My review of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats

The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats is composed of the writings of many who were, knew, or were influenced by the Beatniks, as they came to known.

The article by Douglas Brinkley titled The American Journey of Jack Kerouac is my best deep dive into Jack, and I am sympathetic to him. If only he exercised more Buddhist admonitions for compassion and self-control over his drinking, who knows, he might have given us a better model to emulate. Allen Ginsberg took that assignment upon himself and helped create a model for seeking youth to follow.   

It’s a welcome and timely read for me, as I’ve belatedly begun reading and trying to map out the influence they had on my hippie-yippee generation. Generation is the wrong word. I’m sick of the wholesale labeling of people born into a certain era as good, bad, or indifferent, especially as GREAT in some way or other. The so-called GREATEST GENERATION, meaning my father’s WWII generation, was also the very same Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, et al were all a few years older than my father, who was a gunner on a Fletcher Class Destroyer who splashed a few Japanese planes in some of the big fights. At that same historical moment these still unlabeled Beats began their palling around and writing. Jack even served hazardous duty in the Merchant Marine for a time, from 1942 until he was discharged as a “schizoid personality” in 1943, perhaps because he announced he’d never kill anyone, even in self-defense.  

In fact, all these men and a few women, beat or not, were individuals, as different as they were similar. Jack even distanced himself from his fellow Beats in the sixties and rather than advising and mentoring the oncoming Hippie “generation,” again composed of many elder mentors like Tim Leary, et al, he turned into a sour, politically conservative alcoholic mama’s boy, expressing too little of his vaunted Bodhisattva compassion. I’m grieved to note that lack of compassion included his daughter, making him a deadbeat dad as well as an ingrate to so many who’d helped him. We must separate the man from his art and not deify our heroes as any more perfect or moral than mythic Greek Gods.   

Mythology can be fun, but it can lead us astray if we take it too seriously. Jack, for one, created a mythic persona to obscure much of how he wrote, even who he really was. His spontaneous prose style of writing was, according to numerous witnesses cited in this book, revised through countless drafts before a final draft was hammered out on his famous “scroll” fed through his typewriter, so he wouldn’t have to break his flow by inserting another page. How many earnest writers have been misled by this aspiration to be ‘spontaneous’ at all costs and got swamped by unedited gibberish? It sure didn’t work for me.     

When the Jehovahs come knocking

I like an occasional debate with those I disagree with, but if they only want to beat their own drum and denigrate my reasoned rebuttals and refuse to even consider them it’s not worth my time. Conservative Religions are a case in point. I once rode over the Khyber Pass with an Islamic missionary who tried to convert me as I enjoyed the scenery, which included farmers plowing their fields with automatic rifles on their shoulders, murderous feuds and banditry being endemic there long before the Russians, followed by the Taliban and us. His insistence that I simply accept Mohammad as the one and only “Seal of the Prophets,” after which spiritual revelations come to a dead stop, and I must do so at the cost of abandoning all other worthy spiritual paths. Well, it didn’t sit well and I told him my Buddhist take on direct access spirituality. His anger was tempered by perplexity. How could I, raised a Christian, not accept without question the faith I was born into, until that is, the final installment, or newer testament, in the form of Mohammad, was revealed to me? Didn’t I realize that all other paths, besides the Abraham descended ones, led to the fires of hell? My disagreement was tantamount to blasphemy.

Change the names and places and I encounter the same incurious closed minds among Christians of various persuasions. Jehovah Witnesses being a prime example. Nice folks when I worked with them selling insurance door to door in South Dakota. That job allowed them to sell jewelry on the side, and, you guessed it, espouse their faith with free Watchtower literature and gentle prodding to accept their only one way truth and be saved from the eternal fires of the very hell Muslims feared. Fear and thus hatred of the satanic other is the common thread of all these dogmatic beliefs.

Long before and after, I’ve been accosted, nay, harried by Bible thumping missionaries trying to save my freethinking ‘soul’ by any means necessary. Well-meaning Christian friends have led me into ambushes disguised as friendly dinners and social gatherings similar to the Amway marketing technique. I try to be polite, but I was hungry and the promised food came much later if at all. Fire and brimstone spews at me when I rebut them and I’ve come to rely on sterner strategies to keep them at bay.

Door knockers can be just as obnoxious in their approach. Jehovah Witnesses once interrupted my shower and I grabbed a towel to open the door, expecting friends, maybe even lovers. The well dressed couple seemed embarrassed giving their salvation spiel to a dripping wet half naked man, but unrepentant Hippie that I am, I’ve no prurient shame in my natural flesh and found their discomfiture funny and the blushing woman attractive. At least I could get a chuckle if I have to endure hearing the same old tune. The nervous man finally asked me if there was a better time to come back, which I didn’t want to encourage, so dropping the towel about my loins, I cut it short, uncovering my immodesty at the threshold. Opps! They beat a hasty retreat, never to return. I’d found the best way to get rid of unwelcome interruptions.

Now, if they’d wanted to stay and join me in the shower? After all, saving precious water in a drought makes us good stewards of our Planet. Well, that could have made for a different, more pleasurable ending, perhaps I’d even convert them to my Satanic lifestyle.

Which reminds me of my encounter with the Christian LOVE family. Ah, yes, God’s whores, they called themselves. If only I’d known. But, busy now, that must wait for a later telling.