Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday Coffee House: Beatniks, Poetry, Prose, & Jazz

The Beat Generation was born out of post-war disillusionment and restlessness. They were a generation of young people struggling to come to terms with the chaos and uncertainties that were a part of their upbringing. Their movement, if it can accurately be called that, manifested itself in literature and poetry, which threw off the traditional, classical format to become a character in and of itself. The Beats attempted to express themselves in a way that was extremely personal and extremely in-your-face. They addressed issues that were taboo at the time, most notably homosexuality and drug use, writing largely for and to each other, sharing life experiences and crying out against an establishment that harbored little space for individuality and protest. ~ Amanda Erickson, The Beat Generation

Before the so-called folk music renaissance found folks sitting in coffee houses and listening to old and new folk songs, there were the Beats. I’ve blogged about the Beat Generation several times because I am enamored with certain aspects of it, such as their pacific response to the absurdities of life.

The coffee house experience of the Beats primarily centered around writers reading their own poetry or prose, occasionally accompanied by music from a single bongo drum to a jazz band. Jazz and bebop were the music of the Beats and one will find numerous references and even allegories regarding especially jazz in Beat writings. For example, listen to improvisers Del Close and John Brent attempting to explain Hip, the supposed language of the Beats:

Basic Hip ~ Del Close and John Brent

Moving on and into the Coffee House, one often found quite a scene (a word that also had a unique hip meaning). Jack Kerouac describes a gathering of beats for a poetry reading in a San Farancisco hipster club. (A note about Kerouac’s writing: most of it was autobiolgraphical—Jack wrote about what he experienced. In the selection below, the fictional names Jack has given his characters are followed [ ] by their real names)

The other poets were either hornrimmed intellectual hepcats with wild black hair like Al­vah Goldbook [Allen Ginsberg], or delicate pale handsome poets like Ike O'Shay [Michael McClure] (in a suit), or out­of-this-world genteel-looking Renaissance Italians like Francis DaPavia [Philip Lamantia] (who looks like a young priest), or bow-tied wild-haired old anarchist fuds like Rheinhold Cacoethes [Kenneth Rexroth], or big fat bespectacled quiet booboos like Warren Coughlin [Philip Whalen]. And all the other hopeful poets were standing around, in various cos­tumes, worn-at-the-sleeves corduroy jackets, scuffly shoes, books sticking out of their pockets. ~ Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Besides the reading of poetry and prose, as I wrote above, there was also music. Therefore, let us begin this visit to the Coffee House with jazz singer Carmen McRae singing Coffee Time, a song that perhaps should begin every visit to a coffee house:

Coffee Time ~ Carmen McRae

Moving on, allow me to introduce two of the most famous Beat writers, Jack Kerouac, and poet Allen Ginsberg.

Here is Jack reading his American Haikus:

American Haikus ~ Jack Kerouac

Now, Allen Ginsberg reads his Sunflower Sutra:

Sunflower Sutra ~ Allen Ginsberg

Back to Kerouac for a reading of his Bowery Blues, accompanied by Steve Allen:

Bowery Blues
~Jack Kerouac accompanied by Steve Allen

And, to end the evening, a bit of soft jazz: Dave Brubeck playing Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia on My Mind:

Georgia on My Mind ~ Dave Brubeck

Hang around. Take your time. Enjoy your coffee. Be cool—there ain’t use in rushing around. You dig?

In case anyone is interested, all of the audios I post are from my own CDs.


  1. I was just a tad too young for all that groovy stuff...but I like what eventuated from it, although I found some of the Beats a bit too intense. My time was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and that lot.

  2. All good choices.

    BTW, I've not heard the CM song and for some reason, it was the only one not responding! ; (

    I've put together a CD (didn't use this song obviously) of coffee songs (if you want a copy when I've finished making the cover (a few weeks) email your address and I'll send one along.

    Cheers and hope you get your oxygen debacle straightened out. Life, nothing seems to go smoothly these days.

  3. PUSS-UN-BOOTS: The Beatles and Stones began when I was a teen and much more my generation than the Beats. However, I have become enamored with beat poetry and prose and have always had a love for jazz.

    COFFEE MESSIAH: If you were using Firefox, there is always a chance it wouldn't play. I have to switch to IE. Anyway, as by now you may have noted, I emailed you the CM track 'cause as a coffee messiah you juts gotta hear it. You dig?

  4. My dial-up connection leaves me out of hearing the music, but I enjoyed looking at the picture. I've never seen Allen Ginsburg so young! He looks almost clean-cut!

  5. I really dig Georgia on My Mind.....
    this was a great post! thanks for sharing!


  6. This is tremendous. It must have taken for ever to do this.

  7. I never heard beatnik poems before. I cannot say I really understand what they are about but they make fascinating listening.

  8. This was put together beautifully, Nick. Although I am not familiar with this music, it taught me a lot and exposed me to something new---thank you!

  9. This is just a tad before my time but I love 'coffee time'!

  10. That was a seriously cool coffee house post Nick! :)

    Hope you are feeling better soon and that mess with your oxygen gets remedied asap.


  11. I LOVE Kerouac's American Haikus!


  12. I dont have time for all this today!!Are you well Saint?

  13. Thanks for the great nostalgia trip, Nick! Along with the poets and musicians, I miss mention of some of the art folk--Wallace Berman, George Herms...--who were also a part of that scene.

  14. ABBY: Thank you. I’ll admit that I worked a long time on it.

    THOMAS: I really wish you could hear some of the poetry and prose. I thought about emailing you a track or two, but with dial-up receiving a large file attachment isn’t much of an improvement over trying to listen to it online.

    ODAT: I dig it, too. I plan on sharing more Brubeck and lots more jazz in future coffeehouses.

  15. LUNA: Thank you. I worked on it, off and on and between long naps, for about 4 days.

    CYBERWITCH: I’m glad that you found the poetry fascinating. I am not sure “understanding” was or is part of the scene. Just being cool and digging—each in his or her own way.

    BOBCAT: Thank you, sir!

  16. DEB: Thank you. I suppose part of the purpose of these Wednesday coffeehouses is to introduce and share. I have all of this music and recorded poetry and prose in my library going back many years and I figured that sharing it with others is a cool thing to do.

    AKELAMALU: Yeah, it’s a tad before my time, too; but I’ve grown to really dig it thanks to a Bohemian existentialist I had as a college prof some 40 or so years ago.

    SNOWELF: Thank you for digging it, Ms. Elf! I’m slowly getting my energy back, the new supply of oxygen tanks was delivered today, and also today I have talked by phone with the woman at VA responsible for my allotment of oxygen. We’ll see how that latter goes. I’m cool about it. You dig?

  17. CAROL: Listening to Kerouac is even cooler than reading him. His voice is nothing like I heard it in my head during the majority—until I heard a recording of him speaking—of the almost 50 years I’ve been reading him. I like his voice. I like his timing. I like his humor. That said, I feel it’s a real shame that he died when he was so damned young.

    MUTLEYTHE DOG: I feeling better and stronger. Thanks for asking. Now, come on back and have a cuppa joe while you groove to the coffeehouse scene. You dig?

    PETERATLARGE: Patience, Peter, Patience! (Or should that be: “Cool it, Man”) This is only my third coffeehouse and the first one dedicated to the Beats. I hope that there will be many more and that in those we’ll have a showing of Beat visual arts included. That’ll be cool.

  18. So much more interesting than the Folk house I use to visit in my mis-spent youth, I just drank orange juice kissed the odd guy (I mean in numbers not appearance, although my mother may have argued). It sounds a wonderful place of learning, I have really missed your posts whilst I've been away.

  19. QUEENIE: It's good to see your words! I have missed you, too.

  20. Love the coffee time song!

    Hope you get your oxygen allowance upped again soon.

  21. This is wonderful, Nick!

  22. Jack could really take you there with his descriptions, never missing a beat
    looking at his picute, he looks so much like my brother and cousin on the Kerouac side

  23. *sips coffee*

    grooves to beat.


    I geddit now..

  24. LIZ: “Coffee Time” is a fun song, isn’t it? No new word on the oxygen allotment since the comment I posted yesterday?

    ANGUS: Thank you. Do you remember that jazz spot—was it a coffeehouse or a bar—where your aunt’s friend jazzed with his sax in NYC? That was spring break 1967 and the first live jazz I had ever heard.

    TK KEROUAC: I’m glad there is some family resemblance between your Uncle (?) Jack and the others in the Kerouac family. His words, his train of consciousness writing, and the autobiographical nature of what he experienced are what first drew me to him. When I first heard his voice I was even more hooked on him that before. Your relative is one of my literary heroes! (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)

    MUTLEYTHEDOG: I’m glad you returned. Stay as long as you wish. Cool and groovy, Man! You dig?

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