Tag Archives: 1990s

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

20 Feb

fear2

Sometimes it’s strange how you get introduced to an author’s work and what you end up associating with them. I’ve had people make assumptions that I got into Jack Kerouac because I was trying to impress boys, which is far, far from the truth. I got into Kerouac after discovering The Portable Beat Reader in the pages of Seventeen magazine, an unabashedly teen girls’ magazine. It never even crossed my mind that Kerouac might be associated as a guy’s book or that reading his book or any book might make me popular with guys. I mean, when you’re in high school, you don’t really think that reading is going to make you sexy. You think lip gloss will. Lip gloss and CK Be.

But when I think of how I first encountered Hunter S. Thompson’s work, I remember watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in college with a boy I liked. A boy that liked my friend. She had a boyfriend and was not interested in this boy, and yet he remained puppy-dog in love with her, barely noticing me. But we did watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas together. And so now whenever I think of that movie, I think of that time, insignificant as it may have been.

Hunter S. Thompson was alive at that time, and I don’t remember his passing, but he passed away on this day in 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In his typewriter was a sheet of paper with the words “Feb 22 ’05” and “counselor” typed on it. You can see the police report on The Smoking Gun.

How did you first come across Hunter S. Thompson‘s work?

The British Are Coming!: The Beat Generation’s Influence on The Beatles

12 Nov

9781617804618_p0_v1_s260x420Check out the turtlenecks on the cover of Meet the Beatles

Yesterday, inspired by Olivia Cole’s article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ, I kicked off a week-long series about the relationship between the Beat Generation and the British Invasion. I didn’t get too much into her article, but instead I wrote about the general history of each “group” (please take this term lightly; neither was an intended movement or formal group) and how and why they are connected. Today, I want to share a fun story with you about the two longest love affairs (Oh gosh, take that even lighter. People get so mad when I use hyperbole.) of my life: the Beatles and the Beats.

I was a HUGE Beatles fan back when I was in high school. I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles, but I know it’s not because of my parents. My dad didn’t listen to music. I was raised on smooth jazz, Prince, Lionel Ritchie, and Stevie Wonder, thanks to my mom. As I grew up and started discovering music on my own—Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men, Snow, Positive K, Arrested Development, REM (should I go on? Ah, nostalgia)—she was the cool mom that listened to whatever I listened to on the radio. My mom was actually too young to be into the Beatles. In the craze of my own private Beatlemania, I pestered her for information, and she said she remembered her older sister getting a letter from their cousin in Sweden talking about this new band The Beatles and how popular they were.

One of the first exposures I had to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation came through The Beatles. I owned a VHS — yes, I’m that old! — documentary about The Beatles. It was a pretty low-quality documentary that I think I picked up at the K-Mart at the Closter Plaza. I don’t remember the name of it, but I used to watch it over and over again after school. I remember it saying that John Lennon named The Beatles, in part, because he was influenced by the Beat Generation. I didn’t know what the Beat Generation was at the time, nor did I bother to look it up — again, I’m old, and this was before I’d ever even heard the word “Internet,” so looking things up required going to the Closter Public Library and rifling through the encyclopedias. Still, when you watch something on repeat enough times, it gets ingrained in your memory, and when you suddenly learn something new, the threads of your brain weave everything together.

Wayne Mullins explored this in his essay “Long John Silver and the Beats” for Beatdom:

Several name changes occurred in the early life of the Beatles before John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe decided to honour the memory of Buddy Holly by changing the band name to the Beetles (as a play on Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but as John Lennon was a fan of clever word play he decided to change the spelling of The Beetles to Beatles as a way to suggest “beat” or “beat music”. As John Lennon said in a 1964 interview, “It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”

Mullins goes on to prove the Beat–Beatles by discussion John Lennon’s art school education and the exposure he had to instructors who were fans of the Beats and the meeting of Lennon and Allen Ginsberg. He also makes notable claims about the parallel paths the Beats and the Beatles took toward enlightenment, coming from religious upbringings, looking toward the East, and returning (or at least considering) the religions of their youth. The article also points out that Jack Kerouac and Lennon both rejected the associations people made with them, preferring to remain autonomous.

Steve Turner’s book Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster also speaks to Kerouac’s influence on Lennon:

[John Lennon’s] fellow student Bill Harry specifically remembers Lennon reading “On the Road” and the short story “The Time of the Geek”, which was published in an anthology called ‘Protest’ in 1960. “He loved the ideas of open roads and travelling,” says Harry. “We were always talking about this Beat Generation thing.”

Mullins’ story about Lennon’s meeting Ginsberg was just one incident. The Allen Ginsberg Project post “Sunday 9th – John Lennon” recalls when Ginsberg invited The Beatles to his birthday party and Lennon and George Harrison showed up with their wives.

When the Nixon administration wanted to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono, Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote a letter, as did a whole lot of other famous people, according to John Weiner’s article “How Bob Dylan, Gregory Corso, Joyce Carol Oates and Others Helped Stop Nixon From Deporting John Lennon and Yoko Ono” in the Los Angeles Times.

The Beatles also had an affinity for William S. Burroughs, who appeared on the cover art of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Not only that, in the Dangerous Minds article “The William S. Burroughs/Beatles connection,” Richard Metzger writes:

Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:

Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.

He goes on to elucidate the obvious connection: Barry Miles, whom The Allen Ginsberg Project also points to. Miles deserves his own post, but in short the thing to know is that he owned a bookshop in London that was frequented by the Beats when they were there, and he wrote about The Beatles and 1960s London underground culture.

Tune in tomorrow when I finally get into the meat of Cole’s article by discussing her commentary on The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ new memoir.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Parallel Generations

19 Jul

Why is Hollywood taking an interest in the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation?  Are there parallels between the generations of the past and today’s generations?  Is history cyclical?

From a historic standpoint, it makes sense that today’s generations are looking back at the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation.  Like the Lost Generation, the current generation has experienced war.  Although the Lost Generation predates the Great Depression by a few years, novels such as The Great Gatsby have much to say about the disparity of wealth, a topic that this generation has dealt with during the Great Recession.  Part of the seedy wealth distribution of the ‘20s had to do with bootlegging.  Prohibition may not be something today’s candidates have on the table, but there’s a definite right-wing conservatism bent influencing culture today.

The Beat Generation writers were those who were born around the time of the Great Depression and came of age during World War II.  Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes actually were thinking of the Lost Generation when they came up with the idea that they were the Beat Generation.  The obvious parallels between the two generations being the world wars.  While the Lost Generation was going into the Great Depression, the Beat Generation was coming out of it, and so while the Lost Generation was more about decadence the Beat Generation was more about simplicity.  Perhaps, then, today’s older generation is looking toward the Lost Generation and the younger generation looking towards the Beat Generation for confirmation on the way we live our lives.

After all, generations have followed suit in this pattern of economy and war since these generations.  The Baby Boomers were all about the money, and then Generation X was the slacker generation.

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.  These are the eighties babies (give or take) that are now in their twenties, a few even in their thirties.

Generations X and Y heard Reality Bites, My So-Called Life, and Fight Club tell us our great war was within ourselves.  –And then the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11.  It was around that time that Generation Y turned to indie music, the locavore movement, and reviving arts and crafts.

After that came Generation Z, or Generation I, the kids born in the ‘90s, for whom the Internet, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession are a way of life.  Generations Y and Z are the i-generation, each having their own personal computers, finding fame on blogs and in social media, the generation that is connected and disconnected.  They began looking back at Generation X, wearing flannel.  Miley Cyrus was photographed wearing a Nirvana t-shirt.

The Pew Research Center has a fascinating report that charts the different Generations’ attitudes toward politics, religion, immigration, marriage, and more.

Technology is developing at a faster and faster rate, and with it, generations are shortening and multiplying.  When you think about it, iphones models are even called by their generation, as in the second generation iphone, acknowledging how much generations are defined by technology, as well as money and politics.  Therefore, it’s easy to see how certain generations blend together, which may also be a result, as the Pew Research Center data seems to suggest, of the delayed adulthood.

What generation do you identify with?

Hipsters Hate Driving

3 Jul

I knew I was getting old the day I saw a car commercial where the driver was clearly younger than I am.

So here’s an interesting bit of news: Generation Y doesn’t like to drive. According to Reuter’s “America’s Generation Y not driven to drive,” the Millennials think driving is more of a hassle than it’s worth.  A California think tank analyst, Tony Dudzik says instead of a driver’s license, a cell phone is the new rite of passage for young adults.

The article points to a few different reasons why Generation Y may be less interested in driving:

  • Smart phones make it easier to know public transportation schedules
  • More Gen-Yers are riding bikes
  • People are more concerned about saving the planet
  • Car-sharing services are making it easier not to have to own a car

From a cultural perspective, this makes total sense.  Gen Y is the hipster culture.  The kids in Williamsburg who listen to low-fi indie music on their hi-tech iphone, knit water-bottle cozies that they sell on etsy, ride their bicycles to work, buy their clothes from Buffalo Exchange, spend their weekends at the food coop, brew their own craft beer, and vlog on YouTube. If they drive, they drive hybrids. Because they’re all about the i-this and the i-that, they seek out community more intentionally. Who needs a car, if your friend or parents (they also happen to be the Peter Pan Generation, living at home after college) have one?

I personally fall somewhere between Gen X and Gen Y, making me part of Generation Flux.  Generation X refers to people born between the early 1960s and 1980s, while Generation Y refers those born between the late 1970s and the 2000s.  I know when I was growing up, there were a lot of cultural arts programs in the school about saving the rainforest and saving the whales, we studied acid rain and the ozone layer, and we joined KAP: Kids Against Pollution.  In drivers ed, they pretty much terrified you with statistics, photos, and videos that suggested it was likely you were going to die if you got behind the wheel. The shows that were popular when I was a teen were Mad About You, Seinfeld, Friends, Will & Grace, and Sex and the City, all of which were set in New York City.  Other popular shows like Ally McBeal, Frasier, and ER were also set in cities. Our stars didn’t drive.  They took cabs and rode the subway. Is it any surprise that we moved into the city and followed suit?

So will a generation who grew up watching Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Snooki getting arrested for driving under the influence and/or crashing their cars, a generation coming of age during the Great Recession, a generation who doesn’t care about driving, embrace the 1950s road trip adventure of On the Road when the movie comes out and the novel by Jack Kerouac it is based on?  Well, here’s another interesting twist: Jack Kerouac didn’t like driving either. If you read his novel, you’ll see that most of the time, the character based on him in the novel is on the bus or in the passenger seat.

How do you feel like the era you grew up in influenced you?

Now you can “like” Burning Furiously Beautiful on Facebook!

Gripster: Can Greeks and Hipsters Coexist?

28 Jan

All that talk about Portlandia made me wonder what the Greek population in Portland is like.

According to census data from, oh, about a decade ago, .5% of the population in Portland is Greek.  The Pacific Northwest city has its fair share of Greek restaurants and holds one of the biggest Greek festivals in the country.  Still, Zest reports that the hipster movement is pushing out at least one Greek diner.

Can Greeks and hipsters coexist in Portland?

Well, he predates the aughts’ hipster culture, but Art Alexakis is at least one example of a Greek-American—and a Christian—who came out of the alternative arts culture of Portland.  Although he’s originally from Los Angeles, it wasn’t until Alexakis moved to Portland that he formed the 90s band Everclear.

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

21 Jan

The new IFC series Portlandia has been getting major press.  My eyes have been rattling around in my head, they rolled back so far.  Are hipsters still in?

But, after seeing this clip about how in Portland the dream of the nineties is still alive, I’m amused.  Plus, I love Fred Armisen.

Portlandia is also the name of a sculpture located at the entrance of the Portland Building (1120 SW 5th Avenue, in Portland, Oregon).  Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, it’s based on Portland’s city seal, which features a woman, the Queen of Commerce, in Classical garb, brandishing a trident.  Wikipedia quotes The Morning Oregonian as stating on March 22, 1878, that the lower portion of the seal contains a wreath of myrtle.

Sound familiar?

The Greek muse Erato was often portrayed wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses.  Interesting, since Portland is none other than the City of Roses.  Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, is often depicted carrying a lyre; however, Portlandia carries a trident, which is the traditional symbol of the Greek god Poseidon.  The irony here is that with its sheaf of grain, the city seal was supposed to recognize Portland’s agrarian, which a pitchfork would have symbolized.  The similar-looking trident symbolizes fishing, and Poseidon used it to wreck havoc on the land by creating earthquakes.  Of course, the Queen of Commerce is standing by a body of water so perhaps she is also Queen of the lower Columbia River.

Another possibility is that Portlandia is based on the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite.  Aphrodite is often depicted with myrtle and roses.  She is often positioned by the sea, but she holds a scepter instead of a trident.  Aphrodite is the Greek incarnation of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, whose symbol is the star.  In the seal of Portland, a star hovers above the Queen of Commerce.

It’s interesting the way Greek mythology resurges, insinuating itself in pop culture.  Does this mean we might be seeing Greek hipsters—Gripsters—in Portlandia?

Portlandia airs tonight at 10:30 on IFC.