Defining What Is Beat – View From The West Coast – 1958 – Past Daily Reference Room/Pop Chronicles
Background For Headlines: The Beat Generation – CBS-West Coast/KNX, Los Angeles – 1958 – USC Digital Library Collection –
With the passing earlier this week of Beat Generation icon, publisher and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, attention has been drawn to that period of our cultural history that has, to a degree, faded into relative obscurity. It has been sixty-five years since Allen Ginsberg’s Howl helped usher in the era of The Beats. How that era and those values morphed into what became the Hippy Movement of the later 60s and how most of it has fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair (as well as hand-wringing, apologizing and re-writing) with the passage of time and the emergence of newer generations. What has survived has been subjected to a certain amount of parody and misguided nostalgia – often abandoning the real intent of questioning values and morals of a society based on consumption and status rather than the intrinsic spiritual nature of human beings – passing it all off as a social speed-bump.
Even at the time, while America was knee-deep in this revolution, it was met with skepticism and derision – people needed explanations as to what it was they were seeing and reading – more or less making the sales pitch to look, sample and join.
The Beat Generation was a mostly worldwide movement – although much of it had its basis in European counter-culture in the area of art and literature, it was a reaction to post-war devastation and the tremendous political/social/emotional upheaval taking place across the Atlantic. Jazz was Americas contribution to the mix to what was this perfect societal storm.
And of course, mainstream media got involved – wanting the quick and easy answer – the plausible definition – the explanation for the behavior. So spokespeople arrived and were grilled, questioned and subjected in the search for answers to “why is it, with the way you people act?”
Lawrence Lipton, something of a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Southern California contingent became a highly visible figure and was often interviewed by radio and TV outlets. This one, done for Los Angeles Radio station KNX for the CBS Radio Network was part of a series Background For Headlines, which ran on the network in the late 1950s.
Although it is by no means the defining explanation of The Beat Generation, it does offer some observations which helped bring about at least some understanding as to why the movement existed and in the way it existed in the 1950s.
Here is that program, as it was heard over KNX in Los Angeles in 1958.