Today is the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s first reading of his epic poem Howl, which is remembered as a defining moment of the Beat Generation.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,…
Etc. Jack Kerouac described the Beat Generation as all but dead in 1958. More after the jump.
My first introduction to the Beats came one Saturday morning watching Popeye. For some reason, Olive Oyl was a beatnik. So Popeye put on a turtleneck, grabbed some bongos, and took it on down to the coffee house. As far I could tell from that experience, being a Beatnik involved bongo playing, cigarettes, jaunty berets, and mysteriously sliding your palms across the table and saying “cool” over and over while others read poetry. Also: snapping. Later (as viewed by me), a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon had a “Beatnik Rooster” (below) who played rockabilly guitar and was into hooking up with the hens at the hen house.
Later still, there was an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies where Granny runs into a group of beatniks at the park. She was instantly considered hip because she was looking for “a little pot” to “smoke some crawdad”.
What does any of this have to do with the 50th Anniversary of Howl? Who knows? I love the “cartoon” of the beatnik. However, I am pretty sure that Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, etc. would have preferred that the Beats were remembered differently.