Monday, July 6, 2009

The Beat Was Beaten Out of Me

When I was in college, I was in love with the Beat generation and everything they stood for--if I could have made one wish, it would have been to have been at Allen Ginsberg's poetry reading in San Francisco in 1955 (pictured left) when he first read "Howl." If I could have met one person, it would have been Jack Kerouac (or Neal Cassady, depending on the day). I read Dharma Bums and fantasized about hopping a train to anywhere. At the time, "Beat" was synonymous with "possibility."

Fast-forward four years (to right around July of 2009) and the Beats have lost some of their shine. Since that time, I've graduated from college (the land of possibilities and dreams) to the corporate machine (the land of college loans and dry-cleaned suits). I've known people who lead the Beat lifestyle and thought they were selfish leeches and second-rate artists.

Now, as I struggle to read On the Road, I can't help but see how desperately unhappy all of the characters of the Beat generation seem to be. They're searching for something and seem to think that driving all around the country on borrowed gas money is the best way to find it. Knowing how their stories ended tarnishes their work even more, though it probably shouldn't: alcohol killed Kerouac while drugs and weather exposure killed Cassady. Both men died in their forties.

Whether or not they ever found that for which they were looking is impossible to tell, but I do know that the Beat lifestyle is one of false promises and potential--it is, you see, short-term and not long-term.

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