Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beatniks vs. Hippies

26 August 2008

A Supermarket In California by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whit-
man, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees
with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

(Bongo beat here)

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images,
I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of
your enumerations!

(more Bongo beats)

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole fam-
ilies shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives
in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you,
Garcнa Lorca, what were you doing down by the

(bongo beat)

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old
grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator
and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed
the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my

(Triple bongo beat)

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of
cans following you, and followed in my imagination
by the store detective.

(bongo beat)

We strode down the open corridors together in
our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every
frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors
close in an hour. Which way does your beard point

(bongo beat)

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets?
The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses,
we'll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming ofthe lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent

(bongo beat)

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-
teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit
poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank
and stood watching the boat disappear on the black
waters of Lethe?

(triple bongo beat and crowd breaks out in raucous finger snapping (beatnik applause)!)

This little Beatnik interlude was brought to you by Mr. Ginsberg. All because I was caught in the middle of a discussion this week and had to ‘splain the difference between Beatniks and Hippies. Granted, I'm not quite old enough to remember the Beat Culture, but I do remember some of the Hippy stuff. And, just for the record, I was never a Menard G. Krebs fan…I was more a Gilligan fan. Now, Bob Denver is someone who clearly made the smooth bridge from Beatnik to Hippie, but let me back up a bit here.

Dillar is one of our Sergents that provides a shift brief for his section every so often. Following his brief he always imparts us with a famous thought or quote. Well, the ASI group (the fun-loving punsters that they are) broke into a raucous snapping applause reminiscent of something out of a “Beat” scene in some coffee house in 1962 or something out of Peggy Sue Got Married or Rebel Without a Cause. Not that I would know, but from some of the classic movies I’ve seen, I thought that I got catapulted back in time into the early 1960’s! All they were missing were the black beret’s.

Well, along the way here, I’ve somewhat, somehow aquired the nickname hippie (although how the hell can I be a hippie when my hair is barely an inch long, I don’t own one stitch of tie-dyed clothing and wouldn’t be caught DEAD wearing sandles (with OR without black knee socks!!) Damned college reputations don’t ever stay buried, do they????

But to the best of my ability as a child of the 70’s, I explained to the “yung-ins” the difference. But it also brought back memories of my undergrad Lit class. I had a great prof who really inspired me and got me interested in all different types of writing that I would never have raised an eyebrow at before. I’d of just as soon taken cyanide as to read any poetry and then have to translate whatever twisted ideas were in the authors mind when they wrote it! I didn't even like translating German poetry back in High School, let alone screwed-up-in-the-head Beatniks with caffeine and cigarette adictions! But Mrs. Lewinsky changed that. (no, not THAT Lit Prof! I'm losing you here, aren't I?)

Hence, the Ginsburg poem above. I specifically remembered only ONE line…”wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes.” What a comical thought…maybe like babies in the lettuce patch or something hatching out! Who knows what Ginsburg was thinking (or smoking) when he wrote this? Maybe being a “Beat” writer, he was just a wee bit over-caffinated! (Sorry Jeremy, borrowed your book title, didn't I? But you might have made a very prosperous Beatnik now that I think about you and your poetry!)

Either way, I had to dig back in my memory to try to explain to them what the differences between the two were. I guess ultimately, both movements involved change in the way American youth rebelled against a staid and idealistic but not realistic culture at those two distinct junctures in time. Beatniks probably came about after the shattered idealistic issues of the 50’s; the Korean “Conflict”, unemployment, voice in the democratic government, but probably more to blame were Ozzie and Harriet!

The Hippy movement seems to have been a more severe reaction brought on by a combo of things like the MLK movement and his death, Mrs. Parks, Bobby Kennedy's death, Women's Rights, Roe V Wade, the Vietnam War, AND June Cleaver! Her alone wearing pearls to cook dinner should have been enough to start the whole female population burning bras!

I don’t know. Both movements seem to have had so many different influences on a social level, on a musical level, on the familial level; including challenging all societal American norms and expectations. We didn’t get that deep into it, but it certainly makes me think about what a comparison/contrast paper that might have made when I was still in school!

Hope that little trip in the Way-Back Machine didn't mess up your hair too badly!

Meanwhile, back in Iraq…
It seems to me that the Beats (such as Kerouac) were more like the tag end of the Hobos from the 1930s (like Harry Partch). Their music was jazz (or in the case of Partch, their own compositions) while the hippies were into Rock and Folk Rock.
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