The Enduring Influence of the Beat and Hippie Writers (1950-60s)
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The Enduring Influence of the Beat and Hippie Writers (1950-60s)

introduction to writers from the 1950-60s, whose writing defined their generation, and maybe ours, as well

Their names might be unfamiliar, but their legacies are not: here are six of the best writers from the Mid-Century Beat and Hippie Generations, 1950-60s. Their mold-breaking creativity dramatically revolutionized American culture - from music to art to literature - and even politics. Their brilliant, unconventional writing continues to influence the rapidly changing world we see today; new artists continue to draw inspiration from their era-bending creativity and courage. Six of these iconic "Modern"  Mid-Century writers are (in alphabetical order): Richard Brautigan, E.E..Cummings, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Dorothy Parker. 1. Richard Brautigan (1960s). Most widely known for his wonderful novel, Trout Fishing in America (1967), Brautigan was widely considered the literary statesman for the American Hippie counter-culture in the '60s. Although Brautigan openly disdained hippies, his lifestyle (including handing out his poetry for free on the streets of San Francisco),his writing subjects and poetry-laced prose certainly helped define him as one of the movement's spokesmen.. After Trout Fishing was published, Brautigan became something of a literary hero. But he fell from favor in the U.S. during the 1970s, remaining more popular in Europe and Japan. Like some of the other authors mentioned here, he was strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism.  His work is notable for giving the 1960s a literary voice; for his early relationship with The Beatles on a spoken-word album for their short-lived record label (unreleased), and for the manner in which he lived and wrote - all freely, a Hippie credo. During his short life-time (he died in 1984),  he wrote 10 novels, 1 book of short stories, and 9 books of poetry. His influence is mostly seen in the growing popular expression of urban protest/street-art and the revival of slam poetry, poetry readings and coffee house culture. 2. E.E. Cummings (e.e. cummings, 1950s). One of the most unconventional, popular poets of the 20th Century, Cummings was among the very first to radically change poetic structure, spelling and dialect.  Cummings also addressed social issues in his poetry. He eliminated boundaries in his pioneering writing style; daringly taking readers to a new realm of consciousness. Some of his work was intentionally incomprehensible, on its face, anyway, allowing (or encouraging) the reader to spend a great deal of time  thinking about out-of-context words and their meanings. Cummings was not simply a poet; he wrote children's books, plays, novels and painted. Widely-read in the 1950s, (at least by the Mid-Century intellects), Cummings forever changed the rules of writing as we knew them - throwing out  enforced structure and re-inventing language. His influence was certainly felt in music, such as The Beatles' ("Come Together," "I am the Eggman") and in the experimental writings of such 20th century authors as Thomas Pynchon, and certain modern European film-makers. Cummings influence also parallelled that of most striking painters working in abstract expressionism in the Mid-Century - Jackson Pollock and the popular commercialized art of Andy Warhol - two of the  20th Century artists who changed the boundaries and expectations of the art world. Cummings died in 1962, buy influence is still widely felt today among  artists experimenting with changing concepts and structure. Not all of these contemporary (circa 2009)art works are contained in galleries; in fact, much of this new art work is viewable on the sides of buildings or across the internet on virtual art galleries and web sites. Robert Duncan ( 1950s). The least well-known of the Mid-Century writers listed here, Duncan's poetry is undergoing a kind of Renaissance as many look to history for hints about how to work its lessons into their present creations. Considered a 'modernist' working in the  'beat generation' by some literary critics, Duncan's work, primarily the 1940-60s, juxtaposed the historic Romantic with the Experimental. He was one of the "Black Mountain" poets, who also became part of the San Francisco literary scene. Although he won The National Poetry Award, a hallmark of critical acclaim, it was his unconventional upbringing (by his adopted parents, committed Spiritualists) and his openness about his homosexuality, in 1944, that mark him as a literary pioneer. Duncan was among the very first writers of some influence to write about his sexual preference (1944) and to write against War (Viet Nam). He also inserted nearly-invisble layers of spirituality into his work. Duncan, who died in 1988,  led the way for other writers to express their personal histories as well as their public outrages.  His influence is widely expressed today by thousands of blogging writers on the internet, writing openly about their lives, their religion and their politics. For these writers, revealing their personal lives and their protests is an accepted mode of expression, but Duncan was among the very first to break these literary grounds. Allen Ginsberg (1950s): One of the iconic poets  belonging to "the Beat generation, Ginsberg's  famed poetic works largely come from the 1950-60s. Perhaps his most famous work is "Howl"; a lengthy poem that widely influenced other writers, musicians and artists.  His friendship with other well-known Beat poets, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso defined the experimental poetry movement of the Mid-Century, particularly in the 1950s. One of the few poets to successfully bridge the gap between the bohemian 1950s and the experimental Hippie 1960s, Ginsberg formed friendships with 1960s luminaries Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and Bob Dylan. Like many other poets of this era, Ginsberg, who died in 1997, began to follow both Buddhism and Krishnaism and these spiritual influences are evidential in both his poetic works and  in his poetry readings. A strong influence on and  friend of  poet/musician Bob Dylan, Ginsberg's legacy is seen today in the rapid globalization of creative arts, including the popularity of spiritually-inspired music, art and writing. Electronic music and other forms of out-of-the-box musical compositions link to Ginsberg's daring experimental choices. Jack Kerouac (1950s): Perhaps the most widely quoted and well-known of all the authors listed here, Kerouac is considered by some to be the "father" of the Beat movement. Like some of the others, he disliked this label and the 1980s Hippie movement that followed the 1950s era. As both a poet and a prose writer, Kerouac's writings are associated with the experimental jazz music of his fellow contemporaries, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker (and more). During his lifetime, Kerouac's writings were largely ignored; today, he is considered among the most influential of all Mid-Century authors. His work, somewhat stream of conscious and autobiographical, also influenced many  writers who followed, including Tom Robbins, Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan (above) and Ken Kesey. Like many of the authors, Kerouac also was interested in Buddhism, and this practice found its way into his writing. Kerouac, who died in 1969, is best-remembered for incorporating his lifetime history into his work (On the Road, Big Sur, The Subterraneans). A favorite work is Belief & Technique of Modern Prose (1959), includes brilliant advice, applicable to today. Among his points: "Be in love with yr life. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind. Like Proust be an old teahead of time." Kerouac's influence is still felt in the experimental writings of many young authors in 2009;  some of whom have written about their own internal and external journeys (Into the Wild), following the path of Kerouac. Dorothy Parker (1930-50s): Writing somewhat earlier than the Mid-Century (from the 1930s-60s), Parker (about whom a film was made) was one of the few women to break through the writing glass ceiling in the 20th Century. Although a few other female writers were well-known for their fiction and poetry, it was Parker, like the others mentioned here, who broke the mold -both as writer and social critic. Her razor-sharp wit and skin-shedding revelations ("You might as well live") showed other artists and writers how reality was often more interesting than myth and image. Parker, who died in 1967, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and a civil rights and human rights activist during an era where openly expressing these sentiments was a cause for trouble. She led the way for other female writers, although few have been able to match her acerbic wit and way with words. Her influence is more widely seen in some popular female stand-up comediennes, like Kathy Griffin, Ellen DeGeneres and Sarah Silverman (although the lattermay be more comparable to Lenny Bruce).                . There were many influential writers in the Mid-Century; too many to name (and I know you have some names I didn't mention) , but among those other writers who should not be overlooked: William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch , 1950s iconic writer); Charles Bukowski (the well-known 1950s  L.A. urban poet/writer, who lived outside the mainstream and gave that group a powerful voice), J.D. Salinger ( 1950s Catcher in the Rye and other works who offered a passionate, but unexpectedly youthful voice to the times), and Kurt Vonnegut (a near-genius at political satire, and a slightly subversive but brilliant novelist of the 1960s and beyond). Clairvoyant Trend Analysis #1: Troubled times like these often produce brilliant creative works by authors, artists, musicians. Although I am somewhat dismayed by the lack of generational books and music coming out of this first decade of 2000, I am encouraged by the work of urban street artists, who display their talents (often legally) in murals on building walls, in urban street art fairs, and on the internet (check out Stumbled Upon.com and Deviantart.com for examples). In terms of writing, more and more interesting writing, from a number of widely diverse perspectives, can also be read on some of the growing number of blogs on the internet. Given the dying breed of newspapers and magazines, expect to see blogging as today's primary literary genre and also more self-published books and ebooks. I am least impressed by the popular music coming out of this first decade of 2000, but again there is hope for creativity and innovation - again via the internet. Music from different musicians in different locations is now being fused from locations around the world  (check out YouTube's Symphony Orchestra, featuring 90 musicians from 30 countries who auditioned on the site and later performed together at Carnegie Hall). New music is also publicized on social networking and web sites, and introduced to new listeners via web-sites, without the necessity of major record labels, concerts, touring and publicity. This is a major change in the way musicians achieved popularity in the past; record labels may soon find themselves as extinct as Dodo Birds. When the record albums that cost the most and are most desired are rare albums from the past, it's only a matter of time until  Major Record Labels pink slip themselves out of business. Trend Analysis #2: We have been sleeping throughout the first decade of the 2000s, lulled into narcolepsy by excess, greed, over-consumption and a diet of fast (fats) food - not only nutritionally, but figuratively. In terms of entertainment (look no further than American Idol and Dancing with the Stars to see what passes for popular entertainment). Now that a whole lot of shakin' has been goin' on in politics and the economy, look for the bolder, braver, new generation of artists, writers and musicians to give expression to these times, just like the artists and writers did in the 1950-60s.  Support these new artists however you can, and whenever you can.  Join them, if you have a voice and something to say. Line forms at the end of this piece. Note: You can find the works of many of these fine authors, and others, at the library or online. If you are fortunate enough to hunt down the Spring, 1959 issue of The Evergreen Review, you will find original works by E.E. Cummings, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others in one volume (try eBay or other rare book sites if you want to own this treasure). For musical inspiration, check out Bob Dylan and The Beatles 1960s recordings. For era-bending,art inspiration and motivation, visit the internet or  your local Museum and study the works of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenburg, and others.

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