The Lonely Beat Generation: Dawn of The New Journalism

Jack Keruoac: A Catalyst for Avant-Garde Writers

William Burroughs: The Portrait of an Anonymous Man

Allen Ginsberg: A Poetic Champion of Human and Civil Rights

Gregory Corso: Poetry to  Stimulate Individual Will

The Lonely Beat Generation: Dawn of The New Journalism

The City and Man: Origins of The New Journalism

It is neither self-effacing and depressing antiquarianism, nor self-effacing and exhilarating romanticism that compels us to turn with a renewed passionate interest in learning about and appreciating the origins of the New Journalism.  Our present world of public discourse has taken rigidly hostile polarized constructs of traditional Main-Stream Media versus the contemporary incarnation of New Media.  However, while the former has long been understood to focus largely upon the accumulation of power and wealth, the same has come to be the goal of new media organizations.  In fact, present-day new media organizations are made even more repugnant by their petty, envy-based sarcastic commentaries and idolatry of faux-celebrity life.  Further, whatever their seeming differences, both forms of media share in the adherence to vicious levels of social and political ideology, which strongly bias and distort the communications and news presented to the public.

Jack Kerouac: An Early Catalyst for Avant-Garde Writers

No man should go through life
without once experiencing healthy,
even bored solitude in the wilderness,
finding himself depending solely on himself
and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.

Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler (1960)

Jack Kerouac’s (1922-1969) athletic talent led him to become a 100 meter hurdler on his Lowell (Mass.) high school track team, and his skills as a running back in football earned him scholarship offers from Boston College, Notre Dame and Columbia University.  He enrolled at Columbia University, but when his football scholarship didn’t work out, Kerouac dropped out of Columbia, although he continued to live for a while on New York City’s Upper West Side.  It was during this time that he met many of the people with whom he was later to journey around the world.  This group later came to be known as the pioneers of the so-called Beat Generation, including Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke and William S. Burroughs.

Nostalgia often is  to be the the main appeal of both Jack Kerouac and his 1957 groundbreaking, of-the-generation On the Road.  In reality, the characters in On the Road spent as little time on the road as they could.   Speed was essential.  The men rarely even had time to chase after the women they ran into, because they were always in a hurry to get to a city.  Kerouac’s story is soaked through with an aching sadness that comes from the certainty that this world of hobos, migrant workers, cowboys and crazy joyriders was dying.  But the sadness is not sentimental, because many of the characters in the book who inhabited that world would have been happy to see it go differently, or else were too drunk or forlorn to care.  They did not share the traditional literary man’s nostalgie de la boue. They were restless, lonely, lost, beat.  Readers can witness that painful sadness by reading a sampling of Kerouac’s personal journal entries between 1948, when the twenty-five-year-old writer had recently returned to New York from a cross-country trip, to 1950, when his first book, The Town and the City, was published.

There is a sense of something risky and exposed about Kerouac’s reading, just as there is about Kerouac’s prose. The Beats were men who wrote about their feelings.  On the Road is somewhat sub-canonical, but it’s also also a tour de force.  It is usually considered to be more a literary phenomenon than a work of literature.  On the other hand, it has had an influence that is equivalent to a work of literature.  Kerouac revealed how one could stretch a canvas across an entire continent. He made America a subject for literary fiction; he de-Europeanized the novel for American writers.  Had his publishers not insisted upon using pseudonyms for “characters” in the book, On the Road arguably could have been considered the first nonfiction novel.  As it finally emerged in publication, Kerouac described it as a narrative-novel.  Nevertheless, Kerouac’s book came out eight years before Capote’s In Cold Blood and twenty-three years before Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.  It is certainly one of the leading literary sources for The New Journalism of the nineteen-sixties and seventies.  On the Road served as a major catalyst for the outburst of magazine pieces by writers like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson, a surge of avant-garde articles which took America and its weirdness as its great subject.

Two films related to Kerouac’s work are presented below.  The first is Pull My Daisy, an experimental art movie about “The Beat Generation” that Kerouac wrote and narrated in 1958.  The second film is the 1994 biographical movie, Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats.

Pull My Daisy (1958): Full HD Version

Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats (Full HD Version)

William S. Burroughs: Portrait of an Anonymous Man

William Seward Burroughs II (1914-1997) was a major figure in the inner-circle of the Beat Generation writers and a post-modern author who influenced popular culture as well as literature.  He is deemed one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century.  Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays.  Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences.  Burroughs also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

After attending Harvard University, Burroughs became enamoured with contemporary counterculture, and fascinated by the underground society of drug addiction.   Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life, his first novel being Junky (1953).  His writings are often satirical and darkly humorous, based upon his socially critical observances and lifelong subversion to the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society.  In this regard, Burroughs is perhaps best known for his initially highly controversial third novel Naked Lunch (1959).  In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Despite his life of constant globe-trotting and public appearances, there was always something cold, remote and forbidding about Burrough’s personality.  This aspect of his life has perhaps been most clearly revealed by the state of his windowless New York City apartment, the former locker room of an 1880s YMCA  on the Bowery in New York City.  Burrough’s apartment, which he named The Bunker, has been preserved since his death in 1997, and a photographic exhibition of his unusual “stuff” can be viewed here.

A documentary film about William Burrough’s life is presented below.  The William S. Burroughs Tribute Documentary (1985) features Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Francis Bacon, Lauren Hutton, Patti Smith, Terry Southern, William S. Burroughs and others.

The William S. Burroughs Tribute Documentary (Full Version)

Allen Ginsberg: A Poetic Champion of Human and Civil Rights

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix.

Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956)

Irwin Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was an American poet who vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression.  In the 1950s, Allen Ginsberg was a central part of the inner-circle of The Beat Generation writers, who combined poetry, song, sex, wine and illicit drugs with passionate political ideas that championed personal freedoms.  Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl (1956) celebrated his fellow compatriots and excoriated what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.

In Howl and in his other poetry, Ginsberg drew inspiration from the epic, free verse style of the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman.  Both men wrote passionately about the promise and betrayal of American democracy; the central importance of erotic experience; and the spiritual quest for the truth of everyday existence.

Ginsberg’s book of poems, The Fall of America, won the National Book Award for poetry in 1974.  Other honors included the National Arts Club Gold Medal and his induction into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, both in 1979.  In 1995, Ginsberg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992.

A taped recording of one of the original readings of Howl that Ginsberg gave at Reed College has recently been rediscovered and can be accessed on their multimedia website.

Posted below is a documentary film about Ginsberg, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg.

The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (Trailer)

Gregory Corso: Poetry to  Stimulate Individual Will

Gregory Nunzio Corso (1930 –2001) was an American poet, the youngest of the inner circle of Beat Generation writers (along with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs).  If Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs were the Three Musketeers of the Beat movement, Corso could rightly have laid claim to being their D’Artagnan, a sort of junior partner.  As a late-comer to the group, Corso was accepted and deeply appreciated, but with less than complete parity.  After having been abandoned by his parents as a child, Corso had lived alone on the streets of Little Italy for years.  For warmth, he slept in subways in the winter, and then slept on rooftops during the summer, continuing to attend Catholic school, not telling authorities he was living on the street.

As a result of minor run-ins with the law, at the age of sixteen Corso was sent to Clinton Prison for three years.  While imprisoned, Corso studied Greek and Roman classics, consumed encyclopedias and dictionaries, and began writing poetry.  Upon his release from prison in 1951, twenty-one-year-old Gregory Corso joined the Beat inner-circle and was adopted by its co-leaders, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who saw in the young street-wise writer the  potential for expressing the poetic insights of a generation wholly separate from those preceding it.  For Corso, poetry became a vehicle for change, a way to redirect the malignant course of society by stimulating individual will.

In 1957, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky traveled to visit Burroughs in Morocco.  Corso, who at that time was already in Europe, joined them and then led them to Paris, introducing them to a Left Bank lodging house above a bar at 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur that was to become known as The Beat Hotel.  They were soon joined by William Burroughs and others.  It was a haven for young expatriate painters, writers and musicians.  A short documentary about the life of Gregory Corso, and another about The Beat Hotel, are presented below:

Gregory Corso: The Last Beat

The Beat Hotel: American Beats Exiled in Paris

Slide Show: The Beat Generation/Dawn of The New Journalism

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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Painting the Town Pink: A Composition for The Chelsea Hotel

Painting the Town Pink: A Composition for The Legendary Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel: Starry, Starry Nights

The Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street in Manhattan is an elegantly shabby Victorian-Gothic hotel, which is registered as a national historic landmark. Long a mecca for bohemian artists and eccentrics, one resident once fondly described the hotel’s surreal atmosphere as ”a cross between the Plaza and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.” The Chelsea has a long history of serving as a sanctuary for the the avant-garde.

Through the years, those who lived at the Chelsea have included Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, Edith Piaf, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leonard Cohen, Willem de Kooning, Jane Fonda, Janis Joplin, Milos Forman, Jimi Hendrix, Dennis Hopper, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, Vladimir Nabokov and Wes Klein. Dylan Thomas drank 18 straight whiskies there, his last. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while living there.

After Andy Warhol’s film, Chelsea Girls, was released upon the world, the hotel’s reputation became the stuff of urban mythology, attracting artists from all over the world. Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol’s patroness and advisor, the Factory artists and other pop art figures were all there. Bob Dylan produced a record and a son there. Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend in Room 100.

Rufus Wainwright: Chelsea Hotel No. 2

The video above is selected from I’m Your Man, the critically acclaimed 2005 documentary celebrating the poetry, music and life of Leonard Cohen. This particular clip presents Rufus Wainwright performing Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2.

I Remember You Well in the Chelsea Hotel

According to recent, widespread New York City and national media coverage, it has recently become relatively clear that the Chelsea Hotel may well have finally met its day of reckoning. The legendary Chelsea has witnessed all kinds of insufferable incidents over the course of its long and quirky history, but never an administrative coup. As described in my posting two days ago, the hotel’s managing partner, Stanley Bard, has been pushed out by its board of directors. Bard’s part in transforming the Chelsea Hotel’s name into an urban myth is hard to overstate. He has ruled with a powerful. albeit eccentric influence over over the spirit and exuberance of the lodgers inhabiting the grand old brick heap since back when Leonard Cohen amorously cuddled there with Janis Joplin.

Adding further to the uncertainty about the hotel’s future is the fact that its ownership structure is somewhat clandestine. It was originally split by three families, but Bard’s family is the only one that had continued with day-to-day, direct management; the other two families are represented by a board. Now, at that board’s bidding an outside management company, led by two upscale New York City hoteliers, will take over Stanley’s day-to-day duties. These events have aroused the hotel residents’ fears, as well as a sense of alarm within the wider urban art community, that the hotel is headed either toward imminent condo conversion or transformation into a posh boutique hotel serving the hot, extremely profitable Manhattan hospitality market.

The Village Voice has provided this recent account of the events taking place at the Chelsea:

“It hasn’t taken long for the new management of the Hotel Chelsea to lay down the law with the landmark’s longtime residents. Days after ousting the hotel’s longtime manager, part-owner and lifeblood, Stanley Bard, the new guard sent a short letter to long-term residents this week asking them to make sure they’ve paid all “outstanding balances.”

It’s the first time in 50 years that the hotel has sent such a note. Many residents see it as the precursor toward demolishing the novel payment system Bard instituted to nurture both artists and the hotel’s bohemian environment before the Chelsea is converted into a pricey boutique hotel or condos.

For many residents, it’s not merely about the destruction of yet another unique cultural institution as the rising tide of real estate prices homogenizes New York. It’s a question of survival…

Completed in 1885, the 12-story Queen Anne-style building has been a temporary home to luminaries in all fields of artistic endeavor. It’s famous because Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen wrote songs there, Arthur Miller worked on “A View from the Bridge” there, and Dylan Thomas got wasted there. It’s infamous because Sid Vicious fatally stabbed Nancy Spungen there.

The new management, BD Hotels, which operates the Maritime Hotel among many other luxury properties, said in a press release that it seeks to burnish and build upon the hotels artistic history. Longtime residents who occupy about 60 percent of the hotel’s 250 rooms see that so-called burnishing as a pretense for tossing them out.

The residents’ worst fears seemed to be confirmed today by a Page Six item, which reported that renowned hotelier Andre Balazs — the man responsible for the renovations at the Chateau Marmont, the famed Sunset Strip hotel where John Belushi shot his last speedball — will have a role in the renovations and new management of the Chelsea.”

GAG: Guerillas Against Greed

Chelsea Hotel residents have been organizing a nationwide grassroots protest opposing the recent developments at the hotel, specifically aimed at the new management team that’s been put into place. They’ve asked people who endorse or champion respect for the unique creative dynamic that the Chelsea represents to reach out and support them. It’s a dynamic that has fostered visionary imagination to the extent that nearly everyone who’s anyone in the New York art, music and writing scene has lived there at one time or another. Further, for years the commitment to inspired artistic work has been accompanied by attempts to keep rents manageable for the creative people living there, most of whom have little money, unlike the stars who have achieved prominence and moved on. But all of them are just as important in maintaining the famous Chelsea spirit.

So in the Chelsea Hotel’s blog, the residents are urging allies of the arts to join them in opposing the new corporate management team. What exactly can people do to become involved? Protest coordinators are proposing, “A large number of varied and diverse guerilla activities may – while perhaps not forcing their ouster – at least drive them out of their bloomin’ minds...respond with our creativity – after all, that’s what we’re known for around here. Here are a few suggestions – some of them sent in by readers – to start us all thinking in the right direction. Let’s make them wish their greedy hides had never been born:

No matter where you live, fly a banner from your balcony or window. In addition to the postcards being sent, buy flowers – they’re not expensive at the Korean grocers and you can sometimes get three small bouquets out of one big cheap one — and stick them in the railings outside the hotel, in the stairwell balustrade, wherever. Deliver them to the desk! Attach a big cheery card addressed to [the new management personnel] with the message of your choice.

Whatever protest is done, a banner, a postcards, a bouquet of flowers with a get well card, it should be photographed/videotaped, and posted online. Maybe your friends all tap-dance? Have them meet in the Hotel Chelsea lobby, and then tap-dance out of there. Have a spontaneous art party in the lobby, and if any from the new order complain just explain that you’re waiting for a friend. If they kick you out, make sure it’s on video. Then post the videos on YouTube and Vimeo (with a link here). Photos can be posted on Google Picasa or in the Hotel Chelsea Flickr group

Celebrities: when in New York, stop by to give David Elder a piece of your mind. Don’t forget to bring a film crew.”

If interested, readers can follow daily developments at the Chelsea here: Living with Legends.

Slide Show: The Legendary Chelsea Hotel

(Please Click Image to View the Slide Show)

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