I've become interested in the Beat Generation recently. This San Francisco enclave of mostly New York city bohemians was unknown until they used words to challenge society.
I feel there is a kinship and a natural lineage that runs from the Beat writers of fifty years ago, to the blogosphere of today. Both celebrate the written word, and both celebrate a raw and passionate literature that is largely unedited. And both are disruptive movements.
Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl created a sensation and arrest for obscenity charges. It is difficult to believe the extreme reaction to a poem, but it was world changing to many. The Polish poet and Berkeley resident Czeslaw Milosz said of Allen Ginsberg: "Your blasphemous howl still resounds in a neon desert where the human tribe wanders, sentenced to unreality".
Yet not much later, the mass media took to the Beat Generation in classic style--discovering a cornucopia of literature on sex and drug use. Jack Kerouac's fiction was packaged up into sensational paperback covers with lurid images of lightly clothed young women, shown in the throes of some kind of narcotic erotic pose.
William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" was also put on trial for obscenity. And the author's heroin affliction and accidental shooting of his wife while aiming for an apple--helped propel the mass culture interest in the Beat Generation--which then led to the Hippie Generation...
I've particularly grown curious about a member of the Beat literati that was not a child of the New York middle class--yet he influenced more writers of note than probably any other person in the 20th century. His name was Neal Cassady and I recently attended a celebration of his 80th birthday.
I see a distinct lineage of influence that includes many writers of note, from Jack Kerouac, to Ken Kesey, to the Grateful Dead to Tom Wolfe to Hunter S. Thompson to . . . Bloggers.
Neal Cassady was a kid from the Denver skid-row, brought up by an alcoholic father during hard depression times. He was largely self-taught and directly influenced two generations of youth sub-culture. And that was before he turned 42 and encountered his mortal nature in Mexico.
I'm about a third of the way through his autobiography "The First Third." It is one of the few surviving manuscripts of his writing.
I met his son John recently, and he told me what happened to most of it--he said the story had probably never been published before.
Here is more about my recent meeting with John Cassady--Neal Cassady's son.