Category Archives: Beat Generation

Sur la Route: At last, Cannes premiere for Kerouac classic

The much-discussed movie interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s most celebrated novel On the Road finally, but finally, secures its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival today, with the Walter Salles-directed production unwrapped in the full glare of the globe’s most talked about cinematic jamboree.

How though will the world respond to this re-imagined celluloid version, decades on the drawing board and now ready, after too many false starts, for critical consumption?

There are certainly some Americans who feel that this film should have received a US unveiling – Kerouac, after all, the all-American traveller who turned his treks across the States in the late 1940s into the fictionalised adventures that launched a million such road trips for those who read it.

Yet Kerouac has strong affinities with France – his 1966 volume Satori in Paris was, in part, a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? odyssey, as the writer attempted to trace the Breton roots of his name. And, of course, Kerouac grew up in New England speaking French.

Further, France has always had a particular affection for the existential antics of the Beat writers – a living, transatlantic incarnation of the philosophical ideas that Sartre and Camus had explored in the years just before Kerouac thumbed his rides on Route 66 and, by the end of the 1950s, his fellow travellers – Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso – were living in the French capital in what became dubbed the Beat Hotel.

The new Kerouac movie, produced by Roman Coppola, will eventually earn its US debut in the autumn. Before then, on August 16th, Somerset House in London will present the UK premiere of the picture. Rumours have it that the tickets for this auspicious screening sold out in 5 minutes. The long summer of On the Road has clearly commenced.

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Review: Jonah Raskin – Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation

Ry Cooder in Oklahoma

dust bowl blues again, Karen

turning back pages of Kerouac and

kissing along Snake River,

Rock’n’Roll woman.

                  – from ‘Karen & Ry Cooder’

The moment I encountered Jonah Raskin’s new poetry collection it took me back to Stephen Stills’ deliciously evocative ‘Rock & Roll Woman’, a song that graced the second Buffalo Springfield album in 1967. And Raskin, that most versatile of cultural historians whose American Scream is a key book on the myth of Allen Ginsberg and the rise of ‘Howl’, provides plenty more twinges to the musical memory in this slim but sharp volume.

Like me, this poet is a sucker for the ballsy beat of R&B or the potent pulse of raw rock and still eager, too, to imbibe the freewheeling spirit of the Beat writers, a clan he aspires to emulate – and admits as much – in his stand-up verse and stripped down stanzas.

If he’s on stage reading his stuff, he is often joined, a la Kerouac, by musical accompaniment; here, in his latest opus, he takes on the tropes of rock history and interweaves that thrillingly volatile narrative with the adventures of a gallery of women (friends? lovers? fictions? fantasies?) who have played out their own sparky lives with the radio on, the turntable spinning or the jagged edge of a Stratocaster sending its shockwaves across the shimmering sea of a live audience.

Are these fragments of the Raskin biography? Quite possibly. Yet it matters not that much, for the female gang who inhabit this world – one that stretches from Elvis’ curled quiff to Johnny Rotten’s rusting safety pin – are essentially autonomous, stand-alone types who live maverick existences to a highly-charged soundtrack and, perhaps in rock itself, see a means to escape the stultifying air of conformity.

The Beats didn’t let women carve out independent lives – they kept lovers, wives and muses suspended in a submissive domesticity. The women of whom Raskin writes, later daughters of the vinyl countdown, have broken out of that triangular trap of Kinder, Küche, Kirche and, amid moveable feasts of the heart, absorb the sounds of the Everlys and the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, Dylan, the Dead and the Floyd.

Perhaps though, this cycle of poems is less about girls digging the latest discs and more about singles and LPs and concerts providing the aspic of nostalgia for Raskin and, indeed, so very many of us. We probably recall the 45 as much as the kiss, the album as much as the sleepover, the gig as much as the furious row, the record sleeve as much as the eventual break-up.

Rock’n’Roll Women comprises a series of snapshots that set relationships against the pleasing perspective of the jukebox, even if all was not sweetness and light – even back then. The love affairs may have tarnished in time but the Beach Boys and Jimmy Cliff, Carole King and Otis Redding will eternally suggest the possibility of youthful optimism and Raskin distils something of that appealing spark in these brief cameos.

Note: Jonah Raskin’s Rock’n’Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation is published by McCaa Books of Santa Rosa, California

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Review: Heath Common & The Thin Man – Bohemia

Poetry and pop? Beat and rock’n’roll? Over the last half-century, several generations of rockers and rappers, folkies and freaks, melodists and mavericks, balladeers and beat-boxers, have tried to distil the essence of the art of Kerouac and Ginsberg, Burroughs and Ferlinghetti, and embroider it, re-shape it, re-cast it, with the riffs and licks of popular music.

In fact, few of the true giants – from Dylan to Lennon, Waits to Strummer, Patti Smith to Kurt Cobain, Stipe to Bono – have been immune to the notion that those revolutionary Fifties wordsmiths had something quixotic, something energising, to add to rock music at its more radical edges.

Whether it has been Beat’s literary style – its rolling, insistent momentum or the jolt of its fragmented verse – or merely its clarion call to freedom and the open highway, the pulse of the prose, the spark of its language, has remained an ongoing inspiration to younger hordes wielding electric guitars and rebellious vim.

That enduring, picaresque spirit is a frequent presence on Bohemia, a new album by a band of salty survivors from England’s north who take pieces of that potent Beat narrative, insert iconic figures from the popular cultural landscape, spout urban legends and churn in ancient myths, and weave them all with craft and charm in a ten-track debut odyssey.

Heath Common and The Thin Man are the principal wizards behind this eccentric yet alluring project, joined by a gang of seasoned and adept troubadours who add their atmospheric flavours to a string of imaginative set-pieces: tales of the weird West and timeless Bible fables, incidents from downtown New York City and even inner city Manchester, all brought to impressionistic life by some eclectic, rootsy, bluesy, folksy tunescapes.

The soundtrack has hints of Cooder’s Buena Vista adventure, taints of another Ry work-out in Wenders’ Paris Texas, yet also the twinkle and tinkle of Tales from Europe and the dark melancholy of Yiddish klezmer with all the barbed wire embers that evokes. This is spoken word with a worldly-wise, even world-weary, eye, but its sage-like tones hint enticingly at the long, deep drift of an alternative history.

As for the Beat influence on the collection, Neal Cassady, the frenetic hero of On the Road, makes a cameo appearance in ‘A New Bohemian’, the words of poet Gary Snyder form a portion of ‘Why Truck Drivers Rise Earlier than the Students of Zen’, legendary street musician Moondog crops up in ‘The Angel of New York’, a Beat-linked comedian is at the heart of ‘I Don’t Want to Be Lenny Bruce Anymore’ and there are yet more subterranean nuggets to unpick in the folds of the text.

But if you’re looking for some rock gods in the pages of this Pynchon-esque fantasia, look no further than Lennon in the nostalgic, even valedictory, ‘Candlestick Park’ or Keith Richards in ‘Performance (The Toronto Bust in Waltz Time)’, who, to add another layer to this saga, was actually heading, as star guest, to the Nova Convention, a major Manhattan tribute to William Burroughs, when his notorious drug arrest occurred.

In short, Bohemia is an ambitious compendium of boho snapshots riddled with reference to the literary and the musical, offbeat monologues to be recited around campfires of the mind, dreams to be decoded by the light of a mandolin moon, fairy stories for a new millennium, twisted tales engagingly unwound to the twang and spittle of a Soho saloon.

Heath Common & The Thin Man’s Bohemia is released on Platform 54, Summer 2012. Visit: http://www.heathcommonandthethinman.com

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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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