This girl I like expressed an interest in beatnik recordings. Hence this compilation of beat poetry (sucker that I am):

This is not some lit. history class, and the collection is not representative of what the «Beat Generation» was all about. It features only one original, bona fide beat poet (Jack Kerouac), ommitting the boring ones (Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, et al.). William Burroughs' stuff stands so apart from standard beat fare that it didn't make the cut. (He was too wise to ever join a movement anyway.) Also, I left out music by the obvious inspiration to many of the original beat poets—most notably Charlie Parker and Slim Gaillard. Those cats ain't groovy enough to dig. I've also skipped the scat-jazz so typical of beat comps. (In the immortal words of Vince Noir: «We don't need scat at this point.»)

Some forgotten café poets of the era are on here (like Felix Lupus, Ringo Angel). And sometimes, fake is better than the real thing, so I've also included examples of beatsploitation (Edd «Kookie» Byrnes, Babs Gonzales) and parodies (Del Close & John Brent, Bob McFadden & Rod McKuen). And of course, I've included some of the jazz performers who tried their hand at poetry (Charlie Mingus) or who originated the Afro-American hipster jive lingo later adopted by the would-be cool white cats of the beat generation (Cab Calloway).

Most of the selections could be called novelty songs or comedy recordings, but this is not an exercise in irony or nostalgia. Hepsters talked like James Brown danced, and jive and beat poetry are easy on the ears and a joy to your Wernicke's area, so forget kitschiness and enjoy.

Here goes:
The BEATITUDE Of HIP—Genuine & Phony Beatnikmania:

1. Patsy Raye & the Beatniks: «Beatnik's Wish»
I've no clue who Ms. Raye was or is, but the Gene Krupa-style drums, nasty trumpet and sultry poetry recital of this 1958 Christmas number is certain to get you in the mood…

2. Charles Mingus: «Freedom»
Here jazz composer, double bass virtuoso and band leader extraordinaire, Charlie Mingus, tries his hand at the old poetry-and-jazz combo. Concerned as his poem is with civil rights and the racism of the day, one could argue this number isn't really beat poetry. The beatniks got their hep cat jive from black jazz, but none of the social commentary. They were middle class white people, after all, and to them being black in the US in the 1940s, '50s and '60s was all about being enviably cool rather than outrageously oppressed. Still, reciting poetry to jazz accompaniment was predominantly a beatnik obsession, and it's easy to assume that's where Mingus got the inkling to add poetry to his composition.

3. Phillipa Fallon: «High School Drag»

This is from a scene in the 1958 film High School Confidential! (a/k/a Trouble at Sixteen or Young Hellions), one of those Hollywood B-movies trying to make a quick buck on the beat phenomenon. As is often the case with beatnik stuff, it's hard to tell whether Phillipa Fallon's performance is a parody or not, but it most probably is and still manages to be better than most genuine beat poets:

Either way, whether you're laughing with or at beat poetry, this one is funny:

I had a canary who couldn't sing
I had a cat that let me share my pad with her
I bought a dog that killed the cat that ate the canary
What is truth?

4. Felix Lupus: «The Night Was a Bitch in Heat»
True blue beat poetry by some beatnik history forgot. Sometimes parodies work better than the real deal, but Lupus' sincere poem is decent enough, and what it lacks in humour it makes up for with syllabic skill.

5. Cab Calloway: «Are You Hep to the Jive?»
Calloway wasn't a beatnik as much as an inspiration to them. Like the wiggas of today, the beats longed to be as cool as trendsetting African Americans (then jazz hep cats) and adopted their jive talk. And no one popularised hip jive quite like Cab «Minnie the Moocher» Calloway:

6. Oscar Brown jr.: «But I Was Cool»
From Oscar Brown, jr.'s 1959 debut album, this novelty song is a terrific send-up of the jazz cats' and beatniks' ultimately pretentious obsessive compulsion to never ever blow their cool.

7. Ellie Girl w/Seven Beat Sulks: [Untitled track]
A truly obscure, apparently sincere beatnik café performance from 1950s Greenwich Village, complete with bongos! Some things simply cannot be parodied. This track is so darn cute you just have to love it…

8. John Drew Barrymore: «Christopher Columbus Digs the Jive»

Another scene from beatsploitation flick High School Confidential!, acted out by the son of thespian John Barrymore and father of, er, lesbian Drew Barrymore, this is one half spoof of beatniks, one half square society's baffled, helpless take on the younger generation:

Wow… Now do you get why jive is so good?

9. Edd Byrnes: «Like I Love You»
A novelty song from the main character of the series «77 Sunset Strip», Kookie, such mainstream co-option of beatnik culture must surely have been the final nail in the coffin of the beat generation. But what a hilarious nail:

Beats the Fonz any day…

10. Del Close & John Brent: «The Loose Wig»
This isn't some square big wigs' cash-in on popular youth culture, but two comedians' piss-take on hipsters, contrived as a radio interview with a Greenwich Village jive hep cat by the name of «Geetz Romo». Zing!

11. Ken Nordine & the Fred Katz Group: «Down the Drain»
Where to place suave radio voice Ken Nordine and his Lewis Carroll-meets-Franz Kafka routine? Like a more sincere beat Nordine eschews hipster lingo and instead encapsulates certain preoccupations of the beats, such as criticism of straight society and the consumerist conformism of 1950s America. He was never a part of the beat movement, really, but Nordine's improvised tales set to jazz accompaniment—what he calls «word jazz»—is very close to über-beat Jack Kerouac's defining concept of «spontaneous prose»: riffing on a given subject, stream-of-consciousness stylee. Nordine's absurd and slightly unsettling wit, but soothing baritone make him one of the greatest in the genre. A class act!

12. Stevenson Phillips: «Stevenson Explains Beat to the Unbeat»
Another sincere, but forgotten beat poet, taking the piss out of people who attempt to be hip:

Seems prophetic of all the agents of square society who would later try to jump on the beatnik wagon to fame and fortune (much like many of the artists on this comp).
13. [Unknown artist]: «The Hipster»
This is from a 1966 car commerical campaign for the Plymouth Barracuda. By '66, of course, beat was no longer hip. The facile parody of beats and its lateness both seem typical of the cluelessness of «square» society. Nonetheless, anything with jive talk is a winner as far this cat's concerned…

14. Lenny Bruce: «Hip Diseases»
Stand-up pioneer and free speech martyr Lenny Bruce waxes hip on disease.

15. Babs Gonzales: «Manhattan Fable»
Here's an African-American jazz singer taking the jive talk beatniks took from African-American jazz players and trying to
cash in on it. Ironic, isn't it? But you can tell Babs Gonzales isn't the real deal—despite his autobiography being titled I, Paid My Dues: Good Times… No Bread—A Story of Jazz… and Some of Its Followers, Shyster Agents, Hustlers, Pimps and Prostitutes. Still, this time capsule track is an exercise in convoluted hipster-speak. Its language needs to be deciphred for the story to be understood, which in itself is a funny, little brain teaser for one of those slow Sundays…

16. Bob McFadden & Dor: «The Beat Generation»
Voice-over actor Bob McFadden and «Dor» (really poet Rod McKuen) in a mildly amusing send-up of beatniks.

17. Ringo Angel: «How to Put a Broad Down/All Broads Are Common»
A failed and apparently fiercely bitter, misogynistic beat poet in a vitriolic and over-the-top attack on some ex-lover. Its excessiveness is what makes this poem noteworthy. (Don't you just love it when somebody takes things too far?) In any case, this venomous recital serves as a reminder among all these faddish recordings that the beats had fangs once…

She's from the Westside
And she sat on the East side
Of her bedside
Painting the front side
Of her backside
With peroxide
Because she heard that on the (w)hole
Gentlemen prefer blondes

18. Harry «the Hipster» Gibson: «Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?»
Here, novelty song pioneer Gibson combines two of the beatniks' main obsessions—«square» society and drug-of-choice Benzedrine—to make one great, little party number. Unfotunately, it seems the Hipster never recorded his follow-up song, «Who Put the Nembutals in Mr. Murphy's Overalls?»… By the way, Harry Gibson was king of hipsploitation and contrived jive, dig:

19. Jack Kerouac & Steve Allen: Reading from «On the Road» and «Visions of Cody»
After much mediocre (albeit entertaining!) poetry and smarmy satire we arrive at the undisputed master (and the root cause of all this beat stuff), Mr. Jack Kerouac himself. For all the hype and hooplah—and after all the derivative writers in his wake—it's easy to forget just what an accomplished assembler of syllables this man was. This is a highlight among his recorded output, recorded on the Steve Allen Show:

There you go. Apart from the last song, none of these tracks convey the ecstasy or beatitude that gave the true beats—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso—their name in the first place. But like any movement, the initially so inspired Beats degenerated first into mediocrity (beatniks) then into a hopelessly misguided mainstream bandwagon free-for-all, which killed what started it all dead, until what we're left with now is a quaint pop culture reference.

At least it's a funny one.

1 comment:

  1. "Excuse me, stewardess...I speak jive."

    Dear White Stuff:

    Regarding the Babs Gonzales book, I find it bemusing that you're so wrong.