Saturday, 24 November 2012

Burn, Burn, Burn

This is the story of four friends. It is not usually told this way.

Three young men met in New York in 1944. Two years later they were joined by the fourth.

Each with different characteristics, they formed an interesting synergy......
......A handsome athlete, a shy drifter, born into a French Canadian Catholic family in small town New England.
......An intense bisexual Jewish teenager from New Jersey
......A perverse, paranoid drug addict, the oldest at 30, supported by his rich St. Louis family.
......And a western hustler from Denver, a chronic car thief, a “holy goof” whose manic energy inspired his friends.

These four created a mad lifestyle of immediacy and high spirits fueled by drink, jazz, high speed driving, drugs, taboo sex, hitch hiking, rootless wandering and minimal employment. Postwar America was a place of conformity and rising materialism, and their lifestyle contradicted that, but I doubt if this mattered much to them, they just loved living that way.

Friends through the late Forties and Fifties, these men kept up a voluminous correspondence, on occasion sharing wives or being lovers themselves, and rushing madly in various permutations between New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Mexico City, Tangiers and Paris, together with an ever widening number of new friends and associates.

They all had a love of writing. One amongst them wrote novels that chronicled their lives, and so to large extent were autobiography. That he was able to capture the spirit of their life in words, without any discourse or editorial (aside from an occasional Buddhist note), is his achievement.

Jack Kerouac's famous novel, On the Road, written in 1951, was published in 1956, but the events depicted, the arrival of Neil Cassidy into the group including William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, had actually occurred ten years earlier.

The book was reviewed in 1957 in the New York Times, and called a major novel, and although that opinion was far from unanimous at the time, there is no doubt that the book has had a lasting presence. Protest in the Fifties was almost non-existent, although one must mention people like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. But the novels of Kerouac and Burroughs, and the poetry of Ginsberg, went a long way to igniting the counter culture that arose first with folk music, then the Sixties dissension and exploration.

The circle of friends romp through most of Kerouac's books. Neil Cassidy becomes Dean Moriarty or Cody Pomeray. Kerouac becomes Sal Paradiso or Jack Duluoz, or Leo Percepiad. Ginsberg is Carlo Marx or Irwin Garden or Adam Moorad. William Burroughs is Old Bull Lee or Bull Hubbard. And similar names are created for their other friends, a Who's Who of bohemian America including Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and other writers like Alan Watts, William Carlos Williams, Randal Jarrell, Kenneth Rexroth.

The close friendship came to dissolve in the early Sixties as fame and and other pressures rendered the mad lifestyle impossible, and Kerouac and Cassidy died before the decade ended. But the Beat writers, as the four friends came to be known, changed things with the spirit they lived by, as much as anything they wrote.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles." (from On the Road)

trailer for the upcoming movie of On the Road

trailer for the movie "Howl"

trailer for the movie "The Source"

oh, and read the books too.......

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