The Beat Generation – Narrated by Sydney Omar – October 1959 – KNX-AM/FM, Los Angeles – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
The Beat Generation – the lightning rod movement that ushered in the 60s, but became closely linked with the growing dissatisfaction of the 50s, the rebellion against the Cold War atmosphere – a reaction to the social upheavals brought about by the Red Scare and the growing fear of an all-out nuclear war and the potential destruction of the earth as we knew it.
Primarily a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s. The central elements of Beat culture are the rejection of standard narrative values, making a spiritual quest, the exploration of American and Eastern religions, the rejection of economic materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.
Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) are among the best known examples of Beat literature Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize publishing in the United States. The members of the Beat Generation developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.
The core group of Beat Generation authors — Herbert Huncke, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Lucien Carr, and Kerouac — met in 1944 in and around the Columbia University campus in New York City. Later, in the mid-1950s, the central figures, with the exception of Burroughs and Carr, ended up together in San Francisco, where they met and became friends of figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.
In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the hippie and larger counterculture movements. Neal Cassady, as the driver for Ken Kesey’s bus Furthur, was the primary bridge between these two generations. Ginsberg’s work also became an integral element of early 1960s hippie culture.
To get an idea, at least from the mainstream media standpoint, here is a radio documentary produced by Los Angeles radio station KNX in October 1959. Hosted by the popular Astrologer Sydney Omar, the one-hour program gives a fairly comprehensive rundown of what The Beat Generation was all about and how it was making its presence known in the late 1950s.