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Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101   You are logged in as Guest
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BarkellWH

Posts: 3236
Joined: Jul. 12 2009
From: Washington, DC

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, painter, and writer who owned City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, died on Monday at the age of 101. Ferlinghetti was famous in his own right, but he was mentor and publisher for a host of post-World War II nonconformists in the US known as the Beat Generation.

The so-called Beat Generation was originally spearheaded by a group of writers and other more free-spirited individuals in the immediate post-World War II era. The original core--Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and others-- were in New York hanging around the Columbia University campus. Later, in the mid-'50s, they shifted to San Francisco, where they added others to their band. Jack Kerouac wrote such Beat classics as "On the Road,", "The Dharma Bums," and "The Subterraneans." Allen Ginsberg wrote a very famous poem, "Howel," and Burroughs wrote several books, probably the best known being "The Naked Lunch." All, by the way, are still in print.

In San Francisco, they more or less coalesced around Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who opened up City Lights. City Lights became a focal point for writers and other "unconventional" types, including Neal Cassidy, who became one of Jack Kerouac's best friends. City Lights book store still exists, and is located on Columbus Avenue, near North Beach and China Town. There still exists a cafe cum watering hole called "Vesuvio's" that is right next to City Lights. Vesuvio's was a hangout for the Beats as well.

The term "Beat" has obscure origins, although it meant "tired" or "beaten down" in the Black community. But Kerouac appropriated it and used it to describe his generation (referring to the "beatitudes" as "beatific" and, musically, to be "on the beat,") or so the story goes. The term "Beatnik" was coined by Herb Caen, of the San Francisco Chronicle, to describe members of the Beat Generation after Sputnik, the Soviet satellite, was launched into orbit.

The Beats basically were non-conformists in a post-World War II America that valued conformity. After all, many of the GIs who returned from the war wanted to go to college on the GI Bill, start families, buy a home, and settle into a profession. Completely understandable. Yet, in my opinion, it is equally understandable that the Beat Generation wanted to reject that conformity, experiment with literary forms, be "on the road," discuss philosophy, and live life on the edge.

Some went over the edge. William S. Burroughs was a life-long drug addict. He and his wife Joan lived in Mexico for several years. One night in a Mexican bar, after both had been drinking heavily, Burroughs told Joan they should play "William Tell." Joan place a highball glass on her head, Burroughs took out a revolver, shot low, and killed her instantly. Not pretty.

For my part, I enjoyed reading Beat literary works and admired their unconventionality, but I never got completely into it. It was great fun going to coffee houses in the early '60s and listening to folk music and poetry readings. Looking back on that era, though, I have to say that there were a lot of Beat "wannabes" who wrote and read excruciatingly bad poetry, all while wearing black turtlenecks, of course.

Around the mid-'60s the Beat Generation more or less faded out and the "Hippies" came into focus (or maybe I should say "out of focus"). In my opinion, the true Beats (not the "wannabes") at least had some talent. The Hippies, on the other hand, lacked the talent, and in their pursuit of non-conformity and unconventionality, became, within the framework of their own social mores, just as conformist and conventional as those they supposedly were rebelling against.

I still make it a point to go to City Lights book store whenever I find myself in San Francisco. They have a great selection of fiction and non-fiction works, many by authors you won't find on the bestseller lists. I was last in City Lights in November 2019, and was told that Lawrence Ferlinghetti still occasionally came to his office above the book store.

Bill

_____________________________

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white,
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear, "A fool lies here,
Who tried to hustle the East."

--Rudyard Kipling
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 23 2021 21:48:54
 
RobF

Posts: 1112
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101 (in reply to BarkellWH

quote:

Around the mid-'60s the Beat Generation more or less faded out and the "Hippies" came into focus (or maybe I should say "out of focus"). In my opinion, the true Beats (not the "wannabes") at least had some talent. The Hippies, on the other hand, lacked the talent, and in their pursuit of non-conformity and unconventionality, became, within the framework of their own social mores, just as conformist and conventional as those they supposedly were rebelling against.


Great eulogy Bill, but I think you’re being a little harsh on the hippies when in many ways, at least to mainstream America, they were largely a media and entertainment industry creation to start with.

I also think it might be better to see the Hippie movement that did exist more in evolutionary terms. After all, Ginsberg had no problem hooking up with the Dylan troupe and milking them for what he could, and the involvement of members of the Grateful Dead with Neil Cassady, the Magic Bus and the Acid Test is well documented. The difference is, while the Beat Generation was largely relegated to comedic bit part roles by the media and entertainment industry, it was quickly recognized that there was big money to be made from the new generation.

Hence, we saw things like Screen Gems asking the Lovin’ Spoonful to star in a new television series project targetting the ‘young generation’. When the Spoonful declined, in part because they were already well on their way to stardom on their own, but also due to an unwillingness to sign over all future songwriting rights to Screen Gems, Hollywood was nonplussed. They essentially claimed the identity of the group as their own creation and put out a cattle call to select four young lads who just happened to look and act just like the members of the Spoonful, under the guise that it was to be a new series about the madcap adventures of a young band as they aspired to become the next Beatles. And thus, The Monkees were born.

Then, of course, while visiting California, the young Canadian member of the Spoonful was arrested for possession of marijuana and, under threat of jail, deportation, and the ruination of his future career, was coerced into ratting out the person who sold him the dope. He was only 22, but the fallout for his sin was that the band became non-grata to its audience. So, those clever Californians won out, shut down the competition, and fortunes were made. Just not by the guys whose personalities and creation was essentially stolen.

But this is a digression, as the widespread growth and resulting conformity you mention was largely due, in my opinion, not to a lack of imagination or from simply following the lead of Hollywood or previous generations, but to the Vietnam war, the Draft, and the unwillingness of the youth of the time to be forced to go to a foreign country to kill and be killed in the service of God knows what.

People had been witnessing first-hand the fallout from the Second World and Korean Wars. There may have been PTSD, but nobody was talking about it. The kids at home got a taste, though. War seemed endless and it was getting ugly. Many of the draftees who did go to fight relied on the music and (counter) culture of the times to get them through what was basically a hell.

From this, the acceptance of expanding one’s inner horizons through substance use fit well with the need to escape. Tune in, turn on, drop out.

Regardless, there were many brilliant artists active during the decade which followed the Beat Decade, and its not really fair to dismiss them. It was a continuum, or perhaps a logical conclusion, whose growth was aided by the very people who mocked, yet profited from, both movements.

Of course, that’s not to deny there was a lot of ‘acting out’ going on. The ‘60s was a very heady time.

Star Trek? Let’s not forget the impact of “The Pill”. And, along with that, the freeing of the puppies, go-go dancing, the mini-skirt, and all that other cool stuff. Worth the price of admission right there. I was just a kid living in Montreal at the time, but even I could tell something special was going on (especially with the puppies), even if I was too young to directly participate (again with the puppies). By the time the mid ‘70s rolled along, everything seemed a little grey in comparison. For me, growing up in Montreal during the 1960s was a very special time, indeed.

I suspect I’m going to pull a Piwin and delete most of this when I wake up tomorrow, so I hope you catch it Bill. It’s just a rant and all in fun, at any rate. I realize you were there while my experiences were tainted through the lens of youth, so perhaps I can be accused of being revisionist, but I hope I’m not that far off base.

Peace.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2021 2:35:50
 
BarkellWH

Posts: 3236
Joined: Jul. 12 2009
From: Washington, DC

RE: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101 (in reply to RobF

Rob,

You have written a great piece. Please do not delete. I have never understood why Piwin deletes so many of his pieces, as he almost always has something interesting to say.

While I may have been a bit harsh on the Hippies, I didn't let the Beat era go unscathed entirely. Note my observation that "Looking back on that era, though, I have to say that there were a lot of Beat "wannabes" who wrote and read excruciatingly bad poetry, all while wearing black turtlenecks, of course."

At any rate, there is something to be said for both eras, and you are correct, they were not two absolutely distinct movements. Rather, from one to the other was a more or less evolutionary movement, and the Vietnam War had a lot to do with it.

Cheers,

Bill

_____________________________

And the end of the fight is a tombstone white,
With the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear, "A fool lies here,
Who tried to hustle the East."

--Rudyard Kipling
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2021 12:41:04
 
Piwin

Posts: 3291
Joined: Feb. 9 2016
 

RE: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101 (in reply to RobF

quote:

I suspect I’m going to pull a Piwin


Hey!!!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2021 13:40:41
 
RobF

Posts: 1112
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Dies at 101 (in reply to BarkellWH

Thanks Bill.

In defence of The Monkees, the members of the group took a lot of heat in the ‘60s for being what they were. But the individual members were never disingenuous or misleading about their roles. Right from the start they acted with integrity, and were subsequently vilified for not being something that they themselves had never claimed to be.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2021 17:01:17
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