The word ‘beat’ should really apply only to the original Beats. Sure, they were Beat; they were poor, unpublished, near criminal and antisocial whilst they were forming as a literary group. Cassidy, Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg were pot smokers, benny addicts, junkies, jazz fiends, anti-intellectuals who rejected their status quo as any other group of young people, they merely followed in the footsteps of the young from centuries past. The difference is they had the freedom, and I’d say the courage to strike out and reject what they didn’t want, and more importantly, do what they wanted. They said yes, they said go, they said now. They didn’t say no. They lived freedom, they lived jazz, they were the epitome of a philosophy that allowed for anything, that worshipped the individual, that loved art, that was music, that was drama, that was the country, the land, the coast, the sky, the mountains, the deserts: that was America. That was America as was. Endless. Vast. Never to cease, always to go. And when we read what are basically their autobiographies - On the Road, Kaddish and Howl, Junkie and Queer - we feel, lust for, know, and bleed that freedom, those of us who can accept them that is. Of course, the drudgery they knew was extraordinary, I don’t dispute that. But what is freedom without sacrifice? I think today, in our pre-war world, this is what we all lust after. I think these men hold up the standard for love and happiness, even if they were dirty, sad, lonely, forgotten, drunken and ravished by heroin. What does this matter when today the internet defines us, where our world is already known, when we cannot escape each other and can never be free? (I’m aware of the irony - deliberate - and the paradoxes - unavoidable - in this previous assertion, but just think about it.)
The Beats showed us how to live, how to be free men. It was a hyper-masculine movement; masculine in the sense that it was not afraid, it took risks, it was strong, it was rootless, roaming, unbound by convention, ill defined, effeminate, sensitive and philosophical. It was artistic.
It is sad in my eyes (and I am certainly not one of them) to see that today this group of writers provides inspiration to a group of people who are asinine, self-obsessed, bloated by their own importance, sneering critics; they are not artists: just because their hair is deliberately unkempt, their clothes are flea market chic, their music has been bought from hawkers on the streets, does not make them anywhere near the equal of Jack Kerouac. They don’t believe his philosophy: Go go go, to them no no no, to me yes, yes please let me go go go. I wish I had the courage of Jack Kerouac, I wish I had his beauty, his voice, his poetry. These people are aesthetics, the mundane little Oscar Wilde parodies of today, they have no ‘authenticity’ or ‘originality’ to use their mundane language. It really disgusts me to see them posturing, and I am aware that I sound like a complete hipster saying this, exacerbated by my suburban middle class credentials of course, but then On the Road, which I read over a year ago, has left the longest after burn of any book I’ve read, and still glows with persistent love in my heart, tearing at the cynicism of America’s dark alleys, giving me the strength and the urge to shout and lash out at any of you, and to stand and run. When I went to California, I knew my home for the first time, and I knew that my mind was not of this land. I am a Beat, but I am only a Beat because I believe in myself, not because I subscribe to the looks, thoughts and banality of a pseudo-counterculture that postures its way around Brooklyn and West Texas wearing dark pink leggings and trucker caps. Catholic, lost, in love with an ideal of beauty in a land of richness beyond measure, of railways, roads, endless fields, plains, mountains, the Dharma on earth, obsessed by truth and purity, reeling from sin, aspiring writer. Is that me? Yes.
No, not beat, but only beat in the sense that they could never defeat age, because to be in love with the Beats is to be in love with an ageless quality that is always moving, bopping to the rhythm of long lost nightclubs of Charlie Parker, of the railways of America ripped up and destroyed by oil, to the heavens of the plains of endless road and yellow, always in the aura of vastness, never ending life in the land of America. People can’t see it today. I think I can.