A New Significance

In this excerpt from a letter to Scott,  Zelda Fitzgerald describes her mental illness in words that sound very much like Beat Poetry:

In Paris, before I realized that I was sick, there was a new significance to everything:  stations and streets and facades of buildings– colors were infinite, part of the air, and not restricted by the lines that encompassed them and lines were free of the masses they held.  There was music that beat behind my forehead and other music that fell into my stomach from a high parabola and there was some of Schumann that was still and tender and the sadness of Chopin Mazurkas– Some of them sound as if he thought he couldn’t compose them– and there was the madness of turning, turning, turning through the decisiveness of Litz.  Then the world became embryonic in Africa– and there was no need for communication.  The Arabs fermenting in the vastness; the curious quality of their eyes and the smell of ants; a detachment as if I was on the other side of a black gauze…

From Zelda by Nancy Milford, ©1970, pages 166-167.

We Could Be Heroes

From (of all places) Rotten.com:

In fact, (Jack) Kerouac too styled his friend a hero, specifically the “new American Hero”. Recall that in the 50s and 60s, many young people felt smothered by the American Dream. Adult America was obsessed with living the Good Life, and with protecting the American way of life — rescued from the teeth of the depression, fought for in World War II — from communism. The role model they held up to their kids was basically: get a good job, get lots of stuff, impress the neighbors, have kids, drop dead. That was it.

Normal people just weren’t supposed to deviate from this goose-stepping road to nirvana. So it took an abnormal person like Neal Cassady to give young Americans a sense that life could actually be something worth staying awake for. Cassady’s rip, rolling ride through life, following the beat of his own inner impulses (captured in literature in “On The Road”), inspired young people to set aside their inherited mental programming and set out on a path of exploration – first calling themselves the Beat generation, and later the Hippies.

In that light, it’s easier to be charitable towards some of their behavior. It’s almost always mistake to judge previous generations by current standards.  Abraham Lincoln, considered too progressive on racial issues in his time, would be considered the worst kind of racist today (and would be excoriated on the internet).  So I’m doing my best to keep an open mind.

What still bothers me, though, are passages like this one:

It was horrible to hear Camille sobbing so.  We couldn’t stand it and went out to buy beer…

“Camille” was Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s then three-months pregnant wife.  It’s hard to imagine such calloused indifference, in any generation.

It doesn’t seem possible to have an unquenchable lust for life that doesn’t also include love for your fellow human beings.

(You will either be delighted or horrified to know that I do have two more Kerouac books on the way- thank you for the recommendations, V. Alarcón-Córdoba!- so there will be more ruminations on the Beats to come.)

Lover Man

Excerpt from On The Road by Jack Kerouac, ©1955:

I huddled in the cold, rainy wind and watched everything across the sad vineyards of October in the valley.  My mind was filled with that great song “Lover Man” as Billie Holiday sings it; I had my own concert in the bushes.  “Someday we’ll meet, and you’ll dry all my tears, and whisper sweet, little things in my ear, hugging and a-kissing, oh what we’ve been missing, Lover Man, oh where can you be…”  It’s not the words so much as the great harmonic tune and the way Billie sings it, like a woman stroking her man’s hair in soft lamp-light.  The winds howled.  I got cold.

(Full song lyrics HERE.)

Hit The Road, Jack

I’m re-reading The Dharma Bums and On The Road, and although I still love the way Jack Kerouac writes I find myself less enchanted by his philosophies.

Depending upon the kindness of strangers for your livelihood and indulging every whim as soon as it arises doesn’t sound like freedom and enlightenment.  It sounds like infantilism.