Jazz and the Beat Generation
As the Beat movement was getting underway, bebop was already going strong, especially in New York City, where 52nd Street was bustling with activity in jazz clubs up and down its length. Bebop was an innovative style of jazz which saw its heyday in the ’40s, characterized by smaller combos as opposed to big bands and a larger focus on virtuosity. Bebop’s renaissance came about in the heart of New York City, where musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis were ushering in a new era for jazz music.
Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and friends spent much of their time in New York clubs such as the Red Drum, Minton’s, the Open Door and other hangouts, shooting the breeze and digging the music. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis rapidly became what Allen Ginsberg dubbed “Secret Heroes” to this group of aesthetes.
Why did jazz suddenly become such a driving force behind the writings of the Beat authors? What similarities can we find between jazz musicians and the Beats? Perhaps the most obvious comparison we can make is indicated by the very word “beat.”
“The word ‘beat’ was primarily in use after World War II by jazz musicians and hustlers as a slang term meaning down and out, or poor and exhausted”. Kerouac went on to twist the meaning of the term “beat” to serve his own purposes, explaining that it meant “beatitude, not beat up. You feel this. You feel it in a beat, in jazz real cool jazz”.
The Beat authors borrowed many other terms from the jazz/hipster slang of the ’40s, peppering their works with words such as “square,” “cats,” “nowhere,” and “dig.” But jazz meant much more than just a vocabulary to the Beat writers. To them, jazz was a way of life, a completely different way to approach the creative process. In his book ‘Venice West’, John Arthur Maynard writes:
Jazz served as the ultimate point of reference, even though, or perhaps even because, few among them played it. From it they adopted the mythos of the brooding, tortured, solitary artist, performing with others but always alone. They talked the talk of jazz, built communal rites around using the jazzman’s drugs, and worshipped the dead jazz musicians most fervently. The musician whose music was fatal represented pure spontaneity.
In his only successful book, ‘Go’, Beat author John Clellon Holmes wrote:
In this modern jazz, they heard something rebel and nameless that spoke for them, and their lives knew a gospel for the first time. It was more than a music; it became an attitude toward life, a way of walking, a language and a costume; and these introverted kids… now felt somewhere at last.
Perhaps the best model to explain the artistic ideals of both the jazz musicians and the Beat writers would be the late 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud’s attitudes towards the artist’s duty to create was quite similar to that of the jazz musician and the typical Beat poet (though it is likely that the Beat poet would purposefully imitate Rimbaud while the jazz musician would be unaware of any similarities).
Rimbaud drank heavily, wrote poetry at a young age, and “burned out” much like a number of drug-using jazz musicians. Rimbaud’s dedication to his art was so fervent that, around the age of 21, he arrived at the point where he could do no more. Beats claimed Rimbaud as another “Secret Hero,” much like Parker or Davis. The “Rimbaud complex” was an attitude that both the jazz musicians and the Beats shared.
Many Beats used heroin, Benzedrine and other drugs in adulation of the jazz musicians which used them, hoping that the drugs would do for them what they supposedly did for greats like Parker. Kerouac wrote his most famous book On the Road, frequently heralded as the definitive prose work of the Beat era, on a three-day stretch fueled by a Benzedrine binge. William S. Burroughs used his dependency on heroin as an inspiration for books such as Junky and Naked Lunch.
Not only did the Beats foolhardily try to emulate the ways of life of bebop greats, they used the principal ideas of bebop playing and applied it to prose and poetry writing, creating a style sometimes called “bop prosody.” Beat prose, especially that of Jack Kerouac, is characterized by a style submerged in the stream of consciousness, words blurted out in vigorous bursts, rarely revised and often sparsely punctuated for lines and lines. “No periods… but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases)” wrote Jack Kerouac in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” one of the few pieces he wrote which explained his method of writing. In a 1968 interview with Michael Aldrich, Ginsberg said:
Yeah. Kerouac learned his line from–directly from Charlie Parker, and Gillespie, and Monk. He was listening in ’43 to Symphony Sid and listening to “Night in Tunisia” and all the Bird-flight-noted things which he then adapted to prose line.
One of the governing maxims of the Beat style of writing was expressed by Allen Ginsberg when he paraphrased an old Zen Buddhist philosophy in his words, “First thought, best thought.” Ginsberg called this improvisational technique applied to writing “composing on the tongue,” and it was used in one way or another by many of the Beat writers. Gregory Corso wrote a poem about the sun which was entirely spontaneous. “Sun hypnotic! holy all protracted long and sure! firey goblet! day-babble!”, and so forth.
The rhythm, meter and length of verse was also distinctly more similar to jazz music than it was to traditionally European styles. Ted Joans, a poet and friend of the Beat authors, once said, “I could see that [Ginsberg] was picking up the language and rhythm of jazz, that he wasn’t following the European tradition”. Ginsberg fancied himself a poet in the style of a bebop musician because he lengthened the poetic line to fit the length of his own breath, paused for air, and launched another line, sometimes starting with the same word as the last line. Jazz music is distinct in its stressing of the second and fourth beats, as in traditional African music, as opposed to the stressing of the first and third beats, as in Western music. Beat poetry frequently has a much looser, more syncopated rhythm, similar to jazz.
This technique is perhaps best exemplified in Ginsberg’s classic poem ‘Howl’, which was to Beat poetry what Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ was to Beat prose. “I depended on the word ‘who’ to keep the beat, a base to keep measure, return to and take off again onto another streak of invention,” Ginsberg said in a 1959 essay about his approach to poetry. The verbal technique of ‘Howl’ can easily be compared to a Charlie Parker song, in which Parker plays a series of improvisational phrases upon the same theme, pausing for breath and starting another. But Ginsberg said, “Lester Young, actually, is what I was thinking about… ‘Howl’ is all “Lester Leaps In.” And I got that from Kerouac. Or paid attention to it on account of Kerouac, surely–he made me listen to it”.
Perhaps the Beat who felt the strongest racial empathy with the jazz world was Leroi Jones, who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. Baraka was a very different sort of Beat poet, and he was never a big part of the previously discussed group of core writers. Baraka was primarly set apart from the other Beats due to his attitudes derived from his African-American heritage. Most of the Beat authors were white. Baraka used his race as the fuel for much of his poetry, and he was very extreme in his political and racial viewpoints.
In his poetry, Baraka achieved levels perhaps closest to the goals of jazz musicians, especially John Coltrane, whom Baraka admired deeply. Baraka even contributed writing to the liner notes of a recent Coltrane anthology, using elements of scat to write lines such as “aggeeewheeeuheageeeee.aeeegeheooouaaaa”. Baraka took note of Coltrane’s “inversions” of tunes written by whites, such as “My Favorite Things,” and their transformations in works such as Jack Kerouac’s ‘Desolation Angels’ or ‘On the Road’.
Kerouac was particularly into the bop scene, even outside of his works. In his book ‘Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis’, Jack Chambers writes:
Kerouac was even booked into the Village Vanguard to “play” regular sets, reading poetry with jazz accompaniment… on his better nights, he dispensed with the poetry and took up scat singing, including a faithful rendering of a Miles Davis solo that… “was entirely accurate and something more than a simple imitation.”
According to Ted Joans, Kerouac “knew lots of jazz musicians”, and befriended musicians such as Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Brue Moore.
As Ginsberg said that ‘Howl’ was all “Lester Leaps In,” Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ was partially inspired by Dexter Gordon’s and Wendell Gray’s “The Hunt”. From ‘On the Road’:
[Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) stands] bowed before the big phonograph listening to a wild bop record… “The Hunt,” with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.
Kerouac even tackles the role of jazz historian in another part of ‘On the Road’. Triggered by a jazz club performance in Chicago, Kerouac launches into this ambitious paragraph:
Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and subtlety–leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonious Monk and madder Gillespie–Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway; till it finally fell all the way and today as he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can’t feel the sidewalks of life his horn is held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases. Here were the children of the American bop night.
Kerouac was also a poet, and he used his poetic abilities to eulogize Charlie Parker upon his death in his book of poetry Mexico City Blues. Choruses 239 to 241 are dedicated to Parker.
Charlie Parker looked like Buddha
Charlie Parker, who recently died…
“Wail, Wop” Charlie burst
His lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
And what they wanted
Was his eternal Slowdown.
New York beat Gregory Corso similarly eulogized Bird upon his death in a poem called “Requiem for ‘Bird’ Parker, Musician,” published in his 1955 book ‘The Vestal Lady on Brattle’.
hey, man, BIRD is dead
they got his horn locked up somewhere
put his horn in a corner somewhere
like where’s the horn, man, where?
screw the horn
like where’s BIRD?
Corso’s 1958 book ‘Gasoline’ also contains a poem entitled “For Miles.”
Poet whose sound is played
lost or recorded
can you recall that 54 night at the Open Door
when you & bird
wailed five in the morning some wondrous
yet unimaginable score? (Corso, 50)
But of all the Beats, it is probably John Clellon Holmes who admired jazz musicians the most. He dedicated an entire book to the story of a down-and-out tenor sax player named Edgar Pool, entitled ‘The Horn’. Holmes also extrapolated an incredible amount of meaning from the aforementioned Dexter Gordon song, “The Hunt,” saying “listen there for the anthem in which we jettisoned the intellectual Dixieland of atheism, rationalism, liberalism–and found our group’s rebel streak at last”. Holmes’ ‘Go’ is full of religious imagery linked to jazz; his use of words such as “testament,” “sacrament,” “holy,” “mystery,” “prophecy,” “ritual” and “altar” assign a divine quality to jazz.
All of this is rather ironic when we read a journal entry of Holmes’, written on December 15, 1948:
As far as bop: I have stayed up very late with Jack [Kerouac], listening to Symphony Sid (“the all-night, all-frantic one”), who plays six solid hours of bop “at your request and in our groove.” I’m still puzzled by it as music, although I hear plenty of fine things in Dizzy and Parker, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a…response to this post-war period.
Not only does Holmes seem not to “get it,” he incorrectly dubs bebop a “reaction,” when in fact it slowly evolved from late swing and transition period jazz. Still, Holmes was undeniably influenced by the bebop musicians.
West Coast poets were so influenced by the jazz movement that they made radical strides in synthesizing the two for the sake of live performances. The two primary poets responsible for this movement were Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth, who attempted to liberate poetry from the clutches of the academics “who wouldn’t know poetry if it came up and buggered them in broad daylight” in Ginsberg’s words. Incorporating jazz, they believed, would attract a wider audience and bring poetry down to the level of the average jazz-club patron.
Many of these poems were recited with jazz accompaniment at the Cellar, San Francisco’s foremost jazz club. The results were tape recorded and released on the Fantasy jazz label, with the music of an ensemble comprised of tenor saxophonist Bruce Lippincott, drummer Sonny Wayne, pianist Bill Weisjahns, bassists Jerry Goode and Bob Lewis, and trumpeter Dickie Mills. Rexroth performed his 20-minute poem “Thou Shalt Not Kill” with a free-jazz accompaniment. Ferlinghetti wrote seven poems published in his ‘A Coney Island of the Mind’ with the intention that they be read with jazz. The introduction to the “Oral Messages” section reads:
These seven poems were conceived specifically for jazz accompaniment and as such should be considered as spontaneously spoken “oral messages” rather than as poems written for the printed page. As a result of continued experimental reading with jazz, they are still in a state of change.
With this new wave in performance, jazz musicians also found a new challenge in assimilating to the vocal and emotional element of the reciting poet. “…[I]n the words of Lipppincott… “We… respond with our instruments as emotionally as possible to the words of the poem and also the pre-arranged form. Such as… for this many lines we will have the drums swelling and rolling and the bass will enter at the bottom and play bowed”.
Very few of the Beats were jazz musicians to any extent. Similarly, the jazz musicians of the time did not often have literary aspirations. Thus, the inspirational connection between the Beat authors and the musicians was not exactly a two-way street. There are some exceptions; Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” was occasionally performed with poetic accompaniment, and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was released with a poem penned by Coltrane himself in the liner notes. There was also a degree of interaction between the two artistic fields; as previously stated, Kerouac interacted with quite a few jazz musicians, including Miles Davis.
Thus, without the Beats, the jazz movement would probably have rolled right along. But, as we have seen, the Beat movement relied heavily upon the genius of great such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis for the inspiration that produced such valuable works like Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ and Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’. How fortunate that the two movements coincided at just the right time.
LET’S NOT FORGET THE HIPPIES
Man Sues for $1.5 Million
They Only Gave Me ONE NAPKIN!!!
2/27/2014 4:10 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
McDonalds has made a new golden arch enemy — a California man is suing the company for $1.5 MILLION … because he says he only got ONE NAPKIN with his meal.
Webster Lucas claims he was stiffed on napkins at the Mickey D’s in Pacoima, CA on January 29th — after ordering a Quarter Pounder Deluxe — and when he went up to the counter to ask for more, he was rudely rebuffed by the manager … who insisted he already got some.
According to his lawsuit, Lucas — who is black — then retorted, “I should have went to eat at the Jack-in-the-Box because I didn’t come here to argue over napkins. I came here to eat.”
That’s when Lucas says things got racist — claiming the manager (a Mexican-American) mumbled something about “you people.”
Lucas subsequently emailed the general manager to complain — insisting he couldn’t work because of the “undue mental anguish” he was suffering as a result of the napkin debacle — and says he was insultingly offered free burgers in return.
Lucas wants to super size instead — $1.5 million.
Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?
.By Chris Gayomali
It’s darn near impossible to tickle yourself, and the mechanics behind the non-phenomenon of self-tickling are pretty straightforward: Your subconscious mind is always one step ahead of you. Your “unexpected” touch, no matter how cleverly you disguise it, is almost always expected—and that’s largely a good thing. Here’s how Sara-Jayne Blakemore, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, explained it to Scientific American in 2007:
…the cerebellum can predict sensations when your own movement causes them but not when someone else does. When you try to tickle yourself, the cerebellum predicts the sensation and this prediction is used to cancel the response of other brain areas to the tickle.
Two brain regions are involved in processing how tickling feels. The somatosensory cortex processes touch and the anterior cingulate cortex processes pleasant information. We found that both these regions are less active during self-tickling than they are during tickling performed by someone else, which helps to explains why it doesn’t feel tickly and pleasant when you tickle yourself. [Scientific American]
The brain is programmed to anticipate unimportant sensations, like your rear against a comfy chair or the socks on your feet. It saves those valuable synapses for the weird and unexpected, like when there’s a poisonous spider crawling down the back of your shirt.
Our utter imperviousness to the self-tickle can even conquer technology intended to camouflage it, to an extent. In a recent interview with NPR, professor Jakob Hohwy, a philosophy researcher at Monash University in Australia, outlines a bizarre and wonderfully elaborate experiment designed to trick the brain.
HOST: In his tickling experiment, Hohwy used his own version of the rubber hand trick. He made his subjects wear a pair of video goggles hooked up to a camera on another person’s head. And with good old fashioned synchrony, he got them to feel, as if they were actually the person sitting across the table. And in that moment he had them try to tickle their palm.
HOHWY: And then we ask, how ticklish is it? And it turns out that when they do it themselves, they still can’t tickle themselves. [NPR]
There is, however, a lone exception to the no-tickling rule: Schizophrenics have the notable ability to tickle themselves on demand. One theory, according to Hohwy, is that “people with schizophrenia are relatively poor at predicting what the sensory consequences will be of their own movement.” Somewhere between the triangulation of fingers, eyes, and the unconscious mind, the electrical signals beamed back to the brain hit a snag.
In many ways, our silly inability to self-tickle showcases the powerful machinery of the human mind at its most efficient: Your brain is in a constant state of trying to predict what’s about to happen next. It’s always one step ahead and looking to the future, even if you necessarily aren’t.
10 More Enigmas That Defy Explanation
Jamie Frater January 14, 2010
What is it about the bizarre and mysterious that piques our curiosity? It entertains our sense of wonder and excites our imagination, for sure. Luckily for us, history is marked with strange, logic-defying occurrences to amuse us. Here is a list comprised of 10 more unexplainable and interesting phenomenon and incidents that we crave so much. This list is made up of a mixture of two submissions to the Christmas competition which shared some items, so it seemed a good idea to combine the two to give us ten things never before shown on the site. Also note, this list is in the newly created category “Mystery” and all of our lists involving mysteries can now be found under that category in the archives or on the mystery category page.
Nature performs many astonishing feats, yet it is a different matter altogether when we human beings push past the boundaries of normal. It was a viciously cold morning in Lengby, Minnesota, when a man discovered his 19-year old neighbor, Jean Hilliard, lying in the snow. Her whole body was frozen solid from the night before, when temperatures dropped twenty-five degrees below zero. Apparently, Jean was trying desperately to reach her neighbor for help when her car skidded off the road. When her body was discovered she was immediately sent to the local hospital, where her condition stunned the doctors. One of the nurses said that Jean was “so cold, it was like reaching into a freezer” and that “her face was absolutely white, just this ashen, death look.” Jean was also seriously frostbitten, and none of her limbs would bend or move.
The hospital staff did everything possible, yet the situation was dire. Even if Jean were to regain consciousness, she would more than likely have severe brain damage, and she was frostbitten to the degree that both her legs would have to be amputated. Her family gathered in prayer, hoping for a miracle. 2 hours later, Jean went into violent convulsions, and regained consciousness. She was perfectly fine, mentally and physically, although a bit confused. Even the frostbite was slowly disappearing from her legs to the doctors’ amazement. She was released 49 days later without losing a single finger, and sporting only minor scars.
Iron, the king of metal, is used for just about everything from the skeleton of your house to the chains on your bike. Unfortunately, iron can never escape its destiny to slowly transform into rust – with the exception of this phenomenal structure: meet the Iron Pillar of Delhi! Standing in at 7 meters tall and weighing more than six tons, this iron giant has managed to defeat corrosion for over 1600 years! But how can something that is 98 percent iron withstand decaying for over a millennia? Scientists have found the answer to that question, but how ancient ironsmiths discovered the fact so long before us still amazes archeologists today.
Approximately 50 years after the mysterious disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste, a similar event occurred when the schooner Carroll A. Deering was spotted around the coast of North Carolina on January 31, 1921. When rescue ships finally reached her, they discovered, to their shock that the Deering’s entire crew was missing. Though evidence in the galley suggested that food was being prepared for the following day, nothing else was found of the crew. Eerily enough, no personal effects, no ship logs, no traces were left behind, much like the case of the Mary Celeste. Theories have pointed to paranormal activity, due to the fact that the Carroll A. Deering was in the region that is today known as the Bermuda Triangle. Others have concluded it was the work of pirates, or of Russians attempting to steal their cargo.
The Hutchison Effect refers to the number of eerie phenomena that occurred when inventor John Hutchison attempted to replicate a few of inventor Nickola Tesla’s experiments. Some of the strange events witnessed include levitation, fusion of objects completely different in matter (such as wood and metal), and disappearances of some smaller objects. Even stranger is that after his experiment, Hutchison was unable to repeat the project again with the same results. This experiment was so popular it even sparked the interest of NASA and the Military, both whom have failed to produce the Hutchison Effect.
Is it just me or doest that stain on the wall look like a person staring at you? Yup, its one of the many faces of Belmez that the Pereira family home is used to having. For over twenty years, the faces that appear can resemble males or females. They also arrive with different expressions every time. Strangely, the faces only stop at the house for a quick visit before disappearing. Investigations have been preformed upon the house to discover what was causing the faces to spontaneously pop up. One investigation exhumed and removed a human body from under the house, but that still didn’t stop the faces from making round trips. Several hypotheses have been formed to help explain this strange reoccurring phenomenon, but overall, no conclusions have been come to.
On May 2007, a lake in Patagonia, Chile, literally disappeared, leaving behind a 30 meter deep pit, icebergs and dry soil. However, this wasn’t a small lake or pond – it was an astonishing 5 miles long! The last time geologists saw the lake in March 2007, they detected nothing strange about it. However, something happened during the 2 month span that not only caused the lake to vanish, but reduced a river that flowed from the lake to a tiny stream. Geologists were puzzled as to why a lake of that size would simply cease to exist. Perhaps, they suggested, an earthquake drained the lake, yet there were no reports of any quakes in that particular area during spring. Meanwhile, UFO enthusiasts concluded that a spaceship drained the lake. The mystery is unsolved to this day.
The townspeople of Oakville, Washington, were in for a surprise on August 7, 1994. Instead of their usual downpour of rain, the inhabitants of the small town witnessed countless gelatinous blobs falling from the sky. Once the globs fell, almost everyone in Oakville started to develop severe, flu-like symptoms that lasted anywhere from 7 weeks to 3 months. Finally, after exposure to the goo caused his mother to fall ill, one resident sent a sample of the blobs for testing. What the technicians discovered was shocking – the globs contained human white blood cells. The substance was then brought to the State Department of Health of Washington for further analysis. With another startling reveal, they discovered that the gelatinous blobs had two types of bacteria, one of which is found in the human digestive system. However, no one could successfully identify the blob, and how they were connected to the mysterious sickness that plagued the town.
In May 7, 1994, a black helicopter chased a teenage boy for forty-five minutes in Harrahan, Louisiana. Unable to run any further, the terrified boy explained that the occupants descended from the vehicle and pointed weapons at him. To this day, the boy has no idea why he was targeted by the helicopter, or why, mysteriously, they let him go. One week later, people traveling in a car near Washington had a similar experience when they too were pursued by the helicopter. Unable to escape, they witnessed men in black uniforms coming down from a rope ladder bearing weapons. However, the drivers were let off free, much to their confusion. Black helicopters feature much in UFO-lore and while there are simple explanations for some appearances, others (such as the two above) remain unsolved.
There are several documented cases where frogs, toads, and other small animals are found concealed within solid stone – alive. There are other instances too, where workers would cut down trees, and find hoards of frogs within the interior. Weirder still, people have found creatures within not just natural formations such as rocks and trees, but manmade establishments. In 1976, a Texas construction crew was breaking up concrete they set over a year ago. To their disbelief, the crew found a live green turtle within the concrete, in an air pocket that matched the shape of the small reptile. If, somehow, it got in when the concrete was poured a year earlier, how did it manage to survive during that time? After all, there were no signs of holes or cracks in the concrete through which the turtle could have entered.
Dubbed the Rain Boy in 1983, Donnie Decker was visiting his friend’s house when he abruptly went into a trance-like state. Immediately after, the ceiling began to drip water and a mist filled the room. His friends immediately called on the landlord who was alarmed by what he was seeing. Some time later, Donnie was at a restaurant with other companions when rain started pouring down their heads. The restaurant owner immediately forced him out. Years later, due to a petty crime, Donnie was put into jail where he caused chaos when rain started to pour down in his cell. After angry inmates complained, Donnie explained that he could make it rain when he wanted to, and proved his point by dumping rain on the jailor on duty. Eventually, he was released from jail and found a job as a cook at a local restaurant. His present whereabouts is unknown – as is the cause of the mysterious rain.
Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations
Daniel Radcliffe, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Darlings
Levi Asher on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 11:29 pm
Beat Generation, Biography, Film, Indie, Jazz Age, Love, New York City, Reviews, Transgressive
There are two great cinematic jokes in the new film Kill Your Darlings, two sly references to the dilemma of self-consciousness that this movie about the Beat Generation struggles to overcome. First, it must overcome the suffocating celebrity of Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the poet Allen Ginsberg, and the movie smartly tackles the “hey, there’s Harry Potter” problem right away. The movie opens with teenage Allen cleaning up his parents’ house, jamming to a song on the Victrola, and dancing merrily with a broom.
Kill Your Darlings toys with its literary legacy as well. As several people pitch in to help a mischievous and manipulative Columbia University student named Lucien Carr write a paper about the historian Oswald Spengler, we see a typewriter tapping out immortal words that remind us of another recent Hollywood film: “On … the …”. But then instead of “On The Road”, the words turn out to be “On the Decline of the West”.
Directed by John Krokidas and written by Austin Bunn, Kill Your Darlings is a clever, knowing film about the early exploits of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. It’s lively in the same way that Baz Lurhmann’s Great Gatsby was (though, of course, it’s nowhere near as bombastic), and it whips up a cinematic frenzy of literary inspiration that goes even deeper than Walter Salles’s On The Road or James Franco’s Howl into the ecstatic and Dionsyian mission of the early Beats. The movie has frustrating flaws, but perhaps succeeds mainly through the dedication of the excellent cast, which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg’s schizophrenic mother, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr and Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs. Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg also works very well, which goes to show that Daniel Radcliffe is good at playing divinely inspired fervent innocents.
I like Radcliffe’s earnest, heartfelt Ginsberg — even though I don’t think he quite captures the weird, powerful presence the famous poet always had (James Franco and other recent Allen Ginsbergs have also failed to capture his strong vibe). Having met and talked to Allen several times, I’ve sometimes struggled to describe his presence and have ended up resorting to the word “froggy”. Allen Ginsberg had a croaking voice, bulging, peeking eyes, a jumpy, crouched stance. His improbable demeanor added to the considerable urgency of his presence. I wish some actor could capture his heavy presence, his odd charisma, but if Allen Ginsberg’s spirit animal is a frog, Daniel Radcliffe’s in this movie turns out to be more like a chameleon or a cute lizard. It’s not the same thing.
The movie is about the early Beats as students in upper Manhattan, and about a murder (Lucien Carr stabbed and drowned an ex-lover) that shook all their friendships and left them all feeling guilty of one crime or another. The murder is less interesting than the blooming friendships, though some long scenes of campus pranks become frivolous and phony (a long sequence involving a library break-in descends to cartoonish storytelling, for no good payoff). At a couple of bad moments, the movie feels like a “Little Archies” of the Beat Generation — familiar faces, but younger and chubbier, with bigger smiles.
But this movie isn’t afraid to be cute, and its brashness is appealing. Kill Your Darlings may someday become a popular midnight double feature with Little Darlings, which presented a parallel vision of teenage girls flirting with danger.
There is much excitement to this movie, but little suspense or revelation. Kill Your Darlings is certainly not a mystery or a thriller. It’s a good college drama like A Separate Peace or Hitchcock’s Rope, or Dead Poets Society or History Boys — like the amazing movie of Donna Tartt’s Secret History which never has been made but hopefully someday will.
The movie stretches too many historical facts in order to wrap up too many psychological angles too neatly. But some of the twists manage to score. Unlike Marc Olmstead in Sensitive Skin, I don’t mind that Kill Your Darlings shows William S. Burroughs and Lucien Carr going wild with cut-ups on a wall years before Burroughs supposedly discovered the cut-up method with Brion Gysin. I like the idea that the idea might have echoed in his head for years. Any historical movie has the right to cut a few facts up in the name of good cinema.
But I do agree with Brian Hassett that the actor who played young Jack Kerouac fails to do much with the role, and that it makes no sense for young Lucien Carr to say “I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life” when in the real life story Jack Kerouac was known to have said “You’ll get the hot seat for this”. Why substitute a boring line for a good one, especially if the good line was historically accurate?
Well — maybe just to piss off cranky old Beats like me. That’s fresh.