll. 372-376)
"...he fell in with a crowd of wild souls there, including fellow students Lucien Carr and Jack Kerouac and non-student friends William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady. These delinquent young philosophers were equally obsessed with drugs, crime, sex and literature....He began consorting with Times Square junkies and thieves (mostly friends of Burroughs), experimenting with Benzedrine and marijuana, and cruising gay bars in Greenwich Village, all the time believing himself and his friends to be working towards some kind of uncertain great poetic vision, which he and Kerouac called the New Vision."This brings to light another point. Obviously Kerouac was not the only major figure in the Beat literary movement. Allen Ginsberg, now a celebrated poet, had his beginnings in this circle as well. And if Whitman the mystic was reinvented in Kerouac, Whitman the homosexual was reinvented in Ginsberg. Both expressed themselves through not only their poetry, but through their bodies as well. They freed themselves of the restraints of society by expressing their sexuality. In his poetry, Whitman proclaims, "I am for those who believe in loose delights, I share the midnight orgies of young men," (Children of Adam; from "Native Moments," l. 5) and at points describes his experiences with other men as, "We two boys together clinging,/ One the other never leaving." (Calamus, from "We Two Boys Together Clinging," ll. 1-2). This was put somewhat more explicitly by Ginsberg, "Neal Cassady was my animal; he brought me to my knees/ and taught me the love of his cock and the secrets of his mind." (Many Loves; ll. 1-2) However, one cannot define their sexuality merely as "homosexuality." Both Whitman and Ginsberg celebrated the body in all respects. Just as spirituality could be found in everyday moments, so could it be found in human flesh:
(from "Allen Ginsberg" by Levi Asher)
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!This love of the body was first expressed in Whitman, however:
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is eternity! Everyman's an angel!
(Footnote to "Howl"; ll. 1-3)
Divine I am inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from;Both Whitman's and Ginsberg's poetry considered the human body and human physicality to be something divine. Interestingly enough, both Whitman's and Ginsberg's poetry was considered obscene at the time it was written. One can even find more parallels between the two in their writing styles, both of which take on epic proportions through long, powerful, free verse that attains a rhythmic and chant-like quality. Although Ginsberg is more similar to Whitman on the subject of the body, other Beat writers found great interest in it as well. Kerouac writes of how Neal Cassady "...took the wheel and flew the rest of the way across the state of Texas...not stopping except once when he took all his clothes off...and ran yipping and leaping naked in the sage." (On the Road; p. 161) This can be compared to Whitman's excitement to "...go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,/ I am mad for it to be in contact with me." ("Song of Myself"; ll. 11-12) The fascination and celebration of the naked body as seen here is another idea that is found in both Whitman's poetry and the writings of the Beats.
The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer,
This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds.
("Song of Myself"; ll. 526-528)
All the reconfigurations about the meaning of spirituality and physicality can be best summed up by Whitman, who simply explained, "I am the poet of the body,/ And I am the poet of the soul." (Song of Myself; ll. 422-423) Taken all together, the final assertion is that both Walt Whitman and the Beat writers were writing from the same state of mind, from the same point of view. Both had felt it was necessary to reassess what was important in a country inundated by commercialism, threatened by war, and at a loss for truth. Kerouac wrote On the Road but first Whitman wrote "afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road." ("Song of the Open Road"; l. 1) In truth, Whitman could be called the first Beat, and the Beat writers may indeed be called the second-coming of American Transcendentalism, the second great American literary movement.
"I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.Be that as it may, there are several rather nasty personalities who appear during the course of the story, and they are worthy of consideration. There is only one Nazi who appears throughout the novel, which is curious considering that a significant portion of the plot unfolds during the Second World War. Probably the Nazis could not be depicted as anything less than villainous. The rank-and-file German soldiers are always presented as farmers and laborers, ordinary people who have been conscripted like Billy Pilgrim.
Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, 'You know--you never wrote a story with a villain in it.'
I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war."
That one Nazi is Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American defector. Campbell avoids true villainy by virtue of the fact that he is not a true Nazi either. Vonnegut reveals in Mother Night that he is in reality an American spy, though perhaps he contributes more to the Nazi cause in his attempt to put on a convincing show. He does not subscribe to their ideologies of Fascism and anti-Semitism. He does share their anti-Communism, as do most of his countrymen. Campbell agrees only to fight on the Russian front. That Hitler and Stalin were both villains few will deny. The decision to side with one against the other was a necessity of war. Campbell sees what his government would not yet admit, that the Communists will be the next great enemy of the United States. "Might as well fight them now," he says.
Roland Weary is an eighteen-year-old tank gunner with delusions of grandeur and a propensity for violence. He finds himself at odds with Billy Pilgrim's lack of will to live and violently goads Billy to go on. Because of this, he convinces himself that he has saved Billy's life, and perhaps he has. This feeds a delusion in which he fancies himself one of the Three Musketeers and often waxes nostalgic about the war while it is still going on. He resents Billy Pilgrim for getting in his way. When he comes to die, he blames Billy for the events leading up to his death.
Paul Lazarro promises to avenge Weary. He is one who, according to Tralfamadorian philosophy, is not to be trifled with. He is extraordinarily well connected, able to have anyone killed who so much as looks at him cock-eyed. But his threats and violence seem to spring from a deep-seated insecurity. Perhaps he bullies because he has been bullied. What can be said of Paul Lazarro is that he keeps his word. He threatens to have Billy Pilgrim killed to avenge the death of his friend Roland Weary and, some thirty-one years later, he carries out that threat. Billy Pilgrim knows of this in advance, not only because he was warned but because he is "unstuck in time." Some have called him literature's least likely Christ figure because of his serene acceptance of this unjust sentence. He knows that Paul Lazarro has no free will, that the moment is structured to occur exactly as it does.
Bertram Copeland Rumfoord is an unsympathetic old codger but hardly a villain. He views the massacre that took place at Dresden on February 13, 1945 with the cold objectivity of a military historian and lacks interest in the human, personal, individual side of that story. He is very rude to Billy Pilgrim, dismissing anything he says because he believes Billy is a lunatic. He claims that the destruction of Dresden was necessary even though it had no war industry or significant troop concentrations.
Edgar Derby is no villain. On the contrary, he is one of the few people in Germany who is kind to Billy Pilgrim. Derby is, at worst, a petty thief. He steals a tea kettle from someone who will certainly not miss it. It has always been quite common for soldiers to steal souvenirs and supplies from corpses. Billy Pilgrim does it. But Edgar Derby is executed for this while Billy and countless others get away with it. The horrible irony is that Derby is executed by agents of the same military that killed the owner of the tea kettle. The US military is, in essence, saying that murder is morally acceptable but theft is not. According to US law, neither is acceptable. Still, few would argue that theft, particularly under the circumstances in which Derby committed the crime, warrants the death penalty.
World War II is typically presented in terms of good and evil, Allies and Axis, white and black. In Slaughterhouse-Five, he reminds the reader of what many would like to ignore and forget: that the Allies were not as good as they presented themselves, that they killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in cities like Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Implicit in this is a criticism of the use of incendiary devices on non-military targets in Vietnam, which was happening when Slaughterhouse-Five was first published. Vonnegut's antiwar stance is the logical result of his disbelief in the concept of a clear good and evil, his belief that there are only differing perspectives.
"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
James Douglas Morrison's poetry was born out of a period of tumultuous social and political change in American and world history. Besides Morrison's social and political perspective, his verse also speaks with an understanding of the world of literature, especially of the traditions that shaped the poetry of his age. His poetry also expresses his own experiences, thoughts, development, and maturation as a poet--from his musings on film at UCLA in The Lords and The New Creatures, to his final poems in Wilderness and The American Night. It is my intention in this essay to show Morrison as a serious American poet, whose work is worthy of serious consideration in relation to its place in the American literary tradition. By discussing the poetry in terms of Morrison's influences and own ideas, I will be able to show what distinguishes him as a significant American poet. In order to reveal him as having a clearly-defined ability as a poet, my focus will be on Morrison's own words and poetry. I will concentrate on his earlier work to show the influence of Nietzsche and French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Antonin Artaud and the effect they had on Morrison's poetry and style.
This is the kind of quote which typifies Edward Abbey. It will make some people laugh out loud, and others shake their heads. The greatest thing about Abbey was that he really wouldn't have given a damn whether you liked it or not.
Edward Abbey was born on January 29, 1927 in the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania. Growing up during the Great Depression in the nearby village of Home in an impoverished but liberal family, he never excelled at school, and astonishingly failed journalism at high school twice. He enlisted in the US Army after his graduation, serving in Italy just as World War 2 drew to a close. After his discharge, he went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of New Mexico, and also spent a year at Edinburgh University in Scotland, concentrating his studies in the field of philosophy and developing an interest in anarchism, which would later influence much of his writing.
Although he had several fictional novels published beforehand (Jonothan Troy, The Brave Cowboy, Fire on the Mountain), Abbey�s breakthrough work came in 1968 with the publication Desert Solitaire. A vivid account of his time spent as a seasonal ranger in the Arches National Monument (now Arches National Park) in Utah, it is full of Abbey's trademark dry humour, philosophy and environmental awareness and stands as both a tribute and an obituary to the American desert that he loved so much. As he laments in the introduction, "Most of what I wrote about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy."
Seven years later Abbey unleashed The Monkey Wrench Gang. It followed the comical antics of a group of freewheeling environmental saboteurs, or "monkey wrenchers", trying to halt the insidious the march of development into the desert through non-violent direct action. Echoing Abbey's environmental concerns, including the building of the Glen Canyon Dam, and with characters based on real life figures, the book inspired countless environmentalists to take up a "wrench" in defense of the wilderness.
Abbey died at age 69, on March 14, 1989 following complications from surgery on a recurrent vascular problem. He was brought home to die by friends, and was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the Cabeza Prieta desert in Arizona. Amongst his instructions for burial was the line "I want my body to help fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or sagebrush or tree." A fitting end for a great man of the American wilderness.
Catch-22 was one of those rare novels that I could immediately relate to. I madly fell in love with the character of Yossarian, the witty yet psychotic protagonist of the novel. Yossarian feels estranged from the society he lives in. He is alarmed to find out that the accepted norm of human behavior nowadays is to kill one another. He is even more alarmed to find out that he is the only one to find it alarming in the first place. Yossarian realizes that he is completely entangled in a web of 'oxymorons' and catch-22s. Furthermore, his life is in the hands of his superiors, a class of men so estranged from the minds of their subordinates that they may as well be considered the enemy. Yossarian epitomizes every insecurity one might feel. Through his actions, we get to experience every moment of enlightenment, moment of cowardice, moment of common sense, moment of victory, or moment of defeat one might have in life. In my mind, he is me. The only differences I see is that his society is that of a military base in Pianosa, while mine is that of a war-hungry and vengeful America, his superiors are military generals, while mine are government leaders, and his web is spun by the odd behavior of humans due to the lunacy of war. My tangled web is spun by the odd behavior of humans due to the lunacy of popular culture and belief.
Joseph Heller, the author of this bizarre novel, is no ordinary writer. As an avid reader and amateur writer, I often not only read the novel, but also analyze the writing style. What strikes me about Heller is that, unlike most writers, each chapter, page, or even word seems to resonate with his name. He doesn't follow the accepted norm of a story unfolding in coordination with the space-time continuum. Heller's chapters don't follow a timeline at all. One part of the book might be talking about a past experience that will be narrated in a later chapter. His panache is unmistakable, and, like it or not, with each passing page, the reader begins to grow more infatuated with his words. Don't get me wrong, Heller writes in a heavily stylized, repetitive way that becomes severely afflicted with mannerisms. Some might call his writing annoying (indeed, I was struck by a critic's comment that Catch-22" doesn't even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper"). The novel is peppered with such a large amount of lame jokes and banal dialogues that it is very easy to look past the astute observations Heller makes about society. The biggest argument I can make defending Heller is that his writing style grows under your skin. Like Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness, Heller's writing is totally incomparable to others. Perhaps that makes him the best author out there, or perhaps that makes him the worst. Either way, Heller accomplishes what most egocentric writers (including myself) want to achieve. He is remembered.
Catch-22 has an overwhelmingly difficult task: in the measly span of 450 pages, it tries to ridicule all the idiosyncrasies of life. And, believe me, coming from someone who has spent 16 years trying to ridicule those very same principles, it is a hard job to tackle. The book is set in an Allied Air Force base during World War II, and it centers on the lives of several American pilots. Heller begins the serious and painstaking job of making fun of the world by bringing up the first of his many catch-22s. Yossarian, in a desperate attempt to stay grounded, goes to the doctor at the base, Doc Deneeka, and asks if there is anyway for him not do any more flights over enemy territory. The good doctor replies that the only way to be relieved from duty is to be certified insane. So certify me insane, I paraphrase Yossarian's plea. Nothing doing, smiles the doctor knowingly, for if someone tries to be certified insane, then he must be completely sane. In that case, the pilot must be told to fly. Yossarian, like me, is dumbfounded as to how to argue with logic like that.
Another instance where we see how living by the system is totally moronic is when Yossarian utilizes one of his prized assets, a liver condition, to receive extra amounts of fruit. When the mess officer, a completely deranged pilot with no morals named Milo whom I have the utmost respect for, asks if the condition is bad, Yossarian answers that it is just bad enough. In actuality, it couldn't be better. After more prodding, Yossarian admits that he doesn't actually have a disease, just symptoms. Garnett-Fleischaker symptoms to be exact. When Milo asks if he should be careful about what he eats, our favorite cynic responds: "Very careful indeed, a good Garnett-Fleischaker syndrome isn't easy to come by, and I don't want to ruin mine by eating fruit." Huh? This is just one example of the kinds of points Heller is trying to put forth in his novel. Most people think from inside the square, blindly following the norm and never straying from its path. An enlightened few, however, come to realize that the norm makes no sense at all. To those special few that think outside of the square, like Yossarian (actually, in Yossarian's case, the square is so far away that it is a point in the horizon), they begin to rebel from society's expectations. Yossarian comes to realize that if he follows the whims of his superiors and peers, the Germans will kill him. If he doesn't, then his superiors and peers will kill him.
One big reason that I related to Catch-22 with such gusto was that I managed to draw many parallels with my life and the message Heller puts forth. In a world contaminated with religious wars between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, and USA and extremist Muslim groups, this novel offered a startling amount of clarity. Why is there so much hate and ignorance in the world? Why don't the world leaders realize what kind of reaction war has on the generation that has to experience it? Catch-22 offers some sort of insight into the minds of those against war and violence. By reading it, you may be able to understand how I think. This novel, of course, goes a lot deeper than being only against war. As a teenager growing up in San Francisco, I have become disillusioned by the empty and shallow culture that has been stuffed down my throat. I have gravitated towards friends that realize that appearances and popularity aren't all that matter. Most people who know me realize that, although fitting into the social category of being popular, I don't believe in living MTV's version of adolescence. Similarly, I refuse to live my life by following the accepted norm. I would much rather, just like Yossarian, live life outside the square. Hey, it may be cold out here, but at least we get to see what life may be like living inside some other geometrical shape.
The movement was never quite a movement to begin with; more a ragged group of hopeless romantics and scoundrels united by vague quasi-Buddhistic concepts, potent sexism, Rimbaud-esque spontaneity, intellectual snobbery and a jazz tinged bohemianism.
Undoubtedly there are glimpses of utter genius; Ginsberg's Howl is a modern epic of immense scope and beauty, Burroughs's Naked Lunch, when read as a demented Joycean autobiographical collage is superb and several of Kerouac's journeys of travel and homoeroticism are worth accompanying him on.
Yet step beyond these early works and the myth begins to crumble.
Keroauc was the first to break. Petrified of the too-muchness of life he retired to the security of living with his mother and cut off all ties with the outside world. Sadly it was the beginning of a path that saw him compromise and reject all that he had stood for, stumbling into alcoholism and right wing conservatism. He emerged from his self-enforced exile on two notable occasions. One was on a talk show, bloated and bitter, where he drunkenly attacked and denounced all the youthful adventure and awe and passion the world had loved him for, in one of the saddest pieces of television footage. The second was when he was at a last party with his soul mate Neal Cassady and the young writer Ken Kesey; Keroauc, furious that someone intended to burn the stars and stripes, rescued the flag and left in acrimony. A disillusioned man he died when his cirrhotic liver could no longer function. He was found on his hands and knees vomiting blood, which he later drowned in after twenty-six transfusions.
Ginsberg never quite lived up to initial expectations, scribbling Kaddish and Death to Van Gogh's Ear in the shadow of Howl.
Burroughs's infamous queer, junkie, wife-killing William Tell and self-styled outlaw joined Ginsberg in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and released a series of gradually diminishing works, self-consciously avant garde and strangely devoid of any sense of humanity.
All three were safely assimilated into the mainstream by becoming characters in advertisements for large companies; Ginsberg did an ad for Gap and Burroughs, despite believing that advertising was a form of social control and materialism a destructive form of madness, did a Nike ad (both thus endorsing the beatific joys of sweatshops and third world slavery).
When Kerouac's turn to sell out and do a Gap ad came, he at least had the excuse of being dead. One beat writer (Ferlinghetti) somberly saw entering the academy and the advertisements as the last nail in the counterculture's coffin. This served to prove Marcuse's theory that the dominant capitalist mainstream has an enormous capacity to ingest its dissident elements thus defusing the danger of their message. The establishment did not swallow all of them however.
Neal Cassady ("the side burned hero of the Snowy West" -On the Road) continued on a path of exploration with LSD before one night wandering onto a deserted Mexican railroad, intending to walk fifteen miles to the next town. He fell asleep on the way, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. The night was filled with frost and then rain and he was found the following morning beside the tracks in a hypothermic coma, and died in a hospital later that day. His last words were "Sixty-Four Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-Eight," supposedly how many railroad ties he had counted before his death. It leaves the conclusion that his fictional alter ego Dean Moriarty (On The Road) had asked so much of him that he had killed himself living up to the legend. It was burn out or sell out.
You are left with the feeling that this movement, so incandescent with genius at its birth, never became what it could have, should have been and eventually mutated into all that it had opposed. For every one of their libertarian masterpieces there are a thousand lesser works diluted of enthusiasm and imagination and for each of their glory years there are decades of silence or worse self-renunciation. Even those writers operating on the Beat fringe like Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson faded into lazy self-imposed obscurity after the magnificent One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Once it petrified the powers that be by being a libertarian and radical counter-culture. What it became was an apathetic cosmetically-radical luxury for fashionable middle class students to entertain themselves whilst delaying their entry into the workforce.
The thing with the Beats is that it shouldn't matter if they are not all they are cracked up to be, writers rarely are, and the movement could through its eventual self destruction appear a glorious disaster, a literary James Dean that flickered out in the midst of some youthful passion. Where it becomes a problem is when their self-mythologizing eclipses greater literary talents. One of those lurking in their shadows goes by the name of Richard Brautigan.
Brautigan was an outsider amongst a gallery of outsiders and was possibly the most remarkable of the lot. And the shocking thing is his works, almost ceased to exist.
There have been many cases when the world has or almost has been deprived of important literary works. Kafka wished for his entire output to be destroyed as he wasted away with tuberculosis, thankfully a friend, who covertly went against his wishes, preserved them. Others were not so fortunate. Byron's journals were burnt for fear of their explosive content; namely admission of the act of sodomy at the time carried the death penalty. Sylvia Plath's final diary documenting her decline into depression and suicide was destroyed by her ex husband Ted Hughes in an act that to this day threatens to cause riots and effigy burning amongst her cult of admirers. And in an act of literary crime the works of Richard Brautigan remained unpublished since the sixties. You could walk into a bookstore and find the complete ramblings of the other Beats clogging up the shelves and yet searching for Brautigan was like rummaging for the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Thankfully the publishing press Rebel Inc. realized the insanity of this neglect and resurrected his work. It is not difficult to see what is so remarkable about his writing. There is a cool obscurity about him, like a book version of the Velvet Underground or the Beta Band; all the more overwhelming because few people know of it. People horde knowledge of him and ration it out to those whom they think are worthy, operating like a guild of alchemists, possessors of secret powerful knowledge. It is the stuff of knowing glances, winks and Masonic handshakes. I cannot say that he doesn't deserve mainstream recognition, rather the mainstream doesn't deserve him for he eclipses it.
He writes of apparent non-events. It aspires not to be a manifesto or a treatise but simply enjoyable stories that are close to life. This is something I envy of him. His lack of pretension makes his work all the more profound than those who proclaim brilliance, those that shout it from the rooftops. He trusts his readers enough to tell them a story rather than to preach or teach. In the Confederate General of Big Sur he mentions a wealth of other writers i.e. Nietzsche, Babel, Steinbeck, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Henry Miller- not in the belief that he is educating the reader but that he is suggesting sublime paths that the reader might consi der taking. Sometimes he writes so emphatically and with such trust that rather than reading the book seems to talk, to develop a dialogue with the reader.
In his introduction to the Confederate General Duncan McLean comments, "I don't know much about Richard Brautigan as a person. In fact I think I only know one thing about him and I wish I didn't know it." This of course is the fact that Brautigan killed himself in the early 1980s with a .44 caliber gun in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other. Why the act is so unthinkable is because it goes seemingly unannounced, where others gave hints, clues to suggest they were toying with the idea, Brautigan does not. There are no "to be or not to be" questions pondered here. A reader, blissfully ignorant to the fact he killed himself, would probably think he was still living a life of elderly hedonism out in the Mojave Desert or in the backwoods of New Orleans. Suicide is unthinkable for one reason because his books are filled to the brim with humor. From the unlikeliest of sources he conjures images of missing eyebrows, a symphony of frogs that are only silenced by the cry "Campbell's Soup", the incompatibility of the Bible with electricity and the remarkable figure of Lee Mellon. It should be remembered that the border between comedy and tragedy is as difficult to define as the borders of territories at sea or in deserts. Comedy is best when it is self-deprecating, when it allows us to laugh at our fears and anxieties but it does not, cannot remove them. Like all other intoxications humour is a distraction, a temporary reprieve from the unbearable. The private lives of the world's greatest comedians are enough to remind us of the fact that primates grin when they are petrified and as a desperate attempt to defuse dangerous, traumatic situations.
Another reason why it is so hard to believe he killed himself is that his outlook on life is not bleak or nihilistic but rather is life affirming, a celebration of all that makes life worth living; sex, friendship, intoxication in all the forms sung by Baudelaire. This is constantly reiterated in his work, which like all real "magic realist" works, hints at the immense potentials of life and the extraordinary that lies beneath the mundane. Writing of impossible imagination and stunning beauty is often juxtaposed with events of the most everyday, the way epiphanies of beauty occur in life; the Southern accent that reads German philosophers and insists on quiet "when a man reads the Russians", the daring cavalry attacks on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a hand resting on the crack of an ass like a bird on the branch of a tree, a bird that sings when you are impotent. Reading Brautigan, a stoner with the soul of Blake or Whitman, reminds you of the Oscar Wilde quote that seems to define Magic Realism: "We are all in the gutter but some of us are watching the stars".
Some examples are worth simply reading without commentary:
Night was coming in, borrowing the light. It had started borrowing just a few cents worth of light but now it was borrowing thousands of dollars worth of light every second. The light would soon be gone, the bank closed, the tellers unemployed, the bank president a suicide.
The whiskey went well. I wish I could have offered the stars a drink. Looking down upon mortals, they probably need a drink from time to time, certainly on a night like this. We got drunk."
What a wonderful sense of distortion Lee Mellon had. Finish that slice of bread. That thing I was holding in my hand never had anything to do with a slice of bread. I put my hammer and chisel aside and we went up to the truck.
And even though the Brautigan mentality to women is occasionally cliched he avoids the traditional Beat means to an end/sperm receptacle school of thought and displays a brave and haunting romanticism. "We went away with each other like small republics to join the United Nations" and "her lips parted and I ran my fingers gently along her teeth and touched the sleeping tip of her tongue. I felt like a musician touching a darkened piano" -- for anyone who has ever been in love such lines are almost painfully beautiful.
It is easy to be hypnotized and delighted by the sad delirious beauty of Brautigan's writing. And yet there are darker undercurrents, as there always are in humour that aspires to truth and knowledge. The book is littered with jokes; indeed it's one of the only books to make me wake myself up laughing, having remembered some line mid-dream. And yet when the book is finished there is one scene, one chilling instant that haunts the reader; the moment when bugs stare out at the narrator from a burning log. It is at this point that Brautigan's real life connects like electricity to the book. The drinking binges, the electro-shock therapy, his refusal to utter a single word to his mother, his need for "some tranquility . . . a little more distance between the frustrations and agonies in my life" hidden through the book like elements in the air, at this point make themselves known.
Duncan McLean in his introduction to the work suggests, as an explanation of his suicide, that the bugs are Brautigan looking out at us, his readers. I'd go further and say the insects represent all of us, Brautigan's vision of a doomed humanity living on borrowed time. This is not to say that this is a hopeless tragedy rather we are liberated in a sense as our actions and relationships are all the more profound and precious because we are running out of time. Life ends in tragedy so the rest of it might as well be a comedy for there is nothing to lose. And I bet those bugs scuttling around that burning log, staring out at Brautigan, have no other options than to tell each other jokes.
At the age of 22, he discovered modern art and began to paint. His playful, colorful ironic pastiches instantly gained notice, and he began balancing a career as a serious artist with his love of music. One of his earliest works to gain notice was an evocative, blurry testament to American history, "Washington Crossing the Delaware", which caused a sensation in 1953. As his career as a painter thrived, he became an increasinly familiar face within the subterranean social circuits of Greenwich Village, San Francisco, Paris and elsewhere, hanging out with painters like Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning and soon-to-be-legendary writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. In 1959 he joined Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and David Amram to star as "Milo", the married railroad brakeman based on Neal Cassady, in the film "Pull My Daisy".
Rivers was considered one of the forerunners of the pop art movement in the 60s, especially in his use of humor and his light, colorful touch. In his later decades he became more and more playful and experimental, leaving behind the style-conscious seriousness of the 70s/80s/90s art scenes to express himself loudly, clearly and with much controversy in works like "History of Matzo: the Story of the Jews", an epic series that combined the ethereal beauty of Chagall with the commonplace style of Lichtenstein or Warhol. One of his works, "Dutch Masters and Cigars II", a takeoff on the famous cigar box, can be seen in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.
Larry Rivers died three days before his 79th birthday, on August 14, 2002. I called David Amram when I heard the news, and here's what David told me:
"When I was in Paris after I left the army, the painter Joan Mitchell told me when I came back to New York I had to look up the sax player and painter Larry Rivers. She said I'd find him at the Cedar Tavern, so I went to the Cedar Tavern and they told me Larry was playing the Monday Night Jam Session that night at the 125 Club in Harlem. So I went up to the 125 Club, and there was Larry wailing away on his sax. We played together, and when the MC was thanking everybody for coming, Larry was still playing, all by himself. The crowd began to leave and they started putting up chairs, but Larry was still playing. Then Steve Pulliam, the trombonist, who was in charge of the jam session, turned to me as Larry continued to play alone and said 'Man, your blue-eyed soul brother has a lot of heart.'
"Larry finally stopped playing and we rode downtown on the subway together. We talked about music, and he told me he was working on something, but that he couldn't get it right. We played together often from that time on. One day I went into the Museum of Modern Art and saw "Washington Crossing the Delaware", painted by Larry Rivers. I saw him at the Cedar Tavern a few nights later and said to him, 'Larry, I'd heard you were a sax player and a painter, but you never told me that painting was really your thing.' Larry said, 'You never asked.'
"He was a wonderful artist in all mediums and he loved playing music. The last time we played together was at Terry Southern's memorial service. He sang 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' and played 'Blue Monk.'
"When we made 'Pull My Daisy', it was three weeks of crazed fun. This movie was filmed as a silent movie, and we overdubbed music later. I had the great alto master Sahib Shihab play saxophone on the soundtrack as Larry and I appeared to play music on the screen, making it appear as if we were playing the music. When Larry heard Sahib's fantastic solo later, he told me, 'David, I never sounded so good.'
"He had a lot of spirit, and continued to be productive as an artist and a real individual. I'll miss him a lot."
Reading Farina's Been Down So Long Looks Like Up to me one may find it reminiscent to Joyce's Ulysses. Farina's prose rolls and jerks from word to word, staggering at times like the town drunkard and hovering at times like an angel in heaven. This is what some may consider the downfall of his writing, I must admit that it took me several readings to understand it fully but after I did I appreciated it even more.
Been Down So Long Looks like up to me is the story of a rogue college student during the merge from the Beat generation into the Love Generation, the sixties, and his quest for love and its meaning. In doing so he has run-ins with the police, local drug dealers, revolutionists in Cuba, and activists at college.
When I hear of influential authors of the epoch coined "the Beat Generation" (Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc.) I wonder why Farina is not on the top of the list. Been Down so Long is the beat generation encapsulated inside a book about an inch thick. It has all the makings; the wondering, rebellion, drug use, etc.
Having only a cult status among the literary community Been Down So Long deserves more recognition. Readers who want to read an excellent book should do anything (steal, borrow, buy) to get their hands on this book.
When I first picked up this book I was not an avid reader but after completing it I realized that reading was perhaps the void that I felt in my life. I can say personally that this book changed my life, for better or worse.
The long, strange trip came to an end for Ken Elton Kesey at 3:45 AM Saturday, November 10th, 2001, after 66 years and a few hundred lifetimes on this planet.
Ken was a great friend to my father, Neal Cassady, and almost a second father to me after Neal died in 1968 when I was 16 years old. Kesey was one of the kindest and wisest men I've ever known, and he was one of my biggest heroes and mentors starting soon after he met Neal in the early '60s, a feeling which continues in me to this day. The pearls of wisdom that he shared with me and others around him are too numerous to count, but thankfully he left a great legacy in his body of work that will last forever.
Neal always wanted to be a provider to his family, and little did he know that much of that provision would be accomplished posthumously through doors that were opened to me because of his famous friends like Kesey and the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia being another of my heroes from about 1965 on).
Much to the worry of my mother, Kesey and Neal would come collect my sister and me at high school, giving the authorities some song and dance about dentist appointments or whatever, and they'd whisk us away to see the Dead play at some local high school prom dance, just after the Dead changed their name from the Warlocks. Some fond, early memories there. I recall once being called to the school office, not knowing what I had done to deserve what was surely going to be trouble from the evil principle, only to open the door and see Neal and Ken dressed in American flag jumpsuits complete with day-glo red Beatle boots and silly hats. The principle looked confused and said to me "this man claims to be your father!" He looked like he thought the circus was in town.
My mother needn't have worried. When I'd try to sniff the smoke from the reefers being passed around the car, Dad would admonish the passengers "no dope for the kid!" Kesey knew I was disappointed, but he always honored Neal's request in those early days.
After Neal's death Kesey would go out of his way to look us up when he was in the Bay Area, and he showed up unannounced at my wedding in November of 1975 on his way back from Egypt, while writing a piece for Rolling Stone. That was one heck of a party. I still have pictures of him holding my then-3-month-old son, Jamie, and beaming like a proud godfather.
Another warm memory was backstage at a Dead show in Eugene when Kesey's fellow prankster Zonker ceremoniously presented me with one of 2 railroad spikes that the Dead's roadie Ramrod, while on a sacred pilgrimage, had extracted from the tracks where Neal died in Mexico. And again when Kesey and Ken Babbs bequeathed Neal's black and white stripped shirt to me that he had worn on the bus trip to New York in 1964, this time during a show we did at the Fillmore in 1997 before bringing the bus to Cleveland, where it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ken called and asked if I would drive "Further" into Ohio "because Neal can't make it this trip." Although veteran Prankster driver and mechanic George Walker did the actual driving, Kesey's heart was in the right place. That road trip was surpassed only by the 4-week tour of the UK in 1999, sponsored by London's Channel Four studios. Traveling with Ken in close quarters for that long really made for a lasting bond between us, and he was at his peak as a performer. It was fun for me to play guitar behind his harmonica and the Thunder Machine. I last saw him as we said our goodbyes at SFO after that incredible journey, and I was sad to have not been able to do so again before last Saturday.
Ken Kesey was a great teacher and a beautiful soul, and he will be missed by all that his magic touched.
(I found these pictures of me at the wheel of the bus, and me with Ken, from San Francisco, April 28, 1997, just before the trip to Cleveland. That night was the "Psychedelic Era Reunion Party" (P.E.R.P.) at the old Fillmore Auditorium, what a gas. All the usual suspects from the '60s were there.)