The so-called beat generation actually started as a bunch of friends who liked to get together to talk, drink, smoke marijuana, and—perhaps—even have some casual sex along the way. The only difference between Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Clellon Holmes, and millions of other groups of rambunctious youngsters was that some of them had talent.
Last month, I read Kerouac’s Big Sur; and I am now reading John Clellon Holmes’s Go. The original beats would probably think of me as some sort of stick-in-the-mud, but I admire their all-out pursuit of freedom, even when it leads—as it did for many of them—to disorder and early sorrow. In Big Sur, Kerouac turns to drink the way that most people turn to inhaling oxygen. In Go, the action is frenetic and endless, especially once Hart Kennedy [Neal Cassady] joins them:
Ben’s connection had not showed; the sweet cologne fragrance of benzedrine about him and the discoloration of his lips suggested that there may have been no marijuana connection at all, but somehow that did not matter. Continuance was what concerned them, and where to go next. After a number of improbable ideas (places that would not be open, people who would not be up), they settled on a friend of Ben’s, who lived on One Hundred and Twenty-third Street and Amsterdam Avenue, who would “surely have liquor.” Although at another moment this would have seemed unlikely to them all, now they believed it with bland innocence as though all discord in the universe had been resolved by their harmony, which, in any case, did not depend on such details.
Below is a photo of Jack Kerouac with Allen Ginsberg, who was probably the most talented writer of the lot:
In the months to come, I plan to read more works by this unique “band of brothers” who had an outsize influence on the middle of the Twentieth Century, even if, as the movies and lurid paperbacks above show, it was mostly misinterpreted.