I-View: Beat Generation Questions 1998

Beat Generation Questions
from Steve Appleford
August 4 1998

What influence have the Beats had on you and/or Sonic Youth?

Ever since reading On The Road in 74, just out of college and on my first road trip, NY–>California, at the time, the ‘Beat’ writers have had a strong influence on me. I just loved the way Kerouac in particular wrote, the muscular energy and enthusiasm for life and love and travel. Ginsberg and Burroughs, Snyder, etc came later as more aquired tastes, but Kerouac was so easy to read and so simple to identify with.

What influence do you think the Beats had on alternative culture in general?

I think the influence they had is immense. Kerouac and the ‘rucksack revolution’, popularizing (not inventing) the notion of travel and freedom; Burroughs bringing in more transgressive and sinister, heady elements. Ginsberg most influential in the long run though, or most effective proseletizer, espousing way back in the 50s ideas of a transcendant drug culture and later being ahead of the curve on eastern religious exploration, and political activism, homosexual freedom, etc. His life really had a great impact on so many aspects of youth culture, fr the 50s right thru to 80s-90s. The more I explore his biography, the more apparent it becomes.

Is that influence as strong as it has ever been?

I think their influence comes and goes as the culture in general swings fr more open to more conservative, but I don’t think it will disappear anytime too soon.

Are the Beats as appreciated by new artists?

I’m not always sure, but I think they continue to have an impact, witness all the recent new Kerouac titles, collected letters, bios, etc, which have people excited all over again about his writing.

What attitude did the Beats embody for you?

Firstly, as the first young generation to come of age in the wake of the atomic age/WW 2 bombings, they were looking at ‘life’ and society w a new perspective: the knowlegde that for the first time it was a real possibility that the whole shithaus could go up at any minute, and that one had better ‘live for today’, as the saying goes (Be Here Now, Tim Leary, Ram Dass came later out of this), and grab at life whilst one could. No previous generation lived under this spectre. They were among the first to break out of the mid-century conservative molds, and strike out for new territory, new mental/psychedelic awareness. Also, they were among first generations to grow up w a greater worldwide information awareness, which has grown thru today into our info-overloaded culture.

Did you have much contact with members of the original Beats (Ginsberg, Burroughs, etc.)?

I had the preveledge of becoming quite friendly w Allen for the last 6 years or so, and visited WSB twice at his home in Lawrence. Briefer aquanitences w Corso, Ferlingetti, Huncke, Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones…

Did their continued presence on the scene (especially in New York) mean much to bands of your generation and later?

Yeah, to some of us.

Do you see the bebop and Beat movements as connected? Did bop have any influence on alternative culture? Was it different from what the Beats offered?

As above, these were both postwar movements which were searching for new horozons. Certainly the bop music influenced and energized the beats, and this was true in reverse as well, I believe. They were cross-talking to each other.

Do you think most artists of your generation or later discovered the Beats firsthand, or through the work of people like Patti Smith, etc.?

Some of each.

What impact do you think the Beats had on rock pre-punk?

Lots, in the sixites and seventies, witness even such band names as Soft Machine and Steeley Dan…

Now that the main figures of the Beat movement (Ginsberg, etc.) are gone, will their influence continue?


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