Children, if they have an ounce of common sense, and a realistic view of life and all its perversities often have ambitions to become something notable like a doctor, a lawyer (that is at least until they learn the truth about lawyers), a corporate magnate, a teacher, a chartered accountant (for the more boring of the tiny tots), or at least something that seems to suggest a secure, and possibly affluent future.
Not me, though. I wanted to be a beatnik.
By beatnik, of course, I do not mean hippie. When I entered my teens there weren’t yet hippies, and the world was better for it. Hippies didn’t bathe with regularity, spent too much time in the ‘zone’, embraced bizarre concepts like communal living (yuck!), had a lot of unfettered sex (not such a bad thing, except that unfettered sex for me would have meant with hippie chicks – see my earlier comment about paucity of personal hygiene), and generally ruined what otherwise might have been a decent counterculture.
No, by beatnik I mean a Kerouac and Ginsberg reading, finger-snapping, goatee adorned turtleneck sweater reading hipster. There is semantically a world of difference between hippie and hipster, by the way.
I read On the Road and I wanted to join Sal Paradise in linking up with Dean Moriarty and travel the length and breadth of America as a latter-day vagabond incessantly seeking the truth. Oh, and drinking a lot of beer and maybe even smoking a little reefer back in the days when conventional wisdom dictated that any consumption of cannabis would automatically lead the unrepentant user into a life of depravity and squalor as he became a full-fledged “dope fiend.”
I see they’ve recently released a movie of On the Road. About that I’ll mainly say “Hmm”. I’m wary of Hollywood getting its hands on anything iconic. They always, always fuck it up. Thus far the reviews have been tepid. Well, I mean, it’s like the vain attempts they’ve made to film Hunter Thompson sagas. Can’t really be done because the mood comes with the reading not viewing some dick’s interpretation. Just sayin’.
Ironically, Kerouac spent his last years as a beer-swilling, rather pathetic alcoholic who lived with his mom. Well, sometimes things just don’t work out in the way a ‘dream’ suggests they should.
Of course, I wasn’t much of a judge of what was good or bad writing at the time, but I thought On the Road was as significant as the Bible, or at least The Catcher in the Rye – even if it was a bit difficult for a 14-year-old to read and understand. I felt a bit vindicated a few years later when Truman Capote said of OTR, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
Anyway, a couple of years after that I went on a family trip to San Francisco; second only to New York as a beatnik paradise. What Mecca is to a Muslim, or Rome is to a Catholic, SF was to a budding beatnik. Of course, I immediately wanted to go to the City Lights bookstore and hang with Ferlinghetti. And, I did get to do that (not the Ferlinghetti part, just the bookstore). And it was mainly just a bookstore, but it was still cool. I also wanted to go to ‘the hungry I’ but my mother had other thoughts on the matter and suggested strongly that we had to move on to San Jose to see my aunt and uncle.
But, I was hooked in a kind of day-tripper sense, and began going to coffee houses when I got back to Vancouver (which was, like San Francisco, slightly hip and welcoming of those who would break with tradition, and Canadian traditions are stodgier than American ones.) And, try as I might, I still couldn’t muster up a goatee of any consequence.
Eventually the thing waned, as such teen passions do, and I did go out and get qualified to do something respectable. I later grew a goatee, but by that time it wasn’t quite as relevant. And goatee’s are only surpassed by soul-patches in disagreeability except for the very few who can sport either with any elan.
And, in some respects, I still have a soft-spot for the glory days of the hipsters. I was saddened when Ken Kesey (who was one of them, and arguably the most talented) died, and likewise Kurt Vonnegut, though never truly considered a beatnik, genuinely was, as was the late Richard Brautigan, and the equally late Neal Cassady (model for Dean Moriarty) who, zonked on acid, died having a toreador duel with an oncoming freight train. Cassady lost.
Sic transit, etc.