Monthly Archives: January 2012

Preview: Beating an international drum

The heart of the Beat Generation is generally linked to the US and most often to those great cities of cultural innovation, New York and San Francisco. But this literary and artistic movement left its mark in many other places, too, and a new volume promises to share a global take on the phenomenon. The Transnational Beat Generation, edited by Nancy M. Grace and Jennie Skerl, will be published this month by Palgrave Macmillan. Here’s a comprehensive trail of its contents:

The Transnational Beat Generation

‘Introduction to Transnational Beat: Global Poetics in a Postmodern World’
Nancy M. Grace, The College of Wooster, and Jennie Skerl, West Chester University

Part I – Transnational Flows

‘William S. Burroughs and U.S. Empire’
Allen Hibbard, Middle Tennessee State University

‘Jack Kerouac and the Nomadic Cartographies of Exile’
Hassan Melehy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘Beat Transnationalism under Gender: Brenda Frazer’s Troia: Mexican Memoirs
Ronna C. Johnson, Tufts University

‘The Beat Manifesto:  Avant-Garde Poetics and the Worlded Circuits of African-American Beat Surrealism’
Jimmy Fazzino, University of California Santa Cruz

‘The Beat Fairy Tale and Transnational Spectacle Culture:  Diane di Prima and William S. Burroughs’
Nancy M. Grace, The College of Wooster

‘Two Takes on Japan:  The Japan and India Journals by Joanne Kyger and Philip Whalen’s Scenes of Life at the Capital
Jane Falk, University of Akron

‘“If the Writers of the World Get Together”: Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Literary Solidarity in Sandinista Nicaragua’
Michele Hardesty, Hampshire College

Part II – Reflections on the Transnational Beat:  Interview with Anne Waldman

Part III – Global Circulation

‘“they . . . took their time over the coming”:  The Postwar British/Beat 1957-1965’
R. J. Ellis, University of Birmingham

‘Beating Them to It?  The Vienna Group and the Beat Generation’
Jaap van der Bent, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

‘Prague Connection’
Josef Rauvolf, Prague, Czech Republic

Cain’s Book and the Mark of Exile: Alexander Trocchi as Transnational Beat’
Fiona Paton, State University of New York at New Paltz

‘Greece and the Beat Generation:  the Case of Lefteris Poulios’
Christopher Gair, University of Glasgow, and Konstantina Georganta, University of Edinburgh

‘Japan Beat:  Nanao Sakaki’
A. Robert Lee, Nihon University

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Review: New novel’s Scroll goal

Larry Closs’ novel Beatitude, which came out in late 2011, is a sharp, smart novel with a human voice and some neat interweavings of memory and the present. Set in the recent past in a largely gay milieu in the media world of Manhattan, it avoids the usual posing or pretentiousness of fiction located in that hip, midtown mode. Rather, it is a story whose narrator has warmth and it is driven by a dialogue that is convincing and engaging. But the book is more than just a tale of quotidian romance in the upper storeys of a bejewelled urban isle – it also makes regular reference to the Beat Generation writers which drew me in still further.

It opens as Harry, the storyteller, and his friend Jay go searching on a grail-like mission to view Jack Kerouac’s legendary Original Scroll for his most famous novel On the Road and the book proper then commences with an almost direct reference to the opening lines of Kerouac’s own signature text. Yet Beatitude, which takes its title from Kerouac’s extension of the word Beat to embrace notions of the saintly and also incorporates some unpublished fragments of poetry by that other Beat giant Allen Ginsberg in its pages, is more than a mere derivative homage. It is an authentic contemporary account, enlightened by appealing Beat details, but its main strength is in its ability to convey plausible conversations between its believable dramatis personae.

Beatitude is published by Rebel Satori Press, Hulls Cove, ME

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Muse news: Cassady birthday honour

My good friend Mark Bliesener, rock’n’roll manager and long-time Beat follower, shares news from the Mile High City, Denver in Colorado, where the annual celebration of Neal Cassady’s birthday takes place next month. Denver’s East High School, which Cassady attended in the 1940s, will present an honorary diploma to members of the Cassady family at a school assembly on February 3rd. In granting the diploma, East cites Cassady’s major impact on American literature as an author and as the muse of Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe.

The Third Annual  Cassady Birthday Bash will  take place on the same day from 8-10 pm at the city’s Mercury Café located at 2199 California.The “Bash” is free and features musical performers and special guest readers including Neal’s daughters Jami and Cathy Cassady, noted musician and composer David Amram, guitarist Janet Feder, director of Lowell Massachusetts Celebrates Kerouac the Rev. Steve Edington, and core faculty member of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University Junior Burke. The event will be hosted, in person, by noted Denver Beat historian Mark Bliesener himself.

Neal Cassady, the model for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, would have been 86 years old on February 8th. His hyper-energetic life came to a premature conclusion in 1968, one year before Kerouac’s own death.

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New Girl: Hipster klutz or clueless clunk?

I was sorry to hear that Zooey Deschanel and Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard had called an end to their two year marriage. There’s always something refreshingly endearing about a maverick indie rocker – whose interest in Jack Kerouac and his work is well-known – getting the photogenic gal. But clearly Zooey, also half of pop duo She & Him with songwriter M. Ward, had moved on and there were, perhaps, other matters on her mind – from Hollywood movie hits to her latest project, the much-discussed TV comedy New Girl.

The Guardian, in previews, conceded that New Girl was the best of a fairly dismal bunch of autumn-launched, US small-screen sitcoms describing Deschanel’s role, in this girl-meets-boys-in-shared-apartment-frolic, as ‘a hipster klutz’, a teasingly attractive sort of trail. But were there enough laughs to be had in this rompish half hour which debuted on Channel 4 on Friday evening? Was the piece more clueless and clunky that we’d been led to believe? So far, not convinced of its charms, I’m afraid.

Maybe one episode isn’t quite enough to judge a season, but loosely-tossed predictions that this piece may have the staying power of a Cheers or a Friends seem highly optimistic at this stage. I remember, back in 2007, The Class being touted as the series to finally supersede the long shadow of the Ross and Rachel show and it seemed quite sharp only to die a death after one solitary year. Keeping audiences chuckling and the advertisers happy is plainly a tricky test for those commissioning execs.

More of a stayer is the chic-to-be-geek Big Bang Theory which has a female lead with more emotional intelligence than all her lab lad rivals, doctorates and all, combined. Penny’s tussles with the IQ-laden boys across the hall are already deemed worthy of another three seasons at least – quite a commitment in the amnesia-liable land of American television. Whether New Girl will have anything like that longevity or will just be any old rubbish within a few months, we’ll have to see.

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Not so much On the Road as in a lay-by

Few movie projects have been awaited for so long by so many as the film version of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road. More than 50 years ago, Kerouac, already becoming a slightly pickled parody of the sharp-witted roamer of the late 1940s, sent a letter to the hipster-in-chief Marlon Brando to encourage him to turn his signature novel into solid gold celluloid. Kerouac would take the role of Sal Paradise, the narrator of the novel, while Brando would assume the part of Dean Moriarty, the fictional re-modelling of the writer’s best travelling pal Neal Cassady. Brando, who lived in no one’s cultish shadow once James Dean had perished prematurely in a fast-moving Porsche Spyder in 1955, had, by then, made his mark in The Wild One and On the Waterfront, and perhaps thought Kerouac’s proposal was just a little too home-spun for the charismatic king of left-field Hollywood to consider. Or maybe his agent never showed him the letter.

In 2005, Kerouac’s actual letter to Brando made over $30,000 at a Christie’s auction, about the most concrete action there’s been on this particular topic since. Yet that hasn’t been for want of trying. The great Francis Ford Coppola has owned the rights to On the Road for decades and has tried several times to make the film a reality. One casting, some while ago, seemed to have clinched Brad Pitt as Paradise, Johnny Depp as Moriarty and Jim Carrey in a William Burroughs cameo. Course, it never happened.

Since then, Coppola has re-grouped and the 2012 version of the story is done and dusted and in the can, acclaimed Brazilian movie-maker Walter Salles handling directorial duties. With British actor Sam Riley as Sal, Garrett Hedlund as Dean, Kristen Stewart as Marylou and Kirsten Dunst as Camille, it seems that the Cannes Film Festival in the spring will give the picaresque flick its prestigious first European airing. ‘Cept there are now rumours that some Kerouac family legal action may hold up this baby once more. The courts are never far from the Kerouac estate and its legacy, ever since his early death in 1969, and there are rumbling hints another legal suit has been pitched. Let’s hope this is not another delay in the interminable and unresolved odyssey that is On the Road: The Movie. ‘Tis better thing to travel hopefully than to arrive, perhaps.

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Review: Do you know the way to Monterey?

Monterey Pop was the first great gathering of the new popular music, the premiere festival of rock’n’roll and the promiscuous sire of ten thousand such events since. It wasn’t the biggest, but was it the best? Some say it was. Harvey Kubernik, long-time commentator on the long and winding road of subterraneana, turns his astute gaze on the Monterey bash in his latest volume – a worthy successor to follow Canyon of Dreams, his tome on Laurel Canyon, another Californian locale with a potent musical history, back in 2009. A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival, written in league with brother Kenneth Kubernik, tells a vivid tale in text, interviews and pictures and is published next month.

Riddled with dozens of authoritative eye-witness reports and overflowing with mouth-watering and evocative images, A Perfect Haze – a neat nod to both the tune by Hendrix, famously present here with a flaming Fender, and the mellifluous smog that must have rested over the gathered throng over those few days – is a fine reminder that, while the internet’s kinda good, when it comes to really framing the ins-and-outs of a historic, subcultural moment, the large format, hardcover book still takes a bit of licking. If you weren’t at Monterey, dig the scenes and dream the sounds of the Jefferson Airplane, Simon & Garfunkel, the Buffalo Springfield, the Who, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding in a beautifully framed, 250-page survey that brings the psychedelic kaleidoscope to you direct – and in day-glo colour.

A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival is published by Santa Monica Press, Solana Beach CA

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Keeping half an eye on the counterculture

Welcome.

The novel is dead. So’s popular music. And film. Television’s gone to the dogs. Tweeting’s on its last legs. And blogs seem be out of vogue, too. The culture moves too fast to even know what the next thing was. So I thought I’d buck the trends. Return to the blogosphere after an extended break – and doodle on whatever wrinkle at the fringes of the alternative arts, particularly if the Beat Generation has left even a trace of its DNA, catches my half-cocked eye. It may not be pretty but it may well be witty.

Why not hitch a lift?

Simon Warner

Beatnicity…where the outer suburbs of bohemia meet the inner ring-road of the all too recent past.