Academia

Would Jack Kerouac or William Burroughs (or even Allen Ginsberg) Approve of This Message?

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Jerry Cimino, proprietor of the excellent sites Kerouac.com and The Beat Museum, is urging fans of postwar America's original dropouts, the Beats, to vote Democratic this election:

I know this is going to piss a few people off, but I still feel compelled to do it. And God Bless America I still have the right to make that choice!

From now until the day before the election Kerouac.com will donate 25% of every dollar spent through our website to The Democratic National Committee to help improve the chances of the Democrats taking over at least one House of Congress.

Why are we doing this? Because Congress has failed us. Simply put The U.S. Congress, run by the Republican majority in both houses, no longer puts the interests of the American people first. They have simply become a rubber stamp for The Bush Administration and Congress has forgotten its duty to the citizenry.

It's time for a change. And maybe you don't believe the Democrats will be any better, but they can hardly be any worse. So even if you have to hold your nose you need to vote for the Democrat on the ticket this coming Tuesday.

That's from an email he sent around to folks on The Beat Museum's email list (which I am).

More power, I suppose, to political activists. But I wonder whether at least two of the three members of the Beat Holy Trinity would agree. Jack Kerouac, who gave his last major interview to National Review and was a big fan of that Republicanoid mag, was a hippie-hating conservative (albeit one who probably wouldn't fit in so well at The Corner). And William Burroughs isn't just one of Reason's 35 Heroes of Freedom (we honored him not only for his "relentlessly anti-authoritarian" writings but for proving "that you can abuse your body in every way imaginable and still outlive the entire universe"). As Jesse Walker noted here not too long ago, Burroughs had his, er, issues with FDR and assorted other Democrats, especially gun-control zealots. And even Allen Ginsberg, the most conventionally liberal in his politics of the Trinity, was at times a tax protester and tended toward rejection of conventional politics. (Btw, that's Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs pictured above.)

Which leaves us with who among the Beats you might use to oust Eisenhower's heirs? Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the capitalism-hating entrepreneur behind City Lights Books and one of the great forces behind the Beat scene? The A Coney Island of the Mind author wrote an execrable, though doubtless heartfelt, anti-war verse, "Speak Out." While that poem makes us all glad the Ferlinghetti will never complete a volume titled A Staten Island of the Groin, it's clear he can't move merchandise, at least not his own. Nor, I suspect, can Amiri Baraka, formerly the Beat Known as LeRoi Jones, whose grim tour of duty as New Jersey's Poet Laureate came to an end shortly after the publication of the Jews-Did-It 9/11 poem, Somebody Blew Up America.

So it's understandable that Cimino and the folks at Kerouac.com and The Beat Museum would reach for Kerouac & Co. But it's still at least as a big a stretch as zombie Kerouac hawking khakis (and at least we know he wore them).

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  1. Like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, City Lights is one of those pilgrimage destinations for young aspiring writers to seek a long dead muse, never mind how little of the works of the authors whose spirits haunt them are read or deemed worth reading any longer. In the case of City Lights, though, the savvy pilgrim would do better to cut to the chase in his quest for spirits over at Vesuvio next door.

  2. “Which leaves us with who among the Beats you might use to oust Eisenhower’s heirs?”

    Now that’s a tough field to choose from. At first, I was thinkin’ McClure, but I think I’d have to vote for Snyder.

    “…Snyder’s friend Alan Watts brought up the world problem posed by the population explosion. Snyder’s comment was the “change or bend of mind that seems to be taking place in the West, today especially, is going to result – can result ultimately – in a vast leisure society in which people will voluntarily reduce their number.”

    —-Gary Snyder, 1967

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Snyder

    …and as we all know, belief in peak oil doesn’t render a person completely irrational.

  3. The worst thing about the Beats is that they inspired Jim Morrison to start writing “poetry.”

  4. The Republican Party of 1960 bears no resemblance to the Republican Party of today.

    And the Democratic Party of today bears no resemblance to the hippies of 1968.

    Jack Kerouac didn’t leave the GOP; the GOP left Jack Kerouac.

  5. The Republican Party of 1960 bears no resemblance to the Republican Party of today.

    And the Democratic Party of today bears no resemblance to the hippies of 1968.

    Jack Kerouac didn’t leave the GOP; the GOP left Jack Kerouac.

    Joe,

    I will give the first and maybe the third but the second? What are you kidding me? The hippies took over the party in 1972 and with the loan exception of the brief Clinton era have run it ever since, especially in regard to foreign policy. The Democrats have never recovered from Vietnam. The party left behind the Scoop Jacksons and Harry Trumans and embraced the get the U.S. out of North America types.

  6. Hey ChrisO,

    I saw Manzarek and McClure at McAbe’s Guitar Store in the mid ’90s, and McClure called Morrison a good poet. I and many others think McClure is a good poet. …of course, he did also write Mercedes Benz for Janis, but that’s what you’re talkin’ about, right?

    When I think over the Doors’ lyrics, I see some good poetry–poetry that affected people. What’s your issue with Morrison’s poetry? …overexposure?

    P.S. No, I’m not changing my vote–it’s still Beat President Snyder all the way.

  7. The difference between the Dems of 1968 and the Dems of today is that the Dems of 1968 stood for a bunch of stuff, instead of just being anti-Republicans.

    It’s clear to me that the Beat Museum’s doing this -against Republicans- rather than -for Democrats- and like it or not, the Democrats are the best way to get Republicans out of office this year.

  8. The hippies took over the party in 1972 and with the loan exception of the brief Clinton era have run it ever since, especially in regard to foreign policy.

    You’re kidding, right? The McGovern wing of the party lost its pull decades ago.

    (By the way, was “loan” a typo or a pun?)

  9. Ken, I can’t cite chapter and verse, but almost every bit of Morrison’s poetry I’ve read seems really forced and trying a little too hard to be clever. I admit that I’m no poetry buff, though–hell, I write instrumental music so that I don’t have to concoct lyrics!

    He had a few good ideas, but I think he took himself too seriously to really follow through.

  10. John,

    I see you’re posing a military man again.

    The hippies did take over the Democratic Party in 1972. Today, the Chairman of the party belongs to the NRA, the Senate Majority leader is a pro-life Mormon, and its most prominent candidates are Ronald Reagan’s Navy Secretary, the Admiral who commanded the Carrier Battle Group during the Afghan and Iraq wars. Its leading contenders for the nomination in 2008 are Bill Clinton’s wife and some western libertarian Dems, and its most visible spokesman on Iraq is a retired career Marine officer long known as the Pentagon’s man on Capitol Hill, John Murtha.

    You can still pretend that Howard Dean’s accurate predictions about the Iraq War make him some kind of hippie loonie, but you’re not going to get much mileage out of it.

  11. Joe,

    Give it break. I gave you my e-mail and my phone number for god sakes. I don’t pose as anything. You and your delusions about me “posing as military man” is kind of like a rash. I figure if I ignore it, it will go away. I don’t know what kind of weird hang up you have on the issue, but it has gotten to the point of making you a troll.

    As far Howard Dean, he is a lunatic, no question about that, whether he is a hippie or not I don’t know. He is a silver spoon baby raised in Manhattan coming of age in the 1960s so that certainly points toward hippie. So what that he is an NRA member. I don’t believe for a moment that he would support any policies supported by the NRA or would raise so much as a finger to protect gun rights beyond lip service to give ammunition to people like you. As far as Hillary goes, she is a classic 60s liberal, especially on social issues. More importantly, when I say the hippies took over, I mean it more that the Democrats are totally against the use of force to advance the U.S. national interests. They will certainly buy into a purely humanitarian use of force (assuming it is done by a Dem president, no Republican President can ever use force) as in Kosovo but a majority of Dems voted against the first Gulf War, objected vehemently to the Reagan Arms build up, missile defense, the placing of Pershing missiles in Europe, fighting communist insurgents in Latin America etc.. If there was a spirit of 68, those things sum it up. After Vietnam, a war started by and supported by a Democratic Congress and two Democratic Presidents, the Democrats have never felt confident enough to support the use of U.S. power to advance its national interest in the same way the older Democrats such as Truman or Kennedy would have. In that sense, yes hippies do run the Party.

  12. Did the “George McGovern wing” of the Democratic Party really give us anything other than George McGovern?

    Oh, and Ralph Nadar?

  13. More important than any of the deadBEATS or the WannaBEATS, we have to consider who Maynard G Krebs would vote for. There’s the pulse of the movement.

  14. I still wonder exactly how George McGovern, a minister’s son from rural South Dakota who flew bombers in World War II and taught history at a conservative little christian college got turned into an icon of hippidom, when his background makes him seem like the epitome of the new-dealer square. Hell, I’ve met the guy on a few occasions, and I still wonder that. In the age of ubiquitous media, I’m not sure that it would have worked. Then again, I doubt a guy like McGovern could make it past a primary these days.

  15. He is a silver spoon baby raised in Manhattan coming of age in the 1960s so that certainly points toward hippie.

    What does Manhattan have to do with becoming a hippie? Other than as the prototypical Conservative catch-all for “hateful, evil place”?

  16. Fyodor: Well, there’s the post-Watergate Congress of ’74. And Gary Hart, I suppose, since he got his start as McGovern’s campaign manager.

    Postmodern Sleaze: McGovern was no hippie, but it’s fair to say a lot of hippies helped him win the nomination in 1972.

  17. John,

    “Joe,

    Give it break.”

    It’s a joke about using the name “John Kerry.” Get it?

    As far as the “substance” of your comment, I thought we were talking about their beliefs and positions, not your snobbish feelings about people’s backgrounds and places of birth.

    On their positions, every one of the political figures I alluded to supported the use of force in Afghanistan to advance America’s interests, under a Republican president.

  18. Jesse,

    I was exaggerating for effect, but I think your answer helps make my point (which may have been your point).

  19. The Beats were several decades before my time, and I don’t pretend to know very much about them, but isn’t a Beat fansite urging people to vote against Republicans about as newsworthy as a Pat Boone fansite urging people to vote for them?

  20. Hmph, the “Beat Museum”. Was listening to NPR the other day, they were interviewing some former Beat Generation icon. (sorry, I try to ignore the Beats as much as possible). He still lives in San Fran, same neighborhood and everything. The subject of the Beat Museum came up, which is down the street from him. I guess he didn’t think too much of it.

    Just sayin’.

  21. That’s from an email he sent around to folks on The Beat Museum’s email list (which I am).

    Does the fact that Reason’s own Fonz is on the Beat mailing list not strike anybody as pure comedy gold?

    Sorry Nick, but your fashion trumps your greatness.

  22. Thanks to all who’ve brought this thread back to the beat generation (i.e. the last few posts).

    It’s hard for me to imagine Kerouac digging the modern Republican party, what with their fixation on satisfying those who worship at the altar of Dobson and Bastard Sons, LLC (You know, because he was a Catholic).

    That’s not to say that he’d support the contemporary Democratic party either, but given the horror that is the contemporary American political landscape, I imagine that he’d be a proponent of deadlock. As long as no one tried to take away his speed or keep him from driving drunk. Oh wait. Shit. Both flavors would, these days.

  23. Thanks to all who’ve brought this thread back to the beat generation

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