[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

The Beat Generation

Related: beatniks - 1950s - USA - counterculture - American literature - hipster

Writers: Brion Gysin - Jack Kerouac - William S. Burroughs - Allen Ginsberg

Publishers: Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Grove Press - New Directions - Olympia Press

Contemporary counterculture movements: Situationist International

Influence of French literature:
Many other other French writers still active in the 1950s had a tremendous impact on the writing of the Beat Generation, writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Jean Genet. Older French writers rank high on the list of shared Beat influences: Apollinaire, for example. Beats also repeatedly invoke the spirit of Symbolists such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire. [Aug 2006]


The term beat generation was introduced by Jack Kerouac in approximately 1948 to describe his social circle to the novelist John Clellon Holmes (who published the first novel of the beat generation, titled Go, in 1952, along with a manifesto of sorts in the New York Times Magazine: "This is the beat generation"). The adjective beat (introduced by Herbert Huncke) had the connotations of "tired" or "down and out", but Kerouac added the paradoxical connotations of "upbeat" and "beatific".

Calling this relatively small group of struggling writers, artists, hustlers and drug addicts a "generation" was to make the claim that they were representative and important—the beginnings of a new trend, analogous to the influential Lost Generation. This is the kind of bold move that could be seen as delusions of grandeur, aggressive salesmanship or perhaps a display of perceptive insight. History shows it was clearly not just a delusion, but possibly a real insight into some real trends that became self-reinforcing: the label helped to create what it described. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_generation, Feb 2004

Literary kicks

Literary Kicks was founded in July 1994 by Levi Asher, then a struggling writer bored by his tech job at the headquarters of the JP Morgan bank on Wall Street. Operated surreptitiously from Asher's cubicle (as he pretended to work on PowerPoint presentations), LitKicks quickly became a popular online destination and critic's favorite, also gaining wide usage on college campuses around the world. --http://www.litkicks.com, accessed Feb 2004

Beat connections in rock music

I discovered the Beats the same way a lot of people did, not through books but via the musical connections. My interest in the Grateful Dead led me to read "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" as a teenager, and that was how I first heard of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac . The first time I saw Allen Ginsberg's name was on the liner notes to Bob Dylan's great mid-seventies album "Desire." I first knew of , William S. Burroughs as the author of several strange articles in Crawdaddy, my favorite rock music/alternative-culture magazine as a kid (it went out of business in the age of disco) and later as some old guy Patti Smith talked about a lot in interviews.

All of this got me curious, and I followed the threads. When I started reading the original Beat classics I knew I had found something important and real, and since I was already very interested in fiction I soon became personally involved with the whole Beat 'thing.' The purpose of this page is to document the musical connections that originally caught my interest. There's much more to be said about all this; maybe eventually I'll be the one to say it.


In any case, I think the connection between the Beats and 1960's rock is an especially fascinating subject, especially with regard to three cities that had 'underground scenes' around 1965-66, London, New York and San Francisco, and the three major bands that arose from these scenes, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground and the Dead. Like I said up on the top of this page, I think there is a lot more to be said about this connection, and if nobody else finds the time to delve into this I think I eventually will.

NOTE: despite the many connections between the Beats and rock 'n' roll, the primary music associated with the Beat movement was jazz. There's also reason to suspect that some of those guys occasionally tossed a classical album on the turntable. Note this picture of 1010 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg wrote 'Howl.' It's a little hard to see, but the album on the shelf says "Mass In B Minor." Probably Bach or Vivaldi or some shit like that. Hey, you know those Ivy League types. --Levi Asher, http://www.spress.de/beatland/scene/lifestyle/rock.htm


Like the French Impressionist artists of Paris, the Beat writers were a small group of close friends first, and a movement later. The term "Beat Generation" gradually came to represent an entire period in time, but the entire original Beat Generation in literature was small enough to have fit into a couple of cars. At times this nearly happened.

The core group consisted of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs, who met in the neighborhood surrounding Columbia University in uptown Manhattan in the mid-40's. They picked up Gregory Corso in Greenwich Village and found Herbert Huncke hanging around Times Square. They then migrated to San Francisco where they expanded their group consciousness by meeting Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch.
Most of them struggled for years to get published, and it is inspiring to learn how they managed to keep each other from giving up hope when it seemed their writings would never be understood. Their moment of fame began with a legendary poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. -- http://www.litkicks.com/BeatPages/page.jsp?what=BeatGen

The Beat writers and their publishers

A retrospective look at the Beat writers shows that the majority of their works were published by four alternative publishers. The most influential of these were New Directions and Grove Press, both based in New York. On the West Coast Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, publisher of Ginsberg's Howl, also presented work by several of the lesser known Beat writers, while in Paris the Olympia Press was the first book publisher willing to publish William S. Burroughs's material essentially intact, taking chances with experimental and controversial writing considered unpublishable in America at that time. Although lack of space prevents full histories of these important presses from being given here, I have tried to provide at least an overview of each, and of the interconnections between them, as well as showing the role each played in the publication of the Beat writers. --Unspeakable Visions: The Beat Generation and The Bohemian Dialectic. © August, 1991, Michael Hayward via http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/~hayward/UnspeakableVisions/InPrintAlternative.html [Aug 2005]

see also: Beat writers - publishing - alternative

On the Road (1957) - Jack Kerouac

  1. On the Road (1957) - Jack Kerouac [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    On The Road, the most famous of Jack Kerouac's works, is not only the soul of the Beat movement and literature, but one of the most important novels of the century. Like nearly all of Kerouac's writing, On The Road is thinly fictionalized autobiography, filled with a cast made of Kerouac's real life friends, lovers, and fellow travelers. Narrated by Sal Paradise, one of Kerouac's alter-egos, On the Road is a cross-country bohemian odyssey that not only influenced writing in the years since its 1957 publication but penetrated into the deepest levels of American thought and culture. --Amazon.com

    your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

    Managed Hosting by NG Communications