Two Beat Legends: A Tribute

Lucien Carr died Friday of complications from cancer treatment. He was 79 years old. Carr is known as a figure in the Beat Generation and also as a reporter and editor for the United Press International news service.

Carr was a big influence on Kerouac, appearing as Kenneth Wood in the novel The Town and the City. He also supplied the now-legendary roll of paper that became the manuscript for On the Road.

(To learn more about Lucien Carr, read the LitKicks article here.)

In other news, a collection of Neal Cassady’s letters has recently been published (Collected Letters, 1944-1967). Cassady’s widow, Carolyn, has done an excellent job of promoting Neal’s legacy as a writer, which often gets overshadowed by the legend that surrounds him. The collection includes letters to Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg among other Beat writers, as well as correspondence between Neal and Carolyn.

Considering the fact that today’s literature often seems dry in comparison to what the Beats did with words fifty-odd years ago, what are your thoughts on their legacy? Are you interested in the writing of the Beats? Do they inspire what you write today? If so, how? If not, why?

22 Responses

  1. You Better Believe It!Having
    You Better Believe It!

    Having been around a while, showing my age, and having Beat parents, lucky me, I’ve seen the Beat movement go from the ludicrous to the sublime. There was a time when Jack was considered a joke, like when Truman Capote said, “that’s not writing, it’s typing!”

    Now it’s considered Beat literature, a movement, and it always was for some enlightened individuals. Yes Jamelah I thank my lucky stars that a friend in a Palo Alto, California group house turned me on to the Dharma Bums in ’73. Beat has been a lifelong journey, more than Maynard G. Krebs, more than that silly Jerry Lewis movie Visitor from a Small Planet, more than the beret, bongo playing, beatnik poet stereotype, no it’s a literature that ultimately affected everyone’s life.

  2. EraThe Beats grabbed on to

    The Beats grabbed on to something that they shaped and molded it into what it became…an era.

    I think the potential is still there for us in literary world, but people have just become too passive about life in general.

  3. The Power of the BeatsI am
    The Power of the Beats

    I am definitely interested in the writing of the Beats. I’m sure there’ve been counterculutures before, in Ameircan society, but theirs was the first I could really relate to, and be inspired by. The way that Jack wrote was amazing. In some ways I felt it paralled my own life (although mine was not nearly as exciting or well-written) at least in occasionally walking through dark cafes, meeting interesting people from all walks of life.. As a teenager, I felt a bit part of the counterculture, and so that’s why reading that type of writing inspired me. It inspired me to try to write well. I, too, could wirte of Friends! Cities! Jazz! Road trips!Weird people! Religion!

    Whatever…w ell I couldn’t write in stream of consciousness or in the similar style of the Beats. I guess that wasn’t the point. The point was to be inspired to write down my own youthful life events, of friends, or cafes, or whatever, and to do it in my own style.

    When one of my best friends introduced me to Ginsberg’s famous poem (I saw the best minds of my generation…) we’d read it several times a year, it never ceased to inspire us. I can’t say that about any other poem. So that period of time was an important one to me. I remember reading On the Road as a teen and as an adult starting my own road trips where anything can happen. I haven’t written about a lot of stuff I probably should have. I have to keep working on it.

    I guess I can say that in their counterculture movement, the Beats really captured what it is to be a smaller part of society, in the midst of a mass of mediocrity. They seemed, I guess, to really have the right “way”. And even if they did not have the right way, they had a damn cool time along the way. Don’t know what else to say except I hope the spirit of their writing lives on and inspires future generations.

    Somehow I know it will.

  4. We do live in a time that is
    We do live in a time that is based on the individual persona, which makes it hard for a group chemistry to develope. There are examples of group dynamic in the writing world and one of them has been right here at LitKicks, where theren has been agreat interaction between writers and artists in various mediums. The book, the live poetry readings, the art shows, the fact that we were all writing in commune and give and take, pushing each others writing to greater heights. Also here in Baltimore where I am part of the Sowebo arts community, that is more than a place in Baltimore, more than its annual arts festival, this year marking the 20th, we are a community of artists under a die hard banner. As I was saying in my post above, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees — maybe, just maybe we are the movement.

  5. Yes indeed it will Andeh, the
    Yes indeed it will Andeh, the Beats had a lot to react against in that late 40’s to 1950’s time frame, and I honestly feel that something special will come out of these troubled times we are living in right NOW.

  6. Poet is PriestI think I’ve
    Poet is Priest

    I think I’ve been a beatnik since the first time I ever picked up a a copy of Howl. Beat literature is without doubt or shame my very favorite kind of literature, the literary stylings of which I can only dream of knocking off (or knocking up, depending on how you look at it)… Without Beat literature, books and/or poetry in America would arguably be ten times more sterile and ridiculous. Someone had to stand up for the right of the common man to speak the vulgar, the obscene, the truth!

  7. Too MuchGrowing up in South
    Too Much

    Growing up in South Dakota the beats were my first ‘tagged’ group of writers. Like I had read the existentialists (Kafka, Sartre, Nietzsche and Camus) while my family still lived in Kansas, for some reason the beatniks came next in repertoire of ‘must reads.’ Vonnegut somehow also landed on that list, setting an antecedent for what was to come years later and the French Symbolist poets. I guess my early tastes in literature evolved into what I read now; Proust, Gide, Eco.

    After reading The Immoralist last fall, I finally saw where Mersault got his voice. I read Ginsberg’s poems like they were some kind of effigy of the bible with sinister overtones. I polished poems and stories by Jack, I even managed to read Naked Lunch when I was sixteen but didn’t understand a bit of it.

    I don’t know. I was doing too many drugs in high school and the whole beat thing embodied the whole it. The quasi-Zen leanings and just non-standard lifestyles come to a head in my readings and lifestyle was just as odd. I’m not sure if it was a good influence.

    I think limiting yourself to any literary movement is a tad pretentious. And I can say after more then one night in jail that leading a life that isn’t ‘normal’ has pitfalls more then benefits. Like I tell people I should be having a family or working an actual job instead of getting drunk and dreaming of the semiotics of C.S. Peirce. Don’t get me wrong, I’m better read then any of the students here at Northern State; I’m just not sure what reading Swann’s Way or Seasons in Hell gets me — other then a real lonely feeling.

    I always figured I’d do something with my life. I’ve had adventures. I’ve waken at least in two dozen across state lines not really being sure how I got there. The acid drops don’t ever leave you. LSD-25 makes for a changed man, not a way I can describe.

    Doing all the crazy shit I’ve done over the years probably had some influence by the Beats. On the other hand, as I sat in some rundown apartment with a needle in my veins hoping for the almighty enlightenment, I think I might have read into it a bit too deeply.

    The Beat legacy is something you have to question the intrinsic quality of the writings. The thing is Faulkner writes better then 98 percent of anything every labeled ‘beat.’ Yeah sure, some good things labeled ‘Beat’ have been written, but people get caught up in this whole image thing and more often then not there time could be better spend with their eyes on The Sound and the Fury then Visions of Cody.

    Influenced by the whole damn thing? Why yes, perhaps too much. Some people kind end crossing the lines in the name of art, the whole poetic decadent thing. I can tell you that living an abnormal lifestyle is more likely to get you into a psych ward then the Nobel Prize. A whole lot more likely for treatment then a reward, when I was young before I did all this stupid shit I knew that, and I said ‘go for it.’

    Anyone who ever reads anything I write, if there is such a person, probably will think that I’ve jumped off the toilet with the shit still hanging from ass when I write this: The Beats can be a bad influence. No worse then Verlaine or Poe but young people are impressionable and till this day the Beats, like the Velvet Underground, remain the seminal hacks of what is cool. I think there are trendier things like the whole post-modern transgressive bit or the so called ‘literature of exhaustion’ but The Crying Lot of ’49 or In the Name of the Rose are a just a bit much for a fifteen year old or quite possibly anyone.

    OTR has this madness to it, like you can be living in that dream. When I was younger I thought I was. I love that book and dozens of others in the genre, but I quite possibly love them because they are in the genre instead of loving them because they are great works of art. It comes back to the whole Faulkner (Joyce, Lawrence, etc.) thing: people read things that aren’t always the best because they dream stylistic idiosyncratic ideals.

    I’m not knocking reading. I can’t say there is a greater value to reading certain writers. I personally probably think some are good, others great but most poor. Is someone a better person for reading Dubliners instead of Stephen King, and me now making myself a harlot to low culture would have to say no. No book can change the world that much. I believe the reality creates windows and people just fill the space up when given the chance.

    If anything I think the whole “beatnik” thing might be over reported. Keep the classics and burn the rest. Why waste space in your brain?

  8. Kerouac died on my 8th
    Kerouac died on my 8th birthday

    Kerouac died on my 8th birthday and always seemed so yesterday to me though I read Dharma Bums just last year and found it satisfactory as a novel. Neal Cassidy was a speed freak and Burroughs an alcoholic/ addict whose return to popularity as cultural icon baffles reason but some of his prose is penetrating. Ginsburg was a first rate poet but memories of him are always as a hippy, beads, beard and long hair for your poster.

    LitKicks’ reason to be, for your correspondent, seems to be neo-beat and continue the movement which is cool because writing is the only that can save one’s soul.

    Please forgive your correspondent if he has misunderstood your raison d’etre because he is a relative newcomer and hasn’t followed all postings due to time constraints such as just now.

    Your correspondent stopped navel-gazing and looks to his own work and tries to write new stuff he hasn’t already done.

    Cheers and not raining on any bonhomie — the beats were before the hippies and it all seems dated.

  9. Lucien CarrLucien Carr.
    Lucien Carr

    Lucien Carr.
    Sometimes people ask me, “What makes the Beats so special? They were just a bunch of writers.”

    You know what? Usually I don’t even answer and I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I like and don’t like.

    Part of it goes like this: I appreciate Thoreau (a lot!) but I never lived in a cabin. I recognize greatness around the globe: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Basho, Nietzsche, but none of them watched Steve Allen or the Three Stooges on black & white TV, or push-started a car, or used wire transmissions to automatically set type, like reporters for United Press could do starting in 1951. That was the year the first teletypestter was introduced.

    Now Lucien Carr was not only a reporter with the United Press. He is also the man who introduced Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac to each other. He most likely is the one who gave Kerouac the legendary roll of teletype paper on which wrote one non-stop version of On the Road. I know some people say it was a roll of wall paper, but I saw a clip of Jack on the Steve Allen Show, and Jack said it was teletype paper. For all I know, he could have written on all variety of rolled up materials. But again, I don’t care.

    I care that when I see that famous picture of Kerouac and Carr, standing side-by-side, athletic Jack in his white T-shirt; wavy-haired Lucien with one foot propped up in a jaunty pose, cigarette dangling from his mouth, he reminds me of my cousin Harry. When I was 12 years old and Harry was 19, he had a little Austin Healey sports car and he showed me how to gap spark plugs using a matchbook cover.

    “It’s just the right thickness,” Harry told me. After gapping the plugs, cigarette dangling from his mouth, Harry would pour water in the car battery from a rinsed out glass coke bottle. That’s what you used. “Perfect thing,” he said.

    Harry was hip. Within a couple of years he was in the Army and stationed in Viet Nam. He came back not quite as free-wheeling and eventually went to work selling plastic parts for cars back before cars had all the plastic in them that they do today. It was a forward looking company.

    To anyone who thinks Lucien Carr should have stayed “Beat” and not gone to work for the “establishment” United Press, Cousin Harry would have said, ” Well, maybe he digs the new media like I dig new cars.”

    What I want to say to the family and friends of Lucien Carr, I feel for your loss as I feel for the loss of my cousin Harry.

  10. Human RoadsBeatific words of
    Human Roads

    Beatific words of wonder for our era …

    Life is open veins
    ‘Beatitude is humility’
    authentic embrace

    ‘Try to be alive’
    see, listen, ejaculate
    sacred existence

    Our songs for the play
    for feeding the ‘cats inside’
    tender hunt for love

    Contemplate mind streams
    magma, jungles, tears, and peaks
    our shy time on earth

    Tender survival
    sensitive community
    Your examples rule

    …a respectful code to live by,
    on and more –
    ‘holy’ !

  11. Well I Suppose”it had been
    Well I Suppose

    “it had been easy to nail a man down to one expression in caricature,
    the outline of a poem
    a cut-out of a bottle
    sentence fragments cross indexed
    in a bible translated from
    English back into Latin,
    it had been easy to portray a man
    as a saint and a martyr,
    and easy all too easy to mistake
    the shape of the poem for blunt
    reality, an obvious chorus,
    as if we weren’t artists, as if
    life were as simple as bleeding
    beauty, as if we hadn’t fought for
    every word, as if Michelangelo hadn’t wrestled with the heavy stone around his neck as if Christ
    had never got scared or made a mistake as if Mohammed were a cheap perfectionist as if the Buddha were a smiling imbecile as if I didn’t know how simple it really is and how hard, the stone
    dragging me down down pour me another round oh christ…”

  12. Condolences to the Lucien
    Condolences to the Lucien Carr family…..that’s the primary thing for sure, thanks for being Billectric…peace and love my friend.

  13. Can’t come closer than that,
    Can’t come closer than that, Bill.
    The beats are my relatives and the family picnic has never been the same since they pushed off for other dimensions.

  14. NothingNothing has inspired

    Nothing has inspired me to write more than the words of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the long line of writers I was then exposed to (from Whitman to Proust to Burroughs to Kesey). I have never read anything as intimate and honest as the writing of “the beat” literary group and often ask myself where writing like it is today. Amidst the shelves of self-help books, Da Vinci Code spin novels, and tattered byproducts of creative writing classes gone polishably wrong, I’m coming up empty.

  15. All I readAll I read inspires
    All I read

    All I read inspires me, no matter if I want it or not.

    I can

  16. That’s interesting. I know
    That’s interesting. I know what you’re talking about. The Beat culture, as with any culture, is just another example of a culture that some people take and run with. But as with any literary or musical movement or whatever, I think the people that started these collectives didn’t do so to have people follow them. They probably started them because people weren’t following them. I don’t think anyone would know what to think of their movement being grasped by so many, so many people saying they may be able to relate (even if they don’t really). I wonder what everyone would have thought if they saw today people still being affected by it — words, or stories, things people did in the past. Would it be happiness, bewilderment, or horror?

    I think a lot of counterculture movements eventually get co-opted into the mainstream. But I think the Beat movement was a true movement compared to some other movements.

  17. Slog, if being true is false,
    Slog, if being true is false, how can anybody avoid being false, and why bother try?

    I liked what you wrote (not that you probably care) even if I don’t agree that Faulkner wrote better than all of the Beats, or any of them.

  18. What’s truth or false is
    What’s truth or false is always in the eye of the beholder, so I guess truth and falseness can cancel each other out.

  19. Speaking of which, I
    Speaking of which, I especially liked the poem: “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” by Allen Ginsberg, which the famous quote “Poet is priest…” is taken from. The poem inspired me in my own writing in ways I’m just beginning to realize.

    I also liked the collection: “Coney Island of the Mind” by Ferlinghetti, of City Lights Bookstore and small publication fame. As I have said, I have met quite a few of the principals. Some are dead and some are still living.

  20. A Tribute to Some Literary
    A Tribute to Some Literary Friends

    Lucien Carr brought his friends quite a bit of notoriety when he spent his two years in jail. Jack Kerouac, Bill Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg– if I recall the old news clippings correctly– had to go to court in Mr. Carr’s behalf and were sort of in a bind because of the situation. Mr. Carr served his time and came out, went back to college, got credentials and became a UPI writer for many years and so forth. Carr tried to stay out of the scene, raised a family, and entered the mainstream.

    The writings of Carr’s friends and so on achieved a breakthrough in literature because folks on the street could relate to the material. Now, I believe we are on the cusp of another blossoming of literature.

    It would’ve been harder to do this “new lit” on the internet, if it wasn’t for the folks who paved the way with innovations in the last fifty years … people who wrote for later alternative/underground publications such as the “East Village Other”, “The Berkeley Barb”, “The Great Speckled Bird” and many others.

    Moreover, let’s not forget the “Village Voice” and “The Paris Review”. City Lights Bookstore was founded by a fellow beat in San Francisco. “Eye” magazine, “Fuck you–A magazine of the Arts” and so on were other examples along with “Rolling Stone”, “Ramparts” and so on … including “Big Table”, Edited by Paul Carroll, who was also a beat generation poet in his own write. “Big Table” was the first to print Burrough’s NAKED LUNCH.

    Here locally, in Chattanooga, that great tradition is carried on by magazines like “Bog-Gob”, Enigma”,and “Spare Change”.

    Special programs here were put on by the Shaking Ray Levi Society in our city. The online stuff is a manifestation of the underground publications which continue in print and in performances.

    The Beat Generation as a whole were the pavement where before there were only dirt road inroads into a different genre of literature. Heard of Miller and “Tropic of Capricorn”? Henry Miller was one dirt road into the beat generation persona.

    Certainly, the beat generation still inspires. If it wasn’t for their writings, like “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” by Allen Ginsberg and “Visions of Gerard”, especially, by Jack Kerouac, I wouldn’t have the jump start for my own vehicle of lit.

    My creative life has become more fully actualized through my readings, meetings, and participation in fellowship with those folks of the beat generation.

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