Imagine one of those classic nineteenth-century novels in which a young innocent aesthete arrives, after a rocky passage filled with eccentric sometimes sinister characters, at self-knowledge. Only in this book, the one about the Beats, there are two heroes. One is a slight, bespectacled Jewish kid from New Jersey. A bookish schoolteacher's son who dreams of literary glory and perfect love, a romantic with homosexual inclinations and a mother who is both a committed Marxist and a diagnosed schizophrenic with paranoid tendencies. The other is a working-class Catholic kid from the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, a college dropout turned merchant marine who ships out to places like Greenland, Dostoevsky in his kit bag, his head teeming with the novels he plans to write.
Allen Ginsberg was eighteen, a newly matriculated student at Columbia University, when he met the semilegendary Jack Kerouac. They still talked about Kerouac at Columbia, mainly as an example of wasted potential. It was a curious story, sort of a reverse Frank Merriwhether. Kerouac had arrived at Columbia on a surge of athletic fame, a brilliant and powerful running back who had torn up the eastern prep gridirons for Horace Mann, the progressive New York prep school that had plucked him out of Lowell's French Canadian tenements. He had all the earmarks of the kind of smart ethnic kid who was starting to penetrate the Wasp preserves of the Ivy League. But then, in the first game of his freshman season at Columbia, he broke his leg, and (in retrospect) something else seemed to snap as well. A month into his sophomore year, Kerouac quit football and Columbia, and took a job pumping gas in upstate Connecticut. He intended to be Thomas Wolfe, the novelist, not Frank Merriwhether, schoolboy myth. He intended to live life, not read about it in English Lit 101. By the time Ginsberg met him, he was like a character in a Jack London short story, a strapping member of the wartime merchant marine who bragged he had already written a million words.
They were introduced by an extravagantly beautiful and rather exotic young man named Lucien Carr. Carr had already been tossed out of a number of schools, among them the University of Chicago and Bowdoin. He had the kind of easy, cynical assurance that would have marked him for black-sheep status had he been a well-born Englishman, instead of an upper-middle-class American, a provincial version of the English Sonnenkinder of the Twenties, those idle "children of the sun" who had lived on champagne, French symbolist poetry, and witty remarks.
He was a sophisticate, something both Ginsberg and Kerouac aspired to become, although Kerouac could never completely put aside his proletarian respect for plain living and hard work ("Oh let's have more of those splendid Lowell mill-worker remarks," Carr used to sneer)1, and Ginsberg, when he first entered Columbia, was prelaw, the quintessence of timid practicality. Art and Spirit were Carr's preferred themes, with the one leading to an enlargement of the other. "I tell you that I repudiate your little loves," he would declaim theatrically in the dark little West Side dives where they went to drink and philosophize, "[I repudiate] your little derivative morality, your hypocritical altruism, your foolish humanity obsessions, all the loves and penalties of your expedient little modern bourgeois culture."2 Lucien was brimming with the kind of luminescent hatred that is the flip side of adolescent love, and it made him a compelling figure.
Besides introducing Ginsberg and Kerouac, Carr took them to meet an older bohemian named William Burroughs, who was sort of Carr's spiritual mentor. Burroughs was black-sheep material too, only of a far tougher sort. He had been born into a prominent St. Louis family connected to the Burroughs adding machine fortune. The St. Louis Burroughses were businessmen and civic leaders, and when William came of age he was packed off to Harvard to acquire the pedigreed social connections that were the principal benefit of an Ivy League education in the 1930s. But there was something about his tall, emotionless presence that communicated the message that young Burroughs was not going to be an asset; he was rebuffed by all the top social clubs that usually embraced the sons of the rich. In fact. Burroughs found it difficult to join any establishment. After Pearl Harbor he tried without luck to join the OSS and the American Field Service. Even the Navy spurned him. "His feet are flat, his eyesight bad, and put down that he is a very poor physical specimen," the Navy doctor had remarked.3 When Ginsberg and Kerouac met him, he was living on a small allowance in midtown New York, cultivating his two hobbies: heroin and the criminal mind.
In terms of physique, William Burroughs could've been Aldous Huxley's brother: he had the same lanky lack of flesh, the same quick, nervous mind. He also had the same artistic inclinations, although he possessed an exoticness that was entirely foreign to Aldous's clear, cold logic engine. "As a child," Burroughs once said, "I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in yellow pongee silk suits. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle."4
Drugs were Burroughs's way of attaining the same state of selflessness that Huxley was seeking through meditation and religious insight. Indeed, it is not too far off the mark to say that in the early Forties the two men were on parallel paths; both were seeking access to higher states of consciousness. The difference was one of focus. While Huxley was content to build a theory about the superiority of the nonattached man. Burroughs was actively seeking a way to become nonattached, which, perhaps owing to his proximity to Madison Avenue and its corps of eager Behaviorists, he tended to conceptualize as deconditioning. To be free it was necessary to shed the swaddling layers of bourgeois conditioning. One way to do this was by carefully exploiting the disorienting state of drugs like heroin, speed, and the recently criminalized marijuana.
Besides drugs, our two heroes found books at Burroughs's apartment that were not included in the standard college curricula. They pored over Kafka, Cocteau's Opium, Celine, Rimbaud, and Spengler's Decline of the West, with its appealing argument that the spiritual crisis of the West would be terminal. They met marginal characters like Herbert Huncke, a junky acquaintance of Burroughs who was justifiably famous as the man who had helped pioneer sex researcher Alfred Kinsey investigate the sexual habits of New York's criminal underworld. And they started psychoanalysis. Several times a week they lay on Burroughs's couch and told him about their dreams and fantasies.
Kerouac later described that first year under Burroughs's tutelage as one of "low, evil decadence."5 One of his friends likened it to something out of Dostoevsky: "I knew [Burroughs] was capable of killing someone. They were all very unattractive in that way. The level of violence was high, and Kerouac liked that, and Ginsberg liked that, but it horrified me."6
When they got drunk and excited, they would begin talking about something called the New Vision, which was just the old visions of Faust, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Nietzsche tarted up with a postwar sensibility. One of the key concepts of the New Vision was the existential acte gratuite, that spontaneous, usually violent act that freed one from the tyranny of bourgeois morality, or at least that's the way it worked in the novels of Andre Gide. It was Lucien Carr who provided the New Vision with its first legitimate acte gratuite. Among the exotica of Carr's life was a lovesick homosexual named David Kammerer, who had been the athletic director at one of Carr's private schools, and who had been dogging his life ever since in a pantomime of unrequited infatuation. This had been going on for several years, so the consummation, when it arrived on a warm summer night in 1944, was a little unexpected, particularly for Kammerer, whose body, weighted with rocks, was later fished out of the Hudson. As befits an acte gratuite, Carr was never able to explain to his friends why he had stabbed Kammerer; when he came to trial he took Burroughs's advice and claimed he had been defending himself against a homosexual rape. This delighted the New York media, who promptly labeled it an "honor slaying."
Kammerer's death marked the end of Act One in our heroic tale, as Carr was charged with manslaughter and Burroughs and Kerouac were jailed as material witnesses. Burroughs, with his family connections, was out of jail within hours and on his way to St. Louis. But Kerouac languished for almost a week; he couldn't even raise a hundred dollars and his bail was five thousand. Desperate, he agreed to marry his girlfriend and in return her wealthy parents posted bond. But part of the bride price was his relocation to her hometown, Grosse Point, Michigan, where a factory job counting ball bearings awaited him. So only Ginsberg was in town for Carr's sentencing—one to twenty years in Elmira Reformatory—which occurred in early October. Writing to his brother about the disintegration of his little band of visionaries, Ginsberg drew a parallel with the decay of the West as foretold by Spongier: the "poisons of a dying culture"7 were to blame for their misfortunes.
It is a testament to Kerouac's self-discipline that he didn't succumb to the "low, evil decadence" that surrounded him, that he didn't disappear into the heroin haze that Burroughs lived in, or the Benzedrine addiction that was steadily claiming Burroughs's wife, Joan. In fact, the emotional melodrama that climaxed with Kammerer's death only strengthened Kerouac's resolve to become a great writer. To have Jack seated in the corner, scribbling in a notebook, while assorted wild scenes ebbed and flowed around him, became a common sight. Although Kerouac burned most of his early efforts, when he did begin showing his prose to his friends they were immediately struck by the uncanny power of his memory. It was as though he could reach back into his unconscious and rummage around in the files until he located the transcript of the night Ginsberg had gotten drunk and said something so terrifically right about Dostoevsky and truth; he had the gift of total recall, and yet—the mark of the artist—the sum of the parts was completely original.
By the end of the Forties Kerouac had reworked his young life into a Proustian-Wolfian novel called The Town and the City, a portrait of the artist as a sincere young man seeking truth and beauty and finding, among the hustlers and dreamers of New York, a reasonable facsimile. Harcourt Brace accepted The Town and the City in 1949, and word went out that a promising debut was in the offing. For a season Kerouac was the new kid on the block, the new face at literary soirees. He was a literary man now. All the other roles he had ever played—jock, college dropout, sailor, bum, prisoner, faithless husband—took a back seat to this central fact. Indeed, the quality of his personal triumph was underscored by the irony that a few days after Town and City appeared in 1950 the real-life counterpart of one of its characters, Herbert Huncke, went to jail on a felony charge.
The Town and the City was not a best-seller. Reviews were mixed, sales modest. But that didn't dampen Kerouac's creative enthusiasm. Fueled by Benzedrine and marijuana, he was racing through his second book, typing it out on a lengthy role of teletype paper that he had borrowed from UPI. The book was called On the Road, and it reflected the arrival in Kerouac and Ginsberg's life of their second mentor, "a sideburned hero of the snowy West" named Neal Cassady.8
In Oswald Spengler's historical fantasy, The Decline of the West, the industrialized societies systematically destroy themselves, and the earth is inherited by the fellaheen, which is what Spongier called the teeming, unsophisticated but intelligent poor who are always on the verge of inheriting something. Neal Cassady was the closest thing to a genuine fellaheen that anyone in the Burroughs circle had ever met. Here, as Cassady's biographer, William Plummer, put it in an eminently quotable description, was "a slim hipped hedonist who could throw a football seventy yards, do fifty chin-ups at a clip, and masturbate six times a day every day. Here was a man who suffered a life at once blighted and intriguingly exotic and who was somehow all the more sensitive, sensual, and amorous for it. Here was a man who was as 'criminal' and 'marginal' as Huncke, but who was vastly more joyous and palatable, a man who was potentially as smart as Burroughs but who was natural, intuitive, intellectually unformed—who was, in a word, radiant."9
Here was a man who didn't just sit around swapping footnoted thoughts about the New Vision, here was a man who lived it. When he wasn't stealing cars—he later estimated he stole five hundred during adolescence alone—or having sex with anyone female—for a time he slept with an imbecilic maid in order to scrounge breakfast—he was in the Denver Public Library reading the Great Books series; his favorites were Schopenhauer and Proust. And Cassady didn't just tell you this in the casual way most people impart personal anecdotes; he came rushing at you like one of the Bird's saxophone solos, riffing on the hilarious pathos of his life, scatological one moment, ribald the next, yet with enough pure philosophical insight so that his listeners, once they had given up trying to swim against this torrent, found themselves thinking, this kid isn't just telling stories, he's imparting wisdom. Cassady was a prodigy, with a mind as raw and as powerful as the cars he loved to steal.
Throughout Cassady's life people would attempt to harness this incredible vitality, beginning with Justin Brierly, a Denver high school teacher who saw to it that this prodigy from the local slums was introduced to "the cream of Denver youth." Inevitably a portion of this cream found its way to Columbia University, where it had a nodding acquaintance with two easterners named Ginsberg and Kerouac. Cassady blew into New York for the first time in 1946, accompanied by his fifteen-year-old bride, Luanne. He immediately seduced the tentatively homosexual Allen Ginsberg, plunging the latter into an occasionally requited infatuation that lasted years. With Kerouac the seduction was less physical but equally profound. Kerouac the novelist was fascinated both by Cassady's way of telling a story and the stories themselves. Neal's childhood, in and around Denver's skidrow district, was right out of Dickens. Together with his father, an alcoholic who sometimes worked as a barber, Cassady had grown up in a rundown flophouse called the Metropolitan, where a clientele of pimps, poolsharks, and hobo philosophers had waited out the Depression. But more than the stories, it was the philosophy of life extracted from these circumstances that appealed to Kerouac. Although he could intellectualize with the best of them, Cassady never let concepts interfere with his zest for living. "He lived right now, right at the moment," remembered one of his Denver friends. "He never planned his life in terms of goals, like a five-year goal or something, or even a two-week goal."10 For Cassady: if you needed a car, you borrowed one; if you needed money badly enough, it would appear; if you got into trouble, you talked your way out of it; if that failed, you paid the penalty.
Cassady's life, in many ways, was one long acte gratuite, although it is important not to let that fact obscure what was really a homespun set of values. Underneath the spontaneity, Cassady had worked out a detailed theory of karmic responsibility. For example, if he walked into a house and found the refrigerator full, then he would always ask for something, a meal, the loan of the car, money, whatever, on the theory that it was his host's karmic duty to be generous. But if he walked in and found only a wrinkled old apple and a carton of week-old milk, then it was his duty to offer something in return.
But in general he found more full refrigerators than empty ones, which was just as well given his craving "to consume anything and everything."11 At least that's the way his first wife, the teenaged Luanne, described it, and she certainly was in a position to know. One day she had been minding her own business in a Denver drugstore when Neal had waltzed in with his then girlfriend. Spotting her sitting alone, he had drawled, "That's the girl I'm going to marry." A few months later he did.
Cassady was one of the few people who made Kerouac feel square. But he never acted superior. "He had no sneer in him at all," says John Clellon Holmes, an aspiring writer who hung around with Ginsberg and Kerouac.12 Holmes, like everyone else, was dazzled by Neal's style, particularly his ability to "seduce endless numbers of women in literally two minutes. Walk in—boom!—into the sack!" But he was also enough of a New York intellectual to classify Cassady as "a psychopath in the traditional and most rigorous sense of the term." Later, after he had read the manuscript of On the Road, Holmes had marveled at Kerouac's intuitive recognition that Cassady was the perfect symbol for that species of longing that was simmering beneath the pinstriped blandness of suburban America: "Why Jack fastened on this is peculiar to him, but it's also peculiar to genius to pick out instinctively—he didn't do it cognitively—something that was going to be the next move."13
On the Road was a tone poem to Cassady (who was christened Dean Moriarity to Jack's Sal Paradise) and the electrifying effect his personality had had on Kerouac and Ginsberg. "I shambled after as I've been doing all my life," Jack wrote in the opening paragraphs, shambling after anyone who was "mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved,"14 shambling in this case back and forth from Denver to New York in one of those deluxe driving machines that Neal loved, with a stopover in New Orleans to visit Burroughs. On the Road had no plot as such. It was an extended anecdote about the ground they had covered, the cars they had stolen, the girls they had slept with, and all the fantasies and revelations they had told each other as the road slipped away under their wheels. What distinguished it was its style: sentences that came in "clickety pop word bursts" or one of Cassady's trademark monologues.15 In fact, it was a forty-thousand-word letter from Cassady, relating the hilarious and Byzantine complications of one of his Denver love affairs, that had crystallized On the Road for Jack; up until then he had been trying to novelize his adventures with Neal, worrying about theme, plot line, character development; but when he read the letter something had clicked—to hell with literary convention, the way to write this book was to just let it come gushing out from that phenomenal well that was his memory. ("The writing is dew-like," Ginsberg wrote to Cassady, "everything happens as it really did, with the same juvenescent feel of spring.")16
It took Kerouac twenty primed-primed days in April 1951 to write On the Road, and when he was done his second wife tossed him out of their New York City apartment for being a bum and a bore. (Kerouac's relationships with women are so mercurial that I won't confuse the reader by enumerating them; as Dennis McNally, whose biography of Kerouac is excellent, puts it: "One of the central myths of Jack's life was of Dostoevsky's wife and her unflagging support of her husband, of the duty of the untalented to support the creative artist." Like so many aggressive opponents of the status quo of his generation, Kerouac saw no reason to question his conditioning vis-à-vis women. They were there to fuck him, feed him, fawn over him, and then fade into the background. Unfortunately, few modern girls could put up with this for more than a few months, which shows just how far the women of the Fifties were from Madame Dostoevsky; the juices of feminism were starting to simmer.) Actually Kerouac's ejection from his (relatively) comfortable conjugal nest was an augury of what the future would bring, because no publisher would touch On the Road. Written on a roll of UPI teletype paper (it reminded Clellon Holmes of a big salami), it quickly acquired the reputation of being too weird, a work of genius, maybe, but unsaleable.
Kerouac was bruised in a fairly fundamental way by this rejection. And it opened up an unattractive side of his personality that was a combination of narcissistic megalomania— why isn't the world recognizing my genius—and paranoia— I'm not being recognized because my friends are plotting against me, stealing my ideas, talking behind my back! Jack lashed out at everyone, sending Ginsberg a particularly ugly letter. He thought that mediocre talents were stealing his material, and for proof he pointed to John Clellon Holmes, whose novel Go, published in the fall of 1952, was the kind of commercial success Harcourt Brace had hoped The Town and the City would be. Holmes had the effrontery (in Jack's eyes) not only to retail certain anecdotes pertaining to their little community of visionaries, but he had also appropriated certain catchy sayings of Jack's, like the night Kerouac had gotten into a long riff about his friends and had said, "We're a beat generation." Holmes had put that in Go, where it had caught the eye of a young editor at the New York Times magazine named Gilbert Millstein.
Millstein, who was always on the lookout for punchy contemporary trends, commissioned Holmes to write an article on the Beat Generation. And Holmes did, turning in a solid analysis of the post-New Visionaries. What they were seeking, he wrote, was a "nakedness of mind, ultimately of soul," i.e., a completely deconditioned state that would enable them to descend (or ascend) to "the bedrock of consciousness."17 That was the psychological kernel of the Beat Generation, that and the never spelled-out understanding that one of their fundamental dreams was the creation of a community of like-minded souls; a new kind of family that would be tribal rather than nuclear. And that was what most of Holmes's article was about: how to recognize a true brother, a fellow beat! "A man is beat when he wagers the sum of his resources on a single number," Holmes wrote.
Despite his anger, Kerouac was sufficiently impressed with the response to Holmes's article that he retitled his unsaleable manuscript The Beat Generation. Later he tried Rock n Roll Road, but neither change persuaded the publishers to revise their opinion.
Kerouac became manic depressive, happy one week, moody and bitter the next. When he drank he turned mean. And this made him ashamed. His best therapy was movement. Although he lacked Neal's fireball quality—he was a shambler, after all—Kerouac was almost as hyperkinetic. From 1952 to 1957 he drifted from San Francisco to Mexico City to New York, Tangier, Paris, London. He moved from job to job, woman to woman, always living in the funkiest hotels he could find, playing the role of the "skid-row wino that rambles in and out from place to place."18 As his friend Gary Snyder once observed, in "harking back to the hobo," Kerouac was "harking back to one of the few models—myths—of freedom and freshness and mobility and detachment ... that were available to us at the time."19
But if constant movement was Kerouac's first line of therapy, writing was a close second. His discipline was awe-inspiring. "Jack'd sit and write for hours on end," recalls Burroughs. "Longhand, longhand. He'd just sit down in a corner and say, 'I don't want to be disturbed,' and I wouldn't pay any attention to him."20 Between the years 1951 and 1956 Kerouac sat in the corner and produced almost a dozen manuscripts. In each he followed the formula he had perfected in On the Road: a stretch of earnest living followed by a primed-primed bout of spontaneous remembering. He had decided to take Cassady's advice and produce a multivolumed work modeled after Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, except that in Jack's case it was frequently "remembrance of things that happened last month." Once, when a Greenwich Village Madonna dumped him after a few weeks for poet Gregory Corso, Kerouac sat down and in three days of nonstop typing produced The Subterraneans, a graphic retelling of the botched affair that cost him fifteen pounds. Kerouac frequently wrote these minimemoirs in the attic of Cassady's house in San Francisco (later San Jose) where, along with Neal's wife, Carolyn, the three maintained a fragile ménage a trois.
To the extent that his voluntary poverty personified the pursuit of private artistic genius in a culture that assigned its highest values to power and wealth, Kerouac came to symbolize-to his friends at least—the highest ideals of the Beat Generation. But he also symbolized the difficult price exacted upon anyone who tried to live out those ideals in the 1950s. As Kerouac's pile of unpublished manuscript mounted, so did his bouts of despair and black anger. He wanted the recognition of a great writer, but that wish was also an admission of how far he still had to go to purge himself completely of his social conditioning. To pursue private artistic genius was great in theory, but when it came right down to it, all the examples you could point to were people whose private artistic genius had earned them posthumous admiration; they had endured bitterness and sacrifice and been rewarded with the sinecure of fame. But where was the guarantee that if Kerouac sacrificed his life on the altars of Art, the gods would smile upon him? In December 1954 Kerouac jotted into his notebook the following self-accusation: AT THE LOWEST BEATEST EBB OF MY LIFE ... CONSIDERED A CRIMINAL AND INSANE AND A IMBECILE, MY SELF SELF-DISAPPOINTED AND ENDLESSLY SAD BECAUSE I'M NOT DOING WHAT I KNEW SHOULD BE DONE A WHOLE YEAR AGO.21
It was a dilemma they all felt in various ways. It was fine to decondition yourself, to psychologically remove yourself from the social webbing of American society, but what then? How did you live? And where? The expatriates of the Twenties had Paris, and Paris already had fifty years of bohemian experimentation under its belt by the time the Hemingways and Murphys sat down at its carefree, wine-soaked cafes. But the Beats were just starting out, they lacked a spiritual home, and you could count the number of true brothers on two hands.
So they were all gripped by the hobo habit. In the late Forties Burroughs moved to a small town north of Houston, Texas, where he bought a farm and planted a crop of marijuana between the alfalfa rows. He was a negligible farmer, perhaps because he was shooting heroin three times a day, and he managed only one trip to New York with a load of pot-filled mason jars. Eventually the local police began harassing him (whether because of his agricultural policies, or the weird characters who were always hanging around his farm, or his habit of spending a few hours every day banging away at the side of the barn with his pistol, is unclear) and he was forced to relocate to a little town up the road from New Orleans, where the pattern repeated itself. Burroughs tried Mexico after that. He was excited by a rumor he had heard that Mexican land could be had for two dollars an acre, and he moved to Mexico City with the intention of becoming a citizen. But the Mexican bureaucrats kept losing his file, and after spending nearly a thousand dollars he was still no nearer to the Mexican real estate he coveted. No doubt the Mexicans saw Burroughs as a foolish young gringo with deep pockets, but they were also aware of some of his less naive habits, particularly his love of weaponry. Several times they confiscated Burroughs's guns, although they missed the one that he used on September 7, 1951, when he accidentally shot and killed Joan. They had been playing a game of William Tell; Burroughs had missed.
Worried that the Mexican justice system might interpret this tragedy in a different light. Burroughs jumped bail and fled to Tangier, where he lived in a male brothel owned by a prominent Moroccan gangster. The next year, 1953, he went to South America to investigate the psychotropic properties of the shamanic vine ayahuasca, which was generally brewed into a hallucinogenic drink called yage. "Yage is space-time travel," he wrote Ginsberg. "The room seems to shake and vibrate with motion. The blood and substance of many races, Negro, Polynesian, Mountain Mongol, Desert Nomad, Polyglot Near East, Indian—new races as yet unconceived and unborn, combinations not yet realized passes through your body ... . The composite city where all human potentials are spread out in a vast silent market."22
Burroughs had hoped that yage would wipe away the last webs of his social conditioning, that it would be what he characterized in a letter to Ginsberg as "the final trip." Indeed, he came back from South America a changed man. Stopping in New York on his way to Tangier, Burroughs amazed Ginsberg with his "outwardness and confidence ... He is very personal now, and gives me the impression of suffering terribly and continuously," he confided to Cassady.23 In Tangier Burroughs began writing sketches and tossing them on the floor. Eventually they would be gathered up, dirty and torn, and published as Naked Lunch.
Burroughs's visit catalyzed Ginsberg's own restless urges, and a few weeks after Bill departed for Tangier Allen quit his job as a market researcher and moved to San Francisco where he intended to "start all over again." For a few weeks he managed to sustain an authentic hobo existence, but then his old fears about being normal reasserted themselves, and he found himself another market research job. He got an apartment on Nob Hill, and a girlfriend (yet another stab at heterosexuality), and every morning he put on his suit and tie and trolleyed down to the business section. He was trying to play the game, to be a credit to his alma mater, Columbia, he told his therapist, so why was he so bored and miserable?
One day his therapist asked him what he really wanted to do with his life and Allen replied, "Doctor, I don't think you're going to find this very healthy and clear, but I really would like to stop working forever—never work again, never do anything like the kind of work I'm doing now—and do nothing but write poetry and have leisure to spend the day outdoors and go to museums and see friends. And I'd like to keep living with someone—maybe even a man—and explore relationships that way. And cultivate my perceptions, cultivate the visionary thing in me. Just a literary and quiet city-hermit existence."24
"Well why don't you?" answered the therapist.
To have a bona fide psychiatrist say, "Sure, go ahead, be as crazy as you want if it makes you happy," was like having a note from God to skip school. Ginsberg quit his marketing job; he found a male lover, Peter Orlovsky, and he began to seriously pursue his "visionary thing."
Ginsberg's visionary thing dated back to the summer of 1948, when he had been living in a tiny Harlem flat, writing poems, reading William Blake, and feeling lonely and sorry for himself because he had just received a Dear John letter from Cassady. One day he was lying there masturbating and feeling miserable when the room was suddenly filled with a sonorous voice—Blake's voice—reciting the poem he had just been reading, "Ah Sunflower":
Ah Sunflower, weary of time Who countest the steps of the sun Seeking after that sweet golden clime Where the traveler's journey is done.25
Accompanying this auditory hallucination was a feeling of knowing, not just knowing the ultimate meaning of the poem, but of life itself. Glancing out the window, Ginsberg found himself staring into the depths of the universe:
I suddenly realized that this ... was the moment I was born for. This initiation. Or this vision or this consciousness of being alive unto myself, alive myself unto the Creator. As the son of the Creator—who loved me.26
It was a moment of what Richard Bucke, the turn-of-the-century Canadian psychologist who had traveled North America collecting similar epiphanies, had called cosmic consciousness.
Exalted by his vision, Ginsberg crawled out onto the fire escape and tapped on the open window of the next apartment, which was occupied by a couple of girls. "I've seen God!" he shouted, whereupon the window fell shut with a bang, leaving Ginsberg alone on the fire escape, with only the ancient cosmic sky and his racing heart for accompaniment.
The aftereffects of Ginsberg's brush with cosmic consciousness never really disappeared. In fact, this visitation marked the moment when the New Vision began to mutate into what Ginsberg called "American tenderheartedness." It didn't take a genius to see that playing at being hip, cool psychopaths had gotten them nowhere except to Kammerer's death, Huncke's imprisonment, and the silly accident that would take the life of Joan Burroughs. "The whole notion of being smarter, more psychotic, beating the world at its own game was no longer of interest," Ginsberg later explained to an interviewer. "Coolness, reserve of any kind, was the opposite of the sort of warmhearted, open, Dostoevskian Alyosha-Myshkin-Dimitri compassion that Kerouac and I were pursuing."27
Although Ginsberg used a literary analogy in that example, in real life the Beats found their models of compassion in the Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, and its variant, Zen. In the concept of the bodhisattva—the wandering Buddha—they found a rationale for the artist as cosmic bum, observing the world's follies and in return beaming a little light back into the fog of desperation. Later much would be made of the Beats' infatuation with Zen, most of it negative. Scholars of Eastern religion were quick to jump on inconsistencies and misreadings. Even Alan Watts, who was a seminal influence due to his position as director of San Francisco's Academy of Asian Studies, felt compelled to criticize the "fake-intellectual hipster" who was "name-dropping bits of Zen and jazz jargon to justify disaffiliation from society."28 Watts felt that Zen was "better kept to oneself as therapy," but he was sympathetic to the larger problem with which the Beats were grappling, namely the creation of a legitimate Western sadhana—a Sanskrit word literally meaning "the way," sadhana refers to the various practices used in the East to cultivate higher consciousness, enlightenment, mystical ecstasy.
The Beats set about creating their own sadhana from a dozen different sources. For Ginsberg, who claimed to have experienced satori in 1954, it was a regimen of Judaism, Zen, and Mahayana Buddhism; for Kerouac, it was all of that plus an overlay of Catholicism: he later told a television interviewer that he prayed nightly to Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Buddha. Like Huxley and Heard before them, they experimented with yoga, meditation, and chanting, but found these uncongenial. Gary Snyder, who was a much more serious student of Zen, tried long and hard to teach them meditation, but these sessions usually ended with everyone reading haikus back and forth. Kerouac was unable to bend his knees because of his old football injuries, but "even had he been able to, his head wouldn't have stopped long enough for him to endure it. He was too nervous."29
If the Eastern sadhanas had one unifying message, it was that the rational mind was the great obstacle. "A psychological impasse is the necessary antecedent of satori, " the Zen master D. T. Suzuki had written, "and the worst enemy of Zen experience, at least in the beginning, is the intellect, which consists and insists in discriminating subject from object. The discriminating intellect, therefore, must be cut short if Zen consciousness is to unfold itself."30 From their days with Burroughs they knew that one of the quickest ways to disrupt the rational mind was with drugs. But not all drugs. Marijuana worked fairly well, but an even better disrupter was peyote, and its synthetic cousin, mescaline. LSD didn't enter the Beat scene until the end of the Fifties, but when it did it quickly became the tool of choice for achieving "that ancient heavenly connection."31
Ginsberg took some peyote in the fall of 1955, shortly after quitting his market research job to devote himself to poetry. Looking out his window, he had a vision of Moloch, the biblical idol whose worship was distinguished by the burning of children. Moloch was America, Ginsberg flashed, and he began writing a poem about this intuition.
One of Ginsberg's salient character traits was his ability to organize things; before he'd decided to go prelaw at Columbia, he'd considered becoming a union organizer. So one of the first things he did in San Francisco was organize a local poetry reading. It was scheduled for October 13, 1955, in an old gas station turned art gallery called the Six Gallery. "Six poets at the Six Gallery," the promotional postcards said,
Remarkable collection of angels all gathered at once in the same spot. Wine, music, dancing girls, serious poetry, free satori. Small collection for wine and postcards. Charming event.32
On hand for his debut were Kerouac and Cassady, the former distinguishable as the man who was passing around the big jugs of Burgundy wine, while the latter was the source of the punctuating stream of Wows\ Yeses', and Go, Go Gos\ that greeted each reader. Ginsberg read next to last. Until this moment his vocation as a poet had been more wishful living than artistic fact. What poems he had written were short epigrammatic lyrics in the style of William Carlos Williams. But tonight he wasn't going to bother with his old work. Instead he was going to read the poem that had come to him through the mediation of Dexedrine and peyote, a massive, tumultuous thing called Howl, which began
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.33
By the time Ginsberg reached the middle of Howl, where each line began with the cry Moloch!, the crowd was chanting along with him. And by the time he swung into the final stanzas everyone knew something momentous was occurring.
Philip Lamantia, who had also read his poems that evening, likened it to "bringing two ends of an electric wire together."34 Michael McClure, another of the poets, later considered it the moment when the consciousness that reached full bloom in the Sixties began to flower: "Howl was the trigger. Afterwards none of us could step back and say, 'I didn't mean it. It's just too fuckin frightening out there ... I think Allen standing up there reading—putting himself on the line—was one of the two bravest things I've ever seen. Remember, it was '55. People had crew cuts, and they looked at you like you were misplaced cannon fodder. The country was being run by Luce publications. It was a dangerous, cold, ugly time, and it was scary."
But history is full of extravagant moments that, while momentous to those who witness them, evaporate in the press of time. Given the geography of its premiere—an old garage in San Francisco—it seemed likely that Howl and the new consciousness it heralded would remain an isolated, provincial event. Why it didn't is an argument for the personal as opposed to the statistical approach to history. Sitting in the audience that evening, as Ginsberg swayed and chanted, was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, an erudite bohemian (Ph.D. from the Sorbonne) who operated City Lights bookstore in the North Beach, which was arguably the first paperback bookstore in America. Besides the bookstore, Ferlinghetti also ran a small publishing house that printed inexpensive editions of poetry under the logo Pocket Poets. His first venture, published a few months before the Six Gallery reading, had been his own Pictures of the Gone World. The morning after the Six Gallery reading Ferlinghetti telegraphed Ginsberg and asked if he could add Howl to his list.
Even before Howl appeared in the fall of 1956 (with a preface by William Carlos Williams that warned, "Hold back the edges of your gowns. Ladies, we are going through hell.")35 it was the beneficiary of some priceless publicity in the form of an article in the New York Times Book Review in September. Poetry had become a tangible social force in San Francisco, marveled East Coast poet Richard Eberhart: "There are several poetry readings each week. They may be called at the drop of a hat."36 Chanted or shouted, the poems reminded Eberhart of the role jazz had played in the Twenties, as a catalyst for all the subconscious passions one dared not express.
While recognizing Howl as "the most powerful poem" to come out of the San Francisco renaissance, Eberhart was ambivalent about the artistic merit of Ginsberg's "spontaneous bop prosody," as well as disturbed by the poem's air of "destructive violence":
It is a howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the spirit, assuming that the louder you shout the more likely you are to be heard. It lays bare the nerves of suffering and spiritual struggle. Its positive force and energy comes from a redemptive quality of love, although it destructively catalogues the evils of our time from physical deprivation to madness.37
Ferlinghetti's first printing sold out almost immediately and another was ordered. It was then that the fledgling Beat literary movement received its most valuable publicity. Because the printer for the Pocket Poets series was located in England, Ferlinghetti's books had to pass the scrutiny of U.S. Customs before being readmitted into the country, and in March 1957 Customs seized the second shipment of Howl and declared it obscene. Ferlinghetti protested, and the Customs service relented and let the books pass, whereupon the San Francisco police raided City Lights and charged Ferlinghetti with selling pornography.
The reaction was contrary to what the guardians of public taste must have expected: for years San Francisco had advertised itself as the Paris of the West, and now, having actually managed to produce something comparable to the Montmartre of Hemingway and Picasso, local bluenoses were trying to hound it out of existence. The arrest was condemned by both the local papers. By the time Ferlinghetti was acquitted, sales of Howl stood at ten thousand copies, and the Beat writers were the hottest literary copy since the Hemingway-Fitzgerald generation.
If the New York Times Book Review had alerted editors to the fact that a curious cultural event was taking place in San Francisco, then the subsequent trial had convinced them of its salacious merit. The spectacle of a bunch of ungroomed, poetry-spouting young men renouncing the American dream of home, job, and family in obscene couplets was irresistible. Articles on the Beat poets appeared in such diverse media as Mademoiselle, Evergreen Review, and the Nation. The Village Voice ran a piece on Kerouac, Ginsberg, and fellow poet Gregory Corso called "Three Witless Madcaps Come Home to Roost," a title indicative of the ambivalence that even the most liberal of liberals felt toward the Beats. Although Ginsberg was still the biggest name (Kenneth Rexroth warned in the Nation that he ran "the danger of turning into a popular entertainer—he affects an audience much as Louis Armstrong affects French bobby soxers.")38 Kerouac was always treated as the undiscovered genius: the man with a suitcase full of Proustian novels that were too radical for the reading public.
On the Road was finally published in the fall of 1957, and again the Beat movement profited from a bit of luck. The regular reviewer for the New York Times was on vacation and the chore of reviewing fell to Gilbert Millstein, who had been following the fortunes of Kerouac and Ginsberg ever since he had commissioned Holmes's article in the early Fifties. Millstein didn't pull any punches. On the Road was "a historic occasion," he wrote, comparable to The Sun Also Rises in the sense that it captured a spirit of rebellion that was gathering strength; in all that followed, Millstein predicted.39 Jack Kerouac would be "principal avatar." If the rest of the reviews fell far short of Millstein's rave, their tone was sufficiently lively to insure On the Road's place as a literary cause celebre. Despite Herbert Gold's published opinion that it was "proof of illness rather than a creation of art," or the CIA-funded Encounter's sneering dismissal of it as a "series of Neanderthal grunts," On the Road spent six weeks on the best-seller lists.40
What followed was a cultural tempest. While movies, magazines, and even TV were busy tailoring the Beat movement to appeal to their disparate commercial audiences, another segment of the cultural establishment was aggressively denouncing this manufactured image as a celebration of criminality and bestiality. Reading such jeremiads as Robert Brustein's "The Cult of Unthink" or Norman Podhoretz's "The Know Nothing Bohemians," one soon realizes that the subject is not the real Ginsberg or Kerouac, but the fictional beatnik that Look created for its readers in "The Bored, the Bearded and the Beat"; the one Herbert Gold parodied in such odd exercises as "A Frigid Frolic in Frisco." A writer for Life described the Beat movement this way: "The bulk of it is comprised of those mobs of 'sick little bums' who emerge in any generation ... people very like them distributed pamphlets for the Communists in the 1930s, or muttered of anarchism and cadged drinks in the speakeasies of the 1920s, and then as now thirsted cunningly for the off-beat cause which could provide them with some sense of martyrdom and superiority. They are talkers, loafers, passive little con men, lonely eccentrics, mom-haters, cop-haters, exhibitionists with abused smiles and second mortgages on a bongo drum—writers who cannot write, painters who cannot paint, dancers with unfortunate malfunction of the fetlock."41
But they were also great copy. Ginsberg was probably the only poet in America whose readings drew the kind of press coverage normally reserved for a prize fight or a society divorce. They were there because they'd heard about the time Ginsberg had challenged a heckler to take off his clothes. It'd happened in Los Angeles, where the director of a local poetry society had invited a few of the San Francisco poets down to share their verse. The crowd had been diverse, some Hollywood arty types, a few students, and a solid phalanx of poetry-loving ladies—and one drunken belligerent whose composure finally had shattered when Ginsberg stood up to read. Overtime, as his beard and his belly bushed out. Allen Ginsberg would achieve a kind of rabbinical majesty, but when this happened he was still a rabbity Jewish kid from New Jersey, a bespectacled obscene poet anarchist. To his credit, Ginsberg had tried to ignore the heckler, but finally he gave up and said, "All right, all right. You want to do something big, don't you. Something brave. Well, go on, do something really brave. Take off your clothes."42 That had startled the drunk, who seemed to be under the illusion that he was going to get into a punch-out with this rumpled poet, and he had retreated up the aisle. Pressing his advantage, Ginsberg had followed, tearing off his own shirt and undershirt and flinging them at the heckler. "You're scared, aren't you," he had taunted. "You're afraid." Still moving, he had unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants and kicked them off. The audience, which had sat in mute anticipation throughout this performance, burst into cheers and noisy argument, as both Ginsberg and the drunk were hustled from the room.
This kind of existential vaudeville was what audiences came to expect from the Beats, and more often than not they went home satisfied.
But beyond the constant retelling of a few choice anecdotes, there was a remarkable sameness to the articles written about the Beats in the late Fifties. They were dirty. "I'm surprised the room didn't smell worse than it did," sniffed Diana Trilling in her account of a Ginsberg poetry reading.43 They were untalented—"undisciplined and slovenly amateurs who have deluded themselves into believing their lugubrious absurdities are art ..."44 They were not deep thinkers—"what they have in common is the conviction that any form of rebellion against American culture (which for them includes everything from suburbia and supermarkets to highbrow literary magazines like Partisan Review) is admirable, and they seem to regard homosexuality, jazz, dope-addiction, and vagrancy as outstanding examples of such rebellion."45 They were sick—one psychiatrist, after studying the beats of San Francisco's North Beach, concluded that 60 percent "were so psychotic or so crippled by tensions, anxieties and neuroses as to be incapable of making their way in the ordinary competitive world of men, and that another 20 percent were hovering just within the boundaries of emotional stability."46
Allen Ginsberg's father, who was also a poet, summarized the establishment perspective when he wrote his son that "all your vehement, vaporous, vituperations of rebellion move me not one jot. Your attitude is irresponsible and it stinks."47
One of the few intellectuals who did support the Beats was Norman Mailer, although with friends like that who needed enemies like the other Norman, Podhoretz? Mailer published an essay called The White Negro in 1957, in which he coined the word hipster to describe the social mutation he detected among the young. "One is hip or one is square," Mailer wrote. "One is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American nightlife, or else a square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy nilly to conform if one is to succeed."48
The hipster. Mailer wrote, was the man who understood the central role Death had come to play within life—in the Fifties death was personified by the concentration camp (cultural death) and the H-Bomb (species death)—and as a result had decided "to divorce" himself from society, "to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self."49 But for Mailer these rebellious imperatives did not include looking into the face of God, which was the whole point as far as Ginsberg and Kerouac were concerned. Cultivate the psychopath, was Mailer's message (and one that appalled the Beat braintrust) for the psychopath was the only authentic American. "The psychopath murders," he wrote, "out of the necessity to purge his violence, for if he cannot empty his hatred then he cannot live, his being is frozen with implacable self-hatred for his cowardice."
Mailer's essay, by standing the condemnatory label psychopath on its head, was cleverness personified, but most of the Beats thought it silly and beside the point. A better defense would have attacked the legitimacy of the label psychopath, which had a distressingly glib currency in the Fifties. It was a kind of therapeutic wastebasket, into which individuals who fell into the gray area between normality and specific syndromes were tossed with impunity. The definition was appropriately vague. According to one psychological dictionary, a psychopath was any egocentric, impulsive, asocial individual—a definition equally applicable to an English eccentric or a Beat poet, and one that hardly warranted the frisson of fear the word evoked.
The key word was probably asocial. Psychopaths were a danger to the smooth functioning of the social order. In this sense the Beats consistently and defiantly broke one part of the American social contract: they smoked marijuana. Not even prison terms of thirty years or more could dissuade them from using this dangerous substance, whose consequences were well known. Smoke a marijuana cigarette and you turned into a foaming murderer; you might even rape your sister or murder your parents with an ax.
Marijuana's reputation as a "killer weed" was the result of one of the more successful advertising campaigns of the twentieth century. Appropriately enough, it dated back to the mid-Thirties, just when Madison Avenue was learning how to employ the new sciences of the psyche. The chief copywriter of the marijuana campaign was Harry Ainslinger, the new commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics. Ainslinger, like most bureaucrats, was looking for an issue that would increase his bureau's budget and prestige, and he chose marijuana, a rather innocuous weed that grew wild in most rural areas. To demonize marijuana, Ainslinger used the same strategy that had been used to criminalize heroin twenty years earlier. First he linked its use to the ethnic minorities that were streaming through Ellis Island— not only were these immigrants weakening the powerful bloodlines of white America, but they were importing dangerous drug habits that would spread like a cancer among the country's young. Then he claimed that marijuana was the source of most of the nation's crime, an honor that previously had belonged to heroin. In New Orleans, for instance, 60 percent of the crimes were attributed to marijuana smokers who "fortified themselves with the narcotic and proceeded to shoot down police, bank clerks and casual bystanders."
Ainslinger kept a file of marijuana atrocity stories—most of them unconfirmed—that he parceled out to complaisant reporters. But the juiciest items he kept for his own books and articles, the most famous being his keynote magazine article, "Marijuana: Assassin of Youth."
Although Ainslinger's figures and assertions were the flimsiest sort officiions. Congress rushed to pass the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, and Cannabis sativa joined heroin as a narcotic danger (frequently spread by communists and other national enemies) aimed at the nation's heart. The most serious attempt to validate Ainslinger's claims came in 1944 when the mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, asked the New York Academy of Medicine to evaluate the pros and cons of the marijuana issue. The Academy's findings, which contradicted Ainslinger at almost every turn, were immediately denounced not only by the law enforcement bureaucracy, but by the medical bureaucracy as well. "Public officials will do well to disregard this unscientific, uncritical study," urged the American Medical Association, "and continue to regard marijuana as a menace wherever it is purveyed."50
When it came to certain drugs, even the scientific community was willing to compromise standards of truth if they clashed with those of public morality.
What very few of these critics realized was that the Beats they were denouncing were passé; they belonged to the Forties, to the postwar, postbomb Truman years. It was ironic, but here at the height of their fame the Beats already were mutating toward what a later generation would call hippies. But a few heard a peculiar siren song amid all the bad poetry and smelly feet. Writing in Playboy, Herb Gold, who was considered an expert on the Beats largely because he lived in San Francisco, was reminded of some lines that William Yeats (another nineteenth-century man who had thought Homo sapiens was in the process of climbing the evolutionary ladder) had written:
What rough beast, ifs hour come round at last,
Could the beatniks. Gold wondered, be Yeats's proto-gods? Naw. "When Yeats looked into the future to find a terrible savior, an evolution up from animality into something strange and wonderful—he did not mean James Dean. Perhaps, as they claim, the tunneling hipster's avoidance of feeling can lead to a new honesty of emotion. Perhaps a ground hog might someday learn to fly, but man O man, that will be one strange bird."51
In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac's second Beat novel, there is a moment when the Gary Snyder character experiences a vision of the future comparable to Yeats's. What he sees is "a great rucksack revolution, thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh ... wild gangs of pure holymen getting together to drink and talk and pray."52
That was the Beat fantasy, and it was one that Allen Ginsberg was using all of his market research skills to bring about. Ginsberg became the public relations director of the Beat movement, which irritated some of the more self-reliant poets. He badgered the intellectual journals, particularly hostile ones like Partisan Review and Hudson Review, to publish the work of his friends; he contacted agents and editors and was rarely without a selection of manuscripts that he was trying to place. If the Beat movement was a modestly glowing goal, he was going to do everything within his power to make sure it burst into flame. Years later Ginsberg described the potential of this moment this way:
We'd already had, by '48, some sort of alteration of our own private consciousness; by '55 we made some kind of articulation of it; by '58 it had spread sufficiently so that the mass media were coming around for information, and by that time I realized that if our private fancies, our private poetries, were so serious that they absorbed the attention of the big, serious military generals who wrote for Time magazine, there must be something strange going on."53
What was happening, Ginsberg thought, was an alteration of consciousness that was filtering up through the young into all levels of society. It was as though the country was just catching up to where the New Visionaries had been back in 1944. "That year on the literary scene in New York it was all in fashion to go crazy," remembers Barbara Probst Solomon. "It was the fashion to push things to their ultimate extreme—all kinds of sexual and drug experimentation. Once, at a party, someone put LSD in my drink, and I went home and woke up seeing things. I thought I was going crazy until someone phoned later in the afternoon and asked how I liked my acid trip ... . It was the beginning of the Sixties, really, and I used to say to Larry Roose, a Freudian friend of mine, that it was all very violent, that I didn't like being part of it."54
America, thought Ginsberg, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
1 "oh let's have some more ..." Dennis McNally, Desolation Angels, p. 63.
2 "I tell you that I repudiate ..." McNally, p. 66.
3 "his feet are flat..." Victor Bockris, With William Burroughs, p. xvii.
5 "low evil decadence ..." McNally, p. 74.
6 "I knew [Burroughs] was capable ..." Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe, p. 62.
7 "the poisons of a dying culture ..." McNally, p. 72.
8 "a sideburned hero of the snowy west..." McNally, p. 89.
9 "a slim hipped hedonist..." William Plummer, Holy Goof, pp. 39-40.
10 "he lived right now ..." Memory Babe, p. 91.
11 "to consume anything and everything ... that's the girl I'm going to marry ..." Memory Babe, pp. 99,103.
12 "he had no sneer in him ..." Memory Babe, p. 127.
13 "why Jack fastened on this ..." MB, pp. 127-8.
15 "clickety pop word bursts ..." McNally, p. 133.
16 "the writing is dew-like ..." McNally, p. 134.
17 "nakedness of mind ..." McNally, p. 167.
19 "harking back to the hobo ..." MB, p. 213
20 "Jack'd sit and write ..." MB, p. 190.
21 "at the lowest, beatest ebb ..." McNally, p. 191.
22 "Yage is space-time travel ..." Yage, p. 47.
23 "outwardness ... confidence ..." John Tytell, Naked Angels.
24 "Doctor I don't think ..." Lewis Hyde, On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, pp. 405.
25 "ah sunflower..." Paris Review interview. Spring 1966.
26 "I suddenly realized... . I've seen God ..." Paris Review, Spring 1966.
27 "the whole notion of being smarter, more psychotic ..." Peter Manso, Mailer, p. 258.
28 "fake intellectual hipster... name dropping bits of zen and jazz jargon ..." Alan Watts, Chicago Review, Summer 1958.
29 "even had he been able to ..." Rick Fields, How The Swans Came to the Lake, p. 214.
30 "a psychological impasse ..." Fields, Chicago Review, Summer 1958.
31 "one of the quickest... ." Plummer, p. 129.
32 "six poets and the Six Gallery ..." McNally, p. 203.
33 "I saw the best minds ..." Allen Ginsberg, Howl.
34 "bringing two ends of an electric wire together... . Howl was the trigger.." MB, p. 261.
35 "hold back the edges of your gowns ..." Howl.
36 "there are several poetry readings each week ..." New York Times Book Review, Sept. 2, 1956.
37 "the most powerful poem ... it is a howl against everything ..." Times Book Review,
38 "the danger of turning into a popular entertainer... ." Nation, Feb. 23, 1957.
39 "historic occasion ... principal avatar..." McNally, p. 240.
40 "proof of illness rather than a creation of art... series of Neanderthal grunts ..." McNally, pp. 240-1.
41 "the bulk of it is comprised ..." Life magazine, November 30, 1959.
42 "all right, all right..." Lenny Lipton, The Holy Barbarians.
43 "I'm surprised the room didn't smell worse ..." Partisan Review, Spring 1959.
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