After throwing up yesterday’s finicky post on the formal, I figured something with a bit more levity (and brevity) was in order. I decided it was only right to shift focus towards The Beat Generation, a rough grouping of young New Yorkers in the fifties and beyond whose veins pulsed with a volatile mixture of desire, angst, discomfort, passion, and booze. Their lives were a constant battle between comedy and tragedy, Shakesperian not only in how they lived them, but how they recorded them. These men (and women) were the great storytellers of the fifties, capturing a post war era rife with feelings of curiosity, unease, and displacement in a world that was rapidly evolving far out of their control. William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others, these were the men that gave meaning to the term counterculture.
Against the monotonous daily routine of Madison Avenue, and the new rules of a city in it’s early stages of gentrification, these men searched to find their place in the world, traveling and writing writing as a way to carve out their respective place. They rejected desk jobs and the mandatory suits that went along with them, inhabiting dim Greenwich locales, then furiously crisscrossing throughout the country constantly discovering and recording along the way. Unlike those that inhabit the cultural fringe today, these men had a certain look to them. They understood that their style was a reflection of what they’d experienced, where they’d been, what they’d seen, and what that meant in regards to who they were.
Each man had his own way to him based on what he’s been through – there was Burroughs a Harvard grad who bounced between Europe, the Village, Mexico, and his midwestern routes, he had a penchant for three-piece suits, a nod to his wealthy upbringing and seemingly worldly sensibilities. Then of course their was Kerouac, a rabid road warrior and his companion Neal Cassady, who both dressed like a hybrid between car mechanics, greasers, and James Dean from any given movie as they tore across the countryside. Lucien Carr like Burroughs came from a prominent mid-western family, and he was the rebel of a family, a fact he wore proudly, yet the roots were always there. Carr was the sort of kid that wore a tie and had perfect hair as he ventured into the underbelly of the city on any given night. And of course there was Allen Ginsberg, a man who’s style and appearance was as mercurial as the poems he wrote, shifting between fresh pressed white button ups and ratty worn out jackets just as fast as he shifted tempo in his pieces.
These men and so many others of that era had stories that could be read not only in their words, but across their faces and their clothes. They carried themselves as they saw fit, it wasn’t based on disinterest or forced interest, their style was derived from who they were, what they had gone through, and what they learned about themselves along the way.