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“And the Beats Go on”


I’m reading this Phil Lesh memoir and though it’s definitely pretty interesting and well written, much like Jorma Kaukonen’s work, he at one point mentions “the beats” (meaning the beat poetry movement) and I just have to say I smell a big time rat with the whole thing. For instance Lesh makes the claim that “I can’t overemphasize the importance of poetry and literature at that time… I’ve always felt that the whole sixties counterculture evolved from the beats.” He goes on to add that “Their work shared important themes with the likes of Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth…” Um, WHOSE works? The only figures he attaches in his discussion to this “beat” movement are Kerouac, who wasn’t a poet at all as far as I’m aware, and Ginsberg, whose most famous poem as far as I know is that one about shopping in a grocery store and noticing Walt Whitman’s sexuality (which is to remove it from the epoch entirely, obviously). Lesh’s choice of William Blake as a common thematic thread is odd to given Blake’s prevalent subject matter of the sectarian, hence at least theoretically setting him astray from the beat ideology, which was more likely to favor Eastern religions like Buddhism.

Bob Dylan had every bit the literary predilection and poetic proclivity so if the most important medium had been the written word why would his stardom have materialized in musicianship? Lesh mentions Kesey later as an “iconoclastic thinker” but makes no explicit connection of him to the aforementioned group. It’s like “the beats” are this fictitious entity instituted to sandbag insecurities on the part of people who came of age in the ’60s and are worried that their drug-bolstered ideals all went for naught, which of course is probably neither true nor any fault of theirs, if actual.

I’m taking recommendations but my favorite all time poet is Amiri Baraka so something tells me I didn’t miss too much in this area. It’s the same as people who say they like “Kid A” by Radiohead and then proceed not to name a single favored song off said LP. “Kid A” is an album but also a fictitious cultural destination like “the beats” conceived in bastardry as a safeguard against criticism of the level of integrity of one’s Radiohead fandom, which often is precarious at best, obviously.

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