WC71 – re:Sources by Eric Riley

Beats & Bohemians

The poetry of the beat generation has been something that has inspired me personally from a very early age.  I remember being in high school when people were snickering over the copy of Allen Ginsberg’s collected poems because they were so unabashedly queer.  I remember winning an academic team match by knowing something about William Burrough’s Naked Lunch (and yes, I’m that kind of geek).  But the things that were most captivating about them to me was the ecstasy of living, the joy of embodiment, and the perennial quest for spirit and meaning.  These truths were profound to me in my youth, and that spirit of pride and power is something that I’ve carried with me to this day.  Incidentally, I own every single one of these books.

BOOKS

The Portable Beat Reader {VIKING}
As anthologies go, this one is one of the best.  It includes work from all of the major players in the beat generation, and some of the people who were more “off scene” but were highly influential, like Neal Cassady.

Collected Poems – 1947-1980 
Allen Ginsberg {HARPER PERENNIAL}
This is the exact volume of Ginsberg’s poetry that my public library had when I was growing up.  I remember reading “Sweet Boy Gimme Yr Ass” when I was 17 and blushing from shame.  Now I read it and am overcome with the power of it all.

Naked Lunch William Burroughs {GROVE}
“Drugs, and sex, and sex, and sex” was how Burroughs himself described this work.  And as a summary, that’s pretty apt.  But it’s not just the drugs and the sex, but the language, and the fugue-state that you flow through in this novel.  You could literally pick up the book anywhere in the text and if you just let yourself go with it you can just dive right in, regardless of the past.  It’s that rich.  And the movie has Julian Sands, what more could I want!

On the Road  Jack Kerouac {PENGUIN}
Big Sur  Jack Kerouac {PENGUIN}
While everyone knows On the Road as the classic novel of the beat generation, and it is indeed Kerouac’s rambling benzene-induced masterpiece, fewer people know about Big Sur.  Big Sur to me was just as good as On the Road, but the image at the end of the novel of standing on the cliffs of California and hearing the crash of the waves below has resonated with me to this day.  That spirit of wildness, vastness, and power was another reason why I wanted to go to the west coast when I was younger. 

The Electric KoolAid Acid Test  Tom Wolfe {BANTAM}
As Whitman was the link to the past, Kesey was the link to the future.  Tom Wolfe’s book documents the journey that Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Neal Cassady (one of the seminal influences on the beat generation) took in their bus spreading the word about the mind-opening power of LSD. 

Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poet’s Café
Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman {OWL}
In the mid-90’s beat poetry experienced a HUGE resurgence thanks to, of all things, MTV.  Poetry slamming had become so big that there were specials on television devoted to the resurgence of poetry, and specifically poetry that was influenced by the beats.  I watched all of those specials when they first aired.  I was glued.  And in there I discovered the Nuyoricans, the Puerto Rican poets of New York, who are in my eyes the children of the Beats.  Voices like Maggie Estep, Emily XYZ, Edwin Torres, and others are compiled here, and they shine.

CDS

Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems & Songs by Allen Ginsberg {RHINO}
If you want to hear a beat read, and read like it’s meant to be read, you MUST hear Allen Ginsberg.  This 4 CD box set includes some of his most powerful works including “Howl,” “Kaddish,” and “Please Master.”

The Jack Kerouac Collection {RHINO}
I personally don’t own this, but I’ve heard it and it is thrilling to hear.  When reading a novel, I always try to hear the author’s voice, but when hearing an author read his own work you just really get it.  Kerouac wasn’t necessarily the most thrilling reader, but it makes a difference to hear his voice.

Call Me Burroughs {RHINO}
Here William Burroughs, the grand master of beat, junkie, prose reads selections from some of his works.  His voice is worn, and long, and goes along in a slow, deliberate pace that sticks with you.  It’s incredibly distinctive.

Songs in the Key of “X”: Music Inspired by the X Files {WARNER}
Why?  Because you get to hear William Burroughs perform “Star Me Kitten” with REM.  A more perfect pairing of sexual weirdos I could not arrange.

MOVIES & TELEVISION

PeeWee’s Playhouse {RHINO}
OMG, are you kidding me?  Why are we watching PeeWee’s Playhouse for beatniks?  Because he has a beat puppet backup band made up of characters named Dirty Dog, Hep Cat, and Chicky Baby.  I’m not joking, and it’s pretty funny to boot.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

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