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“The War Is Over! John Lennon Lost!”: Did the FBI Kill John Lennon?

1 Aug

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Yesterday I wrote about Allen Ginsberg’s connection to Timothy Leary and the CIA. I’ve already told you before that the Beat Generation influenced The Beatles, and today I’m here to tell you John Lennon had a connection to Timothy Leary and the FBI. Welcome back to Conspiracy Theory week!

Years ago, I went to the Angelica to see the film Jesus Camp, which I reviewed for Burnside Writers Collective. During the screening, a woman burst into the theatre and shouted:

The war is over! John Lennon lost!

Only in New York, right?! I think she was in the wrong room. The year was 2006, and another film was out at that time: The U.S. vs. John Lennon. That film pointed to evidence that the US government had tried to silence John Lennon, who had become increasingly counter-cultural as the years wore on and influential in his anti-war protests. From what I’ve read, it is alleged that, under Nixon, the government tried to deport Lennon, who was living in New York when he was fatally shot.

Most know the story of John Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota on December 8, 1980, as the lone act of Mark David Chapman, who plead guilty. He was examined at Bellevue Hospital—where Beat icons William S. Burroughs, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg spent time (read my book Burning Furiously Beautiful for more details!)—and believed to be psychotic. He had been carrying J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye at the time of his murder and said it “holds many answers.” However, Chapman eventually decided he wanted the insanity defense dropped, and he plead guilty. He’s been in jail ever since, denied parole at every appeal. In August of this year he’ll be up for his next parole hearing.

Conspiracy theorists hold that the US government killed John Lennon.

  • Steve Lightfoot wrote a booklet that suggests that Nixon, Reagan, and even Steven King are tied to John Lennon’s murder
  • Mae Brussell writes in “Conspiracy Planet” about a conspiracy chain revolving around Lennon’s murder

Plug in a search online for “John Lennon murder conspiracy,” and you’ll find dozens of websites devoted to allegations that the US government and FBI were involved in The Beatles’ death.

Of course some conspiracy theorists also say Paul is dead.

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and the CIA

31 Jul

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It’s widely acknowledged that the Beat Generation writers experimented with drugs, which influenced both the content and style of their writing. I’ve written before about how Allen Ginsberg’s drug use shaped his writing when he had a vision while reading William Blake, forever guiding his poetry.

But dear old Allen Ginsberg was also leery of America’s hand in the drug trade.

Let me backtrack a moment. In 1960 Allen Ginsberg became friends with Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist born on October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts—meaning he’d been born near Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes a little after Huncke was born and a little before Kerouac and Holmes were born. At Harvard University—which William S. Burroughs also attended—Leary conducted experiments involving psychedelic drugs for the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

The friendship between Ginsberg and Leary led to the psychedelic revolution, with Leary popularizing the phrase:

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”

Timothy Leary invoked Socrates when he said:

“Question authority”

The irony of this, though, is that Leary didn’t drop out or subvert authority. Much like the way the CIA funded abstract expressionism, Leary was doing research at an ever-prestigious Ivy League college which consisted of experimenting on prisoners (see the Concord Prison Experiment). This isn’t all that different than in the 1950s when the CIA launched Project MKULTRA, which administered LSD to unwitting participants as a means toward experimenting with mind control. In fact, prior to meeting Leary, in 1959 Ginsberg participated in experimental studies of LSD at Stanford University, which it turned out were administered by psychologists working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs. Leary also began experimenting on writers.

Peter Conners’ book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 2010, alleges that Leary used Ginsberg to further publicize his studies. Here’s the marketing copy for the book from City Lights:

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous — or infamous — and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his experiments at the Harvard Psilocybin Project to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. Ginsberg, fresh from his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico, was eager to promote the spiritual possibilities of psychedelic use. Thus, “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation.

White Hand Society weaves a fascinating and entertaining tale of the life, times and friendship of these two larger-than-life figures and the incredible impact their relationship had on America. Peter Conners has gathered hundreds of pages of letters, documents, studies, FBI files, and other primary resources that shed new light on their relationship, and a veritable who’s who of artists and cultural figures appear along the way, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, and Barney Rosset. The story of the “psychedelic partnership” of two of the most famous, charismatic and controversial members of America’s counterculture brings together a multitude of major figures from politics, the arts, and the intersection of intellectual life and outlaw culture in a way that sheds new light on the dawn of the 1960s.

Years later, 1967 to be exact, this conversation between Leary and Ginsberg took place about “dropping out”:

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…

Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it. And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.

The year after that, Ginsberg penned an article called “Remarks on Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy” for The Village Voice, in which he suggested the American government was trying to silence Leary:

Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeated abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac.

Ginsberg grew to become leery of the government’s hand in drugs. Researching, Ginsberg became convinced that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. Ginsberg’s poem “CIA Dope Calypso” uses the following refrain:

Supported by the CIA

Wikipedia gives a quick summary of Ginsberg’s conspiracy theory that the CIA profited off of drugs:

Through his own drug use, and the drug use of his friends and associates, Ginsberg became more and more preoccupied with the American government’s relationship to drug use within and outside the nation. He worked closely with Alfred W. McCoy who was writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia which tracked the history of the American government’s involvement in illegal opium dealing around the world. This would affirm Ginsberg’s suspicions that the government and the CIA were involved in drug trafficking. In addition to working with McCoy, Ginsberg personally confronted Richard Helms, the director of the CIA in the 1970s, but he was simply brushed off as being “full of beans”. Allen wrote many essays and articles, researching and compiling evidence of CIA’s involvement, but it would take ten years, and the publication of McCoy’s book in 1972, before anyone took him seriously. In 1978 Allen received a note from the chief editor of the New York Times, apologizing for not taking his allegations seriously so many years previous.[83]

Despite our notions of how counter-cultural drug use is its history is steeped in academia and politics. Even so-called counter-cultural writers theorize the government is behind drug trafficking.

Of course there are others who’d suggest that it was Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg who were conspiring to change the world.

 

That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War

29 Jul

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During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.

Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:

  • The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
  • Work in Progress’George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review.  It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
  • Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA

I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.

There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:

  • Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
  • Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
  • Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
  • Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?

Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:

  • What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
  • Why do you want to be different?
  • Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
  • Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?

I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?

 

Hemingway’s Weirdo Six-Toed Cats

24 Jul

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

 

I’ve known for a long time that Ernest Hemingway liked cats. A lot. Key West is said to be overrun with cats because of him, which is probably a bit of an exaggeration.

But here’s a weird fact I just found out: About half of the cats that hang out at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida, have six toes! Normal cats have five toes in the front and four in the back, but not Hemingway’s cats. Hemingway’s cats have six toes.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum explains why there are about 50 extra-toed cats running around:

Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snowball. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related.

Six-toed cats are called polydactyl cats, but today many people use the term Hemingway cat as a stand in. You can read more about polydactyls and the history of the author’s cats here.

Other famous literary cat lovers include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

Hemingway and Kerouac Explain “Lost” and “Beat” Characters

23 Jul

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In honor of Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday this week, we toasted him with a daiquiri yesterday. Today the celebrations continue with a snippet from Burning Furiously Beautiful that shows the parallel between Hemingway and Jack Kerouac:

“Concerned that the message of his book had been misconstrued, Hemingway wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins–who edited the work of Kerouac’s favorite author, Thomas Wolfe, thereby influencing Kerouac to approach Scribner with his work–that, though his characters were ‘battered,’ they were not ‘lost.’ Likewise, Kerouac would later clarify that the word ‘beat’ did not simply mean ‘beaten down’ but rather had the spiritual implications of the ‘beatitudes.'”

~ Burning Furiously Beautiful

 

Want to discover more parallels between the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation? Buy Burning Furiously Beautiful today from Lulu or Amazon.

Are you a starving artist and don’t have the cash money to shell out for the book? Never fear! Here are a few free links on this subject:

 

Happy 115th Birthday, Hemingway!

21 Jul

Ernest_Hemingway_Kenya_safari_1954Ernest Hemingway on safari, Kenya, 1954, via the JFK Library

 

That irascible author Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. One of my friends, a fellow Scrippsie, actually took me to visit his birth home a number of years ago when I visited her in Chicago, and it’s an impressive house.

Hemingway lived quite the life! He was an ambulance driver in World War I, he reported on the Spanish Civil War, he married four times, he had a whole lotta cats, and he traveled and lived all over the world.

There’s even a planet named after him.

The author of sparsely worded novels, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and other highly regarded works of literature.

While in Paris, Hemingway hung out with other expatriate writers. As Gertrude Stein put it, they were a Lost Generation. Hemingway quoted her in The Sun Also Rises.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term Beat Generation when he was talking with John Clellon Holmes one day. And Hollywood has taken notice.

Happy 77th Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson!

18 Jul

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Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on this day in 1937. (Fun fact: the S. in his name stands for Stockton.) He’s known as the originator of “Gonzo” journalism — a type of journalism where the reporter gets so involved in the story, he ends up part of it! Oh, and he wrote a little book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The film adaptation starred Johnny Depp. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Beat Connection::: Thompson shot to fame in the literary world in 1967 with Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang. Immersing himself with the Hell’s Angels for a year, Thompson wrote about the time Beat Generation icon Neal Cassady got into a verbal fight with police at a Hell’s Angel party at Ken Kesey’s pad in La Honda, California.

Kerouac Searched for the Authentic America

17 Jul

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Jack Kerouac has sometimes been accused of being anti-American or of destroying American values, and yet On the Road depicts a young man reveling in America. On the Road is, in many ways, a love letter to the true America. His honest search has inspired countless readers to pack their bags and hit the road, to discover America for themselves instead of relying on what the history books and network news report and the images coming out of Hollywood and glossy magazines.

Burning Furiously Beautiful details Kerouac’s research into American history and what he saw as he traveled throughout this amazing country.

“Devouring history books and Westerns alike, Kerouac lit out after the authentic America, an America that wasn’t mass produced or steeped in fear of atom bombs and Communism but blazed intrepidly, recklessly onward into the horizon, asking:

‘Wither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?'”

~ Burning Furiously Beautiful

Want to know which books Kerouac read and what sort of authentic people he met while on the road? Buy the book from Lulu or Amazon.

The Starving Artists Gulps Down Konditori’s Swedish Coffee

15 Jul

coffeeMy friends were visiting from DC recently and we popped into Konditori for a quick coffee break while we were in Williamsburg.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while now you know that we Swedes love our coffee. You’d also know that coffee is strongly associated with the culture of the Beat Generation and that I’ve written about Jack Kerouac’s coffee habit. But that one of my all-time favorite quotes is a quote about coffee by Saul Bellow. Of course, Brooklyn is far from the only place with a rich coffee heritage. So, really, is it any surprise that Konditori was on my list of places to check out?

I got the Swedish roast. It cost $2. I had a little mishap and the creamer top fell straight into my cup, so the hipster kid at the counter nicely gave me a fresh cup. I was too scared after that to try to put milk or cream in so I drank it black, which I usually do at home or in the afternoon anyway. I’m oddly not one of those people who takes my coffee the same exact way every time. Strange, I know. Anyway, the coffee wasn’t full and robust, but it did have a lot of flavor to it. I think if I were to go back, I’d try their latte.

What’s your favorite Swedish brand of coffee?

 

Happy 109th Birthday to Lionel Trilling!

4 Jul

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Lionel Mordecai Trilling was born in Queens on this day in 1905. At just sixteen years old, he entered Columbia University, where he would go on to become the Edward Woodberry Professor of Literature and Criticism and teach Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books.

Among his students? Allen Ginsberg.

Trilling was part of the New York Intellectuals and wrote for the politically charged lit mag Partisan Review. He also tackled the controversial topic of Communism in his 1947 novel The Middle of the Journey.

 

7/7/14: This post has been corrected. I originally wrote that Jack Kerouac (in addition to Allen Ginsberg) was a student of Lionel Trilling’s, but as Joyce Johnson pointed out in the comments section that is not the case. Though they did know each other, Kerouac did not formally study under Trilling at Columbia University.